Friday, March 29, 2013

Let Them Help

      I'm a firm believer in learning on the job as well as learning to take care of yourself. The girls have always helped around the house and the kitchen. My oldest especially loves to cook.
     It helps with her focus and patience. Both of which are difficult for her (passed down from her parents...sorry kiddo).
     It helps with sequencing and planning.
     Obviously it makes a wonderful, hands on tool for size, measure, and identifying numbers.
     The use of cookbooks is also a big help with basic reading and instruction following.
     And most importantly it is a huge confidence and self esteem booster. She always feels like she's on cloud nine, you can see it on her face when she's done. She's always most proud when she eats something she made. It truly is beautiful.
     I really try to live by the motto: "Don't forget you're raising adults, they will act like children all on their own". This is so true. They need us as parents to impart upon them major life skills. I believe this is a perfect and simple way to do that. Give them a job, responsibility and pride in their work. Maybe even instill a bit of work ethic. What?!
Allowing them to participate in life when they're are so desperate to, will make them ready to participate in life at those time they may not want to later down the road.
Simple City Sam
(And yeah, that's a vintage Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles shirt she's wearing. Sometimes I passed down good stuff too baby girl, sometimes.)

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Homemade Teriyaki Sauce

      Ok, I'm going to let you in on a huge secret. Teriyaki sauce is just sweet soy sauce. Mind blowing, right? Not really. My problem with it is usually that it is way too sweet! So I make my own. That way I get just the flavor I like and I'm not pumping tons of sweet preservatives into the kids. Yes, I realize soy sauce is basically salt (and sometimes preservatives) bottled in liquid form, but if you're going to splurge or "cheat" a little, I say do it right!
     Take one bottle of your preferred of soy sauce (for small batches) and pour it into a sauce pot. Don't waste your time shaking it into the that annoying little plastic pour spout right out of the bottle! Turn the stove on to a medium simmer.
      Next add 1-3 cloves of finely chopped garlic. Amount is dependent on how much you like garlic and how big your cloves are.
     Then sweeten it. I add about 1/4 cup brown sugar and 1/3 cup of local honey. We like the flavor of honey better than sugar and it's better for you too!
     Then I add fresh ginger. Again, fresh ginger is really good for you and it gives such a clean, fresh, brightness to the sauce.
      Break off a small chunk of the fresh ginger and peel off the skin. So we don't dirty extra utensils, we then use the peeler to carefully shave thin slices of the ginger.

     Toss the ginger into the pot and let it simmer with everything else. Periodically give everything a stir so that the sugar and honey don't settle to the bottle.
     You want the soy to reduce down so that it can have the thickness of traditional teriyaki as well as letting the beautiful umami flavors of the soy to become more pronounced.
     Don't forget to taste it FREQUENTLY. If you're not tasting as you go there really isn't any point to making it. That goes for all your cooking. Why leave it to chance. Taste it! Taste it! Taste it! If it's too salty add some more sweetener. If the garlic didn't come through as much as you wanted, add some more. If the ginger flavor is perfect but you've got more reducing to do, spoon out the remaining chunks. It's all so easy, as long as you taste it.
     When it's done it will be just the flavor you're looking for and will have a beautiful thick consistency (the consistency will thicken more in the refrigerator too). We let ours reduce for about an hour to an hour and a half.
     Then we funnel it back into the original bottle (rinsed) and put it back in the refrigerator. It will obviously not fill the whole bottle because it will have reduced. I also pull out the chunks of ginger because the girls don't like it if they get a chunk and there's no point in throwing off an entire meal just because of some cooked ginger chunks!
     This week we used our homemade teriyaki sauce for crock pot chicken. Chicken Teriyaki is one of my girls' favorite meals ever. Making it at home is easier and cheaper than heading to the Chinese food place, and way more fun! The girls help with weekly meal prep so they get to help with this too.
     The chicken is moist, easy to cut with a fork and so delicious! Even better, crock pot meals are super easy as we all know, so it's a complete win! We serve it over brown rice and almost always have a quiet dinning table when this meal is served.
All moms know, quiet tables mean the food is good AND being consumed. And that's the whole battle right there!
Simple City Sam

Monday, March 25, 2013

Potty Training

      We are in full potty training mode over here. There is only one little girl still in training pants and she is making some real headway. Besides, let's be real, a lot of potty training is really about the parent being relentless and focused and proactive. All of which are hard to do with our very busy schedules! So here is what keeps her and I on track.
     I ask her every half hour if she "needs to use the bathroom?". Every hour I bring her in, sit her down and have her try. Sometimes we read stories or sing songs, more often than not, now, she just goes and is done quickly. No we are working on her cuing me when she needs to go.
     Every time she goes #1 she gets 1 sticker. For #2 she gets 2 stickers. If she shoots a combo she get 3 stickers!
     Each time she reaches the word "book" she gets to go pick out her new very own book, completely of her own choosing. I usually hit up the Goodwill or the local children's consignment shop to do this...we still don't need to spend a lot.
     Achieving the book becomes more difficult each time. She has earned one book so far and is moving right along. Today is the first day with NO ACCIDENTS at all! A few days ago we even reached the point of wearing "big girl undies" in public...still no accidents! Yay! She should be fully trained (ok maybe not overnight...little bladders can only do so much!) by the time we reach the end of the chart.
     This system worked like a charm for her older sister. And after about of month of only wearing training pants at night she had trained herself fully! I'm hoping the pattern repeats itself.
     I've already got our household waste down to one trash bag a week, which is good because we have to buy special "city bags" which cost an arm and a leg. Of course that is still mostly training pants! I realize cloth would already alleviate this problem but I never started that and jumped on the bandwagon too late, and as I've said before, it's about simplifying YOUR life not trying to fit to some other's mold. So now we are potty training and she is really almost there! Oh yeah, and she's only 28 months old. Her sister was trained much sooner than this, but I've notice she is actually ahead of her peer curve.
The end is in sight, and it is filled with clean sheets, no living room puddles and trash bags that last 2 weeks! I can't wait, I must stay the course!
Simple City Sam

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Maine Maple Sunday

      Every year on the fourth Sunday in March is Maine Maple Sunday. The day where we Mainers celebrate Maple trees and all the deliciousness we can create from them.
     Farms across the state open their doors a little wider to allow us the chance to see the magic in action. Sugar houses boil sap, form maple candies, spin maple cotton candy, drizzle fresh maple syrup on ice cream and almost always host a wicked awesome pancake breakfast. Oh, and lets not forget all that amazing syrup!
     This year we visited Coopers Royal Heritage Farm in Windham and had a blast. I think if you asked them they would tell you they definitely needed a bit more space for the droves of people who came out today. But all in all, everyone was in a great mood. 
     How could we not be? There were peacocks! The girls even got their own peacock feathers.
     We thoroughly "enjoyed" the mud, of which there was an abundance. 
     And held Daddy's hand almost the whole way. That in itself was a treat!
     Careful, Clyde the ostrich bites!
     And gives the hairy eyeball as good as any Italian grandmother...
     There wasn't even time when the girls stood still long enough to get a shot of the mini horses, cows and 5 calves, bee hives, or pheasants, really. Those are just memories we get to keep to ourselves! We met great friends while there so the girls' had partners in crime, and enjoyed a beautiful group pancake lunch! Much to the happiness of the littlest patrons!
     I stocked up on local honey (so good for seasonal allergies and building antibodies) and local syrup, indulged in maple cotton candy for a surprise treat for when we got home, had a filling pancake breakfast (with sausage, coffee, and milk) for four, got 2 real, giant peacock feathers, and saw countless animals- some quite exotic- all for less than $50. That's not a bad splurge in my eyes, especially because it comes around only once a year and helps drive local business and local economy!
Yet anothah wicked good Maple Sundee!
Simple City Sam

Saturday, March 23, 2013

We Are Mobile...And Ready

     Well, it's official. We can take your money anywhere, anytime! Ha ha. My free credit card reader showed up a couple days ago. All I did was download the SquareUp app to my Android (works for iPhone too) and request the free reader. The usage charge is less than any of the other card reader programs out there- like PayPal Here- and there are no additional fees. Honestly it's been one of the easiest things I've done. So far our trial runs have worked very smoothly. I'm a little nervous it's too good to be true, but I'll keep you posted.
     But this is great news! Now at craft fairs, Farmer's Markets, and street markets we will be able to satisfy all of our customers payment needs!  Plus the little reader is so cute!
The sky is the limit now my friends!
Simple City Sam

Friday, March 22, 2013

Fruit Cubes

     These strawberry and mango cubes are going to be perfect for my Friday night cocktail after the kids go to bed!! They really freshen up mocktails too. Try a glass full of these cubes with half soda water, half coconut water. It is delicious- little sweetness, lots of bubbles and tons of fruit- and actually very hydrating.

     Simple and effective. My girls love ice cubes, I'm really not sure why. They especially love when I make the pineapple cubes for them. They get a little fruit and they think it's a treat too!!
Simple City Sam

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Ladies Only

    So, this one is for the ladies. I don't like separating things usually but trust me fellas, there's no need for you to be here on this one.

     I'm serious. I will briefly be discussing ladies issues, so be gone.

    Ok, how many of us want to simplify? If you're here probably all of us. How many are willing to make big changes to do so? Many would answer that they are, right? This is a question for all you ladies (fellas if you're still reading, remember you were warned). Are you willing to make very personal changes in the name of simplification.

     I have been using a product now for a little over 6 months called the Diva Cup. It is a reusable feminine product. DON'T FREAK OUT. I am not going to go into detail, I'll let you explore their site. However I will tell you that it is no more "gross" than the method you are currently employing- I promise.

     The benefits are comfort, and ease of use. It is ideal during travel or vacationing because it's so compact. It cuts down a TON on waste. Think about how much you throw away every month in "disposable" products...since you were what, 12? Think about how many women there are in the world using "disposable" products. There are no clumsy, embarrassing boxes cluttering up the cabinets in my bathroom. There are no additional chemicals or unknown materials used in it, like some of the binding agents and such that are used in many of the other feminine products. And best of all I save a ton of money monthly/yearly. Total cost was around $50. It only takes a few months to see a return on that investment!

     Check it out and keep an open mind. Be objective. It is so worth while. I know it sounds a bit odd, but maybe someday, if we can get a new generation on board, it will be just as widely accepted as "normal". Until then, be a trend setter!!

Thanks for sticking with me on this one. I know it's personal but that's also why it's so important. I told you we'd cover a lot of ground in this blog! :-)

Simple City Sam

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Bread Pudding

     What to do with a pile of left over pop overs? Make bread pudding of course! I love bread pudding and it's so easy to make. But let's be real, it's pretty easy to find a terrible bread pudding too. I love cooking because it's equal parts science and passion and that's my style through and through.
     To make the bread pudding I cubed the remaining pop overs from the night before and put them in a large mixing bowl. Next my hubby and I mixed up the batter. The exact measurements will vary depending on the size of your batch. In fact after we made our batter we realized we needed more so we added another egg and a bit more milk and it was great. Trust your gut!
     The batter should be much like a sweet French toast batter. Heavy on the eggs, a fair amount of milk, sugar, brown sugar and whatever seasoning you'd like it to have. We've done traditional here, with raisins, cinnamon, a little nutmeg and clove. In the past we've done batters with vanilla and orange zest, or even chocolate. In any case you want to make sure you've got enough to coat all the bread. Add the raisins to the bread and toss together.
     Next coat the bread cubes and let them soak right in the baking pan. They should soak for at least 10-15 minutes. Use a wooden spoon to gently press down on the bread cubes to allow the batter to be absorbed through all layers. All the bread should be coated and soaking but not fully submerged. Remember, think French toast!
     Bake in a preheated oven at 350 deg F for about 60 minutes. Check it's progress half way through and rotate it 180 degrees. Check another 20 minutes after that and if the top is starting to burn cover it in foil loosely. You want to see the custard set fully before removing from the oven. When finished the egg and sugar will have given the top a beautiful glaze with a small crunch. The inside will be warm and soft, easily cut through with a fork or butter knife. The raisins are soft and warm and the bread is held together by the amazingly sweet, delicious custard. It's blissful!
     What's even better is that these pop overs we a bit lacking in the flavor department and would have been a hard sell for the family otherwise. In truth they may have even been destined for the compost. Now they've been more than salvaged, they've been integral in greatness!
See? Simplicity and happiness all with very minimal effort. This baby even scored me major mom points when I let the girls have it for a breakfast treat with their fruit this morning! Awesome.
Simple City Sam

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Loaded Baked Potato Soup

      Last night we were looking for another super simple, inexpensive, delicious meal that everyone would eat...same as basically every other night. It was one of those, "Chopped" scenarios where we needed to see what we could make from the ingredients we had on hand. After a quick scan we pulled together potatoes, chives, bacon, sour cream and cheese.  Well, now, we can't just have baked potatoes. Can we?
     We can if it's a soup! I also grabbed a few staples from the pantry: a bit of onion, a clove of garlic and a frozen chicken stock from the deep freeze.
     First we preheated the oven to 350 deg F.

     Next we browned the onions in the bottom of our cast iron pot. Once translucent, we added the garlic and the frozen chicken stock. It only takes the stock about 10-15 minutes to thaw in the pot with this method. By that time the onion and garlic will be fully reduced and ready to be incorporated. Once the stock thawed we added the potatoes. We used 2.5 - 3 lbs, check how big your bag of potatoes is and go from there, guesstimate. We used roughly 15 small Russet potatoes, but that would probably have only been 6-7 standard med-large Yukon Gold potatoes.
     When we put the potatoes in we also put the bacon into the oven for about 15 minutes. We like it nice and crispy. Also the crispier the bacon, the easier it is to crumble and incorporate into the soup. The potatoes boiled until they were soft and easily cut with a fork, or about 20 minutes.
     Next we removed the bacon from the oven to cool a little and blended the potatoes and broth with the immersion blender. We added a dollop of sour cream for richness and also threw in a handful of shredded cheese. Tip: Buy a block of cheese and shred it yourself. It's way cheaper and not that much harder. Plus you don't get the additives used for keeping the shredded cheeses from sticking to themselves. We hit all of that with the immersion blender again!
     Then we crumbled the slightly cooled bacon, reserved the bacon grease off to the side (you'll see why), and added it and some chopped chives to the mix. We let that all simmer for a little while to let the flavors mingle and get to know each other.
     In the meantime we put our already preheated oven back into use. While I was digging through the pantry before I stumbled across and box of organic pre-mixed pop overs. It was a gift given during a Yankee swap, and I'm just not one to throw stuff out, so we decided to give it a go. We greased a muffin tin with the reserved bacon fat- there it is- to tie it's flavors in with the rest of the meal. Oh, yeah, and to make it awesomer! Then we ladled in the mix and followed the box recipe. They turned out great physically with a beautiful puff. However the flavor lacked (I know, who would have guessed?!) and we were glad we had greased the tins with bacon.
     We served the soup with another small dollop of sour cream, garnished with a few more bacon crumbles, and shredded cheese. All together it was a fantastic meal, made in minimal dishware, that everyone enjoyed and was made for pennies with things I had in the fridge. Of course we also managed to squeak out a few small portions for lunch the next day too. I call that a win.
Note: We also reserve bacon grease to use when we season our cast iron cookware. It works like a dream.
Simple City Sam


Monday, March 18, 2013

Homemade Laundry Soap

     It's true, I climbed aboard the laundry detergent bandwagon roughly 2 years ago. What's even better is that I've never looked back! Yes, making it myself is ridiculously less expensive than buying it at the store. Yes, you get way more of it. But for me those were all actually just extras. I went into it with one purpose: to help alleviate the pain of my daughter's eczema.
     My oldest has the worst eczema I've ever seen. Between the breakout and her scratching, the insides of her elbows are almost always raw, sometimes scabbed. It breaks my heart each and every time I see it. I know she can't help herself but watching her scratch just tears me apart. As an added nuance of difficulty she is also the most fair skinned creature I've ever seen. In fact, as a baby, someone asked me if she was Albino...not a particularly astute individual, but it's a good reference point nonetheless. So keeping her skin in good condition is always challenging.
     So, we try everything we can to reduce some of the eczema causing culprits before they become a problem. A biggie is the type of laundry soap used. We always stayed away from some of the larger brands. Sensitive skin runs in the family and products like Tide, Mr. Bubbles, and Gain have always been no good for us. So I started buying Dreft, the exclusive "baby" detergent that is like 50% more than the already outrageously priced name brand stuff. It was better but still not ideal for her tender skin. Ok, I can handle a challenge. So I went for "organic" and "natural" detergents. Detergents that claimed to be dye free and fragrance free; free of anything that could harm you. Except of course for that totally natural chemical compound that I still can't pronounce...but it's in a cardboard container so it must be better for me! Right?
     The day my friend mentioned that she was whipping up a batch of her own detergent I saw a huge ray of hope! "That's possible?", I wondered. Wow! So she kindly gave me her recipe (thanks, Jessi) and from there I ran! Over the last few years I have tweaked and reworked the recipe slightly. For instance, she added essential oils, I never do. I have also made mine more concentrated.
Homemade Liquid Laundry Detergent
You will need:
Cheese grater
Large stock pot
5 gallon plastic bucket with a lid (these can be purchased at any hardware store, OR ask you local farmer or convenience store owner or friendly restaurateur if they've got an extra)
Ingredients: (All can be found in the detergent aisle of your grocery store or discount store.) 
1 bar Fels Naptha Soap ($.99)
1 cup Borax (approx. $.44/cup)
1 cup Super Washing Soda (approx. $.51/cup)

Step 1:  Grate the bar of soap using your cheese grater. If you don't have a grater you can cut it into very small pieces with your knife.

Step 2: Melt shavings in 12 cups water, being careful not to let the water boil. Stir occasionally.

Step 3: Add the Borax and Super Washing Soda, stirring frequently. The powder will want to settle at the bottom. Keep it moving. As it melts the mixture will thicken slightly. Anything from the consistency of water to honey is right on target!

Step 4: Remove from heat. Put 8 cups hot tap water into your 5 gallon bucket. Add the soap mixture to the bucket. Stir.(If you wanted to add essential oils now would be the time.) Add 2 more gallons warm tap water to the bucket. Stir.

Ooo, Soapy water...that smells so fresh and amazing!
Step 5: Place lid firmly on the bucket and let it sit for 12 hours. By the end it will have congealed quite a bit, some water maybe separated and on top...that's fine! You'll be able to press firmly on it but still leave finger prints.

Step 6: Blend it up. If you have an immersion blender that is great. Sometimes, even those aren't long enough though. Honestly the thing that seems to work best is a potato masher and a little elbow grease. It can have some small clumps, that's ok.

Step 7: Funnel some into a smaller container. I like to use an old detergent bottle I stole from my mom. Make sure to leave room in the container so you'll be able to shake up the detergent before each use. It may settle between uses.
     You only need 2 tablespoons per load because it is well concentrated. If you are using an old detergent bottle, that's usually the very bottom measure line in the cap. Because all of the ingredients are HE compatible it makes this detergent HE compatible as well- BONUS! It is also safe and effective for cloth diapers. But of course the very best part is that it leaves all of your clothes super clean, fresh smelling, and is extremely gentle on the clothes AND your skin. We noticed remarkable improvement in my daughter's skin immediately after making the switch. We couldn't be happier with the results.
     This recipe costs under $2 for over 2 gallons of detergent. I make detergent usually about twice a year. I almost always make it in the afternoon or evening so it can sit over night. The "cooking" process takes roughly a half hour because you want to make sure the soap doesn't boil. I also made detergent as Christmas gift this year, with great success. In fact, keep your eyes peeled because this will be making it's way to our Etsy store soon!
To healthy cleanliness!
Simple City Sam

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Mega Mimosa

      So I grew up in the Caribbean. Oooh, Ahhh! Trust me, it's not all it's cracked up to be. The saying goes, "Paradise is where you don't live". That is true. For vacation the Caribbean is hard to beat, warmth, beaches, cheap alcohol, etc., etc., etc.... But when you live there you still have to go to work or school, still have to do your grocery shopping and walk the dog and sleep whilst knowing cockroaches are probably running around on your floor (not because you're dirty but because they just plain live there). Of course you find things that you cherish too!
     For me, one of my most cherished things was fresh Passion Fruit (a few other fruits too...but let's stay focused). One of the houses we lived in had a Passion Fruit bush along the back fence. My sister and I used to pick fresh ones off the bush and eat until our bellies hurt. Passion Fruit is sour and tart and deliciously sweet all together. When new on the bush, they are yellow and firm (in fact they look just like lemons), as they ripen they green and then turn maroon, until finally they turn brown and slightly wrinkled (that's how we usually see them here in the U.S.). As they continue to ripen they continue to sweeten. For me though, the tart sour flavor mixed with the sweet is what makes them so freaking amazing.
     It may be a bold statement but, Passion Fruit is probably my most favorite fruit in the whole wide world when picked directly off the bush! (Ok, it has competition with the Gnip...but again let's stay focused...we'll get there).
     Today at the grocery store, while buying my weekly coconut water, I saw (again) the can of Passion Fruit juice. What the heck!? I love it, I'll drink it...let's do it. So I splurged and spent all of those 79 cents!
     When I got home and began relaxing and cooking- our typical Sunday tradition- I opted to make one of my favorite adult bevys...a Mimosa. Your traditional Mimosa is Champagne (usually extra dry or Brut) and Orange Juice. Now, I don't go crazy with the Champagne when it comes to Mimosas. Honestly, you're just mixing it with fruit juice, keep it inexpensive. A $7-$10 bottle is more than acceptable! Sometimes it is served with or without ice. I enjoy adding a little Pomegranate juice to tarten (is that a word?) it up.
     But wait a minute, I have Passion Fruit juice! I decided to give it a shot, I had nothing to lose. In fact, I was pretty darn sure this would be the most delicious thing I had ever had.
     Holy Cow!!! I was right. The sweetness and the tartness of the Passion Fruit juice was perfectly suited for a Mimosa. The fullness of the fruit flavor offered something I don't typically get from a Mimosa. I tasted the sweetness immediately. Just after follows the brightness of the sour. The last finish comes through with all flavors melded together into the perfect mix! I am in love. I can say with full confidence that this is most likely the only way I will ever make Mimosas again! 
     The Passion Fruit juice was significantly less expensive than Orange Juice. It also had WAY less sugar...actually none, as compared to Orange Juice, and for me it is a much more fulfilling flavor.
Really, you've got to try it. In advance- You're welcome.
Simple City Sam

Friday, March 15, 2013

Work Smatter Not Harder

     Yay, the weekend is so close! I have no doubt this weekend will look much like all of our other weekends...and I actually love that!   

      Ah yes, Saturday morning. That day when, as a parent, you still get excited to sleep in, relax and get a little "break" from the hectic week. That day when your child pokes you in the nose at 6:15a.m. and asks for a "nack" anyway because she doesn't give two toots that it's Saturday, she's just hungry. So what's a mom to do? Well you've got to have a plan. Here we go again, boring fundamentals! But it's true, planning is paramount. Planning will literally make or break you day. "Work smarter, not harder", how many times have I heard that? I promise, it'll be easy.

     Let's be real, I wasn't in total shock when I was woken up this morning by a small finger on my nose and the plea for sustenance. This is her M.O., I can't blame her. She's two and has the metabolism of an infant hummingbird (just like her father). I CAN blame the adults in her life for not being prepared, or for getting grumpy when ill-prepared. Buck up, Sam! This is part of being a parent.

     So I muster a smile and a little snuggle. I crawl out of bed and head to the kitchen. By now her sister has joined us and while she's not famished like the little one, she is about to burst out of her skin with energy and is clearly ready for the day to begin. Drat! No chance for a quick nap now. I need to channel that energy, or bottle it...but that's a whole other blog, ha! So, I  put her to work, simple. I know, how dare I? Nowadays I'm supposed to be her best friend and cater to her every whim. Ha, ha, ha, sorry ladies, not in this family. We learn respect for self and a good work ethic by practice. But, I digress. Back in the kitchen and in reality, my oldest needs a mission.

     She can help prepare breakfast. Oatmeal and fruit are on the menu. Watermelon was on sale at the grocery store for $2.99 and it happened to be organic- win, win. Here's where planning came into play. Two nights ago, after I came home with the groceries, I cut up the entire watermelon. If you had told me, even 2 years ago that I would be doing this, I would've laughed at you. But I did do it and it only took me 5 minutes. Once cubed, I put it in a plastic container and stuck it in the fridge. I just ask her to go to the fridge and get the watermelon, and she's able to get it, open it, and start to put it in the bowls. Another trick I use is to store my kids bowls and plates in a low drawer. They are all plastic, so they can't be broken, and it allows the girls to lend a helping hand more easily.
To dice any large fruit (Watermelon, cantaloupe, pineapple, etc.):

1. Use a large, sharp knife.
2. Cut the ends off on both sides. Make sure to get all the rind off the end, you should see some of the fruit peek out. If you're unsure about it, take off a little and if it's not enough, cut some more. Simple.
3. Stand it up on one end. (easily done because you just made both ends flat)
4. Take your knife from the top of the fruit and cut or "shave" off the rind down the length of the fruit. This may take a few passes, especially on very round fruits, or those with thick rinds. Take your time, it still isn't going to take you that long.
5. Now you are left with the fruit alone, with no skin or rind. Cut it in half, from the top to the bottom. (very large fruits, like the watermelon may need to be cut into quarters, remember the end goal is bite size pieces)
6. Take one of the halves and slice it the long way into 1/4" slices
7. Rotate 90 and chop the slices into 1/4" cubes.
8. Repeat with the other half.

     You're done. Throw it into the plastic container or into sandwich bags (for individual serving sizes) and you're set. The watermelon I bought was medium sized and I got 6 full servings from it, and they were big servings, my girls LOVE watermelon. So for $2.99 I got 2 afternoon snacks and 1 breakfast component for BOTH my kids. All I had to do was plan and prep for 5 min.

     Onto the oatmeal. My oldest and I are working on using measuring cups and the like so sometimes we'll measure out oats. More often than not, though, it's easier and quicker to have some portioned into single servings. I buy rolled oats in the cardboard carton for dirt cheap. I measure out 1/2 c and/or 1c servings and zip them into sandwich bags. Don't forget to reuse the bags once you empty the dry oats from it. I give my oldest the bags and she works on opening them up and getting it into the bowls (I've gotten down ceramic bowls so we can microwave the oatmeal this morning). I add water, toss them in the microwave and 90 seconds later it's done.

     The prep time on this is almost nothing. Measuring out and bagging the oats takes literally all of 3 min. Save the oat container if you can. They come in handy in organization and craft projects. At the very least they always round out cardboard castles nicely!

Nice hot oatmeal, refreshing melon, and a little exercise in independence, all before 7a.m.

Simple City Sam