In bleakest midwinter.

20150201_170538882_iOSIt is that time. The bleak season where all seems cold, dark, and barren, but hope for change and warmth crouches imminently around the bend. Chilly mornings spent coddling the incandescence of a familiar coffee mug in my hands give way to thoughts of all sorts of dreams.

The kids are back at school and oh, how my heart pines for their company. Two weeks of Christmas break are simply not enough. I am not sure my heart or my head were ready for this public school thing. (That whole topic will undoubtedly be featured in a forthcoming post.) I am one of those moms that never really gets tired of having the kids around.

Yes, there is drama. (Adolescence is upon us, Friends.) Yes, I did unintentionally give her exactly two more Cheez-Its than you and wait… you counted??? And yes, Lovey ate Ladybug’s lip gloss. Again. But you know what? We are growing and thriving and experiencing life together. And it is not perfect. Ever. But feeling alive together and embracing every teachable moment is precious no matter what.

Cupcake and I are attempting to hold down the homestead alone by baking up a storm of things to store away in the freezer, snuggling sweet Gunner for epic Max & Ruby marathons, and you know, dancing in the kitchen as usual. I have exactly one week until a full schedule of classes rears its ugly head once again and life will be immeasurably consuming. Since August, this horrifying schedule has created a culture of an entirely devastating menu cycle that goes something like this:

Spaghetti

Tacos

Leftovers

Frozen pizza

Subs

Leftovers

Repeat

(Shameful, right?)

Along with the usual resolutions, hopes, and dreams that are customary come January 1, I have quite intentionally instituted one more: COOK! Good things. Dreamy things. Melt-in-your-mouth things. Healthy things.

Cook. ALL. The. Things.

It is January 5 and so far we have graced our table with Grandpa’s Special Recipe Banana Bread, Blueberry Streusel Muffins, Homemade Macaroni, Chicken Marsala, and Chicken Pasta Salad. I invested some Christmas money into a new cookbook (Pioneer Woman, how I love thee!) just to make things interesting. Life might be busier than heck, but gosh darn it, this family is gonna eat GOOD.

(Technically that should say “well,” but who am I kidding? Sometimes good grammar just doesn’t have the same punch to it. Oops. And I snuck a contraction in there, too. But I digress.)

Do you ever just feel like something amazing and different is coming? That is exactly what I feel, although I could not exactly tell you why. Let me sip some more and mull that over a bit longer…

Happy New Year, Friends!

Love & Coffee.

 

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The Bad Thing About Butter

20140714_182051272_iOSIt is just so good!

I came of age in the eighties.  I grew up on aspartame, margarine, and imitation vanilla. I did not know any different. It was the way we did things.

There was no blog, Twitter feed, or Facebook meme to indicate otherwise.

But then.

Butter.

Homemade chocolate chip cookie dough with real butter. Real vanilla. Real chocolate.

What is that they say about raw eggs, salmonella, and violent illness? I must apologize that I cannot hear you for I am too busy licking every last morsel of decadent goodness off of the spoon.

Yes, this happened in my kitchen today. With caramel drizzle coffee. And I liked it.

And to the salmonella party-poopers (because I know that is exactly what some of you are thinking)…

nana boo boo.

Love & Coffee.

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Easter Tales.

(Disclaimer:  So this was my Easter post.  That was two days ago.  Please, don’t judge me.)

Easter.  I love this day.  A risen Savior.  A winter past.  A spring to come.  Renewal.  Revival.  And cool, fresh breezes.  All is new again. 

And oh, the dresses.  You see, that’s the thing about having girls.  Four of them.  You can never have enough dresses.  We didn’t buy new this year, for I knew full well that the closets were brimming and it was from there we would do our “shopping.”  I spent an extra hour dolling up my girlies for church this morning.  Fixing hair until it was “just so.”  Tying bows on four pretty little dresses.  And then re-tying the bows on those four gosh-darned dresses. Over.  And over again.

Most years, we do the matchy-matchy thing.  This year, everyone had their own personal style.  Peanut in a sassy purple number and Ladybug in the dress one size too small which she absolutely insisted upon wearing one more time before handing it down (and subsequently had a full-on meltdown before we even got to church because it was squeezing the daylights out of her). Lovey settled on a lengthy and rather floofy frock that I ultimately feared would end up sopping wet with toilet water should she attempt to go potty by herself.  My Cupcake wore a sweet little thing I had saved from Peanut’s baby days. 

I tried to take pictures.  Cupcake cried.  Ladybug wailed.  Lovey pitched a fit.  And Peanut just rolled her eyes at her sisters.  We actually did have a happy day today, but unfortunately lack the pictures to prove it.  See for yourself.  *sigh*

And moving on…

Late last evening we worked together on one of our family’s favorite Easter traditions:  Easter Rolls.  Some call them Resurrection Rolls, but either way it’s come to be a most beloved rite in our home. 

“Buttery Marshmallow Jesus”
We begin with store-bought crescent rolls (I imagine these could be even better with my Grammy’s homemade crescent rolls!) and tell the story as we go.  Take 1 large marshmallow to represent Jesus.  (Somehow, I always forget and buy mini-marshmallows, so we use 3).  We coat marshmallow Jesus in butter and then roll Him in a cinnamon-sugar mixture while we remember how Jesus’ body was rubbed with spices.  Then we take marshmallow-butter-cinnamon-sugar Jesus and place him on top of the wide end of the crescent and roll Him up inside, like He would have been wrapped in his grave clothes.  We pinch the ends shut, sealing Him inside.  Next we place the pan full of rolls in a 375 degree oven (just like Jesus was put into the tomb) for 8 – 10 minutes.  Upon removing the rolls from the oven, we let them cool.  When the rolls are broken open, my girls rejoice to see that Jesus is no longer in side (the marshmallows have melted!) and the grave is hollow and empty.  

Waiting for Jesus to rise

And they are tasty.  Very, very tasty.  

We, of course, sample the goods, but make sure to leave plenty for Easter morning breakfast, too.  Perfect with an Easter sunrise coffee!

Oh happy day!

Empty!


Love & Coffee. 


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Guilty.

For a long time I was one of those people with loads of good intentions, purchasing hoards of healthy stuff at the grocery store only to discover by the end of a busy week that it was rotten beyond belief.  And into the trash it would go.

Guilty.

Apparently, I’m not alone.  A recent study showed that 39% of Americans feel the most green guilt over wasting food.  Not to mention…  money down the drain. 

Guilty.

Last week our family was pleasantly surprised (blessed!) with a small heap of fresh peaches from good friends.  I knew there was no earthly way we could eat them before they were bad.  What’s a girl to do?  Peach crisp was the first thing that came to mind.  I made three.  And even after all my girlies’ afternoon peach snacks, we were still drowning in peaches.  I cut and sliced until I was dreaming of peaches, and froze every last bit by the quart. 

And then, our sweet friends dropped by another round.  Oh, sweet peaches, how do I love thee?  Let me count the ways:  Crisp.  Cobbler.  Pie.  A la mode.  Shall I go on?

Mom called.  Her kitchen was overflowing with fresh, garden tomatoes.  Did I want some?  (Ha.  Is the Pope Catholic?)

I bartered a bit.  Peaches for tomatoes.  A fair trade.

I spent the better part of the weekend cooking down those lovely, red fruits into a savory sauce, which immediately fulfilled their destiny in a delectable veggie lasagna.  The rest went the way of the peaches, frozen by quarts.

No waste.  And a freezer full of summer goodness to be enjoyed well into the throes of autumn. 


Squeezing the daylights out of a ripe tomato.  Therapeutic.

When Chickens Fly…

Off the shelves.

So my local supermarket recently had fresh chicken breasts on sale for $.88/lb.  Yes.  Eighty-eight cents.  (Minimally processed, no hormones, no steroids.  A literal steal.)  

Naturally, I stocked up.  No matter how you slice it, this family is chock-full of carnivores.  I love my veggies, but meat-eaters we are…  especially chicken.

At that fabulous price, there is bound to be some work involved.  Removing the skin is a piece of cake, however, I really do not look forward to picking the chicken off the bone once it is cooked.  I am left wondering if it’s truly worth the price when half of the meat is left on the bone.  And I have nightmares about my kiddos choking on those tiny rib bones.

What’s a girl to do?  Two words.

Crock.  Pot.

For years, I have made various stews, sauces, and beef dishes in my trusty slow cooker.  It hasn’t been until recently that I discovered the joy of preparing chicken in a similar way.  When slow cooked all day, the chicken literally falls off of the bones, leaving me with more chicken for my money and no bones to worry about for the girlies. 

Not to mention the slow-cooked chicken shreds so perfectly for sandwiches, pastas, or random snacking the rest of the week! 


My new favorite chicken recipe:


Slow Cooker Italian Chicken

(Note:  I make this in a large 7 qt. crock pot which makes a slew of leftovers for the rest of the week.  Halve the recipe for a smaller batch.)

4 – 5 lb.  Chicken Breasts (bone-in or boneless)  or a whole chicken
4 potatoes, cut into large chunks 
4 carrots, sliced into large chunks
1 c. Italian Dressing
3 cloves minced garlic (or garlic powder)
Parsley
Basil
Salt
Pepper 


1.  Place chicken breasts in bottom of slow cooker.  Add 1/2 c. of Italian Dressing over chicken.  Add minced garlic.  Season to taste with parsley, basil, salt and pepper.
2.  Add potatoes and carrots.  Add remaining dressing.  Season veggies to taste.
3.  Cook on low for 7 – 8 hours or on high for 3 – 4 hours.  (Chicken should reach internal temperature of 165 degrees.)

If you worry about the bones (like me!) remove before serving to small children.

Happy Tuesday, Coffee Lovers!

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Cheesy.

I have been forever on the look-out for a great cheese sauce recipe.  

I miss my dear Grandma’s famous macaroni & cheese and aside from never even remotely approaching her greatness, the processed cheese isn’t that good for me anyway.  

(You can read more about my last attempt here:  Dear Grandma.) 

My sweet girls are suckers for mac & cheese, yet I cringe a little every time I set a runny mess of pre-packaged orange noodles on the table. 

I had a pretty good go at things the other night with a cheddar cheese sauce, but it still needs some work.  The girlies gobbled it up and that’s always a good sign!  Almost anything homemade is going to be cheaper and healthier and that’s something I can feel good about all around.

My friend, Lori, (who is a superbly fabulous cook) once posted her cheese sauce recipe on her blog (made from real cheese!).  I can hardly wait to try it as it looks amazing.  Lori knows her way around a kitchen so I know it must be good.  As a bonus, she also includes her Alfredo sauce recipe.  Go here to check it out:  Cheddar Cheese Sauce.

Lori’s blog, 4newtons, has some other really great recipes featuring whole foods.  Her spinach dip is pretty amazing, too.


Grandma’s Mac is about to get a makeover…

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Lunch Lessons.

I love living here, but as I am quickly learning, there all sorts of little challenges popping up that I hadn’t really thought about before.  

One hurdle in particular is lunch.

Yes.  We were spoiled in town.  Hubby came home for lunch nearly every day.  It was a sweet time to reconnect and catch up and nourish ourselves.  Now…  not so muchThere are simply too many miles between us and eating out every day isn’t exactly friendly to our bank account.  ($5 Footlongs from Subway can only charm a person for so long.)

I wasn’t really prepared for the whole packing-a-lunch ordeal every morning.  Packing for the kids is easy.  (Kid-friendly ideas here:  Lunch Much?)  

My sweetheart, on the other hand, eats at least three times as much, craves massive amounts of protein and is very…  specific about his food.  There have been more than a few recent mornings where a grumpy hubby left the house lunchless simply because I didn’t plan ahead.  (Oops!)  Sandwiches and soup were getting old really fast.


Then a lightbulb…


Several weeks ago, while preparing a larger-than-usual pan of enchiladas (one of the few meals that everyone in the family will actually eat without someone rolling their eyes and pushing the plate away), I hit a wall.  The dish was stuffed to overflowing and I had 4 lonely enchiladas left over.  What to do?  Epiphany.  I wrapped each one individually and stuck them in the freezer.  Hubby’s lunch!  He was thrilled and they reheated perfectly for his mid-day meal.  Now I make a double batch and freeze away!

Homemade, perfectly portable,  and oh-so-yummy.  Not to mention, exceedingly inexpensive to make.  


Some other things I am filling my freezer with for this purpose:


Pepperoni Pizza Poppers


A homemade version of a pizza pocket.  Use refrigerated biscuit dough (or homemade!).  Roll each out to a thin circle.  Fill with sauce, cheese and desired toppings.  Fold over into a semi-circle.  Use fork to press and seal the edges.  Bake at 450 for about 8 minutes.  Wrap individually for future use!  Experimenting with other fillings is fun, too:  chicken, cheddar cheese, and broccoli; ham and cheese; chicken, barbecue sauce, and cheddar cheese; etc.
Microwave for about 2 minutes to enjoy.


Meatloaf Muffins


Use your favorite meatloaf recipe and scoop into a muffin pan.  Bake at 450 for about 15 minutes.  Cool, wrap individually and freeze.  (Mix it up and top with marinara sauce, Italian seasoning and mozzarella cheese or barbecue sauce and cheddar cheese!)  Microwave for about 2 minutes to enjoy.

Meatballs & Marinara

Freeze your homemade meatballs (this recipe is my fave:  Italian meatballs).  Store in an airtight freezer container or freezer bag.  For lunch, pack with a small container of marinara sauce for dipping.  (A baby food jar is the perfect size!)  Microwave for about 2 minutes to enjoy.

Taco Cups

I cannot take any credit for this, but my amazingly kitchen-talented friend, Lori sent me this idea awhile ago.  (Check out her blog here:  4newtons.)  Press refrigerated biscuit dough into a muffin pan, fill with taco meat, cheddar cheese, and bake!  I imagine these would freeze equally well, but haven’t yet tried it!



Almost any casserole can be frozen in individual portions in the same way.  I’ll be experimenting some more with this…

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Cinnamon Rolls in Solitude.

If I were to give it a title, I am not sure what I would call it.  When people are up late into the evening, it is often called the “witching hour.”  

This is completely opposite.

I am up early.  As usual.  It’s my favorite time of day.  My sweet girls are still nestled snugly in their beds.  Dear hubby has yet to awaken (amazing since I hit the snooze button approximately 4 times…)  I am accompanied only by my coffee, the last of yesterday’s homemade cinnamon rolls, and the solitude.

It’s Monday and my calendar is full, this week especially.  Still praying for some really big things to happen.  Waiting can be a restless time.  Yet in this precious morning hour, it is easy to forget the pressures and the constraints of life.  They are easily erased by a painted morning sunrise.

Coffee helps.  And so do homemade cinnamon rolls.  

Here is my favorite recipe.  It’s easy, quick (no-rise!), and entirely superb.



No-Rise Cinnamon Rolls

2 c. all-purpose flour
2 T. white sugar
4 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
¼ c. butter, chilled
2 T. butter, softened
1 c. cold milk
3 tsp. ground cinnamon
4 T. white sugar

For glaze:
½ c. confectioner’s sugar
3 T. milk

1. In a large bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt.  Cut in ¼ c. butter or margarine until crumbly.  Make a well in center, and pour in milk.  Stir to form a soft dough, adding a bit more milk if needed.

3.  Turn dough out on lightly floured surface.  Knead 8 to 10 times.  Roll into rectangle about 1/3 inch thick and 12 inches long.  Spread softened butter over dough.  Sprinkle cinnamon and sugar over dough rectangle.  Roll up as for jelly roll.  Mark first, then cut into 12 slices.  Place cut side down in muffin pan.

4.  Bake at 400 degrees for 20 – 25 minutes.  Turn out on a tray.

5.  To confectioner’s sugar, add enough milk or water to make a thin glaze.  Drizzle over cinnamon rolls.

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Tea is for Tacos.

Don’t get me wrong.  Coffee is truly unrivaled in my kitchen.  I savor every drop.  

There is Morning Coffee.  

Mid-morning coffee.  

Afternoon coffee (often accompanied by some home-baked goodness).  

5-o-clock-making-dinner-my-children-have-all-turned-into-monkeys-desperate-for-my-husband-to-get-home-from-work-coffee.

There is just so much to love about coffee.

However…

I can hardly stomach a day without my evening tea.  I prefer peppermint, sometimes with just a smidge of honey.  I can’t imagine a more perfect nightcap than losing myself in a lovely book by low lamplight and sipping hot tea.

Besides being wildly relaxing, one of my favorite benefits to drinking hot peppermint tea is the way it aids indigestion and eases stomach discomfort.  I have always had a sensitive stomach, although I find as I get older I am learning to love more spicy foods (like the insane amounts hot taco sauce I sloshed onto my tacos earlier this evening after which I often spend the evening lying on the couch thinking, “Why me?”)  Tonight, I conducted a pre-emptive strike on my impending stomach woes by taking my tea early… and no problem

Peppermint tea is also believed to aid in mild asthma, vomiting, and headaches.  During pregnancy, it was the only thing that helped me survive morning sickness and heartburn and its stress-relieving properties are unmatched (except only perhaps by coffee).

And with that my friends I say…

Cheerio!

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Pinching Pennies.

Yesterday was the day.  Grocery day.  The day I take my carefully crafted list born from my meticulously mapped-out menu and have a go at things.  

Except today was different.  There was no list.  There was no plan.  Nada.  Zip.  Zilch.


But it was grocery day. 

My Monday was uncharacteristically busy, full of abnormal interruptions and unusual occurrences.  In addition, I have lost my mojo.  Ever since moving a month ago, I simply haven’t quite settled into a normal routine yet.  Things are still missing.  (We finally got a decently sizable snow, yet my wonderfully warm boots have gone into hiding!)  Boxes are stilling begging for my attention.  (Although, some of them have been packed for so long and moved so many times that its truly like Christmas to go through them!)  And my meal-planning has been haphazard at best.

I was tired.  And we would have to eat something so I did what seemed logical:  I packed up the kidlets and headed to the store.  All I could think about was how easy it would be to just do frozen pizza.  I was praying for a sale.  (Seriously needing to save a buck or two.)  No dice.  $3.86 for one cardboard pizza.  Out of the question.  Then it occurred to me… I didn’t really need groceries.  I was only craving convenience.  So what if we actually ate out of our pantry and freezer this week?

We turned around and drove home.  

And I made a list of all the meals I could make from what I already had on hand.  I am not a stock-piler or an extreme-couponer, but I do buy in bulk when I can and buy extra of things I love when I find a good sale.  

Last night, we feasted on sirloin steaks (from the freezer and marinated ALL day in a homemade Balsamic vinaigrette), Iowa sweet corn (Handpicked and frozen by yours truly.  You can read more about that day here:  Musings), lettuce salad I cut and prepared myself, and applesauce (from the pantry).  My girls are steak lovers and were more than thrilled.  And I didn’t dish out a penny because I already had everything!

Pizza with Turkey pepperoni.  

Tonight, we had homemade veggie pizza:  homemade pizza dough, pizza sauce (from the pantry), mozzarella cheese, spinach, fresh garlic, onions, tomatoes and mushrooms!  When I have turkey pepperoni around, that is my girls’ favorite, but they didn’t seem to mind the veggies.  I had enough to make two pizzas so guess what’s for lunch tomorrow?


On the menu for the rest of the week?  

For breakfast: 

Homemade cinnamon rolls, blueberry muffins (I have a plethora of summer berries in the freezer), scrambled eggs and toast, fruit salad and oatmeal.  

For dinner:  

Tuscan Tomato Bisque soup with Grilled Cheese Sandwiches, Sloppy Joes, Homemade Chicken Noodle Soup with yeast rolls, Deer steaks with roasted veggies, and Tacos.  


And I’m not too worried about lunch.  There will be some mighty good leftovers to choose from.


So maybe its not such a bad idea to take a break from grocery shopping once in awhile.  I just put a hundred bucks in my pocket.


I think this calls for another round of coffee…

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