Monday, August 31, 2009

Monday Menu ~ Baked Spaghetti

**I forgot to add this...but I'm creeping closer to posting the next big give-away! Stay tuned!

This recipe is adapted from the lovely Paula Deen's magazine. I've tried several baked spaghetti variations over the years, and this is definitely THE one I will be using from here on out. Very flavorful, big hit with the whole family, and makes great left-overs. Perfect dinner for heading into fall...a good one for baking it and keeping it warm for people trickling at different times for dinner. So here you go:

Baked Spaghetti

1 1/2 pounds ground beef

1 green bell pepper, diced

1 sweet onion, diced

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 (28 oz.) can crushed tomatoes

1 (15 oz.) can diced tomatoes

1 (15 oz.) can tomato sauce

1/2 cup water

1 1/2 tsp. Italian season

1 1/2 tsp. seasoned salt

1/4 tsp. garlic powder

1/4 tsp. pepper

1 1/2 tsp. sugar

2 bay leaves

8 oz. angel hair pasta

8 oz. shredded cheddar cheese

8 oz. shredded mozzarella cheese

In a large saucepan, cook ground beef, pepper, onion, and minced garlic over medium heat, stirring until beef is browned and crumbly and vegetables are tender; drain well.

In a large dutch oven, combine meat mixture, crushed tomatoes, diced tomatoes, tomato sauce, water, Italian seasoning, seasoned salt, sugar, garlic powder, pepper, and bay leaves. Bring mixture to a boil, stirring occasionally. Reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and discard bay leaves.

Cook pasta according to package; drain well.

Preheat oven to 350. Spray a 9x13 baking dish with nonstick spray.

Spoon 1/3 of sauce mixture into the bottom of baking dish. Top with 1/2 the pasta, then 1/3 of cheese. Repeat layers, ending with sauce and reserving the remaining 1/3 cheese. Bake uncovered for 45 minutes. Top with remaining cheese and bake an additional 10-15 minutes or until cheese is melted and a little browned. Remove from oven and let rest for 10 minutes before cutting into squares to serve.


Friday, August 28, 2009

Friday Flashback ~ Bubbles for Brenna

Here we go, back to June 1998. Alex was 3, and Brenna was 6 months. Before there were 3, there were these 2 sweet siblings. We did not know if Brenna was a girl or boy until she was born, but Alex was convinced she was a girl the entire time I was pregnant. He would touch my belly and say, "That's baby Brenna!". He loved her before she was born, and was a protective and loving big brother from the 1st day. It was simply instinctual for him to protect her...

So, Alex, the rest of this post is for you. There are some good messages in these pictures. We've talked a lot about the fact that you have just 4 years left sharing a home with your sisters. It's gonna fly by, and these next 4 years are going to be what leaves the biggest imprint on your sisters.

You always have entertained her. I love how you took time out of being a boy, still in your helmet, to have a little fun with Brenna. She's always eager to capture whatever you send her way.

She's watching you, Alex. Her eyes are locked on you.

And then, all sweaty-headed, you eagerly asked if you could feed her when she was hungry. So when she's hungry now for your time, your advice, your words, your affirmation, what are you going to feed her? She's drinking it all in. Make sure it's good stuff.

You have a knack for giving sweet gifts. Keep giving her flowers...

And keep your words kind and sweet. What are you writing on her heart? She's listening.

Don't take this time for granted, Alex. Again, this time will go so fast. So think about the bubbles for Brenna. She's watching, she's drinking it in, she's taking your gifts, and she's listening. Finish strong and love her well...

I love you,


Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Animal Rescue

Just a few minutes before we had to bolt out the door this evening, Beth came rushing into the house to announce that Edgar had caught a hummingbird, and they chased Edgar away "just in time" as it was still alive. Just what I love to hear as I'm trying to throw together dinner in time to leave. Why do these things always happen during that time? And when Brad, who is so much better suited to deal with these things, is not home? So I did what any caring parent would do: I grabbed my camera and followed her out to the scene of the attack. Edgar was quite irritated to have his catch taken away, and he hovered close by hoping to get back at it. The girls used an old dustpan to scoop the bird up out of harm's way, then started plucking off fuchsia flowers to let the bird have something to eat. And, surprisingly, that bird slurped away! I could tell it was barely alive, but the girls were convinced it was just stunned, and with a little more nectar would be back to the world of flying. With just minutes available in our crazy evening, they threw together a little home for the bird in their butterfly habitat. Beth, who wants to be a vet, and Brenna, who wants to be a nurse, were in all their glory applying their combined knowledge to save this bird.

We then left for cheer practice, and as soon as the van pulled into the garage they ran out back to check on their patient. Sadly, the bird had succumbed to its injuries. Beth said, "Oh, the poor bird died of hunger! I can tell because it died with its tongue hanging out!!"

By this time, the parent with the sensitivity to not first grab the camera was home and conducted the burial. I'm so thankful that I didn't have to do that part. I'm much better at the picture taking part. We are a great team.

Edgar trying to get back at it.

Assessing the situation.

Applying oxygen...I mean nectar.

Well, you can't save them all. Better luck next time...

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Triple Chocolate Cheers!

Our alarm went off at 4:30 this morning. Not many things are worth getting up at that time, but this was so worth it. Brad began doing a lot more open water swimming this spring, and today he had a very special swim. The Park To Park Swim across Lake Washington, benefitting Children's Hospital. He went 1.5 miles in 36:13 ~ a great time. But more importantly, a very emotional swim. Lots of thoughts to keep his mind busy with every stroke. Thoughts of Beth, of course. Thoughts of admiration for Children's. Thoughts of the miracle we were blessed to witness while there. All thoughts that overwhelm with thankfulness and awe. There's something very special about accomplishing a swim like that, and once again finding a way to not let the water win. Life wins. All because we have a God who chose to answer yes to our desperate cries. It's such a joy to celebrate that, and this was a fun way to do it!

He started in heat 3, and passed most of the heat 2 people and some in heat 1, finishing in the top 25 out of about 250. I knew what color cap his heat was wearing, and I knew he wasn't wearing his wet suit. So I was watching like a hawk for a pink cap with bare shoulders. I was so proud that I picked him out of that crowd! I completely recognized his stroke, and thankfully took pictures of the right person!

Here he is coming in with the crowd.

Pulling away a bit...

Looking up to see if he's headed straight...


Proof of his time.

I'm so proud of him!

Here's some random fun ~ this is John Curley, he hosts a local show and was there as a participant and pep-talk guy before the swim.

The girls did not come with us because of the early hour and a prior social engagement, but Alex came to root for his dad, and we had a few hours before we had to be back in town. So we went out for breakfast and drove around Seattle. Brad loves to drive around aimlessly, I tend to just want to get somewhere and not be lost. Here's an interesting discovery: Alex said he likes riding around in the backseat when we are just driving around. He said, "It's fun to just drive and listen to you two argue and stuff when you don't know where you are going." Well, I'm so glad we can be so entertaining!

And just look where the car ended up!! My favorite cupcake store, as previously and lovingly described here.

And don't worry...Brad is is very use to the nut he is married to. He doesn't give it a second thought anymore.

Alex had a S'More cupcake. Graham cracker crust, chocolate cupcake, graham cracker top, and then "frosted" with a toasted marshmallow. Thatta boy, Alex. Get in there.

And us? The Triple Chocolate, of course. Hello, my love.

Cheers to us, for a weekend of breaking personal records. But a triple chocolate cheers to Brad for doing his first 5K and a big swim that was more than just a swim. I love you, Brad!!

And what is the big man doing now? As I've typed this, he succumbed to the exhaustion, and this is where he sweet: (I wish I could attach a sound byte to this so you could hear the rumbling snores coming from him!) I think I'll go join him...

Saturday, August 22, 2009

I Did It Again! And So Did She! And He!

This morning was the big Run Like A Dog 5K! Brenna has been preparing for this for only 3 weeks, after watching my last 5K and deciding she'd like to try it. She did so great! Brad ran it also, and they both finished it in 26:35! I'm so proud of them, and they had such a great time. Me? I was very irritated with myself for signing up to do this again, and the starter caught me off guard with his "go", so I didn't get my ipod on and couldn't get it while I ran, and I was annoyed by all the dogs (although it was a fundraiser for the animal shelter...), but I loved running in the rain - SO much better that running in the 90's! And I took another minute off my time, which shocked me because it felt like I was running it much slower than last time, finishing in 26:02. In my entry about the last 5K, I wrote about the gal in the little-bitty running outfit? She was there again. I've since learned her name is Claudia. She wore the exact same little-bitty outfit today, and went even faster, finishing in 16:22! Incredible. I was going to have my picture taken with her just for kicks, but chickened out. Next time we are in the same 5K, I'm going to do that. Here's the proof in pictures:

Before the race, waiting with the dogs.

Here I am approaching the finish line. Could there be a more unflattering picture? Probably.

Brad & Brenna. Always a smile, those two.

After the race...I'm the only one who looks progressively worse!!

Brad has the race bug now and wants to do more of this. So we'll be doing this together again, and I'm sure Brenna has a lot more in her future, too! Who knows? Maybe one of these days it will be all 5 of us out there!

Tomorrow morning is a very special athletic event for Brad. To be continued...

Friday, August 21, 2009

Friday Flashback ~ Beach Bums

Here we go back to the summer of 2003. Just a fun day at the beach producing some wet & sandy kids. I think there has only been one year since Alex was a year old that we have not spent some time at the beach. And every year we get the kids' picture in the sand with their name. Fun way to see them grow, and this was the first year Brenna wrote her own name in the sand. And you can almost read it!
Beth, 2 1/2. Love how the suit can't contain that belly!
Brenna, 5 1/2. She was very proud to have written her own name!

Alex, 8, was kind enough to pause his construction project long enough to pose for a picture...

...and then right back at it!

For a kid that loves to get dirty...this was her paradise. And, oh, how the sand rolled out of her!

Sweet picture of daddy and his little girls.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Anticipation of school...

How am I feeling about another school year approaching?? Well, this picture pretty much sums up my emotions on the first day of school every year. This was 3 years ago (where IS the time going??) on Beth's first day of kindergarten. Notice how Beth is happily engaged in being there, while mommy clings to her from behind. (Can you say "therapy"??) In my defense, this was 2 months after her I was a bit clingy.

Alex's first day of kindergarten? I was 7 months pregnant, standing outside the classroom crying. Not silently standing there with a tear rolling down my cheek and a proud little grin on my face. No. My face covered in my hands, my shoulders shaking, and those gasping inhales that toddlers do after a big meltdown. I think sobbing is a better description. I blamed it on pregnancy hormones. I waddled my pregnant belly over to my doctor's office and then explained why my blood pressure was up. The 2nd day of school?? So many moms came up to me and told me it had reassured them that I was crying. They said, "I thought of you when I sat in my car and cried, and I knew I wasn't the only one." I scolded them and told them next time to cry with me, so I wouldn't think I was the only one.

Brenna's first day of kindergarten?? Yep, I cried. But I kept it together there, because my sweet little girl was so nervous. Mommy breaking into sobs would have surely sent her running. But I did have someone to cry with that year...Beth cried and cried when we left her sister there. She was NOT happy to see this fun-filled kindergarten room full of kids and then go home with just...mommy.

So by the time that picture of Beth was taken, she'd been through all this before. She'd come with me to volunteer at that school for 5 years. She'd literally been waiting "her whole life" to have it be her turn. Brad, in all his wisdom, took that morning off and we went out to coffee and just hung out together. He had been through this twice before and he was prepared. Sort of.

This year? My first baby is going into high school, my second baby is going into middle school, and my baby baby is going to be a big 3rd grade girl! I can't believe how fast the years are going, but I'm so glad I get to be on this ride with them.

So, here's to fully enjoying these last couple weeks of summer before a new kind of crazy begins!

Monday, August 17, 2009

Monday Menu ~ Stuffed Burgers & Peach Pie

I've been a bit on the "too busy" side lately. Busyness drives me nuts. And sometimes "too busy" is more of an attitude and habit than a reality. Some unfortunate times it is a reality. It's been a bit of both for me lately, and I'm screeching it to a halt as much as I can. The rest I'll just deal with. One of my symptoms of "too busy" is becoming indecisive. I think it's my brain trying to force itself to go into a pause mode. I also get very random, which is why I've just rambled an entire paragraph without even addressing a recipe. But it does relate, I promise. How? I couldn't decide which recipe to post today, and since I've been a general slacker at this over the summer, I decided to just do two! I have no picture of the burgers, because that's tomorrow night's dinner. And I really dislike a recipe without a the peach pie picture will have to do. It's round, like the burger. So put on your imagination and create a great mental picture of this super yummy burger!

Feta Sun-Dried Tomato Stuffed Burgers
(this is adapted from a Food Network burger cook off a couple years ago)

3/4 cup mayonnaise
8-10 basil leaves, chopped
6 oz. feta cheese, crumbled
1/2 cup drained & chopped sun-dried tomatoes (oil packed)
2 pounds ground sirloin
2 medium eggs, slightly beaten
1 TBSP Tabasco pepper sauce
2 TBSP dried Italian seasoning (crushed)
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup Italian bread crumbs
1/2cup freshly grated Parmesan
12 sandwich-sized focaccia bread squares, about 1/2-inch thick, or 6 ciabatta rolls
romaine lettuce
red onion

In a small bowl, mix together mayo and basil. Set aside. In another small bowl, combine the feta and tomatoes. Divide mixture into 6 equal portions, forming balls. In a large bowl, combine ground sirloin with eggs, Tabasco, Italian seasoning, salt, pepper, garlic, bread crumbs, and Parmesan. With hands or a large spoon, gently combine all ingredients; do not over mix. Form mixture into 12 patties. On 6 of the patties, place a feta/tomato ball, pressing down lightly. Place remaining patties on top, press and seal edges to totally enclose filling, forming 6 total patties.

Brush a preheated grill rack with vegetable oil. Place patties on grill and cook over medium-hot heat for 4 minutes. Flip and cook for another 4 minutes, or until cooked through.

During last few minutes of grilling, place focaccia or sliced ciabatta rolls onto the grill to lightly toast.

Spread basil mayo over rolls, top with burgers, romaine lettuce and red onion rings and roll top. Yum, yum. Can't wait for dinner tomorrow...

Streusel-Topped Peach Pie

1 egg white
1 unbaked pie shell (9-inches)
3/4 cup flour
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 cup chilled butter, cut into small pieces
6 cups sliced, peeled fresh peaches

Beat egg white until foamy; brush over the bottom and sides of the pastry. In a small bowl, combine the flour and sugars; cut in butter until mixture looks like fine bread crumbs. Sprinkle 2/3 of the mixture over the bottom of the crust; top with peaches. Sprinkle the remaining crumb mixture over the top. Bake at 375 for 40-45 minutes, or until filling is bubbly and the peaches are tender. This is really good with vanilla ice cream. It's especially good after the kids have gone to bed and you don't have to share any...Enjoy!

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Oh, Happy Day...

After spending the majority of my day washing cars with Beth's cheer squad...on a chilly day...I am now happily wrapped in my fuzzy blanket with a warm cup of coffee...and this is my view:

My big kitty asleep across my legs, and the Seahawks on tv! Oh, happy day!

Monday, August 10, 2009

Monday Menu ~ Potato Pouches

You are in for a big treat if you make these cute potato pouches! They are fun to make, and so yummy. A bit like an unlayered au gratin potato. Terrible picture...I took this in a rush so I could dive into it. But if I could attach a sound byte instead of a picture, you'd totally get the idea. Lots of "mmm", "wow"...from everyone in the family! And this would be a fun one for the kids to make in a little assembly line...

Potato Pouches

Medium-ish baking potatoes (1 for each person)
Diced sweet onion (about 3 TBSP-ish per potato)
salt, pepper, and garlic powder
Heavy cream (about 1-2 TBSP per potato)
Butter (about 1 TBSP per potato. be generous. it melts in and you'll never know it's there!)
Grated cheese (I used Colby-Jack; about 1/4 cup-ish per potato)
Foil sheets (about 10X10 each)

Cut potatoes in to nice-sized chunks, about what you would do for potato salad, and put one potato per foil sheet. Top with onion. Sprinkle with salt, pepper and garlic powder. Put a splash of cream on the top, then drop the butter on. Sprinkle with cheese. Wrap up the packets tightly. Place on a rimmed baking sheet, and bake at 375 for about 40 minutes. Keep them wrapped up tight and they will keep well for people to eat as they trickle in lessons or cheer practice or work or wherever "they" might be at dinner time!

Friday, August 7, 2009

Friday Flashback ~ Brenna's Shoes

This is just a sweet and simple flashback...back to summer of 1999. The little miss was 19 months old, and sporting herself a pretty fancy look! I LOVE the combination of fancy shoes and diapers...throw in some morning bed head, "jewels", pudgy toddler belly and knock-knees and it's just about as perfect as it can get. She was feeling oh-so-pretty. And this picture just makes me smile!

Now here we are back to today, and the (bigger) little miss is sporting a new kind of shoe: a running shoe! She has decided to run with me in the next 5K, just 2 weeks away! She's pumping out the miles on the treadmill, and this picture makes me smile too:

Ten years older, but still the oh-so-pretty, strong & tender girl that I love so much! Go Brenna, go!!

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Costco...How Do I Love Thee??

Let me count the ways...

This raspberry chipotle sauce is oh-so-fabulous! You can pour some over a softened block of cream cheese and serve with crackers, you can pour it over some chicken or pork...I have a recipe to share soon with is sweet and spicy. Love it.

And this spinach/mozzarella ravioli is a yummy treat for when you don't want to really cook but want to put out a meal. It comes with this cheese packet that you toss in with some olive oil after it cooks. Add in some chopped tomatoes...mmm. We also had a spinach salad with this...we called it our Popeye meal.

And here is some kind of yummy salsa. I've heard mixed reviews on this from hard-core salsa eaters who are offended by the thought of adding fruit to a perfectly good salsa. But I love it. And this is my blog. And I'm counting the ways I love Costco. And I love Costco for introducing me to this yummy salsa.

And hello guacamole! I love that I can keep these little packets in the freezer and defrost some guacamole whenever I feel so moved. There's no weird stuff added to this, it's the real deal. And it's a good deal too...more affordable than buying the "15 avocados" that the package advertises is inside of this yumminess.

And am I the only one who did not know about these yummy pita chips?? They are so good with the above guacamole and salsa, or some hummus. I'm munching on some as I type this, in fact. They are even good just, well, simply naked.

And, of course, I save the best for last...

Hello, my love. I would keep up my Costco membership if only to keep up my supply of the 72 oz. bag of Nestle chocolate chips. I do love this bag of chips. I love the sound of the crinkling bag when I hold it. I love the smell of a newly opened bag. I love the smell of an empty bag. My kids will tell you that I take this seriously. When a bag is emptied, I make whoever is close by come smell the bag. And a little whiff won't do. You gotta really get your nose in there and take a big, deep inhale. "No, really smell it," is a phrase I use during the training period. But now they all know. They really know how to enjoy the aroma of 72 oz. of semi-sweet goodness. I like to think that is one area I have excelled as a parent.

Just a day I needed to think about some goodness, and not where my mind wants to go. So, how about you? What do you love at Costco??

Saturday, August 1, 2009

I Did It!!

I am so glad this day is over. I signed up to run my first public 5K...I was nervous all week with our hot weather, and especially nervous last night and today. I had a crazy amount of butterflies in my tummy. Jack had great advice about those butterflies...he told me just to make them fly in formation and I'd be in great shape. Well, those butterflies flapped their little wings at a frantic pace and helped me finish in 27:04...the fastest I've ever run this distance on my treadmill. And it was hot. Did I mention it was hot?? My feet were hot from the pavement. My throat was burning. But I did it! I even took 2nd in my age group! My goal was to run one of these before I turn 40...and I accomplished that with a few weeks to spare! Everyone has said once I do one I'll be addicted to it and be looking for more races...I don't know about that. We'll see how I feel tomorrow. A 6:00 in the evening race in 90 degrees was enough for awhile. Here's the proof in pictures...

Me and Jack just before the start. See the gal over my shoulder in the little-bitty black running outfit? She finished in 16:44. Crazy. She was doing sprints to warm up before the race. Me? I was trying to avoid even one unnecessary step so as not to waste any energy I would need. Perhaps her method works a bit better. Go figure.

And we're off.

A few of my favorite sights? My hubby's face, my children's faces, cookies right out of the oven, and a big blue sign with large white letters: FINISH. And at the moment this picture was taken, not necessarily in that order.

Getting my official number recorded. One thought? Water!!

And here comes Jack, who took 2 minutes off his best time! In the heat! Woo-hoo Jack!

A post race cheers!

And lucky duck Jack won a pair of Aasics running shoes!! Way to go!!

And, yeah, in the time it's taken me to post these pictures...I'll do it again. I'm glad I did it. I think I'd like to see what I can do when it's not too hot. Cuz have I mentioned it was hot??