Tuesday, May 29, 2012

What I Did With My Long Weekend

Well, when you're dabbling at being a stay at home mom, I guess the long weekends don't really mean much.

But then again, it's an extra adult around to watch a squiggly little baby while you pee or go transfer a load of laundry from the washer to the dryer.

On Friday, while Baby Sister was taking her naps, I did a little sewing.

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Because it's finally getting hot and sunny and her head is getting too damn big for the hat I knit her (already!), I sewed her a sunhat.

This time I made the LARGEST size. It's a little roomy so she's got some room to fill it up with her gigantic noggin.

I used some of the leftover ladybug fabric (Urban Zoologie) I had from the baby blanket I made her.

I also did some baking on Sunday before it got insufferably hot.

I made  Biscoff oatmeal cookies.

What is Biscoff, you might ask? 

Have you heard of speculaas cookies? No?

Speculaas/speculoos are a traditional Belgian/Dutch cookie usually made around Christmastime -- specifically for St. Nicholas Day in early December.

Anyway, Biscoff are a Belgian spicy shortbread cookie made by Lotus Bakeries.  A commercial speculaas cookie if you will.

Someone got it in their head to make a SPREAD out of these cookies.

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Insane!

It has the consistency of peanut butter and is like crack.

Some people claim it's better than Nutella.

Hmm...I don't know if it's that good, but it's pretty darn good.

It seems wrong to make a cookie out of cookie products, but the Biscoff spread really adds a nice layer of dimension to the traditional oatmeal cookie.

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And if you're in the New Jersey area looking for this spread, let it be known that ShopRite carries it. 

However, it's extremely hard to find--or at least it was for me.  One would think it would be with the peanut butter and Nutella.

Not at my local ShopRite.

They put it in the health food aisle.

Does that mean I can pretend it's good for me?

For the rest of you that are curious, Biscoff's website has a list of what stores carry their spread here.

Trader Joe's apparently carries a knock-off spread as well if you like dropping money at that grocery store.  

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Thursday, May 24, 2012

Pests Be Gone!

I promised you a post on stuff I use in my pot garden for pests.

Honestly there are just two things I use a lot of lately.

The first I use for pests like ants, aphids, and these weird little bugs that I found nesting in the apical meristems* (the tips/shoots) of my hardy mums.

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This is an old picture--but one of my hardy mums is right there in the center pot.

It's actually a product I discovered when we were fighting the yicky ickies a year ago. Diatomaceous earth ("DE").

DE is basically a powder made of ground up shells of a species of algae.  When sprinkled on bugs, it basically dries them out killing them. 

It's also important to note I use the food-grade DE.  Not the DE for pool applications.

I like to sprinkle it ON my plants in the case of the weird bugs on my mums or last year when I had  aphids on my tobasco peppers.

In the case of ants, I'll dust my plants and the soil around my plants to keep the ants at bay.

Notice I say dust--you don't have to COAT your plant with this stuff.  

I have POUNDS of this stuff leftover from the yicky icky invasion so what I've done is just used an old spice container to shake it on.  It will take me years to get thru the large bag I purchased (it's hard to purchase DE in small amounts at least when I was shopping for it).  But on the plus side, I will be prepared if northern New Jersey is ever taken over by giant killer cockroaches.

You do have to be careful not to inhale this stuff.  But in small garden applications I don't find that I get huge clouds of it like I did when I was dusting my baseboards to prevent yicky ickies.

The second pest I have problems with are squirrels and starlings--mainly when I'm first starting my garden for the year.

These annoying creatures like to pull up my seedlings and dig up any bulbs I have planted.

I think I blogged on year about how my fall garlic plant was completely dug up by squirrels.  I swear they had to be Italian-American squirrels.  Maybe they were making garlic acorn lasagne or something...

To keep them at bay, I sprinkle Hungarian hot paprika all over my seedlings.

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They don't seem to like their fresh shoots spicy!

Now if you live in Hungary, maybe your squirrels and starlings wouldn't mind some spicy seedlings.

The key is to use the HOT paprika.  I'll bet chili powder would work just as well too, but this paprika is finer than chili powder and clings nicely to the leaves.

The only downside to using these things to keep the bugs and critters at bay is you do have to reapply regularly.  After a while the wind, any rain, and your regular watering will wash it all away.

This is what I love about pot gardening (or I suppose regular gardening as well), you get to experiment with stuff from year to year.  

This year I'm experimenting with fertilizer.

It's hard to find small amounts of commercial fertilizer suitable for small applications.  Or maybe it isn't anymore--I haven't really tried looking too hard above and beyond those miracle-gro boxes of fertilizer.  I guess there are those plant spikes too...but meh.

I'll be honest, this year I'm infatuated with worms.  I would reeaaaallly love one of these. I suppose I could make one myself too, but something about that cute little spigot and the compact nature of the whole thing. 

Anyway, back on track!  This year with fertilizer I'm experimenting with Worm Tea.

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I bought a pound of worm castings (on etsy--ha ha!) mixed a few spoonfuls into a 1/2 gallon milk jug.  I let it "steep" in the sun, and then I mixed it in with my normal water and watered my plants with it.

Not sure if it's really made a big difference, but it hasn't hurt at all!








* These are the weird things my brain holds onto.  I remember learning about apical meristems in high school biology class!


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Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Potacular

I cheated.

Usually I start putting my seedlings outside in their pots THIS week (right before Memorial Day).

But this year I put my seedlings out early--as it about two weeks ago. Right before Grandma came to visit.

What can I say?

I can count the number of frosts we got last winter on one hand.

I figured it's time for a little pictorial update.

While Grandma was here, Chunky's school had their annual plant sale. I sent him to school with $20 and he came back with tons of petunias, begonias, impatiens and marigolds. I know they're not really all that useful, but they're pretty and the money goes to a good cause.


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My box of herbs that I splurged on at the neighborhood garden store is doing well.

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Almost too well.

That lemon balm in the middle? That picture was taken less than a week ago.

I've already cut a TON of it back to dry and it's just as big as it is in that picture.

Lemon balm might just be a nice smelling weed. Anyone know what to do with a ton of dried lemon balm?

While Grandma was here, I bought two "souvenir" mini irises. I didn't think they'd bloom this year. But lo and behold--my "Little Showoff" mini iris bloomed this week!

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It's a paler purple than I thought, but quite beautiful nonetheless. There's a second bud on there too that will probably open next week. Finally, I've got a few of my veggies to show you.

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My potato plant!

Again, I can't believe this picture was taken a mere week ago. These taters are really going to town!

And I've been dutifully putting a layer of compost on it every weekend building it up and hopefully upping my tater production this year.

My experiment for this year is a sugar pumpkin.

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I'm not sure how this will do in a pot. I've got three plants in there right now and I'm a bit afraid that's too many. I may thin it down to one or two in the next couple of weeks. We'll see.

In a future post, I'll share some of my tips for keeping the pesky pot garden pests at bay!

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Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Preparing For the End

Of maternity leave that is (sob!).

Yesterday Dr. Mad Scientist used one of his many personal days up (want a ton of time off?  Become a teacher in his district!) before he bids them adieu in a few weeks when school lets out.

Yesterday was also Baby Sister's two month well baby visit where she became the proud recipient of many new immunizations.

Now days off for Dr. Mad Scientist means he monopolizes the 'puter and shots for Baby Sister means she gets really sleepy.

Oh, and it was raining like a cow peeing on a flat rock all day.

Therefore, I had some time on my hands and figured I would haul out Toni Janome.

First off, I will preface this project by saying I got the inspiration from a posting someone pinned on Pinterest.

Yes, I am addicted to that site, and honestly, looking back at many of my pins--I have created/baked a fair amount of what I pin.

Sometimes I think that people just pin away and never do any of the stuff they pin.  Not that there's anything wrong with that, but if I'm going to while away a lot of time on there, I want at least a little bit to show for it.

Anyway--back on topic.  I have a board on there I've titled "Stuff to Knock Off" and on there I have pinned this lunch bag.

Cute, no?

Here's my take on it.

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Pardon the crappier than normal picture.  Chunky has a field trip today and took my normal camera so these are cell phone pics.

The outside and inside of the bag were made from one fat quarter each.  I also used some heavy-weight interfacing to give it some stiffness. 

The lining leaves a little to be desired.  It's a little sloppy.

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But I love the magnetic clasp I gave it.

It's not insulated like the bag I took inspiration with, but that's OK.  My lunch consists of a peanut butter sandwich, apple and cookie of the week 99% of the time.

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All in all, for a pattern I just made up, I'm quite pleased with it.

And hopefully it will remind me of simpler times of my blissful maternity leave when I'm wolfing down my lunch at my desk because I'm too swamped with shit work to do to get away for a measly hour!


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Friday, May 18, 2012

Cookies for the End of the Week

Every year, Dr. Mad Scientist signs me up to bake a couple dozen cookies for his Friday night AA meeting.

Being on maternity leave, it was kind of nice to take my time this year making the cookies and not having to pull a late-nighter on Thursday so they'd be ready on Friday for him to take.

Gah, I hate it when work interferes with baking!  Ha ha!

This year I did two types of cookies.

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S'mores Whoopie Pies and Cinnamon Chip Oatmeal Squares.

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I've used the cinnamon chips before -- in my very first Knitcircus Cookie submission!  And they just sounded good to me right now.  When I bake for these things, I try to make one non-chocolate offering for people who may not like chocolate (yeah, I know, hard to believe they exist).

Even though I didn't have to rush after work to bake these, I still had to bake them between a certain someone's naps--so the recipe is straight off the back of the bag of cinnamon chips.  My only modification was that I baked them a little longer than 30 minutes.  After 30 minutes they were still a little too doughy in the center.

Not that that's a bad thing, but for presentation to others, I wanted them to hold up!

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You might remember these s'more whoopie pies from February when I baked a batch for my departing boss.  (I think I blogged about that!)

I had a hankering for them again now that it's almost summertime proper and prime s'more season.

The recipe is straight from here. The only modifications I made was that I used my standard whoopie pie marshmallow filling that doesn't use shortening, and I didn't use buttermilk (just regular milk) in the pie portion of the cookie.

I really should just quit my day job and bake cookies for a living.  Cookies are so much less high maintenance than the people I have to take care of at work!

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Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Tres NiƱos

I know I posted the side-by-side pics of Moochie as a babe in his Tulips Sweater and Baby Sister in her Little Sister dress...so this might be a bit tiresome, but it's become a tradition. It's the infamous Super Sport shirt picture!

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This would work better if I had a scanner, but alas, I do not. The Super Sport shirt, if I'm telling it correctly, was a shirt my father bought when my mother was pregnant with me. I guess perhaps he was hoping for a boy? (Mom will pipe up and correct me if I'm wrong here.)

Anyway, I took a picture of Chunky as a two-month old-ish baby wearing it on the couch back in 2002. And I remembered to do the same with Moochie when he was about the same age as Chunky was in his picture.

Miraculously, I remembered to do the same with Baby Sister. I'd like to find a nice three-slot frame to frame these now.

And here they are all together.

Can you name them correctly from left to right?

Honestly if you look at the background objects, that's a huge clue as to who is who (Baby Sister is a dead giveaway!).

One thing is for certain--they're all definitely siblings!

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Tuesday, May 15, 2012

The Greatest Compliment to a Knitter

Is when someone loves your handknit item so much, that when it wears out or they lose it, they ask you for another one.

You'll remember (or not!) a hat I made for my nephew back in 2008 when my brother was PCSing (military-speak for moving) to Colorado from North Carolina.

My brother's wife emailed me to say that she had meant to ask, but felt kind of bad asking, if I could make him a new one.

Now I don't know what happened to the first one and if I had to guess I'd say he probably lost it.  Which, as the mother of two boys myself, I totally understand.

I was totally flattered that he loved the first one so much that he wanted a second one.  How could I refuse a request like that?

Well, and let's be real:  a knit hat is easy to re-knit for someone.  Now if it had been some kind of fair isle sweater or an intricate lace shawl, I probably would have said I was too busy! 

This was right before the birth of Baby Sister and I figured I'd have time to knit a bunch of stuff being on maternity leave.

Um, well here I am going into week 9 of maternity leave (it's going by too fast!!!) and I finally finished it last week.

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The details:

Pattern:  Jackyll and Hide

Yarn:  Red Heart Sport Plus (yes, it's Red Heart, but this type is very soft--I was pleasantly surprised!)

Needles:  I believe I used US 6's on this.

Notes:  Again, this was another easy knit.  I had to stop and pay close attention at the eye holes since those were a little tricky.  Well, not really.  They seemed a little tricky if you over-think them.  If you just relax and go with what the pattern tells you to do, they turn out great.

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I popped this in the mail late last week and hopefully it's arrived in Colorado by now.  I hope he likes the second one as much as the first one!

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Monday, May 14, 2012

That's a Wrap!

Whew!

What a week that was!

Here's the fast recap--

On Monday afternoon Grandma showed up.  Baby Sister, Moochie and I picked her up from the airport.  Poor Chunky had those damned state-mandated standardized tests ALL week.  Since he's in fourth grade, which is a grade they use to run the performance stats, I didn't feel like I could pull him out of school for one or two days to play hooky with Grandma.

But she settled in nicely with the two littlest ones.

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Tuesday we didn't do much.  The weather was kind of sketchy.  But before it rained, we took a walk to the neighborhood park that runs along the historic Morris Canal to check out the "baby geese." Moochie calls EVERY goose a "baby" goose. Except this time, we actually saw baby geese.

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Wednesday we went to Costco, because I had to. The weather was again rainy so it was a good day to go.

Thursday we went to the Joann Fabric Store in Paramus.

Oh.my.god. This store opened I think a little over a year ago and I had tried going back in the fall, but I got lost. This time, I had my smartphone with the Navigator GPS thingy. I have to say, that's probably the best thing about that smartphone. Great tool to have in New Jersey.

The store was amazing. It was huge, it was clean, and it had everything! It cost me about $3 in tolls to get there, but it would have cost me that much to go to the Joann I normally go to which is simply awful compared to this one. Thankfully those tolls (and the fact that Paramus is located in Bergen county where stores are required to be closed on Sundays) will prevent me from going all the time!

Friday we had gorgeous weather and we went to the Presby Memorial Iris Gardens. They're at peak bloom right now. I'm embarrassed to say how many photos of irises I came home with!


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They were also having their annual plant and iris sale. Perhaps I came home with two iris plants (and a hens and chicks succulent that Moochie has declared his!). So now in the pot garden I have a couple of beautiful souvenirs of our trip there.

They're both "mini" irises, meaning they'll only grow about 8" high. One is a deep-deep purple that almost looks black (Black Bit is the name) and the other one is a white iris with blue highlights on the petals (Little Showoff).

It takes about 3 years for them to bloom. Maybe in three years we can plant them in the ground outside a house in Alaska???

Friday was also the day Dr. Mad Scientist and I left the kiddies with Grandma for the evening while we went out to eat by ourselves. Last time we did this was, oh, three years ago when Grandma was here last! That was fun, even if I did have to come home after a couple of hours like a cow.

Saturday was the last full day Grandma was here and her sister, or Auntie Jaywalker, drove down from Massachusetts to spend a few hours hanging out before heading back home. They hadn't seen each other since June 2002 when my Grandpa died.


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Auntie Jaywalker was sitting like that to take pictures like this--


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And then later that night we had an early Mothers' Day dinner of grilled steaks, salad and baked taters. I'm not really a steak person, but my Mom is and with just her and my Old Man around the house, she doesn't get much occasion to have steak anymore!

Finally, on Sunday we all (minus Dr. Mad Scientist because there wasn't room in the car and he needs his beauty sleep--wuhaha!) piled into the car at 5 a.m. to get Grandma back to the airport for the long trip home.

It made for a long day--
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But it was a FUN visit! Like I've said, hopefully the next time we see Grandma it will be because we're moving back north!

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Monday, May 07, 2012

A Little Something to Snack On

I'm going to leave you with a little something to snack on while things ramp up here.

Why?

Grandma is coming!!  Everyone's favorite blog mom is scheduled to arrive this afternoon!

We don't have much on the agenda planned--it's hard to plan stuff to do* with a 7 week old baby and a three year old (who very much defines the "terrible 3's" when he hasn't had his nap).  But that's OK.

I mean she's here to basically see the grand kids anyway!

Anyway, while I'm chillin' with Grandma--have a cookie.

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I never understood these food blogger that tie their cookies up in ribbons or bakers' twine.  It seems like something you do for photographic purposes only.  I've never seen them presented like that in real life--too impractical.

These are pretty good if I do say so myself.  I'm calling them "Toffee Almond Breezes."  They're sort of inspired by some coffee creamer Dr. Mad Scientist is grooving on right now and just the stuff I had in my baking cupboard.

The recipe:

Preheat your oven to 350 deg.

3/4 cup butter
1 cup brown sugar
1 egg
1/2 teas. baking soda
2 cups flour
1 cup toasted slivered almonds (you can toast them by spreading them on a baking sheet and baking for 5 minutes at 350 deg., stirring them and then baking another 5 minutes or until golden)
1 cup toffee bits

Cream together the butter and sugar.  Add in the egg and then the baking soda and flour.  Finally mix in the toffee bits and almonds.  Roll into one and a half inch balls and bake for 8 to 9 minutes.

This results in about 3 dozen chewy delicious buttery toffee almond cookies!



* Of course Grandma and Grandpa Mad Scientist are coming down a week after I return back to work and we've got a lot planned for them to do when they're here--but basically because they're here longer than my mom, and they're bringing one of our nephews (who is a year older than Chunky) with them.  We have a lot of touristy NYC stuff planned basically for the benefit of Nephew.  I mean, c'mon, he's 11.  This is the trip of a lifetime! 

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