Thursday, December 5, 2013

Vacation Planning, Phase 1

      So it's almost time for our annual Christmas Vacation. I know that for me this immediately brings to mind images like this one: 
But I assure you, our trips are at least a little more subdued than this...a little. Last year's Boston trip was a huge success. This year we really wanted to go somewhere warm. OK, it was me. I wanted to go somewhere warm! You got me!
     Anyway we decided warm was the way to go, and that we would alternate warm and cold climates each year from here on out. I feel like that gives me a whole year to talk them back into a warm trip, but we'll save that for later. This year we are headed to Florida.
     We are all super excited. Don't forget this is a Simple City Sam style trip so we won't just be doing the standard Florida resort trip. In  true "use your resources" fashion, I was able to score a condo on the cheap. I've got an uncle who's got a friend....If I had a nickel for every story that started this way (c'mon, I'm Italian, it's how it works) who gave us his deal on the time share condo. It sleeps 8, has a two suite set up and an adjoining kitchen and great room. This is ideal for us. This year we're bringing mom again, and we talked my aunt into coming too. It's going to be a full house and a little room to spread out is very nice!
     Well, that got the ball rolling. Family members have been very supportive of this new concept and have been taking it upon themselves to help out. One family member paid for the girls to get US Passports. This is huge as it will make traveling, even domestically, infinitely easier. No longer will I have to carry birth certificates and the like. Another family member purchased Sea World tickets for the family as a family gift. Score! Yet another member put together a travel pack full of easy travel activities, snacks, and cute luggage tags. It has been wonderful to not only be supported by our family, but to also have them helping out!
     I'll talk more about all this good stuff. But for now, I was at a place where I needed to do one of my most favorite things in the whole world. It was time to plan and make lists.
     Ok, first things are first. I knew we would be in the condo and that we'd have a kitchen. This is really super crucial. In honesty, if this amenity were not available, the trip could easily have become too cost prohibitive. Eating out every meal and/or paying for meal plans is ridiculously expensive and frankly, wasteful. Those scenarios grossly overcharge for things that you often aren't truly satisfied with. We love cooking and eating home-cooked meals anyway, so for us it's just a bonus.
     After we get checked in hubby and I will head to the grocery store first off. We will do a weeks worth of grocery shopping and stock up for the entire trip. Even without knowing the market and the area very well, we will be able to accomplish this in a couple of hours. Thus, saving an enormous amount of time by not waiting to go out to eat every night and sending someone "out" in the morning for coffee and bagels.
     We also save hundreds of dollars this way. As you know, I can feed a family on a heck of a budget. So, even with "splurges" we will be able to feed the 6 people going for the week for less than the cost of two days of eating out. I'll post the grocery bill after we shop, you'll see!
     I still need to be organized though, and here comes the list. I sat down with the hubby, or maybe more like I cornered him one morning while he thought I was being nice- sucker!- and planned out the meals for a week. We picked meals that we knew EVERYBODY liked, that are easy to make, and are inexpensive. It's important to consider the equipment you'll need to make the meals too. Most rentals or condos are not super well stocked. Expect a couple pots and pans and maybe a bottle opener, anything else is gravy (as they say).
     We also focused on the nutritional aspect too. Vacations are all about playing hard so we planned high protein meals. We also planned healthy, natural snacks like fruits, veggies, and our energy bites. We thought about lunches and kept them protein based as well and tried to take into account the fact that they'll have to travel, probably, in a back pack for a bit.
      After we planned the meals I made shopping lists, yep plural. (You can see they also make great coloring pages too.) I made a list of items we would need to buy there and a list of items we could buy here and bring with us. Some of the meals need something in small quantity and it's impractical to buy an entire jar of bouillon cubes because you'll need two. Some items are less expensive closer to home, and sometimes you know tricks on finding things cheap where you're comfortable shopping. Over the last few weeks I've been purchasing one or two of the items on the "buy here" list as part of the weekly shopping. It's only a couple bucks extra here and there and by the time we're ready to go I'll have everything we need.
     So far so good. We are a little over a week out from take off and I have almost everything on my list. I'll toss them in my suitcase and we'll be good to go.
     Now, off to pre-pack. Yay! Another list.
Stay tuned!
Simple City Sam

Friday, November 15, 2013

Pears: Part 2

      Don't think that I've forgotten about you or all those delicious pears we prepared...pre-pear-ed..see what I did there?...good one! Anyway, the dehydrated pear rings from our first pear installment were just the tip of the iceberg.
     About half of the pears were peeled, cored and sliced using our handy peeler, corer, slicer machine. Man, I love it. Then I made the easiest pear sauce known to man.
     Wait. What? What the Hannah is pear sauce, you ask? Well don't get too excited. It's just apple sauce - but made with pears.  See, nothing revolutionary. Or is it?
     I LOVE pear sauce. Maybe it's because I've been so conditioned to only register apple sauce. Maybe it's simply the pear far superior ability to be pulverized efficiently. Either way, I like the pear sauce much better. Remember these pears are the ones we got from my grandmother's tree. They are a bit harder and more tart than your typical pear. Which makes them perfect for sauce!
     The consistency holds up beautifully and the tartness lends itself nicely to the long cook time. You'll need a long time to break down the firmness of the pear, you see.
     I fill the crock pot full to the top with pears. Then I sprinkle about a 1/4 cup of sugar (I prefer to use sugar in the raw if I have it), 1 tablespoon vanilla, 1/2 tablespoon of cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg, and 1/4 teaspoon ginger. Remember you should feel free to season as you like. Amp up the cinnamon if you like it,  omit the vanilla, use brown sugar. It's all up to you.
     Then I set the crock pot on high for 6 hours and forget about it completely. Then I let it sit on low, or warm, for another 2 hours (or more if I get caught up in something). It's easy for me as my crockpot as a multi-timer setting, but if you don't just set yourself an alarm on your phone or alarm clock even.
     After that the pears break down easily by gently pressing them with a fork or potato masher. The natural juices of the pears are released during cooking and bring plenty of liquid to the sauce. Everything else you added, and it's delicious!

      We went a step further this year and actually canned a few quarts. More on this to come. But if you're not up for that the sauce can be refrigerated safely for weeks and frozen for months. If freezing, use freezer bags or freezer designated plastic storage containers.
     We now have over 10 quarts of pear sauce ready and waiting to be eaten or given as gifts. My girls love it for snack or even desert. My youngest prefers it hot. Our best friend used it as a pancake topper last weekend. Even my grandmother is secretly hoarding a jar we gave her, refusing to share with anyone.
I feel like that makes this another simple success.
Simple City Sam

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Cash Mob!

     Tomorrow, Nov. 8 is a big day for us. It is my sweet little lady's 3rd birthday. She is my youngest and my light...also my kryptonite. That little chica could probably get away with just about anything - and she knows it. That's a super dangerous combination. None-the-less we will be having a birthday "play date" for her and her little friends...whom I realized yesterday are all boys... I was the same way. Saturday we'll have a nice big family dinner where she has chosen to have Beef Stroganoff, Red Velvet Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting and Blueberry Pie. She was VERY specific! Then we will officially embark on "3-dom".

     To make the 8th even more exciting it is the Etsy Maine Team's 2nd Annual Cash Mob. I am still relatively new to the team but the buzz is already quite exciting. In the spirit of supporting local business, saving some money, getting quality products, and maybe getting a little holiday shopping out of the way, we present to you the perfect solution. Shop from your home or office from over 700 local artisans and over 15,000 items!!!

     Head over to and enter 'maineteam' in the search and join the mob. Looking for something specific, like one of my fabulous quilts? Then try 'maineteam quilt' and really narrow it down.

     Last year they had great success and we're looking to really bring it home this year. To sweeten the pot even more use my coupon code: BLOGMOB13 for 10% off purchases of $10 or more at my store good for the Cash Mob only. Get on it!

Check out this treasury I made and get a taste of what Maine has to offer...SCS style.

Happy shopping you savvy shoppers, you!

Simple City Sam

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Busy Week, Getting Busier

     Well, it's been a full week since we spoke last. Our first craft fair went well. A bit of a slow start, but that's how it usually goes. We got some good insight as to what will be successful at these shows and what may not be.

     My little brother is here, all the way from Honolulu with his lovely wife and new baby. I am one happy auntie and sister right now. I do miss them terribly. Yeah, I'm sure they're happy in Hawaii, who wouldn't be? But we miss them. So this is an extra special treat. That little nephew is ridiculously cute and has the most wonderful scrunch-faced snort that any little dude could have.

     In their honor we held a huge family dinner. We went old fashioned New England style roast beef supper on them and it was such a hit!! We made roast beef, pan seared scallops, baked beans, brown bread, green bean casserole, mash potatoes, roasted Brussels sprouts and carrots, gravy and of course pies! No one left hungry, that's for certain, and there were around 30 of us!

     I was also accepted into an Etsy sales team known as EtsyMaineTeam, and am hoping it will help with exposure and sales. Everyone on the team, as you may guess, lives and produces right here in the greatest State in the union, Maine. You know how I feel, local is best, so I'm excited to be apart of the team. It is also forcing me to do a little "housekeeping" on the site which will be wonderful. Check them out and join us for the cash mob on November won't even need to change out of your jammies.

     The rest of the week will include taking new pictures and adding new product to the Etsy page. We will also be headed back to New Hampshire to spend more time with my brother and go pumpkin picking. Of course Thursday is Halloween. I have a parent teacher conference and an admissions interview Friday and another craft fair on Saturday. Whew! This week is going to fly by!

     Oh and tomorrow I go in to get my hair colored, for the first time in YEARS! I'm getting back to my crazy funky self and going full pink! Yep, pink! Say what you will, I'm psyched. I'll post pictures, probably to Facebook so check in over the next day or so.

I love being busy, but maybe I've over done it this season. What do you think? Wish me luck!

Simple City Sam

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Pears: Part 1

     So we picked the tree clean of pears at GG's house this weekend. The end of the season bounty was huge. We had so many pears! It was such a lucky break too. Things have been especially tight lately and we weren't able to do our usual trip to the apple orchard this year. Pears became a quick substitute when I realized how many we would have. This was even more so when we saw that these pears were very hard and often misshapen. They lent themselves to cooking willingly. We have prepped all the pears at this point and are ready with so many uses. I will cover them all, with all the recipes, I promise.
      First up is dehydrated rings. They are first because they are the easiest and take a long time. It really helps to get an impossibly cute kid to help you. Child labor may be illegal in some parts of the world, but not here in this house!
     I had another major score this weekend when my grandmother gave me an apple peeler/corer/slicer that she found, unopened, at a yard sale. Great news! Just as I suspected, it works with pears too! Hooray.
     For the rings, we prepared 3 pears with the slicing machine. I broke individual rings off using only the ones that were all pretty much the same size. The small pieces I threw in the pot marked for sauce. I laid them out on baking sheets covered in parchment paper and lightly sprinkled them with sugar. I got 12 to a sheet but you don't really need to worry about overcrowding. They will shrink considerably in the drying process.
     We let them dry out in a 225 degree F. oven for around 2 1/2 - 3 hours. They could have gone a bit longer, but the girls like them with still a little firmness. We got 3 dozen rings dried in our first round. They are so yummy! The girls love them for snacks and they have even been satisfying my late night sweet tooth.

     The best part is that they were only the first step in our major pear preparations! Keep your eyes out for future pieces. Soon I'll bring you pear sauce (instead of boring apple sauce), prepping and freezing pie and crisp ready pears and pear jelly made entirely from peels and cores! As always they'll all be super simple.
You can bet I'll be munching on these at my next craft fair!
Simple City Sam

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Craft Fairs 2013!

     Make sure you come and see me in all my crafting glory at, at least, one of my craft fairs this season. I still have a very few empty lines on my dance card so let me know if you've got a fair near you that needs a little Simple City Sam injection.

 (No, that's not me, that's my wildly talented mom, another SimpleCitySam engineer and my cousin in the foreground shopping like a pro.)

Oct. 26th, 10am-5pm. Freeport First Parish Market at the First Parish Church, Freeport, ME.

Nov. 2nd, 8am-3pm. The Great Pumpkin Craft Fair at the Page School, West Newbury, MA.

Nov. 9th, 9am-3pm. Atkinson Congregational Craft Fair at the Atkinson Congregational Church, NH.

*Nov. 23rd, 10am-2pm. Steep Falls PTO Holiday Fair at the Steep Falls Elementary, Standish, ME.
(*updated 10/31/13)

Nov. 29th, 9am-4pm AND Nov 30th, 9am-3pm. Christmas in the County Craft Fair at Bonny Eagle High School, Standish, ME.

Dec. 6th, 5pm-8pm AND Dec. 7th, 10am-4pm. Holly Jolly Fair at the First Parish Church, Freeport, ME.

As always, if you can't make it to one of our fairs you can always check out our offerings at our SimpleCitySam Etsy store or like us on Facebook. If you're local to Portland, Maine or know me real well :-) message me for a drop off and free shipping. Check it out and get a jump on Holiday shopping and gift giving.

Get it while the gettin's good.

Simple City Sam

Not-Childless By Choice

     I know! I know. I know. I have been a terrible blogger. I haven't been around as much as I'd like. Truth be told, losing one job and stepping back from the other simultaneously - but not purposely- has really thrown me for a loop. I can't seem to honestly figure out why really, but it has. I can't seem to find my motivation anymore. Which, in itself is doubly frustrating. I am still here, making soaps, detergents, home made meals and a multitude of crafts and quilts. I am not, however, finding time to write and explore just for myself. Those moments seem to be eluding me. To be honest I'm not sure why.

     I do see myself getting back into a "funk". I have battled depression my whole life and only partially successfully. Outlets and releases are something we all need. For the depressed they are literally prescribed not merely suggested. So in order to head this momentum off at the pass I am prescribing myself on outlet, a release. I am back to requiring something tangible of myself. I am back to writing and exploring and sharing simply.

     I must work actively to fight those voices I hear, both inside and out. "So how is it being back home, relaxing again?" Relaxing? You guessed it! That doozy was asked by a non parent. Because any parent out there knows a colonoscopy would be more relaxing than being home all day with a toddler or two.

     "How do you like being a mom again, finally?" Hey, nincompoop! I never stopped being a mom, I just used to be a mom with a paying job, that's all.

     "Pull it together, Sam, it's not as hard as you're making it out to be. Buck up, you've dealt with worse." While I have a point, I have dealt with worse. Harsh criticisms have always been my most brutal weapon against myself. Why allow perceived outside judgments and standards to affect my day to day being? I'm not sure I'll ever be able to answer that, though I so desperately hope that I do. As of late, as well, I have been taking offense to many of the opinions that seem to be thrown around so haphazardly. I'm working at not taking them all to heart, but some are more pervasive than others.

     Now, I know opinions are anyone's prerogative and are what keep life diverse. But with the onslaught of Facebook posts, Pinterest ideals, and a myriad of politically charged bumper stickers it's enough to make a girl want to rip her hair out! I will not digress into a political discord. I will however address my biggest irritant, the worst judgment given at the present moment. The one from your well-meaning friend, empowered aunt or trendy-well-to-do-gay office mate, that goes, "See? This is exactly why I CHOSE not to have kids." I can't begin to tell you how many blog pieces I've read lately that cite how enlightened they are at not having children. Some will even tell you that they are in fact smarter for having the forethought to not follow the unthinking masses into parenthood.

     Didn't you get the memo? In order to be happy you have to have money and be smart and have lots of friends. The only way to do that is to not have kids. Kids ruin your figure, spend all your money, run your friends out of town and remove any intelligence or professional drive you may have at once possessed. To anyone who has made this lofty decision these are not theories but facts.

     Well, let me be the one to set my record straight, please. I am smart, happy most of the time and find those that are still my friends to be the best ones I've ever had. Here's the thing...yeah, having kids is super tough and toughest on your previously fabulous single life. Yes, some- no, many- children are created by "accident". In no way does that mean all children. I CHOSE to have children. I even CHOSE to have them in my 20s. GASP! No! The shock, the horror. You're only allowed to choose to have a family if you're in your late 30s and married to a doctor. All other pregnancies are drunken one night stands from a population much too young and stupid to think for themselves.


     I chose a road I knew would be difficult. I chose a life that by all right does not appear glamorous. Ever. I chose to put my professional goals, of which I have many, on hold for a temporary amount of time. Knowing that once rekindled it would still always be second in my life to my children. I chose to do all this while young, in good health, and before making my own personal fortune. This does not make me dumb, or those whose chose otherwise to be genius'. I, in no way, regret it. In fact, I wager, that if you ask any parent not one of them regrets it. Of course, we all would agree to a night off. Don't you like getting the night off from your glamorous, high paid, job that affords you all of your awesome-ness? Why are parents any different?

     Just because my health insurance premium is higher than any medical procedure you'll ever have, doesn't mean I should have waited until I had six figures sitting in the bank. Just because I don't get to go out on Friday nights anymore because I'm on kid duty while hubby works, doesn't mean I should have waited until the bar scene lost it's appeal to me otherwise. Just because I had my first daughter at the age of 25 doesn't mean she was un-planned. Just because my choices are different from yours doesn't mean I'm missing the big picture or have made foolish mistakes. It just means we're different.

     My husband and I had been together for 5 years and married for two and a family was so much of what we wanted. (In no way do I mean to imply that longevity or marriage equal good parents, just citing some statistics that shouldn't actually matter, but seem to nonetheless.) We tried for a long time to conceive. It was hard. I believe that my children will learn a great deal about money and responsibility and work ethics from watching parents who need to work and economize to survive. I can't wait to be in my forties and enjoying their company as young adults. Hopefully, I'll still be out there, "playing" with them considering I'll still be young enough to be in good health. Hiking, biking, even maybe drinking...again, the horror! I will be able to focus on my career and still work hard for it after having learned some valuable life lessons about what really matters in life and what can slide for the sake of the big picture. Suffice it to say that, I have a plan.

     So, get off my back. There's absolutely no need to pity me. And please, think about the connotation of your comments before you come at me with them. Because guess what? My kids aren't dumb either and they can hear you. Let's not make them question the consciousness of their beings, not just yet, huh? Perhaps you speak so loudly of your many choices because in fact they have not been choices but paths you simply were lead to and followed. Perhaps they were conscious choices.

     How would I know? I'm not you. Isn't that the whole damn point?!

Simple City Sam

Monday, September 23, 2013

Chicken Stock Ready To Go

      At this point everybody knows how much I love chicken stock. I make some with every carcass I have. In addition to using it for a plethora of soups, I also use it when making risotto, cous cous, wild rice and as a braising liquid occasionally. The tricky part is that I don't always need a quart or a gallon, like when I'm making soup. The other applications only used a little bit.
     So I freeze cubes. The average ice cube is around 2 ounces. Now whenever I make risotto I just reach into the freezer and grab a couple of cubes. They thaw in the pan and I have just the right amount that I need. Also, it's easy to add just a little more if ever needed, instead of trying to thaw or chip a piece off of a quart container.
     It only takes a few minutes but the payoff is monumental. I try to always have some in the freezer! And look at that gorgeous freezer! She's getting full alright. Now to get some proteins in there.
Happy freezing.
Simple City Sam

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Pineapple Resurrected

      We didn't kill it! Yet. You all undoubtedly remember the riveting piece I wrote months ago about trying to grow a pineapple. Yeah, right. Well, we spent the next few months trying desperately to kill the poor thing, it seemed.
     Every time I came around the corner our cat, Noche, would have the leaves in his teeth, yanking it from the soil. We replanted that thing countless times. The girls were a bit over zealous in their watering schedule and appeared to be drowning it daily. In fact hubby was ready to throw it out. I can't say I blamed him. Actually, the only reason he didn't was because I asked him not to, to wait for our girls to help dispose of it so they would have a greater understanding to natural cycles. Blah, blah, blah. Our busy schedule erased the issue from our minds and we forgot about the task. As luck would have it, it's a good thing we didn't throw it out.  
     I had set the entire pot outside early this summer with the afore-mentioned intention of throwing it out. I needed to get it away from that darn cat. (Hehe, see what I did there? No? Well, my mom did, it's cool.) We let this baby enjoy the Maine summer outdoors. It got sun, rain, and (to my knowledge) no cat teeth.
     Lo and behold! New growth! Check it out. I noticed it two weeks ago while watering the nearby carrots. It became "all hands on deck" as we made sure to protect our new beauty. We have since secured it a spot in one of the sunniest rooms of the house, which is also conveniently closed and "off limits" to all pets- especially Noche. We rotate it so it can get optimal sunshine and we monitor it's water content better than we had before.
     The original parts are certainly a bit worse for the wear, but there is no mistaking that beautiful bright green new growth! I am excited and so are the girlies. We will continue to keep you posted of course.
The con continues.
Simple City Sam 

Monday, September 16, 2013

The Beet Goes On

      Like anyone with a garden, the Fall for us is filled with harvesting and storing what we can from our garden for the long winter. It may sound silly but it makes me feel a little like Laura Ingles Wilder. I like that. I also generally end up getting super ambitious and driving the Hubby crazy, but I just get so excited and wrapped up in all of it that I can't help myself!
     Ok, so today was beets. I actually bought a "Bowl of Beets" from Snell Family Farm for $10 at Farmer's Market. There were 10 ENORMOUS beets in the bowl and a handful of medium sized beets and they were beautiful! I love beets. I roast them, pickle them, I ate a bowl full just after they were boiled for crying out loud.
     I am, however, the only one in the house who will enjoy them with such fervor. The others may indulge me by eating a few but I know that will be the extent of their commitment. So I only "cold pickled" two jars as opposed to actually canning a ton of them. I sliced the beets and placed them in jars. Then, to the jars I added 1/4 red wine and filled the jar the rest of the way with red wine vinegar (leaving roughly 1/2" of space). I added some fresh dill, minced garlic and raw sugar. I sealed them up and they are resting peacefully in the fridge as we speak. In a few weeks they will be divine and I will undoubtedly devour them.
     I saved out two for roasting with meals over the next few days as well. I've left them whole but if you wanted to you could peel and chop them and then store them for easy use later.
     Then we took the rest of them and set to work so that they could be frozen. The beets were tossed into boiling water (skins on)  for roughly 45 minutes to an hour. When done, a knife will easily puncture one. Then we took the skins off, which are removed easily at this point, and chopped them. We let them cool fully and packed them up into a few serving size containers. These will be pulled and prepared for family meals throughout the winter.  We also filled a 1 gallon sized freezer bag with them. This will be used for a large family gathering, probably Thanksgiving or Christmas.
     The project was easy and will give us some variety this winter while still giving us local freshness too. My standing chest freezer is growing fuller and happier by the day! Hooray!
Winter will be delicious.
Simple City Sam      

Friday, September 13, 2013

Dessert, Scavenger Style

      Well, it's the end of the week again. No more school lunches to pack for a few days. A busy, hectic, weekend is no doubt in store. It's that time of the week when we run a real solid chance of having some food go bad in the refrigerator before we can get to it. Hey, now, it happens to the best of us. We do great in not wasting food and work all week at making sure we use what we bought. I also make a huge effort during grocery shopping to not over buy. I know my family's eating habits and I know what we need to do to stay healthy. It's not easy but I balance them both, and that's the key. Nonetheless there is sometimes that one random clementine juiced in it's own rind rolling around the bottom of the fruit drawer, that sad limp celery stalk in the back of the crisper, the lonely handful of grapes on their way to making their own wine. I can't let that happen!
     If I notice a few things here and there that are straggling toward the end of the week I try desperately to take action. Last night we had a glorious fruit tart for desert. All in the name of conservation!
     We had one plum, two small peaches, 3 strawberries, and about a 1/4 cup of blueberries (which had already made their way to the freezer for longevity's sake). Hubby offered to whip up a quick pastry dough. Then I remember a random, lonely, single pre-made pie crust that my mom brought over for the last family get-together that was never used. It's just been taking up space in my freezer...sure not a ton of space but you get my drift. Plus unless I'm making pumpkin pie I'm going to need two crusts so this lil guy was never going to be used.
     We took the fruit and grilled it to really enhance the flavor. It makes the fruit super yummy! The grill adds a "rustic", earthy element to any item that I really love. Then we cut it all down to generally the same size pieces and tossed it with brown sugar, a teeny bit of cornstarch to bind and a pinch of salt to elevate the flavors. The mixture was placed in the center of the pie crust and the sides were folded up and pinched secure. We left the top open so it would cook faster, not be stretched too thin, and look cool too. With a damp hand hubby moistened the crust edges and then sprinkled a bit of raw sugar around the top. (Oh good, now there's no chance I won't eat ALL of it tonight, thanks Hubby.)
     It was popped in the oven at 375degF for 15-20 minutes. We put it in as we sat down to dinner, having made it with dinner prep, and it was perfectly cooled and ready to serve right after.  
     In the words of my youngest, "Tso, TSO yummy". What's best is that the reality is that these ingredients could have easily found their way into the trash or compost- a total waste. All it took was a teensy bit of creativity and effort and instead we had a glorious desert.
Happy Salvaging!
Simple City Sam 

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Charting "Growth"

      The first day of Kindergarten has come and gone. I did well, no tears. She did amazingly! In fact it was all I could do to get her to allow us to accompany her all the way to the classroom, as opposed to leaving us outside school as she had suggested. Nonetheless she did it. We did it.
     I decided a few days ago that I needed to do something to help remember the first day of school every year! I wanted to make something special for me and her (and later her sister) to do together. So I thought about the questions that would be most changing, telling, and meaningful over the next several years of growth. I came up with three. I intend to ask her the same three questions every year and, of course, record for posterity and general overall embarrassment by her parents.
     This morning she and I sat down and went over the questions.
1. What is your favorite item? The thing you just can't do without?
2. What do you want to learn in school this year? What is your goal?
3. What's your life's ambition? What do you want to be when you grow up?
     I fully expect this to be a chore, filled with rolling eyes, in anywhere from 5-10 years from now. If that long! But I won't stop, oh no! I can't wait to see how her answers change. I can't wait to see how she reacts to her previous answers. Most of all I can't wait to see what the end of the school year brings and if she'll have mastered that hand stand!
For now we are taking it one step at a time. Mostly because that's all I can handle.
Simple City Sam

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Days I Cherrish

      Sometimes it's about being swept up in the wind and feeling it take you over. Sometimes it's just about enjoying an open pathway and an open door and taking what you've given.
     Always it's about being aware of it while it's happening. Always it's about knowing it is special when you get it and appreciating that.
Simple City Sam

Moving! Wall Vanity Edition

      As you all know the move is final. We are in the new place and everything else is too. Now we come to the game of re-establishing it as a home. Putting our little touches here and there and getting our "stuff" back where we want it. It's a pain in the tush!
     I was anxious to get my jewelry "vanity" put back up and get that filled back in. Before we left the old place I took a picture of how I had it set up so putting the necklaces and such back up really wasn't that hard. This time around we did need to factor in pitched ceilings and short walls. I was able to mount the shelves at varying heights perpendicular to the wall and create little shelf "nooks" in relation to the pitched ceiling.
     The only thing left that was bothersome was the accessibility of my earrings. I LOVE earrings. It may in fact be a bit of an obsession. I can't help it! Plus, I have a wildly talented friend (Marquis Creations) who is a local jewelry maker, so really it's my duty to have several pairs and styles. I had an easy solution.
     I took another empty wood picture frame and stretched simple window screen across it. Each pair of earrings hook easily into the tiny mesh and are supported well! They are visible and accessible. Even more, now I have just one small box of studs that sits neatly on one of the shelves. This has, again, been an enormous space saver as well. The whole project took less than 30 minutes. We had left over screen from repairs we've made in the past, so this project was a complete up-cycle with no cost to ourselves.
Now I just need to fill it!
Simple City Sam

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Lemon Raspberry "Gimlet"

     For my sister's 30th birthday bash I also made a drink that was a bit stronger than the White Sangria. This one also played right into the likes of the guest of honor. This was my own play on a gimlet. Gimlets are traditionally gin or vodka mixed with fresh lime juice and simple syrup. I love them, but all that fresh lime makes it difficult to have more than one or two. Also straight vodka (basically) is not a great party beverage...just saying. This was just perfect. So refreshing, light, sweet, tangy and plain delicious all at the same time!
1 small bottle Stoli Razberi vodka ( or any raspberry flavored vodka)
1 bottle Simply Lemonade
1 bottle Simply Pink Lemonade
1/2 bottle Simply Limeade
4 Limes
2 Lemons
1 box Raspberries
     Wash and slice all of the limes and lemons. Add them to the jug or punch bowl. Add the bottle of vodka and the juices. I REALLY prefer the Simply Orange line of products. I have tried others with this recipe and I always come back to this brand as being the best. Lastly, so they don't get crushed, add the raspberries. Literally, that's it. It doesn't really need to soak. Keep ice nearby in a cooler or table bucket so that you can serve it over ice. This is way more refreshing and cost efficient because it will last longer.
     My sister was so happy with this "Gimlet". She rarely drinks but I saw her go back for seconds on this one. She even asked how to make it! That's when you know you've succeeded.
Happy Sipping!
Simple City Sam

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Summer White Sangria

     We had my sister's 30th birthday celebration this past weekend. I was in charge of adult beverages. This is honestly one of my most favorite tasks. I love making cocktails (and drinking them!). One bevy I made was this beautiful White Sangria. It is so easy to make.
Ingredients (to make enough for a standard punch bowl)
2 large bottles Riesling
1 small bottle Blush Moscato (or any Rose)
8 oz Triple Sec
3 Oranges
1 box Raspberries
1 box Blackberries
1/2 box Strawberries
1 Lime
1 Lemon
     First wash and prepare your fruit. Remove any bad raspberries or blackberries. Quarter the strawberries. Slice 2 of the oranges into thin round slices. Add all of this to the punch bowl. Juice the lime, lemon and remaining orange and add juice to the bowl (be careful not to let any seeds in). Add the Triple Sec next and pop the corks on those wine bottles! Add the wine...all of it. Let the sangria sit in the refrigerator for about an hour before service. More time doesn't necessarily hurt but I find the berries start to break down at that point and I like people to watch that process and enjoy that part of the cocktail too. Eating and drinking should entice more than just your sense of taste. If you serve it with little berry bits floating throughout, the presentation loses something, though not the flavor.
     When you serve this use wine glasses or punch glasses. I always keep a cooler or ice bucket near by as well. A lot of people prefer their Sangria on the rocks. This is good for your budget too because it makes the Sangria last longer.
     This was a super big hit. I actually made two batches and they were both completely gone. Fruit included! People love booze soaked fruit. By the end of the Sangria those orange slices are divine! I didn't have to spend a ton of money on high end wine. The fruit and Triple Sec really sweeten it up and the Riesling and Moscato are in their own rights. Mixing it all together means you can totally get away with "bargain" or middle of the road wine.
Perfect simple summer bevy!
Simple City Sam

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Personal Fitness Challenge: Confessional

     Alright so I need to be in better shape. For real. My youngest is almost 3 and hubby and I are not having anymore children. I can no longer classify the jiggle in the middle as "baby weight". Now hold up! Before my mom gets all, "you're beautiful, we are all made different, plenty of people would prefer to be your weight" I would just like to acknowledge all of this. Yes, it could be can always be worse. That's kind of the point, damn it! It can always be worse, so it stands to reason it could always be better. It also stands to reason that there is no need to sit and do nothing and allow it to get worse. Besides, for me, as with so many others, it really IS about being more healthy. About feeling better as well as looking better. I've talked before about setting good examples for my girls. Now I need to put my words into action.

     About 5 weeks ago now I started this personal challenge. Let's be even more clear. This is not about weight. It never has been for me. I don't own a scale and never will. I am tense stressed and anxious enough as it is. I do not need a quantitative target to obsess over, I just don't. It's enough pressure every few years when I have to decide what I need to report for weight on my driver's license. I mean, really. So I am not measuring by numbers. I am not in competition with anyone. I have placed no monetary payout on the results. Rather I am measuring by progression of my workouts, how I actually feel, and a visual aid. For incentive and motivation I am snapping a "selfie", in workout gear, every Monday. Motivational- if not just plain scary.

     I started by writing down a list of objectives. From there I made a list of crucial things that I needed to do differently. Be honest. You know why you're not as healthy as you want to be right? It's not really a surprise. There is something that you do that you shouldn't. Indulgences. Guilty pleasures. Foibles. We all have them.

     My goals were basic. I wanted to exercise more, eat better, and schedule my "work time" more efficiently. I was finding myself constantly feeling rushed, mal-nourished, tired, and rather weak. I don't like any of that. Not at all. I also feel like I'm not spending any time with my family. I am always trying to squeeze something else in because "I have to work later". My plan was to set an alarm, "workout" somehow, do some paperwork/computer work for the job, and get ready to go for the day and head out to work. The schedule worked great the first week except that it completely negated the whole "spending more time with the kids" notion. So I have since placed that duty back into the after bedtime list of goings-on. It's previously scheduled time slot is now devoted to family play time, morning walks, general getting ready for the day type stuff, and soon readying for school. It's much better getting smooches and snuggles before work than doing extra work! Duh.

    So, anyway, I looked more closely at what I could change in the first round. I know this is going to be a long term, life changing commitment. I need to take baby steps. I know this about myself. If I don't work gradually and efficiently my changes won't stick. I need things to change for my health and my sanity. I scribbled down what I was going to change on a scrap piece of paper and put it right on my night stand. I've been staring at it every day since then. Annoying but effective.

     I committed to spending 30 minutes a day doing a Pilates routine I know and had great success with before. I also committed to walking the 20 minutes or so to work. Beyond that I needed to drink WAY more water (a bit less beer- but baby steps!), eat more regularly, and eat less carbs. I have opted to do this by consuming carbs in only one meal a day, by eating a protein heavy breakfast every morning- usually eggs, and drinking a minimum of 6 pints of water daily. I keep track of this by making a pen hash mark on my wrist with every glass consumed. Another visual aid. Gotta love it. I have also committed to stop eating ANYTHING after 8pm. That's a big one and so hard, especially working in the food service industry with weird hours and food readily accessible. But I know this is terrible for me and my waistline, so changed it shall be.

     I have not been flawless or perfect in my commitments. I have missed a few workouts. There are days here and there when there are not 6 hash marks on my wrist. Some days I can not convince myself to walk to work in the rain. BEER! And there are plenty of days when the girls are barely in bed by 8pm, let alone me being fed by then. Nonetheless I am making progress. The workouts are getting easier and I've already increased their difficulty. Water isn't such a chore anymore, I can pretty easily avoid carbs most of the time, and I even found a new favorite smoothie place downtown. I'm still working hard at eating late at night, I've pushed my deadline to 9pm and focus on protein at night too if I just have to eat. I have taken pictures every week- no I am not ready to show them here yet- and they are definitely motivation. We will always be our own biggest critics I think, why not use it to my advantage for once?! I don't know, maybe I see some slight changes but I know I feel them, so for now I'm not unhappy.

I'll keep you posted on the progress but so far so good.

Simple City Sam


Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Moving! Bunk Bed edition.

      So, we are moving. Actually, now it's more like we have moved. Everything is in the new place, but not everything is in the place it should be. Isn't that always the way? It takes forever, and everything else in life seems to fall by the wayside when you're moving. It kind of drives me crazy. My hubby and I seem to be going for some sort of national moving title, we have moved over 14 times in the almost 11 years we've been together. I mean really, is that necessary?!
     None the less, we moved again. In truth, it's more of an upgrade than anything else! We are getting an extra bedroom and about 300sq feet more than we had, a dishwasher and in house laundry. This time we had helpers too, which makes everything so much easier. In theory ...
     The biggest news, however, is the bunk beds (especially if you ask the girls). That's right the girls upgraded too. Now they both get a twin size, no more toddler bed for the littlest one.  And of course, let's not overlook the importance and excitement that a three rung ladder can bring! My oldest "helped" Daddy put it together...or at least unpack the boxes.
     I was skeptical to say the least. Those are enough pieces to build a safe, sturdy bunk bed? If you say so. Hubby stayed up till the wee hours of the night to put it all together, what a guy!
     The inner kid in me was brought out when the mattresses were delivered for sure. Yep, here's one of them now. Wait...what? FedEx dropped them off and I started to get all salty. These aren't what I ordered. There's no way these are going to be actual twin size mattresses. If they are, they certainly won't be comfy. Grr.
     So we unpacked to see what we really got. Holy man, was I surprised!
     Alright, once the vacuum seal was broken that baby popped out, nice and full and firm like a jack-in-the-box...well a nice firm, full get what I mean. It was impressive for sure. Modern technology, what's next?
     Eureka! Actual bunk beds, with actual twin size mattresses. We did it. Huzzah! The shrieks of joy from the girls upon seeing their new beds were all that I needed. It was a success. Whew, check one giant moving item off the list!
     I have to say, too, that I was so impressed with the delivery speed and cost. I am NOT a huge online shopper (or shopper of any kind, truth be told) so I was very hesitant. However, I was able to get these bunk beds for less than half (much less than half...actually about a third) of what the same model cost in the local "discount" furniture store, including the mattresses. What's more is that the local "discount" store quoted me a 2 week delivery time. These bad boys were fully delivered less than 48 hours later. But, "hey Sam", you say, "we thought you were all, 'buy local, blah, blah, blah'". I am, but I'm also practical. In this situation we weren't buying locally crafted hardwood bunk beds, no matter what. Not many were available and they were FAR outside our price range. So the name of the game became saving money and staying efficient. Online purchases made that possible. I even have a 3 year warranty, something that was never offered while shopping in person.
     So I definitely count this as a win. I saved money, we had the bunks set for our first full night in the place and the girls are beyond excited. In fact, the last three nights have been the easiest bed times we've ever experience. Please, bunk bed Gods, let this be the new norm, please.
     Stay tuned for more stories of our move, a new get-fit challenge I've given myself, and some more garden recipes. The new job schedule, the move, craft fairs and the Etsy store, and the full time mom thing are definitely making it more difficult to find time for the blog, but fear not. I will find time. I still find this to be a great release and I miss it terribly. Don't give up on me...I haven't given up!
Lots of Love.
Simple City Sam

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Stuffed Zucchini

      All that hard work in the garden is starting to pay off. Summer dinners are in full swing and are delicious! Last night's dinner was heavenly and I only purchased one item for it (albeit by chance when I saw amazingness at the market!). We made a "stuffed" zucchini. In actuality it was more like zucchini boats but, eh, call it what you want.
      When the girls and hubby went out to the garden a few days ago they came back with a gorgeous ripe zucchini from the pallet garden and a hand full of ripe red tomatoes as well. We took those, some quinoa (which we always have in the pantry) and fresh local mozzarella we got from Farmer's Market and let our tummies do the leading. Of course the quinoa was made ahead of time as is necessary, and the zucchini was halved, and seeded. This made two perfect little boats. We diced the tomatoes, again avoiding seeds in order to avoid extra acidity and unwanted moisture. The zucchini itself already carries a lot of moisture and we didn't want soggy boats. We also diced up the mozzarella ball and tossed it with the tomatoes, quinoa (we used 1/4c dry quinoa to make), olive oil, salt and pepper. Total prep time was about 30 minutes, and we worked at a leisurely pace.
     We loaded the boats full of the mixture and placed them on a baking tray with parchment paper. The parchment paper makes for much easier clean up and is easily recycled and/or composted. The boats were baked at 350deg F for roughly 35 minutes. This time will vary depending on how big you zucchini is. We still wanted a little firmness to the zucchini so it could hold up the mixture and be cut easily with a knife but still keep it's form. Keep an eye on it while it's in the oven- touch it even. Don't be afraid to check on your food actively as it cooks. Nay, I encourage your activity!
     When it was all done, we cut one boat into thirds and I paired it with just a little creamy polenta for the girls (For mine, I went sans polenta to stay up on my new fitness challenge with myself. But we will cover that later). The cheese was melty and delicious. The tomatoes and zucchini were so amazingly fresh, and extra yummy because we knew we had grown them ourselves! It ended up being two dinners for the girls and I because of hubby's work schedule. Aside from splurging on hand made local mozzarella, which I just couldn't pass up when I saw it on sale at market, this meal was beyond inexpensive. Certainly it was less than $1 for all the rest of the ingredients combined, parchment too.
I do so LOVE enjoying the actual fruits of our labors.
Simple City Sam

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Home Made Granola Bars

     Well the summer brings beach days, picnics, and light eaters to our house. Because of that summer also tends to be a big "snack season". As long as I can get the right amount of nutrients into them I'm not going to be a huge stickler for meal times and huge portions through the summer. I get it, I don't want a big meal when it's 90 degrees either!

     One of our favorite bring-a-long snacks is home made granola bars. We played around with various recipes, as always, and ultimately settled on our own version. I must say too, that this is really due to the work of my hubby. He, now newly home more that he works at night and I work days, has really been rocking it on the domestic front. I am again reminded of why I married a chef. You know, minus the undying love junk.

     Ok, so here's the recipe. Feel free to make it your own.


1c oats
1/4c Vanilla Almond Special K cereal, crushed  (really any cereal will work here, it's all preference)
3tbsp oat flour (you can make your own by grinding 1/4c oats to a fine powder)
1/4tsp salt
1/4tsp baking soda
1tsp sugar
1/2tsp vanilla
2tbsp oil (veg, coconut, almond, whatever...we usually use veg because its always on hand)
3tbsp honey (or maple syrup)

     Preheat the oven to 350 deg F. Mix all dry ingredients and all wet ingredients separately. Next combine together. Place un-greased parchment in a glass baking dish (we use a 7x5 dish). Firmly press the mixture into the dish. Use the bottom of a mixing cup or firm non-stick surface to pack mixture as firmly as possible.

     Bake in the oven for 20 minutes. Remove from oven and place dish on cooling rack to let cool fully. To speed this process slightly remove parchment and mixture together from the dish after about 30 minutes. Allow to sit on cooling rack until fully cooled. Once cooled cut into desired shape.

     We have a small coffee grinder that we use exclusively for spice grinding. We are sure to clean it after every use so spice profiles are able to stay true. This is one of those must have gadgets, it makes life so much easier. Here you can see us making our own oat flour. 1/4 cup oats ground took us about 30 seconds total. This is a way better option for us, rather than keeping oat flower on hand. Our kitchen is tiny and space is a major commodity. We don't use oat flour often enough to keep it on hand, taking up valuable kitchen space. This is simple and perfect.

     They have just the right amount of chew yet are still crunchy, sweet but not overly so, and can be varied in so many ways. Best of all they are a fraction of the cost of store bought granola bars. In reality they are often made of staple pantry items so they cost practically nothing. These always seem to accompany us to the beach or the playground. What's great is that it's a snack I love as much as the girls, win!
Happy snack packing!
Simple City Sam

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Weddings and Presents

       This weekend I had the privilege of watching a dear friend marry the love of her life (who is also pretty awesome). She is one of those amazingly beautiful women that you want to be able to hate...she's just too pretty, too nice, too giving. But alas, she truly is and there is simply no way to hate her...only to love her. So it was even more rewarding to watch her in true happiness in one of the most beautiful weddings I have ever seen!
     The setting was picturesque to say the least. It was held at Wells Reserve at Laudholm Farm. If you've never taken a trip to southern Maine to see this place I recommend you do, it is amazing. She did everything just right. The barn and buildings were lit with twinkle lights just right, the beautiful altar was affixed with an array of wildflowers, and a gorgeous white tent was set near-by with exquisite table settings and dinner. In thoughtfulness they even established a giving table for the families of the 19 victims of the devastating recent fires in Arizona.


     She seemed to have thought of everything! Table pace cards were rustically hung on the barn wall with the use of a wooden frame and mini clothes pins. She even put bug spray on all the cocktail tables...and we used it! Gifts were placed in a wooden cart and the guest book was a rough hewn square of natural wood boards, truly gorgeous. And yes, it goes without saying that she was absolutely breathtaking. It was as if it had all been plucked from the pages of a bride magazine, and instead it was all the hard work, creativity, and determination of a well-planned bride.


     Well, I knew this wedding would be amazing, just like my friend. So I set out months ago to make a gift that could try to match such an event. She tactfully chose beautiful, casual summer colors: grey, yellow and teal. I began to try to put my skills to use. I chose several fabrics and set out to create a one-of-a-kind quilt for her and her new husband.

     I wanted it to be bright and fresh. I wanted them to be able to look at it and feel warmth and happiness, to render all the feelings they had on their wedding day for all the years to come. Sure, a tall order, but you know me, I love a challenge.

      So after months, and a little help from my mom (who also knows and loves this friend) I had a product I was pleased with. A beautiful heart pattern detail was the crowning jewel. I want to acknowledge the fact that I am not showing you the full quilt, because it is theirs, all theirs. Sure we get a peek but in reality I wanted to make sure they never had to share this item and what I hope it will symbolize for them. But, you get the idea.
     So I carefully placed paper throughout as I neatly folded the quilt and tied it in a simple grey bow. I gifted it in a sturdy, simple and beautiful basket and presented it in the open style you see here. I added a heart felt card and was ready...weeks in advance I might add ( a rare feat for me). And though I won't sully the piece by talking money, you know my style...I was able to accomplish all this in my true fashion and it is worth considerably more than the money put in. It's about love not money.

     Of course I have no problem finding room for improvement but all in all, I am truly pleased with the outcome. I can only hope she'll feel the same.
         It was a magical night, topped off with a spectacular show by Mother Nature. Truly befitting a regal wedding. I can only hope that the rest of their lives together is equally as magical, exciting, and breathtaking.
I love you both!
Simple City Sam