Thursday, May 31, 2012

Pressure Cooker Artichokes

One night last week, Valiant was working and Buttercup and I took the opportunity to split an artichoke.  I am so grateful that at least one of my children is willing to enjoy the wonderfulness that is an artichoke.  The other thing I'm grateful for?  Just how easy it is to prepare an artichoke with a pressure cooker.
Ready to go...don't they look beautiful?
Seriously, it is that easy.  First thing you do is rinse your artichoke.  Pat it dry and trim the top.  Then you take your kitchen shears and cut off the pointy tips of all the leaves.  Then you cut it in half and cut out the choke (the "fur").

Lemon to keep the artichokes from turning too brown and garlic for, well, garlic flavor!
This is what you'll be left with.  Set both halves in your pressure cooker in a steamer basket.   Squirt with lemon and sprinkle with garlic.   Add two cups of water.   Close up your pressure cooker and turn on the heat!

My old-school pressure cooker.  I just turned the flame on high and waited for the
pressure valve to bobble!
Wait 10 to 12 minutes from the time the pressure valve starts bobbling.   I have an old-school pressure cooker.  The little top starts bouncing back and forth on little bursts of steam.  When it settles into a rhythm, that is when I set the timer. (Two artichokes takes roughly 12 minutes, one artichoke takes roughly 10 minutes.)  As soon as the timer goes off, take the pressure cooker off the flame and head over to the kitchen sink to do a quick water release.  (Some sites say use cold water; I was always taught to use hot water.)

Look at how beautiful!  Still steaming tenderness and ready to be plated!
One the steam is released, you an open your pressure cooker and view your perfect artichokes.  (Notice that I didn't have enough water and almost steamed it dry, thus the brown water in my pan...oops!)
Look at that Artichoke goodness.  Perfectly done, ready to be eaten!
After that, you can serve your artichoke warm or chill it.  It is your preference.  We like ours warm, with melted butter.  I remember my dad and grandpa liked it mayonnaise (ick!). 

If you use your homemade mayonnaise, this is purely Paleo!
(We used grass-fed butter, so it didn't make the cut!)
Sit down, peel off those leaves one by one, scraping your teeth across the meaty goodness, unlocking the heart.  Then, cut that heart into chunks and swirl it what is left of your butter (or mayo) and savor its sublime goodness!  Before you know it, you'll have nothing left but scraped leaves on your plate and a smile on your face.  Just remember:  Don't put those leaves in the garbage disposal...they will ruin it!!  Nope, artichoke parts are compost or trash only!

All that is left...leaves for the trash and the memory of a perfect artichoke!

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

It is all in your perspective...

How Superman and I see ourselves (and each other!).

So, my son comes home from work (!) and says, "Mom, I have to tell you something funny."

Me:  "Okay, shoot!"

Valiant: "So, Silent Running by Mike and the Mechanics comes on the store radio and I say, "Hey, I love this song!" and the girl I was working with told me I was too young to even know that song, that she was older than me and she barely knew it!"

Me:  "Really?  That song is on my playlist."

Valiant:  "Then she asked me how I knew it.  I told her, "Well, my parents are kind of old."

Me:  "We are?"

Valiant:  "Yeah, Mom, you are.  Her parents were born in 1972."

Me:  "I'm old?!"

Valiant:  "Well, don't feel bad.  I did say "kind of" old."

Me:  "Thanks, I think."

How our kids see us...sigh.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Kids Backpacks!

I can finally show you the backpacks I made for my niece and nephew in California, as I shipped them off Thursday via Priority Mail, so the recipients have got to have them by now.  These are a quick and easy project and the result is a kid-friendly, soft-sided backpack that is oh-so-washable.  I love that the backpack stays closed while being worn and that there is a good-sized outside pocket.  I used Kwik Sew 2379 (view C) and these are the 3rd and 4th time I've made this backpack and I still love how it turns out.
Two backpacks, plus to little zippered pouches...

Still, judge for yourself:
Boy stuff!
  My nephew got this cute little superhero version.

Love the lining, don't you?
I added a little zipper closure keychain bag in the same fabrics.  (Kids love little pouches and bags for their important "stuff".)

Love the mango is so cute in real life.
My niece got this very girly Hawaiian print, with the coordinating lining.   It is sooo pink!

Love the white vinyl and cording...
I made a little zippered keychain bag for her, too.

Better view of the little pouches.
I am so pleased with how these both turned out.  I hope the kids get a lot of pleasure from them.

Monday, May 28, 2012


Bringing them home...

Perform, then, this one act of remembrance before this Day passes - Remember there is an army of defense and advance that never dies and never surrenders, but is increasingly recruited from the eternal sources of the American spirit and from the generations of American youth. ~W.J. Cameron

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Food for Thought

Arlington National Cemetery
Who kept the faith and fought the fight;
The glory theirs, the duty ours.

                                                                       ~Wallace Bruce

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Best (and Weirdest!) Snack Ever

One of the things that is so difficult about going grain-free, paleo, or primal, is that salty, crunchy snacking seems to disappear.  Now, don't get me wrong, I completely understand that the vast majority of snack foods are horrible for you and that snacking per se can be a euphemism for mindless eating, but sometimes I still crave something crunchy and salty.

Best snack ever!
 Apparently, Melissa Joulwan at The Clothes Make the Girl felt the same way, because she included an amazing recipe in her cookbook, Well Fed. If you haven't checked out this cookbook, you really should. I've loved this cookbook. I've learned so much from it because it comes from this place of basic ingredients prepared with simple techniques and then supplemented by different spice combinations to mix things up. This is a cookbook that you can actually use regularly without being Julia Child. Anyway, Melissa felt my pain at losing crunchy, salty snacks and added this snack as a hot popcorn substitute.

I like organic...just make sure they're unsweetened.
I won't lie, I was skeptical when I first saw it. I just didn't see how it could deliver all that it promised. Still, Buttercup and I were feeling brave (or desperate) one afternoon and decided to give it a try. Fast forward a few weeks and I will say we've made it three more times and we love it! Seriously love it.

Just use your bamboo spoon to stir them around...they'll turn quickly.
To make it even better, this is a quick and easy recipe that requires only three ingredients: 1 cup of unsweetened coconut flakes, 1/4 tsp salt, and 1/4 tsp of cinnamon. That's it. She calls it Caramelized Coconut Chips; I've been calling it Toasted Coconut Chips. Either way, it is sooo good!

See?  They're browning...keeping the flakes moving or the little pieces will burn.
All you do is slightly brown your coconut chips in a non-stick pan (I use seasoned cast iron), then toss them in the salt and cinnamon. It is that simple.
Use a fork to toss the toasted flakes in the salt and cinnamon...and they're ready!
Now, if you're like me, you are highly skeptical of my claim that this is amazing. That's okay. I know that once you try it, you'll be hooked.   Then, all you'll need to do, is arm-wrestle your kids for them!

Friday, May 25, 2012

What to do with used up candles...

I love having a burning candle in my kitchen.  The way our home is layed out, the scent from that one candle wafts through the entire house.  The only frustration?  When the candle wick is gone, but the wax isn't used up.  Don't you hate that?  I just couldn't stand throwing away a not-completely used up seemed so wasteful.  Pretty containers and plenty of wax at the bottom of those containers...there just had to be a way to use them.

New Candles, New Tarts, and come extra containers!
I've shown you some of the things I've done with empty candle containers here.  I still love my little q-tip and cotton ball containers.   Still, those didn't address the waste of unused wax.

Love this Target candle, but I hated that I couldn't get to the
bottom of it!  That is a lot of wax!
I had a lightbulb moment when I was walking through Michael's and saw wicks for people who make candles from scratch.  I started saving all my "used up" candles.  Once I had quite a few (basically an entire winter's worth), I got to work.

The fruits of my labor doing it the hard way!
(Oh, and you could just chip the old wax out, but that is slow and painful...still, I am a slow learner, so I did have some of that, too!)

This still needs to be melted and get a wick!
First, I put the glass containers in a sauce pan with water that hit about half way up the candle containers and set it to boil.  Don't use your microwave for this step!!!  The wicks have a metal anchor and you will ruin your microwave!!!

See how the candle wax has melted and turned clear?
As I melted each candle remnant, I transferred the liquid wax into one of two types containers.  First, for those candles where I had a good amount of wax of the same scent, I transferred the liquid wax to a clean container.

This is the liquid from three "used up" candles.  They combined to make half a
new candle for the price of one wick and some of my time..
 Then, I added a wick, wrapping the excess around a chopstick to hold it in place while the wax cooled.
This is after the first liquid wax has been poured in.  I didn't worry about
debris in the wax, but you could strain with cheesecloth if it bothers you.
Once the wax was cooled, I trimmed the wick, and had a new candle. (Or, as you can see, I had a lot of new candles!)

The fruits of my afternoon's labors...
For those candles where I only had a small amount of wax remaining, I poured the liquid wax into silicon cupcake liners.  (You can do paper, but it seeps, so use two or three liners for each tart.)

A tart!  The oils in the candle make it easy to pull the liner off the cooled wax.
 Once these cooled, I had new tarts for my tart warmer.

One other thing, to do this, you'll need a clean container ready to become a candle before you've even melted your first bit of wax.  If you don't have an old one handy, try using a mason jar or some other little jar you've got laying around.  You can even use votive holders.  This is really a frugal project.

A note:  Once you've poured all the liquid wax from your container, most likely you'll be left with something that looks like this.  While it is still warm, it is easy to use a long fork to pop the old wick base out of the container and it will bring most of its adhesive with it.  If you're planning to reuse the container as a candle, then you're done.  If you're going to use the container as something else, you'll need to use Goo Gone or some other adhesive remover to get the last little bits of glue.
The used up wick is held in place by adhesive you'll want to remove
before you repurpose the container, but not if it will be another candle.

 So, don't throw away your old a few and get more life out of them and have a little fun while you're at it.  You can even make layered candles if you'd like...just cool your layers before adding the new wax. 

Thursday, May 24, 2012

A little bit of sewing...

I've been spending time with my sewing machine again.  The spring weather combined with the deadline of the birthday gift definitely had my creative juices flowing.  First thing up was a pair of pajama shorts for my Buttercup.  I just modified a simple pajama pant pattern by shortening the length substantially and adding seam pockets.  (Hey, Sew Ducky, is there a name for those?)

Anyway, Buttercup picked out a fun animal-themed pattern and I actually remembered to make sure everything was running the same way BEFORE I cut the fabric (not something I always remember!), and worked my "magic" at the sewing machine.  I cheated and found a pocket pattern at Craftiness Is Not Optional, which made it so much easier.

Pockets are the perfect addition!
Buttercup loved the pajamas, declaring that they were cute enough to be seen by all.  She then demonstrated just what she meant for her brother and me.

Oh, that won't be how we wear these at our house.
While I can't help but think she's just too darned cute, you can rest assured they won't be displayed out of the house in that manner.  Not on my watch.

Cute enough to hang out, but
they won't be hanging out!
  As always, I added a little button to the front to distinguish front from back.  The lady at the fabric store wondered why she'd never thought of that...she always sews a little ribbon bow on the front.  My kids aren't "ribbon bow" kids.

This little fishy has the job of telling us the which side is the front.
All joking aside, it is so gratifying to see your family enjoy what you've made for them.  Truly, it really makes me smile when I see them taking in pleasure in the fruit of my labor.  Sure, I could buy stuff for them, but, as we're all discovering, it is just not the same.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Silhouette Madness...More Labeling Because I Can...Plus a Frugal Tip

I have been having fun with my Silhouette Machine again.  This time, I headed back to the laundry room and the kitchen.  I know, I know...labeling your laundry room?  Really.  Oh, yeah.

Hey, I spend a lot of time in my laundry room.  Don't you?  I'd already gotten rid of the boxes in favor of these cool cannisters, but they needed a little more.

To cut the cost of this project, I used black contact paper instead of black vinyl for the badges.  (You can use black contact paper for "chalkboard" vinyl, too, it is just not quite matte.) Then I just topped them off with white vinyl lettering. 

Love how the white vinyl pops off the black!
I think they turned out really well.  I love how fun, yet simple they look.

Then, a few days ago, I found this awesome soap dispenser at World Market.  It is glass...and it is Mrs. Meyer's so it smells divinely...truly, isn't it fabulous? 

Mrs. Meyer's Wash Up - Love This Dispenser!
With the cool soap dispenser on the one side of the sink, I decided to add a little focus to my dish soap dispenser.  I love this dish soap dispenser.  I've had it for years and years. 

Just jazzed up with some basic black lettering.
(Can you tell I don't like the original packaging that most things come in?  Seriously...I switch out my laundry stuff, I switch out my liquid soaps...maybe I have an issue?  Nah...)

Finally, here is my frugal tip for you.  If you work with the vinyl cutters (Silhouette or Cricut), you know the challenge of weeding the excess vinyl (or the paper or fabric you've cut).   I've been using an exacto knife, but sometimes the fine work was challenging.  I was really tempted to buy one of those weeding tools that go for upwards of $14 on the websites when it occurred to me that I could get exactly what I needed at my local Walgreens for about $4.   

For a lot less money, you can use drugstore dental tools to weed your vinyl!
Did you figure it out?  They're drugstore dental tools!  You can easily use your handy-dandy dental tools to weed.  Pretty cool, right?  Yeah, I thought so!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Sewing - Custom Ordered Birthday Gift

One of my friends told me that the one thing she wanted for her birthday was cushions for her patio chairs.  She even had the fabric from which she wanted them made.  All I needed to do was get the cushion forms and make the cushions.  Easy peasy!

My assistant, Sam-I-Am...
 Well, actually, it was complicated by my assistant.  The project took a little longer than I'd anticipated.  Still, I just adore him, so I put up with a lot to work with him.

The piping really finished them off nicely, didn't it?
Since I decided to go with thinner pads, more suitable for her chairs, I decided to make matching piping to add to the "wow" factor of the cushions.  What do you think?  Don't you think the piping finishes them off nicely.

I love how they turned...
I am pretty pleased with how they turned out.  She seemed to really like them and they fit the chairs perfectly.    I think I'm going to make new cushions for our patio furniture next...

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Paleo Challenge - Days 10 - 16 - Green Eggs & Turkey

I know, I probably think I threw in the towel on the 30-day Paleo Challenge, but you'd be wrong.  I did really well until Saturday (Day 13).  Why Saturday?  Because my friend had a party to celebrate her birthday Saturday afternoon and it seems like that party was a catalyst for a really rough weekend.   I went straight from the party to a not-so-paleo dinner with my kids, followed by a not-so-paleo Mother's Day lunch on Sunday (Day 14).  Woke up yesterday (Monday - Day 15), feeling pretty crummy.  Two days of off plan really messed with my energy levels, my mood, my digestion, and my sleep patterns.  Honestly, I wouldn't have believed it could have been so dramatic if I hadn't been so conscious of it.  Seriously.  When I say "not-so-paleo", that is what I mean...I didn't go back to my old ways, but there were more carbs (tortilla chips, potatoes) and some chocolate (M&Ms).  No baked goods, no pasta, etc.  Still, the deviations from the paleo food took their toll.

So, Days 15 and 16 have been all about getting back on track.  Day 15 was rough, but Day 16 (today) felt so much better.  My energy and my moods seemed much more in sync with my life load.  I am sure it had something to do with the amazing fritatta-like casserole from Paleo Comfort Foods.  Green Eggs and Turkey turned out to be a simple, easy meal.

I made a few changes to the original recipe:  instead of artichoke hearts (which my kids vetoed), I substituted mushrooms.  Also, I added a good-sized spoonful of garlic to the ground turkey while it was browning.  Also, I added the basil to the meat, rather than waiting to add it to the vegetables as the recipe dictates.  Other than that, I pretty much stuck to the was easy and, again, surprisingly good.  As I'm becoming used to, my kids were pretty sure I was trying to poison them...right up until they took their first bite.  After that, they grudgingly admitted this was another successful paleo meal.  Pretty cool, right?

So, I fell a bit off the wagon last weekend, but I'm still sticking to the challenge.  I confess to being very concerned that I've completely derailed my 30 day progress, though.  Fingers crossed that I can come back from this and still have decent results at the end of the 30 days.  It kind of doesn't matter, though, because I've already decided to just keep going...I feel that much better eating this way. 

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Days 8 & 9 - 30 Paleo Challenge - A New Driver's License, A Climber, and Some Egg Salad!

My computer has been having issues the past few days and with my IT guy still a little more than a month from being home on leave, it is making me crazy.  That doesn't mean we haven't been doing the 30 Day Paleo Challenge, though...some of us are still going strong.  (Some of us, not so much!)

So, let's get going!  First things second child now has his driver's license...what a mixed bag for Mom, right?  Seriously.  I gave Valiant his last stern warning the day before he tested, as he was giving me a bit of attitude (your 16-year old son doesn't give you a bit of attitude?  really? hmmm...I'm not sure I believe you).  I finally looked at him and said, " are asking me to give you the power to kill yourself and/or others and the tool to do it with, so you're just going to have to deal with me being concerned.  This is the biggest act of faith your parents have had to go forward with, so cut me some slack."  I'm happy to report that gave him pause.  The next morning, he passed his driving test and became the proud possessor of a driver's license.  He's pretty darned tickled and I confess to being really happy to have another driver in the house.  Let the next parenting challenge begin!

In the meantime, while my Valiant is keeping me on the edge of my seat with visions of automobile disasters, my beloved little Buttercup (not so little, but still little to me) decided to jump in the fray with Women's Climb Night at REI.  Now, you need to understand something.  I've never thought of myself as afraid of heights and I don't really think I am.  However, I've never been one of those people who sees a rock wall and thinks to herself, "Man, I'd love to climb to the top of that...just to see if I can."  Seriously.  That is not who I am.  Ask me if I can lift something heavy and I'll be intrigued with the possibility...climbing, not so much.  But, because God has a sense of humor, that is exactly who Buttercup is.  Off to the rock wall we headed...

Making it look easy!
...and look who climbed all the way up her first try!  You guessed it:  my little Buttercup.  Sigh.

Listening to the belayer at the can she hear her way up there?
She wasn't content to do it once, either.  Nope.  When her turn came around the second time, she scrambled right up.  She was frustrated we couldn't stay for her third run, but Valiant still needed a ride home from work, as this was BDL (Before Driver's License)...she really was itching to go again.  (I wonder if there is mountain goat is Superman's side of the family?)  Honestly, she was amazing.  I was in awe of her confidence and her mad skills.  Crossfit has been so good for her...I am so thankful we found it and a box opened near enough to our home to make it worthwhile.

 I didn't want to let her down, so I tried my hand at it.  Honestly, I didn't love it.  I'm not sure I'll ever love it.  Maybe it is just not my thing.

This was far enough for arms were shaking...this is hard!
Still, I made it two-thirds of the way up before I was done.  Not bad for 48-years old...maybe next time I'll make it up to the top.  Oh, please, you know I'll have to go back and try that I've failed, I have to make it up to the top at least once.  Sheesh...

Now on to the food!  Remember a few days ago, I made homemade mayonnaise?  Well, on Day 8 I used some of that wonderful mayonnaise to make some egg salad  (using my pressure cooker hard-boiled eggs) and it was phenomenal.  After sitting all night in the refrigerator, the mayonnaise was just, well, mayo.  I was worried that I'd taste the lemon and I didn't.   It really was better than "Best Foods"...who knew?

Dinner Day 8 was CORN: Clean Out Refrigerator Night.  We used up all the little bits and pieces left from the previous week and had a Paleo feast.  Dinner Day 9?  We had dinner with friends who did their very best not to undermine our challenge:  Steak, Salad, and Fruit Salad for dessert.  (They had potatoes available, but we declined.  Pretty cool, right?

Oh, and I made it to the gym both days...had pretty decent performance, too.  Got a new PR (personal record) for my 3x Deadlift on Monday and had a not-embarassing time on the scaled Diane (which was also a PR, but when it is scaled, I don't really count it much...I can't do a handstand, let alone a handstand push up, but, hey, they're on my CF to-do list!).    Rowed 2000 meters in under 9 minutes on Tuesday...pretty cool, right?