New Garden Beds

We’ve been in this house nearly two years, but we’re coming up on our third planting season. I had success with Straw Bale Gardening last year, but my bales will not last a second season. The garden beds that came with this house have been sadly inadequate. They are small, differently sized, falling apart, and quite shaded. While I can’t change the placement, I can fix the rest.

I tried to repair them first, but the wood kept splitting and popping free. So I hit up a local cedar place and picked up some fencing boards on the cheap. I decided to up the bed size to 3’x6′ (they were 2’x5’2″ and 3’x5’2″) and just replace the rotting boards completely. I bought 1″x6″ standard grade cedar boards in 3′ and 6′ lengths. I also bought some 2″x2″ railing boards for the corner supports.

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I brought them home in the car (which smelled awesome) and dropped them in the garage. Now, the projects in the garage are lining up and there is still compost waiting to be unloaded in the trailer, so  I knew I needed to make this a priority project.

The allure of the garage for a two year old is incredible. He loves playing out there while I work on projects. I was able to saw the supports and screw the whole thing together in just a couple hours, even with the help of a toddler. He even handed me screws when I did the last parts on the floor. I made both beds 3’x6′ and used 1 1/4″x#8 wood screws that I had on hand, putting three in each end of each board.

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The beds won’t win any carpentry contests, but they’re sturdy and made from good material. It was getting dark as we finished, but we pulled up one of the garden beds and laid a new one down.

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This one is replacing the 2’x5′ bed.  You can see the second deteriorating bed to the right there. The ground is a bit uneven, so I need to purchase or fashion some stakes to hold the bed tight to the ground. The previous bed was built onto integrated stakes. I’ve got some landscaping style ones in mind, so a trip to the hardware store is in my near future. In the meantime, I can mark these guys off my list as built and move on to the next project.  Which, Rex informed me, is his train table.

But more on that soon.

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New Sandbox

Seven months ago, Woot had a fantastic sandbox for CHEAP.  Normally $129, they were selling it for $59 plus their normal $5 shipping/handling.  $65 for a kickin’ covered sandbox? Yes, please!  Since we acquired the sandbox in September, it hung out in the garage in its box for a while, waiting for the sunshine to return.  Yesterday, during naptime, I assembled the sandbox and today, we filled it!

2014-05-02 16.56.31Looking perplexed because the sandbox has no sand.

2014-05-03 16.59.16Digging in the sand happily.

 We also scored him a bicycle helmet for $10 from a great local bike store called Bike Gallery. They were clearancing last year’s colors and we found the perfect fitting one that just happened to have excavators and dump trucks on it.

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Little does he know, he’s getting a balance bike for his birthday. Please admire my self control for not giving it to him early.  I’ve had it assembled and stored downstairs for over a month. Patience is not my strong suit and it has taken a lot of control to leave it in storage…

Homemade Hot Dog Buns

It finally happened.  I’ve been thinking about trying homemade hot dog buns for yearsWhen we all decided that hot dogs were what was for dinner, I had the chance.  Hot dog buns are not something I keep on hand.  So, I hit up Pinterest, looked over a few recipes, picked one, modified it, and hoped for the best.  The results?  Delicious!

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They are fluffy and chewy with great texture.  The bit of whole wheat makes them more filling than your average $1/bag buns from the store. I made mine as directed, going with 3oz of dough per bun for 16 buns.  That proportion made fairly large buns which were a tad big for our turkey dogs. I think next time, I would make smaller buns and greater quantity.  This recipe also lends itself well to hamburger buns with the addition of an egg wash and sesame seeds.

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You can crunch the time of the second rise by warming up your oven a bit and then turning it off and putting the dough in.  I have a “keep warm” setting on my oven that heats it to 170º.  I turned that on while I was portioning the dough out and then turned it off and let the dough rise with the door closed.  They were perfect size in less than 30 minutes.  I also used the dough setting on my bread machine to do the work of the mixing and first rise.  If you don’t have a bread machine, just use a stand mixer and follow basic bread dough procedure through the first rise.

Homemade Hot Dog Buns

Adapted from this recipe at Baking Obsession.

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup warm water
  • 2 cups half & half, warmed slightly
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour
  • 2 tsp kosher salt
  • 2 1/2 tsp active dry yeast

Directions

For Hot Dog Buns:

Add all ingredients to your bread machine in the order recommended by the manufacturer and set for dough cycle.  After the dough cycle is complete, portion your dough out into 20 equal portions (roughly 2.5oz each) and shape into logs.  (I shaped mine like rolls (folding all the edges under and pinching them together) before rolling into logs.)  

Place on a greased 9×13″ sheet pan and allow to rise in a warm place until doubled and dough is touching.  Bake at 375º for 20-25 minutes.  Buns should be golden brown and sound hollow when tapped. Allow to cool before slicing.

For Hamburger Buns:

Follow same procedure as hot dog buns until shaping, portioning into 16 equal pieces (approx. 3oz each).  Shape into rounds and flatten slightly.  Place on a greased 9×13 sheet pan and allow to rise about 30 minutes in a warm place.  Brush tops with egg wash (1 egg mixed with 1tbsp water or milk) and sprinkle with sesame seeds.  Bake at 375º for 25-30 minutes.  Buns should be golden brown and sound hollow when tapped. Allow to cool before slicing.

Both types of buns are best eaten the same day and will last shorter than store-bought buns.  They freeze nicely, warming up in the microwave in 15-30 seconds.

Handiwork

Every girl (and boy!) should know to use both a drill and a sewing machine.  It comes in handy to have both skills.  Earlier this week, as I was trying to see around the glare on the kitchen table, I knew I had to install curtains over the sliding glass door.  We weren’t here this time last year, so I had no idea about this particular angle of the sun and it’s ability to burn my retinas.  I packed up Rex and we hit up IKEA.  It was surprisingly busy for a Tuesday morning, but we made it through with only a few extra items.  We had an early lunch at the sushi-go-round and were home with time to spare before nap.

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Despite fighting for time on the step tool, the curtains went up quickly and without a lot of trouble.  I purchased very basic white-ish grommet style curtains with a white rod and simple bobble finials.

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After Rex went down for his nap, I was able to hem them properly and give them a quick press.

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I left them a bit long in case they shrink when I was them.  I still need to ad tie backs of some sort, but for now they are working just fine.

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While I was sewing, I whipped up a quick envelope pocket style pillowcase for Rex.  He is quite enchanted with his football pillow, even if he doesn’t really use it for sleeping yet.

Homemade Chicken Nuggets

Have you heard about Momables?  Before you roll your eyes and wander off at yet another lunch post, just bear with me.  I’m really digging this site lately for lunch inspiration and great recipes that give you alternatives to processed foods and ways to make your time go further.  How to freeze rice is genius! (I used a large cookie scoop to make portions.)  But my current favorite is the homemade chicken nuggets recipe.  

I’ve been tinkering with it for a few batches now, and I’ve finally found the version that makes my family say “YUM!”.  They reheat nicely and the kiddos scarf them down.  We get our ground chicken from the local butcher shop at a ridiculously cheap price, so these are also extremely economical.  Add to that, this latest batch used homemade breadcrumbs* from homemade bread and a DIY taco seasoning mix (recipe below), and we’re talking delicious food on the cheap.   This version is toddler approved and makes a large batch, perfect for freezing.

2014-03-02 14.52.23Nuggets, frozen and ready for storage (unbaked).

Large Batch Homemade Chicken Nuggets

Adapted from Momables

Ingredients

  • 4lbs ground chicken
  • 1 cup old fashioned oats
  • 1 cup shredded jack cheese
  • 4 teaspoons taco seasoning, divided
  • 1 cup breadcrumbs

Directions

In your food processor, pulse oats, cheese, and 2 teaspoons taco seasoning until combined.  Add chicken and oat/cheese mixture to your stand mixer and stir until combined using the paddle attachment. (Alternatively, you could mix by hand or do in batches in your food processor.)

In another bowl, combine remaining 2 teaspoons taco seasoning with breadcrumbs and mix well.  (You can also shake the mixture in a jar or bag before pouring into a bowl.  A perfect job for that helping toddler!)

Form chicken mixture into small patties and press into breadcrumb mixture. Place on parchment lined baking sheets and bake at 375 degrees until a meat thermometer reads 165 degrees (roughly 15-20 minutes).

Freeze unbaked chicken nuggets on parchment lined baking sheet for 1-2 hours.  Transfer to freezer bags or vacuum seal.  When ready, bake following directions above, adding roughly 3-5 minutes to cook time.

2014-03-02 14.52.49Homemade taco seasoning.

Taco Seasoning (Pepper Free!)

Adapted from Spoonful

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup Black Canyon chili powder**
  • 1/8 cup cumin
  • 2 teaspoons paprika
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

Directions

Combine all ingredients in a mason jar.  Close lid and shake well.

*I used the instructions from The Homemade Pantry, which are perfect if you’re using frozen bread.  I have a bag in the freezer and throw ends and slices in as available, making up a batch when the bag is full.

**Black Canyon chili powder is from Savory Spice Shop.  Available online or in store.  Feel free to substitute regular chili powder.