Thursday, October 28, 2010

Craft time

I have been trying to get some crafting in while I still can. I love having my own craft area. It makes it so much easier to have a room that I can start projects/messes & leave them to continue another time without destroying the dining room table or living room. In our one bedroom apartment I didin't even have room for my sewing machine, so I had to sew at my parents, which was not conducive to spontaneous projects. Here is a list of a few projects I have been working on.
  • I have been working on some taggie blankets for all of the cute new babes that have arrives in the last few months.

  • A diaper clutch to help organize our diaper bag. (picture to be added later)

  • Some nursery embellishments.

Squirrel for a modified Mobile.

Acorn for the same mobile

Finished mobile

  • Curtains for Al's office & the baby's room.
  • A wristlet to keep my things in the diaper bag & a new change purse that is large enough to keep money, ID, & some cards if I needed.
  • Most recently some tomato pincushions I saw on the Martha Stewart website. as usual they didn't quite turn out like Martha's picture perfect crafts, but they make me smile every time I sew.

  • I have a few other projects in mind, but we will have to see if I have time before our baby decides to arrive.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Lean Time

Reading several friends blog posts has inspired me to write this post. Being that any day now we will be starting the new, exciting, & scary challenge of being new parents. This challenge will also bring a huge cut in our income & struggles to make ends meet. I have been trying to find ways to conserve money during this next year.

I hope to channel my life growing up when we did not have lots of money, but had tons of fun. My parents was great at keeping us happy & entertained on little money. We made our own playdough, cooked most of our meals, went camping, & when money was good took trips down to Grand forks for shopping, or a flight out to visit our aunt in Vancouver. My mother was always good at coming up with crafts, & taking us on walks to the park & around the neighborhood.

I think that this was the reality for most families I knew growing up, I know it was for both of us. People didn't go out several time a week to eat, or travel multiple times a year, or buy huge expensive electronics & toys. Eating out was a treat, we made our own Halloween costumes & crafts, & travel was something you saved up for over the year or even several years. In fact this is how Al's Mom still chooses to live.

To prepare for these lean times I have been cooking dishes to freeze for easy & inexpensive meal when we have no time to cook. Stocking up on baby care products when they are on sale. I have been slowly putting money on my Starbucks card (my own guilty pleasure) to allow me the splurge on a fancy coffee every so often. I have purchased some Groupons, a site that offers discounts for local companies. I have joined blogs about saving money featuring freebies & coupons.

We have decided to go the route, of cloth diapering & I want to make our own baby food when the time comes. I'm hoping to revamp the back garden next spring & plant a veggie & herb garden. We have been composting like crazy in hopes of having some nice rich compost to add to our garden, & we have less guilt if we have veggies & fruit go bad, knowing that they are going to a new cause.

Then the always amazing & incredibly talented Sarah M. has posted an amazing story about conserving money while still eating delicious, & healthy food. 20 Tips: How to eat well for less money couldn't have come at a better time. It helped to remind me of some money saving tips & strategies that will come in handy over this next year. I have never heard of Food buying clubs until I read this post & think that this is something I am going to look into. I will certainly be referring back to this post during lean times to remind myself how to maximize my dollars.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Nursery Before & After

In an earlier post I promised a before & after of our nursery. At the time I gave a sneak peak of a project I had been working on for the nursery. So finally it's ready to be revealed. There are still some element that we are working on, but I'm afraid that I may not be able to share these photos with you if I don't post them now, since my due date is coming up soon, & at this point it could conceivably be any day now. Speaking of that I really have to get my bag packed.

Here are the Before Pics:
When we moved in, this room became a dumping area for any extra boxes. Good idea at the time, bad idea forgetting a nursery organized. This shot shows everything cleared out & ready for nursery prep. This corner will be the new home of the dresser/change station.

Here is the future home of the baby's crib. I would also like you to note the color in the room. All I can say is that the people who lived in this house before us really must have liked butterscotch. There are three rooms that were painted a butterscotch type color. The living room is luckily more on the pumpkin side, but the washroom upstairs is more of a peachy butterscotch color. That will be the next painting project. I can't wait until it's done, because it is UGLY.

Being that Al & I have decided not to find out if we are having a boy or girl, we needed a neutral nursery idea. I have also never been a fan of the traditional light blue or pink nursery. I am really not a Winnie the pooh fan. I have nothing against the books, TV shows, & movies, but I don't want to look at the rolly polly bear everyday. I have also never understood why nurseries have to be old fashioned & why they can not have a more modern look.

Years ago when I was watching one of the many reno shows I saw a nursery done in different shades of creams & reds. When it was time to plan our nursery, red was the first thing I suggested. I knew I wanted chocolate brown furniture, and I thought hat Squirrels would look really cute with the color scheme. The rest of the details just fell in place. When I mentioned to Al that I wanted to do the nursery in one of his favorite colors (red) & squirrels (his favorite animal), it wasn't hard to convince him. We decide to paint the wall a neutral light cream so when our babe grows up, they can have a blank slate to choose whatever theme they want , and the last thing I need is an over stimulated baby in a bright red room.

The final results:

The dresser/change station finally unpacked & in it's corner. We hope to put some art work on this wall, but haven't decided what we want yet. I was the first babe to sleep in this bassinet, & since then it was where my sister, cousins, family friends, & my new niece have spent their first nights.

The crib in it's alcove, with the first hint of the red accents. The first picture of the reworked mobile. Can you see the acorn from the sneak peak post?

The baby's view from the crib. I was not able to find window covering that I liked or matched our theme, so I decided to sew some curtains. I had a much different idea when I started the project, but I'm happy with how they turned out, & I my decide down the road to add some squirrel embellishments, & some red trim, but I can not decide, so for now we will live with them & decide what we think of them the way they are.

This red book shelf was original in my room as a girl. It started as a white bookshelf, then in my teens I decided I wanted all different colors of furniture, so I painted in purple, & now it has been transformed into a red bookshelf thanks to my mother & father.

We decided to put the glider out in the hall outside the nursery. To keep the open space in the nursery. Luckily we have a very wide hallway. Within 5 minutes of assembling the glider I took it for a test drive, & had a hour long, very comfortable nap.

Her is a close up of some of the squirrely details in the nursery:

Here is a close up shot of the finished Mobile. I haven't been able to get a proper shot of it yet, but it gives you the idea of the finished project.

One of two metal squirrel hook I found at Out of the Blue.

Another squirrel hook with a cute crochet hat our friend Becky made for the baby, & just happens to match the baby's snowsuit.

Once we have a few more of the details added to the nursery I will post an update, maybe by then there will even be a baby in the nursery, the best addition of all. My parents need a big THANK YOU for All the painting & decor help.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Risotto Love

I have been driving my loved ones crazy the last few years hanging on to a memory of a plate of grey goo that I ordered in a French Restaurant in Toronto, that ended up being one of the best things I ever ate. That grey goo was a mushroom risotto that will always go down in culinary history in my mind.

For a long time I have been fearful of attempting a traditional risotto, because of the long continuous process needed to make the yummy creamy dish I had been dreaming about. I was also not willing to make the instant version. I finally decided to give it a try. To make this goal happen I made it one of my New years Resolution. I know a bit of a crazy resolution, but I accomplished it. Better than my usual eat healthier, loose weight resolutions.

Unfortunately with all the craziness that life brings, including house shopping, moving, and pregnancy I had forgot about my resolution. That is until a friend of ours Sarah, the author of the food blog Food adventure club posted her own adventure with Risotto, Which reminded me of my resolution. Her wonderful step by step explanations of the process of making Risotto, and the advice she included made this task seem easily to accomplish.

For my own risotto attempt, I knew that I wanted it to include mushrooms, Parmesan, and truffle oil, but was not sure what other flavors would be needed. I used Sarah's recipe as a guide, and then added two other recipes one from the Food network by Tyler Florence & another from Epicurious to guide me with the use of the herbs I had in my garden & the addition of truffle oil. From these three recipes I pulled elements from each and created the recipe I used from my own risotto challenge.

Mushroom Risotto:

2-3 Tbsp olive oil
1 Onion Finely chopped
2 Cups dried mushrooms (I used 1 cup shiitake, & 1 cup crimini)
2 Cloves of garlic minced
2 Cups Arborio rice
5-6 Cups stock (vegetable or chicken)
2 Cups liquid reserved from rehydration of the mushroom
1/4 Cup white wine at room temp.
2 Bay leaves
2 Tbsp fresh parsley
1 Tbsp fresh thyme
1 1/2- 2 Cups fresh grated Parmesan
Salt & pepper to taste
2 Tbsp butter (optional)
3/4 Tbsp truffle oil (optional)

  • In a bowl rehydrate 2 cups dried mushrooms with 2 cups boiling water, until the mushrooms are tender.
  • While waiting for mushrooms, heat stock in a medium saucepan until boiling then reduce to a simmer.
  • Heat half the olive oil in a large frying pan over medium high heat. Add half the onions and fry until translucent, then add the reconstituted mushrooms (remember to reserve the liquid), the diced garlic, & season with salt & pepper to taste. Fry mushrooms until they are lightly browned. Set aside until ready to add to rice.
  • Add reserved liquid from the mushrooms to the heated stock.
  • In a large sauce pan heat remaining oil over medium high heat. Add the reaming onion, and fry until translucent then add the arborio rice and stir until all rice is coated & translucent.
  • Add white wine to the rice and cook until evaporated.
  • Add bay leaves
  • Add the stock over rice 1 cup at a time stirring continuously until the rice has absorbed all the added liquid.
  • Repeat the addition of stock 1 cup at a time.
  • At approximately the half way point of the stock addition add the mushroom mixture, and the fresh herbs to the rice. Then continue with the stock addition.
  • The rice should be creamy, but with a slight bite.
  • Remove Risotto from heat
  • Season with salt & pepper to taste
  • Add Parmesan, and butter string until melted
  • Stir in truffle oil.
Serve with a side salad, or your protein of choice. We had left over roasted chicken from the previous night.

The risotto was incredibly creamy & full of flavor. I like the meaty texture of the shiitake mushroom, (sliced portobellos would be interesting to try). The truffle oil added a nice earthiness to the dish. The risotto was nothing like the risotto I have been dreaming of over the years, but equally satisfying. This will definitely be adding to my repertoire.

The process was far from the labor intensive process I though it would be, and you get a nice steam facial during the process. If you decide to make risotto, which I would recommend. I would highly recommend following Sarah's steps & techniques she outlines in her blog.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Upcycle T-shirt necklace.

One of the reasons I started this blog was to share my creative endeavors. When we move to our new house one of the things my Husband & I were the most excited about was having our own creative spaces. I still need to get things organized, shelves hung up, & some really ugly wallpaper border removed before I am going to post pics of my space.

Here is what I whipped up last night. It's a really easy projects & there are tons of tutorials on line. I watched a couple of videos, & read a few Blog tutorials. Then I went to the basement & dug through my summer clothes & found two T-shirts I don't ware anymore. Each necklace took about a half hour or less to make, & the bracelets were even faster.

For the necklaces I tried two techniques. For the white necklace I tried cutting wider 1"strips & narrower 1/2" strips, to see if the different widths would make interesting textures mixed together. The white t-shirt had a design printed on it which gives some of the strips a nice change in texture & color.

For the brown necklace I made all the strips the wider 1" strips. I think I like the wider strips better for myself, but liked how both turned out & think that a necklace with many 1/2" strips would be really nice too.

If you can find a t-shirt without side seams the process is much easier. Both my t-shirts had side seams. So I had to line up the seam portion of the strips to cover them with the piece of fabric you bind all the loops with. I first tried making a longer white necklace with two areas bound together to hide the seams, then decided that I like the look of the shorter necklaces so I doubled the loops & bound the two seam portions of the necklaces together.

For the bracelets. There are two options. If your shirt has long enough sleeves you can repeat the necklace process with the sleeves. Both of my shirts had shorter cap sleeves, which is probably why I didn't ware either of the shirt (I have to remember that when shopping). I took a loop made from the T-shirt & tripled the loop length matching the seams up & wrapped them to bind the lops together. I find that the white shirt material looks a little too casual for me. Possibly adding some gold charms or details might help dress them up.

My next attempt I would like to mix colors to crate contrast or possibly something monochromatic. Some tutorials suggested adding charms or embellishments to the necklaces. I think that playing with lengths in the same necklace would also be interesting.

There are two ways to cut your t-shirt. Either scissors or a rotary cutter with a self healing mat. I personally liked using the rotary cutter with a straight edge for ease, and consistency.

If anyone is interested in the white necklace & bracelets. I would be willing to part with them, so just leave a comment or contact me & let me know.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

My favourite BBQ Pizza

This has been one of my favourite recipes for a long time. I even told my Husband that it just might be my choice of last meal if I had to decide. I know morbid, but that is just how much I love this Pizza. This is a different type of pizza. The tomato sauce has been replaced with a balsamic vinaigrette, & the veggies have been roasted on the BBQ.

I haven't made it for many years, becasue I have been living in an apartment without a BBQ for two years, & I was busy for a year before that planning both my wedding, & my Sister's wedding. Oh ya & the whole graduating from Nursing thing. I guess I have been just a little busy. Now with the impending arrival the new addition to the family we will once again have a very busy period in our lives. I have been wanting to make this recipie since we bought the BBQ in the spring & I have finally got around to it.

The recipie I make has been slightly modified from a Grilled Pizza with Spicy Italian Sausage recipie originally printed in Bon Appetit, July 1997. This recipie has a lot of steps, but most of the prep is done while the dough is rising. In My opinion it is worth the trouble.

I have never used the Spicy Italian Sausage or the green onions. I also like to use feta instead of goat cheese because of price & the tang of the Feta with the balsamic vinaigrette. I have also cut out the Parmesan cheese in the past because I didn't have it on hand, & the resulting pizza was still yummy.

BBQ Pizza:

The Crust Part 1 of 3:

The thought of making crust by hand may be daunting, but this is a really easy crust, as it is made with a food processor. Any Pizza crust with rosemary added would probably work. I have made the dough in a breadmaker (following the recipie for pizza crust that came with the Breadmaker) with chopped rosemary thrown in, & I've made it by hand. All have produced a yummy crust. I do want to stress that the chopped rosemary in the crust for me is one of the things that makes this Pizza swoon worthy. Not to mention the amazing sent while cooking the crusts on the BBQ.

After the Dough has been mixed in the food processor & rosemary kneaded in it has to raise for 1 hour. I have never had the best luck with dough rising, so I like to turn on the stove to 200 0F then turn it off after a few minutes & put the bowl with the dough on top of the element with the heat vent. You have to be careful because if you use a highly conductive bowl it can slightly cook the dough, or if you forget to turn the oven off.

While the Dough Rises:

I usually take this time to prep the vinaigrette, cheese &, all my veggies.

I like to prepare the vinaigrette using a hand blender, but whisking would do as well. I find that the hand blender emulsifies all the ingredients & I do not have to remix all the ingredients during the preparation process. I love this vinaigrette. I think I could eat it by the spoonful like soup. I like to pour the remainder into a bowl & add it to my pizza as I eat it.

It makes it easier later to have the cheese all grated & ready for assembly. The tomatoes need to be seeded & chopped. The peppers have to be seeded & quartered, & the onions cut into 1/2 inch wedges & peeled. According to the recipie it's important when you cut your onions into wedges that you cut through the root end in hope of the wedges staying together. I have found that to be wishful thinking. I have never had them all stay together on the BBQ. I still recommend that you cut the onion wedges as the recipie states. I like to use a grill pan, grill basket, or BBQ wok will make the onions easier to cook, & you will not have to chase them through the gill.

Preheat the BBQ to medium heat

The Crust Part 2 of 3:

After the dough has risen you will need to punch it down & knead the dough a second time, then divide into 4 equal pieces & shape into 9 inch rounds.

Well to that I say ya right. I have never been able to get dough into lovely rounds. Why let that stop you from enjoying pizza goodness. I prefer ugly blobs anyways. Trust me they taste just as good as lovely perfect round crusts, & they look more rustic & homemade.

Final Preparation of Toppings:

Baste the veggies with the vinaigrette on both sides & season with Salt & pepper to your taste. Then place on the BBQ to grill for approximately 8 minutes (4 minutes per side), or until nicely charred. This is where the grilling basked comes in handy.

After the veggies are grilled bring the peppers in to be cut into strips, & I like to split the pieces of onions into strips, especially if you are using a larger onion, but they could also be left in wedges.

The Crust Part 3 of 3:

Now it's time to grill the crust. With the BBQ on medium heat, place the crusts on the grill. I usually grill all 4 at one time. The crust will stick slightly at first, so do not play with them until they are crispy on the bottom with grill marks, & have puffed up slightly. Then flip the crust to the second side for half the time the fist side was grilled. The recipie states 3 minutes on the first side & 1 minute on the second side (for once I actually listen to them).

Final Assembly:

Top grilled crusts (well grilled side up), with 1/4 of the mozza & 1/4 of the Parmesan. Then follow by pepper strips, & onions. Next a 1/4 of the feta (or as much as you can fit on without it falling off), followed by the tomatoes. Finally drizzle 1 1/2 Tbsp of the vinaigrette over each of the Pizzas.

After all the parts are assembled, & your Husband (life partner or guests) exclaim "that is a lot of stuff on there" slide 2 of the pizzas back on to the grill, using a large spatula, until the cheese is melted, & the crust is browned. Then repeat with the 2 other pizzas. Serve with the remainder of the vinaigrette if you like.


Saturday, October 9, 2010

Pumpkin Pies form hell/Imbecile cook.

For a long time I couldn't figure out why everyone liked Pumpkin pie so much. In fact I never liked pumpkin pie until I had a piece of homemade pumpkin pie. The next year I tried making my own. I figure out that it was the amount of spices that store bought pies have that turn me off. They always tasted like they were trying to cover something up. So for years now I have made pumpkin pies for Thanksgiving.

This year I had a couple of pumpkins that needed to be used or moved to the compost bin, so I thought I would truly make the filling from scratch. I used to do this until I found out that canned pumpkin is better for you than fresh (it has to do with the canning process). I decide to make the filling using my food processor since I have recently aggravated my left wrist, & didin't think I could manage the mashing & mixing needed to make the filling.

As I mentioned earlier I have made pumpkin pies for years now, & I have never had so many thing go wrong. I came very close to scrapping the whole thing & buying pies.

So here is a list of all the strange things that happened:
- Couldn't get the food processor to run (Yes it was plugged in & turned on), finally figured out that the mechanism that clicks into the base of the food processor was stuck in the handle.
- Spilt sugar all over the stove, floor, & in the element.
- Splashed myself with evaporated milk, & an egg.
- Forgot that the food processor was more for dryer ingredients & not high quantities of wet ingredients, it overflowed down the center post if the food processor & all over the base.
-Dropped the food processor blade in the measuring cup I transfer the filling into for easier pouring into the crusts, & almost toppled the whole thing over.
- while transferring the filled crust to the oven the oven rack wouldn't advance, so I had to take them out & readjust the rack.
- 2 minutes after putting the pies in the oven I heard a loud bang in the oven & realized that the high temp had warped the pan, & the filling was pouring out of the pies onto the cookie sheet. -I sacrificed my spoon rest to prop up the pan, & they seemed to level out.
-The crust guards I use to stop the crust from burning adhered themselves to the crusts.

While these pies were cooking I was so scared to leave the pies after this for fear of them bursting into flames. It was the only thing that hadn't gone wrong. Well in the end the pies turned out just fine. Maybe not the prettiest pies I have ever made, but they will do for Thanksgiving dinner, & were even tasty.