Monday, September 29, 2008

Michael's New Photography Website!

Michael's been putting all his new programming skillz to work on his photography website. Check it out at http://www.michaelstanfill.com and leave a comment with your review!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Harissa Pasta

A new favorite meal, we've had this at least once a week, sometimes more, for the last month. So quick, so delicious, so lovely!


Harissa Pasta Recipe


3 medium cloves garlic, peeled
a big pinch of fine grain sea salt
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons harissa (paste)

8 ounces (1/2 pound) whole wheat spaghettini
1 small bunch kale, well-washed and deveined
1/2 cup oil-cured black olives, pitted
1/2 cup pine nuts, toasted
zest of 1 lemon

Bring a big pot of water to a boil. In the meantime, place the cloves of garlic on a cutting board and sprinkle then with a big pinch of salt. Crush with the flat side of a knife. Now crush and chop, crush and chop until you have a garlic paste. Alternately, you can use a mortar and pestle. In a small bowl whisk together the garlic paste, harissa, and olive oil. Set aside.

Generously salt the boiling water, add the pasta, and cook per package instructions. Just before the pasta is done add the kale to the pasta water, count to six, drain and set aside.

Heat half of the harissa dressing in the now empty pasta pot Add the pasta and kale, black olives, pine nuts, and lemon zest. Stir over the heat for a minute or so, then turn everything out onto a platter and drizzle with the remaining harissa olive oil.

Serves about 4 - 6.
This recipe is, of course, from Heidi Swanson at 101 cookbooks.


I made my own harissa paste (such things being foreign to the midwest shopping scene) and it was much, much easier than I expected. Next time, it will be better because I will actually have the right ingredients. I found dried chilis for next to nothing in my Walmart latino section. I'm almost out of my last batch and I can't wait to try out a new one!
I've used this on all kinds of pasta. My favorite is the mostaccioli shown above. Also, mixed into tomato sauces and served with fresh basil and shrimp. I substitute regular olives for the fancy shmancy kind that require selling off my first born child to afford. Although I did sit there and drool for a few moments. And Jed was eating (yet another) box of pasta (yes, the box, not the pasta) and the ensuing flood of shells made me for one brief moment consider exchanging him for the kalamatas.... But then he smiled and ooooo, he is so darn cute! Medium boring brand olives will do! Ditto the walnuts in place of pine nuts and the boring old lemon juice. I'm sure all the original recommendations would be delightful.

Also, before I go, a shot of our beautiful carrots grown in our front flower bed. :c)

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Hilarious!

Enlarge to read Sarah Palin's* email! Recognize anyone you know?
*This is, of course, a joke.

Bag Head

video
This is for Evelyn, and all Jed's fans everywhere.

Food Frugality

My darling friend Megan made the egregious error of sending me an email asking for ideas to save money on food. Whoops. In return, she got a full-length novel. Since I spent all that time writing her I figured I'd just post it up here. .

As background, this year I've had a goal of studying the Word of Wisdom (our religion's health code, click here for more explanation) and creating and implementing what I learned in a family eating plan. I think this is the only New Year's resolution I've ever kept and it has been SO MUCH FUN! I have collected dozens of fun recipes, read all sorts of wild and wacky books on nutrition (some I agree with, some I don't) and had a general ball in the kitchen. Michael has been remarkably supportive and game, even when he comes home to a meal consisting of raw sunflower seed spread and veggies in seaweed rolls. Mmmmmm! (Actually, we both LOVED it, I need to put that recipe up here.) Most of our meals are more tame, promise.

Anyway, before I compose another tome, here is what I wrote to Megan:

Dear Megan,

(...)

Here is my brilliant plan. Back when we were on a tight budget last year we could eat for $50/week this way. Now I spend more because we have a little more breathing room in our budget and $50/week doesn't give you much variety. But I still like to keep it in the $65-75 range (with a extra investments for food storage essentials.)

Strategy 1) I don't do coupons. My time is worth more than coupons, especially since they don't work with my plan (whole foods are almost NEVER on coupon.) That being said, I DO shop where the prices are cheapest on average. Usually that means Walmart for staples. Usually that means somewhere else for fresh foods. Costco for bulk. When I lived in UT I was on this rotation
Week 1) Maceys or farmer's market for fresh produce
Week 2) Walmart for household goods and packaged foods
Week 3) Fresh produce
Week 4) Costco for bulk items (honey, meat, pasta, etc.)
Also, the cannery and Macey's bulk foods are a great gift from above and now I weep when I realize how much I took them for granted. No stuff like that here.

Strategy 2) I plan a whole weeks worth of meals and buy everything I need. On this rotation I had to plan two weeks worth of meals. Not that hard to do, really. We have certain things on the same days... for example, pizza every Friday, family dinner every Sunday, something simple that doesnt' require any preparation on Wednesdays when M goes biking right after work, etc. Then leftovers for both of us for lunch the next day.
I try really really hard to not buy things that aren't on my list but it is sooooooooooooooo hard! Sometimes I make changes on the fly depending on what produce is on sale. (I'm the woman who buys like seventy pounds of peaches when they are on sale for 50c/lb. Embarrassing, but so worthwhile!)

Strategy 3) Buy only foods with one listed ingredient. So that would be yes to milk and canned corn but no to chef boyardee. Essentially, I try to buy only whole foods, no processed foods. This saves an astonishing amount of money, but does require some major recipe rehauling for most of us. Life without cream of mushroom soup and spaghetti sauce is still surprisingly fulfilling. I've collected some fantastic, cheap, quick recipes. I have also invested in lots of spices that dress up simple foods. I use almost exclusively vegetarian recipes, since they call for the most whole ingredients and are easy to add meat if I have some on hand. I also grind my own wheat and grow a garden, which of course saves a ton of money and keeps us centered in whole foods.

Strategy 4) Try to shop around the outside of the store as much as possible. Around the outside you find the produce, dairy, and meat. Within the aisles you find the wicked, expensive, tempting treats. I probably do 95% of my shopping around the outside of the store, though I do frequent the canned fruit/veg and baking aisles. I almost never shop anywhere else. This is pretty much the same as strategy 3 but helps me check myself.

Strategy 5) The cheapest way to eat is vegetarian. This year I've been on a WoW eating goal and we've cut waaaaay back on our meat intake and vastly kicked up our bean/rice/grain intake. Meat is SO EXPENSIVE that even when I do want to buy it I spend about twenty minutes agonizing over whether that one breast of chicken is really worth a dollar fifty. I carefully monitor our diet to make sure that we get plenty of protein, which we do easily with whole foods. When I get pregnant (someday) I will probably reintroduce more meat into our diet but for regular dietary intake I've found that other sources work great. Michael complains occasionally but on the whole I try to make things tasty and tempting enough that he doesn't notice. Now he likes it.

A website that I like is www.hillbillyhousewife.com She has tons of good ideas and a $45/week eating plan for a family of four that I found most inspiring. I also like her section about foods that are always a bargain.

Where you live I strongly recommend checking out the Mexican markets. I shopped in them on my mission and they have AMAZING deals. I wouldn't be surprised if that was cheaper than walmart.

The downside of all this for you is that when you work you don't have as much time to cook and plan as I do. This plan didn't work as well when I was working as it does now that I'm at home. But the same principles can apply. I bet if you got a lot of good crockpot recipes you could throw them in in the morning and they are usually all whole foods. I bet it would take less time than clipping coupons (I know, I'm such a coupon downer. I just don't get it. With all that time sorting and arranging and searching and looking online you could probably cook and freeze enough pinto beans for the next millenia. :c) And they taste better, too!)

OK so if you actually made it this far, I thank you for your time and attention, my apologies for the extreme boredom. Hope there's something in there that helps.


So what do you guys think? What is YOUR brilliant plan? To see what responses Megan got, check out her blog.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Fresh Herb Potato Salad


A few people have asked for this recipe from epicurious.com. We have a basil bush out in front of the house, and this is our new favorite potato salad recipe. Seeing as I am the cheapest human being on the planet, I always skip the lemon rind and mint, but I bet they would be tasty.

FRESH HERB POTATO SALAD

Ingredients
3/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1 1/2 teaspoons grated lemon peel
1 green bell pepper, diced
1 cup chopped onion
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh cilantro
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh basil
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh mint

2 1/4 pounds small red-skinned potatoes, unpeeled

Directions
Whisk oil, lemon juice and lemon peel in small bowl to blend. Season dressing with salt and pepper. Place 1/2 cup dressing in large bowl. Mix in green pepper, onion, cilantro, basil and mint.

Cook potatoes in large pot of boiling salted water until tender, about 25 minutes. Drain; cool 15 minutes. Cut potatoes into 1/2-inch cubes. Add potatoes to bowl with dressing and toss to blend. Let stand 10 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper, adding more dressing, if desired. Serve at room temperature.

Warning: Limit serving size. May cause severe obesity with extended use.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Vectren Unpopular

On Sunday, Hurricane Ike decided to regain some of his manhood and blasted through Evansville with a fury. Hours upon hours upon hours of high winds did a real number on our lovely wooded community. Dodging fallen power lines and falling trees became a popular form of pre-church entertainment and soon generators and chainsaws became precious commodities. Every home I've seen lost either a major tree or huge branches, and torn corn stalks and debris are scattered everywhere. Today out walking we saw dozens of homes getting their roofs repaired.

We were extremely blessed, as our power never went out for long. We had brownouts and short outages all day but nothing major. Our home is fine. Our road was closed, and we later saw it was because the main power line down to our area had a power pole sheared in half. Repair crews are still scrambling four days later to return power to more than 15,000 homes in the area, so rather than fixing the downed pole somebody just pulled it over to the side of the road and leaned it against a bunch of broken trees. And there it sits, still humming along providing power for all of us. Thank you, neighbors who have been living in fear with a broken power pole taking up most of their front yard. We love you!

Some people, though, aren't so full of love, and especially toward Vectren, the power company where Michael works. So I get all sorts of great insider news from him during the day, and this photo is the latest:



To the man's credit, he may be among the homes that most likely will be out of power through the weekend. No fun. Still funny, though.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Frog Follies

A few Saturdays ago, Michael, Steve, Clark, Jed and I attended Frog Follies, a major Southwestern Indiana cultural event.

Thousands (literally, about 4,000 this year) of pre-1949 "street rods" from all over the US gather at the local Vanderburgh Co. fairgrounds each year to celebrate the joys of, um, old cars and stuff. Seriously fun, seriously cool, and seriously blazing hot. We sweated it up, oooed and ahhhed (even Jed), and came home happily sunburned. Here's my favorite car:

Friday, September 12, 2008

Splash Park

Thanks to a brilliant tip from some family friends, the Boonville Splashpark became a major Stanfill family hangout this summer. Free, cool, no drowning risk, and always a blast.


With all the fun spray toys there, naturally Jed selected one item with which to develop a passionate love affair:
The orange fire hydrant.

Yes, it is a real fire hydrant. It does not move, it does not spray water, it doesn't DO anything. But it was love at first sight, nonetheless.

So usually it ended up more Mom playing in the splashpark and Jed developing a blossoming relationship with an inanimate safety object. The crushing blow occured when the park closed on the ELEVENTH of AUGUST, like every other fun event in the Indiana universe, because school starts so early here. We went the last day and almost cried as we bid our favorite spot farewell.
Don't worry, Jedbug, the hydrant will still be faithfully waiting there for you next May!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Library

Today, Jed and I went down town while the weather stayed delightfully cool. Newburgh has quite possibly the most charming downtown ever conceived of by man. Little 1800s buildings, lovely old homes lining the river, a walking path down the river where you can watch the barges go by, visit a park, see an old log cabin commemorating the founding in 1803, see where the first "battle" of the civil war over the Mason Dixon line happened, see the old old lock and dam building, and all so peaceful and lovely with happy fellow Newburghians walking by with friendly faces and hellos. Idyllic!

(I found this photo online. It doesn't show any of the cute old part of town, but it does show the riverwalk and the library with flags out front in the middle.)


We went on a nice long walk for about an hour and chatted with Uncle Eric on the phone. Then we stopped at a grassy area and watched the river and played for about a half hour. A quick trot down the road and we were at the public library, a tiny wonderland of toys and books. Jed has long loved the library for its small but superb collection of toddler-friendly doo-dads and several shiny red firetrucks.

Today, though, he showed a decided interest in the book collection. He disappeared for a moment and I heard muttered sounds rising above the shelves before me. I wandered around until I found him, gleefully pulling a books off the shelves, shouting "BUH!", and then shoving them back willy nilly into place.

I walked toward the checkout desk and called for Jed to come with me. Buh! He grabbed a book and held on tight, giving me a defiant look. I returned the gaze. Do you want to check out that book? Then bring it here and we will take it home! His face broke into a chubby-cheeked grin and he came running, book clutched tightly against his chest. He ran past mom... and right out the door, sending all sorts of beepers and alarms off. Whoops! We have to check it out, Jed! I grabbed him and hauled him up onto the circulation desk. The librarian and I managed to pry the book out of his hands, arousing many a screech and wail. She quickly scanned the barcode and shoved it back into the siren's hands. I set him down, and said NOW we could take it home. Wahoo!

Holding the book high, like a trophy, he made beeline for the front doors and made laps around the sensor gates until I could catch up with him. We left the building and headed for the car. Halfway there, he couldn't wait any longer and plopped down right there in the middle of the parking lot, opened the book on the pavement, and turned pages with an enthusiastic, scholarly air. Come on, Jed! I opened the car door. He came running, threw the book in (Buh!) and clambered up on his seat. Once seated, his arms flailed for his precious. Buh! Buh! I handed it to him, he opened it up, and all was quiet happiness with the occasional page rustle on the way home.


What a funny boy. Definitely takes after his mom - we've got a library addict!

(Turns out he chose a Dr. Seuss zebra book.)

Monday, September 8, 2008

Exciting News!

Exciting news from our thrilling life!

1) A few sleepless nights, but Michael's site pretty much went up without a hitch. What a man.

2) Jed has learned to identify several objects. Meaning, yes, he is capable of speech beyond "Hi!" "Wow!" "Bye-bye!" "Wow!" "Uh oh!" which is where we've been stalled for the last six months or so. He can now say "Mom!" and "Da-ee!" with varying degrees of accuracy. He definitely understands what they mean (actually, he is understanding a surprising amount these days... I always underestimate his intelligence. And then he does something brilliant like run flat into a wall and I think, hmmm, maybe I don't.) He also can identify "buh" which is "book." We read books every night before bed, and usually several times inbetween. He's a book lover like his momma.

The real breakthrough, however, was "Hshz" which I finally figured out means "shoes." Jed has developed a literal obsession with shoes. First thing in the morning, he MUST have shoes placed upon him. Even if they go over the footie pajamas. And as soon as Mom and Dad get up, he immediately starts trailing us around the house, a gender-appropriate pair of shoes in hand, with frantic "Uh! Uh! Uh! Hshz! Uh!" until we either go insane or cave in and just put on the shoes. Come by our house any day at 6:30AM and you'll see us all in our underwear and shoes - Jed's favorite outfit. You will also find rows, piles, and stashes of shoes hidden throughout the house in most unlikely places. We tend to be late everywhere these days, mostly because we can never find a bleepity bleepin matching pair of shoes!

Also, he beams with pride as he points to my/his/cat's/Daddy's/cartoon eyes and says "Eye! Eye! Eye!" with a drawn out rising tone, like it's a really suspensful question. Then he gets the most wicked grin ever, points to his nose, and says emphatically "Eye! Eye! Eye!" When I correct him and say "No, you silly boy, that's your nose! Nose! Nose!" he starts to laugh like he's gonna explode and smashes his nose in with the tip of his finger even farther. "Eye! Eye! Eye!" Repeat ad infinitum. This is especially entertaining, it seems, when played through the car rear view mirror.


3) We had our first real FHE with Jed tonight, and it was just as much fun as I've been envisioning since he was born! I used the new church nursery manual, which if you haven't seen yet you should really check out. FABULOUS! At last, a manual that really is suited for the 18 month old mind! We played ring around the rosy (I thought Jed was going to bust a gut laughing), sang Do As I'm Doing (still a little advanced for his tiny brain, but he liked it when Dad helped him do the actions,) said a prayer (he's starting to get the hang of folding his arms but the attention span is like ten seconds) and had a little lesson. Then another prayer, and then several thousand times Jed pointing to Jesus and saying "Eye! Eye!" (conflating lessons here... oh well, rationality is just setting in. I have noticed that he adores pictures of Jesus with the little children and likes pointing out each of the people in turn. And then pointing out that they have eyes.) and then we were done.

4) And, in my crowning motherly glory, I happily announce that Jed did his first pee-pee in the baby potty tonight. Thanks to Brooke, we are the proud new owners of a bright red potty chair. Jed's been most interested in it of late, and so the last two nights when the whole family troupes into our tiny bathroom for toothbrushing, bath, and various other bathroom-type activities, we've been stripping him down and setting him on the potty. Mom/Dad has a book while they sit on the big toilet and Jed gets a book on his potty (this may sound familiar, Eric...) We turn on the bath to fill while we sit there. And tonight, lo and behold, the pot o' liquid gold!

I tried to make a big deal about it and pour it in the toilet and flush and all... but really he had no idea what was going on. That's fine, I'm not in a rush to potty train but I figure we might as well make it a positive pattern now before it becomes a big deal later. Check back in two years for the rest of the story. But for now, I'm going to revel in my sense of victorious motherhood and happily blow it out of proportion for the next week. Yes!

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Treasures

Today I found a collection of treasures Jed lined up along the back of the living room couch:
1. A postcard from his Granny Zo'An with a big pink flower on the front
2. The magnet used to hold that postcard up on the fridge
3. A dried out macaroni shell (his new favorite food... those mini shells are the perfect size!)
4. Mom's face cleanser (I've been looking all over for that)
5. A Papa Murphy's flyer fished out of the junk mail. Obviously his father's son.
and
6. A red megablock, essentially a big lego. They create an even blanket over the entire house surface, however, so that might not count.

Michael's Latest Accomplishment

Today Michael's new website at http://www.vectren.com goes live! He got to do a full look-and-feel overhaul from the old website, which looked like this:


And now it looks like this!

I'm so proud I'm burstin' my buttons.

So what do you think? Is it an improvement? Leave M a note with your thoughts!