For the love of bacon

One of my favorite sandwiches to order at a restaurant is the classic BLT. I enjoy the original three ingredients – crunchy lettuce, cold juicy tomato and crispy, salty bacon. My award for classic BLT with the most bacon (dare I say almost too much? if too much bacon is even possible) would go to Sid’s Rainbow Grill in Carrollton, TX. The bacon was thick and crispy, not overly greasy, perfectly done and piled on.

I like the classic, but I also like the unique spins that many restaurants put on the BLT. My favorite sandwich of all time is the BBLT at The Leaning Pear in Wimberley, TX. The BBLT stands for bacon, brie, lettuce and tomato, all on toasted sourdough. Serious yum.

One of our favorite local places Kerbey Lane Cafe has a new BLT on their summer seasonal menu – the Fried Green Tomato BLT with prosciutto and pesto mayo.

This was definitely different but really tasty. Combining fried stuff and bacon is always a good idea.

One of my earliest consumed BLT variations was my mom’s TLT – tofu, lettuce and tomato. Sounds really weird but is great with BBQ sauce. What’s the best BLT you’ve ever eaten?

Fun with Instagram

I have an iPhone, and there are many apps that are available for simple photo editing. Many offer a selection of effects to change the lighting and color balance for different looks. I have one called Instagram, and I think it’s fun to play around with various pictures. Here are a few I’ve done:

Sunlight

 

Stacking cans

Bathing beauty

Leaf in bucket game

Lunch at The Oasis

Going for a walk with Cody

 

Favorite things – Slow cooker liners

I am a big fan of slow cookers. Even in my college apartment days, my roommate and I would often use a slow cooker for meals. It was easy to throw everything in before class and then come home to a hot tasty meal at the end of the day. We ate our share of ramen noodles and canned soup, but even as college students we were able to cook and eat “real food” thanks to shortcuts like the slow cooker.

So there’s lots to love about my favorite small appliance. However, I did not love clean-up. While it was slow-cooking my food, it was slow-caking residue that required soaking, scrubbing, scraping, more soaking, etc to remove. People say that spraying the pot with non-stick spray helps, but that never worked for me.

Then my life was changed. My mother-in-law blessed me with the introduction of Slow Cooker Liners. They rock my world. I plan slow-cooked meals several times a month, and I have also started cooking dried beans (in the slow cooker) instead of using cans. My average monthly slow-cooker usage probably comes between 25 and 30 hours. That’s a lot of time that stuff could be crusting onto my slow cooker pot. Instead, it looks almost brand new thanks to these handy plastic bags (BPA-free, btw).

These are a disposable, one-time-use item, and while I am trying to make changes to “go green” around here, I also take convenience into consideration. I also considered all the water I was using trying to wash off baked-on food. Given these factors, I decided that liners are the way to go. I wish they’d sell them at Costco in giant boxes.

And – yay! – if you go to their website, they’ll give you a coupon for $1 off a box. That’s over 50% off for me at HEB. If you think slow cookers are just for winter stews and pot roasts, here are a few of my more summery favorites to keep you going:

Slow Cooker Buffalo Chicken Sandwiches

Slow Cooker So-Easy Sloppy Joes

Slow Cooker Barbecued Beans and Sausage (see my post here)

Felt board craftiness

I recently needed a special birthday gift. I wanted something unique, fun, a little educational, and preferably not very expensive. Luckily, I’m willing to do a little work to meet all those goals and was able to present this handmade felt board to two happy two-year-olds.

To make the board, I followed the instructions on this post, though I used all hot glue and not staples. Then I just cut out shapes from several pieces of felt, some with pinking shears and others with regular straight scissors. I found the adorable printed ladybug felt at Hobby Lobby with the rest of the supplies and cut out several to be the stars of the project. Everything I bought totaled less than $12, and I have enough felt and ribbon left over that I could probably make two more.

The girls seemed to especially enjoy that they could put a piece on, then take it off, put it somewhere else, take it off, etc. unlike stickers that can only go in one place. They are also starting to name shapes and colors, so there’s a little educational practice snuck in. Project success!

Preparations

As we are preparing for our upcoming Colorado trip, Brett has been doing some training for hiking. We borrowed a hiking backpack that Hannah can ride in. At first, she was hesitant of the new device and was not willing to be put inside. But just a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down – I got out a cookie and told her that she could have it when she was sitting in the backpack. (bribery with sugar is not our normal parenting style, but I decided it was okay since hiking backpacks are only a short-term part of our life) This worked very well. She happily got in the backpack and munched on her cookie while Brett walked around the block a couple times.

So daily walks are now an easy thing, thanks to a little help from the cookies. Hannah is very excited about hiking and periodically during the day will grab the backpack and utter earnest pleas which clearly include “hiking,” “backpack,” “in! in!” and, yes, “cookie.”

Dinner tonight – Chicken with dijon mushroom sauce

This is an easy one that makes a weeknight feel more special. I mostly follow the original recipe, but I use a package of fresh sliced mushrooms instead of canned. And because of the additional mushrooms, I add more broth and dijon to make more yummy sauce. It only takes a little longer to let the fresh mushrooms saute, but I think it’s totally worth it over the canned ones.

We had a side of roasted broccoli which I’m still trying to perfect. Since it’s summer, I’m avoiding the oven and roasting in the toaster oven. Didn’t seem to work well with the broccoli.

I like this chicken recipe because it does not have a long list of ingredients, and most of them are things I already have on hand. The steps are not complicated, and the final plating of crispy golden chicken covered in mushroom sauce really elevates a weeknight dinner. If you are a mushroom fan, this is a must-try.

Splash time

This morning, Meghan and I tried out a fountain/splash pad area downtown. It’s easy to find, just turn in at Doherty Arts Center and park in the lot behind. Then look for the fountain.

We got there early in an attempt to beat the heat and some UV rays, and at 9am we were the only ones there. This was okay to start out, but it was fun when some other families came a little later. Next time we’ll bring more water toys; Hannah ended up playing with a plastic cup I had brought for snacks. We stayed for almost an hour, and it was a blast.

Today we deviated from the traditional swimsuit. Hannah is wearing a “rashguard” shirt which provides UV protection and dries quickly. We are also trying out a cloth swim diaper which comes in a colorful pattern and can be worn by itself. It’s a great combo – UV protective, modest, “green” and really cute!

4th of July – Easy entertaining

To celebrate the 4th of July, we had Andy, Meghan and Cody over for dinner. Unfortunately, fireworks were banned because of the crazy drought, but we had good food, good drinks and good fellowship to make it a great evening.

I wanted to do an easy menu so that I could spend my time chatting and keeping an eye on Hannah instead of being frantic in the kitchen. Ahead of time, I had some homemade baked beans in the crock pot. When our guests arrived, I had an appetizer ready for munching – chicken and cream cheese stuffed jalapenos – and a pitcher of margaritas. Then the guys fired up the grill while the kiddos played outside. It was 101 degrees, by the way. I sliced watermelon, and Brett grilled burgers and some zucchini and yellow squash (from the farmers’ market). Opened a bag of chips, and we were ready!

Hannah and Cody were good eaters, and I don’t think any food ended up on the floor! (all the adults were good eaters, too) We saved room for dessert; not really, I was really full but couldn’t stop because it looked so delicious. Meghan brought homemade shortcakes with berries and homemade whipped cream. Strawberries,whipped cream and blueberries made red, white, and blue. A perfect summer dessert.

I was lazy and didn’t take any pictures, but you can probably picture the general scene – lots of food, lots of laughing and two silly toddlers giggling with food on their faces. Now it will be a quiet evening in the neighborhood due to the lack of fireworks. Happy 4th! We have a lot to be thankful for!

Pat the munny

For several weeks at the farmer’s market, we have been eyeing a new booth. The Tiny Tails to You petting zoo does birthday parties and other events. At the farmer’s market, they have a penned area with stools and small rugs to cover laps. For $3, you get five minutes of animal petting time. Today they had bunnies, ducklings, and a turtle. Other days, I have also seen guinea pigs and a hedgehog.

They recommended that I go in with Hannah and help her handle the animals. First, we got a little black bunny (Hannah says “munny”).

Hannah was not sure what to think about it and didn’t even want to touch it. After a while, they switched it out for a duckling.

The duckling was very active, so I had to really hang on! He was really fluffy and quacking the whole time. Hannah asked for the bunny back.

She eventually got up the nerve to touch it and realized it was actually fun. The bunny was very soft and sat very nicely in the lap. He would crawl around and sniff things but was very calm and well-behaved.

It was ridiculously hot, so I was glad our five minutes seemed to go quickly. As hesitant as she was at first to interact with the animals, Hannah threw a little fuss when we left the pen. In the car on the way home she said, “Munny – more – more!”

I think we’ll be stopping at the Tiny Tails pen again on future visits. They have a great set-up with the stools and lap rugs, and it’s an easy opportunity for Hannah to become even more comfortable with different animals. We read books about “munnies” but this is a fun chance to actually pat a real one!

Happy hour at Mandola’s

We love food, and it would be easy for our eat-out spending to be much larger than our budget. It probably already is, but we really try to find deals when we can. We often take advantage of happy hour specials to eat at restaurants we might not otherwise have in the budget.

Mandola’s, a local “Italian market,” just opened its third location near us, and we’ve been wanting to give it a try. I’d heard they have good happy hour deals but only until 6pm. Since Brett got home early from work today, we were able to make it before 6pm and check it out.

The happy hour food menu features two types of pizza for $6 each (usually $10-$12), some fried appetizers for $3ish, garlic bread for $2.50 and a meat and cheese plate for $5. We opted for the sausage and mushroom pizza, fried zucchini, and garlic bread, totaling only $11.50 plus tax.

While we were waiting for our food, a server brought out silverware and a basket of focaccia bread which apparently comes with each order. So I quickly realized the $2.50 we’d just spent on garlic bread was a waste. The focaccia was delicious and they had some herbed olive oil for dipping – yum!

Our table was very full which was a little difficult since we have to keep an arm-length radius clear around Hannah. (sorry for the bad phone pics) The pizza was good, we like thin crusts, and the fried zucchini was also tasty. Hannah had some of everything we ordered. The garlic bread was okay, but again sort of a waste of money because you get the free focaccia. And it was plenty of food; we had almost half the pizza left over.

When we finished eating, Hannah entertained herself but putting her piece of bread in and out of the cup they gave her. We also enjoyed the live accordion player who strolled around the restaurant.

All the employees were very friendly and went out of their way to be helpful, especially to families with small children. When Hannah threw her sippy cup (ours from home) on the floor, an employee picked it up and offered to take it back and wash it for us. We were about to leave anyway, so I didn’t take him up on it, but I was impressed with the genuine service that was shown to us and other families there. Those of us with little kiddos appreciate all the help we can get!

We’ll definitely be back to Mandola’s for a happy hour dinner whenever Brett can get out of work before 6pm. The food deals are great, and they also offer 1/2 off wine by the glass or carafe. And excellent service tops it all off – big win!