Thursday, July 29, 2010

Beating the heat!

It's really hot! Curly girlies are feeling it too, so we've been spending most of our time inside. We love playing dress up, cooking in the girlies "pretend" kitchen and building blocks, but let's be honest, those few activities don't fill up our long summer days. So, we've been trying to find ways to be creative with things that we already have around our house.

Silverware Painting - We used plastic knives, forks and spoons to paint pictures. This was really fun because each utensil makes a different pattern. Oldest curly girlie was extremely fascinated by this and it was a great art lesson!

The silverware painting then became fingerpainting...

And then into a game of peek-a-boo with youngest curly girlie!!

We let the paint dry and used the pictures to make cards for friends and sweet cousin's first birthday!

Number book - Oldest curly girlie and I used stickers and construction paper to made a book about numbers. First, we together made a little book of construction paper. We punched holes in it and tied it together with ribbon. Next, she chose what stickers she wanted, counted out the correct number and then stuck them onto different pieces of folded construction paper. Lastly, she told me how many stickers were on each page and I wrote down the number.

She really enjoys "reading" this book and she's been teaching her curly sister how to count!

Cookie baking - We have made several batches of cookies together and the girlies love it, especially licking the batter! We made sugar cookies and used cookie cutters to cut out fun shapes. We've made chocolate chip and our favorite is brown sugar oatmeal.

Kites - We decorated construction paper with some sparkle paint, let it dry and cut it out into the shape of a kite. We glued some ribbon with little ties onto the kite. Once it was completed, we turned on some music and ran around the house, making the kites fly. This was a great activity for the girlies and we got some of that crazy energy out!!

Bucket rides - This is by far our favorite indoor activity! Curly girlies take turns stacking up the blocks, mommy or sister gives a push, and we watch and giggle as the blocks come tumbling down!! Pure crazy fun!!

There is still a lot more summer heat left, so if anyone has creative ideas to share with us, please pass along!

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Cooking with Balsamic Vinegar

I really enjoy cooking with balsamic vinegar. There are so many possibilities and lots of different recipes that use the vinegar as an ingredient.

This first recipe comes from the Whole Foods website. I "tweaked" the recipe for our own liking.

Grilled Balsamic Chicken with Peaches
2 TBSP balsamic vinegar
1 TBSP maple syrup
3 TBSP olive oil
Salt & Pepper to taste
4 boneless chicken breasts
3 ripe peaches, halved and pitted
1 large sweet onions, thickly sliced
1/4 cup orange juice
2 TBSP finely chopped rosemary, sprigs for garnish

Whisk together vinegar, maple syrup, 2 tbsp of the olive oil, salt and pepper in a wide shallow dish. Add chicken, turning to coat and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.

Prep grill. Toss peaches and onions with the orange juice, remaining 1 tbsp of olive oil, chopped rosemary, salt, and pepper; set aside. Remove chicken from marinade and
grill about 5-8 minutes per side, or until just cooked through. Transfer to a large plate and cover to keep warm. Grill peaches and onions until tender and slightly charred. Garnish with rosemary sprigs and serve.

**When I made this dish, I didn't have access to the grill so I cooked both the chicken and peaches (I'm not a fan of onions so I left it out this time) in a flat skillet on the stove top.

It tasted delicious this way and it was probably a little bit easier than using the grill (although I will definitely have my hubby cook this on the grill one weekend because I love the smokiness taste that a charcoal grill produces).

I served it with couscous and a great frozen side item from Trader Joe's called "Bean so Green." It includes green beans, cauliflower, broccoli, peas, romanesco and garlic butter. Curly Girlies loved this meal and so did their parents!!

Roasted Asparagus
1 1/2 lbs fresh asparagus, washed and trimmed
2 tsp olive oil
1/2 tsp garlic, minced
1/4 tsp salt - sea salt is best
1/8 tsp pepper
1-2 TBSP balsamic vinegar
2 TBSP Parmesan cheese, grated

Roll the asparagus in olive oil and garlic. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast in the oven at 425 degrees for 10 minutes. Sprinkle on the balsamic vinegar and cheese and roast another 3-5 minutes, or until browned.

**I have used this same method for cooking fresh broccoli and fresh green beans. It is a great alternative to the mundane steamed green veggie.

I found this recipe in a 2009 edition of Southern Living magazine and it is simply delicious!!

Grilled Pork Chops with Balsamic Syrup
fresh rosemary sprigs
2 cups balsamic vinegar
3 TBSP honey
2 TBSP Dijon mustard
1 TBSP olive oil
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground pepper
4 boneless pork loin chops

Remove leaves from 1 rosemary sprig. Chop leaves to equal 1 Tbsp. Combine mustard, next 3 ingredients, chopped rosemary and 2 tbsp honey in a large freezer bag, squeezing bag to combine ingredients. Add pork, seal bag, and turn to coat. Let meat marinade for at least 2 hours or overnight.

Prepare grill. Bring balsamic vinegar, 1 TBSP honey and remaining rosemary sprig to a boil in a saucepan over medium heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, about 15 minutes, or until thick and syrupy.

Remove pork from mustard mixture and discard bag. Grill pork, covered with grill lid for about 5 minutes on each side or until center is a slight pink. Let stand 5 minutes and transfer to a serving platter. Remove and discard rosemary sprig from the syrup. Pour syrup over the pork and serve.

**When I first made this recipe, I used a pork tenderloin and it got lots of raves! It was very tender and yummy!! I recommend serving with a grilled veggie and mashed potatoes because it soaks up the balsamic sauce.

This last recipe is for a balsamic reduction sauce. After making the sauce for the pork chops above, I wanted to make it again but without the rosemary. It's very easy and scrumptious!!

Balsamic Vinegar Reduction Sauce
Pour balsamic vinegar into a small pot. Use enough so that you allow for it to be reduced to half. (I use about 2 cups for 1 pound of meat.)

Heat vinegar to high and whisk constantly. Once it boils, continue to whisk so it doesn't burn. Let vinegar reduce to half, or until it becomes like a syrup, which will take about 12-15 minutes.

Allow syrup to cool. Drizzle over a salad, serve with fresh bread or pour over grilled fish. It's very tasty!

Monday, July 19, 2010

A "lived in" house

I'm at a place in my life where I actually find joy in cleaning. Humorous, I know. Now, don't get me wrong, I don't always enjoy mopping or cleaning toilets, but I am able to take great delight in serving my family. I also really like the end product, a clean home, even if it only lasts while the kids are in their rooms having rest time!

Now, if you were to walk in my house right now you wouldn't think that my house is clean because there are clothes laying on the sofa that need to be put away, toys all over the playroom and living room, and a cluttered kitchen table. My house is lived in!! It's not a museum, with absolute order, it's a home where two little busy curly girlies live and play and grow. It's a home where on any given day you will find cracker crumbs in the playroom, blueberry stains on the kitchen floor, and a trail of dress-up clothes in the hallway. It's a home where I often put aside cleaning so that I can play house with my girlies. It's in this home where I am learning to welcome my friends over to play and dine and see our "lived in" home, a home that is not sparkling clean, has mis-matched furniture and toys in all rooms. This is just another area of my life where the Lord is teaching me to replace my desire for approval and acceptance from people with Him!

Now for me, I still have to find a balance between accepting that my house is "lived in" and doing my part to clean it. Since I am the one who is at home during the day, I want to serve my family by taking a small amount of time every day during the week to clean our home. Thankfully, I have a great husband who helps me clean too - he cleaned the kitchen last night while I was having coffee with a dear friend - what a true blessing.

Last year, a good friend of mine let me borrow a great book on cleaning called Sink Reflections by the Fly Lady. Just like any book, you need to read it and then apply what you think is best for your family and home. For instance, she recommends that step one is keeping the kitchen sink clean. For me and my house, that is not practical for us. So, I don't focus on that first step. However, I do like step six, which is cleaning hot spots. When you walk into the house, the FlyLady says, "the hot spot is the first thing you see". In our house, it is the kitchen island and living room, so those are the two spots that I (try to) clean and de-clutter every morning.

The Fly Lady also offers helpful advice on keeping your house free from clutter. Check out this great post entitled "How to Declutter". I encourage you to do these things! They really do work!

Some other helpful steps:
*Pick out clothes the night before and get dressed immediately when you wake up.
*When you go downstairs, take a load of laundry to the washing machine and start it.
*Establish a morning routine and an evening routine.
*Toss old magazines after you read them - this can cause major clutter if you keep them all.

Another great source for cleaning is the May 2010 edition of Real Simple magazine. There is an article entitled "Dirty Jobs Made Easy" which offers tricks to cut down your cleaning time.
For instance:
*To get rid of hard-water stains in the toilet (if you live in the city of Atlanta, you definitely have these), pour in a cup of distilled white vinegar once a month and let it sit overnight.
*Run the exhaust fan while showering to prevent mold from building up.
*Place a couple of dryer sheets in the bottom of the trash can to absorb spills and to mask the stinky odor of trash.
The Real Simple website is also a wonderful source! The cleaning page under "Home and Organizing" gives fantastic tips for all areas of your home.

In addition to these sources, I have some practical cleaning tips that I acquired from my Mom. My Mom and my Dad both did a great job of teaching me how to clean, mainly by making me do it myself. I'm so thankful for all that I have learned from them about making a house a loving home!

*Make your bed - it really does make the bedroom look neat.
*Wipe down bathroom sink and counter tops daily. (I don't do this enough!)
*Keep the main room de-cluttered.
*Do a load of laundry a day so that it doesn't pile up - then you have to do it over the weekend, major bummer.
*If you get something out, put it away!
*Clean as you are cooking so you don't have a huge mess when you are finished. Let pots soak while eating so you can put them away when you are done with the meal.

In short, here is what I AIM to do each week:
Mondays - vacuum and straighten bedrooms
Tuesdays - clean bathrooms
Wednesdays - mop
Thursdays - deep-clean a different part of the kitchen and clean-out fridge
Fridays - FREE DAY

Once a month, I clean the front porch and basement. I dust the furniture and I re-organize the pantry.

I daily AIM to do this:
Wipe down sink and counter tops in bathroom
Wash, fold, and put away two loads of laundry
Hit my "hotspots" - kitchen island and living room
Open mail and sort
Clean up kitchen after each meal
Put away toys before Daddy comes home

Now, to end this post, I want to be honest and tell you once again, this is what I AIM to do. Do I always do these things? NO WAY! Some weeks I don't do anything and then I have a very, very messy house, which I find very frustrating. So, that is why I have created a schedule for myself where I do just a little a day. I need a schedule because I would rather be lazy and not do them. A schedule helps me to be more effective and it really frees me to focus on what is most important, my curly girlies!! For you, a schedule may drive you crazy or you may find yourself becoming a "slave" to it. If that is the case, don't do it. Find a balance and a method that works for you and your family.

I am finding it helpful to include my curly girlies in the cleaning process. They actually like to clean right now, so we've been doing a few jobs together. Both girlies put away toys in the playroom at the end of the day. Oldest curly girlie cleans her room, brings her plate and silverware to the sink after meal times, and helps me sweep. Of course, I often have to re-sweep after she is done, but it's a great lesson for her on serving her family. She also puts away the clean clothes into her drawers. Now, are her drawers organized and neat? No, but she is learning responsibility and she is proud of herself. I'm so proud of her too!

Finally, I want my house of curls to be a home that reflects Christ and His love for us. I want my friends to feel loved and welcomed into my home, whether it looks shiny clean or "lived in". I want my children to find freedom to play dress-up and fingerpaint without worrying about making a mess. I want my husband to come home after work to a house where his wife isn't frustrated over the mess but where he is greeted with love and excitement by his family. I want my own heart to daily believe the Truth that having a sparkling clean home may bring me temporary happiness here on earth, but it won't bring me eternal purpose and fulfillment. I desperately need the love of Christ and His amazing grace to fill me and to do these things through me. I need Him to give me the strength to wake up every morning, empty the dishwasher without complaining, mop the stained floor, and clean the dirty toilets with a smile on my face. I desire my Savior alone to bring me satisfaction, and I pray His love will daily captivate me so that I put away my own selfish desires and live sacrificially for my children, pointing them to Jesus Christ.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Homegrown goodness

I am NOT a fan of gardening. I don't like getting my hands dirty and I don't enjoy being outside in the blazing southeastern heat. However, I married a man who absolutely LOVES it! He finds great joy and is re-energized by working in the yard and gardening. So, as you can only imagine, this has caused several "spats" in our little home of curls.

When he first decided to start a our front yard...(hence major source of dissension) it was a little over the top. He spent most of his free time at the infamous HOME DEPOT in the gardening section or in our yard digging, tilling, planting, and watering. He definitely planted way toooo many different types of seeds and found himself overwhelmed with all of the maintenance. He even planted CORN...yes, we had corn stalks growing in our front yard. And I increasingly, day by day, got more and more frustrated and continued to nag him about all the time he was spending in the yard. (Sorry again, honey.) Especially because in that first year we really didn't see much vegetation as a result from all of the hard labor.

So, now, three years later, as we are midway into the summer, I can honestly say that we have both grown in this area of our relationship. Sweet hubby now manages his gardening time really well. I am quite proud of all his hard work and I am learning to really appreciate all the goodness that comes from his green thumb. I now understand how important gardening is for my husband and how it gives him a source to use his hands and creativity to provide yummy produce for our family. He truly enjoys seeing the fruit of his labor and being outside in God's beautiful creation. It's also really fun for him to garden with the curly girlies and teach them how to plant the seeds. They love watering the garden and picking new fruits and veggies with their Daddy!

Here's a peek at the bounty...

In the weeks to come, I will be providing different recipes that include yummy homegrown goodness as the main ingredient.

For starters, last night we had a cookout with some dear friends of ours and I wanted to use some veggies from our yard (and some that my Mom gave me from her yard). So, I put together this pasta salad. It was very easy and I just used a couple of staple items from my pantry.

Bag of pasta
olive oil
ranch dressing mix
cucumbers and peppers
shredded parmesan cheese

First, boil the pasta according to the package. Wash and dice up veggies. Once pasta is done, drain and let cool. Pour a small amount (about 2-3 TBSP) of olive oil over the pasta and stir it up. Add dressing mix and veggies and stir together. Sprinkle with the cheese.

At this point, if it looks too dry, add a little more olive oil and stir again. Refrigerate for a couple of hours.

Of course, there are lots of variations on this.

You can use different types of pasta.

Choose a different type of sauce pack. And herbs from the garden too!

And of course, the veggie choices are unlimited!

Add whatever cheese you like. You can also make it a one-dish meal by adding grilled chicken.

Don't be afraid to play around with this dish, trying different spices and ingredients. Take lots of taste tests and if it needs extra oil or spice, simply add more. Just remember, don't add too much because you can't take it away!! Enjoy!

Sunday, July 11, 2010


While we were vacationing at the beach, we drove into St. Augustine one evening for dinner and sightseeing. On the way, we drove past Marineland and stopped to take a few pictures of me and my sister.
Here is why:

Yes, that is me on the left and my younger sister on the right. We must have been about 6 and 3, which was 25 years ago! My Grandfather used to own a boat marina in Jacksonville and we had taken a ride in one of his boats into St. Augustine for the day. I don't remember much about that trip, but I think this photo is just too much fun!!
Doesn't my youngest curly girlie look a lot like my sister did at this age? Quite fitting that she bears her aunt's name!

Here's a few more shots from our time in St. Augustine.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Summer Recipe

As a stay-at-home mom, I often find myself struggling with my own identity. I have to ask myself, what are my hobbies? What is it that I actually enjoy doing when I have down time? What are some of the gifts/strengths that God has given me and how can I use them for His glory?

One thing that I really enjoy right now in this stage of my life is cooking! Recently, I have started making and trying out new recipes. This is a great way for me to use some creativity in putting together meals and it allows me to serve my family and friends too, especially with the number of babies being born at our church.

Every Christmas, my Mom gives me a subscription to Southern Living. It is a really fun magazine and most months I find a new recipe that I want to try.

The following recipe comes from the June 2010 edition and it is very easy. The editor says this is a southern version of a romesco sauce and recommends serving it with shrimp. I am a big fan of the grill during the summertime and we had chicken on hand so, we ate it on top of grilled chicken that was sprinkled with a little Crazy Jane's Mixed-Up Salt (a great seasoning recommended to me years ago by my very fun and fabulous friend Tiffy-Jean). Now, let me warn you, it isn't pretty, but don't let looks deceive you, it's soooo yummy!

Smoky Pecan Relish
Makes about 1 1/2 cups
1/2 cup pecan halves
1 (12 oz.) jar roasted red bell peppers, drained and rinsed
3 TBSP extra virgin olive oil
1 TBSP red wine vinegar
1 garlic clove, minced (I had crushed and it worked fine)
1 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground red pepper

Preheat your oven to 350. Bake pecans in a single layer in a shallow pan for 10 minutes or until toasted. Let cool about 10 minutes.

Pat peppers dry with a paper towel. Combine the peppers, pecans, oil, and remaining ingredients in a food processor.

Pulse about 10 times or until finely chopped. Mixture will NOT be smooth.

Cover and chill 2 hours before serving. Let stand at room temp for about 30 minutes before serving. Spread mixture on top of the grilled chicken. I served it with a bed of olive oil pasta (we mixed some of the sauce in the pasta too) and some marinated cucumbers, which made for a light and delicious summer meal! Enjoy!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Back to life...

Back to reality!! We are back from a wonderful week at the beach and our house of curls is slowly starting to get back into the swing of things. Our bags are unpacked, laundry is (almost) put away, and curly girlies are already asking "what are we going to do today?"

I'm so thankful for the time that we had away at the beach. We spent our week at Cinnamon Beach of Ocean Hammock in Palm Coast, FL, which is about 25 minutes south of St. Augustine. We had incredible weather - a little overcast and an amazing ocean breeze! We spent our days relaxing and playing at the beach and pool. The girlies had a blast and loved building sand castles and riding waves. I enjoyed some reading (yes, I had several quiet opportunities thanks to my hubby, parents, sis, and bro-in-law), taking little naps, watching curly girlies and sweet nephew playing in the sand, walks on the beach with hubby, eating seafood, and spending some quality time with my family.

So, back to talking about reality. All morning, I have been trying to think of something fun and creative to do with all of the seashells we collected.

I looked at a couple of websites and couldn't find anything easy enough for both girls to do. However, I saw this sailboat on the Skip to My Lou blog and figured I could just use seashells as the base and sticks to hold the sail.
So, first we went into the yard and picked some sticks. The weather is quite nice here so we got a little distracted by all the fun things to do and see (we have lots of yummy veggies and fruits popping up, thanks to our green thumb daddy - more on that later).

Once inside, the girlies picked out the fabric pieces (which were graciously given to me by my wonderful neighbor and dear friend) they wanted to use and I cut them into triangles. I then cut little holes on the side of the fabric so that we could slide the fabric onto the sticks.

Next, the girlies got to play with playdough! Oldest curly girlie rolled the playdough into balls and youngest just tried to eat it.

Lastly, each girlie picked out their favorite two shells to use. We smashed the playdough into the shells and put the stick sails into the playdough.

Finally, we have four sailboats! Oldest curly girlie decided that she wanted to see them float in the water. So, we trotted upstairs to find out if they would actually float. What do you think? Will these shell sailboats float?


The boats don't float...but, we had a fun time laughing at the sinking boats and had a great lesson on why things float! So, we left the boats to dry...

...and played with playdough! I think the girls had more fun with this than the boats.