Saturday, July 28, 2012

Parenting Tip: Birthdays

I love birthdays. I love making my kids' birthdays extra special for them. I like choosing a theme with them and decorating like crazy. I'm still working on a post to show some of the fun ideas and decorations from my youngest daughter's party this spring.

But this post isn't about decorations or cakes or parties. It's about gifts. We all know that gifts are synonymous with birthdays (especially for kids). My husband and I noticed early on with our kids that birthdays and Christmas easily became overwhelming for them. You have to keep in mind that we don't buy a bunch of gifts. We're pretty practical (and thrifty) and don't feel we need to spend lots of money or buy lots of things to make a birthday or Christmas special. And yet, the girls would get this glazed look in their eyes when opening gifts and not know where to start.

We tried something different this past Christmas and have continued through their birthdays (my oldest will be 4 tomorrow!). We started a couple days before Christmas (or birthday) and let them open one gift. We would help them choose which gift so it was a toy (instead of clothes). This way, they would open the present, love the present, play with the present and enjoy the present without any pressure to continue opening more gifts.

What a world of difference it has made! The kids actually PLAYED with all of their gifts and there wasn't one or two forgotton. Plus, it provides hours of entertainment! A caution I would have is to make sure that one sibling can play too, so there's not someone left out, or be prepared to have one-on-one time with the non-gift opening sibling.

I'm sure there are people who might not agree with this plan. Who might want to keep everything special and associated with one day. Who don't think that their kids get overwhelmed when receiving gifts. I strongly believe every parent does what's right for them and their own family. I DO encourage you to consider this as an alternative. It truly has made a difference for our kids. Besides, who doesn't want to celebrate a birthday or holiday for more than just a day??

Here's a picture of my girls playing with the first present my oldest got to open. A Barbie pool!!

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Quinoa with Roasted Acorn Squash

If you've been a reader of my blog then you know a couple things about me. First, I like to try new recipes. Second, I am a firm believer of using what you have at home. Today's recipe was a total experiment on my part. It could have easily bombed. Fortunately, it was delicious! My whole family liked it and it will be added to my regular recipe rotation.

Quinoa is something I haven't cooked before. I hadn't even heard of it until I was pregnant with my 2nd and my crazy preggo hormones wouldn't allow me to eat meat. My doc suggested it as a way to get extra protein in my diet. I've seen some delicious recipes using quinoa, but hadn't tried any. To top it off, the local grocery store sold it for an outrageous price and my regular grocery store was constantly out of it. I finally made a stop at a different locally owned store and bought a box (for a reasonable price) to try at home.

I wanted to use up some of the veggies I had in my freezer. I got some lovely acorn squash in my Bountiful Basket a while back. We didn't eat all of it, so I peeled and diced what was left and froze it. I thought that would be a nice flavor to add to the quinoa. That's where I started. Here's how it turned out:

Hello deliciousness! Here's my recipe:

1 cup quinoa
2 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1 acorn squash, peeled and cubed
1 yellow onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 nice-sized handfuls of greens, chopped (more on this later)
2 tomatoes, diced
parmesan cheese
sunflower seeds or pine nuts
olive oil
other seasoning (more on this to come)
First, heat your oven to 325 degrees. Put the squash in a baking dish, drizzle with olive oil and stir to coat. Season with salt, pepper and other seasoning. I used NoMU Smokey Peri-Peri rub because I LOVE the flavor. The nutty sweetness of the squash with a touch of smokey heat was awesome. I have a local specialty food store that sells it (Check out Olivelle) or you can order on Amazon, too. Roast your squash for 45-60 minutes until soft. The time will depend on how big your cubes are. Turn off the oven and let sit inside to keep warm.

When the squash has been in the oven about 30 minutes, start making the quinoa. I recently made some homemade chicken stock that I wanted to use. The flavor is amazing and there's very little sodium and no preservatives. Hooray! Heat the stock until boiling, add the quinoa and cook for 15-20 minutes or until the outside of the grain becomes transparent and you can see the little "seed" in the center of the grain and the liquid is absorbed.

As you are making the quinoa, add a little olive oil to a skillet and saute the garlic and onion until soft. Add the greens to wilt them a bit. I happened to use red lettuce, spinach and some swiss chard all from my garden. I liked the variety of the texture and flavors, but again, use what you have! Once the greens are wilted, add the squash and warm through.

Your quinoa should be about done at this time. Combine the veggies and the quinoa in a bowl and mix well. Toss with some freshly shredded parmesan cheese. Serve with diced tomatoes and some sunflower seeds or pine nuts. I would have preferred pine nuts, but we just had the sunflower seeds on hand.

The flavors in this dish were great! I added the fresh tomatoes to keep it lighter for summer. You can use this recipe as a framework to make some changes and create your own dish. Try butternut squash or use a summer squash and zucchini. Try feta or goat cheese for a tangy flavor, or use an aged gouda to increase the nuttiness. Add a jalepeno for some heat and use cilantro for greens. Be creative! Have fun! Bon Appetit!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Trying something new: Quilt As You Go tutorial

There are a few things for which I'm a sucker. Crafts. Quilts. Learning something new. Challenges. OK, there's more, but for the purpose of today's post, we'll stick with those four. Here's my story.

I absolutely love making quilts. One of these days, I'll make one for myself. Right now, I make them for my kids, for gifts and for folks who order them through my home business, Carlia Creations. Recently, I've been doing a little research on the Quilt As You Go (QAYG) technique. One of the difficult things about quilting, for me, is the actual quilting part. I don't have a free arm machine, so my machine quilting is either stitch in the ditch or basic (and I mean basic) free hand machine quilting. The QAYG method allows for more detailed machine quilting using a standard machine because you're only quilting a small portion of the quilt at a time. There are a couple of different ways to QAYG, too. I thought I'd try the strip method to make some festive holiday decorations. One of the great parts to strip QAYG is that you create the decorative top at the same time you quilt so it saves time! For better or worse, I documented it in photos to share on my blog. If it worked, it was going to be a great pictoral tutorial. If it didn't work, at least I would know what NOT to do the next time. Fortunately, it worked and turned out great.

My inspiration came from a magazine. I saw a cute idea to use bandanas to create a flag placemat. It was a little rough, though. It had unfinished edges and glued to an existing placemat. The idea was great, but the execution made me decide to give it a go and make it better. I'm going to explain the process using "bandana" and "flag" but you can use any strips to make a placemat, table runner or quilt.

Supplies you need:
1 red bandana or fat quarter
1 blue bandana or fat quarter
1 white bandana or fat quarter
quilter's batting
1/2 yard of cotton fabric for backing
1 package quilt binding in coordinating color

Rotary cutter
Acrylic ruler
 I bought red and blue bandanas (they didn't have white) and used a white on white printed cotton fabric I had at home.

I cut the fabric in 2.5" strips.

I wound my bobbin using thread that matched the bottom fabric I was going to use. In this case it was a light blue.
I cut a piece of cotton fabric a little wider than the width of my bandana (about 16") and the length of my finished flag (about 15"). It's always better to have a little extra you can cut off than to not have enough. I cut some quilter's batting the same size. I used what I had at home, so it was a blue cotton fabric and a polyester batting. Be sure to square up one corner exactly. Line up the cotton fabric right side down then the batting and then the first strip of your bandana.
Pin and sew 1/4" seam along the bottom edge. All seams will be 1/4" seams.

Take your next strip (white) and place it right side down (right sides touching) matching the bottom edge of the new strip along the top side of the first strip. Pin through all the layers. 

Sew 1/4" seam along edge of strip sewing through all layers.

Open seam and press flat.

If you turn the project over, you can see the first quilting lines sewn!

Line the bottom of the next strip along the top of the previous strip keeping right sides together. Pin. Sew. Press.

Continue adding strips in this fashion. For the blue part of the flag, take one red strip and one blue strip, line them up right sides together and sew the short end. Press seam open.
When you line up the red/blue strip onto the flag, eyeball (aka guess) where the blue portion should be. You can make fractions and measure it out, but trust your instinct and line it up about 1/3 of the way across. Pin and sew like the other strips. Repeat for 1 blue/white strip and one more blue/red strip.

Finish by sewing the top edge of the top strip through all the layers of your project.
Notice all the nice quilting on the back side!
Using your rotary cutter and acrylic ruler, trim the edges of your flag removing excess fabric and batting. Be sure to keep it squared!
Finish the edges by sewing a binding around the sides. I had wide red quilt binding that worked great for this project.

I hope you enjoyed this tutorial on the Quilt As You Go strip technique. This is my first major tutorial and my first sewing tutorial, so if you have any comments or feedback for me, please don't hesitate to comment below. I'm not used to this many steps and pictures, so if you're trying to replicate and have questions, please ask and if I missed something, please let me know so I can add it.

Happy Sewing!!