Tuesday, November 27, 2012

This Week's (Big) Small Find: Folding Chairs

Clockwise, starting from top left: vintage folding chair from MsMichiganRoux on Etsy; spindle back folding chair from Target; folding chair from World MarketBollo folding chair from IKEA.

I recently read an article on Apartment Therapy on how to entertain in a small space.  There were notes on decor (mix and match), style (relaxed) and attitude (be flexible).  But one thing the article didn't mention is something you can't avoid: eventually, people are going to want to sit down.

Now, unless you have the kind of crowd that likes to picnic on the floor, you're going to have to find a way to provide enough chairs for everyone.  Personally, our apartment consists of four chairs around a table, and a couch that seats three if necessary.  Not quite enough for your typical dinner party.

Enter the fabulous folding chair.

I always thought that folding chairs were limited to those ugly metal things you see in offices and school auditoriums.  Luckily they've evolved.  There are traditional, rustic or mid-century modern folding chairs to suit everyone's taste.  If you search hard enough, you can find a chair that suits your home's style and budget.  And, since they fold, you can stick a couple at the back of your closet (or, if you're lucky enough, in your basement storage area) and you won't be crowded day to day by an overabundance of chairs.

So relax, quit worrying, and let the dining begin!

What's your holiday entertaining look like?  Any tricks for having people over in your small space?  Let me know how you do it!

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Tomatoes + Parsley = Quickest Pasta Recipe Ever (p.s. your toddler will eat this!)

I don't think you can possibly find a quicker pasta recipe than the one I am about to lay before you.  Aside from opening up a jar of something, this has got to be it.  And, it's much more satisfying not to mention delicious.

It's a great way to use those beautiful tomatoes that are spilling off the stands at the farmers markets these days.  If the heirloom varieties weren't $4/lb at my local farmers market, I would totally have used them.  Instead, I got the cheaper plum tomatoes (a mere $1.50/lb).  They didn't disappoint.  The tomato flavor really sings in this dish, and you can appreciate the fresh taste since the tomatoes stay raw.

The secret, I think, is that by tossing the warm pasta with the sauce, the pasta drinks in all the flavors and what you end up with is something savory yet refreshing.

So here it is.  Make it while the pasta cooks.

Quickest Pasta Recipe Ever

Ok, so it's a little more than just tomatoes + parsley, but it takes minutes to make!  If you make this in the summer, use as much fresh basil as suits your taste.  Since we're well into fall here, I chose dried basil.  Adding fresh parsley, which I keep in a pot on a sunny windowsill, brightens up the dish and kind of fools you into thinking the basil is fresh too!

3-4 large plum tomatoes, chopped
1 tbsp dried basil (or 1/4 c fresh chopped basil)
1/4 c fresh parsley, chopped
1/8 c olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 lb whole wheat penne

Start boiling the water for the pasta.

Chop tomatoes and parsley, toss in the bowl with the olive oil.  Take dried basil and, rubbing it between your palms to freshen the herb, add it to the tomatoes.  Mince the garlic, and add it to the tomatoes, along with the salt (optional: I like to mince the garlic with the kosher salt, it kind of mashes the garlic down even further, which is nice since you won't be cooking this sauce).  Toss well.

While you're making the sauce, add the pasta to salted boiling water and cook according to package directions.  While the water is boiling/pasta is cooking, your sauce will have a chance to set.  Drain cooked pasta and immediately toss with the sauce. If you like, top with shavings of parmesan or pecorino romano.  Enjoy!

Like this recipe? Let me know!  Have a quicker pasta idea?  Share it!

UPDATE: Toddler Alert!  My super picky eater / toddler extraordinaire ate this all up!  So for all of you out there trying to shove food into your toddlers or other picky eaters at your dinner table, try this!

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Bread (Crust!) Pudding Fit for a Toddler

You may not know me very well.  If you're reading this you may not know that I have the world's pickiest toddler, that she doesn't like to eat many things that normal toddlers adore, and that every day is a constant struggle to pack nutrition into her little body.

You may not know that about me.  But you may have a similar situation at home.  For instance, I've heard that my Little One's aversion to crusts on her sandwiches is not terribly unique.  Every morning when I make her breakfast (cream cheese sandwiches, it's pretty much the only thing I can get her to consistently eat) I diligently shave off all the awful crusts and... well, to be honest, at first I was throwing them out.  I know.  Terrible waste.  So, I decided to start collecting them in a bag in the freezer, and figured I'd find out what to do with them later.

I Googled like crazy: bread crust recipes...  toddler crust recipes...  what to do with leftover bread crusts...

Anyway, bread (crust) pudding was my favorite find.  A few people suggested it, and one person had a healthy twist on it that I decided to try.

It was good, but a little liquidy and sweet and didn't hold together like I envisioned a bread pudding would.  And, although my picky toddler did try it (hooray!) she did not eat it a second time.

So I tried again.  I used some ideas from the healthy recipe, cracked open the good ol' Joy of Cooking for a little more info and voila!  Pure toddler comfort food.

Bread (Crust!) Pudding Fit for a Toddler

As I shot the photos for this post, my little picky eater made a b-line for the plate of pudding and actually asked for some, even though she just ate a big breakfast!  Try this, trust me, you'll be happy you did.

4 cups lightly packed whole wheat bread crusts, diced into 1/2 inch pieces (or thereabouts)
2 cups whole milk
3 eggs
1/8 c agave nectar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp salt
1 apple, peeled and grated
1/2 c raisins

Whisk eggs, agave, vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt together.  Add milk and whisk well.  In a 2 qt buttered/oiled baking dish, layer as follows: 1/3 of the bread crusts, 1/2 of the apples, 1/2 of the raisins, 1/3 of the egg mix.  Repeat.  End with last third of bread crusts, topped with last third of egg mix.

Let sit for 30 min (very important!!!), occasionally pressing down with a spatula to ensure the liquid gets absorbed.

Preheat oven to 350 F.  Bake in water bath* (also very important) about 1 1/4 hr, until browned, puffed a bit, and firm in the center.

*Don't be scared, it's easy! Joy of Cooking says to lie a dish towel, or rack, inside a roasting pan, and place the baking dish on top.  When the whole contraption is in the oven, pour enough hot water in the roasting pan to reach up half way on the baking dish.  Apparently doing this prevents your pudding from getting grainy.  Works for me.

Let me know if your little ones eat it!

Friday, November 2, 2012

This Week's (Big) Small Find: Decorative Knobs and Pulls*

It's funny how the smallest things can make you ridiculously happy.

When we moved in to our apartment a couple years ago, we redid a few things before settling in: the walls, ceilings and (black!) baseboards were all painted over, extra storage cubbies were built over each closet (more on that another time) and the old and decrepit closet doors were replaced.  When we replaced the closet doors, we got these plain cheapo knobs at the hardware store and just stuck them on... nothing decorative or remarkable, but serviceable.

They've been bothering me for two years.


So I replaced them.  And now I'm happy.

You don't have to have a big budget to get major impact in a room.  Something small like swapping out door knobs (or drawer pulls, or kitchen cabinet knobs) can really make a lot of difference, bringing color and texture and character to a room.

Since you're working on a small scale (how many knobs could you possibly need?) you can really go all out on this purchase (I'll admit, I went to Anthropologie for these*).  You can also find more thrifty deals by raiding flea markets for something unique and fun.  Even big box hardware stores have a decent collection of knobs and handles to choose from.  In any case, you don't need to settle on the bland and boring.

Have another small scale decorating idea that makes a big impression?  Share it, please!

*A Note on (Big) Small Finds: A reader recently asked me whether I get paid for sharing my finds, and the answer, for the time being, is no.  The (Big) Small Finds are simply things I come across in my daily life that I think are useful/noteworthy/wonderful.  If I should ever be so lucky that this fact changes, I will of course let everyone know with a clear disclaimer... here's hoping!