Friday, June 29, 2012

Secret Kitchen Timesavers

I've started preparing almost all of our foods from scratch in the kitchen because it's healthier and more economical.  However, it can be very time consuming. When I first started (which was recently) I found myself very overwhelmed.  Even a simple meal like burgers and fries becomes time consuming when you have to make your own hamburger patties, bake your own hamburger buns (yes, I do this!) and cut and bake your own fries.  But I've learned a few basic tricks that make things easier.  It may seem like my suggestions are simple, but in truth I've found that it's the small adjustments that make the biggest difference over time. 

Most of it involves trying to always think ahead a few meals.  Chopping onions?  Why not do two or three?  You've already got the cutting board out and can toss the others into freezer bags for use in another meal.  Here's an example of a scratch made meal I did recently that was economical, delicious, and took very little time:

This meal actually started the night before.  I took a bag of Great Northern beans that I'd found on clearance and put them in water overnight.  I grabbed a chopped green pepper from the freezer (it was left from our garden last summer - I chopped them all up into 1 cup servings and froze them), grabbed a tupperware of chopped onion in the fridge that I'd prepped earlier this week, and added 4 1/2 cups water, some chopped turkey bacon, molasses, brown sugar, and garlic.  I placed this is my slow cooker and tucked it in the fridge.  It took about 5 minutes total to prep this recipe.  The next morning all I needed to do was strain the water from the beans, and toss them in the slow cooker for the day.

Later in the afternoon, as the scent of baked beans wafted through the air, I made some cornbread.  Baking will go much faster if you first gather all of the ingredients together.  That way you aren't walking back and forth to the pantry - you have everything at hand.  I like to get creative with my cornbread, so I tossed in some green chilis, some corn, some cheddar cheese and sour cream. 

That evening, I had nothing to do to get ready for dinner - my work was already done, so I was able to spend that time reading books to my boys.  Baked beans can easily be personalized according to individual tastes - add a little sour cream, tabasco or barbecue to appeal to the taste buds.  And do you know what the best part was?  We had enough left over to provide for a second dinner.  I could either freeze it for another time, or we could get creative the next night by mixing it up some - baked beans over baking potatoes or rice.  Now that's time saving!  

Speaking of time saving, Electrolux induction cooktops and ranges combine the power of gas with the easy clean-up of electric, so you can boil water in just 90 seconds!

Readers, what are your secret kitchen timesavers? 

110" induction burner with Power Boost, 6 qt./10" diameter pot, 1 qt. tepid water

I was compensated for this post as a member of Clever Girls Collective. All the opinions expressed here are my own.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Chocolate Chip Cookie Brittle Recipe - Rural Thursday

This is another church cookbook recipe - this one from my grandmother's old church cookbook (circa 1990).  It's not healthy, but we eat well most of the time, so I think a little treat here and there does no harm. 
When I made these, Paul, my youngest brother John, and I all had a hard time staying away from eating the whole pan in one sitting.  Afterwards, John talked about it so much that I made him his own batch, as a Christmas gift.  He was thrilled. 
Recently, I made a big batch of this to take to a couple of my friends at Type A Con.  Hoping they enjoyed it as much as we always do. 
Chocolate Chip Cookie Brittle
1 cup margarine or softened butter
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla
1 tsp. salt
1 cup sugar
1 6 oz. package semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 cup chopped walnuts or pecans
2 cups sifted flour

In bowl, combine margarine, vanilla, salt and flour; blend well (it takes a while to get it to form up into a dough).  Gradually beat in sugar.  Add the chocolate morsels and walnuts.  Mix well.  This  is a very stiff batter.  Press lightly into a oil sprayed 9x13 inch pan.  Bake at 375* for 25 minutes.  Cool, the break into irregular pieces.

Welcome to Rural Thursday, hosted by Nancy at A Rural Journal and myself.  Everyone is invited to participate.  Just blog about something rural (recipes, hiking trips, gardening, and birdwatching are all perfect ideas) and grab the code below the button to paste into your blog.  Then come back and add your webpage to the linky.  Please don't forget to visit and comment on the blogs of 5 other participants.  I can't wait to read what you've written - each week I always find so many wonderful ideas, tips, and recipes to try in my own life! 

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Conference Life for the Introvert #typeacon - Recap

It may seem odd to you that I've blogged before about being introverted, yet just went to Type A Con blogging conference.  I won't lie - I had a lot of nervousness leading up to the conference - even though this was my second year and I would see several blogging friends while there.  I had to really pump myself up for the conference, reassuring and reminding myself that I had fun last year, and would enjoy it once I got there.  Still, it's not easy for me.  Before I left, I found myself dreading the idea of parties and such.  The more I thought about it as the time neared, the more I wanted to retreat.  But I was already committed as a volunteer, plus, in my heart, I wanted to learn more about blogging and connect with my blogging friends, not to mention make some new ones. 
 Some events are easier for me than others.  I definitely function better in smaller, quieter situations like a round table at lunch.  In that sort of situation, people might not even realize that I'm introverted - and certainly once you get to know me it might not seem obvious.  But larger mass events like in the picture above, from an 80s party, were overwhelming for me. It didn't help that it was pretty late at night for me and I couldn't seem to drum up much energy (and I certainly wasn't about to get out dancing).  Sometimes, even in small encounters, I feel at a loss for things to say. 
 But I did get to the parties - all of them - although I didn't stay for the entirety of most of them.  I had some great conversations - like the chat I had with Shell from Things I Can't Say at the Disney party.
 It helps when you have a few people you know through blogging that you can feel comfortable talking to in a crowded room.  Another tip would be to find a new extrovert friend - like I did one night at dinner.  She talked so much (and about fascinating stuff too) that I didn't have to try to come up with things to say.  I got to listen, absorb, and ask a question or two, which was perfect.  Of course if that fails, you can stay busy taking pictures of people dressed up in 80s clothes.
 Or you could eat cupcakes.  There were cupcakes everywhere at Type A Con.  Somehow, surprisingly, I lost 3 pounds over the weekend.  I guess that's what happens when you're too busy to snack throughout the day. 
 I confess that there were a few times that I holed up in my room.  Twice I took my lunch upstairs so I could eat in quiet, and check email.  Plus, I did skip a session.  I probably missed out on some great stuff by doing so, but I had to take that down time for myself.  Everyone I met was incredibly nice though, and I was thrilled to meet so many wonderful people. 
After all, we can't all have the energy of Richard Simmons 24/7.  How about you, readers?  Do you feel comfortable at large social gatherings?

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Small Reasons to Consider a Blogging Conference #typeacon - Recap

 This past weekend I attended Type A Con, for the second year in a row.  It was held in Charlotte, NC (which should be called the City of the Fountains, if it isn't already) and it came at the perfect time for me.  I've been feeling a little burned out on my blog - not that I was ready to cut back or anything but just that I needed more inspiration.  A three day blogging conference was perfect.
 I was able to focus on something I love - blogging - while taking a break from family responsibilities.  I signed on as a volunteer for the conference so that my registration fees would be waived, and I enjoyed volunteering more than I expected.  It gave me an opportunity to meet folks I might not have crossed paths with otherwise, and I still got to attend some great sessions.

Humorous statue on the side of this wall, huh?
 I think that sometimes people feel like you have to be a really big blogger to go to a blogging conference but that's not true.  You will meet folks from all sizes and shapes and topics of blogs - and everyone will have one key thing in common:  a passion for blogging.  For my introverted self, Type A Con is just the right size.  I am able to make connections and have fun, but I don't feel too overwhelmed by it all.  Also, it has a laid back vibe to it - you can wear your jeans and won't feel underdressed.  In fact, the jeans I wore were ten years old and frayed at the bottom, and I still didn't feel bad about it.
 The best workshops I attended were one on Google+ and one on Facebook.  Although I'm on Google+ (find me here), I haven't done much with it.  But I learned in the session that Google+ can really give your overall Google standing a bigger presence.  I am also on Facebook (I would love you so much if you liked me there - and commented on my flash giveaway from yesterday) but I haven't done a lot with my page, other than putting my blog posts on it.  Which means I'm not really working it - so I am going to try to be more interactive there. 
 I feel refreshed after my time away.  I have new ideas for how to make small improvements.  To make my online footprint a higher quality.  I also got to connect with other bloggers and brands with amazing ideas who have so much passion for what they do.  And I got some cherished me time during an incredible run along the Little Sugar Creek greenway very early one morning. 
 It was also quite a treat to go out to eat, in nice restaurants, and to go THREE days without cooking a meal or filling a sippy cup.  I didn't even realize how desperately I needed a break and some time to connect with other moms.  Like Jdaniel4smom, pictured below.
 And I also discovered that if I had to eat the pan-seared scallops on ravioli from Aria Tuscan Grill every night, for the rest of my life, I would die happy.  But poorer. 
Have you ever been to a blogging conference?  If not, would you ever want to go? 

Monday, June 25, 2012

A Good Salisbury Steak on Muffin Tin Monday

It's Muffin Tin Monday again.  We've been enjoying all the grass fed beef from the cow we bought into, and I think we'll definitely do it again in the future.  I think that one of our favorite recipes for the beef is salisbury steak.  Which is kind of funny, since salisbury steak always made me think of that nasty unflavorful mush that they plopped onto trays in the elementary school cafeteria.  You know, with the cardboard box tasting mashed potatoes and the watery scoop of gray-green peas?  But when I was trying to think up creative ways to cook our ground beef, I thought I'd try to find a salisbury steak recipe, and I found one that we love.   
Served along with the salisbury steak was nothing 1980s cafeteria style nasty, thankfully!  We had fresh roasted sweet potatoes and salad from the garden.  I'm happy to report that FINALLY (after how long?) Pierce is eating salad.  Although he did get upset this particular day because I ran out of ranch and he had to have Thousand Island.  The horrors! 

For more fun kids' lunch ideas, check out Muffin Tin Mom.

Friday, June 22, 2012

I Survived Potty Training Twins

I've had a child in diapers in my house for over 5 1/2 years.  The past two of which I have used cloth diapers exclusively at home (we used disposable for outings).  That's a lot of diaper changes.  I confess that I dreamed of the day I'd no longer be structuring my life around the world of diapers.  And while I'm so glad we chose to make the switch to cloth, which I truly loved, I am not sorry to see the amount of laundry in my week decrease significantly.  Because that's right folks.  The twins are POTTY TRAINED!!  (If you listen carefully, you may hear angels singing in the background.  Or is that only me hearing it?)

I confess I was nervous about potty training twins.  But it turned out that when the time came I had to reframe my thinking a bit.  Because really what happened was I was potty training two children.  My twins are fraternal, and they are very much their own individuals, so they ended up being ready at different times.

Cort showed readiness first.  At age 2, he started going into Pierce's room and putting underwear on over his diaper.  He starting asking to use the potty.  I really thought he was too young, so I delayed a bit.  But at 2 years 3 months I gave in and we potty trained.  He took to number #1 very quickly, but it took another 4 months before we had consistent success with #2 in the potty.  I've heard that is common with boys.

And then I waited patiently for Reid to show readiness.  I didn't see any signs until 2 years 10 months (which is exactly when Pierce showed signs).  Reid started saying he had to go pee, right after he had just peed, which meant he was starting to register the whole event. 

When I potty train, I just switch straight to underwear when they show signs of readiness.  We only do diapers at night.  So during the day, they wear underwear, and I remind them constantly not to pee in their underwear; to only pee in the potty.  Then I set a timer and take them every 20 minutes.  We use a potty seat on the regular toilet rather than one of those tiny fake pottys, simply because I don't want to be cleaning out a potty when they could use the toilet.  Reid took the longest to catch on of all 3 of my boys, but even with Reid he was staying dry by the 3rd day.  It's a method that worked well for us. 

As for me, I'm just a little sad to say goodbye to the diaper days, simply because it seems the last remnant of babyhood.  Flashbacks of the twins as babies in cloth Fuzzibunz diapers with cute striped leggings warm my heart.  But mostly, I'm glad to move beyond this phase, and while I took a moment to reflect, I'm ready to move on without looking back!

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Blackberries, Blueberries, Dewberries! Rural Thursday

The only thing we've ever picked at the berry patch before is strawberries.  But this year I really wanted to try my hand at other types of berries.  So the boys and I piled into the mouse infested minivan and headed to the berry patch.  In season right now are blackberries, blueberries, and dewberries.

Look how huge the blackberries were.  Not all of them were ripe yet, but there were plenty for the picking.

Dewberries are like small blackberries.  They are more tender and have a subtle taste.  I really enjoyed them.

The blueberries weren't quite ripe yet.  Oh, we found a few, but not as many as I'd hoped for.

Most of the ones we found seem to have disappeared into little tummies.


Evidence that nothing was going into their buckets:
 Now this?  This was MY bucket.  I worked hard to fill it up with blueberries, dewberries, and raspberries.  Once we got home I made muffins, cobbler, and a jam.  I am happy to say that my jam set up just right this time.

It's Rural Thursday!  Time to link up your stories of the rural life (or your wishes of one) with myself and Nancy from A Rural Journal.  Everyone is welcome.  Just copy the code below the button and paste it into your blog post.  Then come back and add your webpage to the linky.  Please be sure to visit the blogs of 5 other participants and leave them some comment love!

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Cheering for Dad at the Salem Sprint Triathlon

This year for Father's Day the kids and I paid the registration for Paul to run the Salem Sprint Triathlon.  He hadn't run a triathlon since he was a teenager, but he'd been training consistently and was ready to go.
 We watched Paul transition from swim to bike, and then ride off on his bike.  The boys and I then spent some time in the sand of the volleyball court.  The event organizers had been kind enough to provide toys.
 Reid really seems to like snakes.  I may be in trouble.  This one, fortunately, is just play.

There were also bubbles.

And the boys made a sign for Paul.  They held it while waiting him to finish the bike portion.  I didn't even know that Reid knew how to draw circles before this!

Paul came in towards the finish on the 5K portion.

And he was done.  Success!

He even placed in his age group!
On the way home, Paul said, "Now you need to do one".  And I said, "Um, no thanks.  I only run!"

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

LeapFrog Summer Camp Weeks 1 + 2

Thank you to LeapFrog for sponsoring my post about Leapfrog Summer Camp. To sign up for LeapFrog Summer Camp, please click here. #CleverLFCamp #spon

Remember when I told you about the LeapFrog Summer Camp?  Well we have been having so much fun doing activities with the camp.  Pierce is really thriving on their printables and crafts - he enjoys having organized activities each day so much.  And I'm happy to have a creative and educational way for him to fight boredom!  It's not too late to join, so if you have kids age 4-7 check them out - it's free to participate and there are daily activities and even photo contests!

Week 1 of LeapFrog Summer Camp had the theme Out and About.  Pierce printed off their Passport and had fun taking it to places like school, the bank, and the grocery store.  As one of the crafts, Pierce designed a miniature version of our living room:

He also did several printables off the LeapFrog website.  This one had him learning to do the coordinates of a grid.  He caught on very quick.

As an excursion, we took a trip to a local berry farm, where we picked blueberries, blackberries, and dewberries.  When we returned home, we made yummy treats. 

Week 2 of camp had a theme of Caring for Animals.  This was perfect for us, as we LOVE animals!  In fact, we've been fostering four kittens for a local animal shelter.  Pierce helped me change their cage one day, and we talked about the different needs of baby kittens, and why we were helping to care for them until they could be adopted (they have since returned to the adoption shelter, where we are hoping they find loving families!).

We have 5 hens and a rooster right now, so Pierce and I gave them a special treat of some popcorn.  The chickens just love popcorn.  We talked about why we don't put salt on their popcorn, and how the chickens give back to us by providing us with eggs to eat.

Then we got out Pierce's pony, Harriet.  Pierce knows how to do some basic grooming, so I put him to work with the brush.

Then I showed him how to pick her feet so they wouldn't have rocks in them and become sore.  Pierce is still getting comfortable with the hoof pick - it's a slight challenge for him.

Pierce practiced leading Harriet.  We are working on the right amount of rope, and making sure that the lead rope doesn't drag on the ground.  These are basic safety skills when working with a horse - even a gentle, small pony like Harriet.

One of the crafts on the website during the animal week was making a birdhouse out of a milk carton.  Pierce had a great time creating a house for our birds - we have many of them! 

And finally, we talked about our farm dog, Scooter, who we adopted from a local shelter 2 1/2 years ago.  He's only the best dog around, but we're a little partial.  Pierce did a fun printable from the website that covered what kinds of things a new puppy would need.  We talked about what kinds of things Scooter needed, and how we care for him each day. 
We had such an excellent time learning the past two weeks.  We can't wait for all of the fun weeks to come.  Be sure to check them out this week - the theme is Puzzle Time! 

This post is sponsored by LeapFrog. I was selected for this opportunity as a member of Clever Girls Collective, and the content and opinions expressed here are all my own.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Black Beans and Tortillas on Muffin Tin Monday

It seemed time to break out our totem pole muffin tin cups sent to us a while back by Garden of Daisies.  They're so cute!  We had black beans, homemade tortillas, and salad from our garden (with a boiled egg from our chickens on top).  You can't get much healthier, and it's such an economic meal too!

I like to soak my black beans in water overnight, and then put them in the crockpot on low with water and a cup of salsa for the day.  They turn out so tender and have a slightly smoky flavor when done.

If you've never made homemade tortillas, you are missing out.  They're only like four billion times better than what you buy in the store.  I made 12, and there were only 3 left over after dinner.  The boys always love them.  You can find the recipe HERE.

For more ideas of recipes for kids, check out Muffin Tin Mom.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Fun Times on the Blue Ridge Parkway

Since I was a kid my family has loved going up on the Blue Ridge Parkway to a little picnic spot in the woods called Smart View.  In addition to picnic tables, there is a 2.5 mile loop hiking trail, and an old log cabin nestled on an overlook. 

My brother, Taylor, had the idea to regather the family up there, as it had been years, for an early celebration of Pop Pop's retirement.  There was lots of food.

And matchbox cars.  And more food.

And demands.  From the cranky one who likes to be carried everywhere.

And lots of hugs too.

And after we got tired of all the food, there was this to reinterest the appetite.  Chocolate raspberry mousse cake in a triple decker.  Mmmmmhmmmmm.

The newest addition to the family, baby Dean, didn't cry.  Not once.  All day. 

No children were harmed in the flipping of the hammock.

I found a little orange salamander.  Isn't he (she?) cute?

Cort, temporarily over the grumpies, was happy to blow bubbles for his cousin Grady to make him laugh.

And my brother John and I debated whether this was a rat skull.  We decided yes.
It was a beautiful day, filled to the brim with family fun, and I hope we have many more like this.  Readers, what traditions do you have with your family?