Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Bars

This past week I've somehow managed to keep a perfect work/kids/house/socializing balance.  It's a rare thing around here.  I've had just a couple of hours of work each day, the weather has been beautiful, and the girls, the hubby, and I have been getting outside a lot.  We even found a park that is perfect for a 19-month-old and an adventurous three-year-old.  That was a good find! I had family stop by last week for a visit and have more family coming for most of this week, so I cleaned house and then recleaned it, but it only took a couple hours the second time!  I even did a little spring cleaning.  It's not too late, right?.  I found a great tip at Make It Do and cleaned our mattress, washed some screens and windows, vacuumed blinds, and spent three hours scrubbing the grout in my kitchen floor (I hate this job and only manage to do it twice a year).  A friend and I went to a spa event that included wine and mini treatments all for $10.  Did I mention the wine?  It was such a fun and girly evening--just what I needed.  With the slowing of work, my husband and I have resumed our near-nightly ritual of HBO series watching.  We wrapped up season 3 of True Blood and are almost through season 4 of The Wire.  I've also been harvesting yummy things from my garden.  My green beans finally came in, and I picked a big batch and froze some.  I'm up to my eyeballs in cucumbers.  I've got tomatoes, I'm still getting zucchini, and I (big smile, here) picked my first of about 10 watermelons.  It was probably a little early, but it was totally edible.  Love it!

So what a better way to celebrate a perfectly balanced week than by baking something delicious!  I originally intended to make these cookies, but once I started grabbing ingredients I realized it made a huge number of cookies.  I know myself well enough to accept the fact that I can't keep 4-5 DOZEN cookies around for long, and I didn't want to think too hard about halving the recipe (I may try it someday).  Also, I liked the idea of skipping the whole scooping and baking in batches step, so I searched for a peanut butter brownie? blondie? recipe.  I found a recipe for Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Bars at Bake at 350.

I did make a few accidental changes.  I used 7 tablespoons of butter instead of 6, and I doubled the amount of peanut butter it called for.  Oops!  I also used a mixture of peanut butter chips and milk chocolate chips, because that's what I had.  My brownies came out soft in the middle and brown on the edges.  I think more chocolate chips rather than peanut butter would have made a nice difference.  So I recommend following the recipe. These bars are very rich. I can only eat one small bar a day, but my husband said he didn't notice. Of course he could eat peanut butter by the spoonful. He also told me I need to get the bars out of the house before he comes home from work today.  I guess that means they're really good!

I hope each of you has a week full of balance, peanut butter, and chocolate!

Monday, August 15, 2011

Stinky, Dirty Dishcloths Be Gone!

Disclaimer: If you're not at all interested in the resolving the stinky, dirty dishcloth problem or have no idea what I'm talking about, feel free to stop reading here. Visit me another time, though.  I won't always be talking about dishcloths. OK, now that we have that out of the way...

I used to have a problem with dirty dishcloths sitting in the bottom of my sink getting wetter and nastier because I refused to use those gross things again and I hardly wanted to pick them up to even throw them into the washer. I'd inevitably just get a clean one out and leave the old one in the bottom of the sink. But you can only do that so many times before you have an even grosser pile of dishcloths in your sink. Of course, they didn't start out in the bottom of the sink.  I would attempt to wring them out after using them and lay them neatly on the side of the sink or on the faucet to dry out, only to have them slip, fall, or crawl back into the the sink. My husband, on the other hand, just throws them sopping wet into the sink.  Yuck.  It makes me shudder just to think about it.  I get the same feeling when I have to clean food out of the sink drain catch.

Sometime last year I found a gadget that has actually helped.  (Is it still a gadget if there are no moving parts?) The full name is the Umbra Chariot Stainless-Steel Dishcloth Stand and Scrubby Holder Combo, which is a mouthful considering it's just a dishcloth holder.  I bought it in hopes that my husband would see that the dishcloth, indeed, had a home and would put it there.  No such luck, but at least I now have a place to put it.

This is what it looks like empty:

And this is what it looks like when your dishcloth is staying clean and drying out:

This thing really does work. My dishcloths are no longer draped on my faucet getting in the way, falling into the bottom of the sink, or getting wet as I use the faucet. I no longer get that funky dishcloth smell.  I can go a little longer before washing them, and I no longer find my dishcloths repulsive. I think I even wash them more frequently because I not disgusted to pick them up.   

I bought my dishcloth stand in a little home accessories and kitchen gadget shop in my town. I encourage you to check out the little shops in your own town if you're considering buying one.  Or if you cringe at the thought of dragging your kids to said cute little shops (I'm speaking from experience), they are available from Amazon. 

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Zucchini Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

Like every good midwestern gardener in August, I've got an abundance of zucchini.  I've been expecting this, and I've been keeping a list of potential recipes as I've seen them.  When I saw this zucchini carrot cake with cream cheese frosting from Tiffany at Eat at Home, I knew I wanted to give it a try.  I've always been a fan of carrot cake, and I expected zucchini could only make it better.  It does!

I used zucchini I had shredded and frozen earlier in the week.  As I've been warned, there was quite a lot of liquid in the thawed zucchini.  I wasn't exactly sure whether I should drain it first or just add it in.  I did a quick search online and saw most people omitted the liquid when using frozen shredded zucchini, but a friend of mine had suggested I add the liquid.  The cake batter looked pretty dry, so I ended up using about half of the liquid. 

This frosting is really, really good.  Emphasis on really.  You've been warned.  I was generous with the frosting, and I still had plenty left over, so I guess you save it for another baking project.

Also this week, I cooked up this Betty Crocker recipe for zucchini meat loaf.  It uses 2 cups of shredded zucchini in place of other liquid (my usual recipe calls for milk).  It was good.  And an easy way to get my non-zucchini eating daughter to eat zucchini.  She did notice the green bits and asked about them, but I told her they were tiny pieces of green beans, a vegetable she likes. Yep, that's me lying to my daughter!  It totally worked.

I've got zucchini cakes (think fritters), zucchini boats, cheesy baked zucchini, and zucchini quesadilla recipes bookmarked and ready to try. My go-to zucchini is just sauteed in olive oil with onions, garlic, salt, and pepper.  Yum!  So how do you use up your zucchini?

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

A Summer of Dust, Dog Hair, Grime, and Clutter

This summer I've pretty well fallen off the wagon and into a deep, dark pit of despair when it comes to keeping my house clean.  For eight consecutive weeks I worked more freelance hours than I ever have before, including pre-children, including pre-freelance.  It was an insane experience.  Oh, and did I mention I continued to be a stay-at-home mom while fitting in these hours?  Which meant waking up at 5am and staying up until after midnight many days to work while the kiddos were asleep.  It also meant calling up my babysitter a few times a week, paying her well, and sneaking off to the coffee shop to get in some real focused work time.  In fact, I'm hoping she understands her babysitting fee is hush money.  Please do not tell the neighborhood what kind of slobs we are.  Maybe I can get her to sign a nondisclosure agreement.  Anyway, this all means that all nonessential household chores (anything other than cooking, washing dishes, doing laundry, and child care) were put on hold indefinitely. I even went a full month without reading a book.  Shameful.  Here's a little peek at what I've been living with...

Granted, this mess and clutter changed over the weeks, but the general chaos was constant.  It got so bad my husband even did the dishes TWICE!!  That's unheard of around here. 

Do you see my blog's cute vintagey polka-dot background with it's adorable fake dust.  I actually wiped my screen once this past week assuming my computer screen was actually THAT dirty.  Gross. But it wouldn't have surprised me.

So after spending my summer stuck inside reading away at my laptop, this marks my first week with a "normal" workload.  Have you noticed the baking, the cooking, the gardening, and the extra blogging happening here?  My only challenge now is to not go too far in the other direction being lazy and wasting the day at the computer.

I feel like I'm about to gear up for another round of organizing and cleaning.  We've got new furniture coming soon for our living room, and before that comes we're planning on painting.  It will be a good time to give the living room (and the rest of the upstairs) a deep clean. 

There was a great post today from Rachel Meeks at Small Notebook on how to make a room uncluttered while retaining a warm, homey feel.  Rachel sums up the beauty of a clean home perfectly:
When you have clear surfaces, your room is ready to be used. You can come in and set down your drinks and popcorn bowl on the coffee table. You can eat dinner at the table without sitting next to the paperwork. Your bed is ready for you to stretch out on it. The room welcomes you. It’s not a place to hold your stuff, it’s a place where you can live.
That sounds like exactly what we need over here.  Right now I work at our kitchen table, so the table is always cluttered with my laptop, books, my phone, and whatever my daughters have brought me throughout the day.  As a result, my husband often eats on the couch rather than clearing off a spot at the table.  That's not right.  I don't want my house to be a place to hold my stuff.  I want it to be a place where we can LIVE.

Hopefully I'll have some after pics to share soon!

Monday, August 1, 2011

Early Garden Harvest Pasta

Last night, after spending a little time in my garden, I had a typical first harvest--a lot of odds and ends but nothing substantial of any one thing: 2 tomatoes, 1 cucumber, a handful of green beans, exactly 3 pea pods worth of peas, and 1 zucchini.  I decided to throw it all together into a yummy pasta.

While the pasta cooked, I microwaved some bacon and sauteed the green beans. I threw in some onion flakes (sad) because I was all out of onions.  Then I added the zucchini to cook for a few minutes.  Once the pasta was cooked and drained, I threw in the cooked veggies and bacon, adding some chopped cucumber, chopped tomatoes, minced garlic, parmesan cheese, and olive oil. I stirred everything together and added a little salt. You can eat it right away, although I prefer to refrigerate it overnight and serve the next day.  It's better the second day when everything is cool and crisp and fresh and the flavors have mixed together.  I do wish I'd had some onion and maybe a green pepper, but my peppers plants are pitiful this year.   

In full disclosure, despite the abundance of noodles, my daughters were not big fans of this meal.  My three-year-old said she likes "soft" green beans (i.e. canned). She did appreciate the bacon, however.  Don't we all?  Personally, I loved it.  I ate it up and had seconds. It's a great light, fresh, cool meal for a hot summer night.

By the way, if you're like me and hate frying bacon on the stove and don't like heating up your whole house to bake it in the oven, this is a great alternative! It's the only way I cook bacon. In fact, I specially requested it for Christmas several years ago. My parents have one too. (Not an advertisement, I just really like it!!)