Michelle Smiles

Teaching my children to question authority, except mine.

What I’ve been up to…


We’ve got all sorts of projects going on at Chez Smiles. First, I have been searching for chairs to go in our eat in area for 2 years. I finally found 6 at a reasonable price. Now to paint them. I’ve been wanting to play with chalk paint so I bought a super ugly, super cheap end table (soon to be bedside table) to practice with it on. I love the way it turned out but I will admit it was way more work than I was anticipating. First comes paint, then sanding to distress it a bit, then clear wax, then some steel wool, then some more clear wax, then some dark wax to age it some more, then some more clear wax. The 6 chairs will likely take me six months. Here is the before and after of my $8 side table. For my first attempt, I am pretty pleased. Let’s hope the chairs turn out well.



Last year, I blogged a bit about our CSA experience. We loved it. It changed the way we eat and the way I cook. I found ways to incorporate vegetables that I never dreamed of – and I learned that a lot of things I thought I didn’t like just hadn’t been cooked well when I tried it. We were going to do it again because it was such a fun experience. But after some discussion, we decided to try something different this year. There was some waste with the CSA either because it was something we never learned to like (beets for me…some greens for all of us) or because of an over abundance of 1 item (can only eat so many kohlrabi  or because of just an overabundance (another box before we were done with the previous week’s box). This year we decided to set aside the same amount we spent on the CSA each week and spend it on local foods at local farmers markets. That way we can tailor it to what we want and need. We also decided to plant a garden. That means as the summer goes on, we can spend less on veggies and more on dairy and meat. We are doing square foot gardening and have planted two 4′ x 4′ raised beds. I am skeptical about growing so many things in such a small space but am excited to see how it turns out. We’ve planted tomatoes, peppers, onions, herbs, pumpkins (the small pie variety), baby watermelon, cantaloupe, green beans, carrots, and lettuce. The gardening has made me think so much of my dad. First because he would be shocked to see me planning to eat so many veggies. Second because he gardened (which I hated as a kid – forced to weed in the heat and bugs but didn’t like anything that came out of it) and took pride in trying to have the first red tomatoes in the county every year.


The past month has been filled with birthday parties. Sabrina got to go to another horse riding party. Lucky kids! I never got to do cool stuff that like as a kid.



I’ve also been agonizing over some art pieces I was working on. A friend asked me to do 3 canvases her daughter’s nursery. She showed me her nursery and just said have at it. For whatever reason, this completely made my brain freeze. The canvases were bigger than I have done in the past. I had no idea what would make her happy. I wanted them to look nice together but not to be 1 connected scene. It took me months of starting and stopping to get these done. I learned that I either need to just do canvases and THEN let people buy them so that I know they like them or I need to just get out of my head and just do it. Because there was no reason for that to take so long and to paralyze me that way. Rather ridiculous. But, in the end, I was happy with what I did. And so was my friend.



Even my husband is reminding me I haven’t posted here in awhile


Happy belated Valentine’s Day. Sabrina and I worked together on her box. She picked out the papers and items to decorate it – coordinating colors/patterns may not be her strong suit.

More proof of her interesting sense of style. This was a Saturday when we told her to get herself dressed. (A blue shirt is under the denim jacket.)

She also gets the short end of the stick when it comes to doing chore type things or working around the house. We did a toy purge yesterday. Tessa spent a lot time wandering around while Sabrina helped. And this morning, they decided to play with Tessa’s train set. Sabrina spent 20 minutes trying to set it up while Tessa “supervised”. She sat on the beanbag and took pretend photos with her pretend phone. She has a great future in government I think.

Sabrina didn’t seem to mind too much.

Tessa then enjoyed the fruits of Sabrina’s labor.

In other news, I am no longer an employee of SchmoAnn’s. It is fabulous to be home and spend the weekends with my little family again. It is also nice to be able to participate in social stuff with my girlfriends again. I’m still doing call screening for the radio show on Sunday nights but that only effects the family on Monday mornings when I’m tired and crabby.

I’m finally able to start playing with my art stuff again and am happy about that. I started a canvas just to stretch my fingers again and then I have 3 to do for a friend’s nursery. Hoping she loves them.

We are planning a garden this summer. It was supposed to start small and simple. Then my husband’s imagination go involved and it isn’t so small or simple anymore. I think this year we are going to try our garden plus setting aside the amount we spent on our CSA last year to go to farmer’s markets to supplement with stuff we aren’t growing, meat, eggs, and milk.  We want to see how much local food we can do that way instead of the CSA. We loved the CSA and it really taught me to cook differently and eat a lot of foods I never would have otherwise. But there was just enough waste between things we never learned to like (okra, greens, etc) and having weeks where we didn’t need/want more that we think we might be able to piece together something that works even better for us. If not, we’ll go the CSA route again because we really did enjoy it.

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Another CSA update


CSA pick up is Wednesday mornings and I get so excited. It is so fun to see what the box contains each week. I try to snap a photo of it all before I put it away.

I’ve not been updating the CSA thing regularly. Mostly because I don’t have anything interesting to say. I’ve made some yummy things and a few more average things. I roast a lot of veggies because I’ve found just about everything tastes decent when tossed with a little olive oil and roasted for 20-25 minutes at 425*. I’ve been eating a lot of vegetables that I’ve never been a huge fan of but if roasted or cooked in ways that involve cheese, I’ll eat it. For those who are thinking about doing one and like seeing what might be in their box every week, this might be interesting. For everyone else? Snooze fest.  I’ve been documenting for my own information as well as for some people who talked about being curious if they would like doing it themselves.

A large purple cabbage, sugar snap peas, beets, green onions, patty pan squash, blackberries, 1/2 dozen eggs, 2 packages of bratwurst, and pork chops.

I didn’t use the whole cabbage – I made a slaw type thing with 1/2 of it but it is harder to eat raw than some other cabbage (harder to shred and chew). I don’t tend to like cooked cabbage so I wasn’t sure what to do with it. The blackberries didn’t make it through the day. The brats are yummy. The chops were good but a little fatty. Roasted the beets (for Steve – blech) and the squash (which I always thought were just decorative gourds for Thanksgiving – oops). The snap peas I threw in something along the way.

Cherry tomatoes, corn on the cob, eggplant, patty pan squash, onion, eggs, dragon tongue beans, white cucumber, 2 packs of chicken breast, and italian sausage.

The dragon tongue beans were so pretty before they were cooked – whitish with purple streaks. The streaks fade when cooked and they taste a lot like green beans. We LOVE the italian sausage – so good. The chicken was good – we grilled it. The corn was fine (let’s not discuss the huge worm that I cooked in one – the world of no pesticides – eeekkk) but just isn’t as sweet as the corn up north. Sadly through a calamity of errors (aka life), the eggplant didn’t get eaten. Steve brought home a huge zucchini from someone at work and I did with it what I intended to do with the eggplant. I sliced it, breaded it with mix of 1/2 breadcrumbs and 1/2 parmesan cheese, then baked it. (Then our a/c went out in the middle of the heat wave and I didn’t cook for 4 days because it was too stinking hot so the eggplant got too soft.)

 Dragon tongue beans

2 packs of chicken quarters (with the legs attached), green beans, napa cabbage, tomato, that yellow thing is a little melon, rutabaga, red potatoes, eggs.

The chicken is in the freezer. I ate the napa cabbage as a salad with some oil and vinegar (really a fan). The tomato went into some sauce. The melon was okay but nothing to rave about. The beans and potatoes were side dishes on different nights.

Cherry tomatoes, green beans, tomatoes, dill, ground beef, onion, chuck roast, patty pan squash, red potatoes, white cucumbers, and eggs.

The roast was yummy in the crock pot. The usual treatment for everything else. The ground beef – 1 pound is in the freezer, the other went into spaghetti sauce as did the 2 big tomatoes.

We don’t eat raw tomatoes much so I was at a loss as to what to do with all of the cherry tomatoes. Then I decided to make a simple spaghetti sauce. I halved them, put in a whole bulb of garlic with the top cut off, tossed with some olive oil and some salt then put them, covered, in the oven at 400*.  Cook for 40 minutes. Remove the bulb of garlic and allow to get cool enough that you can squeeze the cloves out and into the tomatoes. Throw in some basil, red wine, a little bit of brown sugar, a dash of cayenne, some salt and pepper. Use your immersion blender (or you could throw it into food processor/blender) to smooth it into a sauce and let simmer for 10 or 15 minutes more. Steve and I decided it would be perfect with a little pancetta thrown in but it made a really nice sauce.  I didn’t take an after photo. Oops. This is before it went into the oven.

That is all of my CSA news. I forgot to take a photo of today’s box. It was more of the same with some grapes as the surprise. I will say it takes more time in the kitchen to cook with so many fresh ingredients (a lot of washing and chopping and roasting and stirring) but I’m enjoying it for the most part.

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CSA update


I haven’t been updating about my CSA as often as I should. It got a little monotonous this winter with the greens…not sure that we will do it again for the winter season but really glad we tried it because it pushed us to eat new things. Spring/summer season began 3 weeks ago. It is now a weekly delivery and I’m loving the variety. We get a 1/4 bushel (large shoebox they say) of veggies plus 1/2 dozen eggs and 2 meat shares each week. We received strawberries a couple of times which excited Sabrina and I…otherwise mostly veggies. Here was last week’s share:

There was lettuce, broccoli, purple cauliflower (gorgeous color), a choy of some sort, beets, spring onions, a kohlrabi, 1/2 dozen eggs, 2 packages of italian sausage, and a chicken. No recipes to share from this. I roasted the chicken one night and also a bunch of the veggies. A friend mentioned she roasted the kohlrabi so I thought I would try that. I roasted it with the broccoli and the beets with a little olive oil, sea salt, lemon juice, and parmesan cheese. It was good that way. (I hate beets. That hasn’t changed since childhood. But Steve loves them.)  I find myself just throwing veggies into things randomly now so that other things got used here and there.

This week’s share:

A chicken, ground pork sausage, 2 kohlrabi, orange cauliflower, onions, napa cabbage, beets, sugar snap peas, a zucchini, and eggs.

Tonight, I made a weird sandwich thing that was very yummy. I made my own flatbread (recipe here) which was surprisingly easy to do. Who knew you could make bread in a skillet? Then I made a loose meat concoction – ground beef from the CSA, worcestershire sauce, dijon mustard, some random spices. I sliced up the napa cabbage then tossed it with a little olive oil, red wine vinegar, salt, and pepper. The meat went on the flat bread and a bunch of the cabbage on top of that. It tasted surprisingly good. Steve has requested that it enter the dinner rotation somewhat regularly.

Can’t wait to see what next week brings!

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Marching forward


Wow. March. How did that happen? Steve is home. He really seems to be loving his new job. Life is slowly returning to normal. The girls are still a little nervous about daddy leaving. Yesterday, Steve left for work before the girls got up. When she woke up and he was gone, Tessa immediately began to act out and became very clingy. He was home late and both girls were being difficult. When he finally came home, Tessa came to me and said “Daddy home. I happy again.” I think it will take awhile for them to trust that he will come home every day.


February seemed busy but I couldn’t say why. The only thing out of the ordinary was that I…well hosted isn’t the the right word because others did the work and I provided the space…provided a venue to celebrate the pregnancy of a wonderful friend. The baby shower reminded me of how much I love this community I am a part of here in TN. Partially because there was the warm fuzzy aspect and partially because the theme of the baby shower was chickens. Big metal ones to be exact. And if you have no idea why this is hysterical to all of us, go read this now. We are petitioning that she name the baby Beyonce after the chicken.



I picked up my 3rd CSA box yesterday. The photo above is the 2nd box. It contained Amish whole wheat egg noodles, muscadine jelly (had to google it – that is a kind of grape native to this area), kale, carrots, a big jar of spiced peaches, and 4 or 5 sweet potatoes. This week’s box contained Amish noodles (thicker and not whole wheat this time), carrots, kale, 2 sweet potatoes, jar of apple sauce, and a large jar of pickled carrots. (And I bought a dozen eggs.)

I’ll be honest, the pickled carrots are the first thing that I am seriously considering just not trying. Nothing about that sounds good to me.

So how have we been using our goodies? The kale I’ve used in a couple of ways. First, I cut the stems off, tossed it with a little olive oil and sea salt then baked.  It becomes crunchy like a chip. Shockingly, Tessa, who doesn’t eat any vegetable unless forced, ate them and asked for more. She loved them. Sabrina was luke warm on them. Steve and I thought they were pretty good too. Win. Second, I’ve been using it in place of spinach in recipes. Last night, I made quesadillas with shrimp, onion, red bell pepper, mushrooms, kale, and cheese. I sauteed the kale with the other veggies and its flavor was so mild you didn’t even really notice it was there. Win.

The sweet potatoes are a little trickier. No one in the house particularly likes them. The girls don’t like potatoes (white or sweet) in any form except french fried. Not even mashed. Just last weekend Steve forced Tessa to eat a bite of mashed potatoes and it resulted in her throwing up on her plate – the texture has always bugged her. Steve isn’t a really a fan of sweet potatoes. And to be honest, I only voluntarily eat them as sweet potato fries. But I was determined to use them in some way so I got out my mandoline and sliced them thin. Tossed them with a little olive oil and sea salt and baked them into chips. (Noticing a theme here?) The girls loved them. They fought over them. So apparently, if I make things into crispy chips, my children will eat them. Who knew?

With the peaches,  I am going to make a cobbler or crisp for Steve and the girls. I’m not a huge fan of canned peaches. The carrots we eat raw. The pickled carrots – I’m not sure what their fate will be. The noodles we had some as a side dish (the girls weren’t crazy about the whole wheat noodles) and I will use the rest in soup sometime. The noodles from this week, I will use in a pasta dish with shrimp and kale most likely.

As part of this, I’ve started doing dinner a little differently. I usually put the food on the plates then take the plates to the table. I am still doing that but I’m putting veggies and fruit on the table for free access. Carrots, celery, cucumbers, salad (not a lot in season right now) are all on the table to pick at and eat as everyone wishes. Also grapes and any other fruit I have around (come on summer – I’m craving fruit!). I’m hoping that this will encourage the girls to eat more of those things and also that they will see us munching on them and pick up on us modeling the healthy choices.

There you have it – way more than you ever wanted to know about our CSA boxes and dinner habits. Who knew this raising kids stuff would require so much thoughtful planning?


A couple of photos from Tessa’s visit to the fire house yesterday:

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I don’t really do new years resolutions. Neither does Steve. But we did make a goal for the year – we want to do what we can to eat more local food. We’ve been visiting the Nashville Farmers Market in the summers but we’ve been kicking around the idea of joining a CSA (community support agriculture) for a number of years. I’ve been a little nervous about doing it because there are A LOT of vegetables I don’t like. Seriously, a lot. Let’s just start with the basics: tomatoes – hate, peppers – hate. See? Those aren’t even weird items. BUT. Over the past 5 years of being a stay at home momma, I’ve been cooking a lot more. I make a mean salsa and guacamole with tomatoes in them.  And peppers? Green peppers are foul. But recently, I’ve learned that I don’t mind a red pepper (diced small) in some dishes. I always liked cooking but I really enjoy it now. While I’m never going to cook like a pro, I’m pretty good at it. I’ve been learning to like other things that I never thought I would like. Onions? I now buy them by the bag. I’ve always hated onions but not as much now. Zucchini…I’m still luke warm on but I don’t hate it. That is huge progress for me. I’ve discovered that a lot of things I thought I hated were just cooked badly in my childhood years when I was forced to choke them down try them. Have you seen what passes for a pea in the school cafeterias? *Shudder*

That brings me back to the CSA. We had been picking up pamphlets about various CSAs for a couple of years. But we couldn’t commit. Now that Steve is home, we decided to make it a priority this year. We are committed to finding local sources for proteins and produce as often as we can. It can be more expensive – especially the meat. But we feel (for a variety of reasons that I won’t bore you with) it is important. We aren’t being militant in our efforts. Whatever we can do this year is better than what we did last year. And there are still cans and boxes of things packaged who knows where in my pantry. A friend of mine joined a local CSA last year and had good things to say about it. We decided to go with that farm since we knew someone personally who had done it.

I know the local food movement is growing in popularity. And I know a lot of people have the same fears about CSAs and not using all of the food that I had. So I thought I would use my space here to document what we receive and how we use it. Our farm largely raises animals and eggs. They work with over 40 Amish families which provide produce, baked and preserved goods. This allows our CSA to offer a large variety of items to its customers.

Our winter portion is a 1/2 bushel of winter vegetables and preserved items – delivered every 2 weeks. Our summer portion will be 1/4 bushel of produce, 1/2 dozen eggs, and 2 shares of meat (at least 2 meals worth) delivered every week. This week was our first box. Unfortunately, there was a mix up and our box wasn’t on the truck…but the guys threw together some extra stuff for us so that we weren’t completely left out.

Week 1: 2 bags of swiss chard, 1 bag of lettuce, 2 bunches of carrots, 1 loaf whole wheat bread

Pretty non-scary/weird. Neither Steve nor I had ever tried swiss chard before but were willing. I went to twitter to ask what I should do with it. Red Pen Mama said pair it with cannelini beans. Vanderbilt Wife shared a recipe using the stems and bacon. I thought the 2 needed to come together into 1. It was quite yummy – both Steve and I had seconds. The girls were less impressed but did eat the beans.  Here is what I did:

Swiss Chard with white beans and bacon

1 bag swiss chard

2 -3 slices of bacon

2 cloves of garlic

1/3 cup chicken broth

1 can cannelini beans, drained and rinsed

1 T peach basalmic vinegar (or other vinegar on hand)

Salt & Pepper to taste

I decided I didn’t want to use the stems. Mostly because I tend not to like them in lettuce or spinach so it seemed like a good bet I might not like them here. So I cut off the stems and washed the chard. It looks like a lot but it cooks down like spinach.

Chop the bacon into small pieces. Cook it in a large skillet.  Once done, remove the bacon to drain on a paper towel but leave whatever fat is in the pan. Add the minced garlic cloves, allow to saute for a minute and then add the chicken broth. Once the broth is hot, add the chard.

It will cook down in 1 or 2 minutes. Then add the beans. Stir often – allow to cook for approx 7 minutes (this apparently helps the chard not be bitter). Just before time is up, add vinegar and salt & pepper.

The peach vinegar is nice but I think red wine vinegar or whatever else you have would work.

So our first foray into the world of CSAs and new veggies was a success. Steve was a huge fan and I thought it was very good too.

As for the rest of our box, we’ve been using the bread for toast. The carrots will be part of dinner tonight (raw with dip because I dislike cooked carrots) and another night (cooked for Steve and the girls…I’ll try them but not promising anything). And we’ll do a salad with the lettuce and either this side dish again or something else new with the other bag of swiss chard.


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