Thursday, August 29, 2013

Irish Soda Bread

Maybe it's that hint of Fall in the air but I have been kind of crazy about baking lately. I have been working really to make all of Echo's snacks from scratch and to make all of our family bread at home. I feel so much better us all eating home grown goodies instead of store bought ones which are full of preservatives and dyes. It's been a lot of work to keep on top of but so rewarding and I am turning in to a decent baker if I do say so myself :-)

I had some buttermilk left over from my Mom's Birthday pie and jumped at the chance to use it in some traditional Irish soda bread. It always puts me in mind of the trip to Ireland that I took while in college so it is a warm, nostalgic bread for me. It's also an incredibly easy bread that requires no yeast and it slices thin so it's great for sandwiches. here is the recipe!

Makes one loaf

1 c all-purpose flour
1 c whole-wheat flour
¾ tsp baking soda
¼ tsp salt
1 c buttermilk 

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees and lightly coat a baking sheet with cooking spray (or use a silicone baking mat like I did). In a large bowl, whisk together flours, baking soda and salt. Make a well in the middle and pour in the buttermilk until just incorporated. Turn on to a well floured surface and knead 4 or 5 times. Shape in to a an 8 inch round loaf and place on prepared cookie sheet. Cut a 1/4" x in to the top of the loaf with a  very sharp knife. Bake at 450 degrees for 15 minutes. Without opening the oven, turn the temperature down to 400 degrees and bake for another 15 minutes. Allow to cool for 5 minutes before serving warm with butter. 

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Buttermilk Blackberry Pie

 I don't typically make a lot of desserts just for us because, well, we will eat them all and gain a thousand pounds. Birthdays are a perfect excuse to whip up something special however! My mom is a huge pie person and loves buttermilk pies and blackberries so I decided to combine the two make this yummy confection for her Birthday last week! I was a little intimidated since I'd never actually made a pie before but it came out great and the pie pieces even held together in perfect little wedges when we cut them.

You can find the original recipe here, I just subbed blackberries for raspberries. I'll write out the recipe on this blog as well for anyone who wants to try it.

For the Crust

  • 1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 4 ounces (1 stick) unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup water, plus 2 tablespoons

For the Filling

  • 1/4 cup blackberries
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • Salt
  • 3/4 cup white granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 3 large eggs
  • 3/4 cup buttermilk

In a large bowl combine flour, sugar and salt. Use a cheese grater to grate butter in to flour mixture (this is genius by the way! Such and easy way to make crust!), this works best if the butter is very cold. Using your hands, mix butter and flour mixture together until the butter resembles small peas in size. Add 1/4 cup water and mix with your hands until dough just holds together. Add the extra 2 tablespoons of water gradually if you need it to keep the dough together. Shape dough in to a disc and wrap in plastic, refrigerate for one hour. 

Remove dough from refrigerator and roll out on a well floured work space until you get a roughly 14 inch round crust. Roll up on your rolling pin and unroll on to you pie tin to avoid breaking the crust. Trim the edges and crimp with your fingers. Chill crust in the refrigerator for 30 minutes. Score the bottom of the crust with a fork and line the pie tin with foil. Add dried beans or rice to weigh down the center of the crust. Bake the crust at 400 degrees for  15 minutes. Remove the foil and beans and bake uncovered for an additional 5 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to come to room temperature. 

Meanwhile, you can start making the filling. Heat the blackberries in a small sauce pan with sugar for about 10 or 15 minutes, mushing with a spoon as you go, until the mixture is smooth. Set aside to cool. Combine eggs, salt, flour and buttermilk, and whisk until smooth. Pour the buttermilk mixture in to the cooled pie crust. Add blackberry mixture to pie filling in dollops and use a bamboo skewer (or something similar) to swirl the blackberries, making a pretty design. Be careful to keep the pie level as you put it in the oven to avoid messing up your pretty design. I also find it helpful to put foil around the edges of my crust to keep it from burning. Bake at 325 degrees for 30 to forty minutes, allow to come to room temperature and garnish with fresh blackberries before serving. 

I thought the crust would be hard to make but it was actually pretty easy if a little time consuming. That trick of grating the butter worked wonderfully and I would definitely use it again. 

Friday, August 23, 2013

Living Walls 2013

Living Walls is a really awesome public art event hosted in Atlanta every year. I usually try to go to it but missed last year due to being very tired and pregnant :-) This year I was back with baby in tow! 

Living Walls consists primarily of a great many murals painted around the Atlanta area, generally clustered in a certain are each year. This series of events and art displays also includes lectures, gallery shows and block parties each year to celebrate and raise awareness of public art and urban renewal.  This is a very picture heavy post but there is so much amazing art to be seen at these events! Here is just a small sampling of the work featured in Living Walls this year. 

These first photos are of us going to the main event party which included gallery shows by the featured artists and lectures on urban renewal, Echo was a trooper to tag along!

The main event party was hosted at the Goat Farm again this year (I'm told it was held elsewhere last year). The Goat Farm is such an amazing space, I'm always in awe of it! I particularly love the the way the design events, especially the lighting. Everything took on a really magical feel thanks to the way this was handled. 

Above you can see the stage where the lectures took place and bellow is a painting by one of the featured artists.

The main event party really left us wanting more and we couldn't wait to see the murals around town. Today was my mom's Birthday so we decided to take the morning to do a tour of Living Walls murals and then grab some lunch, here is some of what we saw.

Most of this years murals were in the Grant Park and East Atlanta area (some of the ones I have pictured are from previous years as well though. For more info on Living Walls or for a map of the murals check out their website

After all that sightseeing we worked up quite an appetite and headed over to East Atlanta's Delia's Chicken Sausage Stand. This place is fantastic but that should come as no surprise as it was opened by restauranteurs of The Porter in Little 5 Points and The Flying Biscuit, both Atlanta staples.

I enjoyed a chicken chorizo taco plate and an ice cold Coke and Echo enjoyed playing with the salt and pepper shakers :-) My mom and dad got a chili cheese sausage called the Hot Mess and a Philly cheese sausage respectively and everyone loved their meal. You can check out the menu on their website here I will definitely be going back when I can take Eric :-)

What a fun way to be a tourist in your own city, I love that Atlanta is such a big supporter of public art and that we can host such an exciting even as Living Walls every year.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Easy Cardigan

 I absolutely love sewing clothes for my baby girl. They are so easy and cute! I haven't had too much luck sewing things for myself yet though. I Recently made this cardigan from one of my new sewing books though and I am reasonably happy with how it came out. I'm still getting the hang of sewing stretch fabrics but I was pretty pleased with this little number. it's probably the most ambitious project I've taken on as far as sewing my own clothing goes (baby steps). This project is from the book Sewing in a Straight Line and it's a pretty great project for beginners.

I'm always in need of short cardigans so i have lots of occasions to wear this. I got my family to snap these photos for the blog while we were eating lunch at No Mas in Castleberry Hills. They have a great retail store with beautiful Latin American pottery, jewelry and art in addition to serving pretty decent Mexican food.

After completing the cardigan I felt it was a little plain so I added this scotty dog applique. I didn't get a great photo of this detail but I feel it adds some interest to the garment. I may try this pattern again in a different color or fabric, all in all it was very easy to make and a good staple to add to my wardrobe.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Essentials for a Small Kitchen

I love just about everything about our house, including our small kitchen. While our kitchen is on the littler side there is still room for two of us to work in there and cooking together is one of our favorite things to do as a family. Having a small kitchen does mean that you have to prioritize and conserve your counter space as much as possible. We have really worked at pairing down our kitchen appliances to just what really use. Here is a list of our kitchen "must haves", our "nice to haves" and what we can live without.

Must Haves

At least one really good knife, preferably two. We have more than one knife but we only have two really good ones and they definitely get the most use. Our favorite knifes are our wonderful Santaku that was a wedding present and a small pairing knife. These have very different uses and there are lots of other knifes that are nice to have but we find you can do most of what you need to with just these two.

Emersion blender. If you have a regular blender you probably don't need this. However it is great for saving space in a small kitchen and eliminates the need for a food processor and a blender. The only exception is if you want to make smoothies since it doesn't handle ice well but for most of my blending needs it does just fine.

Mason jars. We use mason jars for pretty much everything. They are kind of a fad right now but there's a good reason for it, they are awesome! They are heat and cold resistant and keep air out so they are great for storage. eric also loves to drink out of them, especially his Scotch out of the teeny ones.

Wooden spoons and spatulas. These are great because they won't ruin your non stick cook ware. If you take care of them they last pretty much forever and they have a million uses. My little girl also likes to bang them on the floor which helps keep her occupied while I cook :-)

Enameled cast iron dutch oven. This is probably the single most used item in our kitchen. It is nonstick, you can cook on a stovetop with it, you can bake in it and it is pretty much invincible. I can't tell you how amazing this piece of cookware is, get one!

Coffee maker. Ok, I know this isn't essential for everyone. But for a sleep deprived new mommy it it sure is! We used to have a French press which we loved for many years but these days I find that it doesn't produce the amount of coffee I want (I tend to sip on it all morning, getting warm ups as needed). We got a cone filter machine a few years ago and love the quality (and quantity!) of coffee it produces.

A decent set of of basic pans. This includes at least one frying pan and a sauce pan with a lid. You really need these for sautéing things and for boiling water.

Nice to Have

Stand mixer. This is really only for someone who bakes a lot like me. I really resisted getting one of these for a long time, they are so big and take up so much room! However I saw one on sale and couldn't resist it and now I am rapidly falling in love with it. It is amazing for making bread and pie crusts!

Silicone baking mat. Again, if you are a baker this is something that will make your life so much easier. It replaces parchment paper so you don't have to buy that anymore. Literally nothing sticks to it, you don't have to worry about greasing your cookie sheet ever again. It's easy to clean and great for all kinds of baking.  

Rice cooker. I realize this is a huge indulgence on my part, it's really not hard to cook rice in a pan. However we eat a ton of rice in this family and it is so nice to be able to turn this thing on and then forget about it. We have a small one that we keep in a cabinet when we aren't using it.

Good tupperware. It's great to have a nice set of tupperware for leftovers. If you really want to pair down you can do without and just use mason jars though.

Pot with a strainer lid. We love pasta and this pot makes it super easy. it is also a space saver since you don't have to have a colander handy anymore.

Slow cooker. Any mom will tell you slow cookers are the best! It's awesome to be able to throw you ingredients in a pot in the morning and not think about it again until dinner time. As an added bonus you can cook cheaper cuts of meat and they always turn out tender so it can be a big money saver as well. I use our slow cooker a lot on days when Eric works late. I can have a nice hot meal ready for him when he gets home and I don't have to worry about getting my timing just right.

Not Necessary

Microwave. We cut this out of our kitchen years ago, we never miss it at all. Everything can either be warmed up on the stove top or in the oven. It tastes better that way and it really doesn't take that much longer. In my opinion the microwave is the most useless of kitchen appliances.

Toaster. A toaster is only slightly more convenient than an oven. I always just set my oven to broil and stick my bread in for a few minutes, it toasts up nicely and I don't need a special kitchen appliance.

Food processor. If you have an emersion blender you really don't need this. Everything you need cut up you can either cut by hand or use the emersion blender on.

Toaster oven. This is just like a toaster but worse, why does anyone need this?

Bread machine. Personally I am really not a fan of bread machines. To me the bread from them always comes out tasting funny. It's not hard to make bread by hand, it just requires a little patience. And now with all the no knead bread recipes  out there you really don't have an excuse to not make bread by hand. it doesn't get any easier than no knead bread.

Popcorn maker. I'll admit that I do have a popcorn maker and I do use it. It's a little easier than making popcorn in a pan but not much. If I had it to do over again I would skip buying this and just do it the old fashioned way.

Special glasses for every kind of drink under the sun. For example, margarita glasses, red and white wine glasses, champagne flutes, martini glasses, the list goes on and on. Regular glasses will do just fine for most drinks. we regularly use our wine glasses and our pint glasses but that's about it.

I realize this list would probably be different for everyone since we all have different cooking priorities but this is how it goes down in our kitchen and we are pretty serious about our food. In an effort to avoid clutter we have pretty much cut out unessential kitchen gadgets. You should try it sometime, you won't believe how nice it is to have the extra counter space!

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Late Summer Gardening

This year should have been great for my gardening with all the rain we've been having. Unfortunately I've determined that the place where we put my raised bed gardens is just too shady and nothing really turned out well. The Spring crops did pretty well (before the leaves really came in on the trees) but everything this Summer has been a great big flop. 

Forever an optimist, I got Eric to build me some new raised beds in a sunnier location and am planting some late Summer crops. Hopefully there will be enough sunshine for these to give me a good harvest this Fall.

On the positive side, the things I planted on the back deck in pots actually did pretty well for the most part. I have a bunch of bush beans out that there that have been producing really well and the herb garden has absolutely exploded! I went out to check the herbs the other day and was excited to find two caterpillars which will one day become swallowtail butterflies! They were munching away on my parsley and I was happy to let them have some since it doesn't kill the plant and it will be worth it to have some lovely butterflies around :-)

Our other big gardening success was our blueberry bushes which produced really well this year for their size, if all goes well they should continue to get bigger and produce even more berries next year.

So wish me luck on my new gardening endeavors. I've never been much good at this stuff but I swear I will figure it out some day!

Monday, August 12, 2013

Whole Wheat Dinner Rolls

I made a yummy soup for dinner the other night and was looking for the perfect roll to go along with them. These rolls are 100 percent whole wheat and are soft, chewy and slightly sweet. They have a fantastic flavor and go great with just about anything. I got this recipe from Averie Cooks and I think it's pretty fantastic. Check out the instructions below.

Ingredients3/4 cup warm water
3/4 cup warm milk
1/4 cup honey
2 to 3 tablespoons canola or vegetable oil
1 tablespoon molasses
2 1/4 teaspoons yeast
3 cups whole wheat flour
pinch salt, to taste

Combine first 5 ingredients (through molasses) in a bowl and sprinkle the yeast over the top; wait 5 to 10 minutes, or until yeast is foamy. This means it's alive and will work. 

Add the flour, salt, and stir with a wooden spoon to combine. Then stir for about 1 more minute, mashing the dough around (this is as much 'kneading' as this recipe requires).

Stir dough into a ball, cover the bowl with a tea towel, and place in a warm, draft-free place to rise until doubled in bulk, about 3 hours. Whole wheat rises slowly so don't be surprised if it takes a long time. 

Punch dough down, remove it from bowl, and turn it out onto a well-floured surface. Knead it only so much as necessary to shape it into balls for rolls (I divide the dough into 16 rolls and they're just a bit bigger than golf balls). 

Place balls of dough in a cooking sprayed round baking dish or pie plate, or in an 8x8 or 9x9 pan; size depends on how many you're making. They can be close to each other, but not squished, or they'll rise and bake into each other.

Cover baking dish with a tea towel, and allow rolls to rise in a warm, draft-free environment for about 1 hour, until almost doubled in size. 

In the final minutes of rising, preheat oven to 350F. Bake for 15-18 minutes or until rounded and slightly browned. 


Saturday, August 10, 2013

DIY Baby Tank

 I am continuing to love my new Brother Sewing machine and my sewing skills are growing! It's such a satisfying accomplishment to make something from scratch, I am loving every minute of it. I have always been a do it yourself type of person and would rather tach myself something than learn it from a class. I think this comes from my unschooling days, I am a very independent learner. Thanks to the internet it is easier than every to teach yourself just about anything! Check out this awesome tutorial and free pattern from Made, it's what I used to make this baby tank for Echo.

It was my first experience using bias tape (I used store bought but I want to learn to make my own in the near future. I loved the bias tape because it gave the piece a nice finished look, plus it added a fun, contrasting pop of color! Sewing baby clothes is like (almost) instant gratification, it's so easy and fast to make something cute.

Doesn't Echo look so grown up in her faux denim leggings and tank top? She is also showing off those pearly whites in this photo. She has 5 teeth now and is working on a few more!

Friday, August 9, 2013

Establishing A Read Aloud Tradition Early

Echo flipping the pages of her current favorite book, 100 First Words. It won't be long before she is reading out load to us!
My memories of my early childhood are almost entirely made up of 3 things. Cooking, doing crafts and being read to. I guess it's no wonder that cooking, art and reading are three of my favorite grown up activities as well. I can recall countless days where my mom spent hours reading out loud to my brother and I. If it was nice out we would read on a blanket under the trees. If it was cold we would read in the living room and I would draw the characters from the story while I listened. We had certain books we would read while my dad was at work and certain books we would read all together when he got home. I remember waiting anxiously for him to arrive so we could find out what happened next in the story.

I always knew that I wanted to give my kids that same special gift of reading together as a family. Eric and I are both big readers but he didn't start reading out loud to me until I was pregnant. I loved listening to him read so much, it took me back to my childhood. After Echo was born he would read to me while I nursed her to keep me entertained. We now continue to read as a family every night. Usually Echo just crawls around and plays while we read and I'm sure she's not really listening (she also tries to steal Eric's glasses, steal the book, or turn the lights out on us) but I like to think it's good for her to be read to in any case. As she gets older we will keep reading to her every night (and day) and while it doesn't matter too much what we read right now we will have to pay more attention to our book selection as she gets old enough to listen. Right now we try to stick to things that are somewhat kid friendly (meaning no foul language mostly) but soon we will need to find things that are engaging to her that we also will enjoy.

Here is a list of suggestions for those of you who are interested in reading as a family. Most of these are better for older kids but they are all great because they appeal to kids and adults at the same time. They are also (mostly) gender neutral and would be great for boys or girls to read. Some are ones that I remember from my childhood and some are new discoveries that I have made in more recent years.

Coraline - Neil Gaiman

The Graveyard Book - Neil Gaiman

The Hobbit - J.R.R. Tolkien

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone - J.K. Rowling 

Odd and the Frost Giants - Neil Gaiman 

The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson Burnett

Redwall - Brian Jacques

East - Edith Pattou

The Golden Compass - Phillip Pullman

The Book of Three - Lloyd Alexander

Dealing With Dragons - Patricia C. Wrede

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - Roald Dahl 

Fantastic Mr. Fox - Roald Dahl 

Matilda - Roald Dahl 

James and the Giant Peach - Roald Dahl 

Peter Pan and Wendy - J. M. Barrie

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer - Mark Twain

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz - L. Frank Baum

The Magical Monarch of Mo - L. Frank Baum

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll 

The Princess Bride - William Goldman

The Bad Beginning - Lemony Snicket and Bret Helquist

I'm sure there are so many more that I am just not remembering but this should get you started. All of theses are fantastic to read aloud and will keep the whole family glued to their seats. If you have any favorite read aloud books I would love to hear about them and file them away for future reference  Please feel free to leave comments with your favorites!

Wednesday, August 7, 2013


I recently got a present that has renewed my interest in getting fit and it might not be too strong to say it has changed my life. At the very least it has changed my daily routine and made me more fitness conscious.

 Eric and I both got Fitbits from his sister for our Birthdays and it has been a game changer. A Fitbit is a fun little device that tracks your steps, calories burned, stairs climbed and even your sleep habits. You can clip it to your waistband, pocket, bra or wear it as a wrist band. It also synchs automatically with your computer and logs you stats to an online dashboard. You can friend others with Fitbits and compare your daily steps taken. This is great for me because I have a major competitive streak and trying to outdo my Fitbit friends is a great motivator ;-)

I've heard complaints about the Fitbit that it is hard to keep track of and easily lost but I've had no trouble in this area. I just keep it clipped to the inside of my pocket but I guess you could always wear the wrist band if you were really worried about it.

I haven't used the sleep tracker because it would just depress me. I already know that I'm getting terrible sleep thanks to my baby. I love the calorie counter and the step tracker though, it's really interesting to see how many steps I take in a normal day (usually around 4,000 if I'm just around the house). I also think it's great to see how many flights of stairs I climb in a day. I usually climb up 18 flights a day! That's just in my house going up and down from the loft and the basement. I felt pretty impressed by that but my next goal is 25 in a day.

I've definitely noticed a difference in my daily routine and my motivation to get moving but I haven't even had it a week yet so we'll see how long it lasts. It has also motivated me to keep track of the calories I eat again which is always a good thing. I found that bouncing on my exercise ball counts as steps but I don't do it because I think it's cheating. I do however put on some music when I clean and dance around the house which the Fitbit counts as "very active minutes" and logs as more calories burned :-)

If you are interested in checking them out here is the Fitbit website Eric and I have "The One" but there are a few different options in the devices they offer. It's a little pricey but think this is a great little device to make you think about how much you move and encourage you to be more active.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

July Photos

What a whirlwind July was! We had two Birthdays, a 40th anniversary(my parent's, not mine) and a trip to Charlottesville, VA to see a dear friend. It was a great month with lots of fun and festivity! As always this is just a small sample, you can see all my photos by visiting my Shutterfly site here.

Our Saturday morning ritual, fresh bread from the farmers market and coffee at Cool Beans in Marietta! Echo is chowing down on a mini baguette. 

Echo got to spend lots of time with her baby friends this month, here she is meeting new baby Milo.

And hanging with Her Birthday buddy Nathan

Breakfast at the Australian Bakery on Marietta Square, yeah we spend a lot of time on the square.

Eric got new games for his Birthday, he was a happy boy.

Mom and Dad had their 40th anniversary and I took some photos for them. 

Echo's first trip to Centennial Olympic Park

The new Ferris Wheel in Downtown

Echo meeting baby Isaac

Sleeping on Mimaw's shoulder

Hanging with Uncle Logan

Outside Blue Mountain Brewery in Charlottesville

Outside Blue Mountain Brewery in Charlottesville