MOMMYHOOD: Hot Mamma stores make moms feel hot

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I had the pleasure of being invited to a wine and cheese private party at a wonderful boutique called "Hot Mamma". Now, if you have read my previous posts, you know that I am a bargain shopper-Target and thrift stores have been my MO this year. I was ambivalent about going to this store. But I was talked into going to this store event because of the supposed quality and style of the clothes, working with a stylist for free-as well as the 15% off any purchase for the evening.

I have to admit, I was very impressed with the store and the help. The stylists were fun and helpful. Once they got your body shape down and your personal style, they really helped you look fabulous! I had never worked with a stylist before, and it was really fun and educational. They pulled things off the rack for me to try on that I never would have picked myself, but after putting it on-fell in love with. The clothes were of excellent quality and were very hip and different. Their philosophy of "just because you are a mom doesn't mean you need to let yourself go" really comes through with the variety of clothes they carry. According to their site, the store was created as "an upscale boutique that nurtures, encourages, and supports mothers while offering only the most contemporary clothing to the fashion-forward mom."



They have a special little area to occupy your kids if you need to bring them, making the store very mom-friendly. They also have a maternity section in the back for moms-to-be with way hip maternity clothes. They do have stores through out the country, and you can also buy things online at http://www.shopmama.com. You can also follow a slew of various blogs through the site of sponsored "mamma" blogs that you may find interesting.

SO if you want to feel "HOT" and pretty, take a look at what Hot Mamma can offer you. Even splurging on a sweater or top that makes you feel special can really turn your day around!

COOKING: Roast that turkey and fullfill your inner "Thanksgiving Diva-ness"!

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Many of you are preparing for Thanksgiving this evening. I have talked to a few people who were very nervous about the turkey roasting. If you are lacking a recipe, my standby recipe at my website is a popular one with many of my friends ( http://www.floracaputo.com/pages/turkey2.html ) I have some overall tips for delicious turkey, some that are part of the above recipe, but others that I have learned in the past few years that have perfected my turkey.

Organic IS worth the money:

We tried a fresh, organic turkey last year and all my guests said it was the best turkey they ever had. We got ours from Whole Foods, and the brand was "Plainville Farms" (http://www.plainvillefarms.com/). The turkey had a lot better flavor and texture than the frozen conventional ones in our past. If you can afford it, give it a try!

If you have to get one really huge turkey, do two smaller ones instead:

Generally speaking, the really big turkeys are older and tougher-and they need to cook longer. If you are really feeding a crowd, I suggest you get two smaller 12-15 lb. turkeys. They will be more tender, easier to manage and quicker to cook.

Cook your bird upside down for half the cooking time:

This is in my recipe, but I wish to reiterate it. Cooking the turkey this way allows the juice and drippings to fall toward the breast for most of the cooking time. It also forces the breasts to cook very slow at the bottom versus browning very fast on the top. You will need some help flipping the bird over-so enlist a strong guest or family member. Once flipped right side up, baste nicely and finish cooking. If the top starts browning too fast, tent with foil and continue basting.

If you have the time, brining does wonders:

Last year was the first year we brined the turkey, and it really was worth the extra effort. We used Williams Sonoma brining bags and their special brining mix. If you do a little research, some people swear by soaking the turkey in a brining solution in a large plastic bin or bucket. The issue is keeping the turkey cold that way. The bags allow us to keep the birds in the fridge, lying flat. Be sure to rinse the turkeys thoroughly after brining is done, otherwise you may have very salty turkeys (salt is the key to brining). If you wish to make a brining solution from scratch, Alton Brown rocks and here is his recipe: (http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/alton-brown/good-eats-roast-turkey-recipe/index.html)

Don't forget to get your fingers UNDER the skin with all your shortening and seasonings when prepping:

This is important to not only keep things moist under the skin while cooking, but also to infuse the meat with your flavors versus just seasoning the skin. You will get a better turkey by getting your hands dirty! Don't be shy!

Don't stuff the turkey unless it's to flavor the turkey:

Stuffing can be served separately. Stuffing needs to be cooked to a different temperature than the turkey, so actually cooking them together at the same time doesn't make a whole lot of sense. Also, stuffing the turkey slows the cooking of the turkey, so its just better to keep the stuffing in it's own pan. You can stuff the turkey with some whole fruits or whole vegetables loosely that keep the turkey moist while cooking. My recipe above includes putting quartered apples, oranges and onions in the cavity. The moisture from the fruits keep the turkey very moist.


Hope these tips help, and please have a wonderful and safe holiday! And as we all give thanks, I would like to thank you for visiting and being a reader!

Lifestyle: Rediscovering the public library during this recession

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One of the things I have rediscovered over the past year is the value of the public library. I always loved the library when I was young, but I never thought about frequenting it as an adult. This past summer, I had to meet my daughter's tutor there for one hour sessions, twice a week. While she worked with my daughter, I had an hour to myself to meander around and explore what my tax dollars in the big city pays for, and you know what? It's a lot! Think what you will about taxes-they do pay for a lot of free civic and public activities for the commons that everyone should take advantage of. When you look at it, you can save a ton of money in this recession by utilizing the library for all it has to offer. I know I am in a big city, so what our libraries offer may be different/more than yours-but take a look and have the librarian give you a tour of your own. You might be pleasantly surprised what your tax dollars are paying for that you can really use!


The Basics

So of course, there are books. But did you know that they have magazines, DVDs, CDs, and even museum and concert passes? As far as physical materials, You can place something on hold using the Internet and your library card, have books transferred to a branch near you, and even renew materials online if you want to keep something longer so you can manage not getting late fees. Our Chicago library is really plugged in, with your library card as your "account" that you can manage whenever you want.

Totally New Downloadable Media!

Using your library card online, the Chicago library has a new Digital Media section that allows you to download MP3s, eBooks, Audiobooks & DVDs straight to you computer at any time. Your selections will load to your computer instantly. When your loan period is up, the files expire, and your done! You can renew them online, just like the actual books, so you won't get late fees.

Concert Passes

You can pick up free lawn passes to certain concerts during the Ravinia Festival’s summer concert season. Anyone 18 or older can obtain up to two passes per concert from any CPL location. Lawn passes become available at the beginning of the Ravinia Festival season, so make sure to check early in the summer if you want a wide selection to choose from. 

Museum Passes

These go fast and each branch has a limited amount of passes, so call ahead for availability before you try and get them. But this is a great resource to see some of the city's best museums for FREE. You can check out a one-week museum pass for four (two adults and two children). Just ask at the front desk. Passes are available for a total of 13 Chicago museums, including the Art Institute of Chicago, the Chicago History Museum, the Shedd Aquarium, and the Museum of Contemporary Art.  For a complete list of participating institutions and more information, visit http://www.chipublib.org/eventsprog/programs/kids/grkids_museumpass.php.


Free WIFI and computer access

You can reserve a computer at any Chicago library by going online, or bring your laptop and use the free Wi-Fi. I went to Sulzer, and there was always a free computer for me to use. You just plug in your card number and you can have the computer for an hour. If no one else wants to use it, you can renew it. This was pretty awesome. If I were a kid with limited family resources, this place would be invaluable for doing online research for school work, free. For me, it was a great place to quietly get work done while my daughter was with her tutor.

Kids activities

Whether its a scheduled event or just hanging out on a Saturday, the library has a lot to keep kids busy and learning. I often had my daughter go to the preschool reading and activity hour at our local branch. It was a chance to meet other kids in the neighborhood and get exposure to reading and learning from someone else-FOR FREE. And even if there is nothing scheduled, they have books, puzzles, games and more that on a rainy day keeps them busy and active without being cooped up in the house. And they almost always have something fun planned for every holiday throughout the year to keep things fun and cheap!

Community Involvement

Often times, the local branch sponsors various meetings and lectures on educational things as well as community issues that you can stay apprised of. There is often a community bulletin board and flyers that you can stay up to date on what interests you. The lectures alone, for free, can teach you about green initiatives, small business practices and parenting. It's pretty cool.

Tax Advice and Paperwork

Some branches have areas around tax season with helpful tips and tax preparation guides along with the paperwork needed for taxes. A very helpful resource.

Small Business Area

Some branches have books, pamphlets and seminars supporting local businesses-along with paperwork to help (trademark searches, LLC filings, etc.). If you are thinking of starting a business, the library would be a great place to start.

Copier Access

Almost all branches have a black and white copier for making copies cheaply. A couple of the larger branches have color as well for a little more money per copy-but still cheaper than some of the retail chains.

Cheap books on Sale

Libraries are always cleaning out old inventory, and you can score some pretty nice books for as little as 25¢ a book. Our branches keep a rack towards the front near the main desk on books for sale. Be on the look out for good deals.

Historic Cultural Center

I know the Sulzer branch in Chicago has an atrium that keeps historical records of the near north side. I wanted to do research on my old home in Lakeview, and they had old pictures of various neighborhood streets, storefronts and homes. They also had a lot of pamphlets on how to find out the history of your home. Check to see if you library has anything like that. 

At the end of the day-you are paying for the local library with your tax dollars. So use it. If you add up what you save by going the library route, you save a ton of out of pocket money. Taryn Tawoda with http://www.poorlittlerichgirls.com, a great blog I follow, put together this analogy of what your savings are if you were to purchase VS borrow from the library. Its pretty considerable-not including all the kids activities and computer time. (be sure to check out the blog-its pretty cool)

Purchasing everything yourself*: Twilight by Stephenie Meyer ($10.99) Sex and the City - The Movie ($28.98) Circus - Britney Spears ($22.98) Glamour Two-Year Subscription ($15) Museum of Contemporary Art admission ($10) Ravinia Lawn Seat ($10) Total = $97.95 *According to List Prices

Using the CPL system: Get a CPL card ($0) Reserve a copy of Twilight ($0) Reserve Sex and the City - The Movie ($0) Reserve Britney’s new album ($0) Read Glamour at the library each month or check out back issues ($0) Get a museum pass ($0) Get a free lawn pass to certain Ravinia concerts ($0) Total = FREE (assuming, of course, you don’t have any late fees!)

Cost analysis by Taryn Tawoda 


COOKING: Freezing cookie dough for Christmas PART 1

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I wrote in a post this past late summer about preparing to start the "11 kinds of  Christmas cookie" process this fall (http://www.urbandomesticdiva.com/2009/08/cooking-how-i-manage-my-holiday-cookie.html). 
The key to succeeding in my insanity is the use of two freezers. I have had a few questions regarding this process, so I have included here how to freeze the slice and bake types of cookies. The slicing process for these kinds of cookies make them ideal for freezing. 

Below, I am showing you my Coffee Mocha Ribbons. After assembling the various dough layers and cutting the square in half per the recipe, I place each rectangle on plastic wrap.


Wrap each rectangle tightly with plastic wrap as shown below. Then place rectangle on a square of tin foil, and wrap again.


Remember to label the cookie (see below), and then place in the freezer. Cookie dough lasts 3 months in the freezer. Now on baking day, I keep the slice and bake cookies in the freezer until ready for baking. I let them sit out at room temperature 5-10 minutes while heating the oven, then slice away. They are MUCH easier to slice when they are still par-frozen. Just add a couple more minutes to the cooking time. I will show you in a few days how to freeze any drop cookies and biscotti as well, so stay tuned. 


GARDENING: Addendum to pruning fall perennials

Pin It I wrote a previous post about fall pruning (http://www.urbandomesticdiva.com/2009/11/gardening-fall-brings-this-question.html). I provided a list that I use to know what is good to cut back and what not. I have included here a few pictures here to show you how far and how much to prune certain perennials.





Above photo, you can see how far I cut my Irises (top left) and my Catmint (upper right corner). The Catmint was very full, so I started on the outer foliage and worked my way in.



Here you can see my peonies cut back to about 6 -8 inches or so. Large, bushy perennials such as this can be cut that far if it is approved for Fall pruning.



Here is Yarrow, which was very full and still had some lingering flowers. But it was time to prune so I started at the top and cut slowly towards the bottom to about 5 inches or so.

After pruning, we mulched leaves with our mower and laid them on the beds for warmth. The mulching helps them decompose over the winter and spring, supplying nutrients to the soil.

Happy pruning!

RECIPE: Our family standby, Linguini Aglio Oglio

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Many families have buttered noodles or mac & cheese as the old "Crap- I need to make something for dinner and I haven't gone gorcery shopping in two weeks!" solution. When I have that panic attack, I make the Italian standby, Linguini Aglio Oglio (linguini with garlic and olive oil). Everybody pretty much has the ingredients on hand, and it is pretty easy and versatile to make. Depending on what I do have in the refrigerator, you can vary it anyway you want. I will give you some ideas. This version I am sharing is my own version. There is the official Caputo Italian version from my mother that I will have in the cook book I am writing. So you will have to wait for that!

Flora's Linguini Aglio Oglio

Ingredients

4 Tbsp. Extra Virgin Olive Oil
3-4 cloves crushed garlic
1 small "square" chicken boullion cube dissolved in 3/4 cup HOT water
1 tsp. dried basil
1 tsp. dried parsley
pinch red pepper flakes
salt and pepper to taste
A lot of fresh grated Pecorino Romano OR fresh grated Parmesan
3/4 lb. whole grain pasta cooked al dente (you can use normal pasta if you wish)

Variations (1 1/2 cups broccoli florets, 2 cups defrosted & cleaned shrimp, left over chicken shredded, you get the picture. Be creative and resourceful)


Directions:

In a large saute pan, heat olive oil. Add the crushed garlic and saute until beginning to brown. Add the broth and simmer until reduced to almost 1/3 cup is left and has started to thicken. As the broth is simmering, add the seasonings and adjust as you go. When it has reduced enough, add the hot pasta to the pan, toss and saute with the garlic sauce until the sauce is absorbed. Sprinkle liberally with cheese and serve! Dinner in minutes!

Variations:

Shrimp: Saute two cloves of garlic until brown, then add the shrimp and seasonings (if you have some left over white wine, splash a little with the shrimp to kick up the flavor). Cook shrimp until no longer pink. Then take out and set aside. Add the rest of the garlic, and continue the recipe as above. When sauce is reduced, add the shrimp back in the pan with the noodles, and toss. Garnish with cheese.

Broccoli: Add the broccoli to the pasta while it is boiling half way during it's boiling time so broccoli is blanched. Drain. Add the pasta and broccoli together to the reduced sauce. Also, broccoli absorbs a lot of the sauce, so don't reduce the sauce as much to accommodate the broccoli. Maybe more like a 1/2 cup or so?

Shredded Left Over Chicken:
Throw the chicken in after the garlic is browned, and add the seasonings. Brown a little, then remove and set aside while you deglaze the pan with the broth. Continue the recipe as above, but add the chicken back with the pasta and toss.

GARDENING: Fall brings this question-What to cut back, what to leave alone?

Pin It Every fall I have this dilemma. I have learned the hard way that certain plants need to grow on old wood in the spring after I did a pruning in the fall, and vice versa. SO after years of mistakes and much reading, here is a rough list of what to cut back and prune now for the health of the plants, and what I leave alone until spring or even summer. This in not a complete "be-all-end-all list". But it should help. It helped me just getting this info out of my head and on something concrete I could print and check off as I did my fall clean up this weekend. Happy cutting!


YES Prune or cut back the following:

Note: When pruning, cut dead and diseased branches first, then anything spindly that won't survive the winter. Be sure to use wood glue to seal your cuts. When cutting perennials back, cut the plant (flowers and leaves) to about 6-10 inches above ground, clipping spent leaves and flowers as you go. Cutting back certain perennials that are prone to molds and mildews are beneficial to be cut back. Others in this list, pruning doesn't matter but keeps things neat and tidy come spring, so do it anyway.

Bearded Iris
Echinecea ( Might be OK to leave for seeds for the birds, but if mold is starting to set in, cut it back.)
Rudebekia
( Same as Echinecea)
Catmint
Daylily
Phlox
False Sunflower
Galliarda
Bee Balm
Blackberry Lily
Bronze Fennel
Columbine
Corydalis
Crocosmia
Golden Margarite
Golden Star
Ground Clematis
Begonia
Helianthus
Hollyhock
Japanese Anemone
Ligularia
Lily Leaf Ladybell
Masterwort
Meadow Rue
Mountain Bluet
Painted Daisy
Penstemon
Peony
Plume Poppy
Salvia
Siberian Bugloss
Sneezweed
Solomon's Seal
Veronica/Speewell
Wild Indigo
Yarrow

Japanese Maple, only when all the leaves are off and tree has started to go dormant


NO, wait until spring or summer for pruning the following

Chrysanthemums ( Likes the leaf cover for protection)
Coral Bells ( Likes the leaf cover for protection)
Butterfly Weed ( Likes the leaf cover for protection)
Astilbe
Artemesia
Asters
Azalea (prune after Spring blooms)
Rhodedendron (prune after Spring blooms)
Lilac (prune after Spring blooms)
Weigela (prune after Spring blooms)
Balloon Flower
Basket of Gold
Bears Breeches
Black Eyed Susans
Blue Mist Shrub
Butterfly Bush
Butterfly Weed
Campanula
Cardinal Flower
Spurge
Delphinium
Dianthus
Foam Flower
Foxglove
Fringed Bleeding Heart
Gas Plant
Gay Feather
Geum
Globe Thistle
Golden Rod
Heartleaf Bergenia
Hydrangea (Big leaf/colored, cut after blooms. Most others, early spring)
Clematis (Summer bloomer, prune early Spring. Spring bloomer flowers on last year's growth so prune after flowers have bloomed.)
Hosta
Italian Bugloss
Joe Bye Weed
Lady's Mantle
Lambs Ear
Lavendar
Lavendar Cotton
Lupine
Mums
Oriental Poppy
Scabiosa
Plumbago
Queen of the Prairie
Red Hot Poker
Russian Sage
Sea Lavendar
Eryngium
Sedum
Coreopsis
Turtlehead
Jupiter's Beard
Guara
Willow Amsonia

MOMMYHOOD: How to Make your kid a Sonic the Hedgehog Costume!

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My daughter surprised me with a doozy this Halloween-with wanting to be Sonic the Hedgehog. After searching the Internet for a pre-made costume, I opted to make one. There is no real instruction online on how to make one, so I decided to post how I did it, in case there is someone out there who doesn't know and has a Sonic lover in their home too.

Now, I do sew, and the approach I am suggesting means having to sew a basic pattern on a sewing machine with some hand sewing as well. If you can't sew, perhaps you can find some bright blue pajamas or a sweat suit, and cut/glue the rest of the pieces together. The other thing I did buy pre-made online is the above fleece Sonic hat on eBay. Amazon also sells it. If you can't find it, use a "jester" hat pattern as a base and cut felt to match Sonic's eyes and nose, and glue it all on there.



I started with the above McCall's pattern and used the bunny one as a base, but I used bright blue fleece to make the jumpsuit, with a light brown color for the arm pieces and the tummy. The tummy is not in the pattern, you need to eyeball cutting a half moon shape out of each front panel with the brown, and use a brown zipper in that area to match. I made a Velcro tab on a blue fleece rectangular piece at the top of the jumper to keep the top shut and match the blue on the top. The instructions with the pattern are pretty easy to follow for the jumpsuit.


Next, Sonic has big, fluffy "socks" that I quickly made without using any pattern. I just cut two identical rectangles about a foot in width, and 6 inches high. I stitched the ends together to make a "ring, and did a 1/2 inch seam on top and bottom to thread some elastic through. The elastic creates the fluffy sock look and gets pulled on over the jumpsuit by the ankles and stays put.


Next, using the splats in the pattern package, I created Sonic's red gym shoes. I cut 4, 2 inch strips of white about 8 inches long and glued them (using strong fabric glue) on all of the splat pieces (4 total). I sewed the pattern pieces as directed once the glue dried. Then, using gold puffy paint, I "drew" Sonic's square buckles on the outer side of each splat. Then I hand stitched elastic on the bottom edge of the splats so it bridges across the width of the bottom of a shoe and stays put. Following the pattern directions, the splats also have elastic in the top seam over the ankle.

Finally, I hand stitched a pair of gloves with white fleece, and took a sharpie marker to draw three lines over the "knuckles" of the glove. I also eyeballed a sonic "back" (see below) which I stitched together like I would a pillow, and filled it with some poly-fill. I was going to stitch a bottom to this piece, and then put snaps on it as well as snaps on the back of the jumpsuit so that the costume could really be true to SONIC with his spiked back. But my daughter thought the back piece cumbersome, even with the snaps, so I did not finish it. But using snaps might allow your child to take it off or on if its getting in the way of fun!

Below is a quick shot of the finished ensemble! Hopefully, next year, my daughter either learns to sew or wants to be something simpler! HA!


RECIPE: Homemade Caramel Popcorn

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Grandma Judy made this heavenly concoction for her Halloween Open House last night. I was amazed at how delicious this was, and how easy. She shared the recipe with me to post. This was ten times better than any store bought caramel corn I have ever had. She put it out in a bowl for guests to munch on all night. It is a great addition to any upcoming holiday parties.


Grandma Judy's Caramel Popcorn

1 stick butter
2 cups brown sugar
1/2 cup dark brown Karo syrup
2 bags Orville Smart Pop popcorn, popped (use a light, no butter popcorn. Butter or grease makes the sugar coating to stick to the popcorn)

In a small saucepan, melt the butter, brown sugar and syrup. Stir until syrupy and combined at a low simmer. In a large roasting pan, lay cooked popcorn on the bottom of the pan. Pour the sugar syrup evenly over the popcorn and mix. Bake the popcorn in a 225˚-250˚ oven for 20-25 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes. When popcorn is nicely toasted, spread hot popcorn on waxed paper in an even layer until cool. Break it up into bits and put in a bowl to serve.

Optional- You could buy a bag of popcorn as long as it has no coating on it, or pop your own. Also, you could add 1 cup of peanuts to the popcorn in the roasting pan before pouring the syrup over it.
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