Sunday, November 28, 2010

Lessons From The Mixing Bowl

Several years ago I got the idea in my head that I wanted to start making my own bread and rolls.  With a toddler underfoot and another baby due at any moment, I knew my future would include a lot of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and it seemed that one way to keep our budget on track would be for me to make the loaf of bread that we would surely be going through on a weekly basis.  I had given it a try a few years prior, making a loaf of ciabatta bread for my husband (then boyfriend) and I to go with our Italian dinner.
The next logical part of this story would read that I started baking like a mad woman, buying yeast in bulk and crafting artisan loaves that have become the envy of all the other mothers at kindergarten drop-off.  Instead, I have amassed a small shoebox (okay, a ladies size-9 shoebox) full of recipes that I wanted desperately to try and that I stared longingly at every week when I was meal planning.  It would be easy to blame my hesitation to dip into these recipes on simply not having time; with a 5-year-old, a 3-year-old, and a 1-year-old finding time to prep the dough, proof it, let it rise, mess with it some more, let it rise again, and then finally bake it would be hard.  The reality, however, is that on Mondays and Wednesdays my oldest children are both at school for a couple hours, and while I try to spend as much of that time giving the baby the one-on-one attention that she deserves, she is very independent and would rather I just sit back and watch her play with all the toys that her brother and sister normal forbid her from touching.
The real truth to my hesitation was that I was scared.  Beyond the fact that some of the recipes seemed a bit complicated, the thought of somehow messing it all up kept me from trying.  Getting the water temperature right, adding the right amount of flour to form the right consistency, kneading the dough, getting it to rise the correct amount . . . you get the picture.  In other words, I was talking myself out of it before I even gave it a chance!  And then something changed.
Last spring I embarked on a mission to get my life back (or at least as much as a life as one can have with a husband who works beyond fulltime and 3 children under the age of 6.)  This quest included changing a lot of things in my life and making some decisions that forced me to really consider what was important and valuable to me, and somewhere along the line I came to a (looking back on it now) silly realization:  IT IS JUST BREAD!  SERIOUSLY!  It is just flour and water and yeast and salt and sometimes a little extra, but IT IS JUST BREAD.  It seems like such a ridiculous conclusion to come to and it is so basic in theory, but making that discovery and reminding myself of that basic fact was the most empowering moment I had had in a very, very long time.
Guess what?  It is all JUST BREAD.  Somewhere along the line of learning how to make a killer pizza crust and baking homemade whole wheat rolls for Thanksgiving, I discovered that baking bread was a bit of a metaphor for life and how we live it.  I don’t think I am exaggerating when I say that there is a large number of us who have a list of things that we want to try but that we talk ourselves out of because it seems like too much work or because we don’t think we have enough time or because we just don’t think we can, and the reality is, there is absolutely no reason that we can’t give whatever IT is, a try.  Can I let you in on a little secret?
You can do whatever you want to do!  There is no reason you can’t give it a try, and if you fail, there is no reason you can’t get up and try again!
Among the things in my life that I consider when I call myself lucky and blessed are the woman around me who have found the courage and the empowerment to take a risk and accept a challenge and do what they really, really wanted to do in life . . . the stay-at-home-mom who started her own photography business, the working mom who ran her first 5K, the entrepreneurial mom who saw a need and decided to fill it, and the mom who risked it all and moved across the country to start a new life for her and her children.  They did it, and you know what?  SO CAN YOU!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

A whole lot of yumminess!

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On Sunday I played the role of baker.  I had 3 slowly rotting bananas sitting out, 2 pie pumpkins waiting to get baked and I had a major craving for some sugar cookies.  See, I have the best banana bread recipe in the world and it always turns out amazing, and I have the best sugar cookie recipe that can't be beat.  I wasn't sure what I would do with the pumpkins until I saw this over at She Said. She Said.  I knew I had to make it.  So I made my pumpkin whoopie pies, banana bread and sugar cookies.  And, since I can't share my goodies over cyber space, I can at least share the love: recipe style!

First up, Banana Bread.  This recipe came from my mother in law and it makes the most moist scrumptious breakfast treat ever.  I promise! 

Preheat oven to 350. Add 1 tbsp of white vinegar to 1 cup of milk and let stand. Mash 3 very ripe bananas and set aside.

Combine in bowl the following ingredients:
1/2 c vegetable oil
1 tsp vanilla
1 c sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1 c brown sugar
3 eggs
1/2 tsp cinnamon
mashed bananas

Mix until blended.

Add thickened milk and 2 tsp of baking soda and mix until blended. Add 2 1/2 c flour and mix only until lightly mixed in (very important).

Pour into well greased pans- 6 small loaf pans, or 2 regular sized loaf pans. Bake small loaves 20-26 minutes and regular sized 45-55 minutes, or until toothpick comes out clean.

Next up is my infamous sugar cookies.  These are truly amazing and super duper easy to make.  I suggest doubling this recipe as you will go through this entire batch in a day or two, especially if you share!

2 C sugar
1 brick of butter flavored Crisco (this makes it really good, I promise)
1 egg, well beaten
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp of baking soda
1/2 tsp cream of tarter
2 C flour
2 tsp vanilla

Cream sugar and shortening.  Add beaten egg.  Mix well.  Add vanilla and then the dry ingredients.  Roll into balls.  Press down with glass that has been greased and dipped in sugar.  Bake at 350 for 10-12 minutes. 

I wouldn't bake these the full 12 minutes.  I usually stop at 10 minutes when they are "just" done.  If they get too done they get crisp and you want these nice and soft.  You can frost these cookies if you'd like, they taste divine with frosting too!

And last, the Pumpkin Whoopie Pies.  The recipe is fairly involved and long so just go check it out over at Martha Stewart's Website.  I used real pumpkin and all I did was cut 2 pie pumpkins in half, scooped out the seeds, baked for 1 hour at 400 then pureed the innards.  These turned out super rich and super delicious.  I think next time though I will add a bit less ground ginger so the pumpkin comes out in the flavors a bit more.  

There you have it, a whole lot of yumminess!

Monday, November 15, 2010

And the winner is!Kristi! Annika drew the lucky winner this morning and it happens to be her Auntie! Congrats Kristi, hopefully you will pass it along when you are done too! I will get that book to you next time I see you.

Kristi!  Annika drew the lucky winner this morning and it happens to be her Auntie!  Congrats Kristi, hopefully you will pass it along when you are done too!  I will get that book to you next time I see you. 

I will be posting some delicious recipes later, so stay tuned!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Take it, it's yours!

This summer I joined a book swapping club called Paperback Swap.  It's been great, I've gotten several books for free and I've gotten to send out my books to other readers to enjoy.  Because let's face it, I will never read a book twice and why not share the love?  Before I left for Hawaii, I ordered several books to enjoy by the pool.  I'm a huge Jodi Picoult fan so I snatched up 2 of hers, both of which were both very good.  I've since traded one of them, but the one I just finished is a little too "loved" to list on PBS.  Rather than just letting it collect dust here at my house, I thought I'd pass it along to one of my lovely readers.

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You can read about it here.  Although I really do enjoy her books, this one definitely wasn't one of my favorites.  It was a quick and easy read though and did manage to entertained me.  It was a sad story of course, which of hers aren't?  It did have a happy ending though.  

See, it's been loved by many readers!

If you are wanting a good read for free, leave me a comment here and I will draw a name on Saturday for one lucky reader to enjoy this book! 

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Recipe Review

Last night I got a bug up my butt and wanted to make something new.  I am so sick of the same ole for dinner so I began to peruse The Pioneer Woman's site looking for a new dinner recipe.  I decided to search chicken because we have a lot of it.  I don't particularly like chicken, but my family does so I ever so lovingly cook it for them. 

I came upon the Cajun Chicken Pasta recipe and passed it right by.  Then went "hold on there lady".  I remember having a Cajun chicken pasta at a restaurant at one point and really enjoyed it, so I backed that arse up and read the recipe over.  Fortunately for me, I had all but one ingredient (red bell peppers) so I went for it. 

The recipe said it should take 10 minutes of prep and 15 minutes to cook, it took more like 15 minutes prep and 30 minutes to cook.  But, I'm also tending to the needs of 3 little ones whilst cooking, so it may be more accurate for those of you who don't have 3 hungry kids hanging on your legs! 

Overall, the recipe was pretty easy.  It was involved though, it's not something you can start and just walk away, you have to tend to it the whole time. 

I decided to halve the recipe since I don't need to serve 6, it worked out just fine to do that and we had *just* enough for the 5 of us.  I probably could have used the whole amount of chicken though. 

I was sort of hesitant to let the kids have it because I thought it would be spicier than it was.  I think for Brian and myself, we would have liked it a bit spicier, but this was just right for the kids.  This pasta was a huge hit, it was different and the kids (not the picky one though) scarfed it down and asked for 2nd's and 3rd's!  I served it with a nice toasted and buttered Parmesan garlic french loaf and a glass of Cabernet (for myself).  Brian described it as a fajita pasta and that seems pretty accurate.  Very tasty, pretty easy and a huge hit with the crowd! 

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photo courtesy of Pioneer Woman

I didn't take pictures because I was too busy stuffing my face! 

Monday, November 8, 2010

Photo Editing Fun!

A long time ago, I discovered the fun of Picnik, this was before I figured out photoshop and all the joys that come along with that.  Picnik is a great resource for those of you who can't afford, or don't have time for learning the actual photoshop.  I haven't used it in years, but was playing around and found you can create really quick and easy collages on it.  Now, I can do this on photoshop but this actually took much less time and was more fun then opening up photoshop, cropping my pictures, aligning them just so, adding a background color, yada, yada, yada.  It takes a lot of effort is what I'm trying to get at and this took less than a minute.  Really, it was easy and simple and now I can blog my lovely photos with ease! 

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Go check it out and have some fun.  Put them up on Mom's Sippy Cup FB Page, I'd love to see them.  Oh, and you can have so much fun editing pictures too!  I added a polaroid frame on this one, but you can do all sorts of things like convert to black and white, or do some basic editing of your pictures.  Go play!

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Sunday, November 7, 2010

Winner, winner, winner!

Da da da da! Using I drew Leslie's name!  Congrats Leslie on winning the $35 for CSN stores!  You'll just have to take my word for it because for the life of me I could not figure out how to screen capture the random number generator, slightly technologically challenged over here! 

Leslie said:
"Hey Michelle,

I would definitely use it for a piece of wall art. I have a bare wall in my living room and it needs something.

I clicked "like", left a comment, linked on my facebook & blogged about it! :)"

Leslie, I will email you shortly about your prize!  Enjoy.

And, don't forget about this contest, over here.  It is something I'm totally pumped about but I'm not budging on the rules.  I will however take followers over at my FB page, so whichever hits 50 first will bring on the sippy cups!  So spread the love ladies, and leave a comment saying you did so and you'll be entered!  Just be sure to do it on the original contest post.  

Happy Sunday!

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Unique Gifts

I've always believed that gift giving was an art and took a certain talent that a lot of people don't have.  I for one don't consider myself to be the best gift giver.  I actually get stressed out because I want so badly to give a unique gift that the receiver will cherish.  It's very difficult to know a person well enough to find a gift that only they can truly appreciate. 

My dear friend Kristin is an amazing gift giver.  She loves giving gifts and always seems to find things that the receiver knows was meant just for them. 

For her wedding, she gave each of her bridesmaid a unique piece of jewelry as a gift.  I know what you are thinking, doesn't every bride do that?  Well, sort of.  Except this item was not meant to be worn with our dresses on her wedding day.  It was meant to be something that reflected our personal styles, something that we would cherish and wear often.  I can honestly say that Kristin hit the nail on the head with each and every girl.  We were all floored that she could gauge our personalities so well and put that into a piece of jewelry.  At the same time, none of us were all that surprised that she pulled it off.  She's always been a thoughtful gift giver. 

Throughout each of my pregnancies, Kristin would surprise me with clothes she had stockpiled from Kohl's or wherever she had been shopping.  See, she would be in a store, see something and know I would love it.  She's done that for birthdays and Christmas and sometimes for no apparent reason.  One year for my birthday she gave me a luggage tag that read something along the lines of "I don't camp" and several tubes of Natural Ice chapstick.  She knows I hate camping, she saw that and knew I should have it.  As for the chapstick, well I love that particular brand and I can't find it anywhere, so she stockpiled it for me!  It may see random to most, but it meant something to me! 

So anyway, this is the bracelet she picked for me.

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Bracelets are my favorite jewelry to wear and I just love this one.  I literally wear it everyday.  I have earrings that just happened to match perfectly.  You can see that this bracelet was crafted with love and is one of a kind.  It reflects my personal style and that is why I love it.  

So thank you Kristin, I appreciate your thoughtfulness and of course, you were an amazingly beautiful bride.  I am lucky to have a friend like you.  

You can see all of Kristin's beautiful wedding photos over here at the wonderfully talented Sally Gruman Photography Blog.

Friday, November 5, 2010

A fabulous giveaway!

I have been given a great opportunity to giveaway a $35 gift certificate to any CSN Store!  CSN Stores have over 200 online stores where you can find everything from children's luggage to beautiful houseward to outdoor furniture.  

After checking out just a fraction of what CSN Stores have to offer I've decided I simply have to have this sleek bottle stop;

And I seriously adore these mocha and saucer sets (although I can't afford them!):

And I just know Bennett would love to have this backpack:

I could literally go on all day about what I 'should' have, the possibilities are endless with over 200 stores to choose from!  

You can enter 4 ways to win this fabulous gift certificate.  

1. Leave a comment on my blog about what you would use the gift certificate for, I'd love to know what you think you 'should' have.

2. Write a blog post about this giveaway and direct readers to this post.  Please leave the permalink in a comment here.

3. Put this link up on your Facebook status guiding your friends to this post, they can enter too!

4. Follow my blog, just hit the "follow" button and voila, you are done.

You can be entered into the contest up to 4 times.  Just be sure to leave a comment for EACH entry to ensure you will be counted each time.  The contest will end by Friday at 11:59 pm when I will draw a random number using  FYI: The order in which you comment will be your number.  Please, only US and Canada residents.  

And even better, any new followers will be entered into this contest too!  

Product Review {Keratin Complex Treatment}

I'm sure many of you have heard of the Brazilian Blowout.  Well when I first heard of it, I knew I had to have it.  You see, my hair is dry, frizzy, dull, curly and overall just a pain in the you know what.  I have never LOVED my hair and most of the time I just downright hate it.  So when my stylist, Ashley, decided to start offering the service I jumped right on board.  After a while, Ashley was doing some reading on the treatment and found out that it was being recalled due to containing formaldehyde so she opted against this particular treatment.  She stumbled upon the Keratin Complex treatment, it is basically the same procedure but without the harsh chemicals that the blowout had.  The only difference is that I couldn't wash my hair for 72 hours but it was worth it. 

When I got to Ashley's, she washed my hair with a special Keratin Shampoo, it basically stripped my hair of all the bad things that were in it.  Then she blow dried it.  She then applied the Keratin Complex painstakingly, little by little to each strand of hair, brushing it through with a comb.  We let it set for 20 minutes then she blow dried it again.  Once it was dry, she once again took tiny bits of hair and straightened it using a special straightener.  The results were unbelievable. 

Before.  As you can see, my hair is frizzy with horrible curl.  Sadly, this is how I wore it that morning :(

After the treatment.  Amazing, right?

After 72 hours, I could finally wash it!  YES!  First of all, I was just excited to wash my hair.  Second of all, I could not wait to see how my hair would really react to it.  I wasn't sure if I would have some curl left or not. 

So, I washed my hair with the special shampoo Ashley gave me.  It's important to use the proper shampoo and conditioner to maintain the treatment (supposed to last up to 5 months).  I brushed my hair and began to blow dry it.  Blow drying my hair usually takes10  minutes at a minimum.  I have thick and coarse hair and it dries out really frizzy and crazy!  I had my Chi all warmed up to straighten it out afterward too.  After just 4 minutes, yes 4 minutes my hair was dry and it looked like this!

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You better believe I turned my straightener off!  I actually pulled out my curling iron to flip my ends up for a little something.  Never in my life has my hair even straightened this straight.  It's literally life changing to be able to wash and dry and go.  My life has never been that simple.  At least my hair can be simple now.  

I am a walking billboard for this and while it may seem vain to call this life changing, it really is true.  If you've ever experienced hair like me, then go ahead and do something for yourself.  While this treatment can spendy, in my opinion, it was worth every penny.  

If you are in MN and want this done, call Ashley at Dahlia Street Salon, she is by far the cheapest around and will do a fabulous job!

Ashley at Dahlia Street Salon

Become a fan of Dahlia Street Salon too for updates and deals!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

What I wanted to be when I was grew up...

Today I'm participating in a fun activity hosted by Mama Kat over at Mama's Losing It.  I've been slacking on this blog and what better way to revive it by letting someone else tell me what to blog about!  It's so easy!  Go check out her post today and join in on the fun!

When I was 10 years old I wanted to be a marine biologist.  In my mind, that meant snorkeling the coral reef in Austrailia and swimming with dolphins in Hawaii.  What 10 year old kid wouldn't want to be a marine biologist, right?  Well, according to Wikipedia, a marine biologist studies: organisms in the ocean or other marine or brackish bodies of water. Given that in biology many phyla, families and genera have some species that live in the sea and others that live on land, marine biology classifies species based on the environment rather than on taxonomy. Marine biology differs from marine ecology as marine ecology is focused on how organisms interact with each other and the environment, and biology is the study of the organisms themselves.

Ahhh, say what?  If I would have read that when I was 10, I would have said "no thank you" and went outside to ride my bike.  
I had visions of Jacques Cousteau and his underwater adventures, little did I know that it took many years of studying science and biology and doing field research and writing articles.  Sounds horrible when you look at it that way! 

So, I grew up to be a mom and a photographer.  2 professions in which I am glad to have fallen into.  Looking back, I think I've always had those to things in me.  I played dolls until I was probably too old to be doing so and I would line my dolls and stuffed animals up on a daily basis and take their pictures, just like they did at JC Penny.  If I could have predicted my future when I was 10, I would never have envisioned being who I am today.  I feel very lucky to do what I do and even luckier that I get to go on vacations where I can snorkel the coral reef and swim with gigantic sea turtles, just not as a job!

Tell me, what did you want to be when you grew up?  Leave a comment, then go write about it!