Berry season

A sweet friend came into town for a few days, and her one request during the visit was that we find somewhere to pick fruit (an appropriate activitiy, given that foraging was one of the ways we got to know each other and continued to spend time together).

The strawberry season is coming to a close up here in New England, but that didn't keep us from finding a fabulous farm about 20 minutes away and picking for over an hour (we probably would've stayed longer had the kiddos not been flaking on us).

With an unfortunately cranky non-napper and the Little Helper on our team, we managed to pick close to 10 pounds of strawberries!  It was Little Helper's first real picking experience, and she was so proud of her basket!

So, what to do with 10 pounds of strawberries?

I put a bunch in the freezer, ready for smoothies and winter baking (when winter sadness creeps in, there's nothing like foraged fruit to remind me that summer will come back).

My friend showed me a wonderful website called Elana's Pantry that is a great resource for gluten-free baking.  We made a Chocolate Strawberry Shortcake from there and added 1/2 cup of bittersweet chocolate chips to the batter.

Given the gigantic heat wave that powered through, we had to cool off with some Strawberry Yogurt Popsicles.   I have this recipe for a Strawberry Cream Cheese Tart on deck, suggested by a friend who has a bunch of strawberries in her garden.  And, with a recent fresh lemonade kick, I decided to tweak this Strawberry Basil Lemonade recipe by substituting mint for the basil (because we have mint out the wazoo in our backyard).

We took one final strawberry fling and made up some of this vinaigrette dressing with mint, and soaked sliced strawberries in it.  It made for a delicious salad when we poured the whole thing on some mixed greens!

Beyond strawberries, we managed to squeeze in a trip to the beach, Big Sis took a tumble down the concrete steps (giving her a nice red smear up her face), we drove by a circus under a big striped canopy, and we found ourselves eating way too much ice cream at the UConn Dairy Bar in Storrs.


Mint Sweet Tea and Fresh Lemonade

No southern party is complete without sweet tea and lemonade!  Here are the recipes I used for our North Carolina party theme over the weekend.  I doubled each recipe to end up with a gallon of each.

To make Minty Sweet Tea: (1/2 gallon) put 4-6 regular sized tea bags (or 2-3 family size bags) in 2 cups of water.  Add 3-4 stalks of fresh mint (maybe 1/2 cup) and bring to a boil.  Boil for 3 minutes, turn off heat, and let sit for a while (10 minutes?  1 hour?  Depends on what else you've got going on.)
Squeeze out tea bags and mint; discard.  Stir in 1/2 cup sugar, return to the stove top and heat until sugar is dissolved.  Pour over ice, and stir together with enough water to equal 1/2 gallon (2 quarts).

To make Fresh Lemonade: (1/2 gallon) Combine 2 1/2 cups water and 1 1/2 cups sugar in a saucepan; bring to a boil and stir until sugar is melted.  Remove from heat.  Cover and cool at room temperature.  Pour into a 2 quart pitcher and stir in 1 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice and enough water and ice to make 2 quarts.  Serve immediately.

You know how I mentioned a while back that I had a game for the state-themed party?  Well, in a moment of panic, I realized that a game meant prizes.  At the time I realized this, I was stirring some tea in a pitcher.  So, I decided to make "Make Your Own Sweet Tea" party prizes, with tea bags, sugar, and directions in a brown paper bag.  I thought it was pretty cute.

But we never got around to playing the game, so these little favors are still sitting in my kitchen.  
More tea for us!


Sausage Balls and Lil' Smokies (adapted for yankee states)

Sausage Balls:
Mix 1 pound spicy sausage, 1 pound shredded cheddar cheese, and 2 cups Bisquick in a large bowl until combined.  Roll into walnut sized balls and bake on a baking sheet for 20-25 minutes at 350 or until golden.

Lil' Smokies (sorta)
Stir together 1 jar chili sauce, 1 small jar grape jelly, and 1 package of lil' smokies sausages in the crockpot.  Cook on high 2 hours or low 4, until sauce has thickened and sausages are hot.
*adapted version - if you live in a yankee state and can't find lil' smokies sausages, frozen meatballs will do in a pinch (which is the route I had to take).

Both of these are great party foods and are easily doubled!  Once you start bringing these to parties, though, you'll be that person who always brings them (my friend Brooke is a good sport about being that girl, but we won't let her show up without them now.)

These were two of the dishes we served at the recent North Carolina themed party we threw for some friends who are moving to the great state.  Next time I make it down south, I may have to stock up on some lil' smokies so I can really show 'em how it's done up here.  Or, maybe I should keep scouring the grocery stores until I find them.  I hear sometimes managers take special requests.


Funeral Rolls

Makes 12 rolls

1 package King's Hawaiian Rolls (12 rolls)
1/2 lb good ham deli meat, thinly sliced
1/2 lb swiss cheese, thinly sliced
1/2 c. butter, melted
3 Tbsp. worcestershire sauce
2 Tbsp. mustard
2 Tbsp. brown sugar
dash onion powder

Split rolls and place in an oven-proof baking dish.
Layer ham and cheese on the bottom half of the rolls and replace the top half.
Mix together remaining ingredient and pour over the buns.  Cover tightly and marinate 4-24 hours.
Preheat oven to 350.  Remove cover from rolls and bake for 15 minutes or until cheese is melted and bun tops are lightly browned.

Do you know why these are called funeral rolls?  I certainly do not.  It doesn't matter.  Call them whatever you want: they're delicious.

This was one of the dishes we served at our recent North Carolina themed party (hence the label).  We even ate the leftover ones for breakfast this morning!


The Old North State Themed Party

I had so much fun helping to throw a going away party for some friends who will be starting graduate school in Greensboro, North Carolina.  We are sad to see them leave this Yankee state, but happy also ... because we'll be in good ol' NC a couple times before the year is up so we'll get to stay connected with them!

The party theme we settled on was "From Connecticut to North Carolina with Love."  

I'll be the first to admit that I was excited about the state themed party, but couldn't figure out how to make it work beyond fixing a North Carolinian menu - really, just my favorite southern foods (stay tuned for more on that ...)

And then I started looking around my house, and realized that about 75% of what's on our walls and bookshelves is tied in some way to our roots in NC.  So, I drew some arrows pointing that out ... 

And then, I printed off some outlines of the state and stuck them around the house in various places.  I even taped them to some skewers and used that to label the food.

Veggies & Dip, Ya'll
And then, finally, I made up a game (that we never got around to playing) of stats about North Carolina that I got from Wikipedia.

Here's the menu for our North Carolina themed party (recipes forthcoming):
BBQ sandwiches
Funeral Rolls
Pimento Cheese
Sausage Balls
Lil' Smokies
Veggies and Dip
Fresh Lemonade
Minty Sweet Tea
Banana Pudding
Blueberry Boybait

I am so thankful for these friends and the chance to send them off to their new state!


Cleaning with Citrus Vinegar

White vinegar is one of my very favorite cleaning agents.

First and most importantly, it's non-toxic, which is great when there are little ones who figure out how fun spray bottles are.  One spray in the mouth of vinegar, and she's not likely to try it again.

Secondly, it's so. stinkin'. cheap.  Seriously!  Like, $2 for an entire gallon.

Furthermore, it's versatile.  I challenge you to name another single ingredient that can de-grease a stove, curdle milk, and condition hair.

That being said, sometimes when I use vinegar to clean I get overwhelmed by the vinegaryness of it.  My most recent solution is to steep citrus peels in white vinegar in the fridge for a few weeks, strain out the pulp, and then pour the citrus vinegar into a spray bottle.  Then, it doesn't smell so pungent.  It's mildly pleasant, if I do say so myself!

I did this with orange peels a few months back, and it has made cleaning delightful less of a boring chore.

I am currently steeping some lemon peels in vinegar, and can't wait to start cleaning with that when my orange vinegar runs out!

No word yet on cooking with this vinegar.  I think if I am going to do that, I should get organic citrus fruit, and do a little more research on how shelf-stable it is.


Cart Redo

I love metal carts.  I found this one last fall for $5 at a thrift store, and it was just the right size for a narrow space in the nursery.  It was black, and somewhat rusty, but perfect for the space.

I covered up the rust with a hand-me-down tea towel with embroidered strawberries on it.

And then not too long ago I got a decorating itch.  I wanted a project that wasn't too big or expensive - so I settled on a $4 can of spray paint for the little cart.  I chose a sage green paint, pulled the cart outside, and went to work.

And that was it!  I let it dry in the garage for 24 hours before bringing it back inside.

I know every DIY-er says this, but paint really is the cheapest way to give something a new life!  I love the green, and I am also happy to know that decorating itches are not always expensive.


Simple Weekend Camping Menu

We recently had the chance to try family camping again - this time, building on the failures things we learned from our last trip by bringing the toddler's potty, packing extra snacks, and just having the Little Lady sleep in her car seat instead of a pack-n-play.

We went to the White Mountains in New Hampshire and camped at the Passaconaway Campground along the Kancamagus Highway (folks here call it "The Kanc").  I know, that was a lot of terminology right there.  Maybe I should rewrite that sentence and say, We went to the mountains up north and camped along a scenic highway at a campground with really great tent sites.  There.  That wasn't quite so jargony.

Anyways.  The weather was beautiful (except for one rainy afternoon, perfect for a nap) and the mountain scenery was refreshing to our souls.  We relished the waterfalls, creeks, gorges, and puddles, and put up with a lot of Harleys (of course we would happen upon this natural gem during bike week).
Swift River at Passaconaway Campground
Instead of posting a recipe from the weekend (because, unless you're planning on cooking dinner over open flame, what would that do for you?), I'm going to share our basic camping menu, along with the list of ingredients I packed for the long weekend.

I'm sharing this because I always wondered how people knew what to pack to eat while camping, until I started thinking it through myself.

Here goes ...
Friday supper: tortellini pasta with olive oil and herbes de provence (cooked on the camping stove)
Saturday breakfast: sausage links, eggs, toast (fried bread, really ... it was delightful!) (cooked on the iron skillet on the fire)
Saturday lunch: summer sausage and cheese (no cooking)
Saturday supper: bratwurst, seasoned potatoes, and bread (cooked on the iron skillet on the fire)
Sunday breakfast: pancakes, leftover sausage links (cooked on the iron skillet on the fire)
Sunday lunch: chicken salad on bread (no cooking)
Sunday supper: foil packets - meat, potatoes, carrots, and onions with herbs and butter wrapped in foil  (cooked in hot coals)
Monday breakfast: eggs, leftover meat and potatoes from foil packets, bread (cooked on the iron skillet on the fire)

What went into the cooler:
milk and cream (for coffee and for pancake mix)
butter (for toast and for foil packets)
meat for foil packets - I had about half a pound of leftover roast, but we've also done foil packets with ground beef
sausage links
summer sausage
8 oz. block of cheddar cheese
1 dozen eggs
chicken salad (already made)

What went into the dry goods box:
package of tortellini
olive oil
vegetable oil
hot chocolate
pancake mix
potatoes, onions, and carrots
salt and pepper, herbes de provence
peanut butter
trail mix, crackers, pretzels, and stuff for smores
brown sugar, raisins, and oatmeal (in case we needed a quick meal in a pinch)
sugar for coffee
seasoned potatoes
I've found that when preparing food for a camping trip, it's helpful to think through meals with overlapping foods.  We ate potatoes a few times by just cooking extras at one meal, and keeping the leftovers in the cooler to be reheated for the next meal.  Lunch plans were easy with picnics that required no prep or cooking (we carried a small knife and tiny cutting board with us on our hikes, so we could slice up our food when we were ready for it).  Also, envisioning what you're going to be feeling like before preparing the meal will help - are you just going to be pulling in to the campsite?  Will you have returned from a long hike?  Who else can help you prep the meal?  Thinking through the timing of other plans may help avoid meltdowns (from the kids or yourself).

I would love to have some reader feedback regarding meal planning for camping trips.  I am such a newbie at this, and appreciate any and every idea.  Please leave a comment if you can with your tips for menus while you're enjoying the outdoors with friends and family.


A few more bean favorites

I'm on a little bit of a bean kick.  So I thought I'd dredge up a few more recipes from the rhymes with smile archives that use beans.

If you haven't yet had the chance to learn how to cook dried beans, there's no time like the present ...

Black Bean Chili (uses black beans)
Kitchen Sink Nachos (uses black or pinto beans)
Southwest Pork in Black Bean Sauce (uses black beans)
Chipotle Lime Chicken (no, the recipe doesn't call for beans.  But I recall that the last time I prepared this dish, I dumped in a couple cups of cooked beans.  It works with the meal!)
Hunter's Minestrone (uses cannelloni beans)


Creamy Black Bean Quesadillas

Makes 4 quesadillas (serves 3-4)

4 oz. cream cheese (half a block)
1 c. cooked black beans
1/4 c. salsa (I used salsa verde, but tomato salsa would work too)
1/4-1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. ground cumin
dash chili powder
1 c. shredded cheese
4 flour tortillas
tomato slices

Combine cream cheese, black beans, salsa, and seasonings in a medium saucepan.  Cook over low heat, stirring often, until cheese melts and ingredients are combined.  Cool slightly.

Heat a skillet over medium-low heat for 5 minutes.  While it's heating up, divide the cream cheese mixture evenly among the tortillas.  Sprinkle 1/4 cup of cheese over each tortilla, then fold the tortilla in half.

Cook the quesadillas on the skillet for 1-2 minutes, or until cheese starts to melt and quesadilla starts to brown. Flip and continue cooking another 1-2 minutes.

Is it just me, or does that bottom quesadilla look like Virginia?
Just ever so slightly.
I might be a little homesick for the South.
Just ever so slightly.
Cool slightly before serving; cut into wedges and serve with sliced tomato.

Another recipe that uses beans!  I told you we ate a lot of beans.  They're just so stinkin' versatile, folks.  And to think that I used to hate beans just on the basis of their bean-ness.  Now, I like all beans but black eyed peas.  I've come a long way.


Guacamole and Black Bean Tacos

Makes 6 tacos (serves 2-3)
recipe adapted from Whole Living
guacamole and black bean tacos
6 corn tortillas, warmed
1 avocado
juice of 1/2 lime
1 Tbsp. chopped onion
1 Tbsp. chopped cilantro
1/4-1/2 tsp. ground cumin
1/2 tsp. salt
dash chili powder
1/2 - 3/4 c. black beans
Garnishes: shredded cheese, lettuce, sour cream

To make the guacamole, cut avocado in half and remove pit.  Mash the avocado in a small bowl with the lime juice, onion, cilantro, cumin, salt, and chili powder.  Adjust seasonings to taste.

Divide the guacamole evenly between the 6 tortillas.  Top each with about 2 tablespoons of black beans.  Sprinkle on cheese, and top with greens and a dollop of sour cream.

Meal preparation in the summer time means a few things to me: first, I do not want to spend lots of time inside preparing food, when I could be outside.  Second, I prefer short cooking methods that don't overheat my kitchen (or me).  This is where black beans and standard fridge staples really come through for us - many times for lunch or dinner we just stir together some quick ingredients and enjoy our simple meal!  I first saw this recipe on Pinterest and adjusted it slightly based on what I had on hand.  It was so good that I had to share it!  (oh, and given the fact that I just wrote a post about how to cook dried beans, I figured it'd be nice to share a few things to do with them).


How to Cook Dried Beans

My friends, here is the "quick" way to cook dried beans.  Hands-on time is about 5 minutes total.  Don't be intimidated!

Start with a 1-pound bag of dry beans:

Dump them in a pot:
Rinse in cold water, then pour out the water:

Pour in 8 cups of hot water, and bring to a boil.  Boil for 2 minutes:

Remove the pot of beans from heat, cover the beans, and let sit for an hour or so:

After one hour (or so), drain off cooking water from beans.  Add another 8 cups of water (hot or cold), bring it to a boil, then reduce heat to simmer.  Cook for 45-60 minutes.  If water boils down to the level of the beans, just add more.  Cook until beans are tender.

Now, your beans are recipe-ready!  You may need to add salt, since dried beans are not salted the way that canned beans are.  Just adjust to taste!

One pound of dry beans yields between 5 1/2 and 6 cups of beans, which is about the equivalent of 4 15-ounce cans of beans.  For families like mine who eat lots of varieties of beans, we save over $100 per year by cooking with dried beans instead of canned!

You can cook up one bag of beans a week and eat them in different recipes throughout the week.  They're great finger foods for babies, good snacks for toddlers, delicious in soups and salads, and versatile in place of meat.

Yay, beans!


Blog Party Weeks 7 and 8

Whoops, ya'll!

In my excitement over being whisked away to Boston last Friday, I forgot to post about last week's Simply Baby Furniture blog party.  Show some (belated) love by checking out last week's post by Elizabeth from little black door.  I am really excited by her nursery details, since she shows the transition from nursery for one kid to shared room for two kids.  Inspiring!

Today is the last day of the spring blog party hosted by Simply Baby Furniture - you can take a look here.  This time it's Elisa from Fancy Free Me who gives some really great nursery planning tips.  I especially love the changing table!

This blog party has been a new experience for me, but a great one - connecting with other bloggers out there over a common theme!  These are useful ideas and tips, whether or not you're planning a nursery.  

Now, take a quick second and go say hi to the other style contributors ... 

Beth of Design Post Daily
Heather of Vivid Hue Home
Cindi and Emily of Scrappy Love
Kelley of Forever’s Like a Dream
Elizabeth of The Little Black Door
Tiffany of Tiffany Leigh Interior Design

Have a great weekend!


Grandparents and Kids

The rhymeswithsmile grandparents came into town last week for a wonderful visit ... here are a few pictures from our time together:
She likes to "run run run" with Papa

This is the really cute one where no one was looking at the camera

And the really cute one where everyone was looking!

Showing off the band-aid

The Mr. and our Little Lady

Phamily Photo

Little Lady is 6 months old 

She loves to play with Big Sister's toys

No teeth yet, but working on it!


Maternal Nutrition Cookies (aka, Lactation Cookies)

Lactation Cookies -from peaceful parenting (if you are really going to make these cookies, check out the link to read why the oats, flaxmeal, and brewer's yeast are really important ingredients!)
Makes 3-4 dozen

1 1/2 c. whole wheat flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. salt
3/4 c. almond or peanut butter
1/2 c. butter, softened
1/2 c. sugar
1/2 c. brown sugar
2 tsp. vanilla
3 Tbsp. brewer's yeast (I used Twinlab Genuine Brewer's Yeast, purchased from Whole Foods)
1 c. flaxmeal (I used Bob's Red Mill Golden Flaxseed Meal, purchased from Whole Foods)
1/3 c. water
2 large eggs
2 c. (12-ounce bag) chocolate chips (I used dark chocolate)
1 c. chopped nuts (I used pecans)
1 3/4 c. oats (not quick or instant)

Preheat oven to 350.
Combine flour, soda, cinnamon, and salt.
In a separate bowl, beat nut butter, butter, sugars, vanilla, brewer's yeast, flaxmeal, and water until creamy.  Mix in eggs.
Gradually beat in flour mixture.
Mix in nuts and chocolate chips.
Add oats slowly, mixing along the way (once I started adding oats, I had to switch from the regular mixing paddle on my mixer to the dough hook.  This is a sturdy dough!)
Place balls of dough onto greased baking sheets or baking stones.  Press each ball down lightly with a fork.
Bake for 12 minutes.  Cool completely.  Cookies can be stored in the freezer to extend shelf life.

OK, so I know that it's a little ... um ... personal ... to share a recipe for something that helps boost a nursing mother's milk supply.  So, I won't go into too much detail (because I don't want to scare away my brothers from reading this), but I would like to let you know that not only are these cookies delicious, they actually work.  There.  I said it.  Anything else you want to know?  Leave a comment and I'll see what I can do.

Two reasons to share this recipe - first, they are really delicious.  Whether or not you eat them to nourish a small human is beside the point.  I've actually noticed a boost in my energy in the last week or so since I made them.  These cookies will still make appearances even when the babe is weaned.

I eat three a day.  You can judge me if you like.  Sometimes I eat a fourth, but that just depends on how the afternoon is going.  

Anyways.  Enough about the food.  The second reason I wanted to share this recipe is that a few weeks ago, the Mr. mysteriously asked me how the milk stash in the freezer was, and kindly suggested that I continue to add to it in the coming weeks.  

Turns out, he was in cahoots with his parents to whisk me away for a surprise overnight trip to Boston while they were in town!  My in-laws kept our kids for OVER 24 HOURS (woohoo!) while we enjoyed exploring the city we'd heard so much about.  

The last time we had been on a trip for the sake of a trip (not tied to a conference, wedding, or family event) was pre-dog, pre-kid, and pre-grad school.  So, it was a much needed and extremely appreciated surprise!
Welcome to Boston!

The Esplanade
Sunset over the Charles River
Next time, the Mr. will rent a sailboat.
This time, we just watched them on the water.

The Freedom Trail in Boston took us to significant historical sights all over town!
Being touristy at Paul Revere's house
Touring Harvard in Cambridge
From the steps of Harvard's library
Beautiful campus architecture
(The NPR nerd in me got really excited when I saw this!)

I really can't say enough how thankful I am to my sweet Mister and his parents for making such a fun trip a reality!  They got us a hotel, the Mr. got us dinner reservations at a swanky French restaurant, and  I was as giddy as a kid on the last day of school the whole time.  

Boston, we'll be seeing each other again soon.