Friday, November 18, 2011

Domestic Stuff

Today as I was making my menu plan for next week, I started feeling domestic. And that inspired me to post a blog about domestic stuff. Now, "domestic stuff" is a very general term, and a lot falls into that category, so I thought I'd just briefly touch on some of the domestic stuff I do (or should do) that might help someone else feel domestic too, and get stuff done.

Menu planning -
Some people have very elaborate menu plans - we're talking worksheets, lists, rotations, etc. I'm not that hardcore. I just write down a few recipes to make next week, and then make sure I have all the ingredients for them. In fact, most of the time I don't even do this. But I should! When I menu plan for the upcoming week, I'm always glad that I did. It's so much easier than standing in front of the fridge/freezer/pantry at 5:00pm, hollering to James, "Honey, what do you want for supper?"

Freezer meals - 
If you've been following my blog for a while, then you know how I feel about freezer meals (see this post) - I love 'em! If you have a weekend where you don't have much going on (ha!) you could set aside some time to make a bunch of meals to freeze. Or, if you're making something for dinner that would freeze well, you can make a double batch, eat one, and freeze the other. I do this frequently with meatloaf. Most freezer meals you can just pop into the oven while frozen, although if you thaw them it will take less time to cook.

Organizing -
Ok, so I'm not so good at this one, but I'm working on it. It doesn't help that we just moved and are still trying to find a permanent place for everything. At any rate, I've been reading a lot of organizing blogs lately. Some of my favorites are I'm an Organizing Junkie, I Heart Organizing, and A Bowl Full of Lemons. Here's a little disclaimer: don't feel like you should be doing everything that these ladies do. You will feel like a failure. I'm pretty sure they don't do anything besides organize and blog, because honestly, who has time for all that. So while I feel that these blogs are a bit unrealistic, they do have some really great tips and ideas. I love reading them. They really inspire me to get organized, although that hasn't quite happened yet.

Cleaning - the green way
No, I'm not a tree-hugging hippy. I'm a mother of two kids, and I want to do everything I can to keep them healthy. And if it's also better for the environment - bonus! When I was pregnant with Isaac, I bought some natural bathroom cleaner because I didn't want to be breathing in all those harsh chemicals. I felt good about it, so I've been slowly trying to buy more green products, or using natural products to clean, like vinegar and baking soda (you can add a few drops of essential oils if you want to mask the vinegar smell). Before we moved into our new house, I cleaned the entire fridge/freezer out with vinegar (well, I wiped it out with soapy water first, then cleaned it with vinegar). I would have used bleach, but I didn't want to use something so harsh on a surface where we store our food. Don't get me wrong, not every cleaner I own is green, but I'm making an effort.  Here's a good link on making your own household cleaners. If you would rather buy it than make it, I've heard great things about Shaklee and Mrs. Meyers, although I haven't tried either of them.

Saving money -
Lets rewind a minute - back to homemade cleaners. Not only are these better for your family and the environment, but they're cheap! A big jug of vinegar costs, like, a dollar. Baking soda is even cheaper. I really want to try making my own laundry detergent (I like the idea of knowing exactly what's in it), but I'm hesitant because I have a high efficiency washing machine and I don't want to void the warranty by using something other than HE detergent, even though I've heard it's okay to use in HE machines. Anyway, from what I've seen, homemade laundry detergent ends up costing around 3-5 cents per load. That's crazy cheap. A few homemade things I do plan to try are dishwasher detergent, and hand soap. Don't worry, I'll be sure to blog about them when I do. :)

Another, more obvious thing you can do to save money, is use coupons. Duh, right? Saving 50 cents on two boxes of crackers might not seem like much, but if you were going to buy those crackers anyway, why not save 50 cents? It adds up, every little bit helps, and all those other cliches that we've all heard a hundred times before. If you have more time, you can pair coupons with sales and really save a lot. Check out sites like Totally Target and Hip2Save. They do all the hard work for you. You just have to print the coupons.

Whew, ok that's all for now folks. I'm all domesticated out. Now go forth and meal plan/cook/organize/clean/save money.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

S'more Bars (A.K.A. The Most Delicious Thing EVER)

To know me, is to know that I love anything and everything s'more. In fact, one time when we went camping with my in-laws, my mother-in-law thought it would suffice to bring chocolate graham cookies to use for the s'mores in place of regular old graham crackers and Hershey's bars. Clearly, I chastised her sufficiently for that misdeed, because she never did it again.

So when I ran into this recipe while perusing Pinterest, I knew immediately that it was going to be my new favorite thing ever. And I was right. It is ah-freakin'-mazing!

Here's what you'll need:

1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg, room temperature
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup graham cracker crumbs (about 8 full graham crackers)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 Hershey's chocolate bars
1 1/2 cups marshmallow Fluff

First you need to cream together the butter and sugar. Add the egg and vanilla extract and mix it in. Next add the flour, graham cracker crumbs, baking powder, and salt. Technically, you're supposed to mix those last four ingredients together, and then add it to the butter mixture, but I never actually do that.

Next, press half of the dough into an 8x8 baking pan.

Place the chocolate bars on top of the dough.

Then spread the marshmallow Fluff onto the chocolate bars. This step proved to be slightly difficult, as the marshmallow Fluff kept wanting to lift the chocolate bars up.

After the marshmallow layer has been spread, flatten pieces of the remaining dough with your hands and place them on top to form the top crust.

Bake it in a 350 degree F oven for 30-35 minutes. When the timer beeps, get ready for nirvana.

Now, the person who posted this recipe (whom I have the utmost respect for) says that you should let it cool completely before you delve into it's deliciousness. This is where we disagree. You see, when God made s'mores, He meant for them to be enjoyed in all their warm, gooey glory. A room temperature s'more? Blasphemy! I let them cool for about 30 minutes and then proceeded to eat half the pan. Kidding... sort of. In fact, when I had one the next day, I actually put it in the microwave to warm it up before diving in. That is how I recommend eating them.

And there you have it, my friends - my new all-time favorite recipe ever. Ever!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Homemade Tomato Soup

This post is long overdue, but I knew I'd get around to it eventually. I made homemade tomato soup about three weeks ago. I'd like to say that I finally have time to cook again, but that is certainly not the case. I am, however, slowly trying to make time to branch out and make things out of my normal repertoire again. Two little kids and a lot of unpacking really gets in the way of cooking nice meals.

My dad grew tomatoes this year, so I was going to use those. But by the time I got around to making the soup, the tomatoes were rotten. :( Then my co-worker, Mrs. Z, stepped up and brought me a bunch of tomatoes from her brother's garden! So, I was able to use fresh tomatoes, which really is the way to go if you're going to make soup.

Anyhoo, here's what you need:
  • 4 cups chopped fresh tomatoes
  • 1 slice onion
  • 4 whole cloves
  • 2 cups chicken broth
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons white sugar, or to taste
Now, I doubled this recipe because that's how many tomatoes I had, but I think a single batch would have been fine. We just froze the rest, though, so now we can have a hot, delicious bowl of tomato soup anytime.

First, you want to chop the tomatoes and the onion and throw them in a big ol' pot. Then add the cloves and chicken broth, and let it simmer for 20-30 minutes to let the flavors meld. Here's the thing, I only put six cloves in because I was worried about the flavor of them being too strong, and boy, was I ever right! Even with only six, the cloves kind of overpowered the soup, which is not what I wanted. Next time, I'll only put two cloves in.

Once the tomato mixture has simmered for a while, you'll want to either put it into a really good blender (I used my parents' VitaMix) or run it through a food mill so there are no chunks. Unless you like that kind of thing. Ew.

Then make a roux by melting the butter in a stockpot over medium heat, adding the flour, and stirring it until it's a golden brown color. Add a little of the tomato mixture and whisk it so there are no lumps, then add the rest of the mixture.

And voila! There you have it. Homemade tomato soup.

This is a great recipe. I would even venture to say it's perfect if it wasn't for the excessive clove taste. Next time, it'll be perfect. But until I get more fresh tomatoes next summer, it's Campbell's for me.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Adjustment Period & Shiny New Things

When a person moves to a new home, there are all sorts of things that you need to get used to. For example, the noise the the refrigerator makes, or how you like the thermostat set. I had an interesting experience one morning last week. Alex was sleeping, Isaac was watching cartoons, and I was in the shower, when all of the sudden, I hear the smoke alarm going off. With a body full of suds and hair full of conditioner, I jumped out of the shower and tried to find which alarm it was. It was hard to tell, because it echoed throughout the entire house. The entire time, Isaac was at my side saying, "Mommy, what that?" I finally figured out it was coming from the smoke alarm in Isaac's room, down the hall. I wondered if maybe the steam from my shower set it off, so I waved my towel in front of it, and it stopped. So I hopped back in the shower. A minute later, my shower was interrupted again by the same smoke alarm. As I was getting out to make it stop, the hall smoke alarm went off, too. I went into Isaac's room and unplugged that alarm. Then I tried to unplug the one in the hallway, but it's hardwired into the electrical system, so I couldn't figure it out. I finally tugged on some random cords and it came unplugged, but was still beeping! So I quickly grabbed my cell phone and called James in hopes that he could instruct me on how to turn the darn thing off. Seconds after he answered, it went off. I guess it has a battery backup that made it keep working after it had been unplugged. James pointed out that that must be why the previous owners had removed all the batteries from the smoke alarms... who wants them going off every time you take a hot shower? Mercifully, Alex slept through the whole ordeal. What a wonderfully hectic start to my morning, though.

In other news, we bought a new dishwasher yesterday. The one that came with the house is a piece. The soap dispenser doesn't open, unless you're able to jerry rig it so the dispenser isn't all the way closed, which usually consists of it popping open while I'm closing the door several times before I get it right. Plus it's really noisy. I look forward to being able to have a conversation in the dining room while the dishwasher is running. Plus, Isaac kept wanting to turn the dial and push the buttons on the old one. This one has all the controls concealed on the top side of the door, so he won't even know they're there. Our new one gets delivered tonight. Can't wait to run a load and test it out!

Ain't she a beauty?