Monday, March 26, 2012

Martha Monday--Spring cleaning

It's spring here in the Midwest. Well, scratch that. It was winter, then it was summer, and now back to almost winter, so spring must be coming soon.  Any minute now, in fact!  And spring means cleaning.

Though I must you know what really puts me in the mood to clean?  It's not the's watching Hoarders. Nothing makes me want to clean quite like watching that show does.  Shudder.

Of course, Martha is a whiz when it comes to spring cleaning. She may have even invented it. 

Honestly! Look how happy she is! I'm nowhere near that happy when I'm cleaning.  I can only guess her happiness is due to the fact that she invented spring cleaning, and now it's a cultural phenomenon.

Note to self: invent something that becomes a cultural phenomenon. Bonus points if it includes ice cream and cake! 

My plan for the weekend was to spring-clean the entire second floor (four bedrooms, two bathrooms and one laundry room) but all we accomplished was cleaning the kids' rooms and simply vacuuming the rest. It's certainly not as much as I hoped to get done, but it is a start.  

One of the great tips I got when I was reading over Martha's list of spring cleaning basics is to clean the curtains, and that did happen for the kids' room.  So while we only tackled a few rooms, we got them completely done. 

Well, mostly almost completely done. Don't look at the baseboards.

Instead, look at this ice cream and cake! It's part of this new thing I've invented!

Happy Monday, everyone!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Starting from seed

Last year, all my vegetable plants (with the exception of pole beans) entered my life as seedlings. This year, almost everything will be from seed.  I bought seeds for Little Miss's farm birthday gardening activity, and once I started planting them, it just seemed the route to go for this year's garden.

Twelve days ago the kids and I started our King of the North pepper seeds from Seed Savers

We used a Burpee seed starting kit I bought on clearance at the end of last season. It came with these fun pellets of seed starter mix that expanded once they were wet. 

Clearly, it was really entertaining to watch them expand. The process was quite interesting.

Once the pellets had expanded, we planted the seeds. I let the kids do this part and they had a lot of fun.

So now we have 25 pepper seeds planted, and hopefully all of them will germinate and grow into fine seedlings and plants. 

I'm not sure I'm a start-from-seed gardener, but I have high hopes for this method.  After all, I'm totally thrilled with how my first two homegrown projects are turning out.

Have a great weekend, everyone!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Homemade applesauce

Apples don't last forever, and in my house store-bought apples lose their appeal after a few days. So why I continue to buy them in five pound bags is beyond me. But I abhor waste, so the weeks-old apples, by now all shrively and soft, have to be eaten.

But what to do with these apples that no one will eat so that everyone will want to eat them?

Homemade applesauce FTW. Aw yeah!

Making homemade applesauce is a breeze. So easy, in fact, that I didn't even use a recipe.  I just made it. Here are the steps:

1. Peel, core and dice apples. How many apples? That's up to you--it depends on how much applesauce you want.
2. Put the diced apples in a saucepan, cover with water and boil until soft.
3. When the apples are fork-tender, drain the water and dump the apples into a food processor.
4. Process those apples!
5. Add some cinnamon and sugar.  How much?  That's up to you!
6. Add some lemon juice. An amount somewhere between a teaspoon and a tablespoon. Or not.  It's totally up to you.
6. Process some more.

Once the apples are smooth, it's ready to eat! Or, if you prefer warm applesauce, return it to the saucepan and heat it up for a minute or two.

It's delicious!  And so much better than the stuff that comes in the little plastic cups.  I'm looking forward to batches and batches of homemade applesauce when our apple trees start producing, but until then, I'll satisfy the craving with all of the on-the-brink-apples already in my kitchen.

Which I continue to buy.  In five pound bags.  Sigh.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Martha Monday--Martha's Entertaining

I finally got my hands on Martha Stewart's Martha's Entertaining: A Year of Celebrations.  And it's amazing. 

Martha's Entertaining is an inside look at a year's worth of celebrations as planned, coordinated and executed by Martha Stewart.  All celebrations were authentic: they were done for that particular holiday/occasion, and nothing was staged.  What a refreshing change from the usual magazine schedule...for magazine layouts, they often shoot a feature or story 6-8 months in advance (such as a Christmas scene staged in the month of June). But for this book, the parties and soirees were real events hosted by Martha throughout the year.  Awesome!

The book is divided into times of day: Mornings, Afternoons and Evenings. Every single holiday was given its due, from Easter to Halloween to Thanksgiving to Christmas. Several dinner parties, cocktail hours, family breakfasts and picnics are also included, and formats ranged from very formal to completely relaxed.

Martha's Entertaining contains a ton of beautiful pictures about every aspect of each event: the food, guests, decorations, preparations, setting, etc. 

A large section at the end of the book contains recipes and how-to instructions.  No matter what you are planning, this book is sure to provide an invigorating dose of inspiration.

Have you seen this book? If so, what did you think?  I love the glimpse it gave into Martha's life.  Everything is so beautiful and it seems totally effortless to make it happen.  Though I know better--events are a ton of work, and Martha has an entire staff to do that work for her. 

Now, more so than ever, I want to live her life.  Or maybe be reincarnated as one of her dogs.  Either way, that's a win-win.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Broccoli chowder

Last week, I put making Martha's broccoli cream soup on my to-do list. Then, a friend (Hi, Cori!) suggested I might like Lulu the Baker's cheesy vegetable chowder.   Both soups looked delicious, and I just couldn't decide which one to I created my own soup by combining the two recipes.

Everybody wins! Especially me, because the result was absolutely delicious. 

For the most part, I stuck with Martha's recipe (minus the onion), and added shredded carrots, diced potatoes, and 1.5 cups of cheddar cheese as suggested by Lulu the Baker.  And because calories don't exist in my world, I increased the amount of heavy cream from Martha's recipe from 1/2 cup to 1 whole cup.  Calories?  What are those?   

Technique-wise, I definitely deviated from Martha's recipe:  I didn't run the soup through the food processor after cooking. Instead, I ran the broccoli through the food processor before adding it to the pot, making sure that all pieces were small-to-medium size and not completely pulverized.  I wanted this soup to be a meal by itself with chunks of vegetables, and that's exactly what it is. 

Note: the soup stores wonderfully in the fridge, so don't be afraid to make a big batch and have leftovers.  This mash-up recipe is incredibly easy to make and quite a satisfying meal.  Enjoy!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

St. Patty's Day fun

Today, I want to share some fun St. Patrick's Day ideas that I've pinned:

I'm loving the homemade shamrock shake, the mint chocolate chip cookies and all the fun treat ideas for kids. 

In case you want to have some St. Patrick's Day fun of your own, there are some great FREE printables on the Catch My Party blog.  I am really liking this "Preppy Plaid" collection from MJ Paperie, especially the beer bottle labels.  Cute!

I hope everyone has the luck of the Irish with them this weekend!

A TMI PSA: don't drink and drive.  Or text and drive. Or drink and text.  Well, maybe that last one isn't so bad, but still, it's better to be safe than sorry!

Monday, March 12, 2012

Martha Monday--St. Patrick's Day fare

St. Patrick's Day is all about the gold, the shamrocks, the leprechauns...and the corned beef and soda bread, which is what I usually focus on.  This year, I might change it up a bit and make a few other Irish-themed dishes and treats for St. Patrick's Day.  Thanks for the inspiration, Martha!

I'm liking this Irish Beef and Stout Stew:

This Cheddar-Topped Shepherd's Pie is going to be a huge hit with my family:

Irish Beef Hand Pies?  Yes, please!

After any of those hearty meals, Irish Coffee Cupcakes would be a delicious dessert:

Topped off with a Hot Nutty Irishman, of course!

What are your plans for St. Patrick's Day?  If nothing else, make sure they involve a hot, nutty Irishman. He sounds like a lot of fun!

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Resale mania!

There are several children's clothing resale events in the Fox Valley area over the next few weeks, and I am excited about every single one of them.  As you know, I am a big fan of resale, thrift stores, garage sales, etc.  It's a great way to find gently-used kids' clothes, supplies, housewares, books and more for a fraction of the original cost.

Little Miss, having just had a birthday, is all stocked up on spring and summer clothes. My Little Guy is a different story, though...he is growing like a weed and will probably need a all-new (well, new to us!) clothes for this summer.

Here's where you can find me searching for Boys 6-7 spring and summer clothes:

John Shields and McDole Elementary PTO SPRING/SUMMER CLOTHING & TOY RESALE
Friday, March 9th, 6-9pm and Saturday, March 10th, 8am-1pm
at the Sugar Grove Community House, 141 S. Main Street in Sugar Grove

Items include: spring/summer clothing (including infant, children’s and boys' through size 16, girls' through junior size and maternity wear); infant and children’s shoes/sandals, spring coats, pajamas and athletic apparel; infant and children’s toys, games, puzzles, books, videos, jewelry and sports equipment; baby gear including strollers, highchairs, pack 'n plays, nursery room d├ęcor, etc.

Note: Please bring a laundry basket to hold your purchases while you shop.  Cash and Checks only.
For more information, see their facebook page:

Tri-Cities Mothers of Twins and Triplets Club CHILDREN'S CLOTHING, EQUIPMENT & TOY RESALE
Saturday, March 17, 8am to 1pm (Half-price yellow ticket sale is 11:30am to 1pm)
at the Mooseheart Field House at Route 31 and Mooseheart Road between North Aurora and Batavia

Items include:  baby equipment & furniture; season-appropriate children's clothing (sizes infant thru Preteen); shoes; outdoor equipment, toys, games, DVDs, books; dress-up; bedding; and much more!  Beverages and delicious baked good available for purchase.

For more information, visit their website:

DuPage Doubles Mothers of Multiples Club SPRING/SUMMER RESALE
Saturday, March 10th, 7am-1pm.  Doors close at 11:45am and reopen at Noon for half-price pink tag sale.
at the DuPage County Fairgrounds, Main Exhibit Hall, 2015 Manchester Road, Wheaton.

Items include: baby equipment and furniture; children's clothing sizes preemie through teens; maternity clothes; shoes; outdoor equipment; toys, games, videos, books; bedding, and much more!

Note: Admission is $1.00 per person. No strollers allowed, bring a laundry basket for purchases. Cash and personal check only.  For more information, visit their website:

Friday, April 27, 10am-7pm and Saturday, April 28, 10am-3pm (half-price sale)
at the Kane County Fairgrounds, Trades 1 Building, 525 S. Randall Road, St. Charles.

Items for sale include:  clothing and shoes (infants through Juniors); toys and games; indoor and outdoor play equipment; nursery items; baby equipment; linens; books, CDs, music; seasonal items; maternity clothes/items and much more!

Note: Admission is free. Bring a laundry basket or tote for purchases.  If you need more information or are interested in consigning your childrens' clothing/equipment at this sale, please visit their website:

Happy shopping, everyone!

Monday, March 5, 2012

Martha Monday--On my to-do list

Martha provides me (through her books, magazines, television show and website) with endless inspiration for recipes I want to try, crafts to make, projects to do and more.

Here are the current Martha-inspired things I have on my to-do list:

1. Get started on my gardening

I've been planning my summer garden for quite a while, and it's almost time to start my indoor seeds.  Ideally, I'll have the peppers, tomatoes and broccoli started by mid-March. I'm itching to start seeds RIGHT NOW, but if I start the seeds too soon then I'll have spindly, and less productive, seedlings by the time I'm ready to transplant them outdoors.  Plus, I'd like to buy a few more varieties of seed (winter squash, anyone?)...I need to get on that!

2. Make some tasty Broccoli soup

I have yet to make my own broccoli soup from scratch, a problem which will be remedied later this week.  Maybe I'll add some potatoes and cheddar cheese to transform this recipe into a full meal rather than a starter course, but either way I have a bunch of broccoli in my fridge that must be put to good use.

3. Try my hand at Parisian macarons

That's not a typo...macarons are a beautiful and delicious French sandwich cookie made from almond flour, and making them has been on my to-do list for years.  I have almond flour in my pantry, so making these cookies needs to go from a "to-do" item to a "ta-da DONE" accomplishment.

Right now, the bag of almond flour mocks me every time I'm in the pantry which, based on how much I cook/bake and how popular a hiding spot it is during games with my kiddos, is several times each day.  STOP MOCKING ME, ALMOND FLOUR! 

Don't even get me started on the taunting I receive from my knitting supplies.
They're all "We've been in this closet for over five years! LEARN TO KNIT ALREADY!" 
And I'm all "Your sass is not appreciated. DON'T USE THAT TONE OF VOICE WITH ME!" 

I've been getting a lot of attitude from inanimate objects lately.  Also, I might need more sleep. Or coffee.  Maybe both.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Barn cake lessons

As you know, each kid of mine gets three parties to accommodate three sides of the family.  Three parties equals three cakes.  Three cakes equals three times the mixing, baking and decorating.  Three times the mixing, baking and decorating equals me being really, really tired of cake!

Here's the cake for party #1:

It took two batches of chocolate cake to make this: the sheet cake underneath, and then three small cakes to make the barn. It was a ridiculous amount of cake, and far too much for 20 guests to eat.

I learned my lesson, though, and completely changed it up for party #2.  Instead of doing a two-batch cake, I made on sheet cake with the Wilton Rocking Horse cake pan. I've had this pan for years, but this was the first time I've ever used it.  Because the cake was made from scratch, it started falling apart when I was decorating which left a lot of crumbs in the frosting.  Not cool!  So while this is not the nicest cake I've made, it certainly was tasty.  And despite the crumbs in the frosting, all the kids really seemed to like it.

The cake for party #3 was the simplest and easiest. It took only one batch of cake batter to make this barn, and I used a Big Top Cupcake Mold to get it done. This set of two pans makes a good barn, and this was by far the easiest cake to make/decorate. 

I'm happy about that, because it means that I learned some valuable lessons from cake #1 and applied them to subsequent cakes and parties. Lessons such as 20 PEOPLE WILL NOT EAT THE EQUIVALENT OF TWO SHEETS CAKES AT MY DAUGHTER'S PARTY, ESPECIALLY IF THEY FIRST ATE A FULL MEAL AND APPETIZERS. 

And: party guests certainly won't fill up on cake when there are five other desserts being offered.

And one more lesson:  I am really, really tired of cake.

Bring on the ice cream!

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Farm fresh desserts

After four years and approximately fourteen kids' birthday parties, I finally got around to making a fun and pretty backdrop for the dessert table.

Handy Freddy hung two dowel rods from the ceiling. One was draped in crepe paper streamers, and the other held the rooster, pig and duck face balloons.  The balloons, by the way, are just regular old latex balloons with faces drawn on them. Oriental Trading sells stickers that make the faces, but quite frankly I didn't want to spend the money. I drew the faces on with permanent marker instead.

Just like the appetizer and main course menus, I made one menu for the dessert table rather than a half-dozen individual labels. 

Here are my homestead cookies:

I coated some pretzel rods in Wilton candy melts to make "cow tails" and displayed them in Golden Harvest mason jars.

I attempted to make Bakerella's cake balls, and then attempted to make them look like eggs.  It didn't work, but it was cute and tasty, and that's really all that matters.  Cake balls baffle me. I've tried to make them twice now and I always have a problem getting the consistency just right so that they don't fall apart in the candy coating.  I'll keep trying, though!

Using the twisted krispie recipe, I tried to cut out the treats in the shape of pigs. I had a hard time getting the cutter through the mixture, though, so I abandoned that idea early on and just cut the treats into squares.  See the little pink krispie pig at the top? He's the only one that got made. Sniffle.

And then there were Martha's corn-on-the-cob cupcakes.

Tomorrow, I'll show you the cakes.  Yes, 'cakes' is plural.  Three birthday parties equals three different cakes, though that was the only part of the dessert table that changed.  All the other farm fresh treats stayed the same...newly made for each party of course, but the same in recipe and concept.