An Explanation.

For why I was MIA last week.  I think that’s only the second time this year I’ve left you hanging without words of neat-dom.  Not too bad, but not what I set out to do when I created this little bloggo almost a year ago.  Yep, KIN is almost ONE!  Just add ‘plan a bday party for my blog’ to the list I guess.

So anyway, things here are busy.  Not more than anyone else, I’m sure, but pretty darn busy.  And the picture below represents just how busy.  I give you, “Failed Africa Cake”.

Holiday-Potluck-WorldTheme-Africa-Cake

Allow me to explain.  Work is busy.  Home is busy.  It’s the holidays.  We have parties on top of parties, and to-do’s on top of to-do’s.  Last Thursday was the holiday party at both A’s school (annual potluck), and at my office (literally it’s in the office).  A’s holiday party ‘theme’ was Around the World, and her classroom was assigned Africa.  Not knowing what to make, and her being too young to turn this into a geography and/or anthropology lesson, I copped out and decided to make a cake, and decorate it with the map of Africa.  Don’t judge me.

Well I went to make said cake at about 9:30 on Wednesday night and noticed we were out of butter.  Great.  A quick google search (on my new phone), taught me that you could sub in applesauce.  Eh.  Worth a try though.  Cake went happily into the oven, I went happily into the shower, but A was not so happy upstairs in her crib and decided to let us know.  So B went up, leaving Africa cake to get a little toasty in the oven…for fifteen minutes too long.  Screw up #2 of the night.  When the cake cooled and I tried to move it, it fell apart in a few area, requiring glue by icing in multiple spots.  But, it did turn out looking pretty good, and it didn’t taste too bad, considering it had no butter…

Let’s move on to Thursday.  All day meetings required me to be out in West Chester (an hour west of Philly on a good day) and leave earlier than daycare would take A.  So while I battled the long ride out there B walked her to daycare…and forgot her shoes.  Unbeknownst to me of course until later that day.  I left straight from WC, Africa cake in the backseat, and went straight to daycare.  Mind you it was had been freezing out so now the cake had been frozen, then thawed.  This was really the cake that wouldn’t die.  I arrived at daycare, cake in hand, ready to clean A up to take her over to my office.  Only I noticed she had no shoes.  It never ends.

Luckily they found some extra shoes in the lost & found, and although they were clearly little boy shoes, they actually looked pretty cute.  So then we headed over to my office to meet up with B, cram some food down our throats (no alcohol though since apparently you can’t have a drink if you bring your kid…), take a pic with Santa (while A cried the whole time), and show A my office.  Which was apparently the highlight of the night:

A at work

Just look at those pudgy little fingers on the keyboard.  Kills me.

So moral of the story is I’ve been busy and have NOT been keeping things neat around my abode, or life for that matter!  But at least I’m keeping it real here on the blog for ya.  Nothing to hide – failed Africa cake story told to the public? Check. “Child Labor” photo shared with the interwebs? Check.

We did do some decorating over the weekend so I can share those pics soon.  I do have some answers to Holiday Q’s that I’ve gotten recently.  And remember you can ask any Q’s that you have here!

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Wrangling Recipes.

recipe-organization-beforeT minus 1 to Turkey day!  In honor of kicking off the season of never ending cooking and baking and eating, I’m going to do a little post about how I keep my recipes in order.  It’ll come in handy if you get any new ones after tomorrow’s day of gluttony.

So what you see above is a quasi-before shot.  As is usually the case, I started randomly working on a project while I had 5 or 10 minutes to spare and then realized halfway through – hey, I should probably post this on the blog.  Clearly I’m organized in all aspects of life other than blogging.  For a few years now I’ve been storing recipes a la Magi – in plastic sheet protectors in cute binders.  The binder I use is a few years old from Office Max (shown below), and the sheet protectors are available anywhere.  I use these by Avery – also more visible in a pic a few lines below.

recipe-organization-binder-closed

Recently I’d just been shoving recipes into the binder and not putting them in pages.  And even those in pages were way out of order – like this really yummy breakfast/brunch recipe below that I found in a Rachel Ray mag back in the day, which was right next to a baby back ribs recipe by Alton Brown.  Side note I used to love Rachel Ray.  Now she’s like an Oprah-fied caricature of her old self, and I find her cringingly (is that a word?) hard to watch on TV.  Needless to say I don’t subscribe to the mag anymore.  But anyway, we ordered a stromboli on Monday night from a menu in the packet I keep next to my recipe binder and I couldn’t take it any more.  I had about 15 minutes until said stromboli showed up at our door so I went at it.

recipe-organization-plastic-pages

First thing I did was to lie everything out on the counter and take inventory.  Then I made piles of like-kind recipes (does this organizing formula sound familiar or what?): Starters (salads, soups, snacks), Sides, Meat/Poutlry, Fish/Seafood, Pasta, Desserts.  I had to move some recipes around in their plastic so they lined up better, but that was the bulk of the work of this whole task and took only about 5 minutes.  I have a few special recipes that I keep on handwritten index cards, those are kept in the front pocket of the binder as you can see in the shot below.

recipe-organization-binder

Mmm.  I’m hungry from looking at some of these.

Once I put all the plastic sheets back in I had a nicely organized binder looking like this:

recipe-organization-binder-after

The recipe on the left is the best find ever by SH @ Eventfully Simple at the shore a few summers ago.  It was in my Women’s Health mag and I totally passed it by.  She suggested we try it and it’s been a summer staple ever since.  B and I make it once a week in summer months, and have given the recipe to about a dozen other people.  And I’m happy to say it’s now properly filed with the rest of our meat and poultry items, and not sitting in between sugar cookies and Shipley bars.

And for those wondering, shortly after finishing this little ditty our pepperoni stromboli arrived and it was delish.  We ate the whole thing.  Good thing PR was last weekend!

Fit & Fresh Flop.

FitFresh Container Closed

I’d like to take some time today to talk about a product that I do NOT love.   I read a lot of blogs and people are always talking about their faaaaaavorite things (well, except this chick, who still cracks me up), and sometimes it just gets old.  Dislike something every once in a while!  I know there is something in your home that you just can’t stand.  Go on, think about it.

Well here is a product that had lots of potential for people who like compartments, and salads: the Fit & Fresh Salad Shaker.  (There must be at least another one of you out there, right?)  In an attempt to inspire healthy lunching I got this thing for B last Christmas.  Oh wait, he gave me a bunch of grief this weekend for bringing him up on the blog so much.  I forgot.  Let me start again.  I bought this thing for a shall-not-be-named-Chick-Fil-A-eating “pal” of mine, in hopes of helping him change his terrible lunch habits.  He did not like the looks of this thing and refused to use it.  So, Happy New Year’s Resolution Time to me!  I didn’t end up using it until a few months ago though.  You may recall that for several weeks into the new year I was still stuck in a just-returned-to-work-and-my-baby-is-still-waking-up-at-3am! fog and just scrambling to get by.  I posted about that plan of attack as a new working mom here.

I gave the Fit & Fresh a whirl a few times this past spring and am finally getting around to posting about it.  This product had so much potential.  I mean, built in dressing dispenser? (Pardon the strangely toned shots below, they were taken with my phone at work):

FitFresh Dressing Open

FitFresh Dressing Closed

Ice pack that snaps into the lid?  (Not shown here, but it nestles right into the lid on the left.)

FitFresh Lids

I was impressed.  I’ve packed a lot of salads for lunch in my day and dressing can be a big problem.  Do it in the morning when you leave the house and risk serious lettuce wilt?  Not everyone has access to a fridge in the office which makes both storing dressing at work and keeping your salad cool a challenge.  This idea seemed to address my two biggest salad-at-lunch concerns, so naturally I thought I’d love it.

Au contraire.  The size of the container is very awkward.  It’s just too big for the average lunch bag/box.  And the lid takes up most of that space since it’s designed to hold the cooler, which yes, I did just seriously talk up, but upon actually using the thing I’m not impressed at all.  The biggest disappointment?  The built in dressing dispenser!  You’re supposed to fill it and then twist it when you’re ready to use it (you can see it opened and then shut in the pics above).  Well mine twisted in my lunch bag on the way to work so my salad was dressed at 7:00am, just as if I had done it before leaving the house.  AKA, it did nothing to solve the afternoon lettuce-wilt problem.  Which was the exact reason I was intrigued by the darn thing.

So really the Fit & Fresh Salad Shaker is no more than a glorified square Tupperware container.  Which is exactly what I am back to using.  I had a great salad today at lunch with only moderately wilted lettuce, but I knew it was coming so it didn’t bother me.  I had average expectations for my rabbit food of a lunch, and it met all of them.

And so there you have it.  A Fit & Fresh Flop.  No love for the Salad Shaker from Keep It Neat.  And the worst part?  My “pal” is all over the “I told you so train”.  God I hate being wrong.

The Sandwiches!

California Powerhouse via Stately Sandwiches

There are probably only 6 other people who will chuckle at the title of this post: B, his 2 brothers, their parents, and my sister in law.  The boys affectionately imitate, nudge, tease, and harass their mother relentlessly.  They’re probably worse now at 30+ than they were at 10.  Apparently about ten years ago, they were all ready to leave for a long car ride down to South Carolina for vacation.  They pulled out of the driveway when their mom realized they forgot the food they had packed for the road and screamed, “the sandwiches!”.  See?  Not that funny right?  But they love it.  And that is how this famous phrase, along with countless others, has seeped into our family lexicon.

But recently I found a new reason to do some exclaiming over sandwiches: Stately Sandwiches.  Started by designer Kelly Pratt in Chicago, it’s a really cool project in which Kelly has set out to make sandwiches that represent each of our 50 states.  To accomplish this she is traveling across the country with friends to discover and create each sandwich recipe, and is blogging about it all along the way.  She shares her sandwich recipes on the blog, along with fun-to-read stories about making each one.  And her official sandwich board photos are fantastic.  I love how perfectly organized each one is!  And they look delicious too.  Many of you know that I am also a big fan of sandwiches.  The California Powerhouse and Pennsylvania (Philadelphia) Cheesesteak are my favorites so far – typical that I go for the ones that are on completely opposite ends of the healthy-for-you spectrum – and I’m looking forward to following her journey and seeing what else she “cooks” up.

Check out her site.  If not for the recipes, for the eye candy that is her perfectly arranged sandwich boards.  Their organizational awesomeness is actually quite calming.  Much needed for me as I face a busy week coming up at work this week.  Bon Appetit!

A Sign of Things to Bloom.

Thai Basil Chalkboard Herb Garden Sign

A DIY Chalkboard Sign, to be exact, for my herb-an garden that I started last month on our patio.  I finished the signs a few weeks ago and was finally able to snap a few shots of them keeping my blooms nicely labeled and organized.  It was a really quick and easy project: it required only 3 materials, costing just under $14 all-in.  I ended up making just 5 signs but I have enough materials for 10 more and for many other chalkboard paint-related projects for years to come.  So that’s a pretty good investment, especially considering I’ve seen signs like these retailing for $25-$35 on various websites.  I really like the fun touch it adds to the potted plants, and the look goes well with our half brick, half stucco back patio wall.  I’d love to say this look was intentional (we’ve gotten so many comments over the years), but it’s not.  It’s just nature doing its thing to an old layer of stucco that was never well-adhered to the brick wall it tried to cover.

Here is a tutorial for making the signs, along with a cost breakdown.  I assure you it’s like the easiest outdoor project ever, even though it looks like lengthy steps.  I just like to talk.

What I used:

Wood for signs and/or stands. (I chose to use basic shims from our local hardware store as the base for my signs, but you could really use any scrap wood you had on hand.  Depending on the shape of wood you might need to make a stand for the sign, but extra BBQ/shish kabob skewers could probably solve that for you). Shims: $2.79 for 15.

Chalkboard paint. (I find spray paint to be easier for any quick painting project so I went with Rustoleum Chalkboard Spray Paint, also found at our local hardware store). Chalkboard Spray Paint: $9.99

Chalk. (Good old fashioned Crayola, found at the Rite Aid down the block from me). Box of Chalk: $1.03

Total Cost of Materials: $13.81; most are pictured below:

Materials for Chalkboard Herb Garden Signs

What I did:

Step 1: Spray paint shims.  I laid them out on extra newspaper first, and did this outside so I didn’t breathe in the fumes.  I did not bother with primer for this paint job.  Instead I sprayed several coats of paint, keeping the nozzle about a foot away and using long, level strokes.  This made for thin and even layers that dried well.  I did 3 coats on one side, aiming for about 20-30 minutes in between.  We were in and out of the house that day so I did my best to do a quick coat whenever I could.  I let them dry overnight (both days were dry and sunny) and did the same to the back.  I let them dry out another 2 days so they were nice and cured.  Here they are drying after their last coat.  Ignore the popsicle sticks that are also in this pic, I was experimenting using another base surface but didn’t like how they turned out.

Chalkboard Paint on Shims

Here are the signs after drying for about 2 days:

Finished Painted Herb Garden Signs

Step 2: “Condition” the signs.  This was actually one of the instructions on the back of the spray paint can and I’m not exactly sure of the purpose, but basically once the surface had time to for a few days I rubbed chalk all over and then wiped it off.  Here are the signs before I wiped the chalk off:

Rub Chalk on Chalkboard Paint to Set

Step 3: Use the signs!  I labeled them for my herbs, and placed them in the pots accordingly.  I had to move them around a bit so they wouldn’t be in the way when I watered the plants, otherwise the chalk would wash off.  I’m also contemplating buying one of these chalkboard markers to make more permanent signs.  But for now these work well and look great!

Here are the signs inside before I placed them in their more permanent potted homes: 

Labeled Chalkboard Signs for Herb Garden

 And here are glimpses of the final product.  See how much my Peppermint has grown?!  It smells great, and I’ve found it to be a very refreshing addition to tea and ice water.

Peppermint Chalkboard Herb Garden Sign

And here is my Thai Basil.  It’s started to flower which makes it look pretty, and the shape of the pot allows for the chalkboard sign to be off to the side a bit and really stand out:

Thai Basil Chalkboard Herb Garden Sign

Ignore the glass jars in the background cluttering up this shot.   (We’ve established that along with having a black thumb, I’m also a terrible photographer).    After my big outdoor furniture refinishing project is complete I’ll fill them up with fun flowers to give the patio some color.  I’m still chipping away at that project though.  It takes good weather and a full weekend of being home during A’s naps to work on it, and we’ve been traveling a lot recently.  So hopefully soon.

In the meantime I’ll be enjoying my new chalkboard signs, which were a great quick fix to spruce up the herb garden.  And I’m now completely addicted to chalkboard spray paint.  I’ve been daydreaming about the next thing I can turn into a chalkboard.  I’m thinking a menu board in the kitchen would be fun, or maybe a big framed family calendar/planner.  You know, because we have so many social engagements to attend to these days.  But there I go again creating another project for myself.  I really have to stop doing that.