Friday, February 28, 2014

February Wrap-Up and Recap

As my first month with Creative Mama, Messy House comes to a close, I look back on what I have done this month, and look ahead to what I hope to accomplish. March is looking promising, you can expect more recipes, new crafts to celebrate St. Patrick's day, and more gardening. All my children have March birthdays, so there is that, as well!
I started writing CMMH during our first good rain storm of the year, spending an afternoon baking with my son
I started to organize my kitchen, starting with the message station. In March, I hope to reveal more!
I tried my hand with creating an inspiring printable.
We celebrated Valentine's Day. I crafted conversation hearts out of paper, and created a few activities to go with them.
I got my garden off to a good start, adding spring vegetables and herbs, and drafting plans for more raised beds.
I started my 5 Tips, 20 Minutes series
Solve Dinner Dilemmas
Build a Better Burger

The recipes I share this month

The more I blog and learn from this experience, the more I improve and the better my blog will be. I appreciate any comments or feedback you might have for me. I love seeing your creativity, as well, find me on Instagram (@CreativeMamaMessyHouse), Twitter (@CreativeMama_RC), or Pinterest.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Marble Painting in a Cookie Tin

This week's storm was the perfect way to say goodbye to February and "Hello March!". I'm really hoping March will be significantly wetter than February was, California desperately needs the rain. Since we were indoors because of the rain, I wanted our art activity to get us to move a little, while keeping the mess to a minimum. Looking for supplies and inspiration, I found a leftover cookie tin that my youngest was using as a drum/Frisbee, and though I could put it to good use. I remember doing marble painting from my early school years and how fun it was. Since the cookie tin had a lid, it was perfect for crafting with my toddler, since he could shake it in all directions without paint getting everywhere. It rattled and rolled, we shook and wiggled and giggled, all while making art! I chose green and gold paint for this, as I plan on using this artwork in a St. Patrick's day-inspired craft.

My Supplies:
1 leftover cookie tin
Cream-colored paper
Green tempera paint
Metallic gold acrylic paint
When working with small objects (like marbles) and toddlers, be mindful that these are choking hazards. Please supervise very closely!
I cut my paper to fit inside the cookie tin. The easiest way to do this is to simple trace the tin, and then cut inside your line a bit. That way, it sits nicely inside the tin without being bunched up.
I added 3-4 drops of each paint to the paper. I found that less is more in this activity. Too much paint and the effect was muddled. S watched and I counted aloud as the paint was being dripped.
I added the marbles (again, a good way to teach counting), put on the lid, and let S get to shaking!

All done! Let's open the lid...
Shake, Shake, Wiggle
The finished product! These are just few of the ones we did. Since it is such an easy art project, you can do a bunch in a short amount of time. I love how each one looks different, depending on how much or little we shook the tin, what direction the tin got shaken in, and how hard or soft the marbles rolled.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Citrus Chipotle Braised Beef in the Crockpot

Rich, fall-apart-in-your-mouth beef with a sauce that has notes of citrus and spice is not your everyday slow-cooker meal. It is a beauty, with a rust-red sauce that asks to be paired with a vessel, whether that be a corn tortilla or a bun. Move over pulled pork! Try this to fill your next batch of enchiladas, or add it as an option to your next taco bar, and you will have a true winner. It's so easy, you can put the ingredients in the Crockpot in the morning, and have a fabulous meal waiting at dinnertime. This recipe makes enough for a family of four to have leftovers, because you're going to want them!

  • This dish is as delicious with a chuck roast as it is with more decadent cuts of beef such as brisket or short ribs-making it budget-friendly for everyone.
  • Chipotle in adobo are smoked jalapeno peppers in a vinegar-based sauce and can be found canned in the Hispanic foods section of most grocery stores. I use 2 peppers plus about a teaspoon of the adobo sauce in my recipe, then freeze the rest of the peppers and sauce in small zip-top bags. I can typically get 4-5 uses out of one can. If you can't find chipotle in adobo, you can substitute smoked chipotle powder or dried chilies.


3 pounds beef suitable for braising (see notes)
1 medium onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, sliced
Juice and zest of 1 orange, plus juice of a second orange
1-2 chipotle chilies in adobo (3 if you like it super spicy), plus a teaspoon of adobo sauce
1 cup tomato sauce
1 cup water
Kosher salt, to taste

Season beef with kosher salt, on all sides. Sear on all sides over medium-high heat, deep brown is what you are going for. Add to Crockpot. Add the remaining ingredients to Crockpot, set for 10-12 hours on low, or 6-8 hours on high. Check and stir halfway through. Before serving, shred the beef slightly and add the juice of the second orange.

Click here for a printable recipe.

I hope you try this recipe soon!

Friday, February 21, 2014

Five Tips to Make Gourmet Burgers at Home in Under 20 Minutes

1. Start with good ground meat

Usually I use an 80:20 ground beef from the supermarket. If I'm cooking for my mom, I will use a 90:10 ground sirloin. If you have an option to buy ground beef from the butcher's counter, do it. Or you can be really fancy and grind your own (if only I had the grinder attachment for my KitchenAid, sigh...). Don't think you have to be limited to beef either. You can mix ground sausage with your beef, or use lamb, pork, turkey, or even chicken, depending on the flavor profile you are looking for.

2. Add interesting mix-ins

Salt, pepper, and Worcester sauce are my seasonings when making my basic burger patties, but why stop there? Try adding minced garlic, herbs, bacon, or cheese directly into the meat. Or add some zing by adding salsa or diced chili peppers.

3. Give your patties dimples, then don't overcook

Nobody wants a hamburger ball on a bun. When you form your patties, indent the centers a bit. This will prevent them from getting rounded when they cook. I like to cook my patties in a dry (no oil) cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat. It gives them nice color on the outside while keeping the center juicy.

4. Add interesting toppings

Just because your having burgers doesn't mean your toppings need to be standard. Experiment with flavor profiles. Try caramellized onions with balsamic vinegar, salsa or pico de gallo, spinach, horseradish mayonnaise or fancy mustards. This is true for cheeses, too. How about using goat cheese, Gouda, or smoked Mozzarella? The combinations are endless.

5. Toast your buns, and then waterproof

Nothing ruins a good burger than a soggy bun. Pop the buns in the oven or under the broiler for a minute. I put my spread and lettuce (or other greens) on the bottom bun to prevent the meat juices from dripping into my bun, making it soggy.

What is your favorite way to eat a burger at home? I'd love to read your comments, and if you have an important tip I missed I would love to here it!

Replanting Marjoram with my little helper

It feels good to get my hands dirty two days in a row. 
I have a habit of killing plants in pots if they are outdoors. I think I just don't water them enough. So far my marjoram plant has been doing great, but I wanted to transfer it to my raised garden bed. Since I actually had two plants in one pot, I decided to put the smaller one indoors, and plant the larger one outdoors.
Meanwhile, S-bug found a ladybug
 To pot the marjoram indoors, I used this navy blue terra cotta pot. I used a glossy spray paint on some extra terra cotta pots I had, and painted the saucer as well. Using a few coats thin of the spray paint and sanding any drips away between coats, I finished painting them over a day and a half. It's such an easy way to customize your pots. The larger pot is also one that I spray painted. It was a salmon-colored plastic pot before I decided to use a metallic sage color on it to better match my color palette. 
Using a potting soil blend, I transplanted the smaller bunch of marjoram into the blue pot, and watered well. I had a second blue pot, so I put some chives in it. I picked up a 4 inch pot of chives on sale at the garden center when I bought the beets and snap peas. I was going to plant them in my garden bed, but changed my mind. I potted the chives in the center of the pot, and then planted chive seeds around the seedings. I'm hoping that when they start growing in, it will give the pot a fuller look. 

I transplanted the larger bunch of marjoram directly into my garden bed. I'm hoping it will thrive there. My garden bed will eventually be used for just herbs and leafy greens, so I have been filling it up with perennial herbs. So far, I have rosemary, thyme, oregano, and tarragon. Afterward, I brought the hose around to water everything, when S decided that he wanted to do the watering. He's getting into the stage where he wants to do things himself, so I let him hold the hose.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Early Spring Planting and Plans for More Raised Beds

I love my garden bed that we built 3 years ago. My husband built it out of redwood and it has held up nicely. We found the plans for it from Sunset Magazine. We omitted the PVC parts in ours. So far I have not had to cover it in winter. Built with 2x6s and 4x4 posts, it stands about a foot high and is 8 feet by 4 ft. Last year, I had tomatoes, zucchini, cucumbers, peppers, peas, beans, basil, parsley, and other herbs growing.

After the summer harvest, I converted it to my winter garden, adding broccoli, Tuscan kale, fennel, and onions. My parsley plants survived though our mild winter (although every resource tells me these are annuals). My oregano and tarragon and starting to show new growth, and my rosemary and thyme are hearty as ever. My volunteer arugula from last year's seed are filling in patches. Yesterday I added sugar snap peas and two types of beets to fill out the box. I have a little bit of room left, that I will fill in with herbs. I will move my marjoram out of its container, plus I want to add some chives. I have more arugula seeds that I can add as well, plus I have red chard seed that I need to use up. It is amazing when you think of how much food can grow in such a small space.

I took the time to draft up a plan for building 4 new raised garden beds around my existing box. Good thing too, because my existing garden bed will be full before March! I'm going to need to put my tomatoes somewhere, and don't forget the basil. I wanted to add something that would look nice, so I didn't just want to put more rectangular boxes up. The two larger side beds will be 10 feet by 4 feet, with a cut out to accommodate a two foot pathway between beds. The square beds will be 4 feet by 4 feet, and two feet high. I plan on using these for my vining plants, like my cucumbers and squash.
The total cost of the 4 boxes should be about $350 if using lumber from the hardware store. I'm hoping to find a cheaper place to pick up the wood to reduce our cost. 
Stay tuned for updates!

I want to know what your gardening plans are for the year, or what you have already planted. You can share your stories below or on Instagram (creativemamamessyhouse) with #CMMHgreenthumb. I'd love to hear from you or see your pictures.


Monday, February 17, 2014

Five Tips to Get Dinner from Refrigerator to Table in Under 20 Minutes

There are days when I am wrapped up in an activity and before I know it, it's 6:40 and my family is hungry. I try to have dinner on the table by 7, when my husband gets home from work. Here are my 5 tips for getting dinner from the fridge to the table in less than twenty minutes.

1. Have a plan, and then have an alternate plan

I try to grocery shop twice a week, usually Tuesdays and Fridays. On Tuesday, I get to the farmers market in the morning, and then to the grocery store. On Fridays, I shop for the weekend meals. Since my husband and kids eat breakfast and lunch at work/school on the weekdays, I cook a few more meals on Saturday and Sunday. By looking at the weekly ads and through my store coupons, I figure out a meal plan for the periods between store visits. I always plan some meals that are quick to put together and maybe one or two that might take a bit longer. If need to, I can rearrange the days if my schedule gets impacted and need to have dinner on the table in 15 minutes.


2. Have a well-stocked refrigerator and pantry

Again, I accomplish this by shopping twice a week. We usually drink through two gallons of milk in about 4 days, so I use that as an indicator for how often I need to shop. I pick up a flat of eggs every other week at the farmer's market ($7 for 30 organic brown eggs). Keep your fridge organized, using first-in, first-out methods. Place older ingredients in front of new ingredients, and keep perishable foods in sight, so you remember to use them.
I keep fruit and salad ingredients in one produce bin and keep the longer keeping vegetables in the other, so that I can quickly assess what I have and what needs to be used first. I make sure to keep a few lemons or limes in my fruit bowl to add a citrus pop to dishes. I also stock my spice rack with the essentials plus I make some rubs and spice blends from scratch.


3. Know your knives

Start with quality: Quality knives are an worthwhile investment, especially if you plan to cook 6-7 times a week. Find knives that are comfortable in your hand, and you are comfortable using. They should be versatile enough so that you only need four, maybe five knives to do all your cutting tasks. I have a chef's knife, a paring knife, a carving knife and fork, a serrated bread knife, and pair of kitchen shears.
Keep your knives sharpened: Take care of your investment. I only cut on wood or poly boards. My knives never run through the dishwasher, I only hand wash them. I don't soak my knives in the sink (for safety reasons). I visit my local knife sharpener at my farmer's market at least once a season. Some specialty shops also offer knife-sharpening services.
Practice your cutting techniques. A sharp knife can be your best friend when cutting fast and accurately. You won't have to use as much pressure when cutting, reducing the risk of cutting yourself. Go at a pace comfortable to you, and try for even cuts when slicing and dicing. Practicing will allow you be able to cut quicker and with more confidence and your cuts will also be more uniform, leading to more even cooking times.


4. Don't be afraid to cook on a higher heat

Thin cuts of chicken or pork can benefit from higher cooking temperatures to brown both sides without overcooking. A high heat is also essential when searing off steaks or meat before roasting. Caramelization in vegetables lends great flavor, adding to the sweetness and nuttiness. Try roasting broccoli or carrots instead of steaming, they will have a totally different flavor profile.


5. Forgo the rice and potatoes.

So many people are trying to cut carbs out of their diet. I am not one of those people, and I do like to eat them. But these tend to take the longest to cook when you are trying to go from fridge to table in under 20 minutes. Rice takes at least 20 minutes on the stove, and potatoes need at least that much time if you are not using the microwave. If I'm in a hurry to get dinner on the table, I often look to salads and vegetables to round out the meal. If serve a green salad plus one or two more vegetable sides with a protein, I don't miss not having a starchy side. It's also a great way to get your family to get to their 5-7 serving of fruit and veggies daily.

What are your top tips for feeding your family quickly? I'd love to hear your comments!

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Play with (Paper) Conversation Hearts

I hope all of you had a fabulous Valentine's Day. Mine started out with making heart-shaped pancakes for my family, included plenty of fun activities and cookie baking with my boys, and ended with enjoying dinner and dessert with family at my mom's place. S and I had so much fun playing with our paper conversation hearts yesterday! I wish I could have had 3 more hours in a day so I could have written and posted this yesterday, but here it is now.

So cute! Felt stickers from Michael's
I set out a blanket and placed his Valentine's Day box (really an up-cycled tissue box wrapped in red paper and tied with a white curling ribbon bow). I filled the box with the conversation hearts and cute felt stickers that fit the Valentine's Day theme.
At first, he didn't know what to make of them, and gave them a taste, but quickly decided that they were not for eating, unlike their candy counterparts. A few got mangled in the process, good thing I made a bunch! I read the phrases on each heart to him as he pulled them out of the box. He pointed out some letters that he recognizes. At a few weeks shy of two, he recognized and says B, C, D, E, K (well he can't say it yet, but makes the sound) M (pronounced "num" as in m&m's), N, O, and S. This was also an exercise in taking out and putting back in. He soon found that if you turn the box upside down and shake, things fall out quicker.
After we got through a bunch, he decided that they were pretty good for throwing in the air, so he tossed and I gathered them back up. At this point the blanket got tossed to the side, revealing my carpets that desperately need to get replaced (with hardwood, please). As I was looking at the scattered hearts, I got another idea.
I lined up the hearts in a wavy line, about 4-6 inches apart and asked S to walk along the line. He thought is was so fun stepping from heart to heart. If I was to do this activity again, I would probably tape the hearts down to the carpet to keep them in place. They did get kicked around a bit which meant I was constantly replacing them on our line, but it was still fun, and a good "following directions" lesson. I changed the pattern a few times, making the line straighter and curvier, and even tried a heart, but at that point he was bored with the hearts and moved on to trying to tear the paper off the Valentine's box, and I knew that the activity was over.

We picked up our mess, putting the hearts in a bag and the felt stickers in another. We didn't actually get to play much with the stickers, so I will put them with my art supplies for next Valentine's Day. The hearts I put with the rest of our sensory materials. Most of them lasted through our play session. I'm hoping to revisit with them another day, as they could be used in more applications, like learning colors, patterns, counting, etc.. In all, I think we were occupied for about 35-40 minutes. For an active boy, that is a good amount of time.
The Valentine's box, on the other hand, didn't end up in the best shape, and so we let it retire to the recycling bin. 

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Paper Conversation Hearts for Toddler Play

I have a confession to make. Conversation hearts are one of my favorite seasonal candies. So, of course, when Valentine's Day rolls around, I buy more than a few boxes of them. This year I controlled myself, only buying 8 boxes. I was inspired to make paper conversation hearts with personalized messages for my youngest. We could still enjoy the novelty of conversation hearts, without the sugar-high. I was excited to see that they added blue to the mix this year, so I made my hearts in the same colors. The nice thing about this craft is that it didn't cost me any money, as I had all the supplies on hand. 

Using heavy card stock, I folded three sheets in half to be able to make the six colors. In my stash of acrylic paints, I found pink, yellow, red (to mix with yellow to make orange), green, blue, and purple. I mixed a dime sized amount of paint with about a teaspoon of water to create a vibrant watercolor effect. I then used a foam brush to paint my paper, leaving some lighter and darker streaks. I then let it dry overnight.

In the morning they were dry, but the edges had started to curl, so I placed the three sheets under some heavy cookbooks for the day. By 4 pm, they were much flatter, and I could start cutting my hearts. I made a heart template out of another piece of card stock, and started tracing hearts on the backside of my pages. And then cut, and cut, with a sharp pair of scissors until they were all cut out. If I had a large heart-shaped punch, my job would have been easier, but I endured.

With my hot pink pen in hand, and a box of candy conversation hearts as my muse, I got to work writing messages of love on my hearts. As this is a lesson in early literacy, I created a mix of standard messages and more personalized ones, like "MOMMY/DADDY LOVES YOU" "MAY I HAVE THIS DANCE?" and "CUTIE PI" plus my pet name for him "LOVEBUG".

If you liked this, also check out

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Valentine on a Stick Craft and Free Printables

These cute valentines on a stick are perfect to put anyone in the Valentine's day mood! You can use them to decorate your candy bowl, or add a small touch to a bouquet. Make a lot and hand them out to friends and family. Slide a lollipop inside, instead of using the craft stick, for a sweet something extra, or attach a bag of Kisses with a bit of curling ribbon for some whimsy.

Happy Valentine's Day!

Step One: Print. Each template comes with 3 copies on a page, so you can make lots of valentines!
Step Two: Cut out the template around the edges
Step Three: Fold along the line. This is your back and front.
Step Four: Tape a craft stick on the back (white side) of one half.
Step Five: Glue together and let dry. You can now pass out your valentines, or use them as decorations.

You can share your Instagram pictures with me using hashtag #creativemamamessyhouse. I look forward to seeing your creativity!

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Pork Stew with Kale and Fresh Herbs

We finally got a rainstorm this weekend, so I was in the mood for something hearty to make for dinner. Last week, I told you that I would share with you a recipe that included fresh herbs from my kitchen window. So to fulfill both of these, I decided on my pork stew. I first made this stew when I had a bit of pork loin and some staple vegetables and not much else in the refrigerator. It was not enough meat for five people (well, four and a mini) to make into a main course, so I had to bulk it up with lots of vegetables. It was a hit, especially with S, who would eat the vegetables in the gravy and then come to your bowl to see if you had any leftover carrots. Since he can be a bit of a picky eater, anything that gets him to want seconds is good in my book.

You can make this dish in the Crock-Pot as well! Cook on high for 6 hours, adding the kale in during the last hour of cooking - Creative Mama Renee

I have been making this Pork Stew with Kale and Fresh Herbs when I am craving stew but not the heaviness of beef, plus it cooks faster. It can be done in about a hour on the stovetop, but don't hesitate to put it into a crockpot and let it cook on low for 8-10 hours. Since the recipe relies on root vegetables, I don't feel guilty serving it over steamed rice, but if my mom came to dinner, it would probably be served over mashed potatoes. If you don't eat pork, you could use chicken thighs or even turkey. I bet it would be delicious with lamb as well!

1/2 cup flour
1 1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
1 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon smoked paprika

 1 1/2 pounds boneless pork loin
1 yellow onion
3 carrots
3 stalks of celery
1 large parsnip
1 bunch kale
 (I'm not one that got into the kale craze, but I think this stew is the perfect foil for dark leafy greens)

1 cup dry white wine 
2 cups chicken stock (homemade preferred)

1 teaspoon fresh marjoram
1 teaspoon fresh rosemary
 1 teaspoon fresh thyme
1 bay leaf


Heat a deep pan or Dutch oven over medium heat with about 2 tablespoons vegetable oil. Cube the pork into 1-1 1/2 inch cubes (or get it pre-cut and save a step). Combine the flour and spices together, dredge the pork cubes in it, shaking off the extra. Without overcrowding your pan, brown the pork, in batches.

While the pork is browning, dice up the onion, celery, carrots and parsnip, trying to create even pieces. While this is a more rustic dish, evenly cut vegetables will cook at the same rate. When the pork is browned, remove it and add the vegetables. Season with a pinch of salt and some pepper. Let the vegetables caramelize and sweat for 8-10 minutes until translucent and slightly browned.

Deglaze the pan with the wine, scraping the browned bits off the bottom with a wooden spoon. Add the pork and the chicken stock and let it come to a simmer. De-rib the kale and give it a rough chop, then add to the stew. It will look like a lot a kale, but give it about 5 minutes and it will really wilt down. At this point, cover the stew and let simmer for 20-30 minutes.

Click here for a printable recipe

Saturday, February 8, 2014

A Gift for Pony Club and free printable

I know I said that I would show you my kitchen window herb garden, but it was raining and I really wanted to create a tutorial for making over some flower pots as well as planting a few new herbs in said pots. So instead I did an indoor activity today and created my first printable.

These words were spoken to me once at a Pony Club Championships in 2010 and they have managed to stick with me. So, to give back, I created this print for my former Pony Club chapter, in their colors. I plan on printing it out in cardstock and frame it to hang in the barn.

Pony Club is a youth organization that teaches leadership, confidence, and a sense of community through riding and horsemanship. I first joined Pony Club at age 14, and continue to participate in my club through volunteering. To learn more about Pony Club, visit

For the free printable click here. Feel free to share these words of encouragement with anyone who might need it!

Until next time,

Friday, February 7, 2014

Keeping Up Resolutions

As part of my New Year's resolutions, I resolved to finally get my house organized, and to keep it that way. I have good days and bad when I comes to cleaning. As S enters toddlerhood, it seems to be more difficult to keep things in their place, as he figures out how to push furniture around and climb to get to things. We have installed child locks on our drawers and cabinets, but there is still plenty for him to get into since my house seems to be in a constant state of remodel. My big goal this year is to convert our unused dining room into my office and crafting studio. But until then I have 6 or 7 boxes of craft supplies, semi-organized, spread around the floor of the room. It makes crafting a bit difficult, since when I am ready to craft I have to search the boxes looking for the right stuff, and then said stuff ends up everywhere, in the kitchen, living room, not put away in the correct boxes in the end, creating more mess for me. I have piles of stuff in more places than I would like.

Today I tackled one area that was particularly bad, the message center of my kitchen counter. It is an area that stuff collects on, mostly because of its convenience. In about a 2 by 2 1/2 square foot of counter is not only our message center but where I store my dish-drying rack. I didn't take a before picture, mostly because I was embarrassed with how bad it had gotten, but I placed everything on my kitchen table that was piled on about a 1 by 2 square foot space (And maybe because my dish-drying rack was full) to show you.

A lot of what was there had to go somewhere else. Why I needed two mason jars full of pens, I do not know. And the vase full of bottle caps-I plan on making some cool coasters for upcoming birthdays. Same with the tub of wine corks and empty spice bottles. They will be used in future crafts, they just had to get put with the craft supplies in the other room. Same goes with the glue gun, crayons, and stickers. The A&D ointment, that went back upstairs in the changing table. The recipe print-outs went to my computer desk, to eventually get digitized. The extra pens, tape, staples and Tupperware of paperclips also went to my desk for now, as did my black journal, which I had used previously to record my toddler's eating habits.
So what did that leave to put back onto the message station? I tried to leave only the necessities: the chargers for the phone and iPad, 1 mason jar of pens, pencils and scissors, a small stack of post-its for taking messages, 1 roll of tape and the stapler-for convenience, plus a small jar for rubber bands and a spice jar full of paperclips. I also keep the corkscrews/bottle openers here. Tucked behind the pens is a calculator and the extra memo pad for writing shopping lists and to-dos. Recently, I have had to push the telephone farther away from the edge, as S is really into playing phone, and I don't want him to make any actual calls.
I still have a long way to go to fully organize my kitchen how I want, but starting small is the way to go, especially when you are chasing a toddler all the way. Hopefully along the way the leftover bits of home improvement will get done. For next time: I'll show you my herb garden that I keep in my kitchen window, and maybe even share a recipe. Stay tuned!

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Rainy day, baking bread with my toddler

This winter has been so mild and beyond dry. So when rain was finally in the forecast, I celebrated a bit, and then came up with a plan to adapt our routine up a bit to account for afternoon wet weather.
Usually, our routine allows us to get out to run errands or visit the park before lunch and naptime, and then after big brother gets picked up from school we play in the backyard or take a walk around the block until sunset. This allows me to wear him out enough so we can relax for a bit and catch the evening news before making dinner for the family. S loves to help me in the kitchen, a trend that I hope will continue for a long while, since big brother and my husband have no interest in cooking.

Yesterday, I decided to skip the park in the morning, and instead we stayed home in the backyard. S hunted for ladybugs and rocks, while I did a bit of gardening, weeding and cleaning my vegetable box for early-spring planting, which will happen in the next few weeks. I love living in California. After our afternoon snack, the clouds had come in and it was threatening to rain, so we stayed indoors and finished up some housework, which S helped with, as much as an almost 2 year old can. Afterwards, it was still to early to start on dinner, so I decided that it would be a good time to get some baking done.

I set out a quick snack for S while I picked the bread recipe, got the ingredients ready, and set up a stool in front of the mixer so S could watch. I added the ingredients to the stand mixer using the dough hook, and was surprised how fast everything came together. I got the mixer for Christmas and was used to making yeast dough by hand. See my post Nut and Raisin Bread For a Rainy Day for the recipe. After the dough came together, S helped me knead it on a floured board for a few minutes, then we put it back into the greased bowl to rest and rise. While we were waiting, I got out another type of dough, our homemade play dough, to smoosh and smash around while I cleaned up. After our dough (the edible kind) had risen, I shaped them into two loaves and set them next to the stove for rise #2 while I cleaned up the play dough and got started on dinner. S had already lost interest by then and was playing with his trains in the living room. By the time dinner was put on the table, the bread was cooling on the counter. We enjoyed it before bedtime with a bit of butter and a glass of milk.

Nut and Raisin Bread for a Rainy Day

I adapted this recipe from The Book Of Bread's "Sunflower Meal Bread with Sunflower Seeds and Raisins" to use up ingredients that were already in my pantry, since running to the bulk bins at Whole Foods at 4:45 on a Wednesday evening in commute traffic didn't sound like much fun. The original recipe calls for 2 cups of sunflower seeds, 1 cup as ground sunflower meal, and 1 cup whole, folded into the dough before baking. I only had about a cup, so I used walnuts and almonds to make up the 1  cup of nut meal, while keeping my cup of sunflower seeds to fold into the bread. I also added a bit of whole wheat flour and combined golden raisins and dried cranberries to fold into the loaf.

Nut and Raisin Bread for a Rainy Day
Makes 2 loaves or rounds

1 Tablespoon active dry yeast
2 cups warm water
1/4 cup honey
1/4 nonfat dry milk
1 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 cup walnuts
1/2 cup almonds
1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
3 cups unbleached bread flour

1 cup sunflower seeds, divided
1/4 cup golden raisins
1/4 cup dried cranberries
1 teaspoon cinnamon

In the bowl of your mixer (or a large bowl if making by hand) dissolve the yeast in half the warm water. Dissolve the honey, dry milk, and salt together in the rest of the warm water. Add to the yeast. Meanwhile, grind the walnuts and almonds together (I used my food processor for this) into a coarse nut meal. Stir the nut meal and the whole wheat flour into the liquids. Add enough of the bread flour until it becomes hard to stir. If you are doing it by hand, this is the time to turn the dough out onto a  floured board and knead it, adding more flour as necessary, until it is smooth and no longer sticky. If you are using a stand mixer, you can do the same process using your dough hook. You will still need to knead the dough a few times by hand after it had come together. Return the dough to the greased bowl and cover, for about an hour, or until it has risen and doubled in size. 
Toss the raisins, dried cranberries, and 3/4 cup of sunflower seeds with the cinnamon, then fold into the dough. Divide the dough in half, and shape into 2 loaves or rounds, loaf pans optional. I have done both with good results. Let rise in a warm spot for 35-40 minutes. When you are ready to bake, brush the loaves with a beaten egg and sprinkle the remaining sunflower seeds on top. Bake in a 350 F degree oven for 45 minutes. Let cool before slicing. Enjoy with a spread of butter, with a cup of tea in the afternoon, or with peanut butter for breakfast.
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Feel free to use my recipe as it is written or substitute in your favorite nuts or dried fruits. Please write in the comments what you used, how it turned out, or if you have any questions. I look forward in hearing about your creativity!