Thursday, April 26, 2012

A Good Husband

Happy anniversary to my darling husband of 4 years!
A lot has happened in such little time, and it's almost hard for me to believe that it has only been 4 years. As a quick overview of my own brand of love story, Matt and I went to high school together where in our graduating year I made as many excuses as possible to bump into him. We started dating the September after we graduated and I had moved to a different city, but over the next 9 months we still managed to see eachother nearly every weekend, and to talk every night. I knew I loved him after our first month together. He knew he loved me before our first official date :) I moved back home to go to college and we spent more and more time together, hanging out with friends and family and talking about the future. After two years of dating, Matt proposed and 6 months later we got married in the mountains.
I can't tell you all how lucky I've been to have Matt. Seriously, I'm luckier than I deserve. And I don't just mean it because I think Matt is a great guy and because I love him so much - I always knew he was a great guy. But I mean it because of what a great man Matt is becoming, which is something I didn't consider seriously enough when we were dating. Matt and I have had some hardships through our marriage including a number of painful losses that were very difficult times for us.
Our hardships actually started after 3 months of marriage when I found out I was pregnant, and anemic, and I could barely make it out of bed each morning to get to work late, let alone make dinner or clean the house. I gave all I had to my job, which still wasn't enough, and at the end of the day I had nothing left to give to Matt. But he still loved me through it.
Matt started changing a bit before we had our first son - and only in the best ways. He sold his motorbikes, which he told me he'd never get rid of, to help pay off debt so that we could afford a house. He started reading his bible more and studying scriptures a lot, even listening to sermons while he was at work. He started to challenge me more on my knowledge and understanding of the bible, and demonstrated to me what being the 'spiritual leader' of our house really meant.
You see, I believe that men should lead. Call me old-fashioned, call me chauvenistic, call me whatever you choose - I call it 'biblical'. I believe that men are to be the leaders of their household, are to shepherd their families, acting as pastors within their own households with their primary ministries being to their wife and their children. I believe that men should be providers, that they should be responsible for the affairs of the household and that they should be continually wrestling with the scriptures and working through their own salvation with fear and trembling and then taking their wisdom to their family and sharing it with them.
This is the example Matt has set in our household. Matt is the head of our family. Does that mean he's the king? Does that mean that what he says goes? Does that mean that I can't do anything unless he says so? Of course not. But it does mean that Matt is responsible to lead and to set a good example and to make wise decisions, that he acts upon those responsibilities and that he takes ownership of blame when any is to be laid in our household.
My husband is a humble man. He is a gentle man. He is a compassionate and loving man who has never said a word to intentionally hurt me. He speaks to me in gentle tones and never with bitterness or sarcasm, even when he is upset with me, he craves my input and seeks out what wisdom I may hold, he entrusts the household to me. He doesn't oppress me or harm me in any way shape or form - and yet he is still the head of our household.

That is why I feel so lucky, and so incredibly blessed today, looking back at the past 4 years. When we were dating, I didn't think about the proper qualifications for a husband. I knew I loved him, I knew he was a Christian, and I thought that was enough. But 4 years of marriage has taught me that it wouldn't have been enough. I'm crazy about my husband, but we've gone through seasons where I had to remind myself daily that I really did love him. I didn't consider whether Matt would be an active, attentive and involved father when our kids came along - I just assumed it would happen. Most importantly, I hadn't thought about having a husband that would be a spiritual leader, not just a professing Christian. I'm the type that would always submit to my husband, that's how I'm wired. I want to be lead, and I want to have someone big and strong to care for me. So if Matt stopped reading his bible and started coasting through his spiritual life, I'm sure that I would have continued with my own devotions, but would I have grown as much as I have in the last 4 years? More than unlikely.
I doubt that before we got married Matt seriously thought about how to lead a household. He thought about ways that he could be loving to me and maintaining date nights and even doing devotions - but that is such a small fraction of what it actually means to be the loving head of a household. But did he think about how when our 2 year old would have a nightmare in the middle of the night and how he'd have to go in and comfort the child by teaching him that God is sovereign and that we have nothing to fear because it's all in God's hands? Or did he think about how he would have to deal with his wife when he was angry at her after an arguement and how he'd lovingly and humbly come and apologize for any pain he had caused her, even while he was still hurting? Or did he think about all of the hobbies, and all of the fun, and all of the free-time that he'd have to give up to be with the family he loves, all of the job opportunities and opportunities for self-improvement that he would pass up to do what's best for his family? I can vouch that no, he didn't :) But I am so grateful that, by God's grace, somewhere between then and now, Matt thought about it, and he decided to step up and be a man - to be my man.

I love you Matthew - my leader, my provider, my lover, my friend, my partner-in-crime, my rational thought, the calmer of my anxieties, the father of my children and the husband I always dreamed of having.

Proud to be,
Mrs. VanderLeek ;)

Monday, April 23, 2012

Ricotta Gnocchi

Being back to normal life is so nice! After every day for a whole week being primarily about planning a toddler party, it's nice to just worry about the every-day things, like making supper, and doing yardwork.
Sunday night I was kind of hitting that 'normal' stage again. Matt had to stay home from church (which is at 3 p.m. for us) because he wasn't feeling great and I left one of the kids with him and the other with my Mom while I went and lead worship. As soon as church was over I rushed home to take care of my family, and make them some food. Everyone was getting pretty hungry so I wanted something quick, but I didn't have a load of things in my fridge, but I did have some ricotta that needed to be used up.
So, I ran to Pinterest for help and I was pleased to find a recipe for Ricotta Gnocchi from Budget Bytes.
If you remember, I adore Budget Bytes. Every recipe I've tried out of there has been fabulous and surprisingly quick. So I decided to undertake the task and make gnocchi for the first time.
The recipe was very simple: Container of ricotta, egg, tsp of oil, salt and pepper, and about 2 cups of flour. My ricotta container wasn't full but I used it up and watched how much flour I put in. Literally I just had to stir everything together. Then you roll it out into ropes, cut it up into tiny bits and boil it for a few minutes. I realized as I was making this that the only time I've ever had gnocchi is when I've stolen a bite of some of Matt's at a restaurant, so I wasn't sure how it would taste. Since I wasn't sure what gnocchi would taste like, I wasn't sure what to put on top of it. Budget Bytes recommended browned butter and garlic, so I followed suit and got the butter melting while the gnocchi was boiling. As soon as all those little morsels were floating, my butter and garlic were ready. I kept my pan on high, tossed those bad-boys in, and within a couple of minutes they were crisped and yummy looking. I sprinkled some grated parm on top and served with my fingers crossed!
The result? AMAZING!
Matt ate about 3 times as much as I did; it filled me up fast, and when I couldn't finish my bowl I figured we'd have leftovers. Oh boy was I proved wrong. I was worried that the browned butter and garlic wouldn't be enough flavor, but they were perfect. I was also a little wary about the texture too, not really knowing what to expect, but it was more bready than I thought, and less pasta-like than I was concerned. Oh, and apparently you can make and freeze them, so a quick meal can be made even quicker. But considering it only took me half an hour from when I pulled the ingredients out, to when I set the finished meal on the table, I think unless I'm making a huge batch, I wouldn't bother making these ahead. I should say, rather, that I wouldn't bother making these ahead for myself, because I'm definitely adding these to my freezer-meal menu for friends who have babies or are sick.
I'd like to say that this first experience with gnocchi has encouraged me to try more varieties, but, truth be told, I loved this one so much, I don't know when I'll ever try another!
Today was filled with unforeseen productivity, from checking a load of things off of my own To Do list, to getting some Lillies of the Valley planted in my yard, to voting in the provincial election, and even making new plans for a kitchen reno (opening up the wall dividing the kitchen and the living room and adding another wall of counter tops!). Even when I thought I ran out of time to be productive after Matt got home from work, I gave the baby a bath after supper and still had time to go outside with Matt and rake out our front flower beds! I just hope tomorrow will be a similar day!
Mrs. VanderLeek ;)

Boy's Pirate Party!

I know, I know, it's been forever. I'm so sorry! Life kind of ran away with me over the last couple of weeks. But it's, almost, back to normal now, so I should be able to post more frequently again. This past weekend we held our son Gabriel's 3rd Birthday Party - and it was a pirate party! This was the first party we had thrown for Gabe where we actually invited kids his age and had games, etc. and I must say, it was a success! All last week I had prepped for the party by decorating, shopping for piratey things and baking. I opted to keep the menu fairly simple: crackers, cheese strings, jello, brownies, veggies, cookies and marshmallow pops for the treat bag. But, of course, calling goldfish crackers by their name just didn't seem very piratey, so they were labelled as "Pirate Sushi". The cheese strings were cut and pulled to look like Baby Squid, the juice was called "POG Grog", the brownies were Brownie Boats, the crackers were under the inflatable parrot and were labelled "Polly's Crackers", the veggie dip had a pepper octopus coming out of it and the cookies were shaped like sand dollars!
Oh Yes, and the jello was blue, with candy fish suspended in it, and whipped cream sea foam on top! The kids loved that. The pirate marshmallow pops were very nearly the reason I decided to have a pirate party. I had seen them done on Pinterest and decided to give it a try. Turns out, they were quite easy to do, although I did have a few hiccups with mine. For starters, I opted to buy edible-ink markers to draw the pirate faces on instead of piping icing. This would have been a great idea except that I also decided to coat the marshmallows in white melting chocolate instead of leaving them bare. Turns out that edible markers won't work on such a waxy surface. After trying about three times I put the markers away for another day and made a super-thick, dark grey icing (basically just icing sugar and dye) and piped it on. FYI, if you try to do these, coating them with a higher end white chocolate will help keep the waxiness down and should let the edible markers work on them. But, piping the icing worked out fine - just make sure your icing is thick enough that it doesn't run. I also had to work quite strategically to figure out when to dip the top of the marshmallows in red sugar. I tried too early for a couple so the chocolate drooped, I tried too late for others, so the chocolate wouldn't hold the sugar, but for the most part I nailed it. These were definitely a hit with the kids!
As I alluded to above, the food was a breeze. I made the cookies in advance and froze them (if you follow the link to the recipe, no, I did not make that actual recipe - but it wasn't for lack of trying. Every grocery store I visited either didn't have tapioca starch or was out of it), the brownies and marshmallow pops I made the day before (and the brownies take 20 minutes from start to finish), the veggie tray and dip my mother provided and the jello was a quick task the night before, and 2 minutes to whip the cream and drop in the fish right before we served it. There was one last treat that I had very little to do with. My dear brother decided to carve a couple mini watermelons for the kids!
He made a shark and a boat, both of which the kids, and Gabe in particular, thought were amazing! Besides food at this party, we also had decorations. I took a hint from some other party-throwing moms on Pinterest and used plastic tablecloths as swag on my ceiling.
Matt had a cardboard roll from a job he had finished last week, which we used to make a mast, and we tapped into my shell collection to fill up my designated decor shelves on our bookcase. I also made a paper banner with some piratey patterns that we hung on one wall, and I used some dollar store finds, like gold coins, eye patches and fish net to round out the pirateyness. Oh yes, and I should mention, twine is an invaluable asset when holding a pirate party. I had that stuff all over the place! I used vanilla to dye some paper, one for a treasure map and the other as a sign for the front door that read, "All ye who enter BEWARE!" - funny story, some girl guides were coming around during the party, they got to the front door, saw the sign and ran off! Whoops!
Of course, as the hosts for the event, we needed to dress up like pirates! Value Village is an endless source of unintentional pirate costumes. From tunic tops with puffy sleeves to bandanas and belts, you may have to look to find it, but there's always something there!
With all of the prep done, it was on to the actual party! We had 11 kids - 6 toddlers, 4 babies, and 1 older sibling. There were also parents (Moms and Dads), aunts and uncles, and grandparents thrown into the mix! While we waited for people to show up, the kids played with Pirate Pets - Gabe's stuffed toys like turtles, monkeys, rats, etc, and the jellyfish in a bottle I had made last month. Once most-everyone was there we started with a simple game: Walk the Plank! With a bunch of three year olds, we used a wide plank right on the ground and just let them walk across. They thought it was great! We broke out a narrow plank for the older kid, and any toddlers who wanted to try it. From there we went into the kitchen for a craft while we turned on Pirates of the Caribbean downstairs for anyone who didn't want to observe. The kids made jellyfish out of styrofoam bowls. They colored the bowls and then we glued googly-eyes and streamers on!
After the craft we had a cannonball fight with paper balls. At first the kids weren't very clear on the instructions, but once there were about 50 paper balls in front of them, it was a natural instinct to throw them! We stopped for a snack before we went outside to have our treasure hunt! I had drawn a map in advance with such labels as "Here Be Dragons!" (on the road) and "Quicksand!" (on the driveway). The kids went from the "Safe House", past the "Boat House", through "The Trenches", around "The Forest", over "The Impassable Wall" and through the "Wild Brambles" to find the treasure chest that was loaded up with chocolate coins and the pirate marshmallow pops. The kids all had lots of fun! The parents had lots of food, Gabe got to see lots of his little friends, and at the end of the party, it only took me an hour to get my house almost completely back to normal (there's still a mast in my dining room, but I'll work on that). Hope you like the pictures and the ideas! Mrs. VanderLeek ;)

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Budget Bytes

I'm in love, I'm in love, and I don't care who knows it!

What, pray tell, am I in love with? (Default to 'what' because we already all know my husband is the real love of my life, so that disqualifies any 'whom's)

Budget Bytes.

Today marks an important day - I'm blogging about a blog. It's a first for me. I prefer to share my own ideas, or at very least, pull from an eclectic database of ideas (Pinterest and Martha Stewart aside...), but this one blog in particular has been popping up in my dealings so much lately, that I just have to give it a public, figurative high-five.

Budget Bytes is the wonderful blog that I found the two recipes I linked to in my post yesterday. If you remember (or read it, for that matter), I wrote about making a Singapore Noodle Bowl and also reminisced about making those Teriyaki Meatball Bowls a while back. All Budget Bytes. And lo, even while I was signing off on my post last night, I alluded to another scheme (smoothie packets) that I had seen kicking around on Pinterest, and when I went to find the pin, it turns out the link was to Budget Bytes again! That was it. I had to publicly declare my undying affection. What else could I do?

Why, you might ask, is the blog called Budget Bytes? Well, 'bytes' is a synonym which wittily recalls 'bites' one would take of food, as well as 'bytes', which are units of digital information. So we have food, and we have information. The information this particular blogger provides, are the actual costs of preparing portions of the recipes she posts. Brilliant! She breaks it down into how much you'll actually be spending to make these meals, and she does it all cheaply.

Hop over there and check out some of her favorite recipes; her post on Top 10 Freezer Meals looks intruiging!

Well, now that I've professed I think I can contain my raptures a bit better and move on to other subjects.

Today is a day of meal planning. I've got a number of things that I'm meal planning for right now: I've got family suppers, family reunions that I'm organizing meals for, helping my sister with meal planning, bringing dishes to potlucks, bringing snacks to Play Date, and a friend who is expecting just solicited my help planning meals today as well. It may sound like a lot, but meal planning is a labour of love, my friends. Why wouldn't it be? I get to look through all my wonderful cookbooks and magazines, browse Pinterest and look through grocery flyers - all things that I enjoy doing!
We've got another potluck at church this Sunday and I decided that cold entrees are totally the way to go. Last time I made sushi rolls, which went over great, but almost as important, I wasn't fighting for an outlet for a crockpot! I had to talk myself down from making Jalapeno Popper Dip this time, but the lack of keeping-warm is really worth changing my mind over. So, this time around, I'm whipping out a Pampered Chef dish that I've had loads of success with in the past: Teriyaki Bacon Cups! They're actually called Bacon & Water Chestnut Cups, but let's face it, which sounds more appealing: Teriyaki or Water Chestnuts? They're an odd little concoction of onions, bacon, water chestnuts, ginger and sauce, and the cups are hollowed out rounds of cucumber, but they are absolutely delish, and guys go crazy for them!
For the meal planning I'm doing for my sister and my friend, it's a bit more than simply picking a dish. I'm actually making up spreadsheets of their weekly menu, individual recipes and all the required ingredients, a grocery list for the week, and a break down of how much of what food they'll have left over at the end of the week. I've made up a three-consecutive-week meal plan for my sister that ranges from Apple Pie French Toast Wraps to Panko Crusted Pork, and all of the meals take about 30 minutes to make, weekly groceries come in at about $50-60, and every scrap of groceries will get used up that week, or in the following week's recipes. Oh yes, and I made all of the meals relatively low-fat since my sister's starting her post-baby recovery. The hardest part of this line of meal planning is actually knowing that my brother-in-law will be eating whatever I choose, so I've had to bulk up some of the meals - like the BLT Lettuce Wraps... Instead of sprinkling little bits of bacon in them, there will be full slices of turkey bacon to make it a more man-satisfying meal. And if nothing else, my sister can blame me for his rumbling tummy and lack of red meat.

Mrs. VanderLeek ;)

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Singapore Noodle Bowls

Stirfrying is definitely a mise-en-place sport.
And yes, it is a sport. If breaking a sweat is the main qualifier for a sport, then it fits the bill. Furthermore, my old favorite motto, "It's all fun and games until someone gets hurt - then it's a sport," certainly applies when you're cooking with hot oil.

Anyone care to guess what I made for dinner tonight??

Pinterest, the dearest light of my life, directed me to this shining beacon of delight - a veritable jackpot of noodlebowl recipes. My culinary tastes have not yet been honed to the asian spices and flavors, so I'm not comfortable 'whipping up' an asian sauce without a recipe. This website that I found had, not only tonight's Singapore Noodle Bowl recipe, but also the incredible Teriyaki Meatball Bowl recipe from a couple of weeks ago. This blogger is 2 for 2 on the amazing-recipe front people; I'm feeling encouraged enough to try some more of her recipes! (Me thinks I'll use her pot sticker recipe when I try those for the first time, perhaps?)

Tonight's dinner came together in 20 minutes. And it was superb. There were a couple of contributing factors to the speed of the recipe. First, was the dish itself. A stirfry using rice vermicelli will always be quick. Not to mention I did it meatless, so there was less prep and cooking time for that. Second, was a handy dandy tool I have from Pampered Chef: my Julienne Peeler. Shameless plug? Not really - I'm honestly in love with this thing. You use it like a regular vegetable peeler, but it peels the carrot/pepper/whatever into thin little matchsticks! My sister had one before I did and she convinced me to get it when she relayed how easy it was for her to make rice paper rolls; instead of peeling carrots and then using a load of skill and patience to chop them into matchsticks, she whips out her peeler and bam. It's done. I love it.

The recipe I used is really very sound - I didn't contrive to alter it much because I didn't feel like it needed any change. The only tweek I made a preferential. The recipe calls for marinating your rice noodles in a bit of curry powder, but I'm already all curried-out this week, so I used chicken bouillon instead. All in all, this was a great, simple recipe that makes a great, fresh-tasting dish.

I went grocery shopping today and loaded up on unusual items - mostly ones that I need for rather specific dishes: fish sauce, bean sprouts, Jim Beam Pancake Syrup... but I also got two flats of strawberries for $5! What can one do with two flats of strawberries? Well, for starters, I can freeze them! Perhaps I'll make smoothie packets?

Mrs. VanderLeek ;)

Thai Coconut Curry Soup

Whew! I made it back on here! Sure, it's a whole day later than I intended, but at least I came back!

After such a great, fun weekend, there was of course lots to do to get back into the swing of things. And sadly, I didn't get all of it done even!
I did, however, tackle taxes yesterday.

I may have talked about doing taxes already, but those weren't even our taxes - they were for a friend's company. Yesterday, however, I went through all of the receipts Matt compiled through the year, and every important paper in our house, and organized it into spreadsheets for our accountant. Prior to being married, the way Matt handled his taxes was by bringing a box with some receipts in order - some not - and having the accountant hash through it all. And every year, Matt would pay around $800 to have his taxes done. Now it's a different story. Having been taught basic bookkeeping in college, I figured I'd put it to good use and save ourselves a few hundred dollars every year. I sort, organize and document each receipt for every tool, supply and tank of gas that Matt pays for in the course of a year, not to mention getting our family taxes ready. This year had two new additions as well: my Pampered Chef income and my bookkeeping income. When it's all said and done, I spent 5 hours straight working on taxes yesterday, and I'm pleased to say that I'm almost done! - a little crosseyed perhaps, but I'm nearly there!!

Thanks to my adventures in bookkeeping yesterday, I didn't do anything particularly crafty or fun - at all. But when I posted on Sunday I had promised you all my Thai Coconut Soup recipe, so here it is!

Thai Coconut Curry Soup:
1/2 an onion, rough chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
2 or 3 chicken breasts, cubed
1 can coconut milk
1 c. chicken broth
3 stalks lemongrass
1/4 tsp cumin
1 1/2 tbsp green curry paste
1/4 c. cilantro
1/2 c. sliced red pepper
Lime wedges for serving

In a medium pot, brown chicken in a little bit of oil (make sure the chicken is dry first, or it won't brown!) Add the onions and the garlic clove and sautee for a couple of minutes, until soft. Pour in the broth and the coconut milk and whisk to combine. Add in the lemongrass, cumin and curry paste. Cook over medium heat, covered, for about half an hour. Add in cilantro and sliced red pepper and cook over medium low, uncovered, for half and hour more. *Note, if you want to serve over rice instead of as a soup, leave on medium - medium-high for this last half hour to boil off excess water.

Heat options:
I made the soup with a fairly mild heat to make sure my little boy could eat it, but if you want to amp it up, here are some suggestions!
- substitute 1/4 c. slice jalapenos in place of the red peppers
- add 1/2 tsp red chili flakes
- add 1 tsp sambal oleak

I love the lemongrass in this recipe and was quite pleased with how quickly it came together. I actually made mine in the crockpot - I sauteed the onions and garlic but not the chicken, and threw the chicken in raw. Then I added everything but the peppers and cilantro and cooked it on high for 2 hours, low for 2 hours more, then threw in the peppers and cilantro, lifted the lid off, and cooked it on high for another half hour. I have a two-cycle crock pot so I actually turned this on before we went to afternoon church and when we came home it was just ready for me to add the peppers and herbs and throw on some rice.

Well, I'm off to finish everything that I didn't get done yesterday - wish me luck!

Mrs. VanderLeek ;)

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Happy Easter 2012!

I've got to do this quick - my husband needs the computer!

Happy Easter, everyone!

I hope you all had a fantastic weekend with friends and family and that you got to eat as much yummy food as I did! We spent the first part of our weekend in Calgary visiting my sister, followed by time in our hometown visiting my in-laws. Today we had time just by ourselves to start our own Easter traditions.

Tradition #1 that I was eager to do was an Easter Egg hunt. We had done one in Calgary with my niece and hid glow sticks with the eggs and shut off all the lights in the room. The kids loved it, although Gabriel was so excited about the glow sticks that he didn't bother picking up his eggs at first!
While that was good fun and all, I didn't feel like I had given my child nearly enough sugar, so tonight we hid 10 plastic eggs for him, all stuffed with chocolates, and 3 NHL Chocolate Eggs with toys in the center. No, he did not eat that all today. We're in the middle of potty training and the consistency part seems to be the hardest part for him, so we're giving him little treats every time he goes potty with a dry diaper. The chocolates from his plastic eggs will go in the 'treat' drawer that he gets to take something out of after each successful trip.

Tradition #2 I was excited about was making Resurrection Buns. My mom used to break these out every year as my youth group leader and I never was too fussed about them, but now that I have my own kids I was super excited to do them again. And I figured out the secret to making them worth doing every year: Butter and Sugar. It's a super simple concept - take a Pillsbury biscuit tube, marshmallows, butter and cinnamon-sugar. Roll the marshmallows in the melted butter, then coat them in the sugar. Fold the biscuit dough over the marshmallow then roll the biscuit in butter and then coat with cinnamon-sugar. Bake at 350 for 15 minutes and when you crack them open the marshmallow has melted and it's like an empty tomb! HOWEVER, there are a couple tricks to this that I was unaware of until after I had made mine. Many of the recipes I had seen online said to use Pillsbury Crescent Rolls... DON'T DO IT! Have you any idea how hard it is to wrap a triangle around a marshmallow? There were far too many narrow parts to make a clean job of it, and then there was the endless seaming that was, apparently, all for naught. When I open the oven after my timer went, I was distressed to find that most of the seams had burst and my rolls had deflated. Once I finally got a hold of my mom and talked to her about it, she let me on to the wiseness of using the biscuit dough (squares people... totally the way to go) and then she also advised that next time I leave one seam open, so that the air has somewhere to go and doesn't force your seams open.

Lucky for me, I've got a very gracious little boy. He didn't care that his treat looked a little bit flat. He was thrilled to help me put them together and when we opened it up he said, "Where did Jesus go, Mommy?" I love him :)

Dinner tonight was nothing traditional - unless you consider it a tradition to have Thai Coconut Curry soup for Easter Dinner. I needed something that I could throw in the crock pot before church so that we could eat within half an hour of getting home from church, and my lemongrass was begging to be used.

Hubby's in a hurry so I think I'll have to post that recipe tomorrow!

Mrs. VanderLeek ;)

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Pink, Pirates and Eggs


One of the favorite sayings of a little bunny named Max is frequently echoed in our household. There's just something about pirates that makes all little boys dream of being one someday. We've decided to get it over with in our household and let Gabriel be a pirate for a whole day - the day of his third birthday party.
The invitations have been sent (the Facebook invitations, that is) and the planning has begun. I've decided that since we're going to do a theme at all, we might as well do it right. ...Which is why I bought a wooden model 3-mast, 22 gun ship that's 18" tall and 2' long. Not exactly a necessary purchase, I'll admit, but while I was cruising through Value Village with the pirate theme in the back of my mind, and I happened to see this gorgeous ship at the end of one of the aisles, well... what would you have done??? So, $15 later and I am now the proud owner of a ship - an expenditure which my husband has no wish to censure, and my comment of, "We can sell it after the party" was utterly scorned by him this evening.

As I alluded to above, the pirate ship was not my main reason for being at Value Village. Tomorrow is my niece's 3rd birthday party (she and Gabe are 8 days apart) and the theme that she picked was "pink". That's it - Pink. Everyone will be wearing pink, the house will be decorated with pink, the food will be pink... It's all pink. Well, neither Matt, nor Gabe, nor Nathaniel had any pink clothes, so I opted to hit up Value Village for outfits that would last them for the party. Nathaniel was a complete strike out, but my sister had already offered up an outfit for him - check. Matt got an American Eagle pink plaid shirt that I plan to inherit after the party - check. And Gabe... well that one was hard. Anything pink in his size was frilly, flowery, and obviously feminine. There was nothing of any real potential, except... blue. From several unfortunate incidents involving bleach and nice clothes of mine, I have learned that dark blue bleaches pink. You see where this is going, right? So I picked up a blue shirt, brought it home, made a stencil and sprayed it with bleach. I put a cardboard piece inside to keep the bleach from seeping through the layers because I wanted a different design on the front and the back. First I sprayed it with a light mist of diluted bleach. Then I sprayed a more focused stream quickly across the front, leaving brighter blotches. Next, I sprayed a stream of more concentrated bleach around the stencil to make it stand out more. I let that set a bit, removed the stencil, flipped it over and sprayed a stream on a diagonal across the back. The end product actually looks quite cute! And with all my picture taking today I failed to get a shot of this project, so I'll have to post it another day!

Tomorrow is Good Friday and as a Christian, Easter is one of the most important times of year for me. To celebrate the fact that my Savior not only came, and died, but also rose is huge - it's what my whole life revolves around actually.
I tried to convey that to Gabe in a way that a two year old would understand. He might not fully understand the ramifications of Christ's atonement of sin, but He does get that Easter is a big deal in our household. The rest we'll chip away at bit by bit.

Today we prepped for Easter by decorating eggs. We had never done this with Gabe before so he was rather confused when I showed him a picture of brightly colored eggs. "Why are those eggies silly, Mommy?" Sigh... I love him. Gabe's recently decided that his favorite color is green, and for the first time he's actually sticking by a 'favorite'. Everything from his underwear, to his dinnerware has to be green. Care to guess what color his eggs were?
I opted to dye Gabe's eggs with KoolAid, but I wanted them to be more fun that just a solid color. So once the eggs were boiled and cooled we broke out the crayons. Gabe had fun drawing on the eggs and he even thought that was enough beautifying of the eggs - until he saw the green KoolAid. He had loads of fun gently stirring the eggs in the KoolAid and he kept checking to see if they really were turning color. Unfortunately, after taking out the second egg I went to get my camera, realized it was low on batteries and detoured to take them out. When I came back the third egg was a little... overdone. You can see that it looks flaky in some of the pictures. Fortunately I was able to wipe that off and then salvage the egg by more dying later, but be warned! - That's how it goes down when you let KoolAid eggs sit too long!
Once I got the boys down for a nap (which they both skipped yesterday, which explains the lack of a post from then - no naps = no time for fun projects!) I went about dying the eggs I had blown out earlier in the week. Matt never tracked down a dremel for me to make a clean hole so I could fill them with chocolate, so I decided just dying them would have to do for this year. I followed Martha Stewart's instructions for Marbleized Eggs and I realized something - regular food coloring is not the same as the stuff she uses. I'd probably have to use a whole little bottle of food coloring to get anywhere near the intense color she has on some of her eggs. For the base color you can let the egg sit longer to soak up more of the color, but for the actual marbleized effect, it's a one-pass deal; you dip the egg in, roll it once and take it out - done. Anyway, you can see from my pictures that some of my eggs worked better than others. I'm reasonably happy with the end product, but I think that for next year I'll have to order some crazy strong food dye so I can make some more stunning eggs.
I did 5 eggs with a yellow base, and 5 with a blue base. I love blue speckled eggs (check out my Easter board on Pinterest for proof), but some of my favorite ones I did were with the yellow base. The blue ones all ended up looking too similar. In person you can see subtle differences, but I wasn't able to pick them up in the pictures with the lighting I had (I take pictures on my bench seat in my living room to get natural light in, but it was too late in the afternoon when I took these for really good lighting)((Incidentally, I almost fell off my bench seat today trying to get better angles for some shots...))

Well, it's about an hour after I started writing this, thanks to interruptions from excited little kids who don't understand the importance of sleep. I've still got laundry and packing to do, not to mention I was planning on showering tonight. Oh yes, and at some point, I've got to sleep too!

Mrs. VanderLeek ;)

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

The Real Life Woes of Constructing Pallet Tables told second-hand by the wife of the one who did the constructing.

I love pallet tables. Don't you? The rustic, imaginative use of those ugly, industrious pallets made me want one from the first time I saw one on Pinterest. I told my husband so, and he wasn't sold on the idea.
I couldn't believe it! What could be better than a table you would have to pay virtually nothing for?? We needed a coffee table too, and I knew that the mixed styles of our living room right now could benefit from a table that was at once farm-house quaint, like the East side of our room, and a Dark Walnut color with clean lines, like the West side of our room.
But my hubby still maintained that a pallet table would be more trouble than it was worth, and that to find a pallet made out of good, solid wood, that would still be straight enough to use, would be quite the feat.
But to please me, there's not much my husband wouldn't do.

Ergo, our new pallet table!

Turns out, Matt was right - it was a pain in the butt to make. Out of the four pallets that Matt brought home, so many of the boards were prone to splintering and cracking that he was worried we'd have to find a fifth pallet to part out. Lots of the wood was bowed and rough and the slats were a variety of widths and lengths, and three of the pallets were seemingly 'identical'. Some of the pictures on the internet of these pallet tables make it seem like people just pick up a pallet, spray paint it, and display it proudly in their living room. The reality is that, except perhaps for a couple extremely lucky people who find a perfect pallet, to get something that will even hold a cup of coffee upright, and not give everyone splinters, there's a lot more work to it than that.

So, after tearing apart, reconstructing and sanding, our pallet table is finally put together! We still have yet to stain it, but that will be another day's project!

But until then, I will revel in the fact that I have a gorgeous pallet table sitting in my living room, which not only gives me a convenient place to display my most current magazines, but it will also give me another surface to grace with seasonal decor!

And what was I doing while my dearest darling husband was building me things with his bare hands (and power tools)? I was sewing together a soft case for his bow! Well, I was prepping it for sewing, rather. By the time I got around to it, it was far too late to get my machine all set up. It's odd though how much less time it will take me to actually sew the stupid thing, compared to how much time it took me to prep it. Matt had a pair of camo pants that weren't fitting him well anymore, so he sacrificed them to the cause. He wanted it lined somewhat for a bit more protection, so I donated some felt to the project. The legs of the pants will be sewn together to make a long, draw-string bag for his bow, and the cargo pockets from the pants will stay intact. So today was the day of cutting, ironing, marking, pinning, and more cutting. If I get a chance tomorrow, perhaps I'll do the 10 minutes of sewing that will actually be needed to sew the lining in and then attach the two legs. By the way, this is the exact reason that I hate quilting. I love sewing, but I detest the prep work, and in quilting, if you fudge the prep work, it will show. And, as we all recall, Blood, Sweat and Tears are all byproducts of quilting prep. Bah.

Well, it's getting late and I've got a meeting over here tomorrow, which means that I'll be waking up early to make something yummy for everyone! I wonder what fun ideas Pinterest has right now...

Mrs. VanderLeek ;)

Monday, April 2, 2012

Eggs and Onions

Easter is coming people!!! Are you ready?????

I'm not!

I've actually been so caught up in day-to-day life that I haven't made chocolates, dyed eggs, decorated my house or anything like that! I hope to catch up to my normal standards during this week.
For starters, I blew out my eggs today for dying, or possibly for filling the chocolate - I haven't decided yet. My family has long done egg-blowing and I have many fond memories, and a couple memories of squeezing the eggs too hard and having them explode on my lap... but it hardly feels like Easter without blowing eggs. If I do decide to dye these ones, I plan to store them and keep them as annual Easter decorations - however I'm sure I'll still blow eggs out every year!
While blowing eggs is my prefered method, I will also be decorating hard-boiled eggs with Gabriel this year. There's simply no sense in trying to tell a 2 year old not to squeeze the hollowed-out egg shell too tightly! I've seen lots of egg decorating tutorials, like this KoolAid one, or this Marbelized Egg one, that I might try with Gabe. And, someone out there is a genius, and came up with a glow-in-the-dark Easter Egg hunt, which we will be doing with Gabe as well!

On a new subject, I'm not sure if I mentioned this or not but the other day I decided to try regrowing green onions from the bottom portion I cut off when cooking with them. I had seen this somewhere (okay, on Pinterest), and decided to give it a try... IT WORKS PEOPLE! I put the white ends of my onions in a jar with some wet paper towl on the day I made my Teriyaki Meatball Bowls (March 27th according to my blog) and now, not even a week later, they're huge! One is ready to eat now and the others will be ready by next week! I am never buying green onions again!!!

What, with all the blown out eggs and the rapidly growing onions, me thinks some quiche making may be in order! Quiche and a salad for dinner to use up my croutons that I made last week? And since my hubby just called to say he was coming home for a late lunch, I think I'm going to whip up some tuna melts to use up a loaf of french bread I bought yesterday!


Mrs. VanderLeek ;)

Sunday, April 1, 2012


I love knitting... off and on. It's actually kind of a love-hate relationship. Sometimes it's just really fun to pick up those needles and make something with my hands. It's a great sense of accomplishment and a wonderful release of creative energy. Sometimes, however, I am cursing my knitting project, wishing the scarf would just finish itself and regretting that I ever started such a huge undertaking.
Interesting, huh?

A while back I identified my main issue with knitting, which is the length of some projects. In an endeavor to learn how to knit better (after being sick of doing a lot of things only slightly well) I started making coffee sleeves - they were small, quick projects that I could try new techniques out on, and if it wasn't working I wasn't going to cry over having to unravel something I had invested hours and hours into. It was during this time that I realized I wasn't stressed about my ongoing projects - partly because they weren't very 'ongoing'. A few hours in and I was binding off my beautifully cable-knit coffee sleeve. I started to look for new ideas for things that I could knit quickly, when I came across a headband that I had found on Pinterest a while before. I gave it a whirl and was pleased to find that it took only a few hours to knit - and they were quite cute! You can find the pattern here. Well, I made one for myself, showed it to my sisters-in-law and they both said they'd like one, as did my sister and a friend that saw them when I posted a pic on Facebook. I've been making most of mine about half the width of the original pattern and they still look great! If you've never tried knitting or only know how to do the basics, this one is worth a try. A knit here, a purl there, a bit of yarn-over and you've got yourself a gorgeous headband. Or, you know, hit me up for one!

This was a great weekend, with a healthy mix of doing lots and doing nothing. It started with a night at a friend's birthday party where we spent time with some of the people we love the most. It was loud, but really fun! Saturday we had plans to go to my parents' for dinner and my Mom decided she was too busy to make the second dessert she had planned on doing, so I offered to bring something. My Mom suggested something like cookies, so I opted to make the Cinnamon Roll Cookies that I, again, found on Pinterest. They are super yummy, and if I remember correctly, they're even better the second day. I have no frame of reference for that this time though because, apparently, my brother thought they were fantastic. I made 4 dozen and between 6 of us there were only 10 left at the end of the evening. (Bear in mind, that was the second dessert!)
Today I lead worship in church, however that decision wasn't really made until Saturday morning so the crunch was on a bit to pick my songs and be ready to play this afternoon. I was a little concerned to find that my voice it a bit weak right now so all of the songs I had to actually transpose down to an easier key. Though, honestly, I'm probably the only one who noticed!

I'd best get off an start knitting again - I've got enough time before bed to finish another headband!

Mrs. VanderLeek ;)