Saturday, April 25, 2015

Use What You Have- Slow Cooker Pork Chops

I have never been terribly successful with pork chops either on the grill or in the slow cooker. Which is why I was surprised to find some in the freezer when I was considering a recipe for our Use What You Have series. I don't even remember buying pork chops but I must have been feeling optimistic that day.

With my pork chops defrosting in the fridge, I hit up Pinterest for some ideas to use what I had and to try a recipe that didn't make the meat either disintegrate or require a saw to cut through. When I saw this recipe by Jen at Cincy Shopper, I knew I had to give it a shot. 

Once again, I was only using what we had on hand. Which in this case was the mysterious pork chops, chicken broth in the fridge that needed to be used up and a variety of spices, all of which I had. Because I have an entire shelf full of spices. It's ridiculous really.

Once I had the ingredients ready, I went looking for my slow cooker. The external cooker was there but the pot was missing. Found something fermenting in the dish in the second fridge. Yes. I have two refrigerators. Because I'm a food hoarder. Which is why we have this series and all.

I wanted to say I began with pan searing the meat but I really began with washing and disinfecting the slow cooker dish.

Then, I really did pan sear the meat.

Once the meat had been seared and added to the slow cooker, I whipped up the sauce.

I poured the sauce over the meat and cooked everything on high for four hours. After heading out to run errands and get the van serviced, I picked up the Littles from daycare. The house smelled amazing when we came home and I could hardly wait to eat.

I poured the liquid into a sauce pan and made a gravy out of the juices with some water and cornstarch.

The boys had their pork chops and gravy over rice with some raw carrots and I had mine with a tossed salad (I was being virtuous that day).

This dinner was a huge hit for all of us! Don't mind Aiden's face...that's his "happy face". I know, right? We're working on it. And don't mind the blur. I think it's well established that I can't manage to capture any nice pictures of the boys. I don't know if it's because they never sit still or I'm completely inept but this is as good as it gets.

Would I make this again? You bet I would!

Fear of pork chops has been conquered.

Jen's original recipe is found here.

Linking up here and over at Serenity Now, Home Stories A to Z,  Cedarhill FarmhouseCoastal CharmJennifer RizzoBlackberry VineFrom My Front Porch to YoursSavvy Southern Style, and Salt Tree. 

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Travelling Alone with Toddlers

Last year my oldest daughter and I took the boys on a road trip from Southern Ontario to Panama City Beach in Florida. It went really well. Amazingly well, actually. You can read all about that adventure here.

A lot has happened since our trip last May. Both boys have been diagnosed with FASD (Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder). A sad and completely preventable form of permanent brain damage. That, however, is a story for another day.

The littles are now 2 1/2 and 3 1/2.

So when I had some unexpected time off of work and decided to use up the last couple of weeks by heading back down to Florida. Alone. With two toddlers. I was clearly feeling very confident that day.

Did I mention I booked this trip with less than two weeks until we hit the road? I'm spontaneous like that. To deal with managing two toddlers on a road trip all alone, I prepped a variety of snacks and activities in advance.

First, I re-introduced the dual DVD player that I used last year.

Best buy

I put it away at the end of the road trip last year and only brought it back out on the day we left. Can't say I'm thrilled to listen to children's movies for hours at a time but the boys really enjoy this and are generally quiet while a movie's on.

Secondly, I re-used last years second hand wood trays for snacks and activities. This time they actually used them. I attached them to the seats with bungee cords and they held nicely while we drove. This gave them a space to put meals and snacks and was easy to unfasten to get the boys in and out of the car at rest stops. Yes. Liam colored on his last year.

I also prepared a number of different activities and separated them out before storing them in a large grocery bin in the middle of the van. There was a bag with cars, a mini-back pack with little people, a pile of dollar store toys, and some drawing and coloring activities. I snapped this pic with my iphone so it's a bit blurry.

The bin fit nicely in the back seat of the van without rolling around which made it easy to grab activities when they needed a change.

The boys favorite, by far, was the sticker activity books I put together in a dollar store handled bin. I don't know why I didn't take a better picture so this is the best I've got.

They literally played with these most of the drive from Ontario to Alabama. Before heading off to Florida, I tucked them away and didn't give them back until vacation was over and we were driving north. This kept them from being bored. By the time we crossed the border, Liam was covered in stickers. Border crossing dude was highly amused.

I also made a mini snack box out of dollar store bead storage boxes. Like the sticker boxes, I added the boys names to the top just for fun. This was a huge hit! So much wow, that I re-loaded them every couple of days for taking to the beach. We avoided a lot of tiki-bar snacks at the condo by bringing our own things.

I put together a bunch of other snacks and juice boxes in a shower caddy. This kept us from buying a lot of unhealthy junk at the gas stations and lasted throughout the trip.

Once we got to Florida, I brought most of the toys inside however, the boys mostly like to run around doing fun things with socks on their hands.

We had a fantastic time at the beach. The boys much prefer the pool which was fine by me since it was the last week of spring break and all in Panama City Beach.

Nuts, right? We were in Florida for two weeks, by the second week all the college kids had gone home and the beach was ours again.

The boys are finally able to eat in restaurants so we enjoyed a lot local seafood. Lunches were better for us because by dinner time, the littles were pretty much falling apart and tired from swimming all day.

These pictures are from Hunt's over in St. Andrew's Bay. A great local place with amazing seafood and very affordable.

I learned a whole lot about FASD on this trip that I didn't fully understand before. Like the fact that we can only do one major thing a day. After the lunch at Hunt's, I tried to swing by the Winn-Dixie. It was a nightmare. Liam was wild and completely out of control at the store and in the condo for the rest of the day. As much as I wanted to do a variety of activities, we just didn't. I needed to learn to respect the boys needs and abilities. And that was just fine.

This trip was amazing, not just because it's the Gulf Coast and we spent Easter in Alabama with our family but because I finally conquered my fear of travelling alone with the boys as a single parent. I really didn't think I could do alone and I'm glad to report that we've got this.

My only other piece of advice is to break up the trip in manageable chunks. We left at 3pm from daycare and made it to Ohio (5 1/2 hours). From there we made it to Helena, Alabama the next day (around 8 hours). And then headed to Florida the following morning (5 hours). It's along few days but was so worth it.

Yes, the sand really is that white on the Emerald Coast.

Do you have any tips or tricks for travelling long distances with young children? I'm always up for more me or leave a comment.

Happy travels ; )

Sharing here and over at Serenity Now, Home Stories A to Z,  Cedarhill FarmhouseCoastal Charm,  From My Front Porch to Yours,  Finding Silver Pennies, and  Savvy Southern Style.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Use What You Have... A New Series and A Recipe for Chicken and Pasta Skillet

Disclosure time....I have way too much stuff. Oh, you do too? Keep reading then.

Even better? I mostly can't find the stuff that I have. Sound familiar? Which means I'm often buying duplicates of things I'm pretty sure I already own. Good thing I don't have an organizing blog.

There are huge changes coming to Cottonwood Lane in the next few months that are going to require us to ditch most of our belongings. At least I hope there are. Excuse the shameless "stay tuned" drama.

But seriously. Stay tuned.


To get ready for some of these changes, I've decided to focus on using what we have and thought this would make for a good series. Because, I'm pretty sure I'm not the only one drowning in stuff.

"Use What You Have" is a great way to reduce our spending and the amount of stuff in our home. Including the mess of food in our kitchen.

It started with last weekend when we cleaned out the fridge. By we, I mean my oldest kid who was visiting and couldn't find room to chill a bottle of water. After she was finished, I was rather embarrassed to note that we had next to nothing left. I mean I have a thousand condiments but all the real food had spoiled or expired. Except for the moonshine I brought home from Alabama and some weepy kale on the top shelf.

I can't say the same for the pantry or the kitchen cupboards.

Awful, right? Like how many bags of frozen berries does one person need? Or boxes of cereal and cake mix?

In the interest of trying to work through all the food I had in the house, I pulled out some ingredients from the fridge and pantry and did a Google search for recipes using what you have on hand. I found the best website ever! If you haven't stumbled across Supercook, get on over there! After you read the rest of this post, of course. Super easy and freakin' brilliant!

Here's what I had on hand....tomatoes, garlic, chicken, pasta, Italian seasoning, basil, chicken broth, grated Parmesan.

I entered these ingredients and this recipe for Clock Watchers Chicken popped up. I like pasta. I sort of like chicken. 30 minute prep? Even better. The original Clock Watchers Chicken recipe can be found here.

I modified the recipe a little bit to suit our taste. We had whole wheat spaghetti, only 3 chicken breasts, and only had fire roasted tomato. I used fresh minced garlic rather than the garlic powder called for in the original recipe. We like fresh and we definitely like fire roasted tomatoes.

Actually, the littles don't like anything but I like those things. Boogers. They ate leftover pizza. Just keeping it real, y'all.

After tinkering with the ingredients I came up with this version.

This was really easy to prepare and only requires one pan which makes for an easy clean-up.

Let me know what you think about this recipe and other ideas for using what you have. If you have ideas or recipes that you'd like to share for upcoming posts and features, send me an email with your thoughts. I'd love to hear from you.

Sharing here and over at Serenity Now, Home Stories A to Z,  Cedarhill FarmhouseCoastal CharmBlackberry VineFrom My Front Porch to Yours,  Finding Silver Pennies, and  Savvy Southern Style.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Navy and White Up-Cycled Tray

Before I share my easy tray up-cycle, can I just show off my new coffee table/ottoman?

I know, I know. Bragging about new acquisitions isn't lady like but how can I not share the gorgeousness of this little beauty?

I hundred years ago, I had a dark wooden coffee table that I loved. After the boys came along, I swapped out that coffee table for a brown "leather" ottoman.

It was a good thing I did, too, because these are the clumsiest kids I have ever met. Seriously. Sometimes they just fall over even when they're standing still. We've been spared numerous trips to the emergency room because of this one little decision. But that brown leather was getting tired looking and didn't work with my new gray living area.

Enter the gorgeous navy "table". The lid lifts for storage, kids can fall on it without being injured, and it looks pretty fantastic in this space. I paid a whopping $149 for this baby which is over my comfort level but it was exactly what I wanted. So there.

Of course, any new piece of furniture needs a tray to corral the goodies on the table.

The tray that I up-cycled for the table has already been up-cycled once before at our last house and was used in the rec-room. I found it a thrift store for $4.99 and just slipped in some scrap book paper to make it work with the room.

This time the tray got a coat of white spray paint and some jazzy navy and white striped gift wrap to update it once again.

How fun is that paper?

Much adorable for minimal effort.

Up-cycling an up-cycle is like the thriftiest project ever, right?

Sharing here and over at Serenity Now, Home Stories A to Z,  Cedarhill FarmhouseCoastal CharmBlackberry VineFrom My Front Porch to Yours,  Finding Silver Pennies, and  Savvy Southern Style.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Mint (and Gold) Up-cycled Mirrors

I have had a teensy bit of a crush on mint for the last few months. The color, not the flavor. No mojitos for this gal. Yuk.

Better Homes and Gardens

To be fair, I wasn't really convinced I could use it in my own house until recently.  Mint bathrooms and mint everything were everywhere when I was growing up and I haven't fully recovered from the eighties. Long story short, I knew this was a color I only wanted as an accent. For now. Sometimes I'm slow to warm up. So, I kept my eye out for something minty to use in my ever-evolving master bedroom.

Then, one afternoon, while the boys were napping, I took some time to poke through my collection of frames and thrift store finds in the basement. My intentions were good, really. I was planning to "de-clutter". That never happened. Because I came across a round, plastic mirror. This is not the mirror. Mine was uglier. There's a good reason why I'm using this picture instead of my original mirror.....Keep reading.


I dutifully taped off my ugly plastic mirror and sprayed it with primer and went about my business the rest of the day. The next day I was about to take pictures when the toddlers dropped a heavy plastic car on the mirror while it sat on the garage floor, waiting to be painted and it shattered. Yup, true story. I cleaned up the broken mirror and threw it away. I didn't even yell. Sometimes I surprise myself.

The hunt for a replacement began. I stalked Kijiji and the thrift stores for weeks. I admired my collection of various mint and aqua paints in anticipation of my thrifty find. There was no thrifty find, I'll have you know, so when I found a round mirror at Homesense for $24.99, I figured enough was enough. Sold. I was tired of looking and my feet hurt that day. As per my standard MO, I have no before pic. Here she is all taped and primed and beautifully blurry.

Let the fun begin.

Now that I had the mirror, I couldn't find a mint that worked. I originally thought Sea Glass by Martha Stewart would be perfect but it was too aqua. Prior to this moment, I had no idea there was such a thing as too aqua.

Now you might wonder why I have so many different aqua paints (ummmm, like probably 18 shades or so?) but that's a story for another day. It involves a big reveal of the project I was working on all last summer so stay tuned.

Finally, I mixed the Sea Glass with darker green to get the mint shade I was looking for.

The perfect custom tint!

Excuse the crappy pictures. It was too cold to open the garage door that day (Winter in Canada, ugh!!) and I was using my i-phone. 

I did up the sunburst mirror that was lounging the basement for the past year while I was at it since I had the primer and tape out already. I also bought that one at Homesense for $7 because it had a crack in the plastic which was so tiny that I figured I didn't care. Once the primer was on, you couldn't even see the crack any longer. No repair required.

This one got a few coats of gold and then a spray of gold glitter. Still loving all things gold.

One coat of mint paint later....

Finished product....

I love how the coral chandelier contrasts so beautifully.

So much minty goodness in one little pop of color. :)