I may be in a new-to-me house, but the fact remains… the only dishwashers I possess are at the end of my arms.  They are called hands.  And they serve me well.  Honestly, I am not sure what I’d do if I did have a dishwasher.  I have grown so accustomed to hand-washing every grimy dish (with love, of course).

I do some of my best thinking while I do the evening dishes.  If I choose to add music, I also do some of best dancing in front of the sink, much to the embarrassment of my 7-year-old, Peanut (who cocks her head, rolls her eyes, flips her hair at me and darts out of the room).

But on occasion, there arises a beastly baked-on, crusty mess of a pot or pan.  (I have one particular skillet that is a serial offender.  I am not quite sure why I haven’t thrown it out by now.)  These times call for the use of excessive force.  There are plenty of things on the market to combat this sort of thing: all manner of scrubby pads and powerful cleaning agents.  Most of them are okay and work well, but most of us have the tools to get the job done right in our own kitchen without spending any extra cold, hard cash.

All you need:

All Purpose Vinegar Cleaning Solution  (8 oz. warm water with 8 oz. white vinegar in a spray bottle)
1 leftover plastic mesh bag (like the ones used to package oranges or onions)
1 rubber band (optional)
Baking soda (optional:  for the really tough stuff)

1.  Start by spraying the offending gobblety-gook (I am pretty sure that’s a technical term.) with all-purpose vinegar cleaner and let soak for about 5 minutes  (Just enough time for a coffee break…)

(You can read more about the homemade vinegar solution here:  Super Secrets.)

2.   Use the mesh bag as a scrub pad to finish the job!  You can simply wad it up in your hand or use a rubber band to secure into a ball shape for easier scrubbing.

3.  For really tough messes, let the pot sit in the vinegar solution longer and sprinkle with baking soda.  The natural reaction between the vinegar and baking soda will power away stuck-on food, making it easier to scrub away.  Voila!

Do I like my coffee black?  There are other colors?

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Good Intentions.

It still pains me to think of all the awesome things I had planned for this blog during the month of December, but hey… what could a girl do?

I had a laundry list of homemade gifts to make this year (thanks in large part to my new love, Pinterest!).  It was truly a miracle that I was able to finish most of them in time for Christmas.  Amid piles of boxes, we spent several “family nights” putting together many gifts for friends and family.  It was the perfect way to find joy amid the chaos of moving during the holidays and a great stress-reliever for all of us.  

I am somewhat distraught that I did not manage to get pictures of all our craft projects.  It was late Christmas evening, during that drowsy, content, gluttony-induced-near-coma that comes after a perfect day of celebration when I realized that most of my creations were not photographed.  But in that blissful moment, I didn’t seem to care much.  C’est la vie…

 A few of our projects:

Reindeer Root beer  (We used brown pipe cleaners, googly eyes, red pom poms and hot glue to turn cases of IBC root beer into a herd of reindeer.)
Peppermint Cocoa in a Jar  (These turned out amazing.  I will definitely be making more and I will post the recipe and pics!  Could also be a great Valentine’s Day gift…)
Chicken Noodle Soup in a Jar  (I will make more and post this one, too.  A great idea for a gift basket for a sick friend.)
Scarves repurposed from T-shirts  (One of favorite projects from Pinterest!  I gave away all that I made, but I will be posting this one, too.)
Glass ornaments  (We filled glass ball ornaments with all kinds of things:  red feathers, confetti, tulle, glitter, etc.  We used white tulle for the tie to hang them.  We handed these out to dear friends during a night of caroling.  They were beautiful.)

We even managed to eke out most of our traditional goodies, too.  (Another Christmas miracle!)  Although, I didn’t get to post much about them, I added several our of our family favorites for the holidays to the Recipes page.  (Like Grammys’s Sugar Cookies, my great-grandmother’s recipe… to-die-for!)  Some of my favorite party appetizers are up, too, including a great Hot Spinach Dip and Smoky Cheese Ball.

A photographer I am not, but here is our Buche de Noel.

The Buche de Noel cake is one of our favorite treats.  There are many different recipes floating around out there, but this one is the best!  You can find it here on the Recipes page.  Buche de Noel is a French Yule Log cake.  We began this as a family tradition when I was in high school.  My French teacher gave her students this recipe that she learned to love while living in France.  I’m telling you… this is the real deal.  Since my girlies are still young, I love to have them present a birthday cake to Jesus during our Christmas Eve family dinner and this is the cake we choose.  We bake this cake together as a family and for little ones, it truly is amazing every step of the way.  They marvel at how the beating of the egg whites can turn them into fluffy little mountain peaks.  They are equally enthralled by creating a fine winter snow storm as we sift the cake flour.  Not to mention, this delicate cake tastes downright heavenly.

And just for the pure cuteness factor… 

During our move, my two smallest ones raided my treasure trove of scarves and I found my Ladybug playing “Mary & Baby Jesus.”

And then I found my little Lovey doing something similar, only Baby Jesus was now a blonde, with long, golden curls.

I can now see the bottom of my coffee cup, and I believe there is a whole basement full of boxes just dying to be unpacked… Off I go.

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Dear Grandma.

It is the one time a year I purchase processed cheese, (usually in the form of Velveeta), in a vain attempt to replicate your famous homemade mac & cheese. 

I am pretty organic and whole-grainey these days.  It goes against nearly all I believe in when it comes to food, yet Thanksgiving dinner isn’t quite the same without the creamy, indulgent richness of my favorite childhood dish.

My attempt has ended in utter failure yet again.  It has been 2 1/2 years since you passed and even longer since I’ve tasted such decadence.  (The dementia took you far too early…)  

I have followed your recipe with diligence and I have tweaked your recipe thinking something might be wrong and I just can’t get it right.  I admit, I don’t add all the food coloring you used to, but certainly that can’t be it.  I am inclined to believe there were secrets in your head that you never bothered to write down.  How I wish I had the chance to glean more kitchen wisdom from you before you went home.

Perhaps it’s just as well.  Maybe it’s time the macaroni and cheese becomes shelved as a beloved childhood memory.  Sometimes new traditions are worth establishing…

Rest assured, however, Grandma… I have definitely mastered your yeast rolls and in that fact, I rejoice.

Love you forever and always.

Talking Turkey.

2 days and counting.  I am entirely giddy for the impending holiday.  The menu is set and grocery lists are made.  This is one of my top two favorite grocery shopping trips of the year (the other being Christmas, of course).

Normally, I would have my Thanksgiving goody shopping done by now, but planning my little Ladybug’s birthday party so late in November really threw me for a loop this year.  

(You can read more about the shindig here:  Pinkalicious.)

I did manage to purchase a turkey and presently the 22-pound bird is already thawing in my refrigerator.  (I know.  BIG bird.)  I don’t know why I don’t make roast turkey all year long… it’s entirely delectable, everyone in the family will actually eat it, and it’s usually quite economical.  Our family can feast for days, turkey freezes well, and I can make a load of turkey stock from the bones. 

I don’t think anyone really sets out to be wasteful and squandering the deliciousness of a Thanksgiving turkey should be completely criminal.  Thus… the list.

My Top Ten Ways to Use Leftover Turkey:

1.  Turkey Sandwiches.  Need I say more?  There is hardly anything better than a sandwich piled high with savory roast turkey.

2.  Salad.  A lettuce salad loaded with fresh veggies (and turkey!) is a light (and delicious) way to atone for Thanksgiving gluttony the next day.

3.  Turkey & Noodles.  Use turkey stock (I like to thicken mine with cornstarch), season and add egg noodles.  Serve over leftover mashed potatoes.  Comfort food at it’s finest.

4.  Turkey Glop.  A friend told me about this idea a few years ago and it’s perfect!  Take all the leftovers:  stuffing, mashed potatoes, turkeys, gravy, corn, green bean casserole, etc and layer it in a casserole dish.  Heat in the oven and voila!  Turkey Glop.

5.  Turkey Enchiladas.  Turkey is a good alternative to almost any chicken recipe.  

6.  Sloppy Joes.  Shred leftover turkey and add your favorite sloppy joe sauce.

7.  Turkey Pot Pie.  One of my favorite comfort foods on a cold day.  Here is my favorite recipe:  Turkey Pot Pie.

8.  Turkey Tetrazzini.  Another of our family favorites.  This recipe from Martha Stewart is incredible and makes enough to freeze some for later:  Turkey Tetrazzini (I swap the chicken for turkey.)

9.  Freeze.  I purchased a 22-pound turkey.  There will be leftovers.  And some cold day in January, I will be thrilled to be feasting on roast turkey that I didn’t have to cook.

And my favorite way to use leftover turkey…

10.  Bill & Tutu.  Bill is my 80-something-year-old, next-door neighbor.  He lives alone.  And he has a teensy, puff ball dog named Tutu.  Come Thanksgiving day (and well into Christmas), he will be showered with our kitchen concoctions.  Always gracious and well-deserving.  We love you, Bill.

One more coffee, and off to the market I go…

Our oak tree hanging on to the last of it’s leaves…

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This post is a part of Frugal Tip Tuesday.

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It was Monday.  

Peanut would be away most of the day for a school activity.  We were to leave at 8:45 am.  I was sipping my coffee at 7:00 am when it suddenly occurred to me:  I was supposed to send a snack with her.  

Normally, that wouldn’t be a problem, but my life has been in a bit of top spin and grocery day was still a day away.  

I.  Had.  Nothing.

Raisins?  (Yeah, right, Mom.)
Pickle spear?  (No thanks.)
Leftover spaghetti?  (This received that sort of a menacing glare that my 7-year-old is notorious for.)

Ay yi yi.

Then, I remembered this recipe for homemade graham crackers I had been dying to try.  At first, I was skeptical, but judging from the way my kids gobbled them up, I would say they were a success.  They were super simple and done just in time for my daughter to walk out the door.  Tossed in an apple as a side and she had a snack for mama to be proud of.  

Honey Graham Crackers

1/3 c. honey
1/2 c. butter
1 tsp. vanilla
1/2 c. water or milk
3 c. whole wheat flour
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. baking powder
pinch of salt
(1 tsp. cinnamon)

1.  Cream together honey and butter.  Add vanilla and milk.  Add dry ingredients.

2.  Knead gently into a ball.  Roll thin on greased baking sheets.  Prick with a fork.  (If using cinnamon, sprinkle on top before baking.) 

3.  Bake at 350 degrees for 8 – 10 minutes.  The cooking length will depend on how thin the crackers are. 

NOTES:  In hindsight, I would have rolled them thinner.  My baking sheets have sides, so that was difficult.  I think they would do better on the sheets that are flat with no lip around the edge.  I made some plain and some with a sprinkling of cinnamon (and a smidge of organic sugar) on top.  My girls preferred the cinnamon crackers, but they ate all of them anyway.  Either way, these were a simple, healthful snack.  I’ll be making these again!

Check out my Recipes page for a downloadable copy of this and many more recipes.

As always… a perfect compliment to an afternoon coffee.

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This post is a part of Real Food Wednesday,Simple Lives Thursday, and Fresh Bites Friday.

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Once in a lifetime…

Or at least once in a century.  11/11/11.  You will never see this happen again.  Unless you are under the age of 12 or so, then I suppose it’s a slim possibility.

So what to do on a such a significant day?  Get married?  Already done that.  Buy a lottery ticket?  No thanks.  Perhaps we will just carry on.

It is Veteran’s Day.  And for that I am unwaveringly grateful.  So very proud to be an American.  And that is how I choose to mark this memorable day.
Thank you to all the Veterans in my life (and even the ones that are not).  You are my superheroes.  


Double dose.

Some days you just need more.  

More help.  More time.  More coffee. 

Mama said there would be days like this.  And these are the days for simple, healthy meals like this recipe for Coffee Cornmeal.

“Eating Well For Only $2 A Day”  looks like a fabulous addition to my cookbook shelf.  I have not yet ordered it, but judging from the 9-page-preview available on the book’s website, its going to be pretty amazing.  Definitely worth checking out! (Good Christmas gift idea???)

I love the premise behind this book.  Eat Well.  Save money.  Simple as that. 

“Coffee lovers rejoice! Your dream has now become a reality – you can have your coffee IN your breakfast…alongside a cup of coffee. Double the dose.”
The following recipe is taken from Eating Well For Only $2 A Day, a food budgeting book that teaches people how to do precisely that…spend only $2 a day on food! It provides the tips and principles necessary to show anyone how to save some serious money without relying on coupons and includes over 150 inexpensive and delicious recipes like the Coffee Cornmeal dish provided. You can see a preview of the book at Enjoy! 

Coffee Cornmeal

Yield: 4 Servings

1 1/3 cups Cornmeal $0.21
1 1/3 cups Cold Water $0.00
3 cups Hot Coffee $0.07
4 tsp Margarine $0.03
6 Tbsp Sugar $0.09
1 tsp Salt $0.00
4 Tbsp Cream $0.22

Total: $0.62 ($0.15 Per Serving)

1. Combine the cold water and cornmeal in a small bowl and mix until the lumps are gone.
2. Heat the coffee and salt in a medium saucepan on med/low heat until it’s near boiling.
3. Add the cornmeal and cook about 3 minutes until thickened, stirring frequently.
4. Add the margarine, sugar, and cream and mix well.
5. Enjoy!

(Note:  I have included the original recipe, but I substitute butter for margarine.  That’s just how I roll.)

Read a Guest Post by co-author, Chris Tecmire at Premeditated Leftovers.
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This post is a part of Frugal Tip Tuesday and Simple Lives Thursday.

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Little things.

“Its the little things that matter, that add up in the end, with the priceless thrilling magic found only in a friend.”
–Elizabeth Dunphy
Little things.  Can be big things. 
A handwritten note.  An unexpected phone call.  Coffee with a friend.
I find that it is often the minutest of details that seem to matter most. 
Recently I helped to plan a local fall women’s event and we chose to hold it at a restaurant.  The place was nice enough, but a few little things here and there truly made the day special for the ladies in attendance.
Bright, colorful oak leaves (from the craft store), acorns (gathered by my girlies from the yard) and these adorable little acorn treats strewn about the tables was the perfect touch.  Simple.  Perfect.
I saw a picture of these  treats floating around facebook and immediately took mental note of it.  I could not find it again no matter how hard I tried.  I do not know who to credit for this nifty idea, but will gladly do so if and when I become aware of it.  These were so easy and the women raved about them for days!  My little girls were crazy about them, too.  Great fall activity for the kids!
Edible Acorn Treats
Hershey’s kisses
Mini Nutter Butters (or Ritz Bitz crackers)
Mini chocolate Chips
1.  Unwrap the Hershey’s kisses and separate the Nutter Butters so you are all set to go.
2.  Melt down some of the mini chocolate chips.  I prefer the stove top, but this could easily be done in the microwave, too.  (Be careful not to burn the chocolate!)
3.  Dip the large end of the Hershey’s kiss into the melted chocolate.  Place Nutter Butter on top of the melted chocolate.  Dip mini chocolate chip into chocolate and attach to the top.  
Voila!  Edible acorns!
(Note:  For those with peanut allergies, use a Ritz Bitz cracker in place of the Nutter Butter.)
“If you’re honest in small things, you’ll be honest in big things…”
Luke 16.10a (MSG)

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There and back.

Life happens.  And when it does, it takes precedence (as it should).  I blog about life, rather than live to blog… thus the unusual several-days-long absence.

These last few days have required abundant amounts of coffee, but I am alive.  And I am well.  It’s been busy.  And good.  Good-busy.  But even good-busy can be bad.  (Is anyone still with me???)  Moving on…

In the midst of all this good-busy-ness, I was fortunate to be offered an amazing opportunity.  I and my family were invited to a FREE cooking class hosted by a local Bed & Breakfast under some sort of special grant (from the county, I think?).  I was lost on a few of the details.  (All I heard was “free” and “food” and “family” and after the week I’d just had, that was good enough for me.)
(Cleaning up a dozen raw eggs off the kitchen floor. And the 2-year-old.  Or a jumbo-sized box of baking soda.  Or Sharpie marker off of a little face.  And that was just one day.  When does age 2 end again?)

My dear husband did not seem all that interested so he opted to stay home with my darling little one.  (Probably a wise choice given the havoc she had already created in my own kitchen last week…)

So a date with my two big girls!  We were pleasantly greeted by three sweet ladies at the B&B who put us to work in the kitchen right away.  (This B&B also happens to be a licensed restaurant so it was especially interesting to get to work in their kitchen!)

The Menu:

Appetizer pizza
Whole grain pasta 
Vegetable salad 
Zucchini bread
Ratatouille (which I have always wanted to try since I saw the movie!!!)
Fruit parfaits

After going over the rules of the kitchen, I was assigned to tomato duty, dicing loads of local homegrown tomatoes.  They were the last of the summer crop.  So ripe, gushy, and red.  Perfect!  On of my girls began snipping fresh basil for the No-Cook Tomato Sauce, while the other one peeled carrots and cucumbers for the salad.  Another family went to work on the zucchini bread.

I forgot my “good” camera (calling it good is being very generous) but I was able to get a few decent photos of our day on my cell phone (also badly in need of an upgrade).

Patiently waiting for the peeler to work on a kiwi for the fruit parfait.

 The little one was super thrilled about the fruit parfaits. (And, perhaps, the fact that she was going to measure out the yogurt all by herself.  Yikes.  Something I would probably never let happen at home.  But probably should.) 

 Assembling the Ratatouille…

 Back to work on the fruit parfaits.

 Success!!!  She really liked everything on the menu.

 She was happy, too, and ate everything!

While the food was cooking and baking, the ladies at the B&B taught the kids how to properly set the table, then talked to them about nutrition, whole grains, etc.  I especially appreciated the fact that everything we made was homegrown and local.  I didn’t really know what to expect from this experience beforehand so this was truly a pleasant surprise.  As a bonus, they sent us home with all the recipes and packaged leftovers.  (Yay!)

At the end of the day, the ladies asked for feedback and I had plenty!  They are looking into doing this kind of thing in the future, but at a small cost to families.  What an incredible way to learn new, wholesome recipes, while spending precious time with family.  I am sooo in on this.

This was by far one of my favorite days ever spent with my girls and they enjoyed every minute.  I still can hardly believe that they ate all of those vegetables in the ratatouille!

I loved the recipe for the No-Cook Tomato Sauce.  This is an amazingly versatile (and quick!) recipe that is most definitely being added into my recipe repertoire.  We used this sauce on the appetizer pizza, tossed with whole-grain pasta, and also tossed with the vegetable salad.  It could also be used as a base for Ratatouille (although we used something different at the B&B) or to make Bruschetta.

6 large fresh tomatoes
2 garlic cloves, chopped
3 T. extra-virgin olive oil
1/3 c. chopped fresh basil
1/4. tsp. kosher salt
Coarsely ground black pepper

1.  Chop tomatoes into a bowl.  Add remaining ingredients.  Toss gently.
2.  Cover and let stand at room temperature for up to 2 hours.  Toss with pasta, use on pizzas or make bruschetta or simply eat.  Could also be used as a base for salad, soup or salsa or as a sauce for baked chicken or Swiss steak.

(Letting the sauce stand allows for the flavors to fully come together.)

Check my Recipes to find these and many other great recipes!

  “For God is sheer beauty,
   all-generous in love,
      loyal always and ever.”

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Who approved this?

“Kid Tested, Mother Approved.”
Or so they say.  I just came home with a full box of Kix cereal.  My kids (and my sweet, adorable husband) begged me.  And now I remember why it has been so long since the last time I made this mistake.  (Fool me once shame on you.  Fool me twice… well I guess we know where the blame lies.)
Exactly which mother approved this???
I’d like her name, number and address, please.  
I don’t care how healthy it is.  Any woman who would condone the likes of a cereal that is shaped like a little ball really should be hauled away to the insane asylum (or maybe she just missed her morning coffee).
Top 3 Reasons:
1.  They are round.  This means they roll.  It doesn’t matter if you are 2, 7, or 32… they will inevitably end up on the floor.  And they will roll to kingdom come.  And I will be finding those dreadful balls for weeks on end.
2.  They are round.  (Redundant, yet highly relevant.)  My broom sends them rolling at warp speed every which way, but the right way.  My vacuum will not suck them up.  They are just big enough that they simply get pushed around the floor.  The hose attachment fares no better, as it clogs every time.  Perhaps this is a fatal flaw by my vacuum manufacturer, but a travesty none-the-less.  
3.  They are round (Oh, did I already mention this?)
Sorry, kids (and Sweetheart).  Oatmeal has been reassigned to the breakfast menu until further notice.
Decaf?  No, it’s dangerous to dilute my caffeine stream. 
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