Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Kindergarten Ready!

If you read this post about carseat safety, you'll know my oldest will be starting school this fall.  Just like every parent who's ever crossed this bridge, I'm asking myself 'where has all that time gone?'  I'm so not ready for this yet!  But she is.  So it's my job to make sure she's ready in more than just willingness.  So, we've been practicing our upper case and lower case letters, letter sounds, counting, and simple math.  I try to make it fun for us.  Usually this involves a craft!

So, here's what we've come up with so far to have fun practicing for kindergarten (without spending any money):

I just cut out some t-shirt shapes with dots on them.  I purposely didn't align the dots so she wouldn't 'memorize' the pattern of the dots quite so easily.  She clipped the clothespin with the corresponding number.  Great start, but it only lasted a few days before she was beyond this.

So we moved to some simple math.  The same set of clothespins with numbers, I just made a two sided card.  This side had a "+" and "=" while the other side had "-" and "=" on it.  She could clip them on, add them up, then clip the solution.  The cool thing about this is that even though she hasn't grasped subtraction yet, when you turn the card over the clothespins that say "4+1=5" on this side will say "5-1=4" on the reverse.  So when she gets to subtraction she'll be able to see the two working together.



And this shape puzzle game was something the kids got for Christmas from grandma.  They love this game.  I always try to do something a little different, asking "what shape is the yellow?" "How many triangles are there?" or "what color is the square?" etc.  The greatest part for me is that she doesn't even realize it's educational!  It just fun for her, so she wants to learn. 
And now, we're working on a letter matching game.  Letting her help me make all the pieces and get it ready really gets her invested in the game and the learning.  I hope to have it finished soon and get some pictures of it up here.
Have a good week.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Mason Jar Blender Totally Works!

A while back I did this post about freezing your leftover coffee in ice cube trays.  This is something I've been doing for years, since I was in college and ultra poor and couldn't afford those fancy iced and frozen coffee drinks from the local cafĂ©.  Recently I've been doing this for my iced coffee and I love it, but as it's heating up I sometimes want an afternoon treat that's a little bit more indulgent (and frozen).  But getting out the blender and messing up the whole big thing for one small glass of frozen coffee was just too much for me. 

And then:  Pinterest!

I came across a pin from realsimple.com that said you could attach most mason jars directly onto the blades from your regular old blender.  Yea right, I thought.  Well, I'm here to tell you:


So I made myself a frozen coffee and drank half before I thought that I might want to share this information.  And of course I'd already put the blade in the sink so I had to wash it and reattach it to my mason jar.  You guys are really lucky I love you because I never would have drug myself away from this treat if I didn't.


And I don't exactly have a recipe, but let's face it, even if I did have a recipe for you, most people wouldn't follow it anyway, or you'd only really use it as a guide.  So here's what I threw in mine today:

6 or 8 frozen coffee cubes
1 large scoop of caramel ice cream
a healthy splash of milk, maybe 1/3 or 1/2 cup?

Of course you don't need the ice cream, but I really wanted a treat today! 
Let me know what variations you like,

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

DIY belts

I've had my sewing machine out quite a lot lately, mostly just fixing things that don't quite work for our family any more, but it's sure got the creative juices flowing.  One of the things I don't have, that I'd really love to, is a few nice waist belts.  I guess I've never bought any because they seem so expensive and usually I spend the little bit of money I do have on shoes (lol). So, I've found a few examples that you could make yourself and they look quite nice.

Wide obi belts:

Obi Belts
Left: SoCo Vintage, Center: Eloquii, Right: Mimi G Style

While the left and center belts sell for $20 and $35 respectively, you can make your own Mimi G Obi Belt. She has a printable pattern, and tutorial video that is very easy to follow. If you can sew a straight line, you can sew this belt.


So, Katie Startzman, over at Duo Fiberworks made this fun little number. While I have no leather working skills, she says its quick and easy to cut, plus you don't need any hardware to wear it. How cool is that?

double buckle:
In her original post, Rachel says this belt is kind of hard, then revises to say she was just frustrated with it, plus she's got it all figured out for us. I'll give it a try too, and let you know my opinion. Either way, it's really cute with lots of possibilities. Her tutorial, here, is very detailed with templates and in progress photos.

And of course, I'm a sucker for a nice thick, almost corset like belt:
Tutorial here. Scroll down for the instructions. This one looks a little more difficult, but perhaps more sturdy.  Maybe I'll give this one a try this week?  We'll see.

Much love all,

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Ultimate Taco Seasoning

We love Love LOVE tacos in my house, but the taco seasoning you buy in packets in the grocery store is so darn expensive in the long haul, and is full of extra ingredients like corn flour and colorants.  This is why I've developed my own recipe!

There's ton's of recipes out there, and they're all different, coming in different portion sizes, with different ingredients, and different spice ratios.  I've tried to use and compare as many mixes as I could before deciding what worked best for me.  Plus, I've come up with a recipe for both a bulk and individual size!  How nice of me :-D

So, without further ado, I've included teaspoon measurements if you'd like to halve the recipe:

bulk recipe taco seasoning:
1/3 C. (16 tsp.) Chili Powder
 1/4 C. (12 tsp.) Paprika
3.5 T. (10 tsp.) Cumin
3 T. (9 tsp.) Onion Powder
 2 T. (6 tsp.) Garlic Powder
2T (6 tsp.) dried oregano
2T (6 tsp.) dried cilantro
1T (3 tsp.) Salt
Use 2 T. per 1lb. ground beef, plus or minus to taste, plus 1/2 cup water.  Simmer 3-4 minutes to distribute flavors.
Mix all ingredients thoroughly and store in your preferred, air-tight method.  My favorite storage right now is mason jars with shaker lids scavenged from old Parmesan bottles!  And maybe someday I'll even get around to giving them pretty labels.  But for now, white stickers and black sharpie will just have to do:

Also, I've tried smoked salt and/or smoked paprika and both are delicious!  I especially like these flavors on chicken and pork tacos.  You could also add crushed red pepper or cayenne pepper for a spicier variety.  Just start with small amounts, you can always add more if necessary. 

For a single serving, this isn't exactly the same spice ratio, but it's darn close!

single serve taco seasoning:
1.5 tsp. chili powder
1.25 tsp. paprika
1 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. onion powder
.5 tsp garlic powder
.5 tsp oregano
.5 tsp cilantro
.25 tsp. salt

mix all ingredients in small bowl and sprinkle over 1 lb. ground beef, adding 1/2 cup water.  Simmer 3-4 minutes and enjoy.


Thursday, June 6, 2013

Dried Candied Mango Slices

In my previous post, I showed you how to perfectly cut your mango slices.  Now you're ready to begin prepping them for drying. All you need is a decent thermometer and a dehydrator. This is the one I've used for over 5 years and it's never let me down! If you're buying one from amazon, please consider using my link above or at the bottom of the post. I'll get a tiny kickback for sending you to them, even if you purchase a different product than I linked to. I would greatly appreciate the click.

For simple dried mango slices, spritz with lemon or orange juice (to prevent oxidization which turns the fruit brown) and place in a dehydrator at 130 degrees F anywhere from 6-16 hours depending on the thickness of your slices and relative humidity.

If, at this point you'd like to add a bit of sweetness to your mangoes make a simply syrup in a large pan by combining 6 parts warm water to 1 part granulated sugar (I used 6 cups of water and 1 cup of sugar).

Place your mango slices in the sugar water and slowly bring to 190-200 degrees F on medium/medium-low heat.  DO NOT BOIL the water.  As soon as it reaches temperature, remove the pan from the heat and cover it.  Allow the mangoes to soak overnight, or at least 6 or 8 hours in the water.

Remove the mangoes from the liquid and allow to dry for a few minutes in a colander.  You can save the liquid, which will have quite a bit of mango pulp in it to use for fruit leathers.  Layer your mangoes evenly on dehydrator rack, making sure they don't overlap.  They can be nearly touching, because they will almost immediately shrink allowing good air flow around all pieces.

Follow the instructions of your dehydrator, but depending on the thickness, quantity, relative humidity, and effectiveness of your dehydrator, it could take anywhere from 6-16 hours at 130 degrees.  If you'd like, you can set the temperature 10-15 degrees higher for the first hour because the rapid evaporation of water will keep the fruit 10-15 degrees below ambient temperature at first.  Be careful though, because if you forget to turn it down, you'll end up with pieces that are overly dry on the outside but are still too moist in the center.

Whatever you choose to do, begin checking them before you expect them to be done.  I expected mine to be ready after about 8-10 hours, but after about 6 hours, I checked mine, and they were done.  Some of the smaller pieces may be a bit hard or crispy and even the thin edges of the larger pieces will be a bit over dry.  The centers should still have a bit of moisture.  They'll feel a bit like sticky leather; soft and pliable.

At this point, place all the mangoes in a plastic bag for 12-24 hours.  This allows the moisture to re-distribute between the pieces and  those once crispy pieces will soften and the centers of your thicker slices will dry out a bit more.  After this you can transfer them to your preferred storage container (glass works best), or you can candy them.  This time around I sprinkled powdered sugar right in the plastic bag and shook them around until all the pieces were thoroughly coated.  I've also had success with granulated sugar or raw sugar.  Whatever you choose will be determined by your personal preferences.

Again, once the pieces are coated, they'll store best in an air-tight glass jar.  For long term storage, you can keep them in the fridge about six months or freezer 9 months to a year.

I hope this satisfies your sweet tooth, and enjoy!