Heat, Humidity and Toddlers Oh My!

The last week the heat wave that swept the nation hit record levels locally. I’ve been feeling sick myself and the high heat and humidity only make things worse. But the biggest challenge has been keeping my toddler happy. She loves to be outside, but even if I could tolerate it, I doubt the high heat index would be healthy. I hesitate to take her anywhere in the car because of how hot the car, and especially her car seat, get. Even running the car with the air conditioning on for a while doesn’t cool down the seat enough to prevent her discomfort. So we’ve been nearly housebound for the past week. So as I lay like a blob on the couch, hot and sweaty with the air conditioning barely taking the edge of the stale air, my daughter got more stir crazy by the day. I let her watch some TV, something which we don’t normally do a lot. We tried reading books, but by the end of the story we were both dripping with sweat from our combined body heat. I’m not sure if her recent insistence to go around naked from the waist down is related to a sudden interest in potty training or a desire to avoid the heat of her diaper. Fortunately today is cooler, though still humid. Hopefully we’ll go outside in the back yard to run around a little bit today.

Do you have any suggestions for keeping house bound toddlers happy and dealing with the extreme heat? I’d appreciate any suggestions.

The Ultimate Decluttering and Transformation Project: Back Bedroom becomes Big Girl Room

We only have three bedrooms in our house and the smallest is only big enough for a crib, a dresser and a glider. Nothing else. So when our two year old began to get too big for her crib (she is tall for her age), we knew that putting a twin bed into her room wouldn’t be an option. We considered buying a toddler bed, but since we anticipated needing a crib (and its corresponding mattress) for a new family member in the relatively near future anyway, we decided it would be better to move our daughter into the back bed room.

Our back bedroom is a combination office/guestroom/dumping ground for items without homes. It has been the eyesore of our home constantly (except when we actually had guests) since we moved in almost four years ago.

 

I wanted to redo the room for a little girl, but allow the expensive portions of the décor to grow with her.

First we emptied the room and its closets. I purged the linen closet leaving some of the sheets and towels in there, but mostly just sheets for my daughter’s twin bed and her own towels. But I do still use the top shelves for seasonal linen storage. We bought a wardrobe on sale at IKEA which we set up in the unfinished attic as off season storage for coats and other clothing. A few items (such as my knitting supplies) moved into the closet of my daughter’s old room, what we now call the “baby room.” But most of it went to the attic. This fall a major attic purge is on the agenda, but I can’t ask my heat hating husband to deal with 90 degree+ temperatures in our attic in July and August.

We pulled my old twin bed down from the attic and purchased a new twin mattress and box spring. We were lucky enough to find a very nice set that was on clearance for less than half of the usual price (about the same or less as the cheapest mattress in the store). We got an old dresser from my sister’s basement and a book shelf from another part of the house. A lamp from my parents’ attic provides basic lighting, but we definitely need more. While I was tempted to purchase a little girls bed linen set, they were all so expensive and I couldn’t find exactly what I wanted anyway. The bed linens are also cast offs from when I lived at home. They were still in good shape and the ivy pattern will be age appropriate for a long time, if not indefinitely. (I picked them out when I was 15). I bought a set of Beatrix Potter wall decals from Amazon.com. These were a really easy to apply and my daughter loves them. A few small decorative items from my childhood plus the complete Beatrix Potter Box set rounded out the room.

By far the best part though, is the window seat. There was this large gap between the two closets that seemed to be nothing but wasted space. We used to store file drawers there. I had the idea, my husband and brother-in-law did the building and for less than $50 my daughter has an adorable window seat and a nice big storage box for off season blankets, freeing up more closet space. I may add a cushion later.

The room still needs work. We’re hoping to add a few more outlets and some more lighting. But finally, the most cluttered room of the house has become the cutest. Our daughter loves it and gets excited each night about sleeping in her “big girl bed.”

 

3 Bone-In Chicken Breasts=3 meals: Confessions of a Boneless Skinless Chicken Breast Snob

I used to be a boneless skinless breast snob. I actually couldn’t imagine eating anything else. We rarely bought chicken thighs and always regretted it when we did and almost never bought anything with the bone in. After eight years of marriage I have cooked one whole chicken, which I did in the crock pot. It was OK, but it didn’t seem nearly worth all the work that went into it. We aren’t big fans of dark meat and I found myself looking for uses for the dark meat where it would be less noticed, like stews and soups. Then something happened. We were out of boneless skinless breast. We hadn’t had chicken in quite a while and I was craving it. I found a bag of three bone-in chicken breasts I bought on sale last fall in the back of the freezer. I have no idea what possessed me to buy them in the first place. I was probably planning a crock pot meal of some kind. So I decided to roast them. I have been totally intimidated by roasting chicken because I don’t own a proper roasting pan. I was sure I would screw it up. But the internet to the rescue, I soon found an easy way to roast chicken. I used a metal brownie pan that was left behind by the previous owners of our house.  I followed a simple recipe.

Coat chicken with oil (I used olive oil)

Season (I used lemon pepper bought in bulk at Sam’s Club)

Bake at 400 degrees for 30 minutes

Reduce temperature to 350 and bake for an hour.

Now these were three very thick chicken breasts so I recommend using less time for small breasts otherwise they will be too dry.

I was that easy and wow was it good. The skin was crispy and delicious and the meat was tender and moist. It was some of the best chicken I’ve ever had. Plus, at the end of the meal feeding two adults and a toddler we had enough meat left for quesadillas and chicken croquettes. Now when I go to the store I look at the split chicken breast and see how reasonably priced it is compared to boneless skinless breast. Right now the best price I can find on boneless breast is $1.99 a pound, maybe $1.79 on sale. Yesterday at Bottom Dollar I found Perdue Split Chicken Breast for $.79 a lb! Perdue has the added benefit of being cage free, antibiotic vegetarian diet fed chicken. (I know it’s not organic or free range, but thus far, organic chicken is outside our budget so I consider this to be the next best thing). Now I finally feel ready to tackle a whole roast chicken. I can’t wait to see how many meals I can get out of one of those.

Square Foot Garden 2011: July Update

Below, finally, are pictures of my yard and garden.

Just as a point of comparison, this is what the yard looked like when we moved in.

This is what it looks like now.

As you can see, not all of it isSquareFootGarden, though I hope to add more next year. I’m planning to add raised beds to areas, such as the edge of the alley side fence, which do nothing but grow weeds. That way I’ll be making use of my space to grow vegetables and my husband will have much less work weed whacking.

Yes, those really are my peas cascading over. I never thought they would grow so high and I didn’t think they would still be producing in July. They are now impinging on my squash plants and slowing the growth of my summer squash by providing shade. I’ll have to cut them back soon. Perhaps I’ll grow them up the fence next year instead.

I realize that the cover on this bed is totally messed up. My husband is hoping to add some corner posts to better hold up the chicken wire cage. Honestly, I’d rather do without the cover all together. But for some reason it’s the only deterrent to squirrels that actually works. But unfortunately it is also a deterrent to harvesting and weeding so I have lettuce that really needs to be picked and weeds to be pulled out. (Fortunately most of the weeds are growing in the concrete outside the bed.)

I have no idea if these potato barrels were work, but it was what I had so I figured I didn’t have anything to lose. I got such a late start on these that I probably won’t have a crop until September or October anyway.

So far I’ve harvested about 3 pounds of peas, half a pound of lettuce, 1 pound of green beans, 1 pound of strawberries. The strawberries were a very light harvest because I pinched back most of the blooms so that next year I will get a larger harvest. But apparently I missed a few. I may still yet get a small fall harvest from my everbearing strawberry plants.

The small planter in the lower right of the picture is an experiment with corn. I have no idea if I will get any ears, but I decided to try it out anyway. It probably isn’t worth the space given how inexpensive corn is locally when it is in season, so I probably won’t plant it again next year.

It’s safe to say that my garden doesn’t pay for itself yet. But I’m learning a lot each year and eventually I’ll run out of space to adding new beds so my yearly costs will decrease.

Going from SAHM to WAHM: How I Accidentally Became a Work At Home Mom

I accidentally became a Work at Home Mom. No, you didn’t misread that. When I left my job as an administrative assistant for a small non-profit two years ago just weeks before the birth of my daughter I really thought I was walking away forever. That fall the assistant they hired to replace me quit, so they asked me to help out for a few days. Then I came to help with the biggest event of the year in January. That spring they were without a full time assistant again and asked if I would consider coming back to work part-time. My daughter was still not weaned and my husband didn’t really like the idea of me going back to work. To be honest, I didn’t either. But I still felt some sense of loyalty to the organization and the extra money would have been nice. But after talking and praying about it, I said no. I returned again last January to help out with the big event, satisfied that my involvement would be limited to once or twice a year. Then this past March I received a phone call. Would I come back to work just two days a week? I said no again. A few weeks later my boss offered me a compromise. Would I work from home and come into the office only as needed during major events until they could hire a new assistant? This was something I was willing to consider.

I will admit it felt kind of good to know that I was valued. I never thought the job was all that challenging, but three other assistants had quit or been fired in two years time. I worked from home for two months and while I enjoyed the extra money, I also found it hard to balance the part-time work with the full time plus job of being a wife, mother and household manager. I always thought working from home would be easy. It isn’t. At the end of May I helped produce a large event for a local business leader and supporter of our non-profit. After the event ended my boss asked if I would continue to work from home indefinitely. “When you decide you can’t or don’t want to do it anymore, let me know and I’ll hire someone,” she said. I wasn’t surprised, but I was a little unnerved. This would mean I was officially a working mom. Yes, I’d be working from home and mostly setting my own hours, but it would still mean one more thing to manage. Deadlines would have to take priority over household tasks as well as my own projects, my novel included.

So far it’s been doable. My mother has graciously watched my daughter on the few occasions where I needed to be in the office or coordinate an event. I’ve been able to make a couple of small extra student loan payments on my husband’s sizeable student loan debt and set aside money for future car repairs and Christmas presents. I don’t know how long it will last, but for the time being I have to stop referring to myself as a Stay at Home Mom.

How do those of you who work outside the home or from home manage to get it all done? Any organization tips?

My Quiche Obsession

So have been making quiche at least once a week for the last month or two, and I think my husband has had enough. For some reason I can’t get enough of it. It’s fast, easy and relatively healthy. The only downside is using the oven when it’s so hot outside.

I modified this Quiche recipe from the Fanny Farmer cook book.

1 cup cooked spinach or 10 slices bacon

4 eggs

2 cups light cream

½ teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon nutmeg

1 and ¼ cups cheese

1 partially baked Tart Pastry

I use whole milk instead of cream, but I’ve also made it with Skim without a problem. I love making it with spinach, onion and cheddar cheese. I don’t even precook the veggies, though the recipe recommends it. In my case the spinach was frozen but if I’d had fresh available from my garden I would have used it. The onion also came from my freezer, but it wasn’t a “frozen” onion. I bought a bag of onions last fall and froze them so they wouldn’t go bad. I periodically thaw one to use in a soup or stew. The veggies are definitely better when cooked, but if you are in a hurry it won’t hurt if the onions are a little less cooked. This is a great recipe to play around with. Try varying the veggies or other ingredients along with the kinds of cheese.

I use a recipe for buttermilk pie crust instead of the tart pastry, this is cheaper and much healthier than store bought pie crust and probably healthier than a standard homemade (though admittedly I’ve never attempted one). I modify the recipe slightly by using half as much salt, otherwise the crust is far too salty in my opinion.

1 ½ cups of all purpose flour 
1 tablespoon sugar 
1 teaspoon salt 
½ cup vegetable oil 
2 tablespoons reduced fat buttermilk (no substitutes) 
more all purpose flour as needed

Get your pie pan, it should either be a standard nine inch or a deep dish pan. The pan won’t need to be sprayed with cooking spray , this pie crust recipe won’t stick very much to your cook ware.

Place the 1 ½ cup all purpose flour into the pan. Then follow it with the tablespoon sugar. The 1 teaspoon salt should be added next. Mix the dry ingredients together with a fork or clean hands. Make a well in the center of the dry mixture. Pour the ½ cup vegetable oil in the center of the well. 

Have a cup or so of extra flour at the ready and a tablespoon measure and set it aside. Mix the ingredients together with clean hands in your pie pan. Feel the texture of the pie crust mixture, it may be more liquid  than dough just yet.

The pie crust dough will feel different every time you make this recipe. The key is to add from the additional flour set aside one tablespoon at a time until you get a nice, pliable ball of pie crust dough that isn’t sticky. You’ll know when you have it just right after you’ve made this pie crust recipe a few times. Pat the dough down into the pan Bake the pie crust in a 425 degree oven for twelve to seventeen minutes or to the specifications of the pie recipe you are using.

I buy the buttermilk, hopefully on sale, and then freeze in small containers in the proper amounts for various recipes. So far that has worked without a problem and I haven’t had any buttermilk go bad on me (which used to happen every time I bought it).

I throw the crust together, place the frozen or recently defrosted veggies in the crust. (If I have the time, I brown the veggies in a frying pan with a little oil unti tender before adding to the quiche.) Add the cheese (in my case shredded cheddar from Sam’s Club). Beat the eggs and milk and pour over the mixture. When I’m in a hurry I don’t even bother to add the extra seasonings. Finally, I bake. Then at dinner time I pull it out of the oven. I usually dispense with the bacon in the recipe and cook a couple of slices in the microwave instead to serve on the side.

I usually eat the leftovers for breakfast (and sometimes lunch) until it’s gone. Since I can usually get away with using less cheese and milk than this recipe calls for, and I recently found a good source of eggs for less than $1 a dozen, this makes for a quick and easy and relatively inexpensive dinner, breakfast or lunch. (In my case, sometimes all three). Depending on the cost of various ingredients (which do vary somewhat) I can easily make this for less than $2. (Using less cheese, less milk and skim milk instead of whole saves a bit as well.) Now $2 may seem like a lot for a single dish for serious frugalistas. However, that will feed my husband and myself for dinner at least one night, possibly two (my toddler may or may not actually eat it), and provide a couple of breakfasts for me as well. That’s pretty good for $2. I sometimes make pancakes or breakfast potatoes as a side.