Friday, June 29, 2012

Cabbage Patch Pleaser

When it gets hot, I don't feel like doing much cooking. I've recently faced my fear of the grill and started using it a lot more often rather than standing over a hot stove or heating up the oven. The grill takes care of our main dish then, but what about sides? Lately, it's been a lot of salads, because lettuce and spinach are ready in the garden but when the cabbage was ready, it was time for coleslaw. A side dish that takes about five minutes to make and doesn't require any heat? I'm game for that.


1/3 cup mayo
1 Tbsp. vinegar
2 tsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. celery seed

Stir above ingredients until sugar dissolves.

Toss with 3 cups shredded cabbages; add shredded carrots if desired.

I think shredding cabbage is really awkward and makes a mess, so I just chop mine up.

I quartered, blanched and froze the rest of our cabbage to use in soups or cabbage and noodles over the winter. We might try a fall planting of cabbage this year just so we can enjoy more of it fresh.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

We're Diggin' It

Remember when we showed you the pictures of our mini porch makeover? And we said one of our long(er)-range goals was to use plants to add some more color and curb appeal? Well, we decided to just jump on it. We were motivated by an assortment of plants from my mom and one of Keith's co-workers. Since we didn't have a place to plant them without getting to work on the front flower bed, it seemed like we should just get moving. Plus, I think Keith was itching for a project.

Keith started by digging up the sod in the area to the left of the porch and a small area to the right. The left side is a shoe-in for a flower bed, since it is completely contained by sidewalk. Without thinking about it much, I thought we would just focus our energy there, but Keith suggested cutting out a bed on the right side to balance things out. Turns out, that was a pretty good idea.

While Keith cut sod and loaded it into the wheelbarrow, I took it around the side of the house and piled it up. We laid it grass-side down, hoping to kill off the grass and then have a pile of nice soil we can add back into the garden or use in another raised bed next spring.

After all that, we had a dirt pit flower bed that looked, um, less than flowery. We had our couple hand-me-down plants in the ground, but that was it.

As luck would have it, a few days later we got a coupon for a local garden center (the same one where we got the flowers for the hanging baskets) in the mail. We decided to head over one evening when Keith got home from work and pick out some perennials that would be of varying heights and colors and do well in an area that is shaded for a good part of the day.

The next day, Bert and I planted all of our new plants. I wish I had taken some photos of that, because Bert was filthy. But between trying to get plants in the ground and keeping the little man out of the street, I didn't even think of the camera. Every time I dug a hole, Bert came over and sat next to it and put his feet in. He also sat on several plants and tipped the watering can over twice. Needless to say, he was a mess and the project took much longer than I anticipated. But he had fun and all the work still got done. 

I wanted to add a little patch of mint somewhere on the quarter-acre, but was concerned about it spreading too much. Keith came up with a plan to use our old fire pit to create a mint patch, which will hopefully keep it somewhat contained. He dug out a hole and and placed the basin from the fire pit inside, after drilling holes in the bottom for drainage. Then he lined the basin with stones. The plan is to fill it with potting soil and plant some mint in there that my mom is bringing next time she comes to visit.

We also used the stand from the fire pit (originally the basin sat on top of it) as a little fence for the mint patch. I think it adds some dimension to the flower bed and ties in with the porch railing (even though we don't really like the railing).

And as you can tell from the picture above, we added mulch. Ok, Keith added mulch. Bert and I sat on the porch and watched. That's how most things get done around here these days.

We still have some things to do, like plant the mint. I also want to add some lavender, which my mom is bringing too.

The right side still looks especially empty, with only one little plant near the sidewalk, which you can't even see in this picture. Our plan is to put some tall ornamental grasses along the side of the porch. Closer to the sidewalk, we want to create rock feature (I suppose that's what a landscaper would call it),  by which I mean a nicely arranged pile of rocks with hens-and-chicks and maybe some other succulents tucked in the crevices. We saw one at the garden center and thought it was really cool.

Things certainly are not finished, but I think in a couple weeks the plants will fill out more and make it look great. We are also keeping our eyes open for rocks for the rock feature and maybe pavers or some other kind of rock to use as edging, especially on the right side where we want to keep the grass from creeping in. We'll hold out for another coupon or deep fall discounts to get the ornamental grasses. Since becoming a one-income household, we have definitely slowed down on projects. But by keeping our eyes open for coupons, hunting down deals like the wicker furniture from Goodwill, and using plants that friends and family members separated from their own flower beds, we have been able to spruce up the front of our house. We have also come to accept that these projects don't have to all happen in the course of one weekend (remember I found the wicker back before Easter?) That helps us to really think through our plans and to spread out the cost of our projects. So for about $200, we now have a house that we feel, in the words of Nate Berkus, rises up to greet us. Or at least it lifts it's head and nods a hello.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Picnic by the Pond

For the first time in several weeks, we had a wide-open weekend. After an especially long week at work for Keith and a hot, sweaty, cranky week at home for Bert and I (yes, that applies to both mom and baby), we felt like we needed to get out of the house and do something really relaxing. A picnic fit the bill.

We decided to head out to a small grove maintained by our county park system. It's only about a ten minute drive from our house but we had never been there. It features a pond with a walking trail around it (fishing is allowed too), a pavilion, and some open, grassy areas. I think there may have been a volleyball net there too but the pavilion was rented out so maybe someone brought it and set it up for the day.

We decided to walk the trail around the pond before having lunch. What we didn't expect were a few narrow footbridges and a rather steep set of steps going down a small ravine and then up the other side. We could have just turned around, but instead we took Bert out of the stroller and I carried him while Keith navigated the steps with the stroller.

At the bottom of the ravine, there was a nice little area where we could look across the pond, and a cool old metal bell that Keith just had to ring.

While Keith was struggling with the stroller, I sensed a photo-op and snapped a few pictures of Bert.

As we made our way back around the pond, we found a shady, grassy spot to eat lunch. For Mother's Day, Bert got me a picnic backpack (though I'm thinking Keith helped out a bit with the online ordering) and I've been eager to put it to use. It came with four plates, glasses, and sets of utensils, along with napkins, teeny tiny salt and pepper shakers, and a little cutting board and knife. The backpack has an insulated area for food, and a pouch on the side big enough to hold a bottle of wine, though we were packing iced tea for the day.

We had a really fancy lunch of sandwiches and chips.

Bert had some veggies and grilled cheese, but he was eyeing up our chips the whole time.

We hung out at our picnic spot for quite awhile, just enjoying a gorgeous day and watching Bert run around.

We only had to stop him from eating acorns fifty times. He was actually very good, content to just wander around checking things out but never getting too far away from us that we had to go and catch him. He liked watching some little chipmunks race around.

Before we left, we thought we should try to get a picture of the three of us. Looks like we got the most important person in the shot.

Let's try one more time. That's better.

It was about as perfect as a day can get.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Sure is Hot Out

With 90-degree-plus weather bearing down on us and the official start of summer, I thought it would be appropriate to share some pool pictures with you.

Over the Memorial Day weekend, we were invited to Keith's sister's house and got to enjoy their brand-new pool. Well, Keith and I certainly enjoyed it. Bert was not as enthusiastic.

I guess it was a little chilly for him, and there was a lot of splashing going on with his three energetic cousins. At any rate, Keith was happy to give his underwater video camera a try.

Bert got an early birthday present from my best friend, fondly known as Aunt C these days, in the form of a baby pool. He was a little hesitant about it as well, but it didn't take him long to warm up. We were out in it earlier today and he splashed and played, and then entertained himself by climbing in and out. Here are some shots from his first time in it.

Stay cool!

Friday, June 15, 2012

What the Garden Turned Up

We've been eating lots of lettuce and radishes, and some spinach as it comes on. Everything else in the garden is still growing, growing, growing. As we were puttering around the other night, Keith asked how we would know when the turnips were ready, since this is our first year growing them. I said I thought when they started pushing out of the ground. He lifted up the huge leaves and sure enough, there were the purple top poking out. So we pulled them out and cleaned them up and wondered what to do with them.

My dad likes to eat them raw, so that's always an option. I made a roast in the crock-pot last night and peeled and cubed two of them to toss in with some carrots and potatoes. Bert scarfed them down, but Keith and I thought they tasted a little, um, earthy. Maybe next I'll try mashing them, loaded with butter. We only have about 8 or 10 more, so at least we aren't stuck with a ton of them. Anybody have any ideas on how to prepare them? Unless we discover some way we really like to eat them, I don't think turnips will get a second shot in our garden next year. 

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

So-So Sewing

Over the weekend, a friend offered me a bag of random fabric she no longer wanted. I accepted because this is what the women in my family, and my best friend, do: we hoard fabric, claiming that we have a plan, or at the very least an idea, of what it could become. Up to this point, my collection could be contained in a copy paper box. Not any more. I may have passed the point of no return.

As I looked through the bag, I did see an interesting piece that I would describe as a very open knit, a teal cousin to a fishnet. That may not make much sense but bear with me. Immediately, I thought of a swimsuit cover-up. Maybe because I was, at that moment, wearing my favorite red knit t-shirt dress that has occasionally doubled as a cover-up.

Here is the really impressive part, at least to me. The fabric was in my house less than 48 hours before I decided to do something with it. Namely, make that cover-up. No pattern, a minimum of pins, one sewing machine jam, and about 45 minutes later, it was done.

I started out by laying the fabric on the table, doubled over. Then I laid my red dress on top.

Then I simply cut around it, leaving about 1" for the seam.

I briefly considered attempting to engineer some cute, ruffly sleeves before decided I wasn't really up to the task. So I forged ahead, putting pins where I wanted the arm holes so that I didn't blindly stitch up the entire side. I set my sewing machine to a zig-zag stitch, figuring with how hole-y the fabric is, that might work best. And I even tested it on a scrap of the fabric, which is about the most planning I did on the whole project. I stitched up the sides and shoulders, leaving the arm and neck holes open. Then I hemmed the sleeves, neck, and bottom to finish it off.

Voila! Project Runway won't be knocking down my door, but I'm pretty stoked about having completed a project, and it didn't cost me a thing!

And I wasn't kidding about the teal fishnet-ish knit, now was I?

Wednesday, June 6, 2012


We were really excited about our apple tree fence. Excited enough that we designated four posts to it: here, here, here and here. But it turns out that we have to reign that excitement in a little, because our trees are apparently not interested in growing. We had been watching them all spring, eagerly awaiting a few tender buds, pondering which slim little branches we would keep and which we would prune. The bark went from grayish-brown to reddish-brown and we were sure leaves would unfurl any day.

But we've got nothing. Nada.

We have dry twigs, surrounded by lovely perennials and mulch. Oh, and we have these.

You see there, what looks to be healthy tree growth? It's not. They are called sucker roots, and, according to the nursery we we ordered the trees from, should be removed immediately. So I marched right out and clipped it off.

We had them on three of the trees. The nursery also suggested scratching the bark gently to see if it was still green underneath. Green = living, healthy trees.

That would be a no. So, they will replace the trees (they are guaranteed for a year after their ship date) and we'll try again. In the meantime, we'll leave these in the ground and see if anything happens with them.

And maybe we'll have apples around the time we pay off our mortgage.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Quite a Treat

Was there something that you really enjoyed eating as a kid but it seemed like your mom only made it when you were going someplace? For me, it was eclair cake. It was a standby for picnics we attended for years, and I always gave my mom a hard time for never just making it for us to have a home. But now I understand why: if you don't have a picnic's worth of people to share it with, you will devour it. On your own. Possibly at night, standing in front of an open fridge, armed with a spoon. You may rationalize why it qualifies as breakfast food. And if you do take it to a picnic, you'll appreciate any compliments you receive but you'll still be sad as you load an empty pan in your car that they ate it all.

Eclair Cake

1 pound box graham crackers
2 small packages instant vanilla pudding
3 1/2 cups milk
9 oz. container whipped cream topping

(I think package sizes have changed since this recipe was written because my box of graham crackers was 14.4 oz and Cool Whip is 8 oz. but those sizes work just fine.)

6 Tbsp. cocoa
2 Tbsp. oil
2 tsp. white corn syrup
2 tsp. vanilla
3 Tbsp. softened butter
1 1/2 c. confectioners sugar
3 Tbsp. milk

Butter bottom of 9x13-inch baking pan; line with whole graham crackers. (I like to break mine to get each layer as covered as possible.)

Mix pudding with milk. Beat at medium speed 2 minutes. Blend in whipped topping.

Pour half the mixture over crackers. Place second layer of crackers over pudding.

Pour remaining pudding over and cover with more crackers. Refrigerate two hours.

Frost and refrigerate overnight.

The hardest things about this dessert is not eating it while it hangs out in the fridge overnight. Scratch that; keeping your husband out of it is harder

By the way, my apologies if you are on a diet or something and I'm throwing lots of dessert recipes at you. Summer just screams cool, sweet treats to me!

Monday, June 4, 2012

I Scream, You Scream

We all scream for strawberry ice cream! Well, sort of. I don't even really like it but Keith does and apparently most of the rest of the world does too. With an abundance of ripe strawberries on our hands, making ice cream just seemed like the thing to do. We make it by starting off with a basic vanilla ice cream, then adding crushed berries.

Country Style Vanilla Ice Cream
(This recipe is from my mom, and may have come from Lancaster Farming originally.)

4 eggs
approximately 5 c. milk (will be less when adding berries or fruit)
2 Tbsp. vanilla
2 1/2 c. sugar
4 c. whipping cream
1/4 tsp. salt

Beat eggs until foamy.

Gradually add sugar, beat until thickened. Add cream, vanilla, and salt and mix thoroughly.

Aren't you surprised that this isn't a picture that ended
with a pint of cream dripping off my counter?

If adding berries, crush them and stir them in before pouring mixture into can.

Pour into can. Add milk to fill line on can and stir well. Makes about 4 quarts.

Don't fill above that max line because the ice cream will expand as it freezes.

For our ice cream, I had about 3 cups of crushed strawberries, with a bit of sugar added to them.

Then put your can in your ice cream bucket and churn away! Ours took about 45 minutes to freeze and we enjoyed it on the patio with our neighbors. And I would say it was pretty good, even if it was strawberry. Next time it will be peanut butter!

Bert was very interested in the noisy motor...

...but he was even more interested in the ice cream!
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