Sunday, July 27, 2014

Weekend 10: Downtown edition

The Weekend 10 is a really great way to pick up your camera and really learn to get better at taking pictures.  I'm thankful to Libby Williams for the idea (follow her blog, use her talent if you're close enough)...whether you're as talented as Libby or just a novice-hobbyist-picture-taker like me, this little challenge is super fun.  I haven't been great about doing this regularly but certainly intend to keep it up.

Welcome to the Downtown Greenville edition.  Yeah, that Greenville.  My little town has gotten so big and popular.  It didn't used to be like this.  When I was little, there was nothing to really do downtown.  Even when I was in college, there were only a few shops, a handful of restaurants, and my groovy coffee hangout.

It's not like that anymore...

So artsy!

So colorful.  Happy hues!

Happy Homey.

Such a wonderful spot for the Littles to cool off.

Art and History co-existing.  I love it.

Liberty Bridge.

Sneak peek of the Shakespeare stage.

What a great afternoon out being a backyard tourist!  We made it home before the afternoon storm.  And time well spent is never wasted, not even on a lazy afternoon with nowhere to be.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Christmas in July?

It's July, and most of our time has been spent swimming, playing with friends, taking long weekends at the lake.  Summer stuff.  I don't even want to look at the back to school ads yet.

So you can imagine my surprise when my daughter woke up with a look of concern one morning this week.  She had written a letter to her Elf the evening before, and there had been no response.

It's July. Are you kidding me? Elf correspondence already? Don't those lovely creatures need a break??  It's bad enough that Jingles can't even get lovingly packed in with the Christmas decorations for a long summer's nap. It's imperative that she stay out and on display in Homey's room year round.

With no loose teeth or notable holidays in the near future, I have to say that the magic muchness of this house must have been in hibernation. But just when it seemed our elf might not reply, Jingles sprung into action, writing back to explain the seasons of the elves.  It was something about being on elf-cation, and that the elf community would soon be back in full effect.  Hanging out with the kids to see who's naughty, who's nice. Watching the little humans go back to school, admiring their Halloween costumes, and of course, getting into their Elf-taught ways of figuring out what to put in Santa's sleigh on Christmas eve.

Jiminey crickets.  Thank goodness for Jingles.  That elf really does have the vigilance of the Tooth Fairy to keep in touch with the Homey the way she does.  I know I'm worn out just thinking about it.  So Good Night, Sleep Tight! The elves and fairies have got this under control...

For that I'm thankful because just today I found this...

Here's to dreaming of a white Christmas.  Five months in advance.  Looks like it's going to be a Very Fashion Christmas.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Buttermilk Ice Cream

I doubt it's a shock that I love most things that are quintessentially southern.  Unless we're talking squash.  Or boiled okra.  Don't be mistaken, I don't love those things.  
But let's talk buttermilk.  Usually, as a southerner especially, you think biscuits or fried chicken when you think about reasons to have a carton of buttermilk in the house.  However, I just remembered the idea to use buttermilk as a dessert.  A basic, and ridiculously rich, custard ice cream is just the ticket.  And what Little doesn't love the anticipation of ice cream churning on the porch?  Ah, another reason I love summer!

The custard is a rather basic recipe.  Just keep in mind that if you're going to make southern things like mac and cheese or any custard, you have to be ready to stir.  Before you gather your ingredients ready yourself to stir for 20-30 minutes. Collect your iPhone and ear buds to either listen to your favorite playlist or the newest podcast on handling Disney World like a pro while keeping it a complete surprise from Homey. 

Oh, I digress.  I'll delve into that later...
Now gather your ingredients.  
 2 cups heavy cream
1 1/4 cup sugar, divided
 6 large egg yolks*
2 cups buttermilk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract or half a vanilla bean, scraped and simmered with the cream*
Pinch of salt

*Varying custard type recipes will call for varying numbers of egg yolks.  Up to a dozen!  I have the exceptional opportunity to have mostly "vortex fresh" eggs in the house.  They are delicious and richer than store bought.  We will use 6 (because I want to save the whites to use later this week!  I don't know what to do with 12 egg whites at the moment). Also, I'm using homemade vanilla extract, but I would probably opt for the bean over store-bought extract.  All that to say, whatever you have on hand is completely fine.
Bring the cream and sugar up to a simmer over medium heat. Beat the egg yolks with 1/4 cup sugar.  Remove the cream from the heat, and temper the egg yolks. This is what we did on the greek chicken soup.  Carefully use a ladle to add the hot cream to the yolks to bring it up to temperature.  We don't want scrambled egg ice cream.

Once the eggs are tempered, add them to the cream, whisking constantly over low heat.  Now is when we sit and stir for a bit.  When the mixture coats the back of a spoon, it's ready.  Like this:
Strain this mixture with whatever straining mechanism you have (I don't really think you need specialized equipment for this...there wasn't much to strain out).
Now stir in the buttermilk, vanilla, and salt.  Let that bowl of awesomeness get good and cold in the fridge.  Prep your ice cream maker too.  Yeah, they say "quick and easy" ice cream on your churn, but everything needs to be cold.  We must have ice and rock salt too.  So make sure you have your ducks in a row while the mixture gets cold.  This is a great make ahead dessert because it can sit in the fridge overnight and while you prep your churn the next day.  Then shock and amaze people by serving up this rich, unique ice cream at this weekend's cookout. 

When you're ready, just dump the mixture into your churn, and let it go.  Let it go.  Don't hold it back anymore.  (I'm sorry, I love that movie, and I'm geeked out about going to Disney World for the first time.  Please don't tell Homey she's going).

Oh how I love modern plug-it-in ice cream churns.  As much as I love the idea of Opie Taylor churning by hand on the front porch, while Andy strums the guitar and Aunt Bea knits or mends on the front porch, there is something in me that appreciates plugging something in and letting it work.
Give it 30-45 minutes.  The first time we checked it about 30 minutes in, it was a tad goopy.  We want it to hold it's shape when we crudely swipe a finger through it.
It's so divine!  It holds together straight out of the churn, and it stays pliable days later.  Actually, with the eggs and buttermilk, it is reminiscent of licking the beater after making pound cake.
Eat it straight up or throw in the summer staples of peaches and blueberries...whatever you have on hand!  Delightful, sophisticated, quintessentially southern, and really quite fun and affordable.  Enjoy!

Sunday, July 20, 2014

New name! (Same url, for now!)

After a lot of thought and deliberation, I am changing the name of the blog. 

It's taken longer than I thought to actually find something fitting.  I felt like I had Hermione Grainger, Dorothy, Alice and Peter Pan all in my head at one time.

I'm not sure why most of them are British, but I knew that one of them would show me something bloody brilliant to represent what I'm trying to write about here.

I wanted a literary reference to magic that could link to both children and adults .  I was right.  But it was Bert from Mary Poppins that I was missing. 

"Winds in the east, mist coming in. / Like somethin' is brewin' and bout to begin. / Can't put me finger on what lies in store, / But I feel what's to happen all happened before."

I feel like this has all be brewin' for a while.  Time to stop giving in to the industries that make it hard to stay home with a sick child or to even take a week's vacation.  I want to fall into magic craziness like Alice, or wield a wand and defend house elves like Hermione. I want to be the Pan like Peter.  But I'm not those people.  I'm not Mary Poppins either, but I so totally identify with her. Surly at times. Kind and understanding, most always.  Providing magic at as often as possible.  I almost think I could fit a floorlamp in my pocketbook.
Winds in the east are very rare here, just like the chance to reinvent day to day life.  I have to be very careful as I choose my next step, but at the same time I choose to be as confident and surefooted as Mary when she dove into the life of the Banks family. 

This is my family, and this is our life.  We want a certain "muchness" out of it, and this is my time to ready myself for a career that allows me to give my magic and muchness to my family.
So I am Winds in the East.  Right now, it's misty. But something is absolutely brewing and about to begin.  I can't put my finger on what is in store.  But I'm loving that no matter what, it'll be different than before.
Now I need to go watch Mary Poppins.  Chim Chiroo!!

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Party like a Padawan

I feel the need to throw a party, but since I'm not going to just yet, here's a great one to try for your little Jedi.

There's nothing like Star Wars.  Except Harry Potter.  But that's a discussion for another day.

Star Wars has it all.  Jedi's, good vs. evil, creatures big and small (who doesn't love Wookies and Ewoks??).  And there's Leia to give a nice feminine edge to the whole thing.  I was totally going to wear the gold bikini to throw this party, but ya didn't seem the best for serving cake and helping with x-wing fighters.  Carrie Fisher has me beat on that one.

I was thrilled that my nephew was going to let me try my hand at an epic Star Wars party for his birthday.  The planning turned out to be incredibly easy.  It's helpful that Star Wars never really seems to go away.  I was able to find a lot of already themed items for decor and favors, and the color scheme of black, silver, and blue was easy to work with, too.

This party has very similar core ingredients as any party I throw for children.  You want some theme elements in the food, decor, and activities:

For the food, I just got creative with renaming a couple of favorites.  Drinks became Jedi Juice, Cheez-its became Darth Cheddar, cookies became Wookie Cookies, and snack mix became Ewok Niblets.  Super easy.  Even funnier, if you have something that requires a fork, please use the label "Use the fork, Luke" on the table.  That's just hysterical, right??  Also hilarious is to serve mini pizzas and name them "Pizza the Hutt". Oh my word, that's funny.

I happened upon a cupcake set at William Sonoma in a Star Wars theme and on sale!  That was a definite way to make things easy and affordable too.  

If I had not come across that set, I probably would have looked from something similar on Etsy.  I'm just a fan of using a themed cupcake pick; a nice alternative to a themed cake from a store.  While I love when people are talented enough to create adorable cakes, I do not love grocery store character cakes.   Oh, and one more way to stretch that set from William Sonoma.  I didn't need the cupcake liners since I ordered the cupcakes, so I used them to line clear plastic cups holding snack mix.  A quick way to use what I had and add to the decorations on the table.

The rest of the decorations also doubled mostly as activities.  Jedi training was a huge hit for the Littles.  I made scads of Jedi robes out of a $9 drop cloth. 

Displayed on hangers from a tree, it just takes you right back to Endor, no?  After being bestowed with the robe, each Padawan was given a light saber.  We made these from pipe insulation and colored electrical tape (far easier...and wield than a pool noodle). 

Now we play!

There were Stormtroopers to fight.  Just draw their weird faces on helium balloons.  This little course was so much fun.  It was even fun to watch the Storm Troopers float away through the neighborhood.
Next we made X-Wing fighters (aka paper easy, and the kids were so into it!). 

Winner of the flying contest got Jedi street cred.  Congrats to Emily!  She nailed it.

I made sure to meet with the birthday boy to make sure I had relevant and accurate things to use during the party.  He let me know that there was one element that was very important to include. "Lava.  I want lava like in Episode 3."  Oh dear.  Okay.  I'm thinking on the inside "Are you kidding me?? That's a terrifying scene when Anikan actually becomes Vader."  But what precious child wants, he gets.  The obvious idea was to just make it a game of "the floor is lava"! Always a classic, right?  Tissue paper to mimic the fire/lava and a wooden board from the garage to make it a bit of a challenge.  This silliness was actually the biggest hit of the party, as far as the kids were concerned.  They kept wanting to duel!

The part I liked the best was the Death Star pinata that the Hub made.  

 Ah-mazing.  Actually ridiculous.  It took the most man-hours and made the biggest mess of anything done for this fantastic party, but it was so worth it. Look at it.  It's amazing!  Just paper mache and some crazy dorky craftiness for us to create the crater, tape off the lines, add the glitter.  
Oh the glitter, what a mess. It takes a special man to agree to work with glitter in his garage.  It looked like Tinkerbell's lair for quite a while. 
Anyway, we packed it full with candy and treats.  Any pinata is awesome because for some reason kids love to hit things.  But to destroy the Death Star?!  Yes. The culmination of all the Jedi training we'd just done.  Epic! These kids weren't playing around.  

I'm pretty sure this homemade pinata was harder to break than store bought things like our Jabberwocky.  I could be backward on that, but I do know the Death Star was an brilliant prop hanging over the party and an even more enjoyable activity.  Kids love to destroy things ;)
One more activity, that's easy to adapt to a lot of party themes:  the red solo cups.  Build them into a pyramid, add some Star Wars figures.  Let target practice with Nerf guns ensue.  The same idea could be adapted to a water party with squirt guns.  This was the second favorite for the kids.  "Again!  Let me do it again!"  (I advise that you get a wing man to help you set up the pyramid over and over again. Just a tip, but trust me on that one).

Finally, I had a quick idea to try for this particular party.  Like I mentioned, Star Wars merchandise is still really easy to find.  So as my nephew's gift to take home, I bought and framed a Star Wars poster (seen in top picture) and used it as decoration during the party.  Depending on the theme, I think doing something similar is an excellent idea to add to the decor and provide a (non-toy!) gift for the birthday Kid. 
Off to dream up more parties!  May the Force be with you always.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Meal Plan Monday--Summer Edition

I've talked about the joys of making a plan and the elation of making a list.  But I have to admit, summer meal plans are tricky for me, even though concocting a weekly meal plan is usually one of my favorite games!  In general, I think that it's beneficial and makes sense to take an inventory of your pantry and freezer towards the end of a week, make a general plan, and have the supplies and plan ready to go by Sunday or Monday.
But summer is so hot.  And normal routines and schedules are put on the back burner (where my mashed potatoes should be!).  There are baseball games to go to and pools to stay in until sunset.  Who wants to call everyone away from the fun at 5:30 to pull a meal together?
Despite the heat and lack of motivation, there are some wonderful things about summer eating that we need to focus on:  fresh produce and grills!  So to stay on task and inspired, I've given myself a rough outline of what a week's worth of meals should look like in the summer:
1.  Serious grilling.
2. A form of taco.
3. A form of pizza.
4. Silly grilling.
5. A form of breakfast.
6. A meal that uses up ingredients (most likely from Serious Grilling day).
A quick breakdown:
Serious grilling will most likely involve a wonderful cut of meat you've found on sale: rack of ribs, pork loin, london broil, or whole chicken.  Just add two sides or so. The beauty of this meal is that not only are you feeding the family some high quality delicious food, you will most likely have leftovers.
Taco dinner can change every week, but it gives you a jumping off point.  Traditional beef tacos, carnitas, fish tacos, shrimp quesadillas...there are so many variations on this simple theme to keep dinners interesting without spending a ton of time or money.
Pizza dinner works in very much the same way.  The possibilities are endless.  I keep a pizza dough from Trader Joe's in the freezer most of the time, and when we have random ingredients in the fridge you've got your pizza theme.  Bacon cheeseburger pizza, spinach and mushroom pizza.  Plus you can change it up by grilling pizza one night, making mini English muffin pizzas, or a French bread pizza.
Silly grilling is not really silly at all!  But it is a safe and easy bet, if not the healthiest choice.  Think burgers, hot dogs, kielbasa, grilled chicken for sandwiches or salads.  Less hands on than Serious Grilling, usually faster to hit the table as well.  Pair with a pasta salad and fresh tomato slices, and you're done.
A form of breakfast.  In the winter, so many cozy meals can be served as "breakfast for dinner".  In the summer, it is just too hot for breakfast casseroles and such.  But poached eggs over asparagus...wonderful!  A quiche with local produce is a fast and easy meal too.  Pioneer Woman's Migas recipe will make use of the corn tortillas left over from Some Form of Taco night.  Ah, I love it when a meal plan comes together!
Finally, Make Use of Ingredients night.  Just a few examples:  if you serve a Beer Butt Chicken on Sunday, then you can debone the chicken and make Chicken Divan or Chicken Salad.  It's so much tastier with grilled or smoked meat.  If you serve a pork loin over the weekend, then make Cuban sandwiches with the leftover slices.  A perfectly cooked flat-iron steak makes great steak sandwiches or a version of a black-and-bleu salad later in the week.  You get the idea...
I only outlined 6 of my "form of..." meals since I figured you may be able to reinvent your leftovers more than once, you may get to eat out one evening, or maybe you take turns collaborating meals with family and friends.  This week's meal plan in the Vortex turned out pretty well.  It looks like this:
Skirt steak, baked rice with mushrooms and onions, roasted parmesan asparagus. (Serious grilling)

Meatballs subs (I made this recipe and served it over vermicelli a couple of weeks ago.  The rest went in the freezer to have subs.  Homemade meatball subs make me so happy.  It's almost too hot for a hot sandwich, but I'll sacrifice just this once.  I guess this qualifies as "Make Use of Ingredients" night.)
Traditional tacos.  I'm taking the easy uninteresting way out this week.  I'll get fancy next week.
Steak sandwiches with a spinach salad to use up the rest of the sub rolls and that gorgeous steak from last night. (Another Make Use of Ingredients night).
Spinach and bacon quiche. (Form of breakfast).
Nacho night!  This should be a form of pizza night, and usually Fridays are. But when we have traditional ol' regular tacos, I usually have enough left over to make a tray of loaded nachos (or a taco salad if you want to take a healthier route. I choose nachos.)
I still have Form of Pizza and Silly Grilling to consider for my 7th night!  Oh, it does feel good to not have to think about dinner anymore this week.

Happy heat of the summer cooking!

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Living Intentionally

I think, once given an opportunity to just be for a little while, that it becomes apparent what you and your family as a whole is all about.  As it relates to the blog, I've found myself wondering what in the world to post next.  When I think about it that way, I end up with a brain full of whirling ideas...egg recipes, party ideas, places in my town I want to showcase, decorating, and tons of anectdotal shenanigans.  When they start whirling, I end up with little time or energy to focus on any of them.

But I have a favorite new author that has helped me change the way I think about living, in general.  Just to give a quick blurb, Tsh Oxenreider (not a's Tsh, pronounced Tish) has a blog and some wonderful books that focus on the the art of simplifying.  One of the best things about her is that she focuses more on the word "intention" than "simple".  Simple can sound boring.  Intention conveys a lot more.

Understanding that one thing makes me have a focus for not only what I want to blog, but how I want to be and how our family best spends our life together.  To put it basically, we try to live with the space and the items we already have (swap rooms when it makes sense, use family pieces in whatever way works best for our space...).  We enjoy our own neighborhood and the surrounding areas to foster important relationships with friends family that helps us understand our roots in this area, but at the same time we allow time and money for traveling to enjoy music we love and have adventures outside of our own local niche.  And we strive to use our own hands as much as possible to improve our home, cook our meals, and create new things to enhance the little world we live in.

To me, that's the magic. Using our ideas and hands and friends to make things happen.  Every lifetime needs a little bit of magic.  I intend to provide that.
That being said, perhaps not every idea here will be original, but if I post something it will be important to one of the ways we choose to be intentional in our day to day.  Stay tuned!