Sunday, September 25, 2011

Pear Butter

As part of my ongoing cooking kick, last week I decided to make pear butter.  I'd never really had much to do with apple butter, or any other "butters" for that matter. 

As you probably already know, there isn't actually any butter in these preserves, that are just a really thick smooth fruit spread. 

I made a small batch using 2 1/2 pounds of pears. 

Please forgive my pitiful photos.  My kitchen is dark!

I cut them up and added a little water and lemon juice cooked them down on the stove until they thickened and were very soft.

Then I used my stick blender (one of my very favorite kitchen tools!) to blend them to my desired consistency.  I wanted it to be completely smooth, but that's personal preference and you could leave it chunky. 

I added my spices and flavorings - cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla - and returned it to the stove to continue to cook down.  Once it reached the consistency I wanted I cooled it a bit and put it in my jar. 

Since this only made one jar I obviously didn't can it, but you could do that if you make a large batch. 

Little G has taken it to preschool for his lunch on a sandwich, we've had it on toast and I made biscuits one night and it made a tasty dessert!  I'd love to get a bigger batch of pears to make more.

Warning!  Random cuteness moment coming up:

Contrary to appearances, Little G isn't throwing a gang sign here.  He using sign language to say I love you!  Awww... melts my heart.  Especially when it's spontaneous and I don't have to beg him to do it. :) 

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Artisan Bread

I recently mentioned my new cookbook, Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day.  Well, I'm back to report that it works!  I mixed up my first batch Tuesday night and baked a loaf Wednesday and it was by far the best bread I've ever made.  I made another loaf from the same batch of dough yesterday and the flavor was even better.

In the past I've made bread and it was always quite dense.  My most recent attempt at french bread was better, but still slightly denser than I would prefer.  I'm sure I was putting in too much flour, but try as I might I couldn't avoid it.  This method is very quick and simple - it really is about five minutes of hands on time.  There is no kneading either at the time of mixing or when you are ready to bake. 

You mix your dough with a spoon in your covered container and then put it in the fridge to rest at least for a few hours or overnight.  Then you pinch off about one pound, shape it, let it rise for 40 minutes, and bake it for 30 minutes.  The hardest part is waiting for it to cool enough to cut.  I have to fend off Big G from the warm bread. 

Here is my second loaf:

I still have enough dough for another loaf or two in the fridge.  The dough lasts for about 10 days before it starts losing its rising power.  You don't have to use a starter or feed it.  I definitely recommend the book! 

Friday, September 23, 2011


We have this place near us that we found on Craig's List a while ago and it is the strangest and best place.  We found it when we were looking for a particular baby gate and it turned out that it had so much random stuff it sort of blew my mind.  Their stock is comprised of returns primarily from Amazon, but also Bed, Bath and Beyond, Walmart, JCPenney, etc.  It is a huge warehouse stacked helter skelter with anything and everything you can imagine.    I dubbed it "graytail" since it isn't retail or wholesale and you can't be 100% sure where it came from.  Actually, that's a joke, because usually you can tell from stickers exactly which returns center it's from. 

We've been back a few times to try to find random stuff and it's hit or miss to say the least.  Today I looked through bins of mostly housewares that were amazon returns. There was everything from grain mills and yogurt makers to insulated beverage mugs to ravioli makers to photo frames to sheets, and on and on.

I found the retractable baby gate I was looking for and a few other things.  Yay!!  I love digging around and finding things I was already planning to get or had my eye on, but putting off purchasing. 

Here is a picture of my haul:

Here's what I got and they current Amazon price for each item:

1. Wilton cupcake decorating kit $7.75
2.  Bento Lunchbox Kit $27.95
3.  Retractable Mesh Baby Gate $59.99
4.  Accordion Wall Mounted Drying Rack $20
5.  Stainless Steel Heavy Duty Mandoline Slicer $68.40
6.  Pullman Style Non Stick Bread Pan $27.87
7.  Alphabet Cookie Cutter Set $31.69
8.  Retractable Clothes Line $9.99
9.  Parchment Cupcake Liners $12.83 (who in the world would pay that, I don't know)

The total price if I ordered these items would be $266.47. 

Of course, I would never pay that!  My price for everything was.....


To say that I was pumped would be a huge understatement!  I basically got everything for what the baby gate alone would normally cost.  I just love a good deal!

Thursday, September 22, 2011


A week slipped away quickly since my last post!  We took a short trip to Chicago from Thursday - Sunday and it seems to take longer to prepare and recover from trips that involve a todder.
Little G enjoying the beautiful view from our apartment.

We rented an apartment with another family who have a precious 9 month old.  We have mutual friends who live in Chicago and we all got to spend lots of time hanging out, eating and talking.  We did go to the Grant Park Zoo with Little G and he enjoyed it, but other than that it was a very low key trip.  We've done the tourist highlights in the past and this trip was focused on spending time with friends. 
Who needs pants?  Let's go to the zoo!

Little G is a seasoned air traveler now, but it still isn't a pleasant experience.  This was his fourth air trip this year.  I think it has become more difficult the older he grows because he is more and more independent.  We bought a portable DVD player to use on the plane and it was a big help on our return flight.  Our outbound flight was during nap time so he was just too grumpy to be happy watching a movie.  Now that he is down to one nap a day, I am going to make every effort to schedule flights during the morning so we aren't flying during nap time.  He won't sleep on the plane and it's pretty miserable for everyone.  Although after what I thought was a miserable flight the man sitting ahead of us turned around to compliment Gabriel on how well behaved he was.  I think parents are harder on themselves than other people are sometimes. 

Little G walking with our friend at the zoo

Another thing that helped pass the time was a small magna doodle I bought.  Little G liked to draw on it, but also liked for me to draw simple - all I'm capable of! - pictures for him to identify.  There was more than one time, that I couldn't believe he figured out what my pitiful drawing was supposed to be!  He must be a genius. 

Checking out a zoo exhibit

His favorite thing to do is squirm down on the floor at our feet (not in the aisle) and unpack his diaper bag.  As you may guess, that isn't my favorite thing for him to do since it means things go rolling everywhere or get dumped on the floor. 

The days of traveling light are not for us anymore.  We used to travel to Europe for two weeks with a roll-aboard suitcase each.  Now, we check bags and gladly pay the fee so we don't have to haul them through the airport!  I actually got a gold delta AMEX card last winter since I can waive the first checked bag fee for everyone in my traveling party.  It has more than paid for it's annual fee in saved baggage fees. 

Other tips I've picked up over the last year:

  • Check the car seat unless you are on a really long flight.  Heavy and bulky don't even begin to describe what it's like to drag it through the airport. 

  • Don't take too many clothes.  They are heavy and you can do laundry at your destination so you can wear things more than once. 

  • Take more diapers and snacks than you think you'll need onboard the plane.  Fortunately, I did NOT learn this the hard way.  New and special snacks are a handy way for us to pacify Little G. 

  • You can take liquids through security for your child (milk, juice, etc.), but expect the TSA agent to inspect it closely.  It has never been a problem and they've always been friendly towards us in that regard.

  • Expect to be embarassed by your child. The yelling and crying.  It will happen. 

  • Agree in advance with your spouse to forgive and forget arguments that may arise while traveling with a young child.

  • Take turns child wrangling with your spouse or traveling partner so everyone gets a break.

We enjoyed our trip, but were glad to get home Sunday afternoon.  After a long nap, Little G woke up and his Pops (my dad) was here for a quick visit while he was in town for business.  Little G was happy to see Pops and was soon giving him commands on how to play.   Since Pops is wrapped around Little G's finger, he followed his orders like a pro. 

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Animal Train

We had another busy fun weekend!

We kicked off Friday with a visit to our local train museum with our friends. 

Little G was more interested in the trains than I figured he would be. 

In this last picture he was watching the train go by and it was blowing his mind a little bit!

On Saturday we went to the zoo with Little G's cousin P and her mom.  This was Little G's first zoo trip, but I'm sure it won't be his last.

Little G was so absorbed in each exhibit that he didn't want to leave it to move on to the next one. 

This is how they hold hands.  Super sweet!

The petting zoo was popular too. The kids were pretty sure the goats were puppies.  Little G did correctly identify the sheep, which is impressive since the picture in children's books aren't really the same as the real thing. 

Our little kangaroos!

The carousel was a huge hit with Little G.  There were tears when that was over. 

All of that and we were home by 1:00!

Friday, September 9, 2011

Tomato Soup

This afternoon I made one of my favorite soups for dinner.  It's so easy and tasty that I thought I would share.  I adapted the recipe from this one I found at Pots and Pins

I follow the basic recipe as outlined, but I use dill instead of italian seasoning, and don't add the cheese.  I found that the cheese gave it a texture that I didn't care for. Today I substituted a mixture of sour cream and whole milk for the cream called for and it turned out great.

I usually make a double batch and freeze half in containers that hold two servings.  It is SO much better than canned soup for an easy lunch and doesn't take too long to thaw if I put it directly into a sauce pan on the stove.

We enjoyed some of my homemade bread from the freezer.  I put it in the oven to get warm and crusty. 

The best part of dinner was that Big G caught an early flight home and ate with me!  He also got a chance to play with his very excited little boy before bedtime.

Even Little G enjoyed some soup.  He ate his bread and soup mixed together to make using a utensil easier for a little guy and even asked for "moe" when he finished his first bowl!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Links & Other Stuff

A miscellaneous collection of things rattling around in my head...

It may be a good thing I don't have a girl or I would own even more fabric that I don't use than I already do. Things like this make me want to buy a pattern and fabric.  Unfortunately, more often than not my motivation ends there.

Then there's this pattern which I think could be made into boyish pants if made without the ruffle.

I've never used an Oliver+S pattern, but I've read good things about them. 

On the cooking front there's this . I'm intrigued and thinking about giving it a try!  I love the idea of being able to pull a meal from my freezer on the days when I don't have a chance or the inspiration to cook.  It would be great for new parent gifts too.

Also, last night I made this . I've always had trouble getting breads to not turn out like bricks and this definitely isn't light as a feather, but it's better than my previous efforts.  I'm going to keep practicing.

I guess I'm on a cooking kick because today I ordered Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day and Mad Hungry Feeding Men and Boys . I've read about both of them on several blogs and decided to bite the bullet. 

I'll close with some random cuteness.

Eating cottage cheese with a spoon is messy business!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Labor Day Fun

We had a great time over the long Labor Day weekend spending time with my husband's side of the family.  There are three toddlers so it was chaotic at times!

We rented a house at the lake and there was a small beach and a kayak so we spent a lot of time outside.

The kids all took turns getting a ride in the kayaks with their daddy/uncle. Contrary to appearances, they really liked it and didn't want to get out when their turn was over.

We had good food, lots of laughs and relaxation - well, relaxation as much as possible when you have three toddlers in your care! 

It couldn't have been better and we were sad to go home on Monday!