First Frost, and Family

It is necessary to have house guests a few times a year to get your husband to do projects that you have been fruitlessly asking for for months.  Our house is up on a steep hill, and to get to the gardens and play area you had to walk down a muddy hill.  Magically, the day before our Thanksgiving guests arrived…



(That wine barrel looks so authentic with the label still on it. And I guess I am growing kindling?)

I dug and stored the dahlias for the first time this year.  It was wonderfully thrilling pulling up the huge tubers, drying them, and storing them in shredded newspaper in the basement.  It felt so good to do what all the gardening articles say.  Perhaps next I will sharpen my tools and store them in oiled sand.

Hummingbird feeders have been cleaned and put away, and garlic planted where my old compost pile was.  A new pile has been started where it will be easier to turn with the tractor.


The other thing I have been asking for, to no avail, since we moved in was something for our foyer.  And lo and behold…


It was the most amazing moment of my life.  It came from a Pottery Barn outlet that just opened nearby.  And the rug came from upstairs.

Ellie loved having some new visitors for Thanksgiving



And with their arrival came a lot of baking.



(Sandwich rolls, molasses cookie dough for the freezer, bread for toast. Hole is from oven probe.)

And then more on Thanksgiving itself.


(Butter horn rolls from Bread Machine Magic. Forgot to photograph the pies that I painstakingly latticed!)

I started Christmas decorating, just a little each day, taking up what I can carry each time I happen to to go down to the basement.  I have taken out my gingerbread and peppermint coffee syrups, put out pine scented candles, switched out hand towels and soap.  A lot of my artificial greenery looks tacky to me now, so it is still down there, but I will probably just give it away.  I will cut real greenery when we get closer.  I want to keep the last week of Advent, and Christmas itself, special.


(All homes should have a Christmas village, obviously, and it must be the first thing to go up each year.)



(Walmart canisters are beautiful in a group of three.)

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I made the velvet pillow covers.  They are envelope style backs with cording.  The fabric is Olive Green Cotton Velvet from  It shed everywhere while I was working with it, but it is very soft and perfect for a throw pillow cover.

The cross stitched one I made last year for the kids.

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An extra pillow to warm up a dining room chair.


Christmas baby!



And a couple treats for teachers, these are King Arthur’s Gingerbread Bundt Cake baked in their Bundt quartet pan.  We had enough batter for three, and ate one ourselves.  It was a delicious recipe!

And now a bit of a break.  There is still a long way to go!  I will focus on cozy and winter for a while, not Christmas quite yet!

Getting Ready for Winter at Home

I find that I am ready for each season as it comes.  Halloween is over, and I was ready to say goodbye to it.  Bats, scary crows, owl candle holders and rubber spiders are already packed away, and more restrained Thanksgiving decor reigns.



I love getting cozy in the fall, and our weather has finally turned chilly.  Hats and mittens have been brought up to the mudroom, and beach towels, sunscreen, and bug spray packed away.


Fires in the fireplace are such a big part of winter here.  It feels like such a luxury and yet it is an economy.  Just like homemade bread and flowers from the garden.  But with that dry, radiating, wonderful heat, comes a lot of work beforehand.


I will help stack this, but Matt does all the work splitting.

The fireplace gloves and kindling have been brought out.



I am on the hunt for the perfect dark olive green velvet to make pillow covers for our living room throw pillows, just something to make it a little more warm and cozy.  All of our throws and quilts have been washed and folded neatly by the couch for chilly mornings before the fire gets going again.

The view is changing out the windows and off the deck.



The tea drawer has been organized.  I need to get a tea kettle.  Going to ask my parents for a copper (coated) one for Christmas.  I love the coziness they add to a kitchen, and I am tired of boiling water in a pot for my tea like some kind of lunatic.

And we still haven’t had our first frost, so I am still picking sunflowers and tomatoes.


My parents are coming over for dinner tonight and I am making panini with ham, cheese, and caramelized onions.  We’ll have chicken tortilla soup on the side and pumpkin sheet cake with cream cheese frosting for dessert.

Stay cozy!



Fixing What Bothers You

I love staying home and caring for kids and the house,  but sometimes I feel myself going a little nuts with small frustrations.  In some ways the kids get easier as they get older, and in some ways harder.   Everything become physically easier but a tougher battle of wills, as food pickiness, homework resistance, and laziness emerge.  You can no longer excuse their bad behavior with their age, and this makes them more frustrating.  You are expected to feed all members of the household and clean up after them when they are perfectly capable of doing it.  And yet… you are a housewife.  Isn’t that what you are here for?  And so on.  Small annoyances.  You can fix them.

I read somewhere to make a list of what bothers you and see if there aren’t solutions.  Think of what advice you would give a friend with these complaints.  It sounded like a very silly exercise, but I did it.

Here is my list.

  1.  Kids don’t clean up after themselves and waste art supplies and create piles of paper.
  2. The kids stain their clothes and are ruining them and they have to last for three girls.
  3. I hate making lunches when everyone is home.
  4. My husband piles his stuff up on the kitchen counter even though we have a mudroom.

So, on to the solutions.  They have an art cabinet in the breakfast room that was getting cleaned out and then messed up constantly.  I look everything out, labeled it, and told them everything must go in the correct box before they go up for baths.  They figured it out pretty quickly.  Having things labeled has made all the difference.  They produce a stack of art every day, and every  night I go through it, tossing most of it and keeping select pieces to go in their art folders that live in the drawer above this cabinet.


To keep them from staining clothes, I put a bundle of already stained or torn clothing in the mudroom and they must change into this before playing outside.  Maddie has to change into an old shirt before eating because she is destroying all of her clothing with hot sauce.

To deal with lunches, I have started having more ready to eat foods available so people can help themselves on the weekends instead of asking me “what’s for lunch?” and driving me batty.  On kitchen days I cut up veggies and make a tuna or chicken salad, I boil eggs, make sandwich rolls to pop in the freezer, mix up salad dressing, and pre cook bacon so those of us on low carb diets can still eat something quick.



For the age old kitchen counter piling problem.  This is a problem I need to work on on my end, having some patience with someone who has just come home from a long day at work.  I also added the basket on the very left to at least corral the papers.


Then I got distracted and rearranged the open cabinet.  I am slowly realizing I despise color. There was a pretty red bowl in this shelf before but it was too… red.  It is a cabinet, and now everything is beige or white.



So beige. So dusty.  I just dusted two days ago.


So beige!  Is this an acceptable decorating style?  I want to add white.  Brightness but no color.

I have ONE burgundy sunflower plant still blooming.


Colors are acceptable here.


What a masterpiece!

Fall at Home

After a very sad week, I am back home and settling in for fall and the upcoming holidays.  I always crave baked goods and hot drinks this time of year, but have not had much of either this year since I am trying to lose the last of the baby weight.

Every time I lose five pounds I buy a small treat for myself.


Some cleaning products and some twine.


Is it sad how excited I was for these to arrive?

The children have been having plenty of sweet treats.




And I whipped up a cute little pillow for the living room.


The kids are in charge of all Halloween decorations this year.  My middle daughter saw a picture in a magazine of a “haunted porch” and is determined to recreate it.  They are slowly haunting up the place.




I have only set out mums and pumpkins on the porch…



And changed out the placemats for fall colored ones…  And left the rest of the decorating to the kids.

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I have been busy enjoying the company of a little friend.


In a cozy spot for just the two us.


Enjoying the fresh air while we can.


Planning a vegetable garden that makes sense

For years, and I mean years, I planted vegetable gardens that were complete nonsense.  I would look through seed catalogs, choose far too many plants, plant them too close together, and have tiny harvests of a million different vegetables.  Also I lived in the suburbs where there was too much shade and no bees.  Also I had my husband build raised beds, purchase soil, and generally spend so much on my hobby that there was no way I could come out ahead, even had I planned my garden well.

So it is now fall, the ending of gardening season, with nothing to dream of but next year.  I have improved in my planning a lot, but still find that this time of year is the best for planning.  What did I need more of? What was timed poorly?  How was my spacing and my aisle widths?  What did I end up giving away because there was too much?  And what varieties have earned a spot for next year?

So in the spirit of planning, here are some things to keep in mind.

  1.  Look at your grocery lists, not the seed catalog.

Plant what you eat.  Sounds obvious.  It is not.  Why are are there so many sample plans with rows of turnips and rutabagas? Why?  I am proud if you if you really eat these things, but if you don’t, please do not plant them.  I am tempted every year by beautiful summer squash, but… I think it is gross.  So does my family.  Same goes for Lima beans and sweet potatoes.  I remember once reading a book where a character makes a salad with beets on top and all the other characters like it.  I planted beets, we ate one, it was okay.  The others languished.  Look at what you pay for at the store! (For us this means lettuce, onions, garlic, celery, carrots, tomatoes, extra tomatoes for canning, bell peppers, jalapeños, extra peppers for canning, sugar snap beans, green beans, corn, cucumbers, extra cucumber for pickles, spinach, cilantro, basil, and a lot of watermelon.  We buy our potatoes because they do not do well in our humidity and I have nowhere suitable to store a years supply.)



     2. Plant enough of one thing to be self sufficient in it for the season.

This might means reducing the number of varieties in order to get a usable amount of one thing.  What will you do with twenty green beans a week?  Nothing.  Plant enough so that you do not buy any green beans for the season and you eat them as a side dish regularly.  For us this means a thirty foot row, half planted late April and half planted late June.   If you just want tomatoes for fresh eating, two or three plants should be plenty.   Some things will need to be planted in succession to avoid being unusable.  In the spring and fall, I plant small amounts of lettuce and spinach in trays every week.  They are something that I want a little of, bit by bit.  What would I do with thirty heads of romaine, all ready to eat in one day?  Pay careful attention to how much, and when, each plant will produce.  Plant enough so that you aren’t buying it at all; plant at the right time so you are actually eating it.



3. Obey the seed packet

It truly tells you all you need to know.  Most gardening books have a first half of generic advice that boils down to “fertilize and weed your garden”, and then a second half with information of specific varieties.  The second half reads like pages of seed packets.  There  is so much information on those little envelopes, and you really should listen to it!  The most important thing is how far apart to plant your seeds and how to thin so that they have enough room to reach their full potential.  Planting things too close does NOT result in more to harvest.  EVER.  If the seed company, whose motivation is to have you use a lot of seeds, wants to you to space them 12 inches apart, trust me that 12 inches is the absolute minimum distance they should be.  Too much competition for water and nutrients will hurt all of them and you will wonder why nothing is turning out.  Take a ruler with you to the garden.  Also do not plant them 12 inches apart to start with, thinking you can skip thinning.  No.  Part of thinning is that you are selecting the strongest plants.  Just do what the packet says!

4.  Work in the garden every day

Water and plant in the mornings.  Weed and harvest in the afternoons.  Don’t touch it when it’s wet with dew or rain.  Just stay out of it.  If something is growing too slowly, feed it with some granular fertilizer worked in around the plant and then watered in.  Set yourself a schedule for weeding, one row every three days, or 100 weeds a day, or whatever you can see yourself sticking to.  It needs constant attention, but only a few minutes a day.  Take your older children to help you.  They can snack as they go.  Just get out there and keep an eye on things.



5.  Make it beautiful

Keep things in nice tidy rows with wide and comfortable aisles.  Make it so that it were visible from the road, you would slow down and gaze at it in longing.  Plant flowers that will beautify your home and the garden itself.  If there is room for beautiful pumpkins, plant them.  (Keep your herbs out of there, by the way, and put them in containers or a separate herb garden.  Their variety makes things look messy, and it is nice to have them somewhere else, right outside your door.) Let your garden be a source of pride.  It will draw you to it by being pretty and you will love keeping it up.  Keep it as weed free as you can so that you feel accomplished, not defeated, when you see it.




Making Laundry Day Work in Your House


The concept of a designated “laundry day” is one I resisted for a while.  I generally did two loads a day, preferring to keep up with the laundry rather than letting it become a big chore.

There were two minor problems with this approach:

  1. The noise drives everyone crazy, as our machines are just off the kitchen and are super loud, so doing laundry on weekends was not ideal
  2. Sometimes I would find that I had a build up of laundry that needed to be tackled right away, and this always seemed to happen when I was busy with grocery shopping or getting ready for guests.




So I started a laundry day and never looked back.  It solved these problems and freed up more time for other things during the week.  Here are some tips that have helped me.

1.  Choose the right day of the week for you

Monday is our laundry day.  I chose it because we have normally been out over the weekend, and staying home all day on Monday works for us.  Don’t choose a day where you will be out a lot.

2.  Lump in all your laundry-related chores

Ironing, mending, and cleaning the laundry room itself are also done on this day.  Thankfully I do very little ironing as I am terrible at it and my husband takes his shirts to be pressed at the cleaners.  Our laundry room is also our mudroom so it needs the scheduled weekly cleaning.  Clutter gets tossed, the machines are wiped down, the shelf of laundry products is organized, the boots and shoes and jackets are corralled.

3. Think about the order your loads need to go in

For us, we do sheets and towels first so they can be hung outside.  Then I do our (me and Matt’s) darks since they are the biggest pain in terms of folding and putting away.  After that comes baby laundry, kids clothes, our whites.

4.  Accept that there will be other laundry throughout the week

I still do a load a day Tuesday through Friday.  I normally do six on laundry day (master sheets, all white towels, kids sheets and guest sheets if needed, our darks, our whites, kids clothes).  This takes me though early afternoon and by then it is time to think about dinner and be done with laundry.  So kitchen towels are normally done on Tuesday, baby clothes and linens together on Wednesday, and by Thursday and Friday our darks and the kids clothes will be full again.  I also have a baby in cloth diapers so I do those every other day or so.

5. Simplify where you can

Less clothing =  less to wash.  Hang up church clothes to be worn again.  Kids clothes can be worn a few times unless they are actually dirty.  I strip the beds and then put the sheets right back on after they are washed.  No folding or storing of sheets necessary.  I hated washing our bathmat since it throws the machine off balance, so I threw it out.

We store our laundry baskets in bedroom closets.  Matt and I have two, one for lights, one for darks.  We get dressed and undressed in there so tossing it in is easy and it is sorted automatically.  The kids toss their clothes in before their bath.

My only laundry products are powdered Tide, Gain dryer sheets, Oxiclean, Resolve spray, and bleach.  I used to have a real collection but it just looked messy and I only used half of it.  Throw out what you don’t use.  Babies don’t need special detergent, just an extra rinse. And stop washing in cold water!  It is gross and forces you to use liquid detergent.

6.  Try a little gratitude

Try praying for the person whose laundry you are folding.  Or listening to the radio if that is not your thing.  All those dirty and grass stained clothes come children who are healthy and eating berries and playing outside.  Thank God for them, and for the job that your husband wears all those annoying pleated pants to.  There are people in the world who are not so lucky to have either thing in their life.  Pray for them, too.




Lazy Garden Days

As summer winds down, Matt and Maddie are on a cross country road trip with Matt’s dad, so it is just me and the two littles.  Camilla’s favorite foods are yogurt and pasta, so without any big dinners to make we have had a lot of free time.

After church on Sunday I got her a new bag of play sand to cheer her up, and we enjoyed a nice sunny afternoon outside.  From now on I will make it a priority to have Sunday dinner prepped ahead of time so I can enjoy the afternoons too.


She is easy to please.


So sad to think we are buying school supplies this Thursday.



Laughing as the cat stalks the chickens.  It has no desire to actually eat them, just watch them flap.


Alas, they are doing a terrible job of guarding the garden.




The poor tomatoes are self destructing anyway, which I am okay with.  No bushels of tomatoes waiting to be canned and stressing me out.


(What even is this disease?)


Still plenty of tomatoes for two tomato sandwiches a day.  That plus two Chobani flips per day is keeping me alive.

Our July planted carrots seem to be doing ok, we will start a new planting on Saturday for mid fall carrots.  Lately the grocery store ones have just been gross.


Not sure what I did wrong with my celosia, or “the brain plant” as Maddie calls it, but it never really had stems long enough for cutting.  It is just gorgeous though, and I will do more next year.


(Red velvet cake variety, from Burpee.  The seeds were slow to germinate but the color is beautiful.)

Any corn that is past its prime when it gets picked is tossed to the chickens.  A terrible idea, as they now think the garden is a living food land for them.  I am begging for a fence in the spring.


Moving inside, all the laundry got caught up with on Monday (seven loads, and yes I still do one load a day as a daily chore, I just do extra on Mondays to stay ahead of it.)  Laundry day also means the laundry room itself gets cleaned.  Windows are cleaned, mudroom bench cleaned and organized, machines wiped down, etc.


(Isn’t it funny how something can look so tidy in person and terrible in a photo?)


And a sweet, sweet baby, growing too fast.




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.







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.

My New Cleaning Schedule



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:


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


Clean the bathrooms


Vacuum and dust the living areas downstairs


Mop the hardwood floors downstairs


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:


Laundry Day

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


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)


Errands Day

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


Kitchen Day

(deep clean kitchen and do extra cooking and baking)


Cleaning Day

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


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)


-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.



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


(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.


We have at least five weeks to go before baby’s arrival, but it feels good to start getting ready.  The nursery is painted a slightly more… vibrant… yellow than I expected.  It is still soft, though, and I will tone down the overall room by adding blues, greens, and whites.  The color is “Lilting Lily” by Sherwin William’s HGTV Home Collection at Lowe’s.  I had wanted a very, very pale yellow, but it is growing on me.


Some sweet Bambi swaddling blankets my mom bought me.  They are supposedly for baby girls, but look unisex enough to me.  I guess there is quite a bit of pink, and flowers.  We are both expecting that this baby will be a girl, and I’m sure even a baby boy won’t mind.


To keep busy, we have been baking, as usual.  A very yummy banana cake, Barefoot Contessa’s recipe called Old Fashioned Banana Cake.  It was sweet enough without the icing, but the icing was good too.  We ate it for breakfast and then discovered in the book it is listed as a dessert.  DSC01015.jpg

Our seedlings are coming up quite nicely.  We had to invest in a new grow light, the Ferry Morse brand carried at Lowe’s.  The plants are doing much better.  I think they also like their new spot on top of the dryer.  Tomatoes will be ready for a slightly bigger home on Friday, and then some cosmos, dill, and cilantro will take their spots.  A little late on the herbs, oh well.  I am starting to wonder how I plan on getting everything into the ground in a few weeks seeing as how I am so big I can barely pick up a pen that has fallen on the floor.




Thinking of starting bees, but reading this book makes it seem very unappealing.  All about pests, diseases, extracting honey with weird tools.  Seems like a lot of work for something I don’t really consume a lot of.  We love white sugar around here.

I wanted to end with a recipe for my favorite pregnancy lunch.  I eat it all the time now.  I guess it is somewhat healthy?  It is certainly easy, and cheap, and delicious.  This makes enough filling for probably three good sized lunches, so keep the seasoned rice and beans for leftovers.  This is not something anyone else in my family will eat (whatever), so I get a few meals out of it.

Tex-Mex Grilled Burritos




-2 cups cooked white rice

-2 tablespoons cilantro

-juice of a lime

-teaspoon each of garlic salt, cumin, and chili powder

-can of black beans, rinsed and drained

-shredded Mexican cheese

-sour cream

-burrito sized tortilla

  1. Mix all but last three ingredients in a large bowl.  If the rice is cold, reheat everything in the microwave for a minute of so.
  2. Cover your tortilla with cheese, then add a few dollops of sour cream.  Put the rice mixture in the center, and fold up into a burrito.  Spray the seam with a little cooking spray to help seal it.
  3. Grill on the stovetop until crispy.  Start seam side down to avoid a mess.

Waiting and Eating