DIY: Making homemade labels for our spice jars.

labels

We’ve been storing our spices in a couple of cardboard boxes pretty much since the day we moved into our first apartment all those years ago. It started with one box and as our cooking skills grew we added another box – one for baking and one for cooking basically. But the boxes were impossible to organize – you’d take one jar out and the others would fall over or shift which meant alphabetizing them was a lost cause. This resulted in “Why do we have 3 bottles of cinnamon?” or “I know we have rosemary around here somewhere, but I can’t find it.”

After eight years of marriage and owning more cinnamon than we probably know what to do with, I decided it was time to try something else. The thing is – we’ve been looking for the perfect spice rack for years and never found one worth taking up the counter space. I.e. We’re picky. I don’t like those rotatey spice racks and didn’t want to live with the spices they thought we wanted.

We finally settled on 12 of these spice jars from World Market that were $1 each (sold online in packs of 6) along with this metal spice rack for just $10 that can either be hung on a wall or cabinet door or just placed on a counter if you have the room. World Market has a ton of different jar styles by the way. These were by far the plainest they had but that kind of appealed to us. You could also totally just keep your spices in the jars they came in and put them in the rack, but we were loving the idea of uniformity so we splurged on new jars. In the long run, we’re probably going to need another rack and more jars to hold the rest of our spices but this got us started with the spices we seem to use most often.

So we had our jars and a rack and we found a home for it that we could live with – now we just needed to pick twelve spices to move into the rack and label the jars. We were originally thinking of picking out labels in a store but didn’t find any we liked. Then we were going to use a sticker or label maker to make our own and went through the whole mental process of figuring that out, when my husband found this link to a tutorial for making your own labels using a laser printer and packing tape! I was skeptical but it totally worked! Head over to The Proper Pinwheel for further instruction on making the labels.

I designed my labels using PicMonkey which is an awesome online photo editor / graphic designer that is available for free though there are a lot of spiffy extras for people who pay for a Royale Membership (totally worth it, in my opinion). This label took me about five minutes to design. Feel free to steal it as long as you use it for good and not evil:

spicelabels5

Now you just need words. You could add the font for the label right on picmonkey if you want (and they have a lot of beautiful fonts) but I was worried that this would be tedious to then save 12 different images and then compile them all onto one page. In an effort to save time, I saved the logo above and then copied and pasted it 12 times into a LibreDraw file. LibreOffice is basically Microsoft Office but open source (i.e. free). I tried doing this in a word document and it was really difficult to get the text to line up where I wanted it. Helpful Hubby recommended the Draw program which let me make text boxes that I then positioned over each label.

Which method would have been faster in the end? I’m not sure. Either way, I finished the whole process in under and hour, printed the page and then we used the methods shared at The Proper Pinwheel to turn the laser printed page and packing tape into beautiful, homemade labels for our new spice jars.

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We are both really thrilled with the end result. The labels are so special to us because we designed them ourselves, making them truly unique and we love that if we want to use a bottle for a different spice, the label is just packing tape so it should be easy to remove (and it’s pretty water proof, too!). And having the spices right where we want them and finally, finally alphabetized is making it so much nicer to cook.

Organization never tasted so good!

 

Eat it For Breakfast Cake: with fresh strawberries, raspberries and blueberries.

strawberry, blueberry, raspberry cake

Four years ago I was participating in Project 365 where you are challenged to take at least one photo every day for a year. I did this for two or three years – it was hard and fantastic and frustrating and inspiring. I think it improved my photography immensely (which is not to say that I’m an expert now, just better than I was before) and I also met some cool people and learned some cool things.

One of the women whose photography I just loved – and it’s been so long now that I can’t even remember her name – traveled with her husband each summer to their vacation home in Nova Scotia (I think). Her photos of this town absolutely drew me in to her world – their summer cat who seemed to show up at their door every year without fail; the amazing festivals and town events that always seemed to be going on; her friendships there and the easy way of life that she was enjoying. Basically, I want to be her when I grow up.

Another thing she shared with us was this cake which she made often for friends or just for breakfast. It’s a highly adaptable cake that works well with any fruit you have on hand. I first made it with blueberries and more recently I made it for BB’s 5th birthday party last month. It was the perfect cake for the day because we were having a morning party so something that felt more like breakfast was called for. And the friends we shared this cake with are those laid back easy friendships that make me feel like we’ve found a touch of that Novia Scotia lifestyle that I dream of right here at home. Here’s the recipe so you can enjoy it with your favorite friends, too.

Eat it For Breakfast Cake

Best Served with good friends and whipped cream.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup fruit – I used a mixture of chopped strawberries, blueberries and raspberries but you can use whatever you have on hand.
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk (Don’t have buttermilk? Use a scant 1/2 cup of milk and a 1/2 tablespoon of vinegar or lemon juice and let it sit for 5-10 minutes)

Directions

  1. Heat oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Butter and flour a 9 inch pie plate or cake pan (or use that awesome baking cooking spray from Pam).
  3. Prepare your fruit (berries can be left whole, slice any larger fruit) and set aside.
  4. Beat butter & sugar. Add vanilla, egg and salt.
  5. Add flour, baking powder & baking soda; mix well.
  6. Add buttermilk. Pour into pie plate. Top with fruit.
  7. Bake for 30 minutes.
  8. Cool a bit and enjoy!

blowing out the candles

Recipe: Momma’s Enchilada Style Mexican Pizza

enchilada mexican pizza @ mommablogsalot

I’ve shared this recipe before but it was pretty incomplete and not entirely accurate – whoops! Definitely time for a do over!

This recipe is a big favorite in our house and it’s very versatile. I use the same basic ingredients whether I’m making the dish pie or pizza style or just as basic enchiladas. You can use any variety of enchilada sauce or even taco sauce so you can adapt it to your family’s preferences. I keep a bottle of hot sauce on hand for my husband who likes it spicier than the rest of us.

enchiladas

Here’s a pic of the recipe making regular old enchiladas

Ingredients

  • 1 pound of ground beef
  • 1 packet of taco seasoning (or make your own – I love this Alton Brown recipe)
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 4-6 flour tortillas
  • About 4 oz. (1 cup) of shredded cheese but you may use more or less depending on preference
  • 1 can of enchilada sauce (you could also use taco sauce)

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Cook up 1 lb ground beef until it’s browned through, then drain excess grease.
  3. Add a packet of taco seasoning and 1/4 cups water, then continue cooking meat until the seasoning / sauce is “thick” or basically, until it’s not watery and all the meat is covered.
  4. Using a flat round skillet that can go in the oven (or a cake pan or square pan – whatever is handy), place a tortilla on the bottom, add cheese, then your meat, then another tortilla and so on until it’s full, finishing with a tortilla.
  5. Top all of this with a can of enchilada sauce – we like the green chile style – try and make sure the whole thing is covered so that the tortilla doesn’t overcook in the oven.
  6. Then add more cheese to the whole thing.
  7. Bake for 20-25 minutes or so until cheese is melted.

We usually top each serving with diced tomatoes, sour cream (or Fage Greek yogurt) and / or guacamole. You can basically cater this to individual preference.

What’s your favorite go-to recipe?

Recipe: Andrea’s Clam Chowder

clam chowder

Lately my favorite place to store recipes is on Pinterest. I have a board for recipes I want to try – and another one for recipes that are all kinds of tried and true. It’s nice to be able to scroll through a bunch of meals that are known favorites in my family as I’m planning my menu for the week.

But some of my favorite recipes aren’t online and thus are un-pinnable! I’m trying to rectify this and I thought an easy solution would be to share some of them here.

Today I want to share with you a clam chowder recipe that I got from my my bestie, Andrea. She shared it with me awhile back and my life hasn’t been the same since. Sometimes I’ll call her in the grocery store to ask what kind of clams to buy again and what brands does she like and have I told her how much I love her lately.

me & andrea

Me and Andrea wayyyyy back when!

Ange and I go way back – we met at a bowling party for a mutual friend back in high school and were basically inseparable from that day forward. Though we live 1,500 miles apart now – we have one of those super easy friendships where we always pick up where we left off whenever we do get to see each other as if no time has passed at all. Love that.

In our hometown back in MA we have an annual Chowder Fest every year where restaurants and chefs from all over compete to make the best clam chowder. It’s a major summer event and before moving to Wisconsin I went basically every year – so although I’m probably not a clam chowder expert, I do like to think I have pretty high standards when it comes to my chowder. Seasoning and consistency are pretty important to me and I consider myself kind of a chowder purist – I like it simple and this recipe is simply delicious.

andrea's clam chowder

Andrea’s Clam Chowder

Makes 8-10 servings

Ingredients

  • 1/2 lb bacon
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 4 celery sticks
  • 1 1/4 lb potatoes
  • 1 tbsp sea salt
  • 1 tsp pepper
  • 1.5 tsp thyme (fresh use a little less than bottled)
  • 1 cup flour
  • 3 cans clam (1 minced, 2 chopped or whatever sounds good to you)
  • 8 oz clam juice
  • 1 quart heavy cream

Directions

  1. Slice 1/2 pound of bacon into small pieces, and fry in a large pot until crispy. Once crispy to the touch add in celery and onion (cut into small pieces so they will fit on a spoon.) Cook down until celery is looking translucent and is soft to the touch.
  2. Add seasoning to pot, more can be added if flavor is lacking at the end of all cooking. Stir mixture together until thoroughly seasoned. Add flour and cook for 1-2 minutes until flour is coating all items in pan.
  3. Add 2-3 cans of clams (I usually do 1 minced and 2 chopped) and clam juice to pot.
  4. Concoction so far can be frozen for future preparation!
  5. In separate pot cook cubed potatoes (again, bite sized) until they are soft enough to eat, but not too soft that they will fall apart.
  6. Add potatoes (drained of all water) and heavy cream to large pot and cook until thoroughly warm. If chowder is thin then you can cook it for longer (it will thicken as it stands) or create a roux using melted butter and flour and adding it to the chowder which will help it thicken. To really make the flavor complete add 3 drops of hot sauce!

I love this clam chowder recipe – I hope you will, too!

Aloha Friday: What’s Cooking?

It’s time for another Aloha Friday, the day that you take it easy and look forward to the weekend, in Hawaii and blog land anyway. As you should know by now, over at An Island Life, Kailani decided that on Fridays she would take it easy on posting and ask a simple question for you to answer. Nothing that requires a lengthy response.

If you’d like to participate, just post your own question on your blog and leave your link at An Island Life’s blog. Don’t forget to visit the other participants! It’s a great way to make new bloggy friends!

My husband has gotten REALLY into cooking lately. At this point I’ve pretty much given into the obvious and accepted that he is a much better cook than me – and he LIKES it. These days he does all the cooking for dinner, yes even on week nights. Don’t hate me because I hit the marriage jack pot. 🙂 Anyway, he loves to cook and does a great job but he still asks me to plan the menu for the week / month – as in, give him an idea and let him run with it. It’s the laborious task of deciding WHAT to cook that he doesn’t like, at least not on a daily basis and he loves my monthly menu plans. So I’ve continued making the menus and he cooks the ideas I come up with, occasionally changing things up entirely when he gets inspired.

But… I’m running low on ideas and I’d really love to give him some new recipes to try. So my questions for you are…

  • What is your favorite dinner recipe? (Feel free to include a link if it’s online)
  • Do you like to cook? How about your spouse / significant other?
  • Who does what in your household (I’m guessing my grandmother and I aren’t the only ones with aspiring chefs for husbands)?
  • What’s for dinner tonight in your household?

Independence Day Weekend

This weekend was my first time celebrating the 4th of July without going to the town parade, fireworks, visiting family for cookouts, etc. We spent the entire weekend celebrating with just the 3.5 of us and I have to say it was a pretty nice weekend. Our original plan involved going to the beach on Saturday and making a huge feast on Dan’s tabletop grill, but those plans were rained out. So we decided to go to the beach on Sunday with a modest feast and cook the majority of it at home that day.

Saturday July 4th went a little something like this…

After a french toast with powdered sugar, strawberries and blueberries breakfast (so festive!) we spent Saturday morning mulling around Walmart spending a lot more money than we intended to, but on things we needed (we got the sleeping bag for MM and a great nursing gown for me and BB). That afternoon we had bratwurst cooked over a George Foreman grill (hot dogs for the picky three year old), homemade pasta salad and deviled eggs. I’m going to admit right now that Dan did almost all the cooking this weekend.

(We were talking last night about our culinary interests and what we thought they’d be etc. I always assumed I’d become this perfect homemaker who cooked amazing dinners, desserts, etc. and basically owned the kitchen. But apart from desserts and the occasional lucky recipe, most of my culinary prospects have been lackluster. I can do a quick, easy main dish like it’s no one’s business but when I try to get fancy, I rarely feel my efforts have been rewarded by an amazing dish. It never feels worth it – you know? Just stressful. Then somewhere in the middle, Dan got interested in bread making, which turned into pizza making, which, with the help of Food Network in the past month and a half, has turned into – he loves to cook. And his food is good, ladies. I am spoiled rotten and I’m not complaining. I actually feel relieved. Sometimes I’m a bit jealous but since I can still kick his butt in the dessert department and I still mostly own the rest of the homemaking gig, I think it evens out and I’m proud of him. So in general, the kitchen belongs to Dan during the weekends especially and more often on weeknights than I care to admit to – but I can play the pregnancy card for now.)

Anyway, this has very little to do with the weekend – so I’ll get back to my little recap. After lunch we spent some time doing MM’s favorite thing – playing with toys. Every day (several times a day) he will come over to one of us and say, “Do you want to come play in my TOY ROOM?” and you know I feel terrible when I am too busy which seems to happen a lot – even more so for poor Dan. So that afternoon we both said a whole hearted YES and spent awhile doing just that. MM was in his glory.

For dinner that night we continued our original menu plan with the second half of our feast – Dan made homemade beef teriyaki – complete with the wooden skewers just like at a Chinese restaurant and oh mylanta, it was Good. We had that with leftover pasta salad and celery with peanut butter and cream cheese and for dessert – lemon bars, homemade right of a Betty Crocker box. I always go back and forth between strictly homemade and “times-a-wasting” and to be honest, this lemon craving of mine is still so new to me that I wanted to try a couple of box recipes first – that I know I can’t likely screw up – so that when I try homemade later when my energy levels return to “normal” I’ll know if it tastes close to right and what things should look like. These came out pretty good – and Dan kicked it up a festivity level with his “plating skills” (all husbands should be required to watch Iron Chef America – I think he secretly scores each of his meals by flavor, plating and originality).

(this picture doesn’t do it justice, I am still working on my food photography and meanwhile the ice cream and whipped cream were melting so I gave up early and got to eating!)

Then on Sunday, our holiday weekend continued…

The weather was gorgeous so we were thinking it would be the perfect beach day. But we set out first thing that morning to Target (which was closed on the 4th) to buy one very special item – Baby Blueberry’s infant car seat and stroller. We got the Graco Mulberry style travel system I’ve had my eye on for months now despite going back and forth a bit, wanting to be sure it was the one, we can now safely say – yes it is, and it’s ours! We had a cheap Cosco travel system with MM that we loathed so much we actually donated it shortly after he outgrew the car seat, vowing to get ourselves something nicer for the next baby. I was worried that wouldn’t happen after Dan got laid off, but with the help of the $100 Rent.com visa we got, the price was cut in half and we decided to do our sanity a favor and go for it. We’re very happy with it from what we’ve seen so far. By the time we got home the weather was too beautiful to wait any longer.

So we packed up our beach gear and the food we had planned for that day’s lunch and headed to our new favorite beach (not that we’ve checked out any others yet). Dan got to work immediately cooking the rest of the bratwurst and some more hot dogs for MM while MM got to work immediately playing on the beach’s playground.

Then after lunch we headed to the beach. Unfortunately the algae levels were too high or something so the department of health mandated the water be “closed” so we didn’t get any swimming in but the boys still had fun playing in the sand. After a couple minutes building sandcastles Dan taught MM the age old fun of being buried in the sand which he thought was just terrific!

That night we made homemade pizza with pretty much everything but the kitchen sink thrown on top, leftover pasta salad and some watermelon that was leftover from another culinary feat this weekend – we made this delicious watermelon lemonade that I saw on Smitten Kitchen last week. Everything was delicious, making a terrific end to our holiday weekend.

Again with the picture not doing the meal justice.

I couldn’t NOT be festive if I tried…

We may not go to any parades this year. And I might have grumbled and groaned all night as the teenagers blew off firecrackers across the street all night last night (to be fair, they’ve been blowing fireworks across the street every night for a month now – this was hopefully their long awaited grand finale? And btw, I think firecrackers being legal is just absurd, but maybe that’s just the mom in me talking – akin to, “You’ll poke an eye out”?). But this morning we are making french toast and I am planning to top it with blueberries, strawberries and either powdered sugar or whipped cream. Because gosh darn it, today’s America’s birthday – and I don’t ignore birthdays!

If the rain doesn’t interfere, we’re going to bring Dan’s little tabletop grill to a local beach (or maybe park) and make some homemade beef teriyaki and bratwurst to serve with pasta salad, celery and green beans and lemon bars. Our version of a “cook out” and everyone we know is invited. Except we don’t know anybody here so nobody is invited. ::shrugs:: I hope everyone has a fantastic 4th of July and to all my international readers, have a fabulous weekend!

Friday’s Fave Five: June 12th

This is my first time participating in the Friday’s Fave Five meme hosted by Living To Tell The Story, but the basic concept is pretty easy – list five favorite moments from the week, things that made you smile, things that were gooooood. A little power of positive thinking, anybody? Here are mine:

  1. Getting my latest ultrasound yesterday was awesome, if only because now I now that despite my total lack of weight gain, BB is apparently a little fatty at just over 5 pounds and all is well!
  2. The maintenance guy came and fixed our dryer today! I’m looking forward to normal dry cycles for next week’s laundry!
  3. My spaghetti bolognese came out awesome on Tuesday – it’s all about cooking the onions until they are golden brown so they are sweet and do their thing without being all in your face and oniony.
  4. The rousing success of teaching MM song and dance numbers like Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes and the Hokey Pokey – we also all played hide and seek yesterday after dinner which was too much freaking fun and involved a lot of time being silly with cardboard boxes! 🙂
  5. Meeting my new OB on Tuesday and scheduling the birth of little Baby Blueberry (July 21) could not be more exciting! And it’s such a relief to know where the new doctor’s office is, how to get there (I even went there without my GPS on Thursday!) and that the nurses and my new OB are really nice and helpful (not to mention that apparently my new health insurance just rocks) is all told, probably the best thing ever.

You know what’s really awesome? I could go on! But now it’s your turn – what were the best moments of your week?

Daybook: Monday June 1st

Today…

Outside my window: is blue skies with white fluffy clouds – high in the 70s with a supposed chance of rain – again. The weather here seems to be largely predictable these days: drizzly and windy / cloudy in the morning; Then building heat throughout the day and afternoon before it hopefully cools down again for the evening. Most of the rain I’ve seen has been in the early morning / late evening. If it wants to keep going that way, that’d be cool with me.

I am hearing: trucks driving by the road outside. Our balcony overlooks the main road that our street is just off of so you can see the traffic driving by most of the day. If you walked out the door though, you’d the smaller, suburban road the apartment complex is on, with lots of houses to the left and a couple stores and restaurants to the right.

I am thinking: that the dryer in my unit is probably broken or else just awful. It took about three hours for one load of laundry to dry and even then, I’m thinking it just sort of air dried as it tumbled around in there. That can’t be normal, right? The back of the dryer gets awfully hot but my clothes do not. I thought the problem was fixed, but I’m thinking no. I’m also thinking I’m lazy and don’t feel like dealing with it today – maybe tomorrow?

I am hoping: to get this whole doctor / health insurance thing figured out quickly and get an appointment with a local OB lined up soon.

I am reading: Angels and Demons by Dan Brown – now that the movie has come out I figured I’d better get around to reading it, not that we’ll be seeing it before it comes out on DVD. It’s been kind of slow going, much like The Da Vinci Code was for me, but I am enjoying it.

I am creating: calm inside the chaos of our new apartment, slowly unpacking those last pictures and finding homes for things. We started hanging shelves a shelf yesterday and I hope to get pictures hung soon.

I am wearing: pajamas – that’s the main reason I haven’t called maintenance yet to come fix the dryer. I don’t feel like getting dressed. Is that sad?

In the kitchen:
Monday: Grilled BBQ Chicken w/ baked potatoes and mixed vegetables
Tuesday: Spaghetti and Mozzarella Stuffed Meatballs with Italian Bread
Wednesday: Hot Dogs & Macaroni and Cheese
Thursday: Grilled Cheese and Clam Chowder
Friday: Chicken Parmesan

Around the house: We finally unpacked our Wii so we were able to get back to our Wii Fit – I was really proud that I hadn’t gained an enormous amount of weight (or any really) after almost two weeks away from calorie counting / daily weigh ins.

Plans for the week: get new doctors / doctor appointments, finish unpacking, get the dryer fixed, finish the laundry

One of my favorite things: Bigelow’s Spiced Chai Tea – another chai find! This is a bit milder and sweeter than Tazo and cheaper than Yogi and all around delicious!

A picture thought:

Check out the awesome train table my dad built for MM!

Simple Woman’s Daybook: May 4th

Outside My Window: It’s been nice and cool and cloudy. The heat wave seems to be over and I’m content as I can still get by with my summer-ish wardrobe and maybe a light sweater. We’ve had a bit of rain but nothing remarkable.

I am hearing: Curious George on tv – we’re headed to my grandma’s for dinner soon but MM insists he finishes watching his show before his diaper change, after which we will leave.

I am thinking: Too many things at once – my brain is still pretty muddled with all the same things, trying to plan the upcoming weeks but pretty much completely unable to.

I am hoping:
that Dream Company gets back to Dan soon! So far nothing, although we did hear from his old boss that they contacted him for a reference this past Friday, so we know they are still doing something and hopefully we hear soon. Not that I’m getting impatient or anything. 😛

From The Kitchen
Monday: dinner at my grandmas
Tuesday: Spaghetti with mozzarella stuffed meatballs – yum!
Wednesday: Hot Dogs & Mac ‘n’ Cheese
Thursday: Hamburger Night
Friday: Chicken something or other

This menu is staring to look awfully repetitive but the price has been working well for us, so it will do for now. I look forward to being able to expand our menus even just a little bit…

I’m now reading: Lioness Rampant, the last book in the Alanna series by Tamora Pierce. I started reading Influence a couple of nights ago, only to realize it was absolutely nothing like what I thought it would be – you know, a memoir. It’s actually a coffee table book style collection of interviews with 20 famous-ish people who have “influenced” the Olsen twins. I really didn’t care for it at all and had no interest in the 20 people they interviewed so I abandoned it. I hope they do a real memoir someday, although I guess I’d expect that kind of book to come much later in their lives, which is fine.

I am creating: Nothing at the moment – I did take some pictures for my review of the Amazon Kindle 2 and shot the video for this week’s In My Opinion video meme (click the link for this week’s questions if you want to play along), so that’s sort of creative… I guess.

Around the house: We’ve been cleaning up clutter mostly, it’s been nice to see a lot of old junk go but we have a lot more left to do!

One of my favorite things: We’ve been teaching MM to spell a bit. Still very early on in the process but it’s been really cute. We got a book from Frecklebox (to review for Mommas Review) that has his name splashed all over it and we’ve been loving using that to help him learn to spell his name and dude it works and he loves it!

A few plans for the rest of the week: That totally depends on when Dream Company gets back to us and what they say. If it’s a yes, we’ll be calling moving companies and packing, etc. If it’s a no, hubby has a couple companies lined up to apply to via recommendations from some friends. Oh and tv of course, because you know I run my life by the tv schedule.

A Picture Thought: Here’s a cute picture of MM eating dinner with one of his new favorite bedtime / all the time stuffed animals – a little stuffed Westie that follows him everywhere, even to the breakfast table apparently. Picture captured by daddy.