Thursday, March 29, 2012

Laundry and Projects

When do you do your laundry?

On a certain day of the week?

A little bit every day?

When it piles up?

When you visit your mom?

I have always been a 'when it piles up' kind of girl. When I think of an outfit I'd like to wear, or a favorite pair of underwear that's at the bottom of the hamper, I'll throw in a load. It's not the most effective method as I actually have multiple favorite pairs of underwear, not to mention a lot of clothes I enjoy wearing. I'm too easy-to-please for this method to work in my house.

Matt is a "Set a day and stick to it" kind of guy. When we were dating Matt would actually tell me that we couldn't go out on Wednesday nights because it was laundry night (A little bit Sheldon Cooper anybody?). After I stopped working in anticipation of having Gabriel I became the primary laundry doer. We revereted back to the 'when it piles up' method and basically were almost overrun with laundry piles in our bedroom. That went on for some time, until Matt was nearly at wit's end about it and suggested I try setting a laundry day. Off and on for a year I'd do laundry on Mondays. It kind of helped... sometimes. I would forget some Mondays, or we'd go through too many clothes and I'd do a load on a Thursday and then feel like the last laundry day was too close so I'd skip a Monday. Gradually, our clothes started piling up faster and faster. By the time I was pregnant with Nathaniel, I was actually trying to maintain a two-laundry-days-a-week schedule. Some weeks it worked, some weeks it didn't.

It always astounds me how quickly laundry can pile up. It also astounds me how the bigger something grows - like the laundry pile, or a pile of dirty dishes - the less I want to do it. Am I odd? Or just lazy?

Since cleaning and organizing my bedroom the other day, the only thing out of place was a basket of Nathaniel's clean laundry that I had yet to fold. Yesterday as I was waiting for Matt to get home, I decided to quickly fold it and put it away. It was a lovely time actually... the light was gently pouring in my bedroom window, the kids were playing happily across the hall, my bedroom was a comfortable, clean space that I could do a quick chore in, and when the basket of laundry was folded - and then promptly put away - I felt really good about having it done. Since it was such a small amount it had never caused me any stress thinking about having to tackle it, and since I was able to get it all folded and away in 20 minutes, it was actually a nice bit of downtime.

Ergo, a new laundry method shall be tried in our house: each day, save perhaps Sundays, I shall wash, dry, fold and put away 1 load of laundry. Goodness knows there's enough laundry in our house to make it a daily thing. And I could even fold and put away the day before's load while that day's load is washing and drying if I don't want it to span too much of the day. But I'm gonna try it. Something's gotta give in my housekeeping, and a daily routine seems so much more manageable than a weekly pile. Hopefully this will put to end the horrible piles of folded laundry that gather in our basement, too. I'll let you know how it goes!

Besides reimagining my household organizational systems, I've had a lot of other projects on the go in the last month or two. I always seem to have so many 'other' things on the go, and often a lot of them stay unfinished for far too long.

For example, I currently have two mostly-finished quilts that I started last fall, one half-done knitted headband and two more balls of yarn waiting to be made into the same, two never-yet-touched bedside tables waiting to be stripped, sanded, and stained, a new Sunday School Curriculum to write, my family's taxes to finish and probably 4 books that I've started reading and have yet to finish. So, I think over the next week or so, I'm going to try very hard to finish some of these projects. Some of them are too big to finish in one day, like the curriculum planning or the staining project, but if I make a real effort to chip away at them, I wonder if I'll sleep better at night?

Mrs. VanderLeek ;)

Wednesday, March 28, 2012


Have you ever made croutons? You really ought to. Storebought croutons just can't compare. And they really are quite easy, not to mention fool proof.
I started making croutons back in high school when I was working at a local cafe, and the experience gave me enough of a general idea on how to make croutons that I felt comfortable experimenting after that. Your flavors are limited only to what you can find in your pantry. My regular recipe involves Roasted Red Pepper salad dressing, sun dried tomatoes in oil, and leftover baquette, but any type of oil, any type of flavor and any type of bread can work.
Some fun varieties could be a black olive and onion crouton for greek salads, or a typical garlic and parmesan crouton for caesar salads, or you could even go as far as a cinnamon sugar crouton made with day old croissants for a fruit salad!
Here's my basic recipe for Sundried Tomato Croutons - feel free to tweek at it to make your own variety. Just remember to adjust for ingredients with high sugar levels so that they don't caramelize when you're baking!

Sundried Tomato Croutons:
1/2 leftover baguette
Sundried Tomato or Roasted Red Pepper Salad Dressing (about 1/3 - 1/2 a cup)
3 tbsp Sundried Tomatoes in oil + 1 tbsp oil

Cut your bread into 1 inch cubes. Put them in a medium bowl and pour the Salad Dressing over them. Pour on enough dressing to coat the bread cubes. Snip in the Sundried Tomatoes and drizzle in the tbsp of oil that the Sundried Tomatoes come in. Gently stir together and make sure that all of the cubes are coated. Let sit for about 10 minutes. Meanwhile, heat your oven to 400 degrees (As a note here, if your oven tends to run hot, go with 375 degrees - these puppies can burn). Spread the bread crumbs on a baking sheet, making sure they aren't touching (this step is a bit of a pain, but the ones that touch don't crisp well). Bake for 8 minutes, then take out and stir. If you notice some of them are browning up already, turn your oven down a bit. Bake for another 8 minutes. Check them again; if some are still soggy bake for another 4 minutes. Let them cool and you'll have a yummy crouton that's crunchy on the outside and slightly chewy on the inside!

Oh yah, one more thing: when you open the oven to check on them, keep your face (and your nose!) away from the oven. The smell is quite strong and the vapors can burn your nostrils!
As some general tips, make sure the bread you're using is slightly dried up; day old bread will always work better for these things than fresh bread will. My measurements are approximates because, well, I never actually measure. But the thing you are looking for is that you have enough liquid to coat all of the bread and most of the liquid should be oily.

Happy Making!

Mrs. VanderLeek ;)

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Teriyaki Meatball Bowls

Funny story.

Yesterday Gabriel was being a doll and was pretending to put imaginary laundry away. He was sorting through 'laundry' for each person in the house and said, "Nathaniel's goes in the drawers, Daddy's goes in the closet, and Mommy's go on the floor!" Oh toddlers, you are such an awkward and inconvenient mirror sometimes... Yes, I'll admit it: I am the person who, at the end of the day, takes off my clothes and decides that since they are too dirty for putting back on the shelf, and too clean to put in the hamper, the floor is the most logical place for them to stay. I regularly have a mound of clothes piled next to my bed waiting to be worn, and the mess often looks worse than it is since the clothes mix with my neatly-sorted piles of projects, notebooks and beauty products.
Needless to say, Gabriel's interpretation of Mommy's cleaning skills was a bit convicting. I decided that since I'm trying to teach my boys how to clean up after themselves, I need to start doing a better job of it myself. Granted, I do clean up after a whole household daily, but I certainly have problem areas that need to be worked on.

Today I tackled problem area numero uno: the bedroom. Why is that numero uno? Partly because it was where the biggest, least-excusable mess was that was almost entirely my own, and partly because it is one of the rooms that Matt would most like to have spotless all the time. Unfortunately, the rooms that we each put precedence on don't overlap at all (My prefered rooms to keep clean are the bathroom, the kitchen and the entryways, while Matt's focus is on the storage areas and bedrooms). This wouldn't matter if I were a better housekeeper, but the reality is that God gifted me with cooking skill, and gave all the cleaning skill to my sister. Fortunately though, He also gifted me with the ability to be taught, and a whole lot of grace. Back to today though.
I tackled the first issue which Gabriel so attentively pointed out: the clothes. I've been getting better lately about not leaving clothes on the floor, but I just need to develop a zero-tolerance for it. I put the dirtier clothes in the hamper and put the clean ones away in the closet. Check.
Next, I fixed up an organizational system for my beauty products. A little while ago Matt got me a plastic drawer system that I had said I needed to help keep our room cleaner. Until today I had either not had the time, or not made the time, to properly use it. I have a drawer for electronics, a drawer for notebooks, a drawer for papers for the different groups I participate in, a drawer for perfumes and lotions and a drawer for accessories and cases. All of my jewelry went in my jewelry box on my dresser, and all of my hair-related items went in a cute basket that sits on top of my drawers. One thing I really needed to fix was my cosmetics storage. For the last little while I've actually been keeping my cosmetics in a handbag. But no more. A while back I got a number of galvanized steel utensil holders with rods for the wall from IKEA. One of the rods is in my kitchen and houses my growing herb garden, and the other rod is on the wall next to my bed. I had been keeping a mish-mash of beauty products in the little buckets but I didn't really have anything like a system for them, until now. One bucket has eye makeup, the next has foundation, blush and the like, and the last has makeup brushes, tweezers and general applicators. Booyah! So now all of my projects and books are picked up from beside my bed, which means I don't have anymore neat piles of stuff there, and everything has a place to go away to, which is the big issue for me usually. My knitting bag is the only thing sitting on the floor beside my bed right now, and we all know that will move all over the house with me.

Once the bedroom was clean I sat down to do a bit of a project. When we bought this house I was pregnant with Gabriel. We were so focused on gutting and completely redoing the main bathroom before he came that we hardly had time to do more for his nursery than a quick coat of paint and some new flooring (which since I'm married to a flooring guy is really easy for us to do). We did find some Winnie the Pooh decals that went on the wall, but they seem so half-hearted now and have a very transitional feel to them. When we fixed up Gabe's "Big Boy Bedroom" we did some more fun things with that and bought him some cute artwork for his walls, but the nursery stayed the same. And then I found Pinterest. One day I came across these absolutely delightful 3D Wall Art pieces for a kid's bedroom. They're paper clouds and hot air balloons or umbrellas and they're made by the Etsy store Gosh and Golly. They are exactly the kind of personal, whimsical feel that I want for Nathaniel's room! Now, you can buy these from Etsy or, if you're stubborn and cheap like me, you can make them yourselves. Fortunately I have a father who could hook me up with some high-quality card stock, so today I made a couple 3D clouds just to try my hand at the whole thing. And you know what? They really worked! Over the next few days I'm going to make a load more clouds and then the hot air balloons, umbrellas, rain drops and even some kites, and then we can hang them all around Nathaniel's room!
Since we're on the topic of Pinterest, I found the recipe for tonight's dinner on there and it was a winner! The recipe was for Teriyaki Meatball Bowls from the blog Budget Bytes and this was one of those rare times when I followed the recipe and can't think of anything that would improve it. The recipe says that it was for 6 servings, but between Matt, Gabriel and I, we cleaned the whole lot of it up. Gabriel had 5 meatballs himself, and he kept exclaiming, "Mmmmm! I love meatballs! These are super yummy Mommy!", and then he thanked me for dinner 5 separate times after he was done eating. The whole meal came together very quickly, and partly it was because I used my meatball-making techniques that I use for Pampered Chef shows. I broke out my manual food processor which is apparently the most perfect thing in the world for ginger - I hate grating ginger since it always seems to get stringy, and it's a pain to mince too, but for some reason I seems to disintigrate in the food processor within seconds... anyway, I threw a piece of bread in there first and made up the bread crumbs, set those aside while I chopped up the ginger (as I said, in seconds), the garlic and the green onion. I had pulled the ground pork last night so it was mostly thawed except for one frozen chunk in the center, so I put it in my 8 cup batter bowl and microwaved it for 30 seconds and it was perfect. Then I threw the breadcrumbs, ginger, garlic and green onions in, as well as the soya sauce, pepper and the egg and stirred it quick with a spatula. The hard part was rolling the meatballs, but since I used a cookie scoop and then just patted them into a prettier shape, it was done in 5 minutes! It took 40 minutes to bake, but as soon as they were out I coated them in the sauce, plated them over some rice and we were stuffing ourselves in minutes! I will certainly be making those again, and next time I may try ground turkey, even though they were fab with the ground pork.

While I was talking with my sister earlier today about my plans for dinner, I mentioned that I happened to have everything in my house already for the Teriyaki Meatball Bowls - and she was surprised. She wasn't too surprised about the ginger and green onions, although she admitted she's never bought fresh ginger, but what surprised her was the ground pork. Granted, a year ago it might have surprised me, too, but not anymore. I first bought ground pork a few months ago to make lasagna cups for a potluck. I had my gallstones so I couldn't really taste what I was making and I was a bit anxious about making something super yummy, so I thought back to every really good lasagna I've ever had and I realized that there was always something different about the meat - namely that it had some pork in with the ground beef. I had never tried mixing meats like that but I thought I'd give it a whirl. After making up my meat sauce I opted to have a taste and spit it out rather than going into the potluck totally blind, and I enjoyed what I tasted. Since then I've kept ground pork, which is often very cheap, in my freezer in half-pound portions. Whenever I'm making some sort of a meat sauce that calls for a bit more oomph, be it for lasagna or stuffed manicotti, I throw in some of the ground pork, and I always love the results! It's a quick was to amp up an already great meat sauce!

Well, I think that's all for now. I've got to finish meal planning for this week so that I know what I'm making for supper tomorrow before I go to sleep. Aw shucks, I have to go on Pinterest again??? Well, if I have to...

Mrs. VanderLeek ;)

Monday, March 26, 2012

The Grow Op

Yep, the Grow Op. That's what my husband lovingly calls my collection of seedlings that are slowly overtaking our home.
It started out innocently enough, but now it spans across three room on two floors, occupying every square inch of real estate in front of windows. My dearest, darling, ever-loving hubby has said that he's okay with it - so long as it stays organized (read: out of his way), and fortunately Gabriel doesn't play with the lower plants too much (he uprooted one of my precious tomato seedlings today, but that was an off moment I think).
If you'll remember a while back, I wrote about planting dill, beans and peas just to get something growing. Well it turns out, beans and peas really don't need to be started that early. I've had to build a container staking system for my peas out of coat hangers and I expect to see my beans bud any time now! As for the dill, it's happily filling three ittle pots in my kitchen - the only piece of my kitchen's culinary garden thus far. I had been intending to thin out the less healthy plants, but they were all doing so well that I've now got a lot of dill that I might be gifting this summer.
During round 2 I planted some tomatoes and some Bells of Ireland. A load of the Bells started dying off recently because they were running out of room, so I repotted them all today into 4" Jiffy pots. I just hope the weather picks up before they outgrow those, too!
During round 3 of planting I put in my Tawny Bell Peppers, some Cypress Vine and even more Bells of Ireland. Round 2 and 3 were space about 2 weeks apart and the only difference between the two planting methods was that I used indoor plant lights for round 3. Well, my Bells from round 3 caught up to the ones from round 2, and my Cypress Vine is now 4-5 inches tall - and that was only a week ago! My peppers haven't even finished their germination period!
So today, while I repotted my Bells and tomatoes from round 2, I also repotted some Cypress Vine and more Bells from round 3. I also repotted a dwarf sunflower that Gabe has been growing (He loves his 'flower'. He checks it daily, talks lovingly to it, moves it to the spot with the best sunlight and even pets it)
Oh, and as a little tip, when you buy store-bought pasta sauce, buy varieties that come in mason jars. Pasta sauces often go on great multiples sales (5 for $5 at my grocery store), so you can get a jar of sauce for a meal or two, plus a cute mason jar for crafting for dirt cheap! That's how I got the one I transpanted Gabe's sunflower into! I also used a plastic bowl from our kitchen for repotting today. It was one that was cute, but a bit repetitious in size, and I prefer glass anyway, so we were going to donate it until my brilliant husband suggested I use it for this purpose! He's so smart!
Well, after all of my replanting, I thinned out some of the less healthy seedlings and was left with a number of those jiffy seed-starting pellets begging me to fill them. So I did. I planted Sweet Basil, Thai Basil, and a fluffy, pink ornamental grass. I know, I'm insane. But at least I'll have at least half a chance of a nice garden this year!

Mrs. VanderLeek ;)

Shrimp Scampi

It's a new week, and that always marks the perfect time for change. It's the first full week of Spring, so even moreso, I think.
The change our household will be seeing is a more consistent effort towards healthy eating. I know that since I got my gallbladder out I've had healthy habits that have been constantly battling the wonderful rediscovery of fatty foods. I had spent a lot of my time while I had gallstone accumulating a wealth of recipes that were too fatty for me to make then, and now it's like I've been finally granted permission to make all of them. For example, last week we had pork ribs, pork roast, stuffed manicotti and shrimp scampi. Those are the kind of fatty meals that are fine to have - but perhaps only one a week. So I'll be limiting those again and reverting back to lower-fat foods on a more regular basis. Why the more focused change now? Easy - my darling husband has expressed a desire to get healthier, and since he's my weakness (the only reason I ever buy chips, pop, pizza or chocolate is as a treat for him) if I feel like I'm doing it for him, I won't give in to temptation and make 3 baked pasta meals in a week.
In preparation for this change I did some grocery shopping and was pleased to find that my grocery store is stepping up it's produce offerings. It's the kind of grocer that carries 7 different types of apples year-round, but they've never even heard of a lychee nut. So I was pleasantly surprised to walk in on Saturday and find okra, lemongrass and rapini on their shelves. The lemongrass was too tempting to walk past (until that point I had only ever found it at the local Superstore, which is a gong show to shop at), so I figured I'd make up a coconut chicken soup this week with it. And I also figured it would be yummy to make up an asian noodle bowl at some points, so by the time I was through the produce aisle I had ginger, lemongrass, bean sprouts, and cilantro in my basket. Add to that the beautiful artichokes that I found, some yummy mushrooms for the soup and the papaya I bought just for kicks, and I had a whole bunch of things in my basket that aren't necessarily in my fridge on a regular basis. Now, ginger, lemongrass and bean sprouts may not seem at all out of the ordinary to you, but you've probably never shopped at my grocery store. When I got up to the checkout I happened to choose a line with an older cashier who had only been working there for 4 months. She was stumped. She had no idea what the difference was between parsley and cilantro (the only two fresh herbs that the grocer carries regularly), she had only rang in artichokes once before, and the lemongrass I bought was the first one she had ever seen up close. She kept commenting on how I must be planning a special meal and implied that it must be a rare occassion to be buying such strange things. Granted, I don't always have those things in my fridge, but that's moreso because I don't actually like mushrooms and cilantro except in this soup, and the fact that I can't usually find good artichokes and lemongrass, than the general 'oddity' of the produce itself. It's times like that when I wonder why I still shop at that grocer when I'm obviously not their target customer, but then I see their meat shop prices and it all becomes clear again.
I've learned to come to grips with the fact that I cannot access every culinary delight here in Small City, Alberta. I can't get sumac, creme fraiche, geoduck, fresh figs or flying fish eggs here. I'm not sure if I could even track down sushi grade tuna and I feel certain I'd never find sea urchin here - none of our local sushi restaurants even get it in. When it comes to meat and alcohol, we definitely have it somewhere around here (we have a higher per-capita of liquor stores to people than should be accepted, same with cows to people, I'm sure), but for anything that hails from another country, and particularly things that can only be used in their native recipes, tough luck.
Well, I've got to scamper and go check out some Sunday School materials at a book store today, but before I do that: Shrimp Scampi. I mentioned it in passing, but that won't do. I had never actually had Shrimp Scampi before, so I wasn't sure how I would like it, but Matt came home on Friday and woke me up from a 2 hours nap I did not mean to take, so by 6:00 I had not started dinner. That was a rather unfortunate trend last week... I was feeling badly anyway and was determined to make him a nice meal so I whipped out this 30 minute scampi recipe that I had found on Pinterest. It was divine. It's quick, it's yummy and it's a good freezer meal!
Do it.

Mrs. VanderLeek ;)

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Beet-Carrot Cake

Dear friends,
Let's do a little exercise, shall we? Let's pretend it's Spring.
It's easy if you look at your calendar and don't look outside. And if you live in Alberta, whatever you do, don't look at the weather forecast.

For those of you who haven't looked at the forecast, there is snow in it. Lots of snow, apparently.
I spent a large chunk of Friday morning talking with the girls at my Mommy Play Date about moving our meeting to a local playground as soon as all this wretched snow is gone, and now they're calling for more of it! Ugh.

I was feeling a bit un-Springy this weekend as a result. I was sleepy, I was more than a little grumpy, and I didn't have much drive. Now that I think about it, however, my tired state may have been moreso due to the fact that I only slept 3 hours Thursday night... I didn't fall asleep until 2:30 (last cup of coffee was at 11:30), the baby woke up at 4 and stayed awake until 5, I got up at 6 to start the dough for some pretzel bites for the Play Date group, and then when I tried to lay down for a bit while my dough rose Matt's alarm started going off every 10 minutes.
Anyway, as a recap, and regardless of the reasons, I've been tired, I've been grumpy, and I haven't felt up to much of anything.
Enter the need to bake something. Not just anything, mind you, but a birthday cake for my one-and-only Mother. Oh, and thanks to allergies and other odd sensitivities right now, the cake could not contain chocolate, citrus, strawberries or coffee. Again, UGH.

I did have a list of potential cakes that I could have made. There were some mousse cakes that I could have subbed out the citrus and replaced with raspberries, or vanilla. And then there's the whole realm of crepe cakes, not to mention baked alaskas and ice cream bombes. But my Mother - my dearest, darling Mother - she's an interesting one. An odd duck if you will. An odd duck in the sense that she has no desire to eat anything like duck. If it doesn't come from a pig, a cow, a chicken or a turkey, she would prefer not to eat it. And she'd appreciate if you didn't point out that her bacon came from a pig while she's eating it.
My mother is the reason that I had never tasted a vegetable that began with the letter 'a' until I was well into High School. She's the reason that I thought every meal needed to be served with potatoes. She's the reason I put ketchup on stew and scrambled eggs, that I put pickles on peanut butter and that I put applesauce on pork chops. The only cheese we had growing up was cheddar, mozzarella if there was a lasagna to be made, or plasticy yellow facsimiles that were spelled 'cheez'. She taught me that chicken was supposed to be dry, steaks should never be pink and that everything should be cooked, "at 350 for about an hour." (Something which she still holds to to this day)
Now, my dearest, darling mother has come a long way for my sake. She's tried sushi, rice paper rolls, duck and wine jelly all for the sake of pleasing me. She's been seen buying avocados and asparagus lately, and has even been known to buy parmesan cheese that doesn't come in a shaker. However, my Mother is still the same person she has always been - a woman who enjoys the plainer things in life. My mother would a million times over rather have a good cup of tea and a fig newton than a good glass of wine and a goat cheese crostini. All that to say - I had a feeling that the baked alaskas would be wasted on someone of her more simplistic tastes. Not to say that she wouldn't enjoy it, but she would so much more enjoy something that tasted homey and comfortable, and that she knew I didn't have to defy any laws of physics to make.
And so we come to the Beet-Carrot Cake with Toasted Coconut Topping.
I love this cake. Everyone who has even had it loves this cake. You may not like beets, you may not like nuts, you may not like carrot cake, coconut or cake of any sort - but you will like this cake. The cinnamony-coffee cake taste of the beet cake is perfectly complemented by the sugary-chewy toasted coconut topping, and a dollop of slightly sweetened whipped cream makes it a perfect treat.
And the best part? This is a recipe I can actually share!

Beet-Carrot Cake with Toasted Coconut Topping:
1 c. oil
1 1/2 c. sugar
3 egg yolks
3 tbsp hot water
1 tsp vanilla
2 tsp baking powder
2 c. flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1 c. grated beets (about one good-sized beet)
1 c. grated carrot (about one good-sized carrot)
1/2 c. walnut pieces
3 egg whites - beaten stiff

Beat first five ingredients together until light. In a separate bowl, mix together dry ingredients. Stir in grated beets and carrot with a fork. Add the dry mix to the egg yolk mixture. Mix just until blended. Stir in the nuts.
Fold in stiff egg whites until well mixed. Pour into a greased 9x13 pan and bake at 350 for about 35 minutes.

1/3 c. margarine
1 3/4 c. brown sugar
1/4 c. cream (milk works too)
1/2 c. walnut pieces
3/4 c. medium coconut (unsweetened preferably)

Heat all of the ingredients in a small saucepan over medium, just until combined. Pour over baked cake and brown at 450 degrees until golden (5 - 8 minutes)

Now as I mentioned above, this cake is a hit, and it certainly was with everyone at my mom's birthday party. But, while the beet cake with the coconut topping is fantabulous, don't let that stop you from dividing the two! That coconut topping is great on everything from a basic white cake to a dark Devil's Food. And that beet cake would be wonderful with a raw sugar sprinkle or a cream cheese icing. But do promise me that if you ever make one or the other, at least give them the chance once to show off how great they go together!

Mrs. VanderLeek ;)

p.s. No pic - it got eaten too fast!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Bottles, bottles everywhere...

...And not a drop to drink - because they're all empty bottles I hold onto!

I LOVE bottles. Wines bottles, pretty water bottles, syrup bottles... my storage shelves are lined with the things. I actually have trouble parting with them! The more striking the silhouette the more likely I am to hold on to them for dear life!
Just doing a quick inventory of my 'stash', I found bottles that previously held gourmet lemonade, hot chocolate mix and marshmallows, maple syrup, lychee liquor and lots and lots of sugar syrups. I did a purge recently of some wine bottles I had been holding onto, and opted to keep just their corks instead of the whole bottles. There's just something about a beautifully shaped glass vessel that beckons. (Let's not even get into my vase obsession!)

My husband doesn't get it, but I don't expect him to. He's at least gracious enough to tolerate it, and really, that's the best I could hope for. This past week, however, two different incidences occurred which helped me to feel at least somewhat justified in his eyes for keeping all of these pretty pretties. The first was the lesson plan for my Sunday School class which was supposed to center around the 5th day of creation: Birds and Fish. Sadly, thanks to the Chicken Pocked Boy, I was unable to lead the class and had to line up a willing helper to take over for the week. I had mentioned the Jellyfish-in-a-bottle activity to this helper and said that I would provide one. She also offered to make a couple to bring, but knowing from my 2 previous experiments with it that it was not as simple as the online tutorials made it look, I still made mine to send along. For you regular readers, you may remember a few months ago that I bought a stupidly overpriced bottle of natural spring water that tasted little better than tap water, all because it had a pretty plastic bottle - the perfect bottle for this activity in fact. My first try of shaping the jellyfish out of a plastic bag worked, and I learned that less is more in the tentacle area, and combined with the beautiful bottle, I produced a very great-looking jelly-fish-in-a-bottle! When Matt took it to the church for my volunteer, she raved over how wonderful mine was compared to the ones she had made; the difference was in the bottle. She had tried making her's in pop bottles which had far too much curve to them to see the beautiful movements of the 'jellyfish' as it swam up and down the bottle. Score one for me and my bottles.

The second incidence occurred yesterday. Matt had brought me home a bundle of tulips, 5 of them actually (one for every point of Calvanism... but that's my husband's humor for you!) and he set them in the tallest vase that he could find. By morning, these beautiful, long-stemmed tulips were dropping down onto the table top. The vase simply didn't offer them enough support. Matt lamented the stunted nature of all of my narrow vases and commented on the apparent need to hack off about 6" worth of stem from my beautiful flowers - but I would have none of it. Again, it was my bottle stash to the rescue! Matt brought home an interesting wine the other day for some company we were having over. The wine was called VOGA Quattro and was made up of a blend of 4 different grapes. It was a nice drinking wine (it was italian, so of course I would like it), but equally as nice was the bottle. It was a capped bottle that formed this beautifully stream-lined cylindrical shape. I kept the corks and the bottle this time. Oh, and the next time we bought wine I got the same kind again, moreso for the bottle than anything! Well, it turns out that they are the perfect height for my tulips! Matt was again pleased with the aesthetic properties of my bottles, and I was again justified in keeping said bottles at all! Score two for me and my bottles!

I'm sorry to report that as I write this I am looking out the window and watching the snow fall. Doesn't anyone know that it's spring?!? I went to make a seasonally apropos meal last night and the weather defied me and made me look foolish. I thought BBQ ribs would be a nice meal for the first day of spring, but it got a bit too nippy out by the time the ribs were boiled to make barbquing desirable. So, I opted to oven roast them instead, which bumped our meal time by a fair bit. What was supposed to be dinner at 6:00 actually turned into dinner at 7:00. I felt so bad for making Matt wait for dinner that I decided to do up a treat for him: Red Lobster copy-cat cheese biscuits! They are Matt's favorite thing about Red Lobster (which I don't get... have you tried their crab legs and their coconut shrimp???) and so I figured all would be forgiven if I could produce a reasonable facsimile of them. I had some of my go-to scone mix ready and waiting to be used up, which made my job worlds easier. This scone mix is award winning - or it would be if I knew of a competition for scone mixes... and is versatile between sweet and savory. Today I threw in some grated cheddar, mixed them and spooned them into little mounds. Before I popped them in the oven I brushed them with some garlic butter (using garlic powder - real garlic was too... real tasting.) and as soon as they came out of the oven I brushed them with more garlic butter. The only difference between the Red Lobster biscuits and mine were that mine weren't uber greasy and they tasted light and fluffy but still had a distinct crunchiness to the outside! Now, I apologize, but I can't publish my scone recipe for mass consumption. It's a trade secret that I got from the same place as my epic Mulligatawny recipe which I am not at liberty to divulge, but if you know me, hit me up for it! I have no issue releasing it to friends! Just, not to the world at large.
Well, As pretty as my bottles are and as yummy as my cheese biscuits were, I think my husband would be slightly disappointed if I got nothing done today. Sigh. But how about one more pretty bottle picture for the road?

Mrs. VanderLeek ;)

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

House Plans

My eyes are going to be crossed by the end of the week. They're half-way there already, thanks to sleep depravation and too much time on the computer. You'd think that something would have to give to save me from such awful consequences, however my baby still refuses to sleep well at night and I... well, I refuse to give up my quest.
What quest might that be?
The quest of mapping out every single room, and potential room, of my house in a variety of ways on floorplan software.
What's the rush, you might ask? It's a 7 day free trial on this software and we're already 3 days in!

It all started a few days ago (3, actually) when Matt and I were discussing the house market. We had planned to finish updating the house we currently live in and moving into a house that would either afford us more space, or would have revenue potential, and we had planned to list our house by this coming fall.
Well, now that the market is picking up, we are rapidly losing our edge. The only houses that were going around town were the ones that were move-in ready and showed really well, which was what we were aiming to hop in on when we listed our house. When we got this place it was mostly original 1980's wallpaper, flooring and light fixtures. The day we took possession we painted over some peach walls, and within three months we had completely gutted and redone the main bathroom, replaced some flooring and painted most everything. Within a year we had painted all of the living areas, replaced the flooring in the living room and had all the light fixtures switched. Now, we're about 3 1/2 years in and we've got a bit of flooring left to do until the place looks fantastic; it would look like the kind of place that would have sold well on the market when everyone just wanted somewhere that was 'done'. However, we've been watching the market pretty closely lately and have noticed an alarming trend... the rest of the market is picking up to meet the fully finished houses. Mortgage laws in Canada have changed enough since we bought this place that we have a fairly fixed amount that we could afford to buy a new place for. Our plans had centered around selling a finished house high, and buying a place that needed some elbow grease for low, but that's looking less and less likely.
SO, all that to say, Matt and I started re-evaluating our options. One thing that became apparent was that we are in a position that within the next year we should be able to get approved for a rather hefty loan, or an expansion of our mortgage, that would allow us to do an addition on our existing house. I had long-time been a supporter of this idea. I love our house, I really do. I love the yard, I love the location, I love the neighbours... There are components of the house that I would change if I could, but with this renovation plan, I think we actually would change all of those areas.
The brunt of the reno would involve adding a garage and some rooms above it. What those rooms were and what they looked like were the subject of my scheming with the home design software. In the past 3 days I have made up 21 different floor plans for different rooms in our house. Plan 1 is to put a master bedroom with a large ensuite and a family room above the garage. Plan 2 is to put two smaller bedrooms and the family room above the garage and to commandeer our son's room, connect it with our current master bedroom and build the new ensuite in that space. Both of these plans involve renovations to our kitchen, relocating our laundry room into one of our upstairs bedrooms, and adding a bedroom in the basement. Big plans, I know. I'm personally rooting for Plan 2 right now, because while Plan 1's ensuite sits in the master bedroom and is only divided by a pony wall, which I quite like, Plan 2 has a walk-through closet to a larger ensuite and would actually cost less because the ensuite would back onto our existing bathroom (not running plumbing in the new garage addition? Priceless.)
This is all just preliminary planning. The reality is that until we pay off our debts and are sure that the revenue property plan isn't going to pan out, all of this is on the back burner. However, instead of waiting until we know that Plan A won't work for us, and then scrambling to get a proposal ready for the bank, I hope to have a plan, estimates and a detailed cost break-down ready for the bank, so that everything goes as smoothly as possible. And really, I call this Plan B, but it's really my Plan A ;)

Mrs. VanderLeek ;)

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Recipe Recap

Well, St. Patty's Day has come and gone, all of the fudge has been eaten and all of the green food dye has finally washed off my hands.
I spent Saturday in the kitchen, listening to The Irish Descendants (Raggle Taggle Gypsy, anyone?) and making a load of yummy Irish-themed treats. I started the morning off with potato pancakes with cheese baked into them and bacon and sunny-side-up eggs on top. As soon as the dishes were all cleared I got to work on whipping up some Irish Soda Bread. I made up two loaves; one loaf stayed at home with us, and the second loaf went to my sister in Calgary along with some of the Irish Cream Fudge I had made up the night before. The Soda Bread recipe I used was a true, traditional Irish Soda Bread - no raisins, no sugars, no eggs. Just flour, salt, baking soda and buttermilk. It was quite yummy.
Since we had slept in quite late (rough night with the kiddos), we more or less skipped lunch, save for munching on fudge and soda bread, so I got to work fairly soon on the Steak and Guinness pie - something that was quite highly anticipated by my husband. Matt loves pie, however it comes, and pie with steak and beer? He was thrilled! The meat in our pie was super, super tender, not just because you simmer it for hours on the stove, but also because we actually used venison, from the young deer Matt got this fall. Young meat = tender meat, and this was melt-in-your-mouth tender meat. My only beef (ha.) with the recipe was the use of Worchestershire sauce - I have an extremely low tolerance for it (Thanks to Denny's, but that's an old story) and I could have subbed it out but I thought I'd leave it in and see if I still hated it. Yep, I do.
Well, I took the next couple days off from the kitchen (we had fish sticks the next night and A&W last night!) but today I'm right back into it. I fortunately had a thought last night that I would like bread today. I have often lamented my lack of foresight when it comes to bread making because had I taken 5 minutes the night before I could have whipped up a sponge, but there's just no rushing a sponge to compensate for that lack of foresight. So when I thought about it last night I threw three things in a bowl, gave it a quick stir, and set myself up to make a great loaf of focaccia today! When you make something like a nice, herby focaccia, you really plan your meal around it, rather than vice versa, so for supper we're having stuffed manicotti with a meaty tomato sauce, so our bread has something to sop up. This meal will involve winging it; I don't use recipes for meat sauces or pasta dishes typically, unless I'm trying to recreate something. And as it goes, I make a mean manicotti, so why would I try to make someone else's?
Here's a general idea of what I did for the manicotti tonight:

Stuffed Manicotti
1 lbs ground beef
1/2 lbs ground pork
4 cloves garlic, crushed
1/2 yellow onion, chopped
1/4 c. red wine
1 can crushed tomatoes
Basil, Oregano

1 1/2 c. cottage cheese
1 egg
1 1/2 c. shredded cheddar, divided
salt and pepper

15 manicotti pieces, cooked and slightly cooled

Cook up beef and pork in a skillet, set aside in a medium bowl. Cook onion in a bit of oil until tender. Add garlic and heat until flavors release. Deglaze with wine. Pour in crushed tomatoes and add spices. Cook over medium until heated through. Pour half of the tomato sauce over the cooked meat and stir to combine.
In a separate bowl combined cottage cheese, egg and 3/4 c. shredded cheddar. Season with salt and pepper. Fold cheese mix into meat mix.
Stuff manicotti with meat and cheese mixture and lay piece in a casserole dish (make sure the manicotti pieces aren't touching in the dish). When all of the pieces are stuffed, pour remaining tomato sauce over and top with remaining shredded cheddar. Bake at 350 for 30 - 40 minutes, or until cheese is melted.
This makes A LOT of food. Matt and I ate until we were totally full, and we each had 3 pieces of manicotti, so if you're not cooking for company, divide the manicotti between freezer-safe containers before you top them with the remaining sauce and cheese. These freeze great!

As a bit of a disclaimer, sometimes I post healthy meals that pay attention to calories and fat content... this is not one of those times. I don't know the fat content of this meal, nor do I want to, but I know it tastes great, and so while you shouldn't eat this everyday, once in a while is great!

Mrs. VanderLeek ;)

Mrs. VanderLeek ;)

Friday, March 16, 2012

Holiday Prep

What do you guys think of the new look? It's not as whimsical as the last, but I like the organization better, personally! Let me know how you like it!

I'm lucky enough to have my husband home with me for most of the day today, which means I got out to do some grocery shopping. I picked up the basics: flour, bananas, milk, Guinness... That's right - it's St. Patty's Day tomorrow! I mentioned some of my plans already and while I'm working on finalizing plans today, I'm sure that what I end up with tomorrow will still vary. For now, however, I am still planning on making Irish Soda Bread, Irish Cream Fudge, and now I'm adding Steak and Guinness Pie to the list. I've got some White Tail Deer stewing meat in my freezer that has been begging me to cook it, and while White Tail Deer isn't exactly Irish (Red Deer or lamb is more their pace), I'm sure the Guinness will more than make up for my lack of Irish meat. I whipped up the Irish Cream Fudge tonight, along with a Frozen Strawberry Dessert so with those two things out of the way I hope my plans for the Steak and Guinness Pie will go unimpeded.

I love planning things. Have you noticed that? I love having parties, making big deals out of small things, and using any excuse I can to make some fun food. Sometimes, however, I don't have to stretch too far to have a good reason to throw a party. Case and point: Gabe's upcoming third birthday. My darling boy will be turning three at the end of next month and this will be the first year that we're going to throw a real party for him! Since it will be his first big bash, I'm going to go all out! We're having a Pirate themed party, and are inviting all the kids from our weekly Play Date, not to mention some of our other friends of the family, and so we're expecting to have up to 20 kids, plus parents on top of that. We'll have eye patches for everyone, Walk the Plank games, and treasure hunts. For the food I've found some adorable ideas on Pinterest, including Sand Dollar cookies, Pirate Marshmallow Pops, and Octopus Wieners. I'll also be mixing up my own special POG Grog (Papaya Orange Guava) and topping cupcakes with pirate themed toppers and jolly rogers! I'm so excited to plan everything about this party! I have dreams of decorating my backyard with billowing sails (I've tried numerous times to have a backyard party, and it never seems to work, but it has to sometime, right?) and of 20 knee-high scallywags chasing our poor dog around the yard with plastic swords! Sigh... the sweet bliss it will be!

And somewhere between St. Patty's Day and the end of April falls one of my favorite holidays (in the strictest meaning of the word 'holiday')... Easter! The day of promise, hope and salvation is one of the happiest times of the year. I love the meaning, I love the season, I love everything that goes with it.
This year I plan on doing lots of teaching times with Gabriel and lots of fun crafts with him. We'll read bible stories, we'll decorate eggs, and we'll definitely eat chocolate. In fact, I may even make the chocolates that we eat. I felt a little inspired by Martha Stewart Living for April (I subscribe, so I got that issue this past week). The article that Martha contributes herself each month usually has to do with life around her house, and how she organizes, hosts, or crafts. This month it was about Easter dinner at her house and certain traditions that she always keeps up. One tradition for her was molding chocolates in antique tin molds. The beautiful little bunnies looked so adorable that I instantly went on Ebay and tried to track down some antique chocolate molds myself. While the average price was between $90 and $400, I haven't given up hope of tracking down an antique one at one of the stores in my city. But until that happens, I may order some new plastic molds and try my hand at tempering and molding. Who knows, maybe I'll like it enough to really have fun with it (remember that red wine ganache I made at Valentine's Day? Wouldn't that make a great filling??)
Well, my first batch of Irish Soda Bread is almost out of the oven, so I think I'll skip off now to do some tasting! Ta ta!

Mrs. VanderLeek ;)
Until that sweet day, however, I suppose I'll have to be contented with

Thursday, March 15, 2012

New boots!

Joy of joys, I got out of the house for an hour last night! My loving, thoughtful, wonderful husband let me have some time away from the house while he watched the kids at home! I must say, I'm feeling a wee-bit spoiled. My mother was so concerned about my isolation that she stopped by to drop off a slurpee yesterday, and my husband brought me home a Timmy's coffee as well - and then a free pass to go do whatever I wanted for an hour??? Awesome!
What did I do with my time? I shopped! And not just shopping for more medicine for my sick child - I shopped for fun things!
First stop, I went to Value Village. I've been cruising their aisles a lot lately, in part because I'm looking for crafty things, and in part because I'm cheap. Well, I didn't find any particularly crafty things (or rather, none that the price justified buying used) so I shuffled past the shoe section before I left the store. I was very well rewarded, let me tell you. Now, I don't often post about clothes, and that's mainly because I am so incredibly cheap when it comes to clothes that I have nothing worth writing about (seriously, who wants to read a post about a mass-produced $5 shirt that I bought at Stitches?) but ever so often I find something so great that I just need to tell you about it. This is soooo one of those times.
I found boots! I actually found lots of boots... There were knee-highs, mid-calves, fuzzy ones, sleek ones, heeled, flats... there were a lot of boots. And from what I saw, the most expensive pair were $12. I tried on a number of pairs, and wished that a few more had been in my size, but when it came down to the line, I opted for a pair that I knew I would never buy new because I refuse to spend more than $30 on shoes. They're a faded brown, felt-lined, knee-high boot with zippers on both sides, pointed toes and a killer heel. So pretty!
Oh yes, and they were only $10! One my way out of the store I happened past the coat section and remembered that my spring/winter brown jacket was getting a bit worn (I had bought it at Value Village a few years back and the lining was finally giving out) so I figured I'd have a quick peek, and I came out with a new coat for $12! One that matched my boots, no less.
From Value Village I went on to Walmart to pick up some groceries and some gardening supplies. My minions of seedlings are overtaking my house. And I suppose my beans, which are now taller than the average bean bush, and my peas, which are now requiring staking, don't really qualify as seedlings anymore. Anyway, the other week when I started some new plants, I didn't have enough room to do all of them in my seed-starter tray, so I picked up a new, larger tray, which will now house my tawny port peppers, some leftover Bells of Ireland and some Cypress Vine. My tomatoes and first batch of Bells of Ireland are growing quite well now; they're both about 3" tall now. Not bad for just over a week! I've been doing some garden plans lately and am growing quite excited for Summer. Since we're currently in the process of seeing whether or not it will be possible to sell our house this Summer, Matt and I decided against finally putting in the long-time-coming raised vegetable garden, but I've decided that I won't let that hinder my aspirations of growing vegetables and numerous beautiful plants. The trick will really be container gardening. And I've recently been dreaming about a lush, overgrown garden with a touch of whimsy in its corners, so the containers that I plant in will most likely be unique. I'm thinking coffee mug planters, bird-bath flower beds and troughs of leafy greens. One interesting thing about this approach will be to see if it's my fault that nothing wonderful has grown in my yard in the past 3 years, or if it's the soil. When we bought the house there were about a dozen full-grown trees in the yard. We cut down a number of them, but there are still 4 full-grown spruce, 1 MayDay and 1 diamond-leaf willow in our back yard. There are so many roots spread through our yard that we always knew a sunken vegetable garden would be near impossible, but I'm wondering in the trees have actually sucked so many of the nutrients out of the ground that my plants never had a chance. I suppose we'll see!
If we do move this year I know one of the things I'll miss most about this house is the incredible yard.
Well, I just got word my husband is coming home early, so I'd best go and get some cleaning done!

Mrs. VanderLeek ;)

Wednesday, March 14, 2012


Well, it's Day 3 of the VanderLeek family quarantine. Other than running out on Sunday night to pick up Calamine lotion, I have yet to leave the house since finding out that our 2 year old has Chicken Pox. I must admit, I'm getting a touch of cabin fever. After cleaning and finishing taxes for my friend's business on Monday, cooking some yummies yesterday, and a noticeable increase in the amount of time I'm spending on Pinterest, I'm feeling the need to get out and do stuff. However, I'm hoping to rein in that energy and convert it into practical energy for household duties. Or, you know, more cooking.
My cooking yesterday was in part a restitution to my husband for past negligence. You see, Matt's favorite home-cooked meal is baked Mac and Cheese with a breadcrumb topping, and save for about once a year, I never make it for him. This is partly because I have not been thrilled with the recipes I've used and hadn't found a real 'wow' recipe yet. Usually the flavor isn't quite right, the cheese separates or the breadcrumbs aren't as yummy as they ought to be. Well, thanks to yesterday's forray into the world of Mac and Cheese, I expect to make this much more often now! I started out with a base recipe that I found through Pinterest. Surprise, surprise, I didn't follow the recipe exactly. For starters, the recipe called for whole milk, while I used 2% (quite simply because it's what I had in the house). To compensate for the lost fat, I added about 2 tbsp of sour cream. This also helped make up for the fact that I used medium cheddar cheese instead off sharp - although in the future I'll make sure to use sharp, and I'll probably throw in a sharp white cheese too. The sour cream added such a nice flavor to it that I'll make sure to do that again in the future. One of the nice things about this recipe was it's use of onion powder. I have to say, I really hate onion powder normally. The flavor isn't anything like a fresh onion and after even setting foot in a house that has used onion powder on a roast or something, I smell like it for days. In this dish though, it was the perfect thing. A good Mac and Cheese sauce starts out like all good cheese sauces: a medium white sauce with some grated cheese stirred in. But when you add in chopped onion to that cheese sauce, particularly if you cook it into the sauce before you add the milk, it actually encourages separation. The onion powder, while it's not a substitute for fresh onion, is a great substitute for deeply cooked onions. It was the best way to season the sauce without separating it. Another pro about this recipe was how it reserved some cheese from the sauce to stir directly into the pasta - this made it a cheesier, stringier mix, rather than just a cheese-flavored sauce. Oh yes, and one more bonus point for the recipe: Panko instead of breadcrumbs. I loved the extra crispiness! As did my darling husband who was thrilled with this recipe. I assured him that I would use sharp cheese next time and that was all he needed to hear to make it the perfect dish.
So here's my actual recipe for Mac and Cheese, adapted from a recipe found on
A Perfect Pot of Mac and Cheese:
1/2 package of elbow pasta, cooked and drained
1 tbsp butter
1 small clove garlic
Salt and Pepper
1/2 tsp onion powder
2 tbsp flour
1 c. 2% milk
2 tbsp sour cream
3 c. shredded sharp cheddar (sub in some other sharp cheeses if you want!)

In a medium sauce pan, melt butter. Add in crushed garlic clove and cook over medium heat until softened. Stir in salt, pepper, onion powder and flour. Whisk in milk. Cook until sauce thickens, whisking regularly. Whisk in 1 1/2 c. shredded cheese and sour cream. Pour sauce over cooked pasta and stir until well combined. Fold in remaining cheese (do this while the sauce is still hot so that the cheese mixes well - otherwise you may get clumps). Pour pasta into a 9x9 square baking pan.
1 c. panko crumbs
1/4 c. butter, melted
1/2 tsp chili powder
1/4 tsp oregano

Stir together panko, chili powder and oregano. Stir in melted butter. Sprinkle evenly across top of pasta.

Bake in a 400 degree oven for 20 - 25 minutes, or until the top is nicely browned.

Unfortunately I have no insight into how this tastes the day after because my husband stole it all for his lunch today! But since I made it for him, I suppose that's fair :)

In addition to Mac and Cheese, I also made pretzel bites yesterday! These are, unfortunately, not the fat-free variety of soft pretzel. These are instead the sugar-added, fat-added, extra salty kind of pretzel that you would find at the mall. They were, however, super yummy and I'm ashamed to say how few we have left today.

Since we're still expecting to be under quarantine this weekend, we will not be heading to Calgary again, where we were expected to attend my Grandpa's birthday potluck. It happened to fall on St. Patty's Day - lucky for my Irish grandfather - and there was supposed to be a strong Irish theme running through the whole event (as much of an Irish theme as you can get at a dry event, that is.) Well, now that we're staying home, I plan to make our own merriment for St. Patty's Day. All thing green and Irish will be welcome in our home that day. Some old tricks like Leprechaun Kisses (my parents would draw green lips on us while we were sleeping... right up through high school. We were horrified to fall asleep the night before and wake up with a green sharpie tattoo on our face...), green milk, clover pancakes and wearing green are givens in our household. In addition to that, however, I also plan to make irish soda bread, perhaps some potato patty's and I'm going to see if I can track down some lamb for stew (if the demand goes up, does the price go up or down? While supply is limited I know it would go up, but if stores can order in bulk shipments of something they normally wouldn't, I'd think the prices would go down...). I'm also hoping to make some Irish Cream flavored fudge (Matt looooooooves fudge) and Irish Cream flavored italian sodas.

But until that day comes, I'm still on quarantine with nothing better to do than to browse Pinterest and, sigh, more taxes. Wish me luck.

Mrs. VanderLeek ;)

Sunday, March 11, 2012


Oh, lucky little Gabe is going to have the funnest week in the world! We're going to play lots of games, do lots of crafts, drink juice, eat jello and pudding, and watch a whole bunch of TV! Why all the fun? Two words: Chicken Pox.
Stupid, wretched chicken pox.
I thought I saw something suspicious on his back while we were visiting my new nephew in Calgary, but it was one tiny, little red dot so I assumed I was overreacting. Then when we were at church today I noticed a couple red dots on his tummy - again, I assumed I was just being paranoid, or at most that it could be a rash from his shirt. Then about an hour later his shirt lifted again and I couldn't count all the tiny red dots I saw. We scooped him up, rushed him home and checked him over, but not before he played with all the kids through Sunday School and we had a potluck dinner with them all. Sure enough, when we got home and had time for closer inspection, there were dots all over his torso, some on his thighs and a couple on his scalp. My first concern was for my newborn nephew, but I've been reassured that he should be fine thanks to his mom's immunity. So now my concern is simply limited to my sick child, my not-sick-yet child, the kids we played with at church today and the kids we played with at Play Date on Friday. Ahhh the simple life.
So, the long and short of it is that after two weeks of illness in our house, we are bracing for a new wave of disease and infection. However, I am determined to be wise in this time and take a lesson where I can. A few weeks ago I was thinking a lot about what it meant to do things to God's glory. I tried to let that thinking permeate through my whole life; as I sang at home I pictured myself singing praise directly to God, as I made dinner I imagined myself cooking for God, and even as I cleaned the house I tried to do it all to God's glory. Then something happened. I got sick. And for some reason I felt like my sickness excused me from doing things to God's glory. What I failed to realize is that I could still be sick to God's glory, if my heart were in the right place. You can be sick to God's glory, you can sleep to God's glory, you can die to God's glory... but you can also do all of those things for your own glory and for your own selfish gain. And I hate to have to admit it, but that's what I did a couple weeks ago - I was selfish and failed to give God the glory due to His name. Don't get me wrong - I was really very sick and I needed to spend my time sitting on the couch, but my heart could have been more in-tune with God while I did that, and I consciously pushed God aside for some 'me' time, and that was nothing but wrong.
Well this week I am determined to do better. My lot has been drawn and I am destined to have a week of caring for my sick child, but this time I will be doing that to God's glory. How? Well, to start, I'll be trying to do it to the best of my abilities. We'll finger paint, play with "cloud sand" (flour and baby oil), we'll do all sorts of messy crafts and read all sorts of stories and I'll make it as enjoyable a week for Gabe as I can. But more importantly, I'll be doing it with the right intentions. I'm not going to be doing these activities with Gabe to win any 'Best Mother' awards, or to win favor with my son, or to show my husband how busy I can be, but I will be doing it to serve my God, which is the best reason in the world.
To God be the glory, forever and ever, Amen.

Mrs. VanderLeek ;)

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Potluck Sushi

So, I mentioned in my last post that we had a potluck meal that we would be attending this Sunday. I would like to be the first to say that I hate potlucks. Mostly. I love being there and eating the variety of food, and I love the idea of everyone pitching in to make a great get-together. What rubs me the wrong way, however, is that at most potluck functions, you are asked to bring something that does not need to be cooked, reheated, etc. While most people fall back on sides, salads and desserts, I live in constant fear of a entree-less potluck. This internal conflict is not so bad when we are going straight to the potluck from our house and we'll be eating right away, so I can make something hot and keep it warm until we get there. But as is the case tomorrow, we'll be at the venue for a few hours before we actually eat, meaning that unless I bring a crock-pot meal, my meal cannot be warm. Ugh.
This lack-of-warm-food-options is not the only issue I have with potlucks. There's also the pressure of performance. I have a reputation to uphold! A prideful reason perhaps, and another day maybe I'll do a blog post on intentionally bringing a lame dish to a potluck just to take my ego down a couple pegs, but today my pride wins. Well, pride and the fact that I really enjoy making good food for people that I love.
Anyway, what did I decide to bring to this potluck that would have a reasonable 'wow' factor, could be made ahead and could be served cool? (The post title kind of takes away the element of surprise, no?) Sushi! Well, maki rolls, to be more precise. This is actually a reasonably practical idea in my household; I'll have plenty of time to assemble the sushi and I had almost all of the ingredients on hand already! I always keep a stock of sushi rice in the house, and except for the fact that I ran out of nori and rice vinegar and that I decided not to use the crab I had in my freezer so I bought more tonight, I wouldn't have had to buy anything! I even bought avocados and mangoes last week that are going to be the perfect ripeness tomorrow! I'm in love with mango in sushi rolls (which is funny, because I'm really not a mango fan typically), and it's a great sub for avocado if you don't have any. Since I have both, I'll either split the difference, or, I may opt to use just the mango so that I don't have to deal with discoloration issues with the avocado. So tomorrow morning I will be rolling up a sushi storm! It will be a nice change from my usual last-minute rush to get everything cooked just in time to walk out the door!
I had some fun today, as I had expected. We made it to Calgary to deliver scone mix, vanilla syrup, baby clothes and hugs to my sister and her new baby. In the car on the way to Calgary I noticed that the knees in my jeans had a few holes - a little surprising since they're only a few months old, but perhaps not as surprising considering they're the only pair of jeans that fit me, so I wear them nearly every day. At my sister's house as I was sitting down onto the couch, I heard a huge rip - the inner thigh gave out, even though it wasn't particularly worn. Also, I noticed that the seam at the crotch had opened. 3 months for a pair of jeans? Yikes. I guess that's what happens when you only spend $10 on a pair of pants. So what did I do? I went to Le Chateau Outlet and bought a couple more pairs of $10 jeans! I tried a new outlet store this time; Le Chateau Outlet on 32nd Ave NE just opened a few months ago and I had never been there before so I was excited to see what it was like. I've been to outlet stores that only carry dresswear, or only have women's clothes, and even one that only had a couple of sales racks in the whole store, but this one was the best of all of them. A huge selection and everything was clearance. I tried on A LOT. Matt was at my sister's having a nap, Nathaniel was napping too, and Gabe was at the park with my parents so I had an hour to kill before I was even wanted anywhere else, so I took my time and enjoyed myself. The result? It took a great deal of willpower and reasoning to not buy a couple of adorable plaid dresses, a few great pairs of shoes and one particularly stunning (and scandalous!) maxi-length, sweetheart neckline, strapless red dress (where could I ever wear something that low-cut?), but I did decide that it was reasonable and practical to buy two pairs of jeans (one was $9 and one was $12) and a black wool-blend winter coat that was very flattering on me (only $25!). My goodness I love that store. Seriously, $25 for a wool-blend trench? More than a little bit awesome. The best part? It was the last of that style in the store, regular $189.95, marked down to $49.99 and tagged for 50% off the last ticketed price - and it was my size! The thrill of the hunt, ladies - it makes it all the more exciting!
I've still got some Sunday School prep to do tonight before bed, so I'll leave off here, but I hope everyone else is having as awesome of a weekend as I am!

Mrs. VanderLeek ;)

Friday, March 9, 2012

Home-Style Cooking

I'm thrilled about life today! Not to say that I ever feel particularly tired of living, but today is just such a wonderful, beautiful day that I can't seem to get enough of life! I accomplished a lot, played extra with my kids and have great plans for tonight! I think in part it's the weather; after getting loads of snow dumped on us this past week (I was expecting to see my tulips pop up soon, but now there's 3 feet of snow on our front lawn...), it's refreshing to have it warm enough to go out without 5 layers, and the clear blue sky just makes everything more enjoyable! But besides the weather, I think my enthusiasm for life has to do with the weekend. Being a stay-at-home mom I rarely care that much about the weekend, except for the time my husband gets to spend at home with us, but I spent so much time this week actually working, mainly on taxes, that I'm thrilled for the break.
I am determined that this shall be a weekend fill with fun! Tonight we'll go to the fish store, which is one of Gabe's favorite pasttimes, and I'll do a bit of baking, which is one of my favorite pasttimes. Then tomorrow, bright and early, we'll load up in the van and drive to Calgary to visit my sister and her brand-new baby boy. I'm bringing them breakfast, so we'll probably be leaving here by 7 and since they're still adjusting to home life, we'll probably be heading back home by around 1:00. The rest of the weekend will be filled with fellowship with our church family and relaxing time with our kids. Sigh. I'm so happy :)
Perhaps one reason I'm so prone to being content right now is the amazing smell filling my house. I know that typically when I talk about food it's some culinary treat with fresh ingredients and occassionally a complex cooking method. But this time, it's none of those. This time, it's good old-fashioned, home-style cooking. The kind of cooking that reminds me of cold winter days when I was young and the comforting aroma of the meal my mom had lovingly prepared for our family. Oddly enough, this isn't even a meal my mom actually ever made, but there's something familiar about the smell that still feels like home. Tonight I'm making Coke Pork Roast. I had pulled this roast a couple days ago and had decided to try a different roasting method than I usually use. Typically all my roasts are done the same way: season and brown the meat, deglaze the pan with some wine, make a roasting rack of carrots, celery, onions and garlic and add some spices or herbs. There are subtle differences with all of my roasts, but 'subtle' is the key word. My poor husband probably can't tell the difference (remember, he thinks salsa tastes like salsa - not like tomatoes, onions, peppers and spices). So it's really for his sake that I'm mixing it up tonight. Well, that and the fact that I've got half a flat of coke downstairs that I want out of the house - without having to drink it all.
So the roast tonight started with a recipe and ended with me winging it (are you surprised at all?). I dug up a recipe online that called for coke, brown sugar and ketchup, which I thought was a good start, but that's where the recipe ended. Since my favorite 'flavor' is 'je ne sais quoi', I threw in a bit of cider vinegar and chopped up some red onion. I still seasoned and browned my meat, and I also deglazed with white wine, but this sauce is a wonderfully tangy/sweet/savory combination that I am so excited to eat in about 40 minutes. Like almost all of my meals growing up, we'll have a side of potatoes, and as a treat I'm going to steam up some cauliflower and whip up my mom's oh-so-yummy cheese sauce (a medium white sauce with a big handful of grated cheese and a few spoonfuls of Cheez Whiz). Sometimes it's nice to eat comfort foods. But don't worry, this too shall pass. I'm sure I'll be back to my pretentious meal offerings in time for a potluck with our church this Sunday! (mmm... maybe I should stuff a salmon for that?)

Mrs. VanderLeek ;)

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Back on Track

I am very pleased to report that after a whole week of doing, well, nothing, I am back to doing something! I'm still a bit sick (what on earth is this bug??) but it's no longer hindering my ability to stand, move, clean, etc. Which is a good thing, because starting Monday morning at 8:00 it was right back to business for me!
First thing on my 'To Do' list that morning was cleaning! Hooo boy... there was a lot to clean. One could argue that since I was sick and wasn't really doing anything that I couldn't have made much of a mess, which is true, but that truth unfortunately does not extend to sick toddlers. Every single room of the house was in need of a good cleaning. Well, moreso a good tidying... my house was actually quite 'clean' - meaning that the walls had been washed recently, the floors cleaned, the window sills wiped, the bathroom scrubbed and everything dusted - but what was wrong was the quantity of things out of place. There were toys all over, books scattered around, dirty dishes and lots of dirty laundry. I started with the most obvious issues (the toys!!!) and worked my way to the other messes. By 4:00, my house looked like a home again, rather than a pig sty! I even had time to bake that night! I've been on a granola bar making kick the last few weeks and have been using a great 5-minute recipe. Actually, I think I'll give it here now!

S'more Granola Bars:
2 tbsp butter
2 heaping tbsp brown sugar
1 1/2 tbsp corn syrup
1/2 tbsp honey
Combine above ingredients in a large, microwave-safe bowl. Heat for 2 1/2 minutes, stirring every 30 seconds.
2 tbsp graham wafer crumbs
1 c. oats
3/4 c. Rice Krispies
3/4 c. mini marshmallows
Microwave for 30 more seconds (or until marshmallows are soft), and stir well. Add 1/2 c. chocolate chips and gently mix in (the chocolate will melt a bit - if you don't want it to melt, wait for the oat mixture to cool before adding the chocolate).
Press into the bottom of a loaf pan lined with parchment paper. Cut into 12 pieces.

Yesterday was a busy day in ways other than cleaning. I had a morning meeting for the charity I do event planning for. The other women in the committee have been gracious enough to allow us to meet at my house so that I don't have to drag the kids out to an office and hope they sit pretty for 2 hours. The meeting was a productive one; we decided to scrap a fundraiser that was not panning out and replace it with another one. Since these fundraisers are intended to target the 18 - 35 age range, and I'm the only person under 50 on the committee, they're considered to be 'my' projects. Just a tiny bit of pressure there ;) I hope they'll work out well! We have 4 different fundraisers planned for this year: a garage sale, a small business competition, a gala and a Christmas shopping day. While we were making plans for the garage sale the ladies started talking about making it a Carribbean themed sale, where all of the volunteers would dress up in a Carribbean style and would barter with shoppers rather than just having set prices. For the sake of clarity we were going around the room and saying what came to our minds when we thought of the Carribbean and all I could think of was 'rum'. (It's not a crazy thought process to get there - really I was thinking about pirates first and then thought about the rum. Totally natural!) Well, since it's a Christian counselling charity, which often provides counselling for recovering alcoholics, the rum is a little faux pas. But I redeemed myself shortly afterward when we were discussing food for the event. Someone mentioned renting out a hot dog cart and even hiring people to run it when I recalled the Canada Day celebrations here in town. Every Canada Day the city puts on a cultural celebration down at a local pond and different cultural groups come and set up food carts featuring their local cuisine. Every year the line up to get the Filipino satay is the longest! And since they normally only set up their food cart on Canada Day, we're hoping the appeal of having them at out event will actually be a draw for people to come out to the garage sale! I know I only really go to the Canada Day celebration because of the food, so it makes sense for people to come to our event for the same reason! (They did forgive me for the rum comment in light of that idea, btw).

After the planning meeting I got the kids settled in for their naps and went to work on taxes. I do bookkeeping for a friend's business, more or less as a favor, and this is his first year in operation so they've never done the small-business tax process. It's going to be a fair bit of work for me to get this all done up, but at least it will get me warmed up for doing my own taxes next week.

I'm still working through the days of Creation with my Sunday School kids. Last week was Day 3: Land and Vegetation. We talked about how God loves variety and how created a bunch of different plants and rocks. I brought in some shiny rocks for the kids to look at and then I showed them a geod. A geod is a rock that looks plain on the outside but has a crystal core. The kids loved when I cracked it open for them! Then we talked about plant varieties as we passed around a fuzzy kiwi, a hard coconut, a succulent with soft, flexible 'spikes', some herbs to taste and some spices to smell. Then we planted beans in little glass jars for the kids to take home and grow! This coming Sunday is Day 4: Sun, Moon and Stars. I'm going to make a Starry Cave by poking Christmas lights through the top of a cardboard box. The kids can lay in the box and look up at the 'stars'. Another thing I might do is make Constellation Jars by splattering glow stick liquid inside of mason jars. Thank you Pinterest, again and again! Honestly, I don't think I can function without it now!!

Well, this has been a charming little break from my giant list of 'To Dos', but it's really time for me to get back to life. I've still got lots of taxes and cleaning to go!

Mrs. VanderLeek ;)

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Sickly week

I have been sick! Sick, sick, sick, sick, sick!
It's been the kind of sick where I can barely open my eyes in the morning, and I can barely drag myself to the couch where I remain for the rest of the day. Fever, sore throat, headache, body aches... sick. I had a fever every day since last Monday until today. My throat is still sore! And now my kids have it. UGH.
As a result of being so sick for so long, I am sadly behind at life. Fortunately I had intended on taking last week slow and having a bit of a break prior to March, but unfortunately I did not anticipate that 'break' being plague-infested. What I had intended to be a week of reading, cleaning and baking was actually a week of watching 'Bones' on Netflix and, well, very little else.
This coming week will be a big change. I'm bookkeeping for a friend's company and I had put aside taxes until March, but I've now hit the time when I said I would do his taxes. I anticipate about three straight days of work to get all of his papers organized, entered onto spreadsheets and ready for the accountant. Then once I've finished his taxes I've got to do ours, which is at least two days of sorting and such. On top of that, I have a major meeting this week with the non-profit organization that I do event planning for. We had planned to run an event at the beginning of May but due to conflicting schedules for people that would have been involved, we may be changing the event, which would mean a lot of work crammed into a little amount of time.
Besides those obligations I also have my new volunteer roles in the church to help out with. I'm hoping to have a new Sunday School Curriculum drafted within the next two weeks... except I have no idea what to do!
Then there are lesser tasks, which no one really cares about but myself; I have to repot my beans and peas (which in the course of two weeks have grown to about 10") and I have to plant some new seeds that I picked up today (Bells of Ireland, Tawny Port Peppers, and Striped Cherry Tomatoes).
And, of course, cleaning. Of course.
I'm actually most looking forward to my planting. Those stupid peas and beans that I started early are ginormous. I'm going to be picking beans by the middle of April, but since there's still snow on the ground, I've got to have them inside. My house is going to be overrun by plants, but I love that thought! I'm not sure if it's because I was too tired to eat all week or what, but I'm craving fruit and veggies like mad. The local grocery flyer was advertising new produce and I was stupid excited. My house is filled with kiwis, pineapples, bananas, grapefruits and even coconuts. Later this week I'm going to buy asparagus, leeks, artichokes, green beans and anything else that I can get my hands on. I can't wait for summer so I can buy peaches and plums and cherries!
Okay, I'm getting really hungry. I'm going to go eat a banana.

Mrs. VanderLeek ;)