Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Day’ O’ the Green

Both grandboys wore green and had a fun activity at school to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. We had a good time hearing about the naughty antics of those little leprechauns in the classrooms. They made messes and left footprints all over. One of them even dropped his hat on the floor in his hurry to avoid all the leprechaun traps the kids put out. Fun, fun!

Despite our Irish heritage, we’ve never really celebrated the day much. Even so, this morning when I was writing out our weekly menu board, I drew a shamrock next to today’s entry. Brad saw it and asked if he could draw something too.

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It’s a one-of-a-kind leprechaun with a shamrock on his hat. Special effort was made to ensure he had five fingers on each hand. Then he wrote “LEPR ECHAU N” next to it. Now it looks like “leprechaun” is on the menu. I assure you, no leprechauns were harmed for this meal. LOL.DSCN9868

Since today is Taco Tuesday, we had taco pizza for supper. That was Brad’s request, and he asked to write it on the board. Since it’s St. Patrick’s Day, and we were drawing shamrocks, I added shamrock shakes to the meal.

 

Of course they were homemade shakes, using plain vanilla ice cream, skim milk, about a tablespoon of vanilla extract, and a touch of green food coloring, but they made our meal a tiny bit more special. They were topped with whipped cream and green sprinkles, and served in canning jars. The boys were excited when I put them on the table. DSCN9888

So that was our nod to the day. It wasn’t much effort, yet was fun and tasty. To me, it’s these little things we do in the course of a regular day that make special moments and memories.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Taco-ish Tuesday (Fajitas!)

The grandboys are here for supper at least a few times during the week, so if they’re here on Tuesday night, we have Taco Tuesday! Sometimes this really means tacos, but I try to switch it up and serve a variety of our favorite Mexican dishes. One of those favorite recipes is for fajitas. Most usually I use boneless skinless chicken breasts, and several years ago I found a fajita marinade recipe that works for any kind of meat on allrecipes.com. The link is to the same recipe, but a different person than the original post I printed out in 2001.

I make this marinade as written here. If you look at the recipe I linked to, there are comments with some changes some people made to make it work for them.

¼ C lime juice

1/3 C water

2 T olive oil

4 cloves garlic, crushed

2 tsp soy sauce

2 dashes liquid smoke

1 tsp salt

½ tsp cayenne pepper

½ tsp ground black pepper

Combine all ingredients in a one gallon zipper bag. Add meat to marinade and store in refrigerator overnight, or at least 2 hours.  This recipe makes 1½ cups of marinade, enough for 2 pounds of meat.

I usually put it all together in the morning and marinate the meat all day. Sometimes the chicken breasts are still frozen, so they thaw and marinate at the same time.

 a cast iron grill pan is the next best thing to cooking outside…

The peppers and onions don’t get a marinade soak, but do cook alongside that flavorful meat when I have to cook it inside. If the meat is grilled outside, the veggies are sautéed in the cast iron skillet on the grill. The meat is let to rest for a few minutes after cooking, then sliced for serving. The meat is juice and tender and so flavorful. Depending on how much cayenne pepper is used, it can also pack a bit of heat. It is so, so good! Besides the chicken breasts, I have used round steak, and one time I had some shrimp that was very tasty.

We always have multi-colored peppers and white onions, but you can use whatever color of pepper you prefer. You could add sautéed mushrooms as well.

These are served in warmed flour tortillas with a sprinkle of sharp cheddar cheese and sour cream. Side dishes always include refried beans, and sometimes homemade Spanish rice, and/or a tossed green salad. Greg likes to have picante sauce with his.

I’d love to hear if you have a favorite fajita recipe. We’re always open to trying a new twist on old favorites!

 

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Thursday, January 1, 2015

Happy Happy New Year, Baby!

happy new year clipart 2015 (8) Last year was full of blessings and challenges, and it went really fast. I’m at that age where I don’t wish away time, but frankly, I’m not so sorry to see it gone. Now is the time to think about New Year’s resolutions, and I have a few things in mind, but my main goal is to keep up.

Keep up with housework and laundry. You know what bothers me most about housework and laundry? That no matter how good a job I do, it’ll have to be done again tomorrow. Argh. Some major decluttering will make this easier to keep up with. When there is less stuff to get messy, there’s less work to keep the space clean. I should confess that laundry is really not a big problem. Last summer we got our first new washer/dryer set after using some pretty reliable, but mismatched appliances for about 30 years. It’s such a pleasure to do laundry these days when it doesn’t take three hours to dry a load. The washer had a learning curve, but I think I’ve got it figured out now. I was pretty thrilled with the light inside the dryer drum. Yep, that was a novelty for me.

Keep up with meals, making them varied and nutritious and frugal. I cook most of our meals from scratch, keeping recipe ingredients in the freezer so it’s easy to throw together a casserole or pot of something delicious. I start feeling like we eat the same things over and over again, though. Sometimes I’m just weary, mentally and physically, and it seems a Herculean task to put a meal on the table at the end of the day. It’s much too easy to call Greg and have him bring home takeout. He enjoys and appreciates my cooking, but is just as happy to buy our supper and bring it home… January is pantry/freezer challenge month, where we eat from what we already have and buy no new groceries except fresh produce and dairy. This will be the third year we’ve done this challenge, and we have fun trying new recipes to use up what we have.

Keep up with the garden, weeding and harvesting in a timely fashion and preserving as much as possible. Oh, my little garden that I just love. A few years ago Greg built some small raised beds for the new vegetable garden I wanted to start. It’s turned into mostly an herb garden, and every year I learn new ways to use and preserve those herbs. We plant tomatoes and bell peppers, but that’s about it for vegetables. There is talk around here today of adding more raised beds and more vegetables – Greg found the seed catalog that came in the mail this week. He really enjoys the planning part of the garden, notsomuch the planting, weeding, watering, harvesting, processing and preserving parts. I won’t say he never helps, but the garden is pretty much my responsibility.

Keep up with the busy preschool boys and the new tiny girl who will arrive any time now. Yep. That’s where the “Happy New Year BABY” comes in. Our new little granddaughter, Layla, is due to be born next week. Jess and the boys moved in with us last June, so our household is hopping already. Hopefully Layla will enjoy the chaos. You might wonder, if Jess is living here, why I’m the one who has to do all the keeping up? I’m not. Everyone helps around here. I just feel like I should drive the train that keeps us all on track. Some days that goes smoother than others.

We have a couple of big house projects coming in the Spring, and I’ve joined in a challenge to make Christmas presents all year long so the next holiday season will be a tiny bit more relaxed. Jess and I have a small business venture happening in the near future which will require some elbow grease and creativity. In between these things, I’ll be here in my little corner of the prairie, keeping up.

 

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Monday, December 15, 2014

New-Old Chalkboard

In late September I picked up a couple of big-ish chalkboards at a local garage sale for $1. They’re well-used and bit beat up, but I still wanted to use one in my holiday decorating. After a quick check of Christmas chalkboard art on Pinterest, I decided to make a version of “O Holy Night” that I saw in the flea market/craft goods store awhile back. It was simple, yet expresses the meaning of the season.

Since the board sat in the garage for a few months, it got a good scrub to clean up, then “seasoned”, so that what we write and draw on it will erase. This is done by covering the chalkboard in chalk, then wiping it clean with a dry eraser or cloth.

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I printed out the text using the Pristina font and set the size to 400. Rub chalk on the back of the paper, then put it where you want it on the board and trace the lettering on the front side of the paper. It leaves you a very light outline to trace and fill in. Jess thought it looked tedious, and it kind of is, but I got the neat, straight text I wanted. I did the same with an outline drawing of the nativity. Silas wanted to help, and I was almost finished, so he only got to fill in one letter, the “t”. He did a great job!

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Here’s the final result. As I sit and stare at it, I see lots of things to do differently, but I’m not touching it. My first reaction was that I really liked it, so I’m sticking with that.

I did use a level to hang it up, and it’s still about ¼” off, but I was done fussing.

 

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I like having that big blank space filled up.

The other board is the same size, just with a blue frame. Jess and I have plans to refurbish both of them, then I think I may keep one up all the time.

 

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Monday, December 8, 2014

Weekend Fun and Not-so-fun

This past weekend was busy and chaotic and included a couple of injuries tucked in for fun. We started early Saturday morning with homemade blueberry muffins for breakfast before heading off to visit with Santa. Both boys were a bit giddy at the prospect of seeing the old guy in person. Silas seemed especially nervous and excited. Of course, they had their entourage go along to watch – Mama and Daddy, me, Grampy, and Papa Bob, all not wanting to miss this fleeting childhood moment. (I was remembering many years past when my mom would take all five of us kids downtown to the courthouse to stand in line in the cold to see Santa. I’d be sick to my stomach with excitement for that quick moment on his lap and a tiny candy cane treat to take home. I’m not a candy can fan as far as eating them goes, so I’d hang it on the Christmas tree when I got home. Oh, and that old courthouse was such a beautiful building. I was so sad when they tore it down and built something more “modern”. Ugh. Yes, probably full of lead paint and asbestos, but it was also full of character and history.) This “Santa” was very kind and soft-spoken, chatting a bit with each child before posing for a photo. Brad said Santa asked him what his wish was. I’m not sure Brad understood that was the moment to tell the big guy about Star Wars Legos. He seemed pretty star struck sitting there.

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We did a little grocery shopping after the visit, then headed home to decorate the Christmas tree. My brother brought his kids over to join in the fun and they had that tree decorated in 10 minutes or so. My nephews and niece are getting so big – look at how tall Wyatt is, reaching to the top layers of tree branches. We had a quick lunch, then made some cookies and did a little craft. They’re fun kids and always so polite and ready to help. Wyatt vacuumed the living room, Grace helped fold some laundry, and Garett entertained the little guys outside for a long time.

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On Sunday there was more decorating. I sorted through the rest of my decoration totes, trying to decide what to use, what to put away, and what to get rid of. Jess and the boys set up a small tree in their bedroom. We picked it up at Goodwill a couple of weeks ago for a few dollars. They love it. I won’t be surprised if Brad refuses to let it be put away after the holiday season. Silas insisted on a star for the top, so I dug out a rustic twig star ornament I’ve had for tens of years. He was disappointed it didn’t sparkle. Maybe Santa can bring one of those for him… They added a few more things after this pic was taken, and their tree is really quite charming.

I mentioned injuries in the beginning of this post. Everyone looks pretty much unscathed here, don’t they? Earlier in the day before the boys got here, Silas slipped on the kitchen floor and got a fat lip and bloody nose. Then while we were sorting out decorations, Brad tripped on stuff on the floor and hit his eye on the edge of a chair. Instant bruising and a small cut, but some ice and a band-aid made it all better. He wore his Batman mask to the dinner table so we wouldn’t be able to see his owie. At that time, he planned to wear it to school today as well. I’m kind of hoping he forgets that plan. LOL. This morning he has a bruise on his eyelid, and won’t let us take the band-aid off to check the cut, but was happy to get a pic of his first black eye. 

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Speaking of the dinner table, Grampy made us a most-delicious pork loin roast in the infrared “fryer”. This fryer roasts meat all the way around, making a crispy crust on the outside, and juicy succulent meat on the inside. He cooked our Thanksgiving turkey the same way and it was probably the best turkey we’ve had. Bird went in the basket, the basket went into the fryer, Greg came back into the house to help with the rest of the meal. No babysitting the oil, making sure the garage doesn’t burn down.

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After bath, the boys snuggled into clean jammies and settled in for some Grinch on TV. It wasn’t long before that idyllic scene was ruined when poor Silas started whining and squirming and then got sick all over himself and Jessica. Oh, that was nasty. I donned the vinyl gloves before peeling his jams off and trying to clean him up while Jess was getting herself taken care of. Ugh. He promptly fell asleep, but was up a couple more times through the night. This morning he’s perky and chatty, but doesn’t want to eat. No preschool and some quiet activities today should have him back to himself. Fingers crossed that is the end of it, but I fear for the rest of us.

So, that’s what’s happening in my prairie corner right now. Today we’ll do some more decorating and get the totes put away, then perhaps we’ll bake a treat to tuck away for our family celebrations later this month. We’ll see where the day takes us…

 

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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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