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Sunday, December 20, 2009

How to Have a More Stressful Holiday Season

Here's what my holidays have been like and here are several things I don't recommend based on personal experience. (Especially doing them all in the span of one month.)
1. Travel (as in 4 hours each way) multiple times for various events with small children in a tiny car.
2. Cram in some big family events like a wedding for a close family member or LDS mission fairwell.
3. Move into a new house on Christmas Eve.
4. Pack and move with less than a week's notice. {But I'm happy that getting a new house is happening much faster than predicted. ;)}
5. Do some major home repairs.
6. Go without ALL major appliances for any amount of time.
7. Have your children get sick a few times, so you stay inside until you get cabin fever.
8. Go without exercise for the entire season (mostly because we don't want to share our germs with the other kids in the daycare.)
9. Throw some crazy family in the mix.
10. Volunteer to deliver a dessert as part of the 12 Days of Christmas for a family on Dec 17th and don't pay attention to the fact that that is the 5th Day of Christmas until the night before, which means that you really need to bake FIVE DESSERTS for them. (And no, a plate with 5 cookies wouldn't cut it for a family that big, or I might have tried to pull it.)
 On the plus side I had all my shopping done really early and went without 90% of my Christmas decorating to make things simpler. Otherwise things really would have been stressful. Even with all this craziness going on, we're doing ok. I have my family and am so grateful for every moment I have with them at this time of year. Sure this month is crazy, but I'm grateful to have a home and a job and generally healthy kids. Just having that is such a great blessing. And I love having the chance to celebrate the birth of our Savior. I didn't put a Christmas tree this year, but that's not what it's about. It's about the birth of Child who was filled with enough love and power to change the world. And that love can bless me even if I don't have a picture perfect Christmas. I hope that you and yours each have a Merry Christmas.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

What to cook for dinner?

The age old question, what should I cook for dinner tonight? So simple, yet can cause so much stress. Especially if you have picky eaters, weird food allergies or are short on time. For the most part I like to cook, it's a service that I like to preform for my family. However, sometimes I get tired of the same ol', same ol'. Here are a few places that I look when I want to try something new. There are a lot of winners and losers here. But there is so much variety. I have adapted my  favorite soup recipes from some that I have found here on this site.
Betty Crocker Good ol' Betty Crocker. I haven't found many recipes from here that I'm in love with. But I like that you can search for a recipe by ingredients and I use that as a starting point to give me other ideas.  Another search able recipe site.
Erin's Food Files  A great cooking blog by a girl from Tennessee. Reading her blog makes me want to cook more.
I Dare You To Eat It I've mentioned this site before. There are some great recipes here for getting your family to eat their whole grains and like them.
Taste and See This is a blog that I stumbled upon a few weeks ago. It's written by a woman who loves to cook for her family. I haven't tried any of her stuff yet, but some of it looks fantastic.

And if these don't inspire you there is always Google.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Helpful Hints for Baking Cookies

This Sunday's paper (Salt Lake Tribune) had a whole section on holiday cookies plus lots of baking and party tips. Am I ever excited to try them! Here's one article that I thought looked helpful.

"Cookies are some of the simplest items to bake. But failing to use the right ingredients or baking techniques can mean the difference between an ordinary cookie and a great one.
Here are some things to ponder:
Butter vs. shortening » The best thing about butter: It adds flavor. It also adds fat, which creates tenderness. But butter can melt quickly and create a flat cookie. Shortening provides significantly less flavor, but has a higher melting point, so cookies come out puffy. Cookies made with butter will maintain their shape simply by chilling the dough before baking.
White vs. brown sugar » White granulated sugar is the most commonly used sweetener because it adds no additional flavors. It makes cookies brown and helps them stay crisp. Brown sugar, which is white sugar mixed with molasses, adds an additional layer of flavor. The acid in the molasses helps eggs to set up and cookies are more likely to hold their shape. Brown sugar also helps keep cookies moist and soft. So don't use brown sugar in crispy cookies.

Unbleached vs. bleached all-purpose flour » Unbleached all-purpose flour has a higher protein content. Protein prevents crumbly cookies and contributes to browning and chewiness. Bleached flours, with their lower protein content, create tender, puffier cookies, but they will be pale.
Creaming » Beating the sugar and butter together until creamy is the first step in making many cookies. But overbeating will add bubbles to the batter. Air bubbles will make the batter spread and will result in flat cookies.
Altitude » Cookies are not affected by altitude as much as cakes, but the batter can spread at certain elevations, creating thin, tough cookies. If this is a problem, raise the oven temperature 15 to 25 degrees. Reducing the baking time also can help. Cooks can add a little bit of flour or reduce the sugar to slow the spread. Another option is to reduce the amount of leavening (baking powder, baking soda or cream of tartar).
Source: The Art & Soul of Baking by Cindy Mushet; and Pie in the Sky: Successful Baking at High Altitude, by Susan Purdy"

Sunday, December 6, 2009

How to Have a More Worshipful Christmas

I came across this great list today and just had to share it. It was found at Enjoy.
  • Replace some holiday decorations in your home with reminders of Christ.
  • Politely decline requests that will take you away from family.
  • Play more Christmas music.
  • Donate gently used items to a thrift store.
  • Go Christmas caroling.
  • Avoid “mad rush” shopping times.
  • Say thank you as often as possible.
  • Schedule a night to help another person or family.
  • Call someone you normally wouldn't to wish him or her a Merry Christmas.

  • Delegate some holiday preparations to children or other family members.
  • Trim the gift list.
  • Simplify a traditional activity.
  • Find quiet time to pray.
  • Write down great memories as they happen.
  • Set and stick to a holiday budget.
  • Forgive a grudge.

My Favorite Christmas Traditions

Here are some of the things I enjoy most about the holiday season, many of which you can do with your children on a low budget.
1. Baking cookies!
2. Decorating. This can get expensive, but it doesn't have to be. Some of my favorite memories as a child were making our own decorations. We made paper snowflakes and festive paper chains that we hung from the ceiling around the borders of the room. And to this day my mom's favorite Christmas tree ornaments are the ceramic mice that we painted when I was three. Decorating the tree and home and creating ornaments can lend itself to dozens of holiday activities.
3. Looking at Christmas lights. It's always fun to see the displays that your neighbors have up.
4. Reading the Christmas Story Found in Luke 2:1-20, also Matthew 1:18-25, Matthew 2:1-14, & Luke 1: 26-35
5. Reading Christmas Books One tradition that I have started with my kids is that every day starting December 1st we read a different Christmas book. I have collected several through the years from after Christmas sales, but the library also has a wide selection to supplement my own.
6. The Twelve Days of Christmas This is a favorite tradition from my husband's family, something that was passed down from his mother's family. Starting December 13th we put our shoes out and every morning "the Christmas elf" puts a tiny gift in our shoes. As a general rule I try to keep the items under a dollar. I find that the earlier I start on this the better, otherwise my kids just end up with a whole bunch of crap from the dollar store. (Don't get me wrong, there are a few good deals to be had at the dollar store, but you know what I mean.) Some shoe gift ideas: candy, coloring books, crayons (bought a few boxes at the back to school sales), lip gloss, small toys, socks, finger puppets, hats and mittens.
7. Visiting Family What would the holidays be without family? Even if they may drive you a little crazy. ;)
8. Serving Others This is the most of fun if it is done in secret. Growing up we were poor, but I didn't realize to what extent until I was older. You don't miss what you don't know. Frankly if my friends now knew they would be shocked and amazed, for that matter my friends from back then would be shocked and amazed. Despite this my mother made it a point each year we would pick someone in need to serve. Often we would find someone in our neighborhood who lived alone and drop gifts on their doorstep for The Twelve Days of Christmas. They were simple things, a 6-pack of ginger-ale, 5 cookies, 4 fresh oranges, etc., but there were times when we learned that it really made a difference to the person that we were serving. And it was such a thrill to try to deliver them without getting caught. There are many other ways to serve other this season and there are many in need. Toys for Tots, Sub for Santa and the Food and Care Coalition are just a few organizations that appreciate donations. Even if you don't have money to give you can still serve. Donate old coats, donate your time. Find someone out there who needs some cheering and share the Christmas spirit with them!
9. Christmas Shopping I love shopping for Christmas. Buying stuff for my kids is always fun. Finding a the perfect gift for a friend or family member fills me with excitement. Finding a good deal is even more thrilling, but that doesn't mean that I'm going to lose any sleep over it and risk being trampled. Not when there's Amazon.
10. Singing Christmas Carols Whether you do this with friends, family, neighbors or by yourself, it really makes the season.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Thai Chicken Spinach Wraps

Several weeks ago I signed up to receive a free cookbook for the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board and totally forgot about it until I got it in the mail a few days ago. I was flipping through it and it looks like it has some great recipes, all involving cheese. I tried this one this evening and it was so great that I had to share. I just checked the website and they are no longer mailing out the little cookbooks, but you can download it for free here. And as always I modify things depending on what I have available, here's tonight's hit.

Thai Chicken Spinach Wraps
1 c drained pineapple tidbits
1/3 c diced red onion
2 T fresh cilantro chopped
1/4 c slivered almonds
1/2 tsp ground ginger
4 deli slices of Havarti, diced
2 c cooked chicken (It recommended rotesserie, but I used leftover grilled because I needed to use it.)
rinsed spinach leaves
4 burrito size tortillas
Thai Lime sauce (see below)

1.Mix first seven ingredients. 2. Warm tortillas in microwave for 15 seconds. 3. Put about 1 1/2 T of sauce on each tortilla. Top with a layer of spinach leaves. Make a row of the chicken mixture down the middle. 3. Roll up wrap and serve with lime sauce for dipping.
Note: The recipe actually called for 4 oz of grated swiss cheese, but I prefer Havarti, so there you go.

Thai Lime Sauce
1/3 c plain yogurt
2 T warmed honey
2 T Miracle Whip
1 T fresh lime juice
1. Mix all ingredients in a small bowl and refrigerate until ready to use.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Chicken Soup

So I'm at home with my sick kids and what makes this even more thrilling is that I have no voice. I feel like I'm screaming to barely be audible. And frankly right now I just want a nap, but I'm waiting for the munchkins to fall asleep. So while I wait I'll blog about what I made for lunch. I found this recipe on the foodnetwork, but I modified it to make it easier and a little healthier. (Does anyone out there actually make their own chicken stock? Who has that kind of time? Does it really make that much of a difference?) I feel like this recipe really hits the spot when you're sick. (And when you and your family are sick, do you really want to spend your whole day in front of the stove? I didn't think so.) The combo of chicken broth, garlic and cilantro does wonders.

Easy Chicken Soup

1 medium onion
3 garlic cloves
2 medium carrots
2 celery ribs
2 T fresh cilantro
2 T olive oil
1/2 tsp dry thyme
2 qts chicken stock/broth
1 1/2 cups cooked chopped chicken
8 oz dry whole wheat noodles

1. Throw first 5 ingredients in food chopper.
2. Sauté in olive oil in a soup pot for about 5 minutes. Add chicken stock. Bring to a boil.
3. Add remaining ingredients and cook until noodles are tender.

Friday, November 20, 2009

10 Tactics for a Cheaper and Saner Thanksgiving

I adapted this list from one I saw posted at The Simple He has some good ideas for simplifying your holiday
"Quite often, I’ll see people spend exorbitant amounts of money on lavish Thanksgiving spreads. While I completely understand the reason for doing this – often, it’s the one time in the year that we can gather around one table with a lot of people we love – there’s still a lot of simple things we can do to reduce the financial outlay and the stress of the meal without reducing the quality of the day in any way (and often improving it). Here are ten ways to do just that.
Cook and slice the turkey on Tuesday. What? No beautiful turkey on the table? Whatever will we do? In truth, though, the turkey on the table during Thanksgiving dinner often results in lots of problems: it keeps someone away from the meal because they’re carving the bird, the bird is often dry because it hasn’t had a lot of time to rest, and the finished bird often arrives later than expected, delaying the whole meal and often reducing the quality of the other food. Solve all of these problems by cooking the bird on Tuesday or Wednesday, slicing it at your own pace, then putting all of the meat on a platter along with all of the juice and a few pats of butter. Cover the serving platter and put it in the fridge, then just turn on the oven (or the electric roaster) on Thanksgiving to thoroughly warm the meat.
Use nature for your decorations. During the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving, there are thousands of colorful leaves all over the place, free for the taking. Be picky – go outside and look for some nice, clean, colorful leaves. All you need is a plain tablecloth and a row of colorful leaves sprinkled down the middle to create a very festive setting.
Get the slow cooker into the act. Many Thanksgiving side dishes can easily be prepared in a slow cooker. Slow cookers consume less energy and quite often can be used in a “fix-it-and-forget-it” mindset. It’s the perfect tool to make cranberry sauce, for example.
Be creative with your Thanksgiving dinner leftovers. By the third day, turkey sandwiches start to get tired. Instead of allowing that to happen, share some of your extra food with people in need (for example, make a couple plates of food for shut-ins you know and deliver the plates) or make something interesting, like kugel or tetrazzini, out of the leftovers.
Round up when you estimate. I’ve been to two different Thanksgiving dinners in the past three years where there was just barely enough food to make ends meet for the number of guests (to put it politely). People showed up bringing unexpected dining companions and estimates for how much each person would eat were strangely low. Don’t fall into that trap. Estimate high, but estimate realistic. After all, you can always eat leftovers, but you can’t undo unhappy guests.
Don’t be afraid of potlucking it. Ask your guests to bring a dish or two with them so that you can focus your time, energy, and money on a few key dishes. Most people are quite willing to help (provided, of course, that they’re not coming from out of town).
Save the bones. Seriously. Put the entire carcass in a large Ziploc bag and save the bones and small pieces of meat for a day or two. Then, take all of the leftover vegetables (potatoes, corn, non-glazed carrots, etc.) and the carcass, stick them all in a crock pot, then add enough water to just cover the bones. Turn it on low overnight (this is perfect to do on Saturday evening after Thanksgiving). Then, in the morning, save the liquid. What will you do with this delicious turkey broth? Freeze it (along with a pound or two of leftover diced turkey meat). Then, in a few weeks, use it as the base for an amazing soup – just add vegetables and/or dumplings to the stock and the turkey (along with perhaps a bit of water to thin it).
Have appetizers. Inexpensive appetizers – like a selection of vegetables – helps people keep the edge off of their appetites and keeps them from over-eating during the main meal. Not only does this make the overall meal more healthy, it often makes it cheaper, since a vegetable tray can be really inexpensive. Much like the turkey, this can also be assembled the day before.
Save your recyclable containers for leftovers. Instead of just tossing large containers of items like margarine or whipped topping, save the containers. Then, on Thanksgiving, fill the containers with leftovers and give them to your guests. There’s no responsibility at all for them to return the container and it gets an extra use out of the items that would normally be tossed. "

Take time to remember what the holiday is all about Make sure you take a few minutes from all the preperation and hostessing to remember why we celebrate this holiday. Don't get too stressed out. This holiday wasn't created to make your life complicated, frantic and expensive, although it can feel that way. Thanksgiving is about being thankful for our blessings, for our families, friends, food to eat and the freedoms that we enjoy. Be thankful for what you have and for this occasion and don't get too anxious if things aren't perfect.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Book Review: I Dare You To Eat It

A few months ago I went to a meeting where Liesa Card talked about using food storage and the methods explained in her new book. She gave one example that really struck me and made me want to learn more. In a book about the accounts of pioneer children, there was one child who thought of the journey as a grand adventure instead of a miserable experience. The difference between this boy and all the other children is that his mother was prepared. Before embarking on her journey she obtained a small portable oven and was able to bake bread throughout the trip. He was able to look at the experience as an adventure because his mother was prepared and he always had food to eat. To help my children have a better outlook on whatever the world throws at us, I need to be prepared. That means that not only do I need to have food set aside, that means I need to know what to with it and it needs to be something that is at least vaguely familiar to my family.
I Dare You To Eat It is more than a cookbook. It's inspiring and encouraging. It makes using your food storage a reality. Here are the top five reasons you should have food storage:
1. It is healthy for you.-Whole grains are power foods
2. It's cheap.- $50 worth of rice can feed an adult for four months.
3. It can make cooking and meal preparation easier.- Trust me I promise that it can
4. Having food storage can get you through an emergency.- Whether it be a personal or natural disaster.
5. Numerous prophets of the Lord have advised us to do so.- Shouldn't this one be reason enough?
As a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, I believe that we have an inspired and living prophet who gives us counsel from our Heavenly Father who loves us. But even if you don't believe that, food storage is a good idea. Having food storage doesn't mean that you're crazy, it means that you're smart. Having a little set aside means that we are better prepared for whatever tomorrow may bring.
This book makes using your food storage a reality. It doesn't have to be weird or scary. Just find recipes (30 is a good number) that your family likes to eat that you can incorporate basic items into. And that doesn't mean that you have to start grinding your own wheat and making your own bread. If cooked right, wheat can taste GREAT. And what's weird about rice, potatoes, beans, pasta and oatmeal? I eat these things anyway.
Here's a summary of the book that the author gives on her website: "I Dare You to Eat It walks readers step-by-step through designing food storage to fit your family’s needs and preferences. In Chapter 1 I discuss the role of provident living in helping us to follow God’s plan and reach out to others. Chapter 2 provides an overview of a practical system for integrating food storage into normal, everyday meals. Chapter 3 explains the simple steps for implementing your own food storage plan, tailored to the way your family eats, followed by more than forty easy food storage recipes in Chapter 4. And Chapter 5 provides further advice, responding to frequently asked questions about storing dried goods and using stored food." There you go.
It's a quick enjoyable read. I even found myself laughing out loud at parts. I recommend it to anyone who is serious or curious about being prepared, eating better or saving money. For more information, check out this link:

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Ginger- Not just for cookie houses and Thai food

Currently there is some nasty horrendous gastro virus epidemic running through my extended family. While my in-laws were visiting us today, they started having symptoms too. I pray and hope that my kids don't come down with it as well. Anyway, it brought to mind a simple recipe that a co-worker once shared with me. It's fabulous for upset tummies and morning sickness too.

Orange-Ginger Smoothie
1 dreamsicle, stick removed
1/4 tsp powdered ginger
2-3 canned peach halves
1 T vanilla yogurt
Blend all ingredients in blender until smooth.

Besides decreasing the motility of the GI tract (it helps with diarrhea and cramping as well as nausea), ginger has many other benefits. It is useful for treating heart disease because it thins blood and lowers cholesterol. (So don't go overboard with it if you are on any kind of blood thinner.) In many countries, it is used as a treatment for the common cold. And the FDA has determined that is safe with no notable side effects.
Research in rats and mice have found that it prevents skin cancer, kills ovarian cancer and helps to treat diabetes, but it will probably be quite awhile before they can determine if it is potent enough to fix those problems in humans.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Motherhood's reach goes beyond home- Words of encouragement

Some days between the incessant messes and tantrums over ridiculous things, it's nice to have a reminder of the importance of why I do the things that I do. I found this article in a recent newspaper.

Drawing from modern and ancient examples of motherhood, John Hilton III, a part-time BYU professor, and his wife, Lani, shared during the Sperry Symposium at BYU Oct. 31 how motherhood reaches far more than in one's own home.

"Countless people today believe that … motherhood is a burden, and there are better areas for women to pursue," Brother Hilton said. "But many mothers in the Old Testament would disagree.

"These women offer several lessons for modern-day matriarchs. In contrast to some current philosophies, the Old Testament teaches the importance of motherhood by establishing the significance of posterity and the influence and blessings that come from raising children. It provides several accounts of sacrifices mothers make and shows how those sacrifices changed history."

The Old Testament also teaches the powerful influence mothers have not only on their children, but also on entire nations and future generations.

The Old Testament references the word "mother," or one of its derivatives, 232 times, which is 50 percent more than all of the other standard works combined, Sister Hilton said. This shows the importance of mothers in the Old Testament.

Whether it was keeping a home in order, caring for children, working in the garden or with their small animals, the workloads of mothers in the Old Testament are the same as mothers in today's society. Although the technical processes may be different, the same duties and responsibilities of mothers who lived anciently still exist today.

"Though we have many conveniences, our lives have become increasingly complicated," Sister Hilton said. "But for modern-day mothers our most important duty is the same that was given to mothers anciently."

Not only was motherhood the most important role of women in the Old Testament, it is also perhaps the deepest desire of women in the Old Testament, Brother Hilton said.

Old Testament matriarchs offer several lessons for modern-day mothers. Beginning with the example of the first mother on earth, Eve, the mother of all living, Brother and Sister Hilton shared how her example of teaching children the gospel not only blessed their posterity, but it also brought great joy to Eve's life.

Although Eve was blessed to be able to physically bear children, she was named the mother of all living before she had children. Motherhood is more than just bearing children — it is teaching the gospel and making all things known to children, said Sister Hilton. Regardless of having mortal children or not, motherhood is at the essence of being a woman.

Other lessons of the divine role of motherhood can be found through looking at other mothers' examples in the Old Testament. Sarah, Rebekah and Rachel are all women who honored God, were true to their covenants and continually strove to be faithful.

"Many people throughout the world today are descendants of Sarah, Rebekah and Rachel, each of whom was deeply committed to motherhood," Brother Hilton said. "The faith of these great matriarchs is evidenced in their desire to honor God, be true to their covenants and raise righteous posterity. Although each struggled to bear children, their consecrated service as mothers truly has blessed thousands of millions."

Other examples of motherhood in the Old Testament include Deborah, Rizpah and Hannah, each of whom were courageous mothers who were able to teach their children in righteousness and, in some instances, save nations.

Regardless of what the world teaches, motherhood is a faith-based work that is crucial to future generations and nations, the Hiltons explained.

"The examples and lessons from the Old Testament of mothers that we have discussed are only a few among many," Brother Hilton said. "Beginning with the mother of all living, mothers have a supremely important role in the Old Testament and this role continues to the present day."

"Although it may not be popular today for women to choose to be mothers," Sister Hilton said, "Old Testament matriarchs reach out across the centuries to affirm the value of motherhood. Their sacrifices alter the course of human history as we read of mothers in the Old Testament and throughout the scriptures. We should contemplate the sacrifices they made. Their lives testify to us of the importance of posterity and the vital role mothers play in shaping the future of the world."

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Southwest Cheese Soup

Here's a recipe that I recently found that is fast, easy, uses ingredients I have on hand, and the best part is my family loved it. (I love soup, and it's just something my husband usually tolerates, but he really enjoyed this one.) It was perfect when I needed to make something warm and fast, after spending the late afternoon at the park with my family. The original recipe called for 16 oz of Velveeta. I am not a big Velveeta fan, it has a distinct processed cheese after-taste. However I read several reviews where they tried to use real cheese in this soup, and it just didn't work. They could never make it smooth and it was just a clumpy mess. Here's what I did below and turned out perfect.

Southwest Cheese Soup
1 14.5 oz can of diced tomatoes with green chiles, undrained
1 15 oz can of black beans, drained
1 15 oz can of corn, drained
1 c skim milk
8 oz of Velveeta, cut into cubes
1 c grated cheese (I used a pizza blend, but I think pepper jack would also be good.)

Mix all ingredients and stir over medium heat until cheese is thoroughly melted and mixture is smooth. (About ten minutes) Serve with crushed tortilla chips.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Book Review: Deceptively Delicious

My husband is allergic to almost all raw vegetables and many cooked veggies too. My kids just generally won't eat them. This makes getting my family to eat well-balanced meals a challenge, too say the least. I thought Deceptively Delicious by Jessica Seinfield, might be able to give me some pointers on getting my family to eat better, and it does. She has lots of great ideas. I haven't tried all of her recipes, but there are some good ones, as well as different tips on getting your family to eat better.
The recipe that I go back to the most is Macaroni and Cheese (with Cauliflower). My spin on it is below. The cauliflower isn't totally hidden, but I like the taste and my kids don't mind either. We have a winner! She suggests using pureed butternut squash as an alternative to cauliflower, but I don't know if I could pull that off. As it stands, this recipe is lowfat (as compared to regular mac & cheese), high in fiber, calcium and vitamin C and folic acid. It's pretty quick and easy to make (if you have the puree ready) and reheats well. I've made this for my brothers-in-law (who are very anti-vegetables and pretty picky eaters) and they eat it without complaint.

Macaroni and Cheese (with Cauliflower)
1 1/2 c macaroni
Nonstick cooking spray
1 T olive oil
2 T flour
3/4 c skim milk
3/4 c cauliflower puree (see below)
1 c shredded reduced fat Cheddar cheese
3/4 shredded reduced fat Mozarella cheese
4 oz Neufchatel
1/2 t salt
1/2 t pepper
1/2 t Tabasco sauce

1. Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain.
2. While cooking pasta coat medium sized saucepan with cooking spray and heat on medium. Add oil, then flour and cook stirring constantly until mixture is a thick paste, but not browned.
3. Add milk and Neufchatel. Mix until smooth. Add remaining sauce ingredients and mix until melted and smooth. Add pasta.

Cauliflower Puree
This takes a little bit of time beforehand, but I think it is well worth it.
Cut out core of one head of cauliflower and discard. Cut head into quarters. Steam for 8-10 minutes. Blend one quarter at a time with a few tablespoons of water until you have a smooth texture. Freeze in small tupperware containers until ready to use.

Other favorite recipes from this book include: french toast, carrot cake muffins and burgers 1.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

10 Things That Make My Life Easier

1. Online Bill Pay-No postage required, no late fees and no stress. If you don't do it, you should.
2. My Shoe Rack- Granted, my almost two-year-old son feels like his purpose in life is to dump the shoes off the shoe rack and I have to put them back on several times each day, it still saves me time. By not wearing shoes in the house, the floor stays cleaner and I generally don't have to search for shoes. They're either right there by the door, or in a pile in front of it. :S (Someday he'll outgrow this, right?)
3. My double sit and stand stroller (as shown to the right)- I got it from Target for $100 shipped, it was totally worth every penny.
4. My washer and dryer- This is one that we may take for granted. The other day I was thinking about my great grandmother. She had thirteen children and an alcoholic husband during the Great Depression. My grandfather, being the oldest, dropped out of school in the fifth grade to help support his family. He eventually lied about his age to get into the navy and always sent money home. One year for Mother's Day he sent her a new washing machine. When she saw it she cried. No wonder, I think I would cry if I had to do laundry for fifteen people by hand, day in and day out. Instead one or twice a week I throw it in with detergent, press a button and have time to play with my kids. I am so grateful to have them. (The washer and dryer I meant, but I certainly am grateful for my kids too.)
5. The Sunday Paper- I love it so much I get two. It's coupon bliss, and the money I save more than covers the cost of the paper. (And I do enjoy reading it when I have the time.)
6. Shopping could hardly be easier. I love their gift organizer. I can link to things that people have on their wish lists or I can add things that I find for people and it saves it for me when I have gift-giving occasion for that person. And if I don't have any ideas for a person they usually can make some pretty descent suggestions. Plus their prices are generally cheaper than other places. (Although I usually price check at B&N for books) And most of their items qualify for free shipping when you spend $25 or more. Christmas shopping, check.
7. The Crock pot-There is so much that can be done with it. So many hours that I'm not standing over the stove and it's pretty energy efficient too. I use it at least once a week.
8. Silicone bake ware- I was kind of hesitant about these when they first came out, I mean can they really be that good? The answer is, yes they are. I got a set of three red pans at Bed, Bath and Beyond for $4 last fall, and I use them all the time. (They're not normally that cheap, I just got an awesome deal because one of the pans has a small crack on one of the edges. It works fine.) So easy to clean and spraying with Pam is totally optional. (Although I still recommend it for particularly moist muffins.)
9. Google- Is there anything it can't do? I mean, really. It can even do your kid's math homework, or calculate/define anything you type into that magic white box. Try it out.
10. My husband- A good husband is hard to find, and I'm so grateful for mine! I love you sweetheart!

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Best Sugar Cookies Ever

Fall is in the air and I feel like cooking. Here's an awesome recipe that I got from my best friend. Honestly, best sugar cookies ever. Soft and chewy, like the pink cookies from the store/vending machine, but without the thick layer of pink frosting, and they taste even better.

  • 2/3 cup shortening
  • 2/3 cup butter
  • 1 1/2 cups white sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar for decoration (or 1/4 cup sprinkles)

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).
  2. In a medium bowl, cream together the butter, shortening and sugar. Stir in the eggs and vanilla. Combine the flour, baking powder and salt, stir into the creamed mixture until dough comes together. Roll dough into walnut sized balls (or bigger if that's what you're going for) and roll the balls in sugar/sprinkles. Place them on an unprepared cookie sheet about 2 inches apart.
  3. Bake cookies 10 to 12 minutes in the preheated oven, until bottom is light brown. Remove from baking sheets to cool on wire racks.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Apricot Salsa Grilled Chicken Salad

Sometimes you just have to make something for dinner that isn't mac and cheese, chicken nuggets or ramen, for your own sanity. It may mean that your children may not partake, fine. They can have cold cereal for dinner. I got this recipe from a health newsletter at work awhile ago. I highly recommend it. It tastes great, fairly easy to make and it's really good for you too. High in vitamins, fiber and lean protein. And no, my children would not even think about trying it. Maybe someday. At least my husband and I enjoyed it.

Apricot Salsa Grilled Chicken Salad

Salsa ingredients
1/3 c orange juice
1/4 c dried apricots
2 T apricot preserves
1 t olive oil
1/3 c chopped red pepper
1 T chopped fresh cilantro
1 medium green onion, sliced
1/2 tsp grated orange peel (or substitute more orange juice)

Salad ingredients
2 boneless skinless chicken breasts (abt 5 oz each)
1/4 t garlic salt (I subsituted lime pepper)
3 cups of mixed salad greens

Set aside 1 T orange juice. In 1 qt saucepan, heat apricots and remaining oj to boiling. Reduce heat; simmer uncovered for 3-5 minutes or until most of oj is absorbed. Cool 15 minutes. Meanwhile mix 1 T orange juice, preserves and oil and start grilling chicken. Add apricot mixture and remaining salsa ingredients.
Sprinkle chicken with garlic salt and grill. Cook for 15-20 minutes or until chicken juice is clear when thickest part is cut. Cut into half inch slices. Divide greens between 2 plates. Top with chicken strips and salsa.

Monday, September 28, 2009

What to do when your kids are sick

First of all any advice that I dispense here does not replace seeing a medical doctor. (And whenever taking over the counter medication, use as directed.) There are times when you just need to suck it up and admit that this is beyond your scope and go to see a doctor at a clinic or hospital. Having said that, as a pediatric nurse there have been countless times that I have seen kids come into the hospital that would have been ok staying at home. They say better safe than sorry, however in this case, safe can make you sorry when you see that medical bill.

When your child is throwing up...
  • Pepto-Bismal can do wonders. Give it a try, it won't hurt anything.
  • It is important to keep them hydrated. However, if you give them too much to drink at once, that can cause them to throw up, which will make them even more dehydrated. Start with an ounce, if half an hour later s/he has kept it down, give another. Do this for a couple hours before increasing the amount.
  • Don't give them anything too acidic (like orange juice) to drink and whatever you do, don't give them milk. Try pedialyte or half strength apple juice.
  • If they can't keep anything down when trying an ounce at a time, and it has been 12 hours since they have been able to eat/drink anything, call your doctor. S/he may give you further advice, or let you know it is time to come in an see him.
When your child has diarrhea...
  • Again try the Pepto-Bismal.
  • Keep them hydrated, but this time you don't have to be quite as stringent as above, unless they have both symptoms.
  • Give them yogurt. It has bacteria in it that can help replace the normal flora that they are losing with the diarrhea.
  • If they are crying, but have no tears, they are too dehydrated. Call your doctor.

When your child is running a fever...
  • If they are over a year old, try children's Motrin (Ibuprofen) & Tylenol (Acetaminophen). They do wonders for bringing down a fever, especially when you alternate them.
  • If they are under a year, just give Tylenol.
  • Make sure that they are getting enough to drink.
  • Check the environment. Where's the thermostat? How many layers are they wearing?
  • If their fever is still 100.4 F or higher, call your doctor.
What is most important is to listen to your kids and look at the overall picture. Are they behaving different than what is normal for them? Are they complaining of pain in an odd place? If things aren't right, don't ignore them. Watch them and if they don't get any better, take them to see a doctor.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Websites for saving money
This website is most helpful for shopping online. Setting up an account is free and after you do that they take a percentage of the money that you spend at pre contracted websites and put it into a savings account for your kids' college fund. They also provide many coupon codes that are exclusive to Upromise members. The amount you get back varies with the retailer, but there is a huge variety and although the amounts I get back are usually small, it's money that I would have spent anyway and it adds up. Although the most common benefits are from online shopping, there are also other perks. (I.e. I entered in my phone # after setting up a new account with Qwest and got a kick back from them. I used a real estate agent that they referred to sell my home and got $400 of my closing costs back. I've also got a few random pennies back here and there from registering my Alberton's card.)
Tons of coupon codes. I most often come here when looking for free shipping.

Sites for printing coupons:

This one posts lots of freebies, samples and sales.
I don't agree with everything this guy has to say, but he has some good ideas.
This one gives lists of prices at grocery stores and rates how good a deal it is. They also give instructions on where to get coupons for said items. They're really big on making the most of your newspaper coupons. They watch grocery stores in places other than Utah, (I think that they watch every state.) that's just where they're based and they tend to know the ins and outs of Utah grocery stores best.

There are many others and the blogs can direct you to some of them. These are just some that I have found that work.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Alice- a way to save time and money

Today I just discovered something wonderful...Alice. (Like the maid from The Brady Bunch) It's a grocery website, and unlike some other sites there is no fee to join and shipping is always free. That's right, free, with no minimum dollar amount to get that free shipping. It's a great place to get non-perishable items and they add coupons to those items automatically. So you get great deals without the hassle of clipping coupons. Then Alice will email you a reminder (based on the numbers in your household) when you might be running low on particular items from your account. No more 'Oh shoot, I only have half a roll of the toilet paper in the house, and I need to run to the store right now to restock and I have to put clean clothes on the kids and find a lost shoe and deal with tantrums because the kids haven't napped today' because Alice will have reminded you in time for a new package to be shipped to your house this morning.
Another great thing is you don't have to buy in bulk in order to get these great deals. The site also offers the quality products that we're used to shopping for. And it makes shopping easy. You can search by room, product, brand, coupon, new products or the best deals.
This morning I ordered a large package of Huggies baby wipes (that was cheaper than my local Walmart), deodorant (2 Speed Sticks @ 58 cents each), paper towels (Bounty@ 59 cents), Charmin toilet paper (12 rolls), Reynold's recycled aluminum foil, and Crest Children's toothpaste. A pretty basic list, which came to $20.26 with tax. And I love, love, love that it is being shipped to my door, for free. Oh Alice, where have you been all my life?
The drawbacks of this service:
1. You must purchase at least 6 items (but really, when was the last time you went to the store and got less than 6 items?)
2. If you really do need the product right now, you're out of luck, standard UPS shipping rates apply.
3. I've found that it's not generally a good place to purchase pantry items. At least where I live I find that I can get cereal for half of the cost, or less.
Having said that, I still highly endorse it. Check it out at the link below

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Chile Relleno

This dish is so delicious and not as difficult as I expected. I had a friend recently ask me how to make it so here you go. I've tried a few different recipes and it gets easier with practice. The first time I tried it was kind of a flop, but don't give up. It's totally worth taking another stab at it. After my less than masterful first try I also found it helpful to watch someone else do it.

This was the one that I used last night and I chose it because I wasn't in the mood to fry anything. And it was quicker than that guy's.

Baked Chile Relleno

6 large green chiles
1/2 pound cheese, grated or cut into strips
2 eggs, separated
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon salt

Peel chiles;(That's all the recipe says, but what that really means is the process of broiling, blistering and peeling them. Kind of a hassel, but if you don't do it right, they're just not as good) Remove seeds through a small opening in the side. Fill chiles with cheese. Fasten with a wooden pick, handling carefully.

Beat egg whites until stiff; beat yolks until thick.

Sift together dry ingredients; add to yolks, blending well. Fold in beaten egg whites. Dip chiles into batter; place in greased casserole dish. Bake at 325 degrees F until batter is cooked and lightly browned on top. (About 25 min)


Here's another recipe from It's similar to the one that I used the first time. It says that it takes 15-20 minutes. That is a big fat lie. But it gives some good tips.

Chile Relleno
You can omit the flour for a low-carb version.
Difficulty: Average
Time Required: 15 to 20 minutes

Here's How:

  1. Roast the chiles*
    Roast and peel each chile and let them cool. *If fresh chiles are unavailable, use canned whole green chiles.
  2. Remove the seeds
    Insert a sharp knife into the top of the chile, just under the stem and slice downward about half way down the chile. Using a spoon or a knife, scrape the seeds and the white membrane out, without tearing the chiles flesh.
  3. Stuff the chiles
    Place a slice of cheese into the chile, but don't force it. If the cheese is too large, trim it down until it fits inside. Make sure the open edges of the chile still come together.

  4. Prepare the chiles
    This step is optional Place half of the flour on the bottom of a plate. Place the chiles on the flour and sprinkle the rest of the flour on top. Use your finger to make sure the entire chile is coated. Dust off remaining flour and set chiles aside. If you rinsed your chiles in water, this step is important for the batter to stick.
  5. Prepare batter
    For a simple batter, whip 3-6 egg whites until stiff. Slowly fold in yolks and a pinch of salt. Or use your favorite batter recipe.
  6. Cook chiles
    One at a time, dip the stuffed chiles into the batter and then into the hot oil. Cook until batter is a crisp golden brown.
  7. Drain excess oil
    Remove chiles from the oil and drain on paper towels.


  1. Use cold eggs for the batter.
  2. Test the oil with a drop of batter before putting a whole chile in. If the drop of batter sizzles and floats to the top, it's the right temp. If it sinks, the oil is not hot enough.
  3. The flour should be a very light coat. It helps the batter stick to the chile.
  4. Monterey Jack and Queso Blanco work well for Chile Rellenos

What You Need:

  • 6-12 large, roasted and peeled chiles (Anaheim, or Poblano work well)
  • 3-6 large eggs (approx. 1 egg for 2 chiles)
  • 1/4 cup flour (optional)
  • Brick of cheese cut into 1/4 inch thick rectangles as long as the chile
  • Deep fryer or a large pan with 2 inches of oil
  • Pinch of salt
  • Paper towels for draining

Sunday, August 30, 2009

When Going to Disney World

This is part of what inspired me to start this blog. I was talking to a friend who is leaving for Disney World this week and I had to share with her the useful info from our recent trip this summer. She was really appreciative and I thought, perhaps other people might find this useful. So here you go.

First off it's helpful to know what is at Disney World. There are four theme parks, (Animal Kingdom, Magic Kingdom, Hollywood Studios and Epcot) and two water parks (Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach), plus shopping and dining at Downtown Disney. Whether you want park hopper passes depends on how much time you are spending there and what is appealing to you and your family. For example for us going to the water parks wasn't worth the extra costs because we had been before and discovered that they are extremely similar to the ones that were near our house which we could go to any time. However, my in-laws have friends from England that went and for them the water parks were very appealing because they don't have anything like that where they are from. So do a little research before you go so your time there isn't wasted in deciding.

Also remember that if you are hopping from park to park, it's not like at Disneyland where they're right next to each other, you have a bus system to navigate also. Bus rides are generally about thirty minutes between parks.

If you plan on going to Animal Kingdom, go there as early as possible. (If your hotel offers an early bird pass to one park take this one if you can.) As soon as you get there get in line for the safari ride. They really have an amazing variety of animals, but if you wait too late in the day they're all hiding in the shade. This is especially true in the prime summer vacation months.
For some reason that I can not fathom, there isn't a lot of child friendly food available. Where are the kids meals?!?! Magic Kingdom had little hamburgers at one place, but that was it, and if you have picky kids like I do, that's not going to fly. My solution was to pack a couple Lunchables each day and have lunch by eleven, before the cheese gets too warm. I also packed granola bars, fruit snacks, crackers and dried fruit to snack on throughout the day. Also pack water bottles for everyone. Florida water tends to not have the greatest flavor, (some of the truly picky call it poison.) and goodness it gets hot there. The sodas that you get with your meals probably won't be enough.

Renting strollers there is expensive (if I recall it was $30 per day for a double) and if you are going to be there for a week, it is totally worth it to bring your own. (I bought my double stroller at for $110. It was definitely a good investment.) If you have your kids ride in it up to the gate you won't be charged extra to check it. They'll just tag it and stow it as you board, free of charge. :)

Have fun!

Secrets of Mom: Tricks to Save Your Sanity

I think that I am starting this blog for myself more than anyone else, but if someone is able to make their lives slightly less crazy from the information, all the better. I find myself reading books and magazines on parenting, cooking and housekeeping and discovering lots of great tips and tricks. The problem is I usually don't remember where I read what, and even if I think I remember where I read it, that doesn't mean that I can find it when I need it. So once I've found something, tested it and found it to be worth remembering, I'll put it here, and hopefully it will help myself and other moms like me reach a greater level of supermommy awesomeness.