January 31, 2012

This Week's Eats

Posted by Kristin

They (which is who exactly?) say that failing to plan is planning to fail and I must say, the OCD dork in me kind of agrees. While I like a good old dash of spontaneity in my life, I also know that I can't handle spontaneity at 5 p.m. when all I want to do is go home and eat. Hence, having a plan.

Way back here I talked about how Mike and I make a meal plan for each week to eliminate multiple trips to the store and to ensure that we eat more than pasta each night. Let's just say that my creativity goes down hill after working all day, so a meal plan keeps the spice in my life, literally. So I've decided to take it one step further and post our meal plans each week. Some will be new recipes that we have yet to try and some are old standbys. If the recipes are available online, I'll link to them. If not, I'll share the recipe for anyone who asks for it. I"ll also make notes of when I'm turning left overs into a totally different meal or referencing other tips and tricks that Laura and I have shared already (like here and here and here). So without further ado, here's what the Thomases are eating this week:


Sunday: Chili-Mango Chicken with brown rice and sugar snap peas
A new one to try. I love spicy (chilies) and sweet (mango) together.

healthy stir-fry
Chili-Mango Chicken from Men's Health




Monday: 15- Minute Skillet Tamale Pie with a side of broccoli
A tried and tested recipe, perfect for any comfort-food craving.

15 Minute Skillet Tamale Pie
Rachel Ray's Tamale Pie



Tuesday: Black bean patties corn relish and avocado cream sauce
A new one that meets our 1-vegetarian-meal-a-week goal.

This delicious looking concoction is from one of our favorite recipe blogs, Annie's Eats.




Wednesday: Pot Roast
This recipe is the Pioneer Woman's version of Pot Roast, which I'll probably try. My favorite so far is this awesome Pot Roast recipe from Sarah Foster. Maybe I'll combine aspects of the two- totally a rule breaker, I know.

pot roast 081
The Pioneer Woman has this thing of filling her recipes with tantalizing pictures
 to lure you into trying it. It worked on me.



Thursday: Left Overs
We'll most likely have a left overs from the Monday and Wednesday meals, so we'll put them to work. Gotta love convenience.



Friday: Fish Packets with potatoes
Check out this Thomas special at my hubby's blog, Food, Faith and Fun (first introduced here).

Fish baked in foil, a wonderful thing.


Saturday: ??? Not sure what were doing yet...I can handle spontaneity on a weekend!

January 29, 2012

How To: Stock Your Freezer with Basics

Posted by Laura

Featured on Mass Appeal

Gooooooood mor-ning-blog-o-sphere! Today's topic is "stocking your freezer". I'm going to go over a cookie dough trick, a recipe for chicken stock, and dried-beans-turned-cooked-turned-frozen. I love having a stocked freezer. When my brother came for a visit with his family last month and stayed an unexpected extra 3 days, I had lots of food in the freezer just waiting to be used up. It was easy-peasy providing food on a whim.



A Tip for Cookie Dough

A few years ago, we rented a house in the Outer Banks with some friends for a week. One of the two couples we went with, Ashleigh and Brett were living in North Carolina at the time so we had the luxury of eating Ashleigh's homemade food that she packed in a cooler. One of her tricks she did, that has always stuck with me, was to package up some cookie dough on parchment paper in a plastic bag - ready to go in little cookie dough balls. I've never told her how much I loved that trick and use it all the time (I'm guess I'm telling her now! - love you Ash). 

I love cookie dough - I could just eat my computer
screen right now.


1st, ration the cookie dough out onto parchment paper as if you were about to cook it.



Next, fold it up....



...and stuff it into a freezer bag and store in your freezer.


When you're ready to use it, just take the parchment paper out of the bag and unfold it onto a cookie sheet. Done and done! Now, I just have to share with you the clumsy moment Caleb and I had when I was making this cookie dough. What a mess...


---------

Recipe for Chicken Stock

Chicken stock is super easy to make and stores well in the freezer. Once you make your own you will never go back to buying pre-made stock. You can ration the stock out in 1 cup measurements so that when a recipe calls for a certain amount, you know exactly how much to thaw.

I forgot to snap a picture, but this one looks
pretty good! Photo via trissalicious

Ingredients:
-1 chicken carcass (tip: if you're short on time, use the carcass of a rotisserie chicken)
-6 carrots
-6 ribs of celery
-1 head of garlic
-1 onion
salt and pepper


Directions:
1. Chop up vegetables and combine with the rest of the ingredients in a large soup pot, fill with water to the brim.
2. Simmer for approximately 3 hours, drain the broth and keep. Discard carcass and cooked vegetables.
3. Store broth in mason jars in the freezer (but make sure to leave room in the jar for the liquid to expand).

---------

Canned Beans vs Dry Beans

There are a few benefits to cooking your own beans vs using canned one. Granted, it is much easier to buy a can of beans and throw it in the pantry than to cook your own beans, but these 3 reasons alone are enough to cause me to make the switch:

BPA (Bisphenol A) Many cans used for canned goods are lined with BPA on the inside. Here's a great video from consumer reports explaining it well 
 
Sodium Canned beans have quite a bit of sodium in them to act as a preservative. Most cans have about 20% of your daily requirement! Eek! I'd rather save the sodium for a salty roasted chicken...mmmm. 
$$$ Dried beans are slightly cheaper than canned ones. You know us, anything that's easy on the wallet gets our attention.


Recipe for Beans (adapted from Kristin)

Ingredients:
-1 bag dry, uncooked beans

Directions:
1. Place uncooked beans in a pot, fill with water approximately 2 inches above beans.
2. Let beans soak in water, covered, for approximately 6-8 hours
3. Drain water and refill the pot with water. Bring water to a boil, let simmer for 1 1/2 hours until tender.
4. Portion into ziplock baggies or small jars and store in the freezer.

January 27, 2012

How To: Plan Your 2012 Veggie Garden

Posted by Kristin

Featured on Mass Appeal

Well folks, its January and you know what that means? Time to plan this years vegetable garden. "Hold the phone!" you may be thinking, "Yeah, its January, as in snow, ice, and cold. Where the heck are you thinking I'm going be planting tomatoes right about now?" While it may be a bit too early to expect to bite into the amazing sweetness of a Sungold, its not too early to start thinking about where their gonna go and who their neighbors will be.

Everyone should experience a Sungold tomato at least once in life. via


So, break out your pens and paper, your ruler and measuring tape...because its time to map out your 2012 veggie garden!

First things first, dream a little dream...
To start out, spend a little time daydreaming about what you want to put in your garden this year. Think through what you planted last year, what was successful and what wasn't. Think about what things you want to try and what new seed varieties you're interested in. Look through some seed catalogues and gardening books for inspiration or scour one of the many informative seed websites out there. Some of my favorite sources for reference and seeds include:




Gardener's Supply Company (A VT Company close to my heart...I used to be their Nursery Supervisor and they've got great products!)



Decide what kind of garden you want.
There are a number of different options out there for gardens. Container gardens are great for apartment dwellers or those with limited yard space. Raised beds are a great solution on older lots where lead contaminated soil may be an issue. (Contact your local university agricultural extension service if you think you may have lead soil. They often do soil testing for a small fee). Or a traditional garden plot in the ground may be the best choice for your yard.


That's alot of tomatoes this Boston rooftop!



Forever Raised Beds
Raised bed kits are available (such as these from Gardener's Supply)...


...or can be easily made. via


A traditional garden may fit the bill for your yard. It all depends on how much space you have. via
  

Hone in on what you want to grow and determine how much space you have.
Once you know what kind of garden you want, its time to really narrow in on what you specifically want to grow and how much space you want to dedicate to your garden. If containers are your thing, figure out how many you want to fit on your balcony, patio, or stoop. Raised bed kits come in various sizes, such as 6 feet by 8 feet, 3 feet by 3 feet, or somewhere in between. If you're making a raised bed yourself, you can make them as big as you'd like.

A word of wisdom though- soil compaction is a garden's worst enemy so make a bed that is longer than it is wide (more like a rectangle than a square) so you can access the bed from the sides and not actually have to walk in it to weed, harvest your veggies, etc. The same principle applies to a garden bed in the ground. If you need to make your garden work with the shape of your yard, just leave 10 inches of walking space between plantings for easy access (like in the picture above).

Create a plan.
Its time to pull out the colored pencils, markers, a ruler and some graph paper. Calculate the exact size of your garden space by measuring your beds or the diameter of each container. Now its time to use that graph paper. Graph paper is useful because you've already got a grid drawn out for you and you can assign a specific measurement to each block to make a scaled, measurable drawing. For example, on my 2012 veggie garden plan below (which is imaginary, I only wish I had that much room!), I assigned each block to represent 6 inches. I found it useful to use a small unit of measurement per block because some seeds can actually be planted as close as 8 inches apart. Using a small unit of measurement allows the plan to be drawn at a larger scale, or a zoomed in view, so you can get more detailed if need be.

My imaginary 2012 veggie garden. So people dream about planning
their vacation. I guess I just dream about planning gardens.


Once you know your bed or container measurements, draw them out on the paper and start figuring out what can grow where. For example, if I want to grow three tomato plants, and they each need about 4 square feet to grow, I know that I can plant them in a row that is 2 feet deep by 6 feet long. Plan out all your veggies this way and then you'll know how much you can actually fit in your beds or containers. Those gardening books, seed catalogues and websites can come in handy at this point as well, since they'll have a lot of good information on the spacing of various veggies and herbs.  It can be fun throw some color on the design and if you're really color happy and anal organized like I am, you can even color code it.

Go shopping!
Who doesn't love shopping? Well, some don't but shopping for seeds is a little different than sitting outside the dressing room while your girlfriend tries on 50 different pairs of jeans.  I recommend going to a local nursery or garden center, where they'll most likely have knowledgeable staff on hand who can answer various questions on seed selection, planting techniques, etc.


This is what you'll be greeted with at most garden centers: a wall of seeds.
Hence the importance of knowledgeable staff to help you choose from
thousands of options. via.


Now is a great time to go seed shopping, as any good garden center will have their seed racks chock full of all different varieties. Avid gardeners sometimes even start seed shopping in December because they know- the early bird gets the worm. If you wait until April or May, the seeds you're looking for may be long gone (and you'll have missed the planting window for a good number of seeds).  And one more tidbit- once you have your seed packs, hang onto them like gold. There's alot of good, helpful information on the back of the packs and it will come in handy throughout the growing season.

Once you've got your seeds and your plan, you''ll be armed and ready when spring comes rolling into town! And a plus to growing your own veggies? You can make cool things like this:

Pinned Image
via

January 25, 2012

Mass Appeal: Simple Ways to Start the New Year

Posted by Kristin and Laura

Well folks, we did it again. If you didn't catch it live, you can view our third segment on Mass Appeal below.  We talked about simple ways to start the new year, including:

1. How to plan your 2012 Veggie Garden
2. How to stock your freezer
3. How to make your own cleaners (two to be specific)



You can read the specific how to's for lemon olive oil hand scrub here and the vinegar spray here.

The veggie garden post and freezer post will be coming up in the next few days so keep your eyes peeled!

January 24, 2012

How To: Make All-Purpose Vinegar Spray

Posted by Laura


PEC. Loves. Vinegar. We love doing laundry with vinegar, eating vinegar, cleaning with vinegar, and de-skunking with vinegar.

For cleaning purposes it's a natural disinfectant, antibacterial, and anti-fungal. I've had the same bottle of Fantastik® sitting in my cabinet for about four years now. It's level has slooooowly gone down, ever since I started using vinegar spray. Don't get me wrong, there is something to be said about the squeaky clean feeling that heavy-duty cleaners leave behind, but I'd rather breathe in clean air and live headache-free. Here's a great recipe for an all-purpose vinegar spray.




Recipe for All-Purpose Vinegar Spray
(very similar to Kristin's Vinegar Spray)

Ingredients
-1 cup distilled white vinegar
-2 cups warm water
-1 teaspoon washing soda (can be found in the laundry section at the store)
-15 drops lavender essential oil
-15 drops tea tree essential oil (natural anti-fungal)

Directions 
  1. Combine ingredients in a spray bottle. 
  2. Use on counter tops, bathrooms, floors, etc.
  3. Do a jig in your clean-and-free-of-chemicals home! If you don't know what a jig is, ehow has written an article about it here. True story. How would we survive without ehow?




January 23, 2012

How To: Make a Lemon Olive Oil Hand Scrub

Posted by Kristin

Featured on Mass Appeal

By now, most of you know that Laura and I aren't a huge fan of chemical cleaners and prefer to take the natural route. I first made this hand scrub in December as a gift. After I made it, I was cleaning out the bowl I mixed it in and used some to wash my hands. I literally stopped what I was doing because, as I used it, the heavens opened up and I saw Jesus saying, "Well done, good and faithful servant. You have discovered the holy hand scrub that sanctifies as it cleans". Well....not exactly. But I was quite smitten with this hand scrub, so much so that I made two more batches right then and there.

Pinned Image
The picture that originally caught my eye, first seen here.


I first found this scrub on my friend Jennifer's Pinterest page with the recipe originally coming from Katie Goodman at Good Life Eats.  I base my recipe off of hers (view here) but have tweaked it a bit. I prefer to use fresh lemon juice instead of extract because its what I have on hand and because it thins the scrub out a bit. I found the original recipe to be a bit thick. I also reduced her recipe to make smaller batches, since it would take me awhile to use a whole pint jar. My recipe makes enough to fill an 8 ounce jelly jar.

Ingredients

3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 tbsp table salt
1 large lemon, zested and juiced
1/2 cup olive oil

In a bowl or food processor, mix together the sugar, salt, lemon zest and lemon juice.  Add in the olive oil and blend well (its helpful to use a whisk if mixing by hand). Once thoroughly mixed, pour into a nice jar. The scrub can live next to your sink for about a month but after that I recommend refrigerating it since it does contain fresh lemon juice and lemon zest. When you're ready to use it, shake the jar well (the ingredients separate a bit over time) and simply wet your hands under the faucet after you've finished all your cleaning. Place a small dollop of the scrub in your palm and scrub vigorously on your hands. Its especially good on your finger tips if you've been cutting up onions or garlic. I've even had it get glue off my fingers. Rinse thoroughly, dry your hands and enjoy your lemony, moisturized hands. And maybe keep an eye out for Jesus. After all, cleanliness is next to godliness right?

Pinned Image
Jesus: When he's not shepherding sheep he likes to get his clean on.


January 21, 2012

How To: Clean an IKEA SLOM Bottle

Posted by Laura

I have a mild obsession with IKEA glass storage containers (except when they break), especially the SLOM bottles. In addition to serving drinks in them I store my oil and vinegar in them. In between refills of oil, I always like to clean them to get the cruddy crud crud off. This poses as a challenge, however, due to the small bottleneck (har har har) on the bottle.



They look so pretty when you buy them. hmph. Here's my best attempt at capturing the cruddy oil build-up on the walls of the bottle.




Here's my method of cleaning the bottle (through much trial and error). Here's what you'll need:

Baking Soda
White Vinegar
Dish Soap
Hot Water
Uncooked Rice (the secret ingredient)






Step 1: Soak the bottle with hot sudsy water for awhile (like an hour).




Step 2: Combine some rice (about 3 tablespoons), some vinegar (about 1 Tablespoon), some baking soda (enough to fizz), some hot water (about 4 Tablespoons), and a couple squirts of dish soap.




Step 3: Now shake shake shake, shake shake shake, shake yo booty (and the bottle). A little, yet important, side note: don't plug the top of the bottle when you shake it or else you'll experience a minor explosion!
That's it! Rinse the bottle out and you're done-zo.



Like these bottles but don't live near an IKEA? You can order one here on Amazon: IKEA - SLOM Bottle With Stopper

January 19, 2012

Room Redo: My Parent's Guest room

Posted by Kristin

A while back in this post, I mentioned that my mom was redoing their guestroom. After getting together with her back in March 2011 for an intial brainstorming and shopping session, the room is finally complete! It truly is a transformed space that went from being my old bedroom (no judgement please!) full of random furniture, faded yellow walls that were crying out for fresh paint, dark and dated blue carpet, and a mixture of my high school memorabilia and country decor and linens. Not so hot.

The Before: yellow walls, country decor and yucky blue carpet.


It even had an exercise bike clothes rack for guests. 


And it wouldn't be complete without a photo collage from my highschool years.
So glad its not a close up.

Enter an inspiring page from a Pottery Barn catalogue and we had ourselves a theme. Unfortunately I don't know where that page went but the elements included deep, blue-gray walls, off -white carpeting for a clean surface, touches of brown, tan and black, and in particular, black and white ticking fabric for a clean, crisp look.

After surveying what furniture my parents had (2 dressers that would need a coat of black paint, a big mirror, some accessories) and what furniture they needed (queen size mattress and box spring, night stands, lamps, curtains, and some more accessories) we went shopping.

At Homegoods, we scored a great little footstool and 2 modern lamps that incorporated the blacks and tans that we wanted to use. Over at Target, we found a simple hotel-style duvet on sale, as well as 2 new pillows and a down comforter. Finally, at JC Penny we saw these Martha Stewart sheets on sale that were essentially the same look as ticking fabric but in a smoother, softer cotton material. What purpose you may ask would sheets serve? Three actually. The primary thought was the use the flat sheets to make curtains and the fitted sheet to cover a diy headboard (learn how to do that here). It turned out my mom was extra-crafty and used the pillow cases to make simple pillows for the bed. Two sets of twin sheets got the job done.

A few months later my mom visited Bob's Discount Furniture and found a mattress and boxspring for a reasonable price, as well as two side-tables to serve as night stands. Along the way she picked up two simple throw rugs to add some interest to each side of the bed.  As many of us can identify with, my mom was also trying to stick within a budget so she was able to find various accessories throughout her house to use in the room, including black and white dishes, a pitcher filled with dried Echinacea pods, a wrought iron clock, a vintage chair, and a colorful plant.

The finished product! New carpeting and blue-gray walls create a whole new feeling.


The freshly painted black dresser.


And its partner in crime storage.


These sweet little glass knobs add some serious charm.

New side tables, lamps, and accent rugs add some finishing touches to the room.

Curtains made from sheets!

A DIY headboard made from sheets! And some other materials...



And pillows made from left over pillow cases! My mom just added a button and now there as cute as ....a button.


To be totally transparent, the most difficult part of the room redo was painting the furniture. While the dressers turned out great, it took multiple layers of spray paint, with meticulous sanding in between (shout out to my dad for coming to the rescue multiple times), to get them room ready. Lesson learned: prep work is key so don't skimp on cleaning, sanding, and applying thin, even coats of paint for a flawless finish.

All that was needed was some actual guests to sleep in there and they came by the droves in October. The room was ready just days before my family from Florida came to visit and it was thoroughly used and enjoyed. Now its a guarantee that whoever the first person is to my parents house (usually either my brother, sister, or I) better make bee line to throw there bags on the guest bed so they can have dibs on the room. No fighting has ensued as off yet but I wouldn't put it out of the relm of possibilities. Us Gelderts (my maiden name) like our sleep!

Don't you just wanna jump in and take a nap?

January 17, 2012

Pretty Girl

Posted by Laura

Our black lab, Tillie, is the love of my life. She's such a good companion and fits the behavior of a lab to a tee! She loves her ball...she loves being by our side at all times...she loves sticking her head out the window when we drive...she loves chasing cats [and skunks].




One day, my husband and I were on a hike at Mt Tom. She usually runs ahead of us, sniffs out the territory and eventually circles back when called. This particular time, we called her name and she didn't come. We figured she was just exploring, so we kept hiking - knowing we would run into her eventually. Well, we came around the corner and there she was, lying in a huge murky mud puddle chewing on a stick. Happy as a clam. She was literally cooooovered in mud. Unfortunately, we didn't have a camera with us but here is a different picture to give you an idea of her love for things like this...




The point of that story was to make you smile a little, and give you some insight into how much she loves dirt. She wears cute little bandanas around her neck, which lives are usually short-lived because of her love for dirt and grimy things (did I also mention that she likes to roll in dead birds?...um yea). Here's a bandada that has definitely lived a good life.





Instead of going out and buying a new one, I decided to make some out of leftover fabric. I found 4 different fabrics that I haven't used in awhile and wanted to give them some love.





I cute a triangle, 18" x 18" x 25", and sewed up the sides. Done and done.




Here they are on the beautiful model...



This one is Caleb's favorite. He likes the contrast.

This one is my favorite. It's sort of girly but sort of not. Like me :)

I think I see a product on etsy in the future :) My goal is to open a shop this winter. So far I have nearly zero inventory on the shelves. Better get sewing some more!

UPDATE 03/25/12: I finally opened a shop! Click here to see it.