Month: February 2012

Get outta my head! (and into my notebook)

  My poor husband… most husbands get honey-do lists.  Mine gets a whole book.

  With my classes keeping me crazy busy and the weather still being absolutely frigid here in Michigan, I haven’t had the time for any home improvement projects.
  Unfortunately, not having the time or weather for a project seems to make me want to do it even more than usual.  All of those ideas were swirling in my head, and it was making it hard to focus on my homework.
  My accounting classes must be rubbing off on me.  Normally I would have scribbled all of the ideas I had in my head down on one list and called it good.  This time I got down-right ledgery.
  I found an old notebook my Mr. had given to me from a work conference he’d gone to and titled a page for each room in our house and one for outside.  Then I wrote each of my ideas on the appropriate page.  I’m still working on my fur shams for the bedroom, so they went on the master bedroom page.  I want to change the color scheme in our living room, so knitting a new blanket in the right colors went on the living room page.
  I’ll admit, it’s a little…uhm, anal? but it has helped me to break down exactly how much I have to get done to consider a room “finished”.  For instance, even though I feel like there are infinite projects between me and a finished bedroom, I only actually have 5 things I can name that I specifically want to get done.  Five things isn’t too bad.  Five things is doable.  I can forget about five things.
…which means I can get back to my homework.

Blink and you miss two years.

  Two years ago today I exploded.  If you think that may be a bit dramatic of me, let me remind you of the definition of “exploded”.

  Let me also say that I was only in labor for about 5 hours…and only at the hospital half an hour before G was born.  Rapid, violent, excessive internal pressure?  Check, check, check.
  Thank god my ‘splodin’ yielded such cute results.
  Getting used to not being able to sleep in…or eat…or sew…or shop without disruption took a little bit of time, but G has given us so many sweet, laugh out loud funny moments I don’t resent losing the sleep at all.
  Okay, that’s a lie.  But I don’t resent it much.
  He is so big now, it’s just about impossible to believe he was ever so little as he is in these pictures.  I can’t imagine how badly it’s going to freak me out when he’s 18.
  That tiny baby is already a big, funny, too-smart for my good little boy.
  Happy Birthday to my funny monkey.  I can’t wait to see what the next year brings!

Slow cooker Chicken Enchilladas

  Impatient cooks, today’s recipe comes with a disclaimer.  This one takes some prep work.  Use shortcuts or your children are liable to be learning words they oughtn’t when it’s 4 pm and you’re just getting everything into the slow cooker.

  Here’s what we’re making:
  Here’s what you need:
2 c. cooked chicken, shredded
28 oz can of enchilada sauce
1 orange pepper, diced
1 yellow pepper, diced
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 can olives
6 corn tortillas
2 1/2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
sour cream (optional) 

  First things first, notice that the chicken in that list is cooked.  AND shredded.  Oy.

  The original recipe calls for “leftover” chicken, but I was all “oh, how long can it take to cook up a couple chicken breasts on the stove top?”  …the answer is “a very, very long time”.

  The amount of time it took me to cook and shred the chicken very nearly killed this recipe from ever happening again.  Chopping peppers, olives and shredding cheese on top of that?  It’s a damn good thing this was delicious.

  Do yourself a favor, if you don’t have leftover chicken, buy a roasted chicken…get the sliced olives, or at the very least, buy pre-shredded cheese.  Slow cooker meals aren’t supposed to take hours of prep time.

  Once all your ingredients are prepped, mix your chicken and enchilada sauce together in a large bowl.  Layer your ingredients, starting with tortillas on the bottom and ending with cheese on top.

Chicken with sauce
Peppers and olives
Black beans

  Finish the whole thing with cheese on top.  The original recipe says to swirl a tablespoon of water in the enchilada sauce/chicken bowl and pour it over top.  I did it, but I’m not sure what exactly it did.

  Turn the whole thing on to low for 4-6 hours and (here’s the hard part) DON’T STIR IT.

  I am an incurable slow cooker stirrer.  If you stir this, it will wind up looking like…well, like something  you definitely don’t want to eat.

  Use a ladle to serve and top with sour cream or plain yogurt.  We also served ours with extra tortillas. 

  The Mr. and I really liked this.  G wouldn’t try it, so I’m not sure if he’d have liked it or not.  He’s 2 tomorrow and has decided it’s about time he gets “terrible” all up in here.  Hooray?

In which I crimp my hair

  Today I’m playing along with Dana over at Wonder Forest and joining Self Portrait Saturdays.  Because, obviously, what this blog is missing is more self indulgent, moody pictures of me.  Right?  I know you guys can’t get enough of my smarmy face.

  I broke out a bit more photoshop than I’ve seen by the submitters in the previous weeks, but, as we’ve discussed, I’ve only got my dinky little point and shoot to play with…no remote, and I’m working with shop lights and posterboard to get my pictures.  And my camera freaks out when there’s TOO much light and turns everything yellow.  This is the test shot I took to make sure the zoom wasn’t cutting off my head:
  Everything turning dark yellow aside, lets focus on that hair for a minute.  Hot, right?  In an attempt to get something looking sorta like pin curls, I actually broke out this monster:
100% authentic, 1980’s crimper
  Doing these pictures I was trying for a silent movie star look, kind of like this:
  Instead, I wound up with Sigourney Weaver in Ghostbusters.
  Oh well.  The whole point is to experiment and see how it turns out, right?  So lets get on to the finished pictures.
  If you haven’t already clicked on the link to Sigourney above, do it now.  It’s kind of hilarious how accidentally spot on I got.  *sighs*  What can I say, I do “possessed by demons” well.
  I’m still not entirely sure where I went awry.  I think a big part of the problem is that my face is far too thin for the look in the 1910s.  They’d have thought I was dying of consumption or something.  I know my eyebrows are too thick/not drawn on, but I’m just not that committed to getting the look right.
  After giving up on the idea that any of these shots were going to make me look like Clara Bow, I decided to start playing with other looks I could get in photoshop.
  For this one I just played with the curves, exposure and offset.  I personally think I wound up looking like some Apple brand saloon girl.  iFlirt.  I’m kind of in love with it.
  With this shot I played with a couple different layers of painterly filters.  One of them is fresco, I think there might be some watercolor in there…I don’t remember everything I put on it, but there were at least 4 layers.  I think this one would have been prettier if I had a little rounder cheeks too.  I was sort of going for a Renaissance portrait look, but I’d have been the scrawniest duchess they’d ever seen in Europe.
  This last one is my favorite.  As a stay at home mom, I worry sometimes that I’ve started to look…soft…a little too matronly.  So I love that at least one of my pictures leaves me looking like a dangerous criminal on the lamb.  You don’t mess with me…and you seriously don’t mess with my baby.  Can’t you see that crazed look in my eyes?
  Honestly, what sane woman would use a crimper??

Cinderelly, Cinderelly, sewing dress for Cinderelly

  This week I’ve been working on a project for a friend.  She doesn’t do a whole lot of sewing and her daughter is in a school play and needed a costume.  Their school is putting on Cinderella and all the girls need ball gowns.  It’s a religious school, so as well as needing to be a big, poofy dress, it also needs to meet certain modesty guidelines (coverage of the shoulders, back and neckline).  Oh, and the director is requiring that the dresses be blue, yellow or green.  Yikes!
  Not knowing quite where to get something that would meet all those requirements, my friend called me.  I suggested she find a dress that fit her daughter that had either a long skirt or the proper coverage on top and that we’d work from there.
  They went to Salvation Army and found an old prom dress in a dark green and called me.  We talked about a few things we wanted to do on it and I took it home to get started.
    The first thing we decided we wanted was an even fluffier skirt.  The skirt had the very bottom layer of tulle shown on the left already, but really, we’re talking about a royal ball here, not just  homecoming.  We needed a bigger skirt.
  I added around 2 yards of tulle in the two top layers.  To get a nice, full underskirt that would hold the satin on top away from her body, I measured around the skirt and sewed a band of tulle twice as long to it (after I gathered it).  I sewed the tulle on upside down (the seam allowance towards the hem and the extra tulle folded back down over it) to help keep the satin even further out.  Under the top band I added a second band that was twice as long (or four times as long as the skirt is around).  If this were anything but a costume, I would have added a third layer between the second layer and the original existing tulle to smooth out the transition.  For a costume, this is plenty.
  We have a lot of little junk to do yet.  The lovely little slash in the neckline needs to be sewn together, the zipper needs to be mended and we have some fabric to make sleeves out of.  The skirt is finished though, so I can’t do anything further without a fitting.
  Other than that, no sewing this week.  *has a withdrawl shudder*
  What are you sewing right now?

Marmalade Curry Chicken (slow cooker)

  Today’s slow cooker recipe has a similar flavor to my 3 ingredient chicken.  This recipe has a little more kick though. 3 ingredient chicken is sweet, where this is a bit spicy.

  Here’s what you need:
4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
1 (18 ounce) jar orange marmalade
1 1/2 teaspoons curry powder
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper 
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 cup chicken broth
  Start by putting your marmalade and broth into the slow cooker.  Add your spices and mix until you have a gingery, gooey mess.  Add your chicken and cover with sauce.  Cook on low for 7 hours or high for 4.  Serve over rice.
  Can you tell yet that we buy marmalade and curry powder in bulk?  We all liked this, and it’s great as left overs too!

Closet hints: Tshirts and general tips

  So far I’ve shown you how I fold my sweaters, pants and tank tops.  I thought today I’d wrap things up with t shirts and a quick run down of what I do with everything else.  I don’t expect any of you guys really want a tutorial on how I fold socks.

  All of my short sleeved shirts live in a drawer.  I hang up all my long sleeved non-sweater shirts.  Obviously this is favoritism.  I’m just not entirely sure which one I’m favoring.
  Because they’re in a drawer, I need a nice, flat, thin fold for my short sleeve shirts, similar to what we did with our sweaters.  Because we don’t have bulky sleeves throwing everything off kilter though, I fold a little differently.
  Start by folding the whole thing in half.  *Pro-tip: if you fold your clothes sooner than 4 days after they come out of the dryer they won’t look pre-slept in when you put them on.  Also, I will know for a certainty you don’t have a two year old.*
  Fold the bottom hem up to the neckline and call yourself done.  A nice, flat fold that means  you can fit a ton of shirts in a drawer.
  As for the rest of my clothing… I mentioned that all of my long sleeve shirts get hung up.  My dresses receive the same treatment, as do any winter vests or coats.  Socks, bras and underpants all go in drawers and tights, belts, lingerie and shorts all are stored in hat boxes.  Somewhat ironically, I’m yet to find a solution for actual hats.  My scarves are all stored on one of those Ikea many-circle-thingies, but I’m not madly in love with it.  My jewelry is stored in fish tackle boxes.
  So I think that about wraps it up for my closet wisdom.  The only other clever trick I know is one that my mother in law told me about (hi Sandy!), but that doesn’t seem to happen around here much.  Mostly because I don’t tend to do my Mr.’s laundry and my socks all have cats or frogs or flowers on them.
  If you (or somebody you’re doing laundry for) has a hard time telling blue and black business socks apart, make it easy.  It’s pretty easy to compare them and tell which is which when you’re folding, so specify different folds for each.  Fold blue socks just at the cuff and black socks tucked all the way inside of each other for instance.
  Hope this series has helped you find some solutions for your closet!

Quick and dirty phone stand

  By now, every phone on earth comes equipped with a camera.  Smart phone, dumb phone…I wouldn’t be surprised to see that the 3 remaining landlines in the country have them now.

  Not only are cameras everywhere, but it seems like the quality of camera is shooting through the roof too.  I recently was upgraded (for Christmas) to a smart phone from a “its parents dropped it on its head a lot” phone and have been enjoying myself far too much.  Instagram is maybe a little like crack for me.  (if you don’t get enough toddler pictures here, I suggest following me (ecbrayt), or following me on twitter (@gcbkids) since most of them wind up there too).
  I take most of my pictures with our little hand-held point and shoot camera, but now that I’ve got a high quality camera, one that already has built in filters on it, with me all the time, I’m starting to do more and more with my phone.  Problem is, my phone and the tripods I have for the point and shoot don’t play nice together.
  I reaaally want one of these.  (Psstt, Mr., hint hint)  But, in the mean time, I’ve devised a way to keep my phone standing on its own, so I can take self portraits. 
  Hey, the kid isn’t the only one who deserves to have cool filtered photos.
  Fancy, I know.  But I promise, you too can afford this incredible camera phone stand.
  I’m sure it’s fairly obvious from the picture, but all I’ve done is to clamp a binder clip around the bottom of my phone.  I’ve put a scrap of material from G’s button down shirt in between the two to prevent any scratching.
  Once everything is clipped together, simply stand the whole thing up and adjust the prongs of the binder clip to hold your phone at the angle you would like.
  That’s it!  It’s certainly not going to get you pictures from strange angles while hanging out of trees or balancing on rocky outcroppings, but if all you need is something to keep your phone from flopping over while you scurry across the room to attempt to pose, this is the way to go.
  Now I just have to figure out a way to use a binder clip to keep me from making stupid faces just as the camera goes off…

Slow cooker Mac and Cheese

  Today’s recipe is a slow cooker version of everybody’s favorite dish; mac and cheese!

  This one almost doesn’t cook long enough in the slow cooker to work for me.  I’ve been doing the slow cooker meals so that I can have everything prepped and started in the early afternoon and don’t have to touch it for the two hours I’m tutoring.  With a total cook time of 3 hours, this barely gave me time to clean up and log in after I finished.

  Here’s what you need:
1 1/2 cups milk
12 oz can evaporated milk
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted, cooled to room temp
3 large eggs
1/2 tsp salt
3 cups shredded cheese- I used a combination of Italian blend and fontina
1/2 pound macaroni
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
can of diced tomatoes, drained (optional)
  Start by cooking your macaroni.  I know, I know…it’s a prep step with a slow cooker meal, but boiling macaroni is so much less work than browning meat or saute-ing veggies…just do it okay?  Besides, you don’t want to cook them all the way, so it won’t take more than 5 minutes or so.  Leave a little spine in the noodles so they aren’t a total mushy mess after cooking in the crockpot.
  Now, before you do ANYTHING else, grease your crockpot.  Wipe it down with olive oil, spray it with cooking spray if you must, but use something in there.  I didn’t, and my crockpot was a nightmare after I cooked this.
  Next, pour your milk, evaporated milk, melted butter, eggs and salt into your crock pot and mix together.  I wouldn’t suggest skipping the step of melting the butter.  I did that too.  I spent probably 5 minutes mashing it with a fork to get it to mix in, not actually a time saver.
  Once your liquids are mixed together smoothly, add in about half of your cheese, put your pasta on top, add the rest of the cheese and mix everything to coat it.  If you want to add tomatoes for an extra bit of flavor, now is the time to do it.  The original recipe says to top everything with parmesan at this point, but I decided not to.  We didn’t miss it.
  Start everything cooking on high and leave it there for half an hour.  Then turn the heat down and let it sit for another 2 and a half hours on low.
  Thanks to the eggs, this is a much richer mac and cheese than you’d usually get out of the oven.  Enjoy!
This post is part of My 1929 Charmer‘s Linkup Party

Big Brother has decided Mama needs a new pair of shoes.

  I wasn’t entirely sure what I was going to write for you guys today.  Between school being crazy, the boy being sick and then me and the Mr being sick, I’ve been pretty run down and didn’t have much of anything interesting to say.  But then I read this article about consumer behavior tracking.

  Now I’m kinda pissed.

  I’m not so naive that I didn’t know that companies do all sorts of things to manipulate buyer’s behaviors.  And I understand why they do it.  They want to succeed, just like I want my business to succeed.  But I don’t think it’s particularly responsible to manipulate people into spending money in struggling economic times, and I sure as hell don’t like the idea of being “triggered”.
  It’s frustrating, especially in a crummy economy like we’ve all faced the last few years, to see that companies are relying on tricks like this.  Emotional manipulation and subliminal programming are convincing us to buy things we don’t need.  Didn’t we all learn from the bubble bursting that we ought to find things that fit our lives, not just bigger, newer, faster?  It really comes across as not even trying to create worthwhile products, simply forcing us into buying what they want us to.
  I talked a little before Christmas about how I’m trying to pare down the excess stuff in our life.  I’m still doing that, and articles like this really reinforce to me that I’m headed in the right direction.  The less stuff I’m having to sort through, the more I know what I actually need.  It makes it a little easier to just throw away those coupon booklets that I now know are specifically designed to trigger me to buy stuff I don’t necessarily even want.
  It’s bad enough to know they’re manipulating me, but thinking about how much worse it’s going to be when G is old enough to start making his own purchases…getting his own credit cards?  It’s enough to make me want to hole up in a cave and make all of our clothing out of sticks, leaves and dandelion fluff.
  I don’t really think that dropping out of society is the way to go, but I do want to make sure that G grows up knowing that he doesn’t have to have the next hottest thing to be a worthwhile person…and knows that when he “wants” something, he should examine the reasons he wants it.
  I’m not really sure what the solution is.  I certainly can’t expect companies to not take any path they find to get people to buy their products, and I’m certainly not going to condemn my family to some kind of monastic devotion to a commercialism free life (wow, that’s a mouthful). 
  I guess the only approach left is cynicism.  I’m already very careful to throw out most of the coupon booklets I get, but I think now I may throw them out before I even look at them.  Yes, I may be “throwing away” a dollar or two I would have saved on something I do normally buy, but if I wind up buying something I don’t need because a coupon triggered me?  That’s not a savings at all.
  We already avoid the bulk of commercials by only watching tv through DVDs or online.  It means we’re not up on the latest shows, but it also saves us a ton of time.  Plus, I didn’t have to suffer through even one “Shake Weight” commercial to get the joke.
  I’ve learned that “clearance” is like a siren call to me, so I only let myself look if I have something in specific in mind to look for.
  I’m not sure what else I can do.  What do you guys think?  Does this type of corporate surveillance drive you crazy, or do you think I’m nuts for even caring?