Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Granola Yogurt Yum

I would not consider myself to be a particularly health-conscious eater. I pretty much just eat whatever I want whenever I want. I know one day, my 40-year-old self will look back at my 25-year-old self and say, "Why didn't you eat better and exercise more?!" And my 25-year-old self will say, "Why, when eating Sour Patch Kids and lounging on the couch is so much fun?!"

Anyway, I am aware that for women, calcium intake is particularly important. There is all kinds of research about the best ways to get said calcium (through dairy, vitamin supplements, other sources), but the underlying theme seems to be, get it -- as much as you can, however you can. So, when I came across this granola recipe, I decided this could be a way to up my yogurt intake.

I left several things out of the recipe and just used what I had on hand. Here's what I did:

5 cups rolled oats
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 Tablespoon cinnamon
1 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup water
1/2 cup canola oil
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 big squirt honey

Preheat oven to 300°. In a saucepot combine salt, cinnamon, brown sugar, water, oil, vanilla, and honey. Heat until well blended. Pour over oats in a large mixing bowl and stir to combine. Spread on large greased cookie sheet. Bake for 40-45 minutes, stirring every 10-15 minutes. Cool.

I didn't have any powdered milk, so I eliminated that. I wanted the granola to be pretty plain so that it could go with whatever yogurt I wanted so I left out the nuts and fruit. I'm a big honey fan, so I just squeezed some in there to add a little flavor. About half way through the baking process, I was seriously doubting that this stuff would end up as granola, but I waited -- not patiently -- and by the time 45 minutes rolled around, I had granola! It made so much that I've been eating away at it for the past few weeks. I dish out some yogurt, cover with granola, add in some frozen blueberries and enjoy my delicious, calcium-rich snack. YUM!

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Recipe Trials

I love to bake and cook and do all that kitchen stuff (except clean... UGH), but I find that I rarely try new recipes. This past week, I tried two new recipes! And they were both delicious. I must share.

The week before last, my husband came home from class and announced that his homework for the week was to get me to make something delicious for the following week's class period. Well, that's just not fair! He's the PhD student -- not me! I was going to bake some lowly brownies (actually, Ghirardelli is hardly lowly!) when he mentioned that the guy who brought snacks the week before really "did it up" -- you know, made something fancy. Sigh. Now I'm in competition with Week Before Guy? Well, BRING IT. So I went and perused my Pinterest (hello?! best invention ever!). And I found these... Spinach and Artichokes in Puff Pastry. Oh yes, take THAT, Week Before Guy!

They take a bit of prep time -- 40 mins to thaw pastry dough, 30 mins in freezer after filled so they can be cut, 20-30 mins to bake. This is not a last minute appetizer, but let me tell you, it is easy and DELICIOUS. I was so glad that my husband took the tray of them away because I could have eaten them all! Very, very yummy -- highly recommend.

The other new recipe was another one I pulled as a possibility for his class snack day, but decided would be too much work and might not hold up as well for him to take to class. The "too much work" thought was right. Later in the week, I made these Buffalo Chicken Bites for us for dinner. They, too, were DELICIOUS (yes, it requires capital letters), BUT -- they were really time consuming. I used chicken on the bone which made it take longer for me to shred. The part that I thought was never going to end was the "breading." (Can you call it breading if you're coating it in corn flakes?? Does that make it "corning?" That sounds weird...) I got 36 bites out of my not-quite-three-cups of chicken. In case you've never breaded 36 tiny blobs of chicken mixture, let me just say UGH.

Anyway, the finished product was seriously tasty and not deep-fried, so if you ignore the cream cheese, you can pretend they're healthy! (They really are healthier than the deep-fried version.) My suggestion would be to make them AT your party and set up a little assembly line of your friends. Maybe then you wouldn't want the recipe to be a failure so that you'd never have to go through making them again. (Not that I felt that way. I'm just saying...)

Friday, January 13, 2012

Sewing Project: Grocery Bag Bag

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We recently tackled the project of cleaning out my husband's office. After our random, unexpected move a week before last semester started, his office was a complete disaster. We were so busy with other things (him starting the PhD program, me being SUPER pregnant, having the baby, etc.) that his office just kept piling up with papers, books, clothes, boxes, and on and on. I let him enjoy part of his winter break, but then we had to get down to business. We are finally pretty much done after about two weeks of sorting and filing and throwing things away! Yes, there are still papers to go through, but those boxes are sitting in our spare room so we'll pretend like they don't exist for now :)

After the dust settled, I realized that one of the things that had been piling up in the office were grocery bags. I have several reusable ones, but I often forget to bring them with me, so I end up with lots of plastic ones. This isn't a terrible problem because we use them for our bathroom trash can (hello, free trash bag!) but they are kind of annoying to control. So I decided to sew a grocery bag bag. Here's what I did.

1. Cut out the fabric. 11" across will be wide enough. Make it as long as your little heart desires! Cut your elastic. I looped it around my wrist loosely and then added two extra inches to make sure I could fit my hand in there after it was all sewed up.

2. On the top and bottom ends, press under 1/4" and again 1/2". This will create a home for the elastic.

3. Sew the top and bottom seams closed to make the casing.

4. Attach a safety pin to one end of the elastic and use that to help you thread it through your casings. Pin the elastic in place with about an inch sticking out on both sides. Make sure to pin the side you first threaded the elastic through before it gets sucked up into the casing. The elastic will be shorter than your casing!

5. Fold your fabric in half, right sides together, and pin the seam.

6. Attach a handle by folding a ribbon in half and pinning it along the seam so the handle sticks out in between the folded fabric. Visualize how your handle will need to be and that will help you get it in the right place. I didn't have ribbon so I made a handle out of the fabric I was using.

7. Sew up your seam. This stitch will secure both the elastic and the handle.

And there you have it!

Easy peasy! I love mine already and I REALLY love not having plastic bags everywhere.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

1/1/12: Swagbucks Update

One of the things I want to feature here is my adventure with Swagbucks. I have challenged myself (read the post here) to earn enough Swagbucks for a free 2012 Christmas! At first, I thought this was a pretty lofty goal. After just two weeks of being a Swagbucks member, however, I think this may actually be possible! Let me explain.

Every day, I log on to the Swagbucks website and complete a few short tasks. I take the Daily Poll, complete the NOSO (No Obligation Special Offers), and browse the Trusted Surveys. I search a few times using my toolbar. Occasionally I complete a Special Offer. I usually complete at least one round of Swagbucks TV.

Here is a breakdown of what I earn every day in just a few minutes:
Daily Poll: 1 Swagbuck
NOSO: 2 Swagbucks
Trusted Surveys: Varies, at least 5 Swagbucks
Toolbar: 1 Swagbuck
Search wins: Varies, at least 7 Swagbucks
Special Offer: Varies, at least 5
Swagbucks SBTV: 3 Swagbucks per round

Every day, with about ten minutes of my time, I earn 24 Swagbucks. This doesn’t sound like much, but it is enough to earn nearly two $5 Amazon gift cards a month. Depending on the surveys I might qualify for, I can earn hundreds of Swagbucks just by answering some questions. Swagbucks allows you to complete 25 rounds of SBTV a day. Many of the Special Offers are free, require only an email address, and earn up to 50 or 60 Swagbucks. (The ones that require purchases can earn hundreds or thousands).

I became a member of Swagbucks on 12/15/11. Today is 1/1/12, and I have earned 2,355 Swagbucks! That is enough for 5 $5 Amazon gift cards! I earned $25 in just two weeks by searching the internet and watching TV. I completed one paid offer, BUT — I spent $2 on the offer and earned enough points to buy a $5 Amazon gift card. That is the only purchase I have made AND I have no referrals under me. (Referrals earn you matched points up to 1000 Swagbucks and are the fastest way to earn. I’m not even using that feature yet!) Swagbucks is really an amazing site and at this rate, I will be able to earn enough to pay for Christmas with no problem at all!

I will continue to post my Swagbucks progress as I continue along. I anticipate great things from this site and encourage you to join. Help me earn by being a referral! (Click on any of the links in this post.) Who couldn’t use a little extra cash here and there?!

(Note: I wrote up this post on 1/1/12 but didn't publish it until 1/11/12. In case you were wondering about the date, that's what happened!)

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

New Life

I grew up in a small town in the Appalachian mountains with my parents and younger brother. My childhood was by most counts perfectly idyllic. I had at least two best friends at all times, hobbies -- like music and books -- to occupy my time, loved school (to a rather obnoxious degree), and never wanted for any of the things I truly needed. (Although, at times I thought my life wouldn't be complete without seeing either New Kids on the Block or N'Sync in concert. Thankfully, I have moved on!)

After graduating from the College of William and Mary with a degree in government and marrying my best friend, I spent three years teaching history to tenth and eleventh graders (15-17 year olds). While I was living out my dream in many ways (remember that obnoxiously intense love of school??), I also felt like something was missing, like something just wasn't quite right. I'm sure my opinions on public schooling and standardized testing will leak their way out at some point on here, so for now, suffice it to say, being a teacher was not the thing. It was not "it" -- there was something else out there for me.

Almost exactly one year ago to the day (January 15, 2011), I found out that I would be living a new life -- I learned that I was expecting my first child. He was born on September 24, 2011, and for him, I left my teaching job, moved out of state (well, that was for my husband), and have a new life. My new life could not be more different from the one I lived before. Instead of grading assignments (which seemed like they would NEVER end), I do laundry and wash the dishes (which actually never end). Instead of figuring out ways to discipline teenagers that wouldn't get me arrested, I babble like a moron to make my baby smile. Instead of fretting over standardized tests and job reviews, I worry about blankets in the crib and chemicals in baby soap. (OH -- and poop. I do a lot of Googling about baby poop.)

My new life is different and it has taken some getting used to. Some days I feel a little lost, like I'm driving around a new town with a vague idea of where to go but without that second nature instinct to back me up. Other days, I don't know how I would do anything else. The purpose of this blog is to set my feet to something, to share all the things I am passionate about. I will share my sewing projects, my recipe trials, my photographs, my schooling plans, my day-to-day activities, my thoughts, and the parts of my life that might be worth knowing about. I hope you find something here that makes you smile or that helps you in your day. We are all walking the road, but it's always nice to know you have someone walking with you.