Monday, June 30, 2008

Pinky's Pots blog header

My sister started a blog to showcase all her custom pottery and wanted a blog header. I was really excited with the design I came up with.

Also, check out her blog as she gets going with her next collection. She is one talented girl! She's done everything from strawberry planters to chips n' salsa bowls and has some great piggy banks that are fresh from the kiln (I know because I have two ordered for my kids!)

In case you were wondering... I DO branch out and use colors besides pink! It just happens to be the main color in the last few projects I've had.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Give the tomatoes a kick

Last year we had slugs and snails in our garden and yard. Hundreds and hundreds of them. I went to the gardening aisle at the local EverythingMart and got some slug bait. Once home I started reading the directions... and the thousand Words O' Warning. That is really scary stuff! I ended up taking the slug bait back and dealing with them the old-fashioned way - we picked them up and threw them out into the road for the birds. Joe and I each averaged about 50 slugs per day. No kidding. We still only ended up with a few measly tomatoes but that might have had less to do with the slugs and more to do with our novice gardening skills.

With little kids running around the garden, I have serious misgivings about fertilizers, pest sprays and other chemicals to spray or sprinkle about. Still, I've lost all but 4 spinach plants and a handful of carrots to bugs. I finally had to find a safe-ish spray to help them. Now my tomato plants, while bushy and full of flowers, are just begging to be eaten by creepy-crawlies.

I was pretty excited to come across this idea while browsing gardening sites. Sprinkle used coffee grounds around the base of your tomato plants. There are some good tips and information here and here. Coffee is slightly acidic and tomatoes love acidic soil. Plus it provides a slow release of nitrogen as it breaks down - perfect fertilizer! The smell is strong and unusual and can repel some birds, squirrels and other animals looking to snack on your precious garden. Some people also claim that the caffeine in coffee will deter or even kill slugs. You can also use it in your compost pile, if you're into that (this image came from a site about coffee composting).

Local coffee places, Starbucks especially, will reserve their spent coffee grounds and offer them free of charge, to whatever gardener goes in and asks for them. I stopped off at our local Starbucks to test this out and sure enough - they emptied all the filters into a large plastic sack for me. I probably got 5-7 pounds of spent grounds and it would have been free, except Bart and Lisa spied some shortbread cookies that they couldn't live without.

Hmmm, those were quite tasty and I'll need to find a recipe to be making some more of those...

After a cookie break, I mulched around the base of the tomato plants with the grounds and let the sprinklers do the rest. The smell is strong and heavenly (not everyone loves the smell of coffee but I do). Now only time will tell if this helps.

Happy planting, etc...


Saturday, June 28, 2008

I'm in heaven

A few days ago, Minnie came in with a handful of cherries and announced that she got them from the neighbor's tree. I had never noticed a cherry tree before so I asked her to show me where she got them (crossing my fingers that this tree overhung our property line somewhere).

Hooray, it does! We asked our neighbors if we could pick from their tree and they very graciously told us to get all we wanted before the birds do. These are Bing cherries and not the sour pie cherries. Either is perfect, but these are more fun to eat straight from the tree. Little Man is going crazy for them and it's good that he isn't tall enough to reach them because I'm sure he'd make himself ill.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Quick salad

Semi-homemade. Sort-of healthy. So delicious. A quick meal for a hot summer evening.

Semi-Gourmet Chicken Salad...
Romaine lettuce
Baby spinach or other mixed greens
Slivered almonds
Popcorn chicken bites
Honey Dijon dipping sauce (I got mine from the deli at WalMart)

Mix greens, top with chicken, craisins and almonds. Drizzle dressing over all. Enjoy! Go heavy on the greens and lighter on the chicken and dressing if you have guilt. Hey, you may be enjoying popcorn chicken bites, but it's better than a side of fries right?

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Karma doesn't know jack

You may recall that a few weeks ago, I broke my husband's bike. Turns out that the loose chain got tangled in the spokes of the wheel and broke several of them, causing the tire to bend and twist-off center and become one with the brake pads. So yeah. Go me. Also he did not follow his own advice and hit the bike with a rock. He hit it with some tools instead. The result was the same: bike still broken.

Anyway, as a reward for not leaving the bike on the side of the road with a sign that said "Steal Me!" (only because I didn't have a Sharpie) Joe purchased me a brand-new bike.
Now, this is not a top-of-the-line, or even a reasonably-fancy bike. Joe is smart enough to know that I just don't care about those things. If a bike is as light as a paperclip, made from recycled lunar rovers or capable of breaking the sound barrier while simultaneously balancing your checkbook... I still don't care. Except for the "light as a paperclip" one. I would have made the kids carry the bike back home! Anyway, a wise man knows that if his wife had the money available to purchase a bike that could defy the laws of physics, she'd probably rather pay for a nice massage. Or a maid service.

This is pretty much the cheapest, boringest, base-model bike that WalMart had to offer. However it does have a suspension, comfy seat and (lest we forget) pink shocks. What more could we ask for?

The REAL question here is this: have I been mysteriously rewarded for essentially breaking one of his toys, or bribed to stay away from them in the future? In either case, what would happen if I were to, say, remove all four tires from his beater truck?

Hmmmm? I don't know. I'll keep you posted.

happy trails, etc...


Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Still running

1 week down and I'm still going strong with the Couch to 5K program. I can run one entire mile at a time (woo hoo!) but my 5K time is still 39 minutes. That would pretty much having me finish ahead of one-legged pirates (Avast, ye dastardly marathon!) and the elderly. Not the Physically Fit Elderly who speed walk and carry weights and do other things that are rad, but rather the ones with walkers and canes. Nevertheless... I would finish. Here are a few things that have helped me immensely.

1. Good running shoes - if you're serious about running a 5K, break down and get some good shoes. Running shoes are lighter than cross-trainers or all-terrains and have good arch support. They don't need to be The Most Expensive, just ones that fit your foot well and are comfy. These aren't my shoes... I just wish they were.

2. Water bottle - I just recycle a favorite sport-cap water bottle... if I can keep it away from my kids! They love it.

3. Music - I {heart} my iPod nano. I created a playlist of songs for when I run. Mostly I want songs that motivate me to keep moving - no relaxing tunes here! Here's what I have going this week:

Get it Started - Black Eyed Peas
Move Along - All American Rejects

Juicy - Better Than Ezra

CrushCrushCrush - Paramore

Mercy - Duffy

Crazy - Gnarls Barkley

Hey Mama - Black Eyed Peas

I Kissed A Girl - Katy Perry

Pain - Jimmy Eat World

American Girl - Tom Petty

Kill - Jimmy Eat World

Geek in the Pink - Jason Mraz

Take Me Out - Franz Ferdinand

How Far We've Come - Matchbox Twenty

Have some great tips? Let's hear them!

love, etc...


Monday, June 23, 2008

How NOT to teach your child to read

In my defense, the "H" is sort of close to the "K" on the sticker maker.

My daughter has been doing really well with this technique. She spent today pointing out letters that she recognizes (D and R). Tomorrow I'll try a different one. She's 4 and showing a good desire to actually read words, so we're starting small and making little games. Any thoughts, techniques or success stories?

love, etc...


Pineapple Brown Sugar Sorbet

Ripe fruit and the thermometer approaching 90? Sounds like the perfect day for sorbet.

Pineapple Brown Sugar Sorbet...

1 ripe pineapple
1 fresh mango (add other tropical fruit if you have it on hand, but maybe skip bananas because the flavor tends to overpower everything else. Unless you love bananas. Then go for it.)
3 tbsp lemon or lime juice
1 cup brown sugar

1. Slice the husk from the pineapple and dig out any little brown eyes. Remove any fibrous bits of core. Chop into small chunks.

2. Peel and dice the mango.

3. Place fruit in a food processor or blender and mix until smooth. Add juice and sugar, blend again.

4. Place in fridge until very cold (I leave it in the blender jar because it's easy to pour from).

5. Freeze ice cream according to your machine instructions. Put into a freezer-safe bowl and freeze at least two hours or until firm.

I made this for a BBQ that we were invited to. It was SO good. It tasted like fresh pineapple - tart and sweet. The brown sugar gave it an interesting twist. It was really good with either the chocolate or white cakes. I think when I do it again I might strain out the mixture when it comes out of the blender, just to catch the last stringy bits of the core. This was definitely easy and good enough to make all the time.



Sunday, June 22, 2008

I {heart} footie jammies

Even though it's summer, I still love kids in footed pajamas. Plus my husband is part caveman so he keeps our air-conditioner set to "meat locker" even when it's 101 degrees outside. Plenty cool for these darling jammies I saw at Costco.

I took these pictures after the kids got up one morning and were playing in the sunlit living room.

I have loved the footie sleepers ever since these two were tiny newborns. As Minnie starts to be a stubborn little girly-girl, and Little Man starts wiping off my kisses, it's just one of those things that keeps them from seeming too grown-up. Do you think they'll still wear them when they're in high school?

Friday, June 20, 2008

My goal

It's a well-documented fact* that 'graphic designer' is not the most "in shape" profession out there. With all the sitting and the computer-staring and the mouse-clicking, we're somewhere between "sloth" and "aardvark". Not so good for cardio-fitness, but we're mad thumb-wrestlers.

While I'd like to consider myself closer to the "aardvark" end of the fitness spectrum, the fact remains that I'm turning into a bit of a slouch. 2 pregnancies, 2 newborns and a busy job have eaten up most of the free time I spent doing active and sporty things. However with my kids having reached their 4th and 2nd birthdays, I'm running out of excuses, getting older and just plain chunking out.

Joe started running a few years ago and on Saturday, completed his first 5K. With a respectable time of 29 minutes, he finished strong and didn't get passed by anyone in a stroller (which was his personal goal). And so he started pestering me to run one with him. Joe and I are fiercely competitive with each other - in a good way. If we had classes together in school, we would constantly try to one-up each other until we both had straight A's. So I know with him egging me on, I'll probably work hard until I can do this. Also I've watched all the weight, counted all the points and tried all the other ways I can think to drop a few more pounds. I think my body has given up all it's willing to at this activity level and it's time to start working harder.

I checked out this book from the library and read this website for info on training for a 5K. Both are really good. Both recommend setting specific, short-term and attainable goals, naming a reward for yourself and then working out at a moderate level instead of trying to run until you hate it and hurt all the time. So after a week of testing myself on the treadmill, I can do the 5K distance in 39 minutes. Not spectacular and I would come in ahead of only kids on trikes and basset hounds. However, I would finish and not die.

Current time: 39 minutes
Goal time: 33 minutes
Race date: July 24th
Reward: A cute running outfit

I'll post progress toward my goal as time goes on. I'm really excited about this! And if absolutely nothing else, I've got to lose a bit of weight, right?

*I'm sure things like this are documented. It sounds like something that would make a good study. Google "graphic design sloths" and see what you come up with.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

In which Karma comes back to get me

Some of you may have read part of this on my family blog last week, but it was too good to not share here. Plus apparently Karma is not done with me.

A while ago I read this post and I laughed. A lot. So be careful who you laugh at. Karma will come back to get you.

I decided to take the kids out in the bike trailer. After a lot of whining and demanding of snacks and packing of drinks we got everyone loaded and we were on our way. Let me take this moment to say that I was riding Joe's 12-year-old, mountain bike because mine is lost in a shed at his parent's house, probably being devoured by root-cellar-dwelling hobgoblins. His bike is of the Used To Be Nice variety, which means that while it was once top of the line, it has since developed problems. Namely the chain falls off whenever you cycle through the gears and the bike has acquired a mysterious, unfixable and everlastingly annoying creak. Can bikes get arthritis?

With enough Goldfish crackers to supply an invading army, we set off around our neighborhood. We live in the foothills where walking the inclines is not so much "casually challenging" as it is "cause for cardiac arrest", so choosing your bike route takes careful consideration. I chose the route with only a few little up-and-down hills and not the giant killer ones. While I'm not in the best shape, I did manage to creak my way confidently along the road and the kids seemed to be having a good time. Almost to the canyon park, I make the mistake of cycling all the way to the bottom gear which, as you will recall, makes the chain fall off.

After rattling things around in a semi-informed way, I managed to get the chain back on and the pedals working. At this point I felt like I was pressing my luck, and we were just about as far away from the house as I wanted to get, so we turned around. I noticed that it seemed to be fairly difficult to pedal the bike. For a while I attributed this to my own physical fitness (or lack thereof). At the top of the next hill though I noticed that I was not gathering any momentum (which I need to cruise up yet another hill!) I stopped, got off the bike and noticed that the brake had clamped itself down on the rear tire and refused to let go. For those of you who may not be seasoned hardbody cyclists, this makes it hard to pedal the bike.

I called Joe, who was 10 miles away getting his hair cut (and on the scooter anyway) so not so much help in the Manly Man Rescue department. Also none of his advice was particularly helpful, especially when he told me to hit the bike with a rock. I figured that, while tempting, this would probably encourage my son to hit the Pathfinder with rocks whenever he was frustrated. I also mastered the urge to shout PG-13 swear words at the bike and settled instead for yelling them in my head.

So the creaking of Arthritis Bike may have seemed lame on the ride to the canyon, but that was warp speed compared to the return trip. Basically I had to steer with the front of the bike, in my left hand and pick the back part of the bike up off the ground. Trudging along awkwardly, getting hit in the shins with the pedals every few steps and towing 80+ pounds of trailer, children and Goldfish made me long for the lurchy, creaking rides of the past. The easiest part was over the bit of dirt road where I could just push the bike, pioneer-handcart style, and let the frozen tire just skid along the gravel.

Once home, the kids made me feel better by fighting with each other, painting each other, Indian-warrior style with chocolate pudding, tearing a hole in our new garden fence and pulling up a baby watermelon seedling and dancing on its lifeless body. It was an awesome day. Did I mention this was Friday the 13th? Last year's was a doozy as well... but that's another post altogether. I'm not even superstitious!

Karma, apparently, is not through with me. A few months ago I took my kids to WalMart and had to stop at the jewelry counter for something. I turn around to discover that my 2-year-old son has opened the egg carton and, in preparation for his future career as a vandal, started throwing eggs at the jewelry displays. Apparently Karma (or WalMart) is going to hold me responsible for his actions because I went back to the jewelry counter earlier this week. Under the guise of replacing a battery, they broke my favorite watch. Touché.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Strawberry Rhubarb Frozen Yogurt

Ah, my ice-cream maker. It's a complicated relationship. On a warm summer day, nothing tempts me more than creamy frozen goodness. However great ice-cream, with the cream and the egg yolks and the sugar is probably not the most swimsuit-friendly food option. What is a girl to do?

We have lots of strawberries in our new garden right now. Teeny, tiny delicious strawberries. And don't forget the rhubarb! So as a lighter-calorie option, today I decided to try frozen yogurt with fruit from our garden.

Strawberry Rhubarb Frozen Yogurt...
1 pound fresh strawberries
2 stalks fresh rhubarb
1 1/4 cups sugar, divided
1/2 cup water
1 tsp vanilla
2 cups plain yogurt

1. Send your moppets out to gather berries. If you don't have moppets of your own, I have a pair you can borrow.

2. Wash and cap berries. Mash them slightly with a fork. Pour 1/2 cup sugar over them, mix and set aside for an hour.

3. Wash and slice rhubarb. Add water, 3/4 cup sugar and rhubarb to a saucepan, bring to a boil. Simmer for 10-15 minutes or until rhubarb is tender and falling apart. Syrup should be sweet/tart. Add to strawberries. Mash together (puree in blender if you want a smoother texture).

4. Add fruit mixture to yogurt, whisk together to remove any lumps of yogurt. It's best to use a bowl with a pour spout to pour the mixture into your ice cream machine. These melamine bowls from Williams-Sonoma have been perfect for the job, plus they have a grippy bottom that doesn't slide all over the counter when you whisk.

5. Fire up your ice-cream maker. I have a Cuisinart 1 1/2 quart machine with the bowl you keep in the freezer (so it requires no ice or salt). It is a reasonably-priced machine that yields exceptional results. I did learn, however, that when you clean the bowl after making ice cream, don't wipe it out with a paper towel. Remember the kid on A Christmas Story with his tongue frozen to the flag pole? Well, that will happen to your paper towel and you'll end up with a bunch of frozen paper mucking up your nice bowl. Probably don't stick your tongue on it either.

6. Freeze ice cream according to the instructions for your particular ice-cream machine.

7. Ice cream will be soft-serve and ready to eat when it comes out of the mixer. If you want it a little firmer, put into a freezer-safe bowl and freeze for at least 2 hours. Makes approximately 6-8 medium-sized servings.

The tartness of the fruit and yogurt was so refreshing! We served this at a BBQ and it was the perfect compliment to the grilled food. I think it would be scrumptious with a bite of chocolate brownie - something sweet to go with the tart. I'll have to make this for a birthday party.

The change a year can bring

One year ago Amy left for Chicago and I was best-friendless. It hit at a low point for me - I was having one of those "mom" identity crisis moments. You wake up one day and you realize that you don't have any hobbies, any spark or any fun. Instead of being a competent professional you spend your days dealing with diapers, tantrums and the demands of little imps who can barely speak, let alone form a rational desire. You're jealous of your husband and his job because even though he works hard, at least he gets to talk to adults! And you look in the mirror and you wonder "who am I?" Thank goodness for Joe who is and will always be the rational one. In spite of a lot of tears and yelling (me) his response was "then find something you like and do it."

I think Joe thought I would take up something a little more exciting - like running or longboarding or perhaps forming aspirations to be a roller derby girl. However, even though Amy was leaving, she did give me an excellent consolation prize - her spot in her cooking and book clubs! I may have been nervous and unsure but I should have had more faith in Amy. Nerdy yes, but twice a month I got to escape to good food, fun books and, most of all, wonderful friends.

So today I am grateful for these awesome girls. Amy, of course, who has stayed my best friend over hundreds of miles (did you really leave?) The crazy-talented Hannah, who always inspires serious shoe envy and was also braved the novice peach-canning night with me. Bethany, Scrabble champion of the world who shares my love for dinosaurs. Amanda, who would tempt me to stay in the parking lot talking for several hours in spite of some crazy lady yelling at us from the second floor. Cicada, who always makes me laugh and can bake a chocolate raspberry torte that will make you want to marry it and treasure it forever. And Jenny, who not only has single-handedly re-introduced the word "dude" into many vocabularies, but will selflessly help anyone in need and will one day save the world. Seriously, I love you all.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Strawberry Rhubarb pie

My kids helped me make a special breakfast for Father's Day. Pancakes with strawberries, mangoes and homemade whipped cream... yum! But instead of a simple pint of strawberries, I was tempted by the giant Crate o' Berries at Costco so I had lots and lots of berries that would be getting too ripe by tomorrow. What to do, what to do...

While browsing through the yard (looking for a child who had escaped into the neighbor's yard) I remembered that we have rhubarb growing under the lilac bushes. Having forgotten about the plant since we moved in, I was surprised to find that the stalks are about yay big:

They looked perfect to harvest so I snapped off a few and brought them inside. As much as I wanted to have many people fan me with the leaves and feed me grapes, I resisted (warning, don't eat the leaves either, they are poisonous). Here is the recipe for your own strawberry rhubarb pie.

1 1/2 cups flour
pinch salt
1/4 cup powdered sugar
1 1/4 sticks butter, very cold (freeze it if you have time) and cut into cubes
1 egg yolk
3-4 tbsp ice water
if you are making a fruit pie, you can add the zest of 1 lemon, lime or orange

1 pint strawberries
3 stalks rhubarb
1/2 cup sugar
2 tbsp flour
1 tsp. vanilla

1/2 cup butter (I used Can't Believe It's Not Butter and it turned out OK)
1/2 cup quick-cooking oatmeal
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup flour
Handful slivered almonds

1. The trick to this crust is not to be heavy-handed. Pulse the ingredients as few times as possible. The less you handle the crust the flakier it will be. Combine all dry crust ingredients in your food processor and pulse a few times. Add butter and pulse until everything looks crumbly. Beat egg slightly and add it slowly as you pulse a few more times. Then drizzle water in slowly, still pulsing, until everything starts to pull together.

2. Pinch a bit of the crust in your fingers - it should stick together but not be "sticky". Roll it all into a ball kneading to combine anything that hasn't been already.

3. Roll crust out and place in your favorite pie pan. Bake at 350 for 10 minutes.

4. Wash rhubarb and cut into 1/2 inch slices. Wash, cap and slice strawberries, watching for any little sneaky hands that will steal your fruit.

5. Toss fruit with flour, sugar and vanilla. Pour into par-baked pie shell.

6. At this point, if you want to be just like me, you can toss a full container of oatmeal on the floor where it will cover the kitchen and go down the heat vents (I guess we'll see what happens with that come winter). Feel free to skip this step if you want.

7. Combine all topping ingredients and mash together. You can use a fork, a pastry cutter or just your hands. Crumble the topping over the fruit.

8. Bake at 350 for 35-45 minutes or until juices start to bubble. Let cool to room temperature before serving - if you can wait that long!

I can't even tell you how good this was! The crust was light and flaky and perfectly done. The strawberries were sweet with the occasional tart bite of rhubarb. The almonds in the crumb topping were fantastic, they added even more crunch. Try it with walnuts or pecans if you want. The pie was perfect at room temperature and didn't ooze juice all over. Serve with whipped cream, crème fraîche or some vanilla ice cream!

love, etc.

Spinach overload

I bought a large bag of spinach for Cooking Club because I was doing a spinach salad. Turns out I grossly overestimated how much spinach 8 girls would eat because I have approximately a metric ton of spinach left over. So my cooking challenge for this week is to see how many recipes can be modified to include spinach. Any ideas? I'd love to hear them.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Baby Announcement

This is a birth announcement that I completed this week. It is one of my favorites - I love the colors that the parents chose. The baby was so precious and had a great, expressive face. I think these are some of my favorite newborn pictures I've done so far.

I purchased this antique scale from an estate sale. This is the first time I've gotten to use it for newborn pictures and I'm really excited! It turned out just as cute as I'd hoped.