Author Archives: Hillary

Little Tikes Jump ‘n Slide Bouncer

Santa went a little crazy during his visit to our house this year. He filled our entire living room with a bouncy house! Now, as elaborate as this may seem, the bouncer was less than $200 on sale and provides endless hours of children not running through the house like wild maniacs, so all in all … good deal.

It has been a terrific outlet for the boys to get their wiggles out during the rainy season here in Seattle. The blower is a little noisy, but it’s not any more annoying than two kids constantly passing through the kitchen while we’re trying to cook or do dishes. And since eradicating that headache was Santa’s master plan, I’d say he achieved his goal!

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I’m impressed with the quality of the fabric — it feels like it will hold up for a long time. We have good friends who used this same model several times a month with multiple kids, and it lasted them about three years.

It is just like the “real” bouncy houses you can rent, just much smaller. (Although, as I mentioned, it does take up our entire living room.) Santa also delivered a pack of 200 balls for the house, which the blonde child loves, but the brunette detests (he says they get in the way of his jumping), so we have to rotate their use to make everyone happy. I highly recommend it if you’re looking for a way to burn through some rainy-day energy!

(Disclosure: This post contains affilitate links. Please be confident that I will never promote a product without giving my true opinion of its worth. I will, however, receive a small amount of compensation if you click through my links.)

Washington State Nanny Payroll Template (Excel)

When I went back to work in December 2014, we hired a full-time nanny (40 hours per week) for our boys. She’s been an absolute God-send, but figuring out how to pay her above board has been a bit of a headache. I was so stressed about messing things up either for us or for her, but it all has worked out well. And hey, now I have a new skill!

Sometimes I feel self conscious when I tell people we have a nanny. It sounds so spoiled and hoity-toity, but it’s actually cheaper to do childcare this way than to put them both in almost any daycare around the greater-Seattle area. (Cue the sound of outside-of-the-home working families barfing cash all over Puget Sound.) That said, I know we are tremendously fortunate. We hit the jackpot with our own personal Mary Poppins. She is incredible and the boys are getting very high-quality care while we’re both at work.

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I first looked into using the Breedlove payroll service — I’m sure they do excellent work — but I couldn’t justify spending nearly $2,000 per year on something that I knew I could figure out on my own. Yikes.

I found several payroll templates and guides online, and then created this hybrid from a few different examples. It has worked well for us, and I’ve shared it with several friends over the past year. You’ll need to plug in your own numbers to the formulas (hourly rate, state unemployment tax percentage, etc.), but it’s pretty straightforward. I hope you find it useful!

(Disclaimer: Although I did a lot of research about paying our nanny correctly in Washington state, I am neither an accountant or an attorney. I give no guarantee of the accuracy, completeness, sufficiency and reliability with regard to any information contained herein, including but not limited to text, pictures, data, points of view, suggestions or external web links and disclaim any responsibility from any mistake or omission of the materials and contents and any explicit or implicit guarantee of the accuracy, completeness, sufficiency or reliability of such information, including but not limited to a guarantee related to website quality or the non-infringement of a third party’s rights. So there.)

Baked Dungeness Crab Cakes

Newsflash: Figuring out how to mother two small children is kind of tough. Mostly in a good way. Mostly. I knew the leap from one to two would be big, but it has been far, far bigger than I anticipated. Evan is 10 months old now, and I’m finally coming up for air. It feels good to breathe again. How does everyone else make it look so easy?!

Anyway, it’s crabbing season around here (my favorite time of year), and we had a delicious dinner last night using our weekend bounty, so I thought I’d share the recipe with you.

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We love crab cakes, but I’m not a huge fan of my house smelling like fried seafood. I found several recipes for baked crab cakes and merged them together with my friend Katie’s amazingly delicious recipe and came up with the following. I like how you can cook a dozen of these at once, too, so in addition to saving calories from frying and avoiding a stinky house, you also get the benefit of a few extra minutes in your pocket. And hey, who can’t use a few extra minutes?! Win win.

I’m also going to make these for my OAMC freezer club. My plan is to put the uncooked crab cakes on a cookie sheet and freeze them individually, then pack them using our FoodSaver vacuum sealer. I think they will bake well from frozen with an extra two minutes or so on each side.

Baked Crab Cakes

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup panko (Japanese bread crumbs)
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 Tbsp. fresh parsley or 1 tsp. dried parsley
  • 1 bunch green onions, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp. dried ground mustard
  • 1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tsp. Old Bay™ seasoning
  • 1 Tbsp. mayonnaise
  • 2 Tbsp. butter, melted
  • 1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1 lb. lump Dungeness crab meat, cooked
  • Fresh lemon wedges, for serving

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C). Grease a baking sheet or line with a silicone baking mat.
  2. Place butter in large microwaveable bowl and microwave on high for 20-30 seconds to melt.
  3. Remove bowl from microwave and add mayonnaise, Worcestershire, garlic, onions, parsley, mustard powder, pepper, seafood seasoning, baking powder, and beaten eggs (everything except the crab and bread crumbs) to melted butter. Stir well until all ingredients are incorporated.
  4. Fold in crab meat, then fold in panko until well blended.
  5. Shape mixture into 12 crab cakes, about 3/4 inch thick, and place onto prepared baking sheet.
  6. Bake in preheated oven for 10 minutes, then turn the crab cakes over, flatten slightly with back of spatula, and bake an additional 10 minutes, until nicely browned.
  7. Remove from oven and let cakes rest/set for five minutes before serving.
  8. Serve with fresh lemon wedges.

OAMC: White Bean Chicken Chili

The rain has settled into the forecast here in Seattle for the next nine months, and there’s a definite crispness in the air. Although I [greatly] prefer fall’s sunny days to its wet and dark ones, I also am a huge fan of the season. You know, before the soggy misery has a chance to sink too deeply into my bones.

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Football and comfort food are two of the biggest reasons I love this time of year. So for this month’s OAMC freezer club, I decided to make chili. Because what says fall and football more than chili?! That, and my kid absolutely devours anything that looks like it may even remotely be made with beans. The boy loves his beans. Weird for a two year old, I know. I can throw a handful on his plate for a snack and he thinks I’m the best mom in the world. I just love that. Cheap, easy, and healthy.

I chose this recipe from Food Network because of the stellar reviews. I don’t know that I’d give it a five, but a definite four. It just needs a little something, but I’m not sure what. I’ll definitely make it again and tinker a little with the spices. I learned something while I was cooking, too. Apparently I need to wear a respirator when I chop, seed, and de-rib jalapenos. I’m not sure exactly what happened, but I think some of the capsaicin from the peppers got airborne and I inhaled it. I could barely breathe and had to go outside to calm my insane coughing attack. (Don’t worry, club members, I didn’t cough on the chili.) Then my eyes started watering and my face started burning. After dipping my head in cold water, thoroughly rinsing my eyes, and breathing some fresh air for about 15 minutes, I finally made it back to the stove. It was one of the most intense and bizarre cooking incidents of my life … And to make it even more strange, the chili came out completely mild! I thought for sure it was going to blow our heads off with spiciness after all that drama. Anyway, I survived. And I don’t need to see another jalapeno again for awhile.

I also couldn’t find poblano peppers at the store. Several reviewers mentioned they substituted roasted green chilies, so I decided to go that route. The peppers probably make for a more interesting flavor profile, but it’s still yummy with the chilies. I also threw in a bag of white corn at the very end to thicken it up a bit and add some heartiness. This chili definitely tastes better on day two than on the day it’s made. So make it in advance if you can.

OAMC White-Bean Chicken Chili

Serves: 4 to 6

 Ingredients

  • 2 (14.5-ounce) cans white beans (I used one can of cannellini beans and one can of navy beans.)
  • 1 tablespoon canola oil
  • 1 medium jalapeno pepper, minced
  • 8 oz. fire-roasted diced green chilies
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground coriander
  • 1 teaspoon ancho chili powder
  • 4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
  • 2 limes, juiced, plus lime wedges, for serving
  • 1 rotisserie chicken, skin removed and meat shredded
  • 1 lb. bag of frozen white corn
  • 1/4 cup chopped cilantro leaves
  • Sour cream, for topping
  • Tortilla chips, coarsely crushed, for topping

Directions

Drain and rinse the canned white beans. In a medium bowl, mash half of the beans with a potato masher until chunky. Reserve the beans until needed.

Add the canola oil to a large Dutch oven and heat it over medium-high heat. Add the peppers, onions, and garlic and saute until soft and fragrant, about 5 minutes. Season the vegetables with salt, and pepper, to taste. Add the cumin, coriander, and chili powder and continue to saute for 1 more minute to toast the spices. Stir in the chicken stock, and lime juice and bring to a simmer. Add the beans and continue to simmer for 20 more minutes.

After 20 minutes of simmering, taste for seasoning, and adjust if necessary. Stir in the shredded rotisserie chicken, frozen corn, and cilantro, and simmer until heated through, about 10 more minutes. Serve the chili in individual bowls topped with a dollop of sour cream or greek yogurt, shredded cheese, crushed tortilla chips (only Juanita’s brand will do), and lime wedges.

**For OAMC, cool dutch oven overnight in refrigerator. Once completely chilled, gently stir chili to mix, then scoop into desired serving sizes in gallon-size zippered bags, removing as much air as possible. Freeze for up to three months. To serve, thaw completely in refrigerator, 24-48 hours. Warm through over medium heat.

Mind-Numbing Pumpkin Bread

When I started this blog, I was so determined to post at least twice a week … and here I am, a little over three weeks since last writing. D’oh! In my defense, I have been fervently getting ready to welcome a new baby. And by fervently, I mean thinking about it a lot, not necessarily doing anything to prepare. I still haven’t packed my hospital bag, and my kitchen floor is begging to be mopped — among other, more important things screaming for my attention.

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So in a few short weeks (if not sooner), I’m going to have two kids. Two. That’s double the number I currently have, if you’re keeping count. It’s kind of overwhelming. I find myself thinking, “How did I get here?!” I feel like I just graduated from college and started my first job, then I blinked and ended up married with a mortgage and two kids. Don’t get me wrong, I love my life, but it sure is flying by quickly! And I don’t really plan on having any more babies after this one, so I’ve been kind of mourning not being pregnant again. It’s a weird thing. I feel so very “done,” and am looking forward to having a more agile and comfortable body again soon, but there’s also something really special about carrying a baby. I’ll miss it in an odd way. Especially the kicks. There’s just something about the kicks.


I also have been a little weepy about my solo time with Lucas coming to an end. For his first 13 months of life, I wanted nothing more than to leave my full-time job and stay home with him. I was so unhappy at work and missed my baby to the point it physically hurt. And so I finally did quit, and these past 15 months with him have been the most special, happy months of my entire life. I am overjoyed to bring a sibling into this world for him, not to mention having a new child in our family, but change can be tough and scary. Soon, I am sure that I barely will be able to remember our family as it currently is with only three members. But that will take time, and I never do very well with the unknown. So a couple of days ago, as I stared out into a dreary, grey day, mourning summer, the end of my [probably] final pregnancy, and thinking about how odd it is to try and patiently wait for one’s entire life to be turned completely inside out, I decided to make pumpkin bread. Because it seemed like the thing to do. Thankfully, it worked. I felt totally relaxed and the baking process managed to take my mind off life. And Lucas was happy because it’s his absolute favorite. I have to hide it from him. Seriously.

I’ve been making this recipe for several years and it’s one of the easiest, tastiest things in my regular fall/winter rotation. It puts Starbucks’ pumpkin loaf to shame, and that’s saying a lot, because I love Starbucks’ pumpkin loaf. This recipe is slightly adapted from the Downeast Maine Pumpkin Bread recipe on Allrecipes.com. I’ve also made a healthier version with whole wheat flour, half the sugar, and applesauce instead of oil/butter. It’s decent, but the real thing is much better. So if you’re not counting calories, go for the original.

Mind-Numbing Pumpkin Bread

Ingredients

  • 1 (15 ounce) can pumpkin puree
  • 4 eggs
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup melted butter
  • 2/3 cup water
  • 3 cups white sugar
  • 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease and flour three 7×3 inch loaf pans or two 9×5 loaf pans.
  2. In a large bowl, mix together pumpkin puree, eggs, oil, melted butter, water, vanilla, and sugar until well blended. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and ginger. Stir the dry ingredients into the pumpkin mixture until just blended. Pour into the prepared pans.
  3. Bake for about 50 minutes (three 7×3 pans) or 70 minutes (two 9×5 pans) in the preheated oven. Loaves are done when toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.

OAMC Hashbrown Casserole With Chicken Sausage

After a weekend get together with a large group of friends last month, my refrigerator was overflowing with several pounds of chicken sausage and 36 (!) eggs. We’ll work on the grocery-shopping coordination a little more before our next go-round. Anyway, when it was time to come up with my freezer club meal, I went the fairly obvious route and made a breakfast casserole to use what I already had available.

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Breakfast for dinner is one of our favorite things, and I love how easily this came together. I found a few OAMC breakfast casserole recipes, but I largely followed this one from We Gotta Eat. The original recipe called for a quarter cup of butter to be mixed in with the potatoes, but it was too greasy for us, so I cut that in half here. You probably could even omit it completely.

I also added some dried onions. I’ve found that the dried onions available in the spice aisle of the grocery store work much, much better in freezer meals than fresh, since they don’t add any extra water to the dish. Their flavor isn’t perfect, but decent. And let’s be honest, we’re eating from the freezer here and no ingredient will be quite as tasty as a fresh counterpart.

There’s nothing terribly exciting about this casserole (and I will admit it’s not the healthiest), but it is satisfying, filling, and hits the spot if you’re looking for a savory meal. What else do you need?

Hashbrown Casserole with Chicken Sausage

Ingredients

1 pound diced chicken sausage (We like Aidells Chicken & Apple)
3 eggs, cracked and beaten
1/2 cup milk
1 Tbsp. worcestershire sauce
1 Tbsp. cornstarch
1 Tbsp. freeze-dried/dehydrated chopped onions
1/8 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. black pepper
1 cup shredded cheese (I either use medium cheddar or pepper jack)
2 1/2 cups frozen hash brown potatoes
2 Tbsp. cold butter, cut into small pieces

Assembly Instructions

  1. In a gallon-size freezer bag, combine the sausage, eggs, milk, onions, worcestershire sauce, cornstarch, salt, pepper, and cheese. Seal bag securely. Knead gently to mix and set aside.
  2. In a second gallon-size freezer bag, combine the shredded hash brown potatoes and butter. Seal bag securely. Set aside.
  3. Insert all bags into a gallon-size Ziploc freezer bag, seal, and label with cooking instructions.
  4. Place in freezer.

 Cooking Instructions

  1. Thaw completely in refrigerator.
  2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  3. Spray bottom of 8×8 baking dish with non-stick cooking spray.
  4. Knead bag to mix potatoes and butter. Spread potatoes evenly in bottom of the dish.
  5. Knead bag to mix sausage and egg mixture well. Pour over top of potatoes.
  6. Cover and bake for 40 to 50 minutes, until cooked through and top is brown and bubbly.

Nectarine Love

For me, it’s not summer without an abundance of fruit. I can say without exaggeration that my little family of three has eaten no less than 100 nectarines in the past two months. I know, kind of ridiculous.

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We also are big fans of all types of berries, watermelon, pineapple, kiwi, etc., but the nectarine definitely reigns king around here. We’ve enjoyed nectarine caprese a few times each week since I discovered it last month — it just doesn’t get old. I’ve also been adding nectarines to a simple spinach salad with blue cheese, thinly sliced red onions, candied pecans, and a balsamic vinaigrette. So yum!

I know a big portion of the country is partial to the nectarine’s cousin, the peach. For everyday eating, I personally prefer the crispness of the nectarine, its resilient texture, and the smooth, edible peel. (I do choose the peach for baking purposes, though.) Like the peach, the nectarine comes in both freestone and cling varieties. So here’s my gripe. Why can most American grocers not label nectarines according to their pit variety, just as they do with the peach?!

I have asked multiple produce people at various grocery stores, and no one ever knows. Even at our local fruit stand, where they seem to be experts on every other produce item — no matter how rare — the dudes have absolutely no idea what kind of nectarines are in their bins. It varies week to week.

Since I find nectarines much more enjoyable to eat sliced, I am practically giddy when I end up with a freestone batch and can pop the fruit clean off the pit. They’re just so messy and sloppy when you try to eat them whole. And freestones also make a much nicer presentation in salads, etc. I tend to end up with mangy-looking fruit after slicing a cling nectarine. But you never know what you’ve purchased until you slice into the first one … It makes me feel like a small child on Easter, opening up those plastic eggs, excited to see what’s inside. A freestone nectarine is comparable to finding good chocolate. A cling nectarine is similar to finding a temporary tattoo that your mom takes away from you because she’s afraid it’s laced with LSD. (What? Did that never happen to you?)

Anyway, this really needs to be remedied. What do I need to do? Petition the National Grocers Association?

Is there some kind of trick to determine what kind of nectarine you’re getting and I’m just in the dark? If you know, please let me in on the secret!!

Thrifty Thursday: Homemade All-Purpose Cleaner

Going forward, I’m dedicating Thursdays at Easy Peasy Kitchen to cost-saving ideas and recipes. I hope these posts will help you stash some savings for the things you really care about, like college funds, vacations, cute shoes, and wine. You know, important stuff like that.

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I’ve been making my own all-purpose cleaner for several years. It’s cheap, doesn’t have any ingredients I’m uncomfortable using around children, and works incredibly well. I especially like it on mirrors — it’s completely streak free. Safeway carries an in-house brand of multi-surface cleaner that I used for a long time and preferred to any big-name cleaner. Looking at the ingredients, I knew I could make it myself and save some money. I’ve been reusing the bottle in the photo for a long time. Now, I know you’re not supposed to reuse cleaning-product bottles to avoid chemical reactions. But since I’m not using any ingredients not included in the original contents, I figure it’s OK. Please be cautious about this if you choose to reuse an old spray bottle.

I like to scent my cleaner with essential oil. My favorites are grapefruit-peppermint and lavender, but feel free to leave out the oil, too. And don’t worry about the vinegar smell taking over your house. It completely evaporates within minutes and really adds to the cleaning power as a grease- and grime-cutting agent.

Homemade All-Purpose Cleaner

Makes 1 quart

Ingredients

1 1/3 cups each:

  • White vinegar
  • Isopropyl (rubbing) alcohol
  • Water
  • 10-20 drops of your favorite essential oil

Directions

Mix together all ingredients in pitcher with pouring spout. Pour through funnel into spray bottle. Use to spray any soiled surface, allowing the product to penetrate grease, grime and dirt. Wipe clean with paper towel or cloth.

Extra-Fluffy Pancakes and Head Bonks

We were having a relatively uneventful morning around here today — you know, taking twice as long as should be necessary to get out of the house, trying to wear winter coats in August, and insisting that 357 stuffed animals come along with us to our playdate at the park, those kind of things. Anyway, we finally reached our destination and were having a great time, when, in a split second, my heart stopped. Lucas fell straight back off a picnic bench, bum over tea kettle, and bounced his poor little noggin on the concrete. It was possibly the worst noise I’ve heard in my life.

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We’ve had our normal toddler’s share of scrapes, falls, and bruises with him, but thankfully no head injuries up to this point. I felt relieved that he was able to calm down after about 10 minutes, his eyes weren’t dilated, and he didn’t seem to feel sick. He’s got quite the goose egg on the back of his head, but I’m hopeful that’s the extent of the damage. In fact, he gobbled down lunch and told me that he was “all better, mama, stop looking at my head” no fewer than five times. I think that’s a good sign. He’s napping now, but I still feel kind of upset about it. It also dawned on me just how much I take for granted that I have such a healthy little boy. The mere thought of something being wrong with my baby was overwhelmingly frightening.

Recently I’ve been following the story of a five-month-old baby boy named Caleb on Facebook. He was born with a severe congenital heart defect and received a heart transplant last month. (His family’s page is called Pray for Caleb, if you’d like to read about his journey and lend support.) On Sunday, his mama was able to hold him for the first time in nine weeks. Nine weeks! The picture she posted of them together was beyond touching. I simply can’t imagine what they’ve faced during this unimaginable trial. Today, when I scooped up Lucas the second he fell, I thought of Caleb’s parents. How they haven’t been able to hold their baby while he’s been hurting and through so much. SO much. It made me say a big thank you for the worries we haven’t had with our child.

I suppose it sometimes it takes moments like this to realize how truly good you have it. I plan to squeeze my Boo a little tighter (and probably more than he wants) for the rest of the day, and spoil him a bit, too. Because I can. He asked for “regular [American] pancakes” for dinner, and I will be granting his wish. (We also like to eat the Swedish variety at our house.) Here’s our favorite recipe. I like it because we enjoy buttermilk pancakes, but I never have buttermilk on hand. The vinegar solves that problem by “souring” the milk, and the result is an extra fluffy pancake.

What do your kiddos request when they’ve had a rough go of it?

Extra-Fluffy Pancakes

From Allrecipes.com; Makes 8 pancakes

Ingredients

  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 2 tablespoons white vinegar
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons white sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tablespoons butter, melted
  • Cooking spray

Directions

  1. Combine milk with vinegar in a medium bowl and set aside for 5 minutes to “sour.”
  2. Combine flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a large mixing bowl. Whisk egg and butter into soured milk. Pour the flour mixture into the wet ingredients and whisk until lumps are gone.
  3. Heat a large skillet over medium heat, and coat with cooking spray. Pour 1/4 cupfuls of batter onto the skillet, and cook until bubbles appear on the surface. Flip with a spatula, and cook until browned on the other side.