Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Cinnamon Banana Bread

This is my favorite banana bread recipe.  My husband loves it.  And even people who normally don’t like banana bread have eaten it and said they enjoyed it.   My mom gave me the recipe, and I’ve “tweaked” it here and there.  The final result (for now, at least) is what I’m sharing with you.

Cinnamon Banana Bread

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit

Mash very well in a large bowl (I use a potato masher; it works great!):

Three ripe bananas (It should come to about 1 ¾-2  cups of mush.  If you only have two ripe bananas, add enough applesauce to make up the difference).

Add to the bananas and mix well:

¼ cup vegetable oil

2/3 cup sugar

Combine and add to the wet mixture:

1 ¾ cup flour (if you live at a high altitude like I do, add another ¼ cup)

¾ teaspoon baking soda

1 ¼ teaspoon cream of tartar

½ teaspoon of salt

1-1   ½ teaspoons of cinnamon (depending on how cinnamon-y you like things)

Mix the dry ingredients with the wet ingredients until you have a fairly thick lumpy yet well combined mixture.  Put the batter in an ungreased loaf pan or in paper lined muffin tins.  For a loaf, bake from 45 minutes to an hour, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  For muffins, bake about 20 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center of a muffin comes out clean.

I like to buy the discounted ripe bananas and make a double or triple batch.  I freeze the extras or give them away.

My husband likes banana bread with cream cheese.  My mom loves hers with lots of butter.  I prefer eating thick slices plain with a cup of tea.  Little Man likes banana bread in any way he can get his hands on it.

Wild Mushroom Pasta

Our library has a magazine exchange of sorts.  People who have magazines they want to get rid of bring them to the library and put them on a specified table.  Those who want the discarded magazines, pick them up and take them home.  I will occasionally take home something that catches my eye.  One time it was three Gourmet magazines.  I enjoyed looking at them and gathering ideas about presentation, food combinations, etc., but most of the gourmet recipes didn’t fit with my budget or taste buds.  I did tear out a few recipes, and this was one of the keepers.

It is one of our splurgy recipes, and I only make it on occasion.  But it is very worth it!  I did make several adaptations based on my budget, our local grocery options (which are limited), and out taste.  I’ll include them in brackets.  I like to serve this pasta dish with grilled chicken.

Wild Mushroom Pasta

2/3 oz. dried morel or porcini mushrooms [I use dried shitake mushrooms that I find in the oriental section.  It is all I can get at our local grocery store.]

1 ¾ cups boiling-hot water

5 tablespoons of unsalted butter [I use olive oil]

½ lb. fresh cremini mushrooms, trimmed and sliced ¼ inch thick

¾ lb mixed fresh wild mushrooms, such as oyster, chanterelle, or porcini, trimmed and sliced lengthwise ¼ inch thick [I was again forced by availability to substitute.  For these, I substitute plain white mushrooms.  It is probably better with the wild ones, but the white mushrooms are good too.)

1 large garlic clove, minced

¾ teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon pepper

½ lb. dried egg fettuccine [I use plain fettuccine]

¼ cup fresh chives, chopped

2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

1 ½ teaspoons finely grated fresh lemon zest [I leave the lemon zest out since my husband doesn’t care for it and increase the lemon juice]

½ teaspoon fresh lemon juice

Parmesan cheese

~Soak dried mushrooms in boiling-hot water in a bowl until softened, about 20 minutes.  Drain in a paper towel lined sieve set over a bowl and reserve soaking liquid, then rinse the soaked mushrooms. [I just fish the mushrooms out to avoid getting another bowl dirty.] Chop the mushrooms finely.

~Heat 3 tablespoons butter in a heavy 12 inch skillet over moderately high heat until foam subsides, then sauté fresh mushrooms with garlic, salt, and pepper, stirring occasionally, until the liquid given off by the mushrooms is evaporated and the mushrooms are browned, 5 to 7 minutes.  Stir in chopped soaked mushrooms and reserved mushroom soaking liquid and simmer 1 minute.  Remove from heat.

~Cook pasta in a 6 to 8 quart pot of boiling salted water until al dente, about 5 minutes. [I follow the pasta package instructions as cooking times vary depending on the brand and kind of pasta.]  Reserve ¼ cup of pasta cooking water.  Drain pasta in a colander, and then add it to the mushrooms in the skillet.  Add remaining 2 tablespoons of butter and cook over moderately high heat, tossing and adding some pasta cooking liquid if necessary to lightly coat the pasta for about 1 minute.  Add the chives, parsley, lemon zest, and lemon juice.  Toss it well.  Serve immediately with cheese and pepper to taste.

Created to be His Helpmeet, Chapter 5

The Gift of Wisdom

What God says:

But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him. (James 1:5)

But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy. (James 3:17)

My thoughts:

James 1:5 has long been one of my favorite verses, and it is SO comforting to know that God has all sorts of wisdom that I can get for the asking.  The best part?  He’s never annoyed by my requests, and He will never scold me for asking for wisdom.  The hairy part?  When I know what He wants me to do (by His clear revelation in Scripture, for example), and I am reluctant to obey.  That’s where faith comes in.  Believing that God knows what He’s talking about (even when it doesn’t seem to make sense).  Believing that He will give me deep peace and true joy when I obey Him (even when humanly speaking the thing He is asking me to do is the opposite of what should make me happy).  Believing that He will give me wisdom to act in faithful obedience and doing what He wants me to do.

I am rejoicing today because there was recently a situation in my marriage in which I didn’t want to obey God.  But He gave me faith and wisdom, and I did.  I was able to build up my husband and become a stronger woman though it.   I did obey God, and let me tell you, it was worth it!

Favorite quotations from the book:

“There will be times in your marriage when it will take faith and wisdom to believe that God is good, kind, and just in His command for you to submit to your husband in everything… What God said stands, regardless of the man’s goodness or the apparent lack thereof.  You were given your blueprints with words like honor, submit, and reverence.  This is God’s will and way, His directive and pattern for you to model.  It is up to us to believe and obey God.”

“I thank God that wisdom is not earned; it is a gift.”

A practical goal for this week:

~Pray for wisdom daily as I run into situations where I lack understanding and pay attention to the answers God gives.  Act of what I know God wants me to do.

Created to be His Helpmeet, Chapter 4

Thanksgiving Produces Joy

What God Says:

I will give thanks to the LORD with all my heart; I will tell of all Your wonders. (Psalm 9:1)

I will praise the name of God with song and magnify Him with thanksgiving. (Psalm 69:30)

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. (Philippians 4:6)

My thoughts:

In many ways this chapter is a continuation of the previous one.  The difference is chapter three discussed thanksgiving more theoretically, while this one is very practical.  As I read, I was challenged to thankfully enjoy each moment, and to focus on God while doing it.

I am very thankful for my husband.  He is not perfect, but neither am I (to be honest, sometimes I’m not thankful enough).  We have some friends who are having some serious marriage problems right now, and I have become still more thankful.  I am thankful for his care for me, for our enjoyable togetherness, for his expressions in music, for his care of Little Man.  And I have been analyzing my own proneness to discontent.

However, as I was thinking about how thankful I am for Benjamin, I realized that I need to not focus my thankfulness on him (the “gift”).  After all, he is human and will fail me at times.  I much focus my thankfulness on the Great Giver.  God is the only one who can satisfy me, and only in Him can I achieve true thanksgiving.  He has given me my Benjamin, and it is He who should receive my ultimate praise and thanksgiving.  When I am securely rejoicing in my faith in and thanks to Him, I will be able to properly express my thankfulness to Benjamin.

A favorite quotation from the book:

“We have learned that all of life is fun and needs to be shared with our best friend, playmate, and lover.  This, then, is the rule of life for wives: Live with thanksgiving, forgiveness, and joy, and enjoy all your moments as if they were your last.  Someday, soon enough, they will be.”

Practical goals for this week:

~Focus on the Giver first of all.

~Think an abundance of thankful thoughts and remember to actually express them verbally instead of assuming that Benjamin can read my thankful mind. ; )

~Think of creative ways to be “fun” in appropriate times and ways.

Monday, March 23, 2009

March in Montana

And this is part of the reason I was so excited about finding three new sweaters in March, when most of the US is pulling out warm weather clothes. Yesterday started out as a sunny and warm short sleeve weather day. I believe it was even over 50 degrees. By mid-afternoon it was raining, and by late afternoon, it was snowing hard. Over the course of the evening, it dumped all this lovely wet snow! And today it is sunny and drippy-melting. In a few days I might be wearing sandals again, but I’ll expect to be back in my cozy sweaters at least for a couple of days before the end of April.

My plug for thrifting...well, sort of

I really enjoy shopping at thrift stores.  I like the low prices on brand name clothing, the exciting deals on kitchen things (from tea cups and antiques to mixing bowls and nifty gadgets), the inexpensive home décor to liven up my home, the opportunity to express my artistic side mixing and matching unexpected combinations.
And I am especially privileged because I am able to volunteer at a small, locally owned and operated thrift store four blocks away from my house.  In exchange for my time and organizational help, the owner lets me take stuff home.  This works out nicely because I can take something without having to pay money, and if it doesn’t work, I can just take it back.  I get most of Little Man’s clothes from this thrift store, and many of my own as well.  The variety of what comes through is astonishing.  We do a lot of throwing away plain old junk, but often I can find cute, well made clothing, lovely antiques, quality toys for Little Man, and sometimes even small articles of furniture.  It’s a win-win situation, she is happy with my work, and I am happy with my finds.
I was particularly pleased with last week’s finds.  Here are the highlights:

The first find is purely for fun.  I saw this exquisitely detailed orange plate and decided it would make a charming addition to my collection of serving dishes.  I think it is antique.  Does anyone know anything about this kind of plate?  It is a little smaller than my corelle dinner plates, and it says “Oven Serve, Made in USA” on the bottom.
Since I have been feeling ridiculously down about my maternity wardrobe (even though it is adequate), I was very happy to find three nice sweaters to cheer my wardrobe outlook.  All three are big enough for now, and I think they will also be small enough for me to wear when I’m not pregnant.

The first is a soft, brown sweater with this gorgeous teal and orange embroidery detail on both sleeves.  I’m wearing it right now with jeans, but I think it will be versatile enough to dress up a little bit too.

The second my husband has proclaimed to be “a little old lady-ish” (I wish I could type out his tone; it’s an analytical, evaluating tone, not a condescending one). ;  )  Half of me agrees with him.  But half of me really likes the sweater; after all, it’s long enough so that my long maternity tops don’t hang out at the bottom, it is button down for easy removal if the day gets too warm, and the knitting details are charming (I think it was handmade).  Plus it is cut in a modern un-grannyish way: long and thin.  I’m wondering, though, if I could make it even more modern feeling by changing the buttons.

The third is a simple, white cotton sweater that I am foreseeing being very versatile this spring.  What really made me decide to get it, though, was the sweet flowers that cover the snaps that fasten it down the front.  They remind me of antique linens.  I love subtle details like that.
So those are my happy ramblings about my exciting finds of the week.

Little Men want man's work too

Recently Little Man has had a fascination with firewood. As you may recall from a semi-recent post, he has been delighting in carrying around small logs in imitation Daddy and Grandpa. The last few trips to our back porch/car port have had him all excited about the wood pile and the axe (yikes!). Thankfully the axe is too heavy for him to lift yet, but he tried to lift it for all he’s worth!

Yesterday Benjamin took Little Man outside and allowed him to safely help chop a few small pieces of firewood. Little Man seemed almost ready to burst with pride at his grown up job, and was more than slightly grieved when we decided it was time to come back inside.

I’m looking forward to the growing joys and challenges of keeping our Little Man busy and stimulated mentally, spiritually, and physically. And I’m thankful to know where to go for more wisdom when my small supply runs low!

Menu Plan Monday

The last two menu weeks were uninspiring to say the least.  I did not plan very well and am thankful that my family ended up being fed as well as they were!  I am picking up speed again, cleaning, organizing, and feeling like cooking!  I am excited about these next two weeks in which I am adventurously hoping to try more new recipes than I usually do.

Oh, by the way, I tried something new this morning that I’m definitely going to do again.  It was so successful that I want to share it with you!  I was trying to think of a creative way to use some leftover waffles that had been left out and had gotten hard (one of the disadvantages of living in such a dry climate).  I decided to try making French toast waffles.  I mixed up egg and milk as usual, dipped the hard waffles into the mixture, let them sit for a while to get soft, and cooked them on my griddle like I would cook normal French toast.  They turned out so yummy!  Little Man and I enjoyed them with jam and syrup respectively, and Benjamin wants to get in on eating them next time.

Anyway, on to the menu!

M: Power version of Swedish Meatballs (doubling the meat balls to freeze some for later).  I’m also planning on making a triple batch of banana bread today and some bran muffins.  We will eat some and freeze most for future breakfasts and snacks.

T: Pappardelle with Spinach-Mushroom Sauce (a yummy sounding new recipe I found in a cook book I picked up second hand).

W: Soup Potluck at small group

Th: Chicken with 40 cloves of garlic (a new recipe that I’m simultaneously excited and nervous about!), wild rice, and steamed carrots

F: Chicken cacciatore (cook sauce and chicken in crock pot)

S: I’ll ask Benjamin to cook since I’m going to be judging for the 4-H speech competition all morning (he is an amazing cook!).

Su: Leftovers or TBD

M: Chicken Enchilada casserole (a new recipe from my mother-in-law; my husband loves it, so I’m looking forward to good results) and salad

T: Grilled Chicken, rice noodles with satay (peanut) sauce, and vegetables


Th: Stew and rolls (make double batch and use the extras for the next  day’s sandwiches)

F: Portobello French dips (made in the crock pot with a venison roast)

S: pasta of Benjamin’s choice or leftovers


More Menu Plan Monday

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

But not all is quilted...

Really, I don't live, eat, and breath quilting. There wouldn't be much fun in that. This is my little knitting side project to keep me enjoying my quilting.

It's another baby blanket. My mom is making a flannel quilt for these particular friends, so I thought that making another flannel quilt would be redundant. The quilt she is making for this baby girl has a lot of blue flannel (with a delicate and lacy snow flake pattern; it can still be feminine even though it's blue) that contrasts strikingly with a rich burgundy print.

I decided to coordinate yarn colors with her flannel colors and switch from my traditional flannel baby blanket to a knitted blanket.

I really like this pattern. It's simple, unique, fast, and fun. All you do is group several yarns of different weights and textures together, and knit away on size 35 knitting needles. This time I used six strands: two normal weight red heart yarns (sorry I'm can't be more specific!), two light and lofty red heart yarns, one thin white baby yarn, and one crochet thread with dashes of silver to liven things up. I cast on 42 stitches and then knitted until I was pleased with how long the blanket was.

For this blanket I used the popcorn pattern (kk, pp, kk, pp, etc. then the next row you go: kk, pp, kk, pp, etc, but the next row is: pp, kk, pp, kk, etc., and the next one is pp, kk, pp, kk, ect). I have also done stripes doing two knitted rows, and two purled rows, two knitted rows, and two purled rows. I'm sure there are lots of other creative variations, but I haven't explored them. If you really want to do this, and I've completely confused you, let me know, and I will try to clarify. I am not primarily a knitter, and this is the first time I've tried to type out directions!

Happy Accident Quilt

This is the quilt that is the happy result of an interesting series of accidents.

While making the baby boy quilt pictured and discussed in my previous post, I thought that I had miscalculated on how much animal print I needed and was short, so I hurried to the local quilting shop and tried to match the colors in the print as well as I could. I came home with the green flannel.

Well, it turned out that I had not miscalculated after all. When the animal quilt was finished, I was left with a stack of blue, yellow striped, and brown squares, a bit of left over yellow striped fabric, and the unused green.

I decided to use the green and yellow striped fabric to make 6 3/4 inch squares (the same size as the left over blue, yellow, and brown squares). Once the green and yellow squares were sewn, I was going to arrange them geometrically and sew them into a small quilt.

I carefully measured and cut the strips of green and yellow, sew the strips together, ironed them, and discovered that they were 3/4 of an inch too small! Arg. I quickly decided to trim down the blue, yellow, and brown squares. And then I decided to not waste time trying to make the blue and brown stripes the same size (which would require trimming three sides and repositioning the ruler) but to make an asymmetrical look (which only required trimming two sides and positioning my ruler once).

The result? A modern-feeling geometric quilt that is asymmetrical yet balanced. Oh, and no left overs. Yep, the number of quilt squares was perfect, and I didn't even have any awkward strips of unused fabric left! I don't think I could have figured that mathematically if I tried!

Now all I hope is that the person who gets it as a baby quilt likes modern, geometric, rather asymmetrical, groupings of green, blue, brown, and yellow stripes better than they like more traditional baby prints like cute little jungle animals. ; )

busy with baby quilts

As I mentioned in my previous post, I was busybusy working on sewing baby quilt tops for a couple of weeks. Here are the photos that I promised along with some rambling comments as narration. ; ) All of these quilts are made with flannel.

Here is Baby Boy Quilt top #1. I haven't batted and backed it yet, but then, I don't know anyone who for sure is having a boy, so I am just getting a head start.

I love this pattern! I'm quite sure I will be using it again (and maybe again and again; we'll have to see). I saw a quilt hanging on the wall of our local quilt shop that used this pattern, and recreated it, so I don't know what it's called.

I just love the cute animal and stripe prints and the way the solids set them off, so I had to include a close up photo to show them off. And I actually had enough of every single fabric (though I literally had no leftovers of the animal print) so I did not have to scramble to think of something creative to make this quilt look good.

I love this one! I got the idea for this stripy diamonds and squares quilt from a picture of a quilt in a Joann's sale flier. It came in the mail while I was trying to decide what pattern to make this fabric into, and as I flipped through, I found my inspiration! I did not have as many varieties of fabric to use as they showed in the inspiration quilt, but I am very pleased with my adaptation. I made this for some of our friends who are having a baby girl in April (I think). The mom is a girly girl, and I think she will love it.

This is my second all-the-way finished quilt. The friends who will be getting this one planned their baby girl's room to be in purples, yellows, and light teals with a sea creature theme. I wanted to try to match their theme, but finding a sea print in those colors proved impossible! So I settled for purple gingham, solid yellow, and striped pinks (I couldn't find any teal flannel, light or dark, either). When I got home and looked through my flannel scraps, I was delighted to find some light teal tucked away. I'm pleased with the almost random yet still methodical look I managed to pull off with my bits and pieces of colors.

Little Man decided he did not want to be left out of the quilt photo shoot on this one. ; ) Those colorful quilts spread out on the floor were just too tempting! As you can probably guess, this one is made from the scraps from the first girly quilt pictured above. It ended up being just about the same size as a receiving blanket, but once I finish it, it should be a bit bigger.

This one is also a scrappy quilt. It's about the same size as the quilt above. These are both work ahead quilt tops that I will stash away to wait for happy news from friends. ; )

I made one more baby boy quilt top, but since it was my Happy Accident Quilt, I am giving it its very own post which is coming soon.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Happy Accidents

So I've been quilting like crazy the last couple of weeks. I love making flannel baby quilts. I have finished two baby girl quilts for friends as well as finishing four quilt tops (two girly ones, two boy ones) to have on hand. They will fly together when I need them for baby showers. (Pictures are coming, I promise.) ; )

I love to quilt. But I am not a mathematician. I barely got through high school algebra, figuratively kicking and screaming all the way (yes, I'm admitting my attitude didn't help). That said, I often make mistakes in figuring out how much of what kind of fabrics I need. As long as I don't panic and fall apart, I can figure out creative ways of making my quilts look really good even though it wasn't exactly what I had planned originally. And most of the time, I like it better the way it turned out in the end.

So this is a very long illustration of the whole point that I want to make. A lot of times things in our lives don't go as planned. Let me rephrase that. The majority of time, life does not fit into our tidy little schemes of how we want it to go. So what should we do with that? Panic? Fall apart? Sometimes I do, and it never helps.

I find that trying to view the "curve balls" of life as exciting challenges to overcome instead of disasters that will overcome me helps; they're accidents waiting to be made into Happy Accidents. I have to think of calming down (sometimes I have to leave the problem for a while), then coming up with as many different solutions as I can (often talking it through with someone else helps), then choosing the one that will work the best. I am often surprised at how happily my accidents turn out.

And soon I'll show you a quilt that is the happy result of a series of accidents. Now to apply all my good philosophies to dishes and scheduling around Little Man's needs...

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Popping in to say hi

Hello! It's been a while since I have posted. I've been busy. I thought I would pop in and give a mini-update.

I have actually really been enjoying being Internet-free. I have been enjoying reading more and spending more time investing in my guys. In fact, I have even been not-too-interested in getting online when I have the opportunity. I think it is a good thing.

Baby is growing, and I have developed a definite "baby bump" over the last week or so! I am at sixteen weeks, and I am feeling Baby move frequently. We are really looking forward to the ultrasound in about two weeks. We are hoping that Baby cooperates and that we are able to find out if we will have another little son or a tiny baby girl.

Little Man is charming and busy as usual. We have decided break him of his pacifier habit, and nap time has become slightly traumatic. :-( I think that he may be getting his two year old molars already too. And today he got his first big boy buzz haircut.

We are going through a time of transition, and God has been teaching me a lot about Himself and about finding my peace in Him even when I'm having a rough time. It has been SO good. I have been feeling more tired lately but have still managed to work on some projects. I did a small calligraphy commission project, and the last couple of days I have been working on baby quilts. I have three started and hope to finish them all this coming week. I will try to get online next week and post some quilt photos as well as writing something other than an update.