Jaysus, Mary and Joseph. Corn your beef, now!

A few years ago, I was out at a restaurant enjoying a reuben sandwich…probably before I started having kids…I mean, I was at a restaurant, enjoying my food? Yeah. Pre-kids…anyway, I thought to myself, “Self? What on earth is corned beef and why is it so delicious?” One date with Google and two pints of Guinness later, this near-half Irish girl had her answer; corned beef is just a beautiful brisket, brined and preserved with salt, tenderized in the brine over time. St. Patty’s day was coming up, so why not? Many insist that homemade, as is usually the case, is better than store-bought, so I set out to see what all the fuss is about.

Alton Brown is where I started. When it comes to cooking meat, A.B. is the bee’s knees (have you TRIED his roast turkey?!). Only, the Food Network’s food geek had a Corned Beef recipe calling for Saltpeter.

Salt, who?

Saltpeter, as it turns out, is potassium nitrate that can be used to cure meats, but more commonly has been used to make explosives. Also, rumored to reduce libido in men! The military, allegedly, used to keep saltpeter in their “arsenal”, using it as a food additive in order to keep the troops’ “little soldiers” at bay, if you will; a practice which reportedly began during the Revolutionary War.

Fascinating, but where could I get this urge-suppressing gun powder for my St. Patrick’s Day feast?

You can’t.

Turns out, you can’t buy saltpeter. Irish holiday ruined. Thanks, Alton.

Luckily, I’m resourceful and found an alternative, less-explosive option that, according to urban legend, would do just as well; Morton’s Tender Quick. It’s not quite as elusive as saltpeter, but not exactly at every neighborhood Piggly Wiggly, either. A little location finder, HERE, helps.

A few tweaks later and I have the perfect St. Patrick’s Day recipe;

Homemade Corned Beef and Cabbage with Herbed Root Vegetables.

Start curing a week or so beforehand and you will have the most tender meat ever. Seriously, worth the effort every time. And the leftovers, if there are any, make a to-die-for Reuben sandwich!

My Irish ancestors would be proud.

You still have time, with the big day a week away. So, grab a pint and get brining!

Erin go Bragh!

So, you have a visual learner…

Our Kindergartener is a visual learner. That is, he adjusts better, transitions better, focuses better, listens better, behaves better, overall-does better when he can visually see something laid out before him. A big one is a visual schedule. It really seems to help him at school and it’s something he’s used since preschool. He needs to not only know what is coming up next, but can better “accept” it when he can visually see it in front of him. He can sometimes roll with the punches, but it helps to give him a schedule with which to follow along, making transitioning from preferred to non-preferred activities a little easier. USUALLY. 

So, seeing as they use one at school to help E know when it’s time to move on to the next task (and so he’s prepared for that task), I figured, why not have one for everyday life at home? After all, we certainly have our fair share of struggles when it comes to transitioning, on occasion (read: daily). What we needed was a “command center” of sorts, with a pin board for school fliers, fundraisers, activities, etc and a magnetic dry-erase calendar to help him learn the days of the week and what, exactly, was happening and expected of him on a daily basis. He’s only five, so I’m conscious of over-scheduling him, but just wanted to make it a little bit clearer for him, the way they do in school.

Shopping for the components to mount on the wall was the easy part. What I needed help with was the visual schedule. Surely, somebody out there has come up with a similar solution. There must be a template or a printable somewhere I can use.

I asked The Google for help.

The Google sent me to Pinterest. Makes sense.

There were lots of good ideas on there from all kinds of folks, ranging from teachers to therapists to ASD mommas. Only, I couldn’t find anything on Pinterest that I felt my guy would respond to; either the clip art wasn’t quite right, it only related to school activities or the activities were things he didn’t need a visual reminder to do (i.e., go potty–we gave up on forcing him to go before he left the house. That was a battle we were losing).

So, I set out to create one myself. First, I put together a daily schedule, including tasks and down time, that I knew he could follow. Made sure to include relevant magnets for the other little ones in the house, because, let’s face it, MOST tots learn visually. That, and you can’t let them feel left out. Finally, made magnets for major holidays, birthdays and celebrations that I know they anticipate. Case in point: a recent birthday party invitation for their cousins resulted in multiple requests per-day to go to said-party. Must. Go. NOW! (After making the calendar, I can just point to the “party” magnet on the appropriate date to remind them that it’s still a few days away.)

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Is it perfect? No. Did it take a lot of trial and error? You betcha. But, it’s something I’ve found works for us…at least for now…and I’m willing to bet there are some other parents and kiddos out there that could benefit from something like this, or at least, from my version of “this.”

Comment or message me if you’d like me to send you a pdf version of the visual schedule tabs. Print on magnets, or laminate and velcro; whatever works in your world. Pay it forward and share. We all need all the help we can get!

 

 

The apple doesn’t fall far…

We were def in need of a family day. We’ve been in a bit of a (actually, huge) transition and things. are. stressful. There’s been lots of work and little play, so we were craving some fun. AND…It was finally time to do something we look forward to all year; the apple orchard! Truly, next to Christmas, it’s a highlight for us. We love the fall weather, colorful trees, taking the tots into the beautiful orchard, watching them beam with pride every time they successfully pluck an apple and put it in the basket. All of it. Love.

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But, I’d be lying if I didn’t include our favorite part of the entire experience, the reason we won’t actually admit we are driving over an hour to battle the crowds at our Autumn Mecca…It’s the donuts. The warm, hugged-in-sugar, slightly crisp on the edges and soft all at the same time, apple cider donuts. Bar none, Edwards Apple Orchard has the best apple cider donuts in all the land. And, we consider ourselves connoisseurs. We’ve tried other places, other donuts. Hands down, Edwards wins. My family has been going to Edwards since I was a wee one, myself, and now my husband and I continue the tradition every year. Never miss it.

Wee babes headed out to the orchard

 

And, as much fun as our kids have on the tractor-pulled wagon, picking apples, riding ponies, the petting zoo and playing in the outdoor play place, their favorite part of the excursion is sitting on the old milk can stools in the apple barn cafe, devouring the fresh made donuts. Like my husband, they could easily consume half a dozen donuts a piece, no question. Guess the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree (pun intended).

In addition to the 3 dozen donuts we brought home with us (true story), we also now had this giant basket of apples. Lots and lots of apples, each of the kids picked themselves. Some perfect. Some were probably even on the ground, but we obliged and proudly took home the fruits of their labor (ba dum tsh).

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Ok, so now what? Baking my apple pie is a given. Snacking on apples, daily; definitely! But, they will rot before we get through them all.

A little research turned up a recipe for apple muffins and decided to give them a try, with a few tweaks, of course 😉

little hand, apple muffin

Find the recipe HERE.

What do you think? Have a favorite apple recipe?

 

How’s THIS for organization?

When we were clearing out the kitchen for our recent remodel, I couldn’t help but shake my head in disgust at my “pantry”, a.k.a. the Lazy Susan. I hated it. Spice jars on their sides, various torn bags of sugar and flour, mystery substances coating the shelves. Many, MANY items expired. So gross. And SO unorganized. I didn’t even know what I had in there! Shameful.

So, I got to work on finding a solution. Ok, I looked on Pinterest, but finding time to do so was work. Alas, during nap time one afternoon, I stumbled upon these great spice jar labels from Thyme and Tamarind. Exactly what I didn’t know I needed! She even provides a free printable download with just about every spice you can imagine.

(Since it’s non editable, and I knew I wanted to cross over into larger dry goods organization, as well, my husband created a coordinating design in photoshop for larger labels).

And. I. Love. It.

Click here: Pantry Labels. Done!

What do you think?

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Perfect summer meal

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You ever come across that one summer dish that you never get tired of? I’ve had this one in my arsenal for a few years, now, and finally decided to post it.

Originally, it was a tear-out from and old issue of Better Homes and Gardens, but it still holds up as one of our faves each year. Once the weather warms, peaches come into season and we fire up the grill, we look forward to chowing down on this light (but just the right amount of filling) meal.

If you’ve never grilled peaches, you are missing out. Truly! (I think the yellow ones–vs white peaches–grill up a little sweeter). And throwing in the green beans with the orzo saves you on the dishes. Hardly any cleanup.

You can go with regular, old feta, or kick the flavor up a notch with the herbed variety. So simple. So delicious. Try it and report back. Recipe Here: Grilled Chicken & Peaches w/Green Beans, Orzo & Feta

What do you think?

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Giving away a book bundle!

As I start planning for number one son’s upcoming 5th birthday party, I am reminded of our last birthday celebration; the Curious George party we had for our little Pistol and her baby brother. It was a hoot!

You may remember from my post on the matter, we had given away Curious George original titles as party favors. Big hit!

Turns out, I ordered a few extra, so I will be giving them away in a bundle. They make a great gift or an amazing addition to your own little one’s library!

The bundle will include Curious George Takes a Job, Curious George Rides a Bike and for the wee babes, a super cute board book; Curious George-My First Book of Color. All are favorites in our house.

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Ok, who wants some books? Just comment on this post. You know, something like, “I love George” or “Be a good little monkey”.

Winner chosen May 1st.

 

 

PSA

When we started having kids, we baby-proofed everything we could think of; the cabinets, the table edges, the fireplace hearth, the electrical outlets. Everything. At the top of the list, though, was adding anchoring straps to secure all heavy furniture to the walls (dressers, bookshelves and the like), preventing them from tipping over on the children. We’ve all heard horror stories of poor little babies getting trapped under the fallen dresser or television. If you haven’t, please Google and educate yourself. It’s a terrible thing. A terrible, terrible thing. But preventable.

“Thus far, the numbers of small children injured and killed by furniture and television tip-over is only climbing. 71 children every single day are injured or killed when a piece of furniture, a TV, or an appliance falls on them.  A child dies on average every 2 weeks.  Every 45 minutes a child is seen in the ER because a TV fell on them.  The children that survive these accidents may be left with severe and debilitating lifelong injuries.  ALL of them can be prevented.”  (Quoted from Megan’s Hope)

Many pieces of furniture (at least, from children’s stores) even come with anchoring straps and instructions for installation. If they don’t, they are easily found in-store and online. HERE,  HERE and HERE for instance. They are ridiculously inexpensive and easy to install. A few dollars and a few minutes to save your child’s life. No-brainer.

Seeing as we were on top of these things, imagine my surprise when, the other day, I heard a loud crash and subsequent blood-curdling scream come from our playroom. I immediately knew it was my daughter (3) and instantly, my heart skipped a beat. I yelled for my husband and we ran to the playroom to find our little girl in hysterics, on the floor, underneath her play kitchen. (You know the kind; the adorable, retro-looking, wooden play kitchen).

IMG_6494She must have been playing with it a bit more rigorously than it’s design allowed and it fell over on top of her, pinning her underneath. Daddy whipped it off of her with such force, he actually tore the wood on the top of the kitchen.

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We calmed her, checked for injuries and luckily, she’s just fine. She was complaining of her hand hurting, but thankfully she walked away from the incident just a little bruised and a lot scared. She’ll recover. (Daddy may not).

Why had it not occurred to us to fasten this piece to the wall? Because it’s a play thing? It’s heavy; it weighs 50 lbs when it’s empty (I checked) let-alone filled with all the wooden food items our kids love. All I kept thinking about was, what if it had been the baby?! He might not have been so lucky and we would have never forgiven ourselves.

I looked on the manufacturer’s website, searching for safety instructions and it indicates that it comes with an enclosed wall anchor kit. However, we purchased the kitchen from an online daily deals site a year and a half ago (not directly from the manufacturer), and if I recall, it arrived missing a few parts needed for assembly. We did have to contact the manufacturer at that time, directly, for those missing parts, which they sent. I wouldn’t be surprised, though, if the safety straps were left out, as well, and we just didn’t know that they needed to be included. I’m fairly confident that if they HAD been included, we would have installed them.

But, that’s neither here nor there. The fact is that even play furniture needs to be considered when baby proofing for little ones and should be secured to the wall. Lesson learned. And maybe our oversight will prompt you to check your own kiddos’ play things for safety.

(This has been a public service announcement).

Last Supper

Sooooo…THIS is happening.

Kitchen remodel

Kitchen remodel

We are renovating our dated kitchen (read: the husband is renovating our dated kitchen), in favor of new cabinets, counters, sink, garbage disposal and even including (gasp!) a microwave. When we moved into this 1973-built home, 5 years ago, there wasn’t a microwave. With very little counterspace, we didn’t feel compelled to buy one. No micro is supposedly healthier, right? And so, we learned to live without…

Until now.

We are updating the kitchen and bathrooms in order to pull top dollar when we put the house on the market in the next few months. We plan to move into a better school district in time for E to start Kindergarten in the fall. Lots of changes. Lots to do.

Whilst waiting for the hubs to re-do electrical, demo kitchen, move plumbing, install new kitchen and the seemingly-endless process of measuring, fabricating and installing new counters, it looks like I will be without a kitchen for more-or-less a month. An entire month! God help us.

Knowing this daunting timeline, I wanted to make one last good meal before demo began and Habitat for Humanity came to pick up the old kitchen. For our “Last Supper,” I chose our good old standby; our tried-and-true-and-always-delicious-hard-to-mess-up, Perfect Roast Chicken.

Just like Ina does for her Jeffrey, I’ve been making this, probably, once a week for the last year; since I was brave enough to give it a try. I don’t know why, but I was always intimidated by roasting an entire chicken. It looked so fancy, so fussy.

It. Is. Not.

So simple. So delicious. Just prep it, put in in the oven for 90 minutes, walk away and let it do it’s thing.

The first few times I made this Perfect Roast Chicken, I followed Ina Garten’s version and included onions, carrots and fennel, as she does. One time, though, I was out of carrots, so I threw in some sweet potatoes as a substitute.

We ended up fighting over the sweet pots and left all the rest.

So, from that point forward, I didn’t even mess with any other vegetable. It’s something about the way the juices drip over the sweet potatoes and caramelize them. To die for. Truly.

And the way the butter sizzles, browning the skin, combined with the aforementioned caramelized sweet pots…your house smells heavenly. Trust. It’s an all-around amazing olfactory experience. Just thinking about it…I’m salivating and smiling as type.

But please, please let it rest when you pull it out of the oven. I promise, if you can resist cutting into that perfect, shimmering bird for 20 minutes or so, you’ll thank me. It needs to retain the juices. If you just let it rest, you’ll have the moistest roast chicken you’ve ever had in your entire life. Get the recipe HERE.

Roast Chicken and Sweet Pots

Roast Chicken and Sweet Pots

It’s so simple, so delicious, you’ll wonder why you ever purchased those pre-roasted (dry) birds from the grocery store.

But (sigh) I am without a kitchen. For a month. I’m going to lose my mind. Folks that have been through a kitchen reno and survived…any advice?

Send help! (And takeout.)

 

Three Days Shy of Three

The first time your child expresses gratitude…that is, expresses gratitude without following the usual script (i.e. in response to your prompted, “What do you SAY?”)…that’s a day you never forget. For DD, it was when she was three days shy of three.

I had sent the hubs to the store to exchange a pair of wrong-sized shoes I’d gotten for our little pistol to wear for her upcoming birthday party. Sparkly little mary janes. Cutes patoots.

He returned home with said-kicks, but had made a last-minuted decision…all on his own…in the children’s shoe department…to pick up a little something extra for his girl.

THESE litte ladies. 

HK boots

 

When he walked in the door and showed me his purchase, I immediately knew she would swoon, but suggested we wrap them and give them to her for her birthday. After all, it was merely days away and they would make a nice gift.

He didn’t want to wait.

Our little pistol came barreling around the corner when she heard Daddy’s voice and Oh. My. Goodness. Did HER face light up! Her eyes danced with excitement, her already-mousy voice went up another octave when she saw the Hello Kitty box in his hands. A box adorned with that little feline held so much possibility. It could only be something amazing.

She tore the box of wonder from his hands and sat on the kitchen floor, ready to explore it’s contents. Her little hands lifted the lid and if she didn’t let out a shriek, I don’t know what. She lifted her new pink treasures, inspected them briefly and immediately slipped her feet into them, as if she were Cinderella trying on a glass slipper. Only, on the wrong feet. (A mere technicality when it comes to Hello Kitty galoshes).

And that’s when it happened. Our child, three days shy of three years-old, melted her father’s heart.

“I LOVE it!! Thank you, Daddy. I LOVE it! Thank you, Daddy. THANK you!” And she wrapped her little arms around Daddy’s legs in a hug so big, so heartfelt, it could melt Queen Elsa’s ice castle.

It brought a tear to Daddy’s eye. And mine.

It was the first time our daughter, our little pistol…normally so full of “P and V”…was so purely filled with gratitude and joy and she expressed it, unprompted, unscripted. If I’d had my phone on-hand, I would’ve snapped a picture or recorded some video of her (obvious) moment of weakness. Instead, though, I paused and really paid witness to this special moment. I lived it.

The hubs had been racking his brain for weeks, trying to come up with a special Daddy-daughter gift he could give her for her birthday, and in the end, it was just something he stumbled upon in the store. Just some little, pink Hello Kitty boots. That’s it. But, boy, if they didn’t make her day. Her year! (And his.)

She hasn’t taken them off, since.

Hello Kitty rainboots

Be a Good Little Monkey

We are huge fans of Curious George in our house. The books. The shows. The movies. We love us some George. My daughter can even be heard calling the baby a “naughty monkey” when he gets into something he shouldn’t. Actually, I’m only able to type this right now because kiddos #1 and #2 are engrossed in the “Invisible Sound/Peeling Monkey” episode on Netflix (child #3 is down for a nap). Using the television as a babysitter? Right now, maybe, but I don’t feel THAT guilty about it since Curious George usually offers a life lesson of some sort and it’s perfectly appropriate for preschool-aged children.

Needless-to-say, we knew we would be going with a CG theme for our combo party to celebrate our daughter’s 3rd birthday and our youngest son’s 1st (their b-days are just 10 days apart). DD’s actual birthday is on Valentine’s Day, which fell on a Saturday, this year, so the party was set for the 14th.details Curious George

Didn’t want to go crazy on actual George monkey characters, but rather stuck with the color scheme of brown, yellow and red without going overboard. You know, balloons, flowers, bunting banners and the like.

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The birthday girl, eyeing the cakes

My daughter, eyeing the cakes

Brought in catering from a local Italian restaurant to save myself the headache and stress of trying to find the time to cook for 30 people, all while 3 little ones pull at my apron strings. Made the cakes myself, though, to save money; red velvet for my valentine girl and chocolate for my baby boy. (Recipes coming to my recipe page soon). Adorned them with darling personalized cake toppers from Etsy.

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Did our usual birthday posters with all of their faves and stats and they turned out super cute. We keep each year’s in the frame behind the current one, so it’s always fun to look through the previous years as we’re framing the new one.

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Gave all the kiddos in attendance a cute takeaway, a bit of a departure from my usual bag/box of goodies; they each received a Curious George original hardcover book by H.A. Rey (board books for the babies), tied with a ribbon and banana. I did my research and made sure to order only the original titles, as the more recent releases are only “in the style of” H.A. Rey and not actually written by the author. Not as good, IMO. These seven original classics are:

Curious George

Curious George Takes a Job

Curious George Rides a Bike

Curious George Gets a Medal

Curious George Flies a Kite

Curious George Learns the Alphabet

Curious George Goes to the Hospital

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It was only later that evening, after all the guests had gone and I was reading some of the aforementioned original CG books to our own tots before bed, that I realized what true gems these classics really are…Case in point; this page from Curious George Takes a Job, copyright 1947…

Excerpt from Curious George Takes a Job

Excerpt from Curious George Takes a Job

Love it.

Soooooo…I may/may not have sent the kiddos home from the party with some classic bedtime stories featuring a naughty, anesthetic-inhaling primate. What would the Man in the Yellow Hat say?!

Do I win for best children’s party favor of the year?

‘Night ‘night, my darlings. Now, be a good little monkey and go to bed (unless you pass out from the ether first).