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Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Graham Cracker Cookie Recipe

Making snacks for your baby is super easy and so much cheaper than buying them at the store.  Let's face it, the baby food industry is a racket (my husband's phrase).  They pre-package food into cute, tiny and adorable packages that are almost too cute to resist.  However, I've found that making Nate's snacks is far more rewarding than most other chores.

I found this recipe for graham crackers a few weeks ago and tweaked it to make it work with the ingredients I already had in my cabinets.  I do that quite often because when I'm in the mood to cook or bake, I usually don't feel like running to the store to buy the missing ingredients.  Often, I can substitute one  or two ingredients with something I already have.

The first time I made this graham cracker recipe, they turned out more like graham cookies, but that was okay because Nate loved them anyway.

Here's my tweaked recipe for Graham Cracker Cookies:

You'll need your basic baking ingredients:



  • 2 1/2 cups of unbleached all-purpose flour (the original recipe says you can swap 1/2 cup    of whole wheat flour if you desire)
  • 1 cup of brown sugar
  • 3/4 teaspoon of salt
  • 1 teaspoon of baking soda
  • 1/3 cup of Maple Syrup (original recipe calls for honey)
  • 7 tablespoons of butter
  • 3/4 cup of milk
  • 2 tablespoons of butter
  • Cinnamon for topping (sugar plus ground cinnamon).



First, make the dough.  Combine flour, brown sugar, salt, and baking soda.  Stir until combined.  Then add the butter.  Using a mixer, pulse it a few times just to get it semi-mixed.  In a separate bowl, whisk together the milk, syrup, and vanilla.  Then add it to the dough mixture and mix until just combined.



It will be sticky, which is just how you want it.  Next, lay out a piece of plastic wrap and dust it with flour.  Wrap it up into a square form and put it in the fridge to chill for at least 2 hours. I put my dough in a Tupperware container so it doesn't leak anywhere in the fridge.


After the dough has chilled, dust your countertop with flour and roll out the dough (you're going to want to get your oven going.  Preheat it to 350 degrees).  The dough will be pretty sticky, so you'll need to keep adding flour.  Roll it out to about 1/8" thick.  The thinner it is, the more "crackery" it will be.  Then just cut some shapes.  You can use a pizza cutter to cut squares or cookie cutters. They don't have to be perfect.  You are cooking for your child, not for the cover of a magazine.  You can use a fork to make pretty indentations.  Before you pop them in the oven, sprinkle the cinnamon mixture on top (you don't have to if you want to avoid the extra sugar).




It only needs to bake for about 15-20 minutes.  If you want them to be more like a cookie (ideal for younger toddlers), cook them for less time.  More time will result in a more cracker-like finished product. Here is my not-so-perfect finished product, but they sure taste good.





They were a hit with Nate!





He started ignoring me for a while in order to better focus on the task at hand-eating:





And we all know that a happy baby is usually a messy baby. 






Enjoy!





Monday, August 30, 2010

Encouraging To Be Encouraged

Sometimes it's easy to get so caught up in what we are doing-blogging, school, parenting- that we forget one of the most fundamental ways to find happiness.

One of my favorite bloggers, Life as MOM , shared one of the most basic ways to happiness.  Check out her post to learn more.

To Be More Joyful: Encourage Others 





Friday, August 27, 2010

{This Moment}


In Soule Mama’s words:
{this moment} – A Friday ritual. A single photo – no words – capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember. If you’re inspired to do the same, leave a link to your ‘moment’ in the comments for all to find and see.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Jack Johnson: Greening Up His Tour


Jack Johnson is definitely on the top of my list of favorite musicians.  I could almost listen to him all day and not get sick of him.  His lyrics, for the most part, speak directly to our society.

And there will always be stop and go and fast and slow
Action, reaction, sticks and stones and broken bones
Those for peace and those for war
And god bless these ones, not those ones
But these ones made times like these
And times like those
What will be will be
And so it goes
And it always goes on and on...
On and on it goes
-Times Like These

And some of his songs are so incredibly sweet.

"There's no combination of words
I could put on the back of a postcard
No song that I could sing
But I can try for your heart
Our dreams, and they are made out of real things
Like a shoebox of photographs
With sepia toned loving."
-Better Together

And we can't forget about his "recycle" song.

"If you're going to the market to buy some juice
You've got to bring your own bags and you learn to reduce your waste
And if your brother or your sister's got some cool clothes
You could try them on before you buy some more of those
Reuse, we've got to learn to reuse
And if the first two R's don't work out
And if you've got to make some trash
Don't throw it out
Recycle, we've got to learn to recycle."
-The 3 R's

His current "To the Sea" tour is greening,which I think is pretty neat.  He is eliminating all plastic water bottles used behind the curtain and replacing them with filtered water from a Brita.  He is also striving to eliminate all waste caused by his show by reducing, recycling, and composting.  He even has stations set up at his concerts for recycling and composting.  

His current album, "To the Sea" was recorded in a building powered by solar panels.  According to his website,
"The album was printed on 100% post-consumer waste recycled paper, and carrying the 1% For The Planet logo. Jack Johnson's new album, To The Sea, is paving the way for responsible CD production and packaging. On the cd packing front, Brushfire convinced Universal (their manufacturer/distributor) to use FSC-certified recycled paper for all their Brushfire music and movie releases, developed the first 100% recycled plastic tray, and piloted a new form of environmental packaging called Eco-Pac. Brushfire is currently challenging Universal to develop a biodegradable corn-based shrink wrap and soy-based inks, and are developing a recycled plastic slimline or paper replacement for all radio singles."
His tour buses are being fueled by biodiesel and he has developed a rideshare program called ZimRide,  where you can hook up with another fan and drive to the concert together.  

When most bands go on tour, they have the finest caterers serving at their venue.  Most don't pay any attention to things like locally grown organic foods.  Jack has teamed up with local farmers and restaurants to serve his crew local produce from the area he performs at.  Also, all disposable cutlery is biodegradable (made from potato starch, corn, and sugar cane starch).  

And those t-shirts that you just have to get at the concert are being made from sustainable and renewable resources.  
Check out www.jackjohnsonmusic.com/greening to learn even more about his greening efforts.

I've never been to one of his concerts even though I would absolutely love to.  He'll be in George, WA on October, 02, 2010.  Click here to check out tickets. 

Hopefully, Jack is just the first of many artists to begin "greening" their tours and taking steps to reduce their carbon footprint.  His efforts give me one more reason to love his music and keep listening. 

Friday, August 20, 2010

{This Moment}


In Soule Mama’s words:
{this moment} – A Friday ritual. A single photo – no words – capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember. If you’re inspired to do the same, leave a link to your ‘moment’ in the comments for all to find and see.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Cleaning Naturally With Vinegar: Day 2


Alright, so it has been a few days since I last wrote about cleaning with vinegar, but today is the second day that I've actually used it, so we'll call it Day 2.

You are not going to believe what I did with vinegar today.

I used it in my hair. I made up a simple concoction and poured it over my head in the shower.  I couldn't believe I was actually going through with it.  But before I get too ahead of myself, here's what I did.

After researching the uses of vinegar as a conditioner, I realized that using Apple Cider Vinegar is better that White Vinegar.  I happened to have some Apple Cider Vinegar so that made for an easy swap.  Making a conditioner is super easy.  All you have to do is add 1 tbsp of Vinegar to 1 cup of cold water.

You might be wondering how I can possibly benefit from pouring something so, let's be honest, smelly into my hair.  Well, according to hairstyle.com, Apple Cider Vinegar has some unique qualities:
"Vinegar removes build-up and residue from the hair shaft and closes the cuticles. Vinegar restores natural pH and prevents an itchy scalp. Although plain white vinegar works fine, apple cider vinegar seems to be the preferred vinegar. As your hair is drying you will smell vinegar but once your hair dries there will be no smell."
In the shower, the smell of vinegar was so strong.  I wasn't sure I was going to be able to make it.  But after a few seconds, I either got used to the smell or it got better.  After my shower, I had my husband smell my hair.  He immediately made that face that let me know my hair was not very pleasant smelling (not exactly the reaction you want from your husband after getting out of the shower) but after blow drying my hair, I had him smell my hair again (he may have been a bit hesitant this time around) but he assured me that he could not smell the vinegar anymore.

Success!

And to be honest, my hair does feel a lot better.  I can tell that the build-up that accumulates from daily conditioning is gone.  From what I've been reading, many sites warn that daily use of vinegar rinses can lead to drying out your hair (not that I would want to inhale that lovely scent every time I shower anyway) so a once-a-week treatment is all that is necessary.

Here is another Apple Cider Vinegar tip that I've yet to try:

-Make a skin toner:
Vinegar has a tonic action that promotes blood circulation in the small capillaries that irrigate the skin. It is also antiseptic, preventing the proliferation of bacteria, viruses, or yeast that trigger infection. It can dissolve excessive fatty deposits at the surface of the skin and reduce scaly or peeling conditions. Lastly, vinegar regulates the pH of the skin. Vinegar is most effective when used with lavender, rosemary, rose, or elder flower. It is essential to use top-quality white wine or cider vinegar. Dry any fresh plant material for two days before using.
(Obtained from http://www.chagrinvalleysoapandcraft.com/shampving.htm)

Toner #1: Use one teaspoon of cider vinegar and two tablespoons of water.

Toner #2: Use one part apple cider vinegar to three parts witch hazel or rosewater for a gentle toner suitable for all skin types.

Toner #3: 1 cup water (rain, distilled, or spring), 1 heaping tablespoon dried Peppermint or Sage leave (or 1/4 cup fresh), 3 teaspoons Apple Cider Vinegar  (if skin is oily use 2 more teaspoons). To make an infusion of the peppermint or sage leaves, heat water until boiling. Remove from heat and add herbs. Cover and steep for 20 minutes. Strain out plant material.  Add vinegar and stir well.  Pour into a clean bottle and label.  Shake well to ensure that it mixes. Store in refrigerator for best results and use within 3 weeks.  Use toner after cleansing.

Well, I think I've had enough vinegar for today.  Have you been using vinegar? In what way?

Monday, August 16, 2010

Cleaning Naturally With Vinegar: Day 1


To be honest, I was hesitant to start this experiment.  My husband was even more hesitant.  If he even sees the vinegar bottle on the counter, he makes a sour face.  I don't blame him.  Vinegar isn't exactly pleasant in smell, but after finding a great deal at Costco, I knew it was time to see if I was capable of making the switch.  My Costco sells a two-pack of vinegar, each container is 1 gallon, for only $3.48.  That is pretty awesome.  A 24 oz bottle of the most popular kitchen and bathroom cleaners can easily set you back $5.  And to top it off, they market each one separately so that we think we need separate cleaners for each area and task in our home.

Vinegar is a one-stop cleaner.  It can be used on floors, on counters, in sinks to get rid of clogs, in the microwave, the bathtub, to clean grills, for gardening, on the carpet, as a bee sting remedy, to cure hiccups, fight dandruff, and in laundry.  And that's a condensed list!

Go here for a complete list.

I want to use vinegar instead of harsh chemicals, but my goal is to start slowly.  Yesterday, I ran vinegar through our coffee pot, followed by two loads of water.  My coffee pot lost all of it's coffee-tinged stains and I can see through it again.  Yay!
I also cleaned our kitchen counters with it.  I soaked a wash cloth in vinegar and gave them a quick once over.  I was surprised at how clean the counters seemed.   I could not see a difference from when I use a chemical-based cleaner and when I use vinegar.  Then I mopped our kitchen floor using vinegar.  I was super nervous about doing this because it is 90 degrees outside during the day and we do not have an AC.  I imagined our little apartment hot and smelling like vinegar.  Definitely not a pretty thought.  But I went for it anyway.  I mixed one part vinegar with two parts warm water and went to work.  It did smell like vinegar at first, but was nothing a quick spray of febreeze couldn't fix.

It's been about two hours since I did the cleaning and I can't smell any vinegar.  I'm pretty impressed with the results and am a little anxious to see what I can do with it tomorrow.

I'd love to abandon all of the harsh and chemical-ridden cleaners for something natural and safe.  It's a little scary to know that I have a cabinet in my house that contains deadly toxins.  I'd never want little Nate to find his way into that cabinet when I have my back turned.

I'll let you know how the rest of the vinegar experiments go.  So far it's not so bad.

Friday, August 13, 2010

{This Moment}


In Soule Mama’s words:
{this moment} – A Friday ritual. A single photo – no words – capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember. If you’re inspired to do the same, leave a link to your ‘moment’ in the comments for all to find and see.

Lemon Face 

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Super Sweet Featured Blog


I read so many blogs that I seriously think I need to cut back.  Or schedule an intervention.  Or talk to a therapist...

Just kidding, but in all honesty, I love finding and reading different bogs.  Whoever created Google Reader is amazing.

Because I read so many, I often come across some amazing, inspiring, funny, creative, and all around awesome posts.  And when I come across one that is extra neat, I'd like to begin sharing them with you guys.

This post, in particular, melted my heart.
Enjoy.

Petite Planet: My Husband Can Make Felt Food Too?!

Simple Green: A Simple Way To Clean A Bit Greener


A quick Google search will reveal hundreds of recipes for homemade cleaning products.  These are all great--they're natural, non toxic, and safe for kids.  The most common cleaning remedy that bloggers rave about is vinegar.  This seems to be the go-to cleaning solution for those searching for an eco-friendly solution to cleaning.  I plan on dousing my home in vinegar soon in order to see how effective it really is, but until I jump onto the vinegar bandwagon, I have found another option that is working beautifully for me.

Simple Green.  



About a month ago, I stumbled across an offering for a free sample of Simple Green.  Usually free samples come in very small portions.  This sample, however, came with an empty full-size Simple Green spray bottle and a smaller 2 oz container of concentrated Simple Green formula.  The purpose of the concentrated formula is to give the user control over the strength of their cleaning solution.  With one bottle of Simple Green, you can easily have 10 bottles of cleaner.  For light cleaning, such as wiping down counters, use a 1:30 ratio (1 oz concentrate and 30 oz water).  For heavier cleaning, use a 1:1 to 1:10 ratio (1 oz concentrate to 1-10 oz water).

I don't know about you, but I like to have a little control, so this unique feature makes me happy.

Another way to use Simple Green is to add it to your laundry.  Simple Green claims that 1/4 cup of Simple Green solution in addition to your usual detergent packs a powerful punch.  It can even be used to spot treat stains.  I haven't added it to laundry yet, but if I do, I'll let you guys know how it goes.

The formula is non-toxic, biodegradable, non-hazardous, non-flammable, and non-corrosive.  How cool is that?

The coolest thing about Simple Green is that the company seems to really be concerned with the well-being of the environment.  The back of the bottle reads: "This Simple Green dilution bottle can be reused, please save it!  GO GREEN & SAVE GREEN!"  Go here to read their commitment to reducing their carbon footprint. It's even used to help clean oil spills.

Unfortunately, the free sample that I received is no longer available but the Simple Green website is offering a coupon (limit 2 per customer).  If you haven't tried Simple Green or just want a coupon to replenish your stock, go here.

If you use Simple Green, let me know how you like it?  What are your experiences with it?
Disclaimer**  I was not contacted by Simple Green to review their product.  I received no compensation for this review.  The opinions are solely mine and reflect my experience with the product.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

I'm a Bookie!


There is a popular term being thrown around right now that everyone seems to want to claim:  foodie.  The woman who likes to cook is a foodie.  The guy who eats out a lot is a foodie.  The woman who spends her days watching the Food Network is a foodie.  It's a pretty broad term.
While I don't consider myself a foodie, I do consider myself a bookie.  Now don't start sending me your cash with the bets you want to cast quite yet.  I'm a bookie in that I love books.  I've always had a sort of attraction toward them.  I seem to notice every bookstore that I pass while driving and if someone suggests that we pop into one, I'm all for it.  I could spend hours browsing books, whether I'm in a new bookstore or a used one.  I'm also a big fan of libraries.  I love that there are tons of them here in Seattle.  Libraries with a view, like Richmond Library, make me very happy.

Most girls have a particular item that they can't get enough of.  Shoes, products, earrings, jeans,perfumes, undies, or kitchen accessories.  Mine is books.  There is just something about a full bookshelf that makes me smile.  Or knowing that the book I just read that I couldn't put down at night and will definitely stick out in my head as "favorite book of the year" is now resting peacefully on my bookshelf.
As much as the selfish side of me would love to buy every book that sparks my interest, it is not practical in terms of our financial budget.  Also, books are made from trees.  The more books I buy, the more trees I kill.
I've found a few ways to avoid buying every book I want to read.  Some are obvious, while others aren't quite so obvious.
1.  Borrow books from the library.


Courtesy of flickr user Jeff Wheeler


While this is probably the most obvious solution, many don't take the time to see if the book they are craving is available at the library.  Most think of checking out Barnes & Noble before browsing their local library.  And while I love B & N, I love libraries equally.  After reading Elizabeth Gilbert's Bestseller, Eat, Pray, Love, I started looking around for Committed, her next book which would detail her wacky, twisted love story.  During one of my library visits, I put my name on the waiting list for the book and was notified about 2 weeks later that it was available for me to pick up.  The funny thing is that the book happens to be in large print, which at first I was disappointed in but have since come to like.  Usually, I can't read in the car.  I get car sick after about 10 minutes of reading, but with large print, I don't get sick.  Interesting, huh?
2.  Check out used bookstores.


Courtesy of flickr user bandita


Another love of mine are used bookstores.  Many have such good deals on hard-to-find books or those books that I'm interested in reading, but not interested in spending too much money on.  Since these books are used, I am recycling a book and giving it another life.  Instead of it winding up in a landfill, it gets a new home on my bookshelf.  What may be old to someone else, can very well feel new to me.
3. Invest in a kindle or similar product.


Courtesy of flickr user goXunuReviews


I haven't jumped onto the e-reader bandwagon yet.  To be honest, I haven't had the desire to.  I am much more of a book-in-hands type of girl.  I want to feel the pages, turn the pages, and have something more substantial and less computerized to hold.  When I can not stand to possibly look at a computer screen for one more second, I often retreat to a book or a magazine.  There is something relaxing and refreshing to me about reading and flipping pages.  Maybe it's silly.
But for those of you who don't harbor that same nostalgia toward books, an e-reader may be a perfect solution for you.  They are getting cheaper and cheaper and often the cost to buy a downloadable book is cheaper than buying a traditional book.  The best thing about these, in my opinion, is that they do not waste paper.  There is no ink, paper, or other materials being consumed in the process.
4.  My favorite alternative-Paperbackswap.com

I became aware of this site last October after a woman blogged about it.  She raved about how awesome it was.  After checking it out for myself, I must say that this site is just as awesome as she said it was.
When you sign up for an account, you post 10 (or more) books that you would be willing to part ways with in order to get new books.  When you list 10 books, you will receive 2 credits you can use to request books from other members.  When another member of the website requests one of your books, you will receive 1 credit after you mail them the book.  Then you use the credits you have to request books from other members.  When you request a book, it is yours to keep.  You never have to send it back or repost it into the system.
I have sent numerous books out to other people all around the United States and have, in return, received many books that have been on my wish list for some time.  I have exchanged books that I do not care about for books that I really wanted.
This site is pretty awesome.  To anyone who loves to read, I definitely recommend checking this site out.

Of course there may be times that a book is released that we want so badly, we are willing to pay extra in order to get it brand new and on the day of its release (Breaking Dawn sold a record 1.3 million copies on its first day of release) but for those other books, look into other ways to save a little green, as well as live a little greener.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Blackberry Season!


Being new to the Northwest, I am just now discovering how wildly the blackberries grow here. It is amazing! It seems that my husband and I are spotting blackberry bushes just about everywhere we go. We have visited Magnusen Park a few times for the sole purpose of picking these delicious berries. Even though my hands look like I have been attacked by a small kitten, I enjoyed every second of it.

After leaving the park with a few large tupperware containers of berries, I started wondering what to do with it.  I decided to make some of Kelly Cline's Summer Berry Jam, except I would only be using blackberries.  The jam is just as good as Kelly claims.  It is sweet, juicy, and perfect for mixing with peanut butter, swirling in ice cream and spreading in biscuits, all of which my husband and I have done this weekend.

We went back for a second batch of blackberries and froze them. We are saving them for our next batch of jam.  The frozen berries are awesome for smoothies or milkshakes.  Using frozen fruit is a better alternative than ice since it does not water the drink down.

Nate loves the berries.  He eats them like candy, which makes me happy because they were free and are a great source of Vitamin C, fiber, and Vitamin K.
With all of these benefits in mind, my family will be on the lookout for free, fresh blackberries all summer long.  What about you?  Have you found any great places to pick fresh blackberries?

Friday, August 6, 2010

{This Moment}


In Soule Mama’s words:
{this moment} – A Friday ritual. A single photo – no words – capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember. If you’re inspired to do the same, leave a link to your ‘moment’ in the comments for all to find and see.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Free Museum and National Park Day

I absolutely love a good deal, especially a free one.  On September 25th and November 11th, there are some deals that you are not going to want to miss.  On September 25th you can get into a museum and a National Park for FREE.  I am super excited about this because I love going on trips with my husband and seeing new things.  We are new to the Seattle area and I have been anticipating a visit to the Olympic National Park--looks like this is our chance to go.  


Courtesy of flickr user Wildcat Dunny
Check this out to see which 100 National Parks are free.  If  you're looking for a fun outing for the family, why not head to the Olympic National Forest, Mount Rainier Forest, or the Lewis and Clark National Historic Park?  Or perhaps maybe you'd rather take this opportunity to travel a bit and visit a place like Yellowstone or the Grand Canyon.  
                                            
My California friends can visit Sequoia National Park, Yosemite, the Joshua Tree National Park, The Pinnacles, and the Lava Beds National Park just to name a few.
Either way, there is bound to be a park that sparks your interest and is sure to be a hit with the kids.  
Here are the dates again:
  • September 25, 2010
    (Public Lands Day)
  • November 11, 2010
    (Veterans Day)



Courtesy of flickr user Taylor Dundee

Another option on September 25th is Free Museum Day.  I'm hoping we can squeeze a trip to the Seattle Art Museum in the morning followed by a drive to the Olympic Mountains on the 25th, but that might be overdoing it with a one year-old (I can't believe he'll be a year old by then!).  You'll have to visit the site, register, choose your museum of choice and then print the ticket that will be emailed to your inbox. No ticket = No admission, so make sure you don't lose it.
Here are a few participating museums in the Seattle area:
  • Seattle Art Museum
  • Bellevue Arts Museum
  • Kids' Quest Children's Museum (Bellevue)
  • The Museum of Flight
  • Wing Luke Asian Museum
  • Nordic Heritage Museum
Have a look at this link to find Seattle-area museums, which offer "free days."  Many have "free days" once a month.  This is a great opportunity to learn more about WA State's history.
If you plan on visiting a museum or park, let me know!