May 312013
  (Disclosure: The cookbook links below are affiliate links and if you happen to make a purchase through them I’ll receive a small percentage of your purchase – and of course would be so grateful!)

I’ve been craving potato leek soup for a few weeks now, and thought I’d better get to it while the weather’s still cold and dreary and calling for warm soups (such is the end of May in the Pacific Northwest). When I went to the bookshelf to find a good recipe I knew just which book I hoped would have one: The Art of Simple Food by Alice Waters. Hooray – happily there was a potato leek soup recipe and I was good to go. Its such an easy soup with just a few ingredients but with great flavor, and the family loved it and ate it all up.

All of the recipes in this book really highlight individual ingredients and let the flavors of each shine through. This is a book that encourages the reader to not just cook but to be a cook, by offering lots of potential variations on recipes and by honoring the cook’s intuition and skill. For example in the potato leek soup recipe one of the handful of ingredients is salt, but there is no amount listed. Its up to the cook to add the amount of salt that they feel the recipe needs. This book is a great read and also great to cook from – a winning cookbook combination!

I’m sharing this post at some of these great link parties – check ’em out!

Turn Old Jeans into Jean Shorts

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May 292013

I had a pair of jeans that had seen better days, and recently one of the knees gave out. My kids were a little too obsessed about how I ripped my pants and made a deal about it every time I wore them, so I figured the time was right to transform them into something new.

Ok, I don’t want to insult anyone’s intelligence by offering a tutorial about how to make jean shorts from old jeans. I mean, step 1) cut the legs off the jeans above the knees. There, done! Although not quite done – think of this as the midway point since I want to do something else to the shorts. I can’t decide if they need to be more distressed, or have some patches or something. I’m going to have to mull it over some more.

Cook the Collection #6: The Bread Bible

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May 272013

(Disclosure: The cookbook links below are affiliate links and if you happen to make a purchase through them I’ll receive a small percentage of your purchase – and of course would be so grateful!)

I had the chance to hear Rose Levy Beranbaum speak years ago at a reading and book signing and she was just what you’d expect a baker to sound like: warm, witty, compassionate and helpful. She took questions well past the scheduled end of the talk and was thoughtful and thorough in her replies.

The Bread Bible“, her companion book to her popular book “The Cake Bible” is just like that – a serious book, just like you’d expect with ‘bible’ in the name, but thoughtful and warm as well. It’s comprehensive and thorough, covering breads from quick breads and muffins, through flatbreads, sandwich breads and rolls to  hearth breads, sourdoughs and brioches. All the recipes include three types of measurements: cups and spoons, metric and imperial weights. I like having the choice of how to measure because weighing the ingredients gives great results, but sometimes I’d rather be less fussy and just toss everything in.

So we made scones from this book and OMG they were the best scones ever! We usually just use the Fisher Fair Scone Mix which is quick and easy and makes pretty darn good scones, but these scones blew those scones right out of the water. These were amazingly good scones, like ‘eat too many in one sitting’ scones. These scones were so good they made me want to immediately bake from another recipe in the book.  Of course I probably won’t do that right away because I have so many more cookbooks to cook from (on that note – my lovely children got me a cookbook for my birthday (“Kids Parties!” – I think there was a bit of self-interest at work) so now my collection total stands at 153.

Look at this mint leaf – I think its prettier than the scones!
May 242013

Sometimes I feel like I’m locked in a never-ending battle with the TV. My kids will whine and whine constantly to try and break me down and get me to let them watch another show. I try to limit their screen time to two hours a day (which seems like a ton) but man is that hard some days. Things around the house always seem to go more smoothly when the kids know their limits and the house rules, and we definitely need those when it comes to the screen (Netflix is my nemesis, seriously).

Last year I came up with TV tickets as a way to limit their viewing time and those worked reasonably well, but I got tired of printing out tickets (or writing out tickets) every day. Plus the tickets were using up a ton of printer toner so I needed to find a better way. I wanted to find something durable and permanent so that I could reuse them every day, but also so that I could customize them to cut down on the chance of forgery (my daughter became quite a dedicated forger when we used paper tickets).

I decided to use plastic poker chips: they’re cheap, they come in a box of 100 so I had lots of spares for mess-ups or other projects and they’ll be durable. Plus they come in three colors so I could color-code them for each child. In our system each chip is worth 30 minutes of T.V. (“one show”) so each child gets two – if they each watch each others’ shows it is two hours of screen time, but sometimes they don’t do that for whatever reason and that cuts down on the T.V. time. I also made two bonus tokens – if they have an excellent day behavior-wise I have the option to give them a bonus 30 minute token but that’s not a regular thing. Of course if your kids are less devious than mine or you toss out the rest of the box of poker chips then you really don’t even need to label them – just assign each kid a color and you’re good to go!

The tokens were super simple to make. I used PicMonkey to create images for the labels on each side of the chip. I started with a blank PicMonkey image, cropped it into a square and then used a circle overlay and stretched it to fit the size of the square. I then changed the background of the overlay for each separate chip color (green for the blue chips, purple for the red chips and blue for the white chips) and added text for each chip as well. I have a 3/4″ craft punch, which happened to be just the right size to make the paper labels for the center of the chips (you could just freehand cut the circles with scissors).

1) Plastic poker chips, 2) Mod Podge, 3) your token images printed on paper, 4) craft punch or scissors. Not pictured: paint brush.

Now there is probably a better way to print the images out so that you can attach them to the chips, but this is how I did it: I opened a text document and inserted each image into it, then resized them to be a bit more than 3/4″ in diameter, saved and printed it out. I punched out the images using the punch and then used Mod Podge to affix the circles to the poker chips.

Clockwise from top left: Put Mod Podge in the center of the poker chip; Add the paper image; Cover the image with more Mod Podge; Let dry.

The Mod Podge took about 20 minutes to dry and I only used one coat. The directions say you can seal it with acrylic sealer to keep it from feeling tacky but I didn’t need to do that – they dried clear and glossy and smooth. So far we’re back on track with the new system and it really works to cut down on the whining and begging since they know that when their tokens are gone they’re done.

I’m sharing this post at some of these great link parties – check ’em out!

Pruning the Big Trees in the Front Yard

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May 222013

There is something so therapeutic about pruning – I really love to get in there with a pruning saw or loppers and just go to work on a tree or bush. We have some decorative trees in our front yard that are quite old and tend to overgrow their spaces if they aren’t pruned occasionally. The worst culprits are a Japanese maple and a magnolia tree (although my husband would say the oak is the worst, I saved that one for another day). They shade the yard with such dense shade that nothing much grows beneath them and their limbs drape all over the roof which looks so messy.

These are not the best photos, but I was eager to get pruning and didn’t want to wait until the light was right to take the before picture (on the left) and I took the after picture (on the right) just after I finished so at least the light would be the same for both shots. Note the motor home peeking through in the after shot, but at least the roof-line is visible now!

I cut them both back to neaten them up, although I don’t have a tall lopper or a ladder high enough to get to the upper branches. The only downside to my pruning party is that it ended up exposing the neighbors’ motor home, which has seen better days, honestly. The only downside to pruning is the enormous pile of branches we’ve now got to dispose of . . .

A Lunchtime Fruit Plate

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May 212013

I was getting ready for lunch today, looking in the fridge when I realized that we had a ton of fruit. I initially was going to make a fruit salad, but I decided to make a composed fruit plate instead and the kiddos loved it.

We had papaya, pear, strawberries, apples and grapes – they helped me take the tops off the berries, pulled the grapes off the bunch and helped arrange the fruit. I put the platter down on the table between them and let them choose what they wanted for their own plates. They absolutely inhaled the papaya, ate a lot of the strawberries and grapes, a few apples and hardly touched the pears (that’s ok, I ate those). Sometimes simple is so satisfying.

May 172013
glass jar of peruvian salsa criolla
After I made pickles the other day it got me thinking about other delicious condiments to have on hand in the fridge and the top of the list was Salsa Criolla. This Peruvian salsa is a kind of pickled onion relish that is traditionally served alongside chicharones (deep fried pork) as a way to cut the fatty rich taste of the dish, with the mint as a help for digestion. Of course its awesome with chicharones, but we eat it with all sorts of grilled and roasted meats and it is insanely good as a sausage condiment. A spoonful of salsa criolla absolutely elevates the plain old brautwurst in a bun. It’s also great on top of plain white rice or refried beans.
The recipe lends itself to adaptations as well – I often change out the fresh herbs I use or combine several types (parsley is always great, and I’ve made a delicious version with basil before) and it can be more or less spicy depending on the type and amount of chile peppers used. This version is not spicy at all – just has a bit of heat.
raw ingredients for salsa criolla on cutting board

Salsa Criolla – Peruvian Red Onion Salsa
Makes 3 cups

2 red onions, large
1 jalapeno, large
1/2 cup mint leaves

1/2 cup lime juice (from about 4 limes)
1 cup cider vinegar
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

1. Slice the onions thinly in half circles – you could use a mandolin to get really thin slices but I never bother – a knife works just fine.
sliced red onion
Slice the onion very thinly.
2. Seed the jalapeno, remove the membranes (to control the heat level) and slice it into thin strips.
sliced jalapenos for salsa criolla
Slice the jalapeno in thin strips.
  3. Chiffonade the mint leaves (see the photo below for the how-to).
Chiffonade the mint – stack the leaves together, roll them tightly into a log and then slice across the log into long thin strips.
  4. Put all of the ingredients into a non-reactive bowl, toss them well to separate the onion slices and combine the flavors, cover and refrigerate for at least 4 hours (overnight is better).
Add all the ingredients in a bowl together.
Toss to combine.
   5. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator – the salsa should keep for at least a week.
I got this cute jar at Ikea, but any airtight container will do (even plastic wrap over a glass bowl).

I’d love to hear what you think if you try this recipe out – I love converts to the salsa criolla cult.

I’m sharing this post at some of these great link parties – check ’em out!
May 142013

Summer’s almost here, and it’s about this time that I start thinking about what to do with the kids during those long summer weekdays. Of course there are always the basics – go to a park, or the beach or play in the yard – but I like to come up with ideas that can enhance and extend learning throughout the summertime. Here are twenty ideas I’ll be drawing from this summer when the excitement of summer vacation wears off and the chorus of “I’m booorrreed” starts up.

1. Plant vegetable seeds and watch them grow. Even a little pot on a windowsill will let your kids plant and observe the seeds and take ownership of their care (keep the soil moist, kid!).

2. Go to a u-pick farm and pick fruit, then eat it fresh or make jam to enjoy after summer’s done. Talk about how the farmer plants seeds, tends the crops and harvests the fruit.

3. Go to the local zoo, but first research one animal with the kids beforehand. Once you’re at the zoo observe the animal you researched, then pick another animal to research from the one of the others you’ve seen.

4. Start a field journal for your own backyard or neighborhood. Help your kids to record observations of weather, animals and plants. For littler kids add printables of birds or animals you know they’ll see and let them check them off when they spot them.

5. Have a reading contest for the summer with a big chart and stickers, or join your local library’s reading challenge.

6. Be playground explorers. Visit a brand new (to you) playground once a week, play on it and rate it with the kids. Pretend to be reviewers – let your kids take pictures of the parts they liked the most.

7. Lots of towns have kids music concert series’ in the summer – check out the chamber of commerce for towns around you to see what’s available.

8. Go to the local, county or state fair. Check to see if there are children’s art contests, baking, canning or craft contests and see if your little ones would like to participate. Before or after your trip to the fair set up a midway in the backyard with carnival games and little prizes.

9. Go camping, either in the yard or somewhere farther afield.

10. Stay up late and watch a meteor shower (the Perseid shower August 11-13th is the largest of the summer with the potential for 50 meteors per hour). Spot constellations and satellites (you can even look up which satellite you’ve spotted via NASA).

11. If you leave near the seashore or are visiting there this summer, check the local tide tables and go out to the beach during a very low tide to search for starfish and anemones.

12. Have a water fight with the kids – either kids against adults or mixed teams. Kids love it when their parents get in on the fun.

13. Have a nature scavenger hunt at the park or beach. Ask kids to find pine cones, leaves, a curly stick, a white rock or other natural objects.

14. Have one day with themed lunches or dinners each week. You could do a different country each week, or state, or pick a color and plan the meal around that. Give the kids lots of input on the menu and food prep, or if they’re older let them handle the whole meal themselves.

15. Visit a farmer’s market – give your kids grocery money and let them pick the ingredients for a meal or picnic.

16. Let your kids dictate the day – go on a day trip or short overnight road trip – decide how far you’re willing to drive that day, then draw a circle on a road map with that diameter and let the kids pick a spot on the map to visit – depending on the kids’ ages you could do just 20 miles, or 50, or 100. You can print out your map online for free, or if you’re a member of AAA you can get free maps from them as well.

17. Organize a canned food or pet food drive – charitable giving often drops off in the summer months so you could help a local charity by organizing a food drive. Host a play date in the backyard or a park and ask all the guests to bring some food to donate.

18. Leave parks or the beach cleaner than when you got there – keep a few trash bags and work gloves or disposable gloves in the car and pick up some trash before you go. Of course use common sense – pick up ‘clean’ trash only.

19. Put together a park/beach kit and keep it in the trunk of your car – then stop spontaneously to play as often as you can. I like to keep some buckets/shovels/sandtoys, balls, a beach blanket and sidewalk chalk.

20. Make fish prints. Catch a fish (or buy a whole fish at the grocery store) and use it to make fish prints. Warning! This is a messy project that’s better done outside. Lay the fish on a tray, dry it off well with paper towels, then let your child apply paint to one side of the fish (I like to use fabric paint mixed with some extender). Once the fish is covered with paint, lay a piece of fabric (or paper) onto the fish and press down lightly on the back. Carefully pull up the fabric and set it aside to dry. DON’T EAT THE FISH afterwards!

I’d love to hear about some of the things you’re planning to do with your kids this summer. If you’ve done any of these with your family before, please leave me a comment and let me know how it went!

I’m sharing this post at some of these great link parties – check ’em out!
May 122013

I had a revelation the other day – pickles (at least these particular Bread and Butter Pickles) are so easy to make. For very little cost and very little effort I can have fresh, homemade pickles in the fridge all the time. These little pickles are quite addictive; delicious for snacking all on their own or as a garnish for sandwiches or burgers. My kids are gobbling them up and we’ve just about gone through the quart jar I made yesterday. Wait what, just yesterday? Wow.

I used the RecipeGirl’s recipe for Bread and Butter Pickles and I followed it pretty much exactly except for using regular yellow onion instead of sweet onion (I like the deeper ‘oniony’ flavor of regular onions – unless they’re for eating raw the sweets taste sort of insipid to me). I also don’t happen to have a fluted cucumber slicer on hand, but I had a mini inspiration and used the fluted straight edge of a heart-shaped cookie cutter to cut the cucumbers into ridged slices. The recipe is quick to make – the active time was less than 20  minutes and otherwise it’s just marination time (RecipeGirl’s recipe says to let the pickles marinate for 24 hours before eating them, but I think they were done well before that).

Since the jar is almost done, I’m planning to make more tomorrow and to just keep them on hand throughout the spring and summer. I’d also like to get in the habit of keeping a jar of Salsa Criolla in the fridge too since it goes so well with all the grilled meats, burgers and fish we eat in the summertime.

Cook the Collection #5: Simply Classic

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May 092013
(Disclosure: The cookbook links below are affiliate links and if you happen to make a purchase through them I’ll receive a few cents of your purchase – and of course would be so grateful!)

Let me just start by saying if anyone ever wants to invite me to anything hosted by a Junior Leaguer I’m in -because apparently those Junior League ladies can cook!  I’m so excited to be able to tell you all about  Simply Classic: A New Collection of Recipes to Celebrate the Northwest, compiled by the Junior League of Seattle. This is one of my top five cookbooks and everything I’ve made from it has been delicious. Not only that, the recipes always get rave reviews – this is my go-to cookbook when I need a no-fail potluck dish or family dinner contribution. You can tell that these are recipes from real-world kitchens – with easy-to-find ingredients and common equipment they are easy to replicate at home. The recipes are comfort food with a Northwest twist, new American cooking with a global hint. Some of my favorites are the Tomato & Basil Tart, Sweet & Spicy Black Bean Salad, Green Bean & Feta Salad and Northwest Stew with Dried Cherries.

The book is a joy to flip through and read as well – illustrated with beautiful paintings of classic Seattle scenes, menus to suit any Pacific Northwest occasion and recipe head-notes that evoke a certain iconic Seattle style. I love to give this book as a gift and it would be perfect as a souvenir of Seattle or for someone with a special spot in their heart for the city.

I’ve cooked from this book many many times before, but for the purpose of the Cook the Collection challenge I prepared the Northwest Autumn Salad at a family gathering this past weekend.  This is one of my go-to green salad recipes and although it’s titled as an autumn salad, the dressing is light enough for any time of year and lends itself so well to adaptations. Of course I made a number of changes (I just can’t help myself) – pears instead of apples, walnuts instead of pecans and lime juice for lemon juice. We ate it alongside a knock-out grilled pork tenderloin and a simple fruit salad that was just right.

I’m sharing this post at some of these great link parties – check ’em out!