Tag Archives: fun

Filling Empty

I have 6 half-gallon Ball Canning Jars. When I asked my parents if they would sell me these jars they had sitting around, Mom asked what I was planning to do with them. I told her I planned to fill them. And that is exactly what I plan to do. I have 3 of them in use now, but I’m not going to tell you what I’m using them for, just yet. First, I want you to tell me what you would use them for if they were in your home, and/or tell me what you think I am going to/should use them for. I expect to fill the remaining 3 jars by this weekend and will share with you what kind of fun and/or practical uses I have found.

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Vanilla Beans

How to cut open a vanilla bean: lay bean(s) on cutting board, holding one end with your fingers, use a sharp knife to cut bean lengthwise, exposing seeds

Not too long ago I bought a few vanilla beans for a good price. (I don’t recall what the price was, but I remember not wanting to pass up the good deal.) I finally have gotten around to doing something with them, and I am pleased to say that my first experience in working with vanilla beans has been a good one. They are simple to work with, despite their size, and now my hands smell like vanilla and that makes me smile.

So, what did I do with these fragrant, flavorful little pods of goodness? I made more goodness, of course. It will be ready in about 2 months.

First, I made Vanilla Extract. In my cupboard I had some vodka that I will, in all honesty, never drink. (Sorry, sis. I’ll buy more for your dirty Martinis when you come visit. I promise.) This is the perfect liquor for making vanilla extract. And I am almost out of vanilla extract in my baking supplies, so it seemed a perfect use to me. The process is so simple you’ll question why you’ve never made it yourself, and then you’ll want to rush out and buy some vodka and vanilla beans.

You will need:

— 1 cup vodka, bourbon, or rum (Vodka is my #1 choice here because of its neutral flavor.)

— 2-4 vanilla beans

— clean bottle or jar

Here’s what to do:

Place liquor into a clean bottle or jar with a tight fitting lid. I was finishing off a bottle of vodka for this, so I just used that bottle and saved myself the trouble of finding another appropriately sized jar/bottle. Split open vanilla beans to expose the seeds inside the bean pod (as shown in picture). Add vanilla beans to liquor, secure lid, and shake well. Place in a cool, dark cupboard, and give it a little shake a couple times a week. In about 2-3 months, you will have beautiful vanilla extract for all your baking needs. It will become a little darker as it ages, and you can use it as you would any other vanilla, only it will taste way better. To keep it going forever, you can add more vanilla beans and liquor to the bottle.

I couldn’t stop with just Vanilla Extract, though.  I wanted a treat that could be used more frequently, and enjoyed by my awesome kiddos, too. So, now we’re on to Vanilla Sugar.

You will need:

— 1.5 cups white sugar

— 2 vanilla beans

— clean bottle or jar

Here’s what to do:

Place sugar into a clean bottle or jar with a tight fitting lid. Split open vanilla beans to expose the seeds inside the bean pod (as shown in picture). Add vanilla beans to sugar, secure lid, and shake well. Place in a cool, dark cupboard, and give it a little shake a couple times a week. In about a month, you will have a flavorful sugar that can be used in baking, in your coffee, or sprinkled on some buttered toast for a sweet treat.

Vanilla Extract and Vanilla Sugar! So easy, you'll wonder why you haven't tried it before now.

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So there we have it. A quick trip into the kitchen this morning, and the results are sweet. 😉

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Traditionally Non-Traditional

Have I ever mentioned how much I love my kids? They are fun and quirky, just like their Mama, but in their own unique ways. We all embrace each other’s individuality, bringing out the best in each other, making every day life fantastically fun together. Part of our fun is that we love tradition, but we also love to break tradition!

Color Me Happy

It’s Easter. So we obviously had to color some eggs. We even made some tea eggs after seeing my sister’s post about making them. Coloring eggs is one of my favorite things. I don’t know why. I don’t even really enjoy hard boiled eggs all that much. But there’s just something about the fun, bright colors of Easter Eggs that bring a smile to my face. I’ll be coloring eggs long after my kids have grown up and moved away from home. It’s a Holiday tradition I enjoy very much.

Baskets o' Plenty

Let’s not forget the candy, of course. Our baskets were left in front of the fireplace for the Easter Bunny last night. This year, we all have “proper” baskets. I have struggled every year with the fact that my kids don’t have nice baskets that they will enjoy bringing out year after year, even as adults, like I have. I’ve just never found nice ones that we liked. Some years we didn’t even have a basket, so the Easter Bunny would leave their treats in new lunch boxes or new baseball caps. Always fun, but this year when we looked, the kids decided they both really liked the plain wood ones. They are sturdy enough that I think they will last a long time for them! And we awoke to our baskets filled with candy, candy, and more candy, plus some notebooks, coasters, books, and even new toothbrushes for the kids (their Dentist will surely be happy to hear that! lol)

Traditionally Non-Traditional Easter Dinner

So, what does a silly family like ours have for dinner on Easter? I’m so glad you asked. Cheeseburgers, of course. I was asked by someone today if I would be having a big ham dinner. He seemed a bit taken aback when I said “No, we’ll be having cheeseburgers for our Easter dinner tonight.” He asked me if that was a family tradition. It was then that I realized our “tradition” is that we like to be “non-traditional”. He seemed pleased with my response, and thought it was a pretty cool way to enjoy Holidays. [By making a tradition of breaking traditions.]

Our Easter dinner, 2012: Cheeseburgers, piled high with plenty of melted sharp cheddar cheese, fresh lettuce and tomatoes, and some thinly sliced red onion. Paired with artichokes [with lemon butter for dipping!] and sweet potatoes, and of course some deviled eggs (gotta use those colored eggs somehow, right?)

And the weather for this day? PERFECT! We made great use of our deck for the first time since we moved in here, and enjoyed our fantastically fun dinner outside, giggling about our silliness and enjoying each other’s company and laughter.

I hope you enjoyed your Holiday as much as we did.

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Fabulous Friday

Today is not just Good Friday, it is Fabulous Friday! The perfect ending to a perfect week. It was like shipment central around my place all week, with packages arriving from all kinds of places, including one I have been waiting on for many years. Ok, so not the package itself, but the item. I finally purchased something I have been wanting for many, many years. It’s a French Butter Dish (you may have heard it called a Butter Bell). The husband of one of my friends makes handmade pottery and he does an amazing job. I was so happy to get my much-anticipated new piece of pottery for my kitchen, and getting to support a friend’s business just sweetened the deal!

So, what else makes this a Fabulous Friday? Well, it’s FRIDAY! Need I say more? And I got to run the bar at work today, steaming milk to a perfectly creamy, frothy texture with all it’s sweetness, pouring it over caramelly shots of espresso, chatting with customers and wishing them a Fabulous Friday…what’s not amazing about bringing a smile to everyone’s face?

And in case I hadn’t been given enough reasons to smile throughout the week, I did get some good news via email several times this week. Some relating to my kids and school, an email from an old friend I hadn’t heard from in awhile, and then an email from someone who is planning to make my Garlicky Buttery Shrimp Pasta for some family. I am excited to hear how everyone enjoyed it!

Now I get to enjoy the day tomorrow with my favorite kiddos… picking up our produce basket from Bountiful Baskets, dying Easter Eggs, eating candy, and probably planning more menus!

Excitement abounds. New beginnings emerge. What kind of amazingness are you up to this weekend?

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Fruity Tastes

Cherimoya, Kumquats, Star Fruit

Last week I asked if you could name these fruits. I posed the question here at ThatCookGirl.com and again on facebook. Everyone seemed to know what the kumquats and star fruit were, but most seemed stumped by the 3rd fruit I had pictured. An odd looking greenish-brown fruit that my kiddos and I chose because we had never seen or heard of the cherimoya before.

 
It’s fun to try new foods, and I found it even more enjoyable to share it with my kiddos and talk about what we liked and didn’t like. We all agreed that the smooth texture and sweet flavor of the cherimoya was our favorite of the three. It would make a great addition to a smoothie, or alongside a cup of fresh yogurt. Both of the kiddos said they did not enjoy the kumquats. They were a little bitter, maybe they weren’t quite ripe? I was the only one who said “eh, I could take it or leave it” to the star fruit. It was good, but not something that made me think “where have you been all my life?” But again, I think it was not fully ripe, so I will have to try it again at some point. Maybe alongside the dragon fruit that was suggested by my sister. It is, afterall, the Year of the Dragon, which is MY year!
 
Speaking of MY year! It is still my Birthday Month, too! And I’m still trying new foods. Tonight: Veal!

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Loves of my Life

Heart Day Dinner for the Loves of my Life! xoxo

I celebrated my first Valentine’s Day as a single woman by recognizing the true loves of my life. The two people I spend the majority of my free time with. Who love me unconditionally (even when they “hate” me momentarily), and who I love unconditionally.  They bring me joy every day with their smiles and their laughter. They keep my life interesting and bring a ray of light even on my darkest days.

They are my favorite boy and girl in the whole wide world. They talk back. They forget to do their homework. They drive me crazy. And I love every minute of it, because more importantly, they have smiles and hugs that would melt an ice queen’s heart, they tell stories about their day and about their friends. They tell jokes. They fight and they love and they do it with their entire heart and soul.

I love you, my favorite kiddos! Thank you for sharing Heart Day with your silly mama. xoxo

So… what did I make for these most fabulous kiddos of mine? Nothing super fancy, just some of our favorite foods, shaped into hearts. My easy meatloaf, paired with roasted carrots [drizzled with olive oil and tossed with chopped red onion], julienne beets, and some mashed potatoes [I used up the last of the ranch dressing I made last weekend and that added really great flavor, along with the homemade butter I mixed in.] Comfort food with great conversation and giggles at dinner.

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Can You Name These Fruits?

Can you name these fruits?

On my quest to find new foods to try this week, I decided to get my kiddos in on the fun. They have some great suggestions and I’m excited to keep trying new foods with them, well past my challenge this month, because there are just too many things to try, and why stop the fun just because the challenge ends.

 

This week kinda got away from us, and we found ourselves coming home from a fun weekend with friends, realizing we had not tried our new food yet for last week. We popped into a market for some milk and perused the produce aisles for inspiration. The picture you see here is what we came up with. Can you name these fruits? [We will reveal names of fruits and our opinions on them later this week.]

 

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Lunch With the Girls

My Birthday Month started out a little rocky mood-wise, finding me in a funk that I couldn’t seem to shake most of this week. So when I was asked to meet an old school friend for lunch with her 2 lovely daughters, I was thrilled to find myself escaping the office for my lunch break, something I haven’t done in awhile.

The little cafe just a little over a block from my office was just perfect for us. A nice big table to seat the 4 us, plus a couple dolls. Some burgers and fries and plenty of visiting and laughing helped t improve my mood.

Thanks for the fun lunch, my friend!! We should do that more often. 🙂

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Birth-Month Challenge

I posted a few weeks ago about my Food Trials. At that time, in my own mind, I issued myself a challenge to post more frequently. I had plans for daily post themes. After a few days and no posts, I decided I would just make it weekly posts…and then a few more weeks passed by. So I am issuing my Birth-Month Challenge to the public because it’s harder to back out of a public challenge, right? (I hope! Because I really want to do this!)

It was a few years ago, during a particularly tough time in my life, that I decided I would celebrate my Birthday for the entire month. It’s February. It’s a short month. Humor me, people. I deserve to be spoiled, even if I am spoiling myself. So, what better month to issue myself a new challenge than this very special month. I won’t bore you with all my daily spoilings (or maybe I will. I guess I haven’t decided yet.), but I will share my challenge with you.

My challenge (which goes well with my Food Trials!): I will try one food I have never tried every week this month. I will cook one thing I have never tried to cook or never had success cooking at least twice this month.

Oooohhhh….double challenge! Can I do it? Of course I can! The question is: What do I cook?

First up: Lamb! I have never (that I can remember) had lamb. I find myself with the opportunity to have a weekend alone at home. So I will shop some local markets and get some lamb and make myself a great dinner. I will report back on my results.

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Reusable Memories

Stacks of Memories!

I use real dishes. Yes, even for parties with many people in attendance, I use glass plates, glasses, and flatware, and I even use cloth napkins. It’s not that I’m a snob about dishes. Not at all. I have a hodge podge mix of plates, bowls, glasses, flatware, and napkins. There are matching sets among the mix, but for a large group, nothing matches, and I rather prefer it that way. It’s casual. It’s fun. It’s me.

When the party is over and all the guests have left, I walk around and pick up stray plates, glasses, and whatever else is sitting on tables, window sills, next to chairs… and this brings a smile to my face, because I know that everyone enjoyed themselves and as I stack up the plates and line up the glasses, it’s like I’m stacking up memories with every clink of dishes hitting against each other. And those memories will get to come out and play again and again as those dishes are used for nightly family dinners, dinner with friends, parties “just because”, impromptu get-togethers, and much more. And those memories are worth more than any possible breakage might cost to replace.

Remember: Use the good stuff. Today is special.

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