GIVE THE KIDS BOOKS! (my holiday shopping thoughts)

-by Jamie

(*probably obvious disclosure: I am a member of the Amazon Associates program)

It is time to purchase your holiday gifts now.  Did no one tell you this?!  :-)  My favorite thing to give for Christmas or any holiday is a great book. 

The first thing I always do every year, is go check some lists and suggestions from Amazon.  Oh look!  You can get to Amazon from the banner on top of my page!  Anyhow, I usually take a look at what's new in cookbooks and art books.  Then I browse the kids books.  Amazon has awesome suggestions almost always and they also have my favorite thing which is a list of the best 100 books ever (or some such title) and also the top 100 children's books (sorted by age!...for those of us who only know a kid of one specific age this is hugely helpful to know what books kids of other ages want to read).

plus a suggestion from yours truly:

Cheechako by Jonathan Thomas Stratman

Where do I begin?  I have always been fascinated and SO interested in learning more about people who live in these really rural locations and/ or natural settings, where they have to live off the land, so to speak; like Alaska, or that place in Patagonia where that fancy chef guy builds lots of amazing fires....random reference, I know.  

Stories of survival and homesteading are my favorite.  I'm a bit obsessed with the show "Alaska, the last Frontier" and as a kid I loved the books White Fang and A Call of the Wild.  I recently read a newer book, that I think is right up there with them called Cheechako, which is the first book in the series of the same name, by Jonathan Thomas Stratman.  (who I believe lives near Eugene, OR!) I would say the series is for 9 year olds ish and up.  Like way up, like an almost 34 year old, for example.

Cheechako is about a young man named Will who lives in (and then later in the book farther away from) a tiny town in Alaska called Nenana.  He is from Boston and feels like a foreigner in the town full of people who have always lived there.  In the beginning of the book he is an introvert who spends most of his time at home reading or dreaming of Boston, saying to himself "this can't be all there is" of the tiny tiny (and I do mean tiny) town.  After a very exciting day indeed, Will gets a new best friend (a dog) and also befriends an Alaskan native named Elias and snowy adventures ensue! Their survival skills are tested and Will transforms from someone who feels like an outsider, to a young man who is confident in emergencies and comfortable in his own skin.  I am looking forward to reading the next two books in the series!  You can purchase the set for $30 on Amazon Prime or you can order the series in ebook format or I think on the kindle thingey.   You can download the ebooks on Jonathan's website as well!  He gives details on how to download for free!! (on Smashwords.)  Or again for the Holidays or a Birthday or any day, this is truly a great gift!

Now that our meatballs have come to temp take them out of the oven. I let them cool a little bit before I put them into the sauce because I remove them from the rack with my hands. You can use a spatula for this, but because the meatballs are on a rack they've kid of started molding into the crevices and you'll a.) lose a small bit of meat to the rack if you use a spatula and b.) then have to clean said meat out of the rack, which is kind of a pain.

Meatballs! They don't brown as much in the stove as they would in a pan with oil, but once they're covered in sauce no one will know and they're still way too delicious.

Meatballs! They don't brown as much in the stove as they would in a pan with oil, but once they're covered in sauce no one will know and they're still way too delicious.

So, once your meatballs have cooled enough to handle put them into your pot of sauce, stir gently and let them simmer while you prepare your pasta. I like a linguine, but whatever you have is good. I don't have pictures at this point because I believe in you and know you can make pasta, and also because I forgot. Anway, you now have a nice pot of meatballs simmering in sauce (also not pictured) and a pot of pasta cooking merrily away. Once the pasta is done place a serving (or, if you have a pasta problem like me, two) in a bowl, top with a little sauce, a couple meatballs, and a whole lot of cheese. It is not possible to over cheese at this point. If you have it (and you should, because it's in the recipe) put a little parsley on top because it looks fancy and tastes kind of nice.

There's an awful lot of "YES!" going on in this photo right now.

There's an awful lot of "YES!" going on in this photo right now.

And there you have it! A nice, hearty bowl of spaghetti and meatballs to enjoy with your family, a hunk of bread and a couple glasses of wine. Ideally you will have plenty leftovers. I like to make meatballs subs the next day or meatball pizza, or just make more pasta and repeat. I'll talk about meatball subs in an upcoming episode, too. Thanks for stopping by and putting up with all those pictures of raw meat, I appreciate it!

Stretch the Budget, Tip 1- Pork Loin Savings

By Tim

Hello and welcome to another recurring feature here at Hayes Amaze: Stretch the Budget, a savings tip series that will have you saving money and eating great for pennies on the dollar. (Disclaimer: It probably won't be that amazing. But it'll be worth it.) For our first trick we are going to take a large cut of pork loin and show you how to make it into several chops, a roast or two, and some meat for mincing or grinding.

I am an unrepentant carnivore. I am more than happy to make,  eat and cook vegetarian entrees. They can be delightful, filling and satisfying. They can even be wonderfully unhealthy. But I would be lying if I didn't say that I prefer a little meat in my dinner. And since meat can be expensive I look for ways to save a little money while getting a better product. And so it is that I introduce you to our guest this evening: Mr. Pork Loin

When I buy pork I try and avoid a pre-brined, injected cut of meat. They inject the pork to make it stay moist when it's cooked, put a little flavor into it and, most importantly, pump up the weight so you spend a little more. I find that the brined meat is a little too salty, throws off my recipes and generally has a strange quality to the meat that I don't appreciate. That said, if all you can find is an injected bit o' meat, don't feel bad about buying it. Just remember to watch any salt you put into the recipe as the meat is already fairly well salted.

So we have here a 4.25 pound hunk of meat at $2.29 a pound. How does that compare to pre-cut, supermarket chops? I'm glad you asked.

Pork chops in the wild.

Pork chops in the wild.

Here we have a package of four chops, about a half inch thick for $4.99 a pound. One, maybe two dinner's worth of meat for ten bucks. We have twice the meat for a lower price. Sweeeeet. We also have control over how thick our chops are. These are a pretty decent thickness for supermarket pork chops. Anything less than a half inch thick is going to be overcooked before it's done and you may need a saw to cut it, or at least leather working tools. And plenty of gravy to cover the dryness.

Alright, enough about those supermarket chops. We are through, and we've moved on to something much better and will never look back. So, first step with our pork loin: Remove the wrapper.

My knife is about a foot long. That's a big hunk of pig.

My knife is about a foot long. That's a big hunk of pig.

Removing the wrapper is best done over the sink. Set up your cutting board and take your pork and a knife to the sink and have a couple paper towels ready on the counter. There's going to be a bit of liquid and it's a little ooky and you don't want it all over the place. Food safety is no joke, friends.

Once the wrapper is off, hang the pork loin over the sink for a second to let any excess liquid drip off. It's not completely pleasant but it'll be worth it. Some people say you should rinse your meat, but that isn't really necessary, and present advice is to avoid doing that as water can splash bacteria all about and turn your kitchen. I don't know about you, but I have enough bacteria around my kitchen already, thank you very much. Take your paper towels (good thing you had them ready, isn't it?) and pat the meat dry. Lay the pork loin on a cutting board. Like the picture.

Now it's time to decide what you want to get out of your pork loin. Do you just want chops? Do you want three or four decent sized roasts? Maybe a mix of the two? Maybe you want to make a pork loin copy of Michelangelo's David. I cannot help you if that's the case. It may be too late for help at that point.

Here's what I decided to do:

Tada!

Tada!

We have here six inch thick chops, a lean chunk on the left there that I'll be using to make spicy bulgogi pork (Why yes, I will share that recipe with you! Thanks for your interest!) and a fatty chunk on the right that I will be grinding up to make meatballs. If you are going to make a roast I recommend using that fattier side and cutting a four or five inch section. The fatty bit will help the roast from being too dry. The leaner section is good for stir fry.

Now that you have decided what you want out of your loin (oh dear, that didn't sound right...), commence to cutting. Start by cutting your roast of one end and then work your way down, cutting piece by piece. Like I said, I prefer a thicker pork chop, about one inch. Chops that size won't dry out as quickly and can be pounded into thin cutlets that you can use to make schnitzel or tonkatsu (and I will cover those as well, thank you for asking). A half inch would be the minimum thickness I recommend, and you can go up to two inches for some real cave man sized double chops, if that's how you want to roll.

Take your knife and make long, slow strokes. Use the whole length of the blade. The less sawing back and forth, the smoother the surfaces of your chops and roasts will be. It should take just three or four back and forth motions to get through. If they do come out a little ragged don't worry about it. They will still be delicious. You'll just need a little more practice and maybe some better knives.

Now that you've parted the pork it's time to put it away. Decide if you're going to use any of the bits in the next day or so and freeze anything you will be saving for later. I like to put them in single layers in large freezer bags so I can take out one or two as needed. The roasts will go into individual bags.

Wash your hands (cross contamination is no joke, people!), get as many bags as you need, open them and grab some tongs. Alternatively you could ask a responsible adult to help you if one is near. They can hold the bags open while you fill them with your dirty pork hands. Today I was alone, so I used tongs. Be careful not to touch the outside of the bags or zipper area with the raw meat.

And there you have it! You'll note that one chunk is not bagged, that's because I used it to make meatballs immediately after I portioned my pork. The tale of the meatballs next time, my blog friends, but until then, enjoy!

Fall Decor

-by Jamie

For my first post on our brand new website (woot woot!) I thought I'd share some pictures of the little fall decor projects that have been happening here at the Hayes house.

Atop our console table we have:  Mr. Buddha who was a gift from our friend Matt for our wedding (rumor has it he purchased it from our Target wedding registry....I love it!), a lovely mason jar vase also from our wedding and four 'lil pumpkins painted by our darling toddler, 'lil P.

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Since 'lil P is two years old, rather than handing her a carving knife, we decided to have her paint her pumpkins instead.  We let her pick them out herself at Detering Orchards, which is pretty much the most awesomest place on Earth come October.  (we also helped her carve a jack-o-lantern but this is how we kept her occupied during the carving party).  The best thing about these small little gourd pumpkin thingees is they last way longer than jack-o-lanterns....we'll probably still be able to keep them around to decorate on Thanksgiving.

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After the painting, we let her add glitter to the pumpkins.  The one below is my all time favorite.  We call him David Bowie.

Let's talk about this mason jar (and let's not talk about that huge scratch on my wall which for some reason I didn't notice until posting this picture...sigh).  We spray painted a bunch of mason jars to use as vases for our wedding.  I will post in more detail about how to do that as I continue with the blog posts about our wedding reception.  It's filled with dried "decorative oregano" which we accidentally planted in our garden instead of actual flavorful cooking oregano.  A pretty woopsie indeed.

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Up next:  Another fall decor project for toddlers:  paint a tree with toilet paper rolls (this idea was all over pinterest and I am in no way taking credit for it :-)  )


I think it's time to add some Turkey crafts to the collection!  Until then, my friends!

DIY Mason Jar Save the Date Cards

Our second “Craft of the Month” comes early (woohoo!) because it happens to also be the first major task on the master “to do” list.  “What list are you talking about, Jamie?”  Well, dear reader, if you truly loved me you would know I’m talking about the list from my first post:  Wedding Reception Planning: Jamie and her Magical Duct Tape Crazy Board

Oh man.  I love lists.  I actually wrote a song about lists and how much I love them.  I wrote it just for you.  Sing the following to the tune of “My Favorite Things”:

Items on lists in particular orders/ lists of more lists and more lists and more listies/ lists upon lists upon lists upon lists/ these are a few of my favorite things

lists make me happy and help me remember/ all of the thingees to do in December/ lists upon list upon lists upon lists/ these are a few of my favorite things

When the dog bites/ make a list of/ what you have to do/ so that you don’t get the rabies-Mc-Rabies/ and then you won’t feeeeeeel so baaaad

Did I mention I was a poetry major?  I mean, it seems obvious but I’ll mention it anyways.

Moving on.

Before you do anything else, you should get yo self a party binder.  This is the part where I need to explain to you, dear reader, that I was unaware during the creation of our reception that I would have the desire to blog about it in the future.  So there are lots of things that I didn’t get a picture of.  Our party binder was unfortunately one of those things.  It was absolutely fabulous.  My former room mate Stacie made it for me and it had dividers for each topic:  guest list, venue, crafts and decorations, food and drink, and “misc.”  Each divider had a cutsie picture of Tim and I and so did the cover.  When we moved to our house we left the binder on the floor and our two year old got a hold of it and tore it to pieces.  sigh.  My point is that an organized party binder is the shiz.  I just happened to read today that trapper keepers are making a comeback!!  Check outhttp://www.trapperkeeper.com !   If I were you I would get one and make dividers for each thing like I mentioned above and put a folder in each section.  Keep loose paper handy in the side pocket for your LISTS!!!!  Time to sing the song again.

The first major task on the master list is to make the “Save the Date” cards.  You may ask why, being a non-traditional wedding reception, did we do the whole save the date thing.  My answer is that we wanted to convey to our friends and family from out of town that this was a big deal…that this was sort of equivalent to our wedding so please, ahem, save the date, buy your airplane tickets, send us gifts (kidding hehe)!   

There are a few things that need to happen before you make your save the date cards:  make a master list of all your desired guests so you have an idea of how many of these save the date cards to make. Also, make a website for the party so that you can include the web address on the cards.

Tim and I used http://www.ewedding.com to make our website. It was easy peasy.

You may not have all of the information for the site yet but you can keep adding info as you get it. The goal for right now is just to have some photos up and a web address so people can check back for info about your party as they need it. Eventually on the website you should try and have: directions, your gift registry, information about the hotel block of rooms and transportation, general party information, etc.

Now for the funsies! Making the actual cards. Did I save one of our cards? Did I take a picture of it? I sure didn’t! But have no fear because we actually hired someone on Etsy to design us a personalized printable save the date card. She saved it as an image file, emailed us the file and then we printed them out ourselves on our home printer.  and here it is:

The artist shop on Etsy who did this for us was called "Blue Moon Designs".  It appears taht she is taking a break from Etsy for the time being but I found lots of similar designs on Etsy.  Just search for "printable mason jar save the date".  

We splurged on some fanciful cream colored linen card stock from http://www.paperandmore.com and we also purchased envelopes to fit our cards. You want to make sure you have at least an eighth of an inch of space between the card and the envelope so that you can actually slide the card in. A quarter inch of space on each side is ideal.

We were able to fit four of the mason jar images per page of paper.

Our original plan was to just have a square invitation but then we got the brilliant yet ever-so-time-consuming idea to cut out each mason jar so that our save the date card was the shape of the mason jar (thanks for your help, mom!) and boy oh boy were they not the cutest things you ever did see!

Until next time, friends!

 

 

Chalk Paint Mason Jar Drinking Glasses

-by Jamie

The best advice I received about party planning was that it’s important to break up monotony/ un-fun list making/ making phone calls/ obtaining addresses mumbo jumbo with fun stuff that you look forward to doing.  The person who gave me that advice happens to be a therapist so she for sure knew what she was talking about.  For my husband and I that fun stuff was the crafts and shopping.  Whenever we were starting to feel stressed, we’d make a point of changing our focus for a few days over to crafting or buying supplies online or at stores.

My favorite craft from our wedding reception was also the most time consuming.  We made every single one of our one-hundred-thirty-some guests a personalized drinking glass that they could fill up themselves at the bar with whatever they liked.

photo credit:  Caitlin Lyons or Jackie Mancilla or Erica Schroyer or Liz Shaffer-Wishner…I  can’t remember.  Or it may have been another guest…if I didn’t credit you, my bad.

Ain’t they cute?!  Let’s talk about mason jars:  One could call them the scruffy beard with a fancy hairdo of weddings.  Meaning, they may be very much a trend that we will associate with the mid-2010’s and also very much a hipster thing.  I have to say that I’m ok with that.  They are cute as shit and also cheap as shit!  And most importantly instead of wasting a bunch of paper cups you have a wedding favor that people can keep.  That said, we probably went a little overboard with our mason jar theme as I’m sure you’ll see as I continue to post about our event.  Oh well.   I’m sure I will still look back at everything fondly and joke about how it was all oh so 2014.  :-)

So how’d we do it?  First we bought a ton of mason jars as cheaply as possible.  Instead of worrying about everything matching we ended up getting a mixture of plain glass, blue glass, wide mouth, and regular mouth glasses.  That way we could just grab whatever the store had.  I think we got about half of our jars at Fred Meyer and half off of Amazon.  We got pint jars for the grown-ups and little 8 oz jars for the kids.

In addition to the jars we used:  Chalkboard spray paint, a Chalk pen and blue painter’s tape.  And beer.  The beer is for drinking.  Keep it out of the range of the spray paint.

I should start by saying the credit for making these jars goes to my husband Tim.  All projects involving spray paint were done by him…possibly because spray painting involved being outside and drinking beers.  Also because he’s awesome and helpful and was very hands on with the party planning which I appreciated so so much.

So, the first problem we ran into was that half the mason jars we bought had designs on every side of the glass.  In other words, there was no flat surface to spray paint on.  On those glasses we ended up doing smaller rectangles of chalkboard paint instead of bigger squares.  Just something to keep in mind when you buy mason jars for a project like this.  It may be best to buy ones that have at least one smooth side.

Tim had read that when spray painting squares on mason jars, one must tape plastic bags all around a square sized space that you leave uncovered. So basically, the only part of the jar not covered in plastic bag is the square shape you will be painting.  Then just spray the whole thing and the square is the only part that will get paint on it, leaving the rest of the jar pristine.

Here’s what happened when he tried it that way:

If at first you don’t succeed and fail so badly that you almost pee yourself laughing, have a beer or two then try, try again.

So yeah.  The bag sort of made a pattern when we pulled it off and it just really didn’t keep a nice seal from the paint.

By the third time Tim had down a fail-proof-ish system that he would like to share with you:

-Wash all of your jars and make sure they are completely dry….so maybe do this the day before you start your project.  It’s such a huge pain in the ass.  I’m sorry.  But speaking of ass, if you take the lid off the jars you’ll realize they really do smell horrible before being washed.

-Make a square with painters tape and go around the tape with your nail making sure the tape is really on there well and no paint can get under it.  Maybe even make a second row of painters tape so your squared off section is surrounded by like an inch or two of painters tape.

-Then just be careful when you’re spraying to stay within the square.  Be gentle.  Go over it a few times with the spray paint.  If you mess up wipe it off quickly.  If you have a little black streak somewhere else on the jar, maybe you’ll notice later and you’ll scrape it off.  Maybe you won’t notice and just your wedding guest will notice and then they’ll never talk to you again.

-Let the paint dry fully and completely before you peel the tape off.

-store the glasses until you have your final guest list and then write everyone’s name and table number on their glass with a chalk marker.  We used our glasses as, I think the formal term is “escort cards”, which tell people where to sit.  They were at the front table of the party just as you walked in.

So there ya have it.  :-)

Wedding Reception Planning: Jamie and her Magical Duct Tape Crazy Board

-by Jamie

Some of the most brilliant people– both real and fictional, have what my husband has named the ”crazy board.”  You know, those boards that are usually in a shed with notes and photos and newspaper clippings and if you’re really crazy, various letters circled and lines made with yarn…

Anyways…The first step of my party planning process was to create a crazy board of my own.  Mine consisted of a series of lists duct taped to my front door along with a calendar.  (in our case the dollar store kitten calendar).  First, I basically made a master list/timeline.  This timeline served as a list of all of the smaller, more detailed lists I ”needed” to make.  I know…I just…I know.  But I really enjoyed doing this.  That’s the scary part.  My point here is that I hope my crazy board process is helpful to you in your party planning.  I will type said list up for you below.  It should serve almost as a guide for all of the topics I hope to discuss in more detail in future posts.  So if you’re wondering, for example, what specific decorations I used, where I got my dress, invites and that sort of thing, I promise to talk about all of that.

Before I type up the list I want to make a note about the calendar:  While a timeline/master list was a nice way to keep track of when general things needed to be done, the calendar was for specific appointments.  For example:  meeting with the DJ to discuss party philosophies, nose hair trimming appointment with self in bathroom mirror from 2pm to 2:07, etc. etc.

I’d like to give a shout out to pinterest, wedding magazines, and wedding blogs in general.   I read a lot of other people’s timelines before coming up with my own.

ok one more important note:  This list is specifically for non-traditional wedding receptions.  I didn’t include the usual timelines for booking florists, dress shopping, caterers, photographers and the like because I didn’t use any of those services in a traditional manner.  For example, by caterer I mean Qdoba (holla!) and by dress shopping I mean order something online and account for shipping time.  You get the idea.

Now I present to you, the timeline:

16 months-12 months before Wedding Reception:

-Brainstorm/ get the ball rolling:  This is a 3 day process involving wine, pinterest and awkward conversations about money.

-make a party binder

-pick a venue.  Book it!

-make preliminary guest list so you have an idea of the number of guests

-make a ”wedding” website

-make save the date cards

8-10 months before

-make a detailed DAY OF THE RECEPTION plan

-make a chart/ blueprint of the reception venue/ where things will be such as the bar, the food, the dj, your secret stash of scotch, etc.  Make sure to include lots of red circles around letters and strings and pictures of Jodie Foster…just kidding about that last part.

-finish compiling guest list and addresses

-register for gifts (woot!  woot!)  (put your registry info on the wedding website)

-send save the date cards

-make detailed decorations list and decorations shopping list

-shop for decorations!

5-7 months before

-hire a day of coordinator.  Give them all the needed details and have a meeting if desired.

-arrange child care

-hire DJ

-make or order invitations

-reserve a block of hotel rooms (put the info on your wedding website)  (make sure you write the ”cancel by” date in your calendar)

-arrange transportation (put info on wedding website)

3 months before

-hire caterer.  Make a menu plan, discuss payment details.

-Make linen arrangements

-write in detail your overall food plan and shopping list

-Make a list of craft and decor projects.  Recruit help!

-craft! craft!  and craft some more!

-Make a list of clothes and makeup needed.  Buy it.

2 months before

-meet with DJ.  Discuss music preferences and flow of the wedding/ announcements they’ll need to make.

-ask people to make speeches

1 month before

-check in with wedding coordinator

-check in with caterer

-check in with DJ

-check in with childcare

-make home brew/ order kegs

-buy wine or make it

-buy liquor

-recruit set-up and take-down team

-make haircut appointment

-make makeup appointment

2 weeks before

-order flowers from grocery store

-write speech

-check in with the other speech makers

-get sexy hair

-make wax and nail appointments

-double check final decorations list to make sure you have everything

-deal with any parking arrangements

-call guests who didn’t RSVP

-give caterer final headcount

-make a seating chart

1 week before

-confirm arrival times, any last details with: wedding coordinator, DJ, venue, childcare provider, caterer, linens, flowers

-shop for last minute food/ decor

-check in with set-up and take-down teams

-make packing list of things to bring to the venue

-start putting all the wedding stuff together in big plastic totes

-confirm hotel block

-get $ for vendors, put in envelopes

1 day before

-shop for perishable food

-wax, nails

-check packing list.  Make sure everything is ready to go

-give payment envelopes to a trusted friend or relative

day of (see DETAILED DAY OF list taped to your crazy board)  :-)