Homemade Christmas: Fabric Game

Here's a DIY tic-tac-toe game out of fabric and felt!  This was a little gift for the nephew and niece.  I don't have a great tutorial, but here's a winging-it version:

1 30"x30" square of blue felt
4 2"x30" strips of white felt
1 20"x20" square of red felt
1 20"x20" of brown felt
1 yard of fabric
2 6"x6" squares of cardboard
Thread, scissors, and sewing machine

For the tic-tac-toe board:
-Lay the blue felt on the fabric and trim back fabric to 2 inches all around.
-Lay the white strips on top in a tic-tac-toe board fashion, and sew through all layers (white, blue, fabric).
-Iron the fabric down 1/2" all around.  Fold it up over the edges of the blue square, and zig-zag stitch it all around to finish the edges.

For the letters:
-Cut an "x" and an "o" from the 6-inch squares of cardboard.  Trace around the letters to make 5 x's on the brown felt and 5 o's onto the red felt.
-Layer the felt on the leftover fabric.  Sew around the traced letters through all layers, then cut out the letters.


Homemade Christmas: Embroidered Keepsakes

I don't know how I came across this idea of embroidering handprints.  Pinterest probably.

But I'm a little obsessed with handprints, because when they belong to MY kids, they're the most perfect things in the world.  And did you know that when you have kids, gifts for the grandparents become so easy?

I have never embroidered anything before in my life, and it's really a stretch for me to do some sewing by hand because (I thought) it would just take so long.  But it turns out that I really loved having something to do in the evenings and in the times when I couldn't quite sit at the sewing machine.  And outlining handprints is a pretty quick project actually!

As all good projects do, this one began with a quick trip to Michaels (for thread) and a Google search for "basic embroidery stitches" (here's the site I ended up referencing).  I used an embroidery hoop I had at home, and some white fabric from my stash.

I ran into a small issue when it came to framing, because the block of fabric I had cut was less than 8"x10", but the hands were too big to fit nicely in a 5"x7" mat or frame.  I posted a request on facebook for DIY framing help (got some good ideas, including custom cutting mats out of fabric or scrapbook paper, or looking for odd-sized frames at Ikea).  I ended up being able to take advantage of a friend's mat-cutting setup and have a custom mat created just for these handprints!  If I decide to do something like this in the future, I will have a frame in mind BEFORE cutting my fabric and embroidering.

Here's the finished product:

I've got to admit that I'm really excited about this project, and so pleased with how this came out.  I'd love to know what embroidery projects you've done or have in the pipeline!


Homemade Christmas: DIY Pure Vanilla Extract

I read a post about homemade vanilla extract from The Traveler's Lunchbox in the summer, in a brief moment of thinking about Christmas gifts.  I remembered then that a friend of mine had hosted a make-your-own-vanilla party a few years ago (that I wasn't able to go to but reaped the benefits of) ... and I just knew I had the makings of a fun Christmas gift.

Ya'll - it was so easy!  Jar ... vanilla beans (I found the best price on ebay) ... vodka.  That was it.  The only hangup was that I had to start it months before I was ready to gift it.  But it literally sat in a quart-sized Mason jar on my shelf, untouched (except for the occasional shake) for months!  That, my friends, is an ideal project from a DIY perspective.

I ordered these little 2-ounce Boston round amber bottles from Amazon.  The vanilla beans came from ebay (I started with 1/4 pound of beans to one bottle of vodka).

These make fun and easy little stocking stuffers, hostess gifts, and neighbor gifts as well!


"Homemade" Christmas: Stuff We Already Had

Is this weird?

I got a cleaning bug in November, and started sorting through some books and games we had stashed around the house.  I found these treasures and immediately thought ... Christmas presents!

I guess I'm taking advantage of my little ones' lack of long-term memories.  Ha!  Am I the only one?  Come on, friends ... will you dare to admit you've done this before?

Since we love camping as a family, the Curious George book will be a fun new story to read!  (If you were the one who originally gave that to us, I'm sorry that I don't remember.  I will be happy to give you credit this second time around if you'd like)

I picked up the Memory game from a church rummage sale for a quarter.  My first thought for it was a craft project (it's funky and vintage) but obviously didn't get to work on it right away.  Nothing like a classic family game for these long winter nights!


Homemade Christmas: Baby Doll Carrier

Here's one of our main gifts for Big Sister - a baby doll carrier for her favorite little fuzzy kiddos.

We got the idea at one of her friend's birthday parties - we thought it was so cool and knew right away that it would be the perfect gift for our big helper!

We have an Ergo baby carrier, so I used that as a rough guide for this carrier.  There are some good tutorials out there (since it's pretty likely my vague descriptions aren't extremely helpful).  Here's a free one like a Baby Bjorn, and a reasonably priced one on Etsy from 3BeansStudio like an Ergo (it's even padded!  Nice touch).

The center rectangular panel is 9"x12" finished.  Each of the straps is 1" wide, finished.  I appliqued the dark blue rectangle on the center panel and the ribbon on the straps.

I purchased the buckles and strap adjusters from a craft store in the notions section.  A lot of baby doll carriers I saw online used ties or velcro, but our girl is so into buckling things and adjusting things that we just had to go with the big-kid version for her.  I like the idea of velcro because it is easier for self-play, but she's getting old enough that buckles are a part of the experience that she would definitely want.

I am so excited to give this to Big Sis!  I will post some pictures once she has a chance to use it.


Homemade Christmas: Stockings

One thing I love about gift-giving is creativity.  The Mister and I really like to make gifts when possible, and so I'm going to share a few homemade Christmas ideas we've cooked up this year.  It gets a little tricky, though ... I think that some of the people who might receive these gifts may actually read this blog, so I'll only share the things I've made for Big Sis and Little Lady before Christmas.  You'll get to see the bigger handmade projects post-Big Day.

Homemade Christmas Stockings
For starters ... here are a couple of simple, homemade fabric stockings.  The one on the left I made in 2010, just before Big Sis was born.  I didn't get around to making Little Lady one last year (she was only a month old, after all).  But I used the same pattern that I had from before that I found stashed away in my sewing box.

For that reason, I can't remember exactly where the pattern came from!  It's basically two identical "socks" sewn separately, then one of them (kept inside out) is inserted into the other (turned right side out).  I followed a pattern similar to this one, though I did not use any batting, and the lining and cuff fabric are the same.


Chocolate Cutout Cookies

slightly adapted from allrecipes.com

1 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
3/4 c. cocoa
1 1/4 tsp. baking powder
1/8 tsp. salt
3/4 c. butter, softened
1 1/4 c. sugar
1 egg + 1 egg yolk

Sift dry ingredients together in a bowl.  Set aside.

Cream together butter and sugar.  Beat in egg and egg yolk.  Stir in sifted ingredients to form a soft dough.  Divide into two parts, flatten, wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for two hours.

Heat oven to 375 degrees.  Roll out dough to 1/4" thickness and cut in desired shapes.  Bake 8-10 minutes.  Cool for 3-4 minutes on the baking sheet before removing to a rack to cool.

Confession: I was afraid of making my own roll-cut-and-bake cookies until I tried these.  It's probably because previous experiences yielded a dough that was too sticky to transfer from counter to cookie sheet.  I always ended up with shamefully indecipherable shapes.  But no more!  This dough is just right.  AND it's chocolate to boot, which makes these cookies a real gem.

I have two events in the next week that call for a plate of cookies.  My most recent batch made 6 dozen little cutouts (2" stars and 2" cookies) so you better believe that this will be my contribution.  I keep thinking that I should adorn them somehow ... dip them in white chocolate, add sprinkles, make them into sandwich cookies (now there's an idea) ... but honestly they don't last too long out of the oven for me to play around with.  But, they don't really need much extra.  I think they're perfect.


What I Want For My Birthday (A Shameless Request)

Friends, I will just go ahead and say it.  December is my birth month.  And this year it's a big one ...  Thirty!  30.  3-0.  Three decades of life.  I'm getting excited already.

I know what I want for my birthday.  Do you mind if I go ahead and ask?  I know, once you get past about 16 you can't really say what you want for your birthday ... people who might get you gifts are just supposed to know.

But I'm going to break the norm here.  For my 30th birthday, I want you to give me a handwritten recipe.

Just one.

But written down.  By hand.  On some kind of paper.  My little recipe box (above) holds index cards, so that's a great size.  But really, any kind of paper will do.  Just paper, and pen, and your recipe.

See, I've been contemplating some kind of food project for 2014 ... I've had so much fun with the "Year of Food" in 2013 that I realized it's nice to have some overarching theme/goal/purpose in trying new recipes and cooking new things.  On Thanksgiving Day I was moving some things around in the kitchen and the little recipe box fell off a top shelf.  Cards went flying all over.  I picked them up and realized I had never looked in that recipe box that had been my grandmother's.  I don't even know how I ended up with her recipe box (according to my dad she wasn't really much of a cook anyway, bless her soul), but there are just some really cool notes in there.

Like the page from a daily diary ... Friday May 2: blue cheese, cheese roll sharp, pecans ... what the heck will that be, I wonder?  I'm thinking some kind of appetizer cheese ball, but she didn't bother to title it so maybe it's self explanatory.  If you come over on May 2, 2014, we will be eating this, whatever it is.

That story is all to say that my Food Goal for 2014 will be cooking from Handwritten Recipes.  I've got that box of my grandmother's to go through, but I'd love to add a recipe or two from you folks, if you've got a second to jot something down and send it my way.  It doesn't need to be fancy (my wise-guy brother already called the "pour cereal in a bowl and add milk; eat with spoon" recipe).

So there you have it.

For my thirtieth birthday, I want handwriting on paper.  I'm pretty easy to please.


Our Thanksgiving Plans (And a Recipe for Dressing)

We're sticking around here for Thanksgiving this year, which is a mixed bag of emotions for me.  I am so excited and thankful that our little family is forming our own traditions.  We have the opportunity to have some friends stay overnight with us (friends from Virginia who now live in Rhode Island), and our dear Fellow Southern Transplants are also going to join us for a big dinner on Thursday.  Yes, we miss extended family so much - especially at big times like holidays - but a home overflowing with friends is a blessing not to be overlooked.  We have much to be thankful for.

Family Thankful Tree: Heavy-laden Tree, indeed!
Thankful for these two bright souls!
Our food roundup this week is going to be pretty straightforward, as far as Thanksgivings go.  I am preparing the turkey.  I have pretty consistent success with brining turkeys when I've prepared them before.  Brine is basically concentrated salt water, and the bird sits in the solution for a lot of hours (18-24 is what I'll be going for).  I will bake it in an oven bag on Thursday morning, and the Mister will be in charge of carving it up.

Here is a brine recipe that I will probably use as a starting point: Good Eats Roast Turkey by Alton Brown.  But, let's be honest ... I don't have allspice berries hanging out, and it's unlikely that I'll go out and buy them.  In fact, I'm not sure that my palate is distinguished enough to notice a mere 1 1/2 teaspoons of ginger either in a giant bird.  That's why I'm loosely bound to this recipe.  So, my brine will be salt, a little sugar, and peppercorns.  When the bird goes in the oven, there will be some celery, onions, lots of garlic, and most likely an apple in the cavity.

If you're really not sure about brining a whole turkey, you can try the technique on any other kind of meat at a time that is less emotionally loaded ... take a whole chicken, a roast, or other cut of meat, and submerge it in saltwater for some hours.  The salt in the water acts as a tenderizer and moisturizer.  Really ... it's hard to beat.

Other than the bird, I am in charge of making some gravy and a pan of dressing.  The Homeowners are bringing a pumpkin dessert, homemade cranberry sauce, and sweet potatoes.  The Fellow Southerners are bringing all the delicious vegetable sides: squash, green beans ... be still, my beating heart.

Here's a side note: I have recently learned that "dressing" is a southern phenomenon.  Yankees (and perhaps everyone else that does not have southern roots) do not eat "dressing," they eat "stuffing."  Dear friends, I will be preparing dressing.  I never identified myself as a "southerner" until I moved away.  But by golly, I will call myself any kind of Southerner if it means I get to eat this:

Crumble up 1 pan of cornbread, 6 slices of lightly toasted white bread, and 10 baked Hungry Jack biscuits in a large bowl.  In a smaller bowl, combine 5 cups of broth (any kind), 2 1/2 cups chopped celery, and 1 large onion, diced.  Pour the broth mixture into the bread mixture.  Divide between two 9"x13" pans.  Beat 3 eggs and pour over the dressing.  Bake at 350 for 30 minutes or until brown and set.

Since our friends (The Strategic Family) are going to be staying overnight with us, I am also planning some meals for Friday that won't require me to be in the kitchen for hours.  Breakfast will (most likely) be a make-ahead pan of apple-cranberry baked oatmeal.  I plan on putting this Hunter's Minestrone in the crock pot on Friday morning for a warm lunch along with some grilled cheese sandwiches.  And dinner will be turkey leftovers (perhaps in sandwich form?  Leftover dressing is a great alternative to sliced bread).
Apple-Cranberry Baked Oatmeal
What about you?  What's your Thanksgiving table looking like?


A Whole Year!

Happy birthday to our sweet little lady!

What a hoot and a half this one is!  A year is an amazing amount of time to reflect on change ... really, how could she have gone from a tiny bundled infant to a smiley pasta-eating, step-taking (just a few!), game-playing, sister-adoring, blue-eyed joy fest in such a short time?


Sweet day ... sweet kiddo ... what a joy!


Etsy Shop is LIVE!

Well, friends ... the rhymeswithsmile Etsy shop is live!  So go check it out!


Also, you all are awesome.  More awesome than naps, doughnuts, and all things baking soda ...


Coming Soon: Quilts for Sale

Fun news: I'm reopening my etsy shop soon!

I bet you're sitting on the edge of your seat in anticipation.  I am sure that you've always wanted to own a rhymeswithsmile quilt.  And, I know you've always wished you had a friend who made stuff like this, so you can say, "Oh, yeah, I know the girl who made that."

To help you cope with your excitement, I'll give you a little sneak peek:

More details soon, I promise!


Fridge Finds: What's (Really) Cooking, Part 6

I'm linking up today to the last of the Fridge Finds blog party posts.  The finale is brought to us by my dear friend The Strategic Homemaker - and she's got a week's worth of warm, yummy comfort food to showcase (can we hear three cheers for soups?!?).  I'm particularly impressed with her ability to reinvent leftovers, and go a WHOLE WEEK and only serve meat once.  Are you intrigued yet?  Go check it out here, you!

And, as a fun little recap, click through these other awesome Fridge Finds!

Week 4: The Whiteds

Thanks for playing along, friends!


Sweet Potato and Black Bean Burritos

or shall I call them "boo-ritos"?

Sweet Potato and Black Bean Burritos
Serves 2

1 Tbsp. cumin
1 Tbsp. chili powder
2 tsp. garlic powder
2 tsp. onion powder
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1 medium sweet potato (about 1/2 lb), peeled and diced in 1/2" cubes
1- 1 1/2 c. cooked black beans (or 1 can black beans), drained
2 Tbsp. olive oil, divided
2 flour tortillas
Toppings: grated cheddar cheese, salsa verde, sour cream

Combine first six ingredients, then put HALF of it (about 2 tablespoons) in a ziploc plastic bag with the diced sweet potatoes. Seal the bag and shake to coat.

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a skillet over medium-high heat.  Add seasoned sweet potatoes and cook, stirring frequently, for 8-10 minutes or until soft (add more oil if needed to prevent sticking or burning).  Remove from heat.

In a small saucepan over medium heat, stir together the black beans, the remaining seasoning mix, and the other 1 tablespoon of oil.  Cook, stirring frequently, until beans are heated through.

To assemble the burritos, divide the seasoned beans and seasoned sweet potatoes evenly between the tortillas.  Top with cheese, salsa, and sour cream.

Ya'll, some traditions start on purpose.  And others are accidental.  

Purposeful tradition, begun last night: the Mister and I decided that we wanted hang out in the yard and give out hot cider to trick-or-treaters.  So there was a fire in the fire pit, a crockpot full of apple cider, and a giant stack of 5-ounce paper cups awaiting the neighborhood kids (and parents).  Only one crowd of teenage girls who gave us the cold shoulder ... everyone else seemed to like the idea.  Once it started raining, though, it was time to ditch it and scramble inside.

Purposeful tradition, attempted last night: dressing up the sisters as a pair (at least as long as they'll let us have input on their costumes) ... Big Sis was a homemade cupcake (thrifty and last minute, yes!) and Little Sis was a baker (thanks to an easy raid of the costume box and kitchen toys).

The reason it was attempted and not achieved?
I couldn't get them in their costumes, awake, at the same time.
Little Sis is not so excited about things on her head (see below).

Big Sis decided she'd rather wear her pumpkin bead necklace and hiking shoes than be a cupcake.  Who can blame her?

Accidental tradition, begun last night: repurposing the discarded costume almost immediately.  You remember how I said that we had a fire in the fire pit?  Well, I had to start it myself (the Mister had to work a little late) and I did not spend the time I should have prepping the kindling.  I lit and re-lit that thing half a dozen times, before I settled on Big Sis's undesired paper-bag-turned-cupcake-liner costume sitting in her chair.  After a quick check with her, I shredded that puppy up.  That did the trick: we had a roaring fire within 10 minutes.  Strange, I know ... counter-cultural almost (I joked with one trick-or-treat parent about what I had done, and got a stare of horror in return).  But it was kinda fun!  And weird.  Can I just say it?  I burned my daughter's costume.  It was way more unimpressive than it sounds, but I think it could be a fun tradition.

Accidental tradition, begun last night: burritos.  BOO-ritos.  I made it because it's what we had around.  But they were delicious!  You can tone back on the spices if it's too much for you, but at least try the full amount of cumin.  Add in some oregano and/or crushed red pepper if you want to shake things up.  
I think I will make booritos every Halloween night, not because they're spooky in any way, but because I love a good pun (speaking of which, my brother passed this gem along to me yesterday.)

And now, your turn: what are your purposeful or accidental traditions?  Are they as weird as these?  Are you giving me a horrified look right now that I ignited a kid's costume in the name of ambience?


Fridge Finds: What's (Really) Cooking, Part 5

Blog Party Day!

Today we get to hear from Meredith at The White Pages - and, my friends, you are in for a treat.  She's honest!  She's for real!  She's thrifty!  She's fun!  And all of those things, coupled with her upbeat humor, make this blog post perhaps one of the most authentic ones of the blog party.  

So hop on over there and say hey, why don't ya?  

PS.  Three cheers for bean soup!  It's what's for dinner here tonight, too!

Sunny Day Project

Ideal spray painting weather: sunny and no wind.  I'm barely squeaking by with 51 degrees (ideal temperature to spray paint, according to the label, is 50-90 degrees), but that hasn't stopped me.  

Roadside finds rock!

(Pun unintended)


Fridge Finds: What's (Really) Cooking, Part 4

It's Tuesday!  Do you remember that Tuesday means that it's Blog Party day?  We get a good view of Elissa's fridge AND pantry at Winding Down with the Whiteds.  Hearing what a normal week's menu is for them makes me wish that we still just lived down the road from her!  (And apparently I'm missing the boat on tortellini soup.  That's a THING and I need to try it!)

She mentions a cookbook that was a collection of special recipes from a group of friends ... which makes me think about how lovely it is that food can bring people together in lots of different ways - sitting at a table together, sharing recipes across miles, or reminiscing about food with each other via technology. 

Read Elissa's post here; if you missed the first three installments of the Fridge Finds blog party, check out Rebecca's here, Rebekah's here, or mine here.  Happy Tuesday!


Cranberry-Apple Baked Oatmeal

Makes 1 9"x13" dish, serves 4-6

1 1/2 c. frozen whole cranberries
2 medium apples, peeled and cored
2 eggs
1 c. milk
3 c. uncooked rolled oats
1 c. packed brown sugar
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1 Tbsp. cinnamon
1/2 c. melted butter
2 eggs
1 c. milk

Coarsely chop whole cranberries and peeled/cored apples (I did this in a food processor with 6-8 one-second pulses.  If you don't have a food processor, chopping or grating works fine).  Stir in eggs and milk; set wet ingredients aside.

In a large bowl, stir together oats, brown sugar, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon.  Stir in melted butter.  Add the cranberry-apple mixture and stir until thoroughly combined.

Put into a lightly greased 9"x13" dish.  Bake at 325 for 30-45 minutes or until set.  To serve, heat additional milk and spoon over each serving.  (All the steps except baking can be done the night before for a make-ahead breakfast!  Just combine ingredients, put them in a dish, and cover them in the refrigerator overnight.)

Cranberry-Apple Baked Oatmeal
I am not going to wait until Thanksgiving to say it: I am extremely thankful.  I am so blessed, and have so many wonderful, beautiful people and things in my life.  That is all.


Spaghetti al Pomodoro (Spaghetti with Tomato Sauce)

from The Top One Hundred Pasta Sauces by Diane Seed

1 lb. spaghetti
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 14-ounce cans Italian plum tomatoes
1 sugar lump (1 teaspoon)
salt and black pepper
1 c. freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Heat the oil and gently fry the chopped onion and garlic until softened.  Cover the pan to prevent browning if necessary.  Add the tomatoes with their juice, sugar, salt and pepper to taste, and cook over high heat, uncovered, for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.  When the sauce is reduced and thick, check the seasoning, then pass the sauce through the medium disc of a food mill (or use a blender or food processor as I did, though the cookbook author says that's "not authentic").
Cook the pasta, following the directions on the packet very carefully to avoid overcooking.  Drain the pasta and add half the freshly grated cheese, stirring thoroughly.  Then add the sauce.  Stir well, add the rest of the cheese, and serve.

If you've been reading this blog off and on since 2013 started, you may remember this "Year of Food" thing that's going on here.  A little refresher: last Christmas, my gift to the Mister was a year of cooking international cuisine in three-month chunks.  We ate a lot of Indian food from January to March, ate crepes and sprinkled herbes de Provence on everything from April to July for the French block, took August off (we were travelling, after all), and made a few beans-and-rice dishes in September and called it Ethiopian (that was a little bit of a failure.  I need to do more research next time).

Which brings us to October, where we are finishing the year with Italian food.

Already, I can tell I am really, really going to like this fourth quarter.

I did a little internet search for an Italian market near me, and I found this gem: D and D Market, in South Hartford.  I walked in, and immediately saw a giant display of tomatoes.  I'm naive, I know, but that started this place on the path of authenticity for me.

I rounded a corner of the market with my cart (and two kids) and I almost took out someone's dear old nona (who couldn't have weighed more than 85 pounds, and had a sweet kerchief).  Again, call me crazy, but this place was really feeling legit.

Two of the four walls were taken up by deli displays - one of cured meats and all kinds of cheeses with more "c"s and "i"s than I know what to do with, and the other with fresh sausages and meats.  Of course (because this has to be the case), one of the three butchers had a thick accent.

Also, there was a lot of frozen ravioli and tortellini.

And did you know that Romano cheese can come grated in three different ways?  Apparently it can.  That cheese alone took up a quarter of the dairy case.

I'm off to a roaring start thanks to these two cookbooks - Sicilian American Pasta by John Penza and Tony Corsi, and The Top One Hundred Pasta Sauces by Diane Seed.  I figure that I need to work on my basics here (sauces and dishes using short lists of fresh ingredients) before going big.

Do you have any tips for me?  What cookbooks (websites/chefs) do you reference when making Italian food?

Buon appetito!


Fridge Finds: What's (Really) Cooking, Part 3

It's Tuesday, friends ... which means it's the Fridge Finds blog party day!  (Can't remember what that's about?  Check out the first week here, or last week's Fridge Finds post here)

Lucky for us, we get to hang out with Rebecca from Down the Rabbit Hole.  She's a modest friend, and quiet about her culinary prowess.  Don't be fooled when she talks about simple fare of eggs and kale: she is the kind of cook whose meals you remember.  I have eaten that exact dinner at her house - spontaneously, when our husbands had to work late, and we were both pregnant with our first.  I still specifically remember how I scraped the plate.  And her granola?  Stellar.

I met her, long ago - a mutual friend connected us because she and her husband were moving to our town.  We have a little bit of a culinary history together - this was an early meal that my mom and I delivered to her when she moved; we still laugh over this mishap together; this remains my favorite way to prepare sweet potatoes; a recent favorite soup recipe is from her kitchen.

So, don't wait another minute.  Check out what is going on in Rebecca's kitchen with this week's Fridge Finds post!


Soup on the Lawn

Soup on the Lawn ingredients

White Chicken Chili (from Cook's Illustrated, Jan-Feb 2007)
Serves 6-8

Rhymeswithsmile note: this soup is a little labor intensive, but extremely tasty.  Like, you could win soup contests with this gem.  Don't be alarmed at the peppers - the soup is not spicy unless you add the jalapeno seeds at the end.  

2 pounds bone-in, skin-on chicken breast halves or thighs, trimmed of excess fat and skin
table salt and ground black pepper
1 Tbsp. vegetable oil
3 medium jalapeno chiles
4 medium poblano chiles, stemmed, seeded, and cut into large pieces
4 medium anaheim chiles, stemmed, seeded, and cut into large pieces (substitute additional poblanos and jalapenos if anaheim chiles are unavailable)
2 medium onions, cut into large pieces (2 cups)
4 medium garlic cloves, minced or pressed through a garlic press (about 2 tablespoons)
1 Tbsp. ground cumin
1 1/2 tsp. ground coriander
2 (15-ounce) cans cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
4 cups chicken broth
3 Tbsp. juice from 2 to 3 limes
1/4 c. minced fresh cilantro leaves
4 scallions, white and light green parts sliced thin

Season chicken liberally with salt and pepper.  Heat oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat until just smoking.  Add chicken, skin side down, and cook without moving until skin is golden brown, about 4 minutes.  Using tongs, turn chicken and lightly brown on other side, about 2 minutes.  Transfer chicken to a plate; remove and discard skin.

While chicken is browning, remove and discard ribs and seeds from 2 of the jalapenos; mince flesh.  In a food processor, process half of poblano chiles, anaheim chiles, and onions until consistency of chunky salsa, ten to twelve 1-second pulses, scraping down sides of workbowl halfway through.  Transfer mixture to medium bowl.  Repeat with remaining poblano chiles, anaheim chiles, and onions; combine with first batch (do not wash food processor blade or workbowl).

Pour off all but 1 tablespoon fat from dutch oven (adding additional vegetable oil if necessary) and reduce heat to medium.  Add minced jalapenos, chile-onion mixture, garlic, cumin, coriander, and 1/4 teaspoon salt.  Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables soften, about 10 minutes.  Remove pot from heat.

Transfer 1 cup cooked vegetable mixture to now-empty food processor workbowl.  Add 1 cup beans and 1 cup broth and process until smooth, about 20 seconds.  Add vegetable-bean mixture, remaining 3 cups broth, and chicken breasts to dutch oven and bring to boil over medium-high heat.  Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, covered, stirring occasionally, until chicken registers 160 degrees (175 degrees if using thighs), 15-20 minutes (40 minutes if using thighs).

Using tongs, transfer chicken to large plate.  Stir in remaining beans and continue to simmer, uncovered, until beans are heated through and chili has thickened slightly, about 10 minutes.

Mince remaining jalapeno, reserving and mincing ribs and seeds (if desired), and set aside.  When cool enough to handle, shred chicken into bite-sized pieces, discarding bones.  Stir shredded chicken, lime juice, cilantro, scallions, and remaining minced jalapeno (with seeds if desired) into chili and return to simmer.  Adjust seasonings with salt and pepper and serve.

We had this hair-brained idea not too long ago that we would make five gallons of soup, invite our neighbors over, and eat soup together on our front lawn.  It was a crazy move.  We'd met one family across the street, and the folks on either side of us, but that was about it ... so the other 37 invitations we distributed were to strangers.  Why not?  I mean, really.  There was nothing to lose.  If it was a flop, all the excess soup would carry us into the new year.  If it was successful, then maybe we'd have some new friends to sled with this winter.

Did my precious husband want to make something easy, like tomato-basil soup?  Or chicken noodle?  No.  He remembered this soup that we had had with our landlady when we first got married, and promised that he would do the cooking if I could prep the ingredients.  So, our crazy Soup on the Lawn adventure was escalated by a rather detailed, intense recipe that called for (in my opinion) excessive amounts of chile peppers of three varieties.

But ... it was SO. WORTH. IT!  The soup, though delicious, wasn't even the best part.  We had about 40 people show up (including kids) - a neighbor up the street contributed a crock-pot of chowder to the party (she wheeled it over in her kids' wagon), the family across the street brought glow-stick bracelets for all the kids, and our next-door friends pulled their picnic table out front for additional seating.  Other neighbors filtered in, some shyly, some boldly ... but they came!  They CAME!

There were really neighborly conversations going on, about speed bumps and charter schools and area bagel places.  There was a fire in the fire pit, parents losing track of their kids, and more desserts than any one neighborhood could possibly have eaten.  It felt so good.

One of the best things about this neighborhood potluck was that if we needed something - additional chairs, say, or another ladle - all we had to do was ask someone to run home and grab it.  


And now, a note about cooking in quantity ... 

We multiplied the original recipe by 7, figuring that one batch would make about two and a half or three quarts of soup.  Five gallons = twenty quarts, so that's why we multiplied by 7 instead of a more normal number.

If you had looked in my fridge late last week, you would've seen 23 pounds of chicken, three giant bags of peppers, enough onions to make you weep for days, and cilantro out the wazoo (good thing it wasn't my Fridge Finds Blog Party day!).  

I did as much of the prep work as I could the night before - quartering onions, cutting peppers, smashing garlic cloves, and measuring spices.  My goal was to make the actual cooking process go as smoothly as possible, without being hung up by "oh, I forgot to chop this ingredient".  It was intense.  I cried (15 medium onions will do that to you).

While I am not usually a stick-exactly-to-the-recipe kind of gal, I did really try to stay as mainstream as I could with this recipe.  I knew that the original quantites produced a delicious soup, and I wanted to keep it as experiment-free and last-minute-freak-out as possible.  So, I followed the actual recipe.


Fridge Finds: What's (Really) Cooking, Part 2

It's the Fridge Finds blog party day!  If you're missed last week's post about this curious blog party, catch yourself up by checking out my post from last week.

I hope you're as pumped as I am to get a peek into another REAL family's REAL fridge! I'm really excited to have Rebekah - aka, the Homemade Engineer - as the featured blogger this week!  I met Rebekah when she and her husband moved to Smalltown, Southwest Virginia for grad school (why else would anyone move there?), and got to know her through church, potlucks, and shared craftiness (though, I confess she's much better at sewing things exactly than I am.  Must be that engineer in her.)

She has some great food plans for the week.  And, as someone who's always looking for a new way to cook up beans, I'm pumped that she's sharing a lentil recipe ... because, really, one can never know too many ways to serve beans.

So without further ado, check out her post here, and let her know what you're excited to see in her fridge!


Quilting Progress

I am so proud of this quilting group!  Look how far they've gotten!  
(There are three more quilts that I didn't get pictures of last night, so I will highlight those soon!)


Fridge Finds: What's (Really) Cooking, Part 1

Do you ever wonder what other people actually have in their fridge?  Or what they are really planning on cooking up on a day-to-day basis?

I do.  I'll just call myself curious instead of nosy ... but I really do wonder about these things.  I think about food all day long - at breakfast I think about lunch, at lunch I dream about dinner, and in all those in between times I think about what someone else must be eating, or could be eating, or might be eating.  I know.  It's weird.  There, I said it.

I've been thinking about this so much (I'm not obsessed, really I'm not) that I'm joining up with a few friends with homemaker(ish) blogs for a BLOG PARTY!  Each week from now through early November, a different blogger is going to take a - for real - picture of the food in her refrigerator.  Then she's agreed to share a few menu ideas or recipe links, based on what's in there.

It's my turn first, so here you go.  Here is a picture of my refrigerator, fo'realzies.

Food to notice:

Top shelf: bacon
Middle shelf: loaf of bread, waaaaay too many eggs
Middle shelf drawer: 3 blocks of cheese, pepperoni
Bottom shelf: yogurt, flat of chicken thighs, tortillas
Bottom left drawer: celery, carrots, peppers, tomatoes (Don't know if you can see those)
Bottom right drawer: lettuce, limes

And here, my friends, is a short list of what's really cooking here at the Rhymeswithsmile household this week ... (it's way less glamorous than you might hope)

BLTs (Bacon, Lettuce, and Tomato) sandwiches - using bread, lettuce, tomato, and crispy bacon, with a possible addition of a fried egg (for me), sweet peppers (for Big Sister), and cheese (for the Mister).

Chicken Curry (with chicken, celery, and yogurt from the fridge, adding in chopped sweet pepper - other ingredients are in the cupboards)

Chicken Enchiladas with Mexican Rice and Cilantro Dressing (unfortunately, I forgot to pick up cilantro on my recent grocery run.  So I'll swing by the store next time I'm out ...)

Homemade pepperoni pizza using this dough in the bread machine.

Keep checking in on Tuesdays for the coming weeks, so that you can see what these foodie friends are really cooking up!

Rebecca at Down the Rabbit Hole
Rebekah at Homemade Engineer
Elissa at Winding Down With the Whiteds
Meredith at The White Pages
Andrea at The Strategic Homemaker


Worth Noting: I'm Almost Local

Dear friends,

Really, I doubted it would happen again.  So it is with great joy in my heart that I announce the following: I am feeling almost local.  Fourteen and a half months into living in our new town, I can say with a bit of gusto that I feel like I belong here.  And, maybe I even like this town.

Here's how I know that I've just teetered over the edge of Localness:

Step One: Run into someone I know at a large store.  CHECK!  I ran into a new friend at Target.  Before you think that's not too impressive, let me tell you that people from 15 different cities shop at this Target (it is therefore huge and nigh impossible to locate your car in the lot, much less an acquaintance in the store). And, this is only the second time I've been out shopping and run into someone I know in the months we've lived here.

Step Two: Have face recognition at a bank or post office.  WOOT WOOT!  When I asked a question about cashing a check, Larisa at the bank said, "Honey, I know you.  I am glad to see you today!" Oh, boy.  Feeling local, indeed.

Step Three: Recognize friends' cars around town.  This has happened off and on over the past few months, but it's starting to become a little more frequent.  I see the friends with the sedan, the mid-size SUV, the big SUV, the van ... and they wave!  They WAVE!  Huzzah!

Step Four: Have favorites.  We do!  We have our favorite bakery, favorite diner, favorite pizza, favorite Saturday activity, favorite ice cream, favorite walking route, favorite driving route, favorite farmer's market vendors, favorite season, and favorite park.  There are a few more sprinkled in there, but I'm distracted thinking about my favorite pizza and favorite ice cream.
Our Favorite Bakery
Step Five: Connect with the neighbors.  I have found that every time I move somewhere I gain a deeper sense of place and belonging once I start to connect with the people who live near me.  It happened our first summer in Virginia, not long after we got our dog - that was a big turn-around experience for me to begin putting a real face and personality with the house I had seen so often.  And it has just recently happened here in our new state - over the past months, we've met some of the families around us and have enjoyed new connections.  Literally, enjoyed ... look what the family across the street shared with us: 

So, there you have it.  It happened.  Yay!


Pieced Toddler Skirts

Big Sis and PG
There are few things in life cuter than a little girl in a skirt.

The only thing that might trump it is TWO little girls in coordinating skirts.  When we were invited to spend a weekend with some friends celebrating PG's 2nd birthday, I knew I wanted to put together something that would be simple, homemade, and cute.  Oh, and quick.  I had three days.

Enter this pattern.  Pretty sure I found it on Pinterest.

I picked up fabric remnants on clearance at Hobby Lobby (on a recent day trip there with my friend the Southern Craft Queen) and cut them into strips ranging from 3 1/2 inches to 6 1/2 inches.   For one skirt, I pieced together four strips to make a block approximately 16"x44".  I cut this in half to end up with two pieces 16"x22".  This is just slightly smaller than the average size of a fat quarter, and what I started with for the beginning of the pattern.

I followed the pattern, omitting the ribbon trim.  I just didn't feel like I needed it, given the pieced fabrics.

The skirts are essentially the same size, but I inverted the fabrics to make them look different.  PG (on the right) has a green strip above the striped, but you don't see it because of her shirt.

There are a few more details of PG's P-themed Party (pretzels!  pool!  pizza!  pineapple!  puzzles!  paint!) here.  See if you can spot me rockin' my new short haircut ... 


How To Save A Watery Soup

True Story: What I thought of as culinary improvisation for dinner last night - taco soup in the crock pot - turned out to be an underwhelming soup combo with waaaay too much liquid in it.  Whoops.

Just keepin' it real.  Watery soup happens here all the time.  I'm pretending to salvage my blunder by sharing some ideas for how to roll with it ... 

Too many cooks spoil the broth, right?  Well, in my case, it would've been nice to have another cook to call me on my oops-too-brothy soup last night.  Instead, I pulled the lid off the crockpot five minutes before we were ready to sit down, and had to pull out a few tricks.  Here are some ideas for you, if by some chance you find yourself in the same boat:

1.  Add salt - too much water in soup throws off the flavor balance.  Adding salt won't help with wateriness, but it WILL help the taste.  Maybe you won't feel like you're choking down hot water for dinner.  Other spices could help too, depending on your soup: cumin and oregano for taco-style soups, coriander and curry powder for Asian soups, basil and rosemary for Italian soups.  All this assumes, of course, that you've already added salt.  Add salt first.  Do it.

2.  Add a few tablespoons (or more) of tomato paste - this thickens the broth and adds a rich tomato flavor.  Start with a good heaping tablespoon, whisk it in, and then add more as desired.  You did already add the salt, right?  Tomatoes and salt were made for each other.

3.  Puree half (or all) of the soup - again, this can thicken what broth is there.  In last night's soup scenario, I pureed about a cup or two of beans that were sitting on the bottom of the pot, then stirred it back in.

4.  If you have time, boil off some of the water.  This should take about 20-30 minutes over high heat.

5.  Serve the soup over rice or corn bread.  With salt, of course.

6.  Layer on the toppings.  Chips, salsa, cheese, sour cream, olives, jalapenos, and even fresh lettuce and tomatoes are great toppings.  And they'll make you think that you MEANT for the soup to be as liquidy as it was, to make space for all that deliciousness.

7.  Scrap it and send the Mister to McDonald's.

Well, there you go friends.  A little bit of culinary honesty, brought to you by the letter H, the number 2, and the letter O.


Quilt Class

So, here's the thing - I really love quilting.  Shocker.

And I think I like teaching.  I did try a couple of years of teaching elementary school Spanish ... not sure that that was right up my alley at the time.  But I've grown a lot since then.

These friends are so kind to let me TEACH a QUILTING class one night a week!  Here's proof that they don't run off as soon as I define "selvedge" or "binding" ... 

We are working on a rail fence pattern quilt.  I will share pictures as the weeks go on.  These ladies are such good sports and I am really excited to see our quilts develop week by week!


One Roast, Five Dinners (or, How To Stretch a Meat Dish)

I have been having an ongoing conversation with The Strategic Homemaker about grocery budgets.  Our food budgets are within close range, we have similar cooking styles, and we even shop at the same discount grocery store chain (can I hear it for PriceRite?!) in our two different states.  But we keep asking each other the Big Question: how do we cook delicious food AND stick to a very modest budget?

We have come to this conclusion: don't serve meat at every meal.  Or at least, don't serve a lot of it.  A little meat can go a long way.  So that's what this post is about: stretching one 5 pound roast into five meals.

Delicious Seasoned Roast

1 5-6 pound boneless pork shoulder roast, rinsed and patted dry
1 Tbsp. cumin
1 Tbsp. salt
1 Tbsp. black pepper
1 Tbsp. garlic powder
1 Tbsp. onion powder

Place the roast on a large pan or plate.  Combine the five spices.  Sprinkle - no, liberally coat - the roast with the spice mixture, pressing it in to all the crevices.  Use all the spice mixture if you can.  If you can't, make a few slits in the meat and get the spices in there.
Place the roast in a crock pot and cook on low for 8-9 hours or high 4-5 hours, or until the meat shreds apart easily.  Shred the meat.  Meat can also be frozen in a freezer bag for up to three months.

And now, my friends, five ways to use it ...

Burritos: Spoon a couple spoonfuls of cooked rice, cooked beans, and shredded meat onto a large 10- or 12-inch tortilla.  Sprinkle on some shredded cheese, a spoonful of salsa, and some sour cream or guacamole if desired.  Serve with a salad or chips.

Nachos: Spread tortilla chips out onto a large pan or dish.  Lightly sprinkle shredded cheese over chips.  Using what you have on hand, lightly layer any of the following in the dish on top of the chips: seasoned rice, seasoned beans, chopped spinach, chopped tomatoes, chopped onion, shredded and chopped meat, roasted vegetables or corn, salsa, avocado, and/or olives; sprinkle more shredded cheese on top.  Bake in a 350 degree oven for 15-20 minutes, or until heated through.
My favorite nachos have roasted sweet potatoes on them.  Try it!
Open-faced sandwiches: Butter and lightly toast split buns or rolls.  Spoon on some shredded roast, a couple slices of onion or tomato, and a thin slice or two of provolone or mozzarella cheese.  Cook under the broiler for a few minutes until the meat is warm and the cheese is melted and bubbly.

Pizza: Make a simple pizza with tomato sauce, this meat and some shredded cheese, or experiment with funky pizza creations like a barbecue sauce base, meat, bleu cheese, and carmelized onions with mozzarella cheese.   (My favorite homemade pizza dough recipe is here.)

Breakfast for dinner: Who says meat and potatoes are just for dinner?  This meat goes well with hash browns or home fries, scrambled eggs, and toast.  Or, try making a frittata by sauteing chopped shredded meat and diced vegetables in an oven-proof skillet, pouring 4-6 beaten eggs over the sauted meat/veggies (do not stir), and cooking over medium-low heat until mostly set.  Sprinkle some cheese on top and pop under the broiler for 2-4 minutes (watch closely) so the top finishes cooking.

How would you s-t-r-e-t-c-h your meat?  Leave a comment and let me know!


Braised Herb Chicken Thighs with Potatoes and Carrots

Braised Herb Chicken Thighs
2 Tbsp. flour
2 tsp. paprika
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. thyme
1 tsp. oregano
1/2 tsp. black pepper
8 chicken thighs, skinned (or other chicken pieces, skinned)
1 large onion, cut into wedges
1 1/2 c. carrot slices
1 1/2 c. chicken broth + 1/2 c. dry white wine OR 2 c. chicken broth 
1 1/2 c. quartered small red potatoes

Combine first 6 ingredients in a bag.  Add chicken, seal the bag, and shake to coat.

Heat 1 teaspoon oil in a dutch oven over medium heat.  Add chicken and remaining flour mixture to pan; cook 3 minutes on each side.  Add carrots and onions and cook for 3 minutes, stirring frequently.  

Add broth + wine (or just broth) and potatoes; bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer 35 minutes or until chicken is done and vegetables are tender.

If the sauce is a little thin, you can thicken it up a little bit right at the end like this: Stir together 1 tablespoon of corn starch or flour with 1/2 cup of water until it's smooth.  Pour into the simmering broth and stir.  Sauce should thicken as it continues boiling, within a couple of minutes.  Repeat if necessary.
Potatoes, carrots, and onions

Ready to simmer
I got this recipe a LOOOOONG time ago from a friend in Virginia (who, ironically enough, had been a coworker friend of mine in North Carolina, had moved away, and then moved to Virginia the same month we did and lived a mile away from us).  I still remember how she and her husband prepared this dish for us when they had us over, and I though it was so fancy and delicious that I couldn't wait to try it myself.  

I know the first picture doesn't do it justice.  But you can trust me on this.  This is a go-to recipe.  

Yes, the taste makes me think it's fancy and difficult to execute, but as it turns out, it's really straightforward!  The "braised" part of the title is just the first couple of steps - seasoning the meat, browning it (but not fully cooking it), and then adding some liquid so that the meat cooks and tenderizes while at the same time flavoring the sauce.  

Braising is a handy skill to transfer to other recipes that call for meat cooked in liquid (like soups and stews) because it adds another layer of flavor to the meat.

That's about it.  Time to catch up on all the stuff laying around the house that needs to somehow find its rightful place!