Thursday, March 31, 2011

Recipe: Delicious Lemon Bars


My wonderful mom was over yesterday to watch the kids so I could get some freelance work done. I set up my home office (read: card table and laptop in a corner of the bedroom) and worked feverishly—and happily, knowing that Mom was downstairs having fun making these lemon bars with the kids. I can always count on her to whip up some kind of treat when she's here, and it makes my heart happy that my boys will have lots of memories of baking with YiaYia.

Yesterday's concoction was a lemon bar recipe Mom saw in in the newspaper (she's old school like that). They were really, I mean really, good—a perfect combination of almost-makes-you-pucker lemon filling sitting atop a sweet, buttery, perfectly crumbly crust. What a yummy spring treat. Thanks, Mom!

P.S. The backdrop of this photo is a still life my mom painted in the 1970s when she took an oil painting class at the tiny art center in our tiny town. When I found this painting a few years back in an old trunk, I framed it and propped on the kitchen counter. She doesn't think it's a very good painting, but to me it's a masterpiece.

"Luscious Lemon Bars" 
From Three Many Cooks as printed in USA Weekend (March 25, 2011)


For crust:
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/8 tsp. salt
1/2 cup confectioner's sugar
1 stick butter, melted but not hot
For Filling:
2 large eggs
3/4 cup sugar
1 and 1/2 Tbs. all-purpose flour
6 Tbs. juice from 2 lemons
2 tsps. finely grated lemon zest


Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat to 325 degrees. Spray an 8- by 8-inch baking pan with cooking spray. Place heavy-duty foil in bottom of pan with two sides overhanging edges to pull bars from the pan. Spray foil with cooking spray. // Mix flour, salt, confectioner's sugar; stir in butter to form dough. Press dough into pan bottom. Bake until pale golden, about 20 minutes. While pastry bakes, whisk eggs, sugar, flour, lemon juice, and zest. // Remove pan from oven. Add lemon mixture and continue baking till just set, about 20 minutes longer. Let cool in pan for a few minutes, then use foil handles to pull bars from pan and set on a wire rack. Cool until room temperature, then cut into squares. 

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

My Kind of Egg Hunt



My friend Kathy and I had our own version of an Easter egg hunt on Saturday. We were on a mission to find cute eggs for some easy Easter decorating—the emphasis on "easy" because I am not a good year-round holiday decorator like many New American Homemakers I know and admire. These two glass canisters on my foyer table are about all I can manage. Until a few weeks ago they were filled with pinecones.

Sidebar: If I had more time and ambition, I'd also fill them with heart candies for Valentine's Day, sparkly shamrocks for St. Patrick's Day, red-white-and-blue ribbons for the Fourth of July, candy corn for Halloween, and gourds for Thanksgiving. Sidebar to the sidebar: Don't you love the word "gourds?" Anyone named Gordy should seriously consider opening a gourds store. I'd go out of my way to shop at a place called Gordy's Gourds, wouldn't you?

Anyway, we hit the eggs jackpot at Tonkadale Greenhouse in Minnetonka, hands down the best greenhouse in the Twin Cities. Tonkadale has a wonderful area at the front of the store filled with garden supplies and home décor items, including lots and lots of decorative eggs. (We grabbed a bunch of eggs for $1.99/package of six.) There's also a darling fairy garden that your little ones would love. If you live in the Twin Cities, put Tonkadale on your spring to-do list!

Monday, March 28, 2011

Super Sneakers

Superga Italia® 2750 Classic Sneaker

So I'm bopping around with my New American Homemaker girlfriends Kathy and Jen on Saturday, when Jen is practically accosted by a salesperson at lululemon because of the sneakers she was wearing. I knew Jen had a keen eye for footwear, but I had no idea that the cute rides she'd been sporting all day have a cult following. Superga Italia® are (according to the enthusiastic lululemon lady) "the Converse of Italy." Jen found her pair for $20 at Marshall's, but they usually retail for around $70/pair on Zappos—or, if you're a size 11.5 or 6.5, you can score a pair for $25 right now at Piperlime



The Superga 2750 style (pictured) comes in lots of delicious colors and is meant to be worn sans socks. They can be tossed in the wash to keep them clean and comfy. Jen was wearing her Superga sneakers with jeans, but these would also be darling with leggings or capris or a summery skirt-and-tee combo. There are also crazy cute Superga sneakers for kids that retail around $35. Buon Divertimento! And thanks for the fun day, K and J!

Superga Italia® for kids

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Stop the (Garlic) Presses!

Joseph Joseph® Rocker™ stainless steel garlic crusher

New American Homemakers love a great gadget, and this one is rockin'! Literally. My friend Carrie (the Phenom-Mom with three kids in Missouri who turned off the TV—permanently—last summer) loved her Joseph Joseph® Rocker™ stainless steel garlic crusher so much that she sent one to me! I absolutely love garlic, but loathe pressing the little buggers and dealing with the gross garlic "skin" the ends up in the bottom of the press. Yes, I could just mince with a knife, but that's sticky business.

I tried the Rocker as soon as I opened it last night, and was so happy to see that it negates both of those pesky problems, yields perfectly crushed garlic, and is fun (read: addictive) to use. Thank you, Carrie, for sharing such a nifty product recommendation!

P.S. If you missed the post about Carrie's legendary monster cookies, click here!


Wednesday, March 23, 2011

"Blessings"

Treat your ears and your heart to this incredibly beautiful song today—you can hear the full version for free by clicking here (the song is also available on iTunes). The artist, Laura Story, is new to me, but her voice is so simple and pure, and her lyrics so moving, that I think she's about to become one of my new favorites.


www.laurastorymusic.com


I heard about "Blessings" from our former summer nanny (and future New American Homemaker!), Katelyn. Four years ago, Katelyn helped me with my then itsy-bitsy boys two days a week while I worked part-time. Just embarking on her teaching career, Katelyn will be positively impacting so many children's lives—just like she left an impression on my sons. They still talk about how she turned a big furniture box into a boat by having them decorate it with markers and paint and "set sail" in our living room. Her Facebook updates about her trips to Haiti to help orphaned children have been more inspiring to me than she knows. Katelyn heads back to Haiti in two weeks. Please join me in saying a prayer for her and the children she is going to help.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Planting a Seed

We have a little garden growing on our kitchen window ledge, thanks to each of us being sent home from church on Sunday with cups of soil and wheatgrass seed—a tangible reminder that our spirituality, like a seed, will lie dormant without care and nourishment. The goal is to nurture each cup of seeds so that we can bring back six cups of thriving, full-grown grass to help decorate the church on Easter Sunday. As with everything around our house, it's become a fierce competition to see whose cup will boast the best wheatgrass come Easter. Bennett is clearly in the lead so far, which thrills him to pieces.


Since I'm now in a "growing things in cups" mindset, I have to share the couldn't-be-cuter idea I saw  yesterday in Country Living magazine (April 2011 issue, on newsstands now). I've purchased these very mugs at Anthropologie as gifts before, but it never occurred to me to use several of them to spell out a word. So smart! The mugs are $6/piece. Filled with live plants or seed packets, what a fun end-of-year gift these mugs would be for a teacher or your green-thumbed girlfriend. Or give them to yourself for your own kitchen window display! New American Homemakers, you've officially survived winter, and that's something worth celebrating.


Photo from Country Living® magazine, April 2011 issue (currently on newsstands). Mugs from Anthropologie.




Friday, March 18, 2011

Color Pop

I've written before about how my two favorite online photography sites are Picnik and Shape Collage. (See those posts here and here.) They're both easy, fun, and have limitless applications. Here's a snazzy Picnik effect that you might want to try this weekend.



I took this photo of Rowan earlier this week. The photo was fine, but I knew it would be cuter if I could make the head-to-toe pink she was wearing really pop out. To do this, upload your photo to Picnik and go to Create > Effects then scroll down to "Black and White." When you're there, click on the brush icon. An "Effect Painting" window will pop up; select "original"—that means you'll be painting the original color back onto the black-and-white photo—and choose your brush size. Use the Zoom tool (bottom right) to make painting the little details easier. Done!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Green is Gorgeous

In celebration of St. Patrick's Day, my friend Kathy made a trail of shamrock stickers that her kids followed down the stairs this morning, leading them to little pots of gold-covered chocolate coins. She also wrote "Happy St. Patrick's Day!" on their mirror in green dry erase marker. A neighbor fed his kids green bagels for breakfast. I heard about another mom who dyes the water in the toilet green (maybe to make the kids think that a leprechaun snuck in and had to avail himself of the facilities?). I'm inspired by all of these things, because the only thing I'm doing to recognize the day is planning on McDonald's Shamrock Shakes for dessert tonight. I might try to up my game next year, especially since my oldest son, with his twinkling eyes, red hair, and freckles, looks like he was born in the heart of Dublin. If nothing else, maybe Nate and I will tote him around to some local pubs and see if he can charm convivial patrons into treating us some free beer. (Kidding.) 

To honor all things green, I thought I'd share some photos my New American Homemaker friend Linda sent me last week of the most gorgeously green-themed wedding flowers I've ever seen. I asked her to send me these pics after she casually mentioned having done the wedding flowers for a co-worker not long ago, and how she is doing another friend's wedding flowers later this month. Please realize: Linda juggles a full-time design job from her home office with two little ones underfoot—and she talks about doing a friend's wedding flowers like I talk about brushing my teeth. No big deal. Amazing...







Sweet detail: The bridesmaids' bouquets are tied with vintage hankies the bride collected from her grandmother. 


Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Table Talk

Let's Talk! Vocabulary Box from Lakeshore Learning, $14.95



You've seen the studies on the benefits of family dinners. (And if you haven't, click here for a link to a great summary.) Experts tell us that our kids will be less likely to smoke cigarettes, drink alcohol, and try drugs—and more likely to get better grades—when they partake in regular family meals. Gives you a whole new respect for meatloaf, doesn't it?

I don't know about you, but dinners at my house can be frantic affairs. Sometimes I'm so tapped out by the time we're all gathered around the table, I want nothing more than to just sit and enjoy a mini zone-out while repeating a continuous, monotone loop of "please chew with you mouth closed — get your elbows off the table — quit slurping your milk — your piece is as big as your brothers — the next person who makes that kind of noise at the dinner table will be asked to leave." I love that my husband makes it a point to get home for dinner, even though it means he usually works for an hour or two after the kids are in bed (that seems to be so common with working parents these days). After talking at work all day and rushing home, he's not exactly primed to guide the family in stimulating conversation either.

That's why the "Let's Talk! Vocabulary Box" caught my eye a few weeks ago at the Lakeshore Learning Center. Every night one of the boys gets to pick a card out of the box, and we go around the table giving our answers or thoughts. Last night the question was, "What special clothes might you wear in the summer?" Seems overly basic, but the ensuing conversation got us collectively talking about what we're looking forward to this summer, where we might want to go camping, whether or not the boys should try lacrosse, when school is out, and how baby Rowan will be able to toddle around Como Zoo. We were still talking when we were cleaning up the table. Other cards have said, "Talk about a time when you were frightened," "Why do people go to the dentist?" and "What are your neighbors like?" There are 50 cards total. Yes, it would be easy to make my own vocabulary box, but using the "Let's Talk" box makes this feel like a fun game—and not like yet another one of my cockamamie, homespun family improvement initiatives. (I am already readying myself for the hazing my boys will give me someday about my chart obsession. Five years from now when I say, "Kids, I'm running out to the grocery store," I just know one of the kids will reply, "Don't you think you should make a chart about it first?") 

Anyway, the Let's Talk box is lots of fun and would make a great birthday gift. Yes, dinners can still feel a little frantic. But now I'm excited to see where our conversations will take us every night. 



Anyway

Monday, March 14, 2011

How Sweet the Sounds

Yesterday was a day filled with sweet sounds: awesome music at church, my son's violin recital, and this YouTube clip of a beautiful rendition of "Amazing Grace" that my wonderful friend (and quintessential New American Homemaker) Cara sent me. She gets to listen to this voice, a fellow member at her church in Des Moines, regularly. I got tears in my eyes just watching the clip—I can't imagine how moving it must be to hear him in person! Enjoy!



About Nicholas and the violin: Like many boys, Nicholas is crazy for sports. He surpassed my husband's knowledge of stats, players, trades, and records long ago. While he doesn't hate playing the violin, he doesn't display quite the same zeal for picking up his fiddle as for picking up a football. So I'm always on the lookout for things that might kick his enthusiasm up a notch or two. For example, after Nate and I went to a Dave Matthews Band concert last fall, we showed Nick YouTube videos of DMB violinist Boyd Tinsley. Last year, I recorded the Country Music Awards when I heard that the Zac Brown Band was going to be playing "Devil Went Down to Georgia" featuring did-my-ears-really-just-hear-that fiddle player Jimmy De Martini. We watched it at least 10 times. My favorite find was this poster in the foyer of a violin store. Perfect! I snapped it and showed it to Nicholas.

Driving home from downtown Minneapolis after his recital, I asked Nicholas if he wanted to play violin again next year. Without even hesitating, he said, "Yes!"

Hmm...come to think of it, that might have been the sweetest sound of all yesterday.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Kari's #1 Cucumber Sandwiches



My fabulous long-time friend Kari (who just accepted a physician's assistant job at the Mayo Clinic—go Kari!!) made these cucumber sandwiches at a girls' weekend a few summers ago, and they have been one of my all-time favorites ever since. The secret is in their three-ingredient simplicity. Hearty, wholegrain bread. Creamy seasoned cheese. Crisp, fresh English cucumber slices.

But don't just take my word for it. I brought two platters of Kari's cucumber sandwiches to one of my Mothers of Preschoolers meetings last fall, and of all the delicious egg bakes, caramel rolls, fruit platters, and frosted brownies on the table, these sandwiches were voted "Treat of the Week." (Quite a culinary honor, let me tell you!)

Make them for a light weekend lunch or make them as appetizers for a crowd. You'll love them!

Kari's #1 Cucumber Sandwiches
1  8-pack of Arnold Multi-grain Sandwich Thins (I buy the 24-count value pack at Costco)
2  packages lowfat cream cheese
1 1/2 packets of Good Seasons Italian All Natural Salad Dressing & Recipe Mix
1  English cucumber, thinly sliced
Separate each sandwich thin and then cut into quarters. Mix Salad Dressing & Recipe Mix into the cream cheese; spread on top of bread. Top with a cucumber slice. 


Thursday, March 10, 2011

The Morning Rush

Yesterday morning—in the midst of burnt toast, lost mittens, forgotten violins, sibling fights, spilled oatmeal, unfinished homework, and me yelling (ahem) words of encouragement—the baby quietly crawled into the mudroom where her brothers were putting on their winter garb and sat herself smack-dab in the middle of the chaos. When her oldest brother left for the bus stop, she started whimpering, then pulled herself up on the window ledge and started banging on the glass. There's no way Nicholas could have heard her little paws thumping away, but he turned, saw her, and came running back to the window—to his sister's squealing delight.  I pantomimed "wait right there!" to Nicholas, ran for my camera, and snapped this photo.

Thank you, God, for serving up magical moments when we least expect them—and when we somehow need them the most.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

My most dearest of dear friends, Kathy, and I have a lot in common: husbands who were fraternity brothers, an irrational love of crack-of-dawn workouts, a dislike of the word "vehicle," a fondness for fruity cocktails in the summertime, and a serious addiction to sugar. I've been sugar-crazy as long as I can remember, and admit to freebasing Tang regularly as a child. (Lick spoon, plunge into Tang canister, lick spoon, repeat.) Sweet tooth? Try sweet fang. The only sugar-free stretch I've ever experienced is when I was pregnant with my youngest son, and my doctor—who happened to have a sweet-as-honey Southern accent—told me to "give up the sugar, Sugar," or I'd be birthing a 10+ pound baby. That was finally the motivation I needed, and I went two months with nary an M&M crossing my lips. Grant weighed in at 8.5 pounds. I celebrated his birth by guzzling a Coke moments after the delivery.  

Even though neither of us is Catholic, Kathy and I both admire how that faith urges its followers to give up something for Lent. Ergo, we decided this morning to reduce our voluminous daily sugar intake to one treat a day. Yes, that's playing a little fast and loose with the Lent rules, but we know from past "pact" experience that giving up sugar cold turkey is just setting us up for failure. So we'll allow ourselves a brownie, cupcake, or cookie every day. But just one. 

We agreed to be each other's accountability partner, and now our pact is public.

P.S. Kathy, if you're reading this—I hereby submit to the Sugar Pact rules that a McDonald's Shamrock Shake counts as one treat, even if it's a large. 

Monday, March 7, 2011

One Fun Summer

We aren't going anywhere for spring break. Again. As I look out the window at the freshly fallen snow (seriously?), I can't tell you how much I wish that we were flying someplace warm and sunny, where the kids could feel sand between their toes and I could doze off in a lounge chair while reading a trashy magazine.

Handmade women's cotton tunic top from One Fun Summer


If we had spring break plans, you can bet your britches I'd be buying one of these beautiful handmade tunics to bring along. They're made by one of my very best girlfriends—and a true New American Homemaker if there ever was one—Karen. She's a southern belle who grew up in Florida and now lives in Savannah with her handsome hubby and their three kids. She started making these tunics for herself about a year ago, and whenever she wore them out and about, she was besieged with women asking, "Where did you get that?" Smart and creative cookie that she is, she started her own business called One Fun Summer and sells her tunics on Etsy.


If you're lucky enough to be warm-weather bound in a few weeks, or if you want to start dreaming of summer by putting one of these day brighteners in your closet, visit her site! Imagine pairing any of her adorable tunic tops with white jeans. Now imagine your freshly pedicured toes peeking out of cute sandals, your hair in a ponytail, sunglasses perched on top of your head, a cute straw bag slung over your shoulder, and a Starbucks iced green tea latte in your hand while you peruse the hanging baskets at the farmers market. Sigh. Who's ready for summer?


Handmade women's tunic dress from One Fun Summer

Friday, March 4, 2011

Handprint Bouquet


Let's hear it for preschool teachers. I don't know about you, but if not for preschool teachers, my home wouldn't boast laminated handprint placemats, bookmarks made with pressed flowers, clay turtle sculptures resting by the hand soap in the kitchen, or wooden frames decorated with rhinestones. I rarely tackle craft projects at home, largely because my sons never beg me to bust out our craft bin filled with markers, glue sticks, foam stickers, and pipe cleaners—all of which I purchased with gauzy visions of quiet afternoons spent happily crafting away at the kitchen table. The reality is more like this: A project that I think will absorb my sons' attention for hours "captivates" them for about five minutes. "What!?" I exclaim. "You're already done!? What about adding more puff balls? It took me an hour to set this stuff up. Add more puff balls. NOW!" Then I grumble to myself the entire time I clean up the inevitable mess. It's precisely because of my family's abysmal crafting ambition that I really appreciate the projects preschool teachers have sent home with my boys throughout the years.


This bouquet, brought home by little Grant a few weeks ago, might be my all-time favorite. His teacher, Miss Jessica, painted the kids' hands with tempura paint (doesn't the smell of that stuff always take you right back to kindergarten?) to make hand prints and had the kids glue the prints to heftier craft paper. Then she stuck the handprints on popsicle sticks and arranged them in floral foam inside the bottom half of a Pringles can. Genius!

Many thanks to all the Miss Jessicas in the world—for sending home keepsake crafts and for everything else you do.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

2011 Color of the Year


Get inspired, New American Homemakers! The Pantone Institute just announced vibrant, playful, flattering Honeysuckle as the official color of 2011. I love this stuff! I read an AP article where the executive director of the Pantone Color Institute (add that to my list of dream jobs) suggested that we all bring "a lively flair to interior spaces with honeysuckle patterned pillows, bedspreads, small appliances and tabletop accessories" with this "reddish pink shade [that] lights a fire to your senses and revs you up." Here's a look at how the color is popping up in fashion and home décor...



Designer takes on honeysuckle—see more at pantone.com


Anthro
Toscana Knob from Anthropologie ($16)


Wednesday, March 2, 2011

No Small Feat


















My sister-in-law Kathy has been urging me for months to take a picture of my kids' feet, and yesterday—when my boys were wrestling on one of their beds and little Rowan Eleanor was playing with their collection of miniature football helmets on the floor—I finally did. This photo is the best of the three measly shots I was able to get before Rowan started crying and the boys started elbowing each other. It pales in comparison to the quality of the professional images my SIL sent to inspire me, but I've learned to lower my expectations when it comes to getting photos of all four of my kids—much less their eight wiggly feet—by myself.

Kathy was right, of course. I love this picture and want to try another foot photo shoot at the beach this summer (sandy tootsies are so cute, aren't they?). Thanks, Kathy!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Emily's 4-H Project!



This gorgeous girl is the daughter of my dear friend Pam. I was so happy to get this email from her a week or two ago about the cocoa cones idea that I learned about at a Mothers of Preschoolers meeting and then shared on My Kids Eat Candy:

Thought I would share some photos that should say "Thanks to You" across them! Emily did a demonstration at 4-H on Sunday using your cocoa cone idea. Everyone loved the idea! She then, along with little brother Sam, gave them to their teachers for Valentine's Day. With that went a few more "ohhhhhs and ahhhhhs!"


Hooray, Emily! And how cool that you're involved in 4-H! New American Homemakers, here's a link to the national 4-H site, where you can learn about this 100-year old organization and the wonderful way it gives kids hands-on learning experiences outside of school. I was in 4-H for a couple of years growing up and still remember participating in the Renville County Fair with my local chapter. We did a skit about raisins and danced to "Heard it Through the Grapevine." For a small-town girl like me, that was big. Very big. Thanks for the note, Pam!