Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Candy-free Easter Baskets

I love spoiling the kids in my life when it comes to holidays and birthdays. I know life isn't about presents, but it's so cute to see their little faces when they get a surprise! :)

My nephew can slam some chocolate so he is the exception here and will be gifted some candy, but I have never seen these 3 little girls' parents feed them chocolate. Never. Maybe they do, but I've never seen it so I don't want to give their kid something they don't usually let them have.

So this is how I create an Easter basket that contains no chocolate. Note - this is a random assortment of characters because I pulled things from each basket. I guess a kid could be into both Batman and Ariel, though.
  • Socks - you can find these really cheap just about anywhere in cute designs. One of the girls in deep into Curious George but it's near impossible to find merchandise other than online. Hopefully this monkey-who-clearly-isn't-George will be a good stand-in. :)
  • Crazy straw - I got these for the older kids to make drinking out a real cup more fun
  • Flash cards
  • Stickers - I will claim amnesia when these end up on the inside of the car window. What stickers? I would never give a baby stickers!
  • Slinky - the jingle says it all: it's a wonderful toy
  • Ellie is obsessed with balls and we might throw them around the house when I watch her. I thought a really soft one might be better for our little game
  • Crayons - you can never have too many, plus Batman!
  • Clothes - Target and Babies R Us always have cheap ($30$5) separates on sale in the spring that are just too cute to pass up! To keep things cheap I got 1 piece for each kid, either a shirt or leggings in some pattern or print that matches their personality. I got ones for Agnes with little ballet shoes on them since she's enthusiastically been watching ballet recently
  • Bubbles - all the kids love them. Bonus points if Uncle Dave pretends the bubbles are poison and have to be popped before they touch his skin!
  • Character trinkets - these are cheap from Party City and might not last more than a month, but they'll provide some entertainment while they last. 
  • Band-aids - they make these for just about every character (except Curious George!)

Other ideas:

  • Puzzle
  • Movie, book, or CD (Agnes will probably get the Annie soundtrack if I can freaking find it - why wouldn't they make the original soundtrack more available since Annie is a thing again? I refuse to buy her the new version. I'm an Annie purist.)
  • Temporary tattoos
  • Colorful hair bands
I had to control myself - every time I brought home a bag from Target or Party City I got the side eye from Dave. He knows the baskets are overflowing at this point - that pair of heart pants in the picture is teetering on top only secured by the tissue paper surrounding the basket handle.

I already mentioned that my Batman- and Bubble Guppies-loving nephew will get some chocolate since he loves it, but each little girl is just getting a snack-size bag of veggie sticks because they all love them! Dave can pound some veggie sticks too - he eats like a toddler!

I found the baskets at Party City for $1.79 and used some Dollar tree ribbon and washi tape to dress them up for Easter:

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Apple Cinnamon Quinoa Breakfast Bake

I bought a bunch of quinoa and we haven't been using it as frequently as I thought we would. I love it as a side with our dinners instead of having rice all the time, but to switch it up a bit I decided to make something sweet with it. Not sure how healthy this is, but it's probably better than cake, right?

Here's what you need (I used this recipe from POPSUGAR and modified it a bit based on our tastes and what we had in the pantry):
  • 1 cup uncooked quinoa
  • 1 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1 tsp. nutmeg
  • 1-2 apples, depending on their size (I used 1 huge Honeycrisp)
  • 1/4 cup Craisins
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 cups almond milk (use whatever kind of milk you like, you just need the liquid)
  • 1/4 cup agave (recipe called for maple syrup)
  • 1/3 cup almonds, chopped

It was really easy to put this together:
  • stir together quinoa, cinnamon and nutmeg
  • pour into greased 8x8 pan
  • add layer of diced apples
  • add layer of Craisins
  • in a separate bowl, whisk together eggs, milk, and agave/syrup and pour into the pan
  • stir a bit to make sure everything is saturated
  • sprinkle chopped almonds on top

Bake at 350 degrees for an hour - when you take it out it should be mostly set but there may be a little bit of liquid that will disappear as it cools.

Once it cools to room temperature, cover and put it in the fridge overnight. In the morning, cut a piece, throw it in the microwave and enjoy!

I hope you enjoy it, because I didn't. Quinoa has no flavor - it's all about what you add to it - so if I make this again, I'd throw everything into a bowl and combine so the quinoa is coated with all those delicious flavors. Assembled according to the recipe, the egg/milk mixture didn't penetrate the quinoa layer - so it tastes like apple/craisins/egg/milk/almonds on top of baked quinoa rather than one cohesive "breakfast bar". Blech.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Fayth's Housewarming Party

My friend's MIL invited some friends, family, and coworkers over for a fun craft day!

She recently moved into a new house, so she gave us the grand tour - her craft room is awesome! Her husband built her this desk with tons of storage for her various crafting pursuits. Everything was perfectly organized, in true Fayth fashion.

You can tell that she has put her heart into every detail and every inch of this house. This vignette displays some family photos and handkerchiefs belonging to her mom.

Ellie-belly came with us, and she was the main entertainment for the day. We spent time reading books and putting all her stuffed animals down for a nap. Ellie was insistent that she wasn't tired, but she wanted her friends to be rested, I guess? ;) She's very independent these days and was practicing putting on and taking off her shoes and socks.

Eventually she gave up and just put her shoes on her hands. Whatevs.

For the crafting portion of the day, Fayth had stations set up where we could practice wood carving, cross stitch, card making, and/or make ornaments out of plastic beads. I waited for my turn while watching how the others fared - the woodworking looked easier than it actually was.

Fayth had a ton of crafting beads in several colors, so we created ornaments in whatever pattern we wanted. Once we created a design with the beads (I made a simple rectangular shape using University of Richmond colors), she melted them in the oven for 20 minutes to create a stained glass effect. Then she used a Dremel to drill a hole for the string.

She had little goodie bags for us all to take home - what a nice hostess!

It was fun spending the afternoon with some people I already love and some new ladies, and I always love playing with my Ellie-belly! :)

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Charlotte turns 2!

The kids in my life are growing up entirely too fast! I can't believe my nephew is already 4 and will be in school soon! Agnes is 3 going on 16, and little Charlotte is already 2! How did this happen?!

We celebrated her birthday last weekend with lots of gifts and cake, as you do. The party was at her house so she was in her comfort zone. I love this art wall her parents have created - it's her own little art gallery in the family room!

She got a ton of gifts and had a great time tearing the tissue paper out of the bag and throwing it, to reveal whatever awesome thing was inside :)

She got a little shy when we sang to her - can't blame her. I don't like all those people looking at me either! So she stayed close to mama's side and then blew out her candle.

Happy birthday, pretty girl!

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

2015 Fauquier Seed Swap

Bonnie has been honing her gardening skills over the last few years and she's had great success! I, on the other hand, have managed to grow some lilies and the occasional herb, and killed multiple other varieties of botanicals. I keep trying though, and Dory says that counts.

Last weekend we went to a seed swap in Warrenton, organized by Outlaw Garden, to trade in some seeds we have leftover from previous years for new kinds. It was a free event, but we were on the honor system to make sure the amount of seeds we took for ourselves vs. left for others was about equal.

To prepare for the swap I went through my seeds - I thought I had a whole box full, but turns out I only had zucchini and butternut squash. I must have done a purge last summer. I put the extra seeds into a baggy and added a label that included the sell by date. The rules of the swap said they could be up to a few years old, so these passed. I used one of my green Mason jars to hold the seeds, some ziplocs just in case and a Sharpie for labeling the bags once I got my new seeds.

Once we got to Warrenton and figured out where to park - small town Virginia gets you every time! - we were greeted by this adorable display by Haute Cakes Pastry Shop. How cute are these garden-themed cupcakes?

They had the tables organized by type of seed - flowers, herbs, root veggies, squash, etc. - to make it easier to find something specific:

I ended up with chives, cantaloupe, and morning glory flower seeds. But the real haul for me came back in the car when Bonnie went through all the seeds she brought to potentially swap and gave me some of her stash! Plus, she went back into the swap for more once we saw more people showing up, and came back with okra for me!

After the swap, we decided to take the scenic route home down Route 29, and stopped at Lee Highway Nursery on a whim. It had an outside garden center, and inside they had gardening-related decor, some wine, canned goods, and pet stuff. It was a weird combination of things for a garden center but I like quirky places like that.

Then we went further south on 29 and made it into the town of Culpeper. We had some lunch and then stopped at Shenandoah Garden Spot, which I felt like we'd been to before. The smell was familiar when we walked in, but it could have been a smell that reminds me of little shops in Amish country - combination of candles, flowers, fruit, and wood? You know that smell.

Then we went to Lowe's and Target (a BFF day isn't complete without a Target run) and then headed home. I'm very happy with my haul for the day and can't wait to start some seedlings inside! I need to figure out what window in the house gets the best sun and get to planting!

Here's my haul from the day:

If you're interested, Sneed's Nursery on Huguenot is having a seed swap this Saturday (March 21st) at  noon!

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Lentil Tacos

We're trying this whole meatless Monday thing to save some money, and I think I dig it! As long as the meal has protein to fill me up, I don't miss the meat.

One week I made lentil tacos. Mostly because I had some lentils leftover from a terrible soup I made and I wanted to use them up. I like lentils, just not in the ways I've made them before, so this recipe was sort of a make it or break it for me. You know that vacation you go on with a group of friends, and you either come back closer or you never speak to them again? That was this recipe for me and lentils - glad to said we did not go our separate ways, and we'll definitely be making this again! :)

Here's how you do it:

  • In a large pot, saute 1/2 and onion and 1 garlic clove, just for a minute or two
  • Add 1 cup-ish of lentils and 1 tbsp. of taco seasoning and stir it all together
  • Add 2 cups of broth (I used chicken broth because I had it in the pantry, but use what you like)
  • Bring to a boil and then reduce to simmer for 20-30 minutes
    • Keep checking on it and stirring every 5 minutes or so - I ended up adding another 2 cups of broth because the lentils seemed very dry
  • When the lentils are soft (the consistency was like refried beans), add 1 cup of salsa and stir

That's it. How easy is that? We served these in soft tortillas with typical taco toppings, and some Spanish rice on the side.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Exploring RVA: Southern Season and Southerly

I heard some strange reviews of Southern Season when it first opened - they ranged from "OMG THIS IS AWESOME" to "meh, it's for blue hairs" to "too expensive, waste of time". So we finally went to check this place out and see what could cause this broad range of reactions.

I kind of see where the confusion comes from. For a person like me who loves specialty grocery stores, kitchen gadgets, and paper goods, it's great because all that stuff is in one place. But why? It's like Sur La Table, Papyrus, and Whole Foods somehow had a baby. Identity disorder.

It would be a perfect place to just wander around looking for the perfect, random gift for someone - they have sections for wine, tea, greeting cards and adorable note pads, tea towels, small kitchen appliances, pot/pan sets, and Dave's two favorites: coffee and ginger ale! Haha.
Yes, he practically stuffed his face into the jar to smell the beans. 

This was during #nospenduary so I put back all the random things I collected while we perused the aisles. Can't remember what they were now, so they must not have been anything I really needed. :)

Once we were finished browsing Southern Season, we walked next door to their restaurant, Southerly.

There was a 45 minute wait when we first got there (before we browsed the store), which was weird because the place was practically empty. ? We got a pager that never went off, but when we wandered back over there they said our table was ready. Were you going to just wait until we decided to come back?

We were seated by the bar, which was pretty full, and the bartender was our server. This meant very slow service for us because he forgot about us a few times because he was distracted by his other customers that were sitting in front of him. He didn't write down our order, which BUGS me. We ordered the deviled eggs as an appetizer, which arrived we got our entrees and asked about them. He forgot to add them to our order that he didn't write it down.

Our entrees were really good - Dave got the salmon (sweet tea-glazed, EW) and I got the shrimp and grits because when that's on the menu, that's what I get. Every time:

We both wanted dessert but couldn't agree, so we got two. He got the peach crisp served with a scoop of vanilla ice cream - I thought it was great, but Dave didn't like the crisp part. Not sure what that means. I got the peanut butter and jelly tart, which was frozen. So that went well. What I tasted was very good, but I didn't have time to sit there until it thawed to enjoy it fully.

Needless to say, we won't be back to the restaurant, but if I need a gift for that person who is hard to shop for because they have everything, I'd go back to Southern Season to find the perfect item. 

Thursday, March 5, 2015

2015 Books to Read

If you read my 2014 Books Read post, you know that I have a goal to read more books this year. More means more than 2, which is how many I read last year. I'm ashamed.

I hope to reading 15 in '15 because it's trendy and catchy, but I'll be happy if I average 1 book per month. Here's a list of books I want to read this year, in no particular order:

  • The Devil in the White City
  • Silver Screen Fiend
  • The Eyre Affair
  • Paper Towns
  • The Handmaid's Tale
  • Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children
  • The Heretic's Daughter
  • The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay
  • Black Mass
  • Yes Please
  • In the Heart of the Sea
  • Cordelia Underwood
  • Orphan Train
  • Lost Girls
  • I Capture the Castle
  • Anne of Green Gables
It's a combination of memoir, fiction, nonfiction, and YA, so hopefully the variety will keep it interesting. Also, I realize this is 16 books, but I'm sure there will be at least 1 that I hate and can't finish like the abomination that is Gone Girl.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Cauliflower Pizza Crust

Sometimes we get in a rut and make the same meals over and over. So in an attempt to make something I know we both love (pizza) but make it a little healthier and feel like a new recipe at the same time, I tried making a cauliflower pizza crust!

I'm sure there are hundreds of different ways to do this, but I used this recipe from The Lucky Penny Blog since it didn't call for any weird ingredients or fancy equipment:

To avoid rewriting her process, here are the basic steps to make this - it's super simple:
  • put a head of cauliflower (chopped without too much stem) in the food processor to make pieces the size of rice
  • cover and microwave the cauliflower rice for fish minutes and then dump out onto a thin tea towel or cheese cloth; let it cool for a few minutes so you don't burn yourself on the next step (not that I know it burns from personal experience)
  • wring all the water out of the cauliflower inside the towel; do this over the sink since you don't need any of the liquid
  • dump it into a bowl and add the other ingredients; stir with your hands to get it all mixed together
    • 1/4 tsp salt
    • 1/2 tsp basil
    • 1/2 tsp oregano
    • 1/2 tsp garlic powder
    • a few shakes of crushed red pepper
    • 1/4 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
    • 1/4 cup mozzarella cheese
    • 1 egg
  • use your hands to form it into a crust on your parchment paper lined pizza pan/stone
  • press to make it firm and make sure it is an even layer - not too thin or too thick
  • bake for 8-10 minutes at 450 degrees
  • add whatever sauce/toppings/cheese you like and put it back in the oven until the cheese is melted and golden on the edges
Dave was skeptical of this recipe because he doesn't like cauliflower. I made sure he had other dinner options this night in case he hated it, but he liked it! I think I could have baked the crust a little longer to make it more crisp, but it did firm up a bit as it cooled. I'll play around with the times when I make it again.