Friday, February 26, 2010

Another NaBloPoMo

In anticipation of kicking some killer first-half-of-pregnancy fatigue and to make up for my blog slacking lately, I'm gearing up to post every day for a month.

I did NaBloPoMo {National Blog Posting Month} in November and it was a lot of fun. So to celebrate Spring and hitting the halfway point in my pregnancy I'll be posting every day in March. Yay!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Quiet Book

Have you heard of a Quiet Book? We have one that my auntie gave me when Jacob was born. We love it!

Here's what it's like inside...
Flowers to practice buttoning. A ladybug that unzips to reveal...

mini ladybugs.Color matching velcro balloons. The apple tree is a favorite page of ours. The apples are great for counting practice. When the kids are very small we use them to practice sharing and following directions. "Pick the apples and put them in mommy's hand...Put them back on the tree." They both loved doing that.Look! There's even a math section. The babies love the abacus beads. And despite many attempts, they've never freed any from the strands.Snap on shape and a kitty with a tied on collar. The Noodle loves the cat. He looks for it every time he opens this book.

Velcro traffic light and a functioning belt buckle.

Football laces and a spinning seasons arrow-thingy.

And a clock with spinning hands.

You can see why we love this book. It's got so many different pages with a range of developmental activities. It's been well used in the last 3 1/2 years and it's a rare toy that both boys can still use. I can't even count how many church services Boo sat through with this book to keep him entertained. It's perfect for that. I'd say it's great for traveling too but you have to keep an eye on those loose pieces. Our two missing pieces escaped during road trips.

I haven't found our exact book online as my aunt bought it in New Zealand. But Amazon has one called My Quiet Book that's very similar. Or, if you're feeling ambitious, you can make one yourself. Homemade by Jill made an adorable book and shares some of her page templates.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Sewing Tutorial: Bowling Set Drawstring Storage Bag

The kids got a bowling set for Christmas. It's so much fun and made out of foam which makes The Good Doctor really happy. He worked tirelessly installing our hardwood floors himself and flinches anytime we {err, mostly me} drop anything on them.

Unfortunately, the cardboard box the set came in didn't hold up very well and we had to toss it. After nearly a week of stray bowling pins in random places, I decided it was time for another solution. I didn't want to buy anything to make a bag, so I just used supplies I had on hand: some khaki twill fabric, felt, and ribbon scraps.

Drawstring bags are simple to make and don't require any fancy techniques. Perfect for beginning sewers.

To start, decide the size you want your bag to be. Just keep in mind a 1 1/4" seam allowance on top and 1/2" seam on each side. Cut out your rectangle of fabric and then grab your ironing board. Just ignore the stack of clothes that are waiting to be ironed. Sewing a drawstring bag clearly takes priority. :)
I ironed the top edges (the shortest sides) of the bag down a quarter inch.

After doing this, I realized I needed to fold over the raw side edges so they wouldn't be exposed. I just ironed the sides over a bit (1/4"). I only ironed the top 2 1/4" inches of the side edge. Don't iron all the way down the sides.
Fold the top seams over another inch and iron.

Sew along the bottom edge of the top fold to create the drawstring pocket.Snip the edge where the side seam will start, just below the top seam.Before sewing up the sides, I added the felt bowling pins and bowling ball to the front of the bag. I used scrap felt for the design.

I pinned the pieces to the front.

And sewed them on. I love that felt doesn't fray. It makes it such an easy fabric to use for applique. Now we're ready to stitch up the sides and finish the bag. I sewed up the side edges with a 1/4" seam.
Before turning the bag right side out, press the seam towards the back of the bag.Turn bag right side out.Using a safety pin as a guide, thread ribbon through the top seam on each side. Make sure your ribbon is several inches longer than the bag's width on each side.I knotted the ends of the ties together so they wouldn't get pulled out.

The kids love this bag and it's nice that all of their bowling pins have a place to be put away now.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Valentine's Day Handprint Placemat

Hello friends! Busy week. Sorry for the lack of posting and possibly making you hungry every time you click over here and see that gyro plate. Looking at it just now made me wish that's what we were having for dinner tonight! Leftovers instead.

Anyways, I've mentioned before that we like to make handprint art placemats on different holidays. This week we worked on a Valentine's Day placemat. I've yet to get it laminated, but here it is.
The boys love doing these handprints. I've found the best way to not make a huge mess is to use a foam brush to paint the paint on the child's hand. Then, I have them press their handprints down on white computer paper, not the actual placemat paper. So if we get smudged prints, we don't have to redo the whole thing and waste a big piece of paper. Instead, I cut out each handprint and arrange them on the placemat paper with double stick tape.
We're happy we'll have another placemat to add to our collection.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Homemade Greek Gyros with Tzatziki Sauce

Since moving here, we've really missed the incredible restaurants we had back in Texas. {We didn't eat out much but when we did we had the most wonderful places to choose from. I won't even go into the poor excuse for Mexican restaurants here. My, we miss our TexMex.} One such place that I have craved many times since relocating is Niko Nikos. Good heavens are their gyros the best! Made fresh when you order, wrapped up in foil with a pile of seasoned fries and yummy tzatziki. They're so good and worth waiting in a line out the door for.

Since we only make it back home once or twice a year, my gyro craving has been left totally unsatisfied. I was determined to figure out a way to duplicate them here. Honestly, I was skeptical that I could even come close. I mean, how exactly do you make gyro meat at home. It's lamb and beef pressed together and roasted rotisserie style. I don't have a rotisserie and wasn't confident I could create the right meat mixture. But after a lot of research (and some great tips from Alton Brown), I've finally found just what we've been missing so much! So here's my gyro and tzatziki recipes. No fancy equipment required. And no waiting in line either.

Let's start with the gyros. Here's our ingredient list for the meat:
1 lb. ground lamb
1 lb. ground beef, 80% lean
2 heaping teaspoons oregano
2 tsp. marjoram
2 tsp. kosher salt
½ tsp. ground black pepper
1 medium onion
3-4 garlic cloves, minced or crushed

First, chop the onion. No need for a fine dice here, just give it a rough chop. Dump the onion into a food processor.
Puree the onion for about 30 seconds, pausing to scrape down the sides.
Dump onion puree onto paper towel {I use two paper towels for this for added strength}. Squeeze out the onion juice. Discard juice or save for another purpose.
Put the drained onion puree back in the food processor. Add remaining ingredients and pulse until well combined. {Note: I have a rather small food processor so I couldn't fit both pounds of meat. Instead, I blended the spices with the lamb in the food processor and then in a bowl mixed the lamb mixture with the beef.}

Press the meat mixture into a loaf pan being sure to pack it down well. Bake at 350 degrees for an hour.

Remove the meatloaf from the oven and set on a wire rack. Now, place a layer of foil over the meatloaf and set something heavy on top. I used two quarts of chicken stock but a brick or a couple of heavy cans would also do the trick. The idea here is that you keep the meat pressed down tightly as it cools. Cool for 30-45 minutes with the weights. Remove weights and wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate overnight. {Chilling overnight isn't crucial but I think it helps develop the flavors.}

Remove from refrigerator and unwrap. Thinly slice the meatloaf. I use an electric knife
for this.
To brown the strips of meat, heat 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil in a skillet over medium high heat. Add several strips of meat in a single layer. Brown for approximately two minutes per side. Remove meat from pan to a plate covered with a paper towel. Add another batch of meat to the pan. No need to add more oil. Repeat in this manner until all meat is browned.

Now for the tzatziki sauce. Tzatziki is a delicious greek yogurt sauce. Mmm. I love this stuff.

Here's what you need for the sauce: 1 ¼ cup greek yogurt
1 English hothouse cucumber

2 cloves garlic
½ tsp. dill
2 Tbsp. lemon juice {or half lemon squeezed}
Generous pinch of kosher salt
Pinch ground pepper
Generous pinch of sugar

First, peel and seed the cucumber. To seed it, slice the cucumber in half lengthwise and scoop seeds out with a spoon.
Grate the cucumber.
Gather up the pile of grated cucumber in a tea towel or two layers of paper towels. Squeeze out the liquid and discard. Mix the drained cucumber with the yogurt and remaining ingredients.

Cover and refrigerate several hours or overnight. Taste for seasoning. {I added a bit more sugar and salt.}
To serve the gyros, wrap in pita bread with tzatziki sauce, sliced onion and tomato. I use this recipe for pita bread as suggested by my friend The Prairie Girl. Click for the printable recipes: Lamb and Beef Gyros and Tzatziki Sauce.

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