...because home doesn't happen overnight.

quick and easy beans 5

Fall is my absolute favorite time of year. The weather is glorious. Nature’s colors are beautiful. Our family schedule slows down a little. And the comfort food brought on by the change of seasons is pretty great, too. One of my favorite dishes to make this time of year is spicy pinto beans. They’re quick & easy, healthy and – best of all – everyone in my family loves them. No whining at the dinner table is a small happy moment in our often chaotic home. The recipe requires only three ingredients (!) and very little prep. I thought I’d share it with you.

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SPICY PINTO BEANS

3 cans of 15 oz. organic pinto beans, preferably BPA free (We like Trader Joe’s brand.)

5 slices of bacon, preferably nitrite free

3 T. McIlhenny tabasco chipotle pepper sauce (more or less to taste…I would say this recipe is at a mild-medium spice level.)

Pour beans (undrained, not rinsed) into medium sauce pan. Cut bacon into 1″ pieces. (I use kitchen shears.) Add bacon pieces and 3 T. pepper sauce to beans. Stir to mix then simmer on low heat for 25 minutes or until bacon is cooked through. Serve with cornbread. (Again, we like Trader Joe’s brand.) Makes 4-5 servings.

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Super simple, right? Steve and I are always surprised by how good these beans are. They definitely taste like they’re more work. Sometimes it’s nice to have a “don’t have to think about it” meal lined up for crazy days or for evenings when you’d rather spend more time playing with the kids and less time prepping in the kitchen. Not to mention, this meal is easy on the wallet.

Steve follows a paleo diet most of the time. I was so bummed the first time I made this dish (sans cornbread) and he informed me that legumes were not on his paleo menu. Seriously?! They’re beans! I told him if he was going to follow a caveman’s diet I would prescribe to a cavewoman’s personal hygiene routine. He eats the beans, folks. #cheatmeal

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Anyway.

Like I said, this is a spicy dish (if you want it to be). You will need some fresh water on hand to quell your thirst. Luckily, the kind people at Soma sent us one of their water carafes to try. It’s a smart setup – a functional water filter and a beautiful carafe in one. You guys, we made it through an entire meal without anyone whining OR getting up from the table to refill their glass. I didn’t know what to do with myself so I ATE MY ENTIRE MEAL IN ONE SITTING WITHOUT REPRIMANDING ANYONE.

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Back to Soma for a minute. The sustainable carafe features shatterproof glass, BPA-free plastic and an appealing hourglass silhouette. It can hold up to six 8 oz. glasses of water and is right-sized to fit your hand, sink and fridge. The biodegradable filter is made of coconut shells and reduces the amount of chlorine, lead, selenium and arsenic in tap water. You can opt to have a new filter sent to your doorstop every sixty days and each filter bought provides a donation to charity : water, an organization that helps to bring clean water to families across the globe. It’s beauty meets brains meets philanthropy. I call it the beauty queen of water filters and you can learn more about it here.

Our fridge features a built-in water filter / dispenser but it’s sometimes cumbersome (sometimes impossible) to fill large containers. The carafe is nice for said containers, entertaining and the *rare* uninterrupted family dinner. I wish we had owned one when we were living in our interim apartment during renovations. Instead, we used a bulky pitcher-like filter that hogged fridge space. The Soma carafe is a great idea for renters. I’m looking forward to busting it out over the holidays when we have guests. Refilling Cheetah’s water bowl is a cinch with the Soma. (Who knew cats are water snobs? Not me.) And I’ve been using it to fill my kettle in the morning when I brew my coffee Chemex-style. It’s much easier than wrangling the kettle into position under the fridge’s small water dispenser.

Do you use a water filter? Either in your fridge or at the faucet? We always have. Filtered water is the drink of choice in our home. I don’t buy pop / soda, juices or bottled water. If you’re interested in Soma, H*T readers will receive $15 off the first 50 purchases made by entering the discount code “HT15OFF”.

*This post was sponsored in part by Soma. All original content, imagery and opinions are my own. If you don’t care for the carafe, I hope you still enjoy the recipe. Thank you for supporting the brands that support this blog!

images: Dana Miller for House*Tweaking

08.18.14 / I Drink Coffee Now

coffee

When I was noticeably pregnant with Mabrey, strangers would ask “So how many does this make for you?” When I answered three, I would sometimes get the “oh, I love the dynamic of three!” from all-knowing parents of three. But I was surprised by the reply I most often received…

“Ohhhhhhh, I started drinking coffee after number three.” And then they would nod their head slowly as if remembering something they hadn’t thought of in a long time.

I get it now. I drink coffee now.

I had always enjoyed a cup of coffee here and there. In college, I would occasionally grab a cappuccino for late night study sessions. Before Mabrey, a hot cup of jo was a special after-dinner treat on chilly nights. But I never drank it regularly until Mabrey was about a year old. I started out drinking a cup maybe once or twice a week in the mornings, usually on the weekends. Eventually, I really looked forward to those rare cups. I would purposefully wake up earlier than everyone else on coffee mornings to sip my joe in peace and quiet. It made for some good me time and gave me a chance to mentally prepare for the day ahead.

Fast forward to this summer. It turns out, I need more than one to two mornings of me time per week! I’m drinking coffee almost daily now. Just one 8-ounce mug. For me, it’s more of a mental – rather than physical – ritual. I don’t get headaches or fatigue on the random days I miss my daily cup. But I do cherish those quiet moments. They are little slices of happiness that set the tone for the rest of my day.

I recently read an article in Real Simple magazine that discusses happiness. Here’s what one contributor had to say:

“…I really believe that happiness is a collection of small, pleasurable experiences, like buying flowers or eating a square of chocolate. I try to have a few of these moments every day.” – Anne-Marie Slaughter

I couldn’t agree more. Does coffee itself make me happy? No. But having that pause before the chaos of the day sets in is what really does it for me.

So here’s my question to any coffee drinkers / snobs out there. What coffee do you drink and how do you brew it? Currently, I have a Keurig that my bonus mom gifted me earlier this year. To save money, I have been using a reusable filter cup and inexpensive ground coffee but I’ve been bouncing around from brand to brand and haven’t really fallen in love with a particular brew. Seeing as how this coffee thing is such a big part of my happiness (ha!), I’d really like to make it special. I’m open to other methods of brewing as long as they don’t yield a whole pot of coffee (I’m the only coffee drinker in the house) and aren’t super involved. I’m not opposed to grinding beans – whether at home or in-store. A few years ago while on vacation, I had coffee brewed in a french press and it was AMAZING. I’ve heard wonderful things about Chemex but, I’m not gonna lie, it looks intimidating. So, please, for the sake of Monday, spill the (coffee) beans and let me know what you’re drinking and how you’re brewing it! Thanks!

images: Dana Miller for House*Tweaking

*THIS GIVEAWAY IS NOW CLOSED.”

Congrats to Brenda who likes to shred then freeze her zucchini surplus in 2-cup increments. So clever!

zucchini pie 1

My dad gave me four 5+ lb. zucchini from his garden last week. They were HUGE. (I’ve shown a 12″ ruler for scale.) We like zucchini and all but, seriously, what does one do with >20 lbs. of it?! I did the only logical thing I could think of. I called my grandma. She has a killer recipe for zucchini pie and it tastes just like apple pie, if not better. In fact, the first time she serves it to you, she tells you it’s apple pie. Only after you scarf it down and go on and on about how good it is does she reveal the secret ingredient – zucchini! Keep reading for the recipe.

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I CAN’T BELIEVE IT’S NOT APPLE PIE! (a.k.a. ZUCCHINI PIE …but don’t tell anyone that part)

Preheat oven to 400°F.

4 c. peeled, deseeded, sliced zucchini (sliced smaller than shown above…that’s just a pretty picture ;) ) *For a softer filling, precook the zucchini. We like ours firm so I didn’t cook the zucchini first.*

2 T. lemon juice

dash of salt

In a large bowl, mix zucchini, lemon juice and salt. Set aside. In a medium bowl, combine the following ingredients:

1½ c. sugar

1½ t. cinnamon

1½ t. cream of tartar

3 T. flour

dash of nutmeg

Mix well then pour the sugar mixture over the zucchini. Toss to coat. Pour zucchini filling into a 9″ pie crust. (My grandma says she “cheats” and uses the refrigerated Pillsbury pie crusts. So I cheated, too, because if it’s good enough for my grandma, it’s good enough for me. Also, I had TWENTY POUNDS of zucchini to peel and slice. No time for pie crust made from scratch. You will need two crusts – one for the bottom and one for the top.) Dot with butter. Cover with top crust then pinch bottom and top crust edges together. Use a fork to vent the top crust. Or knock yourself out and make an intricate lattice top crust or something equally fancy that totally intimidates me.

Bake at 400°F for 40 minutes or until golden brown. (After 15-20 minutes of bake time, cover the edges of the pie crust with foil and continue baking.) The good news is even if it tastes bad, your house is going to smell amazing. But, don’t worry, it’s going to taste so good.

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That, my friends, is the very first pie I have ever made. And it probably doesn’t even qualify because I used pre-made crusts. Whatever. My family and friends loved it.

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I served it with creamy vanilla ice cream. Obviously, this isn’t a healthy recipe. The only “good” thing in the pie is the zucchini but I’m not sure how good it is once you smother it in sugar.

Anyway.

Maybe you have 20 lbs. of zucchini lying around and don’t know what to do with it? Maybe you wanna trick your loved ones with a little apple zucchini pie? You’re welcome.

I ended up getting 3-4 pie fillings out of each zucchini. That’s 12-16 pies! Luckily, my grandma said I could freeze the filling. (Just be sure to blanch the zucchini before freezing.) I baked two then put the rest in the freezer. If you invite me to your house in the near future, chances are good that I will arrive at your doorstep with a zucchini pie in hand.

gowanus boards

In celebration of this monumental event (my first pie!), Gowanus Furniture Co. is graciously offering up a set of cheese boards. Gowanus Furniture Co. was founded in 2011 by an Eagle Scout who believes that “we can have well-designed, locally-made products that are a good value and will last through successive moves to new homes.” Based in Brooklyn, the company is especially focused on small space living and produces sink-top and stovetop cutting boards to take advantage of unused space. The boards can also be hung on the wall with included hardware. But the boards aren’t just useful. There’s a sense of humor behind certain pieces and morse code monograms are always an option. Personally, I have a fondness for things with a hidden sense of humor…my grandma’s I Can’t Believe It’s Not Apple Pie recipe being one of them.

Feeling lucky? See entry details below.

PRIZE: one president long cheese board + one grilled cheese cutting board ($92 retail value)

RULES: You must be at least 18 years old and have a shipping address (no P.O. boxes please) in the U.S. One entry per email address.

TO ENTER: Leave a comment on this post proclaiming “HUMOR ME!”

DEADLINE: Enter before Sunday, August 17th at 9:00 p.m. EST. One random winner will be announced Monday, August 18th.

BUT, WAIT!, THERE’S MORE: Use the discount code “housetweaking14″ to score 10% off Gowanus Furniture Co. purchases throughout the month of August.

This post is NOT sponsored. I support quality small businesses and encourage you to do the same. Thanks for reading!

images: Dana Miller for House*Tweaking

blue apron 6

I first heard about Blue Apron from our friends in Nashville. Sara and I were bonding over our shared dislike for cooking (but love of good food) when she pulled a folder from a kitchen drawer. Inside were dozens of Blue Apron recipes that she and her husband had tried and liked. She told me that not only were the recipes easy to make and delicious but the kicker was that the company delivered all the fresh ingredients right to their doorstep in exactly the right proportions. No grocery shopping with whiny kids. No wasted ingredients. And shipping was free.

Sara and John both work full-time and have a young daughter. Sara is a physician and her job requires her to be on call several weeks out of the year. Those weeks can be stressful and chaotic not knowing if / when Sara will be called in to work. So during those weeks they subscribe to Blue Apron. Sara doesn’t have to worry about her family going hungry should she get called away. When Sara isn’t on call, they suspend or cancel their service until the next time she is. There’s no commitment.

I was completely intrigued.

Fast forward to three weeks ago when Steve underwent an emergency appendectomy. The recovery was hard on everyone. Between looking after the kids and caring for Steve, I had no time or energy to think about grocery shopping or what to make for dinner. We were in survival mode and eating takeout more than I care to admit. That’s when I remembered Blue Apron.

blue apron 1

I ordered three meals for the week. You can choose to feed two, four or six people. We are a family of five. I remembered Sara saying the portions were generous so I chose the four-person option to keep waste to a minimum. The ingredients arrived in a refrigerated box. One tomato was slightly smushed but usable and everything else was in perfect condition. Sara had mentioned to me that all the packaging was a downfall but, honestly, it wasn’t any worse than the takeout we had been getting. I put the ice packs in our freezer to reuse and we recycled the cardboard boxes, paper bags and plastic cups / bottles.

blue apron 2

Everything is divvied up in the exact amounts for foolproof cooking. The only ingredients you need to have on hand are olive oil, salt and pepper. Every recipe includes images of each step which we found extremely helpful.

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Basically, I prepped the ingredients then Layne was able to follow the directions to cook the meals while I supervised. (Btw, the day your kid makes you dinner is one for the record books. Kind of makes all those sleepless nights and dirty diapers worth it. Ha!)

blue apron 4

Here, Layne is making Filipino-style beef picadillo with chayote squash & jasmine rice. This was Steve’s favorite. It was labeled as four servings but we easily got 6-8 servings out of it. Based on our experience, I would venture to say the standard $9.99 per meal price ends up being more like $5-$8 per meal depending on the recipe.

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We also tried the cod & pattypan squash en papillote with garlic butter & fresh herb salad. You guys, I cooked with parchment paper for the first time! And, yes, the parchment paper came as an ingredient with the service. Really. The peeps at Blue Apron think of everything so you don’t have to.

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The pan-seared chicken & sautéed bulgur with tomato salad & creamy lemon-yogurt sauce was my favorite. Each recipe was delicious but what I especially liked about the meals was that there wasn’t any need to prepare side dishes. The meals were, in fact, meals. It was nice to try some new foods, too. Chayote squash, anyone?

Overall, Steve and I were super impressed with Blue Apron. We’ll definitely be using the service again during especially hectic weeks. Although, I hope it doesn’t involve another appendectomy. All I could think during our week of service was “Where was this when our kids were newborns?!”

Would you try Blue Apron? It would make a great gift for new parents, an ailing friend or a homesick college student in need of a healthy homemade meal. The service is available nationwide. Check here for a full map of delivery zones. The first 50 House*Tweaking readers to sign up here will get two free meals on their first Blue Apron order!

*This post is sponsored in part by Blue Apron. All images, content and opinions are my own. Thank you for supporting the brands that support this blog!

images: Dana Miller for House*Tweaking