Thursday, January 26, 2012

Amoretti: Fabric and Freezer Meals

Hey, Hey! Head over to one of my favorite blogs, Amorettiand enter her fabric giveaway! Don't you wish you could claim to be a mom of five, classical school teacher, and creator of your own fabric line!?!?!!?

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Saturday Morning

 I woke up before anyone else on Saturday morning, and found my way downstairs in the quiet.  As I filled the tea pot, I noticed the Paper White a friend gave me for Christmas beginning to bud in the window, and I couldn't help but smile...

 And yes, once again I was struck by the beauty of the coffee bloom as the hot water bubbled up on the grounds inside the filter.  This time, my camera was handy.

"Do we truly stumble so blind that we must be affronted with blinding magnificence for our blurry soul-sight to recognize grandeur?"  -Ann Voskamp

It amazes me that I added water to a flower bulb placed on top of a string of plastic beads, and in four short weeks, a beautiful creation grew.  Saturday morning I was not too busy to notice, and to smile, and to enjoy a drink made out of beans.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012


So I have been cleaning out closets and dressers and cupboards like someone gone mad!  After the hubbub of holidays, everything was...a disaster!  And there was no help from anyone, since in order to put something away in the place where it belongs, it has to first have a place where it belongs!  The Christmas goodies have now all found their place in our home, I am happy to say.
In my cleaning and organizing, I found several thank you notes from past events that never got sent!  Oops!!!  I'm pretty sure I found birthday thank-yous from several birthdays ago...of course this is my fault - I don't keep postage in the house, and then I get stuck with "I'll send it as soon as I stop at the post office..."  Well, this Christmas is not going by without the thank you notes being sent.  They are made, written, and in the car ready to stop with me on the way home from school pick-up.  This WILL happen!!!

I chose one of our funniest pics from Christmas (everyone already received a perfectly posed family pic on their Christmas card!), and cut construction paper a little smaller than the 4x6 print, then my daughter and I used a glue stick to paste the paper on the back of the picture.
I wrote my message as if this was a postcard - only on one side of the rectangle, with the address on the other.  

WooHoo!  Another reason to use my handy laminator I got for Christmas!  This protects the message and the pic, and also makes the postcard firm, because once you use glue on a photo, it wants to curl.

Yay!  Ready to be sent!!!  (Little Girl's birthday thank-you notes are in there too!)

Monday, January 16, 2012

Egg Rolls!

Last week, I made my own egg rolls!  I had never done this before, but I had a coupon for "egg roll wrappers," which I thought I would find in the frozen foods section of Whole Foods - you know, like it was just a fancy way of saying egg rolls.  Well, I finally found them, and guess what the package contained?  Egg roll wrappers.  Go figure!  I was not deterred.  I just grabbed a head of cabbage, and took those wrappers home to figure out how to make my own egg rolls. I found a recipe online, and tweaked it a bit.  Okay, I tweaked it kind of a lot.  Here it is:

 Cook 1# ground pork with 1t ginger and 1t garlic powder, until no longer pink (I usually continue cooking until it is starting to really brown well), and drain.
Shred 1 head red cabbage and about 4 large carrots (I used a cheese grater with large holes)
Mix together.

 Then just lay out the wrapper (mine were Nasoya Tofu wrappers) and fill with about 1/3 cup of the filling,

and fold it up to look like an egg roll!  I sealed the last corner down with a paste of flour and water, which worked great!
There were instructions on the wrapper package for baking or frying, so I decided to go the less messy and less oil-using route, and bake them.  In my mind, I took a picture of them all lined up neatly on the cookie sheets - about 20 of them I think there were - and then another picture of them baked and nicely golden brown on the serving platter...  Apparently those pictures were only in my mind!  But there were NO leftovers.  They were a huge hit!!!  We ate them with rice and some sauteed vegetables.
The only thing I would do differently next time, is maybe go with about 3/4 of the head of cabbage, instead of the whole thing.    

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Crazy Living

On the way to bible study this week, there was a car in front of me with the license plate "crzlivn," which I took to mean "crazy living."  The vehicle was an SUV which, I immediately stereotyped as a mom car whose message reflected a life of carpool, basketball games, volunteering at school, packing lunches, making dinners, housekeeping, errands, etc.  I have had that crazy living SUV in my mind all week, because I too, sometimes find myself running from here to there trying to get one more activity done.  But then I am thinking of something else.  What if that license plate didn't mean what I thought?  What if that person is challenging the world to something far more "crazy" than simply going all day every day...Not a chicken-with-your-head-cut-off kind of running, but rather a self-sacrificing, unto others, kind of running, with no thought of yourself?  Something like what Crystal from Money Saving Mom decided to do with the money from her book sales?  Or what Ann Voskamp writes about in her book One Thousand Gifts - living a life of thankfulness even in the harsh reality of a world full of hurt - landing on your knees in a pile of dirty laundry, to thank God for the way the sun streams in through the window.
My daughter who just turned three has been asking for rain boots for a good six months now.  The sincerity with which she asks for these boots makes your heart melt, and still I have not made that purchase.  How practical are rain boots in a city where it rarely rains, and when it does, it's usually at night?!?!?  Finally this week, I pulled her onto my lap, and explained that one of her birthday cards had money in it, so if she wanted, I could take her to the store and we could buy those rain boots she wanted so badly.  She immediately, without even a thought, said "I don't want to."  Very surprised by this response, I asked her what she wanted to buy with the money, and her answer was equally as surprising, because it was again without thought at all:  "I want to buy gloves for Nonie, so she can wear them in her garden, and then she won't get dirt all over her hands."  A crazy way of life is that way in which one does not think of themselves, and my baby girl had just shown me.  
Lunches don't pack themselves, and my children cannot yet drive themselves to piano, sometimes I am needed to volunteer at school, and eventually the closets really do need to be straightened.  But oh, let me go this life thinking of those I serve before myself, for then my going will not be in vain.

"Give us grateful hearts our Father, for all thy mercies, and make us mindful of the needs of others, through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen"    -book of common prayer, 1928

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Packing Up Christmas

Yesterday was the 12th day of Christmas, so that meant that today during naptime, the Christmas decor had to be packed away.  Little Girl did catch me on my way out to the dumpster with her gingerbread house though, so that will have to stay out a few more days...
I have a couple of favorite Christmas traditions, like the dependable gifts in my stocking at my parents' house - cuticle oil, socks, gum...  And cherry coke punch on Christmas Eve, but there are some new ones in my own little family, and I think our very best one is the countdown to Christmas with our Christmas books.  I don't remember how I came across this idea - I'm certain that it was not my own though - probably I read it in a magazine many years ago or something.  Anyway, every year after christmas, I use my leftover wrapping paper to wrap up all our Christmas books, and I store them with the decor.  Then they sit the month of December on a step on the staircase, and each night leading up to Christmas, the stack gets shorter as our children take turns unwrapping a book every evening.  
We read them together as a family, and how my heart leapt when I found out that this year when our oldest was asked by her teacher if our family had any Christmas traditions, this was the first one she thought of!
a couple of my favorites:

This is a darling story about Mr. Willowby's Christmas tree, which was too big to fit in his house!  He cuts off the top and throws it away, and the rest of the book is a series of other creatures and critters finding a top of that top and of that top...and adding a little Christmas cheer to their home and the homes of others who find that next top...  If you like doing lots of voices in your reading aloud, you will love this read!

 I remember the year that someone at church gave our family this book for Christmas.  I was expecting, and I read it aloud to our family after lunch, and cried and cried and cried.  You do that when there is another life inside you.  The story is actually set in the summer, but when a son decides to help his widowed mom pay the rent by going door to door selling their Christmas decorations, she and the neighborhood are reminded why we can say "all is well," even in times of very difficult providences.  And I just got choked up again...  When we open this one, my children say, "Dad has to read it!  Mom will cry!"

The books are all wrapped and put away in the closet, but we have Christmas memories to last us all year.  Happy New Year!

Friday, January 6, 2012

Epiphany Feast!

"Oh God, who by the leading of a star didst manifest thy only-begotten Son to the Gentiles; Mercifully grant that we, who know thee now by faith, may after this life have the fruition of thy glorious Godhead; through the same thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.
-the book of common prayer

Tonight we celebrated Epiphany with a feast which, since it was basically the same menu as last year's Epiphany feast, is now officially our traditional Epiphany feast.  :)
Usually when I am preparing a special meal, I begin early in the day; make the cake, maybe chop a few ingredients...  Not today.  No, today I pulled in the driveway from my errand after picking up the kids from school, about 5 minutes before my husband, with nothing started for dinner.  I was just putting the water for the polenta on to boil when he walked in the door.  Ah...well, thankfully a little over an hour was perfect for him to fix the leak in the radiator of my car.

Here's a fun trick:  butter the pan for the cake with the stick of butter you are about to soften for the batter.  If you are melting butter for a recipe, pour the melted butter into the batter, and then use a pastry brush to collect melted butter out of the measuring cup, and paint the inside of the pan you will use to bake in.

 Once, I cracked an egg straight into the bowl with the rest of the batter I was making, and the egg was bloody!  I crack eggs into a separate container first now...and I put the shells into the empty spot in the egg carton, that way I don't have to worry about clogging drains or dripping egg white all over floors and counters to get to the trash...

 How fun is it that leeks are so gritty with dirt, that you slice them and then submerge the rings in water, swishing it around to clean all the grit off!?!?

 Chopping.  Is there anything that can make you feel more like a professional chef?

 When I reached for butter to add to the cooked polenta, I realized I could use some of the special garlic and herb butter my friend left after our dinner party earlier in the week.  Isn't it pretty?

 Well, when we realized that the grill was out of propane, it was plan B to heat the sausage...

 There it is!  Fresh venison sausage, parmesan polenta, romaine salad with anchovy dressing, and cheese bread with garlic butter....

 and Epiphany cake!!!
After dinner, of course the children had to get the wise men to Jesus, so they moved the wise men as slowly as possible for a 7, 5, & 3 year old to move when they have wise men in their hands!  They made their way from the dining room to the living room, where they took great efforts to arrange the men just so in front of Baby Jesus, all the while asking questions about how this really was...when it really happened...

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

A French Toast Day

I have a few memories involving french toast, and they are all very good.  One is the french toast our youth pastor in high school made the morning we were to go to our respective schools for prayer at the flag poles.  I remember his wife telling us that sometimes she could get her boys to ask their dad for his special french toast, so he would make it for the family...
I remember a special brunch a friend and I threw for our husbands and their students one year at the end of school.  And even though I grew up on pancakes for Sunday night dinner, now I can walk into my parents' house and find everyone around the center counter making french toast on the giant electric griddle.
When I have all of my family home for the better part of two weeks, and the time comes to go back to the routine of daily in-and-out: work, school, errands, housekeeping, and most terrible of all, alarm clocks - I could only begin this day in one way - french toast.  My husband has a wonderful job, and our children attend an amazing school, but knowing that the alarm would go off at 5:30 this morning, I was packing lunches last night thinking that it just had to be a french toast morning.  You know, to start everything off just a little better.
Three of the five of us out the door by 7am, Little Girl and I greeted our three-year-old friend at 7:30, spent our first hour of the day reading, and then it was time for me to get started on the dinner party we are hosting tonight!  We will still celebrate these last few days of Christmas, school or no school!!!
Key Lime Pie:
Friends, I love following recipes just as they are, but sometimes you have to think outside the box.  This morning, it happened to be the graham cracker box.  Now, when my children brought the box to me last week asking for a snack, I thought this was the opened box, and I had an unopened box still in the pantry.  That's what I thought.  
 Do you see those round things in there with the graham crackers?  That was a bit of a stroke of genius I applauded myself with this morning when I searched the pantry and only found one, almost gone box of graham crackers!!!  I thought, "well, I have made crusts with vanilla wafers before, so I'll just mix to make the 3 cups of crumbs I need."  Worked just fine.  Imagine that.  :)
 After I beat them inside the bag with a rolling pin, they looked like this.  Alternatively, if you find yourself without a big zipper bag, you can place the crackers in a bowl and crumble with a pastry cutter, you will just end up with slightly larger crumbs.
 Mixed with butter (there's that butter again - I did take out 1/4 cup from the recipe) and sugar, I tamped the crumb mixture down into a 9 inch springform pan.  The recipe calls for a ten inch tart pan, but I don't own one of those, and yes, the edges would be prettier if they were fluted, but you know what?  It all tastes the same.  The main thing is to have a pan with a removable bottom, so the pie can actually be served without having to be scooped out with a large spoon.  I use a measuring cup with a flat bottom to tamp down the crumbs.
 This tool is one of my favorites in the kitchen.  It makes juicing lemons and limes so easy and fast, and you don't have to fish out the seeds when you are finished.  Get one.  I know you'll love it.  And what to do if you sent your husband to the market last night for limes, but you did not count on them being so small, and thus the 7 you told him to get don't quite make enough juice?  Ah...make the pie anyway!  Go with it!  What's 1/2 a cup, when I've already reduced the amount of sweetened condensed milk?  It'll be great!
Do you see that cookie sheet underneath the cheesecake pan?  Stop everything right this moment and promise me that you will NEVER make this pie without a cookie sheet underneath it.  When you do, and your house fills with smoke because of the butter dripping out of the pan onto the bottom of your oven, and you have to work all day with doors open and candles lit to get rid of the smoke smell before your party, I will look at you and say, "I told you to put a cookie sheet under it."

Here's the recipe, modified from The Pastry Queen Christmas:
crust:  3cups graham cracker crumbs
            1 teaspoon sugar
            3/4 cup butter, melted
mix together and tamp into a 9 inch cheesecake pan with removable bottom.

filling:  3 large egg yolks (eat the whites scrambled for lunch)
              1 cup freshly squeezed lime juice - use key limes or regular - still call it key lime pie.
              2 14oz cans sweetened condensed milk
whisk ingredients together and pour into crust, place pan on cookie sheet, and bake in an oven preheated to 300 degrees.  It will take about 30-35 minutes for the crust to deepen its brown color, and the filling to partially set.  Then the pie goes into the fridge to set.  Make sure you have at least 8 hours for this setting, or cutting will not go well for you.  You can also make the night before, just to be safe.  Enjoy!

Tuesday, January 3, 2012


Sunflower Market had Roma tomatoes on sale this week, so while I was shopping for this week's menu, I picked up a few for next week - we'll have chicken tortilla soup!  Knowing they were in the fridge, I decided that I would go ahead and prepare them ahead of time, to make at least one dinner a little faster next week.  When I opened the drawer to get them...I found a box of cherry tomatoes, too!  A few weeks ago at a church dinner, there was a vegetable tray that had gone unopened, and whoever was in charge that evening, offered it to our table.  I was the only one who wanted it (the tray was huge and even I didn't know how I would fit it in my fridge!), so my kids had raw broccoli and baby carrots in their lunches for the next week, and I used lots of cherry tomatoes in omelets and on bruschetta, but there was still a big box left.  These were about to see their last day, 

so I rescued them out of the fridge, cut them up, and tossed them in the oven to roast along with the Romas.
 Here's the prep - cut in half, and drizzle with olive oil.

 Roasted at 400 for about 35 minutes, they come out with split skins looking shriveled and a little browned, and the smell is delightful...

 I scraped them into a blender, adding oregano and basil to the cherries,

and now I have the makings of some pretty easy soup base and pizza sauce!  Not to mention the fact that I rescued from sure death, an entire box of sweet little innocent cherry tomatoes!

Monday, January 2, 2012

Little Birthday Party!

Today was not the actual birthday, which is a little confusing for a three year old, I admit.  I think she had a fun time anyway though!
 First, cupcakes and sparkling grape juice.  Little Girl came in the kitchen while I was opening the bottle this morning, and said "you're letting us have wine?"  Not quite.  ;)

 While the girls ate their cupcakes, I read How Raggedy Ann Got Her Candy Heart, which is one of our favorite books.  At Marcella's tea party for her dolls, they drink lemonade colored with grape jam to make it a "lovely lavender color," which is something I feel might be more fun to read about than to actually drink.  Every time I read that, I wonder how it tastes and come to the conclusion that it cannot taste very good.  I'm probably very wrong though, and we should try it sometime...
 Then we did a quick craft table cloth switch-a-roo, and got out the paper cutouts and glue sticks.  The girls made 1,2,3 placemats to play with play dough on.  I sent my husband on a search around town for clear contact paper, which is not as easy to find as one might think!   He finally found it at Ace Hardware, and the mats came out pretty cute, if I do say so...

I found this recipe, for great home-made play dough!  It was super fun to make, and so easy! I loved watching it form into a ball all on it's own in the pot, and it is so squishy.  Yes, I am easily amused...  So these were not only an activity at the party, but also the party favor - a too cute place mat and play dough to take home.  I made two batches for our party of 6 girls.

Happy birthday, almost Three Year Old!!!!


Muffin tins get used often at our house, but if you see a muffin tin with paper liners in it, that probably only means one thing...Someone's having a birthday!!!  Yep, last night I was preparing for a birthday party for our youngest.  Cupcakes were in order, so I'm going to share some baking tips...

First, I found a great recipe over at SmittenKitchen (a fantastic cooking blog I have fallen in love with since my good friend told me about it...) for the best birthday cake - it's just a yellow cake with chocolate icing, and the icing is super easy to make!  I feel like I always get stuck with icings, and not having what I need.  Not enough butter, or no cream cheese...but this recipe is made of chocolate chips and sour cream, corn syrup and vanilla.  No big deal.  It was easy and delicious, and get this.  You know how easy icing from a can spreads?  So does this icing!  Yay!!!  The cupcakes were a big hit.  The recipe is for a double layer 9in round cake, and it made 28 cupcakes, so I have layers in my freezer awaiting her actual birthday, which is next week.  :)

When a recipe says sift together dry ingredients, I just use a whisk to stir it - isn't that so much easier than getting out the sifter?  I mean, really.  I've never had a recipe flop due to lack of sifter-use.  I'm also not a stickler for following the recipe perfectly.  This particular cake calls for buttermilk, which I had, but not quite enough.  Of the 2 cups of buttermilk required, 3/4 cup had to be plain ol' whole milk.  I didn't even add lemon or vinegar -  I just went with it, imagine that!

These are a couple of my favorite kitchen tricks.  One I learned from my mother-in-law and my searching through her cabinets.  Keep measuring spoons upright in a cup in the cabinet, instead of in a drawer.  They are easier to find, and you don't get a powdery mess in your drawer (which happened to me frequently, since I don't wash them after every use unless I'm measuring something liquid).  I am also...a spatula snob.  Yes, I admit it, a complete snob about the rubber spatula - LOVE Williams-Sonoma's rubber spatulas, and cooking with anything else is just not the same.  They scrape, they resist heat, they go through the dishwasher, they are just great.  And if you purchase them after holidays, you can find them half price, just because it is, say...December but the spatula is pumpkin orange...  Imagine that!!!  Stock up on them - you'll love them too.