Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Rise-n-Shine Breakfast Bars


Gluten free. Vegan. No sugar added.

What more could you want? Oh, and also, you can make them without adding oil. And they're full of protein. And fiber.


And they're kid-approved. My kids eat them as a snack between school and dance or while we're skiing. Plus the recipe is super flexible, so you can substitute ingredients as needed.


Ok, now what more could you want?

Right. The recipe.

Enjoy.



A few recipe notes:
  • This recipe is baked at low temperature on purpose. The goal is not so much to "bake" the bars as it is to semi-dehydrate them. 
  • When you are buying seeds for this recipe, choose raw and unsalted seeds. They're better for you and taste just fine here. I get mine in the bulk section at Whole Foods.
  • Does the pan really need to be lined with parchment? I don't know – I've never tried it without the liner, but I like lining the pan because then it's easy to get the whole slab of granola out at once. 
  • It's a great idea to let this recipe cool completely (or almost completely) before you cut it into bars. I usually let it cool for 15-20 minutes before I lift it out of the baking dish and onto a cooling rack. I've had best luck cutting the bars using a serrated knife. 
  • Once the bars are cut, they do fine sitting out overnight. I think it even helps them dehydrate and crisp up a tiny bit more (at least in my dry climate it does). Then I either wrap them individually or put them in a sealed container separated by layers of parchment. 
  • At my house these bars don't last longer than a week. I mean, they might taste fine after that, but I wouldn't know because we can't keep them around that long!

And some photos of the process:

Dates and chia soaking. Do this in your blender for one
fewer dirty dish.

Unbaked mixture ready to be pressed into the pan.

Pressing. Cover your mixture with plastic wrap and then press with a smaller
flat-bottomed baking dish.

Baked and cooling, waiting to be cut!

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

{business 101} 940 Saturdays.


My elbows were sore. I felt like someone smacked them both with a hammer. It's because I'd been on my computer all day long. On a Saturday. When I'm working, my elbows sit on the desk. It's not ergonomically correct, I know. It hurt.

And it was a reminder of how I'd spent my time that day. Not with my kids, but instead fixing website details and figuring out pricing for our new organic lawn care business, Whole Yards.

I knew going into this learning-on-the-fly-adventure that I'd make sacrifices in order to run a business. I knew that this time of year would be busy, especially this first year. Late winter is when the lawn care industry ramps up for spring. Add to that the fact that I'm slow. I'm overly-detail oriented. I check and double check and triple check. Math takes me a long time. I like things to work properly, like Sir James Dyson.

But ten hours on a Saturday? In front of a computer?

If there's anything I learned from our Advent Adventure this winter, it's that I love setting aside structured time to spend with my kids and husband.

You know the famous Ferris Bueller quote, "Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it."

That's not just for high-schoolers. That totally applies to raising kids. Maybe more to raising kids than to anything else.

I'm looking for balance. I'm ready to set some boundaries for myself. When my kids are around, I want to spend most of my time making eye contact with them. I want to know them deeply. I want to laugh with them and dance and hug and get into arguments about whose turn it is to clean out the cat's litter box and why there is trash all over the bathroom floor.

How does a person make that happen?  I'm not one for rules. I can't say, "No weekend work. Ever." Because there will be weekends. And there will be evenings.
But there shouldn't be hustle or ignoring each other or snapping at each other because we're tied up in work.

940 Saturdays from the time my kids are born until they're 18. I'm more than halfway done. I can make a business run 400 Saturdays from now. And maybe I can make it run now. I've got seven more months to figure that out. But my kids come first.

How do you balance your time? What's your strategy?

This post is part of a series called Business 101, where I share my experience taking over a business for 8 months while I figure out whether it's something I want to take on permanently.

Monday, January 27, 2014

{business 101} The beginning, fear of failure, and why passion is a good motivator.

Welcome to the Business 101 series at The Friendly Home! This is not where I teach you about business. Because I don't know anything. Yet. This is where I share my business journey with you. Maybe you teach me, maybe you learn something from me, or maybe we all just laugh and roll our eyes together.

You see, this is all new to me. I've never taken a business course, never read a book about business (until last week, that is), never tried to understand what makes small businesses work.

But as of Saturday, when we registered with the Colorado Secretary of State, we're officially running a business. (Re-reading that sentence makes me kind of want to slap myself.)

I've heard that running a small business comes with some struggles. Here's my first one, my first gripe: when you try to get an EIN (Employer Identification Number) on the IRS website at 10am on a Saturday morning, you'll end up on a "please come back during regular business hours" page.

Really? Isn't this what websites are for?

I'm sure that will be my first of many gripes.

Oh, wait, here's my second one. Small business owners work at 10am on Saturday mornings. And 10pm, too.

Okay, so that's something I already knew. And it was something that held us back a bit when deciding whether or not to take on this new challenge.

Here's how the whole thing went down. Our friend Andrew, who became our friend when we hired him to re-do our backyard, approached us in November about buying his organic lawn care business, Whole Yards. He is moving out of Colorado and had started this business just within the last couple of years. It's very small and he hadn't had time to grow it in the ways he'd planned, but it has a lot of potential and a decent foundation.

I was familiar with Whole Yards because after Andrew did our backyard, we hired him to take care of our lawn and plants last summer. Andrew knew that we were passionate about organic food and non-toxic living. Combined with the fact that I'd just spent two years staring a gigantic school and community garden, and believing that we are relatively tenacious, loyal, stick-to-it kind of people, he thought the business might be a good fit for us.

And if I step outside of myself for a second and try to see it from that perspective, it is a great fit for us. Or, at least for me. It's important to remember that Scott has a full time job working for a big company. So while I will always say "we" run a business, right now it's actually "me" running the business with Scott contributing when he can. Maybe someday it will really be the two of us working together. That's a possibility we tiptoe around a little. Like if we say it out loud too many times or think of it for more than a few seconds, we might jinx it. If we think about it, it becomes an actual goal. If we don't eventually achieve that goal, we'll have failed.

Failure.

The possibility of failure is what really held me back from saying yes to this opportunity. It wasn't because our market is not very organics-friendly. It wasn't because for the first season I'll be driving a pickup truck with a tank full of compost tea on the back and I'll probably spend days smelling like seaweed. It wasn't because I have no background in lawn or landscape care. What held me back was the idea of failure.

I am afraid of failure. Always. I know it is ridiculous. I know we all fail. I know that failure is one way that we learn. But failure is uncomfortable and embarrassing. And failure as a small business owner is not like failing in your job at a big company. If Scott ever failed to do his job well (which he never does, by the way), his company probably wouldn't feel the effects. His company would adjust and other people would pick up the slack.

If I don't do my job well, it's over. I've failed. Our company has failed.

When I was giving birth to my two girls, the process of labor felt like a long, hard swim practice. I loved it. While I was growing up, I spent enough time on swim team to know how to get through a grueling workout. I know how to put my head down, ignore the pain, and keep counting laps or singing in my head until I get to the end. When I'd get out of the pool and head to class or go home, I'd feel exhausted but triumphant. Like I accomplished something great that day.

This is the lens through which I'm learning to understand what it will take to run a small business. I know how to live in discomfort, but it's been a long time since I chose to do so. It's been a long time since I challenged myself like this, since I purposely put myself in a difficult situation, one where I knew I would feel exhausted and frustrated and scared, but one where I might learn something about myself and about the world. About where I fit into the world and the role I play.

What makes me most scared about this particular business is that I think it is important work. I think that converting people's yards from toxic to healthy is important for us and for our kids. I think that if we don't do it, our kids will continue to grow up sick and our waterways will continue to be polluted. The immediacy and urgency of this task takes the business up a notch for me. Now it's not just, "I'm scared to fail because I'll look silly." It's, "I'm scared to fail because my community needs this change."

And that – the passion that Scott and I feel about this topic – will probably be what keeps us going.

If you're still with me, it's probably because you're looking for some nuts and bolts. Here's what this is going to look like:
  • I will try to continue blogging about home stuff, carpentry, etc. I don't think I'll have a lot of time, though, and so the hobby of blogging about home stuff will move down my priority list while I learn to run the business.
  • We don't officially own the business yet. Andrew was kind enough to give us a trial period. So, while we have transferred the business into our names and we are using all of Andrew's equipment, paying the business expenses, and keeping the profits this season, we have until September to decide whether we want to buy the business. It's nice to work with someone who trusts you and believes in you the way that Andrew trusts and believes in us. It's also nice to have a way out in case we discover that being small business owners is really not for us.
  • The lawn and yard care season in Colorado Springs goes from May or June through September or October, depending on the weather. Until the season ramps up, I'll be spending my time learning more about organic lawn care (here's the manual I'll be using), participating in webinars with BeeSafe Lawn Care, learning how to market a small business, updating our website, setting up systems for tracking customers, talking to past and potential customers on the phone, and visiting potential customers' homes to chat about organic lawn and yard care.
What about you? Are you a small-business owner? Do you have any resources I need to check out? Does failure freak you out as much as it does me?

Friday, January 10, 2014

Movin' on up: Adjusting our spaces to kids' changing needs


While all kids have different interests and enjoy different activities, one thing is true for every kid: as they grow up, the way they use their spaces is ever-changing. I've found that I can make my life easier (read: cleaner and less crazy) if I adjust their spaces to suit how they spend their time.

When we first moved into our house, a space behind our sofa in the family room was dedicated to the kids and their toys. It worked well because I could see and hear them playing while I was in the kitchen, which is where I spent most of my time back then. The kids' space wasn't immediately visible to visitors and it was an area that, if left messy, wouldn't disturb the adults in the house.

As the kids grew older, though, and they didn't need my eyes on them all the time, it was a relief to move their area upstairs to the loft. Our loft area, a 9'x12' space at the top of the stairs on the way to the kids' bedrooms, has been an invaluable area for our kids over the past six years. I have a partially obstructed view of it from my kitchen and I can hear activity in this area from any corner of my house.

Before: Little Kid Space

After: Big Kid Space

Until this Christmas, the loft was home to my kids' play kitchen. We built it when Brynn was three years old and even as a ten year old this summer, she and Callie were still playing in it. They used it as a restaurant, as a pretend classroom, and sometimes even as a kitchen. Even though the play kitchen was still usable for the girls, we sensed that they were starting to cross into an age where they would appreciate a more mature play space. They weren't as loud and boisterous anymore when they played in the kitchen. In fact, they were whispering – almost like they didn't want us to know that they were still using their little kitchen. But what really convinced me was their tendency to raid my craft closet and their inability to put anything away when they were finished.


One day I kind of exploded. No, I totally exploded. It was one of those mom moments you never forget even though you wish you could totally block it out. Callie had been in my craft closet, made a mess, and left it a total disaster. Glue stuck to the table, glitter and paper scraps all over the place. Cardboard scraps strewn on the table and floor. String and ribbon and stickers and sequins everywhere. I had wanted to do a specific task quickly but couldn't even get into the closet.


I took all of her craft supplies out of the closet and tossed them in her room and told her she could never come back. My closet was off limits to her.


Within seconds I realized how unfair it was. Crafting is what Callie does. Creating purses and houses and bracelets out of cardboard and tape and rubber bands and fabric is who she is. When she can't create, she starts to burst at the seams. It is who she is. A tinkerer. An artist. A creator.


So I took a deep breath and said, "Here's the deal. We cannot coexist in this space but you cannot exist without crafts. You need to choose: play kitchen or crafts." It took her a millisecond to respond, "Crafts!" Brynn agreed.

As much as it hurt to admit that they were growing up, I knew it had to happen. I took photos of their play kitchen and posted them on a local moms' Facebook page. The kitchen and its contents were gone within a day. We boxed up the little kid toys that we wanted to hang onto for visiting toddlers. We gave away everything else.

Starting with a clean slate, I built a simple divider to make the loft feel more separate from the hallway and to give me a wall to set a dresser against, so that we'd have plenty of storage. The divider is screwed into the floor, the adjacent wall, and the dresser it sits in front of. The dresser is a hand-me-down that I cleaned up and painted – it's perfect for holding fabric and craft supplies. I moved around some bookcases that were already in the space and I built a table out of bits and pieces in my garage (and a sheet of plywood I had to buy). I made curtains from fabric that I'd found in a pile of remnants a year or so ago. I had set the fabric aside for the next step in the evolution of this space and was glad to find it still sitting in my sewing closet. We stopped into Ikea for a few pieces to help us organize, and for a couple of stools to set at the table.

The divider is a 2x2 frame and 3/8" plywood leftover from other projects.

I scrubbed the brass pulls with Bar Keeper's Friend to make them shine!

Construction paper to roll over the table.


Buckets from the dollar aisle at Target and an Ikea BYGEL rail.

We also bought a new computer to put in this space. It wasn't something we'd planned to do right that very second, but our kids are using computers for more and more homework assignments, and the computer they'd been using was eight years old and running pretty slowly. (For the record, my four year old MacBook works fine...I just don't like to share it with my children.) We already had a computer cabinet in the loft – it was formerly a TV cabinet, that we converted to a computer cabinet – and it's been great for them to have an updated machine that I can see and hear from almost anywhere in the house. And I kind of love the giant 27" screen, even though it's hard for me to admit.

This TV cabinet was in my house as a kid. It's solid pine and really heavy! I painted it a few years ago and built the
platform for the computer. The keyboard sits on the pull-out tray that used to hold the TV. Our printer, printer paper,
ink, and camera accessories all fit into the bottom cabinet. And up top is our TV antenna for the whole house. Can
you see the beer cans on it? Classy.


If you don't count the new computer (ahem) changing this space cost us under $100. We already had almost all of the supplies and sold the old kitchen for $50. This has been, by far, the most impact-per-dollar change we've made in our house.

While it was sad to say goodbye to the little kitchen, watching the girls create in this space and knowing that it is a space we can use together has been a nice change for all four of us.

Here are some elements of this space that I think make it effective:
  • I can see and hear it from the kitchen. When the kids are using the computer, I can monitor it. 
  • I pass the loft while going to and from the girls' rooms at night, so I can stop in to clean up any supplies or scraps they leave behind. I'll never be surprised by a mess there because I have to pass it often.
  • The space may turn into a multi-use space for doing homework as well as crafting, but for now it's a place where they can leave an unfinished project to return to later, and in the meantime it doesn't bother anyone. It doesn't have to be moved out of the way for dinner or for guests.
  • The space is well-lit with lots of natural light and lamps as well as bright and cheery colors. It's an inspiring place to work.
  • Because the new computer is up there, the kids can turn a movie on Netflix or watch a how-to video on YouTube while they work.
  • The carpet is old, so I don't really care if they spill on it or screw it up in some other way, as I'm sure they will.
  • The table is finished with nearly bullet-proof PolyWhey floor finish, so it's easy to clean.
  • For super messy projects, I added a roll of construction paper to a dowel fastened under the table. Now we can roll paper over the table to make cleanup quick and easy.
  • There is plenty of storage. Storage in the hand-me-down dresser, storage in cans hanging from the walls, and storage in the two bookcases we've had in our house ever since we got married.
  • A whole wall is dedicated to inspiration and display. Right now a third of that wall is taken up by a Ugandan alphabet which was given to us by a friend who takes care of street kids in Uganda. I added some artwork with positive messages from The Handmade Home and we hung up the kids' favorite artwork to spur them on to more creativity.
Do you think you could carve out space in your house for a dedicated craft area? Or would a dedicated Lego space go over better in your house? How do you adjust your home to meet your kids' changing needs?

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Cream of Tomato Soup


When I was a sophomore in high school, I visited Northwestern University with a friend and our moms. It was February so I wore a new navy blue pea coat with toggle buttons and a super cute floppy hood. My mom bought me that coat just for that trip – isn't it funny the things we remember? While in Evanston, we ate at a restaurant that had the best tomato soup any of us had ever tasted (I'm sure my palate was advanced for a 15-year-old). The soup was so good, in fact, that we asked the waiter if he could get us the recipe. And he did.

Do you ever ask for recipes in restaurants? This is the one and only time I've requested a restaurant's recipe, but maybe I should try it more often. It would cut down on the number of copycat failures my family has to endure.

I've altered the original recipe to fit how we eat now, meaning I've replaced the animal products with veggie alternatives. I promise it tastes great as a vegan version of cream of tomato (my kids say it's even better than Panera's cream of tomato, which speaks volumes coming from them), but I've included some dairy options in the recipe in case that's your preferance.

Northwestern Cream of Tomato Soup

  • 5 carrots, shredded
  • 5 stalks of celery, shredded
  • 1 medium white onion, shredded
  • 1/4 C water + 1/4 C olive oil OR 4 Tbsp butter + 4 Tbsp butter (I don't buy fake butter/margarine due to the palm oil it contains. Here's why.)
  • 3/4 - 1 C flour
  • 6 C water
  • 1 Tbsp veggie Better than Bouillon (OR replace water and bouillon with chicken or veggie stock)
  • 1 28oz can puréed tomatoes
  • 1 28oz can crushed tomatoes
  • 2 Tbsp tomato paste
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 tsp minced garlic
  • 1 tsp pepper
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/3 C cashew butter OR half and half
  • 1 C almond milk OR milk
In a very large stockpot or Dutch oven, sauté shredded carrots, celery, and onions with water for 7-10 minutes or until tender. Move to a bowl and set aside.

Warm olive oil over low heat. Add flour and cook 4-5 minutes. Increase heat to medium and add water (or broth), bouillon, tomato puree, crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, bay leaf, garlic, pepper, salt, and cashew butter. Bring to a simmer and then add carrot mixture. Bring to a simmer again and reduce heat to low.

Simmer 30-45 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add almond milk and stir until well blended. Purée some or all of the mixture if desired. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve with crusty bread and salad greens.

Makes 4 quarts.

Monday, December 16, 2013

How to build a kid-friendly gingerbread house


When I was a kid, I remember making gingerbread houses with my mom. Unfortunately what I remember the most clearly is our gingerbread houses collapsing. It seems like our roofs were always caving in! Maybe we made ten sturdy gingerbread houses and only one that collapsed, but all that withstood the test of time in my brain is the one that collapsed. Sorry, Mom!


Because of that, building a gingerbread house has always seemed a little daunting to me, but I've used the same process a few years in a row now and not a single house has collapsed (not even in the humidity of Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, where we built a few of these houses back in 2011).


My favorite recipe and template comes from Simply Recipes. I've added some ground pepper to the recipe to give the dough a bit more spice (we always make cookies out of the leftover dough) but other than that, I follow her recipe exactly.

Our Simply Recipes template cut out and ready to use.

Here are a few notes on what has worked for us:
  1. I double the recipe. One recipe will make two houses, but you have to use every single scrap and re-roll it a few times to get all of the pieces cut. Instead, I make a double batch and then use the scraps to make cookies. Unlike pie dough or a more delicate cookie dough, this dough doesn't get tough and inedible with multiple rollings.
  2. I use parchment paper under the house pieces while I cut and bake them, as Elise at Simply Recipes suggests. It's amazing how much more square a gingerbread house can be when the raw dough pieces don't shift and stretch as you move them from the cutting board to the baking sheet! When we cut the pieces, we do it on a cutting board and push down hard so that the knife can go through the parchment paper. Then we slide the parchment-backed walls and roof pieces right onto the baking sheets.
  3. Since the walls and roof pieces always get a little out of shape and rounded while baking, after they finish baking and while they're still hot, I lay the template on top of them and use a serrated knife to trim the edges. This gives me uniform, square pieces to work with. Then I let them cool, preferably overnight, before building the houses.
  4. For icing bags, I've had just as much success in the past using a ziplock bag filled with icing and a tiny bit of the corner cut off as I have with real icing bags. The ziplock bags are actually a little easier since my kids can't seem to keep from squeezing icing out of the top of a real icing bag. (If we're using real icing bags, I fold the tops over and secure them with a rubber band to keep them closed.)
  5. My kids like landscaping around their houses as much as they enjoy decorating the houses themselves, so I make sure to cut out cardboard pieces big enough to for a yard, then we wrap the cardboard in aluminum foil before gluing the walls to the foil as we build the houses. 
  6. As we put together the houses this year, I used a rubber band around the four walls to keep them together while the royal icing dried. I've used the melted sugar technique before, but prefer royal icing. Melted sugar is a bit too scary for me and my blood pressure rises as I stress out about whether or not I can put the pieces together before the sugar hardens. It does work, it's just not my favorite way to put together a house.
  7. Once the houses have their four walls up, I give them at least half an hour to set before putting on the roof. Finding a small jar or something similar to prop up the roof as it dries helps keep it in place.
  8. For the chimney, in the past I edge-glue all four pieces together, leaving a hollow center like a real chimney. This was never quick or easy. This year I figured out that I could sandwich together the two angled pieces and then glue the short and long pieces right along the edge of that sandwich. There's no need for the chimney to be hollow, and all of the seams end up covered in decorations anyway.
  9. For decorations, in the past we've used both leftover Halloween candy (stashed away just for the houses) and candy bought just for the houses. I also let my kids raid the pantry. They love to use nuts, dried beans, cereal, grains, lentils, and pretzels to decorate their houses.
  10. Lastly, gingerbread houses are time consuming and so I make the dough, bake, and build them over the course of a few days. I try to do most of the baking and cutting either by myself or with just one kid at a time. Once the decorating starts, they don't need my help anymore. They're pretty good at wrangling the icing bags without me. But if they tried to build the houses without me, it would be a disaster. I'm happy to do that for them – slowly and without them trying to rush the process.
Red lentils for the pathway.

Diagonal pretzels for siding.

Almond and marshmallow walkway, with a little pond out of blue sprinkles.

Almond chimney and Chex shingles.

Dried cannellini beans for stonework.

The gingerbread girl chilling outside her house!

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Quick, cheap, and easy Christmas card display


Sometimes Pinterest sucks me in and when it spits me out two hours later, I feel like I've been lost in a never-ending vortex and have only a stiff neck to show for it.

This was not one of those times.

Yesterday I was there for about two minutes when I saw this pin from a friend and immediately thought, "I need that!" I did not take one more second to think about it before I ran upstairs, grabbed my ball of kitchen string, and started wrapping a cabinet door in it.

For several years now, I've looked at the sorry stack of Christmas cards sitting in my kitchen and thought I really wasn't doing justice to all of those families and people we love. But creating a way to display those cards just never ended up high on my list of things to do during the month of December.

That's why I love this quick and easy Christmas card display. It will take you longer to read this post than it will for you to put together this display.

Here are the steps:

1. Find a ball of string, yarn, or twine. (I wanted to use my red and white twine from Ikea but my kids used it all without telling me. Story of my life.)


2. Wrap it around a door a few times. (I used a cabinet door over my computer, but you could do it on a pantry door or a closet door instead.)
3. Tie the string/twine/yarn on the back side of the door.


 4. Use paper clips or clothespins or something similar to affix the cards to your string.


Done. Seriously easy. And, for me at least, free, because I had all the materials on hand.

How do you display your Christmas cards?