The Diary of a Novice Gardener: Making Progress

– johanna | March 31st, 2009

Filed under: THE GARDEN

Old Man Winter has been reluctant to leave. The minute I think we are heading into mild weather, bitter cold and shrill winds rip through causing me to re-think packing up the winter clothing. Last year, Old Man Winter toyed with us clear into June. Anyone remember it snowing in Idaho in June? I am definitely not complaining. The 115 degree heat of the valley is nothing I look forward to. However, I am anxious to get my garden planted.

Mason’s preschool class learned about gardening last week. It was part of the topic “growing”. All week, they witnessed caterpillars creating chrysalis. I am as excited as the kids to see the appearance of butterflies soon. The sandbox was turned into a garden. They planted marigolds, some herbs, tomatoes and pumpkin seeds. I signed up to bring tomato plants and marigolds. While at the nursery, I took the opportunity to purchase a few plants for myself.

I was in the process of building the raised beds when I realized the biggest enemy to my garden at present are the kids. Adelin loves flowers so much I had to stand guard over the fruit trees when they were in bloom. Last year, they dug up the potted orange tree I planted so they could use the dirt. I decided last minute to move the plants to the front yard incorporating the them into the landscape. I took three half barrels and planted tomatoes, cilantro, marigolds and green peppers then set them on the front porch. I lined the walkway with strawberry plants then dug a bed for future planting. The tree in the front yard was finally saved from the encroaching grass.

I am still working on setting the stage in the backyard. The kids finally managed to demolish the wooden boat sandbox. As I was taking it apart, I saw the makings of a trellis for the raspberries and the perfect box for the kids garden. We took the egg cartons I was saving to make flowers with and used them to plant vegetable seeds in. I have even seen the use of cotton balls and peat moss to start seeds. The leftover seeds belong to the kids to plant in their garden.

The next step is to figure out how to keep the bugs away from the growing strawberries, wait for the seedlings to grow and the larger plants to produce.

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The Traveling Snack Bag

– johanna | March 30th, 2009


While we teach the kids the importance of sharing, sometimes it is better to choose your battles. So it is with the case of the one-eyed woolly monster. My friend relayed a story once about her husband and cereal. Growing up, it was first come, first serve. If you lagged behind, there was a pretty good chance you would not eat or find disappointment that your favorite cereal was all gone. To compensate, the boys would overeat on their share of cereal.

Some days, my kids behave like they are going to starve to death fighting over who holds the snack bag; or how much the other can have. They act like a one-eyed woolly monster; a term I got from Caillou. His mom used a similar term to describe his moody and selfish behavior. To remedy the problem, I give them each their own snack bag. When we travel, it is the same. They each get to pack a lunch and snacks. They enjoy being in charge of their own bag. Many times, they surprise us and offer to share their snacks with a hungry brother or sister who has gulped theirs all up.

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A Fancy Pudding Pie

– johanna | March 29th, 2009

Filed under: BUDGET MEALS, RECIPES - Treats

A couple weeks ago, I took Mason and Adelin to a kids workshop where they learned to make dirt referring to the dessert known as, Dirt. The kids helped measure the milk and stir the pudding. Each child was given a cup and bag with oreos (to go with the chocolate pudding) or vanilla sandwich cookies (to go with the vanilla pudding) to smash. Then, they mixed their cookies with the pudding in the cup, added a few worms and stuck them in the refrigerator to set.

I went to the store yesterday to pick up a few things one of the items being eggs. Guess what I found in the front seat of my car this morning? Since we were without eggs, I opted to make pudding for the kids’ afternoon snack. As I was stirring the cook and serve boxed pudding, I thought about the Dirt the kids made and how much fun they had putting it together. While the pudding cooled, I put a variety of ingredients on the table to give the kids the opportunity to make their own fanciful pudding concoctions.

We used sliced strawberries, a sliced banana, coconut, chocolate chips, graham crackers, walnuts and nutella. I think the best part was piling on the toppings.

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Limeade or Lemonade Dressing

– johanna | March 28th, 2009

Filed under: RECIPES - Soup / Salad

With the birth of our first baby, my mom flew out to help me get settled in as a new mother. One day for lunch, she surprised me with a glass of blueberries drizzled with lemonade dressing. It was a special moment, because her mom made fruit cups with lemonade dressing for her when she was a girl.

Source: Grandmother Lois Jepson
3 tbsp undiluted concentrate
3 tbsp oil
3 tbsp honey
1/2 tsp celery or poppy seeds

Mix concentrate and honey with a whisk. Slowly drizzle in oil Mix well. Add seeds. Serve over fruit salads.

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Italian Steak and Bread Salad

– johanna | March 27th, 2009

Filed under: RECIPES - Soup / Salad

I enjoy making my own croutons, because they have more flavor than the store-bought kind. It is also another way of using up day-old bread or the crust cut off of the kids sandwiches. I changed the original recipe up a bit mostly because I tend not to buy specialty items unless I have too. Since it was just us I swapped the french bread with whole wheat, X-ed the tomatoes (we did not have any) and dressing, substituted feta for the blue cheese and used olive oil instead of the spray.

Source: Woman’s Day
1 (12-oz) Sirloin steak, 1/2 to 3/4 inch thick
1/2 (1 pound) loaf French bread, split
Garlic oil spray
Salt and pepper
2 cups wedge ripe tomatoes
2 bags (6 oz) baby spinach trio (spinach, arugula and carrots)
1/2 cup bottled olive oil and vinegar dressing
1/2 cup sliced onion
1/2 crumbled blue cheese

Heat outdoor grill or stovetop ridged grill pan. Coat steak and cut surfaces of bread with garlic spray; sprinkle with salt and pepper. Grill steak, turning once, 6 minutes, or until an instant-read thermometer inserted from side to middle registers 155°F. Remove to a cutting board, cover loosely with foil and let rest. (Temperature of steak will continue to rise to 160°F for medium doneness.)

Meanwhile, grill bread, cut sides down, 2 minutes, or until lightly toasted. Cut bread in chunks; thinly slice steak. Combine in a bowl with remaining ingredients; toss to mix.

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I Love Cleaning My Kitchen Table Chairs

– johanna | March 26th, 2009


I did it. I covered my chair cushions with clear vinyl from the fabric store. I know for years it was a decor no-no. I thought so, until I saw a picture in “Traditional Home”. If Clinton and Stacy from “What not to Wear” were here, I know they would say, “Just because it is in a magazine, does not mean you should do it.”

My sister-n-law, Natalie, gave us her slightly used table and chairs, all from Ikea. What I love most about the chairs, are the seat cushions. The fabric is actually a cover. I did not know that until the first time I removed the cushions from the chair to measure for replacement material. I threw the covers in the wash instead of buying new ones. They have been spilled on, stained, and bleached until there is no hope left.

The chairs in the magazine looked fabulous. Originally, we looked at other styles of vinyl, but I was not satisfied with the selections available. I found some decent upholstery material on sale for a dollar and decided, if it is going to last, I would have to cover it with the clear vinyl. It is not like I went and covered my living room couches and chairs. Most important of all, they are kid proof. I giggle every time I swipe the rag across the chair seat. Cleaning is a cinch. No more scrubbing. No more bleaching.

Scout out fabric discount stores, yard sales and thrift stores for deals on fabric. Belive it or not, I used to find beautiful fabric at Walmart. When I decorated our first house, I found amazing deals at a $2.00 fabric store. Material that regularly costs between $15 – $20, was $1.00 – $10. Other tools may include a pair of scissors, a staple gun with staples and 1 1/2 inch foam. WikiHow has a step by step tutorial on how to reupholster a dining chair.

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Pumpkin and Cream Cheese Pancake Sandwich

– johanna | March 25th, 2009

Filed under: RECIPES - Breakfast, RECIPES - Snacks

I do not remember where I found this recipe. I thought it was in a book called Sugar-Free Toddlers by Susan Watson.  When I went looking for the recipe to verify, I could not find it in the book. These little pancake sandwiches have been a favorite snack since Mason was a toddler.

When my kids started solids, I took the homemade baby food route using So Easy Baby Food So Easy Baby by Joan Ahlers and Cheryl Tallman the creators of Fresh Baby. The book teaches how to puree and at what age to introduce each food. With weight issues and health problems at the forefront of today’s society, I was extremely cautious about what I gave Mason to eat. Mason ate the healthiest of the three. When he turned 1, he had no clue what cake was or what he was supposed to do with it. Instead of cheddar fish or cheerios, Mason munched on softened fruit and veggies or snacks made from the Sugar-free Toddler cookbook. That all changed after Adelin joined us. We still try to limit the sugar by making our own snacks, discussing healthy choices, and eating in moderation. We must be doing something right. Adelin calls Craisins candy and they still think my banana shakes are ice cream.

Source: unknown
Warm Pancakes
Pumpkin Butter
Cream Cheese

Spread some cream cheese on one pancake. Spread another pancake with a little pumpkin butter then sandwich together.

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Spinach and Grape Salad

– johanna | March 24th, 2009

Filed under: BUDGET MEALS, RECIPES - Sides, RECIPES - Soup / Salad

The weather was absolutely gorgeous today, a perfect day for a picnic. We ran around the backyard with Police Officer Mason in hot pursuit. Mason is a no-nonsense cop. Forget the ticket for speeding, we had to go straight to jail on the trampoline, where I jumped until I had to leave to start dinner. As I cooked, the kids took advantage of the warm weather spraying themselves with the water hose. I did not have the heart to make them come inside and so decided we would have a picnic. A perfect meal for a perfect day.

I know this salad may seem a little weird, but it tastes phenomenal. It is super quick, healthy and goes well with seasoned pork chops and roasted potatoes.

Source: Rachael Ray
1 red onion, halved and thinly sliced
1 cup red seedless grapes, halved
4 oz baby spinach
1/4 cup sliced almonds, toasted
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar

Heat oil in a skillet, cook red onion over medium-high heat for 3 minutes. Stir in the grapes and 1/4 cup water and remove from heat. Stir the spinach, almonds and balsamic vinegar into the onion mixture, season with salt and pepper. Serves 4

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Hold the Crust Please

– johanna | March 23rd, 2009


I had an Epiphany while making PB&J Sandwiches for lunch. As I stood there staring at the pile of wasted bread crusts (the kids do not like to eat the crust), I thought this is almost two and a half slices of bread about to be thrown into the garbage. My mom always told us to eat our crusts, because it makes your hair curly. It was a saying passed down from her father who loved the crust best of all. “Back in my day…” untouched food on the plate usually elicited a comment like “eat your greens, there are starving kids in China.”  Or something like “Waste not, want not.”

What I should have done, was cut the crust off before spreading the peanut butter and jelly and used it for croutons or bread crumbs. With stopping the waste on my mind, I saved the leftover half eaten bananas from breakfast and used them in a banana smoothie at snack time. I try to freeze extra fruit and vegetables before they go bad, especially blueberries and strawberries, which we use to make smoothies. Once I tried to compost from leftover food scraps, it ended in a fly-infested mess. Making a compost pile is not as easy as it sounds. Most of the time, I try to scale down recipes or try to turn a leftover into something else. Stephen refuses to eat leftovers and some leftovers are not as good the next day.

The teacher’s aide at Mason’s school uses up vegetables by throwing them in a pot for soup, or roasts them with some meat. My mom used to make her version of tootsie rolls from pie dough scraps. My brother told me about some friends of ours who continuously used the same enormous pickle jar by adding fresh mini cucumbers to the brine. Love Food Hate Waste is a site dedicated to helping the community become more mindful of what we throw away and how to use what we have. The Kitchn suggested using a magnetic whiteboard on the fridge. Every time they buy produce, they write it down. As it gets used up, erase it from the board. Also, write down any leftovers in the fridge.

A friend’s mom once asked me to help her make a menu using a list of food items. A college student at the time, I took great care to make sure every ounce of the food I picked would be used up. She laughed when she saw my final draft noting it looked boring. Where was the variety? I was thinking as a budget-minded college student, which is probably the mindset we should have when planning our meals. Planning meals around each other ensures we use every cent spent and it is less likely the food will go to waste. Every item has a purpose. It is just as important when making a shopping list to write down the exact amount of ingredients needed. Check the freezer, pantry and refrigerator first. Why spend the extra cash on something you already have. When planning a weekly menu keep in mind, if you like to eat out one or two nights a week, only plan dinners for five or six nights.

I learned a valuable lesson during our last move. 1. It is easy to stockpile goods and 2. There are at least four to six meals hidden away in the freezer, refrigerator and pantry.

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Cinnamon Bun Pizza

– johanna | March 22nd, 2009

Filed under: RECIPES - Breads, RECIPES - Treats

One of my favorite pizza joints is Zachary’s Pizza located in Berkley, California. It is a well known hidden treasure. They are the home of the traditional Chicago pizza pie. A layer of pizza dough topped with sauce, toppings and cheese. Then, another layer of dough and sauce. The sauce is similar to the Italian family restaurant Buca di Beppo with the the bits of perfectly seasoned chopped tomato.

I have a skillet pizza dough recipe from Cook’s Illustrated and this version from “Every Day” with Rachael Ray. I decided to go with the latter, because it was simple and because of the cinnamon bun pizza recipe. A layer of dough topped with a mixture of brown sugar, cinnamon, currants, pecans, another layer of dough and sugar mixture, all topped with a layer of dough, a brush of butter and a sprinkle of cinnamon sugar. The kids had a blast making it. Adelin and Everett enjoyed getting their fingers sticky from the dough the most. Tastes better the next day. Next time maybe I will have another go at making a Zachary’s Pizza Pie.

When making skillet pizza, keep in mind the total rising time needed. Typical pizza dough rises once, while skillet dough has an additional second rise once assembled in the pan.

Source: Every Day with Rachael Ray
Skillet dough (see recipe below)
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup chopped pecans
1/3 cup dried currants
4 tbsp butter, softened
1 tbsp granulated sugar
3/4 cup confectioners’ sugar
1 tbsp milk
1 1/2 tsp orange juice

Turn the pizza dough out onto a work surface; cut off and reserve one-quarter of the dough, then halve the remaining dough. Press one half evenly unto a greased 9-to 10-inch cast-iron skillet. In a medium bowl, whisk together the brown sugar, 1 teaspoon cinnamon and salt; toss with the pecans and currants. Sprinkle half of the nut mixture on the dough in the pan, leaving a 1/2-inch border; dot with 1 1/2 tablespoons butter.

Shape the reserved smaller piece of dough into a 9 to 10-inch round and place on top of the filling. Sprinkle with the remaining nut mixture and dot with another 1 1/2 tablespoons butter. Shape the remaining dough into a 10-inch round and place on top, pressing around the edge to seal the layers.

Cover with a kitchen towel and let stand until doubled in size, about 25 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Melt 1 tablespoon of butter and brush over the top crust. In a small bowl, combine the granulated sugar and 1/4 tsp cinnamon; sprinkle on top. Cut a few vents in the top crust and bake until golden, about 25 minutes. Let cool in the pan for at least 30 minutes. Stir together the confectioners sugar, milk, orange juice and a pinch of salt, the drizzle on top.

Skillet Dough:
3/4 cup warm water (105-110 degrees)
1 tbsp active dry yeast
1 tsp sugar
2 1/4 cups flour
1 tsp salt
3 tbsp olive oil

In a small bowl, stir together the warm water, yeast and sugar. Let stand until foamy, 3 to 5 minutes.
Using a standing mixer, mic the flour and salt at low speed. Mix in the yeast mixture and olive oil until a shaggy dough forms. Change to the dough hook and mix at medium speed until smooth, about 6 minutes.
Transfer the dough to a greased, large mixing bowl, turning to coat; cover with plastic wrap and let rise until doubled in size, 45 minutes to 1 hour. Punch down the dough before using.

-For whole wheat dough, use 3/4 cup whole wheat flour and 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour.
-Make pretzels. Roll into ropes. Twist, shape then place on baking sheet. Cover; let stand until double. Brush with egg. Sprinkle with salt. Bake 400 degrees about 20 minutes.
-Peanut butter and Jelly pizza: Place dough in a pan. Microwave peanut butter and jelly. Pour peanut butter over dough and top with jelly. Bake 375 degrees for 15-20 minutes.

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