Friday, December 24, 2010

A Scrappy Gift

Let's answer my previous question: "Now what to do with the leftover fabric..." The answer seemed pretty simple: a flannel baby blanket and a couple of burp rags!

About 6 weeks ago a new little baby girl was added to our family. Well, not our immediate family. I did not have any sort of secret pregnancy. This little beauty is actually my new little niece on my husband's side of the family. It worked out just perfectly to use my leftover girly fabric for a Christmas gift for this new little girl! I also really like the idea of combining four fabrics into one blanket.

So here is what I did with my scraps.

First of all, I wanted to make a full sized fitted sheet for my girls. I did my best to measure and cut the twin sized fitted sheets apart. (That was a headache since the fitted sheets had elastic all the way around and not just on the corners.) Then I sewed them together. Yes, with a sewing machine. And can you believe it? I even managed to do this sewing all by myself, without my mother's supervision.

With that project finished, I still had several flannel scraps left. Time to make a flannel baby blanket.

I used a self-healing cutting mat and a rotary fabric cutter to trim all the fabric scraps straight and to correct widths. My goal was for all the strips to produce an approximately 36" by 36" two sided flannel blanket. After cutting, I sewed all the strips together and then ironed the hems flat. Now I had an approximate 6 foot by 3 foot piece of fabric. I folded it in half (ugly side out) and sewed the three edges, leaving a six inch gap. Next I turned it right side out and ironed the edges. Finally, I sewed the edges all the way around, closing my six inch gap. VoilĂ , it's done!

For the flannel burp rags, I made two different sizes (only because my last scraps of pink fabric were so narrow). I cut the pink fabric and corresponding prints 7" by 16". The green fabric combos I cut 10" by 17". Then I followed the same process I used to make the flannel blanket. Overall, they were pretty quick and easy. Absolute perfection was not my goal with these. The way I figure, they are just going to collect spit up, right? 

Now, I have a great gift for my niece (that basically cost me nothing since all the fabric was scraps) and one more sewing project under my belt. I love that Christmas gifts inspire and motivate me to new levels of creativity.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Christmas Quilts

I have always enjoyed artsy craftsy projects, but sewing has never been one of my fortes. Many people have asked me if I sew and my response has always been, "I only sew buttons." Give me a needle and some thread and watch me stick a button back on a shirt. There have also been the occasional hems that needed fixing. For those, I either take them over to my mom to fix or do a hack job myself. And when I say hack job, I really do mean a serious hack job. I only fix hems that will not be visible.

In light of my sewing inexperience, you may wonder: Why did I decide to sew quilts for my girls for Christmas? There is just something about a nice, cozy flannel quilt. My husband and I have one on our bed and thoroughly enjoy it every winter.

Ayla's Quilt (Her favorite color is currently pink.)
Right now our girls share a loft full sized bed. At times they (ahem) need to be separated so that they will actually sleep at night. This is part of the reason our girls do not sleep in regular sheets and covers. They have a fitted sheet and then individual blankets. Mostly, they sleep with fleece blankets. The fact that they sleep with a purely synthetic fabric has bothered me for a while, but a few weeks ago my husband said that they needed better blankets. At that point, I made up my mind to make them quilts for Christmas.

I knew the basics and set out to buy twin sized flannel sheet sets to use for the fabric. (That was quite an adventure all by itself!) After finding a sheet set for each of them, I went to Joann Fabric and Crafts to find some flannel for the backing, yarn to use to tie the quilts and matching thread. (Yes, these are just tied together quilts. Nothing fancy here!)

Next stop: my mom's house. (No, I did not do this project all by myself.) At my mom's house we laid out the fabric, the cotton quilt batting my mom had, and the flat sheet. After pinning it in place, I sewed in the yarn and my mom followed behind, cutting and tying the yarn. Next, I cut off the extra batting and trimmed the fabric to the right size. Then I ironed over the edge of the fabric, getting it ready to sew.

Kylie's Quilt (Her favorite color is currently green.)
After folding over the fabric and pinning it in place, I headed to my mom's intimidating sewing machine. (Intimidating because of my lack of experience, not because of the sewing machine itself.) After my mom helped me get all set up, I started sewing away. Maybe sewing through two layers of flannel plus quilt batting wasn't the best beginners project, but I eventually got the hang of it. (Honestly, I was afraid I might give up in frustration and, in tears, ask my mom to finish for me.) Once the edges were finished, I sat back down with my mom and we pinned the corners. Lastly, I sewed the corners. Done! Yay! On to the next quilt.... (The second quilt went much quicker than the first one.)

Now, their Christmas presents are done. They are wrapped in boxes and under the tree. I can't wait to see their faces when they open the gifts. Hopefully, they love these blankets and use them for many years.

Now what to do with the leftover fabric...

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

O Christmas Tree

One of my favorite Christmas traditions has always been the Christmas tree. What's not to love? There is such novelty in bringing part of nature indoors. The process of decorating the tree is always a special family time.

As a child, I think I anticipated getting the tree even more than receiving gifts or most any other part of Christmas. Each year we rode in my dad's truck to the Christmas tree farm and proceeded to spend as much time as necessary finding the perfect Christmas tree. It had to be just the right height and just the right denseness. Sometimes the hunt took quite some time, but it was always worth the effort. One year it was so snowy we had to shake the snow off of each Christmas tree just so we could see the shape of the tree.

My brother and I in front of our Christmas tree in 1989.
After the perfect tree was selected, cut down and purchased, we came home to begin the decorating process. (My parents must have labored to set up our Christmas tree, but my childhood memory excludes this part of the Christmas tree routine)

While breathing deeply of the incredible fragrance of the fresh cut Christmas tree, we opened the box of Christmas lights and began the process of finding the 3 lights on every strand that were either loose or burned out, causing the majority of the rest of the lights on the strand to not work either. Our living room had strand upon strand of white lights stretched out, ready to be checked. In my memory, this was just all part of the fun. Christmas music was playing on the overhead speaker and our family was together working on this project. Ah, the memories.

After giving up on a few strands of lights, we ended up with enough strands to adequately light the Christmas tree. With Christmas music still playing, my brother and I sat back and watch my parents transform the evergreen tree to an object of light and beauty.

Once lights were on the tree and the angel was placed on top, my brother and I could join in the decorating fun. Out came the Christmas ornaments. We covered the tree with our favorites. (My favorites were of course placed where I could see them best as a child. So what if the ornaments were not evenly distributed over the whole tree.)

After bows and candy canes were placed on the tree, we all sat back and admired our handiwork. We of course had the best smelling and most beautiful tree. (Sorry if you thought otherwise.) I always felt so sorry for those poor people who had artificial trees and didn't get to experience the tree hunt and amazing smell of the fresh tree.

Now, 20 years later, I am married and have children of my own. For nine years my husband and I carried on the Christmas tree tradition in our own home. We have trudged out in cold sunny weather, on rainy days and maybe even a little snow over the years.

My kids began to form memories of their own of what a Christmas tree should look like and smell like. They fondly remembered the process, just like I did as a child.

Then, to my nostalgic childhood memories, I began to add adulthood memories of Christmas tree frustration. One year, our tree would not stay standing. I think it fell over 3 times. Then there is the year that fairly early on I forgot to water the tree. By Christmas it was no longer green. It looked more like kindling. Instead of a beautiful Christmas tree, we had a decorated dead tree and I was afraid to even turn on the lights in fear it might just burst into flames.

As an adult the Christmas tree process became something I almost dreaded. What if it was pouring down rain on the day we went to hunt for the tree? How many times will we have to trim the base of the tree and slam it into the stand so it stick and stays? It seems like no matter how many times we try to twist the little things on the stand that holds the tree in place, it still leans one direction or another. And then there is the problem of remembering to water the tree. It needs to be watered just about twice a day. And if you forget to water it? It's toast! Don't even get me started on the lights. After we get the all working and the lights on the tree, it always seems like half a strand decides to stop working. And then when it is time to take the tree down, you may as well just TRY to get needles all over the house. It always happens anyway. Oh my.

This year, I changed things. No more hassle! After my final hunt for the perfect tree with realistic looking needles, I settled on a Fresh Cut Grand artificial tree. Yes, our family has gone artificial. Those of you who know me well are probably still in shock, but it is true.

After we set up the tree, I had that momentary realization that I hadn't watered the tree yet. But, no more tree watering for me.

My kids were less than thrilled about the thought of an artificial tree. My 6 1/2 year old daughter was devastated that our tree will not smell good. But now that the tree is set up, she seems to be fine. In fact, while we were listening to Christmas music and decorating the artificial tree as a family, she said "We have the best family ever." Yes, that is how Christmas tree decorating should feel to a child.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Sourdough Crackers

 Since I started taking the sourdough course at GNOWFGLINS, I have attempted several different sourdough recipes. One of our favorites so far is crackers.

I had been in such a cracker conundrum. Years ago I bought crackers like Wheat Thins, Triscuits, Ritz, Saltines, Cheez-its and Goldfish. Since we have turned to more natural and organic foods, we have not found a decent replacement for these crackers. There are some that are alright, but they sure are expensive! As a result, we pretty much just didn't have crackers in our house. The only crunchy snack type food we had was Kettle Chips.

Until now.

These crackers are wonderful. They are perfectly crunchy and salty. What more could you ask for in a cracker? The recipe is very versatile as well. Whatever flavor you would like, you can make!

Sourdough Crackers
(Original recipe from GNOWFGLINS e-course, labeled as "Erin's Crackers")

1 cup sourdough starter
1/3 cup melted butter
1 - 2 cups flour
1/2 tsp. baking soda
2 1/2 tsp. salt, divided

1. Combine 1 cup of sourdough starter and melted (but not hot) butter. Stir in 1 cup of flour (I used white whole wheat). Add in more flour 1/4 cup at a time until you have a stiff dough. Knead in flour until the dough is pretty stiff and no longer sticky. (I go by how the dough feels and not the amount of flour added.

2. Cover cracker dough in bowl and let sit for at least 8 hours to sour. (I generally make the dough sometime in the morning and then make the crackers in the evening. So mine sits about 12 hours.)

3. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

3. Break dough in half. This ball in my hand is about half.

4. Smash the dough open on a clean counter or table. Sprinkle 1/4 tsp. baking soda and 1/4 tsp. salt on dough. (This is where you can get creative as well. I have added chopped rosemary, a cheese and spice blend, and a spicy cheese blend.) Knead in your ingredients to combine.

5. Cut parchment paper to the size of your largest cookie sheet. (If you don't have a very large cookie sheet, try breaking the dough in half again.) Place dough on parchment paper. Squish it down a little bit to make it easier to roll out. Place plastic wrap over dough. (The dough is pretty sticky and WILL stick to a rolling pin!) Roll out until paper thin.

6. Sprinkle about 1/2 to 1 tsp. salt evenly over the top. I use my hands to spread it around a bit and to make sure it all has salt. No one likes a cracker that isn't salty! Use rolling pin to gently push salt down into the cracker.

7. Use a pizza cutter to cut into cracker sized rows.

8. Slide a cookie sheet under the parchment paper. Place in preheated oven. Cook for about 15 minutes. (While this batch is cooking, repeat steps 4-7 with the second half of your dough.)

9.Pull crackers out of the oven. Check the edges as the thin edges cook fastest. Remove the edges and place on a cooling rack.

10. Cook crackers until lightly browned and crispy. Cool on cooling rack.

11. Enjoy!!!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Sourdough Adventures

For quite some time I have known about the health benefits of soaking, fermenting and/or souring grains. About 5 or 6 years ago, a good friend of mine let me borrow the Nourishing Traditions cookbook, which covers this subject very thoroughly.

Whole grains are full of wonderful vitamins and minerals, but they are not ready to be absorbed without preparation. Wheat is basically a seed: if you plant it, you will grow more wheat. All seeds have a protective "coating" which help the seed store for a long period of time and essentially "holds" most of the nutrients. So how do you prepare wheat in a way that your body can absorb all these vitamins and minerals?

The answer is fermentation or sprouting. This was the traditional means by which grains have been prepared for pretty much all of history up until modern processes have made food both more readily available and less nutritious

"Sprouting, soaking and genuine sourdough leavening "pre-digests" grains, allowing the nutrients to be more easily assimilated and metabolized. This is an age-old approach practiced in most traditional cultures. Sprouting begins germination, which increases the enzymatic activity in foods and inactivates substances called enzyme inhibitors. These enzyme inhibitors prevent the activation of the enzymes present in the food and, therefore, may hinder optimal digestion and absorption. Soaking neutralizes phytic acid, a component of plant fiber found in the bran and hulls of grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds that reduces mineral absorption." (Excerpt from What Happens to Wheat, from Seed to Storage)

Even though I knew and understood the information, the thought of taking so much time to prepare our grains just overwhelmed me.

Sourdough Starter
And then I saw this e-course on sourdough. Maybe I could do this after all! The list of what you could make with sourdough was extensive and the e-course is "pay what you can". So I signed up and got started. The first thing I did was create my sourdough starter culture. This is quite simple to make with flour and water.

After my starter was established, I started experimenting with the sourdough goodies. The first things I made were pancakes and waffles. The waffles were definitely our family's favorite. They are so fluffy, crispy and we couldn't even taste any "sour"! (I never thought anything could rival my mom's recipe, but I think these do.)

Rosemary Crackers
Next I made crackers. Oh my. These are so good! We have now made them 4 times. This last time we made several varieties: rosemary, sea salt, cheese, and spicy cheese. My 6 year old daughter loves these and everyone who has tried our crackers loves them! I don't think we will ever be able to return to regular, store bought crackers.

I attempted sourdough bread (pictured above) and I would say it turned out alright. It was pretty dense, but still very tasty. I also made these cinnamon rolls. Oh yum! They were so gooey and delicious! Again, there is absolutely no sour flavor. You wouldn't know they were sourdough unless I told you. (They didn't last very long in our house...)

I have also made chocolate cake (yum!), pizza dough, artisan bread, and these English Muffins. The English muffins are so good and moist, I ended up making them two days in a row.

I never thought I would be able to make such delicious and nutritious food for my family so easily. Who knew that sourdough is so versatile and simple?

My sourdough adventures are just beginning. I am sure you will read much more about sourdough (and maybe even a few recipes) in my posts to come. Stay tuned...

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Chunky Applesauce

Last week I received a phone call asking if I would like a box of apples. Well, what could I say? Of course I would like a box of apples! We go through so many apples in our house; we could handle a box of apples, right?

This box was not your standard box of apples. I have seen boxes of apples at the farmers market, but this box was so large it was in a league all of its own. Oh my. I don't have room to store that many apples! What to do with all the apples?

In the end, I decided it must be time to make applesauce. I don't have any fancy applesauce making equipment. I have a vegetable peeler, a knife and stock pots. What else do you need?

I set to work peeling, coring and slicing apples. Fuji, Pink Lady, Golden Delicious and Red Delicious flew threw my hands. After a generous dumping of cinnamon and some mashing with my potato masher, I called it good. It was still a little chunky, but that just adds texture. Yes, texture, that is what we will call it.

After cooking, I proceeded to can the applesauce. It was amazing how the applesauce seemed to grow as I ladled it into pint sized jars. My water-bath canner could handle 7 pints per batch. I ended up doing 3 batches, resulting in 19 jars of applesauce. I think we will be set for quite some time.

Now what to do with the remaining 5 Granny Smith apples. I think it is time for an apple crisp...

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

My Tea Fetish

I love tea. There is just something about drinking a nice hot cup of tea on a cold day that hits the spot like nothing else. In fact, it seems to be the cure for many of life's problems. Stressed? Can't sleep? Cold? Have a cup of tea. Problem solved. A few days this last week I wasn't feeling very well and tea came to my rescue again. I think I probably drank 10-12 cups of tea yesterday. I sure was glad that I have this obsession with tea.

When I am shopping and see tea on sale, I have a hard time resisting buying just a few more boxes of tea. Who knows, this flavor may become my new favorite! And so, I buy the tea. When I arrive home a new problem arises. Where will I put the tea? You see, I already have a lot of tea and it seems to be taking over much of my kitchen. At times, my over-zealousness in purchasing tea requires that it temporarily be stored on my kitchen counter. Oh well, at least it is accessible in case I need a good cup of tea.

Many tea purists seem to be convinced that tea is far superior in the loose leaf form. I admit this may be true, but I have already confessed that I am lazy. If I must go to the effort to put tea in a ball or bag before placing it in my cup of hot water, then I probably won't bother doing it. I am thankful that they make tea pre-bagged for those lazy tea lovers like myself.

What are my favorite teas? Well, glad you asked! I love peppermint tea. My current favorite peppermint tea is by Traditional Medicinals. Yum! All other peppermint tea tastes bland and boring in comparison now. I also love Traditional Medicinals' Nighty Night tea. I don't know if it actually helps me sleep or if it is just the placebo affect, but I enjoy it. For a nice morning pick-me-up I really enjoy some Yerba Mate or green tea. (Those both taste better with a bag of peppermint tea thrown in as well.)

I should go now. My tea kettle is hot and I am ready for a good cup of tea.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Homemade Ricecakes

What comes to mind when you hear the word "ricecakes"? Probably those bland, puffed rice things people eat when they are trying to lose weight and still feel like they are eating something. If you were to ask my kids what comes to mind when they hear the word "ricecakes" it would be a different story altogether.You see, in our family, a "ricecake" is a breakfast food, kind of like a pancake.

What? You mean you have never heard of these before? There is probably good reason for that. It would have to do with the fact that you were not raised in the same house I was. (Sorry.) This is a family recipe. In fact, my mom ate it growing up as well.

I believe my grandma came up with ricecakes when she had 5 little kids and a very small budget. White rice was cheap and this was just another way she could use it in a meal.

In our home, we eat brown rice and so I make brown ricecakes. I think I have made some modifications to the way both my grandma and my mom made them. This recipe is a great way to serve my kids whole grains and protein. And my girls LOVE them!

Today, I will be sharing with you my version of ricecakes. Keep in mind that this is one of those "dump" recipes. It is based more on how the ricecake batter looks than the exact amount of ingredients. I will try to give fairly specific measurements and instructions for those of you who didn't have the opportunity to learn this alongside your mother as I did.


3 cups cooked brown rice
3 eggs
1-2 Tbsp. oil (I generally use olive oil.)
1 Tbsp. sweetener (I used honey today, but have used agave and sugar in the past.)
1 tsp. vanilla
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. salt
1/3 cup milk

1. Preheat griddle. I have a gas stove and preheat my griddle on medium heat.

2. Add rice to a bowl. Break up rice if it is stuck together.

3. Add 3 eggs. Mix together. The consistency should not be runny, but the eggs should be able to easily coat all of the rice.

  4. Add remaining ingredients. I let my kids dump in as much cinnamon as their little hearts desire. I actually have no idea how much milk I normally add. This is not a very runny batter. It should still be fairly thick. If it is too runny, I have added a little ground flaxseed or flour before and that still turns out great.

5. Oil griddle. (I use butter on mine.)

6. Give the batter a quick stir; scoop 2 spoon fulls of batter per rice cake. (I just use my large regular flatware spoon for this.) Squish and flatten into a circular shape. It should be around 3/8" thick.

7. Allow to cook until the edges look cooked and the ricecake is thickening up. These take longer to cook than regular pancakes and will fall apart if you try to flip them too early. Flip ricecakes.

8. Allow to cook on second side. This side does not take very long, maybe one minute.

9. Remove from pan. Give the batter a quick stir and start more ricecakes cooking.

10. Serve with butter and real maple syrup. Makes about 9 - 4" wide ricecakes. (This morning I had to make more than this amount. My girls ate 4 each!)

Wednesday, November 3, 2010


There are several things I do not do well at all, some things I do alright at and a few things I do very well. Sadly, procrastinating is one of those things that I do very well. You see, I have practiced this art form long and hard.

I don't know when it started, but I have always said that I "work well under pressure." In high school I would wait to do a big paper until the night before it was due and then stay up until some horrendous hour finishing it. (Don't tell me you never did that.) I liked to think that I just did better finishing the project all at once. That might be part of it, but I think it comes down to the fact that I am both a procrastinator and a perfectionist. How can I be both a procrastinator and a perfectionist? I don't know, but they somehow work together.

This last Tuesday, the teacher in my Bible study shared a cartoon about procrastination during her teaching. I think it describes me perfectly, so here it is:

Yes, that is me. Generally, the enthusiasm factor is not at its maximum effectiveness until I realize that I may or may not have time to finish the project.

In fact, recently I was so frustrated with my messy house that I invited company over just so that I would clean my house. I had about 2 weeks to clean my house, but did I use those whole 2 weeks to do that? No, of course not. Why would I do such a logical, self-disciplined thing? Thankfully, I did a couple of things early on in the week, but later in the week I definitely implemented the energy-intensive phase of cleaning my house.

It is not only in cleaning my house that I procrastinate, but that is certainly the area that is most visually obvious to anyone unfortunate enough to witness my procrastination in action. Hm, I suppose my house does need to be cleaned again. Anyone want to come over for dinner?

Monday, November 1, 2010

Tortilla Soup

Nothing says soup weather like wind, rain and cold temperatures, which made today perfect. But there are so many soups from which to choose. Chicken noodle is always a favorite. I made both lentil soup and corn chowder not very long ago. What to make?

In this situation, I tend to fall back on my most reliable soup. Tortilla soup is much loved by my whole family. I know that when I make this soup, there will be no complaints, only requests for seconds and thirds. And, as you can see from this picture of my 4 year old, bowls will be cleaned!

I have discovered that most everyone loves this soup as well. It is always safe to serve to company, bring as a meal to a friend who has had a new baby, or bring to a potluck. The only problem might be that I won't bring home as much leftover soup as my family would like.

So here is my recipe, the way I make it. Feel free to experiment and modify according to your own likes. Enjoy!

Tortilla Soup

1 container Pacific Organic Chicken Broth
1 - 29 oz. can Hominy, drained (I used Juanita's - find it the Mexican section at the grocery store.)
1 - 4 oz. can Diced Roasted Green Chili Peppers
Spices to taste (I throw in chili powder, cumin, onion powder, garlic powder and oregano. Instead of spices you can throw in a can of enchilada sauce.)
1 chicken breast, cooked and cubed
1 quart sized jar of pinto beans (So maybe you don't can your own beans like I do; probably use 2 regular sized cans from the store. This is also really good with black beans.)
Several handfuls of frozen corn (I would guess 1-2 cups)

1. Add Chicken Broth, Hominy, Diced Green Chili Peppers and Spices to your soup pot. (This soup barely fit in my 4 quart pot.) Bring to boil then reduce heat and simmer 20-30 minutes, until Hominy softens.

2. Add chicken, Pinto beans and corn. (I have thrown in some cooked brown rice before as well.) Cook until heated through.

3. Dish up! We love this soup with cheese (cheddar or pepper jack) on top. Some people really like a good spoonful of sour cream too. Serve with tortilla chips either crunched up on top or used to scoop up the soup.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Fall Decorating

Sometimes decorating just baffles me. Not because of the difficulty in creating a nice look or theme, but due to the high cost of decorations. When you begin to add up the price of wall art, vases, throw pillows, curtains, and everything else that goes into making a home look beautiful, it can be staggering. It is especially frustrating if you are on a fairly tight budget.

Wouldn't it just be easier if decorations were inexpensive and readily available in nature? That is the beauty of Fall decorating.

Many flowers bloom in wonderful fall colors, adding beauty inside or out. Chrysanthemums, like the ones pictured above on my front porch, are currently one of my favorites. They are one of the easiest perennials to grown, meaning you will have beautiful fall color year after year! Another great fall flower is the asters, which is also a perennial. Both of these flowers have long lasting blooms and look great for a long time!

More fall decorations are easily picked up at the grocery store or, my favorite, at the pumpkin patch. Planning a trip to the pumpkin patch or local farm is fun for the whole family. We have a few great pumpkin patches in our area that provide many fun activities for the kiddos and generally some yummy fall snacks that are irresistible! While visiting the pumpkin patch, look around at all the beautiful squash and gourds. These are fairly inexpensive and great for decorating! In fact, gourds can be dried and used year after year. (I have only successfully dried 3, but I will try again this year.) And when you are done using the squash as decorations, they can be cooked and eaten or turned into yummy pies. Most squash varieties make delicious pumpkin pies!

Fall is one of my favorite decorating seasons. A little splash of bright Fall beauty goes a long way in creating a look that is simple, beautiful and provided by nature. Happy Fall!

Friday, October 29, 2010

Conquering Static Naturally

One of the most annoying things about doing laundry is the static. It is frustrating (and sometimes painful) to fold a load of laundry that is snapping and popping like some Rice Krispies cereal in milk! For years, my solution to this problem was fabric softener or dryer sheets. Even then, I still had some static.

The only time my clothes seemed to be static free was during the summer when I hung the clothes out on the line to dry. Wonderful! Not only did my family's clothes smell amazing, but there was no static at all. Sadly, the number of days I can hang my clothes to dry on the line are few here in the Pacific Northwest.

One day I read an article about the how many chemicals are in dryer sheets. Not only was I drying these chemicals into my family's clothes, but the chemicals are designed to stay on the clothes for a long period of time. Yuck! At that point, I switched over to a more natural dryer sheet to avoid the overload of chemicals. This seemed like at least a step in the right direction.

As I was going through my e-mail, I stumbled across one of those forwards warning about the dangers of dryer sheets. Only this email wasn't talking about the chemicals in dryer sheets, but the effect dryer sheets have on the dryer's lint filter. This email claimed that dryer sheets coat the lint filter, reducing air flow and can eventually clog the filter. We all know how important it is to remove the lint, but what if that isn't good enough? I don't want my dyer to catch fire! (This email was verified here.) It seems like dryer sheets and dryers are a bad combination.

So what could I do? How could I dry clothes and avoid the static?

After some more reading, I learned that vinegar is a natural fabric softener. I started dumping some vinegar into my washing machine's fabric softener dispenser. That didn't seem to help much all by itself.

Then I started to notice that the clothes producing the most static were my kids' footie pajamas. What were they made out of? 100% polyester! I thought, well, that would be easy to just hang those up to dry.

So I turned my shower curtain rod into an indoor clothes line. I started reading labels and noticing when clothes were made out of synthetic materials. If the clothes had 50% or more synthetic materials (polyester, acrylic, spandex or nylon) I hung them on my indoor line to dry.

Now, I use vinegar in every load. It is a natural fabric softener and a natural deodorizer. (The vinegar smell is always gone by the time the clothes are dry.) For our synthetics, I either hang them to dry or lay them flat to dry. The result? No more static in our clothes!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Overnight Pumpkin Coffee Cake

When making a coffee cake for a women's brunch, does it make more sense to use a reliable recipe or be creative and hope it turns out? I am sure you are thinking, "Use the reliable recipe!" Although that is the logical assumption, that is not what I did.

My husband frequently gives me a hard time for this. When do I decide to be creative? My creativity typically perks up when I am cooking or baking for company or bringing a dish to a potluck. In other words, I take culinary risks when it really matters.

It all generally works out logically in my mind. Here was my thought process last night: I really wanted to bring a pumpkin coffee cake to the brunch. It would be ideal to make it the night before so I didn't need to wake up so early in the morning. (Have I mentioned that I am a night owl, not an early bird?) I found pumpkin coffee cake recipes online, but none specifying that they could be made the night before. I have an overnight coffee cake recipe. I should be able to modify it to be a pumpkin coffee cake, right? So that is what I attempted.

The only problem with modifying a recipe is that you never really know how it will turn out. Will this be the dud recipe? Will I be embarrassed that I brought the gooey, bland coffee cake? Will I be asked to purchase bagels to bring to the next brunch?

Thankfully, these fears were unnecessary. The pumpkin coffee cake turned out delicious! It was perfectly moist with a wonderful texture. In fact, one woman asked if she could bring a portion of the leftovers home with her. I think I would call it successful creativity.

Here is my recipe:

Overnight Pumpkin Coffee Cake

1/2 cup butter (1 cube), softened
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 eggs
2 cups flour (I used 1 cup whole wheat and 1 cup all purpose)
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
1 - 15 oz. can pumpkin (I tried to use the whole can, but I think I ended up with 1/4 cup on my kitchen counter - oops!)

1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg

1. Cream butter and sugar. Add eggs; mix well.

2. Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda and pumpkin pie spice; add to creamed mixture alternately with pumpkin. Beat well.

3. Spread into a greased 9x13 baking pan.

4. Combine topping ingredients; sprinkle over batter.

5. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

6. Bake uncovered at 350 degrees for about 1 hour, or until cake tests done.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Loving My Cast Iron

As a wedding gift, my husband and I received a really nice set of Belgique cookware. This set included stainless steel pots, nonstick pans and the corresponding lids. I was thrilled to own such a nice set of cookware. What a blessing!

Over the years I used these pots and pans constantly. Slowly, the nonstick coating on my pans started to deteriorate. Eventually, it began to flake off. The thought of feeding Teflon flakes along with dinner, or should I say in dinner, rather disgusted me. In response I tossed the pans and replaced them with new nonstick pans.

After repeating this process a few times, I became rather frustrated. Would this define my cooking life? Would I always purchase nice nonstick pans only to replace them in a couple of years? It just didn't seem right that my pots continued to last while my pans appeared to be a disposable item.

So my search began. Could I find pans that would be a one time investment? Stainless steel pans last, but they are not nonstick at all. Finally, my search ended with cast iron pans.

My cast iron adventures started at Costco with the purchase of a set of 2 Lodge cast iron skillets. Through trial and error I learned many things about cast iron pans. I realized that liquid cannot sit in them. (They rust.) I realized that they need to be cleaned relatively soon after a meal. (Again, they rust.) I realized that rust is removable and the pans can be reseasoned. (Thank you, my husband.) I realized that the pans do not start out very non-stick. (They need to be used and seasoned.) And I realized that the pans improve with age and use.

Today, my collection has expanded to the set pictured above. My pans are not rusty (um, other than some small spots on the bottoms of a couple of pans), but well used and seasoned. These pans can perfectly cook in a nonstick sort of way hash browns, eggs, vegetables, and meat. These pans are not nonstick, they are even better. They will continue to stand the test of time and be a valuable investment.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Chicken Tetrazzini

My husband is not a picky eater. In fact, he is generally perfectly happy to eat most anything for dinner after work.Very rarely has he ever criticized or complained about my cooking. This is quite a blessing to me except that it can make me rather lazy. Why attempt culinary excellence if my husband is completely content with culinary mediocrity?

At the same time, though, I go through stages of boredom, feeling like I am repeating the same old dinners over and over again. During one of these stages, desperate for a new recipe, I paged through my Betty Crocker's Cookbook. I stumbled across the recipe for Chicken Tetrazzini and it quickly became one of our family's favorites.

This recipe turned into one of my "go to" recipes. I have served this dish to many people and it has always received incredibly high ratings (indicated by the cleaned plates and returns for seconds or even thirds). Even kids love it!

So what is the recipe? Here is my version modified from Betty Crocker's Cookbook.

Chicken Tetrazzini

1 package (7 ounces) spaghetti, broken into thirds
1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon garlic salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 cup chicken broth
1 cup whole milk (recipe calls for whipping cream, but I don't normally have that on hand)
2 cups cubed cooked chicken (I normally guesstimate and sometimes use yummy rotisserie chicken)
3/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

1. Heat oven to 350 degrees.

2. Cook spaghetti as directed on package.

3. While spaghetti is cooking, melt butter in 2-quart saucepan over low heat. Stir in flour, garlic salt and pepper. Cook, stirring constantly, until mixture is smooth and bubbly; remove from heat. Stir in broth and whole milk. Heat to boiling, stirring constantly. Boil and stir 1 minute.

4. Drain spaghetti. Stir spaghetti and chicken into sauce. Pour spaghetti mixture into ungreased 2-quart casserole (I like to use an 11 x 7 Pyrex baking dish, except when making a double batch like tonight. Hence the larger pan pictured above).

5. Sprinkle with cheese. (This is key! The more cheese the yummier. The cheese makes a delicious crunchy layer on the top. Don't try and skimp on calories by skipping the cheese!)

6. Bake uncovered about 30 minutes or until bubbly in center.

Enjoy!!! This makes a perfect meal with bread and a salad. Yum!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Making the Bed

For years I thought the notion of making the bed every day was pointless, even a waste of time. The bed is used everyday and therefore must be made every day. Besides, why make the bed when the rest of the room is such a mess? My husband and I both have our piles of clothes that are "clean enough to wear again". There are toys and stuffed animals that have somehow migrated to our bedroom. Shoes that didn't quite make it to the shoe rack are also strewn across the floor. In the midst of that mess, what is the point of making the bed?

Not that I didn't ever make the bed. Of course everyone knows you make your bed when you are expecting company, especially the kind of company that might want to see your bedroom. If the company wouldn't mind the master bedroom door staying firmly closed, then the bed could remain in its usual state of messiness. I also made my bed when I was inspired yet again to have a clean and beautiful master bedroom, but that rarely lasted very long.

Then I read an article regarding making the bed. The article mentioned that the bed is the single largest object in the room. By making the bed, the master bedroom would appear to be 75% clean without picking up the rest of the mess. Amazing! Even if most of my house is in chaos and disorder, I could have one room that looked 75% clean. By spending 1 minute making the bed, one part of my house could feel clean.

So today, our master bedroom is a mess. We currently have our piles of "still wearable" clothes, there are shoes on the floor and of course the constant littering of toys. The bedroom could desperately use a dusting and vacuuming. But the bed is made. My room looks 75% clean and I feel pretty good about that!

Monday, October 18, 2010

Confessions of Laziness

"Hello, my name is Tanya and I am a lazy homemaker." No, I have never attended "Lazy Homemakers Anonymous" or any similar such support group. At times, though, it seems like it might be appropriate to introduce myself this way.

Webster's defines a homemaker as "one who manages a home." What I generally do in my home could rarely be defined as managing. Chaos restraint, damage control or disaster clean-up might be better definitions. But manager? No.

Not that I don't have aspirations for the perfect, organized, neat and tidy home. I enjoy a "Good Housekeeping" magazine and imagine myself bringing my home to a state of beauty. Flipping through the pages, I see story after story where people conquer their homes and come out victorious. Then I put the magazine down and look at my house. Reality sets in yet again. My 4 year old and 6 year old girls do not seem to have the same aspirations. In fact, one might think they have concocted this evil plan to keep me from ever achieving this goal. 

So what do I do? Get up and determine to fight my way to the top of the list of best homemakers? No. I decide that instead of dejectedly observing the mess that we should just leave. Sanity will be maintained through avoiding the problem. As a family, we will go over to my parents' house and enjoy an evening in a nice clean house. The mess will still be here tomorrow. Right?