...because home doesn't happen overnight.
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.

zucchini pie 2

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.

zucchini pie 3

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.

zucchini pie 4

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.

blue apron 3

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.

blue apron 7

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.

blue apron 8

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

*THIS GIVEAWAY IS NOW CLOSED.*

Congrats to Megan! She’s going to use Cook Smarts and her Whole Foods gift card to whip up a vegetarian dish for her family.

cooksmarts 1

I’ve mentioned in previous posts that I’m not particularly fond of cooking. My biggest tiff with the whole process is coming up with ideas for meals and organizing grocery lists. But as much as I detest it, meal planning really does make a difference in how well our weeknights go – especially during the school year. Enter Cook Smarts.

weekly meal plan

Cook Smarts takes the guesswork out of meal planning. Their weekly meal plans include four balanced dinners to save time and money and bring you out of the dreaded dinner rut.

paleo option

Steve has been eating paleo most of the time for the last six months so, by default, the rest of us have been, too. Each Cook Smarts recipe can be customized to a gluten-free, paleo or vegetarian version. Needless to say, this is a huge and practical benefit to me and my family. Once customized, you can print / email the meal plans and create grocery lists with the click of a mouse. Done!

cooksmarts 2

The kids and I are out of town this week and next. Right before we left, I threw together an early Father’s Day meal since we won’t return until the day before the actual holiday. Seeing as how I’m barely functioning a day after making the 16-hour drive with three kids, I’m guessing I won’t be in any condition to entertain when I return home. (In case you’re wondering, the total sleep time for the entire drive for all three kids was…wait for it…50 minutes. And it was broken up at that. Gotta love road trips with kids!) I searched the recipe archives and decided to try the chipotle burger recipe.

cooksmarts 4

It isn’t a Father’s Day meal without some grilling action! If you need to brush up on your grilling skills, Cook Smarts offers short how-to and prep videos which teach basic cooking skills to boost your cooking confidence.

cooksmarts 6

I topped the chipotle burgers with homemade guacamole and served them with sweet potato fries, steamed broccoli and our favorite pasta salad from a local gourmet deli. Since we were entertaining extended family members who don’t follow a paleo diet, I didn’t customize this particular recipe.

cooksmarts 5

The burgers were so good! They had a bit of a smoky bite to them that was tempered by the guac. I will definitely be making these burgers again!

i made this recipe

To keep a running list of the recipes we try, I click the “I made this” button at the bottom of each recipe.

favorited recipe

To denote favorites, I click the button above the dish’s photo. And just like that, everything is organized for me. It really is a smart setup. For a more in-depth guided tour of the site, click here. Who knows? Maybe cooking in the kitchen could eventually become my happy place??

jess at cook smarts

As easy as Cook Smarts makes it to live smarter, happier and simpler in the kitchen (I find cooking isn’t as awful when I have a plan of attack) what really inspires me is the story behind the business. The website was founded by Jess Dang who, after being diagnosed with Hepatitis C at the age of 17, made a promise to herself. If she lived to see 30, she would do something that would help others lead a healthier life because she knew first-hand how much “it sucked to feel unhealthy and helpless.” Jess is now 32 and Cook Smarts is 2. Some people become complete victims and wallow in self-pity whenever problems arise in life. But those who choose to make the most of their situation by helping others are extraordinary and inspiring. That is exactly what Jess is to me and I support her mission whole-heartedly.

Are you ready to try Cook Smarts for yourself? Great! You can sign up for free and receive 3 free meal plans to sample. Subscription plans start as low as $6/month or roughly $0.40 per meal. To help you out, Cook Smarts is giving away $250 in groceries! See entry details below.

PRIZE: $250 gift card to Whole Foods plus a Cook Smarts tote bag

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

TO ENTER: Sign up for a free Cook Smarts account here. Then check out the recipe archives and comment on this post sharing the meal you’d most like to try.

DEADLINE: Enter before Sunday, June 8th at 9:00 p.m. EST. One random winner will be announced Monday, June 9th.

BUT, WAIT!, THERE’S MORE: Use the discount code “HTCOOKS” to receive 30% off your first meal plan payment. Offer expires June 10th, 2014. A subscription to Cook Smarts would make a great graduation or wedding gift this summer.

Eat healthy, stay healthy!

images: Dana Miller for House*Tweaking; image of Jess Dang via Cook Smarts