Our Loquat Trees

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After a few weeks of moving in, we discovered that the two trees in our tiny backyard are loquat trees!

Well, Brian found out from the neighbors that live directly behind us that our trees bear a “sweet fruit.” The neighbors didn’t know what they were, but they’ve eaten them off our trees because the previous homeowners left the fruit alone.

My mom gave it further inspection and was thrilled to discover they are loquat trees.

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My first reaction to finding this out: what’s a loquat? My mom had to explain to me that I’ve had it in Chinese cough syrups and a few other places and that it was pretty much the most exciting thing ever that we had them growing in our backyard.

Seriously. She called and told almost every single Chinese person we know and met.

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They’ve been slowly, slowly turning color and I took a bite out of one of the fruits this weekend. It was still too tart! DSC_1645

I’ve been slowly searching for recipes and ideas online. Now I’ll be able to experiment with making jelly or wine (?!) this year.DSC_1646

It’s supposed to be really good and healthful for your lungs and qi (Chinese word for energy), so that’s a bonus for me too! While I would have loved to have a fig or avocado, or a citrus tree, I think it’s pretty cool to be able to have edible fruit right outside our back door.

My Favorite Kitchen Spices

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Yesterday I gave a walk-through of our pantry. Today, I want to share with you my favorite cooking spices.

I store our spices in a cabinet next to the stove. I don’t think I have a huge collection of spices, but everyone’s kitchen and cooking is different! DSC_1635

These are my essential spices. I store these on the front row:DSC_1636

  • Black pepper & salt grinders. These hit the dining table. I don’t usually use it for cooking though.
  • Trader Joe’s garlic powder is my favorite. It smells extra garlic-y and I always buy extra when I’m at the store.
  • Onion powder is also used frequently, but I’m not attached to a particular brand.
  • I add both French thyme and oregano into most meat dishes I’m preparing (with the exception of Chinese food).
  • I also have ground mustard for mayo-based salads or macaroni and cheese dishes.

Moving on to the next tier:
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  • Chili powder for meats and chili.
  • Paprika, same as above.
  • Red Chili Pepper is my favorite. It goes into my pastas and chili! I use it like salt and pepper at the table so I don’t set our children’s mouths on fire!
  • Bay Leaves for stocks and soups.
  • Ground Cumin for meats, chili, and recently a cilantro chutney I started making.
  • Cayenne pepper, because we just like spicy foods here!
  • Five-spice powder is standard in Asian cooking.

In the last tier I have:

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      • Cinnamon
      • Nutmeg for holiday baking.
      • Cream of Tartar (rarely used)
      • Ground Black Pepper
      • Ground White Pepper

Of course I keep bigger spices in another space. I have salt, a couple types of soy sauce, fish sauce, and liquids. I found the best way to store these is with the aluminum containers to prevent leaks and spills.DSC_1641

Ha, I promise this isn’t a sponsored Trader Joe’s post. I find their spices are affordable and delicious!

What are your favorite spices? Do you have a particular brand that you like to use? I find with my collection I can make almost any dish a recipe requires. Or, I’ll just skip the missing ingredient! This way, I know my spices will get used and won’t go stale sitting in the pantry/cabinet.

A Walk-through of our Pantry

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I spent an afternoon on Friday cleaning and organizing our pantry. I really like our pantry now, and it’s the largest one I’ve had. I’d say it’s pretty comparable to a standard bedroom closet. It’s a walk in with enough shelving on all sides.

I like to keep a good supply of our food, especially after having lived in a more rural area it’s more convenient to have the essentials and the extras to save me an extra trip to the grocery store. Today, I’m going to walk you through our pantry and talk a little bit about my thought process and storage process too.

This is the first view you see when you open the door. On the top shelf I keep snack foods and a small package of paper napkins for random guests and visitors. (We use cloth napkins.) I don’t really keep a lot of extras of snack foods because their expiration date goes fast, and plus, I try to limit how much “junk” food we have! It’s not too bad, we have goldfish crackers (with a spare box behind it), tortilla chips, and unsalted pretzels. I also have a few packages of seaweed snacks too.

The second shelf holds Asian sauces (soy sauce, chili sauce) and a few other condiments and foods. I try to have at least two extras because if we go to the Asian grocery store, it can take around an hour one way because of traffic. It’s not very convenient with two little ones to make the trek, so I stock up when I can!

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Our third shelf is the breakfast food and a little bit of candy. I don’t stock up on cereal, but I have 5 or 6 containers of oatmeal! When my mom visits she has oatmeal daily and we have refrigerator oatmeal frequently.

The fourth shelf holds baking supplies and baby food pouches (needs a refill in the bowl). I try to keep an extra bag or two of flour, but the rest I buy as needed (almond flour, coconut flour) and the sugars and chocolates are as needed too.

The fifth shelf holds grains and beans. I stock up on boxes of pasta when they are on sale. I buy our grains from the Asian grocery store, but I buy a bag at a time. Rice comes in 25lb. bags, so we are usually good for a few months!

When you walk into the pantry, the left side shelves hold more stuff. The first one has liquor and extra wine and beer along with random beverages like teas, coconut milk, coconut water, almond milk, etc.

The next shelf is where I keep the extra condiments. I buy most of my spices at Trader Joe’s, so I usually buy two or three at a time. Of course, you should check the date and make sure that you’ll use it within the expiration. Tomorrow, I’ll share some of my favorite spices:

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The third shelf is where I go a little crazy. I stock up on organic tomato and marinara sauce, like if it’s on sale at the grocery store (organic pizza sauce for around $1), or if I’m at Trader Joe’s (another drive for us).  We don’t buy canned food, so I make up for it in jarred food!

On the fourth shelf I keep chicken stock, and regular condiments like ketchup, mayo, and salad dressing. The last shelf holds a variety of Asian noodles and a couple of rice variations (brown, short grain, long grain). I try to keep most of the floor clear, but there are a few water bottles (leftover from the move) and a new bag of rice.DSC_1624

This side is where we store Brian’s work/lunch bag on a hook.
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I use leftover glass jars to store extras, like seeds, nuts, and berries. I think it would be cool to have large containers to hold the snacks and flour, but I don’t feel like it’s a huge need right now.DSC_1626

On the right side we keep household supplies. The top shelf holds all our extra dishwasher tabs (bought on sale, so we stocked up), garbage bags (I think we’re good for like two years!), sandwich and freezer bags, and extra aluminum foil (leftover from days of couponing).

I store our smaller appliances, a step-stool ladder, and my aprons on this side too.DSC_1629

I love an organized pantry. It makes the cooking experience so much more pleasant when there isn’t a mad scramble to find everything!

There are super enviable pantrys on Pinterest. Just type in “organized pantry” and a ton of awesome ones show up. I love the idea of keeping food in little bins and baskets, but the way I’m hard-wired is that if I don’t see it, I won’t use it! I tried to come up with a general layout/categorizing and have it still be open enough to work for me. I might look into an over the door hanger as well.

Do you have a pantry? What do you keep stocked in it? I love peeking into pantrys to see how people store their food, and also, what food they eat!

Set up a Cleaning Schedule

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I’ve tried a variety of approaches to cleaning the house like setting up calendars or following Flylady, but I found for my personality type is to incorporate a little bit of everything. Ha, of course, right?

It’s easier for me to break down daily, weekly, and sometimes tasks. What I’ve done in my home is to use my trusty dry erase board to keep track of my weekly tasks. I have written down the days of the week, with a designated a chore for that day.

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Keep in mind this is just a guideline for me. I don’t usually get to dust every Tuesday, but it does get done sometime during the week!

Let’s start with my daily tasks, which include:

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Right now, my weekly tasks are inspired by I’m following along with cleanmama.net, with a few minor adjustments for my house:

  • Mondays: bathrooms
  • Tuesdays: dusting
  • Wednesdays: vacuuming/sweeping the floors
  • Thursdays: mopping
  • Fridays: sheets/towels (unless I’ve already done them earlier in the week)

Then there are the sometimes tasks which are a bit random and I work on them as I remember them! These are:

  • purging/shredding documents
  • washing the windows
  • cleaning the garage
  • cleaning out the cars
  • dusting/cleaning the top of the kitchen cabinets

Do you have a cleaning schedule or follow a particular routine? I feel like as long as I have my daily tasks done, and then stay mostly on track with my weekly tasks, then my house always feels clean. Yes, there might be toys or stray papers strewn here and there, but there is never a mad scramble if we have unannounced visitors or guests.

Our Vacation in Virginia

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Last week we were back in our old stomping grounds in Virginia for a family vacation. I’ve heard the expression that you can never go back to a place and expect it to be the same, and I guess I had romanticized it more in my mind.

Don’t get me wrong, we had a lovely time, alternating days at The Historic Powhatan Resort, and with visits to family and friends.

When we arrived on Saturday there was just a little bit of snow left on the ground for the kids to get their fix. They wanted to play in the snow all winter, and given that where we live in Texas doesn’t have any, and it didn’t snow while we were in Ohio for Christmas, well, it worked out.

We spent a lot of time at the playground. The kids loved it. Unfortunately, they both caught colds during the week, so going swimming at the indoor pool was off the schedule.

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We drove by to look at houses that we lived in. It was nostalgic and a little bittersweet. It was a little surreal to drive by our favorite areas in town and to see the changes in commercial buildings and businesses.

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We did a little bit of shopping, a little bit of walking, and a little bit of relaxing. Well, as much as we could, as both the girls caught a cold! Ugh! It’s frustrating as it seems to happen every time we travel.

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The girls shared a bedroom for the first time, and Nagini did great and slept in her twin bed just fine. We need to adjust her crib into a toddler bed now!

We walked around the resort and tried to feed the geese. It was a first for us, but the geese would have nothing to do with us! They swam away, which has never happened to me before.

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We were at the playground when a couple of other guests played putt-putt. The girls were fascinated and wanted to try as well.

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We did a couple of days later, and we made it through 10 holes before they were finished and ready to go back to the playground.

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On our last day, Nagini kept saying, “Home” and with the exception of spending time with her uncle and cousin, she was done with vacation.
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Going back to Virginia for a visit has made me realize that I don’t miss it as badly as I thought I did. I miss my family, of course, and the much, much more desirable traffic conditions, but other than that, it’s not as painful as I thought it would be. Oh, and the weather. I prefer the varying seasons.

Brian and I think a staycation is in order next time around!