Wednesday, June 27, 2012

A Different Kind of Recipe: Bath Tub Paint

I'm pretty sure there is no better place for a toddler to paint than in the tub. I've gotten much better about my boys making messes/getting messy but this type of painting is still very appealing to me! I pinned a "recipe" for bath paints a few weeks ago but hadnt gotten around to it when I happened upon some bath paints in the craft store last weekend...and they were pricey! I decided to give that recipe a try this week.

This is a really easy one. I had plenty of all of the ingredients on hand (thank you Sam's Club for the ginormous bottle of baby bath wash), and it only took me 5 minutes to mix them up and have them ready to go. The paints came out nice and Aaron loved playing with them in the empty tub with a foam brush. Alex, unfortunately wasn't interested. Once Aaron was done creating his masterpiece I just wiped him and the tub down with a wet washcloth. Easy cleanup! No stains on my white tub, tiles or grout. And since I only gave Aaron two colors out of the four I made, we have more to play with another day. Maybe his brother will be more interested in the fun then. :)

Bath Tub Paints, found at Meet the Dubiens (check it out!  much better pics and lots of other cool kid crafts!)
1 cup baby bath wash
4 tablespoons corn starch
Food coloring drops

Mix the baby wash with the corn starch in a bowl. Pour the mixture into as many storage containers as colors you would like to make. Put a few drops (2-3) of food coloring in each container and mix to make your paint pretty and colorful! Store covered. I'm not sure how long they last in storage. I would plan to use all the paints up within a couple of weeks.

Here's my little "artist", Aaron...enjoying his new medium.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Key Lime Bars

Mr. Pears really likes Key Lime pie and after we had one of our favorite summer desserts last week (the lemon mousse)  he suggested I adapt it to make it Key Lime.  The next day I stumbled upon this Key Lime Bars recipe from Martha Stewart and I decided to make them instead.  I am a sucker for graham cracker crust and these bars just looked so easy to make.

They were easy and they were very tasty. These Key Lime bars are light and fluffy and very tart.  The unsweetened whipped cream and the lightly sweetened graham cracker crust balance that tartness well. Definitely another great summer treat to enjoy on the patio in the evening after dinner (along with that sangria).

Key Lime Bars, adapted from Martha Stewart
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons finely ground graham cracker crumbs 
1/3 cup sugar
5 tablespoons melted butter
3 large egg yolks
zest of one lime
1 (14oz) can sweetened condensed milk
2/3 cup Key Lime juice (that is about 23! key limes! You can also buy just the juice in the juice section near the lemon juice...which is what I did, I wasn't about to squeeze 23 key limes)
1 cup heavy whipping cream
2 limes for garnishing, cut into half moon shapes

Preheat the oven to 350 F.

In a small bowl mix together the cookie crumbs and sugar.  Add the melted butter and stir until it is well incorporated.  Press the mixture down firmly into a 8 x 10 baking dish.  Bake the crust for 10 minutes and then leave it to cool on a wire rack while you make the pie filling.

Put the egg yolks and lime zest in the mixer fitted with the whisk attachment.  Whisk on high speed for about 5 minutes or until the eggs are very thick.  Turn the mixer speed down to low and while it is on, pour in the condensed milk.  Once all the milk is in turn the speed back up to high and let it whisk for another 3 minutes. Reduce the speed again and pour in the lime juice.  When the juice is mixed in thoroughly, pour the filling into the cooled crust.

Bake the bars in the 350 F oven for about 10 minutes or until the middle seems set.  Take the pan out and let it cool on a rack for about 30 minutes before covering it and putting it in the refrigerator to cool for at least 4 hours or overnight.

When you are ready to serve it, put the whipping cream into your mixer and whisk it on high until it forms stiff peaks.  Serve a generous amount on top of each bar along with a lime slice to garnish.

Enjoy! The kids did!  They also enjoyed the whipped cream.....

Friday, June 22, 2012

DIY Glass Cleaner and Degreaser

Have I mentioned the bane of my existence?  I am referring to my kitchen table.  The big glass one that sits by our sliding glass door and shows each and every fingerprint in the morning sunlight.  We have come sooo close to getting rid of it just because I feel like I am cleaning it every three minutes.  But, alas, after perusing the alternatives out there (and their price tags) we've decided to hold off on that purchase until the kids are a bit older and less wrecking-ball-ish.

One of my major motivators in making my own cleaners actually stemmed from the fact that my kids eat (directly) off of that glass table on a regular basis; although I am happy to report plate usage is on the rise. For a while I was pretty happy using my all-purpose cleaner after meals but realized I was having to really clear the food debris away first and sometimes I had to wipe the table down twice to get it clean and streak free.  The all-purpose spray is my go-to and it works well on everything from windows to bathroom counters but it just wasn't standing up to the food grime left on the glass tables after meals.

Luckily I remembered that my wonderful Mother-in-Law (Hi Mitzi!) told me that Dawn dish soap could be used to make a great glass cleaner.  Of course!  They use it to clean oily birds why not olive oily tables?  So I mixed some vinegar and water with a dash of dish soap and voila! It worked!  Just a tiny bit of Dawn really helps get that food grease and grime off the tables with one shot.  No scrubbing, no streaks.  Love it.  Yes it does have a pretty strong vinegar smell at first, but the smell disappears almost immediately.  I'm happy it works so well and that only a very minimal amount of soap is know, just in case someone decides to give the table a lick.

Glass Cleaner and Degreaser
empty (clean) spray bottle
Dawn (original blue)

Fill your spray bottle half way up with vinegar, fill it the rest of the way with water.  You just need a 1 to 1 ratio of vinegar to water, doesn't matter how much.  Now just put a few drops of Dawn in (about 1/2 teaspoon for a 32 oz bottle should do it) and put the lid on the bottle.  Give it a little shake to mix it up and you're ready to clean something!

Monday, June 18, 2012

Grilled Sesame Chicken with Broccoli

Mr Pears and I made a goal at the beginning of this Summer to grill out as often as possible.  And we've been doing a good job!  We've been grilling every weekend and we've been grilling new things, not just burgers and corn on the cob (though I looove grilled corn on the cob).

Last weekend we changed up a Jamie Oliver recipe a bit and really enjoyed Sesame Chicken, right off the grill. The sauce on the chicken was awesome and it went great with the stir-fried broccoli we served alongside.  It was a delicious dinner with some Asian flair and a little heat.

Grilled Sesame Chicken with Broccoli, adapted from Jamie Oliver's Recipes (an iPad app that we love!)
2 teaspoons minced garlic
2 teaspoons minced ginger
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1 tablespoon light soy sauce
1 tablespoon canola oil
4 tablespoons sweet chili sauce
juice from half a lemon
1 lb chicken breasts or other pieces
2 tablespoon sesame seeds
12 oz broccoli florets

Heat the grill.

In a small bowl whisk together the first 7 ingredients.  Pour the sauce into a shallow baking dish, reserving a small amount of the sauce for the broccoli.  1/4 cup should be more than enough.

Put the chicken in the dish and turn it to coat it in the sauce.   Remove the chicken to the grill and cook 2 minutes per side.  Keep the dish and remaining sauce handy.  While the chicken is cooking put the sesame seeds on a plate.  When the chicken has cooked the 4 minutes dip it back into the sauce and then coat the chicken with the sesame seeds.  Put it back on the grill to finish cooking.  This could take another 5 to 10 minutes depending on the thickness of your chicken.

When the chicken is back on the grill heat a wok or saute pan with about 1 tablespoon of oil until hot.  Add the broccoli and stir-fry it for about 2 minutes.  Add the reserved sauce and a tablespoon or two of water and then put the lid on the pan and let the broccoli cook for another 5 minutes or until done to your likeness. Remove the lid and stir the broccoli to make sure it is evenly coated with sauce.

Serve and Enjoy!

Friday, June 15, 2012

Blueberry - Peach Sangria

Sangria is such a great summer drink, don't you think? I love that it is light and refreshing and cold, especially because it so hot here already. Last weekend Mr. Pears made a pitcher of this sangria and it was fantastic. The perfect sit on the patio after the kids are in bed kind of drink. Ah bedtime, I mean sangria...Enjoy.

Blueberry Peach Sangria, by Bobby Flay 
1 cup water
1 cup sugar
1 cup fresh blueberries
1 bottle of dry, fruity red wine
1/4 cup brandy
1/4 cup triple sec
1 orange, sliced
1 peach, sliced

In a small saucepan, heat the water and sugar until the sugar dissolves (This is called a simple syrup). Let it cool.

Put the blueberries and syrup into a large pitcher. Using a potato masher muddle (mash) the berries lightly.

Pour in the alcohol and stir. Toss in rest of the fruit and then put the pitcher in the refrigerator for 4 hours or so, until the flavors really combine. If you wanted to bring this to a party you could definitely make it the night before.  Serve over ice.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

It's the Little Things

When I am not cooking or DIY-ing, I am taking care of two rambunctious 20 month old boys. Oh wait, it's the other way around. I spend the vast majority of my time feeding, cleaning, and mostly just entertaining two crazy little guys.

Summer has hit us in full force here in Nevada already (109 on June 1, whee!) and that means that as much as I want to enjoy lots of sunshine and playtime outside, we need some indoor activities too. I came to the point last month where I felt I had exhausted all of my ideas for things to keep these boys busy and happy. I mean, yeah we've done (and still do) all the usuals. Paint, chalk, stickers, bubbles, stamps, crayons, playdough. We have three thousand toys. Baby pool, water table, climber and slide in the backyard. But their attention span is so short still, especially one twin in particular. My little Aaron will sit and color but Alex will take the crayons and run away to hide them. Activities last such a small amount of time that I feel like I run through so many of them each day. That is normal, though, I know. Especially at not even 2 years old.  But it doesn't mean I can't keep trying!

After a bit of thought, some perusing of pinterest and toddler activity blogs, I decided to buy the Toddler Busy Book that I had put on my amazon wish list a while back. I'm really glad I did. I feel like it gave me the kick start I needed to think outside the box. In the last few weeks I've come to realize it really is the little things that are so engaging to them right now.

So this week we had a balloon party. The kids kicked and bopped balloons all around the playroom while I told them the colors of the balloons. We pushed brightly colored pom poms into a hole I cut in the top of an empty cornstarch container.

We also dumped them out and put the lid on and took it off and scooped pom poms with measuring cups. They love this thing! Another huge hit were gallon sized zip lock bags. That is it, just bags. I gave them each one and they proceeded to roam around the playroom stuffing all kinds of things into those bags. For a half an hour! In the kitchen we stacked cat food and tuna cans and played with real kitchen tools that I now have set aside for them. (while wearing sunglasses, of course)

We stacked big boxes that I had hoarded for a week or two. Daddy Pears and I just taped them shut the night before.

We colored paper plates with markers and filled them with cheerios and made tambourines. (PSA:  Not ALL Crayola markers are "washable", whoops)

We (they) even jumped on the crib mattresses that I brought out into the playroom.  This was a huge hit because Alex loves to jump (look at that air!) and Aaron hasn't quite figured it out yet but is working hard on it.

They loved all of these things!  They really do love the little things.  New things to touch and move and stack and experience.  Nothing expensive.  Nothing complicated.

The best part is now I have a ton of new ideas. Some from the book, some from the blogs and pinterest but some just from me. Now that I am looking at things differently I see potential in a lot of things. I think it is going to be a fun summer. I will be sure to share our adventures. If you have any great ideas for us leave a comment, I'd love to hear about them!

Monday, June 11, 2012

Homemade Fabric Softener

Fabric Softener is actually something I don't use often.  I really feel like my homemade laundry detergent leaves the clothes and towels quite soft enough but Mr Pears likes to use it sometimes so I figured I would try making some to go along with my other DIY cleaners.

I was especially happy to do it when I found this "recipe" on Frugal Girls that uses Suave Naturals Conditioner.  I somehow managed to acquire two bottles of this stuff and I can't stand using it on my hair.  I hate it so much I refuse to inflict it on guests either so this was the perfect solution.  1 bottle makes two batches of softener and the conditioner is only $1 a bottle.  Add in the minimal cost of some vinegar and this stuff is a very inexpensive alternative to buying fabric softener.

Just to test it out I used it on our sheets the other day and it seemed to work fine.  I used Coconut Natural Conditioner so the smell was nice too. :)

Homemade Fabric Softener, adapted from Frugal Girls
1 cup Suave Naturals Conditioner (I used Coconut)
3 cups hot water
1 1/2 cups white vinegar

Put the conditioner into a medium sized bowl and whisk in the hot water to dissolve the conditioner.  Stir in the vinegar.  Let it cool a bit then pour it into a container to store it in.

I used an empty V8 Fusion bottle to store this, it holds 46 fl. oz.  This is only half of the original "recipe" given on Frugal Girls but I thought this size would be better for me because it allows me to give the bottle a little shake before using (the conditioner will settle a little), and it is a nice size for easy pouring into the little downy ball I use for softener.  Of course this does mean I will have to make the softener more often but I think I can spare the 5 minutes for the ease of use of the smaller bottle.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Baked Blueberry Banana Oatmeal

If you've ever clicked on the Recipes tab at the top of this page you probably already know that we are pretty big fans of breakfast here at 4 Pears.  My kids eat homemade pancakes most mornings and just yesterday Mr Pears was saying that he thought he could eat breakfast for every meal.  Not to mention my egg obsession.  So, yeah, breakfast is popular.

But it isn't all pancakes and eggs around here.  All of us really like oatmeal too.  Even the little ones love to steal  Mommy's steel cut oatmeal.  They don't, however, like to wait for their breakfast.  So those homemade pancakes?  I make them ahead and freeze them.  And since there is no way these little fellas are going to wait 40 minutes for me to make them some delicious oatmeal, I am happy to report that this baked oatmeal is a great make ahead meal.  Just cut out a square a microwave it for 30 seconds.  In a flash you'll have oatmeal with warm blueberries and bananas baked inside.  If you are more patient than my little lovies, you can just enjoy a nice cup of coffee while it bakes, it is pretty awesome right out of the oven too.  Have a nice weekend, I hope you try this one out!

Baked Blueberry and Banana Oatmeal, adapted from Ambrosia Baking
1 cup rolled oats
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup honey
1 cup milk
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 tablespoon butter, melted
1 teaspoon almond extract
2-3 ripe bananas, sliced
1 cup fresh blueberries

Preheat the oven to 375 F.

In a small bowl mix together the oats, baking powder, cinnamon and salt.   Spray a 2 quart baking dish with cooking spray and then spread your bananas and half of the blueberries in a single layer along the bottom of the dish.  Sprinkle the oatmeal mixture evenly over the fruit.

Now mix together the wet ingredients in your empty bowl and then pour them evenly over the oatmeal.  Top with the rest of the blueberries and then bake the dish for about 35 minutes.  Enjoy it warm out of the oven or, as I said above, reheat it for 30 seconds in the microwave.  The oatmeal keeps well in the refrigerator for about 3 days.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Crustless Zucchini Pie

Have you eaten your fill of zucchini yet this summer?  Apparently last summer I overdosed Mr Pears with zucchini so he has been poo-pooing all my zucchini ideas lately.  But when I saw this recipe in Whole Living, I decided I was going to make it whether he liked it or not! Luckily, he liked it. :)

This zucchini pie is a great summer side dish. We served ours with grilled salmon and it was just perfect. Though it has all the same elements as a quiche, the veggies outweigh the eggs by alot so it doesn't taste like quiche, it is just a nice light veggie bake. The dill gives it a wonderful summer flavor and I loved the sweet roasted tomatoes on top and the tangy feta cheese.  This recipe was included under "Slim-down Summer Recipes" at Whole Living but unfortunately I couldn't find any nutritional information.  I'm sure it is pretty low-cal but either way this will no doubt find its way back to our table again before the summer is over. I hope you like it is much as we did.

Crustless Zucchini Pie, adapted from Whole Living
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 lb green zucchini, cut in 1/2 inch pieces
4 scallions, chopped 4 cloves of garlic, minced
1 teaspoon dried marjoram
1 lb yellow squash, cut in 1/2 inch pieces
5 whole eggs
5 egg whites  (Save the yolks for making ice cream)
1/2 cup fresh dill, chopped  (if you are using dried dill weed, you won't need nearly as much)
1 large tomato, thinly sliced
2 oz low-fat feta cheese

Heat 1 teaspoon of olive oil in a large saute pan over medium heat.  Add the zucchini and half of the scallions, garlic and marjoram.  Salt and pepper them and then let them cook about five minutes, or until they are a bit softened and browned.  Pour that all into a large bowl and then repeat the process for the yellow squash.

Preheat the oven to 325 F.

In a smaller bowl lightly beat together the eggs and whites and then pour them over the squash and zucchini in the large bowl.  Add the dill and mix it all together.  Pour everything into a 2 quart pie dish and then top it with the sliced tomato and crumbled feta.

Bake for 1 hour or until the top is set.  This can be served either hot or at room temperature.  Enjoy!

Friday, June 1, 2012

Scrapbook Paper Flowers

There are a lot of walls in this house of mine and many of them could use some decorating.  But "wall art" is expensive, you know?  So I have been searching out ideas to DIY some art to fill up some of those empty spaces. Of course, it needs to be easy too because though I would love to call myself artistic....sadly I am not. I know I won't be painting a masterpiece anytime soon, but I have found a few great ideas floating around the internets (ahem, Pinterest).

I found this great idea for wall art created from scrapbook paper and a paper punch a while back over at The Idea Room.  This isn't the first brilliant (and simple) idea I've gleaned from that blog either.  I was also inspired to create a heart shaped wreath from this tutorial back in February.  It really is a great blog.  Go check it out for detailed instructions on either project!

Scrapbook Paper Flower Wall Art, inspired by The Idea Room
Materials needed:
scrapbook paper
1 sheet card stock to fit frame
decorative paper punch of your choice
tape runner
glue dots (a glue gun would work too, I'd imagine)
picture frame

I used a flower shaped paper punch and four different patterns of paper to create a collage of 3D flowers to be hung in a frame with the glass removed.

To begin I adhered the cardstock I choose for the background to the cardboard insert that came with the picture frame using the tape runner.  Then I punched out a few flowers and arranged them to get a feel for the spacing I wanted.  Once I'd decided on that, I used a ruler to create a grid with little pencil marks showing where each flower would go.

Next I counted my marks and punched out a bunch of flowers.  I bent the petals of each upward so they would stick out from the page a bit. Once that was done I simply used the glue dots to stick them right on!  This was my first time using glue dots and I loved them.  You just touch whatever you want to glue down to a dot and the dot peals away, neat!

Once my flowers were all in place I put the piece into the frame (having already removed the glass) and hung it right up on the wall!  The whole thing took me less than an hour. 

It is hard for me to get a great picture, I'm not a very good photographer either...but I really think it looks pretty hanging between two previously owned floral canvases in a guest room.

Lots of wall space to still be conquered, stay tuned!  And on't forget you can follow my blog on Facebook too, just "like" me at the top of this page. :)