Maybe it’s just the second glass of wine talking, but Friday night is the best night of the week. Bedtime isn’t so urgent. My husband is bathing the recalcitrant four-year-old, whose defiant attitude seems to have washed away with a liberal application of bubble bath and plastic mermaids. We’re going to the farmer’s market in the morning, and our dinner tonight (along with that bottle of wine) was just an assortment of appetizers pulled together from leftovers from the past week: Brie and crackers, smoked trout dip (leftover from Sunday’s bagels), hummus and carrots, a bowl of blackberries, rosemary focaccia from that last bit of dough in the refrigerator, cantaloupe and prosciutto (unused from a recipe gone wrong). Who says you can’t have happy hour for dinner?
You can! Snip some flowers from the garden for the table, raid the refrigerator and serve your spread on the patio. Turn up the music. Mix some Shirley Temples for the kids. Light a few candles, play some cards in the dusk, and watch the fireflies come out.
A few favorite family Happy Hour ideas:
Fresh Herb Focaccia
Smoked Whitefish (or Trout) Dip
Fresh Fruit with Honey-Yogurt Dip
Crackers, cheese, cold cuts (fan them out on a platter or fold them up and skewer them on toothpicks)
Garlic, Herb and Parmesan Popcorn
Canned sardines in tomato sauce (I may be the only one who thinks this is a good idea)
What are your favorite Happy Hour munchies?
Like many of you, we’ll be doing some traveling with the kids this summer. Planes, trains, automobiles–we’ll be doing it all. I’m glad we won’t be toting any bulky baby gear, but big kids in booster seats don’t have those nice headrests to prop their heads up during a nap on the go. But nothing passes the time better on a long travel day than a nap, so I made the kids some travel pillows.
I almost bought them something like this or this, but didn’t really feel like spending almost $50, since I need one for each child. This was a project that fit my mediocre sewing skills and short attention span, and it cost me nothing. I used fabric and polar fleece remnants from other projects. As usual, I searched for an online tutorial, and found several to choose from (here’s one and here’s another). I traced out a pattern on newspaper, cut out all the pieces of fabric, stitched, turned and stuffed. I invested at most an hour for all three pillows. I’ve got other things to spend $50 on, thank you very much.
Are they perfect? No. Perfectly functional? Absolutely. The kids are excited to have their own special pillows, and maybe…just maybe…they will take a little nap.
We bought a new car recently (new to us, anyway), and for a moment–the blink of an eye, no more–the interior was beautifully clean. After a couple of days of the school carpool and other errands, there was enough dirt tracked in to give my shiny new ride that lived-in look. But the polished dashboard and unstained upholstery also made me notice that the kids’ carseats and boosters were awfully dirty. Icky is really the only word for it.
Once school got out and I didn’t need to shuttle around the neighborhood kids, I began cleaning one seat at a time. The boosters are easy: remove the cover, spray heavily with your stain remover of choice, wash on cold and hang to dry. I also wiped off the plastic frame and all the stickiness lodged in the convenient pop-out cupholders. Repeat on all other boosters.
Little Four has graduated from his toddler carseat to a high-backed booster seat, and I promised to hand down his seat to a cousin’s toddler. I couldn’t in good conscience pass on the seat without cleaning it first. It has a black cover that is extraordinary at hiding stains (there’s a tip for new parents: skip all those pretty light-colored prints). I had not washed it once in the four years Little Four has used it, and I’m pretty sure he’s not extraordinarily neat and tidy.
I’ve removed and washed many a carseat cover, but this one was on the tricky side. You’ve got to detach the straps and wriggle all the buckles and clips through slits in the cover that are just a little too narrow. Then I worked on the frame, which had collected all sorts of debris. The crevice tool on the vacuum worked well for this job, sucking up all the crumbs from every nook and cranny. Another wipe down with a damp cloth (and some Mrs. Meyer’s All Purpose Cleaner), and it was time to reassemble. Truthfully, it took me longer than it should have, because I kept forgetting to slide all the attachments onto the shoulder straps in the correct order. But the seat looks (and functions) like new, and I’m happy that this expensive piece of baby equipment will get some more use.
Packed and ready to deliver to its new occupant.
I keep saying I’m going to clean out the freezer, but it never seems to happen. Just wishing doesn’t make it so, apparently. But this week I’m planning meals around what I find in the freezer: a couple of lonely steaks, several pounds of stale bread, sausage, bits and bags of frozen fruit. In the fridge, I’ve got eggs and a bunch of vegetables to play with. By the end of the week, I should be one step closer to the Great Freezer Purge of 2012. (Sounds fun, doesn’t it?)
Monday: T-bone steaks (for the adults), meatballs (for the kids), baked potatoes, green beans
Tuesday: Spinach and cheese strata, green salad, fruit smoothies
Wednesday: Pasta with cheese and Italian sausage, kale (salad or cooked?)
Thursday: Sandwiches (the perfect summer, no-prep meal)
Last week on Home Baked
Food processor mango sorbet
Rotating seasonal clothing
For such a dull sounding project, this one was fraught with all sorts of angst and self doubt. Being at home with the kids is a messy job, and I hate to invest in clothing that will inevitably suffer multiple stains and abuse. On the other hand, I don’t want to wear stretched out yoga pants and a t-shirt all the time (I save those for painting clothes!). I love wardrobe makeover shows, but too often they show outfits that are just not practical for working at home (the original British What Not to Wear was the exception–they chose clothing appropriate for how people actually spent their day, rather than artificially dressing them up). On a style scale between “Frumpy” and “Trendy,” I aspire to fall somewhere in the middle on “Classic.” I’m not ashamed to admit that Lands’ End is my favorite clothing retailer, and the phrase “statement jewelry” makes me shudder.
Just before school let out, I swept through the kids’ closets, pulling out all the outgrown clothing and winter wear. It probably took me an hour, total, to complete all three kids’ wardrobes. I flew through the decisions: if it was too small, too stained, or an item the child didn’t like and wouldn’t wear–out it went. Easy.
But when faced with my own overflowing dresser drawers, winter and summer wear jumbled together, I could only look on the pile of clothes with dismay. If I pulled out everything that was too small, too stained, or that I didn’t like, what would be left? But I sorted them anyway.
All the winter clothes went to the top shelf of the closet or the storage box under the bed. I sorted what was left, and did pull out half a dozen items to donate or put in the rag bag. Then I made a stack of “stuff to wear around the house” and “stuff to wear in public,” and put it neatly back into the drawers.
In any case, I’m nowhere near solving my style dilemmas, but at least my dresser drawers are tidy. I’ll keep reading style blogs like Ain’t No Mom Jeans (sometimes too trendy for me, but at least they’re practical!) and try not to succumb to $4 t-shirts at Target that look pilly after two washes.
Did you know you can make fruit sorbet without an ice cream maker? We do have an ice cream maker, and I was ready to use it yesterday to make mango sorbet, but stumbled upon this easy method because I began with frozen mango (an impulse buy at Aldi) instead of fresh. If you have a food processor in your kitchen, but no ice cream maker, this recipe is for you.
The texture of the mango lends a creaminess to the sorbet, and the lime juice is a tangy contrast to the sweetness. Miss Six doesn’t like mango (she’s not a big fruit eater), but she asked for an extra scoop of sorbet. I’m not sure the food processor method would work with just any frozen fruit, but it might be worth experimenting. And if you want a sugar-free fruit “ice cream,” try this one made with frozen bananas. That’s next on my list!
Into the bowl of the food processor, put 1 lb. frozen mango chunks, 1 cup of simple syrup, and 2 Tbsp. lime juice. Purée until smooth. Serve immediately (it will be like soft serve ice cream), or transfer to a covered container and freeze until ready to serve. Best served within a few days.
This week’s menu is brought to you by my Number One Husband, who enjoys dreaming up menus in his spare time. As I come from a family that sits down to one meal and ends up discussing what to make for the next meal, you can see why I keep him around. He also did all the grocery shopping on Sunday with Little Four in tow, made dinner, and put a big pot of vegetable broth on to simmer. I will probably cook most of these meals, but it’s a relief not to be responsible for the plan. With so much of my usual Monday routine already complete, I might find the time to dig into a good project this week! (There’s always trim to paint…)
Sunday: Tuscan chicken with grilled fennel and onions, grilled potato wedges, brownies
Monday: Pad Thai
Tuesday: Picnic Supper–Big Sandwich, deviled eggs, watermelon
Wednesday: Quesadillas with leftover chicken, guacamole, salsa, refried beans and rice
Thursday: Grilled salmon, broccoli, rice
Friday: Homemade pizza (toppings: shaved asparagus, leftover roasted fennel/onion/tomato)
Last week on Home Baked
In case you missed them, here’s a round up of Home Baked posts from the last couple of weeks:
Applesauce Bran Muffins
Stone Fruit Pie with Streusel
Moving the dishes to kid-height
PVC Bike Rack
Which do like better, planning a meal or cooking it?
I love getting out of bed before the kids. It doesn’t happen very often. In fact, if I plan to get up before they do, someone inevitably hears and pops out of bed ready to start the day. So much for a quiet half hour with my coffee.
But yesterday morning I hauled myself out of bed in a desperate attempt to silence the cat, who was going door to door, loudly trying to rouse someone to fill his empty dish.
So. I was up, and my husband had already filled my coffee cup. A good time for some muffins, before the children started caterwauling, too. They came out of the oven just as the first riser stumbled down the stairs for her dose of morning television.
Applesauce Bran Muffins
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1 Tbsp. baking powder
1/2 cup wheat bran
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 cup olive oil (or any vegetable oil or melted butter)
1 cup applesauce (I used unsweetened)
1/2 cup maple syrup
Heat the oven to 500 degrees F. Grease 12 large muffin cups and set aside.
Whisk the dry ingredients together in a large bowl. Whisk the liquid ingredients together well (I add them to a 2-cup glass measuring cup and whisk them right in the cup). Add the liquids to the dry ingredients and stir together no more than 20 seconds. I like to use a large spatula to make sure I scrape everything off the bottom of the bowl.
Scoop the batter into the prepared muffin tin. Put the tin in the oven and immediately reset the temperature to 400 degrees F. Bake 15-20 minutes, or until the muffins are golden brown and a skewer or toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. Serve warm.
It seems like just the other day that I cleaned out the drawer of plastic kids’ cups and dishes, eliminating the sippy cups and mismatched lids that nobody uses anymore. Turns out I just didn’t go far enough.
Our everyday dishes and glasses live in the upper cabinets over the sink and dishwasher, convenient when I’m unloading the dishwasher. But it’s not so convenient if I want the kids to help set the table or put away some dishes, or even serve themselves a bowl of cereal. It’s time for a little rearranging so they can become more self-sufficient.
I emptied the drawer, wiped it down, and washed the baskets (seriously, where do all those crumbs come from?). Then I sorted. We still use the water bottles regularly, as well as a few plastic snack bowls. I moved the plastic cups to the new water cooler spot on the porch, and the plastic plates to the bin of picnic supplies in the basement. Hiding behind the baskets are thermoses for school lunches, Snack Traps (Little Four uses them on outings), and reusable kid cups from Sweet Tomatoes (bring your cup back and the drink is free).
Then I relocated our smaller Corelle plates (inherited from my grandmother), cereal bowls and glasses to the other basket. All of these are sturdy, kid-sized, and nothing is precious or irreplaceable if it breaks.
I think my next project had better be creating some self-serve snack stations. They’re going to need something to put on those plates.
Summer vacation has begun, with its visions of long, lazy days. The reality is that too many lazy days make us all cranky (I’ve already intervened in three arguments just while writing this post). If anything, I need to be more diligent about meal planning and scheduling our time so that we can enjoy our days without scrambling for dinner or wasting precious hours running to the grocery every day–never a good idea with three hungry kids. I also need to lay in a supply of snacks and park a cooler on the porch with ice water and cups. This week is going to be all about preparation and trying out some new routines (scheduled computer time, library time, daily school review time, play outside time, swimming lessons). We might need to bust out some poster board and make a chart! That should eat up about 30 minutes today…
Monday: Grilled artichokes and spaghetti with cheese and black pepper
Tuesday: Turkey burgers, sesame noodles
Wednesday: Grilled chicken, tzatziki potato salad (for the children who hate cucumbers but love tzatziki!)
Thursday: Pork fried rice, stir-fried green beans
Friday: Nachos and mango sorbet (with frozen mango chunks)–It’s Family Movie Night!
Breakfast and snacks: Blueberry muffins, granola bars, whole wheat cheese crackers
What are your favorite easy summer meals?