Honey Bear Files: Everyone Has a Seat at the Table

I’ve been asking moms and dads for stories, and while I wait and edit, I have started a project of my own. I’ve started a podcast for my boys. Jack calls me Honey Bear, so alas, here is the Honey Bear Files. This first one is on a topic close to my heart: Everyone Has  A Seat at the Table.

honey-bear-files

If you would like to submit a story for us to post, email me! mariah.cook@gmail.com

Should I Take My Kiddos to the Crocker this Summer? Yes!

With four kids under the age of seven, I’m always looking for new ways to get out of the house AND beat the heat. Tired of splash parks and not wanting to go to an indoor play place, we found ourselves at the Crocker Art Museum. I had been to the Crocker once before, many […]

via Mom of Four Small Children Braves the Crocker Art Museum and Leaves with Very Happy Kids — Family Fun in Sacramento

Mama’s Fridge Pickles

This year, I grew my cucumbers vertically. The result was that they have been able to protect themselves from the Sacramento heat and will not stop producing. It’s been the summer of Mama’s Fridge Pickles!

img_6794

This is my personal recipe that I’ve tailored from a few trial and error attempts with multiple recipes. I love it because the cucumbers are jared in less than 15 minutes and the pickles are ready after 6 hours! They only keep for 6 weeks in the refrigerator, so make a note on the jar.

Here is what you will need:
4-6 cucumbers (I used 4 lemon cucumbers for this)
1/2 cup white vinegar
3 tsp Kosher Salt
3 springs fresh dill
1 smooshed garlic clove
1 tsp red pepper flakes (or a leftover pack from the pizza place)
1 quart Mason Jar
Mandoline (optional)

If you gather all you need first, this will go very quickly. If you have impatient kids who want to help, this is a bonus step.

First, wash and slice your cucumbers. I use a Mandoline because it’s fast and consistent. I do not recommend this as a kid job. It’s definitely a grown person job (for fingers sake). The goal is to have enough slices to reach the top of the mason jar.

Speaking of your mason jar, take two or three stalks of dill (or half of a dill package from the store) and cut off the stalk leaving the beautiful leafy part. Discard the stalk. Give the dill a little squeeze with your hands and place them in the bottom of your mason jar.

Smash a clove of garlic and drop it in.

Toss in your salt. Throw in your vinegar. Sprinkle in your pepper flakes. Tighten the lid back onto the jar and give that mason a good shimmy shake for about a minute.

Here is where you have to trust me. You will look at this mixture and then look at the cucumbers and want to shake your head. It’s going to be okay. Science is going to do the rest of the job and we just get to observe.

Place your cucumbers in the jar in the mixture. Some of you are great at making things pretty. I applaud you. Although this is a present for my friend Brit (you can see her art here), this is about as adorable as I can get. You do you. I’ll be me. It all tastes the same in the end.

After I fill it all the way up with the cucumbers, I tighten the lid back on. I flip it over one time to let all the liquid come to the top, just for a moment, then flip it back right-side up. Then I pop it in the refrigerator.

It only needs 6 hours. Come back to it. Flip it again if you want to, although you don’t have to. I often can’t resist the urge. The longer you let it sit, the more your stack will shrink.

In the end, your jar will probably be only three quarters full of pickles. This is a good thing!

img_6793

Don’t forget to add the expiration date and enjoy!

Written by Mariah Cook, Sacramento local and toddler mom with another baby on the way (any day). Pregnancy brain motivated her to write her recipe down somewhere otherwise it would be lost for good.

 

 

 

DIY Infused Local Honey

Ever thought of making your own line of honey without becoming a beekeeper? Need a project to do with school-aged kids while making gifts for friends this season? Today is your day!

This year, I decided to infuse Sacramento honey with garden herbs! To gift 12 special people in my life, I spent about $2.50 a person.

Here is what you will need:

  • 5 days lead time
  • Honey (I got 5 lbs because I wanted extra, talk to the honey people)
  • 12- 4oz mason jars
  • Dried Herb – choose one herb type per jar. If possible, dry the herb on the stem
  • Large soup pot
  • Tea kettle

First, stop by Sacramento’s famous Sacramento Beekeeping Store, located near X & 21st Street. Did you know they have a tasting area? For real though! You can taste all sorts of local honey and decide which one would go best with the herb of your choice. Also, they can help you calculate how much honey you will need. Why is that important? Because honey is very dense and is measured by weight verses ounces. For a 4oz jar you need 5oz honey. Honestly, my brain cannot even handle the calculations and lucky for me the beekeepers are there to help.

IMG_4767

When you see this, you’ve come to the right place! My kid is cute, right?!

IMG_4769

Tasting area! All were delish!

IMG_4771

Sacramento Wildflower honey has a strong and wonderful taste.

IMG_4770

I chose Delta Wildflowers! It’s more mellow. Who knew?!

Okay, a note about your dried herbs. The jar will look cuter when the herb is dried on the stem. A trimming of rosemary or mint can be dried upside down in a paper bag. You can also use a dehydrator but be careful with your delicate babies.  The key is to have completely dried herbs that are fresh (if not dried all the way, they will mold).

I wanted to use lavender but quickly learned a couple facts from reading up on it. First, only English Lavender is edible. That’s important, right? Second, only the flowers have enough flavor to infuse. My plants at home are not in season so I made due with purchasing local buds from my honey friends.

IMG_4772

Local herbs and instructions. Better safe that sorry.

So you’re ready? Let’s do this!

Sanitize your mason jars and lids. I boil the pieces for about 5 minutes and then let air dry.

Put a sprig of herb in the bottom of your container or along the side. I used flower buds so I put 1/2tsp in the bottom of my jar. Meantime, warm water in your kettle until  it’s screaming. Then pour water into a soup pot. Place the honey (in the container you purchased it in) into the hot water to warm it until it’s nice and syrupy. The runnier the honey the better. Add more water as needed.

Once the honey is warmed, pour it into your jars. You will notice that the herbs want to rise to the top. That’s okay!

Close them up and store them upside down for 5 days.

IMG_4922

For flower buds, flipping them doesn’t matter; however, for sprigs it does.

All that’s left is to make them cute and give them away!

Side note, if you want to infuse more flavor than what this recipe suggests, a drop or two of edible essential oil of your herb will do the trick. Just warm the honey jar in a water bath, add and stir.

IMG_4937

My cute honey pots ready to go to their new holiday homes. I added a note stating it was Sacramento Delta Wildflowers for an “oooh-aaah”factor.

Did you know that honey never goes rancid? If it crystalizes, you can just warm it up in a water bath and it will be as good as new.

That’s about it. Have fun giving your one of a kind honey to your friends!

Written by Mariah Cook, Sacramento mom and lover of bees everywhere. After making and giving this honey, she was was asked if she has her own bee hive. She thinks the beekeepers in Sacramento are doing a mighty fine job and she will gladly support their work. 

Homemade Wooden Ornaments

If you have a miter saw and a tree branch, then I have a craft for you that goes beyond coasters (And a great project for older kids).

I started a tradition last Thanksgiving of giving my nephews and my son Christmas ornaments. This year, I wanted to also incorporate some branches I saved for crafting. I experimented with both birch and redwood for this craft. Overall, the birch was easier to work with verses the redwood, however, in the end I chose redwood primarily because I thought it was prettier.

Here’s what you need:
Miter saw (also known as a chop saw)
Drill and wood drill bit (to make hole)
Tree ranch that is consistent in size and is straight
Chalk board paint
Pencil and eraser
Ruler
Wood burning tool with ball point and calligraphy tips
Chalk pencil or permanent chalk marker ( I ended up using a metallic marker)

I chose to cut my rounds 1/2 inch thick from a branch that was about 3 inches in diameter. Just a suggestions, cut as many rounds from your branch as possible regardless of how many you will actually need. For example, I needed four rounds, but the branch I chose was long enough to make ten, so I cut all ten. This is because wood isn’t perfect and you never know what kinds of imperfections or colors you will discover once you slice into it. Afterwards, pick your favorite pieces for your project and use the rest for practicing ideas or coasters for your table (A pack of 6 makes for a great hostess gift).

IMG_4569

This piece of birch has water stains, soft spots and pink marks. Each round is one of a kind!

Drill a hole at the top of your round. Paint one side with the chalk board paint. For me, it was easier using my finger to paint because I didn’t want to get any on the bark.

IMG_4572 2.JPG

Example of a redwood round drilled and painted.

You remember those extra rounds? Ok! Bust them out to practice using that wood burner! Every piece of wood is different and you want to get the feel for what you are working with before you do your final piece. Why? Because you cannot erase burnt wood, LOL, so you have only one shot! No pressure…

I cannot free-hand anything. For real though. So I used printed images to to inspire me. Remember, these aren’t perfect circles, so centering images can be tricky. I sketched my image with a pencil so I could erase if needed and clean up when done.

After, and only after, feeling confident in practicing with the burner, I went to work. I found that the calligraphy tip worked great for straight edges and the ball point was perfect for rounded ones.

IMG_4764

Imperfect and adorable!

Then came the hand lettering on the chalk side. Again, I need ideas in front of me and to pencil out what I want to do ahead of time. I used this book:

I went over the penciled areas with a chalk pencil, but ended up using a metallic paint pen instead based on my own personal preference.

My nephews loved their gifts and I know I was happy with the one I made for my son. Mine aren’t fancy enough for etsy, but I know some of you could probably make money off your mad skills! Enjoy!

Written by Mariah Cook, AKA Auntie MoMo.

Ways to Be Generous: Tubman House

Have you ever taken your kids Art Beast on K Street? Did you know that all their proceeds go towards children living at Tubman House? What is The Tubman House? I am so glad you asked.

The holiday season is one of the best times of year to practice the art of generosity. Sure, you can give money to all sorts of non-profits. As parents, it can be more fun to do something a little more tangible as a family. Drum roll please…I present to you a fantastic Sacramento non-profit: Tubman House. Here is how they describe themselves:

“[Tubman House offers] 18 months of housing and support so that Sacramento County’s homeless, parenting or pregnant youth and their children can get busy living rather than surviving. Through Tubman House, young parents (18 to 21 years old) experience healthy living, intensive case management, parent coaching and educational support so that they leave prepared to be leaders in their own lives, and leaders in the lives of their children and communities.”

Tubman2

Some of the families at Tubman House, located in Sacramento

My family decided to make a “Welcome Tub” filled with items a young parent needs with when he/she enters Tubman House. Here is the list of supplies needed for a tub:

Towel & Washcloth: For Parent
Towel & Washcloth: For Child
Alarm Clock
Bed Sheets (twin)
Body wash, Shampoo/Conditioner: For parent
Shampoo/Conditioner (tear free): For child
Toothbrushes and paste for parent and child
Small First Aid Kit and Thermometer
Photo Frame
Day Planner and Pens
Stuffed animal (gender neutral)

We hit up Target and were able to get everything for about $150. How rad is that!?

FullSizeRender (3)

My finished tub.

Generosity is definitely a virtue and character trait that needs to be modeled and encouraged for children (and even for adults like myself). I want my son to be a generous guy who thinks about the welfare of others.

We are helping our church partner for this cause as well, but if you want to put one of these tubs together ourself, you should! Then email: admin@wakingthevillage.org and they will give you directions for delivering it to them.

Written by Mariah Cook, a mom and recovering selfish brat who lives in Sacramento.

Too Many Tomatoes? Dry them! Sun-Dried Tomatoes!

The end of summer is near. For me, this means two things. Kids are heading back to school and I have way too many tomatoes in the garden for my family to eat. Let’s focus on those tomatoes for a second. As much as I love having my family and friends over to have their own harvests, I want to preserve as many as possible for the winter. At the same time, I don’t have time.  I also want my kid to be able to help me, or at least pretend to help, long enough for me to accomplish my task.

That’s why we are making sun-dried tomatoes.

For this task, you will need a food dehydrator or access to a friend’s. Yes, you could use your oven; however, with the summer heat outside, the less I need to use my oven the better. If you have a garden or you can’t beat the deals you are seeing at your local farmer’s market, buying a dehydrator might be a great investment.

NESCO is what I have - it's on the low end but works great

NESCO is what I have – it’s on the low end but works great

Things You Need:
Tomatoes (I use Roma, Ace, and San Marzanos. Smaller sizes shrink too much. The bigger the better.)
A paring knife (To be used by a grown-up.)
Little thumbs (Kid fingers happen to be the perfect size.)
Kosher salt
Basil (Just another fun way to use your dehydrator if you are feeling inspired.)

Preparing Your Tomatoes:
I like to rinse my tomatoes in a colander and leave it in the sink to air dry while I work. I slice my tomatoes in half and get the seeds out using my thumbs. I do this over the sink as well.  If the tomato is too large for the dehydrator at this point, I slice the tomato lengthwise, about ½ inch thick. You want a big slab, but you also need to be able to stack your racks. This will help you keep your slices or halves pretty consistent in size as well.

I simply place the slices on the rack, sprinkle with salt and basil, then stack the rack!

work station

work station

single layer, sprinkled with salt and basil, ready to go

single layer, sprinkled with salt and basil, ready to go

Culinary Note: Many recipes recommend boiling your tomatoes first before slicing and seeding. This isn’t mandatory, but a matter of taste. I don’t have time to boil, cool, and peel a hot tomato. Just placing them on the rack with the skin on is enough for my family and they taste great.

Drying:
ust like you and I, dehydrators are all different, so read your manufacturer’s manual for their recommended dry time. I dry mine for about 10-14 hours. It’s like a crockpot, right?! You just get it ready and leave it be.

The key is to check after the minimum time. You want a tomato that is like dried leather versus a crunchy dead leaf.

finished and ready to freeze

finished and ready to freeze

Culinary Tip: If you have a lot of hot Serrano or Poblano peppers, you can cut them in half and dry them on a separate rack. They use the same amount of time to dry! You store them the same way as the tomatoes.

serrano peppers and pablanos

serrano peppers and pablanos

Storage:
Dried tomatoes need to be in an airtight environment like a ziploc bag and placed in the freezer.

get all the air out and they are ready to freeze

get all the air out and they are ready to freeze

Questions About Storing Dried Tomatoes in Oil:
Can you do it? Sorta. You can soak them in oil with a sprig of any herb for up to 24hrs in a closed container like a mason jar. I have not found a safe way to can dried tomatoes in oil in a home kitchen for long-term storage. If you have, leave me a comment! I’d love to know!

Ideas for Use:
Aside from the common stuff like pizza, sauces, and salads, you can use them as part of a gift basket for holidays and/or birthdays! People love things made from the heart-I know I do.

Written by Mariah Cook. She lives in Sacramento with her small son and big husband.

FAQ: What to Wear at a Photo Shoot

You want answers; we get it! One of your FAQs has been: Any ideas on how I should dress my family for a photo shoot? What if I’m a pregnant? Sacramento mom and professional photographer, Jillian Gorman, has heard you and has some tips.

There are a ton of things that go into the process of planning a photo shoot: Finding the right photographer, scouting locations, checking the weather, etc. But the question I get asked the most is, “So what do we wear?”

FAMILY PORTRAITS
Unless clients have some crazy, fun, and colorful inspiration already lined up, I usually start by telling my clients to choose one or two colors to incorporate into everyone’s outfit. From there, go neutral. Grays, blacks, navy, denim, creams, and whites perfectly pair with any color. For example, Mom wears the chosen color on top, Dad wears neutral. Kids can go neutral with pops of color in accessories, like hairbands, scarves, ties, shoes, or whatever! Or wear a patterned top. Have fun with it!
EEgorman001210-R1-E001 photo

Going all-neutral ain’t a bad idea either. I love the boys in black leather and Mama all glammed-up in her creamy sweater and light-peach tulle skirt.
image (43)

Most importantly, dress comfortably and have options. Put a couple different looks together and decide as a family! If you have little ones, just keep in mind that the more comfortable they feel in their clothing and accessories, the better your chances of them cooperating. There also may be a long walk or uneven ground involved, so putting them in those ridiculously fancy shoes could make for a bad time.

SSgorman001201-R4-E071 SSgorman001201-R3-E032 EEgorman001210-R1-E009
097300030015

MATERNITY PORTRAITS
Styling pregnant women has to be the highlight of shooting maternity photos. Stick mama in an amazing unique location and bam! Perfection! Most mamas go straight for the maxi-dress, and I’m not complaining. It’s a genius way to show off the bump and it’s easy for wardrobe decisions. Also, a lot of maternity clothing can be pricey and you probably won’t wear most of it after baby comes. Thus, maxi-dresses are a definite go-to in my book! Both mamas pictured below got their dresses at Forever 21 and can wear them again post-baby.

141970030012 129690020002

Don’t be afraid of getting a little creative accessory-wise! Throwing in a cute hat or a bouquet makes your photos stand out from the rest.

129690020014 141970040014

If you’re not feeling the dress, that’s alright. Although finding an outfit may be a bit more of a task, it’s definitely doable. This mama did a great job of choosing a cute floral and flowy top for her spring pregnancy.

097300030011 097300030008

Above all, dress as your best “you” and you won’t go wrong. I hope this helps you busy parents achieve stress-free decision-making when it comes to styling your wardrobe at your next photo shoot!

Jillian and her husband live in Sacramento with their three daughters. For more information about her work visit:  jilliangormanphotography.com or on instagram: jilliangormanphotography.