Thursday, June 27, 2013

Crockpot Candied Almonds

After seeing a crockpot recipe for candied almonds on Pinterest, I knew it was only a matter of time before these were mine. One of my favorite things about winter in Europe is all of the Christmas markets with their delicious food (see here, here and here). The smell of roasting nuts with all of their cinnamon goodness just calls to me. There's no reason this has to be a winter-time treat though. Who says you can't have roasted almonds in the summer? Not this girl!

The original recipe looked easy enough. Not too many ingredients, not too many steps. I could handle this even at 40 weeks pregnant. Like most DIY adventures, there was a twist though. My almonds took more than double the time and I was left with way too much sugar. Nevertheless, this (modified) recipe is a keeper!

Cinnamon Candied Almonds
Recipe adapted from here

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 3 tablespoons cinnamon
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1 egg white
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 5 cups almonds
  • 3 tablespoons water
  • In a medium-sized bowl, mix together sugars, cinnamon and salt. Set aside. In large bowl, whisk the egg white and vanilla until frothy. Add almonds. Make sure almonds are fully coated. Add cinnamon mixture to almonds and toss to coat.
  • Spray crockpot with nonstick oil. Add the almond mixture and turn crockpot to high. Cook with the lid on for several hours, until almonds are softer on the inside and crunchy on the outside (3-4 hours*). Stir every 20 or 30 minutes.
  • In the last hour of cooking, add 3 tablespoons of water and stir well. Continue cooking for at least another hour.
  • Line several baking sheets with parchment paper and spread almonds to cool.

*NOTE: original recipe called for 3 hours of cooking on low. Mine took 3 hours on low and 4 hours on high to make any progress. If your crockpot runs hot, cook on low. Otherwise, try it on high and just keep an eye on it. 

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

40 Weeks!

So, my due date came and went. I know that only 5 percent of women actually have their babies on their due date, but the day still seems to hold a magical power. Thankfully I'm not at the point of desperation yet. I feel great and have lots of energy. The real problem is boredom. I've finished the things I wanted to do before she comes but don't want to start anything new. I know Dan feels the same about work. Now it's just a waiting game.

How far along? 40 weeks
Maternity clothes? Haha
Stretch marks? Just the one
Sleep? It's hard to fall asleep (I'm too excited!), but I'm able to sleep in a bit
Best moment of the week: Movie night with Dan on Monday
Miss anything? Beer
Movement: She's moving down, which is a good sign
Food cravings:  Earlier this week I HAD TO HAVE pizza
Anything making you queasy or sick: No
Belly Button in or out? Out! Turkey is definitely done
Wedding rings on or off? On! No swelling!
Happy or Moody most of the time? Happy and excited, but anxious
Looking forward to: Really? You need to ask?

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Travel Tip: Keep a Toiletry Bag Packed

Little known fact about me: I am an avid traveler that hates packing. I will do almost anything to avoid it, meaning most of my packing gets done at the very last minute. Dan especially hates this "quirk" of mine since he is the one listening to me gripe days before our trip. I'm over on Tripwolf again giving my tip for making packing a little easier. Hope it helps you too.

Travel Tip: Keep a Toiletry Bag Packed
For as much as I love to travel, I absolutely HATE packing. Before any trip, no matter the length or destination, I turn a little bit grumpy as I have to plan out what to bring. I’m actually a really good packer and constantly surprise my friends and family with the amount I’m able to squeeze in. Nonetheless, it just seems like such a chore to me. With an average of around one trip a month, you can see how this is a problem.

Travel toothbrushes [source]

One way I’ve lessened the burden of packing is by always keeping a toiletry bag packed. By this I mean an airline-approved quart-sized bag full of liquids that total less than 3 ounces. This is such a simple concept, but it revolutionized my routine. It is so easy to just grab one bag full of all the odds-and-ends that normally kept me scrambling until the last minute. Everyone’s toiletry bag will look different, but here is what’s in mine.

Click here to read the full post.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Homemade LaraBars

While browsing Pinterest one day I came upon a recipe for homemade Larabars. I love these snack bars, but they're pretty expensive. Each one goes for around $1.50 to $2.00. There are only a few ingredients in each bar, so I figured I'd give it a shot.


This is one of the quickest, most satisfying recipes I've made in a while. It took me no more than five minutes start to finish and tastes exactly like the cherry pie LaraBar! Now that I know how easy it is, I think I'll start experimenting with other flavors. Next on the list is Almond Cookie...yum!

Cherry Pie LaraBar
Original recipe from here
Yields 12 small balls

  • 1/2 cup dried cherries
  • 1/2 cup pitted dates
  • 2/3 cup almonds (unsalted)
  • 4 teaspoons cinnamon
  • Place the dates and cherries in a food processor (I used a small spice grinder). Blend until it becomes a paste. Transfer blended dates and cherries to a bowl.
  • Add the nuts to the processor and pulse until finely chopped (not too much so that it becomes a flour. You want some texture).
  • Add the nuts to the fruit mixture and add cinnamon. Use your fingers to knead all ingredients together. 
  • Form into twelve small balls or several small bars. Place in fridge for at least 20 minutes to set.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

A Very Happy Birthday

Yesterday was Dan's birthday and we spent the day together celebrating. My only obligation was not to have the baby, and I'm happy to report that I succeeded! In case you don't know, Dan and I are HUGE birthday lovers, so having our own separate birthdays is a big deal. (See last year's birthday celebrations here, here, here, and here.)

Unlike last year's huge birthday blow-out, this year was a bit more subdued. After a nice breakfast at home, Dan went to work for a few hours. We had a midwife appointment mid-day though, so we decided to make an afternoon of it. We started with milkshakes at Mojo. I bought a Living Social deal for two large milkshakes with two toppings about sugar coma! I had a Twix milkshake with mini Oreos and smarties. Dan had the chocolate brownie shake with minstrels and mini Oreos. WOW. I felt awesome and disgusting at the same time. I am sure I looked so stereotypical with my huge belly and my huge milkshake.

After our appointment (everything looks great! Baby's doing well!) we went for lunch at one of my favorite spots--Crepes and Cremes. This cute little cafe is only open during the day, so for the almost-two years that Dan's lived here he's never been able to go. The lunch did not disappoint. So yummy!

Dan was going to head back in to work, but come was his birthday. You only get one a year! He wisely decided to take the rest of the day off and play hookey with me. We walked all over town soaking up the unusually sunny day.

For dinner Dan requested fried chicken. I upped the ante by making chicken and waffles. How have I never had this before? It was amazing. The combination of the sweet waffle with the crunchy, salty chicken was divine. I loved it, and more importantly, so did Dan. Unfortunately, we were too excited to eat to get any pictures, so you'll just have to imagine it in your mind. Or, you can recreate it with these recipes: fried chicken, waffles. I substituted rice milk for milk in both recipes and you couldn't tell a difference at all.

It's hard to believe that this, our ninth year we've celebrated birthdays together, will be our last as a family of two. Happy birthday Dan! Here's to many, many more happy years together. I love you!

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

39 Weeks!

Yup, I'm still pregnant :) I'm trying to soak up these last few days of calm before the storm. It's actually been really nice and relaxing. I've been sleeping in as long as my body will let me. Dan and I have also been out to eat a few times this week, which is something we rarely do. I know I need to get my mind off things, but I'm just so ready for her to be here! I can't wait to meet her!

How far along? 39 weeks
Maternity clothes? Defnitely
Stretch marks? Still just the one above my belly button
Sleep? Not too bad, actually
Best moment of the week: Donating my hair to charity
Miss anything? Runny eggs
Movement: She's so active! I can't wait to see how that translates outside the womb
Food cravings:  Not really
Anything making you queasy or sick: I've been feeling a little nauseated, but I don't know why. Early labor?
Belly Button in or out? Way out
Wedding rings on or off? On! No swelling!
Happy or Moody most of the time? Happy, but anxious
Looking forward to: Meeting her!! Come on, baby!

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

I Did It! I Donated My Hair!

Thanks to everyone's great advice yesterday, I bit the bullet and donated my hair. I'm thrilled with the results!

I decided to go with Little Princess Trust--a British charity that provides free wigs to cancer-stricken children. The process was actually pretty funny. Apparently, donating your hair in England is not that common. It took me a while to find a charity; no hairdressers I spoke with had ever heard of donating hair. Since I knew going into it that I would pretty much be on my own, I came prepared with a ruler; a plastic bag to put the hair in afterwards; a rubber band; and the charity's donation requirements.

I only needed to donate 7 inches, but the poor hairdresser was so nervous about not getting enough hair that she refused to cut less than 8. Ha!

Poor hairdresser was so nervous!

It's a little shorter than I intended it to be, but at least I can still get it in a ponytail.

So, that's one big change for the week. Will there be another? Hint, Any time you're ready.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Hair Help

For the past couple of years I've been growing out my hair for charity. I've done this once before for Pantene's Beautiful Lengths and it was such a rewarding experience. It made me feel great knowing that with just a little patience on my part, I could help someone feel more "normal" while their life was turned upside-down to cancer.

Donating my hair in 2009

I think I'm ready to donate again, but I am not sure about when to do it. I've heard conflicting advice from new moms: on the one hand I want to be able to just throw my hair in a ponytail and not have to worry about any kind of upkeep. On the other hand, I don't want my hair too long in case the baby grabs on and never lets go.

If I cut the minimum donation requirement of 8 inches, I'll still be left with medium-length hair. I'm leaning towards going ahead and donating this week before the baby comes. Here are some options I'm considering--just for the cut, not the color. Thoughts?



Friday, June 14, 2013

Baby Pool Contest

UPDATE: Congrats to Sarah S. whose guess of June 30, 8 pounds 1 ounce was pretty darn close! (Right answer was June 29, 8 pounds 0 ounces). Sarah, keep an eye out for your jam and vanilla. Enjoy! And thanks to everyone for playing!

My parents had a great idea--I should run a contest to see who can guess when Baby Levin will arrive. I'm currently 39 weeks and one day pregnant, meaning she will definitely come some time between now and July 5th. The midwives really don't want you to go longer than two weeks after your due date, so they'll induce me on the 4th if she doesn't come on her own.

So who wants to play a fun game? Guess when baby Levin will arrive and how big she'll be. To sweeten the pot (literally), I'll provide the winner with a jar of freshly made strawberry-rhubarb jam, and a bottle of homemade vanilla extract!

  • PRIZE: One jar of homemade strawberry-rhubarb jam and one jar of homemade vanilla extract
  • TO ENTER: Comment on this post with your guess of when baby Levin will arrive (between June 14-July 5) AND how big you think she'll be (e.g. 7 pounds 3 ounces)
  • PRIZE SHIPS: Anywhere in the world
  • GIVEAWAY CLOSES: Saturday, July 6th or when Baby Levin arrives (whichever comes first)
The commenter with the closes guess wins. In case of multiple right guesses, one winner will be selected using Good luck!

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Knaresborough Bed Races!

Last weekend Dan and I went to one of my favorite summer happenings: the Knaresborough Bed Race. I wasn't sure if I would feel up to it at 38+ weeks pregnant, but Dan talked me into it. I'm so glad he did! Just like last year, it did not disappoint.

The day comprises two parts: the parade and the race. During the parade, teams show off their creativity using the year's theme--myths and legends. 


Bermuda Triangle

Robin Hood

The second part of the day is when the teams strip their floats down to the bare minimum and race through town. We moved to a different location to watch the racers struggle through the river to reach the finish line.

Man, it looked hard! Good thing all I had to do was enjoy the sunshine and the gorgeous views.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

38 Weeks!

This was another great week for me. I know so many women are just ready to be done at this stage, but I feel really lucky that I'm still enjoying my pregnancy. I know that once she's here I'll miss feeling her move around inside of me. It's hard to believe that she could be here any time now!

Just for fun, here's how I look from behind. 

How far along? 38 weeks
Maternity clothes? Yes, and even those are tight
Stretch marks? Only one small one above my belly button. That poor thing has really stretched to the max
Sleep? Day-time naps have been awesome
Best moment of the week: Knaresborough Bed Races
Miss anything? Not really
Movement: Still a ton of movement. It's so weird feeling her feet and legs!
Food cravings:  Nothing really, but I've been eating ice cream anyway
Anything making you queasy or sick: Nope
Belly Button in or out? Very, very out
Wedding rings on or off? Still on
Happy or Moody most of the time? Happy
Looking forward to: Holding my baby girl!

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Oops, I Did it Again

I went back in the kitchen and made even more jam. This time I made enough, as my friend Deanna says, to get me through the zombie apocalypse. I can't help it! It's an addiction!

I didn't mean to make so much, but it just kind of happened. Deanna had a gallon-sized bag of strawberries leftover from last year's pick-your-own frenzy. She very graciously donated the berries, a ton of jars, and even offered to let me jam out at her house. She is practically a modern homesteader, so of course she has an industrial-sized canner.

When Deanna first mentioned the strawberries, I immediately knew I wanted to make the strawberry rhubarb jam I made last year. It was so fantastic that I may have actually shed a tear or two when we finished the jar.

I followed the same recipe I used last year, but did everything times 6! That's 6 pounds of fruit! You can easily cut this in half, thirds or even sixths :)

  • 3 pounds rhubarb, trimmed and sliced into 1/2 inch pieces
  • 3 pounds strawberries, slightly mashed
  • 12 ounces water
  • 6 cups sugar
  • Juice of one lemon
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • A box of pectin
  • Start by prepping your jars and lids.
  • Put rhubarb, berries and water in a pot. Cook covered, stirring frequently over moderate heat, until the rhubarb is cooked through and thoroughly tender. It should take about 15 minutes.
  • Add the sugar, lemon juice and salt. Bring to roiling boil (where the boil doesn't break even when you stir).
  • Add the pectin. Cook for at least one minute longer. Jam should be around 220F.

To be honest, this jam tastes amazing, but it didn't set as well as I wanted it to. I think it is the type of pectin that I used (Sure-Jell). Not that I need to make any more jam this year, but if I do I think I'll try either making my own pectin or try a different brand.

Either way, I'm looking forward to a year full of delicious, if slightly runny, fresh jam!

See my other jam-making exploits here:

Monday, June 10, 2013

A Warm(er) Welcome

Remember way back in February when I made some really cheap art for my mudroom? I then left the room alone for the next four months. Good thing nesting instincts took over and I decided something has to be done!

Lonely art in my mudroom

I added two more frames to the lonely first piece. Again, this was just using what I had on hand: a couple of picture frames, some leftover denim and an old calendar.

For the other side of the room, I grabbed a large, cheap picture frame from the thrift store and made my own art. I used leftover fabric from my kitchen chairs as the background and cut a large "L" for our last name from some other scrap fabric. I painted the frame with some leftover primer to better coordinate with the fabric. It's not the fanciest, but I think it looks kind of modern and fun.

It's still a long way from finished, but with addition of a couple more pieces of art and some fresh flowers from my garden, this front entry is a lot cheerier than it was before.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Cradle Fit for a Queen

Have you ever heard of a Moses basket? I hadn't either, but they're very popular here. Basically, they're  like an old-time bassinet that a baby sleeps in for the first few months. It's nice because they're light-weight and portable so you can move it around the house if you need to. We plan on having the baby sleep in our room for the first few months to make night-time feedings as smooth as possible.

A few months ago while browsing in a local thrift shop I stumbled upon a Moses basket for only £15. These can retail anywhere between £30 and £100, so this seemed like a great deal. With a new mattress and sheets, this would be perfect. The only "problem" was that I didn't love the natural birch finish on the stand. That's nothing that a little stain can't take care of though.

First thing I did was disassemble the stand and laid out all the pieces on a big tarp.

Wearing a heavy-duty mask, I gave the pieces a light sanding to remove any debris and make it nice and smooth. Then I grabbed some walnut stain and got to work. I left the dowels until the end since I figured it would be easier to stain them while they're suspended. That way I could reach all angles at once.

After three coats of stain, the pieces were looking awesome. To finish it off, I just needed to give it a quick coat of varnish. Here's where things went terribly wrong. I grabbed this can of spray paint that promised a glossy protective enamel. Let's blame it on my pregnancy brain, but I assumed it meant a clear protective enamel. It did not. It was pitch black.

Once I started spraying, I wasn't sure what to do. It was clearly black, but I held out this ridiculous hope that it would dry clear. I panicked and lamented the days of work that I had just thrown away. Thankfully, Dan is more level-headed than I am and suggested using paint thinner to remove the coat of spray paint. Genius! Even with my heavy-duty mask, that stuff is WAY too strong for me to be around, so Dan graciously agreed to strip the paint for me. Thank heavens it actually worked!

It was a very messy process, but it worked beautifully. The paint thinner didn't affect the stain at all. Now all that was left to do was apply a real coat of clear varnish. A tip for how to tell if a varnish is clear--it will say so on the can. :)

Once everything was dry, I reassembled the whole thing. Now baby Levin has a cradle fit for a queen.