Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Halloween 2013

Happy very belated Halloween!

I was oblivious to how much I enjoy dressing up before this Halloween - dressing up was just always something you did, kind of like a non-optional social convention. However, when I look back at how we kind of really enjoy dressing up for Halloween, and make excuses to dress up for birthday parties, and how I'm willing to put in a good amount of effort for our family's costumes, it struck me that I really do enjoy dressing up.

And also that I'm a geek.

That's right - I let my geek-flag fly this year! I've always wanted to dress up my boys as ewoks (come on, who hasn't??), and I saw it as a great opportunity to dress up a Princess Leia! But not the cinnamon buns outfit. Or the slinky bikini, either. Nope, I had to dress like Leia on the forest moon Endor. Which basically left me with two outfit options: brown dress, or camo poncho. After a trip to Value Village, I decided the poncho would be my best bet. Not from the presence of any ponchos on their racks, mind you. No, I found a scrap sheet of white fleece and decided to make a poncho from that. So, I cut a hole for the head, trimmed some excess fabric off an end and reattached it from a collar on the poncho. But Leia's poncho isn't white - it's camo. What to do, what to do? Well, having never dyed anything before in my life I decided to start easy by dying with tea! I did a base color of a camel-brown from orange pekoe tea bags. The fleece took it very well actually, and while tea dying can result in an uneven color with a marble effect, that works perfectly for camo! I washed and dried the fabric to let the color set and then got some acrylic paints to sponge on the contrasting camo colors. $2 for the fleece, $1/acrylic color, and I've got one Rebel leader poncho! A few braids, a belt, some light pants and a blaster, and I was set to be Leia!
My biggest boy found an Optimus Prime costume at a garage sale this summer, and he's been waiting ever since for Halloween, so he was all set, and for the other two, my little ewoks, I made ewok hoods! Well, first I crocheted a cowl hood with bear ears attached, then I sewed a felt hood on top! The bigger ewok got the spear :) Oh, and my husband went as James Hetfield from the 80s.... Yah.


Happy belated Halloween!

Mrs. VanderLeek ;)

Monday, November 4, 2013

Thanksgiving 3 & Catchup Post

Again, too much busy-ness in life for me to be able to sit down and post! I promised you a recap of Thanksgiving 3, so here it is.

It was wonderful! Everyone was able to make it, which was the sure sign of success. The turkey was fully thawed that morning (whew...) so prepping it was low-stress... until I realized I didn't have the proper recipe for the turkey and stuffing. "No worries," I thought, "I'll just call my grandma!" But, alas, Grandma is always out shopping Saturday mornings and was hence unreachable. So I wung it (my computer tells me that's a typo, but I'm sure that's the past-tense verb for 'winging it'). I knew the basics of our old family recipes - and the fact that they were horrifying. For about 50 years now, my family has made turkeys by rubbing butter all over a brown paper bag, wrapping that over a bird in a roasting pan, turning the temperature up for the first half hour, then dropping it down to 325 to finish baking. Why is this horrifying? A better question is: How is it NOT??? SERIOUSLY - who came up with the idea to rub an accelerant all over paper and put it in a hot oven??? Anyway, I thought that I'd Google How to cook a Paper Bag Turkey and see what came up... I was even more horrified.
Some of the top hits? "WORST ways to cook a turkey!", "Why NOT to cook your turkey in a Paper Bag", and a slew of resources informing me I'd surely kill my guests with this ill-advised cooking method.

Pleasant.

Turns out, it's not just dangerous to throw greasy paper in your oven, but there's a big concern about using low-quality paper that might include inks, dyes, adhesives and even metal filings. Oh, and someone said NEVER to cook turkey at a temperature less than 350 or a guest will die.

Again, pleasant.

By this time I was panicking a little bit. I was running low on time to think, knowing I'd need 4.5 hours to cook my turkey, plus resting time, so I needed that bird in the oven. But then I remembered that it truly has been around 50 years that my family has been cooking large birds like this, and not once has anyone started a fire (beer can chickens on the bbq are a totally different story...), and no one has become sick from chemical leeching from the paper bags. That, and Martha Stewart recommended you cook her featured turkey recipe for this year at 325 (sans dying guests).
So I stuck with what was familiar, cut off all the parts of the bag which had ink or glue, and buttered that bad boy up! The real trick is to put butter on every inch of the bag, so much so that the bag turns translucent. Then you press it down around the turkey and the roasting rack in your pan. I was planning to make a gravy, so I poured some white wine in the bottom, and threw in some onion and a couple garlic cloves with the turkey neck. Then I let it cook at 425 for 30 minutes, and 325 for the remaining 4 hours. The result?? PERFECTION! Honestly - this thing had crispy skin, juicy meat, and looked like something from a Thanksgiving magazine ad.

I forgot to get sage at the grocery store, so while my turkey was perfect, my stuffing was under-seasoned, but I even got a compliment from a guest on that (apparently a guest who has been subjected to over-seasoned stuffing many-a-year). My potatoes were wonderful, the sweet potatoes were a hit, and the gravy turned out perfect! My guests brought pickled beets, roasted carrots, homemade wine, kale salad, pies and port! It was a wonderful, normal, down-home cooking meal, which is exactly what I was aiming for! I have to admit, I toyed with the idea of sweet potatoes fries with a chili mayo, prosciutto cups with pear and asiago, and deconstructed pumpkin pie cups, but I figured that wasn't what this crowd needed - they needed something that tasted like home. The craziest we got was that the pies were smoked! Concern for oven space, and the presence of a new smoker in their household, lead our friends to opt to smoke the apple and pumpkin pies they brought! The apple pie was particularly well suited to the method - although I heard that a peach pie they made was even better!

And so it came to pass that Thanksgiving 3 was finished.

Now, I mentioned that this would also be a catch-up post. I'll do that quickly!

1. Halloween has also passed since my last post. I plan to do a separate post about that to do it justice, just not today.

2. We got snow. LOTS of snow. From Saturday morning to Sunday night, we went from zero snow, to people-are-stuck-in-their-driveways snow. About a foot dump. It's beautiful :)

3. 'Tis the season for tea! So while everyone else was staying home Saturday night because it was snowing so much, I trekked out to do a tea party! The weather was particularly mood-setting! I try to only do two shows a month, but this month everyone wants stuff, so between Nov 2 and Dec 5 I have 5 shows booked, and another person wanting to book in somewhere! In addition to that, I've agreed to donate to a Christmas giveaway that my friends' company is hosting. I'll put together a prize package, and anyone who likes my business page that day will be entered for the draw! Then, on the 11th I'll have a table at their Christmas Wrap Up party where I'll be selling tea for the holidays!

4. Our hot water tank is leaking. And for some reason the soonest we can get a plumber is the 13th. 9 days with a hot water tank leak? Oh joy...

5. I'm crazy. Sometimes I don't realize it, sometimes I do. Today, I realized it when I was making plans to do a 100% healthy-eating household from the middle of November to Christmas. ...and then I realized it wouldn't feel like Christmas without my Christmas baking. And even though I could bake the stuff and personally hold off from eating it, that wouldn't actually help the household hold to their healthy lifestyle as well (and, you know, the kids would flip if I made cookies and they didn't get them). So I'm really not sure what to do. Perhaps totally healthy meals but snacks still allowed until the New Year? Basically I got sick of being fat and intend to do something about it (once again), and hubby's eager to join the effort, but I don't want it to encroach on our festivities, or be unnecessarily hard because I picked an arbitrary start date! I'm really stumped on this one...

Anyway, that's all for now! I'd best be off!

Mrs. VanderLeek ;)

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Thanksgiving - Round 2

As you may remember from my previous post, Thanksgiving this year is being broken up into 3 rounds for our family. Round 1 involved brunch and supper in Calgary, Round 2 was a dinner with the in-laws, and Round 3 will occur next weekend, when we host our own turkey dinner for friends who missed out on time with family this past weekend!
As a quick recap, I made the prosciutto egg cups for the brunch on Saturday, and they were a huge, gluten-free hit! I didn't have my onion jam on hand, which I'd normally place a dab of in the prosciutto cup before I crack the egg on top, but nevertheless, they were delicious.
Here's my recipe:
Prosciutto Egg Cups

12 eggs
12 thin slices prosciutto (double-check that it's gluten free if that's what you're going for!)
Cream
Italian seasoning
Parmesan

Line each cup of a muffin tin with a piece of prosciutto, wrapping it around the sides of the cup to make a little bowl. If you're planning on adding a boost of flavor (crumbled blue cheese, truffle, onion jam, smoked salmon, etc) add it now. Crack one egg into each cup and pour a small dab of cream in the white of each egg. Draw a line through the white with a knife to mix the cream in. Sprinkle with fresh parmesan and herbs, and bake at 375 for 15 minutes. For quicker assembly, crack all of the eggs into a mixing bowl and beat with the cream, then pour out even portions amongst the prosciutto cups.

Later that afternoon we had our gluten-free turkey dinner. No one insisted we make everything gluten free, but that's how it happened for the sake of my cousin who is struggling to find food worth eating since his recent diagnosis. I made a cornbread stuffing with gluten free farmer's sausage, which was a nice stuffing if you like cornbread. The taste was fine, but the crumb was, well, cornbread. So if that's you're thing, it's great, but if you're used to a normal bread stuffing, perhaps you wouldn't like it.
I also made my individual pavlovas! And I learned some valuable lessons! Lesson number 1: use the proper beaters to make your egg whites stiff. If you don't, basically they'll never get there. I stood with a hand mixer for 25 minutes, hoping that eventually the soft peaks I had would stiffen up. Eventually I called it "good enough" and piped my pavlovas. Lesson number 2: use the proper type of sugar! I've seen recipes that insist you can use icing sugar. Perhaps you can, but I've not had luck with it! After mixing for a ridiculous amount of time, I was dismayed to find that my labour of love resembled piles of turd after their time in the oven. No lie. That's all you could think as you looked at them. And a good amount of the sugar had seeped out of the bottom and caramelized around the base of each pavlova. They were next to impossible to peel off. Then when I checked them again in the morning, they had shrivelled. They were horrible, disgusting little turd piles. And while in some instances you can say, "It doesn't matter how it looks if it tastes great!" I didn't even have that consolation this time. The outside had never hardened properly (and I kept them in the oven too long hoping that it would, which gave them a brown hue), and so they were essentially angel food cake flavored marshmallow. They were essentially unservable as anything other than an individual marshmallow.
So what's a girl to do? I remade them. And this time, I used granulated sugar instead of icing sugar. Ideally, I'd be using castor sugar, but I didn't have it, however I'm now aware that between icing and granulated, the latter is a better substitute.
Again, I was only using the bad beaters, so those stiff peaks never came, which meant that instead of pavlova towers I had pavlova mounds, but joy of joys, these bad boys worked in every other way! And the best part was what we did with them!
For half the batch, I mixed up a chocolate whipped cream (so rich that it wasn't even whipping at first until I upped the cream ratio a bit - basically it was a ganache that I thinned enough to whip properly!), and then after layering with the cream, we topped it with pomegranate arils. For the second half of the batch, I made a maple syrup flavored whipped cream and topped each one with a slice of red pear. The whole point of this exercise was to make a gluten-free dessert that my poor cousin wouldn't feel was the consolation prize of desserts, and I think we nailed it! (I personally saw him inhale three of those bad boys, and he insisted that if we left the remainder there, he'd finish eating them all)



Now, onto Round 2 recap. We regularly have turkey dinners with this side of the family, but this year was different. Due to some major stressors in my MIL's life, us kids took over the brunt of cooking. She made the turkey and stuffing, and we were in charge of all the rest. Oh, and there were 14 adults who were going to be there. So the out-of-towner kids brought things they could pick up (pies, salads, and buns), while my local sister-in-law and I divvied up the rest. I took on the mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, extra desserts, and decided to make use of that leftover cornbread stuffing I brought home from Calgary. But I decided to improve it: Corn cakes! I stirred in a can of creamed corn and an extra egg, then made patties which I spritzed with oil, then baked on my stoneware. The result was super yummy! And since another gluten-free person was in attendance, it was a welcome thing for her! For the mashed potatoes, every year that side has "Swedish potatoes" - mashed potatoes with cream cheese and a bread crumb topping. Well, the problem with doing mashed potatoes just with cream cheese is that they can often be dry and dense. So I got my Auntie Brenda's recipe for the best ever mashed potatoes, added the bread crumb topping, and passed them off as an improved Swedish Potato.
Here's the recipe for what my aunt calls "Elsie's Potatoes":

5 lbs Russet Potatoes, peeled and chopped
1 - 8 oz package cream cheese, softened
1 c. sour cream
2 tsp onion powder
1 tsp salt
2 tbsp. fine bread crumbs
1 1/2 tbsp. butter

Boil the potatoes until they are tender. In a mixer with a paddle attachment, beat the potatoes until they are mashed fine. Add the cream cheese, sour cream, onion powder and salt, and mix until combined and fluffy. Put potatoes into a large casserole dish and sprinkle bread crumbs on top. Dot the butter around the top and bake at 350 for about 30 minutes - until crisped on top.

All I was supposed to bring was 2nd dessert and potatoes. But I kept changing what I thought I'd bring for dessert, and so my husband saw an opportunity to make a request: lemon bars. So for dessert I made Dulce de Leche bars and Lemon bars as well. Then he figured he might as well ask for 'Marshmallow casserole' too, since I was in a generous mood. Ergo, the candied sweet potatoes I made with a marshmallow topping.
Supper was eaten, we had loads of food, and now to rest up and get my house ready to host another dinner next weekend!

Mrs. VanderLeek ;)

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Thanksgiving - Round 1

Yep, Round 1. I'm doing multiple Thanksgivings this year!

First up, I'm headed to Calgary to celebrate with family from my side. Our first stop will be a Thanksgiving potluck brunch. I've been trying to be more considerate of people with restrictive diets, specifically gluten sensitivities, so everything I make for this weekend will be gluten free. However, I also acknowledge that a lot of the households attending this brunch are also restrictive of meats and dairy... and I'm much less considerate on that front. Well, the husbands might think I'm being considerate of their inner carnivore at least; I'm bringing my Prosciutto Egg cups! Minimal prep time (I can throw 2 dozen of those babies in a pan in less than 10 minutes), gluten free, and super, super yummy.

Next stop will be a dinner at my aunt's house. My 16 year old cousin was recently diagnosed with a severe gluten sensitivity, so I offered to bring GF foods for the group. I'll be making a Cornbread and Sausage Stuffing: it'll be enough of a switch-up from our regular stuffing that no one will be comparing it to the 'normal kind' all night. Gluten Free cornbread is a breeze to make, but the real trick will end up being making sure my sausages are gluten free and yummy.
I also offered to bring a dessert, and my brain almost exploded from the potential of this. I toyed for a long time with the idea of a seasonal fruit tart with an almond crust and some caramel drizzle, and for a lesser time on things like poached pears and pumpkin Fro Yo, but I finally landed on a Pavlova - a gorgeous, beautifully elegant dessert that demands to be made ahead!
But even once I landed there, I needed to figure out what would top this tower of yumminess. I pictured something tall, opulent, and decadent. But alas, I had a heck of a time deciding, especially considering some chocolate allergies in the family. I needed to keep it more simple than not, but something that would be beautiful in its simplicity. And to be honest, in the back of my mind I always had the nagging that a pavlova as big as I was hoping to make (with at least 2 layers, plus filling), would be pretty hard to cut well.
Then it struck me: why make decisions when I can use variety to my advantage??

Individual pavlovas, people!

I'll be making 2 dozen individual pavlovas. The first dozen will be topped with chocolate whipped cream and pomegranate arils. The second dozen will have a maple flavored whipped cream with red pear slices!

Silly aside, while discussing this plan with my mother, she seemed a bit taken aback. I asked what she thought I should have on them instead and she suggested, "Every time I've had pavlova they've just been topped with whipped cream and fresh fruit!" It took her a while to clue in that that was essentially all I was doing. Funny how differently two people can see the same thing!

In any event, making the individual pavlovas might be a bit more of a pain, but they'll be much easier to serve!

I'm excited for this round of Thanksgivings! And FYI, Round 2 will be on the holiday Monday with the in-laws (I'm making pecan strudels and potatoes), and Round 3 will be a hosted event at my house with a family from church that won't get a Thanksgiving this year with their family!

Mrs. VanderLeek ;)

Thursday, September 19, 2013

How to spend less than $400/month on groceries

I've got to be honest - that really could read "less than $300/month on groceries". For my family of 5 - 2 adults, 2 pre-schoolers and a baby - that's what we spend. And while you might count that as 2 full appetites and 2 small ones, truth is, my 2 year old eats as much as I do at dinner time now.
But really, that's what I spend per month to feed our young family. Mind you, that's not really by choice; it's a necessity. We don't have much more at the end of bills and automatic withdrawls to pay for groceries. What does this mean for our family? Do we go without? Are we deprived of quality, healthy, good-tasting food?

Well, you read this blog - you decide.

Truth is, we eat well in our home. I quite enjoy cooking, and experimenting, and trying different flavors and techniques. I like to make my own recipes up, and I've grown to dislike most packaged and frozen foods. In part because, well, we can't afford them. Things like taquitos, pizza pops, chicken fingers and the like... those bad boys cost money. More than I'm willing to pay. And since I started limiting my exposure to them, I've grown an intolerance for their tastes. So really, we eat better because I'm too cheap to pay for the bad stuff.

Now, I know prices vary regionally. Some people may read this and not have access to bountiful, inexpensive produce the same way that I do. Living in Alberta, there will always be some type of fruit for less than $1.20/lb. Living so close to some of the best meat in the world, I can also get high-quality beef, pork and chicken for a reasonable price. But wherever you live, there are some general rules you can hold to, to help you save on groceries. This isn't a specific list of recipes using lower-costing ingredients, because those change, but rather a list of principals, that never change. Stick with these, and you may find you don't need to spend what you've spent in the past. I know it's worked for me.

How to Spend Less Than $400/month on Groceries

Rule #1: If it's not on sale, DON'T BUY IT!
Some households have certain foods that they always keep in their house - be it a favorite cereal, a specific type of snack, even a preferred fruit. Not so, in my house. We constantly have different foods in our house, because sale prices constantly change. It doesn't matter if I love peaches - I'm not buying fresh peaches in the middle of winter when they're imported, flavorless, and $3.50/lb. It won't happen. And if my boys love Lucky Charms, but Lucky Charms aren't on sale, they know we won't have them in the house for a while - and they're okay with that.
I remember when we were on vacation in the mountains and my husband was looking at some item in a gift shop. My oldest boy, who would've just been 3 at that time, walked up and said, "Sorry Daddy - you can't buy that. It's not on sale." My boys have been trained to look for the deal, and they don't feel like they're suffering because of it; they just understand that's how shopping works.
Now, there are a handful of items this rule does not apply to: milk, bread, eggs.... that's very nearly it. If we run out of peanut butter, but peanut butter isn't on sale that week - no peanut butter. If we run out of margarine but it's not on sale that week - dry toast for Mommy for a while.
Things like juice, snack foods, favorite cereals, frozen foods and canned items all fall to the mercy of the sales flyer. I will not pay full price for any of those things, unless someone has asked me to bring a specific item to a meal.
We eat seasonal veggies because that's what's on sale. I have recipes for squash, potatoes and apples in the fall, and asparagus and artichokes in the spring, and beans, tomatoes and peaches through the summer.
We have favorite dishes that are our go-tos, but if we don't have it stocked in the house, and it's not on sale, we won't be eating those for a while! This means I have to be willing to experiment with different foods, but it's worth the money we save. Boneless, Skinless Chicken Breasts might be an ideal blank-slate for cooking with, but until the frozen 4 kg box goes on sale for $2.99/lb, we won't be eating those. Actually, that's my general guideline: no cut of meat over $3/lb, unless it's a special occasion. And usually I shoot for less than $2/lb.

Rule #2: When it is on a good sale, BUY LOTS OF IT!
If you see a good price - pounce! And stock up! To spend this little on groceries each month, it's basically necessary to have a good freezer. Ours isn't huge; we have a half-sized chest freezer, but it gives us enough room. Warehouse packs of meat often go on the cheapest sales, so if ground beef, chicken thighs or pork loin are on sale, I buy more than just what we'll need for that week. Buy it, portion it, and freeze it! I mentioned my $3/lb meat rule above. Well, when drumsticks hit $1/lb, I buy a couple warehouse packs!
In the summer, lots of produce goes down to $1/lb, or less, so it's not unusual for me to pick up a flat of blueberries, of which 90% of will go into my freezer!
Canned goods that get marked down to $1/can (beans, tomatoes, etc) I will stock up on as well, and I always load up on pasta when it's on a good sale; when everything else is expensive, pasta can be a cheap meal, but if you stock up when it's on sale, it's extra cheap!

Rule #3: Even if it's on sale, DON'T BUY IT UNLESS IT'S A GOOD PRICE!
A local flyer was touting their whole Wild Pink Salmon for $0.89/100 g as their sale price. Sounds good, except I happen to know that the same grocer had them down to $0.39/100 g a month before. When regular price off-season is $1.29/100 g, sure $0.89/100 g looks like a good price, but if you know how low the price can go, and stock up when it gets there, you'll get the goods, but for even less.
I laugh at 'sale prices' sometimes. Sometimes all you need to do is look at the 'Amount Saved' area on the sale tag to notice that the store was just trying to get you in the door; 3 cents saving off a can of tomatoes hardly counts as a sale, but I've seen places do that plenty.
Just because it has a sale tag doesn't mean it's the best deal you can get. Familiarize yourself with pricing cycles (ducks go on sale in the late winter/early spring, fresh fish are on sale in the early summer, beef is often cheapest during grilling season, while pork is often your best bet in the winter), and get to know the best prices for your region.
You see that beans are on sale 2/$5. You know that your grocer has a warehouse sale on in a few weeks where the beans usually go for 5/$5... hold off for the good price.
And don't be fooled by sales for "$1 a pork chop" - what size of chop? Is it a decent cut? It's much safer to shop by price-per-weight than per piece.

Rule #4: Meal plan using flyers
I never know what I'm making 2 weeks in advance. Why? Because I don't know what will be on sale! Sure, ground beef seems like a fairly cheap go-to meat, but what if pork side ribs are down to $1.30/lb that week? Of course we'll be having ribs!
Some people stick with their same rotation of 'low cost' meals, using ingredients that tend to be cheaper than others on a regular basis. The issue with doing this though is that sometimes you'll spend more for that 'cheaper' cut, than you will for a better cut on a good sale.
I have Duck Night on an annual basis. Honestly, who can afford to eat duck? I can - when the sale price goes down to cheaper than their chicken is! A big batch of pulled pork can be pricey when you pay full price, but when pork shoulders go on sale, that's a hefty amount of food for not a lot of money!
I'll never turn down a cut of meat for $1/lb. This week in our flyer, Fresh pork picnic roasts are $0.99/lb. I'm not crazy about ham typically, but I'm sure I can make it taste yummy when it's that cheap. And if you're super adventurous, keep your eye out for unbutchered cuts. One local grocer sells pork legs (literally, the whole leg - hoof and all) for $0.19/lb. If you're not opposed to handling the meat, you can feed a lot of people with that.
Don't miss out on the chance to save on good food, just because you're convinced some meals are 'cheaper'
Oh, and check multiple flyers. I check 4 different flyers each week to see where the best prices are, and while I have a 'regular' store I shop at, I'm not unwilling to drive down the road to another store to save $1/lb on produce.
And even if you're opposed to shopping around at multiple stores, you can watch for sales trends. Grocers get the 'okay' from manufacturers to put items on sale typically. So if Breyers ice cream is $2.50 at one store this week, but $5 at your preferred store - wait a week. Odds are, your grocer got the same deal, they're just waiting a bit to promote it.

Rule #5: Don't compromise on quality
I sent my husband to the store for me this past week. I needed maple syrup, and knowing my take on spending as little money as possible, he bought the store brand syrup for me. That was all well and good until I opened the syrup yesterday (while I was making a special meal for another family, mind you), and I was highly disappointed to find that their was almost no maple smell to my syrup. And syrup was a generous title, actually. It smelled, and tasted, like slightly burnt sugar water. It didn't matter that we saved $1 for the bottle of syrup; in reality, we wasted $8 on a crappy product. There are some things that you can get store brand on - overall I have been very impressed by Compliments brand products at Sobeys. But some things, like Fruit Loops, ketchup, canned beans in sauce, soy sauce, margarine, and boxed macaroni and cheese, need to be bought by brand name. This doesn't change my rule about only buying on sale - it just means I won't always buy the absolutely cheapest thing on the shelf. What's the point if I just feel like throwing it away once I taste it? I eat good food. And I do it cheaply. But I won't let me cheapness affect my culinary expectations.

Rule #6: Keep a couple splurges
Sometimes, you really just need prosciutto. Or goat cheese! Or Modena balsamic vinegar that comes corked in a bottle and you could drink straight if you felt so inclined... It's true, I buy those things. Granted, I also have a cheaper balsamic vinegar on hand, for when you need the taste but the quality doesn't matter as much, but that Modena holds a special place in my cupboard. I had to juggle some grocery purchases the month I got it, same with when I buy my high-end Black Olive Oil; it's not usual for me to spend $20 on a bottle of anything! But it happens from time to time, and I'm so glad I've made the decision to carry on with that. During the summer, it's good steaks. Around Christmas time it's Hickory Farms smoked cheese. I don't let it break my budget, but sometimes I do need to budget around it. But I never feel like I'm deprived when I know I've got the good stuff kicking around in my house. And those Chicken Breasts that finally went on sale in the frozen warehouse pack for $2.99/lb? They taste awesome with some of my Modena poured on top.

Rule #7: Go Vegetarian from time to time
Health professionals recommend it for keeping cholesterol in check. Vegans promote it for awareness of conditions animals are raised in. Chefs suggest you do it to expand your culinary offerings. I'm saying you should do it for your bank account. Quinoa may cost more than rice, but it still costs less to fill up on than steak does. And in a big stir fry with lots of veggies that were leftover in your fridge, no one's really going to miss the chicken strips. A good chili is possible without the beef. And black beans can be seasoned in chili powder to complete your Taco Salad. Give it a try, maybe once a week.

This is how I do it. It's nice not being tied down to habit or feeling stuck in a rut. Really, saving money on groceries is adventurous!

A couple of disclaimers: While I write this, I am not pregnant, which means I am not plagued by cravings or a highly limited list of foods I'm able to keep down. I do not currently have gallstones or another restrictive diet. I do not have a formula-fed baby. This list is NOT intended to make ANYONE feel bad about their current grocery budget! If you have other circumstances in your life that make it complicated, and sometimes even impossible, to spend this little - I get it. You are by no means a bad person for spending more than $400/month on groceries. Location, time of life, circumstances and busyness all affect this. As a stay-at-home mom, I'm blessed with ample time to think on the meals I'm going to make and to actually prepare them.
This list is meant to give help, and hope, to those who wonder how they can cut back. If you're already doing all these things, and you still spend more than I do, you're likely doing all you can. How much we do, or do not, spend on our groceries doesn't determine our degree of success in life. I'm not 'winning' because I spend so little. I spend so little because that's all I have! And if you are in a similar financial situation, and are looking for ways to save a few bucks, I hope you found some helpful tips on this post!

Mrs. VanderLeek ;)

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Honey Roasted Pork Loin

Sometimes I post things on here so that I can find it again. This is one of those posts!

The other day I needed to have supper ready for my family so I could run out to do a tea party. I'd pulled a pork loin the day before and that was about as far as my plans went. I didn't want to roast it the way I normally do; hubby had been getting home late the last couple of nights and I didn't want to have it dry out (I think he was getting sick of dry food...). I needed it to have a sauce that it could soak up in case he were later than we anticipated.

Well, my boys have been loving honey lately, so the thought of a honey-glazed pork loin was appealing to all of us. Some honey, some citrus juice, some chicken stock to round out the flavor... yum yum yum! And at the end, straining the juices and then reducing them into this wonderfully sticky glaze that the pork would continue to soak up! It just goes to show that sometimes those overly-simplistic recipes you find on Food.com can really turn out yummy and balanced!

So, here goes!

Honey Roasted Pork Loin:
1/4 c. honey
2 tbsp. orange juice
1/2 c. chicken stock
1/2 tsp thyme
1 tbsp. olive oil

Combine and pour over pork loin in roasting dish. Bake at 375 for 45 - 60 minutes (depending on size of pork loin) - baste a few times.
Once meat is cooked through, remove it and let it rest. Meanwhile, strain juice into a saucepan and reduce until slightly thickened (as it cools it will continue to thicken.) Carve pork and top with glaze.

*Originally posted on Food.com

I had done up quite a lot of pork; I was expecting to have at least a third of it leftover, especially since my oldest boy hasn't been great at eating his suppers lately, and hubby's favorite meat isn't pork (unless it's smoked pork belly... aka BACON). I ate a few pieces hurriedly before I ran out the door and quite liked it... but I had to keep stopping to refill the boys' plates with more meat. Still, there was about half of the loin left when hubby got home and I left to my party.
And when I got home, there were two measly slices. TWO. (I sopped up the rest of glaze on the plate and ate them with my fingers while I put things away that evening)
And furthermore, when I asked hubby what he thought, instead of his cover-all answer of "it was good", he gave a real answer of, "I quite enjoyed it actually!" Even he was surprised!

A success.

Mrs. VanderLeek ;)

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Life with an iPhone

I'd like to say my absence from blogging for over a month now wasn't a side-effect of getting an iPhone, but I'd be lying. It's not that I've been so hunkered down tweeting, or playing games, or mindlessly surfing Facebook, that I've forgotten about blogging. On the contrary - I'd say that it's because I now spend less non-intentional time on my computer! I don't check Facebook unless I can see I have a message waiting. I don't keep hovering around my computer while I wait for an email - my phone will ding when it comes. And I can get things done, written out, and printed, as I think of them, instead of needing to hunker down on the laptop to catch up on things. As far as productivity goes, an iPhone has been great for me!
But, all the same, I've now missed blogging for over a month. In that time I've finished a few more crochet projects, had my birthday (I got my Dust Buster! Yay!), saw my family a lot and did a ton of fun, summery things. We went camping, we went to the beach, we had tailgating parties with our church... fun.

I also had a number of tea parties - and I have a few more coming in the next week. It's been lots of fun doing these, and I'm turning semi-pro at doctoring teas into amazing punches and fun party drinks. For example: Iced Mojito green tea, lime syrup, fresh mint leaves and white rum! Or Clementine Biscotti cold brewed, with blackcherry-cranberry juice and club soda for a holiday punch that tastes like sparkling mulled cider! And if you drink powdered hot chocolate, you should absolutely steep Hot Yoga or Dark Chocolate Chai tea in your water before adding your powder!

As far as crocheting goes, I'm getting better, and faster. I've completed a few Christmas presents, including an Underwater Themed blanket for my nephew, some chain necklaces, and a chunky wool infinity scarf. I also made a hooded cowl with ears to be part of an ewok costume for one of my boys this Halloween. I still need to find a supplier with really chunky yarn, preferably synthetic, so I can make this gorgeous fire-side blanket I dream about at night.

Speaking of suppliers, I also need to find a fabric store that carries Timber Creek fabric. I want to make a quilt for my eldest boy for Christmas, and have my eye on a couple designs by them, but can't find it in Canada - and hate the price on shipping from down in the States!

Anyway, I've got a tea party tomorrow, a garage sale on Friday, and far more things going on in the following week, so this is all I actually have time for. Such is life, when you're working on being productive :)

Mrs. VanderLeek ;)

Friday, July 26, 2013

Double Post Day!

Okay you lucky people! (All 4 of you followers...) You get 2 posts tonight!
My last one was more of a rant than anything (we can call it musings if you prefer.), so I figured I'd best leave you all with a bit of inspiration.

First, of the culinary sort.

I had a Summer Tea Tasting Party this week and was eager to showcase as much tea as possible - in as many ways as possible. This included cocktails (Mojitos made with mojito tea + white rum, and Earl Grey Martinis), virgin cocktails (fruit tea + club soda + lime syrup), typical iced tea (Coconut tea + vanilla syrup), Two-Bite Brownies with Matcha Mousse and a classic fruit tart with tea-infused pastry cream. Yum!
I've got a couple more summer tea parties yet this season, so we'll see how many more treats I can put tea in! (Tea pots de crème?)

Tonight for supper I pulled out some pork dumplings I'd frozen a while back, and was going to make coconut rice but opted instead for saffron. The Indian inspiration soon beat out the Chinese inspiration when I opted to make a tamarind sauce and garam masala peas and carrots. And after a full week of struggling every night to get my pre-schooler to eat his supper (no spaghetti, no shepherd's pie - not even grilled cheese sandwiches for lunch!) he inhaled his whole supper. The peas and carrots were the surprise hit! I sautéed the carrots first with a bit of oil, then added the peas and the garam masala near the end. It was so simple, and the boys loved it, so I think that's going to be a staple in our home now! And saffron rice is always delicious, and the extra step of toasting your rice and adding sautéed onions really goes a long way.

Next: craftiness.

I have been successfully crocheting for about 2 weeks now. In that time I've mastered the brimmed toque, learned how to read the stitches far better than I ever could with knitting, can now make the daintiest butterflies you ever saw, and am determined to make a Twi'lek hat for myself, and Ewok hoods for my boys. I've also started making a stacking ring toy which was actually one of my initial attractors to crocheting; at a baby shower the mom-to-be was presented with the most adorable crocheted stacking toy and we were all amazed to hear that the girl who had gifted it had also been the one who made it. I want to give wicked awesome gifts like that, too. And so now I crochet.

Last: Gardening.

This is my first year of having a real vegetable garden, and thus far it is surviving. You may think I'm being over-dramatic with my word choice, but if you'd seen the hail storm we got last weekend, you'd be grateful for anything of yours that survived! Fortunately the trees in my yard shielded the garden from the hail. ...UNFORTUNATELY, the branches that blew off the trees landed on my peas. So we'll see what happens with those.
I've had to come to terms with the fact that everything in my yard takes at least a month longer than the exact same plants 5 blocks away, at my parents' house. And really, at everyone else's house in town. The west-facing yard really takes a toll on my growing times. My delphiniums have not bloomed yet, my tiger lily just opened, my peony hasn't even produced a bud yet and my rose bush is growing well, but not looking like it will flower at all this season. My strawberries refuse to fruit too. But really, this is the best my yard has ever looked in the 4 summers we've been here, so I can't complain too much I suppose.
As far as good news, my carrots and beets are coming along nicely, my beans are starting to produce, and I even might have a tiny pumpkin by the end of the weekend!

There.

Go be inspired now.

Mrs. VanderLeek ;)

I want, I want, I want

Have you ever gone through those seasons of your life when you just feel like you have everything you need, and you can't think of much more that you even want?
I was going through one of those recently. My wish list was reduced to a new Dust Buster to help make cleaning my upholstery easier, and an early edition copy of Pride and Prejudice, which I know I'll never actually get. Sure, I also wanted things like a new tattoo, or a new piercing, and even to attend a show or two, but as far as material possessions went - I felt like I had it all.

Notice how that was past tense?

Seriously, no idea where it came from, but suddenly my wish list is a mile long! I suddenly feel like my kitchen is incomplete without a mortar and pestle, I feel like I'm seriously deprived because I don't have a great salt/pepper grinder set, Target has a sale on dresses this weekend that I'm excited to go check out, and between jewelry I want to get, makeup I need to restock on, and things to help me expand my cooking skills, it's going to be a long time before I acquire everything on my wish list, which, if I may remind you, was nearly empty last month.

Seriously - what's up with that???

Granted, I've been cooking more lately, and watching more cooking shows thanks to a 3-month free trial for cable (which we won't keep, but I do love me some Chef Michael's Kitchen). As I see new techniques, or even flavor combinations, I feel like I need more things in my kitchen to help me create some of these things.
Currently lacking from my kitchen are:
Jelly Roll pans - 3 of them, actually. I feel like it would be wise to have these in case I ever need to make petit fours for a large crowd (which isn't a totally outrageous thing to expect of me...)
A mortar and pestle - the ultimate of all I-got-this-because-it's-pretty kitchen tools, but something I feel like I'd actually use. I currently have my coriander seeds in a mini pepper grinder, I'm sick of crushing up candy canes with a rolling pin and having the shards poke through the plastic bag they're in, and tonight I had to crush saffron threads between two spoons. Sure, it worked, but it would have been a quicker and neater job if I had the right tool.
And while I'm on the topic of grinders (kinda), I've been wanting a really good salt/pepper grinder set for a while (I'm picky about my salt, preferring only freshly cracked sea salt in most dishes, and I might as well have a matching set) but I can't find anything I really like! Which means it will likely be more expensive when I do get something.
A fine mesh sieve - I have one... that has little bars running under the bottom. It's great for draining quinoa, and a pain for straining pastry cream or tamarind sauce. I need one that allows for an uninterrupted flow of liquid down into a bowl.
Molecular Gastronomy tools - I'm determined to make caviars, foams, emulsifications, powders and all of those other fantastic things I've been reading about lately (nutella powder dusted over affogato caviar anyone???) but I need some tools, and ingredients first. Luckily I've got some inside information that this will be my birthday present from my husband (...since I had to buy it online myself since he wasn't sure where to get it!)

This is just the list of thing I have plans to get within the next few months! This doesn't include my desire to expand my Sophie Conran for Portmeirion collection, or to try out her covered black casserole dish, or any of the far-fetched scheming things I'd love for my kitchen (commercial manual espresso machine with a direct water line, please!)

Gah - maybe I'm just being greedy, but I'm not convinced enough of that to refrain from spending my birthday money on the first pepper mill that strikes my fancy...

Mrs. VanderLeek ;)

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Crocheting

I finally have managed to tackle a real crocheting project!

I've been a knitter for years, and while I never bothered to try making garments or anything overly complex, I felt happy with my ability to knit, purl, work in the round, and cable. But what frustrated me was all the super cute things I'd see on Pinterest that had obviously been done by crocheting. I wanted to learn to crochet to open more doors for my crafting. But I was having troubles learning.

I had assumed that crocheting would be simpler if you started with a larger needle. But turns out, I was pretty wrong on that. I fund this fat thing from Value Village that had a totally rounded top on the hook, meaning that I had to use my fingers to get it into any stitch. So I definitely didn't learn any proper technique at the time. And my stitches were so loose that sometimes it was hard for me to spot the tell-tale "v" - so I wasn't learning to read stitches very well either. And when I finally felt sure enough to try working in the round, the first pattern went something like this: "Ch 2, 11 hdc into 2nd chain from hook." For those of you who don't crochet, that means to put 11 stitches into the exact same hole. Turns out, with such a big hook, after 5 stitches I couldn't even fit it through the hole anymore. It was ridiculous.

So I waited a couple of weeks, until I bought new hooks, to reattempt it. In the meantime, I filled my 'project time' with writing books, composing a song, gourmet cooking, reading a novel and planning to launch a webpage. (Hubby's been working a lot lately...)

Anyway, I now have the new hooks, and my next attempts were much more successful! The very first thing I did was set out making a hat for my little boy!

Okay, so maybe besides having the proper hook, learning to count is an important part of successfully crocheting... I accidentally added in a whole extra row of increasing on every stitch, which made what ought to have been a newborn hat, and hat that would fit an adult. No worries though - I've got a cute hat now!
And in two hours, I whipped up a proper sized hat for my boy! (I reversed the colors of the one I made for myself, so now we'll be all matchy-matchy!)

I must confess, I never had that degree of success with my first time knitting a hat. Crocheting is a lot simpler to read the stitches in my opinion, which has the big advantage of being more 'fixable'; if I can look at what I've done, and decode it, I can see if I've made a mistake and know how to fix it. Something I never learned with knitting.

So, now that I know that I can fire off a baby hat in two hours (and that time will likely go down as I get more comfortable), I'm on the hunt for other fun projects! And I must confess, I see Yarn Bombing in my future...

As a slight aside, I did a bit of inventory today of my craft supplies while I was reorganizing my craft storage. I have shoebox-sized containers of supplies for jewelry making, candle making, knitting, sewing, stamping and paper crafting, painting, Christmas crafting and misc. crafting (glitter, magnets, clothespins, etc). That doesn't include my stash of fabrics and yarns, or my kids' crafting supplies! Me-thinks I have a touch of ADD... Shiny things, anyone?

Mrs. VanderLeek ;)

Friday, July 12, 2013

Culinary Aspirations

Well, it looks like last week was the week of crafting, and this week has been the week of writing.
I had lots of writing projects at the beginning of the week, which left me mentally drained by the end of each day. As a result, I've been a lazy blogger.
The last couple days however I've taken a break from all of my writing projects (not because they're done or anything - just because I can only think that hard for a few days before I need a break!). For two days now I've been focusing more on cooking.

Cooking truly is a joy to me. When I was in high school, I fully anticipated entering the culinary field as my life-long career. For an honor roll student this was apparently odd, and when some teachers heard I wanted to go to cooking school they tried to dissuade me from it, arguing that chemistry or English would be a much more 'deserving' job; if I didn't have to have a job cooking, then why would I settle for one?

Clearly those teachers didn't cook, themselves.

I moved away in anticipation of enrolling in a culinary program... just in time for them to cancel all correspondence and evening courses for that term. The reality was, I couldn't afford to live away from home and attend school full-time (any scholarships I had been eligible for wouldn't cover culinary training), so I had planned on working a 9-5 and taking classes in the evening. I had the job lined up, but no school. Time passed and I opted to move back home after a year and do business school instead. That was 7 years ago that I made that decision, and now with 3 kids, I can't foresee a point in the next 10 years at least that I'll be able to attend a culinary institution.

But that doesn't mean I can't learn more about cooking.

The internet is filled with tutorials, videos and articles aimed at technical instruction. What's the proper way to hold a chef's knife? How do you bone a duck? What's the ideal process for preparing sushi rice? I've never been to cooking school, but I've learned a thing or two about those subjects thanks to living in the 'information age'. A desire to learn need not go unquenched thanks to all of the resources available to us in this day and age.

I first started making a conscious effort to expand my skills and knowledge in middle school; I made bagels and caramels in my downtime, just to see how it worked. In high school I found employment in a café where I was the morning baker, the weekend kitchen manager and eventually the recipe tester and perfecter. I made batches of bread, muffins, scones and cookies every day, created paninis and salads for the lunch menu and learned to make a bounty of soups from scratch. I didn't play too much with cooking in my spare time at this point in my life - goodness knows I spent enough time in the kitchen working split-shifts and going to high school.
Through college I had more of a break from cooking, except when I could work it into some form of a school project, but when I got married the year I graduated from the business program, it was full speed ahead when it came to my kitchen experimentation.

For that first year of marriage I relied almost entirely on the internet for my recipes and inspiration, but when our first son was born I discovered the joy that is The Food Network. Watching Chef Michael Smith explain the simple framework of a recipe, and leave the doors open for any changes you could imagine... I was truly inspired. I perfected a few of my staple recipes like roast pork or chicken, and duck served in every way I could think of. To this day, I still find Chef Michael's Kitchen to be one of my favorite, most helpful resources. I like to buy exotic ingredients and figure out how to prepare them best. I dare myself to try new things - basically anything I can get my hands on in Hick-town, Alberta. This summer I'm looking forward to trying mussels, lobster, and squid, and today I bought a coconut and made fresh coconut milk and toasted coconut chips!

I've also worked hard over the last few years on expanding my knowledge of other regional cuisines; I've dabbled in Indian, Chinese, Japanese, Italian, French and Vietnamese food to the point where I'm comfortable with the flavors and techniques involved. Pho is a regular menu item in our house, and it's not crazy for us to break out the escargot from time to time. Butter Chicken is a breeze now and sushi is easy enough for a weeknight meal.

But the next major step for me will be in the direction of molecular gastronomy. I recently came across the technique called 'spherification' by which you form tiny caviar-like beads by dripping liquid mixed with sodium alginate into a solution of water and calcium lactate (typically - you can use other agents, but the presence of calcium and acid are the essential components). So, you mean I can make Coconut Caviar? Oh my...
Another modern technique is foaming - which is all it sounds like: you turn things into foam. But it's the range of foods that people are turning into foam that's truly exciting: bacon foam, beetroot foam, fennel foam and lemongrass foam... I have lots of ideas for this. Picture a triple-layered 'cappuccino' dessert with a bottom layer of mocha pot de crème, a middle layer of almond milk custard and topped with a coffee and cream foam... preferably served in a sliced white chocolate "mug" so the layers are all visible. Oh my... I could have lots of fun with this.

In any event, my birthday wish list includes Sodium Alginate and Calcium Lactate, along with books on molecular gastronomy, and perhaps some textbooks from a culinary institution.

And who knows - maybe some day I'll finally get to cooking school, but I would hope by the time I get there, that I at least know the proper way to hold the knives.

Mrs. VanderLeek ;)

Friday, July 5, 2013

Crafty projects

Over the last few years I have acquired ample amounts of fabric. I have silk, cottons, wools, linens, felts and everything in between. The reason for having so much material? An over-zealous creative streak, that rears its ugly head, spurs my on to start some amazing project, but then dies down before much can be accomplished. The fabric store is a dangerous place for me to go, since I will leave with something, often developing my schemes of grandeur while digging through a remnant bin.
My number of completed projects pales compare to my number of projects I intended to undertake. So that means that most of my fabric sits largely untouched.

Well, I found myself with a couple extra days with not much on my schedule, so I set out to rectify the situation a bit.

First up, I attempted to sew a stuffed whale out of old jeans. I had a link on one of my Pinterest boards that I never got around to trying, but I hadn't realized that there was no patterns to go along with the picture tutorial. So I drew a template free-hand. Let's just say that drawing is not a strength of mine, but I did manage to make the pieces that would assemble the whole. Except, just like the lady did in the tutorial, I made the stomach-section of the whale too large. (In my defense, I was following her lead!) As a result, what should have been a humpback whale turned out to be a lumpy blue whale! Whoops! But my boys still enjoyed it, and they could even tell it was a whale!

Next, I dug into my pile of pretty fabrics! I had attended a fabric sale fundraiser a couple months ago, where everything was $1/yard. I had found some beautiful fabrics, some of which I had no idea what to do with them! First up was this beautiful linen-type fabric that actually more closely resembles cheesecloth with a painted design! I had more than a few fears about using this stuff! The very open weave would likely snag in my machine, but I hate hand stitching unless absolutely necessary. The solution? Paper. I readjusted the length of my stitches to be a bit wider to accommodate for the open weave, and pinned a sheet of paper under my hem. Once I was done, I tore the paper off (very gradually and carefully might I add). Project #2 was a pair of pretty little scarves for my mom and I (don't tell her though - it'll be a Christmas present!)

The next fabric I put a priority on was some beautiful 'postal' printed cotton. I had seen pictures on Pinterest of pillows made in a similar fabric, so I scooped up the two yards I saw of this at the fabric sale. The issue being that pillows made of this wouldn't actually 'go' in any room in my house, so they'd likely be gifted, but I really wanted to make something with it first that I could keep for myself. Fortunately, you can never have too many fabric bags! I whipped one up sans pattern (sometimes the easiest way to make something is to draft it yourself - some people tend to overcomplicate the pattern process) and my last bobbin of dark blue thread lasted me all the way to the end!

I whipped up three bean bags for the boys (I had made some earlier in the year, but my sister stole them because they were too cute!) and then I set out planning an upcoming quilt I'll be making. I may have mentioned before, but I'm going to make a quilt for Matt now too. The idea struck me when he planned to get rid of a bunch of shirts he really liked, because they had holes in them. And while I was proud of him for having the desire to clear unnecessary things out of our house, I got sentimental on his behalf and decided to make a t-shirt quilt for him. I cut out the designs from the shirts and laid them out in a small rectangle.

I didn't have enough t-shirt material to make up a whole design, but figured I'd keep the t-shirt design as an interior rectangle, then put an outer border of a dark grey material, with a black bias tape edge. For the back, I'm thinking I'll find some winter camo fleece. The biggest trick was going to be the batting. I've never worked with the loose stuff before - just the super-easy sheets that just stay in place and don't pull apart. I was hugely intimidated about using the loose stuff, but didn't think I'd be able to find a sheet in the size I wanted, for a price I'd be willing to pay. Then along came my lovely Mother! She had an old mattress pad that had torn on the fitted portion, but since the pad was in good condition still, she was having troubles accepting that she'd have to throw it away. So she gave it to me to use as the batting for my quilt! It's a queen-sized, pre-quilted chunk of batting that will work perfectly! But, this quilt is going to be a surprise (another Christmas present), so I'll have to be sneaky about hiding my project!

The other quilt I'll be working on is Gabe's. We had planned to pick up the primary fabric for his in Canmore while we were on vacation, but thanks to some good old-fashioned flooding, we were unable to do so. So his is still up in the air. However, my mother also gifted me with some sheet batting that will be the right size for his project! Major expense out the way? Thank you very kindly!

You may have noticed that some of my Christmas presents this year will be sewn projects. I plan on making a couple more of those 'blue jean whales' (modified to look accurate this time) for my nieces, I've got some Hawaiian patterned cotton-blend that I'm going to make a folding beach mat for my sister, and depending on whose name I draw for Christmas on hubby's side, someone may get those 'postal patterned' pillows!

Mrs. VanderLeek ;)

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Happy Canada Day, eh?

This past weekend was filled with lots of great, summery enjoyment! On Saturday it was just the boys and I since hubby was off helping a friend do some roofing. I didn't want it to simply be just any other day, so we partook in some garage saleing! Our searching landed us in Sylvan Lake, and after a hot morning driving around in the car, I figured it would be cruel to not let the boys out at the beach for a bit. We took a walk down to the water, dipped our toes in, popped in at a few shops and headed home before things got too busy! That evening we had dinner with my parents before a nice overnight storm rolled in to cool things down.
Sunday was mostly an indoors day since everyone was super tired. We managed to get a lot done though, and after church that evening we ended up back over at my parents' house for a campfire to roast some marshmallows.
Monday was Canada Day. Traditionally we will go with Matt's family to some local Canada Day celebrations, where we indulge in some international cuisine: pancit and Filipino pork satay, perogies, bratwurst...
But this year, thanks to the recent flooding, the events were relocated to a field fairly close to our house. The upside: it was walking distance. The downside: there would be no shade. No shade, hot sun, big crowd... Ugh. And, Matt's parents were unable to attend this year, so it'd be tougher to keep the kids in line on our own.
So instead of braving the heat and the crowds, we opted to make it all ourselves!

A couple of months ago I gave pancit a try in my kitchen and was thoroughly pleased with the results. I knew I had that recipe down, and this time I'd make the only adjustment I would need: making it ahead so it has a chance to sit in the flavor more. Cold pancit is just as good as hot pancit!
The pork satay is everyone's favorite dish at the Canada Day festivities, but it costs about $5 for 3 skewers. I knew that the pressure was on to present a great flavor-match, but I thought I knew how to, and for considerably cheaper, too! Enter a recipe that I use for Pho. I found this wonderful little tidbit through Pinterest a couple years ago, and it's become a bit of a traditional meal for us on family vacation. The pork marinade tastes just like restaurant quality pork. But it also tastes just like those Filipino satays my family enjoys so much. I used the recipe verbatim and let it marinate for a few hours. I had bought a pork tenderloin since they were on sale, used my sharpest knife, and sliced as thinly as I could. Once it was go-time, I skewered them, leaving ample space between each coil of meat, then BBQed them on a fairly hot grill to make sure that the sugar in the marinade would caramelize a bit. And it was perfect!

I also whipped up a non-traditional dessert: Frozen Strawberry Squares. These are dreamy when they start melting just a little bit so that the cream gets a foamy texture!

Our company brought more pork skewers, some smokies, drinks, and a watermelon and we had a great feast that evening!

It was so fun, we may opt to do it this way again next year!

Hope you had a Happy Canada Day!

Mrs. VanderLeek ;)

Monday, June 24, 2013

Mountain Vacation, pt 2

This post picks up where my last one left off - the evening of Wednesday, June 19th. For details on why this is a two part post, please see part 1!

Mountain Vacation, pt 2

We'd just got home from a busy day, and a very large dinner. Both Matt and the baby fell asleep quickly, but being in a wood construction chalet with a vaulted ceiling during a rain storm made for a noisy night. Between concerns about landslides (which might seem silly, but another timeshare we have visited had a massive landslide last year) and the sheer volume of the rain, I couldn't sleep. Fortunately we had a TV in our room which picked up the Discovery Channel, so I watched documentaries for a few hours. At around 1 Matt woke up and watched a few shows with me and I was finally able to get some sleep around 3:30 a.m.

When we woke up on Thursday morning at around 9 a.m. we checked our Facebook and found out that the rain had been doing more damage than we thought. We did not experience any adverse affects on the mountain, but according to updates on the internet, Canmore had declared a state of emergency thanks to a swelling creek. Cougar creek, whose creek bed I have at times seen completely dry, was swelling, rapidly. Houses were being threatened, and the road wasn't faring well. We watched the news over at my parents' chalet and commented on how we might not be going into Canmore that day... and after a while we started to realize this wasn't an isolated incident. Turns out, we weren't going anywhere for a while. It was about midmorning when we heard that the highway was being affected, and mid-day when we realized the highway was blocked all around us. Lac Des Arc, just a few miles East of us, had flooded and the road was blocked. We watched with almost a sense of addiction for news updates and found that the highway at Canmore was washed out. We'd seen pictures where a chunk of overpass was missing, and thought that was crazy enough, but it didn't compare to the devastation to the road not even half a km ahead, where the entire road was washed away. We sent out a message to family members as we realized that they might hear about this on the news. We assured them we were fine, we had ample food and supplies since we have a tendency to over-pack (which, in light of this situation, is not a habit we're going to kick anytime soon!), and that by some miscommunication when we were buying groceries earlier in the week, we had a spare flat of water, as well as our own water supply on the mountain. By that night though, we realized we were some of the luckiest ones in the affected areas. We soon heard about relatives being evacuated from their homes in Calgary as a state of emergency was announced there. We heard about sour gas leaks in Turner Valley. We saw images of High River, completely flooded by the swollen river, and forcing people to ride on combines to safety. Earlier on in the day, Matt and my brother-in-law road down the road leading down our mountain, and got stopped before they reached the bottom by a river that formed through the quarry that operates on Pigeon mountain. All of the rain was funnelling through the quarry and was washing rocks, trees, cars and trailers down the road. The boys watched as a tree tipped onto a power line and started smoking and a pickup truck tried driving through the water and started getting swept sideways. We heard talk of an evacuation at around 3:00 on Thursday afternoon, but it was called off when RCMP determined we were at least alright. They had more pressing concerns than people stuck in nice chalets with food and water. We had packed all our bags so we'd be ready to go at a moment's notice and decided to leave them packed, in case the RCMP changed their stance. Later that evening we found out that the gas was turned off, since the flooding had brought the gas line to ground level. But we still had lots going for us, so we had a hamburger supper and threw together a 'party' for Nathaniel, complete with a jello 'cake'.

Friday brought much of the same. We obsessed over getting news reports, but part way through the day our Wi-Fi went down, making it harder for us to access news. On the TV, almost all of the coverage was focused on Calgary and the flooding that was happening there, which made it harder for us to find out any information about our situation. We knew the highway was still closed east-bound, but we didn't now if it was washed out, or just blocked. The waterflow across the mountain road was lower, so the boys managed to get down to the grocery store to buy food and supplies for everyone, including a stock for the resort to distribute. Once people heard the road was passable, they went down the mountain to Dead Man's Flats and checked into a motel in the tiny hamlet. About half of the guests at the resort left at this point. But we figured staying on high ground was the smarter decision at this point, since we still had supplies for ourselves. We threw together a supper using whatever leftovers were in the chalet: steak tacos with a variety of toppings. My tortilla had rose sauce, peppers, tomatoes, steak, parmesan and pineapple. Can't complain about a meal like that! Matt and I started to get anxious about getting out. We were supposed to leave on Friday so we'd be home in time for his sister's wedding the next day. But as night rolled in, we realized we weren't going anywhere on Friday either.

On Saturday we felt sure we'd get out of there and some point in the day. Unfortunately at 8 a.m., reports indicated that the roads were still closed. That was our last chance to catch the ceremony. And since Wi-Fi was down at that time, we couldn't even FaceTime the ceremony. We were hugely disappointed, and it was a tearful phone call Matt made to his sister to wish her a happy wedding day. But we still had hope that we could make it to the ceremony that night. Around 10:00 however we received word that the resort wasn't counting on us being able to get out today. We'd been stuck in limbo the last couple days, filling our time with endless news reports, but now the sun was shining and we resolved to make the most of it. We took the kids to the tennis courts where we played with balls and badminton rackets. Later we sat on the deck while the kids 'painted' it with water. The weather was gorgeous, as is the resort, so there was no shortage of enjoyment for the kids that day. We watched a couple shows, and volunteered to help set up a mass meal for all the remaining guests since one of the workers scored a police escort into town to get more food supplies. However, just before we started making supper, the RCMP indicated they were contemplating a mandatory evacuation for our resort. We were all instructed to get packed and wait for the verdict. They were worried the road would wash out down the mountain. They brought in an engineer who assessed the road and said that it could go either way. The RCMP was pleased to see we were well supplied, so they made it a voluntary evacuation. About another half of the group left at this point. This was a bittersweet time. The sun went away and the rain came again, and while we were relieved we wouldn't have to spend the night in a gym with a couple hundred other people, there was no way we'd be able to make it back for the reception now. We'd missed the wedding completely. It was around 7:00 when we went down to make supper: pasta and garlic toast done up on the BBQ. Around 40 people were still on the mountain and we tried to make the best of the situation. It was Nathaniel's second birthday and I'm sure he felt in part like this was a party for him. As I was walking back to the kitchen to see how much pasta we had left, I heard the last bit of an announcement on the radio that hinted at the highway being open. We caught the next announcement: they were allowing eastbound traffic from Canmore to Calgary for 48 hours in an attempt to clear out so of the traffic. Canmore had just issued a boil water advisory for the whole town, and their resources were becoming strained. We were tempted to leave right then, but we had to look at what was wise. If we got stuck on the highway late and night, we'd have no one to help us. One of the vans in our group was very low on gas, and AMA had other things to worry about. We didn't want to be driving through sketchy roads in the dark, and we were all tired already. We made the decision to get up first thing in the morning and drive out then. We spent the rest of the evening packing up our cars.

Sunday morning we were up at 5:30 a.m. The kids were all drowsy as they ate their bowls of Fruit Loops - the only food we left unpacked - and we loaded them into the cars. It was 6:00 as we pulled away from the resort. The biggest concern was whether the road down the mountain was still safe to go over, but as we were going down, someone else was coming up, and informed us that he made it over fine. There was a fair bit of debris left on the road, and the water was still running over it. We could see trailers with trees through them, and cars underneath them. A load of trees had got stuck at the entrance to the quarry and blocked a good amount of debris from clogging up the roadway even more. We could only access the highway on the east-bound direction, but it turns out that the road was technically only open on the west-bound lane, going east-bound. As a result, we drove between 4 foot piles of rock until we found an opening in the highway that helped us jog over to the other side. We beat most of the traffic out that morning, which was our hope, and we managed to find a gas station that was open between Canmore and Calgary, so no one ran out of gas. We got home by 9:30 that morning, refilled with coffee, relieved to be out of the mountains, and glad for a hot shower. After spending 72 hours stranded on a mountain, we had to admit we were some of the lucky ones. With the death count currently sitting at 4 people, over 100,000 people displaced in Calgary alone thanks to evacuations, hundreds of homes lost across the province, and the whole town of High River under water, to spend three days in the mountains where we still had beautiful accomodations, king-sized beds, Wi-Fi and satellite TV, with plenty of food and drinkable water, our experience, while taxing and nerve-wracking, was really just a blip on the radar. This will be an interesting story for me to tell down the road. For others, the last few days may have changed their lives forever.

My prayers go out to everyone who has been affected by the recent flooding in Alberta, and I look forward to seeing our beautiful province restored.

Mrs. VanderLeek

Mountain Vacation, pt 1

My family went on a vacation to the mountains that we had booked from June 15 - 21st. I've broken up my blog post because, as you'll read, the events that occurred that week were of two very different extremes: one of joy, and the other of anxiety and worry. While the latter half of our trip threatened to overshadow all the fun and happiness of the first half, I don't want to forget that the good times did happen. So I'll share my time away over two posts, although I'm sure that you, much like myself, will have difficulty dwelling on the first half, once you get through the second half.

Mountain Vacation Pt. 1

Every year my family has a joint vacation at our timeshare on Pigeon Mountain, just 5 minutes East of the town of Canmore. We had been looking forward to this trip for a long time; Matt had been overworked for a while, and I was looking forward to time with the family, as well as a break from my normal routine. We had prepped for a week by cleaning, packing and making sure everything at home would be taken care of while we were gone. On Saturday morning, it was finally time for us to head out!
We loaded three very sleepy boys into the car on Saturday and drove South to hit up Bass Pro Shop. One of the mainstays of our vacation each year is fishing and we wanted to be ready for that. We picked up a number of lures, mostly for rainbow trout in murky water since we knew there had been a fair bit of rain the week prior at the stocked ponds we normally frequent. $90 later and we had lures, bait and licenses for all. We grabbed a quick bite at the sandwich shop in the store and then went back out to the car to drive to the mountains - well, actually we needed to wait inside for a few minutes since there was a torrential storm that blew through and dumped a load of water everywhere, but soon we'd be in the mountains, away from all of that!
We got in the mountains to check in and quickly settled into our vacation lifestyle. We'd done this same thing for the past 5 years, so it was quick and methodical as we pulled out our food, supplies and clothes. We had everything we needed!
On the first night we had a pasta dinner before we headed down to make use of the pool in the main lodge. The boys had a great time swimming! Then it was back up to the chalets for bedtime (but I slipped away to play cards with the rest of the girls!)

The next morning we go up in good time to go fishing. We grabbed Tim Horton's for breakfast and then drove a very long and dusty road up to Spray Lakes. First we actually stopped just past the lakes to a little pond called Buller Pond, where many locals had been having a lot of luck. We, on the other hand, didn't see a thing. So after an hour we went back down the road to Spray Lakes again. The water was very low, so we figured we'd have more luck since the fish would be concentrated more... but we got nothing. Although, it was still a beautiful spot to go put a line in the water on Father's Day.
On our way back down the winding mountain road (with a massive cliff right beside you), the dust cleared just in time for us to see a herd of Mountain Sheep on the road right beside us. We had a rest back at our chalet before we joined up again for a steak dinner, then spent the evening watching a show at our own chalet.

I felt bad for Matt not catching anything the day before, so I arranged for him to go with my brother, his wife, and my parents down for a bit of fishing on the river, while the rest of us stayed up at the chalets with the kids. They were gone by 6:45 so they could get in a Timmy's run before putting a line in. But, alas, they had as much luck as they had the day before. At least they got to come home to a bacon and egg breakfast we whipped up while they were out! Once everyone was ready we set out for a game of Frisbee golf - a game we've come to embrace on our holidays. The kids only lasted a couple holes, so we took them to the playground while the boys played on. We cleared out of there just in time to miss the rain rolling in. We had vermicelli noodle bowls for supper that night and watched the Hobbit at one of the chalets.

On Tuesday morning Matt and I had plans to use, what the weather network said would be our last rain-free morning, for a hike. We had hoped to do Grotto Canyon with the whole group, but we knew our good weather wouldn't hold out forever, so since the rest of the group had a tee-time booked, we resolved on doing Grassi Lakes. But good news came in the morning - the tee-time got cancelled and everyone opted to revert back to our plan of hiking Grotto Canyon. Each of the parents strapped on a child into a carrier, and the grandparents had charge of the four-year-olds on foot. The canyon is rocky, with a creek running through it, and filled with fossils. There was one section where it was a bit tricky, and nerve-wracking, to get everyone down, but it was fairly smooth sailing for the rest of it. Matt stumbled upon a tiny nest with two eggs in it, and we were pleasantly surprised to see Momma Hummingbird return to her nest while we watched. We saw the paintings on the canyon wall, done hundreds of years ago, and made it to the waterfall at the end of the first section of the canyon. We did encounter a slight mishap here, involving rocks being dropped by younger brothers onto the older brother's head. My boy Gabriel had quite the headache, but fortunately was alright. Although he was quite attached to his Bumpa for the rest of the hike back. Once we got down from our hike, we were eager to go fishing, but also quite hungry. We resolved to head back to our chalet for a quick bite before we came back to do some fishing. Grotto Pond is our regular fishing hole on our vacations, but it's a regular fishing hole for a lot of people, so sometimes the fishing isn't as good as we would like. We'd been warned that this year in particular the fish weren't biting very well. But we'd tried Buller, where everyone else had so much luck, and that didn't work for us, so why not stick with what we know? We came back armed with our worm powerbait (after receiving a tip from another fisherman) and could not believe our luck. Everyone caught something, including the 4 year olds. We kept five of the fish, and threw back at least that many. By the end of our fishing trip, every cast was a catch. We actually called it a day because we were catching too many and it was getting taxing to have to keep digging our hooks out of the mouths of the fish! While we'd got a bit of rain during our hike, it stayed shiny for our whole time fishing. We went home that night for our taco and trout dinner.

Wednesday we'd expected it to be rainy, so we scheduled our shopping trip into Banff for that day. We filled up on bacon and eggs in the morning, then drove in to the townsite. First we stopped at Cave and Basin to show the kids around. It's a neat place to check out every couple of years at least. When we finally got around to shopping people were starting to get hungry, so we stopped to pick up a couple items we'd intended to get that day, and ended up at The Old Spaghetti Factory - our regular lunch destination in Banff. Manicotti, clam chowder, and bread made up my meal, and it wouldn't be a meal at the Spaghetti Factory without their spumoni ice cream for dessert! People were full, and a little tired, and sore from the day before, so we didn't spend a ton of time wandering the stores, but rather everyone hit their favorite shops. We bought a small Daase print from a local gallery, some rocks for Gabe to start his own rock collection, and even went to the candy store so Gabe could spend some of the money he'd been saving for a while. Finally, at the toy store, we picked up a present for Nathaniel's second birthday. There were a few more things we'd intended to buy on our vacation, but since we planned on shopping in Canmore the next day, we figured we'd get it done then. We drove back through the rain, which was finally picking up, and got ready for a date night; my parents offered to watch all the kids while we went out for a little date. Since it was raining heavily, we didn't want to drive too far, so we opted to check out the little roadside restaurant at the bottom of the mountain. We went for dinner at The Junction House in Dead Man's Flats. We had originally intended stopping in just for dessert, but when we read the dinner menu, we opted out of the hot dog meal we'd planned to have at the chalet, and went for our full meal. When we pulled up the parking lot was pooling a lot of water, and we half expected the place to be dead, but it was bustling inside! The setting was quaint and friendly - people talked to everyone who came in and chatted about where the were from and the crazy rain. We went all out for dinner, since we'd opted to not get massages on our vacation (which we'd saved a pretty penny for). For starters we got an order of the beef samosas and the Indian Poutine. The Samosas were large, authentic, and delicious! The Poutine was fantastic! It used real paneer instead of normal curds, and had a good bit of bite to it. Matt got the Butter Chicken for his entrée, while I got the Deadman's Burger with the chutney and paneer added on. Matt liked his meal, and my burger was great: sirloin patty, spinach, tomato, a cream sauce, tamarind chutney and grilled paneer. The side of fries were perfect. The taste reminded me of New York Fries, but they were thick cut and crispy. We were stuffed, but since we'd been drawn to the place because of the dessert menu, we made ourselves order some. I got a cup of their homemade chai latte as well as the rice pudding, while Matt got the Fried Cinnamon Naan with Caramelized Cardamom Bananas. The rice pudding was exceptional. I love indian rice pudding and this had just the right amount of spice with a smooth coconut flavor. The fried naan was great too. We headed back up to the chalets, picked up the baby while the rest of the kids had a sleepover, and went back to our chalet for the night.

Mrs. VanderLeek ;)

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Cheesy Mac and Cheese

Okay, so I'm pretty sure this is the third Mac and Cheese recipe I've posted. The issue is, each one is a little different. The last one I posted in my post entitled 'Quarantine' made a drier Mac and Cheese. This one will be much saucier. Different people like their Mac and Cheese differently. I like mine to have a bit of a sharper taste than others might like (enter the sharp cheddar and sour cream). The technique I describe below has some good 'general rules' though, regardless of the flavor you like. For example, to avoid separation, use onion powder instead of fresh onion. So make the sauce combine better, reserve some grated cheese out of the initial mix-in and add it afterwards. Cook your butter and flour mixture (called a 'roux') for an extra minute to help cook out the flour flavor. Oh, and this time I listed the actual measurement of pasta - in the 'Quarantine' recipe I suggested half a bag... but failed to mention what size of bag I was starting with! So, perhaps third time's the charm for getting this recipe posted properly?


A Perfect Pot of Cheesy Mac and Cheese:
400 g of elbow pasta, cooked and drained
3 tbsp butter
1/4 tsp garlic powder
Salt and Pepper
1/2 tsp onion powder
6 tbsp flour
3 c. 2% milk
1/3 c. sour cream
5 c. shredded sharp cheddar (sub in some other sharp cheeses if you want!)
2 heaping tbsp. Cheez Whiz

In a medium sauce pan, melt butter. Stir in garlic powder, salt, pepper, onion powder and flour. The mixture will clump together. Allow it to cook for another minute. Whisk in milk. Cook until sauce thickens, whisking regularly. Do NOT boil - you'll be able to taste the difference if you do! Whisk in most of the shredded cheese (about 3/4 of it) and all of the sour cream and Cheez Whiz. For extra flavor, try adding in 3 tbsp of Steeped's Smoky Apple Bacon Seasoning at this step! 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.
Topping:
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

*Note: the picture I posted is of the drier recipe from "Quarantine" which used about 250 g of pasta and 1/3 of the sauce. If you prefer less-cheesy recipes, try that one!

Mrs. VanderLeek ;)

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Better than Clean

I reached a momentous point in my housekeeping abilities in the past month: I have finally stopped settling for clean!

What do you mean you don't get it?

You see, a year ago, my house was always messy. I'd get one room clean, then by the time I got another one clean the first room was messy again, and so forth. It was hugely frustrating. I was desperate to get my house tidied up so that people could come over unannounced without some shame on my part. But there still were toys all over, a perpetually messy kitchen and a table that was never cleared.

I sought changes, but had troubles making them stick. I had some success with weekly cleaning schedules, but gradually the day-to-day mess would overwhelm me and I'd fall off the schedule as I tried to get back to zero with all the mess. Even my daily cleaning lists didn't seem to help. I'd feel like I was checking everything off, but it felt like the house only got clean in time for me to mess it up again.

Then last Fall I decided to take one more stab at the cleaning checklists, but this time I added my own "Before Bed" list. This involved taking care of the day-to-day mess to absolute completion, every night before bed. I would not let myself go to sleep until it was done. This list had me cleaning up all the toys, all of the dishes, clearing off and wiping down the table, wiping down the bathroom and making sure everything was where it should be.

And after a while, something beautiful happened: my standards for what a 'clean' house looked like changed! This was my first momentous change. I wasn't happy with having the supper dishes moved into the kitchen - they had to be washed, right away. I wasn't content having the toys put away in piles - they had a home, so they needed to go there.
This change helped me realize that we needed less things in our house in order to maintain a reasonable degree of order, so I opted to purge clothes, kitchen items, toys and décor items as I worked to reorganize our house. AND IT WORKED!

Not only was my house tidier, and less cluttered, but it was actually cleaner as well since I spent less time picking up, and more time tackling actually cleaning tasks like vacuuming the upholstery, and washing down the baseboards. It became habit to clean while I had the chance to, and to never let a mess sit where it was. I hate the sight of spills, and a dish out of place was not going to be overlooked.

It only took 25 years, but I finally figured out how to have a clean home.

Well, in the past few weeks, I started relooking my home again. Sure, it was clean, in the sense that there was nothing on the floor that shouldn't be there, but it still looked cluttered. I realized that I needed to simplify my displayed items, but also I needed to rework some of the 'homes' for items that I had established in my first organizational run through. It's silly how we can convince ourselves that something sitting on the floor next to the couch is in its right place, since that's where we like having it. But does it really look tidy? Or does it look like its shoved? Too often we overlook objects piling up on the counter because, "That's where it goes". But really, we need to find better homes for those things. So that's what I did. I cleared off everything from my kitchen counters except what I actively needed there: toaster, knife block, phone, utensil turn-around. No more bottles or jars that may or may not be empty. No more stash of candy sitting in the back corner of the counter. No more bags of anything sitting out, pretending that's where it belongs. It all got put away, or thrown away. That was about a month ago now, and the change has stuck - and I love it! But today I made another change; I cleared out one side of our bench seat storage thanks to the end of one commitment in my life (goodbye Pampered Chef! It was fun!), and knew exactly what to put in there! I've long had a stack of books, papers and notepads that hang out by 'my chair' - essentially what works as my command station where I perch while I answer emails, make phone calls, blog and do bookkeeping. But those books never had a real home, just a spot that they sat, looking awkward and out of place. Same with my knitting bag that sat beside my chair, on the floor. I wanted it close and handy, but that wasn't the way to do it. So they finally found a new home in my bench seat! Yay!

But that was just the first stage of this new change in me. Even though the things I had out were pared down, and everything had a home and stayed there, my house still looked cluttered, even when it was clean. I realized it wasn't always what I had in my house, but sometimes how I had those things set up. For example: last year Matt built me my pallet coffee table that has four shelves which I had used for my magazines, worship books, Sunday school books, and some of the kids puzzles. Everything would sit stacked nicely in there - for about a day. Then the kids would come and push over the piles. And then I'd fix the piles, and then they'd get pushed over again. And even when they were stacked, they added to the cluttered feel of the room, no matter how straight I lined up those edges. But those piles were in their home! I specifically assigned that place for them to stay! Of course, in this case there was a super simple fix: all I needed were some cute boxes or baskets to set my piles in! And I found them, at HomeSense of course. $20 later and my little piles of magazines are sitting snuggly in contained boxes that complement the colors of the room and which make everything look so much tidier! It wasn't enough in this instance for the house to be clean and have everything put away - I finally wanted something more than just 'clean'! Yay me!

Granted, some of you more naturally clean people will have no idea what the big fuss is about, but to me this is huge. To finally hit a point where my house is clean enough that I worry about something like a stack of magazines that doesn't work within my streamlined image of my ideal home? Huge.

Mrs. VanderLeek ;)

Friday, June 7, 2013

Popsicle Post

Today I pondered the question, "How many things can we make into popsicles?"

While planning our upcoming family vacation in the mountains, my sister and I suggested we bring out popsicle molds so we can whip up yogurt popsicles for the kids for an easy, healthy and cheap snack. But then I thought about the boundless potential we were met with and decided that I needed to investigate this further. And I'm so glad I did.

Popsicles are an obviously simple treat to whip up. Technically, if you can fit it and freeze it, it will work. Now, I've seen people walk down the 'savory popsicle' road, but I'm not going to go so far today; when we eat popsicles in our house it's for a snack or dessert, so that's what I will be focusing on.

The first, and likely easiest popsicle, is the yogurt popsicle. It can be as simple as spooning store-bought yogurt into a popsicle mold and freezing it. Or, you can choose to have a bit more fun (which I usually opt for).

Try these Yogurt Pop combos:
Greek yogurt + Honey
Lime yogurt + coconut + honey
Vanilla yogurt + cream cheese + raspberries
Strawberry yogurt + strawberries + mini chocolate chips
Peach yogurt + lime rind and juice

For those coconut lovers, coconut milk or coconut cream can be used to make yummy, creamy popsicles too:
Coconut milk + crushed pineapple + banana
Coconut milk + lime rind and juice
Coconut cream + kiwi
Coconut cream + passion fruit + guava
Coconut cream + toasted coconut flakes

For other creamy options, try:
Peach + Ricotta + brown sugar
Cooked apple w/ cinnamon + Ricotta + Maple syrup
Triple layered Pudding pops: Chocolate + Vanilla + Pistachio
Cream Cheese + Strawberry Jam
Root Beer + Heavy Cream + Vanilla

If you're not into creamy popsicles, you can always go with the more fruity varieties:
Peach + Orange + Mango
Raspberry + Melon + Cucumber
Strawberry + Mango + Lime
Watermelon + Strawberry

And just for fun, why not try adding a bit of booze to your pops? (but not too much or they won't freeze!):
Rum + Coke
Lychee + Peach + Sparkling White Wine
Coconut Milk + Crushed Pineapple + Coconut Rum
Peach + Orange + Light Beer

Happy Popsicle making!

Mrs. VanderLeek ;)