Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Orange-Spiced Sweet Potato Casserole with Macadamia Nut and Brown Sugar Topping

I tore this recipe out of Parents Magazine to save for Thanksgiving, but when a dinner recipe this week that called for sweet potatoes fell through, I thought I'd try it out. Spoiler alert: IT'S AMAZING. I changed a few things and ended up doing a completely different topping because I didn't have some of the ingredients. And since I was running late getting it on the table, it became dessert and with a scoop of vanilla ice cream is quite possibly the best thing you'll eat this fall. You can quote me on that.

Before I list out the recipe, here's a close up of the deliciousness:

I think it was genius to use orange juice/zest because it completely cut out that slightly bitter undertone that sweet potatoes can sometimes have, and it added sweetness, which cut out the need for a ton of added sugar. Without further ado...

Active Time: 30 Minutes | Total Time: 2 hours | Makes: 8 servings

3 lbs sweet potatoes (3-5, depending on size)
1 TBSP finely grated orange zest
1/2 cup freshly squeezed orange juice (1-2 oranges)
1/4 cup dark-brown sugar
3 TBSP melted unsalted butter, divided
2 eggs, beaten
2 TBSP maple syrup (can sub honey)
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1/4 cup crushed or ground macadamia nuts
1-2 TBSP light or dark brown sugar

1. (You can cook the sweet potatoes in the microwave if you're in a time crunch, but I prefer to bake them, as I think they taste much better, and it's what I did for this recipe.) Wash potatoes, prick them generously with a fork, and bake them at 400 on a foil lined baking sheet for an hour. Let cool for 5 minutes, then cut down the center and scoop out the potato flesh into a medium/large bowl. Mash well (or blend if you have a good blender and want it super creamy).

2. Add the orange zest and juice, dark-brown sugar, butter, eggs, maple syrup, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger to sweet-potato flesh. Mix until smooth. Smooth mixture evenly into prepared dish. Cover and chill until baking time or overnight.

3. If the sweet-potato mixture is chilled overnight, allow it to stand at room temperature for 1 hour before baking. Finely crush/grind/chop the macadamia nuts and sprinkle them over the top of the dish along with the 1-2 TBSP of brown sugar. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Bake for about 30 minutes or until heated through. Serve warm with dinner or for dessert with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Cheap (Free) and Easy DIY Ghost Garland

Happy Fall!

Why yes, it has been 8 months since I last blogged. My kid was still crawling back then. The weather was cool and wintery. The government was still operational and I hadn't yet seen Miley Cyrus' tongue staring at me all over the internet. Fun times.

Speaking of my kid, here he is all grown up...
He adores vacuuming. Like more than you could possibly understand.

So I've been on the prowl for cheap (or free, I'll definitely take free) fall/holiday decorating ideas that also don't take a whole lot of time. 

Then today my husband was entertaining Harrison with a dryer sheet and a yard stick--as one does--and I suddenly realized that used dryer sheets would make perfect little ghosts. And what's better than a ghost garland for your mantle for Halloween? Nothing, that's what.

If you're anything like me you have a little bin on your dryer to collect all of the lint and dryer sheets and other random bits so you don't have to run to the trash can every time. So I dug through ours and pulled out all of the old dryer sheets I could find. Bonus points for recycling and whatnot.

The process is really simple, but I documented it with a series of grainy iPhone photos, which I'm sure you'll enjoy. The compromise in photo quality is seriously the only way this was going to get posted. Can you say nofreetime? I mean I have a toddler, you guys.

You will need:
Dryer sheets, yard or thread, and scissors. And like 10 or 15 minutes. Shortest materials list ever.

To start, cut a piece of yarn or string for each dryer sheet 4 or 5 inches long and set aside. Pinch the dryer sheet in the middle, then cup it in your hand and mess with it until you get the look you want. Then pinch at the base of the "head" and tie a yarn piece tightly around the sheet, creating a knot.

Cut off the excess yarn and repeat with your remaining dryer sheets. Soon you'll have a plethora of ghosties!

To create the garland, measure out the length of yarn you need for your mantle/window/staircase etc, adding an inch or two to account for the amount you'll be using to tie around the ghosts. I started tying the ghosts about 8 inches in from the end and spaced the ghosts roughly 10 inches apart, just eyeballing it. To keep the free end of the string going in the right direction, put the string in front of the ghost, instead of behind, then wrap the free end around the back of the head (like a scarf) before tying it--just once--and moving on to the next ghost. It's semi-less confusing in the photos below, but overall a simple concept.

Then hang it up and voila! Halloween decoration!

There's nothing like a revelation about a dryer sheet to get you back in the game, amiright?

Monday, February 25, 2013

A Little of This, a Little of That

[This post is part of the January Cure project. Read more here: Day 1 | Day 2 | Day 3 | Day 4 | Day 5 | Day 6 | Day 7 | Day 8 | Day 9 | Day 10 | Day 11 | Day 12 | Day 13 | Day 14

DAY 12: Declutter Books & Media

Thursday, February 14th

"Declutter your book & media collections"

So I went through my books and did take one or two out to put in the Outbox...but I'm one of those people who wants a lot of books and doesn't have a lot of books. So I try to hang onto them as much as possible, even if they're not particularly relevant. Like in our bookshelf I have a great mix of angsty teen novels, architecture textbooks, old yearbooks and bible references. And duh, Harry Potter - the complete collection in hardback. One day I'd love to have a library (and enough books to fill said library) but until then I'll just drool over these inspiration photos...


DAY 13: Weekend Chores - Flowers & Bedroom

Friday, Saturday & Sunday, February 15th - 17th


"Weekly Flowers and Bedroom Cleaning. Give your bedroom a good, deep clean. This should be a very thorough job. The aim is to rid the room of as much dust and potential allergens as possible." 


Charles sweetly picked up some roses for me on his way home from work on Valentine's Day (Thursday), so there was no need to buy additional flowers this weekend. Use whatcha got, ya know?


Technically this weekend our bedroom got anti-clean. My mother-in-law came in for a quick weekend visit, so I busied myself making sure the other parts of the apartment were nice and clean, and the bedroom quickly became the place to shove things that were in the way. On Monday, however, I had the chance to revisit the bedroom and gave it the cleaning it deserved.

I dusted the blinds. I dusted the furniture. I even dusted the fan, y'all. I've never dusted a fan in my life. I used the pillowcase method, which was super duper easy, except I must have wimpy little chicken arms because dang they hurt after holding them up for so long. I vacuumed, made the bed, picked up all the clutter, threw some things in the Outbox, and put away the insane amount of clothes that had accumulated in a certain person's corner that isn't mine. 


Want some before and after photos? Of course you do.


Harrison even got his own little toy basket for our room, since otherwise things ended up permanently hanging out on the bookshelf or sprawled randomly around the floor. 


DAY 14: Get Papers & Files in Order

Monday, February 18th


"Getting your papers and files in order" 


I used this task to organize my camera's memory cards. I have two - an 8GB and a 16GB - and after awhile they get pretty full of lots of random photos. Most are of Harrison, because I have an obsession. Dude, I created this:

I mean I had help, but. Ya know.

Anyway, when it gets to the point where the cards are almost full, I finally make myself sit down at the computer and clean 'em up. After a very unfortunate incident the other year where I nearly lost all of the photos I had on my computer, I now keep two copies of everything. One goes on my computer and the other on an external hard drive. I should probably make a third on all of those blank DVDs I have lying around. Once I've copied everything to those two places I feel it's safe to delete from my memory cards.

I've thought of using online services like Dropbox but just haven't gotten around to it. Plus, I'm cheap.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Catching Up

[This post is part of the January Cure project. Read more here: Day 1 | Day 2 | Day 3 | Day 4 | Day 5 | Day 6 | Day 7 | Day 8 | Day 9 | Day 10 | Day 11 | Day 12 | Day 13 | Day 14

I know what you're going to say. Really, Jessica, another abandoned project? NAY, I tell you. I'm pretty behind in posting, but I'm actual not behind in doing the tasks, I swear. Scouts honor. I can say that because I was a Brownie.

DAY 9: Create a Landing Strip

Monday, February 11th

"Create a Landing Strip and Start Using it...'The landing strip is where you can lay things down and sort the mail along with your change, keys and other odds and ends.'"

This is actually one of the things that's pretty much always on my mind in terms of projects for the apartment. In fact, once I'm done with the plethora of projects in Harrison's room, it's the first thing I want to tackle. So I wasn't expecting to have to deal with it so soon and was actually considering skipping the task for two reasons: 1. It was already on my to-do list "down the line," and 2. I was afraid that creating an "in the meantime" area would deter me from tackling the project in the future.

But I decided that I was tired of having nowhere to put mail, bags, and keys. The couch wasn't cutting it. Mail was everywhere like that scene in Harry Potter. It was crazy.


We had a wall mail holder that we used in our last apartment but had never gotten around to putting up in our new place (because obviously I was going to create an awesome landing space and we wouldn't need a small wall hanging mail holder...). So I got it out of the closet. And couldn't find the screws. So I decided to try hanging it with 3M poster strips because I have a ton of them. Let's just say when I was in high school I entered myself into a Smallville contest and didn't realize that every time you entered you got a free poster (with 3M strips) so I ended up with like...50 of them. So I opened them all and hoarded all of the strips for later use. I'm pretty sure I still have the other 49 posters in their original envelopes in the closet of my old room, if anyone's interested...

Anyway, it looked great!

And then about 15 minutes later, this happened.

Luckily a few days later I found some screws & wall anchors and secured that puppy to the wall for good.

DAY 10: Work on Your Goal Project

Tuesday, February 12th


"Put some time and effort into your goal project" 


I'm not going to lie, this didn't happen. I had an insane couple of days and just couldn't find a chunk of time to get my sanding on. I still plan on having my goal project ready by the end of the month....fingers crossed.

DAY 11: Try a Media Fast

Wednesday, February 13th


"Do a Media Fast this evening" 


I'll be the first one to admit I'm probably a bit addicted to my phone/computer/social media. I actually tried this a few months ago on a Sunday - I went the whole day without checking anything and it felt pretty awesome. Instead of checking Facebook every hour, I put in a lot more quality time with ma' man Jesus. But even though I've thought about doing it again, I just haven't done it. Hence the addiction proclamation.


The hard thing is that my work is 100% on the computer. I work from home doing web/graphic whatnots for a small publishing/web company so I can't exactly abandon any and all screens, as refreshing as that would be. Instead of doing the fast in the evening, which is when I get a bulk of my work done because the little Monster is sleeping, I did this in the middle of the day. I allowed myself to check everything once in the morning and then my phone was off limits except for communication and camera uses. I stuck to it except when I hopped on the computer once in the middle of the day to check something and then I was on Facebook for a full 5 minutes before I remembered about the fast. Serious brain fart.


I wouldn't mind eventually making one day/night a week completely off limits to screens. I'm sure Charles would be thrilled with the idea, but I think it would be good for us. And as Harrison/any subsequent siblings get older, we could do game nights, ice cream outings...who knows. Who needs you, Facebook?

Monday, February 11, 2013

Let's Get This Party Started

[This post is part of the January Cure project. Read more here: Day 1 | Day 2 | Day 3 | Day 4 | Day 5 | Day 6 | Day 7 | Day 8 | Day 9 | Day 10 | Day 11 | Day 12 | Day 13 | Day 14]

DAY 7: Get Your Get-Together Together - Date, Guests, Invites

Thursday, February 7th

Plan Your Get-Together for the Weekend of February 1-3

I'm taking a bit of liberty with this one. Instead of planning for a random get-together to celebrate my somewhat more organized apartment, I'll be using this task to get ready for Harrison's first birthday party! Only two months to go - when did that happen? Didn't I just pop this kid out?

I have lots of ideas for his first party, and I'm going to try not to go overboard but I promise absolutely nothing. I like to plan, this is my first child's first birthday party, and I like to plan. Did I mention I like to plan? As in I've already been planning this party for a month. You should see the monstrosity that is the Pinterest board I've set aside for the occasion. Except you can't, because I made it invisible muahahaha. Anyway.

I already have the (tentative) date, the guest list, and a rough idea for the invitations. In fact I just got side tracked for about an hour looking at inspiration invitations to nail down what I really want to go with. I briefly thought about doing an online invite - there are sites like Paperless Post that have a lot of insanely adorable designs. But in the end I just like the idea of sending out a hard copy. Plus, it's always fun to get real mail.

I'm keeping the details a secret because it's way more fun that way, but I will say that I'm tying it in to his nursery theme (Little World Traveler). And I totally plan on having a smash cake because nothing makes me more giddy than the thought of Harrison in a diaper, completely covered in icing. Think of the glorious photos! I mean look:

source | via

source | via

source | via


DAY 8: Weekend Chores - Flowers, Kitchen Cleaning, & Make Yourself a Meal

Friday, Saturday & Sunday, February 8th - 10th

Kitchen Organizing & Cleaning, Find a Recipe and Try it Out

So apparently when there's a day labeled "weekend" it actually means the entire weekend, not just one day in the weekend. I got confused the other day when I took a look at the entire list for January and there were only 23 days listed and I was almost positive there are 31 days in January. At least I'm pretty sure that's what we learned in elementary school. But it actually works out perfectly through the end of this month, so we're on track.

I'm not going to lie, I totally dropped the ball on the kitchen overhaul this weekend. Partially because we were gone the entire day of Sunday and partially because I kind of forgot about it completely on Saturday. I still plan on making it up down the line, but for now I don't have anything to report. Oops.

I'm not buying flowers again because the ones we bought last week are still looking perky-licious. In fact I decided to spread the cheer by clipping off a few stems and putting them in a small bud vase in the hall bathroom. Want some tips for keeping your blooms all pretty like? The following is a winning combination of my previous knowledge, common sense, and the internet.
  • Trim the stems just a tad every day (at a 45 degree angle) and change out the water every other day
  • After all this trimming if your bouquet starts to become too short for your large vase, split it up into several smaller (shorter) vases and spread them around the house for some bonus decor.
  • I used the flower "food'' that came with the flowers, plus an extra packet I snagged from the bowl at the store. When that ran out, I started adding a dash of vinegar and a small spoonful of sugar to the water instead. 
  • I put a copper penny in the vase? Apparently that's a thing, according to the internet. Not sure if it actually does anything.
  • Keep them out of direct sunlight
  • Smell them often (this is more for you than the flowers, though who knows, maybe flowers like to have their ego stroked a bit)
As for the "make yourself a meal" portion of these tasks, I basically do this every night now, thanks to a meal planning Groupon I bought from a company called The Fresh 20. $24 for the entire year (usually $48) and every Friday they send you the next week's list of meals, a shopping list, nutrition information, and even tips and suggestions for preparing stuff ahead of time so that cooking times on the night of are reduced. You have no idea how much stress this has alleviated. I essentially used to rotate between 8-10 recipes over and over again so we never went more than two weeks without repeating a meal. Plus, they weren't always healthy. And I always had a lot of leftover ingredients (or not enough). Most of the meals have been pretty dang good and I'm even eating (and enjoying!) things that I never would have picked out myself (cod! salmon! shrimp! basically all seafood!). And we're eating lots of veggies. The health factor of our meals has increased tenfold since we've started giving Harrison whatever we're eating for dinner. I love that we're making balanced meals that I feel good about serving him (and us).

I didn't have to make dinner Saturday or Sunday but Friday we had Teriyaki Chicken Burrito Wraps. YUM.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Jumping in the Deep End

[This post is part of the January Cure project. Read more here: Day 1 | Day 2 | Day 3 | Day 4 | Day 5 | Day 6 | Day 7 | Day 8 | Day 9 | Day 10 | Day 11 | Day 12 | Day 13 | Day 14]

Man, things are starting to get kind of intense up in here. Yesterday all I had to do was sit in a corner and do nothing for 10 minutes and these next two days have me declaring/starting a major project and framing art. Sheesh.

DAY 5: Select One Project from Your List to Complete This Month

Tuesday, February 5th

Select a good project from your list to complete this month AND take a few "before" photos.

Okay... project time. This is the scary one because projects are (usually) big and involved and a major commitment, which leaves a lot of room for dropping the ball. But the good news is for the project I'm choosing - building and installing Harrison's bookshelves - I already have all of the materials. I just have to set aside a couple of hours and build/paint them and then tack 'em up on the wall (or use know. something stable-ish).

Now when I say I'm going to build some bookshelves, I don't mean I'm going to hammer together a gigantic son-of-a-gun. They're more like book ledges. For a tot's room I feel like it's infinitely more fun to be able to see all of the books rather than wedging them in next to each other so you can only see the spines. And this way a certain someone (me?) won't get all OCD up in there and attempt to arrange the books by descending height, color, and/or alphabetically. No need to get crazy.

I'm basing my project off of (and by that I mean copying exactly) Ana White's Ten Dollar Ledges plan. It's a very popular trend at the moment, as you can see almost everywhere on Pinterest and every other blog on the great world wide web. People use these ledges to hold anything from photos, toys, weird figurines, and yes - books. I'm all about conformity.

So let's take a look at where we're starting, shall we? Behold, a large, blank wall:

The swing Harrison's way too big for (sadface), the boppy I used to use constantly but never do anymore, and a random box of stuff.

This is what I stare at from the rocking chair every night as I feed Harrison before he goes to bed, so it will be refreshing to finally see my vision for the wall come together. To the left is the door to his closet-of-doom and to the right is his lamp & crib. I can already see us throwing down some comfy pillows or poufs (DIY project, anyone??) on the floor in front of the shelves when he's older to read together.

DAY 6: Choose a Piece of Artwork & Get Going on Framing It

Wednesday, February 6th

Choose a piece of artwork to frame & get the process started for framing it (...preeeetty much like the title suggests)

I'm doing this one a little backwards. Rather than having loads of fabulous art lying around just waiting to adorn my walls, I have a bunch of random frames that need stuff in them. And seeing how I'm still a little - nope, definitely a lot - unsure of which direction I want the decor of the rest of the apartment to take, I'm once again focusing on the wee one's room. I have one 4x6 cheap IKEA frame left to use and two stocky, black 8 x 10 frames (with mats) that have been hanging out in his closet-of-doom, just waiting to be utilized.

With the 3 frames in mind, today I went "shopping" online for free art. And by free, I don't mean stolen. Have respect for the arts, people. Even the cheap stuff out there is out of my budget, so I decided to see if there were any available freebies that fit my style. I ended up discovering a whole host of good-lookin' art. Here are a few I made note of:

1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6

The link for the 6th one unfortunately seems to be broken (I found it on Pinterest). I love that the initial art (#2) is completely customizable without the use of an editing program. On their site you simply choose the color you want for the background, pick the right letter, and type in the name and it generates the image for you. Super easy, fun, and completely F-R-E-E.

So I decided on three of these beauties, took a trip to Office Max, and $2.62 later I have some new artwork to hang. You'll have to wait to find out which ones.... :-)

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

A Box and A Broom

[This post is part of the January Cure project. Read more here: Day 1 | Day 2 | Day 3 | Day 4 | Day 5 | Day 6 | Day 7 | Day 8 | Day 9 | Day 10 | Day 11 | Day 12 | Day 13 | Day 14]

And...some other stuff.

Busy weekend/Monday = posting three days of "The Cure" at once. Lucky duck.

DAY 2 : Set Up Your Outbox

Saturday, February 2nd

"Choose a space that is clearly defined... any small area or corner near your front door will do. Designate this your Outbox. The Outbox is not garbage, nor does it need to be an actual box; it is a halfway house where things sit while their fate is being decided."

No this was not originally a case of vodka. Except maybe.

Apparently, "Once an item has sat in the Outbox for some time, it releases its hold over the owner and becomes just and ordinary object that one can easily decide what to do with." My Outbox is an actual box, because I didn't feel like designating another area of my very small apartment to purposefully collect clutter. This way I can at least kick it into a corner and forget about it and even close it up if guests are coming over. Or maybe instead I should put it by the door and tell guests they can pick a prize from the box when they leave. It would save me a trip to Goodwill.

There is only one thing in the box so far (it's not Harrison, despite what the picture suggests; he seemed to think the remote needed its fate decided and threw it in the box) but I plan on grabbing things when they catch my eye as I walk around the apartment day to day and throwing them in.



DAY 3:  Weekend Chores: Flowers, Floors, Green Cleaners, and Outbox

Sunday, February 3rd

"Buy flowers...vacuum the rugs and mop/dry mop the floors...stock up on good green cleaners...use your outbox as you go."

I took the assignment for today as a chance to knock something off of my list: deep cleaning the two bathrooms. It feels AMAZING. Seriously guys, go clean your bathroom (like really clean it, not how you fake clean it 5 minutes before people come over or how you kind of clean it when you have half an hour to surface clean your house before you have to go change your baby's diaper and go to the grocery store and buy milk so you can eat breakfast in the morning. for example.) and then tell me how you feel.

We already own Mrs. Meyer's countertop cleaner, which is earth friendly. They come in scents like Basil and Lemon Verbena and Honeysuckle, which sound like a group of pretentious prep school girls, but actually smell quite lovely. I have to admit...Charles did run out later and buy some toilet and tub cleaner today for the bathroom and they definitely weren't "green" (aka eco friendly) in any way, shape or form (though one is green in color....consolation prize?). I would eventually like to make my own cleaners, like those detailed in this article by Daniel from Manhattan Nest. Side note: he's kind of hilarious.

I added another item to my outbox, woooooo. I'd show you, but it might be something you gave me once upon a time and that would be a little awkward.

I'm adding flowers to tomorrow's task since that's when we're going to the grocery store. Saving gas: how's THAT for earth friendly?

DAY 4: Get a Fresh Perspective in Just 10 Minutes

Monday, February 4th

"Find a spot in your home that you rarely sit in that gives you a view on a room or area that you feel is especially problematic and spend 10 quiet minutes there."

I didn't get around to this until 9:30 p.m. and then I had to tell my husband, "If you see me sitting somewhere in the apartment not doing anything for 10 minutes, don't freak out." Because without the disclaimer he probably would have thought I was finally spiraling downward overwhelmed by all the amazing housewifery that goes on around here.


I chose to sit in our dining room. "But I thought it said to find a spot you rarely sit in," you're probably thinking. Yes well, you try finding a spot in a tiny apartment that you haven't ever sat in before. I did, however, sit on the other side of the table than where we normally sit, so technically it was a new perspective. SO THERE. My back was to our dining room window, the kitchen in front of me, the laundry & bedroom to my left, the living room and the rest of the apartment to my right (note to self: make a floor plan some time).

I didn't have any major epiphanies while sitting there, though I did find new things I want to add to my list. Is that cheating? Ah, well. Add them I shall.

First I munched on some chocolate chips (healthier than cookies and I don't even have to bake). I gave the evil eye to the "printer-storage-drawers-shopping-bags-shredder-paper-recycle-basket area of terror" to my immediate right (top right in the photo). I don't even know what to do with that. For the most part I just pretend it doesn't exist. Works some of the time. Things like I wish I could paint these doors and We need more artwork and Okay now I'm thirsty popped in my head.

I forgot how atrocious the refrigerator looks, particularly on top. Thanks apartment, for your complete lack of storage. I didn't have any new thoughts looking toward the living room, just confirmation that I really want to do stuff in there.

I used to really like those paintings. And I still like them in theory. But I'm reallyreallyreally over the dark red and black color scheme. I want light and bright and airy. I basically want it to look like the Crate & Barrel and IKEA catalogs had a party in my living room. Oh and shall we take a look at the shoes that are invading the floor and the "bag and sweater storage" that is the arm of the couch? The good news is I already have a plan for these things; the bad news consists of two parts: 1. I already have a few projects that I need to finish (start?) before I even beginning to think of tackling anything else and 2. Cash money. I needs it. Basically.

(Oh and let's ignore the really awkward looking yellow/stained area there at the bottom of the shoe picture. I swear that doesn't actually exist in real life. Thanks Instagram filters.)

And now, since I subjected you to the clutter of my apartment, here are some pictures of happy flowers to cleanse your palate.

These were only $4 and they made me smile. I tried to get Harrison to smell them and he reacted like they were going to eat his face.