Friday, February 27, 2015

Skyline Chili Slow-Cooked Ribs

My husband's family has this addiction to a Cincinnati-based Chili called Skyline. Traditionally, it is eaten over spagetti with diced onions and cheddar cheese, or over hotdogs on a bun with mustard, onions and cheddar cheese.

Everytime we head back to where he grew up, he and his siblings make multiple treks to get their fill, and we always pack cans of the chili to come home with us for those times when the craving just won't wait until the next visit. I have to admit that the chili has grown on me over the years. And it does make for a quick meal in a pinch.

My brother-in-law mentioned to hubby recently that he had tried a chili smothered rib recipe once, so I set out to try this. I didn't have a recipe, so I made one up.

Ingredients:

-1 lb Baby Carrot
-2 15 oz Cans Skyline Chili (check your local grocery store - my Wegman's in Maryland actually carries it)
-5 lbs Pork Ribs
-1 Medium onion, diced
- 2 lbs Red potatoes (Whole)

 

Instructions:

1. (Optional) Place a Slow-Cooker Liner in the base of your slow cooker ceramic pot. I love these liners! They make clean-up a breeze.

 

2. Place a layer of carrots on the bottom, follow by a layer of red potatoes. Feel free to leave these out. I prefer my slow-cooker recipes to be one-pot meals.


3. Put half the ribs covered by the half the onion and 1 can of skyline. I had to cut the ribs in half to get them to fit. Repeat with another layer of the remaining ribs covered by the last half of the onion and second can of skyline. (I know, it doesn't look very appetizing yet).

4. Place the cover on your slow-cooker and cook on low for 7-8 hours.


5. Enjoy. These litterally fell off the bone, so I couldn't get a good picture of them, but they were delicious.

Hubby was SO excited about these he actually posted about it on Facebook, so I guess this recipe is a keeper.

 

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Growing up fast and foray into cake decorating

The twins turned two recently. Last year, I ordered smash cakes for them, as M had a newly diagnosed egg allergy and I just couldn't handle trying to put together birthday cakes for them with this new restriction. A local bakery, Flavor Cupcakery, does vegan cakes, and I was sold.

This year, I decided it was time to try to bake the cake myself. I pulled out my trusty egg-free cookbook, Bakin' Without Eggs, and picked out a recipe: the Silver White Cake. My icing was a basic buttercream icing.

I have done some cakes in the past and was always befuddled because my cakes weren't perfectly flat and putting them together successfully in layers was challenging. Additionally, my icing was always a hot mess and full of crumbs. This time, I did my research to get my layers as flat as possible and discovered that I was really doing what is called a crumb coat before and you really have to go back over top of that layer with more frosting (no objections here to more frosting).

Using Wilton's Bake-Even Strips, which you soak in water for about 5 minutes and then wrap around your pan, I was able to get even layers. I was skeptical, but these really work!

My nice even layers.

I also wanted to try a little bit of decorating. I bought some cake decorating supplies from Wilton (tips, bags, gel icing colors, cake wheel), and ordered some Thomas cake toppers from Amazon.

A tip I found for keeping any filling from leaking out in between your layers is to pipe some icing around the edge of your layer and then put the filling in the middle (Strawberry, yum!)

Then you put your layers together and do a crumb coat, starting on the top. Here is a great tutorial on how to do a crumb coat.

Once your crumb coat is complete, pop the cake in the fridge for about 20 minutes to harden the frosting enough to make your next layer of frosting easy to do without pulling off your crumby crumb coat.

Here is the cake after the second coat. Not perfect, but much better than any previous attempts. And once you pipe and decorate any imperfections are less noticable. One tip: many resources online will tell you you can make your buttercream ahead of time and refrigerate it and pull it out to warm up when you need it. I found the frosting took forever to warm up and was harder to work with. In the future, I will make it fresh right before I want to use it. Another tip is to make way more icing than you think you need (I quadrupled the buttercream recipe).

Wilton's website has a lot of great tutorials and instructions on how to decorate a cake. Also this video was helpful. My final product is not quite up to par with their's, but it is still the fanciest cake I have ever made.

Here is the final cake with piping and cake toppers. It got the seal of approval from the twins who for days were asking for more cake, and hubby liked it too!

And of course the celebrations.
You can tell by G's face what kind of day we were having! Ah the terrible 2s times two.

 

 

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

A New Door

As my kids have gotten a bit older and I am having an easier time sneaking in some home projects, slowly but surely we have begun the process of making this house ours. One of the projects that we have been working on is replacing all the interior doors. Originally, we thought we might just hire this one out, but my dad is pretty handy and my husband wants to learn so we figured we would give it a go ourselves (with a lot of help from my dad). A few months ago, they hung two doors while my dad was visiting and I finally have gotten around to painting one of them. The second one is in the basement all ready to be painted and I will hopefully get to it in the next week or two. We did not do pre-hung doors and the boys did all the cutouts for the hardware.

Luckily, all the upstairs trim is already a nice bright white, and the previous homeowners left a partial can for us that was well-labeled and I was able to determine that the trim is just a basic Semi-gloss in Sherwin-Williams Extra White (SW 7006). How easy is that? It is basically just their untinted standard white, but it's exactly what I wanted.

Unfortunately, most of our downstairs trim is not this same bright white and eventually I will likely repaint all of it.

Here is the before and after of the nursery door.

Before:

After:

The wall on which the alphabet print hangs also used to be Ravens purple (to the dismay of my Bengals-loving husband) and I recently painted the wall (two coats of primer to cover all that purple and 2 coats of paint) to match the rest of the room. The prior owners had painted all the electrical outlet covers (which I replaced), but it did make it easy to get a color match!.

I had never painted a door before and did a lot of pinterest research prior to doing it. This was my favorite resource on how to paint a six panel door. I basically used this technique except that I used a brush only for my 2 coats of paint instead a roller and then drag method. You can't just arbitrarily paint it, you really should do it in a systematic order. After filling in any imperfections with wood putty and sanding the entire door, I did 1 coat of primer and 2 coats of paint (only 1 coat under the hinges). Each coat was progressively easier as I got used to how best to paint a door. I used a small 4 inch roller for the flat sections for the primer coat only and then used a brush for the 2 coats of actual paint. I got to a point where I could do a coat on one side in about 45 minutes. After trying a few different size brushes I decided that I like a 2 inch Purdy XL brush best for this task.

I still have to go back and putty and paint some small areas on the trim. Because we couldn't be without a nursery door while I painted it, we put the old door back up with the old hardware as the prior owners painted over the hinges and one of them couldn't be removed from the old door. As a consequence I couldnt fix the trim until all the new hardware and door were installed.

All the hardware is now oil-rubbed bronze. It is amazing how much a simple door and some new hardware can upgrade a space.

This project has made me excited about the simple power of a new coat of paint!

 

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Master Bedroom Progress

When we moved into a new house about a year ago, I was excited to decorate and make the house our own, but I was especially excited to decorate our Master bedroom. I wish I had before pictures, but trust me, the after is much better! (Think about the before as a very country style with quilted valances to match the bed quilt, ancient mini-blinds).
The nice thing about our new home is that although some of the finishes and decorating don't suit my taste, nothing had to be done right away. The home was well taken care of, and we are only the third owners of this home. The kitchen had been redone, and bathrooms are all in good shape. With 8 month-old twins when we moved in, the last thing I wanted to be doing was a huge renovation to start out. I wanted to move in, unpack, get settled, get to know my new home and then start making some changes.
Despite being in my 30s, I have never had what I would call a "grown-up Master bedroom". In our last home, it just didn't seem wise to purchase a furniture set when we were likely to move in the near future and I wasn't sure what the size of the room in our new house would be. So we suffered through hand-me-down and mismatched furniture.
Once we moved, my first furniture purchase was for our bedroom. The furniture and round mirror are all from Ethan Allen's New Country Collection.
I actually liked the color that the previous owners had put on the walls (a very light tan), but there a few spots that need touching up. Unfortunately, although the old owners left us some cans of leftover paint, this room was not one of the rooms that they had extra paint for.
And though most of the electrical outlet socket covers in the house are painted to match the walls (which I am slowly changing over to non-painted ones), this room is not one of them. As much as I HATE those painted electrical outlet covers, when I need a paint match they are the perfect thing to bring to Sherwin Williams to have them match. Small, portable; enduring any fading that the walls have, and easy to obtain without cutting out a piece of the wall.
I have found a color that may be the correct one, but I have to test it and see and then I will go from there. I may have to cut out a small piece of wallboard to make the match and then just repair and paint over.
New bedding was in order (from Restoration Hardware) as our had worn through. Some new artwork that I created at Art.com (hint....keep your eye on the website, their coupons rotate almost daily and if you are patient you can get 40% off). What is left is new table lamps, drapes and rods. I took down the valance holders that the old owners had up, as I prefer to have floor length drapes, and roman shades have already replaced the ancient mini-blinds that were there that were not really helping me when I have to sleep during the day when I work night shifts. The Roman shades are light blocking and from Country Curtains.
I have floor length drapes picked out in a blue-gray color called "Spa" and some hardware to install them that I still need to order. I have sconces for the walls (complete with remote control operated flameless candles that I am slightly obsessed with). With new table lamps, a dressing mirror and some accessories and this room will be pretty complete. I will at some point replace closet and interior doors, but that is a project for the future. Similarly, there is hardwood underneath the carpeting in this room, and I may at some point take up the carpet, refinish the floors and put down an area rug instead.
I can't wait to decorate some of the other rooms in this house. Wallpaper stripping, here I come.
I will be sure to post some of the finished product photos.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Buying and Running with a Jogging Stroller

One of the most crucial gifts that we received before the twins were born was a jogging stroller. We use ours all the time for running, walking and general use. Running with this stroller took a little getting used to, so I thought I would give some tips that I have learned along the way for purchasing and running with the stroller.

1. Do some research, and test drive one at a store - Although it's hard to know what you truly need until your child arrives and you see what life and your needs truly are, you can at least get a sense of what you like and don't like. Babies R' Us has the BOB brand stroller, and although they did not have the double stroller for me to test, I could at least test out the single stroller to get a sense of how they were made and how easy they were to push. Don't be shy, pull that stroller right off the display and push it around (trust me, the sales folks really don't mind). We ended up going with a BOB Revolution SE Duallie, but there are other options. They also have a newer Flex Stroller that I haven't tried, but has an adjustable handlebar for different height runners that looks interesting. Some running shops and bike shops have strollers for you to check out.

My kiddos enjoying some stroller time. My son just learned the idea of saying "cheese" for pictures, and this is his very best "cheese" face.

2. Find a good local bike shop - Your stroller is essential a bike. We use ours on all kinds of surfaces (sidewalks, asphalt, packed crushed gravel/dirt paths), and inevitably, you will get a flat tire. A good bike shop can have you back up and running in a matter of about 5 minutes. Kuddos to you if you can fix a flat bike tire by yourself, but I find trying to do this while dealing with my two kids to be too much to juggle. I actually brought my flat tire in the other day with both kids in tow to the bike shop and they had me fixed up in no time and because they could tell I had my hands full with the kids, they carried the tire back out to my car for me. For those in the Baltimore County area I highly recommend the Bicycle Connection on the corner of York and Warren Road. You may want to carry a small bike pump in the pocket of your stroller to refill a tire on the go if you have a problem after you get going.

3. Find out when the manufacter recommends it is safe to run with infants in your stroller - our manual recommended waiting until at least 6-8 months old when the babies could hold their heads up on their own. It is not considered safe to run with them before this, and although I have seen many people do this, I wouldn't recommend it, and our pediatrician agreed. You can use your stroller at about 8 weeks old for walking though or sooner if you buy an infant car seat adapter. Unfortunately, they do not make a double infant car seat adapter for 2 infants (clearly they did not have twins in mind when they made this accessory), so we just waited until the kids were 8 weeks old to take them out in it and used another stroller that my two car seats clicked into until that point and for a long time for non-exercise outings. We used inserts made by Boppy for some extra head support. We still actually have the inserts in the stroller and they have a fleece side for winter and a non-fleece side for summer. The removable side head support piece is helpful when they are very little and have no head support.

4. Look for a stroller that has a front wheel that locks in place for jogging and also converts to a swivel for walking. Its tough to use the stroller for general use if the front wheel is always in a locked position.

5. Make sure the stroller fits in your car - this really isn't an issue for us as we have an SUV and a Minivan, but if you have a smaller car, this is something to consider. The BOB wheels do come off to make it more compact for transport, but this is one extra step to put the wheels back on your stoller before you can start your run.

6. If you have more than one child, or expecting more than one child, you probably only need the double stroller. There are rare occasions when I find the need or opportunity to take one child without the other, and it would be nice to have a single stroller for this, but for the once a month that this actually happens, it is not worth the cost or storage space. We don't have a garage so our stroller lives in our cars most of the time, and when I do end up only running with only one in the double stroller, it feels like a dream because I am pushing 25 less pounds than I usually do.

7. People always comment to me about how hard it must be to push two kids in a jogging stroller. Yes, it is harder than running without one. But one thing I have learned is that although it is harder, the better running shape you are in, the less you notice the difference. I took my daughter out on my long run one day because it was that or not run at all, and I wasn't sure I could go the 12 miles I was planning because the most I had ever done with the stroller before had been about 5 miles. But I was in good running shape, so although the run was slow, it actually wasn't as hard as I expected. It was also really nice to be able to carry extra water with me. It's probably best to build up to longer runs though. I don't recommend planning a long run the first few times you run with the stroller. I am about a minute slower per mile with the stroller than without, but hey, I am pushing about 80 pounds between the stroller and the two kids, and getting a great workout. I try not to pay too much attention to my pace.

Me and my running buddies.

8. Consider some accesories - Although I love my Bob Revolution Duallie, my one complaint is that although there is a pocket on the back of the each seat, there is no built-in parent console. Luckily they actually make one (yes it costs extra, and in my opinion should just be a built in design feature of the BOB, but at least it is available). This is a must-have accesory. I use mine to carry a phone, water and my keys, or anything else I may want to have handy. Other accessories that I use all the time are our sun shield for blocking out UV rays, and a weather shield for rainy or windy/cold days. These make the stoller more versatile and allow me to not worry about the kids getting sunburned on sunny days without spending 10 minutes chasing my kids around trying to get sunscreen on them. The links are all for the double stroller, but they sell them all for single strollers as well.

My Parent Handlebar Console

9. Running form - When you are running with your stroller, you want to watch your form. Its very easy to get lazy, especially when you are tired a few miles in and lean on your stroller. Try not to do this. Try to keep your body upright. I typically use the wrist safety strap and either put one hand on the handlebar and keep my other hand swinging at my side as I normally would for running and then alternate arms periodically, or I push the stroller away from me and let it freely roll as I jog to catch up to it (still with my wrist in the strap). If I am running up hill, I usually need to use both hands to push the stroller. You will get a better upper body workout with a stroller than you get with running alone, which is not entirely a bad thing. Because the front wheel is locked for stability while running, turns can be tricky. I find them easiest if I tilt the stroller back just a little with both hands on the handlebar so that the front wheel is actually off the ground. This makes turns much more fluid.

10. Family outings are fun and help split the work - My favorite runs with the stroller are where my husband and I go together. We get to spend some time together as a family, and we tend to alternate who pushes the stroller every mile or so, so no one person has too much of the workload.

Hubby and me running in our neighborhood 5K in May. The whole family participated.

11. Plan ahead - especially if your child is less than a year and still taking milk frequently, or if you are going on a long run, don't get caught unprepared. If I am going long, I often bring sippy cups with me, and sometimes a small travel diaper bag that carries wipes and a few diapers and doubles as a changing pad. If I am going short (3 miles or less) or if I am just running around my neighborhood, I often don't bother take these things, as I am pretty close to home if we need to swing back unexpectedly. If your child is a bit older, you may want to consider bringing snacks or a small toy with you to keep them entertained. I find my kids don't really need a toy though as they just really enjoy riding in the stroller and often look around, point things out ("puppy", "car", or my favorite "Go, Go, GO!") or take a little snooze in the stroller. You also want to bring anything you might need, water, fuel, music. I sometimes play music on my phone and sit it in the parent console.

Passed out in the stroller during a run

Note: Thank you to my husband who provided me with input for this post. He runs with the stroller about as much as I do, and had some useful things to add to the information in this post.

 

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Continental and the Norwegian Purl

So remember my comments in my last post about wanting to switch to Continental knitting? Well, I realized that I do actually have a project on the needles amenable to a switch partway through. A very basic shawl. Gauge is not so crucial on this shawl, so I figured why not and I changed it up partway through. I quickly learned, though, that purling in the Continental style is a finicky endevour at best.

Enter the Norwegian Purl. In researching the best ways to purl with the yarn in my left hand, I came across this nifty little way of purling that may have just changed my whole knitting world. Purling with the yarn held in back instead of the front? Yes, please. The Norwegian Purl is easier to do and less tricky than a traditional Continental purl. I am already having visions of all the seed stitch projects I am going to do now that I don't have to bring the yarn back and forth between my needles each stitch.

Here is a video from Knitting Traditions demonstrating.

My knitting mind is blown! How has it taken me so long to discover this method?

You can also see my abacus stitch marker and row counter in the photo. Picked this nifty and pretty little tool at Etsy. I actually found many unique stitch markers on Etsy and am enjoying using them much more than the generic ones you can get anywhere. Jewelry for my knitting. And who doesn't love a little jewelry?

 

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Left Foot, Left Foot

Can you tell I have been reading Dr. Seuss's The Foot Book a lot lately? My kids adore it. I have finally finished one of the two Herringbone Rib Socks. I love this pattern, but I will say that the herringbone pattern does not have much give to it, which makes the sock a bit challenging to get on and off, but once on it fits perfectly. I am hoping some blocking will make this a bit easier. The foot area is much more forgiving than the leg, because the bottom of the sock is stockinette instead of herringbone.

On a side note, I have really been wanting to switch to Continental Style knitting to gain some speed and in hopes that I will increase the evenness of my knit and purl stitches. I taught myself how to knit using the English (yarn in the right hand) method, but I often get hand cramping, my stitches are tight, and my knit stitches are much tighter than my purl stitches resulting in an uneven fabric when knitting flat stockinette stitch. Nothing majorly noticable on the finished fabric, but enough that I notice the difference in tension while knitting. I am hoping that "picking" rather than "throwing" will fix this and in the long run give me speed.

I have knit Continental before, on my Snowflake fair isle socks I actually used a two handed method with one color in my right hand and the other in my left, but have never made the switch. Most of this has to do with the fact that I have never wanted to start mid project and affect my gauge midway through and partly because I am faster at English style right now, and so I always go to it. I am sure with practice though, my speed and ability will grow. I may just bite the bullet and start an easy new project and do it all holding the yarn in the left. By the end of the project I am sure to be a pro!

Has anyone else ever made this switch?

 

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Charles Street 12 and Feeling Good in My Own Skin

Yesterday I did a 12 mile race in Baltimore called the Charles Street 12. It was a bit humid, it was long, and I loved every minute of it.

This is me at the start. I even managed to knit a few rows on a sock before the race.

I haven't written about my post-baby return to an active an healthy lifestyle, but this has been a huge part of my life over the past 6 months.

Like most women who have had babies, my body was wrecked after the twins. Although a lot came off easily (mostly water weight) in the first few weeks, the rest stuck around for over a year. I was also nursing, and you can't run with infants until they can hold their heads up (about 6 months old) and my husband was commuting 4 hours a day. Oh, and add in a move in the middle of all that, and needless to say, my focus for a whole year was not on myself.

Then January came. I stopped nursing, I finally felt again that my body was my own again to do with it what I wanted, instead of what these two little creatures needed. I looked in the mirror, truly looked, for the first time in a long time. And here is what I realized: I wasn't happy with my body and it wasn't just the way I looked. I wasn't as active as I wanted to be, I was eating pure junk, and I didn't feel good about myself, even though I did feel good about what I had done. I had carried two beautiful children to 37 weeks, dealt with bedrest, gone through labor and surgery, nursed them almost exclusively for 6 months and partially for almost a year. Our bodies are pretty amazing, right?

I decided to change the way I was eating, and started running more again. I signed up for a half marathon in March. Races have always been a good motivator for me to get out and actually do the workout. I bought an elliptical for my basement so that I could workout over the winter even when the weather was bad and the roads were icy. I also used it to sneak in quick workouts after work. No excuses, even with kids. I pushed a double jogging stroller when I had to get a workout in. I have run 12 miles while pushing my daughter. This time to focus on myself has made me happier and healthier. I can't say my diet is perfect, but I at least started eating less. I lost a lot. 25 pounds actually. Other people noticed, which made me feel good. I bought some new clothes that fit my new, post-baby shape (because trust me ladies, even if you lose the weight, pregnancy changes things). I feel good in my own skin again. I weigh less than I have in years (even pre-baby).

I don't have any secrets for losing weight. Its really very simple and at the same time incredibly hard. Work out more, eat less. Its all about the calorie balance. Try to eat fruits and veggies. It's really not about what you eat, its about how much you eat (sorry organic and all natural folks, if you eat too much of even good foods, you will gain weight). Personally, I have to focus on both diet and exercise. One or the other alone isn't enough. Count everything (calories and exercise). There are some great apps out there that make this so easy. I like MyNetDiary, but I know many who use MyFitness Pal. It doesn't really matter which one you use, its about making yourself accountable for everything you eat, and giving yourself credit for the exercise you do while also making it clear in writing that you skipped a workout or over ate. I still have days or weeks where I struggle and eat too much, or don't make working out a priority, but overall, I am a much more active and healthy person.

I enjoyed this race. Moving is never an easy process, but my favorite way to explore a new city if by running it. You really get to know the character of a place on your own two feet. I was worried this race would be too warm (Maryland in August?) but actually it started early enough and at the beginning it was a bit overcast, so it was not really hot, just a bit humid. There are a few hills, but after the first few miles, it is mostly downhill, albeit a gently rolling kind of course. And the race swag (an Under Armour long sleeve that if I were to purchase outside of the race would have cost me almost my entire race fee) is hard to beat. So far the Baltimore race swag is pretty great. The Baltimore 10 Miler also has a great race premium. Its almost worth doing the race just for the running gear!

I will definitely look forward to this race again. The only negatives I will point out are that the start and finish being so far from each other is a bit of a pain for parking (they do offer a shuttle to the start though) and that there weren't that many spectators out, even once we got in the city.

I ran a good race, not my fastest time, but one I was very happy with, and getting out on a Saturday morning and running 12 miles with 2000 other people, priceless!

 

Friday, August 08, 2014

Some Light Reading Material

I stopped by for the Wednesday afternoon knitting at my favorite local yarn store, The Black Sheep, this week, to check out their new space that they just moved to and enjoy some knitting time. Sometimes this is the only time I get during the week to knit, although I recently discovered I can now knit with my children in the room when we are watching Sesame Street or Thomas the Train without too much interference. The kids love to steal my measuring tape, and will play with the ball of yarn, but they actually seem to like to snuggle up next to me while I knit, which in my mind is a crafty and mommy win.

While at The Black Sheep, I picked up a new copy of Enchanted Knits, a magazine put out by the same authors that did Jane Austin Knits a few years ago. I love all the whimsical patterns in this magazine. My favorites are Rumpelstitskin's Wrap and the Hunger for Rampion Pullover. Just gorgeous. If only the wrap didn't have so much seed stitch. My hands hurt just thinking about it!

I also picked up this handy little book, Cast On Bind Off. This is a great reference manual for all sorts of different ways to start and end a knitting project. I am always on the hunt for stretchier beginnings and endings, so I am sure this one will be used a lot.

I really like the Black Sheep's new space. The parking is better, the lighting is much better, and all in all, I think I will enjoy spending time there. I do miss the charm of the previous location, but the advantages the new space has outweigh my nostalgia.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Easy Chicken Shredding

Do you have a lot of recipes that involve shredded chicken? I sometimes avoid dishes that call for it because it seems like a lot of work to cook and then hand-shred chicken or use two forks to shred.

Enter a new method that I discovered in my internet travels to shred chicken: I use the dough hook of my KitchenAid mixer! No mess, easy cleanup and fast!

I boil the chicken breasts first for about 10 minutes. Then put them whole into the mixing bowl with dough hook attachment. About 10 minutes on a low speed. Here is the chicken before:

And after:

In this case, my recipe called for some taco seasoning, so after the chicken was shredded, I tossed this in and let the mixer go for a few more minutes, and my seasoning was nicely dispersed:

I am so glad I found this method, as I no longer avoid shredded chicken recipes!