Sunday, July 31, 2011

Got Brown Bananas?

We don't seem to have overripe bananas very often.  It may have something to do with the preschooler and toddler.  They've never met a banana they didn't like.  Therefore, despite buying a bunch of bananas once or twice a week, we still never have extras.  On the rare occasion that we do, this is my go-to recipe. 

Grandma Schmidt's Banana Bread recipe was included in a collection of recipes my friend Bethany gave each of her bridesmaids as a thank-you gift.  Of course she did them all cute on colored note cards held together by a removable clasp.  This was a crafty, thoughtful, and inexpensive gift that would be suitable for several occasions.

The ingredients:

Notice my husband bought Country Crock sticks instead of butter the last time he went to the grocery store.  I'm not complaining; I didn't have to go to the store with the two little ones in tow.

Grandma Schmidt's Banana Bread
1/2 c. butter or oleo
1 c. sugar
2 eggs
2 c. flour
1 tsp. salt
3 large very ripe bananas, mashed
1 c. chopped nuts (optional)

Cream butter and sugar.  Beat in eggs, one at a time.  Beat in mashed bananas.  Mix in combined dry ingredients and add nuts.  Pour in greased and floured 9x5x3 in. loaf pan.  Bake at 350 degrees for 50-60 minutes.

At three, my daughter likes to "help" out in the kitchen.  I put her to work mashing the bananas.  Isn't that apron adorable?  I got it at our town's Crazy Daze this week.  It was $8.  It was clearly handmade. Totally cute and a great deal!

I baked it a little too long today. Next time I'll make sure to stick on the shorter side of the bake time.  I love this recipe because it's simple, easy to quickly throw together, and includes ingredients I almost always have on hand. Also, it's delicious, and my girls always love banana bread for a snack.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

What Is an Alaskan Doughnut?

Do you know what an Alaskan doughnut is?  I didn't, but I do now.

Yes, folks, that is 7 inches of golden sweet deliciousness.  I heard rumors of the giant Alaskan doughnut when we were furniture shopping in our little town yesterday.  Today is Crazy Daze, in which our town closes off it's main street for a pedestrian-friendly sidewalk shopping experience.  Restaurants get in on the fun and offer food on the street.  There fun activities and even some free live music. This town loves an excuse to have an event.  It's like a real-life Stars Hollow.  It was a beautiful day today and my husband's day off, so we ventured downtown for some lunch, had the kids walk around to burn off some energy, and began the hunt for this elusive Alaskan.

We spotted it in front of the bakery on our main street.  We chatted up the friendly workers and discovered that the Alaskan, a 60-year tradition of this bakery, appears only once a year at Crazy Daze.  In the name of tradition (of course), we paid a little over $3 and got one to go.  We split the doughnut four ways.  It was fresh, sweet, soft, and a little chewy, just as a good glazed should be.  We enjoyed the doughnut, and partaking in this local tradition,we feel a little more like genuine townies. Already I'm looking forward to next year's Alaskan!

Sunday, July 24, 2011

For Levi

My daughter cuddled up with me in bed yesterday as I was trying to read my book and begged me to read to her instead.  She certainly knows my soft spot.  Anytime my daughters bring me a book, I will read it to them.  Yesterday she picked Where the Sidewalk Ends, by Shel Silverstein.  I love this book.  And I love the fact that my daughter, at three, is just starting to really pay attention to the poems and the illustrations and find them humorous. 

This little poem from the book, and it's accompanying illustration, reminded my of my friend's son, Levi.  He's two, and when we visited him recently he showered affection on my daughters, especially the one-year-old--tackling her with hugs and kisses over and over again.  He is adorable.

And so I present, for Levi:

Wishing you hugs, giggles, kisses, grins, cuddles, and wins today!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

The Perfect Iced Tea Concentrate: The Rule of Three

It's summer!  It's warm out.  It's sunny.  We're lazing the days away by the pool.  OK, maybe not.  It's cloudy, cool, and rainy here today, and I've been working at my computer nonstop for weeks.  But technically it IS summer.
To me summer means iced tea.  My mom is a big tea drinker.  She likes her tea black and straight, only occasionally (and regrettably in my opinion) reverting to her Southern roots and adding in sugar.  I remember back to my childhood getting regular phone calls from her during the day, asking me to get a jug of tea started and outside in the sun so it would be ready when my parents got home from work.  It's not uncommon for my mom to comment on the quality of iced tea she's had when talking over her day.  And yes, a meal can be a total disappointment when the tea is bad.

She's been a big fan of the tea at the cafe in her local Barnes & Noble.  I hear repeatedly how good it is.  Despite being across town, I know for a fact she eats lunch there regularly, and I'm fairly certain it's only because she loves their iced tea.  She does that.  She chooses a restaurant based on the quality of their tea.

If my mother were to pass down to me one recipe, one creation that completely encompasses who she is as my mother, it would be the recipe for good iced tea.  When I was back home visiting my parents a few weeks ago, my mom excitedly told me she had perfected the "recipe" for good iced tea.  (She had made an earlier attempt during my last visit home but had missed the mark.  She didn't quite have the flavors and proportions figured out.)  She described the process, and I tasted the new tea.  It was good.  Really, really good.  She told me the secret: the rule of three.  She learned the process carefully watching her friends at the B&N cafe and taking mental notes.

If you like plain, black iced tea, I highly recommend the recipe below. It's not fancy.  It doesn't call for tea leaves.  You can use your microwave. I suspect you could play around with the tea varieties if you're so inclined, add some lemon, make it a hard iced tea, or even (blech!) add some sugar.  It's not sun tea, but on a cloudy day like today, I'm just fine with that.  It's a concentrate, so you can save some room in your refrigerator.  But most importantly, it's a delicious, refreshing, and guilt-free summer drink!

Perfect Iced-Tea Concentrate
1 quart jar full of water, microwaved (or "nuked" if you're my mother) until very hot. 
Add 2 bags Earl Gray and one bag black tea. 

Steep until really strong (2-3 hours), ignoring the dirty patio table.

Remove tea bags and refrigerate.

When you're ready to drink, remember the rule of three: Fill your glass 1/3 with concentrate, 1/3 water, and 1/3 ice.  Mom says if you want to get fancy you can use a shaker to shake it.

Enjoy! And if it's really good iced tea, it might just make you feel like this!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Garden Update

I posted some pics of our vegetable garden early on.  We used Weed Barrier this year to keep the weeds to a minimum, and let me say I'm so glad we did.  We were away from home for about a week, and when we came home our plants had doubled in size.  Had the weeds had the run of the garden, we would have been in big trouble.  Instead, I weeded the entire garden (basically the area between the plants in each row) in less time than it took my husband to take our girls to the park. I took these photos on Thursday, and the garden has exploded with growth even since then.

So far we've got a bumper crop of radishes, and I've harvested two zucchini. There are about 962 more radishes where these came from.

We've got tomato plants loaded with green tomatoes.  A little early for that, isn't it?

Several squash are on the vine. And I'm VERY encouraged by these big, beautiful watermelon vines, currently with blossoms. 

Deer and rabbits have been munching the leaves of our green beans, but they are full of blossoms, so I'm expecting them to be just fine.  And the peas are looking good.  I think.  I've never grown peas before, so I'm not exactly sure.

The cabbage are huge and it looks like heads are starting to form.  The pepper plants are growing pretty slowing but are hanging in there.

For the first time it seems like the cucumbers are lagging behind everything else, but a few days ago they had a growth spurt and are now sporting blossoms.

Back in June on a whim I entered our garden in our local paper's Beautiful Garden contest.  Mostly I entered because I was so excited to finally have a vegetable garden I could be proud of.  I was also encouraged by the fact that no one else had entered at the time.  The voting period has officially begun, and I've got a 2 in 3 chance of winning first or second prize.  Now I admit the other two entries are very beautiful gardens, but I'm telling myself their owners are retirees who have all day to spend tending plants. I, on the other hand, have a crazy work schedule (12am anyone?), two little ones at home, and a very busy husband.  So if you're so inclined, send a vote or two my way.  You do have to register on the new paper's site first, but once you do that it's pretty easy to vote.  And you can even vote daily...not that I'm doing that or anything!  There's a handy link to the voting on the upper right corner of my blog.  Thanks, everyone.  And happy gardening!

Friday, July 8, 2011

Hello, Summer!

Sometime in the last few weeks, summer arrived.  I almost missed it, because I've been stuck inside at my computer working more hours in the last two weeks than I have in any other two-week stretch in the entire four years I've been freelancing, including before I had children. Despite all that busyness, we decided to officially kick off our summer with a weekend visit to our friends in Illinois.

Over the Fourth of July weekend we were lucky enough to visit our long-time friends John and *Bethany at their home in Illinois.  We've known them for years.  I went to high school with Bethany.  My husband was John's roomate in college.  We introduced them to each other, and several, several, several years later they married.  We now have children and houses and real jobs.  We talk about things like politics, investment fees, and retirement.  OK, our husbands talk about that stuff.  Bethany and I talk about diapers, baby vomit, and potty training.  We've grown up, but we're still great friends.

Our children are ages 3, 2, 1, and two months, and they're each exhibiting the classic signs of their age.  The oldest is schooling the others in the art of sharing and everything else she has seemingly become an expert on overnight. The two-year-old is smothering the one-year-old with an abundance of kisses, hugs, and general attention.  The one-year-old is keeping one eye on mommy and the other on the baby, along with an errant finger in her eye and a joyful "Ba-by!" thrown in. And the baby is just soaking it all in--napping, nursing, spitting up, and blowing out diapers as babies generally do.

I hope you all had a fun holiday weekend.  I did.  I closed the laptop for a couple of days (mostly), sat back, and enjoyed good company, delicious food, and making some lasting memories.

*Bethany just started blogging.  She's full of brilliant ideas.  She's super crafty.  She asked me with a completely straight face if I've ever made my own English muffins.  She has.  Check out Bethany's blog, Crafting My Happy Life.