Archives for January 2014


What a garden in January really looks like!


I often have friends ask me to help them start a small backyard garden. Which excites me to no end, because I think everyone should be digging in their dirt more often. But sometimes I wonder…do people have the correct expectations of what a garden looks like in their yard. Sure, in mid summer that space is going to look gorgeous with vibrant green foliage, yellow blossoms of squash, and red tommytoes (there really are tiny tomatoes called this!) on the vine… all just ready to be picked.

But come January, that luscious garden is another story. There is a good chance (if you are anything like me) that back in September you left the garden to take care of itself. And it certainly has! The lettuce box is falling apart, showing signs that it really is on its last leg and will not produce any more bumper crops of greens.


And there are the not so small amount of weeds that have overtaken one garden plot.


So if you have your heart set on starting a garden this year….GO YOU!!!! Just be prepared that it does take work in the fall to avoid a garden that looks like mine currently does!

But despite the work required to maintain a garden, everyone should do it. Whether it’s growing herbs in containers to tackling an acre or more of just potatoes….you can do it! There are few things as rewarding as taking one tiny seed and turning that into the crop you feed your family.

And once you catch the gardening bug, no matter how bad your other garden plots look, you’ll probably keep adding more garden beds to grow even more tomatoes in! I am so excited we had room to add these two garden plots this year. And because we cut down a ton of trees they will receive great sunlight (hopefully, fingers crossed)!


I hope your garden looks more beautiful than mine right now!



Stretching 1lb of meat over 3 meals


Like most people, I am continually amazed at the cost of feeding my family. As the kids grow they seem to constantly be eating and I feel like I live at the grocery store.

Last week I was ecstatic when I was able to stretch 1 lb of stew meat over 2 dinners and 1 lunch for 2 adults & 2 kids.  Our first dinner was nachos, our lunch was tacos, and our second dinner was quesadillas served with Mexican potatoes. The key to doing this is to make your vegetables and starch be the featured ingredients instead of the meat. By loading the nachos and quesadillas with bell peppers, onions, lettuce, cheese, and avocado it was really easy to not use as much meat. 

For comparison purposes, I cooked another pound of stew meat this week but instead of stretching it, I made a typical meat, starch, and veggie meal. When I did that there was only enough meat for 1 meal.

By cooking the stew meat in a crockpot, it was also super simple to make. I tossed the meat with Mexican spices, drizzed on some honey, and then when the meat was tender I added in a can of diced tomatoes with peppers to give it a little kick.

If you are thinking your children don’t want to eat spicy food then, cook the meat with the spicy spices but before adding the tomatoes, pull out the meat for your children and rinse very well with water. My kids refuse to eat anything that isn’t plain tasting but they loved this meat after the spices had been rinsed off. If you try to cook the meat without the seasoning spices, the meat won’t taste anywhere near the same as having cooked for hours with spices rubbed on them initially.



CrockPot Mexican Stew Meat

1 lb of stew meat
2 tsp each:
-dried oregano
-dried cilantro
-adobo seasoning
-chili powder
-garlic powder
-ground cumin
1tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 cup honey
1 15.5 oz can of diced tomatoes with chili’s

Toss stew meat with all herbs, spices, and honey. Place in crock pot and cook on low for 4-6 hours. Test meat at 4 hours to determine how much more time is needed to avoid it drying out. Once meat is tender, add diced tomatoes and cook for another 30 minutes, until mixture is warmed through.

*These spices are all optional/customizable. If you don’t like one of them or don’t have something on hand, such as adobo seasoning, don’t worry about it. This is a very make as you like recipe.





Playtime in the snow

After enjoying homemade hot cocoa & popcorn yesterday, the kids had a bawl playing in the snow! Shaving cream snow that is!


I often use shaving cream for sensory play…learning to write our letters, teaching the colors of the rainbow, and best of all…shaving cream fights in the tub! But I’d never thought to use it as pretend snow until Stella’s very creative preschool teacher used it this week to entertain while it’s been so cold outside.

So yesterday I set up an idyllic play scene and let ’em go to town on it. SO MUCH FUN!




The best thing about shaving cream is that it really isn’t that difficult to clean up. I did use a ton of paper towels to wipe it up, so that wasn’t good for the environment. But once you wipe it all up then the rest comes clean with a wet cloth. And since they just used toy figurines and matchbox cars, the cleanup of those was simple as well.

So if you don’t have any magical snow glistening in your front yard, go out and get some shaving cream!

~ Jess


Homemade Popcorn & Hot Cocoa

There’s a blustery frigid wind outside our house today. Makes me thankful for a snug home, warm mittens, and coats for my kids.

But I must tell the truth…my definition of cold is anything below 40 degrees. So waking up to a whopping 19 degrees…that’s cold for me! I should feel bad thinking this is cold when so many of you are dealing with subzero temps right now. But I’m just a warm weather girl, and apparently so are the school district officials here. We are on a 2 hour delay right now because it feels like 6 degrees outside. Seems pretty chilly to me if I were sending my 5 year old out to wait for the bus. But I’m sure if you woke to 0 degree temps, you’d gladly take 19 right now!

During the last cold snap, the kids and I spent a perfect afternoon indoors making homemade popcorn and hot cocoa. Is there anything more enjoyable on a cold winter day?


Alton Brown makes perfect homemade popcorn. His secret is making a tinfoil lid with slits for the steam to escape. After numerous attempts that failed every time, I was thrilled when I came across his recipe.

Hot cocoa is so easy to make at home and once you try it, you’ll wonder why you’ve ever used the instant stuff. There really is no comparison for homemade hot chocolate. And all you need to do is follow the directions on the back of the cocoa box.

Trick of the trade…if you are making an individual serving in the microwave…mix the cocoa & sugar in bottom of mug and then pour just a tad (a few tbsp) of milk into the mug. Stir this mixture really well so that it’s completely mixed prior to pouring the remaining milk in. It isn’t pretty when you try to mix the cocoa & sugar in with a full glass of milk…trust me!

I hope you & yours stay warm and dry! And if you have snow…lucky you! With weather this cold it should be white outside.

~ Jess