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Thursday, December 29, 2011

Stranger In A Strange World

Ella's nurse, Dora, trying to get a Christmas picture for us.
That's her thumb in the lower left corner!

A better look at her Christmas outfit, with Dora
holding and me behind the camera.

Ella today, with bright eyes and pretty jammies.

My daughter, who is now at a gestational age of 34 weeks and 3 days, or 10 days old, is handling things much better than I. In fact, Ella hasn't met a challenge she couldn't overcome. She is now 3lbs 9.6oz, which is almost 5oz past her birth weight. In just over a week, that's a lot. I am thrilled by her progress. Every day it seems that she has developed more; her eyelashes came in, her cheeks are filling out, her forehead wrinkles, her thighs are no longer stick thin. She is literally growing before our eyes! Because she would be sleeping and fattening up if she were still in utero, it is important to stick as closely to that environment as possible. In order to do this, she spends roughly 22 hours of her day in a heated, clear, plastic box, sleeping on what looks a bit like a nest. It's a pad with the head slightly elevated and this nice little bumper around her, holding her snugly in place, somewhat like when she was in my belly. She has a tiny little tube, called a nasogastric or NG tube, inserted in her nose that goes into her stomach. This is how she is fed every three hours, except for once a day when we give her a bottle. When she is able to finish a bottle without any difficulty, we will go to two, then three bottle feedings per day. Once she masters the three bottles, we will attempt nursing. Everything is very carefully planned out by the pediatrician and nurses in the NICU. I learn something new every day. I get to go to the hospital each day at 11am and 5pm to hold her for about an hour during her meal time. These are the few moments for which I live, just to breathe her in and touch her tiny hands.
It's the rest of my 22 hours that are a struggle. I'm about to be brutally honest, because I'm hoping that to get it on record might be therapeutic, but also in case anyone has a similar experience. Ella was taken by c-section. The correct terminology is "delivered" but it truly feels like she was taken. In my head, I know it was medically necessary and the best thing for both of us. My heart isn't completely on board. In the short time since she was born, I have lost my baby bump, almost completely. This may sound like a good thing, because what is the big goal for most moms with new babies? Losing the baby weight! Under normal circumstances, you would not hear me complain. Somehow it feels wrong, though, to not even look like I had a baby, to bear almost no physical evidence of her. On the under side of my wrist, where the I.V. was secured with tape, there is still a dark smudge of adhesive. I started to scrub it off, but it again feels like erasing signs of my experience. I am planning to nurse, and thankfully, I am having no problem in that area. I have to pump several times a day, then take the milk to the NICU for Ella's feedings. It's not normal to get up late at night to feed a pump. I do it for her. I'm thankful to do it. It's just that none of this feels normal.
I don't feel normal. I'm missing something. I have this really large hole in my heart, that can only begin to heal when I get my girl home. I'm not saying I cry all the time, although on days 7 and 8, I cried several times, without any real prompting. My husband was very understanding, stopped asking if I was OK and just hugged me. I awoke yesterday and felt much better. Then half way through the day, I felt guilty for feeling better. It doesn't make sense, but it was how I felt. My mother, my husband, my pastor's wife, even my doctor, have all told me that to cry is normal. That in our current situation, having gone through what we have, it would be more concerning if I was unaffected. That gives me momentary comfort. My crying is apparently the only normal thing about this situation. It isn't normal for a baby to breathe air at 33 weeks. It isn't normal for her to be in a little box instead of safely inside me. It isn't normal for her to be safer in that box than she was inside me. I am so very thankful that she's doing well, that we live in a place with such a wonderful hospital, that they were fully equipped to care for both of us. I don't want to sound depressed or ungrateful. I just feel so strange. I think that it's good, though, to feel strange. I think that when one's missing a child, strange is normal. And I think that the world will seem strange to me until I can hold her for more than an hour, and kiss her face, and hug her to my breast, and sing her to sleep.
I have stood on my faith in God and His unfailing love from the first day of this adventure. Though now, more than ever, I am falling on His grace and finding peace in His arms, until I feel less strange.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

My Daughter, The Prizefighter


This is Tuesday night, the first time I was allowed to hold her.
She is breathing on her own, assisted only by a small cannula of oxygen in her nose.

Ellowyn is a truly remarkable young lady, at only 3 days old. On the first day, she came out swinging, or rather, kicking and screaming. On the first day, she was off of the C-pap (a forced-air mask to remind her to breathe) and wearing only a nasal cannula, which you see in the picture. On day two, we were able to start feeding her breast milk. We did attempt to feed her by mouth, but that is something we will keep trying over the next two weeks, while her swallow reflex develops. The bright side is, though, that she is still taking in, and tolerating the breast milk through her gastric tube. This is the BEST thing for her right now. Last night, over night, she was weened off the oxygen, so that today, she is breathing room air! She's spunky and feisty and I love it! Often in my life, people have tried to tell me what I couldn't do, and it really served only as  motivation. My daughter is the same. She won't be told that she has limitations. She won't sit quietly and accept what is handed out. Her nurse in the NICU told us she gets angry when they have to mess with her or move her around. I love it! That strength and fight is why she's going to keep surprising the people around her and why we'll have her home in record time. I am so honored to be part of her life. I'm so thankful that God entrusted her care with our family.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Welcome To The World!



Please, allow me to introduce Ellowyn Bryanne Jones, born at 12:45pm today, at 3 lb 5 oz and only 14.5 inches long. I know you can't see her face, but trust me...she's beautiful! At 33 weeks, we had a team of the best doctors and nurses and respiratory therapist all anxiously awaiting her, ready to intervene and help her take her first breath. They didn't get the chance. She cried the second Dr. Jones pulled her out. I could hear the surprise in his voice. She has refused to fall in with any statistics from day one, fighting every challenge and still exceeding expectations. She is now, in NICU, not in an incubator and not on a ventilator, but in a normal nursery bed with a heater, wearing a C-PAP, just to remind her to breathe. Praise God!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

That Moment When You Know the Cake is Done, Before the Timer Goes Off

Watching the morning news...I never do that, but it's  passing the time.

That's what we're waiting for...for those of you who bake by instinct, like me, you understand exactly what I mean. I last wrote to you from my couch, where I'd been ordered to stay until further notice. Since then, a lot has happened very quickly. I was a good girl for three weeks, laying down most of the time while everyone in my family tried to fill in for me. I must say that I'm so overwhelmed by the outpouring of love and the unhesitating manner in which my family rose to the challenge. When I asked my younger brother if he could come help and play Uncle Mom, he never once complained or acted as if he had anything else he's rather be doing. My Mom worked all day and then came straight over to help in the evenings while my husband was working, and backing up my brother.
So, that went on for almost a month, which is hard to believe in hindsight, as it went by so quickly. Then, my husband brought me in for an ultrasound and to update my doctor on how the bed rest was working to bring my blood pressure down. We sat in the dimly lit ultrasound room, chatting pleasantly with the technician doing the exam. She seemed to get more focused and quiet, then she said that the Radiologist would be in as soon as he looked at the pictures. I had a feeling...Then our wonderful radiologist came in to complete the exam, as usual. He is always so warm and funny, more like a good friend than a doctor. He's cared for us at every opportunity since my first pregnancy. He wasn't his usual, perky self. He started to explain the concerns and risks of my hypertension and that things didn't look like we wanted them to at this point. Ella is only a little over 3lbs, which is in 12th percentile for 32 weeks. He also said it looked as though the umbilical cord and placenta seemed compromised. I am paraphrasing, but basically, my whole body, including the part directly linked to Ellowyn's care and development, is over stressed. The immediate question became how much longer the baby was safer on the inside than she would be if we deliver by cesarean section.
The concerns of having a premature baby at 32 weeks are these: her lungs may not be fully developed, or prepared for the involuntary act of breathing as needed, she may not be prepared to eat by mouth or to swallow safely and she is literally skin and bones, without any subcutaneous fat layers to help her maintain her body heat. At least, those were the concerns on Wednesday, when this all swung into motion.
I was ordered to the hospital so that we could both be monitored. I have been given two steroid injections that are supposed to increase the surfactant on Ella's lungs, so that she'll be better able to breathe outside the womb. The ideal is to give at least 24 hours for the second dose to kick and start working. Friday at 4pm was that 24 hour mark. As of Thursday morning, Doctor Jones was not sure we would be able to wait that long. It's now Saturday, and praise the Lord, Ella is 32 weeks and 5 days. It doesn't sound like a big difference, but I'm told that every day she stays in my belly, is two days less she may need to stay in NICU.
We are just watching and waiting. My blood pressure has been up and down, but so far it hasn't hit the scary, "lets go to the O.R." mark and the baby is strong and her heart is beating loudly, telling everyone who enters the room that she's fine and feisty!
So, back to my title, I'm sitting in a hospital bed, with 8 days left until Christmas, waiting for the doctors to get the feeling that it's time. There is a tiny chance that, if my pressure would stabilize, I could even go home for Christmas, still pregnant! All your prayers are appreciated. We are at peace, knowing that every good thing comes from the Lord and that he is guiding every decision made on our behalf. Merry Christmas!!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Been Too Gone, For Too Long

Ellowyn Bryanne at 20 weeks.
So sorry that I haven't posted in awhile. I have been dealing with, or I should say, we as a family, have been dealing with some new challenges. The first, and now the least of these, was a broken oven. It broke 6 days before Thanksgiving. Because of warranty issues and the joy of having people who are not inconvenienced with a broken oven in charge of when and how the oven was replaced, we didn't get a new oven until late on Monday after Thanksgiving. Here's the funniest part...I haven't been able to use it yet. On that same Monday, I went to my OB doctor for a follow-up, since my blood pressure had been creeping higher over the past month. We had already tried two different medications and increased doses, to no avail. So, I came home from the doctor's office with a strict bed rest order and a threat of hospital admission if that didn't work. I'm very blessed because my family has rallied around and come to my rescue. I have a brother who travels with his job, but thankfully is off for a few months over the holidays. He has been so gracious as to come play Uncle-Mom and corral my children and help with dinners several days a week. My mom has been coming over after working all day to help until the kids get to bed. My husband has been working full-time, then on his days off, playing full-time Mr. Mom. My sister has been driving the kids to school. It's truly a family affair at my house these days, with me sitting on the couch, pretending to still be in charge.
Now, for those of you who are mothers, whether you work outside of your home or you are a full-time homemaker, I know you can understand how many simple tasks you perform, automatically, for your family that make the day easier. Or, if you're like me, you may not understand until you suddenly have to stop. I have sometimes thought of how much I could do with my time once the children are in school and I had my day to myself. I now realize that, even if at a sometimes leisurely pace, I still got a lot done everyday. Now, I sit around wondering if the kids have enough clean clothes for the week, if my husband has packed enough food for his lunch at work, has anyone fed the dogs, etc. Everyone is working so hard to fill in, but it's hard to explain every detail of my routine when I do it often without a second thought.
Well, as of this Monday, I'm 31 weeks along. So only 8-9 weeks to go, which sounds like an eternity. I am so grateful, though, for my doctor and my family. I'm also using this as a time to walk (figuratively) in faith, or as my pastor's wife put it, "Instead of leaning on Jesus, you need to lay on Jesus."
Truer words were never spoken, since I have to lay on my left side for the majority of the time. The praise report is, after a week and a half of bed rest and medication cocktail, my blood pressure has been normal again and so far, Baby Ella seems completely oblivious to my body's rebellion. Thank God, she is growing normally and very lively. In fact, she seems more active now that I'm less active. I wonder if she was being rocked to sleep while I ran around every day and now she's awake more often. I have more time to wonder these days.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The Happy Accident That Turned Out Delicious!


Last night I decided to try out a recipe I got from Giada at Home. I just love her and this sounded yummy and like something my family would enjoy. It was supposed to be Penne in Almond Sauce (I included the link so you can see original recipe). However, I miscalculated somewhere, had the wrong pasta and it turned out different than anticipated. The recipe calls for 2 cups of slivered almonds. Apparently, 2 cups of whole almonds is quite a bit more. The recipe also calls for 2 cups chicken broth. Instead of store bought, I used some that I had kept from another dinner and frozen. In hind sight, it occurs to me that mine was much thicker than the broth from a can. To clarify, the recipe instructs one to blend the broth, almonds, some garlic cloves and olive oil together. You are then to simmer this in a saute pan to thicken and reduce. What came out of my blender was already so thick that I nicknamed it almond hummus. I tried to thin it with some water as I heated it, but after adding the heavy cream, it was still so thick I had to ladle some out to make room to stir in the chicken. Also, I thought when I was shopping that I still had a box of penne at home. I was wrong, so last night I had to use spaghetti. What came out was what I will lovingly call Chicken Spaghetti in Almond Sauce. It was amazing! Even my picky two year old, who often survives on bird sized bites here and there, ate it up. So here's to accidents in the kitchen that result in yummy food, rather than small kitchen fires!

I would encourage you to try Giada's recipe, which we will try again, but if you're interested, here's my revised version:

Chicken Spaghetti with Almond Sauce
1 1/2 C. Almonds
3 Garlic Cloves
2 C. Chicken Broth (definitely use the store bought)
1/4 C. Extra Virgin Olive Oil
3/4 C. Heavy Cream
1/2 C. Water
1 lb Cooked Chicken, cut to bite size pieces
1 box Spaghetti
2 C. Parmesan, grated


Boil spaghetti according to directions. Puree the almonds, garlic, olive oil and chicken broth in a blender. Add water as needed. Heat over medium-high in a saute pan. Once heated through, reduce heat to medium and stir in the heavy cream and salt and pepper to taste. Add in chicken and heat until chicken warmed through. The original recipe called for peas as well, which sounds amazing but wouldn't have worked for my family. If you want to add in some frozen peas, add with the chicken. Once spaghetti is just cooked, drain and toss in 1 cup of the Parmesan. Toss pour on the almond sauce and toss to combine. Then add remaining Parmesan and toss. Serve quickly!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Love, Love, Love This Easy Ice Cream Recipe!

Too easy not to make it!

I was curious about making ice cream without an ice cream maker. So, I went to the library, meaning I Googled it. I knew there must be a way, and I'd seen different ideas on the Food Network, they were labor intensive, involving hours of scraping and hand churning. Well, I hit the jackpot! This blog, Kevin and Amanda.com, had the answer and it was only the third search result. I'll spare you the details and encourage you to read their blog, but I'll tell you of the two recipes I've tried so far. The basic recipe calls for one can Eagle brand sweetened condensed milk and one pint heavy whipping cream, whipped. The trick is to mix in any flavors or extras with the condensed milk, then fold in the whipped cream. Super easy! They have four different recipes on their blog, but I wanted to go for a family favorite, so first I tried mint chocolate chip. I put about a teaspoon of mint extract in with a roughly chopped chocolate bar. Then, after letting it freeze for a day, we all enjoyed it. I will warm you that the condensed milk has an almost nutty flavor, and I needed more mint to cover that.
So, for my next try, I crushed up 3/4 a package of whole Oreo sandwich cookies. I love getting bites of cookie, not just the flavor. This was perfect! It was delicious and cookie filled and a huge hit with everyone that tried it. The ice cream took on the flavor of the cream in the cookies and definitely disguised the Eagle brand taste. I'll warn you also that the recipe calls for at least 6 hours in the freezer, but it was my experience that both times it was better texturally and well frozen after a full day. Try it! You won't be sorry.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Family Favorite and Big Hit After Shelving Recipe For a Year

Pasta shells stuffed to the brim and drenched in Alfredo!
I pulled out an old favorite that my kids have been asking about for some time now. It is rare that they request anything but pizza or mac-n-cheese, so I do try to take them seriously when they want something real. I got the recipe from a magazine and tried it the way it was written the first time, three years ago. We decided it needed a lot of work, but wasn't worth abandoning altogether. So, after multiple variations, this is what we landed on, and what my picky children have asked for by name.

Stuffed Shells With Alfredo
1 Box of Pasta Shells (You can count out 20-22 shells, rather than cooking whole box, because I've only ever been able to fit up to 22 shells in a 9x13 baking dish)
5 Cans of Tuna or Salmon (use the pouches instead, to avoid any bones), drained
Handful of Chopped Cilantro
1/2 Red Onion, chopped
1 C Bread Crumbs
1 Lemon, juice of
1 Egg
1/2 C Shredded Mozzarella
1 Jar Prepared Alfredo Sauce (or your own home made, which is what we did this time)
Grated Parmesan

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
Bring a pot of salted water to boil and cook the pasta, just to al dente. If it's too soft, then the shells tear and won't be easily stuffed. Once the pasta is cooked, drain the hot water and fill the pot with cool water. This will keep shells from sticking and drying out until you're ready for them. In a large bowl, combine the remaining ingredients, except for the Alfredo. Mix until well blended. Pour a bit of Alfredo into a greased 9x13 baking dish and spread around to coat. Using a large spoon, scoop the stuffing into a pasta shell and place in the baking dish. Continue stuffing shells until your pan is full. Pour remaining Alfredo over the top of the shells. Finish with grated Parmesan. Bake at 425 for approx 20 minutes, or until sauce is bubbly and the cheese has browned slightly.

This was a major hit with my husband and my children. Plus, after not making it for so long, they were bound to love it, but they said this was the best it's ever turned out!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

My Favorite Day So Far This Season

View from my front yard.



Driving down the block from my house.
Today is my biweekly shopping day. I awoke to a twenty degree drop in temperature since yesterday. It's cold and rainy and the sky is completely blanketed by grey gloom. I had three stores to hit up before coming back home to unload a trunk and back seat full of groceries, while dragging my two year old along. I looked outside as I was getting the kids out the door for school, and was immediately struck by how beautiful the day is! The grey and gloomy backdrop seems to brighten the red, orange and yellow of the fall leaves and the crisp chill in the air gives me a burst of energy. While my pictures from inside my car, behind the rain spattered windshield, can hardly do it justice, I had to try to capture the essence of the day. Inspiration struck and I had to act. I hope someone else is enjoying the day as much as I am!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Yummy Snack In A Hurry


Everyday I have to endure the same questions from my children. It's inevitable and not extraordinary in anyway, but there are days when I think I can't stand to hear the same questions even once more. They usually come in this order :

1. What's for breakfast?
2. What's for snack?
3. What's my daily chore?
4. Can I turn on the t.v.?
And the one that so stresses me out...
5. What's for dinner?

These are simple requests and when you have children who are still largely reliant upon you for everything, it isn't really their fault. The dinner question really only stresses me because we have some very picky people in this family, so most days I tell them they'll find out when it hits the table. Otherwise, I run the risk that by telling them, I get the slump of the shoulders and the eye roll if the menu doesn't meet their approval. I'm rather old-school, in that, I think we are to be thankful for everything provided and eat what's prepared. It doesn't mean I don't dread that reaction when they don't want what I've spent two hours making.
So, today we walked in after school and question number two popped up. Tomorrow is my big, twice a month shopping trip, so the pantry is desperately low on snack items. Much to my chagrin, so is the fruit drawer. When I realized there was nothing quick and available for the hungry bunch, I jumped on Supercook.com, where there is the handiest little tool called a recipe finder. You just type in your ingredients and it pulls up all the recipes that you could make. I entered brown sugar, milk, eggs, flour and peanut butter, hoping for some quick cookie or other item that I could throw together. I found an easy recipe for butterscotch pudding on AllRecipes.com. It turned out great and I end up with kid points for the day. I must say that usually I try to make healthier snacks, fruit and cheese, granola, yogurt, etc. In a pinch, though, I'm not above making something sweet just to get by until grocery day!
Here's the recipe:

Butterscotch Pudding
Ingredients:
  • 1 cup packed dark brown sugar
  • 4 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions:

In a saucepan, combine sugar, flour, eggs, salt and milk. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until mixture starts to bubble and thicken. Remove from heat. Blend in vanilla with hand beater. Pour into dessert cups and chill.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Deer Season And We Are So Excited!

Notice the darker red color of ground venison.

My husband loves to hunt and has many friends who, fellow hunter themselves, bless us with deer meat in various cuts. Because I didn't grow up eating it, I had to learn to prepare it. It turns out, it's not that different from other meat when it comes to cooking it. Yesterday we were blessed with four pounds of ground deer meat, so I thawed two pounds and we made deer burgers! It was really delicious and we felt good about eating healthy. If you aren't familiar with it, venison, or deer meat, is very lean and therefore a healthier choice than beef. I'm looking forward to Hubby bagging a deer this year and then we'll get to really explore the different cuts.
Anyway, it was chilly last night, so rather than making Rich fire up the grill, I made the burgers in a skillet. The key to burgers of any kind is not to overwork the meat when forming the burgers, and also never to smash the burgers while cooking. I know, its tempting. We are almost hard-wired into thinking that flat burgers are the way to go, since so many of us were probably raised eating a lot of fast food. However, making fat, juicy burgers is far more satisfying and they are more tender. Here's my recipe:

Served on homemade buns with bbq sauce and mayo, topped with cheese and grilled onions. Yummy!


Deer Burgers

2 lb Ground Venison
1/2 Medium Onion, chopped
2-3 Cloves Garlic, minced
1 Tsp Dried Oregano
1 Tsp Salt
1 Tsp Pepper
1 Tbsp Olive Oil

Gently work the meat and seasonings with your hands until well blended. Form your burgers gently, just molding the patties into shape, instead of rolling into balls and flattening. Heat skillet over medium-high heat. You may lower just a touch, if the burgers seem to be cooking to fast on the outside. I like to turn my patties frequently, to get even heating throughout as well as good color on the outside. In between turns, I keep a lid on to trap the heat in. You know they're finished when you can pierce the burger with a fork and the juice is clear, not bloody. Don't over cook, though. Garnish with cheese and your favorite veggies. I served mine on home made buns using the Amish White Bread recipe. I adjusted the baking time, though, since it was buns not whole loaves.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Yummy and Cheap Granola!

I've been looking for an easy recipe for home made granola. We love granola; whether its in our yogurt or as a snack or cereal, my family will eat it up! However, it is rather pricey in any form. Finally I found this perfect and quick recipe on All Recipes. I made it last night and, after tasting it, made another batch. I knew it wouldn't last long around my house. We didn't have any dried fruit to add, so I just threw in some chopped almonds. The recipe says to add the fruit and almonds after cooking, but I threw the almonds while cooking in the butter and sugar mixture, just to get a good coating. I also laid the granola on some wax paper on a dinner plate to cool, then broke into small pieces after it cooled. Next time, though, I think I might press it down tight in a loaf pan and then cut it into bars. I did try it in some milk for breakfast this morning, and I'm happy to report that it stayed crunchy and was a delicious breakfast! Here's the recipe:

Stovetop Granola
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 cups rolled oats
  • 1/3 cup butter
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1/3 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup chopped almonds
  • 1/3 cup dried cranberries
  •  
  1. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add oats then cook and stir until starting to brown and crisp, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and spread out on a cookie sheet to cool.
  2. Melt the butter in the same pan over medium heat. Stir in the honey and brown sugar; cook, stirring constantly, until bubbly. Return the oats to the pan. Cook and stir for another 5 minutes or so. Pour out onto the cookie sheet and spread to cool.
  3. Once cool, transfer to an airtight container and stir in the almonds and dried cranberries. Any additional nuts and fruit can be stirred in at this time also.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Alfredo Sauce Is Not So Scary When You Cheat!


If you've read my blog, you know that I had to learn how to make "The Sauce" (Italians call it by several names, including marinara, gravy, etc.) when I got married. My husband was raised with traditional Italian food and home made everything. By his admission, I've mastered the tomato based variety of Italian sauce, but I use to by a little intimidated by Alfredo sauce. It contain lots of expensive ingredients and if you mess it up, either scorch it or curdle it, you have to throw it out. I've made it the old fashioned way once or twice, but it was labor intensive and had to be timed just right with the rest of the meal.
Then, I learned to make Bechamel sauce. It's basically a white sauce that is used in lasagnas and other pasta dishes, or over vegetables. The thing about Bechamel, it's the perfect base for Alfredo! So, instead of buying heavy cream, that I won't be able to use up before it expires, I've learned to make Alfredo with 2% milk and no stress! Here's the recipe, but don't tell anyone where you found it, because I pass it off without anyone knowing the difference!

Easy Alfredo Sauce

5 Tbsp Butter
4 Tbsp Flour
2 C. Whole or 2% Milk
1 Clove Garlic, Minced
1 to 1 1/2 C. Shredded Italian Cheese (I have used the store blend, or any combination of mozzarella, Parmesan, Romano and Asiago, depending on what's in my fridge)
Salt and pepper to taste (I say this because in my house, there's no such thing as too much pepper)

Start by melting the butter in a sauce pan over med-high heat. You should keep a small whisk handy to stir, and to avoid your butter burning. When the butter just starts to bubble, start whisking in the flour, one tablespoon at a time, until you have a roux, or a thick, creamy looking mixture. Add in the milk and bring to boil. You need to babysit the pan, because with milk, there is always a chance of boiling over. The reason you need to bring it to a boil is to help cook out the flour and starch taste before adding your cheeses. Reduce the heat to just below medium, stirring the sauce almost constantly. You'll notice it thickening up. Once you have allowed the sauce to cool a bit, enough that it is no longer bubbling, you can gradually add your cheeses. The important part here is that if the sauce is too hot, your cheese will curdle and leave hard little lumps instead of melting smoothly. You should whisk slowly, keeping the cheese moving in the sauce as it melts. Add in your garlic, salt and pepper and continue to cook until the flavors are well blended. You will want to test several spoonfuls until it is how you like it. For a less intense garlic flavor, you can add the garlic clove, cut in half, with the milk, then fish it out at the end. I like to throw in one more tablespoon of butter right at the end, just for an extra silky texture. Serve on your favorite pasta!

Thursday, September 29, 2011

My New Favorite Recipe


Don't need to to say much for this except I wanted to try a different bread recipe and this one stood out. It was simple, with fewer ingredients and I even used all purpose flour instead of bread flour. It turned out beautifully! It was almost like a dessert, it tasted so good. The only issue we have is, once again, with home made bread around, people want to eat it all the time. It was originally something I started to save money and reduce the preservatives in our diet. I'm not sure it hasn't backfired, though, because the store bought bread lasted almost a week per loaf. This bread is lucky to survive the day! Here's the recipe, which I found on All Recipes.com.

Amish White Bread

Ingredients
  • 2 cups warm water (110 degrees F/45 degrees C)
  • 2/3 cup white sugar
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons active dry yeast
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 6 cups bread flour

Directions

  1. In a large bowl, dissolve the sugar in warm water, and then stir in yeast. Allow to proof until yeast resembles a creamy foam.
  2. Mix salt and oil into the yeast. Mix in flour one cup at a time. Knead dough on a lightly floured surface until smooth. Place in a well oiled bowl, and turn dough to coat. Cover with a damp cloth. Allow to rise until doubled in bulk, about 1 hour.
  3. Punch dough down. Knead for a few minutes, and divide in half. Shape into loaves, and place into two well oiled 9x5 inch loaf pans. Allow to rise for 30 minutes, or until dough has risen 1 inch above pans.
  4. Bake at 350 degrees F (175 degrees C) for 30 minutes.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

A New Twist On An Old Favorite


My husband was in the mood for chili, but I didn't have any ground beef or corn chips (in our house, chili really means Frito Pie). So, I decided to try my hand at white chicken chili. I had been wanting to try this for awhile anyway. I have an over-abundance of chicken on hand, because we buy it 20-lb at a time. I started with some olive oil and butter in my dutch oven, over med-high heat. I rough cut the chicken down to bite size pieces, but I refuse to cube it, since cubed chicken has always kind of grossed me out. It seemed unnatural and makes me think of processed meat. Anyway, I tossed the chicken in some oregano, garlic powder, cumin, ground red pepper, salt and black pepper. Then I browned it in the oil and butter, just cooking it for about 5 minutes or so, then flipping it to cook on other side, until just cooked and golden brown. I then removed the chicken from the pan, using a slotted spoon, and kept it in a covered bowl so it didn't cool off too much. I threw in chopped purple onion, chopped cilantro and the rest of my seasoning mix, which consists of the same seasoning I used on the chicken. Once the onions and garlic had softened, I whisked in about 4 tbsp of flour to create a roux (this is a thick base for soup, sauce or gravy).  I added in chicken broth, brought it to a boil then reduced to simmer for about 30 minutes, covered. Now, as you know if you've read my blog before, I don't like boring, one-color meals. So, even though the name of this dish is white chicken chili, I have to spice it up and make it pretty. After my chili had reduced and thickened up, I threw in a can of black beans and a can of corn, along with the cooked chicken and more chopped cilantro. This made it much more interesting. After it cooked a bit longer, to make sure everything was warmed through, it was ready to serve. I fill bowls with blue corn chips, topped with chili and finished with shredded Colby jack cheese. Voila! New twist on an old favorite. Here's the actual recipe.

White Chicken Chili

3lb Chicken Breast, cut to bite size pieces
3 tbsp Olive Oil
2 tbsp Butter
1/2 Medium Red Onion, chopped
4 tbsp Flour
4 c. Chicken Broth
1 can Corn
1 can Black Beans
2 Handfuls Fresh Cilantro (roughly 2 tsp once chopped)

Seasoning Mix:
1 tsp Garlic Salt
2 tsp Garlic Powder
2 tsp Ground Cumin
1 tsp Dried Oregano Leaves
1/2 tsp Ground Red

In a dutch oven or 4 qt pot, heat oil and butter over med-high heat. Toss the chicken in 1 tbsp of the seasoning mix. Add to the pot and brown, cooking for about 10 minutes, turning half way through. Once chicken is cooked through, remove from the pot using slotted spoon. Place chicken in a bowl and cover to keep warm. To the pot, add chopped onion, half the cilantro and the remainder of your seasoning mix. Cook until your onions soften, then whisk in the flour, sprinkling it in a little at a time to avoid lumps. Let it bubble a bit longer, whisking the whole time, then add in your chicken broth. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cover, for about 30 minutes. Add in your chicken, corn, beans and cilantro and cook for another 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, to warm through.

Serve with chips and cheese.
Makes apprx 6 servings.  

Monday, September 12, 2011

Standing In The Pantry Doorway & Feeling Adventurous


So, I was looking in my pantry on Sunday morning, considering breakfast options. I like to make something fun on Sundays, since I usually have enough time and we have breakfast late, so we won't be ravenous after church. This particular Sunday, I was feeling very rough, suffering with a sinus infection, so while I wanted to try something fun, I didn't have a lot of energy to devote to a big production. Then, something caught my eye: a box of instant chocolate pudding. The wheels started turning and I thought, I wonder what would happen if I put that in my pancakes. I said a little prayer and got to work. I had a basic pancake recipe, but was low on milk. So I had to use water, and I just added it gradually until I got the right consistency. I also threw in some instant oatmeal, so it would still be breakfast and not just dessert.
I tasted the batter and dove in. I made four silver dollar pancakes to start. I tried one and let the kids try one. We decided it needed something else. I threw in some extra sugar and a tablespoon of cocoa powder, because the chocolate seemed a little dull once cooked on the griddle. That was the key. The chocolate pudding itself tastes rich and chocolaty, but part of that is texture. Once cooked into my pancake batter, it was almost too mild. The next round of pancakes was perfect! They are more dense than traditional pancakes, but yummy and moist. We didn't need any syrup, just a pat of butter. The neat thing about the instant oatmeal is that it doesn't effect the texture much. The kids didn't even know I'd put it in until I told them. Here's the final recipe, but feel free to take it and make it your own. I think next time I'll try butterscotch pudding and add the little butterscotch chips!

Chocolate Pudding & Oatmeal Pancakes

2 C. A.P. Flour
2 1/2 Tsp Baking Powder
5 Tbsp Sugar
1 Tbsp Cocoa Powder
1/2 Tsp Salt
2 Eggs
1 Tsp Vanilla Extract
1 Box Instant Chocolate Pudding
1 C. Quick Cook Oatmeal
2 1/2 C. Water (Started with 1 1/2 and added more until I reached the desired consistency)

Mix all dry ingredients first. Whisk wet ingredients in separate bowl, then slowly incorporate into dry mixture. Heat griddle over medium-high and make some cakes!

Friday, September 9, 2011

Ode To The Potato...How I Love Thee In Any Form


I realize there may appear to be a theme lately. Whether it's my Irish roots or just more cravings, I love potatoes. I could eat them with every meal. I remember that last time I was pregnant, I made a hash brown casserole, one of my favorite holiday potluck dishes. My picky family didn't really care to eat this more than once, so over the course of four days, I took care of most of it myself. The next week, I made a large pot of the potato soup from yesterday and lived on that for a few days. Now, this may serve as evidence that I just crave starch when I've got a bun in the oven. Either way, can't get enough of it. So, I'm whipping up this cheesy hash brown casserole and I won't even feel bad if I'm the only one eating it! Here's the recipe:

      Cheesy Hash Brown Casserole
  • 1 (2 pound) package frozen hash brown potatoes, thawed
  • 1/2 cup melted butter
  • 1 (10.75 ounce) can condensed cream of chicken soup
  • 1 (8 ounce) container sour cream
  • 1/2 cup chopped onions
  • 2 cups shredded Cheddar cheese
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 2 cups crushed cornflakes cereal
  • 1/4 cup melted butter
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl, combine hash browns, 1/2 cup melted butter, cream of chicken soup, sour cream, chopped onion, Cheddar cheese, salt and pepper. Place mixture in a 3 quart casserole dish. Pour the crushed corn flakes over the mixture, covering everything to the edges of the dish. Pour the 1/4 cup melted butter over the corn flakes. Bake covered in preheated oven for 45 minutes, or until corn flakes are golden brown and cheese is bubbling.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

The Smell Of My Favorite Comfort Food Filling The House


Growing up, my grandmother and my mom both made this wonderful soup that I've never found anywhere else. Potato soup! Now, before you ask the address of the rock beneath which I must have lived all my life, let me explain. I know they didn't invent the concept. I've had potato soup elsewhere and from a can. I would almost qualify all those other versions as chowders. Anytime I have had opportunity to eat potato soup, not made by my mom, it was very thick and often dressed up with bacon bits or cheese. Not that there's anything wrong with that.
The soup I grew up on was thin and delicious! It was basically boiling boiling potatoes with onion, much like preparing to make mashed potatoes. Then, once they're cooked, you drain the water, add milk and a whole lot of butter, salt and pepper. Bring just to boil, then its done! We always crumbled saltine crackers into the bowl with the soup and it made this starchy mush that was "to die for!" It probably sounds strange to someone who's never had it this way. I wouldn't have it any other way.
I do like to tweak things and dress them up a bit, though. I'm also almost morally opposed to serving a meal that's all one color. The answer to this is, of course, garnish. So, today, I'm while I'm typing this, I'm smelling the wonderful potato/onion combo on the stove top. However, we don't keep saltines in the pantry, so I've decided to make croutons from my home made bread. I just melted some butter, cubed a big chunk of bread, tossed in it the butter. Then I put this in the oven on a baking sheet, preheated to 250, and turned the oven off. The croutons will be prefect by the time my soup is ready.
Now, for those of you that never leave for a road trip without a map and never attempt a meal without a recipe, I hear you. Here's an actual recipe:

Potato Soup
3-4 Medium Potatoes, Peeled, Chopped to Bite-size
1/2 Medium Onion, Chopped
Appx. 1 1/2 C. Milk
4 Tbsp Butter
Salt and Pepper to taste (I will remind you that potatoes are the black hole of seasoning and you will need to apply liberally)

In a 3-4 qt pot, boil the chopped potatoes and onion, until potatoes are fork-tender. Drain the water, pour in the milk and the butter. You just need enough milk to cover your veggies. Heat until it just starts to bubble. Turn off the heat and stir in your salt and pepper. You can always substitute the onion with scallions. Its a sharper taste and will break the all white rule so you won't feel so monochromatic.  This makes appx. 4 servings. Enjoy!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

I Love To open The Windows & Put On A Sweater!

Autumn in the Ozarks

This is one of my favorite moments of the year. I love when it starts to cool down over night and we can turn off the A/C and let that wonderful breeze blow through the open windows all day and night. I love having to wear sleeves in the morning, but still pulling off flip-flops all day. The crispness in the air signifies, not only the change in season, but the beginning of the most fun, and sometimes hectic time of year. Soon it will fall festivals and pumpkin carvings, jumping in piles of multi-hued leaves, earlier dusk and the smell of cinnamon in the air. It is also the beginning of what I refer to as the "candy season." While I turn into a baking fanatic, trying new cookies and cakes and reviving old favorites, the holidays bring with them a ton of candy. From Halloween to Easter, we almost can't get rid of it all. Just when the glucose levels start to level out, there's another school party or family gathering that inevitably ends with more bags, boxes or tins of candy!!
It's ok, though. We portion it out as much as we can, without disrupting our daily routine too much. Then, of course, after bed time every night, whole handfuls disappear "mysteriously," with help from my husband and I. The funny part is, the kids are on to Daddy, but they think I'm a sugar-Nazi, so they never suspect me of candy-thieving. I'm not under any illusions, though, that just because the baked treats that I can't stop making aren't individually wrapped, doesn't mean they're any more nutritious or less sugary. I just prefer to know that what they're eating was hand-made with love and I know exactly what ingredients are involved.
That being said, I can't wait to try out a recipe for mini pumpkin tarts! My Mom made it years ago and I've always wanted to try it again. The original recipe came from Pampered Chef, but we tweaked it a bit. Here's the recipe, and I'll post pictures as soon as I get a chance.

Spiced Pumpkin Tartlets

1 package (15 ounces) refrigerated pie crusts (2 crusts) (Or You could sub Phyllo Mini Tart Shells & Follow Directions for Prep)
1 can (15 ounces) solid pack pumpkin
2 cups thawed, frozen whipped topping
1 teaspoon Cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1 package (3.4 ounces) cheesecake instant pudding and pie filling
Powdered sugar (optional)
1/4 cup pecans, chopped
1 small orange (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 400ºF. Allow pie crusts to stand at room temperature 15 minutes. Roll 1 crust into a 12-inch circle. Using a scalloped bread tube, cut out 12 pastry pieces (9 from outer edge and 3 from center of pastry circle); press 1 into each cup of a stoneware muffin pan. Prick bottom of pastry with pastry tool. Bake 14-18 minutes or until golden brown. Let stand 5 minutes. Remove tart shells from pan to cooling rack; cool completely. Repeat with remaining crust to make 24 tart shells.

2. Meanwhile, combine pumpkin, whipped topping and spice blend in a bowl; whisk until smooth. Add pudding mix; whisk until smooth and thickened. Refrigerate until ready to use.

3. Lightly sprinkle tart shells with powdered sugar, if desired. Attach open star tip to a decorator; fill with pumpkin mixture. Pipe into tart shells. Chop pecans; sprinkle over tartlets. Zest orange; sprinkle zest over tartlets, if desired.

Yield: 24 tartlets

Tart shells and filling can be prepared up to 1 day in advance. Store shells in resealable plastic food storage bag at room temperature. Store filling, covered, in the refrigerator; fill tart shells just before serving.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Choosing Your Battles & Having McDonald's On Your Side


We set out this morning around 7:45 to drop kids at school and then on to an OB appointment, followed by an appointment with our investments representative, then a quick stop for one last item on my grocery list. By "we" I mean my youngest, Declyn, and myself. If you would like a recipe, here's a very easy one:

31lb of Two Year Old Boy
2-4 Hours of Intermittent Periods of Confinement (Dr.'s office, exam rooms, car, etc.)
Car Preheated to 90+ degrees
Breakfast Food Optional (According to my two year old, who only ate one bite of breakfast burrito)
Throw in Some Peanut Butter Crackers and a Baggie of Pretzels
Stir

Oh, did I forget to mention that this is a recipe for a melt-down? That's what we have come to call the "I''m tired and hungry and fed up with sitting still and I don't understand why I can't climb or run or play now but I can't explain that because I've reached the point of no return and my good humor expired 30 minutes ago" tantrum. While we have never allowed tantrums, and thankfully, my children aren't often given to these outbursts, periodically the planets all out of alignment or something, and you get a look at the beast hiding inside all of us.
Today, I was singing like a maniac, at the top of my lungs, over the screaming of my fit-to-be-tied little angel. I was doing this because he was acting up in the store and I decided to put off this errand until he had lunch and nap. He did not agree. What I had not anticipated, was that the only thing that would make him more upset than sitting in the cart would be to get back in the car to head home. So I, while singing his favorite song, did the math in my head. I figured how long he's been going, how little real food he'd had all day, and decided that we would need to make an emergency stop at McDonald's. There is something soothing in the fries there. Now, not to be accused of bribing a child to stop screaming, I must explain further. I told him he must stop screaming or he would miss out on those fragrant, salty fries. He was still stubborn and whimpering, but 5 minutes after we pulled back onto the highway for home, he finally apologized and asked for fries. And that beautiful silence that set in. As we got off at our exit, he said, "Thank you, Mama, for the fries." Aaaahhh. The sweetest sound next to silence. We got home and got a nap. He awoke his usual sunny self and I stopped considering sedatives (for me, not him).
I'm thankful we don't have these days often. It's hard sometimes, trying to fit in everything you have to get done, while working around the needs of a young child. However, even if I add up all the days like these, when I start to question whether I should even be allowed to have children, it doesn't compare to the many other days. The real joy is in the attempt, and the payoff is totally worth it!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

I'm Officially Breaking Up With Betty Crocker!


I grew up on box cakes, brownies and cookie mixes. My mother was a single parent of three for seven years, so the majority of the time, we did things the quickest way possible. Even my grandmother tended toward the mixes, instead of from scratch. Its not that they never made things without mixes, but it was a rare occasion. Therefore, when I thought of baking, it always started with a box, featuring a picture of your chosen project on the front.
Lately, I've been trying everything from scratch. Its an adventure! The upside is, though, once you have the basics in your pantry, you can make most anything on a whim, rather than having to go buy the kit at the store. Every pantry, even the novice, should have vanilla extract, baking powder and soda, sugar, salt, flour, unsweetened cocoa powder, powdered sugar, brown sugar, vegetable oil and you must have butter, eggs and milk in the fridge. Now, I'll warn you, there are many more traditional recipes, like pie crusts or breads that also call for shortening, so when you get really brave, you might invest in that, as well. These things are inexpensive and most of them have a long shelf life and you can keep them on hand for whatever projects you might want to try. Yesterday, I found this brownie recipe on the outside of my cocoa powder canister. Well, I didn't have a choice... I had to try it! Once I tasted the first brownie, I knew I could never go back. Here's the recipe, copied from verybestbaking.com, so I didn't have to type it again. This is a good reference site for lots of recipes. Hope you enjoy!

Chewy Cocoa Brownies
Ingredients
  • 1 2/3 cups granulated sugar

  • 3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) butter or margarine, melted

  • 2 tablespoons water

  • 2 large eggs

  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract

  • 1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour

  • 3/4 cup NESTLÉ® TOLL HOUSE® Baking Cocoa

  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder

  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

  • 3/4 cup chopped nuts (optional)

  • Powdered sugar

    Directions


  • PREHEAT oven to 350º F. Grease 13 x 9-inch baking pan.

    COMBINE granulated sugar, butter and water in large bowl. Stir in eggs and vanilla extract. Combine flour, cocoa, baking powder and salt in medium bowl; stir into sugar mixture. Stir in nuts. Spread into prepared baking pan.

    BAKE for 18 to 25 minutes or until wooden pick inserted in center comes out slightly sticky. Cool completely in pan on wire rack. Sprinkle with powdered sugar. Cut into bars.




    Tuesday, August 23, 2011

    Just Call Me Mrs. Fixit!

    My washing machine filled up and then stopped working today. So I had a theory that it might be the lid switch. I messed with it enough to figure out that it was. Then I thought, I've got a load of laundry in water waiting to wash. I don't have time for parts and repair technicians, etc. I pulled the model and series numbers off of the washer, googled the brand and problem and found this very helpful video. All I needed was the instructions on getting into the washer so I could see with what I was dealing. When I realized that the trigger mechanism that engages the lid switch had broken off, I pondered the necessity of this switch. Then I did the only obvious next thing... I called my Dad. I told him I was thinking of bypassing the lid switch and needed to know if this was safe. He told me how to do it and, some wire strippers, electrical tape and a nut/cap later, voila! Problem solved.



    Now, if you are thinking that I have had experience with anything like this before, you would be wrong. What I have is a desire not to pay a handy man or save a honey-do list for my husband, if at all possible. Was this a little scary? Yes. However, I decided the the risk of royally screwing up did not outweigh the reward for fixing it myself and the brag rights. I must also mention that I prayed before and during this little project. The point is, there is no reason not to at least try. I look at it not as being too independent or a feminatzi, but remembering the pioneer women who helped build our country. They had husbands who may be gone for months at a time, harvesting or building or moving livestock. They couldn't let the daily household routine stop just because something didn't work. They had to roll up their long, homemade sleeves and figure it out. Next time you get the chance, before you call in someone to do it for you, look it over and think about how you might handle yourself. You go girls!

    Monday, August 22, 2011

    Real World Lessons In The Not-So-Real World Of My Eight Year Old

    
    Courtesy of clipartof.com
    In the past, we have tried several different incentive programs with our kids. We have required them to perform daily chores since they were 4 years old. Now, as they are getting older, we have decided to put them on the payroll, so to speak. My husband and I fell that they are at the perfect age now, having a firm grasp on their basic math skills, to learn about tithes and offering, as well as the value of the hard-earned dollar. Contrary to our many efforts to ground them and teach them that money doesn't grow on trees and to be good stewards of their belongings, they still seem to take for granted any treats or gifts. So, time for a wake-up call.
    This is the first week in which they will be earning a daily wage for their well completed tasks. Seeing dollar signs and already making a mental list of all the things she would be buying with her giant paycheck, my daughter came to me to ask how much they would be earn and when they would see the money. I explained what we would pay them each week for a job well done. This made her jump up and down with excitement. I then explained how they could expect to be paid biweekly, just like a real job. Immediately, her shoulders slumped, she stomped to the couch and threw herself down. "You said we would start getting paid this week!" she grumped at me. "I meant it. You will begin earning wages this week. You will not be paid, though, until pay day. This is how it works in any job, so you can learn it now." I replied. She did not like this answer. I reminded her that in our home, its not just the task at hand, but the attitude with which the task is carried out. I've told both the older kids that it is very important to do everything as though doing it for Jesus. I told them that if they always try to please Jesus with their thought, words and actions, they will always be rewarded for their efforts. It reigns true, in most jobs, if you are surly and hateful while at work, your evaluations will not go well and some times you will not remain in that job. It is difficult not to laugh, though, when they get so frustrated over silly little things, like not wanting to do the dishes. It's such a small moment in the vast expanse of a lifetime, that it seems ridiculous to throw a fit about it.
    Hopefully, if our encouraging them to keep a good attitude hasn't really worked every time in the past, money talks! Maybe when they don't get paid as much as they were expecting, they will be more motivated to try harder and stop sweating the small stuff. I am an eternal optimist!

    Wednesday, August 17, 2011

    We're Getting Better At This School Stuff!

    Oh, when the alarm went off this morning, it was difficult for me to jump out of bed. I did, however, have a big incentive... the kids go back to school today! I rolled out of bed, headed into my daughter's room and found my toddler had climbed into bed with her. They were giggling and in good spirits. I love starting the day this way! We agreed on an outfit and I helped her fix her hair. I then woke up my oldest son, got his clothes settled and went to make breakfast. Both of my little students were so excited about school that they were extra cooperative. They even traded compliments about their outfits, which on any other day would be fighting for space in front of the mirror and elbowing each other at the table. Before we stepped out the door, we held hands and prayed over their day, their teachers and friends. We prayed for clear understanding and focus, for favor and wisdom in choosing new friends and for safety. It felt so good to start off the year ahead of the game, dropping them off early at school and having them be sweet to each other.
    My other favorite part of the school year...the quiet. There is this peaceful lack of noise and movement in the house. My toddler is happily watching PBS and I actually ate breakfast. Now, don't get me wrong; I miss my kids and by the end of the school year, I'll be looking forward to summer with them. I just love that school offers that balance that makes us closer as a family. They need their space and so does Mom. It's a beautiful thing!

    Thursday, August 11, 2011

    Midnight Meringues and Mixing in the Laundry Room


    The other night I was awake and craving something sweet. My husband was at work and my youngest had fallen asleep on the couch (he's not feeling well), so I was on my own. I thought about meringue cookies and decided that was just the thing. I didn't want to wake anyone, though, so I took my hand mixer into the laundry room. Then, using the washing machine as my counter top, I whipped up some very pretty, opalescent, stiff egg whites. I had a sense of the ridiculous and giggled a bit, but that made it even more fun. Now, my favorite meringue cookies are mint cocoa, but I was out of cocoa and chocolate chips. The only chocolate in the house was a little bottle of chocolate sprinkles. Done! I put my peppermint extract in and then, as a finishing touch, I dotted the little dollops of meringue with chocolate sprinkles. The result was delicious and subtle. I'll warn you, though, that midnight meringues are not for the faint of heart or the must-have-it-nows. It takes at least an hour in the oven, so it is a commitment. Totally worth it! Here's my recipe. You can add in any flavor or food coloring. These are fun at Easter with pastels.

    Meringue Cookies
    2 Egg Whites
    3/4 C. White Sugar
    1/8 Tsp Salt
    1/8 Tsp Cream of Tartar
    1 Tsp Vanilla Extract
    Optional:
    1/2 Tsp Peppermint Extract
    1/2 C. Unsweetened Cocoa Powder
    1/2 C. Mini Chocolate Chips
    1/4 Tsp Food Coloring
    Colored Sugar
    Nonpareils

    Preheat oven to 275 degrees. It a mixing bowl, whisk egg whites, salt and cream of tartar until eggs are light and frothy. Now you need the mixer. Starting on low speed, mix the egg whites and slowly add in the sugar. Once you have incorporated all your sugar, you can add the vanilla and any other flavors. Increase your mixer speed to medium and continue mixing for several minutes. You'll notice that the mixture starts to look creamy and thickens up. It will also double in size before you are finished. It takes a good 10 minutes before you get stiff peaks, meaning that when you turn off the mixer and pull it out of the bowl, the meringue stretches and streams behind, leaving little peaks. If you want to add cocoa powder or chips, gently fold them in with a spatula. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper. Using a teaspoon, drop little, imperfect dollops of meringue on the cookie sheet. For the more advanced you can put the meringue in a pastry bag and pipe onto the cookie sheet with a decorative tip. These are whimsical and cute, so don't obsess about making them round or even. Top off with any sprinkles and put in the oven for at least 45 minutes. I usually turn my oven off after that and leave them in for another 15 minutes. Allow to cool completely, or they will come apart when you remove from the cookie sheet. Enjoy!

    Tuesday, August 9, 2011

    A Tisket, a Tasket, I Made My First Brisket!


    We are a brisket loving family. So, when I got a 6lb brisket on sale, I was all about it. One problem, though: I've never made brisket! My husband really wanted to smoke it, but we didn't have enough wood. Not to be discouraged, I just jumped on All Recipes and looked up brisket. I found very easy directions for roasting it. I already knew that the trick was cooking it low and slow, meaning low temperature and long cooking time.
    So, Sunday morning, I pulled my prize meat (roughly the size of a newborn baby) out of the fridge and attacked it. I started off by trimming away most of the fat, then made slices across the grain. This way any fat left didn't shrink during cooking. Then I took a bowl of black pepper and seasoned salt and used my hands to rub the mix all over both sides. Finally, I minced two cloves of garlic and rubbed it onto the exposed side. I poured about a cup of water into my roasting pan with the brisket. Then I put the lid on, put it in the oven at 275 degrees and got ready to go to church. By the time we got home, the timer I'd set to 4 hours had only 30 minutes left. The house smelled amazing and I had just enough time to boil potatoes for mashing. We had a beautiful, tender, juicy brisket for a late lunch and then snacked on it for the rest of the evening. Then Monday, we had brisket sandwiches. We plan on smoking it next time, just to experiment, but this was no disappointment for a first timer!

    Friday, August 5, 2011

    The Proper Way to Melt Cheese (Yeah There's a Wrong Way)

    Back story: my husband comes from a very Italian family. While I have an Irish heritage, my mother was a single parent for many years, so our spaghetti came from a box and the sauce from a jar. After I got married, it didn't take long for me to realize I had to learn a few things in the kitchen. So, by now I have mastered making what we affectionately refer to as "the sauce," or a good, from scratch marinara sauce. I also learned to make Bechamel and Alfredo and I've learned how to make my own pasta dough. So, I was feeling pretty confident when I decided to try my hand at home made mac-n-cheese.
    Oops! If you have made cheese sauce from anything but Velveeta, you already know what I'm about to say. I took some milk, butter, salt and pepper, heated it up and threw in some cheese. After whisking furiously for 15 minutes, my cheese was not melting, but separating and hard. At this point I used my favorite kitchen tool: GOOGLE. I found a very helpful article on All Recipes about how to make cheese sauce.
    Immediately I discovered my first mistake, which was too much heat. Also, I knew I needed a starch to thicken the sauce, but I should have had that incorporated before adding the cheese. So, refusing to call it a loss and waste everything, I cut a bit of cheese cloth (which was a mystery to me until recently, I found it in the fabric department) and used it to strain out the curdled cheese. By that I mean, lined a bowl with the cheese cloth, poured the sauce in, the gathered the cheese cloth and squeezed out the liquid. Then I threw the liquid back into my pan and brought it to a medium heat, lightly bubbling, so i could whisk in a bit of flour. Then I lowered the heat to low-med and added the cheese. Another tip from the article was to sprinkle a bit of an acid, like lemon juice, on the cheese before melting, to keep it from getting stringy. This worked very well. So, after a small bump in the road, we ate home made macaroni and cheese for lunch.

    Thursday, August 4, 2011

    All I Wanna Do Is Enjoy Shark Week!


    So, this may sound out of character, but I love Shark Week, on the Discovery Channel. And I'm happy that many of the programs during the afternoon and early evening are only PG, so the whole family can marvel at those beautiful, vicious creatures. One problem: the commercials, mainly the movie trailers. There is a new horror film being advertised on every commercial break! The trailers are disturbing to me, so I'm really disgusted that I have to worry about my kids watching them. I suppose I could DVR everything we want to see so we can skip ahead, but it's not very convenient nor as much fun. So after one very frustrating hour of the annual "Sharkapalooza" (and this was 5pm to 6pm, not even prime time) I decided to change the channel. I'm really disgusted with the increase in disgusting movie trailers on many channels, before prime time viewing. I understand that programming after a certain hour is geared toward adults, but during football season, we are watching Sunday afternoon and I cringe at the trash being during breaks. And while I'm at it, we watch a lot of PBS, Disney and Nick, although we bounce around between the latter two, due to shows I think are too mature or just innaproproate for my family. Disney is now on my list, though, because they've decided to make a vampire show and its advertised during programs my kids are allowed to watch. It's ridiculous! Just because the rest of the world is vampire crazed because of a series of novels (geared toward teens, ugh!) doesn't make it ok for all kids everywhere, does it? I would love to be at a point where we could give up the tele completely, but to be forced into it because the general decency of the major networks has gone out the window! This Mom is about fed up.

    Wednesday, August 3, 2011

    Mama Bear Syndrome: The Fierce and Unrelenting Need to Protect Your Children


    Because we are a "blended family" (the newer, nicer way to refer to what used to be called dysfunctional family), I have the pleasure, or rather, the challenge of trying to keep the peace between my husband and the birth mother of my two oldest children. With all due respect to her, she has had many challenges of her own and has many times, over the course of our four years of being a family, been less than reliable (to put it nicely). Unfortunately, our views of what is appropriate when it comes to diet and t.v. viewing are often at odds with hers. The upside to this is that, because the children live with us full time, this is not a concern we have to deal with more than once or twice a month. Another down side that we've found, though, is that a lot of damage can be done in one over night visit.
    Our oldest son, who will be 7 in October, has always been a good sleeper until recently. Over the summer, he has been crawling into bed with our daughter, 8, almost every night. We have tried everything to keep him in his bed all night. It seems to be getting worse, though, to the point that, minutes after he is tucked in, he's gotten his favorite pillow, blanket, and doggie and is sneaking across the hall. I had to put him in bed 5 times last night. I finally asked him if there was some reason that he refused to stay in bed lately. This is not the first such conversation, but he usually give me a shrug and an "I dunno." I pressed the matter and said that I needed to know why. This is how I discovered the latest in a long line of issues occurring when they visit their other mother. They were made to watch a horror movie. I started to name this movie, but thought better of it, because I'm a firm believer in not glorifying such negative things with any more attention than they might have.  If you keep up with cinema, this is a recently released to DVD horror film, rated PG-13, is about a family being harrassed by demonic possession. I looked up a review on Parent Previews, since I have no intention of watching it, because this site gives fairly detailed accounts of content, broken down into categories (violence, sexual content, language, etc.) and I wanted to know with what, exactly, we were dealing.
    Now, my husband and I have to figure out how to keep this from happening again. I'll spare you the details. Here is where I rant. The previous was just for your information, so that you can understand the title of this post and what I'm about to say...

    Are you crazy?! How dare you subject our children, MY children, to such horrific images, not to mention the other movies we have heard about in the past, with foul language and violence and considered just completely innapropriate by 99.9% of the world with any kind of standards! They are so impressionable at this age, with wildly active imaginations that take those images and run laps in their little minds. I litterally feel like I could sprout claws and let loose a howling growl towards the sky. My babies should not have to be afraid of their own rooms and every shadow out the window. I'm so furious right now, I could shake a tree.
    However, I am a Christian and therefore commanded to forgive. I am also commanded to love unconditionally. It's not easy on days like this, so I remember that I Cor. 13:5 says that love "is not touchy or fretful or resentful; it takes no account of the evil done to it [it pays no attention to a suffered wrong]." This will be my mantra today. By the way, another good site for reviews is Plugged In, which gives you the same, plus from a Christian point of view. I didn't check it first, because I assumed they wouldn't have reviewed this movie. Upon closer inspection, they did have a very thorough and insiteful review.