Turkey Sausage Pasta

I’ve been getting the Cooking Light magazine for the past few years. Every month I get re-inspired to try new recipes and challenge my cooking abilities. I just love it! I also love how many of their recipes use mostly fresh ingredients.

Like this great Turkey Sausage Pasta I made for dinner last night. Fresh slices of Parmigiano-Reggiano, fresh torn basil, and pasta sauce made from scratch using tomatoes, garlic, mushrooms, turkey sausage, and red pepper flakes.

Let’s just say the hubster was one happy camper.

I don’t think they’ve posted the recipe on CookingLight.com yet, or at least I can’t find it. But, when they do, I’d highly recommend giving it a try! Yum-O!

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The Need for Z’s . . .

. . . or, a new mama’s thoughts on sleep.

For me, sleep deprivation was by far the hardest part about becoming a parent. As much as I knew baby’s didn’t sleep a whole lot, I was no where near prepared enough to deal with the physical and emotional agony of not getting enough sleep night after night.

Those of you who are parents can understand what I mean. But those of you who aren’t yet, please don’t think I’m trying to be Debby-downer and frighten you. I have found that most parents like to warn you (or scare you really) about what is to come, but very few offer helpful advice in dealing with the hard parts of being a parent. So, here is my attempt to help. 🙂

When everyone tells you to “sleep when the baby sleeps,” do it. No, really. Go take a nap. I don’t care what the kitchen looks like, how much is in your laundry pile, or how long it has been since you washed your hair. Being sane is more important. And you need sleep to be sane. For real.

I think I may have gone a little insane for a portion of those first months of motherhood. I was so tired, I couldn’t even make decisions or think straight about baby care. It got to the point where I just wanted to give up and sleep. The best thing you can do for yourself (other than take a nap–go now if your baby is sleeping!) is to write up a list of your priorities. Maybe it is because I am a list girl, but thinking through this really helped me put the sleep thing into perspective.

For me, breastfeeding was non-negotiable. It was something I was committed to. That meant that I was solely responsible for getting up in the night and feeding my little snacker. That also meant I was never completely off-duty. Even if Brian took Parker in the afternoon so I could get a nap, I was on-call if the little man got hungry (for the 3rd time in an hour period!). One night when I was so tired I literally started crying, Brian said something to me that snapped me right out of it: “I will go to the store and buy formula if that will help you get some sleep.” That reminder of why I was going through sleep deprivation helped me push on.

After you’ve started taking naps and have thought through your priorities in parenting, I would suggest calling someone who is just a little further along in the parenting journey than you. For some reason (it must be all the insane pregnancy/nursing hormones), new moms think they should know how to do everything. They think that if they ask for help that they are somehow failing and must be bad mothers.

Nothing could be further from the truth!

Not only are you going through one of the most overwhelming and life-changing transitions you will ever go through, you have also suddenly become more isolated than you have ever been in your life. You need people. And you need people who have been through the same things you are going through.

Talking with people who have been there will help put things in perspective. The sleep deprivation part of parenthood is short-lived (praise God!). Things will change and they will get better. When your bleary eyes can’t even see your own feet, you need someone else to help remind you of the steps that are ahead of you. While no two babies are alike, they all eventually grow up and they will all eventually sleep through the night. My baby is over 6 months now and there are already things that I miss about infancy. Soak in every moment and don’t lose this time in your life because you are too frustrated, exhausted, or overwhelmed. Just rest. It will get better. I promise!

Everything else can wait. Right now you are mothering an infant who needs you like he/she needs air. Whether you are motivated by love or just sheer willpower, keep going and very soon you will see the fruit of your labor. And seriously, please go take a nap!

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The Reveal

Remember a week or so ago when I shared some pictures of a project I was working on? Well, I’m finally ready to give away some details! I’m sure you are all very relieved since you’ve been dying to hear what’s going on with that incredible Anna Maria Horner fabric. 🙂

I’m making a quilt. But wait, there is more . . .

I’m making the quilt using my very own pattern. But wait, there is still more . . .

I’m going to be offering my new quilt pattern very soon — and for free!! Yippee!! I’ll be sure to keep you in the loop for all the exciting details to come!

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Our Latest Project

Apparently we can’t get enough of home renovation. After doing our whole main level last year, you’d think we’d throw in the towel! Nope, not us!

We’ve decided to take on our enclosed front porch. As usual, I forgot to take a real “before” picture. So, let me give you a mental picture: Lots of white paired with green. Not just any green — we’re talking St. Patrick’s Day green. The door, around the windows, and even the carpet. It was a little much.

So, on goes the first and second coat of primer to rid our walls of that dreadful green. And on goes a lovely tan color to make the space so much more welcoming.

We’ve got some new dark tan carpet tiles coming in the next week or so, which will replace that nasty green stuff on the floor (the picture really does not do it justice!). Then, hopefully a small fan, some lighting, window treatments, and new patio furniture.

We use this room as a Mud Room during the winter, but for the other three seasons the porch is wonderfully temperate. We can’t wait to get some good use out of now that Spring seems to be upon us.

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Extending Your Food Dollar

I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about the money I spend on food. Being in charge of our family’s meal planning is both a blessing and a huge responsibility. I obviously care about the nutritional value of the food we eat, but I also am concerned about getting more bang for my buck.

Seriously. I can be one cheap chica. I get a huge kick out of getting a great deal.

About a month ago I started realizing I had been under-utilizing my greatest ally in the food budgeting world: my freezer. Here are just a few ways that you can extend your food dollar by using your freezer:

1. Freeze fruits/veggies that are on the verge of going bad.
I’m notorious for making a meal plan, getting all the food, and then not getting to certain foods on time. Instead of throwing all those precious food-dollars out into the trash, why not freeze them?

Our local grocery store even has a section with hugely discounted fruits/veggies that are about to expire. I will sometimes dig through that bin to look for some staples (I especially like peppers for this), take them home, clean them up, chop them up, and then freeze. You can take out the amount you need for whatever you are cooking and they will be nice and fresh.

2. Double or triple your recipes, then freeze the leftovers.
This is especially important with a smaller family. Cooking for two can be quite a challenge and you will often end up with leftovers.

I personally don’t like to eat next-day leftovers, so we can often end up with a fridge full of perfectly good food that is never going to be eaten. Instead, why not make an extra lasagna and freeze it for later? Or make extra filling for stuffed peppers, chicken potpie, or anything else you can think of?  This not only saves you time in the kitchen later, it also saves money!

My favorite way of accomplishing this is making soup. When you make soup you usually get way more than you need for one or two meals. I freeze the leftover soup in portioned containers and then eat them later. This is great way to eat fresh, homemade soup (cheaper, more nutritious, and yummier than store bought) without losing the convenience of popping open a new can.

3. Make a soup/stir fry bag.
This is sort of like #1, but with a twist. Don’t you have throwing out the last carrot, a handful of green beans, or even 1/2 a pepper? You may not have any use for these bottom-of-the-barrel veggies at the moment–but they have huge potential. Why not throw them into a bag in your freezer until you have a full bag of varied veggies. Then, make a great soup or stir fry with all of your leftovers.

4. Make your own chicken/beef stock using leftover bones from meat.
This one I’m just getting into, but it seriously can save so much money! Take any leftover bones you may have from cooking turkey/chicken/beef/pork/etc. and freeze them in separate bags. Then, when you have enough bones, use them to make broth. You can then freeze the broth in usable portions (1 cup or so) and use in your recipes. You’ve basically just gotten broth for free!

5. Freeze bread.
Now that I’m getting into making my own bread throughout the week I don’t do this one too much, but it is a great tip. Bread freezes amazingly well. I used to always buy two loaves of sandwich bread and then just freeze one. That way, we’d never run out. You can buy day old bread or buy in bulk when your favorite bread goes on sale. You can freeze your own homemade bread and just heat it up for 15 minutes or so when it’s time to eat it.

You can also just freeze the crusts (if your family doesn’t like them) and ends of the bread. Once you have enough you can use these to make your own breadcrumbs or croutons. Again, this amounts to more free food!

6. Buy meat in bulk.
We love Costco for this reason. I someday hope to purchase more of our meats from local farms, but for right now financially Costco will have to do. The great things is they sell their meat in bulk which amount to great
savings! When I bring everything home from the store I’ll spend some time dividing up the meat into meal size portions and then freeze. Make sure to label everything and include the date.

7. Use your slow-cooker on frost-bitten foods.
I’ve always been a huge fan of the slow-cooker. I loved coming home to already cooking meals when I worked full-time. Now as a mama with an unpredictable kiddo, I love that the slow-cooker can get my meal started early in the day when my little man is usually a happy camper.

But the best thing about the crock pot is that it can bring new life to foods you thought were done for. I’m not recommending eating foods that have gone past their expiration date, but you can get more longevity out of some food by cooking it in your slow cooker. Dump in a frozen pork shoulder after several months in the freezer and  you’ll still get moist and juicy BBQ pulled pork or carnitas.

I know there are probably so many other ways to use you freezer to save big–do you have any other ideas?

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More of Parker

In case you haven’t had quite enough photos of Parker, my friend just posted some on her blog. She’s a budding photographer and I think she did a pretty fantastic job of capturing just how happy Parker is (most of the time!). I love her blog too, so I thought you might enjoy checking it out:

Visit Kirra Sue — you won’t be sorry!

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Hooded Towel Tutorial

It’s finished! Woohoo! I promised a hooded towel tutorial back in January on my old blog, but I’m just now getting around to it. That’s how it goes with an adorable little monkey who consumes all your attention.

The good news is this hooded towel is super duper easy to make. As in, I can even get it done over nap time. And my kiddo takes really short naps. So that is saying something! These hooded towels are a great way to give a custom gift to new mom’s, but you don’t have to have a lot of sewing skills or experience (or time!) to get them to look great.  Yes, they really are that wonderful — so, what are we waiting for?

Hooded Towel Tutorial
by Monica Gee

Supplies:
1 Bath Towel
1 Washcloth or Hand Towel
Ribbon
Thread
Scissors
Pins
Sewing Machine

Directions:
If you are using a Hand Towel, cut it in half to make it the size of a normal Washcloth. Fold in half and pin the raw edge (or one of the finished edges if you are using a Washcloth).

Keeping the seam wrong side out, open up the Washcloth to make a triangle shape on one side and the unsewn side should be straight line. Now clip off the corner of the triangle, pin the cut side, and sew.

Turn hood inside out.

The hood is basically done, unless you want to add a little pizzazz. I like to add a coordinating ribbon. You can do this by pinning a ribbon (turning the ribbon under 1/2″ at each unfinished edge) around the top of the hood. You will want to stitch close to the edge of the ribbon. I followed the little notch in the foot.

Voila! Hood is finished! Set aside.

Now on to the Towel. All you need to do here is attach ribbon along each end. Placement may vary depending on whether your towel has ribbing. I like mine right below the ribbing on each end.

Now it is time to attach the hood to the towel. Place the hood above the towel (right sides up), in the center of one of the long sides.

Now fold down the hood onto the towel and pin.

Sew along the pinned edge. Now you are done! Congratulations! Wrap your little cutie in their new custom hooded towel!

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Loving through Baking

Of course we’ve all heard the phrase, “the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach.” Clearly making your man some good grub shows thoughtfulness and care, but you can also show love and hospitality to others through cooking. I love cooking for people and have found that it can be a huge blessing to others. Actually, I’ve learned this more from what people have done for me than for what I’ve done for others.

When we were going through some crazy home renovation and I was insanely pregnant (see above, this is our kitchen pre-renovation), a dear friend went out of her way to prepare dinners for my family. We were so overwhelmed by her generosity. It was such a stressful time for me and to be freed from meal planning (if only for a night or two) was a truly great gift.

We were again the recipients of cooking generosity when Parker was born. Our church, family, and friends coordinated various meals to ease our transition into parenthood. Seriously, such a HUGE blessing. What better way to show real love and care than to prepare a meal for someone during an extended illness, home renovation, or birth of a child?

There is another way you can be a blessing to others in food preparation: keeping in mind food allergies when having guests over. I had a roommate in college (love ya, Heidi!) who had celiac disease. She was always so gracious about it and never wanted to make a fuss about her gluten allergy. I can remember many meals at friend’s houses where she would end up eating just pasta sauce or picking through salads. I decided right then that I would always ask guests if they had any food allergies before deciding on the menu for the night.

Cooking with food allergies in mind shows how much you are willing to go the extra mile for someone. If you want to get really creative in the kitchen, make something that the person might not make for themselves. My sister-in-law has a gluten intolerance and is a vegetarian. Instead of seeing this as a burden, I decided to challenge myself and find some really excellent recipes to bless her. Gluten-free pizza, gluten-free cinnamon rolls, gluten-free Eggplant Parmesan, etc. For someone who is used to being relegated to the salad portion of a menu, this kind of cooking can communicate love in a way that nothing else could!

In what ways have you been blessed (or been a blessing to others) using food?

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Lincoln Park Adventure

Despite some unplanned insomnia on Saturday, we did end up having a really fun time visiting the Lincoln Park neighborhood in downtown Chicago. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the area, it is the urban hip neighborhood with lots of unique and modern shops. Every time we visit we feel right at home.

Having already explored great finds like 1154 Lill, Paper Source, and the Lincoln Park Zoo and Conservatory– we decided to check out some new spots. My pick? Why Quiltology, of course! A self-proclaimed “urban quilt space”. Delightful!

(One of the quilt kits available at Quiltology)

As much as I love to quilt, I’ve had some bad experiences in quilt shops. While the fabric is always gorgeous, I’ve often received the cold shoulder from quilt shop employees. My guess is they don’t take me seriously because of my age (Despite being a “young quilter”, I have been quilting for over 10 years. So take that snotty quilt shop employees). Anyway, the folks over at Quiltology couldn’t have been nicer. The shop was very selective about its fabrics, but I’m happy to report they had all my favorite designers in stock (Amy Butler, Anna Maria Horner, etc.). I wish we lived closer so I could join their classes. They have some really great quilt kits, too!

Brian decided he wanted to go to Threadless: a funky community-based t-shirt company that allows locals to submit designs. It was a fun shop to go to and we each picked up a new shirt. Or in Parker’s case, the onesie pictured above. It is a spoof on Sesame street characters, picturing monsters that somewhat resemble the Sesame street cast. So I guess that tells you what type of sense of humor we have around this house.

We didn’t bring the camera along for our trip, but I hope you’ll check out their Web sites. I just love shops that are creative and are outside of the norm!

Have you been anywhere new lately? What cool shops exist in your neck of the woods?

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Live, Learn, and (eventually) Laugh

My life before being married was fairly predictable. In fact, my morning routine might have been scheduled down to the minute with how truly routine it was. Get up, take a shower, get dressed, eat breakfast, do my hair, brush teeth, and out the door. Then my days at work were all pretty much the same. My evenings were also predictable, with slight variations.

However, I met and fell in love with a fairly spontaneous guy who likes surprises and spur of the moment plans. So, when we got married, my little routines made some slight adjustments. We would make last minute outings and plan little weekend trips away. But, for the most part, my love of consistency went unchallenged.

Then I became a parent.

And now I have no schedule.

That in itself is hard enough, but the part that has surprised me most is how much I miss the spontaneous things. Having a little guy in tow prevents many spontaneous events. Things have to be well thought out. Diapers packed, naps and bedtime planned for, and extra changes of clothes brought along–or bad things might happen.

But even my best attempts at planning can often end up in “live, learn, and laugh” situations. You know, those events that you go through, flying by the seat of your pants, just hoping it will end before anything really bad happens. Yeah, we’ve had a few of those.

Visiting someone’s house, only to have your baby pee on their bedding. Pushing naps/bedtime too much and having an extremely cranky kiddo for the next few hours. Diaper changing situations that are just unbelievable and unexplainable. But, this weekend takes the cake.

We tried to pull a spontaneous Saturday afternoon out in the Lincoln Park neighborhood of Chicago. We hit terrible traffic going in and decided instead of trying to head back home in just an hour or two, why not grab a hotel and spend the night? We made a quick purchase for all of the stuff we would need to make an overnight possible and settled in for the evening. But Parker would have none of it.

To make a long story short–we did not sleep at all that night. Apparently 6 month olds are aware enough of their surroundings to be upset by them, but not enough to get used to them and be OK. So, not such a great plan after all. Of course it is easy to laugh about now, but let’s just say we won’t be doing anything like that again any time soon!

The craziest part about being a parent? No matter what happens, you are still absolutely in love. It helps that they are so darn cute.

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