You are currently browsing the monthly archive for November 2011.

On November 22 at 6:25pm we welcomed our sweet son, Henry August into our home and our lives. He was 10lbs, 4 oz and 23 inches long! We had a safe and joyful home birth, and we can’t wait to spend the rest of our lives with him.

Welcome, Henry.

I love minestrone soup. I’ve made it at home a few times, but I’ve never really loved the results. Finally, success! This soup was amazing, and I’m really quite sad it’s all gone. I think the essential things that made it so delicious were using fresh homemade stock, adding a little spice, and lots of fresh herbs. Enjoy!

Spicy Minestrone Soup

3 cups vegetable stock
1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes (I put mine through the food processor because I’m not crazy about huge tomato chunks)
1 (15-ounce) can white (cannellini or navy) beans, drained
2 carrots, chopped
1 celery stalk, chopped
1 cup onion, chopped
2 bay leaves
A teaspoon or so each of fresh thyme, rosemary, and/or sage
1 tablespoon crushed red pepper (adjust to your own taste)
Salt and ground black pepper
2 cups cooked pasta in a small shape
1 medium zucchini, chopped
2 cups coarsely chopped fresh spinach
Grated Parmesan or Romano cheese
Basil sprigs, garnish, optional

In a slow cooker, combine stock, tomatoes, beans, carrots, celery, onion, herbs, bay leaves, crushed red pepper, and 1/2 teaspoon each salt and black pepper. Cover and cook on LOW for 6 to 8 hours or on HIGH for 3 to 4 hours.

Thirty minutes before the soup is done cooking, add cooked pasta, zucchini and spinach. Cover and cook 30 more minutes. Remove bay leaves and season, to taste, with salt, black pepper, and more crushed red pepper if you like spicy. Ladle soup into bowls and sprinkle parmesan cheese over top, and garnish with basil if you’d like.

A couple of mornings ago I made a big batch of homemade vegetable stock. I love what a homemade stock can do for a simple soup, and it sure beats the sodium-packed store bought versions. Not to mention it makes your house smell wonderful while it cooks.

Simple Vegetable Stock

1-2 onions
2-3 carrots
2 stalks celery
1 bay leaf
Fresh herbs – I use thyme and rosemary, sage would be nice too
Small bunch of parsley
1 teaspoon or so whole peppercorns

Roughly chop all your veggies and toss them in a large stock pot with the herbs and peppercorns. Cover with water- if you use less water, the stock will have a stronger flavor, with more water it will be lighter. I prefer a lighter stock so I poured about 3 quarts of water into the pot.

Cook covered on high until the stock boils, then reduce to medium-low and allow to cook for about an hour. Strain your stock in a fine mesh colander or cheesecloth. Use immediately, or separate into quart-sized jars or other containers. Allow to cool and stick the extra in the freezer for future soups!

As we’ve prepared to welcome our baby into our home (any day now, really!), I’ve become more concerned with ways to effectively, safely, and inexpensively keep the house clean. There are tons of natural, organic, eco-friendly products out there that certainly work well, but they don’t usually fit into the “inexpensive” category.

A while back I got hooked on a certain sponge I found with the natural cleaning products that was basically your typical sponge but also had a sturdy hemp covering sewn over it. They are really effective and durable, but also $4.99 a pop. For a dish sponge that only lasts a month or 6 weeks, that seems like a lot. So instead of shelling out for my favorite sponge, I decided to re-create it using regular cellulose sponges from the grocery store and some burlap scraps I had from an old project. At $3.99 for 4 (larger) sponges, and about 1/2 yard of burlap that runs $2/yard at the fabric store, not only was this a lot cheaper (1/4 of the price per sponge), the size is more comfortable to use and I can make 4 at a time to have on hand so I don’t have to make a trip to the store to replace a nasty sponge before I do the next load of dishes.

DIY Burlap Sponges

The old sponge that inspired the project:

You’ll need:

4 Cello (or any brand you prefer) sponges
About 1/2 yard of burlap (you can find burlap at nearly any fabric store, or even better re-purpose some from a potato bag or a large bag of rice)
Basic sewing machine

Cut your burlap into 8 rectangles, using the sponges as a guide. I started with about 1.5″ of excess on all 4 sides of the sponge and trimmed them slightly after sewing.

Center your sponge between two pieces of burlap, and use quilting pins to secure on all 4 sides. Run each side through your sewing machine as close to the sponge as you can. I back-stitched over each line of stitching, and then stitched over that again (a total of 3 lines of stitches per side) for added sturdiness.

Once you’re done sewing, trim off as much excess as you’d like, but I’d recommend leaving 3/4″-1″ or so on all 4 sides because it comes in handy when you’re washing a stubborn pan.

Ta-da! Basic sponges have been upgraded to become more effective and longer-lasting, plus no more hideous fluorescent colors.

Another safe and non-toxic way to keep things clean around the house is by making your own cleaning spray. A lot of people in various homesteading and DIY-minded communities have been recommending this for a long time, but I just ran out of my last bottle of Seventh Generation all-purpose cleaner, and instead of buying another one for $5+, I decided to finally make my own.

I used a very simple formula based on lots of recommendations (most recently from Kate Payne’s The Hip Girl’s Guide to Homemaking) that requires only 2 or 3 ingredients – water, vinegar, and essential oil.

DIY Household Cleaner

You can use this on nearly anything – counter tops, sinks, floors, tile, you name it.

You’ll need:

One part distilled white vinegar
One part water
5-10 drops essential oil (I like orange or lavender) – optional
Clean, empty spray bottle

Fill your spray bottle halfway with water, the other half with vinegar, and add 5-10 drops of essential oil if you’d like. Shake, and that’s it!

I bought a gallon (128oz) of distilled white vinegar for $3.99, and I had the oil on hand, so the total cost to fill my 20oz spray bottle was about $.31. A whole lot cheaper than the old stuff, and totally safe to use around pets and baby.

Baby has decided not to greet us just yet, so I’ve had a chance to get lots more sewing projects done these past couple of days.

First, I made a hanging hamper that can be used for baby’s little clothes, or for now we’re going to use it as a holder for baby wipes and diapers above the changing table.

The pattern for the hamper came from the Baby On the Way e-course by Rachel on A Beautiful Mess. The e-course is a lot of fun, and has a bunch of super useful patterns for making baby things. I’ve found that baby things tend to be either highly mass-produced (and kind of eh) or way more high-end than I can afford (or could justify if I could). So, I’ve taken to making or upgrading my own things. In addition to the e-course, I also invested in Lotta Jansdotter’s Simple Sewing for Baby, which includes patterns and instructions for lots of great baby projects. I’m especially excited to make a crib bumper and lots of little bloomers.

For now, I’m still working on my sewing skills so I’ve been sticking to simpler projects. Besides the hamper, I made a bunch of cute burp cloths using small remnants of cotton fabrics I had from past projects, and a few throw pillows to coordinate with our new (vintage) sofa.

If this baby decides to stay in my belly much longer, I’ll need to make an emergency trip to the fabric store. Not that that would be so bad…

This baby is due tomorrow! I am so excited to meet our little one. Of course we can’t say for sure if tomorrow will really be the big day, but with the full moon and a few other signs in our favor, I think he or she will be here very soon.

Friends, I think we have our first family recipe.

A week or so ago we went on a lovely drive through Niagara County on the hunt for fresh apples, concord grapes, pumpkins, and other seasonal produce. We bought a bushel of the sweetest apples I’ve ever tasted, and I quickly laid plans to make a pie. I’m not actually a big fan of fruit pie, so I wanted to come up with a way to make an apple pie that I would really enjoy. I was inspired by Julia Child’s recipe for a custard apple tart from Mastering the Art of French Cooking, but I changed a few things and used a different recipe for the crust.

It was so, so good. Creamy custard with sweet apples and just the right amount of spice. I’ll be making this pie every fall.

Apple Custard Pie

Ingredients:
1 pie crust (see below)
3-4 of your favorite apples
Pinch of cinnamon and nutmeg
2 eggs
1 cup sugar
1 cup heavy cream
1 tbsp vanilla extract

Pie crust:

Use whatever pie crust you like, I’m a fan of Gluten-Free Girl’s pie crust recipe, or for a conventional crust, I really like this one by Smitten Kitchen.

In either case, add a pinch of cinnamon to the dry ingredients for this pie, you’ll notice the difference. Also note, especially if you are using the Smitten Kitchen recipe, you do NOT need to pre-bake the crust. The baking time for the custard will be plenty of time for the crust to bake.

Prepare your pie crust, and roll out to 1/4″ thickness and line your pie pan. Fold over the edges or crimp your crust, and poke some holes in the dough with your fork so it doesn’t puff up in the oven.

To make the custard, whisk together the eggs, sugar, cream, and vanilla until combined.

Chop 3-4 apples (depending on size – I used 3 large Jonagold apples) into slices and lay them in concentric circles around the pie crust. Sprinkle the apples with a pinch of cinnamon and nutmeg, then pour the custard mixture over the top.

Bake at 375 degrees for 30-40 minutes or until the custard in the center has set.

I’d recommend refrigerating this pie overnight after it cools, it’s absolutely delicious cold.