Sunday, September 14, 2014

Having (and eating) Cake!

My two grandboys are 22 months apart in age, with one birthday at the end of July and one the end of September. The eldest one has a summer visitation schedule with his other family that means he will most usually always be gone for the younger one’s special day. Brad felt strongly that he didn’t want to miss Silas’s birthday, so we held off on a party until the boys could be together. Today was the day to celebrate with our families and we had a very fun time.

Jessica made her boys’ cakes and decorated them with some help from her Aunt Tonita. We were expecting around 25 guests, so she made fairly large cakes. Brad’s was a 12” double layer and Silas’s was one 12” and one 6” layer. She used one white and two chocolate cake mixes. Each chocolate mix made the 12” layer plus a 6” cake we used for “sampling”. Both cakes were delicious. Jess used a “doctored” cake mix recipe that results in cake with a lovely moist texture with a slight denseness so it holds up well to decorating. For the chocolate cake, she replaced 1/4 cup of the added flour with 1/4 cup cocoa powder. That adds a nice depth to the chocolate flavor of the cake mix.

The buttercream recipes were from Wilton’s web site. Homemade frosting is so easy to make and tastes infinitely better than any canned. I’m particularly fond of their chocolate buttercream recipe.

Since we had the party outside, we used cardboard cake boards that were stashed in a cupboard. After it sat all night, I was wishing we’d have covered the Hulk cake board with foil. It kind of absorbed some of the oil from the buttercream. If I hadn’t had those round boards, we’d have just cut some cardboard from a box stash I have, covered that with foil, and been happy.

Brad had asked for a Mario cake early in the summer, so when McDonalds had Mario toys in their Happy Meals, we just bought one of each toy and saved them to top Brad’s cake. He found a Mario candle at the store last week to add to it. Jess used alphabet cookie cutters pressed into the frosting, then traced them for Brad’s name, and put some colorful sprinkles on top. This cake was chocolate with chocolate frosting between layers and vanilla buttercream on top. Y.U.M.

Silas wanted a green Hulk cake, and he prefers vanilla, so his was white cake with vanilla buttercream. They left the top layer color white so the Hulk wouldn’t blend in too much to see him, but sprinkled some green sugar on it. The green frosting was colored with Americolor gel food coloring and was the perfect shade for Hulk. You can’t really see it in this photo, but Jess wrote his name and a big “3” on it with black tube frosting. I picked up a small Hulk figure from the store toy aisle to use as a topper.

These cakes were inexpensive, yet tasty, and took just a couple of hours of effort. I didn’t keep track of the cost of ingredients, but I’d ballpark each cake at less than $10. Not only did we save some money, but they were made with love and creativity not to be had from a store bakery. The fun she had making them and working with my sister to decorate doesn’t have a price tag. We know they look homemade, but for us that’s a huge part of the charm. There will never be any other cakes just like them.

 

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Monday, July 7, 2014

Campfire Cookin’

We don’t camp, but do appreciate a nice campfire, so a few years ago we got a small fire pit for the yard. It only gets used a few times in the summer and fall, but it’s nice to have for s’mores when the craving hits.  A couple of weeks ago when my nieces were visiting, we let the kids make their own campfire meal packets for supper and Greg cooked them on the fire pit.

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I sliced up some bell peppers, onion, carrot, baby gold potatoes, added some fresh broccoli and shredded cheese. The chicken breasts were just seasoned with some Misty’s all-purpose seasoning blend (which is DELICIOUS). Each person assembled their own packet, including whichever of the veggies they desired with some chicken, a little drizzle of olive oil and some salt and pepper.

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The cheese was good, but really needed to be added after the packet cooked. Most of it cooked away and just stuck to the foil. We wrapped each of them and they wrote their name on the foil, then Greg tucked them into the fire. They took about 20-ish minutes to get the potatoes done. Everything else was very done by then, but it was moist and flavorful. Everyone enjoyed them and the kids ate all their veggies that night.

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Greg enjoyed that meal so much that he requested we do veggie packets for our 4th of July supper. For that night, we had potatoes, bell peppers, mushrooms, zucchini, onions, and radishes. No meat in the foil since Greg grilled steaks. He cooked the packets on the grill as well. Those were good, but when the veggies cook with the meat they’re a bit more sumptuous.

Of course s’mores will always be the go-to campfire food for us – if there’s fire, there must be marshmallows…

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Monday, June 30, 2014

Sunshine on a Cloudy Day

It’s so GLOOMY here with the gray leaden sky and heavy humidity making it unpleasant to open windows, yet not hot enough for the a/c to run. It’s misting/sprinkling off and on but I’ve sent the boys outside to play anyway. They’re not so sweet they’ll melt in a little rain. (Do I sound like my mom?)

There are a few spots of brightness out there with the flowers that are profusely growing and adding a little sunshine to my life. Remember last month when we mulched and set up the galvanized tubs and the wagon? Here’s what’s going on out there today:

The screen door got a grapevine wreath hung with a strip of burlap. I love the textures and simplicity.

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The baker’s rack drawer is planted and a few things on the shelf for fun. The old colander is from a garage sale and the clay angel bust is many years old. It’s always just rested on the deck rail. Down below is the chicken feeder I’ve had for years. I always thought I’d plant that with hens and chicks, and still might, but it looks good with all the colorful annuals.

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This tub has lavender that is just thriving. The corner is going to be a troublesome spot because the cat likes to utilize the mulch in a less-than-desirable way, shall we say. Oh, and the tree poking it’s pesky branches out from under the deck. Just keep trimming, trimming, trimming…

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The wagon looks just as fun with flowers as I remembered. In front is that hardy coleus-kind-of plant. I’ll have to look next time I visit the nursery and see what that’s called. Argh. Middle-age does not treat my memory kindly. LOL.

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Under the magnolia tree I planted three nice-sized clay pots. In the biggest one is a pineapple sage that smells amazing. I love the look of the pots under the tree.

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There is still a lot I want to do out here. I have several more neat things to use for planters and decoration, and I’d love to put some perennials in there eventually. It’s all clay soil, so that will take some work. Not to rush the season, but I can’t wait to fill things up with mums and pumpkins!

 

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Sunday, June 1, 2014

Gardening Work Day

It’s been a few years since I’ve tried to do much for landscaping in the beds that run along the front of the house. Last year we lost the huge bleeding heart plant that was in the corner between the deck and the house, which left it pretty much barren except for the weeds. It was annoying and embarrassing, but I didn’t have the energy or inclination to worry about it. That’s the way it was for all my gardening by mid-summer. I just couldn’t do it, and it was frustrating. Turns out, there was a medical reason I felt so bad, but that’s dealt with and I feel great now. I feel like the fun is back in gardening this year and I’m excited about it!

Jessica was without children on Saturday, and since she’s not working right now, she agreed to come help me with a big project inside the house. I thought I’d have her help me with a small outside project first, which turned into just doing the entire front over the course of the day. I don’t have any before or during pics. Just imagine dirt, weeds, and general boredom.

Three or four years ago I dug out Nick’s old red wagon and planted it with flowers. I’d forgotten how fun it is to have it filled with colorful blooms. In a few weeks you’ll see what I mean when these small bedding plants fill out.

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There are some yellow violets and dark purple violets, then lots of blue lobelia which I love. The plant in front of the wagon is three or four years old and I cannot for the life of me remember what it is. It’s a brave and hearty soul, though, as it comes back every year even after I pretty much ignore it and the boys tramp on it during their play. On the left of the plant is a bowling ball covered in rocks, and on the right are some of my rocks from Colorado.

Here’s a shot of that whole side of the front deck:

DSCN7252 The tree is a white magnolia, whatever variety is hardy up here in the North. It was given to me as a birthday gift about 16 years ago. It was a stick in a pot, and we weren’t sure if it would survive the first winter, but it’s obviously thrived. It blooms in the very early spring and the blooms usually always get frozen and/or beaten to death by the wind, but for a day or two it shines with hope that winter will indeed end and Spring is on the horizon. There are columbines to the left of the high chair and a nice hosta to the right. You can see some more of my decorated bowling balls up on the deck in that corner. We cleaned up the sucker branches on the tree and got new mulch down.

Now the other side is a whole lot of real estate that needs some sprucing up:

DSCN7251 Jess pulled all the weeds, which weren’t too many yet, and she dug up some trees from the corner that made her release some frustrations before they came out. We planted a new pink magnolia tree that Silas pick it out about a month ago when it had huge pink blossoms.

We brought over the galvanized tubs from the back porch, and I moved the baker’s rack from the patio. All of it was mulched it looks so much better.

We don’t have much sidewalk out front, but it’s wide and smooth, so that’s where the boys ride their bikes and other vehicles most of the time. Those bikes are always all over the front yard and sidewalk. Now they have a parking area:DSCN7248 I can’t tell you where the “Visitors Parking” sign came from, just that Jess has had it since high school (ahem) and it’s been tucked into a corner of our garage. I think it’s perfect for this spot for now.

Moving on down, there is a galvanized tub and the new magnolia, then the baker’s rack. I have plans for the baker’s rack that will make it much prettier. More on that maybe next week.

DSCN7249The tub is filled with annuals: a lavender, a geranium, some alyssum, and more lobelia. My galvanized tubs are old, snagged at garage sales a long long time ago for $1 each. They are heavy and sturdy and have held up to dirt and plants since I brought them home.

This last spot is a favorite new one of mine and came out just the way I saw it in my mind:

DSCN7250The screen door is very old and missing the bottom edge. It was a gift and I love it! It needs a climber planted at the bottom, and I’m thinking some blue Morning Glories. The rocking chair, too, is very old and was also a gift. The seat is missing so I just tucked a small enamel bowl in that spot. More lobelia, alyssum, and geraniums prettify all of it. Oh, and more Colorado rocks as well. (Colorado holds a special place in my heart since I was born in Denver and some of my favorite cousins live near there.)  

I had only planned to get a start on this outside project yesterday, and was so very happy to actually get it done. No more weeds and embarrassment. Now I can play with it and build a pretty front area for our home. I have lots more fun planned out here. Stay tuned…

 

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Thursday, May 1, 2014

Quick Quilt Top

Sewing. Love to do it. Not very good at it.

I find the actually sewing part fun, but the cutting and measuring and ironing and snipping are tedious to me. Still, I like to make things, so I try to do fast projects. A little over a year ago this link was posted to an email list I subscribe to. A quilt top in 40 minutes? I wouldn’t have to measure and cut? I was intrigued.

I purchased a couple packages of “slices” of fabric at the local Marts of Wal – two of them were close to equal yardage of a jelly roll and cost quite a bit less. (A note about the fabric – it is not the best quality fabric I’ve ever used. Not surprising considering the price. This quilt won’t get lots of handling after it’s finished, so I’m okay with it. If I were to do this for a child, I’d buy much better quality fabric in a jelly roll.)

It took me quite awhile longer than 40 minutes to get everything sewn together, but I’m counting the time spent sewing the strips one by one into a long chain of fabric. So it went from this:

To this:

over the course of an afternoon. The colors work perfectly in the master bedroom. I plan to keep it lightweight and use it as a throw on the bed for those few and far-between naps I get to indulge in. Now how long will it take to get it finished into a real blanket? Honestly I could have it done in another afternoon. Stay tuned…

 

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Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Tie Your Shoes

For the past several weeks, Brad’s been trying to tie his own shoes. Just for a fun way to practice, I made this lacing card for him using a piece of cardboard, some eyelets, and a long shoelace.

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The Crop-A-Dile I got for Christmas made quick work of setting the eyelets.

tying shoes 2 Those extra eyelets are for lacing practice. You don’t need eyelets to make a lacing card, but they do make the card fun and colorful as well as sturdier so it will last a few years for Silas to be able to learn with it, too.

Brad really likes it and has practiced enough that the other day he tied his own shoes, almost completely by himself.

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Success!

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Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Lunch from the Freezer

For the past sixteen years or so I’ve been doing some form of freezer cooking. By “freezer cooking” I mean putting either entire meals or the recipe-ready components for meals in the freezer to use at a later date. I’ve done the “cook all day and make whole meals” method, doubled recipes so we could eat one night and freeze the second for later, and just cooked meal or recipe ingredients to put together the night we eat. That could include browned ground beef, cooked chicken, cooked rice, homemade refried beans, cooked meatballs, homemade spaghetti sauce, etc. Freezer cooking was invaluable to me when I was working full time and the kids were in high school.

Even though Greg and I have been “empty-nesters” for a few years, I still do freezer cooking for us, as well as for lunches with the grandboys four days a week. Since I’m picking Brad up from preschool in town right at the time I should be cooking, I try to have it ready before we leave, then tuck it into the toaster oven to get or stay warm during the 45 minutes that trip takes. I like to feed them a hot lunch most days, and they are usually more than ready to eat by the time we get home, so having it ready to go makes the lunch hour much more enjoyable.

Today I pulled the components from the freezer for a delicious recipe of chicken and rice. I had cooked rice, cooked chicken, and homemade chicken stock to use. Then after making the recipe, I was able to put enough into the freezer for a second lunch for us in a few weeks.chicken rice

Here is the original recipe, with the changes I made in blue:

Cheesy Broccoli Rice Casserole Cups
Author/Source: Kim @ onceamonthmeals.com
Ingredients:
  • 1 cup brown rice (uncooked) (I had cooked brown rice already in the freezer, so used that and about 1/4 C homemade chicken broth)
  • 2 cups chicken broth
  • 2 cups broccoli, cut into florets  (yeah, I forgot about the broccoli – blame it on the time change! LOL)
  • 1 Tablespoon parsley flakes
  • 0.5 teaspoons garlic salt
  • 0.5 teaspoons onion powder
  • 0.25 teaspoons pepper
  • salt to taste
  • 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese (reserve 1/4 cup for topping)
  • 0.25 cups plain yogurt  (didn’t have any yogurt, so used light sour cream instead)
  • 2 Tablespoons whole milk
  • 2 medium eggs, beaten
  • 1 Cup cooked, chopped chicken
Directions:

Cook rice according to package directions, but substitute chicken broth for water. Meanwhile, steam broccoli until crisp tender in the microwave or over stovetop. (If you are using a rice cooker, you may be able to steam the broccoli with the rice.) Place rice and broccoli in a large mixing bowl and cool slightly. Stir in remaining ingredients reserving 1/4 of cheddar cheese for topping. Scoop into a greased or paper lined muffin tin. Sprinkle reserved cheese on top. Bake at 350 degrees for about 25 minutes until lightly browned and crisp. (I used a large-muffin tin, and there was a bit of mix leftover, so that went into a ramekin. It popped right out after cooling.)

Freezing Directions:

Cook as directed above. Cool casserole cups completely. Divide among freezer bags, label, and store. To serve: Thaw and reheat in microwave or toaster oven.

Servings: 4 (about 15 cups)

 

These were served with hot green beans and fresh Halo oranges. Yum. I like that the recipe did not include any “cream of…” soup at all. The yogurt (or sour cream in my case) and egg hold it all together, helped out by the melted cheese. Since my rice was pre-cooked and frozen, I added only a touch of chicken stock, which seemed to work just fine.

 

Supper tonight and part of lunch tomorrow will also be from the freezer. Even though I’m home all day, the boys keep me pretty busy, and freezer food makes sure we get a good homemade meal on the table.

 

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