Sunday, February 24, 2013

Recipe Roundup

Lots of people joke about Pinterest being a great way to waste time.  I don't consider it time wasted--not when it gives you things like this.  Below are my results with a few recipes discovered on Pinterest.

French Breakfast Muffins from Velvet Lava.  I made these yesterday, and they are pretty amazing.  They have my favorite muffin texture, which is dense, slightly crispy, and crumbly.  They have a cinnamon-sugar topping that is fantastic, but they were actually quite easy to make.

Baked Avocado Fries by Baked In.  I love avocados, but can't find enough to do with them (other than guacamole), and they seem to go bad so quickly.  Enter avocado fries.  They are a bit messy to make (check out the author's hands in her post to get the idea), but the results are great--creamy avocado inside, crispy breadcrumbs on the outside.  I like them with ranch dressing, but Jordan thinks they are just fine on their own.

Creamy Tomato Tortellini Soup by Recipe Swagger.  Mmmm, I love tortellini.  And tomato soup.  So, here is the best of both worlds.  I think that the next time I make this, I might use the homemade tomato soup recipe I have from Martha Stewart instead of the Campbell's, but even with the canned stuff, this is pretty good.  A sprinkling of bacon pieces on top wouldn't go awry, either.

Banana Oat Breakfast Cookies by Watching What I Eat.  These were a bit of a miss for me.  They tasted pretty good at first.  But, then next time when I got another one, they were damp.  Like, not just moist, but damp.  Cookies aren't supposed to be damp (they were stored in a Ziploc container on the kitchen counter, by the way).  I like the idea of these cookies, though.  Jordan and I eat granola bars as an afternoon snack, but they kind of freak me out.  I suspect that they are really just candy bars masquerading as health food.  And, have you ever looked at the ingredient list?  The ones we were eating contained glycerin.  Like, soap.  So, I would like a healthy cookie/ bar recipe without a lot of sugar to replace the store-bought stuff.  Any suggestions?

Yay, for Pinterest!

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Bathroom Closet Organization; or, Novel Uses for Shoe Organizers

I like for things to be organized.  It makes me feel good, and it calms some vaguely panicky nerve in the back of my mind that whispers, "something is unsettled."  Clearly abnormal, I know.  However, for the last few months, every closet in our house has been is a state of unsettled disarray.  I finally got around to tackling the bathroom/linen closet. (Pantry, you are next!)

I can't believe that I am showing the messy contents of my closet, but, you have to see the "before" to get the big picture.  Since I have organizational inclinations, I own things like fabric bins.  I also have some genetic impulse to save things that I don't necessarily need, like old shoe boxes and college-era shower caddies.  So, a fairly cobbled-together organizational system that isn't really working.  I especially like that the shoe box holding our meds is sitting askew on top of toothpaste and contact lenses.  Nice.

First, I pulled everything out.  Here, you really get the full effect.  Lots of stuff.  In random collections.  Although I love having the closet where it is, it can be a bit annoying because it is both deep and narrow.  I got the idea for using a pocket shoe organizer from a YouTube channel called HomeOrganizing.  The woman in the video uses hers on the back of a bifold door, but, of course, it works just as well on a regular door.  The only problem I had with mine is that it was wider than the door, so I had to fold one column of pockets back.  It is still functional, it just doesn't look as nice as it would on a wider door.  

I sorted everything into various categories by row and then by pocket.  So now, I have a pocket that just holds headache meds; one pocket just for sunscreen; etc.  I would like to find a way to label the pockets, but I haven't quite figured that out yet.  The two fabric bins went back on the shelf: the larger one has oversized items, like the packages of cotton balls and cotton swabs.  The smaller bin contains beauty products that I consider "seasonal"--I'm not wearing bright pink nail polish in winter, so there is no point in keeping it with my regular makeup.  Overall, I really like the outcome.  Now, our sheets are on a shelf all by themselves (by the way, placing your folded set of sheets into one of the pillowcases keeps everything neat and together).  I can access everything and know exactly where it is.

Here is a little bonus shot of my vanity drawer.  It is really shallow, but it works for this type of stuff.  The white bins came from Wal-Mart and the clear ones came from Bed, Bath, and Beyond.

So, it seems a bit strange to be showing off my closets and drawers, but I thought the shoe organizer was a really useful tip, so I wanted to pass it along.  Anyone have any special tricks for organizing bathroom items?

Saturday, February 16, 2013


Spring is coming.  I am feeling a bit ironic as I write this, since I am sitting in front of a window watching the snow falling.  I live in a place where snow is rare and exciting, and I wouldn't have it any other way (on both counts).  But, still, it will be warm before we know it, flowers will bloom, and my students will decide it is tanks-and-shorts-weather.  There are things I like about each season, but I think most people really look forward to spring each year.

I have already been out in the yard, working.  This is our first year of owning "a bit of earth" as Mary says in The Secret Garden.  When we lived in our apartment, I longed for a yard.  Last weekend, I raked out flower beds and set out bulbs.  Yesterday, we took advantage of the warmer weather and completed some epic tasks: transplanting a crepe myrtle, a dogwood tree, and a small magnolia, as well as pruning all the crepe myrtles.  It was very hard, messy labor, but I loved it.  And, even though all our work is being currently covered over with a blanket of snow, I know that beneath the soil, the plants are getting ready.

Spring is a time of preparation.  For Christians, we prepare to celebrate Easter.  Although many of us, especially in Protestant churches, don't give the days before Easter as much thought as we do about the weeks leading up to Christmas, I certainly think that this is a perfect time for reflection.  This year, I am working through an Easter devotional recently published by my friend Kirsten, called Consider the Cross: Devotions for Lent.  It contains 40 days of devotions that reflect on the last week of Jesus's life before the crucifixion.  What I appreciate about the book is that although it is not a heavy, exegetical study, it is a serious reflection that asks some really intriguing questions.  The goal, as a Christian, is to always know Christ better, and this allows for such an intimate look at this point in His life.  I will be doing a more in-depth review later on, but right now, if you are interested in adding an Easter devotional to your day, you should certainly check this out.

Lent is an interesting word, by the way.  If you are Baptist, like me, you might view the word with a bit of suspicion.  Growing up, my only exposure to the concept was hearing Methodist friends discussing what they were "giving up" for Lent.  At a conference last year, a fellow panelist offered me the cookie that came with our box lunches, explaining he had given them up as a Lenten vow.  "Sure, thanks," I said, "I'm Baptist, we eat our cookies all year."

The word lent comes from an Old English word for spring (actually from a word that means "lengthen"--as the days get longer in spring.)  The word was adopted in the Middle Ages by the church to indicate this period of preparation during which many people fasted, prayed, and reflected on the Cross.  While I am not planning on giving up cookies this year, I do think that observing a period of reflection is a good idea, no matter what denomination you are from.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Help Me Guess What's Growing in My Yard!

It's time to play "Help Me Guess What's Growing in My Yard!"  Since we moved into our new house in August, we haven't had a lot of time to pay much attention to the yard.  The previous owners were fond of plants (though not necessarily of landscaping or design), and the property is covered with a variety of plants, particularly shrubs and ornamental trees.  Jordan's dad identified a few things for us, but others remain a mystery.  So, I am looking for help--do you recognize any of these?

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Baby Bright Afghan

Although this afghan began life as a different project, it became clear pretty quickly that it was just meant to be a baby blanket.  Although the pattern isn't difficult, it does eat up a lot of time--mostly because I agonized over each color combination for each block (I really didn't want any repeats).  I have seen a few afghans like this where the outer rounds are all the same color (or two colors) and I really like that look as well.  This is a great project for using up your loose ends; just don't give yourself a deadline for this or you might go crazy.

One innovation I introduced with this afghan is a slit in the middle (look at the pictures again, you'll see it!).  This feature was actually requested by my brother-in-law; they like to throw a blanket over the baby's carrier, but he says that it is hard to grip the handle through a blanket--so, voila!  Dad can grab the handle and baby stays warm.

The other neat thing I figured out while working on this was how to organize the rounds as I was working.  All the little bits had a tendency to disappear into my work basket, so I strung them onto one of the flexible cords that came with my interchangeable knitting needles and put the stoppers on the ends.  This way I could add and subtract without any problems.

Well, clearly there is now a knitting/crochet void in my life.  However, expect an update sometime soon featuring knitting with Cool Whip bowls.  Yes, I kid you not.  It is pretty awesome.  

Monday, February 11, 2013

DIY Heat Pack

I have been wanting to make this project for a while now after seeing similar things on Pinterest (check out this cute one).  I have migraines that make my neck and shoulders really tense and having a nice hot pack to drape around my neck would be fantastic.  Unfortunately, the only time I would think about making it was when I actually had a migraine, and that just isn't happening.  But, finally, this weekend, I pulled out the materials and set to work.  Here is what you need:

  • 1 standard size pillow case (makes six packs)
  • Long grain rice and/or deer corn (each pack holds approx. 4 cups)
  • Essential oil (I used a sinus blend containing eucalyptus, peppermint, and lavender) 
  • thread

  • scissors (or rotary cutter and mat)
  • sewing machine
  • measuring cup with pour spout

I started by washing, drying, and ironing the pillow case, then cut it into the three strips.  I sewed up the open sides, but not the top (just turn inside out and sew a straight seam), giving me three long pouches.  I had originally planned to make just three packs this size, but realized they were excessively long.  So I cut them in half and sewed up open bottom seams.

I filled three of the bags with rice.  It is a bit tricky getting the rice into the opening, but using a measuring cup with a spout and going slowly helps.  After pouring in about half of the rice, I added 2-3 drops of the essential oil and shook it a bit to disperse.  Be careful not to over-fill the pouch: otherwise it won't drape nicely.

For the other three bags I used shelled corn (also called deer corn).  In theory, the corn holds the heat longer than the rice, but I think both work just fine.  I found the corn at Tractor Supply Company.  I added essential oil to these as well.

Once the pouches were full, I turned the open edges inward about half an inch (almost like make a reverse cuff).  I ironed a crease in, and then sewed a straight line across.  I know I could have made a prettier finish on these, but it was quick and functional.

I ended up with six of these, and we tried out a rice pack and a corn pack, putting them in the microwave for 1 minute 30 seconds with half a cup of water for safety.  They felt fantastic and smelled amazing.  While I am not looking forward to my next migraine, at least now I will have something soothing to put on my neck.  I think these would also work great for lower back, knees, or anything really.  And, they would make a great gift!

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Thinking Pink: A Few Things for the Niece

My sister is expecting a baby girl in the middle of March.  We had a shower for her last weekend, which was lovely and sweet and all kinds of pink.  I completed the booties and bonnet just in time.  The patterns were actually easy and quick--knitting for babies is so rewarding.  The bonnet is an old-fashioned pattern using the feather and fan stitch that makes that pretty ripple, and the booties were made using this pattern, which features the ringlet stitch.  I think that next time I will use a smaller needle on the booties.  I also have pictures of the afghan I made, which I will be posting soon.

Can't wait to see little Sara Joan wearing her new things!

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Homemade Beauty: Dry Skin Scrub and Mask

Winter is famously rough on dry skin.  Mine is fairly parched most of the year, but becomes painfully dry during the winter--rough, flaky, red, and blotchy.  Dry skin is often also sensitive, and many products (even ones formulated for "sensitive skin") can irritate it further.  So, I've been hanging out in the kitchen.  The scrub recipe comes from my mom (also a dry-skin-sufferer).  It is quite simple--just mix a bit of plain sugar and enough olive oil to make a paste.  I take this into the shower with me and very carefully exfoliate my face.  Pressure is key here--very gentle circular strokes.  The idea is to polish away the dead skin, not sand off your epidermis.

I follow the scrub with a homemade mask.  I did a bit of research, looking at ingredients found in products formulated for dry skin, and I found that oatmeal, honey, and chamomile were mentioned frequently.  So, here is what I put together:

1 tbs brewed chamomile tea
1 tbs oatmeal
1 tsp honey

Mix the three ingredients together in a small cup and microwave 10-15 seconds.  Stir and let sit until it looks like the kind of oatmeal you would eat.  Apply to face and wait 30 minutes before removing.

I didn't want to be brewing chamomile tea every few days, especially if I only needed a tablespoon of it.  So I brewed two cups in a mason jar that I keep in the refrigerator.  When I want a mask, I just splash out a bit into a tea cup, add in the oatmeal and honey, and microwave.

The mask can be a bit tricky to apply--if the mixture is too runny, it will slide off your face; to thick and it won't spread.  While wearing it, you will look a bit leprous, but the results are worth it.  My face is smoother and less red.  I follow up with a good moisturizer (currently the Simple Replenishing Rich Moisturizer).

I really like the little jars that once held diced pimentos for containing the scrub.  What are diced pimentos for?  Glad you asked: check out the Pimento Cheese Recipe here.  Interested in other homemade beauty recipes?  Check these out.