Thursday, October 30, 2014

This Book Room: The Lodge on Holly Road

James Claussen has played Santa for years, but now that he's a widower, he's lost interest—in everything. So his daughter, Brooke, kidnaps him from the mall (in his Santa suit!) and takes him to Icicle Falls. She's arranged a special Christmas at the lodge owned by long-widowed Olivia Wallace and her son, Eric. And yet…Brooke wants Dad to be happy, but she's not ready to see someone else's mommy kissing Santa Claus.

Single mom Missy Monroe brings her kids to the lodge, too. Lalla wants a grandma for Christmas, and her brother, Carlos, wants a dog. Missy can't provide either one. What she'd like is an attractive, dependable man. A man like John Truman… But John's girlfriend will be joining him in Icicle Falls, and he's going to propose.

Of course not everything goes as planned. But sometimes the best gifts are the ones you don't expect!

Additional notes: This is the sixth book in the Life in Icicle Falls series. You can read my review of the first book here, the second book here, the third book here, the fourth book here and the fifth book here. Please note that you do not need to read the previous books in the series to read this book. These can all exist as stand-alone books.

My thoughts: Can I please, please, please move to this town? It is so magical and the characters there just make me yearn to know them in real life. Since I'm not planning a move anytime soon, I guess I'll just have to live there vicariously through these books (also, strangely enough, I have a wonderful little German town in the state I live in and we visit there for a day about once a year; I am feeling inspired to stay there for a weekend now in December, though!).

I loved how many new characters are introduced in this book and that there was so much fun romance (not smut, and I appreciate the lack of that!). For some strange reason, I also really appreciated the underlying lesson that you can't tell anyone when they are ready for a new romance. Should I die at a younger age than desired, I have specifically told Jason to find a new wife and mama for our littles; I would not be upset if he married within a year after me passing. I do realize how hard that might be for other people, but I trust Jason to do what is right for him and our family.

Anyway, that tangent aside, this book completely put me in the Christmas mood. Does anyone want to join me for baking cookies, listening to music and playing in the snow?

What? There's no snow?!?!?!

Well, then read this book and be transported to a magical place with all of the above.

Happy reading!

Many thanks to Sheila Roberts for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. You can read more about how and why Ms. Roberts provides me with books here.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

In the Kitchen with Jason (and David): Chicken Potpie


I like me some good potpie, and this recipe made some good potpie. There was a small issue of taking about 4 hours to make. I also had a small issue with having about double the quantity of filling as my potpie could hold.

Ingredients for pie crust
  • 2 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • pinch of sugar
  • 1/2 lb butter (2 sticks)

Ingredients for cooking the chicken
  • 1 large onion, coarsely chopped
  • 2 cups carrots, coarsely chopped
  • 1 leek, coarsely chopped
  • 1 Tbsp EVOO
  • 3-pound whole chicken
    • I didn't have a whole chicken so I just used two(ish) pounds of chicken breasts
  • 4 celery stalks, coarsely chopped
  • 1 tsp thyme
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 1 Tbsp salt
  • 1 tsp whole peppercorns
  • 1 Tbsp tomato paste
Ingredients for making the pie filling
  • 1 Tbsp EVOO
  • 1 cup carrots, sliced
  • 2 small onions, chopped
  • 1 1/4 cups mushrooms, chopped
  • 2 cups peas, frozen or thawed
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • 1/4 lb butter (1 stick)
  • 3/4 cup flour
  • 1 tsp thyme
  • 1 tsp rosemary
  • 1 large egg, beaten
Directions to make dough
  • Whisk together the flour, salt, and sugar in a bowl.
  • Using a pastry blade cut the butter into the four mixture until it looks like a coarse meal.
  • Add 1/4 cup of ice water 1 Tbsp at a time until the dough just holds together, mixing with a fork as you do so.
    • You may need to add additional water to get the dough correct, I used about 6 Tbsp when I made this recipe
  • Divide the dough into 2 equal sized balls, wrap them in plastic wrap and place them in your refrigerator.
Directions to make the chicken
  • Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.
  • In a bowl, mix the onion, carrots, and leek with the EVOO.
  • Put the veggies on a foil-lined baking sheet and bake for 30 minutes.
  • Put the now cooked veggies in a Dutch oven along with the chicken, celery, thyme, white wine, salt, and peppercorns.
  • Add 8 cups of water and bring to a boil over high heat.
  • Reduce the heat to low, cover, and cook for an hour.
  • Remove the chicken from the pot and set aside until cool.
  • Strain the broth and discard the solids.
    • The carrots are actually quite yummy, if you like mushy carrots, and make a great snack.
  • Stir the tomato paste into the remaining broth and cook over medium heat for about 40 minutes.
  • When the chicken is cool enough to handle, remove the meat from the bones and shred the meat.
    • Or if you were like me and used skinless, boneless, breasts then just shred it.
Directions to finish it off
  • In a large skillet, heat the EVOO over medium high heat.
  • Add the carrots and onions and cook until they begin to soften.
    • This is about 8 minutes.
  • Add the mushrooms and cook for 2 more minutes.
  • Add the pees, salt, and pepper and cook for another 2 minutes.
  • Transfer the vegetables to a bowl.
  • Using the same skillet, melt the butter, but this time lower the heat to medium.
  • Whisk in the four and cook for about 10 minutes.
    • You are going to want to whisk constantly at this step.
  • Whisk in thyme, rosemary, shredded chicken, vegetables, and broth.
  • Cook for another 10ish minutes.
  • While cooking remove the dough from the refrigerator.
  • On a lightly floured surface flatten a dough ball with a rolling pin.
  • Roll it out so that the crust will fit easily into a 9 or 10 inch pie pan with a little left over.
    • This is about 14 inches across.
  • Transfer the crust from the counter to the pie pan.
  • Transfer the filling into the crust.
    • If you are like me you will end up with a lot of extra filling. I just kept it warm and served it on the side with the potpie later as I like me some filling, and big pot pies sort of fall apart if you serve them when they are fresh from the oven (so no one could really tell that I added extra).
  • Roll out the other dough ball into a 13 inch round.
    • Make sure that your flowered surface is still flowered when doing this.
  • Transfer the second crust on top of the filling.
  • Cut off most of the excess crust around the outside of the pie pan leaving about 1/2 an inch of excess to make the crust edge.
  • Roll under the excess crust and crimp with your fingers.
  • Cut a couple of slits in the top crust, and place the pot pie on a baking sheet.
  • Put the potpie in the oven for 45 minutes.
  • Remove the potpie to a wire rack and let sit for at least 5 minutes.
And that in a nutshell is how to make a very yummy potpie. The day I made it I was in the kitchen for 5 hours, but I did make an apple crisp as well so if this is all you make, it probably will not take you that long.

Please enjoy!

-Chef Jason

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Ornament of the Month: Felt Cupcakes


These ornaments have been hugely popular! I made a bunch to sell at a craft show earlier this year, and I sold quite a few. I did hear a couple of people refer to them as ice cream ornaments, and that's okay. Ice cream or cupcakes - they're still stinking cute!

The supplies you'll need for this project are few, unless you have zero crafting supplies. The time involved in making these is a bit longer than the ornaments I usually make and while the skill level is still beginner, I would say it is less beginner than other ornaments I've made, too. That being said, you have plenty of time to make quite a few of these to give at Christmas! Make them in your kids' favorite colors or their birth month colors.

Here's what you need to make felt cupcake ornaments:
  • White felt
  • Felt in the color of your choice for the cupcake wrapper/cupcake batter
  • White embroidery thread
  • Yellow, green, red, blue, purple and pink embroidery thread (or just choose which colors you like best)
  • Scissors
  • Pins
  • Needle
  • Buttons to match the cupcake wrapper/cupcake batter
  • Thread to match the button
  • Fiberfill
  • Cupcake template
Here's how you make felt cupcake ornaments:
  1. Print this cupcake template twice or any other template you like.
  2. Cut out the wrapper template; be sure to cut the wrapper a little taller than is shown on the template. From the other copy of the template, cut the frosting template.
  3. Pin the frosting template to white felt and cut out two pieces. This will make one ornament.
  4. Pin the wrapper template to the color of your choice and cut out two pieces.
  5. Pin one frosting felt piece to one wrapper felt piece and sew along the bottom of the frosting with white thread. Pin the second frosting felt piece to the second wrapper felt piece and repeat sewing.
  6. Using thread to match the wrapper, make a loop on the back felt piece. This will allow your ornament to hang from a tree branch.
  7. Using a variety of different threads, sew sprinkles onto the front felt piece. You could just use one color, but I like a lot of different colored sprinkles for my ornaments. I just did a straight stitch for my sprinkles; you could choose to do French knots.
  8. If desired, using thread that matches the wrapper, sew lines onto the front piece on the wrapper part, as shown in the picture above. This isn't a necessary step, but I think it adds a nice touch of detail.
  9. Once all the little details are done (minus the button), pin the two pieces together. Using thread to match the wrapper, sew the two pieces together along the wrapper. Then, using white thread, sew the two pieces together along the frosting, making sure to leave a big 'ol open spot at the top.
  10. Stuff your cupcake with fiberfill so it's nice and plump.
  11. Sew the opening closed with white thread.
  12. With thread to match the button, sew the button at the top of the ornament.
Happy crafting!

Monday, October 27, 2014

Busy Bag of the Month: Growing Finger Muscles While Learning Color Shades


This busy bag is designed for an older pre-schooler and could even be used for kindergartners/first graders depending on their skill level and interests. I'm a huge fan of this busy bag because the materials you will need to make this are incredibly inexpensive to purchase. I spent $1.06 (including tax) for materials I needed that I didn't have on hand.

Here's what you need to make this busy bag:
  • Scissors
  • Glue stick
  • Pencil
  • Clothespins (can usually be found at the dollar store)
  • Paint chips/samples
Here's how you make this busy bag:
  1. First, you will want to cut the paint chips so that you have the big long strip that your child will clip the clothespins onto. You can use a ruler for this; I could not find mine so I just figured out how much extra I would need for the clothespins, then cut accordingly. I also cut mine in such a way that the paint strip had square edges (as opposed to the round the paint chips came with) and that no wording was left on mine.
  2. After the paint chips are cut, take what you cut off the paint chip and put this in a separate pile. I highly recommend putting the paint strips that are part of the busy bag in a bag and putting it away. At least in my world, there could be a tot about and since this busy bag is for when my kiddos are older, I'd like to keep them from being destroyed for now!
  3. To cut the paint chips so that the clothespin bit is covered nicely, I used the clothespin itself to measure out each paint chip bit. I just laid the clothespin down on the paint chip in the appropriate color box and traced around the tip of the clothespin. Once I cut out each piece, I put it on the clothespin to see if I needed to cut any excess off; often I had to cut a bit from the long side and short side.
  4. To attach the small bit of paint chip to the clothespin, I started off using glue. I do not recommend this. I did use glue on the green clothespins, but I felt discouraged because using glue was taking a lot of time and the short sides of the paint chip didn't seem to be well attached to the clothespin. I switched to using a glue stick, and oh my stars - it was so much quicker, less messy and the paint chip stuck beautifully to the wood.
Once all the paint chips are attached to the clothespins, you're done! It does seem this busy bag would take a ton of time to create, but to be honest, it took much less time than I had anticipated. I easily made it in one week (a week in which I worked on other projects, worked 45 hours and took care of my tot while Jason was out of the house for two evenings). I worked on this while Bug was asleep for the night, and I just put on a show on the computer to watch while I worked.

I had a good time working on this one, and I anticipate I will make this for other littles in the future for gifts!

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Crafty Christmas: Heating Pad


Christmas Countdown: Christmas is just 9 weeks away!

It's winter and that means it is cold outside! Well, I guess that all depends on where you live, but we live in Michigan, and it gets cold here. Homemade heating pads are terrific gifts; they'll warm the recipient's heart and toes! This is still a beginner project for sewing, so don't feel like you can't do this. Say it with me, "YES, I CAN!"

Here's what you need to make a heating pad:
  • Fabric that is about 20 inches by 9 inches
  • Chalk
  • Ruler
  • Pins
  • Sewing machine and thread
  • Rice (tip: keep expired rice around to use in projects!)
  • Essential oils (optional)
Here's how you make a heating pad:
  1. Wash and dry your fabric; iron as needed.
  2. Use the ruler to be sure all sides are even; most fabric cut at the store are not.
  3. Pin the right sides of the fabric together so the wrong sides are facing out. Sew one short end and both long ends.
  4. If you want to use essential oils, mix the rice and oils together in a bowl at this time.
  5. Turn the pad inside out so the right sides of the fabric are now facing out. Make sure the corners are all squared away and iron the fabric again. Top stitch along the one short end and the two long ends.
  6. Add about a half of a cup of the rice mixture to the bottom of the fabric. Measure out about 3 inches and mark that measurement with chalk. Sew along that line.
  7. Add another half cup of rice and measure another 3 inches. Mark the line with chalk and sew along that line. Repeat three more times.
  8. To end the project, add one more half cup of rice, then sew the ends together. I ironed my ends underneath, then sewed along the top, so the pad would have a finished look. I'm not a fan of frayed ends.
Tip: If you're having trouble sewing along the chalk lines (the rice does tend to get in the way), pin along the line. I found that helped keep the rice in line.

Bonus Idea: Don't feel like making a full-on heating pad? No worries! From fleece, cut out a circle that fits in the palm of your hand. Sew around the edges of the two pieces, and before sewing it totally shut, fill the inside with rice. Sew the circle shut. Make 2 of these and you have two hand warmers. Shh, I made some to stick in Jason's Christmas stocking!

Happy crafting!

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The Gaming Corner: Yahtzee

I truly enjoy this game, due mostly to the fact that I am a sucker for dice rolling. The whole game revolves around rolling dice and trying to score as many points as possible. Set-up is get out the score pad and 5 dice.


5 dice and a score card = very simple
Turns will be taken by each player, until all of the boxes on the scorecard have been filled. On your turn, roll all 5 dice. You may then re-roll as many of the dice as you choose. And after that, you again may re-roll any of the dice you choose one final time. You then would use the faces shown on the dice to determine the score you put in one of the boxes. To do this requires an explanation of the score card. It is divided into 2 parts: an upper section and a lower section. In the upper section, there is a line for each side of the dice: 1, 2, 3 and so on. When scoring on the top section, you score a number of points equal to the amount on the dice faces but only to the faces that match that number in the row you are scoring... that sounds confusing but after the following example it will make perfect sense.


The above picture scores either 2 points in the 2 box, 6 points in the 3 box, or 8 points in the 4 box.

The bottom section of the score card has a bunch of poker hands that you are trying to roll. I will list off each type and how many points they are worth:
3 of a kind - Sum of all dice rolled
4 of a kind - Sum of all dice rolled
Full House (3 of a kind and 2 of a kind) - 25 points
Small Straight (4 in a row) - 30 points
Large Straight (5 in a row) - 40 points
YAHTZEE (5 of a kind) - 50 points
Chance - Sum of all dice rolled

If ever you roll any additional Yahtzees after rolling your first, you get a bonus 100 points and get to take another turn. Part of the fun of the game is figuring out where to put your rolls. Take the following dice roll for example. You could score it as a short straight, 8 points in the 4 box in the upper score card, or even 14 points in chance.


It could happen that at some point you may have a roll that you cannot score. If that happens, you must put a zero in one of the boxes. At the end of a game, all the boxes are totaled up and whoever has the most points is the winner.

I loved this game as a child and it still has a special place in my heart. Probably just because of the dice rolling but maybe because it is a game a kid can play that isn't just luck (I keep coming back to that.) :-)

-Gamer Jason

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

In the Kitchen with Jason (and David): Blueberry Muffins with Streusel Topping

These muffins were super good. I'm not exactly sure what streusel is but it made the muffins taste great. You will want to make these again right after you finish the first batch. If you do, please make sure to share. :D


Yup, there are that many blueberries in this muffin.
That is why it is so good!
Ingredients
  • 6 Tbsp butter, softened
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1 1/4 cup sugar, divided
  • 2/3 cup + 1 1/4 cup flour, divided
  • 1 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 Tbsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 eggs, at room temp
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • zest of a lemon
  • 3 cups blueberries
Directions
  • Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.
  • Line a muffin tin with paper muffin liners.
  • Mix butter, brown sugar and 1/4 cup sugar together in a bowl until fluffy.
    • I'm not exactly sure what fluffy mixed butter looks like but I guessed that once everything was combined and mixed for another few seconds that I had achieved fluffiness.
  • Add 2/3 cup flour and cinnamon to the bowl and mix until it looks like a crumb topping.
  • Set it off to the side of the room to use at the end of the recipe.
  • Whisk together remaining flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a bowl.
  • In a different bowl, whisk together the vegetable oil, remaining sugar, eggs, sour cream, vanilla, and lemon zest until well combined.
  • Pour the batter into the dry ingredients, mixing just until combined. 
  • Fold in the blueberries.
  • Distribute the blueberry batter evenly in the muffin tin.
  • Sprinkle the topping made at the beginning of the recipe all over the batter.
  • Bake for about 30 minutes.
  • Let the muffins cool in pan for 10 minutes and then pull them out of the pan to finish cooling.
    • If you serve the muffins warm, they will most likely not come out of the liners cleanly, but with that being said, I cannot advise against a nice warm muffin.
Please enjoy!

-Chef Jason

Sunday, October 19, 2014

This Book Room: A Lady at Willowgrove Hall

Willowgrove Hall is full of secrets, but soon everything hidden is brought to light.

Cecily Faire has a secret—and she intends to keep it. But when she arrives at Willowgrove Hall to serve as a lady’s companion, she comes face-to-face with the only person who knows the truth about her past.

As the steward of Willowgrove Hall, Nathaniel Stanton is dedicated to serving those around him. Nothing escapes his notice—including the beautiful new lady’s companion. He is certain the lovely Miss Faire is hiding something, and he determines to uncover it. But Nathaniel has a secret of his own: he is the illegitimate son of Willowgrove’s former master. Falling in love was not part of his plans . . . until he meets Cecily Faire.

When Willowgrove’s mistress dies, everything changes. Fear of exposure forces Cecily to leave under the cover of darkness, embarking on a journey to finally find her long-lost sister. When the will is read, Nathaniel’s inheritance makes him question his future plans. Cecily and Nathaniel are forced to make decisions that will change the course of their lives. Is their love strong enough to survive?


Additional notes: This is the third book in the Whispers on the Moors series. You can read my review of the first book here and the second book here.

My thoughts: There is nothing more satisfying in a book than real characters and a real plot. I loved how relatable the characters' problems were - they weren't just superficial issues. For this time period, and for conservative people in this time period, they are real issues.

I have to admit I was a bit sad the story ended how and when it did; just when Cecily gets what she wants (which is not just the boy), the story ends. I wanted to know more about what happens next. The ending was bittersweet for me.

I was also hoping that somehow Willowgrove would come to someone other than who it did. I felt sure Mrs. Trent would change that, but it appears that is not to be the case. If nothing else, all of my disappointments just prove how invested I was in the book and the characters.

If you're a fan of historical fiction, you'll enjoy this series.

Thanks to Litfuse Publicity Group for providing a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Friday, October 17, 2014

A Day in the Life of a SAHD

This is a recording of Jason's day on Thursday, October 16th. We both had fun with this as he recorded his day on a Google doc and I could read what he was doing while I was at work. It gave me great insight as to why exactly the house is always messy when I get home...

7:00 AM
I wake up, feed Preston and start making lunch for my wife.

7:15 AM
Bug is stirring, so I deliver a bottle of milk to her in bed and return to the kitchen to continue making Jess' lunch.

7:19 AM
Bug is fully awake and done with her milk, so I change her diaper and put her in morning play clothes.

7:24 AM
Bug and I head back to the kitchen to finish up Jess' lunch. We give Jess hugs and kisses as she leaves for work.

7:31 AM
Bug and I pick up some loose change. I start to record my day on Google Docs, then I earn my daily Swagbucks and Bing points. I also get distracted by clips of Jimmy Fallon's late night show.

7:52 AM
I chase Bug around the living room... just because it's fun. While she plays independently, I read a bit of my current book, which is Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.

8:22 AM
It's time to start cleaning the kitchen and get breakfast around for me and Bug. We eat strawberries.


8:44 AM
I declutter the living room and ask my daughter if she had anything to do with my wallet contents being spread all over the living room floor.


8:58 AM
I change Bug's diaper and put her down for a nap, then play on the computer and be generally unproductive.

9:39 AM
Christmas is coming quickly, and I need to finish a sewing project so I begin to work on that.

10:08 AM
My bobbin runs out of thread and when I get up to change it, I can hear Bug making Bug noises in the bedroom. I scoop her out of bed and get her a snack of yogurt and fresh water.

10:14 AM
Bug and I make bread dough.

10:28 AM
I brush Bug's hair while we watch a bit of the Lego movie, then I change her diaper.


11:15 AM
Time for lunch - it's spaghetti noodles and green beans today. I read her books while we eat. After lunch, we play with trucks in the living room, then pick up the kitchen from lunch.

12:15 PM
We watch a little bit more of the movie, then I put Bug down for a nap as she is obviously tired. She drinks a milk bottle and I change her diaper before officially laying her down.

12:45 PM
I return to my sewing project, determined to finish it. Jess calls shortly after 1 PM and the phone was in the room with Bug. Not smart. The ringing wakes her up.

1:55 PM
I change Bug's diaper and put her back down for a nap. She stays asleep this time (I also made sure the phone was not in the room with her), and while she's asleep, I finish the sewing project, bake potatoes and take a nap. Once she wakes up, I change her diaper, get her a snack (a pouch of apple mush), play with her in the living room, start dinner and Jess comes home from work.


5:28 PM
Dinner is finished. Bug is always ready to eat, and she loves to eat ketchup by the spoonful. Dinner today is a hot dog, French fries and green beans. We're using up leftovers and items from the pantry this week.


5:43 PM
During dinner, I run down to the apartment complex office to get a package before the office closed. After dinner, I give Bug a bath, then laugh as Bug runs around the house wrapped up in her hooded towel. I get her dressed for the evening and brush her hair again. I get her milk and water and tuck her into bed for cuddles with Jess and her bunny.


6:33 PM
I clean up the kitchen and dining area. After that, I do some work online and play with Bug.

7:40 PM
Bug is clearly getting tired so Jess and I finish up our nighttime routine with her, which includes changing her diaper, refilling her water bottles again, and tucking her in bed with hugs and kisses. After we tuck her into bed, I read some more of my book.

8:18 PM
I check on Bug and refill her water bottles, then get an apple for a snack. After finishing up some work online, I head down to the gym for my daily two-mile walk. I come back home, eat another snack, shower, brush my teeth, then head to bed around 10:30 PM. Good night!

While I found Jason's day to be generally productive, I am always happy to see how much time he spends engaging our girl in active play: learning, discovering and exploring. This is definitely why the house is messy when I come home - not only because they've been playing but because they've been playing, he has less time to clean. I'm good with that. 

Jason has great patience with Bug and includes her in his chores. This day was very light on household chores as we had picked up the house and cleaned really well on Wednesday night. Jason was able to use time he would've spent on laundry and cleaning to finish a sewing project and take time for himself. Not every day is like this, but this gives you a glimpse into what he did yesterday.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

In the Kitchen with Jason (and David): Creamy Garlic Mashed Potatoes

These mashed potatoes are VERY GOOD. We have made them three or four times now and this is the first time we have gotten around to taking a picture because we have been more focused on eating them. If you are having a meal where you could have mashed potatoes with it, you should make these mashed potatoes to go with it.


Ingredients
  • 3 pounds potatoes, peeled and quartered
    • You don't need to peel the potatoes, but Jess thinks that it is better when you do so.
  • 5 cloves garlic
  • 5 Tbsp butter
  • Up to 3/4 cup milk
  • 1/4 cup sour cream
  • 14 tsp pepper
Directions
  • Put the potatoes and garlic in a pot and cover them with enough water so the water is at least 1 inch higher than the potatoes.
  • Bring the water to a boil, then let them cook for 20 more minutes.
  • Drain the water from the pot and mash the potatoes and garlic with a potato masher.
  • Mash in the butter, and slowly mix in the milk until you reach the desired consistency.
    • It is possible that you will not use all the milk.
  • Mix in the sour cream and serve.
The best part is you can whip up a batch of these in about 30 minutes, with only a bit of prep time at the beginning and mashing time at the end.

Please enjoy!

-Chef Jason

Monday, October 13, 2014

Purposeful Parenting: why baby-led weaning works for us (and how it can work for you, too!)

At 5.5 months, Bug plucked a piece of celery from Jason's plate - and I just
happened to have our camera handy and ready to commemorate the moment forever!
I remember the first time I heard the phrase "baby-led weaning" (BLW) and thought it was just something to do with breast-feeding. Since I thought that's what it meant, I can only imagine other people are also confused.

Let me be the one to enlighten you - while BLW can also refer to a baby weaning himself from his mama's milk, more often than not, we're referring to a baby weaning himself off milk/formula and starting on solids without a parent shoving spoons into baby's mouth. Baby learns to feed him or herself with his or her fingers.

When I discovered what BLW really was, it was kind of a "duh" moment for me. I mean, isn't this how all kids learn to eat? By doing it on their own?

Sadly, it's really not. While there are some babies who won't have the developmental skills to feed themselves (for whatever reason), most babies are perfectly capable of not only being able to feed themselves but they are also capable of feeding themselves well. Have you noticed that sometimes your baby/tot eats more on certain days or at certain times? That's because your child is really hungry then! Babies won't over-eat; they're not conditioned to do that. They will eat when they're hungry, and when they're not hungry, they won't eat.

Babies and tots also know what exactly their body needs. Some days, they might scarf every carb in sight; other days, they might push carbs out of the way and stuff protein in their little mouths as fast as they can. You can rely on your baby to know what he/she needs to keep going.

BLW is allowing your child to feed him or herself. Your baby will let you know when s/he is ready to start BLW. When Bug was about 5.5 months old, she plucked a piece of celery from Jason's plate and began to gnaw on it. Our BLW journey with Bug was slightly odd; the girl had no teeth until about 14 months old. Even now (at 18 months old), she barely has 4 teeth.

Before Bug had any teeth, she was not too interested in food. At times, she would allow us to feed her from a spoon, and while this made me feel better, please know that your baby is perfectly fine to just be on breast milk or formula. Babies do not need solids of any kind before 1 year.

If teeth are an issue for you, at some point, pouches of food may be a good first food for you. Even to this day, Bug loves sucking the food out of pouches, and we keep pouches in the house as a good to-go snack or meal for her.

Once your baby has teeth and can work food a bit better, always place your tot in a high chair. This helps encourage them to focus on the activity you're placing before them - food! The key to BLW is patience and trust.Your baby may scarf green beans one day, then eschew them the next. Your baby will enjoy testing gravity with all kinds of food. Be patient with your baby; your baby is just trying to figure out this food thing. Trust that your baby knows what s/he is doing; even if you think the tot hasn't eaten anything, the tot has eaten just enough.

Do not become frustrated with your child. Do not encourage them to eat with your actions or words. Let them be the driver of this race; if baby is hungry, baby will eat.

Baby may also take a longer time to eat than you would take. We've been pre-conditioned to eat quickly to move on to the next task; not only do babies take time with getting food into their little mouths, chewing, swallowing and doing that all over again, your baby will also crave mealtime as social time. One of our favorite activities during mealtime (once the adult has eaten and is just hanging out with Bug) is to read books to her. We've found this actually increases what Bug eats - whether because she's focusing more on food or because she's so engrossed in the book, she just keeps stuffing her mouth, I don't know.

Bug definitely has days where she eats everything in sight and I start to fret about our grocery bill. And then she has days where she picks at each meal. One day, she'll scarf down macaroni and cheese; the next, she'll pick at it. This is okay. Your baby knows what she's doing. Bug also enjoys throwing her food from her tray; this is okay, too. Bug is testing gravity and honestly, I'm sure she knows she's testing our patience. In children's defense everywhere, I totally understand testing gravity. Everything falls to the ground but balloons. But they don't know it's everything but balloons. All they know is when they were about 1 year old, you brought them this balloon thing that didn't fall down and now they're wondering what else might not fall down. I totally get it.

BLW ensures your child's diet matches your child's needs. It strengthens your child's hand-eye coordination and their pincer grip. BLW allows your child to be independent. Your child literally has everything she needs to be successful at feeding yourself. Give you and your child the gift of happier mealtimes and choose BLW.

If you would like more information on BLW, I highly recommend reading Baby-Led Weaning by Gill Rapley.

Friday, October 10, 2014

In the Kitchen with Jason (and David): Crispy, Cheesy Hash Brown Casserole

This wasn't as crispy as the name stated it would be. With that being said, it was cheesy, hash browny, and yummy! And even though I didn't have the proper quantity of cheddar cheese and had to substitute some Swiss cheese, I would definitely make this again.

Look at that cheesy yummy goodness.

Ingredients
  • 1 30 oz. package frozen hash brown potatoes, thawed
  • Cream of something soup, equivalent of 2 cans
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 10 Tbsp melted butter, divided
  • 3 cups cheddar cheese, shredded, divided
  • 1/2 cup chopped scallions, white and light green parts
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp pepper
  • 3/4 cup bread crumbs
Directions
  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  • Spray a 9' x 13' baking dish with cooking spray.
  • Mix together the hash browns, cream of something soup, sour cream, 1/2 cup of butter, 1 1/2 cups of the cheese, scallions, salt and pepper in a large bowl.
  • Spread the hash brown mixture in the prepared cooking dish.
  • Combine the bread crumbs with the last 2 Tbsp butter.
  • Sprinkle the remaining cheese over the top of the potatoes and then the bread crumbs.
  • Bake for 30 to 35 minutes.
Please enjoy!

-Chef Jason

Thursday, October 9, 2014

This Book Room

At Hourglass Vintage in Madison, Wisconsin, every item in the boutique has a story to tell . . . and so do the women who are drawn there.

Yellow Samsonite suitcase with ivory, quilted lining, 1950s...
Violet Turner had always dreamed of owning a shop like Hourglass Vintage. Though she knows the personal history behind each precious item she sells, Violet refuses to acknowledge her own past. When she is faced with the possibility of losing the store, she realizes that, as much as she wants to, she cannot save it alone.

Taffeta tea length wedding gown with scooped neckline and cap sleeves, 1952...
Eighteen-year-old April Morgan is nearly five months along in an unplanned pregnancy when her hasty engagement is broken. When she returns the perfect 1950s wedding dress, she discovers unexpected possibilities and friends who won't let her give up on her dreams.

Orange sari made from silk dupioni with gold paisley design, 1968...
Betrayed by her husband, Amithi Singh begins selling off her old clothes, remnants of her past life. After decades of housekeeping and parenting a daughter who rejects her traditional ways, she fears she has nothing more ahead for her.

An engaging story that beautifully captures the essence of women's friendship and love, Vintage is a charming tale of possibility, of finding renewal and hope when we least expect it.

My thoughts: If you're a fan of Kate Jacobs or Debbie Macomber, you will seriously enjoy this book. I know I did, and I am really hoping this isn't the last we've seen of these characters. I love books where characters who seemingly have little to nothing in common come together in a way they never would've before... if not for their loving author. Susan weaves their lives together and tells their stories with grace. This is a book I would absolutely re-read.

Jess Aarons' greatest ambition is to be the fastest runner in his grade. He's been practicing all summer and can't wait to see his classmates' faces when he beats them all. But on the first day of school, a new girl boldly crosses over to the boys' side and outruns everyone.

That's not a very promising beginning for a friendship, but Jess and Leslie Burke become inseparable. Together they create Terabithia, a magical kingdom in the woods where the two of them reign as king and queen, and their imaginations set the only limits.


My thoughts: Jason chose this book for the Reading Contentment Challenge. The second he was done reading and weeping, he told me I must read this book. I hemmed and hawed a little, but eventually caved in. And my husband was totally right: I needed to read this book. The world they create is wholly magical, but even more magically wondrous is their friendship. For anyone who ever said a boy and a girl can't be friends, this book is for you. If you enjoyed Chronicles of Narnia and other young children's lit, this book is also for you. Honestly, I believe this book is for anyone.

When former national baseball star Tyler Ames suffers a career-ending injury, all he can think about is putting his life back together the way it was before. He has lost everyone he loves on his way to the big leagues. Then just when things seem to be turning around, Tyler hits rock bottom. Across the country, Tyler’s one true love Sami Dawson has moved on.

A series of small miracles leads Tyler to a maintenance job at a retirement home and a friendship with Virginia Hutcheson, an old woman with Alzheimer’s who strangely might have the answers he so desperately seeks.

A team of Angels Walking take on the mission to restore hope for Tyler, Sami, and Virginia. Can such small and seemingly insignificant actions of the unseen bring healing and redemption? And can the words of a stranger rekindle lost love? Every journey begins with a step.

It is time for the mission to begin…


My thoughts: This author can be really hit or miss for me, and once you've read a few series, her style of writing can become very predictable and boring. This series is full of excitement and freshness. I've never read a book with quite this plot before, and I'm very excited to read future books in this series to figure out what exactly is going on. If you've liked other Karen Kingsbury books, this one is a winner for sure.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

In the Kitchen with Jason (and David): Deep Dish Apple Pie

This was a delicious apple pie. I couldn't get a picture of any of the slices after they were removed from the pie pan though as they didn't stay in pie piece shape when being served. That didn't make them taste any less delicious, and I felt this gave the pie personality. I would recommend this pie to anyone willing to take the time to make it.


Ingredients
  • 2 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 2 sticks butter, diced
  • 1/4 refrigerated vegetable shortening, diced
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 6 Tbsp cold water
  • 2 lbs Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, and chopped
  • 1 lb Cortland apples, peeled, cored, and chopped
    • Note: you can use just about any apples you want, but multiple different types add to the flavor.
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 2/3 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 3 Tbsp cornstarch
  • 2 Tbsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 Tbsp butter, diced
Directions
  • In a mixing bowl, mix together the flour, sugar and salt.
  • Using a pastry blender, cut in the butter and shortening.
  • Whisk together the egg yolks and cold water in a small bowl.
  • Pour the egg mixture over the other ingredients and continue to use the pastry blender to incorporate it.
    • You may need to switch from the pastry blender to a mixing spoon toward the end.
  • Put the dough on a floured surface and divide it in half.
  • Shape each half into a puck shaped disk and wrap in plastic wrap.
  • Put the dough in the fridge for 1 hour.
  • While the dough is in the fridge, peel, core, and chop your apples.
  • Put the apple slices in a bowl with the lemon juice and give them a quick mix.
  • In a different bowl, combine the brown sugar, sugar, cornstarch, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt.
  • Pour the sugar mixture over the apples and give them a good stir.
  • After the dough is sufficiently cooled, bring it out of the fridge.
  • Open one of them onto a floured surface and roll until about 1/8 of an inch thick and about the size of a 12 inch circle.
  • Gently place the crust you just rolled out into a 10 inch pie pan.
  • Cut off the edges with a pastry knife (or any other sharp knife.)
  • Put the pie pan in the freezer and take a 30 minute break.
  • Remove the pie pan from the freezer and fill with the apple mixture.
  • Sprinkle the remaining diced butter over the apples.
  • On the floured work surface open the other dough puck.
  • With a rolling pin roll out the dough into and 1/8 inch thick circle again.
  • Carefully transfer the crust over the pie.
  • Using your pastry knife, once again trim the edges.
  • Decoratively crimp the top and bottom crusts together around the edges.
  • Put the pie back in the freezer for 30 minutes.
  • Preheat the oven to 400 degrees while freezing the pie.
  • When the pie comes out of the freezer, cut a few slits in the top.
  • Put in the oven on the middle rack for 20 minutes.
  • Reduce the heat of the oven to 350 degrees and cook for another 35 minutes.
Note: The recipe states to cool the pie before serving. I believe that that is a very big waste of warm apple pie and that you should only let it sit long enough to not burn those eating it.

Please enjoy!

-Chef Jason

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

The Gaming Corner: Connect 4

Here is another classic that we still enjoy playing. Unlike some of the other children's games where it all comes down to luck (I'm looking at you Candy Land), Connect 4 has some skill involved. The premise is simple and you can go from never playing before to a working knowledge of the rules in 5 or less minutes. The game is played on a grid of 42 squares set up in a vertical 6x7 grid.


Toddler hand not included.
Each player takes turns dropping checkers into one of the 7 columns, letting gravity do its work. The goal is to get 4 of your checkers in a row while preventing your opponent from getting 4 of their checkers in a row.


Examples: Yellow has a vertical 4 in a row, while red has a horizontal and diagonal 4 in a row.
Vertical, horizontal, or diagonal all work, but at the same time your opponent is trying for the same thing. It's like a super advanced version of tic-tac-toe, but still so simple.

If you like games that don't have a lot of confusing rules, that make you think, and that can be played in about 5-10 minutes, then Connect 4 is the game for you.


Here is a poorly played game for yellow. Do you see how
red won with 2 different 4 in a rows?
Note: The version of Connect 4 that we have came with rules for a bunch of variants on the Connect 4 rules, but none of them even seemed worth the time to try them, and we just played vanilla Connect 4.

-Gamer Jason

Monday, October 6, 2014

Saving the Moola: September in review

This was one of our most frugal months ever, and I am loving how much dedication and determination we have for squeezing blood out of turnips!

There are many generous people at my workplace, and in September, I was given two donuts to take home to my family, a few free cans of soda and a lovely Mexican lunch provided by the bosses. Someone brought in extra goodies from their kid's birthday party, and I enjoyed a donut and brought home a caramel apple.

My work schedule shifted in a glorious way, and Jason now has evenings free to tutor and complete work as an independent contractor for mystery shopping companies. He completed one mystery shop with a big bonus and is setting up tutoring sessions for October.


One of our friends has three kids who are quickly growing up. She often gives us things her kids no longer use. This month, she gave us a bike, the sweet little chair pictured above and two big bags of toys and books. As a thank you, we gave her two jars of jam.

Speaking of jam, we canned a bunch of raspberry jam. Typically, we buy our raspberries from a particular vendor at the farmer market. This year, we tried a local orchard - the price per pint was cheaper there and the berries were just as good.

I sold two ornaments and put the money back into the crafting envelope. I sold 8 jars of jam and put that money back into the canning envelope.

We carefully watched our fuel usage for September and was under budget every week of September. We did spend some of the extra money in our gas envelope on eating out and some other random things, but we have a bit left. We are going to continue to be extra frugal with our regular fuel usage so when we travel further away, we have the money in this envelope to cover our extra trip. We have a couple of big out-of-town day trips planned in October and Christmas is coming when we visit relatives out of town, so we are doing this partly in anticipation of those events.

Our picture was taken for the new church directory. In return for having our picture taken, when the directory is published, we will receive a free directory and a free 8 x 10 photo of the picture that was taken.



A friend took Bug's 18 month pictures for free.

We were given many, many, many apples for free and used those apples to can applesauce. With Nana's help, we canned 7 quarts of applesauce and 2 odd-ball sized jars. We gave the 2 odd-ball sized jars to Nana as a thank you for her help; we also feed her beef stew and dumplings and chocolate cake for dinner.

There were many, many apples left over for canning; Nana took those, along with all of the peelings and cores from what we used, for her chickens. This saved us a bunch in garbage space and I was happy to see everything to go to use! Nana brought us a dozen eggs and a quart of pickled beets when she came to visit.

We received a big Subscribe and Save order from amazon.com with gift cards earned online. The total retail value was $63.85, but our out-of-pocket expense was $0.

Our goal is one date per month (until the new baby arrives, then we will skip having date nights again until that baby is older). So far, we have had to spend nothing on childcare; instead, Nana is happy to come play with Bug while we have a date night. We also have other sources lined up to hang out with our girl for free. Nana came at the end of September, and we enjoyed a frugal night out - dinner at one of our favorite diners and browsing at Barnes and Noble.


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

My parents came over to visit one evening. I let my mom know we had only planned a snack-y dinner of eggs, bread, pickled beets and applesauce so she and my dad may want to eat before they come over. She brought two pizzas from one of our favorite local pizza places for dinner instead, and it was yummy!


In the summer, we purchased a bike trailer, and this has seriously helped us with our fuel usage. Every time we use the bike trailer instead of the car, we are easily saving $4. Since we share a car, Jason has to drive me to work if he and Bug want to use the car that day. They tend to stay in town since town has most everything they could want, and by bike, towing a tot, we are about 20 minutes from the furthest points in town. Since they can use the bike trailer any old day they want, Jason is actually getting exercise in more often, which he wants, and Bug is getting a ton of play time at the park and the library. It's a win-win situation.


Our garden is still growing! We canned another quart of tomatoes from tomatoes that ripened. While tending to our strawberry plant, which had not produced any fruit, I noticed some berries growing. That was an incredibly awesome surprise. I promptly plucked one and ate it; the taste is practically still in my mouth, it was so good.

We are working on potty training and cup training for Bug. When we are fully successful with both, we will save a ton of money. Cloth diapers take up a good amount of laundry space, and we use paper diapers at night and when we're out of the house. We're still several months out from being fully potty trained, but we have made good progress, this month in particular.

All in all, we definitely made it a point to have frugal fun this month and to utilize our envelopes for everything. Going into October, we have a ton of money saved up in our envelopes and I'm ready to celebrate our wedding anniversary and my birthday!

Friday, October 3, 2014

In the Kitchen with Jason (and David): Three-Layer Chocolate Cake With Chocolate Frosting

For how much this recipe didn't turn out as planned, boy was it yummy. I had problems with making a three layer cake as I only have 2 cake pans (step 1: guess what 1/3 of the batter looks like in the pans, step 2 :bake, step 3: wash a pan and bake the 3rd layer , realizing that you failed on step 1) and also the frosting didn't turn out as desired. I was later informed by my Nana that cooking up a good frosting isn't as easy as one would think. You have been warned.


This was one delicious slice of cake. Please ignore that the bottom layer is
much bigger than the other layers and that the frosting is a little runny.

Ingredients
  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 cups unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 1/4 tsp salt
  • 3/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 3 cups sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 cups buttermilk
  • 1 1/2 cups warm coffee 
  • 1 lb 60% cacao dark chocolate, finely chopped (we used dark chocolate chips as they were on sale)
  • 1 lb semisweet chocolate chips
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 1/2 cup light corn syrup
Directions
  • Using the base of a cake pan, trace 3 circles on parchment paper.
  • Cut out the circles.
  • Butter 3 cake pans.
  • Put the parchment paper in the bottom of the cake pans and butter the parchment paper as well.
  • Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.
  • In a bowl, combine the flour, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.
  • In another bowl, combine the vegetable oil, sugar, eggs and vanilla with an electric mixer.
  • Pour about 1/3 of the dry ingredients into the wet ones and mix well.
  • Add a 1/2 cup of buttermilk and 1/2 cup of coffee and mix.
  • Repeat adding the dry ingredients, buttermilk, and coffee two more times until they are all mixed together.
  • Divide the batter between the three buttered cake pans.
  • Bake for 40 to 50 minutes. When a toothpick poked into the middle of the cake doesn't come up with anything on it, it's done.
  • Cool in the pans for 30 minutes.
  • Run a knife around the edges of the pan to make sure the cake isn't sticking.
  • Place cooling racks upside down on top of the cake pan and then carefully flip them over.
  • This should allow the layers of the cake to just fall right out of the pan.
  • Remove the parchment paper and let the layers cool completely (at least 1 full hour).
  • While the cake layers are cooling, pour the chocolates into a mixing bowl.
  • In a sauce pan, mix together the heavy cream and syrup.
  • Heat over medium heat.
  • Right when the cream mixture reaches a boil, remove it from the heat and pour it onto your chocolate.
  • Whisk until everything is a delicious smooth chocolate bowl of deliciousness.
    • This is where mine went wrong as it was a delicious smooth runny chocolate bowl of deliciousness.
  • Let cool for about 30 minutes.
  • Put a single cake layer on a plate and frost the top.
  • Add another layer and frost that as well.
  • Add the final layer and frost the top as well as the sides.
  • DO NOT eat all in one sitting, as you would probably go into shock from the richness.
Please enjoy!

-Chef Jason

Thursday, October 2, 2014

This Book Room: Slave Again

She traded in her prison uniform for shackles of a different kind.

After escaping a North Korean prison camp, Mee-Kyong is hustled over the border and sold into the Chinese underworld. She vows to survive, but sheer determination and willpower won’t save her this time. Is she fated to remain a slave forever?

* This book has some Christian characters and themes but was written with a broad audience in mind.


My thoughts: First, I loved Alana Terry's The Beloved Daughter and could not wait to read this book! The pace is extremely quick, and it seemed the book's story was, in essence, a short period of time - maybe a week? The characters in this book will tug at your heartstrings and you'll want to run over to North Korea and the surrounding countries and rescue all the people.

Instead, you'll be forced to sit in your comfy home, sip your tea and just immerse yourself in this book. I was a little disappointed by the ending of the book, as I wanted to know more about what happened to the characters, Jae and Agent Ko in particular.

I'm hoping Alana will continue to write books that focus on the slavery reality of North Korea and its surrounding areas - even if these characters aren't featured, these books are a fantastic reminder of not just how blessed I am, but a reminder to pray for the people of North Korea. I cannot imagine the world they are living - their leader has seen to it that I can't truly - and I am heartbroken for the pain and hell I am sure they endure on a daily basis.

Thanks to the author, Alana Terry, for providing a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. 

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

State of Our House Address: September in review

We made it a point to stay home more this month and it made a huge difference in our attitudes. We also made it a point to stay close to home when we did go out; mostly we stayed in town.

Before I share all of our other fun September news, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the big news we shared this month! We are expecting another addition to the family. Bug was all too happy to share the news all over Facebook and texts with this photo:


A friend took the pic above and a whole bunch of other pics since Bug turned 18 months in September. Here a few more lovely pictures;




The company I work for hosted a picnic. Bug had a good time playing with the other kids, and Jason and I enjoyed seeing her play. Lots of food was provided and Bug scarfed down (as did we). It was a good time.

Bug started swimming lessons this month. The water is a bit colder for her than I would prefer, but it was fine for me and Jason. Bug's teacher commented right away how comfortable Bug was in the water and thought it was funny how much she loves splashing. We're working on scooping and kicking right now. The lessons have proved very helpful in just giving Jason and I items to focus on next summer in the pool. They will continue through October.


We adore fall, and one of our favorite fall activities is visiting the local apple orchard. We picked honey crisp apples, and while Bug went with us last year, this year, she was walking around and helping to actually pick the apples. She also managed to take actual bites out of an apple, which is kind of impressive considering the girl only has 4 teeth.

The weather has been so gorgeous here and Bug and Jason have played so hard this month. Each week, they went to the library and the park multiples times. We also had two play dates at friends' house.

Jason and I went on a date night at the end of the month. It is always nice to spend some time together and focus on our marriage... and to be honest, just spend a few hours in silence! Since we personally prefer to stay with babies until they are older, our date nights are limited. Once the new baby arrives, we won't be going on date nights again for at least a year. We're making it a point to make the best of our date nights while we have them!