Thursday, January 31, 2013

Stocking Makeover

I know we wrapped up Christmas over a month ago, but I have one more thing to share with you. (Was it really only a month ago? It seems like it has been winter forever...)

Back before Christmas, Bert and I stopped over at a friend's house. I commented on her family's stockings, and she said she had made her's and her husband's. You have seen Bert's stocking, and Keith and mine pale in comparison. She offered me the book she had used for making their's, since I am certainly not going to cross-stitch two more of these anytime soon.

I didn't manage to get anything done before Christmas, but I made a promise to myself that the stockings weren't going back in the box of Christmas decorations before I did something about them.

Since our stockings were pretty basic, I decided to embellish what we had instead of sewing new ones for each of us.

I flipped through the book a couple times, and was drawn to the simplicity of using some buttons and embroidery floss to decorate our stockings. (I think the book was called something really simple and obvious like The Christmas Stocking Book but I can't remember for sure now.)

I played around with a couple arrangements before deciding that I really liked these funky fabric-covered buttons I had in my box. With the different colors and patterns on the buttons, they didn't seem to need any extra stitching so I just put one in each scallop and stitched my name.

For Keith's, I decided to make a snowflake out of the buttons.

I did add some extra stitching around those buttons. When I mentioned to Keith that I thought it would be pretty tight to stitch his name on, he suggested just doing the "K."

And then I found a little bow off a Christmas card and it looked cute on mine so I glued that on too.

So there it is. A simple project that cost nothing but my time. All I needed was a little inspiration. (Thanks, Kathleen!)

Ok, now we are officially done with Christmas. Unless you are my mom-mom, who probably has half of this year's Christmas shopping done already...

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Pantry Panties

If your looking at the title of this post and thinking, "What the...?," just hang in there.

Back before Christmas, I stumbled across a post at a blog called The Cottage Home. It was a tutorial on how to make fabric bowl covers. I thought they were really cute, and wanted to try my hand at them. I think in the tutorial, she just used regular cotton fabric, but I thought using a laminated fabric might be an even better solution for using around food.

A few weeks ago when we were out and about on a Saturday, I drug the men in my life into a Jo-Ann Fabric store in search of laminated fabric. They had a pretty wide selection in their baby department (for making diaper covers) but only a few options that weren't babyish. I found one I liked, and more importantly one I thought my grammy would like, since I had decided to make a set for her birthday. The fabric was pre-packaged, not off the bolt, so though I really only needed half a yard, I ended up with a full yard. I think it was $12 or $13, but with a 40% of coupon it ended up right around $7. I would guess you could make at least 4 to 6 bowl covers out of a yard, depending on how large of bowls you want to use.

I didn't take photos of the project in progress because The Cottage Home's tutorial is so much better, but here is my finished project.

On my next try, I think I would make my elastic just a little shorter so the covers fit a bit more snuggly, but overall I was pleased with how they turned out. I often say I can sew anything in a straight line, but curves usually get the better of me so this was a good project for me to practice on.

When my grammy opened them at her birthday party this past weekend, she knew exactly what they were. She said her mother had something similar when she was growing up, and at the time they were called "pantry panties". I wonder why they didn't go with "bowl brassieres"?

Monday, January 28, 2013

Into Enchiladas

Recently a friend passed on a stack of Cooking Light magazines. I really enjoyed flipping through them and reading a lot of the articles, and of course salivating over the recipes. I pulled a number of the recipes out, and we are looking forward to adding some new dishes into the usual dinner rotation. I am even more enthusiastic after trying this one and being so thrilled with it.

Enchilada Casserole
from Cooking Light, January/February 2012

1 pound ground sirloin (I used ground turkey to be a little more heart-healthy for Keith)
1 cup chopped onion
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 1/2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup fat-free, lower-sodium beef broth (I used our homemade chicken stock since I was using ground turkey in the recipe)
1 tablespoon less-sodium taco seasoning mix
1 (8-ounce) can no-salt-added tomato sauce (I used our salsa)
4 (8-inch) whole-wheat flour tortillas
1/3 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese with jalapeño peppers (just sharp cheddar for us)

1. Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add ground meat and onion to pan; cook 6 minutes, stirring to crumble.

2. Preheat oven to 400˚.

3. Melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Add garlic; sauté 1 minute. Sprinkle with flour; cook 30 seconds, stirring constantly. Add broth, taco seasoning, and tomato sauce to pan. Bring to a boil; cook 2 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add 1 1/2 cups tomato mixture to meat mixture; reserve 1/2 cup tomato mixture.

4. Place 1 tortilla in a 9-inch pie plate (I sprayed the pie plate with cooking spray first). Top with 1 cup meat mixture. Repeat layers, ending with tortilla. Spread reserved tomato mixture over tortilla. Top with cheese. Bake at 400˚ for 10 minutes or until cheese melts. Cool slightly. Cut into 4 wedges. (We actually got two meals out of this, so I'd say it makes four adult portions and two toddler ones.)

They suggested serving it with some spicy black beans, which I altered a bit. I heated 2 tablespoons of canola oil in a skillet and put in about a cup of chopped green peppers from the freezer. Then I added 2 cups of corn that I had thawed and drained, along with 2 cups of black beans (rinsed and drained). Then I followed the Cooking Light suggestions, adding 2 tablespoons of lime juice, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and a sprinkling of cilantro. It went perfectly with the enchilada casserole, and Bert loved it too.

The next best thing to this recipe turning out so well is that it was touted as a 40-minute meal and it was right on the dot. Even with chopping onions and peppers, shredding cheese, and draining corn, dinner was ready in exactly forty minutes. Getting the whole meal done at the same time is always tricky for me, so it was nice to have one that went exactly like the said it would.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Let's Go to the Farm Show

Keith had a vacation day scheduled at the beginning of the month, and it fell in the middle of Farm Show week. If you have never been, it is exactly what it sounds like: anything and everything having to do with any kind of farm, and lots of it. I hadn't been in at least a decade, and my city-slicker husband had never been. I suggested we go, and Keith was agreeable, so I called my dad to see if he wanted to meet us there. Because what's a day at the Farm Show without our farmer?

There was plenty to see (and plenty to eat!) and Bert held up remarkably well.

First we saw some adorable piglets...

Then some sheep.

One of the main attractions every year is the gigantic butter sculpture. That's right. It's all butter.

There were all kinds of displays of Pennsylvania-grown produce.

Bert and I went in a butterfly tent. Sorry I don't have pictures of us inside but I was holding onto the little man. They gave everyone q-tips soaked in Gatorade to attract the butterflies. Bert was pretty fascinated.

Sharing the first of two bowls of ice cream with Popper.

A skid-loader agility course.

A draft horse weighing in for the horse pulls that were scheduled for later that day.

Bert got the biggest kick out of watching this steer stick out his tongue and lick his shoulder. The steer's shoulder, that is: he didn't lick the kid.

Bunnies of all kinds.

Talk about a funky chicken. This rooster almost looked like he had dreadlocks.

Always fun for Bert to see the animals from all his books in the flesh. Er, in the feather, I guess.

Months past Thanksgiving and Bert remembered that the turkey says, "Gobble, gobble, gobble!"

We watched some carriage racing in the arena. This was just the warm up session.

Bert was dressed appropriately for the day: jeans, flannel, and a Carhartt shirt. We were only missing pint-sized work boots for him.

Slow down, Popper!

The whole day was a lot of fun. The food is reasonably priced, and you can take your own in as well. It is $10 a vehicle to park, and there is no other admission fee. There is a ton of stuff to see, and I'm sure we missed a lot of it because of the crowds. Keith couldn't believe how big and busy it was. We are already talking about doing it next year because I think Bert will be even more interested. And maybe not have to be strapped in his stroller all day.

Oh, and I highly recommend the milkshakes and the mozzarella cheese cubes on a stick. Yum!

Wednesday, January 23, 2013


A few weeks ago, we had some snow and took Bert out for his first sledding adventure. After a few trips down the hill with either Keith or me, he was ready to fly solo. Take a look...

He got a kick out of just walking in the snow and tossing snowballs we gave him too. I think he would have stayed out all day, but we had to bring him in because his mittens were soaked through and his little nose was getting cold. I think the time it spent to get him bundled up before heading out and then undressing him and getting him in dry clothes was only slightly shorter than the time we were actually outside!

Now it is just bitter cold and we are cooped up inside, wishing for spring. Oh, and the new computer is here (I'm just waiting on an external drive to install software) so I'm in the process of figuring it all out and getting caught up loading photos, writing blog posts, and getting you all up to speed on what's happening around here. Thanks for sticking around!

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Simple vs. Easy

A couple weeks ago, I read Julie Powell's book Julie & Julia about her year spent cooking her way through Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking. I thoroughly enjoyed it, laughing aloud at many parts and reading snippets to Keith. One part really sticks with me though, and I'd like to share it with you:

The thing you learn with Potage Parmentier is that "simple" is not exactly the same as "easy." It had never occurred to me that there was a difference until Eric and I sat down on our couch the night of my appointment at the gynecologist's, three months after stealing my mother's forty-year-old cookbook, and took our first slurps of Julia Child's potato soup.   Certainly I had made easier dinners. Unwrapping a cellophane-swathed hunk of London-broil and tossing it under the broiler was one method that came immediately to mind. Ordering pizza and getting drunk on Stoli gimlets while waiting for it to arrive, that was another favorite. Potage Parmentier didn't even hold a candle, in the easy department.

She goes on, several pages later:

Lulled by the calming music of ice clattering in the cocktail shaker, I began to ponder; this life we had going for ourselves, Eric and I, it felt like the opposite of Potage Parmentier. It was easy enough to keep on with the soul-sucking jobs; at least it saved having to make a choice. But how much longer could I take such an easy life? Quicksand was easy. Hell, death was easy. Maybe that's why my synapses had started snapping at the sight of potatoes and leeks in the Korean deli. Maybe that was what was plucking deep down in my belly whenever I thought of Julia Child's book. Maybe I needed to make like a potato, winnow myself down, be part of something that was not easy, just simple.

To me, she captures the reason Keith and I do a lot of the things we do, and why our plans for the future look the way they do. That's not to say we never take the easy way out, because we sometimes do (I pretty much always have a frozen pizza on hand for nights when cooking is just not going to happen).

Certainly it would be easier to forget the garden and buy all our vegetables. Jars of tomato sauce from the grocery store would be easier than canning all of ours. It's simpler, though, to know where at least some of our food comes from and to not worry about how loaded up it is with pesticides and preservatives.

It is simpler, too, to stay home with Bert, to have time to spend with him and time to take care of things around our home than it would be to add the pressures of both of us going to work each day. It would be easier, in a financial sense, if we had two incomes but we decided that wasn't the best choice for our family. That is not to say that I think households with two working parents picked the easy route, because I certainly understand that it is demanding to have both a career and a family. At any rate, I am pretty sure staying home isn't the easy way to go, because there are some long and trying days involved. I guess when it comes to kids, there probably isn't an easy route, and every family has to find what works for them.

I think what Julie Powell was saying, or at least what I was reading, is that it is good to take a longer look and put some work into the things that mean something to us, and taking the easy way out on the important things is cheating ourselves.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

The In-Between

I've read a few articles and posts lately about people, and whole families, having tech-free or electronic-free days. I think it's a great idea to disconnect from the screen and reconnect with the actual people around you, so I'm all for it. And since my 7-year-old laptop is on the fritz and our new computer is backordered, the Quarter-Acre Adventure is experiencing a bit of of disconnect, though not really willingly.

I'm avoiding loading any pictures and video onto this old computer, because I would have to then immediately back it up to an external hard drive. So for the next week or so, any posts will be photo-free, which is admittedly incredibly boring. And incredibly frustrating because I have at least three up my sleeve that I really want to share with you! I'm trying to reserve what ever life this computer has for other more necessary things, like my freelance work and stuff for the borough commission I'm on, while I wait for that hallowed package to be delivered.

In the meantime, I will try to go do some things and build up some more blog-worthy material. Thanks for your patience, and I can't wait to get back to blogging as normal!

Friday, January 4, 2013

Thrifty in '13

With a new year upon us, everybody seems to be making resolutions. Keith and I didn't sit down and specifically make any, but we do have some goals for this year. I know Keith wants to exercise more, and I just want to commit to doing more. I love to read, but I have to set the books aside and get a little busier. Here are some of the specific things I want to get busy at, and when I looked at my list, they all seemed to coincide with spending a little less too.

1. Baking bread. Bert loves toast, and I could definitely be a carb addict. It's time that I jumped in and starting making more of my own bread. Keith is campaigning for rye and fancy things; I just want a loaf of whole wheat that actually rises! My grammy has made all her own bread and rolls for as long as anyone can remember, so maybe I can carry on that tradition.

2. Grow more. More specifically, grow longer. We want to get some plantings started earlier, and plant some hardier things later in the season, and really get the most out of the garden space we have. This past fall, I actually threw a few more lettuce and spinach seeds into one of our small beds and we were eating salads into November. I think we can do better though, and add some things like cabbage and brussels sprouts to our fall plantings.

3. Get clean. I should spend more time cleaning. We may not have the budget to have all new floors and furniture, but we should at least have clean floors and furniture. In that vein, I also want to make more of my own cleaning products, using things like vinegar and baking soda.

4. New windows. Our planned big project for this year that we are budgeting for is new windows and a door for our mud room/laundry room. If you are wondering how that fits into being thrifty, you should feel the cold air that comes in around them all winter long. I think replacing them will go a long way in reducing our heating costs, as well as being more secure. And looking a lot better.

5. Stay entertained. With Bert getting older and more active, we are always on the lookout for fun things to do as a family that don't cost too much. I want to be better about searching out and planning more low-cost activities for us.

6. Get craftier. I really enjoy making cards and gifts. My problem is that I don't plan ahead and give myself enough time to do projects. So the goal for this year is to keep an eye on the calendar and get busy with making personalized cards and thoughtful gifts. Oh, and I started a BIG project for Bert, which I will fill you in on soon.

So there it is. I've said it so you can all hold me to it. But please don't be too hard on me if you don't get a handmade card for your birthday, ok?

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Bringing Home the Bacon

As I mentioned in my last post, we had bacon bread pudding for breakfast on Christmas morning. It was very good, and we gobbled it up but I doubt it will become a Christmas tradition. Even though it was simple to make, it took awhile so I think next year I will opt for something I can put together the night before and slide in the oven when we get up. I know some other bread puddings do have to sit overnight before baking, but I think the bacon in this one would get soggy doing that. At any rate, here is the recipe because it was still really good, and I'm sure I'll make it again. Maybe for dinner next time since a certain little man likes to eat pretty promptly in the morning.

Bacon Bread Pudding
Family Circle, November 2012

6 oz. bacon (about 6 slices), diced
4 eggs
2 c. whole milk
6 oz. sharp white cheddar cheese, shredded (1 1/2 c.)
1/2 c. sliced scallions
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
1 loaf brioche or challah bread (about 1 lb.), cubed into 1-inch pieces (about 12 cups)

Heat oven to 350 degrees. In a skillet over medium heat, cook bacon 5 to 7 minutes, until crispy. Remove with a slotted spoon; set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together eggs and milk. Stir in cooked bacon, cheese, scallions, salt and pepper. Stir in bread cubes, coating well with egg mixture. Set aside for 10 minutes, stirring every once in a while to coat with egg mixture.

Transfer bread-egg mixture to a 2-quart baking dish. Cover with foil. Bake at 350 degrees for 35 minutes. Remove foil and bake another 10 to 15 minutes (mine had to go at least another 20 after I took the foil off) until browned and eggs are set (a knife inserted in the bread pudding will come out clean). Allow bread pudding to cool 10 minutes before serving.

I have to say, I'm kind of in love with scallions at the moment. They make everything look so pretty. And when most of our vegetables are frozen or canned all winter long, I love having that fresh little crunch in a dish. So there you have it.

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