Saturday, February 23, 2013

Cooking with Tofu & Landscaping


I'm not someone who cooks very often, at least not full-scale meals.  I make myself a quick breakfast and lunch most days, but my husband does most of the dinners.  He likes big dinners, so he generally ends up cooking them.  Since I have been out of law school and am working regular hours, I have started cooking with my husband.

Recently, we tried out some tofu recipes, and we got most of the recipes from  So far we have made spicy tofu and ginger tofu.  Both recipes were easy to follow and resulted in great dinners.

I was very happy with how well the dishes turned out, especially after my last experience with tofu.  I changed to a pescatarian diet (vegetarian + eats some fish) about 7 years ago, and I tried cooking tofu pretty early on.  That attempt was a horrible disaster.  I bought some tofu from the grocery store and tried to make it into a salad topping.  If I remember correctly, I had gotten soft tofu to make as flavored chicken to go on the salad.  I cut it into strips, marinated it, and then fried it very briefly.  Yuck!!!  It was a mess and really gross.

Now, that I'm learning more about tofu, I realize that I made some big mistakes.  First, you need to pick a tofu that is the consistency of the item you are trying to recreate.  If you want to make something like chicken, you need a firm/extra firm tofu.  Second, I made the major mistake of under cooking the tofu.  In trying out the tofu recipes, I learned that tofu actually needs to cook until it browns, and that I like tofu that is more thoroughly cooked.

Hot & Spicy Tofu was our favorite recipe that we tried.  It was really easy and turned out great.  The recipe and easy to follow instructions are available at the link.  It turned out best the second time we made it.  We learned some things from the first time. For example, we liked it better with smaller tofu chunks.  Also note that we substituted refrigerated minced garlic for the fresh cloves, and it was still great tasting.

Here is what it looked like in small cubes just starting to brown.  As you can see, it's cut into pretty small pieces.  It seemed to cook better this way.

This next picture shows what it looked like with the vegetables.  We found that we liked it better with the veggies cooked in the sauce for about 5 minutes, rather than 3 minutes.  It also made it less soupy when cooked longer in the sauce.

Tadah!!  Here's the final product.  Yum!  It was really, really good.


We finished the edging for the shrubs this weekend and planted the kumquat tree.  I think it turned out pretty well.  The pavers were not very expensive and made the front look more finished.  We still need to do some more work on the right side.  I'm thinking about either making stepping stones with the pavers or making a solid area of pavers extending out the front porch.  We need more sod for it, but we also have to figure out a way to disperse the rain that comes down in that area (and that's where the additional pavers come in).  It will be a project we tackle in March or April when it is sod laying time.  Next weekend, we will be killing the fire ant beds and working on the back yard.

(The tree will look a little better when the rain washes away the extra mud and the dirt around the tree is more packed down.)


I really like the pavers we chose.  They are supposed to change colors as they oxidize.  The sample shows them as having quite a bit of variation after exposure to sunlight and rain.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Clueless Landscaping

I was originally planning to write about cooking with tofu, but I spent a lot of time landscaping this week, so I thought it would be better to do a homeowner post about landscaping.

I know almost nothing about landscaping.  As a kid, we had a garden and we planted some trees.  As a teenager, I mowed the lawn.  That experience is about my extent with gardening and landscaping.  As an adult, I have lived in apartments and have rented houses, none requiring me to do any landscaping beyond mowing.  I have also had a few plants, but they generally die relatively quickly (as opposed to my pets, who usually live very, very long lives).

Now, we have a house, and we have to do the landscaping ourselves.  Luckily, my mom was willing to assist us in landscaping the front yard.  She flew down from VA, and she basically guided us through the whole process.  Before she arrived, we discussed plants and I sent her some pictures of our front yard.  She thought about plants that might work for us, and we went over it more when she arrived.  Next, we went to a couple local nurseries and looked at plants that were immediately available in our area.

We ended up picking gardenias (white flowers) and azaleas (red flowers).  We put the gardenias on the sides and the azaleas in the middle.  We also picked out an assortment of flowers for a flower bed in the front yard.

I didn't realize planting required so many steps.  I thought you pretty much dug a hole in the ground, tossed in the plant, put the dirt back around it, and watered it.  Of course, I did want to add edging and some mulch.  I learned that you have to prepare the bed, buy special fertilizers, and get landscaping cloth, among many other lessons and tips.

I'm not going to boor anyone with a full step-by-step explanation of everything we did.  Instead, I will show before and after pics.  Well, actually, they will be before and midway pics.  We were going to use landscape timbers, but we learned that these timbers are a termite's dream in Florida.  Now, I'm planning on doing a brick-like edging.  I hope to have it completed next week.


2/3 of the way through:

 (It was so sunny that I had trouble taking the mid way pics.  I hope to have better ones to put up for the finished product post.)

If anyone has questions about the process, I will gladly answer them.  I learned a lot, and I feel fairly certain that I will know how to properly plant things in the future, or that I will be able to figure it out with a little help.

As you can see the front yard looks soooo much better.  There is still a bit of a weed problem.  We plan on correcting it and adding some sod in the next couple of months.  When we removed the sod for the planting bed, we moved it to the bald spot, but we definitely need more sod.

I really appreciate my mom's help this weekend.  She was a great help, and I had a lot of fun planning and planting with her.

I must give a shout out/praise to my wonderful, sweet husband, who got me my favorite flowers for Valentine's Day.  He knows that I love blue irises, and he sometimes gets them for me for special occasions.  I  wasn't expecting them, and they really brightened my day.

I planted some iris bulbs in my new flower garden, so I will hopefully have more of these beautiful flowers later this year.   :)

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Gator Balloon Wreath

I finally finished this Florida Gator themed balloon wreath that I have been working on for weeks...well, not really weeks.  It took so long to finish because I ran out of balloons and I had to wait a few weeks for Hobby Lobby to get more in stock.

I had been wanting to Gator-up the outside of our house, and I thought a balloon wreath would be a fun and easy way to do so.  Why a Gator theme?  Well, that's where I went to law school, so I have to show my Gator pride.  :)  This was my first balloon wreath, but it was really easy to make once I had the correct supplies.

I'm going to talk a little bit about what you need for this wreath and how to make it, but I'm not going to do a full tutorial because there is already this great tutorial.  It has really easy step by step instructions.  Why reinvent the wheel, right?

Anyway, the following pic shows my completed wreath.
I really like how it turned out.  (After seeing this pic, I did fluff it and make it more rounded.)  For some reason, the balloons look blue and red in this photo, but I assure you that they are blue and orange.  The colors are easier to see in this pic:

straw wreath form (mine was a 14")
floral pins (I got these pins in 100 pc packs at Wal-Mart for $1 each)

Step 1:  Pick your color scheme and gather your supplies.
Step 2: Fold a balloon in half and put the floral pin around it (not through the balloon).  Pin balloon to the wreath form.  Repeat Step 2 until wreath form is covered with balloons.

Hint:  Keep the plastic cover on the wreath form.  If you remove it, the straw falls out and makes a mess.  In the following pic you can see the back with the plastic.

UpdateThis blog post was featured on Kaysi's Keeping It Simple Motivate Me Monday.   I really like her blog and I look at it pretty often because she has a lot of great ideas, so I was pretty excited when she listed my wreath as one of the projects that caught her eye. 

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Menu Board

I recently created a "menu board".  There are lots of examples of these boards on Pinterest, and I looked at several different types before deciding what to do.  Mine is a combo menu board--menu/shopping list/dry erase.

My husband and I were eating out too much and buying groceries we didn't end up using.  After work, we would try to decide what to eat, and we were either ruled by our stomachs or just out of ideas.  When we did eat at home, we often ate the same things over and over again.  The eating out was hurting our purse strings and waist lines, so I decided to try out the menu board idea.

I really like it so far.  I put up the meals for each week, and it helps me know what we need to buy. Sometimes I put up dinners for items I know we need to use.  It has really helped us eat out less.  As part of this experiment, I have also been finding new recipes, so that we have fun, tasty (hopefully), new things to make and eat at home.  For example, we have started cooking with tofu--it's cheap, easy to make, and it tastes good when well flavored.  I'll probably write about it next.

On to the creation of my menu board.  Here is what I ended up creating:

My kitchen and dining area open into each other, and this menu board is in between them, so I picked colors that matched with the area.  As you can see, I went with a blue and black theme.  This menu board wasn't very difficult to make, and I really like how it turned out.

What you need:
1 picture frame with the glass and cardboard that come with it
spray paint (optional) to paint the frame
decorative papers in the colors of your choice
glue gun and glue sticks
household glue like Elmer's
clothes pins
small boxes to hold the dry erase markers and the dinner cards (I used crayon boxes)
dry erase markers (The glass is naturally good for dry erase markers.)

How to make it:
Step 1:  The frame I got was originally brown, so I spray painted it black.

Step 2:  Using the cardboard that came with the frame for sizing, figure out the design for your board and cut your paper to fit.  As you can see, I went with a checker board for the main part of the board, and then used a different paper for the bottom message section. Glue the paper to the cardboard, let dry, and put it back in the frame.

Step 3:   For the word "menu" and it's back, the day of the week letters and their little squares, as well as for the cards, I used my Cameo Sillhouette.  If you don't have a cutting tool, you could create the letters in Word, print it, and cut it out, or you could draw it.  Same thing with the cards.  Glue the Menu label to the board using a glue gun.

Step 4: Cut out paper to cover the clothes pins and glue it to the pins.  Glue the day of the week letters to the pins, and then hot glue the pins to the frame.

Step 5: Cover the boxes with decorative paper and glue them to the board. Put markers and cards in their respective boxes.

Step 6: Cut the magnet in half, and then glue 1 piece of the magnet to the notepad and 1 to the glass.

Ta dah!  Your menu board is done.  Of course, you can make lots of changes to the design to fit your needs.  Now, you need to find some dinner ideas for your cards.