Monday, September 15, 2014

Ornament of the Month: Felt Candy Cane

I'm not gonna lie: I have made so many of these little cuties! I made a ton last year for my tree, then this year, I designed my own candy cane and made some more. I purposefully designed my own this year so I could sell my finished product, but designing a candy cane is rather simple to do. If you're looking to make candy canes for yourself or for gifts (ie. not for profit), you can find a candy cane ornament template online very easily.

Here's what you need to make a candy cane ornament:
  • Red and white felt
  • Red thread
  • Needle
  • Scissors
  • Cardstock
  • Pencil
Here's how you make a candy cane ornament:
  1. First, choose a template online or design your own.
  2. Once the template is printed/drawn, cut out the individual pieces. I personally like the simplicity and design of a candy cane with 4 red stripes vs. more or less.
  3. You'll need 2 white pieces for each ornament you are going to make, so be sure you cut your white pieces out accordingly.
  4. After all the pieces are cut out, simply pin on one red piece at a time, starting with the top most piece and sew it on. I used a straight stitch. To sew on the red pieces, you will only sew the non-border sides of the red. So for the top most piece, I sewed the two lines going up and down. I did not sew around the edges.
  5. After all the red pieces are sewn on, again making sure not to sew them on the border, make a loop for your ornament to hang on the tree. I always make my loop on the backing piece.
  6. Next, pin your backing piece with the loop to the top piece with the red stripes. Now, you will sew all around the border, which means at times, you will sew through three pieces - the two white candy cane pieces and the red stripes.
  7. Ta-da: all done!
Happy crafting!

Friday, September 12, 2014

In the Kitchen with Jason (and David): Vegetable Lasagne

I enjoyed this lasagna. Jess didn't even want to try it, but she is pregnant so you can't really trust her judgement. It turned out well and I got to use some fresh veggies that my Nana gave to us. Though good, it was not my favorite lasagna ever because I tend to enjoy the lasagnas with meat more than those without. I did leave out the roasted red peppers accidentally, but I don't think that it caused a massive change in the outcome.

  • 2 Tbsp EVOO
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 1 green bell pepper, diced
  • 2 small zucchini, diced (I used a single large zucchini)
  • 2 small yellow squash, diced (I used a single large zucchini)
  • 1 head of broccoli, with the florets separated and chopped
  • 1 12 oz. can of roasted red peppers, drained and diced
  • 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 8 oz. goat cheese
  • 8 oz. ricotta cheese
  • 2 tsp minced garlic
  • 1 1/2 tsp chopped fresh thyme
  • 1 1/2 tsp dried oregano
  • 4 cups Marinara Sauce
  • 1 lb no-boil lasagna noodles
  • 1/2 cup Parmigianno-Reggiano
  • 3 Tbsp fresh parsley, chopped
  • Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.
  • Grease a 9 x 13 ovenproof pan.
  • Heat the EVOO in a large skillet over medium-high heat.
  • Once heated add the bell pepper, zucchini, yellow squash and broccoli and cook for about 5 minutes.
  • Remove from heat, stir in the roasted red peppers and the red pepper flakes, and set aside.
  • In a bowl, mix the goat cheese, ricotta cheese, garlic, thyme, and oregano until combined.
  • In the greased pan, layer from the bottom up; 1 cup marinara, 1/3 of the lasagna noodles, 1/2 the vegetables, 1/2 the cheese mixture (you will need to carefully spread this with a spatula/fork), 1 1/2 cup marinara, 1/3 of the lasagna noodles, the remaining vegetable, the remaining cheese mixture (again you will need to spread this), the remaining lasagna noodles, the remaining marinara, and top it off with the Parmigianno-Reggiano.
  • Cover the whole pan with aluminum foil and bake for 45 minutes.
  • Remove the cover and cook for an additional 15 minutes.
  • After removing it from the oven, let it sit for about 10 minutes.
  • After plating a serving, garnish the slice with the chopped parsley.
Side note: The recipe stated that this would make 8 servings, but I cut it into 12 slices and no one went hungry with the diminished serving size.

Please enjoy!

-Chef Jason

Thursday, September 11, 2014

This Book Room: Draw-a-Saurus

Even though they lived some 65 million years ago, dinosaurs and other prehistoric reptiles continue to rule today. From movies to comics and cartoons, these ancient, giant beasts are everywhere you turn. Of course, who wants to just read about or watch these dinos when you can learn how to use pencils, pens, markers, and more to draw your very own?

Cartoonist James Silvani combines easy-to-follow art exercises with the latest, greatest dino-facts to help you create fun and cool dinosaur doodles all by yourself. With lessons on old favorites like T-rex and stegosaurus, as well as lesser-known (but still awesome) creatures like the massive argentinosaurus, Draw-a-Saurus has everything the dinosaur fan could ever ask for (outside of their very own pet dino!).

My thoughts: this is quite a book. I was beyond excited to get this book for later use with my Bug, but until I received it, I never imagined how in-depth this book would be. I would highly recommend this for older children, rather than younger. Depending on their skill and attention level, my estimate is that for most kids, this would be appropriate for 8 years and up.

If your children is into art, I would suggest starting them off at a young age with a simple drawing book to get them acclimated with basic art skills. That would make following this book easier, though, you can just start art at age 8 (but I think that would be a grave disservice to your kids to wait that long to introduce them to art).

Dinosaurs are generally thought of to be a "boy" thing, and I also find that to be a disservice to all of humankind. I think dinos are pretty stinking cool, and the dinosaur-themed books out today for kids are awesome. If you're home-schooling or planning some lessons at home for your traditionally schooled child, you could spend an entire week or more on just dinosaur-themed activities and lessons; this book would be a fantastic addition to your lesson plan. Not only does it incorporate art, but it also incorporates reading, handwriting and spelling.

No doubt about it - I will be hanging onto this book until Bug is a bit older, and we will definitely be doing a lesson plan around dinosaurs. In the meantime, I may try my hand at drawing these awesome dinos!

Thanks to Waterbrook Multnomah Publishing Group for providing a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

In the Kitchen with Jason (and David): Chicken-Fried Steak with Country Gravy

This recipe didn't turn out as well as I had hoped. The problem is my inability to properly fry anything in oil without the use of a Fry Daddy. The steaks were a little dark around the edges and because of that the gravy looked like its main ingredient was burning. Good luck if you try and make this recipe, though, if you do make it, rest assured that it will most likely turn out better than my poor attempt.

This one might have been better off without a picture. Just try to
imagine it not looking so burnt and unappetizing.
  • Two 1/4 lb cube steaks (or a 1/2 lb cube steak cut in half)
  • 3/4 tsp kosher salt, divided
  • 1/2 cup flour + 3 Tbsp flour, divided
  • 1/4 cup bread crumbs
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tsp water
  • 1/2 cup canola oil
  • 1 Tbsp butter
  • 1/4 tsp white pepper
  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp onion powder
  • 1 1/2 cups milk
  • Place each steak between two pieces of plastic wrap and pound with the flat side of a meat tenderizer until it is 1/4 of an inch thick.
  • Season the steaks with 1/2 tsp of the salt.
  • On a plate mix together 1/2 cup flout and the bread crumbs.
  • On another plate mix the eggs with the water.
  • Dredge the steaks through the flour, then the egg, and then back through the flour.
    • Make sure that you get a good coating of the flour mixture on the steaks, even put it on there by hand if you feel a spot is lacking.
  • Heat the canola oil in a large skillet.
  • When the oil is hot (I don't know how hot hot is but I made mine too hot), fry the steaks until cooked through. This will be about 3 minutes per side.
  • Move the steaks to a plate and pour out all but 2 Tbsp of the oil from the skillet.
    • If your steaks ended up getting a little charred like mine did, you may want to use fresh oil. I didn't and it was not for the best.
  • Over medium heat, melt the butter with the reserved oil in the same skillet you cooked the steak in.
  • Sprinkle in the remaining flour.
  • Whisk and cook until it turns a golden brown.
  • Whisk in the remaining salt, pepper, garlic powder, and onion powder.
  • Gradually whisk in the milk and bring to a boil.
  • Whisk constantly and cook for an additional 10 minutes. 
    • If the gravy seems too thick, you can add an bit more milk (or stop cooking it...).
  • Pour the gravy over the steaks before serving.
Please enjoy!

-Chef Jason

Monday, September 8, 2014

Purposeful Parenting: Play Ideas for 1-Year-Olds

Now that your baby has officially graduated to toddler status, you'll notice his or her developments are rapidly coming along. Your tot may have started to walk, is gibbering in his or her own language (with some actual words thrown in there for good measure) and is interested in far more than ever before. Here are some good ways to actively engage and play with your tot:

Swimming Time
Before, your child may have really only spent time in water in the tub. But now that baby is a tot, you can definitely take your tot swimming in an actual pool or lake. Our favorite ways to do this with Bug are to hold her in the water or we use a handy-dandy raft you can purchase at Target and other mass retailers. The raft is built for babies and has a sun shield for over their bodies.

Dance Party
One of Bug's favorite things is to dance with her papa. Jason will hold Bug in his arms and dance all around the living room. She giggles and giggles and giggles. It is the best thing ever. Take it one step further and put on music. Bug loved music as an infant and still loves it. We're happy to encourage her love of music.

Let's Play Ball
Bug's favorite toy by far is a ball. Any ball - big small, bouncy or not. The girl loves to roll them back and forth or just play fetch.

Building Blocks
Bug is great at putting blocks together, and we'll build a big tower for her to dissemble. Building blocks is one of the best ways to help with hand-eye coordination. I also use block time to teach colors.

Story Time
No child is ever at an age where reading isn't appropriate, but you can start graduating your baby from board books to real books. Bug is pretty good at turning real pages in books, and I credit her ability with our forethought to give her lots of practice at doing this at an early age. We also read her chapter books now. Even if Bug doesn't understand a word we say, by reading out loud to her, I know we're encouraging her imagination and she's learning the cadence of language.

Move Night
It is recommended that children under 2 do not watch any television. What you choose to do is up to you. We have decided to allow Bug to watch about a half hour of television each day and rarely is she actually watching television. Typically, we put in a movie at night while we cuddle, brush her hair and get ready for bed. I will say this: Bug is much more agreeable to grooming if a movie is on to distract her from me brushing her hair and clipping her nails. We do enjoy having a movie night once in a while and Bug is usually ready for bed before we're even halfway through the movie. I'm glad we're limiting her screen time and it's obvious in her interest (or lack thereof) in television that we're doing something right there.

Playtime at the Park
Bug loves nothing more than being pushed in a swing or just running around the park. Thankfully, we have several good parks right near our apartment. This is a favorite activity for all of us to enjoy.

Coloring, Writing, Drawing
Bug loves to color with crayons and pencils. We just give her plain paper and she will draw lines and dots. Surprisingly, she holds a pencil with pretty good accuracy and again, I credit this with the fact that we let her explore pencils very early in life. If Bug expresses an interest in something, we let her explore that to the fullest, so long as no one is being hurt.

Friday, September 5, 2014

In the Kitchen with Jason (and David): Carrot Cake with Coconut Cream Cheese Frosting

This is the best carrot cake recipe that I have had the pleasure of eating. I first made it for a family gathering where I made a bunch of recipes from the In the Kitchen with David cookbook, and then [in]conveniently forgot to take a picture, so I had to make it again... darn (read with as much sarcasm as you can muster).

You can see the yummy just by looking at it. I may go make another carrot cake tonight.
  • 2 2/3 cup flour
  • 1 cup flaked sweetened coconut
  • 2 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 2 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 4 eggs
  • 4 cups grated carrots
  • 2 8 oz cans crushed pineapple, well drained
    • Make sure you drink the pineapple juice as this stuff is good for you.
  • 2 8 oz packages of cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 1 stick butter, at room temperature
  • 3/4 cup coconut cream
    • It was very hard for me to find this item at the grocery store, until the second employee that I asked for help directed me to the alcohol aisle where it was with the mixing ingredients. Maybe this will make it easier for you to find.
  • 1 additional tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 cups confectioners sugar
  • 1/4 cup flaked sweetened coconut
    • The recipe calls for this to be toasted, but as I end up with burnt coconut whenever I attempt to toast it, I have decided that from now on, it will be un-toasted for me.
  • Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  • Put the flour, coconut, cinnamon, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a mixing bowl. 
  • Stir them all together and then set the bowl aside.
  • In an electric mixer, combine the sugar, oil, and vanilla.
  • Electric mix them until they are combined.
  • Add the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each egg.
  • With the mixer running at a low speed, add in the dry ingredients and continue to mix until they are completely mixed in.
    • Unless you have one of the electric mixers with the fancy paddle that scrapes the side of the bowl, you will need to stop and scrape the bowl once or twice during this step.
  • Pour the batter into a greased 9 x 13 baking pan and bake for 50 to 55 minutes, using the tooth pick trick to see if the cake is done.
  • Cool the cake pan for 2 hours.
    • While the cake is cooling, pull the cream cheese and the butter out of your fridge so they can be the correct temp when you make the frosting.
    • If you only have one electric mixing bowl, you will need to wash that while the cake is cooling as well.
  • After 2 hours, put the cream cheese and butter in the bowl of your electric mixer and beat until smooth. 
    • This may take a while; you have been warned.
  • Add the coconut cream and vanilla and mix until combined.
  • Add the confectioners sugar and mix until creamy.
  • Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and cool for 30 minutes for the frosting to get a little more firm.
  • Spread the frosting over the cake in a very thick layer.
    • No matter how thick I make it, I always end up with extra frosting. If you don't want extra, you could always make it even thicker... but I don't know if I can truly endorse this practice.
  • Sprinkle the remaining coconut over the top of the frosting.
And that is all it takes to have a delicious carrot cake all of your own. Do not blame me if relatives you didn't know you had show up for a piece. It is that good.

Please enjoy!

-Chef Jason

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Saving the Moola: August in review

Earlier this year, I decided to integrate my monthly savings review with our monthly State of Our House Address post. Unfortunately, for whatever reason, I was not diligent in sharing our monthly frugal accomplishments so monthly savings reviews are back!

I spoke with other mamas in my area via Facebook about the possibility of a kid swap so parents can have date nights or run errands or whatever for no childcare cost. I also like the idea of Bug spending time with another family rather than one person while we're on dates because she likes to be around kids. A mama needed to take her two youngest a few towns over for an appointment and brought her oldest two to our house. Bug had a great time, and this mama is so unbelievably generous that she gave us two restaurant gift cards, several pounds of grapes and loads of Mt. Dew (the soda was for Jason, who loves Mt. Dew on those days when he needs an extra kick). It was completely unnecessary for her to gift us with any of that, but we definitely appreciated it and it all went to good use.

We used to always have candles in our home. I enjoy having candles for several reasons: I like having a nice scent, and I also say a prayer when I see our lit candles. This is a good way to remind me to pray often. Having candles used to not be an issue, but about a year ago, Preston almost set himself on fire on one, so we switched to flameless, battery-operated candles. Unfortunately, these don't give off a nice scent. I had read about baking soda air fresheners and made three - one for the kitchen and one for each of the bathrooms. I used one box of baking soda (49 cents at Aldi) to make three. For the bathroom ones, I used lavender buds, which I had on hand. For the kitchen jar, I used whole cloves and cinnamon sticks. These don't necessarily fragrant the air, but they look nice and whenever I need a little sniff, I just pick it up and sniff.

A year ago, Jason and I made jalapeno jelly when we were given several jalapenos for free. I am not ashamed to admit we have not yet opened even one jar, but a co-worker was interested in it, so we swapped jellies; I brought her two jars of jalapeno jelly and she brought me two jars of apple jelly, which we will happily put to good use.

Jason had a few tutoring sessions in August. We have definitely noticed a decrease in summer tutoring. Several students and their parents were interested in the beginning of summer, but their good intentions were only that. It is understandable and honestly, in this summer of transition, it was a little welcomed, but I think Jason's looking forward to fall and getting a couple of regular students to tutor on the weekends. He also cat-sat for quite a few days for a family, and he completed a couple of assignments as an independent contractor. The family he cat-sat for also gave us two food pouches for Bug, in addition to paying us for cat-sitting (and by us, I mean Jason!).

I cut Jason's hair, which is regular monthly occurrence.

We are a one-car family and happily so, but there are times when it would be convenient for Jason and Bug to have a car to get around town. My place of employment is close enough for them to drive me to and from work, but we still desired a way for them to get around on their own and to save on gas. We saved up money to purchase a bike trailer, and it has been such a pay-off! They are able to get anywhere in town in 20 minutes or less (and anything 20 minutes away is literally the furthest point away - church for one direction and Walmart for the other). They have used the trailer at least 3 times a week since we purchased it. Bug adores riding in it and it's been a worthwhile purchase.

Being a one-car family also has other challenges. And by challenges, I mean, these are absolutely first-world problems. Since we only use one car, everything from all of us end up in this one car. It's been a struggle to not just keep the car organized, but to keep it clean. We're still working on getting the car in the cleanliness state we desire, but I spent some time tossing trash from the car, organizing what needs to be left in it, and cleaning and organizing our CDs. We bought a new computer earlier in the summer, and it's on Jason's to-do list to get my iTunes account set up on the new computer. Once that's done, I will be able to make CDs, I think (I hope and pray!), so we can have fresh music in the car. I have a ton of blank CDs, so this will be no cost to us.

Summer is a great time for saving on groceries because of all the garden goodies! We were given zucchini, squash, beans, eggs and tomatoes from others' garden and egg bounties. From our own garden, we harvested many carrots, several tomatoes and 2 bell peppers. We canned some tomatoes for future use and we planted the next batch of carrot seeds. The carrots will be ready for harvest in early November. We used cilantro from our garden in cooking.
We've both been diligent lately in using Swagbucks, Bing and Perk to earn extra money. I haven't had much time for mTurk, but I'm hoping to slowly work my way into doing more of this as summer fades away. We used gift cards we earned from the sites to purchase a 15-bag package of space bags, a Disney DVD, a 12-pouch package of food for Bug, organic spray deodorant, 3 packages of 200-count bottle liners for Bug, a 3-filter package of filters for Preston's water fountain, and a stocking stuffer for Bug's stocking. The retail value for all of those items is $79.05.
Jason used coupons we received from Meijer to get a 4-roll pack of toilet paper for 19 cents, a tube of toothpaste for 69 cents and other items for rock-bottom prices. I was seriously impressed with the loot he brought home!

Speaking of my wonderful husband, Jason has been expanding on his skills in the kitchen and recently learned how to make homemade pizza. This will definitely save us a ton of money as his homemade pizza is better than any other pizza I've ever had.
We did not fully complete the summer reading program at the library, but the library assistant insisted upon giving our Bug the final prize anyway because she knows how much we read with Bug. She received a Mo Willems' pigeon book as her prize.

Generally speaking, I do not buy lunch at lunch. I always bring in food, however, there have been a few occasions when I've participated in lunch on Fridays. On those days, my co-workers tell me to take the extra pizza home and of course, I never say no. It probably doesn't hurt they know how cheap, I mean, frugal, I am.
My precious flip-flops that I love seriously broke. Thankfully, we used gorilla glue to mend them. I was prepared to buy a new pair as this is the third summer I've worn this particular pair and I wear them nearly year-round. However, in my searching online, I saw nothing I would even want to buy, so I was incredibly grateful we were able to repair them. A sweater I just purchased in April got a hole in it, so I also mended that. I'm fine with tossing clothes that have holes; honestly, I wear my clothes until they literally wear out. But I'm not really fine with a sweater that's just months old getting holes. I was grateful I was able to mend my sweater, too.