Recently tried recipes

Dark chocolate pistachio butter cookie bars. I made these within ten minutes of seeing the recipe. Except I used 1 cup peanut butter instead of the pistachio butter, and I used whole wheat flour, and skipped the sea salt. They are very good and very crumbly. If I make them again, I might add an egg.

Quick crusty bread. Pretty good for such a fast recipe! I'll make this again, and I'm going to try it with whole wheat using the increased amount of water mentioned in the comments.

Summer vegetable soup. We all enjoyed this, although I can't say I followed the recipe exactly. I put in lots of zucchini and Swiss chard, since that's what our garden is producing right now.

Chicken Parmesan meatloaf. I was excited about this recipe, but it was kind of gross and the texture was weird. Oh well.

Cupcake mold pizzas. Red Chief successfully made these by himself with minimal supervision. They were better than I thought they would be (meaning mostly that I was scared of the refrigerated pizza dough but it wasn't that bad). We used normal-sized muffin tins and got eight pizzas.

Thick-cut steaks. I have been meaning to try this steak-cooking method for the longest time, but we just don't eat that much steak. However, Red Chief requested it for his birthday dinner, so I finally gave it a go.  I used the pan method and it worked perfectly. It was probably my first time getting a tender steak that was not overcooked.

Zucchini brownies. We all liked these. I halved the recipe, used less sugar, and added an egg because the batter was very dry. Tiger Lily, who didn't want to try them because I told her the secret ingredient, ended up asking me to make them again.


A new hairbrush for a screaming daughter


Tiger Lily hates having her hair brushed. Hates it. If you walk through our house while I'm doing her hair, you might think she's being tortured or murdered, but really we're just trying to do a ponytail—and I do try to be gentle.

Recently I saw a new sort of hairbrush recommended on a blog. And since I was assured it would work on a variety of hair types without pain, I bought one.

Tiger Lily is in love. There has been no screaming since we got it. She will sit around and brush her hair for fun.  The only problem is that she keeps undoing her hair after I do it so she can brush some more.

I'm still keeping the old brush for styling, but there has been no more screaming since we first remove the tangles with the new brush. My other caveats are: (1) it is contoured for a right hand (and I use both hands when I brush my hair or Tiger Lily's) (it does work fine in the left hand), and (2) I have no idea how well it will last over the long run (my last hairbrush has been going strong for ten years).

If you're having screaming issues with your daughter when you try to do her hair, I would definitely recommend this brush. You can read more about it here if you want more information.


Something to do with their brains

My husband decided to give five-year-old Tiger Lily her first programming lessons this week. It didn't take her long to figure out how to direct a ladybug to hide under a leaf.

Red Chief wanted a go, too, and quickly moved on to guiding the ladybug through a maze.

I'm so glad my husband is willing to spend time to teach my children good things.

Here are the programs we used:
Ladybug leaf
Ladybug mazes


Dilly summer squash refrigerator pickles

Every summer that I plant zucchini or summer squash (and this year I've planted both!), it's a race to keep up with the overly productive plants. I've tried all sorts of things in the past, but this year I'm mostly resorting to sending the extras to work with my husband and hoping they disappear (so far, so good).

Red Chief has been complaining about the sautéed squash with Italian spices that I've been serving lately. He says he prefers his squash raw. He also loves pickles, so I gave this recipe a try.

I was pleasantly surprised. I wasn't sure about pickled zucchini and summer squash, but it's really good, and nice and crunchy. We all loved them and downed nearly an entire quart in one meal.

I've adapted this recipe slightly from here.


Summer squash refrigerator pickles

Sliced summer squash and zucchini to fill a quart jar
1/2 teaspoon whole mustard seed
4 peppercorns
2 cloves garlic
A big sprig of fresh dill, or 1/2 teaspoon dried dill weed

1 cup white vinegar
1 cup water
1 tablespoon salt (table salt will make your brine cloudy but that's fine with me)
1/8 teaspoon turmeric

Place the peppercorns, garlic, and dill in the bottom of a quart jar. Pack with squash slices.

Heat remaining ingredients together until they come to a boil. Pour over zucchini. Let sit in refrigerator about 8 hours before serving.


Small-batch chocolate cupcakes

I have adapted this cupcake recipe from one of my favorite cookbooks (Baking Day), and we all love them. There is no comparison with a boxed mix. The thick batter may worry you at first, but it will come out fine in the oven.

Another thing I like about this recipe is the small quantity: twelve. Often I halve it to get six cupcakes.


Chocolate cupcakes
8 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
2 tablespoons canola oil
1/2 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1 cup flour
1/4 cup milk or buttermilk, if needed

Preheat oven to 350°F. Cream together butter, oil, and sugar. Add egg and beat well. Add remaining ingredients except milk. If batter is very thick, add milk or buttermilk. Batter will still be thick.

Use two spoons to dollop batter into 12 lined or greased muffin cups (about 3/4 full). Bake for about 15 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean.

Makes 12.

Chocolate frosting

6 tablespoons butter
1 1/2 tablespoons cocoa powder
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1 tablespoon milk, if needed

Mix butter and cocoa powder, then add powdered sugar. Add up to 1 tablespoon milk, if needed, or more powdered sugar, to achieve the right consistency.

Makes enough to give a dozen cupcakes a respectable smearing, but not enough to pipe it sky-high.


A smaller grocery trip


For years now I've been grocery shopping every two weeks, and it's worked well for me. I've saved money and made fewer trips to the store.

But lately, the trips have been completely wearing me out. Two weeks of groceries is just so much—you move it all into your cart, then onto the conveyor belt, then into sacks and back into your cart, then into your trunk, then into your house, then you have to put it all away.

So this week I went shopping for one week. It was perfect! I was in and out of the store so fast, and when I got home I still had energy to put the groceries away, just because there weren't as many.

I think for now, I'll be taking weekly trips. And in the winter, when the produce is less exciting and longer keeping (and I'll have a new baby), I'll probably switch back to the every-other-week routine.


Early summer garden

We came back from our summer trip to find that our garden (and yard, ugh!) had turned into a jungle. Along with plenty of weeds, we found kohlrabi ready to harvest, zucchini and summer squash nearly ready, and baby cucumbers, peppers, and tomatoes coming along nicely.

Most of the greens, radishes, and cilantro had seriously bolted, and the peas are done. I know I should pull them out, but the bees love them so much. There is still Swiss chard to eat though!

The raised garden beds make it easier to maintain while I'm pregnant, but I still don't have unlimited energy: I'm taking it one bed at a time. And then there's the thistle taller than Tiger Lily in the front yard. Hmm.


Back-to-school clothing inventory

After having Red Chief somehow end up with about twenty t-shirts last year, I took a back-to-school clothing inventory this time around. It seems a little early, but Tiger Lily was down to about three pairs of pants.

I made a spreadsheet of what each child should have and how many. Then on laundry day, right after we put the clothes away, we tallied up what each child had, trying things on where necessary. I took everything out of their drawers that was too small or too worn.

We also tried on clothing that I had been buying ahead on sale or had received as hand-me-downs. So now each child has some new-to-them pieces, and we only need to buy a few more things. Hooray!

Now I really should go do the same for myself, but somehow it's more fun when it's the kids.


Cut sponges in half

This is kind of a duh tip, but it took me so long to think of that perhaps you haven't tried it either.

I love green Scotch-Brite scratchy sponges for scouring in the kitchen, but I noticed that the middle was always wearing out before the edges. Or the whole thing would get impossibly smelly and clogged with scrambled eggs before it wore out and I'd have to throw it away.

I started cutting the sponges in half. They wear more evenly; it's not as big a deal if I have to throw one away earlier; and best of all, I get twice as many. I really do get as much wear out of each half sponge as I was getting from a whole one. Now a package lasts me twice as long!


We had a nice trip

We had a great vacation planned by my awesome husband, who kept us on our toes: we saw the ocean (and buried Red Chief in the sand), visited an aquarium (tossing dead fish to seals and touching starfish), toured a fort (the kids helped raise a fifteen-star flag and also learned to write with a quill pen), went to a science museum and a children's museum, saw some beautiful gardens, went to the biggest bookstore ever (and parked in the scariest parking garage ever), hiked to some waterfalls (in the rain), had a campfire, swam in hotel pools, watched hotel television (Red Chief is not impressed), saw a cheese factory, went to some parks so the kids could run (see-saws and a merry-go-round!), went to church, rode a train (which was "held up"), saw a dredge mine, and panned for gold. That was all in a week, and I'm still tired!

I'd say the trip was a success! I didn't have to plan anything, but I did have a goal to get lots of family pictures together. And we did! I'm always so disappointed when we get back from a family trip and we only had one photo all together and it didn't turn out.