August 30, 2010

Don't You Wish Your Fridge Was OCD Like Mine?

To anyone who has come over from my mom-in-love, Farmgirl at My Field of Dreams, thanks for stopping by! I'm glad you're here and I hope I don't talk your ear off. :D

This is actually a Random Monday post, but I just really wanted to use that title. 10 points to the first person who gets the reference.

Every time my eldest brother in law comes over, he stares at my fridge and asks what it's all about. Then he says something like "Wow, Meg! You're so organized!" My mom says the same thing too, except she giggles and calls me anal as well. So today I share with you my (current) system so mayhaps I can get second opinions that say something like "Oh my goodness, you're a genius!" Or "Hey! Good idea!" instead of "Heh... you're a little "special" darling..." Bro-in-law also says he wished his office looked like mine, so I think he thinks my organizational skills are awesome. In which case he should get a high-five.

First for your OCD viewing pleasure... my white board. I had this living in my closet for a long time and finally decided to put it to use when I was tired of throwing away the inventory sheets I had originally. I hot glued little magnets to the back so it sticks there. In the upper left side goes the current contents of leftovers, the bottom left goes condiments, and ingredients that will perish soon, and the upper right is produce. This way I know what's in the fridge and it's a reminder of what needs to be eaten and how long it's been in there. (Ignore the measurements, that's for a shelf.)

This is my grocery list. I might have talked about this before. I can't remember and am too lazy busy to look through my previous posts. I always wound up forgetting things when I went to the store and I hated doing the "Oh shoot, I forgot to get [blank]" as soon as I got home. So I spent a day or two compiling a list of things we keep on hand and ingredients for dishes I make often. Then I opened up Word and made a list, by category, of those items. Now I just check off what I need as I run out, and when I need to go to the store I have a reference there of what I need to check before I leave (like toilet paper). Works perfectly. I also spaced it out so I can fold it in fourths for ease of carrying.

Now to the fun stuff! My mom-in-love said on her blog that I post great pics of the boys, and it's been awhile since I've done so. So here you go!

Duder looking at me expectantly for pancakes and raisins. He was a hungry man this morning.

The boys lounging and watching Veggie Tales. Goofballs. They're speech is coming along so well. I asked Jack why he turned off the TV and he looked at me and said "Cause it's over." Oh! Ok then!

Our potato bush is the last big of color we have left on the property. Ben picked this yesterday, by accident, when he wanted to moved it from going through the fence posts and it ripped off. He said it was so pretty he hated to throw it away, so I ran to grab the vase. I really do love our potato bush. It has such gorgeous color. I will be very sad when the flowers are done for the year. But it will also mean it will be cold. I had to wear a jacket yesterday because it was so chilly and I LOVED it. It was great.

Knitting! Because I know that's what y'all come here for. ;)

The Sock! I knit most of this on Friday at my mom-in-loves. It was a very productive knitting day. I only had about an inch and a half of the toe done when I got there, and I worked all the way up to that stitch marker on the left side. Which means I even turned the heel while I was there. I really thought I was going to finish the sock that day. But alas, I did not. I now have the leg portion to do. I've decided that I will just do ribbing until I run out of yarn.

This is how much yarn I have left for this sock. I think I might get knee-highs. Hehe.

And the shawl... Oh my goodness the shawl. I decided I would do another repeat of a chart from clue 3, to make it a bit longer since I am using smaller needles than it called for. I have 37 rows left. Which doesn't sound so bad except for the fact that there are over 1,000 stitches in each row. I believe it takes me 15 minutes to do one single row, and that's just on plain knit rows, not the lace pattern ones. So I still have a bit longer to go. Then the lace edging. But I'm not giving up! I will finish this thing, because I want to start a new one and I'm not letting myself until I finish this one.

Also, I have to share this because it is SO cute - Stan loves this shawl. Mr. Doesn't-usually-cuddle will crawl into my lap when I'm knitting this and snuggle into it. Unfortunately, he also likes to chew on my stitch markers, so I have to boot him off. But I just thought it was adorable.

Whew! Long post! I really do think I talk too much. Must be the southern in me. If you made it to the end here, congratulations! And thanks for sticking around. ;)

I did all my laundry and cleaning on Saturday, so now I have nothing to do today. I guess I'll just have to knit... Darn. I hope y'all have a great Monday!

August 25, 2010

What's Cookin': French Bread

One of my Domestic Goals is to make french bread. And not just french bread, but Really Good French Bread. I have had this goal for a very long time (since I started making bread over 3 years ago, really). The one recipe I had been using was from the Betty Crocker cookbook.

Now, I love my Betty Crocker cookbook. My mom-in-law gave it to me when I got married and I have cherished it deeply. It is marked and tagged and covered in food (the signs of a well loved cookbook). However, I have come to the conclusion that the French Bread recipe in the Betty Crocker cookbook is crap.

For a long time I thought I just sucked at French Bread. It was never going to happen. There was really just no hope and I should just give up and stick to Whole Wheat and white breads. My attempts at french bread always turned out flat and hard, with a lame texture. (Lame is the best word I could come up with to describe it. Just go with it.) The taste - a sourdoughish flavor - was good, but the fact that it never really rose and just turned into one big breadstick turned me off.

Then I joined the Cooking From Scratch forum on Ravelry. It just started about a week ago, and I am a founding member. (If you are a part of Ravelry, I highly suggest this group. If you are at all into fiber arts or crafts, I highly suggest Ravelry.)

So I put a plea out to the girls. Please, does anyone have a good French Bread recipe? The Betty Crocker one has failed me on many occasion. Please someone tell me it's not just my poor pathetic attempts.

LuisaCA (her Ravelry name - I'm guessing her real name is Luisa) answered my call and gave me a recipe for "Stretch Bread". It sounded horribly easy. And fast! It didn't call for the 4+ hours of refrigeration that the BC recipe did. So last night I tried it, to have with dinner.

And it worked. It turned out great! It tastes just like french bread, it looks like french bread, it even crackles like french bread. It was delicious and wonderful. It's a little flatter than I had hoped, but I could have let it rise longer. I was impatient. I wanted to try it and eat it. I double the recipe, and I'm so glad because now I have extra bread to munch on. So here is the recipe from Luisa, so that you too can have wonderfully easy Real Good French Bread.

Stretch Bread (Pane Francese)
1 envelope active dry yeast or (2 ½ tsp)
¼ cup warm water (110 F)
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp salt
3 cups AP flour (preferably unbleached)
1 to 1 ¼ c ice water
Activate yeast in the warm water for 10 minutes. Mix 3 c flour, sugar, salt in large bowl. Add yeast mixture and 1 c cold water. Mix slowly then med for 5 minutes. ( I use an Kitchen Aid mixer) Dough is a “wet” dough.
Let dough rise until doubled about an hour.
Shape loaves:
Sprinkle counter with 2 Tbs flour. Divide dough in half, form into 2 loaves. Sprinkle lightly with flour. Cover with plastic wrap lightly sprayed with Pam. Cover, let rest 30 minutes. Carefully lift & stretch dough to 12-14 inches. And place on greased or parchment lined baking sheet. Cover loosely with the plastic wrap again. Let rise until puffy 10-15 minutes. Slash tops in about 3 places, or however you like. Place in pre-heated 475 F oven, lower temp to 425, bake 20-30 minutes. If you are not sure about testing for doneness by the tap-to-hear-if –it-sounds-hollow method, you can use an instant read thermometer poked in an unobtrusive place. It should register 190-210. After done, turn oven off and leave oven ajar for another 10 minutes for a crisper crust. This bread has an open crumb with a rustic look.

I think you could fudge a sourdough taste with this one as well by refrigerating the loaves just like the BC recipe. I would say stick them in during the rise before you stretch it and let it sit over night. Just a guess though, haven't tried it.... yet. 

August 21, 2010

FK: Footies

Finito! (Or however you spell it.) Hoo boy that was close. I did what I (badly) explained yesterday. I ticked back both socks to where the heel ended, the did a mini cuff for about 1/4 inch and bound off. I took the rest of that yarn and added it to the second sock and continued in the same fashion. And looky how much I had left....

15 inches - I feel like a knitting ninja! (Just to toot my own horn a bit.) It got kinda scary for that last bind off...

Pattern: No pattern! Just toe up socks with a short row heel and a bebe cuff

Yarn: Regia Jacquard Color in, uhh... "5270" - 1 (50g) ball

Needles: US 1/2.25mm Susan Bates Quicksilver dpns for foot
US 0/2mm Susan Bates aluminum dpns for tiny ribbed cuff

YTD Mileage: Since I used just about the whole ball, I'll round it to the full amount (229 yards) giving me a new YTD total of 3.32 yards

I have a few dishcloths I've done that I need to add up for my total as well. With my shawl, I just might hit 5 miles by the end of the year!

Saturday of Stuff

A post on Saturday? Yes! I doesn't happen very often but I have some pictures to show you.

This is Gus Gus. He is the most hilariously chubby cat I have ever seen. (I named him after the fat mouse in Cinderella.) The resident kitties were wandering around yesterday. I put some food out for them, to see if they could eat "big" food yet. This little dude had no problem... He ate quite a bit in fact.

We were originally going to take the calico, but she was pretty scared and feisty. This guy though, would just lay down and roll over when we touched him. Not a peep, not a fuss, just happy to be pet.

He's so mellow. We gave him a bath last night, and after he was done and I was drying him off he just plunked down and fell asleep in my lap.

He's no stranger to food. I put him down in front of the dish last night and he chowed away. The problem with the last two stray kitties we've tried is they wouldn't eat. I'm glad he has no problem consuming food.

Stan does not like him. At all. He's been hissing and punching poor Gus. Gus just takes it. Then Stan gets in trouble for beating up the baby and goes and throws a fit. This morning he went and tossed the cat sand out of Gus' box. Stan is a tool. He'll get over it.

I realized last night that I never did show you guys the shed completely finished. Here it is in all it's glory. Ben roofed it two weeks ago and we promptly moved all our crap it. He's happy to have his garage back, and I'm happy to have our bedroom closet back. It's been a very nice addition.

All in all it cost about a grand, which is only a fraction of what it would have cost us to buy one of the brand name *ahem* "Rough" Shed. Ben looked them up and for one of the same size it would have been almost $4k. We scored big by doing it ourselves. We will use the shed as our testing ground for new house colors.

Here is a picture of our engineers going over the plans at the beginning.

I'm two rows away from finishing that pair of socks, and I should have yarn leftover! Project post to come soon (probably this afternoon). Also, my early mornings have payed off. I have 7 rows til the end of chart 4 for the mystery shawl. I will stick in another repeat or two of other charts to make it a bigger shawl, then I will be done. I'm hoping I can get at least one more shawl in my the end of the year.

Stay tuned!

August 20, 2010

One Of These Things Is Not Like The Other

There comes a point, in almost any knitter's life, where this fear rears it's ugly head. You're knitting along on a project, when you look down and suddenly realize you're nearing the end of your yarn, while you still have a few inches to go. You continue knitting, sweating bullets the whole time, hoping and praying you have enough. Sometimes you will get lucky and just barely make it. Or sometimes you finish and still have a lot left. This time though...

See that gimp little purple end sticking up from the top sock? That's the end of my ball. And I don't have another. I made it two rows past the heel and completely ran out. I couldn't even finish binding off. I was filled with disappointment, then rage (Why the CRAP didn't I buy two balls?? And why, WHY didn't I weigh the finished sock against the remaining yarn to see if I could make, especially since I knew I only had one ball?...), then problem fixing as I decided what to do next.

I figured I would just frog both socks and use the yarn for a baby hat. Or toss them in the "in progress" box and leave them forever to think about what they've done....

Then I decided I'll just rip back the first one to the same spot of the second and split the difference of the yarn I would get between each to make slightly shorter, but even socks (make sense?). I think it will work (emphasis on think).

Next time, make sure I've bought more than one ball.

August 19, 2010

What's Cookin': Bean Soup

A few years ago Ben attended a party for a friend and had beans that he has been raving about. He wants me to recreate these Amazing Beans, but as I have not tasted them I don't know what I'm going for. He tries to give me little descriptions every now and then and tells me what needs to change when I make beans. He says they were "soupy", so the other night I made this pot of bean soup. He said it was delicious (and close) so now I need to write down the recipe before I forget it.

Bean Soup
1 lb dried beans
1/2 of a large onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 C's worth of chopped carrots
2 ribs celery, chopped
6 strips bacon, chopped
6 oz ham, diced
8 cups of liquid (I used half home made chicken broth, half water)
2 bay leaves
1 tsp dried thyme
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
Salt & Pepper to taste

Sort, rinse and soak the beans overnight. Drain.

In a (very) large pot, cook the bacon until crispy. Add the ham and all the veggies. Cook until onion is softened. Add beans, seasonings and liquid. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for about 2- 2.5 hours, or until beans are done to your liking. Adjust salt & pepper as needed. Serve over rice if desired.

This pot made 5 servings for dinner, a serving for Ben's lunch, 5 servings for dinner the next night, another lunch serving... And I still have probably 2-3 servings left. Have I ever stated how much I love beans and how they can feed an army with just one pound? It's awesome.

And they were most excellent the next night. The flavors came together more while they sat and made it even tastier. I just stuck the whole pot full in the fridge and when I got home last night I pulled it out and put it on the stove. Easy peasy.

Happy Eating,

The Sinking Funds, And Why They're Awesome

No, we're not getting a new kitchen sink any time soon.

We got our car registration renewal yesterday. It's a fairly large amount of money. Ok, actually if I can just rant a little bit.... $237 for a STICKER?!? Really California? Really? On the bright side, it is actually down from last year... *rolls eyes*

Anyways. Yes, large chunk of money. But we can pay for it no problem! Without having to forgo food or diapers or pray for a bonus.

Back in my budget post, I talked about how we were adding up our yearly expenses and dividing that number by 12 to get a monthly amount to set aside. Because we've stuck to our budget and done that, we now have enough to cover the car registration (and the smog check. We just bought the car a year ago and they want a stupid smog check...)

I later learned that what we're doing was adding to what are called "sinking funds", defined as such:
A fund accumulated to pay off a corporate or public debt.

Obviously we don't have a corporate or public debt, but the idea is the same. You save up the money to pay it off in a big chunk later.

I created a spreadsheet using the instructions from Family Balance Sheet, and added and subtracted categories to fit our needs. The above is our sink funds. We are able to do it all from one savings account (with the exception of the E fund. That is in a separate account that earns higher interest.) By using the spreadsheet I can see how much money we have in each "fund", compare it to our savings account balance, and any extra amount goes onto the "KS Savings" line. This way I know what we can and can't touch for each expenses.

It's worked out beautifully. In fact, the sinking fund is what made it possible for Ben to build the shed. I love the spreadsheet as well. At any time I can pull it up and see our balances on anything we have. Our debts get a strike through when we've paid them off, so we can see our progress. It's great. I highly suggest making one for yourself.

August 18, 2010

Self-Made Serenity

Since Monday, I have been getting up at 5 am.

For about a month now I have been grouchy, short tempered, easily angered, impatient (more so than is usual for me), and complainy (it's a word, I just made it up.)

I have felt like I'm drowning. Like I couldn't breathe. I've been snapping at the kids, which breaks me heart, and I'm pretty sure all Ben has heard lately was me complaining about something-or-other.

And I realized.... I've had NO time to myself. No time for just quiet. No time for relaxing. No time to just sit and ponder and just breathe. Naptimes are either a noisy fight to get them to actually sleep, or are filled with me running around to get chores done while little ones aren't underfoot.

I know. I have kids. Time alone is rare, and I feel like I sound horribly selfish for saying "I just want to be alone for a little while!!" But I know there's other mommas like me, on the edge of exploding (or running away....).

So I decided that I was going to start getting up at 5 - an hour before even Ben is up - to have time to myself. It's been difficult. The first day was easy, but yesterday and today have been a little harder. And it would be so easy to turn my alarm off and drift back to sleep. But I've stuck with it so far, and you know what I've noticed?

I've been more patient.

I haven't lost my temper as easily.

I feel like I haven't been as grouchy.

I feel a little lighter.

I guess it's working, this whole time to myself thing. I've been getting some shawl knitting done, since I don't have little hands trying to "help". It's been very nice.

And I've enjoyed the wee morning hours. It's still dark, most of the world is still asleep. It's fairly cool, and walking out in the damp grass this morning to try to get a picture of the sky felt delicious on my feet. (That's not my picture, by the way. All I got was black.)

I wonder, does it make me selfish? Does it just sound horrible to say that I need time to myself? I feel like a bad mommy, saying I just need some time without them. But I guess if the alternative is snapping at them and being impatient all the time, I'd rather be a little selfish in the morning.

So, if you're going crazy too... maybe you could get up at 5. ;)

August 17, 2010

Life's a Peach

This morning, I (finally) got around to processing the rest of the peaches from my mom-in-law's tree.

14 cups, mixed with a bit of sugar and lemon juice, bagged in 2 cup portions and ready for the freezer to join the other bags I did previously. And that doesn't include the ones that were too bruised/bugged and beyond saving (which wasn't a ton, but still). And now, a list of things I learned while skinning, chopping and bagging.

1. It really does make life easier to cut a slit on the bottom, dunk the peaches in boiling water, then ice water (like I do tomatoes). I tried just peeling them with a knife. Having the skins slide off is much easier.

2. My giant bowl from the 99 cent store is most awesome. It holds a TON of peaches (not literally, but maybe close) and was only 99 cents. It makes an excellent produce processing bowl.

3. I do not want to see another peach for a very long time...

4. I need to figure out what to do with them once I build up the nerve. Syrup, cobbler, butter, leather...

5. Either mom's tree or her hive of bees, I'm not sure which, is overly enthusiastic about it's job. My take wasn't nearly as large as my sis-in-law's, and there was still a lot left on the tree.

6. I now need to psych myself up to clean the peachy mess in the kitchen.

7. Standing in one place for two hours makes my backside hurt immensely. I don't recommend it.

8. Iced tea and cookies make it better. Just sayin'.

August 10, 2010

FK: A Very Quick Pair of Socks

I finished these socks in two weeks. Yes! Two weeks. That's amazing! One sock a week! I've been diggin' the plain stockinette stitch. Although I think I'm just about ready to go back to my shawl now. These are for my youngest bro-in-law, who has been waiting very patiently for his socks. Now he will have them for when it gets cold.

 (Sorry for the crap picture - it's hard to photograph one's own feet. And yes, that is our retarded cat trying to attack my foot.)
Pattern: No pattern, just plain toe up socks

Yarn: Knit Pick's Essential (which is now Stroll) in "Ash" - 2 balls (I started a new ball for each sock as to not have to join ends in the middle. I used about 2/3 of each.)

Needles: Body - US 2/2.75mm Knit Picks Harmony wood
Ribbing - US 0/2mm Susan Bates aluminum

YTD Mileage: Weighing in at 77 grams that gave me approximately 356 yards, these bring my new total to 3.19 miles!

August 4, 2010

FK: A Little Bag for a Little Miss

Last week my sister-in-law said to me that she wished I would make a bag for Miss H just like I had made my son. She explained that Miss H likes to carry things, but has no where to put them so she just stuffs them down the front of her onesie. I laughed and said yes indeed, she does need a bag. I wanted to make her a purse, because she is so girly and just a bag would not be good enough. I made this one with a flap and a button, and as you can see it's all pink and girly. It's about 7" x 5 1/2" so it should last her a good long time.

Pattern: Miss H Purse by Meg 
(I will try to put together a usable pattern for others to work from, if I can write it to actually make sense. Heh.)

Yarn: Lily Sugar n' Cream Stripes (100% cotton) in "Pinky Stripes" - 1 ball

Needles: US 6/4mm aluminum DPNs and same size straights for the flap

YTD Mileage: Weighing in at 57 grams this bag puts me at 2.99 miles! So close to 3!

August 2, 2010

Your Weekly Dose

Hello Readers! It's Monday, and you know what that means... Yep, randomness. I wonder if I'll ever get back to having one topic posts. Although I guess I did do that one on check registers. But who cares about that?....

I have to start you off this morning with a picture of my boys reading their books. It was very cute. They would comment on each others pictures and talk about what they were reading. I'm especially happy with them because we had a very successful potty training weekend. And this morning they've already gone twice each. Very nice since I was just about on the edge of giving up after months and months of feeling like we weren't getting anywhere.

The shed continues. We got the roof shell up Saturday. All that's left now is the roof siding, the shingles, the door and the trim work. And this sucker is huge. 10'x12' is a lot of shed. Our neighbor had mentioned needing a permit for structures over 8 feet tall, so last night I looked it up on our local county site and sheds only need a permit if the floor is bigger than 120'. Phew! Just made it! That made us giggle.

You will not believe how much knitting I have gotten done in the last week. Plain ol' stockinette socks make for easy brainless knitting.

I started that sock last Sunday night. Yup. It's done. Pretty crazy huh? Just needs to be test fitted on the foot it's intended for. What makes it even more special is it is my first toe up sock. You can see the beginnings of it's twin right above it. And I realized - I LOVE toe up socks. No heel flaps (although you could if you wanted), no stitches to pick up, no grafting the toe. Just knit all the way up and bind off, with a short row heel in the middle.

I loved it so much that I cast on a sock for myself using my one singular skein of Regia self striping Jacquard. I'm not sure I have enough yarn for a whole long pair, so I'm going to make anklets. I've used the figure 8 cast on for each sock and although it's a little fiddly at first, it's very nice. The best part of toe up socks?

You can try them on as you go. It's awesome!

And now, a bushel of links. Over the last few weeks I've found a bunch of sites while perusing the internet that I have wanted to share with you all. Enjoy!

Food & Cooking
Still Tasty - Want to know if that open can of tomato sauce is still good to eat? If you'll die from eating those leftover scrambled eggs? This is where to find out! I've used this site a ton over the last 2 weeks.

Mexican Zucchini Casserole - My mom-in-love gave me a few zucchini last week, including a very giant one. I was originally going to shred and freeze it for future use in Z bread, but then this morning I got an email from Taste of Home with this recipe. Perfect! I think we'll have it for dinner tonight.

I found a really awesome way to menu plan while perusing the internet last night from Simple Mom. I'll be going through the rest of her website soon, it looks like a good place to frequent.

Home & Garden
Old Fashioned Living - This can go under food too, as they have lots of recipes. It's a nice site with a TON of articles of various things for living simply and old fashioned. I found it by looking for information on cilantro.

After attempting to find the time to create a few spreadsheets for y'all (all that knitting got in the way ;P), I was reminded of the website He's got a TON of worksheets for just about everything you might want. Go check it out!

Today's knitting links are all about socks!
Want to know how to do a figure 8 cast on for toe up socks? Take a looksy here, the figure 8 is in the middle.

Need to know how to work the short row heel? This is the tutorial I found, and it's awesome.

And of course, you need to bind off. Try Jeny's Suprisingly Stretchy Bind Off! It really is surprisingly stretchy. Amazingly so, actually. A perfect bind off for anything you need to be stretchy, not just sock tops!

Happy Monday! Also, Happy August! How did that happen?...
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