Heath Bar Chocolate Chip Blondies

 

Almost two months of summer left, and it already feels like it is ending.  Today is one of those low humidity, not too hot, rare for Virginia perfect summer days.  More like how our fall weather is, but without school and early sunsets.  Most of our 53 windows are open and a breeze is blowing through every room.

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The garden is moving into late summer, as the more fall colored sunflowers start to bloom, like Autumn Beauty, Chianti, and the second planting of Jua Maya

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The first batch of Silver Queen corn is getting cut down this afternoon, with fall sugar snap peas, scallions, spinach, and cilantro going in its place. We had a cool and rainy day yesterday, which seemed to remind everyone summer won’t be here forever.

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We baked this yummy treat together last week.  It will be a good one for lunch boxes and cooler days:

Toffee Chip Blondies

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-1 cup butter, melted

-1 3/4 cups light brown sugar

-2 eggs

-2 t. vanilla

-2 cups flour

–1/2 t. salt

-1 package of chocolate chips (12 oz)

-1 cup Heath bits

  1. Preheat oven to 350.  Line 9 x 13 casserole pan with foil, heavy duty if you have it, with enough overhang to make little foil handles.  Butter the foil.
  2. Using electric mixer, combine melted butter and sugar.  Add eggs and vanilla, beat until well combined.  Add flour and salt, beat for just a few seconds until flour is incorporated.  Gently stir in chocolate chips and Heath bits.
  3. Pour batter into pan, bake for 25 minutes.  The bars will cool to doneness and will look underbaked at first.  Allow to cool in the pan, removing with foil handles when completely cooled and ready to cut.

Marble Cake

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Our awful heat wave finally broke and we have been able to go outside again.  Windows open in the morning, time reading on the porch, garden work without feeling like you might actually die.  It is so nice.

This recipe is from Taste of Home, called Marvelous Marble Cake.  It was a lot of work (done 99% by my niece, INCLUDING THE DISHES!) and is VERY sweet.  I wouldn’t make it again but it will certainly get eaten.

 


Easy Shrimp Scampi

The only seafood anyone else in the family will eat is shrimp, and maybe a crab cake or crab dip once a year.  This is one of our favorite ways to eat it, and we always serve it with bread, salad, and fresh fruit for a fresh and easy meal.

Make sure the pasta starts cooking before you start the shrimp as it comes together very quickly.  Have your sides ready too.  The wine can be left out if you won’t drink the rest of the bottle.  It’s not worth opening one for the small amount that goes in the sauce.

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Shrimp Scampi Over Linguine

3 T. butter

3 T. olive oil

5 cloves of garlic

1/2 t. lemon zest

Juice of 1 lemon

Splash of dry white wine

1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes

2 t. salt

half a pint of cherry tomatoes (I used sungold)

ground pepper to taste

fresh or dried parsley, a few tablespoons fresh or teaspoon dried

pound of shrimp, peeled (previously frozen is fine)

box of linguine or other pasta

  1. Start cooking the pasta to al dente
  2. Melt the butter and olive oil together over low and sauce the garlic until no longer raw, about a minute or two
  3. Add the shrimp, whole cherry tomatoes, and salt, stirring until shrimp are almost cooked, about 3 minutes.
  4. Add the black pepper, red pepper, lemon juice and zest, and white wine, and cook for three minutes more. Add fresh or dried parsley, just for color.
  5. Remove from heat and toss with pasta

 

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What I Wish I Had Known About Cloth Diapers From the Beginning

 

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When I was pregnant with Maddie, my first baby, I knew I wanted to cloth diaper.  I didn’t know anyone else who did it.  I’m not even sure how I heard about it.  Probably some weird eco-friendly baby guide.  I registered for pocket diapers, a brand called Oh Katy which is since out of business but very similar to Fuzzibuns and other popular pockets on the market today.  No one bought them for me.  Everyone thought I was weird.  I got them for myself after she was born.  I congratulated myself on my thriftiness and how hard I was working to save our family money.

Well.

My husband hated them, thought they stunk up the laundry room and refused to use them, (not that he used disposables either).  They could be folded up to fit a tiny baby but the folds made them bulky and her clothes didn’t fit right and I could barely buckle her into a car seat.  At about nine months they started leaking around the legs and had to have the elastic redone.  I have no idea how to do such a thing, so my mom worked on them for me, taking them two at a time to her house.  The microfiber seemed stinky even after a ton of hot washes, and yes I used the expensive Charlie’s Soap detergent and dried them outside.

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I switched to disposables for overnight, and for outings, and then eventually switched altogether after her first birthday.

Now on my third cloth diaper baby I wish I had known what I know now.

1. Prefolds until potty training

They are so much better than the microfiber pockets. No stuffing, no snaps, no stickiness after washing and much less leaking.  You will need different sizes of diapers and covers, but it is still less expensive than a whole suite of one size diapers that still don’t fit a newborn.  I still have the first diapers.  They still look great except for the leg elastic.  I will use them during potty training when their leakiness will be an advantage.

2. Use powdered Tide

I spent four years (two years for each of my first two babies) buying Charlie’s Soap which did pretty much nothing special.  I had read that not using an approved detergent such as Charlie’s or Green Mountain would void the warranty.  The warranty?  Were they thousands of dollars? Were they going  to spontaneously combust?  I just can’t fathom making a warranty claim on a diaper.  And not only was the the Charlie’s soap expensive, it did not clean nearly as well as Tide.  They spend millions on developing enzymes and cleaning agents.  It is going to clean better than an all natural powder.

3.  Use Dawn and bleach sparingly

I strip with Dawn once every other month or so.  This means washing with a tiny squirt of Dawn in the washing machine and then washing three times in hot water with no soap to rinse all the residue out.  The Dawn helps strip the diapers of any built up detergent residue that can hurt how absorbent the diapers are.

I use a splash of bleach only if I am washing on a cloudy or rainy day.  Otherwise I dry in the sun to bleach out stains (yes this really and truly works), freshen, and disinfect anything that escaped the hot water and detergent.

Doing these three things changed everything about cloth diapering for me.

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I love them now.  It’s not just the money saving aspect.  I love the routine of caring for them and I  think they look cute.  They are very little work for a lot of reward.

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Simple Sunday Roast Chicken

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It has been a quiet summer so far, relaxing at home, swimming in our water trough “pool”, taking out of focus pictures, etc.  My niece is visiting for six weeks and has been a great help around the house keeping the older girls entertained.

I have been trying to be careful to serve simple food since I know she is a little picky.  I already have three other picky eaters so adding another is a challenge.  I serve everything family style on big platters so she can take or leave whatever she would like.  This was a meal that pleased everyone and was easy for Sunday.   No last minute rushing, no sweating over the cooktop.

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First the chicken is rinsed, brought to room temp, and patted dry.  Then it is rubbed with kosher salt.  I make a mix of softened butter, onion powder, parsley, pepper, and thyme, and rub that on the skin.  It is baked at 350 on the convection roast setting for an hour and a half.  Easy as can be, no real recipe needed.  Whatever herbs and spices you have and your family likes will be fine.  If you don’t have a roasting pan, use a 9X13 casserole dish.  If you don’t have a convection oven, just keep checking the internal temp until it is 160 and the skin is browned.

I served it with a BLT salad (just a chopped salad with romaine, diced tomato, crumbled bacon, and ranch),  corn on the cob from the garden, and French rolls since Matt will only eat roast chicken as a chicken sandwich.

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The roll recipe comes from Bread Machine Magic.  The recipe is called “Authentic French Bread”, divided into rolls and baked for only 12 minutes.

It was a nice meal that could be prepared earlier in the day.  All that had to be done at the last minute was the corn, which is just steamed for four minutes in hot water, and to toss the salad with ranch.  Roast chicken is one of those things that looks impressive, but is a million times less work than a casserole or pasta dish.  Perfect for a Sunday.


My New Cleaning Schedule

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Last time I mentioned I just read Home Management: Plain and Simple, by Kim Brenneman.  A large focus of her book is having a home keeping schedule, which at first I ignored because I already had one that was (I thought) working well.

It was pretty much like this:

Mondays:

Wash the master bedroom sheets and vacuum and dust that room.

Make the menu plan and grocery list for the week, go grocery shopping and to the library

Tuesdays:

Clean the bathrooms

Wednesdays:

Vacuum and dust the living areas downstairs

Thursdays:

Mop the hardwood floors downstairs

Fridays:

Vacuum, dust and mop upstairs

Clean the kids rooms and wash their sheets

Saturday and Sunday off

I swept every day, did two loads of laundry every day, tended to the garden when I thought it needed it, cleaned the kitchen when I thought it needed it, and generally did things as needed beyond what was specifically scheduled.

Well… there were quite a few problems with this plan that I thought was working so well.  First I was wasting a lot of time by vacuuming and dusting different areas on different days instead of just doing it all at once.  It was time wasted taking out the vacuum and cleaning supplies, time wasted working up the energy to do it, and a lot of times it just didn’t happen.  Especially the upstairs, since no guests ever saw it.

More importantly, a lot of things were NEVER getting done.  I never cleaned the windows unless there was a big smudge.  I never cleaned out closets or under beds until they were out of control and I was forced to.  The bathrooms got dirty in between Tuesdays and I felt like I should wait until Tuesday to clean them. The house was generally clean, always picked up, but I was skipping a lot of things and my children did NOTHING to help, not even put their own stuff away.

Things have changed. My new schedule is:

Mondays:

Laundry Day

(clean the laundry room/ mudroom, wash all sheets, catch up on all loads, and set towels to soak overnight)

Tuesdays:

Office Day

(make menu plan and shopping list, make any phone calls or appointments, order and wrap any needed gifts, pack library books to be returne in car, upload photos)

Wednesdays:

Errands Day

(go into town, this is exhausting and is all one day can handle)

Thursdays:

Kitchen Day

(deep clean kitchen and do extra cooking and baking)

Fridays:

Cleaning Day

(vacuum, dust, and mop everywhere, also do one hour per day of deep cleaning and organizing in rotating areas)

Saturdays:

Garden Day

(clean up porches and yard,thoroughly weed and fertilize one area of the garden, switch out cut flowers for the house, clean out the car, do garden projects such as planting containers)

Sunday:

-go to Mass and get each well behaved child a doughnut

One bathroom cleaning task is done each time I go in that room, and the bathrooms are deep cleaned once a month on cleaning day.

By giving every day a focus, I am wasting a lot less time flitting around from one task to the next.  When the vacuum is already out, how hard is it to go ahead and do the master bedroom too?  Why not the steps and the bedrooms upstairs?  When you have the step stool out in the kitchen and a soapy rag to clean the stove hood, why not do the top of the fridge? And why not refill your pepper grinder, and scrub and bleach the sink?  Might as well throw some bleach and water in the coffee pot.  And so on.

I can’t say that this system has given me more free time because I am actually doing a lot more cleaning.  But I am wasting less time, and the house looks very good which brings satisfaction.

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Today was kitchen day, which means:

-polish the appliances

-run stove hood filters through dishwasher and clean the outside of it

-clean the sliding glass door off the breakfast room

-clear off the counters and clean them

-bleach the sink

-run vinegar through the coffee pot to clean it (once a month)

-clean kitchen windows as needed

-do any canning or preserving in summer or fall (one thing per week, at most)

-cook extra bacon for potatoes and salads and hard boil eggs

-soap making or freezer cooking in winter or spring

-make a treat (cookies, pie, ice cream, etc.)

-organize one pantry shelf

-organize fridge, throwing out any trash and wiping shelves

-organize one drawer or cabinet

-wash trash and recycling bins

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(These are just refrigerator pickles.  I can’t quite face real canning just yet and might skip it this summer.)

The kitchen chores look like a lot all written out, but they truly don’t take long if you just do it.  Not every thing is done every week, but most are. You will find there is real joy in knowing everything is getting done and there are no dark, dirty corners of your home.  It us interesting how housework can be its one reward when you try to find joy in it.

 


 

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I have always been a big believer in schedules for children.  I worked at a daycare in the afternoons while I was in college, and without some sort of schedule it was pure mayhem.

So I started schedules early with all three babies, and have always had good sleepers.  I’m sure some of it is luck, but they have all done 10 hour stretches at night at about six or seven weeks old.  It makes all the difference for your mood and being productive during the day.  They would eat every three hours, have a VERY short wake time afterwards, like under an hour (as newborns, it lengthened as they got older), and then go down for a nap.  At four months they should be eating only every four hours, with a two hour wake time and two hour nap.

Right now the baby eats at 7, 10, 1, 4 and then snacks throughout the evening to store up for the night.  She is generally fussy from 5 to when she goes down for the night, but I wear her in a carrier while I make dinner and clean up, sometimes taking her with me to do evening chores outside.  At this age I do not let her cry more than a few minutes if she is settling down for a nap.  Normally if you put your baby down before they are over tired (which is less than hour after waking up when they are very young) there will not be much crying.  If she is having a hard time settling, I rock her for a bit and put her back down.

One thing I am not so good about is a schedule for the older children, and for myself.  This summer I am really working on it.  I bought the Kindle edition of the book Home Plain and Simple, by Kim Brenneman.  It is a new version of her book, Large Family Logistics.  I am not sure how it differs from the original other than the title.  I am guessing it was retitled to appeal to a larger audience.  I only have three children far and still found it very helpful.

It is is helping me fine tune my own cleaning schedule (in fact I have totally overhauled it), and giving me a lot of encouragement and concrete ideas for the older children’s schedule, which I sorely needed.

The days for the older children now look like this:

6:30-7:00 wake up (they do this on their own and if they sleep in a bit I don’t mind)

Breakfast

Get dressed, free play/ coloring

9:00 “school” work (one worksheet or page of handwriting practice)

Free play, usually spent with their kittens outside, at their sandbox, or coloring

11:30 lunch

Afternoon chores

Read aloud time

1:30 Quiet hour (they go upstairs and are not allowed to call to me unless someone is hurt)

2:30 Outside/ swimming/ TV show during bad weather

5:00 Dinner

7:00 Baths, bedtime story, bed

Some people think having a schedule is a lot of work.  I find that not having one is a lot of work.  You are always wondering what to do next, dealing with whining children, and feeling out of control.  If we deviate from this for a special occasion I try not to get worked up.  The schedule serves you, you don’t serve the schedule.

What the book has changed most for me is my housekeeping schedule.  Instead of making a to do list the night before of random tasks, each day of the week has a focus.  I will post more about it later.  A lot of housekeeping tasks were being neglected but now everything has an assigned time.  I will post about it next time.

 

Schedules, Even in Summer