Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Sweet Treats for Teacher

Here is what I am sending my boys with on the first day of school next week.  I figure it's best to get off on the right foot and nothing does that better than brownies!

Click on over to CutCardStock if you'd like to see the tutorial of how I made this quick and easy project!
Even if you don't have a reason to send goodies in to school, this is an affordable and easy way to create super cute packaging for little treats.  Use Fall colors and paper and fill with Pumkin Bread or muffins.... Christmas paper and add fudge or cookies... Just a little extra effort that goes a long way!

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

A Peek into the Garden

It seems like each day I can take a look through the orchard and gardens and see growth.  Out of nowhere a zucchini has shot out and is ready to pick, new flowers are in bloom and the fall fruits are getting bigger and bigger.  The stroll has become one of my favorite evening activities as a family or sometimes, if we can sneak out, Ray and I enjoy the stroll by ourselves.

Here's a little glimpse of what's going on these days.  We have apples......
And blackberries.....
Corn, in abundance.... it will be ready to eat any day now!
Look closely.... there are two little pickling cucumbers on the vine and lots more coming!
Pears, pears and more pears!
My cute little surprise the other day.... a bell pepper.  Right now it's about the size of a marshmallow....
And two of my favorite fruits... playing around a little and enjoying all we have!

Monday, August 29, 2011

A Birthday Card and Butterfly

This weekend was spent working on the basement, exploring in the garden, getting ready for my school to start on Monday (the boys have another week of vacation) and a little time out to celebrate a birthday.  We had a great time and enjoyed some good bbq.

For our friend Helen, I wanted to make a nice card and incorporate a little stitching.  She's a fellow crafter and loves quilting and knitting.  Here's the card I made using patterned paper from Kaiser Craft's "Lush" collection.
I decided to continue the theme to the inside of the card, to help complete the look.  I have been inspired to do this so many times by fellow crafty blogger Anne Marie who always does a beautiful job inside and outside of her cards!
And then just to leave you with a little something extra, here's a shot I was able to capture in the garden this afternoon....

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Project: Basement.... An Update

While I've been slaving away in the kitchen canning, baking and whipping up Thai shrimp, Ray has been down in the basement making much progress.  With our friend Richard's help, the plumbing and electricity are done.... that's huge progress!  The framing is complete and a lot of the insulation is up, which means soon we will be on to drywall.

It's a little hard to appreciate all the progress visually.  The wiring in this place is a big job and I didn't help matters at all, I'm sure.  Each time I came down to bring the guys sandwiches, I would ask them to adjust the placement of the lights, rationalize why a certain light needed multiple switches or explained why I needed so many plugs in the kitchen and craft room.  I don't know electricity, but I do know that my requests meant more work.  They just smiled and did what I asked....

So here is a look at the new window in my future craft room.  It's much bigger and brighter than the little one that was in here.  We are also adding a wall within the room.  We are giving up a few feet from the room to create a storage area that is accessible from the outside, which is why the guys also added the door.
Insulation is beginning to fill all the framing....

Lights, lights are more lights.  I chose canned, recessed lighting since the ceilings are so low.  I have tons of lights and I can pick and choose which ones I want on or off with all my fancy switches!
This is the future home of my stacking, front load washer and dryer....I've never been so excited about laundry!
Here are the guys securing our first load of drywall for the trip back home.  We are becoming well known at Home Depot.... kind of like Norm walking into Cheers.
Now that the intricate work is done, I think things will progress really quickly.  Once the drywall starts getting hung it will really be a sight!  I've got work to do now..... my new pocket door needs to be primed and painted so it can get built into the wall.  I'll be sure to keep you updated as our progress continues....

Friday, August 26, 2011

Easy Thai Shrimp

One of my favorite ports visited during my Navy years was Phuket, Thailand.  It was beautiful, exotic and the food was so good.  I'd love the travel back some day, but in the meantime, I'll have to settle for a little get away at the dinner table.
This is a super easy dish and didn't take much time at all.  I try to keep a bag of frozen, raw shrimp in the freezer because it's an easy protein to work with and can be thawed and ready to go in a jiffy.
Gluten Free/Dairy Free Thai Shrimp and Rice

What you'll need:
Approx 3/4 lb shrimp, raw (thawed and peeled)
16 oz can of coconut milk (unsweetened)
3 t Red curry paste (add a little more if you like it hotter)
2 T brown sugar
2 T fish sauce
3 green onions, sliced thin with the tops reserved
1/3 c water
1 c frozen peas
steamed rice (I like medium grain so it's stickier and a little more traditional)

What to do:
Get the rice going in a covered pot.  I use a 2:1 ratio (water to rice) and I don't rinse my rice.  I like using sticky rice for these dishes because it feels a little more authentic.  If that's not your thing, use long grain or whatever you like.

To thaw my shrimp, I just put them in a collander and run under cool water for a few minutes.

Add the coconut milk and curry paste to a deep skillet.  Combine them well and cook on medium heat for about 5 minutes.
Add in the brown sugar, fish sauce,water, green onions (except for a small handful you'll use to top your dishes at the end) and the peas.  Let this all come to a simmer and let it go for 10 minutes or so.
Toss in the shrimp and give them a good stir.  Keep them moving a bit as they cook.... this should only take about 5 minutes or so.  Shrimp cook really fast and you don't want to turn them into rubber.
Serve the finished shrimp over some sticky rice and top with sliced green onions.... tasty!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Handmade Baby Gift

You might have seen the baby blanket I made as one of the two gifts I need for upcoming new additions to the family.  Today I wanted to take a break from my hustle and bustle in the kitchen and share the second gift I whipped up.  This is a little set that includes two bibs, two burp cloths and a little mat that can be used for changing baby.
The bibs are pieced and quilted and I just love them!  Isn't this little frog fabric so stinkin' cute?
The burp cloths are made from cloth diapers and all I did was sew on a panel of fabric.  Burp cloths are such a great use for cloth diapers.... so much better than their original use, I think.  Yeah for disposable diapers!
Then the baby mat.... it can easily be rolled up and kept handy in the diaper bag.  Mommy can use it when there's nowhere to lay the baby down.  It's got the frog pattern on the back and super soft minky on the front so baby is extra cozy.  All these can easily be tossed in the washer and dryer, too.
So I guess my break is over.  I've been working with the batch of early apples today.  The guys brought in about 70 pounds of transparent apples for me to "do something with."  Hmmm.  So far I've made and canned 4 quarts of applesauce, 9 half-pints of apple butter.... prepped, sliced and froze apples for two future pies and dried a tray of apple fruit leather.  All in all, about 45 apples.... and I haven't really put a dent in the bunch.  I'll be dreaming of apples tonight!

Monday, August 22, 2011

Sweet Cherry Pie

I'm not having a flashback to the lyrics from a big hair band, I'm actually in the kitchen baking.  But now I've got that song stuck in my head.....
Today I'm whipping up a cherry pie.  Traditionally, this pie is made from tart cherries, or "pie" cherries.  We don't have any of those this year; the trees were planted in the Spring, but we won't have fruit from them for a couple of years.  So, I just modified the recipe a bit and reduced the amount of sugar since the fruit is naturally sweeter.

What you'll need:
4 c sweet cherries, washed and pitted
3 (scant) T quick tapioca
2/3 c sugar
1/2 t almond extract
1 unbaked pie crust, top and bottom (I took the shortcut... rolls of pie crust from the dairy section of the grocery store.)

What to do:
Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Roll out bottom crust and place in a pie pan.

Gently toss together the cherries, tapioca, sugar and almond extract.  Let this sit for 15 minutes.

Add cherries to bottom crust.  Gently pack them in as best you can.  They will bake down, but make them snug little cherries in the meantime.

Top with the top crust and crimp the edges together.  Get fancy if you want to, or keep it simple;  just be sure to pierce some holes in the top crust to allow the pie to vent while it's baking.  You might want to place it on a baking sheet in case your pie runeth over....
Bake at 450 degrees for 10 minutes; reduce temperature to 350 degrees and bake an additional 40 minutes, or until pie is golden brown.  If you see your edges getting too brown too soon, shield them with strips of aluminum foil.  You can take them off during the last 10 minutes or so to get them perfectly golden brown.
Looks yummy!  I won't be enjoying this because I didn't modify this recipe to be gluten free... I am still working to perfect the GF pie crust.  But I have a panel of 4 judges that seem to think this pie is fantastic; you'll have to take it from them!

Friday, August 19, 2011

Photos and The Fair

Things have been going well in photography class.  Honestly, I am learning so much about basic photography concepts I wish I had learned years ago!  The teacher is really good and I like almost everything about the class.... almost everything.  I don't really like being openly critiqued about the photos I submit for my homework.  While he hasn't said anything really terrible, it's just the whole experience of being told what I could have done better in front of the other students that is less than enjoyable.  He did, however, like my photos this week better than the plate of beets last week.
The photos were taken at a local barn.  The class actually went there together on a field trip; giving the instructor an opportunity to do some hands-on teaching.  It was a great evening class... the light was amazing!
Ok, the wood knot is not so exciting, I know.  But, we were told to use the macro feature and really find details and patterns within the barn.  Don't worry, the teacher wasn't impressed either.

Nothing helps recovery from critisism like cotton candy, right?  So we spent the day enjoying the Northwest Montana Fair.  The boys were in awe seeing kids their ages working with the animals.  My kids couldn't keep their fish alive, so imagine their reaction seeing the little cowboys and cowgirls draggin' their livestock around!  I think at one point they may have asked if they could join 4H... I just shoved more cotton candy in my mouth and pretended I didn't hear.

They may not have been able to actually rope the stationary "calf", but they knew how to charm the ladies.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Easy Beef with Broccoli.... Gluten Free Style

I made this recipe for the second time and because it was a hit again, I thought I'd share it with you.  For the most part, this recipe is naturally gluten free, with the exception of traditional soy sauce.  We switched to GF soy sauce and the whole family enjoys it, without really noticing any difference.  GF Soy sauce is readily available at most grocery stores and from what I've seen, it's not much different in price.  They also have a low-sodium version as well.

On to the recipe.....
Gluten Free Beef with Broccoli

What you'll need:
Beef Steak, about 1 lb (I use flank steak that I buy from Costco)
16oz bag of frozen broccoli florets (or fresh if you prefer)
1/4 c soy sauce (mine is Tamari GF Soy by San-J)
3 T light brown sugar
2 T cornstarch
1 1/4 c cold water
2 T olive oil
3 garlic cloves, minced or pressed
2 t sesame oil

What to do:
In a small bowl, combine the soy sauce, brown sugar, cornstarch and water.  Mix it up well and set aside.
Steam the broccoli, either in the microwave or in a steamer.  While that's going, slice the flank steak into 1/4" slices, cut against the grain.  If the steak is slightly frozen, it will cut really easily.
Stop everything.... take a look at the big guy showing off one of his new shirts from going school shopping today.  He is a happy boy.... really, I promise.
Heat the olive oil in a large skillet and then brown the steak; about 5 minutes or so.  Add in the garlic and cook for another minute or so.  Now add the soy sauce liquid mixture you made earlier.  Stir it around and cook until it begins to thicken.  Add the sesame oil in and then toss in the broccoli.

Serve over a bed of fluffy steamed rice and a maybe side of egg drop soup, or just a glass of wine..... your family will feel like you took them out to a chinese restaurant!  It's so good, even a little guy who just lost his front tooth will gobble it up...