Midwest is Best

A midwestern guide to all things homemaking

Relaxation (Finally)

Well… Aaron and I made it to the finish line.  As many of you know, we were refinishing our kitchen for the last few weeks.  From everything to new flooring, new paint, and a few new appliances we sure had our work cut out for us.  Our deadline was this past Saturday.  We had planned to have a little get-together with some friends and family so we figured that would be our inspiration to finish up the kitchen projects.  And man, we finished right under the gun.  I was still painting trim pieces on Saturday morning and, of course, our vacuum broke that morning as I was trying to get some cleaning done! (Doesn’t something like that always happen when you’re hurrying because guests are coming over?) But everything got done and we had a blast just hanging out on Saturday!  We haven’t had ANY downtime since starting in on the kitchen project so a much-needed lazy day on Sunday was in order.Here are a few pictures that will catch you up on the last few days.

We tired our hand at smoking some pork for our get together.  Here is a picture of the pork roasts after they’ve been rubbed and wrapped and awaiting their fate. (Thursday)

Pork Roast - Yum!







We borrowed a smoker from my brother-in-law, Bob, and this is the before picture.  I would like to tell you there is an after picture but I wasn’t that quick thinking and most of it is in my belly now 🙂 (Friday)

Smoker Heaven










Can I just say… if you haven’t smoked anything before I would urge you to try it! Not only is it actually super simple to do but the smell that will surround your house is AMAZING and the flavor of the meat can’t be beat!

Saturday finally had come and so had our western themed party.  The 1st Annual Halsne-Spellman Hoe-down! Boots and spurs were strongly encouraged! (Saturday)

Halsne-Spellman Hoe-down










This pretty much sums up our Sunday. (Sunday)

Lazy Day!










And since I wasn’t lazy enough on Sunday, I really relaxed on Monday by doing a little retail therapy with my sister, Julie. (Monday)








Finally back to the grind today.  Aaron and I are catching up on some work and I am finally tackling the laundry that I’ve ignored for nearly two full weeks.  However, I managed to peak my head outside this afternoon and caught a glimpse of this cute little birdie.  I’m currently trying to track down the woodpecker that has taken up residence outside our living room but that little bugger is fast and sneaky.  I can hear him but can’t ever find him!  This fat, little bird however sat and posed very nicely for my picture.  (Tuesday)











I hope you all had a fantastic weekend and good start to the week.  Besides catching up on work (and laundry) we are headed to the State Fair later this week.  Where I WILL.NOT. EAT. 1.2.3. CORNDOGS. (Somebody please hold me to that statement!)


Rain, Rain come this way…

This morning I looked outside and I was so excited!  It had apparently rained during the early morning.  “Yeah!” I thought.  “Just what my plants needed!”

I guess I was wrong though… As I walked around our house, I came to realize it did not rain.  We somehow got a teeny, tiny shower that just sprinkled my front flower bed (and no where else in my yard).  How that I happened – I’ll never know. So here is my picture for the day.  The tiny water droplets are all that I got last night, but at least it made for a pretty picture.








Also, here is a snapshot of my kale.  Still going strong…. Definitely will be planting this variety again next year!








Let’s all cross our fingers and hope for some rain showers to come our way soon!

Weekend in Review

Well in keeping up with my 365 Challenge I thought I’d share a few pictures that I was able to snag this weekend.  We had a lot of family fun over the weekend.  We celebrated my dad’s birthday on Friday and then the annual Halsne Steakfry on Sunday!  Man, we were stuffed!  Hitting the green smoothies pretty hard the next few days to undo some of the damage (I hope).

Dinner at Julie and Bob’s on Friday.  (Friday)


Hello kitty! I figured I couldn’t feature Leala and not feature one of our adorable kittens! (Saturday)








Bob was passed down a family treasure at the steakfry.  (Sunday)


And today’s picture… here is the mess we are currently living in as we rush to finish our kitchen by this weekend.  Paint, sanding, new flooring, and cleaning the house top to bottom… This week might do me in!   IMG_4711

Project 365

Project 365… Many of you have probably heard of this before.  Some of you may have even participated in this before (if you have please comment and let me know your thoughts)! This is not something I came up with but is a movement amongst professional and amateur photographers to take a picture every day for an entire year.  Sounds easy and daunting at the same time!  I had seen a photographer friend post about this project in the past and recently decided I was in a bit of a rut.  I want to make sure I’m capturing life’s moments as they happen and very rarely do I ever take pictures of myself or Aaron.  So I decided to give this project a shot and see what new techniques I will learn, experiment with new lenses, and continue my never-ending education in Photoshop!

I thought August 1st would be a great date to start!  Easy to remember and hopefully by this time next year I will look back at these early pictures and see how far I have come.  If this sounds like something fun, you should join me!

To kick off the project, I picked my favorite subject – Leala.  She is beautiful and I couldn’t choose between the b/w and color so I’m just going to post both.  This (not-so) little girl is completely spoiled by Aaron and I.  Some folks call dogs that you treat as children “fur babies” and that name definitely fits her.  Here she is enjoying a rawhide at sunset.

Leala b/w


Little Treats

Wow – June 6th already!  What happened to the month of May?  Or even April?  Spring flies by here at the Halsne-Spellman household.  We gear up for a very busy time.  Both of our business, photography and farming, are in full swing in April, May, and June.  Aaron, like all other area farmers, has had an adjusted planting timeline due to the weather; which has almost been a blessing in disguise as we have been able to better stay on top of our photography business during this time.  Spring sports, weddings, graduation, and dance recitals all slam us in the same 4-5 week time-span and despite how well we prepare for this time, we always find ourselves stressed out, behind, and worn a little thin.

But now our work is back to a more manageable pace and we’ve had a little time to A) Sleep and B) Do Laundry.  I’ve also decided to give myself a few little treats to keep me going through the last big push of ordering and wedding work.  First, I finally got some of my new pants tailored so I actually have something new and work appropriate to wear to our wedding this weekend! (Yeah! Side note – if you haven’t yet been to a CAbi show, you really should get to one.  They have fabulous clothes that are really well-cut and stylish.)  I’ve also been making sure to get out in my garden and tend to my plants – which I actually find very relaxing.  It makes me so happy that I have some landscaping done to the front yard this year and that my garden is finally growing something other than weeds 🙂 To top that all off, my herbs are starting to produce enough leaves that I’ve been able to start cooking with them!  Last night, I made a sweet potato gnocchi with sausage, apple, and thyme (recipe and pics to follow soon). Also, I am being very selfish tomorrow and getting myself a manicure.  Have you ever looked down and thought, “Eeek!  My hands look like Godzilla!”  Well, that is what I thought the other day.  And no matter what brand of nail polish I use or how careful I am, if I paint my nails myself, I usually end up having to take it off a day or so later due to chipping.  So, I’m investing a little money in a Shellac manicure tomorrow.  If you haven’t yet experience a Shellac manicure, you should run right out and get yourself one.  I’ve had several and your polish really does stay chip-free for 2 weeks!  I usually only take it off becuase my nails have grown so my nail bed is showing at the bottom.  Shellac = God’s gift to busy women!  I always feel so much happier when I have my nails done 🙂

(And don’t worry about Aaron – he has a little treat coming to him too!  Tomorrow we’re headed into Beer Crazy to stock up on some “essentials” so he can get another beer brewed soon!)

I know that we aren’t the only ones who find the spring time to be extra busy.  What have you done to keep yourself going through this hectic time?  Do you deserve a well-earned treat too?!  Then go ahead and indulge!

Tomatillos… my new obsession

Have you ever heard of Tomatillos?  I hadn’t really until a few years ago.  Then I started seeing them regularly in the grocery store.  If good ‘ole Fareway carries them regularly, I feel that many people must purchase them regularly.  I was not one of these people.  However, I may be a convert now.This is a tomatillo.


They kind of look like green tomatoes with a papery skin on the outside.  I had no idea what they tasted like but yesterday was Cinco de Mayo and I wanted to make something festive.  From the name, I decided I would include these in my Cinco de Mayo feast.  So I purchased a few and was left wondering what on earth I should do with these.  (Especially difficult since I still had no idea what they tasted like.)

I decided to play it safe and after several Pinterest searches was inspired to make a tomatillo guacamole.  I got out my trusty food chopper and diced a few of these babies up.  Turns out they taste AMAZING.  They remind me a bit of rhubarb in the way that they are tangy and juicy but their flavor is more of a cross between a tomato and a pepper.  And as it turns out they pair fabulously with avocado (but then again what doesn’t?). I made a simple guac and paired it was some chips, baby bell peppers, and our steaks for a Mexican inspired meal.  The recipe for the tomatillo guacamole is listed below and for a fair warning – it is quite addictive 🙂

Tomatillo Gaucamole

2 medium tomatillos1 ripe avacado
6-8 cherry tomatoes (more or less as you prefer)
Small handful of cilantro
Salt and pepper to taste

Combine everything in a food chopper and blend until you reach your desired consistency.  I like mine slightly chunky and with lots of black pepper.  This can be served with chips or veggies.  Tonight we are even trying it as a topping for our grilled chicken breast.

I’m trying to find other recipes that include tomatillos as I am completely hooked on them now.  Anyone have any great suggestions?  Most recipes I’ve found use the tomatillos in some form of a salsa.  This website had 10 great ideas for using tomatillos.  I also like the idea of chicken verde enchiladas!  That might be our “leftovers” dinner tomorrow night 🙂

If you haven’t yet tried this great little vegetable (or fruit – I guess I’m not really sure what it is), I challenge you to give it a go.  This salsa is super easy, healthy, and tasty!

Menu Planning

Today is March 28th.  It should be well into spring by now.  Instead we are still struggling to hit temps in the 50s.  I know that warmer weather is right around the corner – I can just feel it in my bones!  As such, I’ve been thinking a lot about spring cleaning, organizing, etc… Spring just brings that out in everyone.  And for some reason, it seems like for the last two weeks all I’ve done is talk about menu planning.  I can’t help it!  It keeps coming up in every conversation.  Anyway… menu planning is something that I’ve loosely been doing for about 9 months but I’ve really buckled down since January and have a few tips to share.

There are many benefits of menu planning.  For me it has decreased our grocery bill, wasted less meat/produce, and brought some sanity back to dinnertime.  I really enjoy cooking and baking but not when I’m scrambling to figure out something to feed us – let alone something healthy.  While I love menu planning – I’ll be the first to admit that I take “detours” almost every week 🙂  Sometimes, I forget to let the chicken thaw out or misjudged the amount of something and now have to substitute. Menu planning can be as flexible as you want it to be 🙂

First, I would strongly suggest creating a template of a menu that can be reused from week to week.  (There are several cute idea on Pinterest  (see pics below) – however, I was lazy and just did a boring Word doc).  After you create your menu – be sure to post it somewhere that you will see it every day.  I put mine in my home office but you can use the refrigerator, cupboard door, or on the counter.  It doesn’t matter where you keep it – just make sure you can see it every day. 

menu 1

Some day I’ll upgrade my menu planning doc to something like this!

menu 2

Great way to incorporate the menu and grocery list in one!

As you sit down to create your weekly meal plan, be sure that you have you calendar in front of you.  Create meals according to your schedule. Do you have a yoga class every Thursday night?  If so, choose something quick and easy that night like tilapia fillets and steamed veggies.  The fish will thaw out in about 5 minutes and usually takes no more than 10 – 15 minutes in the oven.  Or create a crock pot meal the night before and just turn it on before you leave in the morning. Then your cooking is done for you before you even walk in the door. Use your calendar to your advantage.  It took me several weeks before I realized I should stop trying to make a large meal on Tuesdays.  I usually have Mary Kay training or facials on Tuesday evenings so I don’t even get home until 8:30pm.  Now, I know to have something ready to go that takes little-to-no prep and cook time on Tuesdays!  (Live it, Learn it :))

As you create your menu, plan to use your fresh produce up as quickly as possible. I usually get groceries every Monday morning.  So as I plan my menu, I try to plan to use my fresh produce up on Monday – Wednesday.  (I should clarify – when I say produce I mean produce that “turns” fairly quickly and doesn’t have a long shelf life.  For example, strawberries, mushrooms, romaine lettuce, etc).  This will help you decrease your waste significantly.  Again – a lesson that took me several weeks to learn.  I would constantly buy mushrooms (because I’ll put them in just about anything) but I would wait until the end of the week to use them and by then they were “questionable”. (Shhh… don’t tell Aaron :)) But now, I know to use my frozen veggies or potatoes towards the end of the week and use the berries, salads, etc at the beginning.  Again, this works for me because I get groceries on Monday but if you are a Thursday shopper then you can use your fresh produce all weekend and aim the frozen goods towards mid-week.

Another lesson learned is to plan “big-ticket” items towards the beginning of the week.  “Big-ticket” means something that can be made into several meals.  For example, roasted chicken, pork tenderloin, or even a large batch of cooked ground turkey.  Plan you “big-ticket” menu item towards the beginning of the week and then use the leftovers to create other meals on the following days.  Last week, I made a few pounds of ground turkey.  I’ve turned it into stuffed peppers the first night, corn and turkey quesadillas the next day (literally just using the filling from the peppers in a flour tortilla shell), and then used the rest to top a homemade pizza on Friday night. Or you can also throw something like that into some pasta sauce and spaghetti noodles – easy peasy!  By doing this, I significantly cut down on the prep/cook time throughout the week.  As I mentioned above, I love cooking but I am a busy gal and most of my meals take less than 30 minutes of prep/cook time.

Menu planning has also helped me create a much healthier lifestyle for our home. I’m no longer struggling to find healthy options.  By planning out my meals, I can methodically include healthy sides such as steamed cauliflower (Aaron’s favorite), sweet potato wedges, side salads, or quinoa.  I can also monitor how many “cheat” meals I am creating.  For example, we love doing a homemade pizza on Friday nights.  Yes, it is healthier than a greasy Casey’s pizza but pizza is pizza… just not that healthy!  I also have drastically reduced the amount of pasta meals we eat.  Pasta is great because it is quick and easy but no matter how you cook it – it just isn’t that healthy for you.  By menu planning, I can keep pasta-based meals to just one per week.

In addition to the health benefits, our grocery bill has been reduced as well.  Your menu plan automatically turns into your grocery list.  We waste less produce now, buy less pre-packaged foods, and reduced our “doubling-up” (Raise your hand if you also have 5 jars of red pasta sauce because every time you go to the grocery store you are convinced that you used your last jar…).

These tried-and-true tips have really helped make cooking dinner enjoyable again.  Do you have any tips that help make dinnertime more manageable?

Home Styling

Last night, Aaron and I had a great dinner at his parent’s house.  It was great for several reasons:

1. I didn’t have to cook!
2. It tasted really good and had a homemade pie to go with it!
3. We sat in their family room which has large windows on three sides.  With the snow falling down all around us – it felt like you were sitting in a snow globe!

Anyway, Aaron’s mom and I got to talking about home interiors.  She explained to me how they came to own most of the furniture they have in their home.  They favor Ethan Allen for its traditional lines and great quality but were able to furnish most of their pieces through auctions rather than paying the big bucks and buying directly from the store.  As we moved through the house, it was really neat to hear how each piece had its own story behind it.  Some had been refinished others were perfect as is.

As I went home that night, it really got me thinking about our own home interior. We’ve been blessed to live in a house that had been in their family for several generations.  As such, many furnishings came along with it.  Aaron and I really haven’t had to purchase too much.  We have some wonderful Ethan Allen couches that we snagged off of Craigslist (they were a steal!) and a table in the kitchen that is a hand-me-down from my folks, but most of the other furniture was already there.  Side note – we have a fairly modest house so tons of furnishings aren’t really needed.  Also, we have a lot of practical storage needs due to our photography studio and office also being located in our house.

As we chatted away last night, I realized that Aaron’s parents had a good eye for items that fit into their home.  They know their decorating style and see how each piece they come across will fit in (or not).  Aaron and I haven’t really defined a style for ourselves yet (I suppose because we haven’t really needed to). But being the Pinterest junkie that I am, I have pinned plenty of interior shots that speak to me.  And I know that we’ll have some definite rules of thumb when picking out pieces in the future.

1. Purchase real quality wood furniture.  Aaron is very handy at painting and staining.  I figure with quality wood pieces, if we get tired of one finish we can try out something different.

2. Aim for lighter, antiqued looking wood.  I’ve learned the hard way that dark wood furniture and living in the country don’t mix well.  The dark finish shows EVERY speck of dust while lighter wood is a little more forgiving.

3. Look for pieces that are slightly abused.  Aaron and I are (relatively) young.  Which means any furniture we buy from here on out has a whole lot of living to do with us.  I want furniture that can take getting a little nick or scrape.  Those beautiful glossy finishes are ruined with the tiniest of scratches.  My furniture needs to be able to take on a little character.

4. Mixture of textiles.  If there is one thing I’ve learned from the decorating blogs I follow (Centsational Girl is my favorite) it is not to underestimate the importance of adding texture to any room.  I favor more natural textures so I lean towards seagrass and wicker over wrought iron and stainless steel.

5. Elbow grease goes a long way.  Aaron’s mom revealed to me that she had made her own family room pillows and several other fabric pieces throughout their house. A light bulb went off – I have been searching for the perfect sofa pillows for almost 2 years now.  I’m just not happy with anything I find in the store!  Here’s a great thought – why not make my own?  (Though I’m sure I’ll have to get a little assistance :))

I found this great blog post that is about finding your own personal design style.  I haven’t started on it yet, but it looks great!   You can check it out for yourself by clicking here.

I’ll leave you with a few images of home interiors that I favor.  Hopefully, as Aaron and I work on some of our bigger house projects we can start to define our own style! (New carpet and whitewashing our wood-paneled living room is on the honey-do list for this summer!!)

living room

What a beautiful, casual living room. So inviting!


Great for a casual eat-in kitchen!

living room 2

Wonderful mix of textures! Plus, it will age beautifully!


Great place to do some catching up on emails!


If my bathroom looked like this, I wouldn’t ever leave! Love the antiqued wood console!

How to Roast A Perfect Chicken

Recently I’ve had several friends ask me how I roast a chicken, so last night I snapped a few pictures during the roasting process and thought I’d share my roasting knowledge here.  First, it is important to know that I LOVE roasted chicken.  I love it because it is super easy to make and you can have many meals out of the leftovers – very economical! Plus, with this roasting process the chicken always turns out beautiful, juicy, and full of flavor.  I know that there are 10,000 ways to roast a chicken but I like this method because its quick and I always have these ingredients on hand.

First you need yourself a good, whole chicken.  I prefer to buy mine at the meat counter at Fareway.  It is cheaper and usually better quality than the pre-packaged ones you can find in the cooler section.  However, if you are at Wal-mart and don’t want to make a separate trip to the grocery store than pick up the packaged one and be on your way! I often buy 2-3 chickens at a time and freeze the others.  If you do have a frozen chicken, give it an entire day and night to completely thaw in the refrigerator.  Most chickens no longer come with the giblets inside of them but it is always a good idea to take a peak and make sure 🙂 My little guy is pictured below.  He is just over 3 pounds.

Tuesday Night Dinner!

Tuesday Night Dinner!

My go-to seasonings

My go-to seasonings

Now your chicken is ready for a few flavor enhancing seasonings.   You will need chicken stock, garlic, olive oil, salt, pepper, and some Italian seasonings.

I use a 7-quart cast iron dutch oven to roast in but any covered roaster will do.  Pour about 1/2 cup of chicken broth into the bottom of the roasting pan.  The broth will help keep the chicken moist and juicy so make sure it covers the entire bottom of the roasting pan (plus some).  Then I add my minced garlic to the broth – usually about a healthy teaspoon.  Adding it to the broth allows the garlic to infuse into the broth and gently flavor the chicken.  The next part is my favorite… you go a head and give you little chicken a massage! I pour a small handful of olive oil into my palms and go to town with a chicken rub-down.  You could also use softened butter (which tastes delicious and gives a more golden and crispy skin) but I was trying to be healthier so olive oil it is 🙂  Next, sprinkle 1-2 tsp of salt, 1 tsp of black pepper, and 1 tsp of Italian seasonings all over the chicken.  Give it a few pats to ensure the seasonings stick and plop him in the roasting pan.


Ready to go in the oven!

This whole process should take you less then 5 minutes to prepare the chicken.  Then throw the covered roasting pan into the oven at 375* and wait.  I have a convection oven (which decreases cooking time) so it usually takes about 1 1/2 hours. If you have a conventional oven it may take just over 2 hours. When there is about an 1/2 hour of cook time left, go ahead and take a peek.  Your chicken should be getting browned and fragrant. I use a meat thermometer to check the doneness of the chicken as it makes a smaller puncture mark, but feel free to cut into the thigh or breast to check for any pink.  I try not to make any cuts in the chicken until I am ready to serve it since each cut allows some of the juices to drain out and can result in a less tasty chicken.  Unless you go all Edward Scissorhands on it – you should be fine 🙂


All Done!

There you have it! A perfectly roasted chicken!  Like I said, there are 10,000 ways to roast a chicken but this is quick, simple, and works for me EVERY time.  I get compliments on it all the time.  Below are a few more suggestions of tips I’ve learned along the way…

  • If you have fresh herbs – use them.  I prefer the flavor of fresh over dried.  Just chop/tear them up and add them to the top of the chicken, inside the chicken, and floating in the broth.
  • Leave the lid on the roaster once you take it out if the rest of your dishes aren’t ready yet.  It will gently steam the chicken and keep it juicy until it is ready to be served.
  • Eat the legs and wings on the first night.  Leave the chicken breasts for leftovers.  (The legs and wings don’t have as much meat as the breast and usually aren’t as tasty the next day.)
  • Cover the roasting pan while you eat dinner.  Then when you’re done, go back and de-bone the rest of the chicken.  That means get as much meat off as you can.  I use my hands and nothing else.  Once roasted correctly, the chicken will literally fall right off the bone with a quick tug.  Do this the night that you cook it.  It is much harder to get  the meat off the bone the next day.
  • Store the leftover chicken with a little bit of the broth from the bottom of the pan.

I usually use the leftover chicken throughout the rest of the week but it can also be stored in ziplock bags and frozen.  Some of my favorite “leftover” recipes are listed below.

  • BBQ Chicken Sandwiches, Salads, Pizza, or Quesadillas (if you couldn’t tell… I really like BBQ Chicken!)
  • Chicken Pot Pie
  • Chicken and Noodle Soup
  • Chicken Alfredo Pasta
  • Chicken Salad Sandwiches
  • Chicken Meatballs
  • Chicken, Brie, and Green Apple Panini
  • Chicken Enchiladas

The list could go on and on but I usually have the groceries on hand to make these dishes!  Are you inspired to roast a perfect chicken now?  Try it out and let me know how it goes!

Best of Intentions…

Hello.  My name is Katie and I am addicted to Pinterest.

Whew!  There I said it!  I am a Pinning addict… I can freely admit that now.  There are very few days that go by without logging on to Pinterest and most days consist of checking it multiple times! I am sooo addicted.  I recognized it sometime last week when I was getting frustrated by all the pins that I had already pinned and couldn’t find many new ones!  Pin overload alert! I decided to go back through a few of my boards and look at the old pins I had already decided were worthy of a click (not hard in my book). 🙂

I realized that while I do a decent job of trying the recipes I pin (or at least using them for Pinspiration), I am terrible about following through on any of the other pins!  So last week I tackled an easy one… Create a weekly menu (which I already do – usually scribbled on a post-it lost somewhere in my purse) and a weekly cleaning schedule.  I am a fairly neat person but I HATE doing dishes! Honestly, I’d rather mop the floor, clean the bathroom, and scrub the toilet over doing the dishes.  Therefore, the kitchen is usually my least favorite chore.  And I have a tendency to put off easy chores – like a quick dusting in the living room – until it is unbearable. I thought a weekly cleaning schedule would be handy to serve as a reminder of what needs to be done regularly. So I pulled this menu/cleaning list together on Sunday night and thought “Here I go” for the week.

The results… well rather lackluster I must admit.  I was lazy on Monday night so switched Monday and Thursday’s dinner menu since Thursday’s meal seemed easier than Monday’s.  The living room didn’t look that bad so I put off cleaning it on Tuesday and then completely forgot all about the bedroom.  Wednesday we were busy bringing all our photo booth stuff up from the basement for an event that night… (you get the idea how the rest of the week went). As you can imagine that left me cleaning the WHOLE house today (plus lots of dishes – UGH). I had the best of intentions but I think it might take another week or two before I actually get it down.  Gosh – this Pinterest idea seemed like the easiest!  What am I going to do when I start tackling the harder pins!?!?!

Have you tried any ideas (from Pinterest or elsewhere) that seemed so simple and turned out to be a complete flop? (Speaking of flops… making kale chips which everyone says is sooo easy… harder.than.it.looks.)

Post Navigation

%d bloggers like this: