Friday, May 31, 2013

One Pot Italian Dinner

You know that song "Video Killed the Radio Star"? Sometimes I wonder if Pinterest will be the death of print magazines. Lately several times that I have had the chance to read a magazine and I have already seen almost every idea in there; it's kind of disappointing. BUT, I have to say that this month's Martha Stewart Living had some great stuff that I hadn't seen. I tore out a bunch of pages with recipes and ideas I want to try. I know I could pin them, and maybe I will, but I like having a visual, paper cook book with recipes I've made from magazines. 

So I already tried one idea from the latest issue: this one-pot Italian dinner. 

The dry spaghetti is cooked in shallow water with a generous drizzle of oil and all the other ingredients thrown on top. As the spaghetti cooks the fresh tomatoes, basil, finely sliced onion and garlic all meld into a delicious sauce. 

This is our first year growing garlic, so I am still learning about the best ways to grow and harvest it, but this meal could easily come completely from the garden (minus the pasta and oil) later in the season. Add salt and pepper and if you like a little kick, some crushed pepper flakes. (I left those out since Thing One & Two are not fans.)

Here's our version bubbling away. We were pleasantly surprised at how good it was. In fact, my husband told me I could make it anytime, so that's pretty much the seal of approval. There wasn't an exact recipe in the magazine, just the basic idea. Just be sure not to start with too much water. I'd say you want the pasta covered by half an inch, so plan accordingly. I love that it's fresh ingredients and only one pot to clean. Add a salad picked from the garden and that's my kind of summer meal.

Next week I'm starting a series for the summer called "Fresh Food Fridays" where each Friday I will share several ideas/recipes for one food you might be growing in your garden. For example, five ways to use spinach. It's fun to get creative with your home-grown fruit and veggies. Have a great weekend!

- Haley

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

DIY Garden Projects

I hope you had a great Memorial Day weekend! Ours was busy with a race, a wedding, and a lot of work for me. We are ready for a weekend now...

Speaking of work, we've been busy working on some garden projects over the last few weeks, so I thought I'd show you a couple of them. First, we have a strawberry patch, which all grew from one strawberry plant we transplanted years ago. The problem is we have only gotten a handful of berries over all the years it's been growing, because the birds and squirrels eat them all. This year, we plan to change that!

We used four hula-hoops from the dollar store, some bamboo stakes, some ground hooks, and a package of netting. Thing One helped me take the ribbon off the hula-hoops, then we took them apart to create four u-shaped tubes.

The bamboo stakes were originally 6 feet long. I cut them into 6 to 8-inch pieces and used a rubber mallet to pound them into the ground; leaving about 3 inches above ground. We put the hula-hoop ends over the bamboo to hold them in place.

We spaced the hoops out across the garden bed.

Then we stretched the net over the hoops and attached them with the double sided velcro strips (which come with the netting).

To secure the bottom we used more pieces of the bamboo and some ground hooks we had, but u-pins would work as well. To pick the berries, we will just lift up the bamboo stakes (the ones laying down, holding the net against the ground). Then we will have access to the whole patch from one side.

 Ta-da! I'm so excited to actually get to eat some of the strawberries this year...we'll see.

We are also trying snow peas and sugar snap peas in pots this year. I turned tomato cages upside down and tied them at the top with twine to create a trellis for them. 

So far it's working great! We are experimenting with carrots in a container too. We are also trying to grow eggplant and artichokes for the first time. Lots of trying new things this year. Hopefully we will have good results to report. I'll keep you posted. 

What are you growing this year? Are you trying any new plants or new methods? Any easy DIY projects? It's been a very busy few weeks of planting and working, but it feels really good to finally have everything in the ground. Now we just wait for the good stuff. Happy gardening!

Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

BBQ Party

Memorial Day is this weekend and I think that marks the official kick off of BBQ season, right? Well with that in mind, I thought I'd share a few pictures from my cousin's graduation party last year since it was a fun BBQ theme. 

We used dollar store picnic table cloths and chalkboard labels to create an all-American hot-dog stand look and feel. 

Even the food trays were lined with cut-up plastic table cloths, tying everything together and making for easy clean-up.

I used the Silhouette to cut chalk-board vinyl into little labels, then we stuck them to folded card stock. The best part is that they are re-usable, so a set of these could serve you well at many parties.

Dessert was easy finger foods; brownies and mini cheesecakes.

A keg of Root Beer was a fun touch, and guests could order up a frothy cup or a foamy float.

Extra table cloths were made into a window valance, adding to the hot dog stand feel. 

Everyone got their hot dogs just the way they liked them with the dress your own hot dog bar.

A chalk board menu gave guests the recipes for some of the best known hot dog favorites. 

It was a great party and a fun BBQ. Everyone loved having so many topping options. We had tons of root beet left, and spent the next two days drinking more of it then we thought possible, but the keg was definitely a fun addition to the party. 

I hope you enjoy Memorial Day (whether you BBQ or not).
Thank you to everyone who has served and those who currently serve in our military. I appreciate so much what you sacrifice to preserve our peace and freedom! 

Thanks for reading!
- Haley

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Felt Food: Potato Chips

It's been a while since we talked felt food. BBQ season is coming up, so how about some potato chips?

There's really no secret to making these. I used two layers of yellow felt, cut into chip shapes. You can actually sew them all onto a double layer of felt first and then cut them out, or you can cut and then sew around the edges. For wavy chips I just sewed back and forth across the middle. 

I used one sheet of blue felt to make a snack size chip bag. First fold one long edge 1/4 and sew. Then  turn it landscape style and sew the label on to one half of the sheet; yellow, then red, then the white letters. Fold the other half of the blue felt over label and sew around the bottom (that you didn't hem) and side. Turn right side out and fill with felt chips.

Then enjoy your felt BBQ!

It's starting to feel like summer here. I hope your week gets off to a great start!

Thanks for reading!
- Haley

Monday, May 13, 2013

Fresh Blended Applesauce

Hi friends! It's been busy, busy around here! I'm sure it's the same for you. May is always like that. Not enough hours in the day. Trying to make the most of all of them though. Today I wanted to share a super easy no-cook applesauce recipe. 

This fall I made crock pot applesauce for the first time and it was delicious, but it you have to peel and core all the apples and it makes huge bowl of apples into a kind of small bowl of applesauce in the end. If you want a little more bang for your buck, try this recipe. It blends fresh apples with lemon and a little sugar and comes together in about 5 minutes, so you don't have to wait for it to cook all day! 

Fresh Blended Applesauce

4 apples
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup water
1/2 tbsp lemon juice
1/2 tsp cinnamon (optional)

I always leave the skin on the apples because I think there's more nutrients, and you can't taste a difference once it's blended anyway. Quarter the apples and and cut out the core, then I usually chop the quarters in half, just so they fit in the blender better. Start with three of the apples in the blender. Add the brown sugar, lemon juice, water and cinnamon. Blend. You will probably have to stir or push down the apples to get them to blend at first. Once the mixture is blending well, drop the remaining apple into the vortex one piece at a time. This is my favorite part. I feel like like I'm feeding the blender.  I'm weird, I know. : ) 

And that's it, out comes your delicious applesauce! This is usually enough for the four of us to have as a side with dinner, and the boys to have the next day with lunch. I like that you get as much out as you put in, and it tastes so fresh. I think my husband would be happy if I made this everyday. We all love it. Thanks to my mother-in-law for introducing us to blended applesauce!

Hope your week is off to a good start!
- Haley

Monday, May 6, 2013

Flower Arranging 101

Hello friends! This is the time of year when things get so busy and it seems like every weekend there's a graduation, or birthday, or shower, or wedding, and don't forget Mother's day! Whether it's a little vase for a baby shower or a surprise for mom, I thought this would be a good time to share a few flower design tips. I worked in a flower shop for years and eventually did go to school for floral design, so I've learned a few tricks I'm happy to pass on to you. I really think anyone can make grocery store flowers look like a bouquet right from the flower shop. 

I think the easiest way to make flowers look professional is to go with one type of flower. Daisies,  alstromeria or sunflowers are all good candidates and often go on sale at the grocery store. 

The best way to help flowers last the longest is to make sure there's no foliage below the water line. I'm sure you've heard that before, but I think most people sort of half strip the leaves.

If there are leaves in the water they start to decay almost right away making the water gunky as well as the stems. You really need to just go ahead and strip all the leaves right off. Doing this also helps the stems focus energy and water distribution just on the flowers, which will help them last longer as well.

Once all your leaves are stripped you want to choose your vase or container. I usually just use mason jars or any kind of jar. Be sure it's clean and fill 2/3 the way with water and the flower food that comes with the flowers. The rule of thumb for floral design is that the flowers should be 2 to 2.5 times the height of the container. I usually just picture another vase/jar on top of the one I'm using and cut the flowers to be slightly above that. If your arrangement is too short it looks like you just shoved the flowers in there, too tall and it's top heavy and makes the container look like the flowers don't fit.

Another thing that will help preserve your stems and allow them to drink up water better is to use sharp garden pruners to cut your stems instead of scissors. Because scissors are not as sturdy or as sharp, when they cut the stem they actually squish it , making it hard for the base to suck up water (just like a straw). You want a sharp, clean cut at an angle to expose as much of the white core as possible.

For a daisy arrangement I always cut off the individual flowers with the longest stems, like those on the right above. Since there's multiple blooms per stem if you don't take some off, all the flowers will be the same height and look like some kind of plateau. You want the arrangement to have a balanced, rounded feel, so if there's a lot of flowers exactly the same height, trim some off at the very bottom of the bloom's stem and use those to create the medium and lower tiers; like below. Put them in one stem at a time, not all at once. Some stems will have multiple blooms (if they're varied heights), others will be thin stems with just one flower, used to fill in gaps.

Make sure the arrangement has room to breathe; don't pack them in. In general for these simple types of arrangements you want the flowers to feel airy. Compare the flowers above with below. See how there's a little more room in the one below?

I did two arrangements here so you can see the difference greenery makes. There's two methods for basic designing: greens first or flowers first. I think when you are doing a simple arrangement using only one type of flower (like just daisies), it's easiest to do flowers first, then add greens to fill in. 

They sell packs of just greens at the store, so you can do that, or (spring through fall) you can grow your own. Garden herbs make great greenery! The greens in the lavender daisy arrangement above are lemon balm, which grows like a weed in our garden. Mint, basil, oregano, and even decorative grasses all work well. If I use a jar I always tie a length of coordinating ribbon around the neck of the jar to give it a more finished look. 

There you have it, flower arranging 101. Hopefully there's a tip here that will help make your next arrangement a success!

Thanks for reading!
- Haley

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Cinco de Mayo Salad - 4 Ways

So Cinco de Mayo is Sunday, and I thought you might like a little recipe to add to your celebration of NOT Mexico's Independence. (You knew that right? Ok, good.) Here's a little side dish I like to serve with our favorite Mexican foods. I love this recipe because it's so versatile:
  • serve it just like this as a side dish
  • serve with with chips as a salsa of sorts 
  • add 1/3 cup of feta and serve in scoop chips (the ones that look like tiny taco salad shells) for a little fancier-looking appetizer
  • sprinkle over a bed of lettuce with some chopped grilled chicken and shredded cheddar for a great taco salad. 

If corn is on sale, I always buy fresh and cut it off the cob for the best flavor. If you can't use fresh, use frozen corn, not canned. Here's the recipe:

Cinco de Mayo Salad
2-3 cups of corn kernels 
1 can black beans, rinsed and drained
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1 lime
1/4 fresh cilantro, finely chopped
olive oil
salt and pepper

Drizzle corn with olive oil and stir until lightly coated
add beans, peppers and cilantro, using more if you like cilantro. If you are big fan of lime, add some lime zest to the salad before cutting and squeezing all the juice into it. (It's easier to zest before you cut open a lime). Add salt and pepper to taste. Mix and enjoy!

I thought I would also tell you about this little herb mill we have, and love. It's made by Micro-plane, and you can find it here. You just fill it with whatever herb you want and then put the top in and twist out fresh herb confetti. We use it most for cilantro probably, but also love it for mint on a salad or over a fruity dessert. 

It's great to fill with cilantro and have on the table for anyone to add a sprinkle of cilantro to a taco or plate of nachos. 

Feliz Cinco de Mayo! 
- Haley
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