Monday, October 31, 2011

The One With Sally and Snoopy

Happy Halloween!
The girls are going as Sally Brown and Snoopy from the Peanuts gang. You'll have to be satisfied with Instagrams of their costumes for now.

Aren't they the cutest?

Ellie's costume: Dress: Pumpkin Patch, Socks: Target, Shoes: Payless
Olivia's costume: White sleeper with a black flannel spot and tail sewn on (not pictured); Hat, scarf and Woodstock: Build-A-Bear Workshop. Yep, she's so tiny that she fits into teddy bear costumes. 

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Streamlining Saturdays: Changing Habits (Sustainability Edition)

For those of you who don't know, we live in Portland, Oregon. Our city just started a composting service that couldn't be easier - just throw all your food and biodegradable waste in a green bin that gets picked up every week. To encourage people to compost they have reduced regular garbage pick up to only every other week. Meaning only compost and recyclables get picked up every week. Meaning we need to greatly reduce our waste.

I'm so excited about this challenge. And a challenge it will be. So much of the waste we have is a result of conveniences we have gotten used to, but certainly don't need. I immediately put a system in place to change our garbage habits so that we'll be able to compost and recycle and greatly reduce the amount we send to landfills (*shudder*).

First part of the plan:
Move your garbage can. You will quickly realize that most waste could either by recycled or composted if you took a little extra time to put it in a different location. We have compost and recycling receptacles under the kitchen sink, but I moved the garbage can all the way out to the garage. This little change means I am aware every time I throw something away (since the garbage can is not in it's regular place in the kitchen) and so I consciously decide whether it really belongs in the trash or in the compost or recycling. I am proud to say that this simple change helped us reduce our waste to only half a garbage bag, even after a week of having people over for Steve's birthday.

Come back next week for more parts of the plan! (This makes me sound like an evil genius, which I am not.)

Thursday, October 27, 2011

The One With the Cookies and Cream Cake

Steve loves cookies and cream. So a few weeks ago when Mallory made some Cookies and Cream Cupcakes for our book club meeting, I had the idea to make him a Cookies and Cream Cake for his birthday last Friday. It was delicious.

I made a standard fudgy chocolate cake mix and topped it with Cookies and Cream Frosting. It's amazing how addictive this stuff is.

Cookies and Cream Frosting:
  • 2 cups (4 sticks) butter, at room temperature
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • 2 pounds plus 1/2 cup (8 cups total) powdered sugar
  • 18 Oreos, finely crushed
Use a blender to combine butter, cream, vanilla and powdered sugar until smooth. Crush Oreos in a food processor or in a ziplock bag with a rolling pin. The finer, the better. 

I made a two standard 9-inch round cakes, with two layers each. I made one with Cookies and Cream frosting in the middle and on top. Then sprinkled generously with roughly (not finely) chopped Oreo bits. For the second cake I envisioned a Fudge-Dipped Oreo: A thick middle layer of Cookies and Cream frosting, with a Chocolate Buttercream frosting on the outside (see below). This was my favorite. Steve preferred the all Cookies and Cream one.

Chocolate Buttercream Frosting:
  • 1 pound (3 1/4 cups, loosely packed) powdered sugar
  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 4 tablespoons water
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1/2 cup cocoa powder
First, combine the butter and sugar, beating on low until completely blended. Add milk or water, vanilla and cocoa powder. If you want the frosting to be thinner, you can add another tablespoon or two of milk or water, beating on low until completely incorporated.

When you make this cake, which I highly recommend you do, be sure to keep it refrigerated between servings. 

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The One With the Things I Love About Ellie (2 years)

Now that Ellie is officially a big two-year-old, it seems weird to keep marking her development in months. So I'll just have to do a few posts for this year, I guess.

Ellie is all sorts of adorable lately. She is growing and learning so quickly. I can barely keep up with all her changes. These are a few of the ones that have been particularly breathtaking recently:

1. I love that she is so bossy. I may not love this forever, but right now I just love that she has figured out that she has a say in the way her world works and she is determined to have that say.
2. I love that she is repeating all the ridiculous things that Steve and I say. For instance, last weekend we were in the drive-thru at Papa Murphy's, waiting for our pizza. From the backseat I hear Ellie say, "Hi, Pizza. We love you, Pizza." (That's one she picks up from her dad.)

3. I love her happy little chit-chattering on the wii remote as if it were a phone. Just today she picked it up and said, "Hello. Hi. Si-is-mashel. (This is Michelle.) Ok. Ok. Bye." She likes to try and pretend to call grandma.
4. Speaking of which, I love how much she loves her grandparents. Often when we pull out of the driveway she gets excited and says "Nana! Papa!", only to be disappointed when we end up just going to the grocery store.
5. I love how she goes around determining that things are "Goot." (Cute.) When Olivia gets dressed in the morning she says, "Ohhh, goot!" And when we go shopping she touches all the clothes and looks at the price tags and then says, "goot."
6. I love that whenever anyone comes to the door she stops what she is doing and says, "Assisor!" (Allison - don't know how she got that one.) Or how she still can't pronounce elephant or octopus, even though we break it down for her. We'll say, "Oct. To. Pus." and she says, "Oct. To. Pus." and then we say, "Octopus" and it comes out "Opsterster." It reminds me of when Phoebe tries to teach Joey to speak French in the last season of Friends.'
7. I love how she sings the ABCs. Just "A-B-C-D-E" over and over again.
8. I love how she has claimed the laundry basket as her "boat." She likes to push Olivia around in it. Or just scoot it around the house collecting shoes and toys and what not.

9. I love how she's figured out how to stall bedtime. After teeth-brushing she thinks of everything she can to try and delay the inevitable. First she pretends she needs to go potty. So we take her potty. Then she asks for her cupcake jammies, even though they are in the wash. Then she requests her blankie, Elmo, Minnie, bear, book, lion, koala, water, and just about anything else she can think of. Steve usually puts her to bed so when he told me she was doing this I didn't realize he was complying with her demands until I got her out of bed the next morning and her crib was jam-packed full of stuffed animals and books and blankets.
10. I love that when she hears the oven timer go off she immediately yells, "Cake!" as if it's the only thing that ever comes out of the oven (it's not).

I see more and more of me in her everyday. Sometimes it's good, sometimes it's not so good. But watching her grow up is just as much fun as I had hoped it would be.

The One With the Famous Sub Sandwiches

Sorry, folks, for the delay in posts. Last week we celebrated Steve's birthday so there was not much time for posting. However, I thought I'd share some of his favorite foods that I made all weekend for the occasion.

First off, Michelle's Famous Sub Sandwiches. I'm not being vain, that's just what they've become known as over the years. These are one of Steve's faves, so we had them for dinner Friday night. I get asked for this recipe a lot, so here it is... in all it's glory. I even included all the tips I have come up with from perfecting this baby over time.

(The picture is kinda crappy, but I have yet to meet anyone who thinks the sandwich is.)

Michelle's Famous Sub Sandwiches

You will need:
  • French or Italian bread - whichever is softer and thinner in your bakery
    One loaf usually feeds 2-3 people
  • Mayonaise
  • Honey-Dijon Mustard
  • Red Onion
  • Lettuce
  • Whole Dill Pickles
  • Deli-sliced Turkey
  • Optional: Tomatoes
  • Good Seasons All-Natural Italian Dressing
Cut your French or Italian bread loaf (or loaves) horizontally, keeping one edge barely connected. Open up the bread and use a spatula to spread the mayonaise on both sides. Spread some honey-dijon mustard on at least one side, two if you like a stronger flavor. Chop a quarter of a red onion into little bits and sprinkle on both sides of the loaf (I think this method gives an overall better taste than rings of red onion). Put some lettuce on the bottom side. Slice up some dill pickles and lay them on top. If you're going to add tomoatoes, here's your chance.  Add a layer of the deli turkey.
The next step is the most important: Good Seasons Italian Dressing. You could try other stuff, but I like this best. It comes in little seasoning packets in your condiments aisle and you mix it up yourself in a little container it comes with. Anyway, it is just wonderful. It is the secret ingredient. Douse your meat and veggie layer in this, fold up your sandwich, cut it into pieces and serve with pride. And napkins.

These sandwiches are simply wonderful on hot summer evenings (no cooking involved!) served with some lemonade, beer, or maybe a cream soda. And might I suggest these for Superbowl Sunday? I think they would fare well among football fans of all ages.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Speechless Sunday

Seriously. Don't. It's Sunday. Get offline and go be with the people you love. That's what I'm doing today. 
Via unknown.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The One With the Pumpkin Spice French Toast With Chocolate Glaze

I'm not very in to fall this year. Actually, I'm pretty bitter over summer's end. Normally I like fall just fine, but last year's seemingly-endless winter has made the thought of plunging into nine months of rain and darkness less than thrilling. So I've waited until now to start baking like it's October. However, this little dish might just change my tune. In fact, I would consider myself much more apt to welcome fall now that this is on the menu:

Pumpkin Spice French Toast with Chocolate Glaze:

And it's pretty simple, so you should try it next Saturday morning. I'm sure you won't be disappointed.

For the Pumpkin Spice French Toast:
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 Tbls pumpkin spice
  • 10-12 slices of buttermilk bread*
Whisk all ingredients together in a shallow dish. Prepare a pan or griddle by melting 1/2 tablespoon of butter over medium heat. Dip a slice of bread into the batter, coating both sides, and then place on the griddle until brown. Flip the slice over to brown the other side. Repeat with all the bread you have batter for, adding more butter to the pan or griddle as necessary.

*I initially tried using a whole wheat bread, but the flavor of the pumpkin spice was not very strong, so I ended up opting for a white bread.

For the Chocolate Glaze:
  • 1/2 cup powdered sugar
  • 2 Tbls butter, melted
  • 3 Tbls cocoa powder
  • 2 Tbls milk
  • 2 Tbls water
Use a beater to combine the powdered sugar, butter, cocoa and milk until smooth. Add water, one tablespoon at a time, until the glaze reaches the consistency you desire. I used 2 tablespoons to get it to a syrupy consistency.

Serve with whipped cream and hot chocolate for a cozy, autumny start to your morning. 

P.S. This is my very own recipe that I made with Steve's help after discovering we were out of regular French toast ingredients. I would love to know what you think if you try it!

Monday, October 17, 2011

The One With the One Dish Chicken Dinner

I'm trying desperately to expand my horizons on the dinner front. Usually, I feel that if I'm going to put effort into a cooking/baking venture of some kind it better turn out chocolately (hence the focus on dessert). But I got a little tired of my unimaginative meal rotation, so I started hunting down quick recipes that I can throw together really quickly and everyone will still enjoy. I'm certainly no chef, but I figured there had to be some simple recipes out there that everyone would like. Enter, the one-dish chicken dinner.
It's incredibly easy. And pretty tasty. Everyone approved.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  • 1 can Campbell's Cream of Chicken Soup
  • 1 1/3 cups water
  • 3/4 cup uncooked white rice
  • 2-3 cups frozen or fresh vegetables
  • 1/2 tsp onion powder
  • 4 skinelss, boneless chicken breast halves
  • cheddar cheese, shredded
Stir together the soup, water, rice, vegetables and onion powder and pour into a 9x13" glass pan. Top with chicken. Season the chicken as desired (I used a poultry seasoning and some garlic salt). Bake for 45 minutes. Top with cheese. Serves 4.

I found this recipe on a Campbell's Soup ad. And it's really quick and easy and warm. It will probably be a staple this winter. Not only is it comfort food, but it also has meat, grains and veggies in one dish, so it's pretty much a dream for moms with little time for dinner.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Streamlining Saturdays: Closet Maintenance (Grown-Ups Edition)

We have a really small closet that my husband and I share. No big walk-in for us. Sometimes it is not very fun, but most of the time it helps us keep our clothes pared down to the ones we actually really wear.

I'm one of five kids and until I was in high school we lived in a tiny little three bedroom house. All four girls shared one (big) bedroom and one closet. As crazy as that sounds now, my mom really made it work. She taught us a few simple tips that I still follow today to keep my tiny closet managable: 
  • If you don't like something - and I mean everything about that something (style, fit, color, feel) - get rid of it. There is no reason to hang on to clothes you don't like and don't feel good wearing. (To help with this, I keep a constant "donate/consign" basket under my bed. When I come across something that I realize I really just don't like, I toss it in there.)
  • When you go shopping, don't buy things unless they actually fit into your existing wardrobe. You don't want those lone pieces that never get worn floating around.
  • Use a replacement system: when you do purchase something you love, use it as an opportunity to get rid of/donate/consign something you don't like quite so much.
  • Build your basics. Simple, go-to pieces that can be dressed up or down based on your accessories should fill up the majority of your closet. Use accessories to bring in the color and flash to your wardrobe. They generally take up much less room, so the fact that you wear them more occasionally doesn't matter as much.
Even if you don't have limited closet space, free your mind and your time by keeping your closet simple so you can spend less time getting dressed and more time enjoying everything else life has to offer! Yay!

Friday, October 14, 2011

The One With the Chocolate Peanut Butter Bites

If you like Reese's peanut butter cups, you will certainly like these. They literally taste almost exactly the same.
What I love about these chocolate-covered peanut butter bites is that they are made with things you are (or at least I am) likely to have on hand as it is. They only require:
  • 1 cup creamy peanut butter (I used Skippy)
  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1-2 tablespoons of water*
  • milk chocolate chips*
I was in desperate sorts to make something yummy. I was thinking about making some good old fashioned chocolate chip cookies, but only had one egg. O the tragedy! Fortunately, Pinterest came to my rescue yet again and I found this recipe

It's pretty straight forward:
Use an electric mixer to combine the peanut butter, butter and powdered sugar. If it is not moist enough to stick together yet still be soft, add water, one tablespoon at a time, until you have the right consistency. (You're going to have to do some taste testing. How unfortunate.) Once it is a consistency you like, roll the peanut butter into small balls and place on wax paper. (I made the balls pretty small because I wanted my chocolate to peanut butter ratio to be greater.) Place the peanut butter balls in the freezer for at least ten minutes so they will be easier to work with.

Melt your chocolate chips. You can microwave them in a microwave safe dish for 30 seconds, stir, and then microwave in ten second increments until it is melted, stirring intermittently. If you are making a lot of these, say for a party or something, I would suggest melting the chocolate in a double boiler, as it is easier to work with for a longer period of time.

Insert a toothpick into a peanut butter ball and dip it in the chocolate, being sure to coat completely (you may need some more toothpicks to help you out with this part). Set on wax paper, remove toothpick, and allow to harden. Setting your batch in the fridge for a few minutes will really speed along this process.

Enjoy, and most importantly, share! These babies are pretty rich, so I would recommend inviting some friends over to help you consume them. Your friends will like you more and you will avoid becoming sick from a chocolate-peanut-butter overload.
In the future I might try these with either dark or semisweet chocolate shells. The peanut butter mixture is so sweet that it can get a little overpowering in just a few bites - hence, the recommendation to share.

*The original recipe I saw used milk instead of water. You can do that if you would prefer, but keep in mind that you must keep these refrigerated since they are not cooked. Also, the original recipe called for using melting wafers. I did this at first and didn't have much luck with them. I think I jinxed my use of melting wafers recently. They keep not working out for me. Anyway, milk chocolate chips are easier to come by and seem to work just as well.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

The One With the Delay

We've been a little busy this week. Olivia is a little sick and we're starting Ellie on the process of potty training and it's taking a lot of concentration. I'm having a hard time finding time for more fun things. But hopefully I'll be back soon!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The One With the Dutch Baby Pancakes

A few days ago Mallory posted about making Dutch Baby Pancakes for her sister and I was reminded of how yummy they are. So I made them for Ellie and myself the other day. They are so easy and delicious.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

  • 1/3 cup butter
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1/2 Tbls vanilla extract
Place the butter in a 9x13 inch pan and place in oven to melt. Use a blender to whirl the eggs for at least one minute. Add the milk, flour, and vanilla. Blend to incorporate. Once the butter in the pan has melted, remove from oven and pour the batter into the pan. Return the pan to the oven and bake for 20 minutes.

You can make this with almond milk or another milk substitute, although it may not puff up as nicely. It will still taste pretty good, though. No matter how puffed up the pastry gets, the butter gives it a nice, crispy edge.

The traditional way to serve these is sprinkled with lemon juice and powdered sugar. Of course any regular pancake topping like maple or chocolate syrup or strawberries and whipped cream would also be delightful.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Speechless Sunday

It is so easy to spend a lot of time wanting more things. More money to buy things. A bigger house to put all the things in. It is so easy to be jealous of the people who do seem to have it all.

But I already have everything I want:
And that's good enough for me. 

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Streamlining Saturdays: Closet Maintenance (Kids Edition)

I know it's been a bit quiet around here the last few days, but I thought I'd stop by with a few tips on maintaining kids' closets. They can get pretty overwhelming, sometimes. But with a few simple rules, it is easy to maintain closets that are easily accessible and fully functional (i.e., you are able to actually see and use everything in them!).

 My two girls are still pretty little, so their clothing size changes frequently. We could quickly be overloaded with clothes, so to keep it simple, I try to stick to the following rules for keeping clutter and excess to a minimum.

First off, choose a color scheme and stick to it. For Olivia, who is wearing size 6-9 months, I have chosen pastels. For Ellie, who is in 2T, I have gone with deep hues, like magenta, navy, persimmon and army green. Sticking to a color scheme makes fewer clothes go farther because they mix and match. Since leggings and tunics are pretty trendy right now, I invest in a few pairs of good leggins and then get several tunics, dresses, shirts or sweaters to go with them. This keeps their closets paired down because every item has many possible outfits it's a part of (read: money-saving!).

In accordance with this, don't hang on to any one piece of clothing that doesn't really go with anything else. And don't hang on to things you've been given that you don't really like. Don't feel guilty about donating or consigning something you know you won't use. (Somebody else may be able to get tons of use out of it.) 

And save yourself future hassle and clutter by being selective about what you put into storage for future kids. Don't keep anything that was never worn. (If you didn't like it this past summer you are even less likely to want to use it two summers from now). Don't keep anything that is really worn out. Even second and third kids deserve a few new clothes to fill in the gaps that hand-me-downs leave, so if it's got holes or stains it can stand to be retired. 

More next week on adult closets. Yay! I don't know about you, but I absolutely love living clutter-free. It gives me more time and brain space to enjoy the things that really matter.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

The One With the Birthday Party Invitations

I realized I forgot to show you the party invitations for Mallory and Ellie's birthday party.
I designed them myself and sent them in bright pink envelopes. Pretty straightforward, but also fun. And I'm in love with the font I used. You'll probably see it around a bit more.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The One With the Veggie Casserole

I'm pretty proud of myself for coming up with this recipe all by myself. Not like it's really an intricate concept, but I'm pretty happy that I made something edible from the remainders in my cupboards. Anyway, it turned out so good that I think I'll be making it more often.

Easy-Peasy Veggie Casserole
  • 1 can cream of chicken soup (11 oz.)
  • 1 cup water
  • 4-5 cups vegetables, chopped
  • 5 russet potatoes
  • 1/3 cup sour cream
  • 3 Tbls butter
  • Garlic salt or other seasonings
Preheat oven to 350.

Combine cream of chicken soup, water and vegetables. I used a can of corn and a few cups of frozen mixed vegetables, but you could really use anything you want. Pour into an 8x8 pyrex pan and bake for 20 minutes. Meanwhile, thoroughly wash the potaotes and chop into cubes. To make the casserole more nutritious, do not peel the potatoes. Place in a 2-quart pot of water and bring to a boil over high heat. Keep potatoes boiling until you can easily insert a fork into them. Drain and use an electric mixer to whip. Add the sour cream, butter and seasonings to taste. It should be a little thicker than normal mashed potatoes since it acts as a crust. Remove the veggies from the oven and spread the potatoes over the top. Turn your oven to broil and broil for a few minutes to crisp up the top.

This was an awesome dish for me and the girls since it was just us last night, but this would also be great on the side of steaks or with chicken added to the veggie layer.

Monday, October 3, 2011

The One With the Details

I've finally been exploring my new camera lens. What's really fun is that it helps capture the little details. Here are some details from our morning.

Little bright eyes.
 Little baby friends.
 Little bit of perfection.
 Little princess.
 Little block fan.
 Little snuggle bear.
 Little smooches.
 Little potty-trainee who is a little bit excited about being a big girl.
Ellie is going to be pretty mad some day when she sees that I put these pictures online. But I couldn't resist. She's just so ridiculously cute about becoming a big girl. And, in my defense, I expressly asked her if it was ok to post these and she responded with an emphatic, "Yes." See, I'm off the hook. (I tried to get it in writing, but she's not quite there yet.)

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Speechless Sunday

London's Seven Dials Neighborhood. Via.
I need a vacation. I'm not picky. I'll settle for an afternoon all to myself and a good book and a cafe in a colorful little spot like this one.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

The One Where Olivia is 7 Months Old

My littlest baby girl is already 7 months old. And I love every tiny bit of her.

I love the sweet little details that make up my happy baby girl. Her concentrated face as she reaches and stretches for anything and everything. Her wide eyes and over-arched eyebrows. Her sweet little whimpers of delight and longing when I come to pick her up. Her shrieking giggle when Ellie tickles her. Her new words, "Da da" and "la la" and "ga ga." Her lion's roar. She's just the bestest.
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