Oh the Difference Blinds Make!

This past week my extra home project has been to finish all the downstairs windows and baseboards with caulking and painting.  It never fails that every time Tim sees the trim painted, he remarks on how thankful he is that he went with the better quality paint instead of trying to save an extra buck and go the cheap route.  It really does make a difference!  We went with the oil-based paint instead of the latex and spent a little extra on the brand that has less fumes and the brushes can be cleaned with simple soap and water.

At first we were going to order all the blinds through Wayfair.com, but by the time we had saved the extra money to check out, the price for all the blinds had increased dramatically.  I don’t know if at the time I put everything in the “cart” it was a special sale, but the new total went way above our budgeted amount.  Instead I started digging around online until I found a site that offered the custom faux wood blinds at a very reasonable price plus free shipping.  It turned out that there was an extra 30% off promo code that expired that very night that could be stacked on top of the sale price.  Apparently the show “Extreme Home Makeover” orders from this company a lot.  In the end we were able to order blinds for the entire house (which was adding four more blinds from our original Wayfair order) and we still came out over a $100 less.  Yippee!!!  It really does pay to do your research. 🙂

It took less than a week for all the blinds to be custom cut and shipped to our house.  Talk about an exciting day when the UPS man knocked on the door bearing those wonderful big boxes!

So here are the before and after pictures of what the downstairs looks like after installing the blinds.

BEFORE

AFTER

BEFORE

AFTER

BEFORE

AFTER

(Don’t mind the missing curtain!  Just waiting to get my sewing machine and sewing box out of storage in order to finish making a matching one for this window.  All in good time. :-))

We still have a little bit of baseboard left to finish then it’s just a matter of installing all the crown molding in every room, encasing the support beams and painting, then installing the tile around the bathtub.  Those are the big projects left for the downstairs.  Can’t believe the list of downstairs projects has shrunk to just those last few items!  Praise the Lord!!  Just extremely proud of all Tim’s hard work. 🙂

Things will look even more homey once we collect a few more of our things from storage.  The goal is to bring home all of our books, living room vases/decorations and all my canning supplies along with the remainder of kitchen items.

Southerwestern Taco Pot Pie

Here’s another tasty recipe I discovered while searching around online. I had my tasters up for tacos but wanted to try something different instead of the typical shell or tortilla.  It occured to me that a pie crust might work well so I began searching around for a pot pie recipe.

The one I found was at food.com but I wasn’t impressed with all the ingredients.  For one, I NEVER have refrigerated pie crusts in the house.  Blah!  Don’t think I ever really want to for that matter. 🙂  Also, knowing my family, putting corn into a dish never sits well in their stomachs.  I was envisioning the diaper changes to come after the meal, so I deleted the corn from the recipe and instead added some black beans and diced tomatoes.  Both ingredients are easier for the little ones to chew and added more protein.

Using homemade pie crusts along with fresh ingredients vs. the frozen ones called for in the original recipe had a delicious result.  Not too spicy for my little ones yet extremely filling and full of flavor.  It totally satisfied my taco craving! 🙂

Start off with mixing your pie crust dough together.  Add 2 C. flour with a dash of salt.  Give it a quick mix then add in 12 T. cold butter divided.  Using a pastery cutter, blend the butter and flour mixture together until you end up with pea-sized balls.  Then add 4 T. ice water.

Form a ball using your hands to mix the ice water into the mixture.  (I believe I ended up using a total of 6 T. ice water to get the consistency you see here.  Depends on the humidity and temperature inside the kitchen.)

Once you get a nice ball formed, wrap it tightly with plastic wrap and flatten before placing inside the refrigerator until you are ready to roll out your two crusts.  Remember the key to a good pie crust is keeping the dough as cold as possible.  The more you handle it, the softer it becomes and will fall apart from the heat of your hands.

While the pie dough chills, begin browning the hamburger meat along with the onions and green peppers.  When the meat is cooked through, drain the juice from the pan and add in your seasonings and 1/3 C. water.

Next mix in your diced tomatoes, black beans and salsa.  Once that is done, set your pan aside and pull out your pie dough from the refrigerator and prepare your pie dish.

Again I LOVE using parchment paper to the point I feel like I am a parchment paper fanatic!  Haha!  It really does help cut down on the mess and makes rolling out the pie crusts super easy and light and flaky because you don’t have to add flour to your work surface and rolling pin.

Cut your dough into two equal parts and place one part between a folded piece of the parchment paper.  Using a rolling pin, work the dough around in a circle until you get the desired size needed.

Gently remove the dough from the parchment paper and line a sprayed pie pan.  Press the dough into the pan so that the crust is snug against all the sides and bottom.  Sprinkle with 1/2 C. cheese.  Layer in half the meat mixture and press down.

Sprinkle with 3/4 C. cheese then the remaining half of the meat mixture before covering with another 3/4 C. cheese.  Press everything down so it is nice and tight inside the pie pan.

Prepare the second half of the pie dough the same as the first then gently lay across the top of the pie.  Crimp the edges and cut slits in the top for ventilation.

Bake at 400 degrees for 30 minutes.  You might want to place the pie dish on a baking sheet before baking so that any excess liquids that leak out won’t burn in your oven.  Remove from oven when finished baking and let set 5 minutes before serving.

This was all that was left after our family inhaled it for dinner. 🙂 Topped each portion with a dollop of sour cream and a little extra spinkle of cheese (the boys loved that!) along with a side salad.

So here is the adapted recipe I came up with. 

Southwestern Taco Pot Pie

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 lb. ground been                                                                     
  • 1 pkg. taco seasoning                                                              
  • 1/3 C. water                                                                            
  • 2 ½ C. green pepper, diced                                                     
  • 1 ½ C. onion, diced                                                                
  • 1 tsp. garlic powder                                                                 
  • 1 tsp. onion powder
  • ¼ tsp. salt    
  • 1/8 tsp. pepper 
  • 1 can diced tomatoes
  • ½ C. salsa
  • 1 can black beans, drained
  • 2 C. shredded cheese
  • 1 recipe pie crust                                                                           

DIRECTIONS:  Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Brown ground beef in large skillet with green peppers and onion.  Drain and add taco seasoning mix and water; mix until beef mixture is well coated.  Add garlic and onion powders, salt, pepper, corn and salsa, stir well and set aside.  Prepare pie crusts.  Combine salsa, tomatoes and beans with the beef mixture; mix well.  Sprinkle ½ C. cheese evenly on bottom of crust-lined pan.  Spread ½ of beef mixture evenly in pan over cheese, pat down.  Sprinkle ¾ C. cheese in pan and spread evenly with remaining beef mixture, pat down, top with remaining ¾ C. cheese.  Top with second crust and flute; slit in several places.  Bake for 30 minutes or until crust is golden brown.  Let stand 5 minutes before serving.  Garnish with a dollop of sour cream.

Simple Pie Crust

INGREDIENTS (for crust – makes 2):

  • 12 T. chilled butter
  • 2 C. flour
  • 4 T. ice water
  • Dash of salt

DIRECTIONS:  In a large bowl combine flour and salt.  Slice butter into 12 individual pieces and add to bowl.  With a pastry cutter, blend until mixture resembles pea-sized balls.  Add ice water and mix by hand until dough forms a ball.  Wrap tightly in plastic wrap and place inside frig until ready to roll into a pie crust. 

Banana Bread Cookies

These wonderful treats are just as delicious as the actual bread which imspired their creation.  With a few changes in ingredients along with the addition of chocolate chips, you end up with an extremely moist, bite-sized sweet to satisfy any family’s cravings.

Although the baking directions say to mix the dry ingredients in a separate bowl and then slowly incorporate into the mixture, I just mixed mine in one at a time with the bananas, oats and chocolate chips added last.

Drop by rounded spoonful on a greased cookie sheet and bake at 375 for 10-12 minutes. 

Remove from oven and let them cool on a wire rack before storing in an air-tight container.  One recipe is enough to make approximately 4 dozen cookies.

Just love the chunky bits of banana along with the sweetness of the chocolate chips!  Just a great cookie all around. 🙂

Banana Bread Cookies

INGREDIENTS:

  • ½ C. sugar                                                      
  • ½ C. brown sugar                                            
  • 1 C. butter, softened 
  • 2 eggs                                   
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • ½ tsp. nutmeg
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 2 C. flour 
  • 1 tsp. vanilla                                                              
  • 3 ripe bananas, mashed                                          
  • 2 C. rolled oats                                                 
  • 1 C. chocolate chips

DIRECTIONS:  In the bowl of your mixer cream together the butter and sugars until creamy.  Beat in the eggs and vanilla.  In a separate bowl stir together the flour, baking soda, nutmeg and cinnamon.  Add to the creamed mixture and mix well.  Mix in the mashed bananas, oats and chocolate chips until well incorporated.  Drop by rounded spoonful onto a greased cookie sheet and bake @ 375 degrees for 10–12 minutes.  Cool on a wire rack.

Pumpkin Spice Baked Oatmeal

Here is a new recipe I found on Pinterest that I thought I would give a try.  Of course, I didn’t stick to the original recipe as a whole.  I didn’t intend for that to happen, I just didn’t have all the called for ingredients in the house at the time.  Oops! 🙂  Anyhow, I’m not dissappointed with how it turned out.  Tim actually really, really liked the taste.

This is what the baked oatmeal looked like after baking in a 9×13 pan.

What I was impressed with the most was the fact that there was NO flour in this recipe and that I could mix it up the day before and store inside the refrigerator before baking the next morning.

After pulling out of the oven, I let it cool for about 10 minutes before cutting into squares.  Each square was spread with butter on top and sprinkled with a little brown sugar.  Very filling!!!

Instead of adding the chopped nuts and craisins, I added about a cup of chopped apples and a handful of raisins.  I also didn’t have cloves, so I substituted the coves and nutmeg for Pumpkin Pie Spice.  It added more of a cinnamon taste (which was fine by me!) because there was also cinnamon in the Spice blend. 

Pumpkin Spice Baked Oatmeal – by myblessedlife.net

INGREDIENTS:

  • 6 cups oats       
  • t tsp. salt 
  • 4 tsp. baking power 
  • 1 T. cinnamon  
  • 1/2 tsp. nutmeg                                                                                                                   
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1 cup honey          
  • 1 cup pumpkin puree    
  • 4 eggs, beaten      
  • 1/4 cup milk   
  • 1 T. vanilla
  • 1/2 cup craisins
  • 1/2 cup chopped nuts

 DIRECTIONS:  Combine oats, salt, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves in a bowl.  Add honey, eggs, pumpkin, milk and vanilla and stir well. Fold in craisins and nuts.  Pour into greased 9×13-inch pan. Bake at 375° for 30-40 minutes until lightly browned. Serve topped with butter or coconut oil, brown sugar or honey and milk.  For muffins, the bake time is approximately 20-25 minutes.  Yield: Approximately 10-12 servings

Cloth Diaper Cleaning

This past month I made my first purchase of cloth diapers to see if they would work on the two boys in preparation of using them with the new baby when she arrives.  I just couldn’t fathom having to dish out $100/month on disposable diapers for three little ones when every penny is needed to go toward grocery inflation. 

For less than $100 I was able to purchase a set of 20 solid-colored diapers with a 3-layer bamboo insert for each from an online site I read about on a blog I follow.  The same company is still selling the solid diapers for $4.79 each and offer free shipping when you spend a minimum of $49.  My goal is to save up so that I can purchase at least another 20 diapers for baby girl before she arrives this summer.

Since then I’ve been testing out different systems to see if I could make using cloth diapers just as convenient on my schedule as disposable.  I researched the different cleaning methods online but found the simplest one works best.  The first cleaning experiment was rinsing the dirty diaper immediately after changing and placing in a bucket filled with cold water.  A tight, locking lid is kept on top to prevent smells from leaking out or little boys from getting in. 🙂  The diapers were kept in the water until I had enough for a full load (or I ran out of clean diapers to use).

My second cleaning experiment was rinsing the dirty diapers immediately after changing but this time I placed them in a dry bucket with a locking lid between laundry days.

Although I read online that you can add baking soda to your water to cut down on the ammonia smell, you would need to add vinegar to your extra rinse cycle in order to restore the pH level in the diapers.  Failure to do this would cause the baby to get diaper rashes very easily.  Makes sense to me, but I wanted to see if I could get away with using NO extra cleaners and still get clean diapers with a regular washing.

In the end, the diapers that were stored in a wet bucket came out smelling fresh and clean after a regular wash using ordinary detergent and a normal setting with no extra rinse cycle.  The diapers that were stored in the dry bucket between washes came out stinky after the first wash cycle.  I ended up having to wash that load THREE times before I was satisfied that they no longer smelled.

I’ve gotten it down to a science with the steps to cleaning and storing.  After changing the soiled diaper, I pull my bucket of water over to the sink and open the lid.  Then I dump any solids into the toilet before heading to the sink to give the diaper a good rinse.  As each diaper component is rinsed, I ring it out good and throw into the water bucket making sure it is immersed in the water.  Finally, I wash my hands and sink with soap and water, lock the lid back on top of the bucket and slide it back underneath the shelves out of the way.  When it’s full and ready for the laundry, I take the entire bucket to the washing machine and ring out each diaper before throwing into the wash.  Then I take the bucket of dirty water back to the bathroom where it is drained and cleaned before refilling with cold water.  Again, no extra cleaners or chemicals are needed for cleaning the diapers!  There is a slight ammonia smell to the water bucket, but NOTHING compared to when the diapers are stored in a dry bucket.

As a side note, the manufacturer recommends washing in cold water with NO fabric softeners added and hang drying.  I’m sure that process would prolong the life of the diapers, but washing on warm and drying on a gentle cycle have been working fine for me so far.  Haven’t had them long enough to really say if it is adding more wear and tear on the diapers.  I just know it saves a lot on time.