Monday, October 20, 2014

Salad in a Jar

Who doesn't want a healthy, convenient lunch to take to work?  Grab and go.  I can't get better than that, can it?  I'd seen these make-ahead salads a few years ago on pinterest and loved the idea.  But honestly, I was a bit skeptical.  Prepping salads for an entire week and they're still good?  When it got the stamp of approval from a few friends I decided to give it a go.  I wish I'd tried it sooner.
There is a lot of prep that can go into these but it's worth it to knock it all out at once.  There's also a number of different combinations of vegetables, meats, and dressing to help keep things more interesting.  I'm on week five and have tried three different versions so far.

Not pictured but the first thing you'll want to do is cook your meat if you're using any.  I've used both chicken and taco seasoned ground beef.  You want your meat to completely cool before you put it in the jars or you greens will wilt.

Next up, measure your dressing and pour it into the bottom of the jars.  Pictured is Italian dressing.  (I splurged and bought the Olive Garden dressing.  Worth it!) Then chop your veggies.  I've got carrots, roma tomatoes, celery, and snap peas this time.  I also like to use cucumbers but forgot to the buy one this week.  I usually put these veggies right on top of the dressing.  Just keep in mind that whatever is actually resting in the dressing will marinate in it.

Add your fully cooked and completely cooled meat.  These 5 jars are getting shredded chicken breast.

The lat thing to add if your leafy greens.  Whatever leafy greens you like.   I've got kale, spinach, and lettuce in these jars. Cram as much in as you want. 

Screw the lids on and refrigerate.  I grab one in the morning before work and at lunch just shake it up and eat.  (Okay, so I usually shake it up and pour it in a bowl but that's not entirely necessary.) 
The longest I've had one in my fridge is 6 days and it was still delicious on day 6. 

I've made mine in three version: chicken and veggies (above), taco salad, and buffalo chicken salad.

Taco salad (in this order) salsa, dollop of sour cream, 1/4 cup each black beans, corn, tomato, seasoned ground beef or turkey, spinach, lettuce, and cheese.

Buffalo chicken: ranch dressing, shredded chicken soaked in buffalo sauce, celery, carrots, snap peas, spinach, lettuce, and cheese.

For the cheese I got these great little containers at the dollar store.  They hold the perfect amount of cheese and fit great on top of all the greens right inside the jar.

I made 10 jars this week.  It took about 1 hear of iceberg lettuce and 1/2 a bag of spinach.  I've never purchased or used kale before -- I'm trying a new recipe tomorrow that calls for it -- so it was just a randomish thought to throw a little in. 

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Pumpkin Spice Earthquake Cake

My grandmother makes this amazing dessert called Earthquake Cake.  Coconut and pecans covered in a moist chocolate cake with pockets of sweetened cream cheese... Heavenly.  It's one of my favorite desserts and I always look forward to family events where Grandma will likely serve this amazing concoction. 

While I love the traditional version I had a thought a few weeks ago that a pumpkin version would be amazing as well.  I mean, pumpkin goes well with pecans, coconut and cream cheese, right?  Absolutely worth a try.  I just needed an excuse to make such a cake since I'm apparently the only person in my immediate family who likes coconut.  With Boss's Day last Thursday I had the perfect excuse.

The base:
1 cup chopped pecans
1 cup shredded coconut

The cake:*
4 eggs, lightly beaten
2 cups white sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
15-ounce pumpkin puree1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 tsp ginger
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 cups flour

The "frosting":
1/2 margarine
1 8oz package cream cheese
2-3 cups powdered sugar
1 tsp vanilla

Preheat oven to 350.  Grease a 9x13 pan.  Combine the pecans and coconut and spread them evenly across the bottom of the pan.  Set it aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine eggs, sugar, oil, and pumpkin.  Mix until combined and smooth.

Add salt, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, baking powder, and baking soda.  Then add the flour 1/2 cup at a time.  Beat on medium speed until smooth.  Nobody likes a lumpy cake.

Spread the cake batter evenly over the pecan and coconut base.  Set aside.

To make your "frosting" combine butter and cream cheese in your mixing bowl.  (And I admit that I didn't even clean mine in between.)  Beat until smooth and then add powdered sugar 1/2 cup at a time.  The original recipe I have says to use 1 lb of powdered sugar.  That's 1/2 a bag.  Ultimately you want a smooth but not too stiff frosting.  Add your vanilla at the very end.

Once your frosting is complete drop by spoonfuls across the top of the cake.

Bake for 40-50 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.

You're cake should look something like this...
The cake bakes up around the cream cheese and then as it cools it all kind of falls a little bit.  The flavors all mesh and combine and it becomes a gooey mass of deliciousness.  How could you not love this cake?

 Apparently, my coworkers enjoyed it. It was mostly demolished by the end of lunch and there wasn't a crumb left to bring home.

*I don't make a lot of cakes from scratch.  This batter was altered slightly from one at Kitchen Meet Girl.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

It's Autumn on my Door

Confession: I love wreaths.  I love how they look.  I love that they make a house look more homey.  I love looking for new ideas for them.  I love dreaming up my own ideas for them.  I love making them. 

I haven't made a new wreath in over a year. 

It was time.  It was past time.

Simon, Rose, and I needed to make a stop at the dollar store for some pumpkin decorating supplies -- more on that another time -- and I happened to find a lovely grapevine wreath.  Then there were some gorgeous fall-colored leaves and beautiful yellow and and burgundy flowers.  A plan began to formulate... When I saw the opaque, glittery orange ribbon I knew it would be the perfect finishing touch.

First, I took apart the bunches of flowers.
 Next, I weaved the ribbon through the grapevine branches.
 Then I arranged the leaves and flowers up one side.  I just kind of stuck the wiry stems through and then jiggled and bent them here and there until they were in the position I wanted.  The two large burgundy flowers at the bottom were actually on clips so I just clipped them onto the ribbon.
Lastly, I turned the whole thing over and used my hot glue gun to secure the wire stems in place as best I could.

Once it all dried I snagged the brown ribbon from my last fall wreath and let it hang.

Not bad.  Not bad at all.

Now, if only Mother Nature would get with the program and actually let it be autumn in these parts I'd be a happy camper. 

Monday, October 6, 2014

Pumpkins and Mazes

Visiting Liepold Farm is easily one of my favorite fall activities.  I have awesome memories of visiting there when I was a teenager and am so happy that get to share the experience with my kids now.  

 There's all kind of fun activities.  We looked at the farm animals -- they only had a cow and a few goats out -- and then my kids found a trike to play on.

 We stuck our faces in the same wooden cut-outs they've had for years.

And then we entered the corn maze...  Where the corn and the maze go on forever and ever.

  We walked....
 And we walked some more....
And we jumped out of the corn and "scared" each other...
 And eventually the kids got bored and decided to play in the bark dust.
 It's a good thing we were nearly done with the maze by this point.

 Then it was time to pick out pumpkins.  One rule: you must be able to carry your own pumpkin.  Rose is clearly unimpressed and ignoring the only rule.
 Simon, on the other hand, attempted to pick up no less than two dozen pumpkins and complained that they were all too heavy for him to carry.

We did manage to find a few...

Loved spending this gorgeous fall day on the farm with these two munchkins.

Completely unrelated side note:  This is my 500th post!  How in the world have I been blogging long enough for 500 posts?  I must be old or something...

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Lantern Walk 2014

In August a friend of mine came across a 5k benefit called "The Lantern Walk." Knowing that I enjoy running and have participated in a handful of races she thought this would be right up my alley.  Even better?  The walk benefited Compassion First: a local nonprofit that's fighting human trafficking and offering support and care for those who have survived it.  My friend started a team, we were dubbed the She-Nanigans, and we each started gearing up for the event.
On Saturday, September 27th we headed out to the Portland International Raceway to walk.  A big part of the event focused on awareness.  Awareness for the problem that is modern day slavery.  I first became vaguely aware of human trafficking around 8 years ago when my younger sister mentioned it.  Not long after that a former classmate of mine dug into researching human trafficking and got involved with the International Justice Mission.  Last February, my church hosted a benefit concert for Abolition Now -- another local non-profit -- and my son and I participated in the "Shine a Light on Slavery" awareness campaign.
 In the weeks leading up to that concert I read stories, saw statistics, and learned warning signs.  Explaining to my then-4-year-old in terms that he would understand what the red X on our hands meant and why we were doing it was not an easy conversation. But you're never too young to learn about injustice in the world and he can still tell me what that X means all these months later.
Prior to the walk itself on Saturday there were a number of speakers and a handful of tables set up with even more information and ways to get involved: House of Engedi, Shared Hope, The Defenders, and more. About 250 people gathered to walk, including these lovely ladies.
The walk itself was gorgeous.  I've done races at PIR complete with mud and foam and bubbles and bouncy-house-style obstacles and slime.  This was very different.  Each participant was given a lantern and candle and the entire path was lined with thousands of paper lanterns.  As dusk turned to darkness it only grew more beautiful.
250 people carrying lanterns in support of those trapped in a horrible reality.  250 individuals with a hope that they can make a difference to end human trafficking and modern day slavery. 

If you would like to learn more, check out any of the links provided in this post or check out Compassion First, Shared Hope, or Abolition Now on Facebook.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Did We Run or Did We Dye?

Saturday we ran our first family race: a 5k color run called Rum or Dye. 

The whole bunch of us:

The Boys:

Team TuTu:

At the starting line... 

Rose was far more enthused once we got going. 
One guy told me she was cheating since she got to ride. 
She just mastered walking nine months ago. I think she can wait a bit before running a 5k.

Simon and Tony crossing the finish line. 

I ran AND dyed! 

At the finish line they did a couple "dye thows." Each packet included a pouch of colored dye and they gave out tons of it before and after the race too. All at once we threw our powdered dye into the air.... 
It ended up as a could of brown dust but was sure fun. 

Post race my kiddos were all colored up. 

And happy. 
Such a fun race. 

Sunday, September 7, 2014

First day! First Day!

Simon's first day of Kindergarten.  How in the world did I become the mother of kindergartner?  It seems like just yesterday I was holding a positive pregnancy test in my hands with this vague idea that my life was about to change in a very big way.  As of yesterday, that was actually six years ago.  Crazy, huh?

Much like pre-school last year, Simon was extremely excited to start school.  But I didn't let him get away without marking the day with a few pictures.

 Rose couldn't let her big brother hog all the spotlight...

 And I had to try to get in on at least one photo with my big boy.

He was all smiles outside the school.  He went into his classroom and chose his desk -- he picked the red chair -- and settled right in with no problems.

Rose, on the other hand, wasn't sure what to do without her Simon around.

Around lunchtime I got a message from a friend of mine asking how I was handling the day.  Many of my mom friends have had a tough time with their kids starting school.  I haven't.  Is something wrong withe me?

Simon is attending a small school not far away from where I work.  I'm lucky that his start time coordinates well with my work schedule and that I have an awesome boss that let me leave work early to pick him up on his first day.  He was all smiles -- not that you can really tell by this picture -- and told me his favorite part of school was "drawing."  Drawing what, I have no idea.

 When we picked up Rose, she and Bun-Bun were all ready to for school too.
 Slow down, little girl.  Mama's not ready to have both of her babies in school!

I might have a more difficult time in a few years when it's her turn. We'll see.