Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Rainy day activities

It's not raining yet, but it's sure threatening. The babies are down for their morning naps, so I'm having some one on one time with Charlie. I so enjoy this little girl. She's smart, funny, silly, and just so sweet (usually). She has her moments like any kid, but really, she's a LOT of fun.
We have a deck of cards called "52 Activities for You and Your Toddler," that I pull out on days like today when I know we're probably not going to make it outside. It's a pretty nifty and very handy little assortment of boredom-killers for any toddler. Today Charlie picked the card "Water Play," and here are some pics of her spilling water from bowls and measuring cups and pouring into bigger bowls and a pitcher. She really loves this one, and it's a great way to teach her a little bit about measurements and things. Just put a big towel down on the floor and let her go!

Here is a photo of the latest dress that I made for Charlie. I think my workmanship is improving, and I'm so excited to be able to dress my little one in my creations. :) I've even moved into the land of sewing zippers!

Monday, July 27, 2009

Meal Plan Week 5--Final Week!

So, what are we going to eat this week? I haven't even figured this out yet. Let's see . . . I bought green beans, tomatoes, okra (have no idea what I'm going to do with this, but I thought I'd just buy it and figure it out); I have chicken in the freezer and beef coming this week in our farm order; I can still make pasta . . . Okay, here goes:

Sunday: We had mini burgers on the Amish dinner rolls I bought at the market, corn on the cob, and peaches and blueberries. Delish.
Monday: Cheese ravioli with pesto
Tuesday: Chicken baked with a cream sauce, steamed green beans
Wednesday: Leftovers (this is the day we pick up the farm order)
Thursday: Pork chops, okra and tomatoes, green salad, blackberry cobbler (this is Paul's last night of summer class!)
Friday: Family pizza night and final day of challenge!
Saturday: We'll probably go out this night but still stick to our principals. :)

I've been doing a lot of contemplating about what we've learned this month, what we'll stick with, what we've missed, and how it's affected our family. We'll probably continue to make our own bread, pizza dough, tomato sauce. We'll definitely continue to shop at the farmers' markets and our bi-weekly farm drop off. The winter is what is going to be challenging for us. We just don't have room for a deep freeze or even much canned food, for that matter. I've considered canning some (I have plans for a canning date with a friend--we plan to make some tomato sauce) and packing it away in boxes under the bed. Other than that, I just don't know how we'd manage to keep eating entirely locally.
But we're all works in progress, right? We do the best we can and continue to learn. We've put into practice some very good habits based on solidly formed philosophies. I think that's the key. That's what I want to pass on to my children: that principals matter. Not necessarily convenience or money, although everything must be balanced. And that you CAN make a difference, regardless of how small your contribution may seem. There's so much more at stake than what we see on a daily basis.
I'll write more later about specific foods we've missed, etc., but for now, I'm going to focus on our last week in a really fun and life-changing project.

New bedding

Just wanted to post a few pics of the bedding I just finished making for the kids. They have matching sock monkey sheets and pillows now!


I bought the fabric for a REALLY great price at www.jeanniesfabrics.etsy.com and recommend her highly!


Saturday, July 18, 2009

Susie Homemakers!

Eating local this month has absolutely broadened my horizons. Did I tell you that I bought a pasta machine? I'm telling you what, between this and the bread machine, I'm just loving making dinner! As it turns out, one can use the bread machine to make the pasta dough, cutting out a really annoying part of the dough-making process--annoying, at least in my opinion. Anyway, today Charlie and I attempted cheese ravioli, and I must say, served with zucchini and homemade tomato-basil sauce, it turned out pretty well! I mixed basil in with the ricotta before we stuffed the dough. This is a picture of part of the process. You'll see an object called a "ravioli stamp" that's pretty nifty.
Here is a picture of Paul--my wonderful husband--making me a cappucino. As I said, the month-long challenge has really broadened horizons for us! :) He made us 4 drinks today--that would probably cost us about $12 at our local coffee shop, so we've already paid for the cost of the locally roasted espresso that we bought.

Farmer's Market and Meal Plan Week 4

Judah had me up much earlier than expected this morning. So, while Paul and Charlie were still in bed, I decided to make things a little easier on the rest of the family and just tuck Judah into his Ergo and head up to the market just ourselves. It's a gorgeous morning, and it was actually quite fun to be one-on-one with the "little" guy and also to beat most of the crowd. Here's a pic of our finds for this week (notice my sunflower splurge!):

And just for fun, some pics of my second loaf of bread:
And my first attempt at my own red sauce made entirely from fresh ingredients:For this week's meal plan, you may notice some duplicates from recent menus. The reason is that we kind of cheated this week and went out to eat twice. It's been a rough couple of weeks, and it really suited us to just be out of the house and not have to cook. :)
Meal Plan, Week 4
Sunday: Roast beef with carrots, green beans, and potatoes
Monday: Leftovers
Tuesday: Honey-glazed chicken and broccoli
Wednesday: Fresh salad with honey-glazed chicken
Thursday: Homemade cheese ravioli with red sauce and zucchini
Friday: Pizza night!
Saturday: Vegetable fritatta

Joyful Gifts

I'm going to shamelessly plug my own sewing business--it's my blog. I can do that, right? Of course I can. So, I'm here to tell you how well Joyful Gifts is doing and also to show you what I'm working on lately.

Mainly, I'm still doing the baby items in my etsy store: http://www.joyfulgifts.etsy.com/. Here are some pictures of the most recent design of my security blankets. They have natural wood teething toys in two corners and are made with designer prints and the softest minky fleece.
But I've also been working on some custom items like this skirt (the model is my friend and best customer, Micki):

and these curtains:
So things are going well, but there is always room for new business. :)

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Challenge Week 3

So, it's been a while. Sorry to keep you all waiting for my meal plan. I know you're all just dying to know what we're eating this week. ;) Last week was a very challenging week with Charlie being sick and then my getting sick, Paul's grad school mid-term, and lots of nights with little sleep between getting up with both kiddos. Anyway, I've been playing catch up since all of that, and that's why I've been a little delayed in my weekly post. But I'm happy to say that last week is behind us all, and things are getting back to normal. And that Paul aced his mid-term. :)
Paul's parents were in town over the weekend, and while I was unable to snap any photos, I will gladly share that we enjoyed a few all-local meals here at home. Friday night they joined us for homemade pizza--I made a pesto pizza; a cheese pizza with homemade tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella, and asiago (not local but so yummy!); and a veggie pizza with fresh tomatoes, zucchini, bell pepper, onion, and garlic. On Sunday, we had brunch at home after church--I'd made blueberry strata with fresh blueberries, bacon, fruit salad (peaches, apricots, cherries, and blueberries), and bruschetta on homemade bread.
Sunday afternoon Paul decided to surprise his parents and head to Middleburg, VA where one of our favorite wineries, Chrysalis, is located. We tasted wine and then shared a bottle under a tree. It was really a relaxing, fun time. When it comes to this food challenge, I'm so happy to live in Virginia where we have some incredible local wines.
I'd also like to share that I've actually lost a few pounds since starting this challenge, which I'm happy about, as I still have a little Judah-fat left in a few places. It's certainly not for lack of eating--eating locally, one can still eat abundantly! I think it's because there are fewer processed foods to be had, and that's a good thing!

Week 3 Meal Plan
Sunday: We actually had dinner out!
Monday: Broccoli soup, homemade bread
Tuesday: Burgers, green beans, corn on the cob
Wednesday: Homemade pasta with zucchini and tomato sauce
Thursday: Grilled chicken, tomato-cucumber salad
Friday: Pizza night
Saturday: Cheese ravioli with mixed veggies

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Judah's crawling!

So, take a look at some of my baby's first crawl-steps!

video

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Holiday weekend and Local Food Challenge Week 2

First, I wish you all a happy Independence Day. I know I'm late, but I hope you all had fun festivities, barbecues, fireworks, etc. We've had a pretty relaxing weekend, mostly because poor Charlie is recovering from a double ear infection. She's on the mend now, but we thought it wise to lie low. So we stayed home and had leftovers for dinner and then headed to Reagan National Airport for a very good view of DC's fireworks from right across the river.

Here is Charlie modeling her 4th of July dress that I made for her. Isn't she darling?
Here is a random shot of not-yet-mobile Judah at play in the courtyard:
Look at those eyes!
Charlie and her absolutely favorite--fresh corn on the cob from our farmers' market:
Speaking of the farmers' market (nice segue, huh?), yesterday we did our regular run and bought a HUGE load for $35--eggs, green beans, bell pepper, zucchini, elephant garlic, cucumbers, cherries, tomatoes, corn, basil, and a BUNCH of peaches.
After our shopping trip, I talked to a friend of ours about getting together to cookout on Sunday (today), so I headed back to the farmers' market to be sure have local food to share. Everybody was closing up shop until next week, so I had to be quick. I ran to one booth and grabbed some fresh mozzarella for a tomato salad, then I ran to the next one for tomatoes, 10 ears of corn, and some cucumbers. At the last booth, which was almost completely packed up, I asked the lady if I could buy one of the bunches of basil left in a big pile on a table. She kindly replied, "Take all you want." I said, "What? Really?" "Yeah. Some thing just aren't worth taking back, so just go ahead and take it." I thought, I'm going to make pesto! So, that's what Charlie and I did for an hour and a half yesterday. We have pesto in the fridge and also in the freezer that should last for quite a while.
I also decided to try my hand at a French loaf--one for home and one for our hosts. I had a couple of glitches. For starters, I forgot to insert the kneading paddle until after all the ingredients were poured in. I'll never make that mistake again. Secondly, we were kind of in a rush to do everything that we wanted to do before we headed to the airport for firework-viewing. So, the dough probably didn't rise quite as much as it could have before we needed to bake it and then head out the door. All in all, though, I think we ended up with a couple of good-first-try loaves.
This morning Paul made us just lovely pesto omelets and on the side served a thick slice of homemade bread with Joy's homemade strawberry jam.

We actually have canceled our cookout for this afternoon, due to Charlie's infection still lingering, so we'll be eating lots of corn on the cob, and I'll probably make some tomato sauce or salsa with some of the other ingredients I'd bought to share.
Here is our meal plan for this week:
Sunday: Grilled chicken kabobs, corn on the cob, tomato-basil salad, peach pie
Monday: Leftovers
Tuesday: Potato soup, homemade bread
Wednesday: Stuffed burgers, green beans
Thursday: Pasta with pesto (if my pasta machine arrives in time--shipped the other day!)
Friday: Homemade pizza for Paul's parents and Charlie--Paul and I have a date at a non-chain restaurant while the wonderful Gerry and Madonna watch the kiddos!
Saturday: Vegetable panini

Friday, July 3, 2009

I can't believe we've never done this before!

We have had a bread machine, I think since we were married over 9 years ago. Maybe shortly after, but nevertheless, a long time. I hate to admit it, but I do not remember ever having used it myself. Paul has made bread with it, but honestly, it's been a long time since he touched the thing except to pack it during our last 3 moves. It sits on the top shelf of a hodge-podge closet-supposed-to-be-pantry in a playroom-supposed-to-be-dining room.
The thing is, I'm really a minimalist when it comes to the kitchen. My rule for gadgets is that it must take up little space and do more than one thing. No olive plates, George Foreman grills, or garlic presses here. My life is simpler without them. These rules have developed over time, not so much because I like to make up rules, but pretty much because my condo-in-the-city kitchen is smaller than the master closet in the house we used to live in in South Carolina before we moved to the DC area almost 6 years ago. In fact, I have literally 2 square feet of counter space. We'd have double that if we had a dishwasher since we wouldn't have to have the dish rack out, but then I'd lose half my cabinet space, and I think we can agree that would be worse (maybe you and I could agree on that, but tell that to Paul--he'd so much rather have a dishwasher than a cabinet to store the dishes). What can I say--that's city living, right?
Speaking of city living, though I think that raising kids in the city has its challenges, there are some really fun aspects to it. For example, if you ask Charlie what a train says, instead of the typical "Choo choo," she'll reply, "Stand back. Doors closing." It's great.
Anyway, back to the kitchen. So, we don't get the bread machine out all that often. Okay, never. Because it does take up a lot of space and is hard to get to, and until now, I've never realized how incredible this is going to make my life. I'm not being dramatic. I'm totally serious.
I said a while ago that we were going to try to avoid using flour during our local food challenge. I've changed my mind. I've put some thought into this, and even though it'd be great to support the local bakeries and breadmakers at the farmers' market (which I'll probably still do), bread at those places can be a little pricey, and I figured that since they are not exactly using local flour either, I can view our family as a local business and just support us instead. So I'm going to start making bread, dough, pasta, etc.
So, tonight we made homemade pizza for the first time! I have to say, it was really good. REALLY good. And SO easy! I just followed the recipe in my handy dandy bread machine manual and added some oregano to the ingredients for a tasty variation. I literally just tossed in a few things and then pushed a button, waited an hour and a half, and voila! Pizza dough! Charlie helped spread out the dough onto our cookie sheets, then we baked the crusts, topped the crusts, and put them back in the oven for a few minutes, and then we had pizza!
We had some pesto left over from our pasta the other night, so we put that on one crust with a little minced fresh garlic, mozzarella, and parmesan, and for the other pie we drizzled olive oil and then layered crushed fresh tomato, zucchini, onion, minced garlic, mozzarella, and parmesan. Really, the possibilities are endless! I plan on trying many other veggies and maybe some sausage or other meats that I can get from the farm.
I also plan to make a double recipe next time and either freeze the dough or even make a couple plain cheese pizzas to freeze and then top when we're ready to eat.
Just wait until we try making bread in this thing!


Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Food challenge--Day 1

So, we sort of kicked off our local food challenge with dinner last night. So exciting! For dinner we had a grass-fed hen that I'd bought from Meadowbreeze Farm, roasted with local green beans, carrots, onion, and garlic. I will say, this was easily the best chicken I've ever roasted. I tossed the veggies into the pan and set the bird on top and then poured over a glaze that I'd made with butter, garlic, salt, and maple syrup. I cooked it at 350 covered for about an hour and then uncovered it and cooked it for another hour, and then we had to leave the house to pick up Paul, so I let it rest in the hot oven while covered for about half an hour. When I cut into it, the meat was literally falling off the bone. I really wish I'd taken a picture, because it was gorgeous (if I do say so myself). But we were in a hurry to eat, so we just carved it, set it on the table, and then went to town on it, the veggies, and the Amish dinner rolls I'd bought last Saturday at the farmers' market.
Meadowbreeze is an Amish farm in Lancaster, PA that takes orders and delivers to customers in this and other areas. I'm so happy to have them. I just place my order online for raw milk, cheese, yogurt, eggs, beef, chicken, pork, homemade bread, and many other items, and then it's delivered to a nearby host home, and we pick it up there every other week. Neighboring farms work together to provide produce, even with a CSA option. It's wonderful to have produce during the middle of the week (though I wish it were every week, instead of every other), because I'm finding it difficult to hold onto fresh produce for the duration until the next farmers' market.
I've finished Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, and I'm so happy to have read that book. I've learned a lot about how to implement some of these great ideas--mostly the "thinking ahead" part. I'm working with some friends on nailing down a date to do some canning together so that we can all still eat local during the winter time. I'd like to start with tomatoes and peaches and then see what happens from there. This book has also reinforced my "loose" commitment to not eating conventionally raised meat or dairy/eggs from those sources.

Meal Plan, Week 1 (short week):
Tuesday: Roast chicken with green beans, carrots, onions, garlic; Amish dinner rolls
Wednesday: Chicken salad (with leftover chicken) with carrots, walnuts, and homemade honey mustard; green side salad with feta
Thursday: Meat loaf; mashed potatoes; green salad
Friday: Homemade pizza with mozzarella, tomatoes, broccoli, zucchini
Saturday: Cookout, TBD