Pocket Pillow

Greta has always loved the face pillow I made a while back, she especially loves pulling the felted beard and mustache out of the pocket on the back side.  So one Friday afternoon, I was feeling a little restless while my entire house napped.  
So I headed back to my sewing room and whipped out this baby.  I am telling you, my need create is an addiction.  
Side one features pockets for hiding various items.  The pockets are made from tee shirt scraps and dress shirt scraps.  
Side two features an abstract pattern of tee shirt scraps.  Greta enjoys pulling at these, but does not enjoy the fact that they are sewn in place.  

Curried Oat Cakes and Honest Adult Lemonade

Last night was a special occasion!  
I cleared off the table, set it, and made it look pretty for dinner last night.  I also whipped up Honest Adult Lemonades.  Why?  
It was Eric’s last day of class on Thursday and he graduated today!
For starters – the drink.  You will need Perrier carbonated water, Honest Kids Berry Good Lemonade, and orange liqueur.  
Place ice cubes in a glass and add 1 shot of orange liqueur.  
Cut the top off of the juice pouch, divide in half between the glasses.  Perhaps it is best to do this after the kids go to bed so they don’t see you stealing their juice pouches.  
Top off the glasses with the Perrier water.  
After a few sips of this drink Eric asked me where I found this recipe.  He was impressed when I told him it was made up on the spot, based on what was available.  This is a smooth drink and the alcohol is not very noticeable due to the citrusy flavors.  
On to dinner.  I did throwback Thursday and pulled out a recipe my dad used to make all the time when I was a kid.  It is our family’s version of meatloaf – Oatmeal Patties.  
He always used cream of mushroom soup, but I chose the flavor our family can all agree on – curry. 
Mix 1-1/2 cups oatmeal with three eggs in a bowl.  
Spoon batter onto an oiled hot frying pan.  Cook about 2 minutes per side over medium heat.  Turning once.  
Transfer patties to a glass baking dish.  
Cover patties in a can of soup – I used Indian Dal Curried Lentil.  Add about 1/4 can to 1/2 can of water if soup is very thick.  
Bake in 350 degree oven for 45  minutes.  
The soup thickens, the patties soak up the goodness, and it smells amazing.  
We had steamed broccoli and watermelon on the side.  We found out tonight that Greta is a watermelon fiend and will even try to eat the green rind – it must feel good on her gums.  

Mommy’s Medley Okra Gumbo

Okra is a beautiful plant that thrives in hot, dry weather.  It has prickly leaves and beautiful long yellow flowers, that when pollinated, close and grow into tasty okra.
I planted my okra in the front yard, near the steps to the sidewalk.  It gets plenty of hot sun in this area, and is thriving.  Okra is ready to harvest when it is 1-1/2 to 2 inches in length.
The two okra on the top were not harvested soon enough and are too tough to eat.  I will be drying them for their seeds for next summer’s okra crop.
When diced okra looks like a star with a white interior.  The white interior are the seeds.
Okra has a gluey sap, that when cooked. can turn almost paste-like.  This is what makes gumbo work so well – the glue from the okra.  Okra was imported from Africa and Louisiana cooks quickly saw the thickener as potential for their gumbo.  The definition of gumbo can vary greatly, usually it defined as: a thick stew or soup containing spices, seafood or meat, a thickener, and rice.
So I decided to make my own version of okra gumbo, hence Mommy’s Medley Okra Gumbo.
Mommy’s Medley Okra Gumbo
1. Saute 4- 5 diced okra and 1/2 a yellow onion in a couple tablespoons olive oil for 5 minutes over medium heat.
2.  Add 3 cloves of garlic, pressed.  Saute for another 2 to 3 minutes.
3.  Add 1 can stewed tomatoes with chiles and 1 can butter beans, rinsed and drained.
4.  Add fresh diced garlic and oregano, season to taste.  Add freshly ground pepper, season to taste.
Instead of the traditional rice with gumbo, I made cornbread.  This meal is reminiscent of childhood summer meals where we based meals around what was ready for harvest in the garden.  Often my dad would make cornbread to go along with our mostly vegetable meals.  This was a tasty and satisfying meal, and I am sure you have noticed – no meat.  🙂
Quaker Oats Cornbread
1 cup cornmeal
1 cup flour
1/4 cup sugar
4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup milk
1 egg
1/4 cup shortening; melted
1. Combine dry ingredients in a bowl.
2.  Combine milk, egg, and shortening in a bowl.  Combine with dry ingredients.  Beat about 1 minute, until fairly smooth.
3.  Bake in greased, 8-inch square pan at 425 degrees for 20 to 25 minutes.  Top should be golden and toothpick inserted into the middle should come out clean.


Quiet Book

Colorful pages of Greta’s quiet book. 
This entry is a sneak preview of the upcoming August Etsy shop listing.  I will be putting some of my summer projects up for sale, and while this book will not be for sale, there will be other similar ones.  This is Greta’s quiet book, made for car trips, airplane trips, quiet times just before bed, or any other calm down time.  Its soft fabric pages are meant to entertain and educate.  The pages have characters, buttons, Velcro, snaps and ribbons for hours (probably more like minutes) of tactile play.  
So far she and the kitten really enjoy the quiet book. 
Quiet book cover with the letter G. 

Page 1: owl is made from a felted wool sweater, the branch is ribbon, and the leaves, eyes, feet, beak and wings are tee shirt fabric.
Page 2: ribbons secured with tee shirt fabric.  
Page 3: A felted disc is attached to the inside of a pocket from an old men’s dress shirt. 
Page 4: two triangular shapes are attached with Velcro tabs. 
Page 5: a large button and a button hole, which is made from a felted sweater. 
Page 6: two snaps cut from an outgrown set of pajamas.  I loved these pajamas a little too much – now they can live on in this book.  
The back of the book with a flower from beloved pajamas.  

Rainy Day Play: Finger Painting

I have been wanting to finger paint with Greta for quite some time.  Actually, since the first moment I knew Greta was in existence, I have day dreamed about making art with her.  Forget names, I wanted to know what kind of art my future child would be interested in.  
So I had this great idea to set up a piece of paper, mask off an area, letter, or design with painter’s tape, and then let her go nuts with the finger paint.  Then one day, surfing the website that makes me lose time and sanity I see it: lo and behold there was my idea on Pinterest!  What the hey, there are no new ideas under this sun, as my dad always told me.  So we went ahead with my idea.  

I set Greta up with a nice heavy piece of 18 x 24 inch watercolor paper taped to the ground.  Under the paper I taped a couple sheets of newspaper, though those proved to be a big distraction – she loves to shred, tear, and fold newspaper.  
After a slight hesitation, she tore into the finger paint.  
After she filled up one area, we shifted to a new corner of the paper, added more dots of paint, and she painted.  
She had so much fun she wore herself out.  She was fussy and ready for a bath by the end.  After the bath and getting her cleaned up, I discovered…
that someone else likes to paint.  Notice the addition of the little mouse toy in the top left corner?
Greta even got a hold of a paint tube.  It added some neat texture to the painting.  
The white G, after removing the masking tape.  

A little footprint.
This would be neat to try with older kids and have them mask their own designs with the tape.  Or, let the kids draw very lightly with a pencil (this takes practice) and then you tape over their pencil drawing.  After the kids are done painting, remove the tape, allow the paint to dry fully, and erase the pencil marks.  Happy painting!  

Mt. Mitchell to Little Switzerland Adventure

 Nice sunny day drive to Mt. Mitchell.

Our family tries our hardest to be tourists in our own state.  We have made a point to explore as many areas as possible.  Last weekend we set off for Mt. Mitchell to do some hiking and sight seeing.  It had been a couple years since our last visit and we we were due to get back and to get Greta out into the mountains.

Mt. Mitchell is the highest peak in the Appalachian Mountains and the highest peak on the east coast at 6, 684 feet.  It is just a 3.5 hour drive from Greensboro.

Once in the Mt. Mitchell area there are other nice areas to visit, such as:

The funky town of Asheville is another hour to the west.  It is home home of the Biltmore Estate, Highland Brewing Company – maker of my favorite beer, and my favorite restaurant of all time – The Laughing Seed Cafe

(Previous trip for a friends’ wedding – Looking Glass Waterfall, near Brevard, NC. )
Pisgah National Forest pretty much surrounds you with its beauty.  This waterfall was just off the road on one of our visits.   

(Previous trip Eric took on the Blue Ridge Parkway via bicycle)

You can easily hop on the Blue Ridge Parkway for a gorgeous drive with quaint stops along the way.  You are sure to see cyclists, bikers, and plenty of classic cars.

Views from Mt. Mitchell area.

On this past Saturday, we followed the route used by the Assault on Mt. Mitchell bike ride from Marion, NC to the top of Mt. Mitchell.  I can see how grueling of a race this would be, as it starts in Georgia and ends at the highest peak, in North Carolina, oh puke.  The climbs are huge and at the end of a long day’s ride.

Tunnels are a part of the Mt. Mitchell and Blue Ridge Parkway experience.  

Once we got to Mt. Mitchell it was overcast and rainy.  It was nice to have some relief from the hot temperatures in Greensboro.  This was also the first time we had been in the mountains when the rhododendrons were blooming – we usually visit in the fall or early spring and miss these beautiful pink blooms.

View from the viewing deck at the top of Mt. Mitchell. 
The clouds almost obscured the road below.

Views from the top of Mt. Mitchell were a less than clear on Saturday.  It was still beautiful and eerie to be surrounded by clouds.  We headed off on a hike shortly after doing the obligatory visit to the summit.

Mt. Mitchell trails were a little muddy.
The flora of North Carolina forests consists of a great deal of moss and ferns.  
North Carolina forests can be almost jungle-like.
We had to cut our hike short due to thunder and impending rain.  When we got back to the parking lot it looked like this:

We had a quick picnic and then headed back to the car. 
We were determined to enjoy cool mountain air, rain or no rain, we headed east on the Blue Ridge Parkway towards a favorite town of ours: Little Switzerland.  I do not remember the story of how we discovered this little gem, but it is a great place to visit.  We keep saying one of these days we will stay an entire weekend, and not just the day trip.  

Even the curbs are curvy in Little Switzerland.

Trucks cool brakes next right. 

Little Switzerland is a twisty town just off of the Blue Ridge Parkway.  It consists of hotels, motels, diners, coffee shops, art galleries, a post office, and other vacation necessities all nestled along the curves and turns of this cute town.  To get to Little Switzerland you have to take the twists and turns of mountain roads.  
Greta ready for lunch at the Little Switzerland Cafe.

We stopped for a late lunch/early dinner at the Little Switzerland Cafe.  This little roadside diner is a true diner with typical diner decor, friendly staff, and a great local menu.  They have a smoked salmon and smoked trout BLT that is to die for.  Their dessert menu is fantastic and they have a list of beers that includes some good local picks.  
If you are a North Carolinian and you have yet to get to this region of the state, get there as soon as you can.  If you live elsewhere, consider North Carolina for your next vacation.  I promise you will not regret it.  To see the coastal part of North Carolina, see my previous post here

Mommy’s Medley Banana-Peach Pancakes

Greta has been a carb fiend lately and rather than loading her up on processed carbs, I like to bake for her whenever possible.  These are the pancakes I have been working on perfecting over the past six months.  I wanted whole grains, no added sugar, hidden veggies and/or fruit, and minimal ingredients.

These pancakes are moist, flavorful, and different flavors of yogurt and fruit or veggies are easily substituted.  I have done applesauce, pumpkin, sweet potato, strawberry, and blueberry versions of these.  Greta devours them every time.  I usually take the extras and freeze them in bags for her to take to daycare – it makes mornings a breeze.

Mommy’s Medley Banana-Peach Pancakes

1-1/4 cup whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 egg
1/4 cup plain yogurt
3/4 cup water
1 cup mashed banana & diced peaches

1. Mix dry ingredients in a bowl.

2. Mash 1 medium ripe banana and dice 1 small ripe peach (about 1 cup of fruit).

3.  Beat egg, mix with yogurt, water and mashed fruit.  Combine with dry ingredients in a few strokes.  Batter will be thick and lumpy.

4.  Pour 1/4 cup batter onto preheated, oiled pan.  Cook 2 minutes per side.  Patience and well-heated pan are essential here.  I used to always mess up the first three pancakes, and flip them early due to impatience.

5. Serve warm with desired toppings.  Suggested topping: no sugar added pear butter.

Greta approved pancakes.  

The recap:

Mommy’s Medley Banana-Peach Pancakes
1-1/4 cup whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 egg
1/4 cup plain yogurt
3/4 cup water
1 cup mashed banana & diced peaches

1. Mix dry ingredients in a bowl.  
2. Mash 1 medium ripe banana and dice 1 small ripe peach (about 1 cup of fruit).
3.  Beat egg, mix with yogurt, water and mashed fruit.  Combine with dry ingredients in a few strokes.  Batter will be thick and lumpy.

4.  Pour 1/4 cup batter onto preheated, oiled pan.  Cook 2 minutes per side.

5. Serve warm with desired toppings.

Steamed Veggies & Quinoa

At the risk of sound like a snob, I have been eating quinoa long before the celebrity chefs could pronounce its name correctly.  As a child raised vegetarian, we ate plenty of quinoa.  A little background history on quinoa, courtesy of the Whole Grains Council:

  • Quinoa is also known as the mother grain and and was considered sacred by the Incas.
  • Quinoa is grown in the Andres and the harvest usually begins in March.  
  • “While no single food can supply all the essential life sustaining nutrients, quinoa comes as close as any other in the plant or animal kingdom.”  Stated by Philip White in a 1955 article on quinoa. 
  • Quinoa is referred to a pseudo-cereal because it is cooked and eaten similar to a cereal grain and has similar nutrients, however it is more closely related to beets, chard, and spinach.
  • The leaves can also be eaten. 
  • Quinoa is coated in bitter saponins that must be rinsed away before preparation.  
  • A half pound of quinoa seed can plant a full acre and create 1,200 – 2,000 pounds of new seeds each year.
  • It is drought resistant and has been named a super crop by the United Nations for its potential to feed the world’s hungry.

Quinoa is the only complete protein grain and therefore will make you feel fuller longer.  Quinoa is also gluten-free and therefore a great alternative for those with gluten intolerance.  It may be helpful for those with diabetes as well.  As far as cooking quinoa, it is usually ready within 15 minutes or less.  Always check the directions on the package though.  It comes in a variety of nice colors too – white, red, and black.

Here is my Quinoa & Steamed Vegggies. The veggies serves two, but I am always left with plenty of quinoa.  

1. Rinse quinoa.  Cook quinoa in small sauce pan.  While it simmers on low for 15 minutes, prepare veggies.

2.  Peel and two medium slice carrots.  Place in a small saucepan with just enough boiling water to cover carrots. Add fresh ground pepper and a few squirts of lemon juice.  Turn to low, cover, and simmer for 5 minutes.

3.  Add frozen edamame beans.  Cover, simmer for 10 more minutes. 

I added a nice helping of Sriracha as well.  I cannot get enough of this spicy sauce as of late.  This dish is tasty warm or cold.

Broiled Tofu

I love tofu.  
I know, that sounds weird, but to me, tofu is like the egg.  It is versatile, can be used in a variety of recipes, and can take on any flavor. In my opinion, the best tofu is the deep-fried stuff that comes with Pad Thai.  Since I am not a pro deep-fryer and try to cook healthier, I tend to stick with broiled tofu.  

Start by slicing extra-firm tofu into slices or cubes.  The smaller they are, the quicker they will cook and more thoroughly they will be cooked.  Place on a rimmed baking sheet lined with aluminum foil. 

Mix a sauce.  This can be as simple as sesame oil and soy sauce or something more complicated.  For this recipe I used: 5 tablespoons rice vinegar, 2 tablespoons peanut oil, 2 teaspoons soy sauce, and 1 teaspoon hoisin sauce.  
Using a spoon, cover each piece of tofu in sauce.  Pour remaining sauce in pan.  
Broil on low, on top shelf, for 10-12 minutes.  Watch carefully, as tofu will burn quickly, depending on the heat of your oven.  You may turn once, halfway through, if desired.  

Add to your favorite stir-fry.  

Even my bandit baby will eat this tofu!  

Backyard Beautifying

We have been in our house almost five years now and it seems we are just now figuring out the best use of our space.  Take for example, the yard.  There is a shady corner, just off the deck, that I struggled with for four years.  
I kept trying to grow grass.  It kept dying due to the shade the the run-off from the gutter.  As you can see below, it was an ugly eye sore of a patch of yard.  
My mom came to visit just before the birth of my daughter.  She helped to transform two garden spaces for me, the one shown here, and an herb garden in the front of the house. She did the work, as I watched, a mere day away from giving birth.  
We put in hostas, grasses, wild ginger, a Japanese holly fern, irises, and some ground cover that did not last due to drought.  
The addition of a brick edge, a few stepping stones, and mulch made it a bona fide garden space.  I will actually sit on my deck and look at this corner of my yard now!  
Early spring with hyacinth blooming.  Later spring with hostas appearing.  This spring I added bleeding hearts, a couple more hostas from the garage tear-down, and some astilbe
It’s still a work in progress – I will be adding a few more things this fall.  Around here, plants have the ability to grow all winter if it is mild enough.  In fact, the lawn always looks best around December.  

Here is the spot as of this week.  You can see how parched things are with the lack of rain this summer.
I am in rip-out mode right now.  This front corner was being taken over by chocolate mint – unless you want mint EVERYWHERE, plant it in a pot.  I stuck one runner in a pot to put on the front porch.  That’s all I need.  There were also some sad-looking daylilies on their way to sprouting and blooming again, so I moved them along the side of our house.  This was a low-maintenance and drought-tolerant corner, but it was not doing anything for me.  So, I ripped it all out and it will become an edible corner.  More on that later.