Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Happy Halloween!

Happy Halloween, everyone! As a lover of this holiday, I hope you are making it a fun one: handing out candy, trick-or-treating with the kiddos, partying somewhere in a non-sexy costume, so on and so forth...

Tonight, Matthew and I continue our tradition (3rd year running!) of bundling up and hanging out on the front porch, regardless of how cold gets. We fight the chill with the help of glühwein, or warm mulled wine. The first Halloween in our neighborhood we underestimated how much candy to buy, with the children arriving in large packs. So naturally, last year we overshot it and barely had a dozen trick-or-treaters! Tonight will tip the scales one way or the other.

I also made a batch of super easy Halloween snack mix (or if you are feeling especially festive, Scarecrow Crunch). Here's the recipe:

Mix together in a large bowl...
  • 4 cups cereal (shredded wheat, cheerios, oatmeal squares...whatever you like)
  • 4 cups mini pretzels
  • 22oz bag candy corn and pumpkins
  • 2 cups caramel popcorn
  • 2 cups Reese's Pieces (tip: a bag of chocolate/peanut butter chips is way cheaper!)
  • 1 cup Teddy Grahams
You can add to this list or substitute any of the ingredients with similar fare.

On a related note, I have spent a good chunk of the last two weeks getting our costumes ready for a friend's Halloween party. I've alternated between hunching over my sewing machine and roaming thrift stores. I will share the final products after the party, so we can enjoy the element of surprise!

Have a great night!


Fall Recipe of the Week: Curried Sweet Potato & Lentil Stew

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Make: Laundry Detergent

My mom has been making her own laundry soap for years. I never really thought too much about it until I was an adult who actually had to pay for detergent. Don't get me wrong--I definitely did my share of laundry growing up, but I wasn't footing the bill! Even with my Sam's Club membership, the cost of detergent is steep. So last year I got the "recipe" from my mom and haven't looked back!

This is definitely the type of project that becomes more cost effective the more times you do it. That's because you will likely have to buy larger boxes of ingredients that can make several batches.

The first time I tried this, I made a double batch that lasted approximately 7-8 months! I do 2-3 loads of laundry per week, using one heaping tablespoon per load. I do have a big store-bought bottle to use whenever I am in between batches. I recommend you do the same.

Powder Detergent

You will need:
1 bar of Fels Naptha, grated
1 cup Borax
1 cup Washing Soda

Mix together thoroughly. That's it. Use 1 tablespoon per load.

Now, I'm not going to lie to you or pretend that it didn't take a while to grate that bar of soap. Just think of it an as opportunity to practice those meditation techniques you've been meaning to try. Another upside is that your kitchen will smell fantastic!

Some people report difficulty in finding the ingredients, however, I found them with no trouble at all at the nearby Walmart. Actually, they were all shelved right next to each other in the laundry aisle.

Prefer Liquid Detergents?

There is also a liquid version of homemade laundry detergent. I can't personally vouch for it, but my sister uses this technique. According to her, it takes "some time" but is definitely worth it and she plans to keep making it in the future. Although it involves many more steps, it yields far more detergent. Keeping that in mind, my sister notes that you want to ensure you will have enough storage space to house several large jugs (of the detergent).

You will need:
1/2 cup Borax
1 cup Washing Soda
Fels Naptha Soap Bar, grated
5 gallon bucket with lid
10 (1-gallon) milk jugs or other containers with lids.

Put the soap shavings in a large pot with 4 cups of water. Heat on medium-low, stirring continuously until soap is dissolved (roughly 10 minutes). The texture may be foamy.

Fill the bucket halfway with very hot water. Add the soap mixture, washing soda, and borax. Stir thoroughly.

Add additional water, until bucket is completely full. Stir thoroughly. Cover and let sit overnight. The next day, the texture should be somewhat thicker; stir again.

Now you can funnel the detergent into the containers, but ONLY HALF-WAY. Fill the other half with water and give the jug (lid on!) a good shake.

Use approximately 1/4 cup per load.


So there you have it! An easy way to save loads of money while doing loads of laundry!

Fall Recipe of the Week: Pumpkin Blondies

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Make: Fall To-Do

Generally, whenever something becomes overly prevalent in the populace I'm turned off by it completely. That's just the hipster hidden inside me, I guess. That something might be a fashion trend, celebrity, book, movie, or catchphrase. "Bucket List" definitely falls into that last something category. However, I do appreciate the sentiment. So I decided to apply the sentiment (but not the word!) to this fall season. I love autumn so much and it always flies by too quickly! So I thought it might be smart to make a priority list and thereby better use our time.

I also just love making lists. So much.

Confession Time: I originally printed this out in cute fonts and colors with the intention of displaying it proudly on the fridge, but...I lost it. Oops.

So here it is with a little mid-term progress report!


Visit a pumpkin patch OR vineyard
           This is currently penciled in my datebook. Ste Genevieve, here we come!

Go on a picnic

           Is it cheating if I combine this with our vineyard trip?

Make an autumn banner 
           Well, I did half of it but then decided I do not like the design; back to the drawing board! 

Make s’mores
          Done! Complete with a fire pit and friends.

Front Porch Halloween Tradition
          14 days to go!
Tour Anheuser Busch
          I have no clue when we are going to be able to do this.

Spend as much time as possible outside, be it sitting or walking
          This was Matthew's suggestion, and we have indeed been outside many times.

Try one new fall-time recipe each week
          So far, so good! I've tried Pumpkin Chocolate Cookies, Butternut Squash Stuffed Pasta, Butternut Squash Chili, Honey Apple Pork Tenderloin (I also threw in 4 chopped sweet potatoes), and up next are Pumpkin Oat Muffins.

What do you hope to do this fall? How can you get it from To-Do  to  Done?!

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Eat: Butternut Squash Stuffed Pasta

While the dish was great, this photo is not. For that, I apologize.

This delicious dish, Butternut Squash Stuffed Pasta Shells with Thyme Butter Sauce, was the result of an impulse buy. Matt and I had just finished up a brunch date with his mom when we decided to mosey over to the next-door produce stand. I was in need of a pumpkin for the front porch and it offered an impressive selection.

We felt like such hip, locally-conscience urbanites shopping at the little stand that we began roaming the aisle trying to decide what other produce we could plausibly need after a recent trip to the grocery store. We both stopped in front of the butternut squash box and knew we'd found our treasure. Before we made it to the check-out counter, I had already chosen this recipe from my mental list of Pinterest Finds To Try.

The dish had a very long preparation and (honestly) was poorly selected as a workday meal. Fortunately, Matt can tell when I'm getting overwhelmed and the wheels are about to come off. He graciously jumped in, helped out, and by 7pm we were digging in to some extremely tasty pasta. The texture of the filling is smooth and creamy, with a subtle sweetness. Usually after conquering an involved recipe, I rarely think I will repeat it--mainly because I enjoy attempting new recipes. However, this was so good that I fully intend to make it again, although probably as a lasagna for faster assembly.

I modified the original recipe a fair amount, and I strongly suggest you follow my ingredient list!

Butternut Squash Stuffed Pasta Shells with Thyme Butter Sauce

Butternut Squash, peeled and chopped (4 cups)
Jumbo pasta shells (roughly 20, depending on how stuffed you want them to be)
16 oz Ricotta
1/3 cup parmesan cheese
1 garlic clove, minced
½ cup frozen spinach, drained
1 egg
Salt & pepper, to taste

Toss the squash in some olive oil and spread the pieces out in a large baking pan. Roast for 15-20 minutes at 425°F.

Utilize this time to cook the pasta shells according to the package’s directions.

Once the squash has roasted, you should be able to easily smash it with a fork. If not, continue cooking in the oven for a few minutes at a time, checking it regularly. In a large bowl combine the smashed squash, Ricotta, Parmesan, garlic, spinach, egg, salt, and pepper.

Wait until the pasta shells are cool enough to touch, then stuff each with heaping spoonfuls of the filling. This is a great time to call in the family for assistance.

After putting the shells in a greased baking pan, bake for roughly 10 minutes at 350°F.

NOTE: The original recipe calls for 20 minutes at 400°F. Don’t do this! I followed the instructions and regretted it; a few of the pasta shells were overcooked and crunchy. Gross.

To prepare the sauce, melt 1 stick of butter in a small pan, then add thyme to taste. Drizzle this sparingly over the pasta. If desired, sprinkle with additional Parmesan cheese.

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Loveliness: a second anniversary tale

In short:

Our anniversary celebration was positively wonderful!

In long:

Part I

Last Wednesday marked our second wedding anniversary. We kicked off the festivities by dining out at Water Street Café in Maplewood. It's one of those intimate, low light, warm colors, cool music restaurants with small menus and square plates. It was perfect.

The meal itself is worth detailing. Trust me.

We shared a plate of warm medjool dates stuffed with goat cheese & basil, wrapped in bacon with a balsamic reduction. Yowza. And I do mean yowza. I think I could have eaten a dozen of them and called it a night.

Then we ordered a flatbread with kalamata olives, chorizo, spinach, roasted red peppers, and mozzarella and split a maple-bourbon salad with spring greens, pears, gorgonzola, candied almonds, red onions, and maple-bourbon vinaigrette. Yes sir!

Part II

The rest of the week carried on like usual, but by Saturday morning we were peeling out of town like Bonnie and Clyde.

We spent the day roaming the small town of New Haven (Missouri, not Connecticut). It rests on a hill right next to the Missouri River, with a little square of historic buildings that once bustled with the energetic commerce of the steamboat industry but now hums with the quiet chirping of the cicadas. This calm is regularly interrupted by the whooshing and whistling of trains storming through.

We settled on the adjective "sleepy" to best describe New Haven as there is next to nothing to keep one's self occupied. Despite the number of homes, we saw very few actual human beings. Matt kept referring to it as "our town" since we appeared to be the only folks for miles. So we explored a few antique shops and sat next to the river, me reading, Matthew writing.

The Historic District, and yes, that is City Hall.
The Visitor's Center (left) and a random caboose (right).

A few points of interest from our exploration:

Around mid-day, we found a scenic view atop New Haven's big hill; this was the perfect spot to enjoy our Tex-Mex to go.

There were two teenage girls riding their bikes in an unending loop around the historic district. The entire day. I repeat, the entire day. We started to imagine them as the witches from MacBeth, constantly watching and circling us, cackling to themselves.

No matter where you go or how far you travel, there is always an antique store waiting to creep you out with vintage toys.

Being good visitors, we visited the Visitor's Center. When asked for a restaurant recommendation, the friendly volunteer in turn asked us what other towns we would be visiting. After our reply of none, she seemed at a loss and just trailed off without offering a suggestion. I feel like she needs some additional ambassador training.

A troop of Lewis and Clark reenactors had just sailed their way down the river and were starting to set up camp. This happened to coincide with a wedding party hoping to take pictures along the riverfront. The ensuing scene provided ample entertainment and prompted some debate as to whether or not these two events were somehow related, like a reenactment-themed wedding. Turns out not.

New Haven must be the safest place in the United States, because we noticed multiple police vehicles with not only the windows rolled down but the doors unlocked as well. And yes, there appeared to be loaded rifles in the back seats. Fantastic.

We stayed overnight at a bed and breakfast built in the late 1800s. I'd like to note that Matthew and I are B&B enthusiasts. We often muse aloud together about how we will run our own B&B someday and brainstorm clever puns as potential names. With that critical credibility established, we thought Central Hotel was great (although breakfast was somewhat underwhelming). It had a warm, rustic feel but was fully updated and had a clean newness to it. Plus, our room was HUGE and boasted its own balcony. We spent a good part of Saturday afternoon sitting on the porch, returning friendly unsolicited waves from Townies.

Part III

On Sunday we had another batch of peace and quiet but of the one-with-nature kind. The Shaw Nature Reserve, for those of you who don't know, is a 2,400 square foot private reserve run by the Missouri Botanical Gardens. The farther one gets from the entrance, the rougher the terrain becomes. It really was so beautiful. It is not easy to turn off my ever-changing, ever-growing mental to-do list, but this hiking trip had instantaneous success. You should give it a try! By the end of the day, we were exhausted but in a good, happy way!

Some of you may know that the thistle, thanks to our recent trip to Scotland,
 is a special flower to us. We were excited to find one!

So here we are back home with two years of matrimony under our belt. I am so grateful to have little getaways like this, time to be with Matthew, looking for adventure, laughing at things that no one besides us would find funny, gazing up into trees, talking about everything, being reminded of how blessed we are.


Fall Recipe of the Week: Butternut Squash Chili