Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Stir Fry

I'm not going to take any credit for this recipe.  This was taught to me by a good friend of ours who had come out to visit from Chicago a couple of years ago.  We picked him up from the airport, and then hubby had to go to work, so I drove him around and did some sightseeing around the area.  He decided that he wanted to treat us to dinner the first night that he was out.  Hubby is still kicking himself that he had to work late that night and missed it!  I've made it many, many times since then, and I've been able to get the flavor pretty darn close to what was made for us.  Never again will I go back to using frozen veggies for stir fry...ever!
I know that using fresh ingredients makes a huge difference when cooking.  I had just been using a frozen mix for so long, that I didn't know any better.  We love a good stir fry, and I make this often for dinner.  Lately, I've been mixing it up a bit and adding different ingredients just to see if I can improve on it even more.

Mmmm...heaven in a skillet!

Anyway, this is real easy to make.  I don't measure anything in this one.  I know I've got the seasonings right by what it looks like and by what it smells like (yes, I am known to cook by smell!).  I wish that I could upload what it smells like!  You will need the following ingredients:

1-2 chicken breasts (can also use shrimp, which I would if hubby were a shrimp fan!)
1-2 broccoli crowns
1 bulb (yes, bulb) of garlic
1 sweet onion (I use half, depending on the size)
1 red onion (I use half, depending on the size)
Peppers (I use a combination of red, orange and yellow to give the dish color)
Sunflower seeds
Red Pepper Flakes
Olive Oil
Soy Sauce

Chop up chicken and all veggies into bite size pieces and put in a skillet.  Add olive oil and soy sauce; enough to give everything some liquid to cook in and have some sauce for the rice.  Toss in some sunflower seeds to your liking.  Add cumin and red pepper flakes to taste (the more you add, the hotter it gets).  Stir fry until the chicken is cooked through.  Serve over rice.  Enjoy!

The last couple of times I've made this, I added a can of water chestnuts to give it a little bit more crunch, and it was amazing!  If I knew what a fresh water chestnut looked like and how to prepare it I'd use fresh, but canned worked for me here.  Next time I'm thinking of adding some green beans and/or some baby corn.  Stir fry is an easy dish to experiment with.  There's not much, other than over-cooking, that can be done to ruin stir fry!

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

DIY Kid's Pajama Pants

I will be the first to admit that I am not a great seamstress.  I know enough to get through a project.  Patterns sometimes tend to confuse me.  My mom used to make clothes for my sisters and I when we were younger, and I always wanted to learn how to do that too.  Other than starting to sew a pair of uniform pants together in girl scouts when I was in middle school, I've mostly taught myself everything I know about sewing.  One of my strengths has always been in spatial reasoning, and I can usually fudge how to put something together.  My mother-in-law, knowing that I was the crafty type, gave me her sewing machine back when hubby and I were still dating.  She was a crafty person, but had no clue how to sew.  I think she told me that she had either never used the machine, or had maybe used it once or twice.  I had somewhat of an idea how to sew.  I figured I was at least doing something right when I figured out how to get the bobbin filled and the machine threaded!  My first projects were blankets, and all that those consisted of was either putting a finished edge on some fleece, or sewing some binding to the edges.  There was one time, back when hubby and I were dating, that he was working in construction and needed a work apron.  I thought up a pattern in my head and went to work.  Not having a clue what I was doing, it turned out pretty well, and he wore it all the time when he was at work.
Anyway, I like to peruse pinterest for random projects to do.  I've got a board filled with sewing projects.  One of them caught my eye because it looked pretty easy.  That particular pin I found was this one:

After reading through the easy step-by-step directions, they looked easy enough to make, so I made a quick trip over to JoAnn's to pick up some material.  My first stop was the remnants bin, to see if I could find something cheap to do a first run on (just in case I screwed something up).  Since I had the boy with me, I asked him what kind of pants he wanted.  It was no surprise to hear him say that he wanted Thomas!  I found some fleece, and bought a couple yards.  I figured I could get a pair of pants out of it for him to wear now, and then have enough left over to make him another pair of bigger ones later.  I would make up a tutorial here, but seriously, the pin that I linked to is great!

The first pair I did were the green ones.  Using a pair of pants that fit him as a pattern, it didn't take too long to get them cut out and sewn together.  The longest part of getting the pants made was making sure that I had everything lined up correctly so I could cut them out.  I have a bad habit of not pressing my fabric, and also not using a measuring tape.  I tend to eyeball everything.  Sometimes, eyeballing things comes back to bite me!  The green pants ended up with one leg being a smidge shorter than the other.  Even so, it doesn't stop the boy from wearing them all the time!  He's growing so quickly right now that most of his pants end up looking like highwaters.  Having a pair of pants that had one leg a little shorter than the other didn't really matter much!  They were a trial-run, and just being used for pj pants anyway!  My second run was with the Thomas material.  I purposely made them longer so that he could wear them longer, and also so if I did happen to short one leg, it wouldn't be as noticeable!
Overall, I don't think I'll ever use another pattern for making pajama pants.  This one was so easy, and I had both pairs of pants finished within an hour total.  Can't beat sewing 2 seams, and then rolling over the top and the bottoms to finish them off!  As is typical with fleece, they get softer with each washing.  I did notice the other night that one of the seams had come apart, but it didn't take anything to pull out the sewing machine and fix them up real quick.  I think the next time I make a pair of these I may double-stitch each seam, just to give it a little more strength.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Birthday Cake

I don't claim to be a good cake decorator by any stretch of the imagination, but I do enjoy dabbling in it.  Something about being creative is such a release for me.  When the boy requested to have another Thomas the train themed birthday party this past year (he's a bit obsessed), I jumped at the chance to try my hand at making another cake for him.  Imagine my annoyance surprise afterword when I discovered that there is actually a legitimate Thomas the train cake pan!  Regardless, I still enjoyed making the cake and I was pretty happy with how it turned out.  Being a novice cake baker, I had no clue how many cups of batter one box of cake mix made, so I mixed up two.  There was extra batter left, so I used what was left to make cupcakes.  We were eating cake for a while after the birthday party!  One of these days I'll do cake batter from scratch, but when time is a premium, I don't feel bad using a mix.  The cake was baked 2 days before the party because that was when I had a chance to do so!  Decorating was done the morning of the party, which included mixing up the frosting.  After finding a good recipe for buttercream frosting, I won't buy the stuff in a can anymore...it just doesn't taste as good!  Not only that, but I can control the consistency of it better from scratch as well.

After the birthday party, I found and bought the actual Thomas cake pan.  I'm (not so) secretly hoping that the boy's obsession lasts another year so I can get some use out of it!

Monday, January 14, 2013

Cricut cartridge review...Designer's Calendar

I have a collection of several cartridges for my cricut.  I'm ashamed to admit that I have some of them that I haven't ever used.  I was thinking this weekend, as I had some crafty time that I could start a series here on some of the cartridges I've got.  I guess you could say that I already kind of did that on the chore chart cartridge.  In any case, in my couple hours of crafty time that I had this weekend, I decided to pull out the Designer's Calendar cartridge.  When this cartridge very first came out, I wanted it.  I just didn't want to spend what they were asking for it.  I found a great deal on it during the black Friday/cyber Monday sales this past Christmas and just couldn't pass it up any longer.
For the past year, I used calendar pages that were in a kit from Creative Memories.  I either missed that they made a kit for this year, or there wasn't one.  These pages were on display in the kitchen on my Everyday Display.  I love those things!  They're magnetic and fit a 12 x 12 page perfectly in them.  In any case, I had decided that I wanted to make my own calendar pages this year.  I knew that it was going to be quite the undertaking in looking at the different aspects of the calendar cartridge.  Being one that doesn't like to back down from a challenge, I decided to go for it and the project went remarkably easier and faster than I anticipated!

To start, I picked out what I wanted for the background paper, and then picked a couple of cardstock colors to coordinate.  My first cut was the calendar grid.  Cut out at 8", it fit nicely on the 12 x 12 page, with room at the top for the month and other embellishments.  The trick to this cartridge is to slow your speed down and increase the pressure when you're making the smaller cuts, like the numbers and the corner embellishments.  I had the speed set at high for the grid and it worked just fine.  The month and the corner embellishments were both cut at 2", and the date numbers were cut at 1".

There wasn't a whole lot extra that I did to further embellish the calendar pages, other than outlining around the cuts with my Creative Memories pens.  Have I mentioned that I love those things as well?!  They're some of the best pens that I've ever used when crafting.

Instead of cutting out the days of the week, I decided to just write them in.  There were a couple of reasons to this.  Firstly, I wasn't sure how big to do them and I didn't want to spend a ton of time experimenting, and secondly, I didn't want to have to deal with teeny, tiny cuts!  I did try to cut out one of the holiday ones, and it was pretty small.  Had I changed some settings on my machine, it probably would have cut out better.  Lesson learned for next time around!  
I could have added more to the 2 calendar months that I had time to sit down to do this weekend, but I ran out of time.  Hubby was out at a photo shoot while I was crafting, and after he got home I wanted to spend time with him instead.  Family time takes precedence over crafty time.  If he's home, I'm spending time with him!
Overall, I loved this cartridge, and I really can't wait to sit down and make out the rest of the months for this year!  In looking at the back of the cartridge box, it looks like there's more options than just doing a grid for the calendar as well, which is really exciting to me!  It was really easy to put the calendar pages together, and there wasn't a ton of deciphering that needed to be done to figure out the booklet either.  I'll have to remember to post the rest of the month pages that I make for this year.  I see a lot of uses other than just making calendars out of this cartridge too.  It's good to remember to think outside of the box when using my cartridges!

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Pizza Rollups

One of the first pinterest projects I tried was pizza rollups.  I saw the pin one day and couldn't believe firstly how easy this was, and secondly that I had never thought to do it before!  We do pigs in blankets a lot for dinner...why not mix it up and do pizza ingredients instead?!  If you're looking for a super quick and easy weeknight dinner, this one is it!  All you need is a tube of crescent rolls and some string cheese.  If you want to get fancy and add extra pizza toppings, the sky is the limit!  I usually add some pepperoni and some pizza sauce.  A few times we've added in some pineapple as well.  Roll everything up inside the crescent rolls and throw it in the oven for a few minutes, as directed on the package!

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Menu Planning

Gracious, how do I blog about this without having it turn into a long, boring novel?!  I try to be organized...really, I do!  Being out of the house 10+ hours a day means that things need to be organized in order to run smoothly.  Almost 2 years ago, when hubby took a different job, I had to make more of an effort to get my act together when it came to dinner.  For the longest time, he worked somewhat of a swing shift so I always had a few hours after getting home to figure out what to make, clean house, craft, go for walks, grocery shop, and do whatever else needed to be done.  Now however, we both get home at close to the same time.  It was an adjustment for me to get used to not being able to have dinner ready for him when he'd get home.  After a month or two of floundering around, not really getting my act together, I decided that I needed to get better at menu planning.  I came up with a plan, and just needed some time to execute it.
First thing I did was to go through my recipe box, cookbooks, cooking magazines, allrecipes.com, and anywhere else I got recipes from and wrote down a list of what all I actually had on a somewhat regular rotation.  It was a surprise to me to see how many different dishes I actually make!  I easily came up with enough to fill up a whole month, with nothing repeated.  I also wrote down side dishes, but then scrapped that plan because a) I ran out of room on the calendar and b) sides are easy to figure out once the main dish is chosen!  I had an idea of what I wanted my calendar to look like and then took a day to get it done.  I bought a magnetized calendar white board and a roll of magnet tape to make pieces for all the main dishes.  Using my scrapbook supplies, I made some tags with each dish listed on them.  I color coded them as well...blue was for chicken dishes, red was for beef, and yellow was for everything else.  I cut up the magnet tape and stuck a tag on each one.  Over time, I've added in more recipes, but been too lazy to make more magnets.  I suppose I really should get on that!

At the beginning of the month, I sit down with the calendar and plan out the meals for the month. There's really no rhyme or reason to how I plan things out.  I think about what I think I'm going to feel like cooking for the first week, and then randomly put the meals for the rest of the month on the calendar.  I also try not to have a week where we have chicken 3 nights in a row, and have a couple of eat out nights built in to the month as well.  Side dishes are usually green beans, rice, potatoes, or whatever else I find in the pantry.  Lets face it, I enjoy cooking, but it's nice to have a night off here and there too!  Momma needs a break every once in a while!
In addition to my magnet calendar, I also have a google calendar set up that I can look at if I'm at work and can't remember what I had planned for dinner.  This is also handy if I need to go grocery shopping, so I need to know what to get for the week.  The nice thing about having a magnetic board and the google calendar is that it is real easy to switch things up if we get to a day where I see what I've planned and don't really feel like eating it that day.  Life happens, so we just roll with it!  As long as I've got the necessary ingredients, it's not a problem to change things up.  I'm flexible like that.
After all this, I have a confession to make!  The last few months, I've been absolutely HORRIBLE at keeping up with my menu planning!  2012 was quite the year for us, and we all ended up putting things on the back burner just to survive the year.  My goal for this year is to get back into being organized, and have our house running smoothly.  This is going to mean buckling down and working hard at first, but soon it will become like second nature again.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Chore Chart

The boy has a knack for asking for things whenever we go to the store.  Our knee-jerk reaction was always to tell him that when he was older and had a job and earned his own money that he could buy whatever he wanted.  That would always bring up the questions from him when we would go out about how he could get his own money.  Enter the chore chart, and allowance.  At 4 years old, we don't think that it's too young to start to teach him responsibility about money, and about helping around the house.  We've given him simple chores to do, that we know he can do without too much reminding.  If he gets all of his chores done during the week, he earns his full allowance.  If he doesn't do some of them, or if we have other behavior issues (which are thankfully rare) with him, then he loses part of his allowance.
I've had the Chore Chart Cricut cartridge sitting around for a while, in preparation for the day when a chore chart would come into play.  For the longest time, I'd had the background cut out so I could get a feel for what it would look like.
I learned a few things about this cartridge when I finally put it together.  Firstly, the cuts for the days of the week can't be done small...it just doesn't work...it's too small!  I tried and tried and tried, and wasted quite a bit of paper, cutting them out at 2".  I'll save you a headache...don't try it!  While it would have looked super cute if it would have worked out right at that size, it was just too small to get those pieces off the mat.  Secondly, it takes a bit of thinking to figure out how exactly you want the chart to work!  The chart is a 3 row by 7 column format.  This means that if you want to put the days of the week in there, you're limited to 2 chores a day, or if you want to put one chore for each row, then you've only got 6 columns left for days of the week.  Doing it that way means you're missing a day of the week (which I guess could work out if you wanted to give the kid a break for a day).  Also, there comes into question what you're going to want to do to make it reusable so you don't have to cut out a new one every week.  Lets face it...with a full time job, I don't have the time or energy (let alone paper!) to tackle a project like that every week!
My initial test cut of the chart ended up being too small.  When I did the test cut, I was just using some scrap letter size paper, so I was limited to a 6" cut.  While cutting at that size probably would have worked, it just ended up being too small.  Sooo...I grabbed some 12x12 paper and made a new chart.  I believe I was able to get it to cut out at 8" tall with that, which gave me a little bit more room to work.  We gave the boy 3 chores to do...feeding the dog, making his bed, and putting his toys away.  The cuts for those chores, while still having tiny pieces, were easy enough to put together.  I cut those out at 2", I believe.  Everything got laminated, and I put magnets on everything so that it could go up on the 'fridge.  I had a roll of 1" magnet material laying around at home (leftover from my menu calendar), and I decided to use that to mark the chores as being done for the day.  I simply covered them with some paper and wrote the days out on them.  That was much easier than trying to make the days of the weeks cuts off the cartridge.  While the cricut and my silhouette cameo are great tools and I love to use them, sometimes there are simpler solutions!  In any case, here's pictures of the final product.  We've been using it for about a month now and it's working out pretty well so far.

The whole chart put together.  I ended up putting the chores to do on the outside of the chart, so that we had a full 7 day week to work with.

Close-up of the markers.  I made them different colors to make them fun, and so that the boy would have a different color for each chore.

The ones waiting to be used are lined up alongside the chart.  Markers for the current day are usually under the chart, and ones for the next day are usually above.  I rotate them through in the evening so they're ready to go for the next day.

Close-up of the chores to be done.
The boy has been keeping up with his chores for the most part and he enjoys earning his allowance money so that he can buy things that he wants to get.  It's been a great way to teach him responsibility, and how to save money.  If he doesn't have enough to get what he wants, he can either buy something cheaper, or he can save it up to have more money and buy something bigger.  The first week's allowance went to some playdoh!