Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Sweet and Spicy Tomato Cream Mac & Cheese Recipe

The brewery where Mr. Peculiar works makes THE BEST sweet and spicy mac & cheese.  I've been trying to emulate it for a while now.  Last night I decided to give it another go a) because I bought heavy cream (it's all about the bottle) and b) we had to eat.

I used whole wheat pasta to make this dish *slightly* more healthy.  However this is not diet food.  This recipe contains butter and it contains cream.  Nom, nom.  But whole wheat people.  That's good, right?!! This is assuming you are not gluten intolerant.

This recipe makes a lot of food.  I'd say it serves 8 to 10 people.  Perfect for us as we'll use the left-overs tonight.  Left overs are ideal for nights when I have to work and am not home to prepare dinner.  Of course you can always halve it.

And it has a kick.  My kids ate it but definitely drank their milk too.  I use two chipotle peppers.  Use only one to decrease the spice.  

32 oz Whole Wheat Penne Pasta
Small Yellow Onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, diced
1 -2 Chipotle Peppers in Adobo Sauce
1 tablespoon sun-dried tomato paste
3 tablespoons honey
14.5 oz (1 can) stewed tomatoes
2 cups heavy cream
8 slices of bread, crusts removed and cut into cubes
4 tablespoons butter
1-2 cups grated parmesan cheese
Olive oil
Kosher Salt

  • Cook pasta in salted water until al dente, drain and set aside
  • Lightly coat dutch oven with olive oil.  
  • Add onion and cook on medium heat until soft and translucent
  • Add garlic and cook for approxiamtely 30 seconds or until fragrant
  • Add stewed tomatoes (including juice), honey, pepper(s) and cream
  • Using an immersion blender (or food processor) blend ingredients until smooth
  • Add tomato paste and stir together
  • Bring to boil, reduce heat and simmer for ~10 minutes to allow sauce to thicken
  • Meanwhile pulse bread in food processor until forms crumbs
  • Melt butter in medium pan and add bread crumbs.  Stir until butter incorporated.  
  • Pour noodles in large baking dish, add sauce and mix together
  • Top with bread crumbs and cheese
  • Bake in oven at 350 degrees until topping crispy (~ 20 minutes)
Serve and enjoy.  

Monday, January 30, 2012

Things I'm Loving Today

Things I'm loving today:

❖ "Caleb's Crossing" on my iphone (makes housework go that much faster)
❖  Iphoneography
❖  Chickens who finally lay eggs (it's about time)
❖  Upcycled burlap curtains (old coffee bags)
❖  Ideas for pillows floating in my head (with accompanying bumble bee embroidery)
❖  Sunflowers to brighten the kitchen
❖  Kitchen experiments (sweet and spicy sundried tomato cream pasta)
❖  Feedly as my new blog reader
❖  Seeing some of my bees today (they're alive!)
❖  A sweet young lady who loves Doctor Who


Saturday, January 28, 2012

Frugal Friday (on Saturday)

I may have mentioned once or twice that I am addicted to Pinterest.  I love finding new and crafty ideas.  And, I am proud to say, I not only find these ideas but follow through on them too.

My dishwashing station is a perfect example.  It all started with this pin for a cake stand holder for sponges and soaps.  I promptly made one with thrift store finds and left over paint.  On it I placed knit dishclothes which we've been using in place of sponges.

Then I decided to make dish powder (we found citric acid at our local homebrew store).  The dish powder, of course, had to go into a lovely vintage mason jar scavenged from our garage (and probably purchased from an estate sale).

Finally I came across this tutorial for a simple scrubbie made from onion bags (or in my case a potato bag).  I used left over cotton yarn.

The total cost for all these projects was minimal.  And now I have a fun, bright, environmental and frugal dish washing station.



Friday, January 27, 2012

State of Wonder

I'm having trouble with motivation.  I'd like to jump out of bed, happy and energetic, and ready to face the day. Ready to load the dishwasher, tackle the laundry, straighten the living room and plan the meals.  Instead I want to pull up the covers and remain sheltered.  Just shy of that I would settle for curling up on the couch and reading the day away.

As a consequence I have been reading a lot (and the dishes and laundry are piled high).  I just finished "The Forgotten Garden" by Kate Morton.   Additionally I read "The Cat's Table" by Michael Ondaatje (of  English Patient fame).  Both books, in one way or another, deal with ships and voyages.  As such I've found myself fantasizing.  At night, at work, tucked into the uncomfortable futon in the windowless office, my body swaying back and forth with specious motion, it's easy to pretend I'm on a cruise; in a windowless cabin deep in the bowels of the beast.  The grumbling HVAC unit only adds to the fantasy as it grunts and groans like an onboard motor.

I lay there and imagine I'll wake up somewhere exotic.  The discomfort.  The swaying.  It'll all the worth it once our destination is reached.  Eventually I do drift off to sleep, tossing and turning and hoping and dreaming.  Alas I wake to find myself firmly ensconced in the bowels of a strip mall and not a cruise ship.  A disappointment to be sure.

And yet there is a sense of contentment, of joy, from the simple act of fantasizing.  There is great beauty in sitting and letting the mind wander.  Something I engaged in daily as a child.  Oh the days when I would lie on the floor basking in a sun spot dreaming of this and that.

I'd love to allot similar time for my children.  We already limit after school activities; dance once a week for the girls and one sport for the boy.  Free time, however, gets filled with mindless television and/or Facebook sessions.  I'll readily admit to not being the best example.

We've started some new rules.  Computers automatically shut down at 9:30 pm.  All hand held devices are, at the same time, supposed to be turned over for parental control.  And yet the rules aren't always enforced.  We parents are tired.  We struggle to do what we know is right.

I'd love to schedule family reading hour and family game night and family dinner (though I also don't mind eating dinner while challenging the kids to Jeopardy).

I tell myself I would do these things if only I didn't have to work.  If only I wasn't so exhausted.  And maybe that's true.  Then again maybe not.  At any rate I do have to work and raise and family and I need to figure how to best do things sooner than later.  And that includes the dishes and laundry.

For now I'm compromising.  I've got a couple of books on tape (or cd or whatever).  I need to pull these out and listen while cleaning.  To get off my duff and get a few things accomplished.

Then I need to sit down and make a plan.  A plan for our family to rely less on a media driven world.  A plan for interaction and harmony.   A plan for fantasy and a plan for contentment.

Here's hoping for a state of wonder.


Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Snow Day

We had a bit of a winter storm here in Central Oregon.  Last night it blowed and snowed and blowed and snowed.  Today it snowed and rained.  Fortunately the kids, with school cancelled, got outside before the rain began.

This was our first significant snow of the year.  And our first time pulling out the winter gear.  Turns out Middle has grown quite a bit.  She had to borrow Mama's snow pants and boots.  We managed to find three sets of gloves and three sets of appropriate winter garb.  Mama, without waterproof clothing, watched contentedly through the window.

As always comes the reminder that we need gutters and better boot storage and slippers.  I am forever stepping in little puddles spread throughout the house.  Between the dogs and humans our floor is a veritable pond.

The boy, at fifteen, is the perfect age for shoveling the drive.  He shoveled for us after playtime.  It was so nice to have that extra set of helping hands.  It's also a poignant reminder of how little time we have left with him.  Two more winters and he'll be off on his own adventures.  It's truly hard to believe.

This afternoon Little and the Boy went off to friend's houses.  This left Middle and I to our own devices.  We spent the better part of the afternoon with me reading and her picking up her room.  We're in the second of the Hunger Games series and it's going by quickly.

I was initially hesitant to read this second book.  I'd read some reviews and heard from other parents that it might be too racy for a pre-teen.  Nonsense.  There is hand-holding and kissing.  There are two people sharing a bed (but clothed and no hint of sexual contact).  And there are rumors of pregnancy.

I am sorry but my child is in public school.  All this she knows and more.  And I'm glad for it.  I have no interest in keeping my children in the dark regarding these matters.  I'd very much like for them to make responsible, intelligent and informed decisions when it comes to their bodies and their lives.  And this means talking about sex and the responsibility that comes with it.

Any parent who let's their child leave the house is naive to think their peer group isn't talking about sex.  And this book is tame compared to all that our children are exposed to.  I mean, really, look at the ads on tv.  Okay -- off my soapbox.

As I said we are nearly done with the second book.  The third is on reserve at the library.  It's been a while since we've read together.  Reading together is a habit I really enjoy and fully intend to keep up even after this series is complete.  Hmm -- what to read next.  What to read ... 

I've also been doing some reading on my own.  Yesterday, in a complete and total bought of self-indulgence, I curled up and read ALL DAY LONG.  Yup.  All day.  And in that day I started and finished Ann Patchett's "State of Wonder."  It was quite good.  Well worth reading.

Now dinner is in the oven -- roast chicken with potatoes, carrots, celery, parsnip and rutabaga.  It smells WONDERFUL and is the perfect homey meal for a cold wet day.  For the remainder of the evening I'm planning to eat and knit and drink a glass of wine.  We'll gather the family for Jeopardy and I'll likely get beat (unless there are a plethora of biology questions).

I love these nights when I don't have to work and my family is gathered close.

The roads are likely to be a mess tonight.  We'll see if another snow day is in store for tomorrow.


Thursday, January 12, 2012

Birds of a Feather

So we've got these birds, Leo and Leroy.  They are both cockatiels.  Both rescues.  Leroy, who's head you can barely see, is butter yellow.  He was found in someone's backyard and brought in to our clinic.  At presentation he was quite beat up -- smashed nares, bloody wings, missing toes.  I brought him home fully expecting him to die.  And yet he lived.  Suddenly we had a bird.  Because, you know, we desperately needed another animal in our household.

Now I've always loved cockatiels.  I bred them as a teenager.  I especially love hand-raised birds -- they can be such fun!  But Leroy was not hand-raised.  Rather he abhored human contact and had little interest in us.  But we kept him nonetheless.  After all he needed a warm safe place to call home.

Fast-forward another year.  Mr. Peculiar came home from a garage sale looking quite mischievous.  Turns out he got me something.  Yup -- another cockatiel.  Leo was a hand-raised baby and adored human contact (he is especially fond of feet and loves to sidle up to any given foot and carry on a protracted conversation).

Now we've not been quite sure where to keep these guys.  First they were upstairs in the office, then the girls' room, then the living and then the kitchen.  They've finally migrated back to the living room -- this is where they seem most content as there is usually a person about.  Human company is especially important for Leo as he cares more for us than Leroy.

The problem with these guys is they are MESSY.  Food and feathers scattered everywhere.  Truly it is an embarrassment to have people come over and see the mess.  Thus, as part of my new year's resolutions, I am getting these guys cleaned up.

Their cage sits on an old metallic utility table.  I painted it a bright green which contrasts nicely with their blue cage.  I also bought them a new crock hoping to reduce the amount of food spread about.  But the crock was only marginally effective.  Thus, this morning, I sewed them a seed guard -- a bit of fabric wrapped around the bottom of the cage to deflect their scatterings.  Hopefully this will do the trick.

Leo is somewhat befuddled by my actions and is a touch crabby today.  Leroy doesn't seem to care.

At least now when people come over I'm not quite so mortified by the birds.

Tomorrow, as part of our continuing plan, we are ripping out the carpet in our other living room (we have two small rooms that really ought to be one).  We will be papering the floor.  Yippee!!  By year's end my house might actually be presentable.


Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The Word 2012

 Simplify, Imagine, Appreciate and Shine.  Four words and four years.  Here we are, still standing, at the beginning of the fourth year.  A year full of promise and hope.

Finally, finally, the recession is lessening her grip (strange for me to say as our bank balance is precipitously low).  And yet I know opportunity lies ahead.  Our income increased slightly in 2011.  This after several consecutive years of decline. The pendulum has swung and we are on our way up.  It's about time.

This year is also a culmination; a year to pull together the knowledge gleaned from our past experiences.  I will continue to simplify, to imagine and to appreciate.  And in doing these things I plan to shine.

Shine means putting my best foot forward.  It means making a sincere effort in whatever I am doing -- whether that's running on the trail, cleaning my house, nurturing my family or focusing at work.  Something akin to "this little light of mine, I'm going to let it shine" in a nonsectarian sort of way.

Shine does not mean perfection.  I do not yearn for the impossible.  I will have days where I can not do or accomplish what I want.  And in the these days I also hope to shine.  To shine with acceptance and forgiveness and grace.

As I do every year I've made a list of goals, of things I'd like to accomplish in the upcoming months.  Many are the same as years past.  Some are continuous progressions, others goals not yet attained.  There is no shame in transferring last year's list to this year.  Though some things have gone undone there is benefit in reassessing and renewing these commitments.

This year's goals (in no particular order):

  • To beat my husband in a half-marathon (that is to finish said marathon with a better time than him)
  • To eliminate the carpeting from my house (paper bag floors here I come!)
  • To finish my first ever quilt
  • To finish the couch slipcovers started in November (I am oh so close here)
  • To finish my crafting room (including making a daybed like this)
  • To make a "Shine" sign -- ✓-- done!!
  • To take more photographs and organize them by month including more photos of the children and especially of the boy (two and half more years and he's off to college)
  • To go camping at least twice
  • To keep the house clean and organized (including keeping up on dishes and laundry and providing a good example for the children)
  • To read more with my children
  • To continue to learn the bagpipes and to set aside more time for practice
  • To finish making the rug I started for the living room
  • To replenish our savings
  • To continue to cook at home, use ingredients and left-overs wisely and to prepare delicious healthy meals
  • And, finally, to enjoy and appreciate each and every day. 

Here's to a happy, healthy and prosperous 2012!