Thursday, May 30, 2013

The Floating (or Not) Shelf

      As you know we have very little space in our apartment. Beyond that I really LOVE being efficient with space and utilizing every square inch that we do have. With that in mind shelving is one of my favorite weapons. Whether it be the magical "floating shelves" or shelves in which the mysteries of support are evident, I am a fan.
     Shelves can be very inexpensive, utilitarian, decorative, varying lengths and sizes, and fit almost any need.
     I have a small simple one above my bed side stand. On it I am able to keep anything I need to out of reach from the girls, like staplers, pens, can see, the important stuff. This shelf was created entirely from left over supplies we had from the Wall Vanity project.
     I have a few decorative ones stationed near windows. These are perfect for plants and things we need to keep out of reach from the cats (that's right we have the double whammy of kids and cats). This shelf was found at a yard sale for $2!
      We have one above the toilet. It is out of reach from little hands and cats a like, but within reach for the adults. Here we keep all the necessary daily lotions, sunscreens, de-tanglers and the like. This one was also a yard sale find, $1.
      My love for shelving is no secret so every once in a while I even get one gifted to me. This was a house-warming present that's also a key rack. We keep it near the back door for easy access and for things like quarters- that are needed for the laundry, right outside the back door.
      Of course the girl's room is filled with them. We were drowning in stuffed animals and had to do something about it. So we put some shelves up and instantly earned back tons of floor and bed space.
      And this sweet baby! I got this at a yard sale too, for $5. It needed to have an ornamental piece removed from one end and then it was as good as new. Now it's one of my favorite items! It holds some of my most prized possessions. Its the ideal place for all those nick knacks you want to see but don't have space for otherwise.
      Obviously I keep my eyes out at yard sales, but I look for in store deals and sales too. There is always room for another shelf, in fact it's the shelf that makes the room!
Shelves galore!
Simple City Sam

Friday, May 24, 2013

City Onions

      A few weeks ago we found an onion in our dry storage that had begun to sprout. We seized the opportunity and let it sit to sprout even more so that we could plant it and have our own onions. It didn't take long until we had beautiful, long, healthy green onion shouts. We split the onion in thirds, because we had so many roots to plant, and planted them in a large terracotta planter.
     The shoots were doing great! The originals began to wilt a little, totally normal.
     What was really important is that NEW healthy growth had begun. We decided to give the healthy shoots some room to grow. So we harvested all the wilting green onion. Using kitchen shears we snipped them as close to the stalk as possible all while being careful to leave the new growth in tact.

      We were left with three well rooted stalks all with new growth AND a pile of delicious green onions that we froze (mostly) and will be able to use for weeks!

     As they continue to grow we will monitor them and may need to transplant one or more of them out of the large planter they are in currently. But for now the experiment of "seed onioning" is going very well! What could have easily ended up as compost will now help feed us through the coming months! I love nature. I'm so amazed at what it can accomplish and what we can accomplish ourselves if we work in tandem with it.
You know me...I love capitalizing on "waste". Simple and almost free, just how I like it.
Simple City Sam

Monday, May 20, 2013

Weekday Beach Day, Peaks Island

      Last Friday the girls and I took an adventure to Peaks Island. It is undoubtedly one of my favorite spots in Portland, hands down, and in general is one of my favorite places ever! There are a few small restaurants, a couple cute shops, an American Legion outpost, and some super friendly people. I have worked out there for almost a full decade and have loved every minute of it. This year, because of previously mentioned shake ups, I am unable to return to the island to work. So I am determined to spend a good deal of free time there with my girls to compensate.
     After years of spending thousands of dollars on boat tickets it's extra nice to get to bring a couple of free riders with me- it makes me feel like I'm getting my money's worth. Casco Bay Line's rates change seasonally and so do the schedules. I highly recommend taking a look before you head out. But what never changes it that children under 5 ride free and children 5-9 ride for half price, and that's round trip. This is great! So many places cut you off at 2 for discounted admission. Right now we ride 3 for the price of 1!
     So we took a 20 minute walk downtown, rode a ferry boat, looked for seals, and played on the beach for a few hours. It was magical.
     We tested the crunchiness of seaweed. 
     We looked for shells.
     We stuck our feet in the cold water. 
     We practiced throwing rocks and tried learning to skip rocks too!
I can't wait to do it all again.
Simple City Sam

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Shakin' Things Up

     Well this post will be quick...probably. I've just got to let it all out there. We've got some major changes happening here at the 'ol homestead. It's true that we (my hubby and I in particular) never sit stagnant for too long. We've moved MANY times, between states, within states, even within the same town. We've changed careers at least once, a piece. Yet we always seem to settle back into some form of what we truly love which is food. And of course we've gotten married and had children all before I turned 30. Nowadays that's lightening speed!

     So we are at it again. As you know I've been staying at home full time, taking care of the kids and simplifying life as much as I could here at home. I've been blessed with the opportunity of a new job, one that will keep me busy full time. My husband has also been blessed with a chance to move his career back into the city in which we live as well as advance himself. He gets to leave a job that has not lived up to it's promises and be home at reasonable hours (instead of out the door at 5 a.m.). Win, win.

     It seems like a "no-brainer", but man it's a bit scary. This new job means that Daddy will now be home primarily during the day. Though fully capable, (he was the stay at home parent exclusively for the first 2 and a half years of child-dom) I am so weary to leave the things I love most. I know I'll miss so much! However, the girls will still have a parent home and we will actually get to spend more time together as a family. Instead of now, where we never seem to be together as a whole family, always divided by the needs.

     It also means we will in fact need to bring in some sort of child care for a very minimal amount of time (less than 10 hours a week). This is scary too. Apart from relatives, very close friends, and teachers, we haven't left them with anyone else...ever. This is not because we are over protective, more because there hasn't been a big need. We have a big family and often prefer to spend our time with our kids rather than have them looked after. Now, there is a real need. We've met a few recommend people that help out among our circle of friends, so that's at least comforting.

     To top it all off, we will also be moving...soon. We won't be going far, in fact it may be very near by if all goes according to plan. This is the thing that seems to be troubling the girls the most. It being so uncertain I know makes them uneasy. So we try to stay positive and focused. It's all we can do.

     All in all change is usually scary. We know that by now. We also kind of thrive on it, it's exciting. A new adventure awaits us. One where Mommy and Daddy both get to expand their careers, and be active in our family. An adventure where we spend more time together! An adventure where we can really enjoy the simplicity we've worked so hard to establish. We get to spend a summer playing together and preparing my oldest for kindergarten- another big change. I can't wait.

Wish us luck! This summer is bound to be a doozy!

Simple City Sam

Monday, May 13, 2013

Homemade Veggie Burgers

     So, I am by no means a vegetarian, but I do actually enjoy a good veggie burger. What's more is that because of my strict, "nothing but local grass fed beef" position, I often default to a veggie burger when at a restaurant. The problem with that is that most of those veggie burgers taste like saw dust, or basil, or some weird combo of the two. I was dying for a recipe I could make a home.
      I found this recipe on Pintrest and thought I'd give it a go. It was a good start but there were a few things I didn't like about it. First, I needed a recipe good for the whole family so the use of jalapenos and cayenne was out. After the first go round, I decided the taste of the tomato paste was to overwhelming, too. I also wanted the quinoa to be more present. So, I made some adjustments.
3/4 cup raw quinoa
1/2 cup finely chopped onion (red or white)
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup cooked diced sweet potato
1- 15 oz. can black beans, rinsed and drained (or 1/2 heaping cup of dry beans, cooked)
1 egg, lightly beaten
 ¾ cup corn kernels (fresh or thawed frozen)
½ cup fresh chopped cilantro
1 ½ Teaspoons Old Bay seasoning
salt and pepper to taste
½ cup rolled oats
¼ cup wheat flour (or All Purpose)
     First, if you are using dry beans, get those cooking. Also put on your quinoa (following packaging instructions for cooking), and get your sweet potatoes into boiling water. Once the potatoes are soft enough to break with a fork they can be drained and set aside. After the beans are soft and fully cooked they can also be set aside, and the quinoa maybe set aside when it is done too. If you are using frozen corn, take the measured amount out to thaw.
     Next, sautee the onion and garlic in a pan with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Cook until onions are fully translucent, but be careful not to burn the garlic.
     In a large mixing bowl, mash up the black beans. You can use a potato masher, fork, or whatever works. Add the sweet potatoes and mash those up too. The potatoes are going to get really mashed as we go, they are the primary base, so don't go too crazy just yet.
     Add the onion and garlic, and mix. Add the quinoa, and mix. Add the rest of the ingredients and mix well after each addition. The end result is going to be a lumpy veggie paste. Admittedly it doesn't look super appetizing...yet.

     Take the mixture in your hands (coat hands with a little oil if you want to keep it from sticking to you) and form it into patties. It actually molds really easily. I like to make full size ones for the adults and little sliders for the kids, they like the special treat. I get 5 of each (or two full meals, and a lunch) typically, and the adult ones are really good size (approx. 8 oz.). If I make all adult sized ones I can get 8, easily. Place molded burgers on a sheet tray or a plate.
     Next, wrap the tray tightly with plastic wrap and let sit for at least 6 hours. I find it best to make these the night before we anticipate having them. However, I have made them the morning of and they came out just fine.
     When you're ready to eat, grill them in a grill pan or sautee pan with a little bit of oil. The oil really helps crisp the outside, which help the burger keep shape. Let them cook, on medium for about 6-8 minutes on each side, you want it to cook throughout.
     No, I did not intentionally cook these in the shape of Mickey Mouse.

     We like to serve them with homemade sweet potato fires, or plantain chips. I usually dress my burger with cheese, lettuce, tomato, cucumber and spicy mustard. Mmmm, so good! Even my kids and husband love them, and that is a feat when it comes to veggie burgers!!
Give these a whirl, I promise you'll love them!
Simple City Sam

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Mother's Day

     Unless you were living under a rock, you are probably aware that today is Mother's Day. It is meant to be a day when we celebrate our mothers and all they have done for us.

     My day was wonderful. My children let me sleep in and made me breakfast in bed- scrambled eggs, cantaloupe and tea. Then I was allowed time to sit quietly and read while drinking my tea, a true luxury. We went through all of the girl's clothes and re-organized their room. I know it is odd, but I really do enjoy that sort of thing! I got time to do some sewing while others cleaned. Topping off the day was an amazing dinner with my family and a trip out for ice cream. Whew! I am honestly blessed by the children (and husband) in my life and could not be happier.

     With all that said, I can't help feeling very introspective on this day too. Why should we recognize our mother's only one day a year? Now, don't get all salty, those of you who immediately thought, "I always show mom I appreciate her". I just mean why should it be deemed so, and be honest do you really show her that often? As a mom I find it to be the little things that matter the most, the flower bouquet my kids pick randomly on some given day, the glorious afternoon where they both listen and following instruction, the spontaneous hug and smooch and "love you Mommy". Those are the things we truly want, every day of the year!

     How does this day affect the single moms out there? The moms who aren't fortunate enough to have someone by their sides to help make, even this one day, a little easier for them? How does it feel to have the blessings of children, yet the burden of sole responsibility? Does this day make them feel slighted somehow, as if to say, "Yeah, it's your day, but it doesn't really get to be special for you. It's just another day."?

     What about the women, like myself, who have lost children during pregnancy, or worse yet lost children after birth? How does this day affect them? For me I think about that baby I lost in my second trimester and the pain and grief that went with it. But in truth I think about that a lot, still... more than 3 years later. I think about what my family would look like now, how it would be different. I think about how hard it is to always have to answer, "we have 2 children", when the answer could be different. And what about the mothers who have no consolation in other children? How must this day feel for them?

     How must this day feel for the women who have tried so desperately to conceive and simply can't? For the women who were unable to care for their children and placed them for adoption. And what about all those children who are without mothers, and the adults for that matter. Today must be difficult for all those who already miss their moms.

     I certainly do not mean to bring down the mood of a wonderful day, but it made me think. It put into stark relief how fortunate we truly are. It made me happy, simply happy to be who and where I am today. So that's what I'm taking from Mother's Day this year, the simple realization of what this day really does mean. It means so much. Mother's Day means, happiness, joy, grief, sadness, remembrance, gratefulness, honor, pride, and most of all LOVE. Love in all forms.

Happy Mother's Day!

Simple City Sam

Friday, May 10, 2013

Kalua Pork

      I've been fortunate enough to be able to go to Hawaii twice now. Thank you little brother for living there! The first time I went I was 3 months pregnant with my youngest daughter and was traveling with our oldest (then the only, in her mind) who has about 18 months old. It was hands down one of the worst experiences of my life. Smells and sounds were overwhelming. I was fatigued  and irritable. I was trying to make the best of it but really I just wanted to be home. I was also getting extra grumpy because I could see the awesomeness around me but felt restricted and unable to fully enjoy certain things.
     Kalua Pork was one of those things. Even in my weakened state I could see it was something I was definitely missing out on. I even tried to keep some down but with no luck. So when I returned on this last trip, flying solo and feeling well, it was on the top of my list.
     There are a ton of recipes that you can find with a quick Internet search. But as with any good meal, what makes it truly special is the culture around it, the history behind it and the tradition it keeps. Kalua pork is no different. Traditionally it is slow cooked in an underground earthen oven lined with banana leaves. Like every little old Italian woman and her marinara recipe, every true Hawaiian seems to have his/her own Kalua recipe. The blend of herbs and spices is usually a secret and though not many still use the underground oven (except in tourist luaus) the slow cook process and time is usually maintained.
     Brother brought me to one of his favorite spots for Kalua Pork out on the infamous North Shore of Oahu. Kono's is small, breezy, super relaxed and AMAZING! A small counter with a few smiley staff greets you and you order a "plate lunch" (standard with small salad greens, sticky rice, and a pineapple slice...of course) off the menu boards on the wall. Your meal is up in minutes and you're free to take it to go or eat in.

      Their style was right up my alley so I was doubly pleased when we opted to eat it and soak up the experience.

     The flavor and texture far exceeded my expectations, and the visit with my brother on the North Shore made it a truly epic day!
      It was so good I even had it with my poached eggs for breakfast a few mornings later!

I'm already scheming a way to create my own version of Kalua Pork, because there is no way I'll be able to go long with out that flavor! I'll definitely keep you posted.
Simple City Sam

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Pallet Window Boxes

      Spring is in the air! I am really looking forward to planting this year. I am in love with my urban garden. Last year we made our first venture into pallet gardening and did pretty well! We certainly had our pitfalls but overall had tons of veggies all summer. This year we will again be pallet gardening, and making some much need adjustments and improvements to the plan. There will be more on this when we actually get to planting, probably around the Memorial Day weekend.
     One new thing we are doing this year is pallet window boxes. I love to upcycle and recycle, you all know that by now! So pallets are great. These are beat up and worn, which I personally love. They have enough spacing to allow for adequate drainage while also having enough support to withhold the weight of the soil and plants. I salvaged these from a "free pallet" stack. I asked my hubby to cut the bottom and top off of one pallet and BAM!, I had 2 window boxes.
     My oldest has been begging to plant flowers this year again. I love this idea! So, Daddy put one of the window boxes right outside the window that the kid table is next to, so every time they sit down for a meal or snack at their table they will see the flowers. She is thrilled and already making a list of the flowers she wants!
     My window box is right outside the kitchen window and will be filled with fresh herbs. In the past I have kept fresh herbs in pots, which is a great method that I am happy to have employed. I could walk outside and get fresh herbs for cooking easily. Now I will be able to actually reach out of my window while cooking and grab what I need!
     Total cost was $0 and I am over the moon. Fresh herbs are a big money saver and a favorite of chefs everywhere. Also, allowing my oldest to explore, plant, and nurture all through her own desire is fantastic. I can't wait!
It really is the little things...
Simple City Sam 

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Pearl Harbor Historic Sites

     On one of my random weekday adventures I decided to check one thing off my "must see" list and visit Pearl Harbor. I have a degree in archaeology and an enormous love of history and respect for the military (probably due to both parents serving, just a guess). It's not really a big surprise that visiting a historic site would actually, in fact, be my idea of a good time. What is more is that I actually prefer going to museums and such on my own. I'm the kind of person who wants to read every placard, study every hand written card, and experiment with every "hands-on" exhibit they have to offer.
     I was not prepared for the Pearl Harbor Historic Sites...
Looking toward the U.S.S. Arizona Memorial
Looking toward U.S.S. Bowfin Memorial
     The vastness of the site itself is awesome. The harbor is huge in comparison to the small fishing harbors of New England that I am used to. One can imagine the expanse there on land of military buildings easily. The surrounding area, known as Pearl City, is still bustling with multi-cultural offerings and amenities that one would expect near a military facility. 
U.S.S. Arizona Memorial
Middle of the Visitor's Center
     But the entirety of the grounds were silent. It was actually a very busy day. Tours for the U.S.S. Arizona and U.S.S. Bowfin were sold out and the museum and gift shop were full of people. But still, everyone was quiet as if we all had the same sad feeling of... remorse, perhaps.
     The museum itself was beautiful. It is split between two small buildings with open concepts and structures. One building focuses on and details life on Oahu and in the world prior to the war and the attacks. The second building focuses on the attack itself and the very immediate aftermath. Throughout the exhibits one is surrounded by the fragrance, temperature and feelings of the breeze and overall being of  the Hawaiian landscape you are now a part of. It is difficult not to imagine yourself there on December 7, 1941. Above is the original draft of the "Date That Will Live in Infamy" speech, complete with presidential notation. Pretty amazing.
     The curators did an amazing job trying to detail the roles of all citizens affected during the attacks, from women, to children, Japanese immigrants to surviving servicemen. It was some of the most difficult information to get through, yet of course, some of the most compelling.
     This collage welcomes visitors to the first building. It is here that I was ultimately struck with the notion that some, many or all of these folks may not have made it to December 8th. 
     This collage bids you farewell as you leave the second building. Here my suspicions were confirmed and I was able to learn a little bit more about those who had welcomed me in at the onset. I read of those whose lives were lost and those who had survived. It was often difficult to determine who had (or has) suffered more.
     I spent just over 3 hours in the museum, which was a cost free visit (I'm still me!). I did not take either tour out to either wreckage. I had a difficult enough time on land. I knew I would not be able to withstand the connection to those lost out over their watery tombs. I found myself with teary eyes on more than one occasion, overwhelmed by my surroundings, as it was. In addition, it saved me money.
     I will never forget this trip. It was powerful, humbling, amazing, awe-inspiring, eerie, beautiful and so much more all at once. I am truly thankful to have been able to experience some small part of the energy there.
It is a place I wish we could we all visit in our own time.
Simple City Sam

Monday, May 6, 2013

Brussels Sprout Chips

     Do you remember those delicious kale chips we made a while back? Well here is family favorite that are made just the same way. Kale chips may be the favorite of my oldest, but my youngest loves the Brussels sprout chips.
     In the late summer and fall we will buy 2-3 stalks a week at the Farmer's Market and use them in lots of meals. Chips are easily our favorite way to prepare them. If they are on the stalk still, carefully use your knife to cut them from the stalk. If you've purchased them off the stalk you're already ahead of the game. 
     Clean and remove any unwanted leaves from the Brussels sprouts. Then cut them down to bite size pieces, usually we just cut them in half. We've gotten pretty good at being able to dis-assemble these guys buy hand, but it's not exactly a skill everyone possesses. So, for a time saving tip, after you have them halved, pop them into a large Ziploc bag and add 1-2 tablespoons olive oil (depending on the amount of sprouts you're making), salt and pepper. Seal up the bag and shake vigorously! Make it a game. Give it to the kids for a turn, dance across the kitchen with it...I find "Shake Senora" to be my most effective accompaniment...just so you know. Make cooking fun!
     Once the sprouts are fully coated they will have also been "roughed up" enough to lose several leaves. This is good news, the more leaves the better. In fact I pull as many leaves off as I can. The leaves will be what crisp up and get the most chip-like, the sprouts will toast up but will never get fully crispy like a chip. So free leaves are good!
     Put the sprouts and leaves onto a baking sheet or glass baking dish and proceed as you would with the kale chips. Have the oven at 350 deg F and check/toss them about every 15 minutes until they get to your desired crispness. They will take a bit longer than kale chips, ours usually go for about 45 minutes. They are an amazing side dish that can be served hot or cold, and have converted many Brussels sprout haters to lovers. I love converting haters, too, it can be so gratifying! To amp up the side dish we will often add crumbled bacon to the process. This preparation is a big hit at picnics and BBQs.
Good luck, I hope they become a favorite of yours, too.
Simple City Sam

Saturday, May 4, 2013 Hawai'i

      Alright, well, I'm back. I'm just beginning to feel more human and less zombie-like. I am super excited to get back to my blog, which I missed very much, and to share some of my trip too! So let's get cracking.
     As you know we are experimenting with growing our very own pineapple. So I was sworn by oath of an almost 5 year old to "visit the pineapple farm". Being that I was under oath I made it a priority. I got to spend a delightful afternoon with my brother driving through the pineapple fields and exploring the island. There were literally fields as far as the eye could see, all in various stages of growth. The fields above are all new, very small plants (like our back home...minus the cat teeth marks).
     There is obviously a ton of information to be found and scoured about Hawaii's pineapple industry. Reports vary widely as to the significance of it's size globally. One site reports a mere 2% supply to the world, while another boasts 60% of canned pineapple supply to the world. Sites even vary as to when the fruit, indigenous to South America, even reached the islands, with dates varying from the mid 16th century to the early to late 19th century. Regardless, all sites note it's importance in Hawaiian history and present economy. My visit to the Pearl Harbor Memorials and Museum (which will be shared soon) even highlighted the significance of the fruit. After the attacks on the bases nearly all field workers were pulled from the fields and brought into service to help with the war effort and re-stabilization of the island. School children were given time off from school to tend the fields and help in the cannery so that they could in turn help the war efforts too! The reach and scope of the industry and the plant itself is truly amazing.
     Slightly more mature plants are seen in these fields. The acres and acres of growing land are mere yards from the road. This picture was taken from the car. The large, dug ditches are the only real deterrent to wayward motorists drunkenly taking out a whole field.
     The Dole Visitors Center was enormous and a lot of fun. The huge indoor market is gorgeous and filled with individual local vendors, as well as just about any tourist- type gift you could possibly want. Including pick your own pearls, leis, of course farm fresh pineapples and locally grown (some at Dole) coffee, and t-shirts of any variety. A person could get lost in there and be perfectly content.
     The outside was exquisitely manicured and well maintained. We found amazing "ornamental" pineapples used throughout and I was blown away by these really cool red pineapples. Apparently they are not edible (or used that way, I guess) but are vibrant and beautiful and favored in many of the vacation home landscaping locally.
     There was also a pineapple field maze for kids. Of course I didn't have mine with me, but from the shrieks of laughter I could here through the living wall, it sounded awesome!
     I sent pictures, reporting back to the girls. They were thrilled to see the fields and couldn't believe their eyes! Neither could I for that matter. It was a great day spent (especially with my little brother) and even better memories made!
You'll see more from this day in the up coming posts. Thanks for sticking around, it sure is nice to be back!
Simple City Sam