Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Matters of the Heart

I love my son's heart.  It is full of compassion and kindness.  It is open and teachable.  It is quick to soften and slow to offend.  It is appropriately protected.  It doesn't go wandering.  Emotionally healthy, spiritually healthy, and, I'm happy to say, physically healthy.

We had a little while to wonder about that last part, after getting a unexpected referral to a cardiologist.  It started off as an simple appointment to have a couple warts frozen off.  While we were there, his left arm turned purple and mottled.  This has been happening sporadically for the last six months or so, and we've thought nothing of it.  It looks like he's ice cold, but he's not.  It doesn't cause him any pain, it doesn't tingle.  Just purple-ish.  I wouldn't have even thought to bring it up if the doctor hadn't noticed it.  And it's funny...because if this had happened when this big kid was a little kid, like a toddler, I probably would have been at the E.R. with him, insisting they find the cause.  But as he's grown, so has my relaxed approach to this type of thing.  I guess since it didn't bother him at all, I decided it didn't need to bother me.  But the doctor was a bit concerned about that in combination with our family's heart history.  She just thought it was a good time to have him screened and make sure this had no kind of heart connection.

I was totally fine with that.  The first evening I was a bit nervous, because it's not everyday you go in to have warts frozen and leave with a referral to a cardiologist!  And I know he's a man-sized kid, but this is still my baby.  Then I was fine with it all, and then I woke up the day of the appointment with a belly full of nerves.  My mind wasn't worried, my instinct was that everything was fine, but my body reacted with a great force of nerves.  I'll leave it at that.

But, of course, all is just fine.  His heart is in perfect health, and there is not the slightest sign of any kind of structural abnormality.  And it ended up being such a neat experience.  Alex is thinking about pursuing some kind of career in the medical field, and these matters are quite intriguing to him.  So when they started the echocardiogram, they offered to put in a movie for him to watch to pass the time.  (Granted this is a pediatric cardiologist, so their offerings were pretty "lame".)  Instead, he asked if he could just watch the test.  So the gal was great with him...taught him all about his heart as she did the exam.  The more she talked, the more I relaxed...knowing that if she had seen anything concerning she probably wouldn't be so chatty.  He learned a lot about his heart that morning.  I was going to take a picture of him getting that test, but he would probably rather give up food for a meal than have me take that picture.  And you know how huge that is.

I couldn't resist getting just one picture...

It's a great thing to hear a cardiologist tell you that your son has a completely normal heart.  Does my heart good.

And the comings and goings of purple-ish-ness?  There are a couple possibilities, neither being a big deal.  We probably won't even pursue it any further.  Just maybe nothing more than a crazy quirk.

Nothing quite like a bit of concern thrown your way to make you stop and appreciate the goodness of a good heart.  In every way.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Monday Menu ~ Carrot Cake

I know I said my focus was going to be dinners for awhile, but this week calls for an exception.  For many reasons.  And one of those reasons is that Easter is already this Sunday, and this would make a fabulous dessert. 

And this cake always brings a funny memory of Beth:  when she was about 18 months, I think, we had an open house/dessert night for some friends who had lived here and then moved away.  The man of this family LOVES this cake.  Requested it.  So I made it for him.  We had set the desserts out on the dining room table, and everyone was busy visiting and catching up, kids playing chaotically all around.  A little boy, probably around 5 and sporting a darling language delay, came up to me and said, "Excuse me, but yo witto baby is on the tabo eating yo cake!"  Sure enough, there sat Beth, ON the table, eating off all the cream cheese frosting, one finger lick at a time!  She had made her way across about 1/4 of the cake by the time she was busted.  I wish I had taken a picture, but at the time all I could think of was how to rescue enough of the cake for Larry to have some.

I love this cake so much, it is a treat every time I eat it.  I have a couple friends in my life that love it as much as, or even more than, I do.  I always make this as a 9x13, but if you want to do a layer cake you certainly may.  I think you could even get 3 layers out of this batter.  If you do the layered cake, double the frosting recipe so you have enough.  You will be really happy you made this cake, and you'd be wise to keep it covered if Beth is near by:

Carrot Cake

1 1/2 cups vegetable oil
2 cups sugar
3 large eggs
2 cups grated carrots (I always use the small side of the grater for this recipe.  I think it incorporates better into the cake.)
1 (8 oz.) can crushed pineapple, do NOT drain
2 1/2 cups flour
1 1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. vanilla
1 cup finely chopped walnuts

Beat together oil, eggs and sugar.  Add pineapple - with the juice! - and grated carrots.  Mix well.  Stir in baking soda, salt, and cinnamon.  Add flour and combine well.  Add vanilla and beat well.  Stir in nuts.  (I use a nut chopper and chop them quite a bit.  I would say just smaller that the size of pea gravel.  Again, it all blends into the cake better so you don't just have one big hunk-o-nut.  If you hate nuts, leave them out.  If you are allergic to nuts, PLEASE leave them out!  But if you are not sure, go ahead and add them.  It really brings out a great flavor in the cake.)  Spray a 9x13 pan with non-stick spray and pour in the batter.  Bake at 350 for about 45 minutes.  The center should have just lost its jiggle, with the edges well-set.  If you take it out and the center immediately sinks, pop it back in the oven for about 5 more minutes, then check it again.

Let cool completely, then frost with cream cheese frosting:

Cream Cheese Frosting

1/2 cup butter, softened
4 oz. cream cheese, softened
1 tsp. vanilla
1/2 box powdered sugar

Beat together until well-blended and fluffy.  Spread over cake.  Sprinkle with some additional chopped nuts to make it look all perty.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

If You Don't Like the Weather, Wait 5 Minutes and It Will Change

And, if you didn't like my choice (CONNIE!!) to not make those Reese's Egg cookies, you'll be glad to know that my mind can change just like our fluctuating weather.  Yep, I changed my mind, took a risk, and made those cookies.  Here's how it went down:

Yesterday was a busy day, full of one event to the next.  While sitting in church last night, I heard Brad's stomach growl.  Mine was doing the same thing.  I sat there with a divinely-inspired craving for eating breakfast for dinner.  I just could envision a hot stack of pancakes with butter and enough syrup to dip each bit in individually.  And a tall glass of milk.  So as soon as we got in the door from church, I pulled out the griddle and made some pancakes.  It was 7:00 by the time we ate, and I still had not had a chance to run.  So, as soon as I swallowed down my last bite, I changed my clothes and got on the treadmill.  Yeah, I know.  Never a good idea to eat something that sits like a brick in your tummy and then run.  Picture Michael Scott and his carbo-loading carton of Fettuccine Alfredo.  Well, fortunately I did not go the way of Michael.  I pounded my way through an uncomfortable 4 miles, thinking the entire time of those doggone cookies.  To me, that was a sign I just had to make those things and let it go.  If I can eat something as filling as pancakes and then run and STILL be thinking of them...something had to be done.

As all signs were pointing towards a Saturday night trip to Target for Reese's Peanut Butter Eggs, Brenna came up to her sweaty mother and informed me that it is Spirit Week at school, and she needed to wear something yellow one of the days but didn't own anything yellow.  "Well, what would you think about a yellow t-shirt from Target??"  She told me that would work fine, but she didn't need it until Friday.  I told her there was no reason to put off anything until the last minute, so let me change my clothes and we'll go to Target!  Yeah, pretty gross.  Pretty desperate.  My face was still flaming red, my hair was plastered to my neck with sweat...but I figured there couldn't be that big of a crowd on a Saturday night, so why not?! 

45 minutes later we were back home with 6 Reese's Peanut Butter Eggs and a yellow t-shirt.  I pulled out the 'ole Kitchen-Aid mixer and away I went!

The verdict????

I'd rather eat a Reese's Peanut Butter Egg.

On a totally separate, completely serious note:

Today is my sweet Grandma's first birthday in heaven.  I hope my mom threw her a great party.  I hope it involves some great food and some great laughs and lots of love.  And I miss her very much today.  And always.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Five Dollar Dinner

Tonight we had an adventurous dinner!  I had heard this idea somewhere way back, and never had taken the time to try it.  Tonight we were down one kid, who happens to be our most indecisive one, and I was trying to think of something easy and fun to do for dinner.  Friday night frequently means homemade pizza around here, and lately it has also found this family bounding in different directions.  Tonight, 4/5 of us were home, with no plans -- hallelujah! -- and so we tried the five dollar dinner.

Beth and Alex were each given five dollars, and we took them to Safeway.  They had to find their own dinner.  The parameters were quite loose, although I did tell them that 1. They could not combine funds to buy a package of Oreos and a gallon of milk and call that dinner.  2.  They could not shop in the bakery.  3.  They had to have something of a fruit or vegetable.  5.  We were not rescuing them if they went over their limit.  6.  Any change was for them to keep.  7.  If they bought something that had 10 servings, they were not eating all 10 servings.  At one sitting.

They both wanted to know if they had a time limit.  Oh, dear.  I told them not specifically, but at some point I was going to light a fire under them and "encourage them" to make a decision.

After 45 minutes of sweet freedom roaming the aisles of Safeway with their own basket, they finally meandered over to the self-checkout lanes.

Here was the result:

a pizza pocket, 1/4 pound of onion rings, and 1/2 pound of fruit salad
grand total:  $4.58

a pizza pocket, 1/4 pound of jo's, a banana, and a Dr. Pepper
grand total:  $4.45

And although I cringe at the nutritional deficit on those plates, I know it's just one meal.  And the adventure didn't come without some lessons learned.

Here's what they came away with:

1.  Safeway has a lot of choices.  2.  It must cost a lot to feed a family of five.  3.  You gotta pay attention to what's on sale.  4.  It's hard to decide what to have for dinner.  5.  It's fun to be a checker at Safeway.

Nothing like some personal experience to hammer home some life skills, and some understanding for their mother!  And they simply had a blast together.

Now we owe Brenna the experience.  We'll clear an afternoon for that in the near future...

***On a totally different topic, thanks for the input on the quandary I was in yesterday.  I think I have decided that it is not worth my risk.  I will save myself the trouble and the calories and just eat an egg.  Have you seen the GIANT Reese's Eggs they have this year?  Sweet mercy.  And, Marlece, I have one mini dark chocolate sitting right here on my desk where I can see it everyday.  I don't want to eat it and admit they are gone.  I bought the original package in December.  There's some additional proof for you all that I am a bit nuts.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

A Chocolate Peanut Butter Quandary

I came across something today that I needed to share.  I will say right off the bat that I am having mixed emotions about this.  A part of me wants to dive in and try, and a part of me feels that something I dearly love has been violated.

Go check out this recipe:

Reese's Peanut Butter Egg Cookies

It's just a cookie.  I shouldn't devote so many thoughts to it really.  But I have been evaluating it in my mind all day.  I saw this recipe this morning.  I then went to work.  And I thought about it all day.  I'm torn.  Torn, I tell you.  I love Reese's Peanut Butter Eggs.  I.  LOVE.  THEM.  So when I saw a cookie that featured them, I thought I had hit the cookie jackpot and the Reese's Peanut Butter Egg jackpot at the same time.  But then as the day went on, I realized that this cookie is taking a big risk.  Chopping up all those beautiful works of chocolate/peanut butter perfection is a risk.  What if the cookies disappoint?  Then you've wasted perfection.  And why mess with perfection??  But what if they just take perfection to a new level?  What if they are something that has been missing from my life and I don't even know it?

I just don't know.  I do know that a girl can only contemplate such a weighted issue for so long before taking action.  If I can go down a wild water slide at practically break-neck speed, then certainly I can take a risk on a cookie.  But on the other hand, I watched "the angry lady" while I was on the treadmill earlier this week, and she talked about never making a major decision when you are feeling emotional, either really high or really low.  And thinking about the Reese's Peanut Butter Eggs is all it takes to make my emotions go really high.  And thinking of chopping them up and possibly ruining them makes my emotions go really low.  What a quandary.

Anyone out there want to take one for the team and give them a try for me?  And by "the team" I do mean me.  In the meantime, I'm going to hop on my treadmill and run out my vacillating emotions.  Maybe in about 45 minutes I'll have my answer.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

A Graphite Tattoo and A Lipstick War

Over the last couple weeks there have been some interesting facial changes in both my girls.  Battle wounds, really.  One perhaps permanent, one temporary.

It all began innocently enough.  Homework was being done side-by-side at the dining room table while enjoying the beautiful view out the window.  Or maybe the beautiful view was being enjoyed out the window while a little homework was being done.  At one particular moment, one girl was looking up, one looking down.  There was suddenly something exciting to see, and exclamation of "Oh, look!", a pointing hand that was holding a newly sharpened pencil, a chin turning into the pointing hand...and in a matter of seconds there was a tip of a pencil lodged in my daughter's chin.  We cleaned it like a sliver, following doctor's directions.  Those directions came with this disclaimer:  "It is possible that after cleaning everything out a black mark will remain there.  It's called a 'graphite tattoo' and is common with that type of injury."  I asked what she meant by the mark remaining there...forever?  There was a pause, and then, "Umm, yeah, most likely."  Sure enough, despite all our attempts, there remains a black mark that looks like it would be easy enough to pull out of there.  Forever?  Time will tell.  Brad has a graphite tattoo on his hand, we just didn't know that's what it was called.  She is a lot like her sweet daddy...this is just the one child I felt very confident would never consider tattooing herself.

terrible picture, but you can get the idea

Flashing forward a couple weeks, and my other daughter waged a war against a very innocent lipstick.  She woefully underestimated her opponent, and came out on the losing end.  It all began at a sleep-over.  The girls decided to do make-overs on each other, using the cheap dress-up lipsticks.  Then they decided to kick it up a notch and do blindfolded make-overs.  One thing led to another, and apparently these girls had lipstick caked onto their faces, in their eyebrows, covering just about every piece of skin on their face.  No pictures were taken at this stage of the war, due to the fact that the only photo journalist available at the moment turned into a very freaked out dad with one glance at the faces before him.  The second mission of the war began immediately, and lasted about 45 minutes, the weapon of choice being soap and washcloths.  And a lot of manual labor.  The result?  My daughter literally scrubbed the skin off her cheek.  From the description, this lipstick dried on like stretched and stuck bubble gum, and was very resistant to any removal.  And the dad was the only help available at that moment.  So when I saw my daughter the next morning, cheek swollen and looking like she had a road rash, it was obvious to me that a lesson had surely been learned.  I don't think she will ever enter a war with a lipstick again.  At least not blindfolded.

this was day 2, it is healing quickly, to her great relief.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Monday Menu ~ Loaded Twice-Baked Potatoes

These potatoes are so fabulous.  I love them as a main dish, with a big salad.  This salad is my favorite with it, but this one is also great.  This recipe came from a Taste of Home magazine years ago.  I've also made these potatoes without the ham and served them with as a side with a ham dinner.  But they are so substantial and yummy, I think they are better as the main event.  They are definitely a belly filling comfort food.  The kids love turned them all into Bob Wileys at the dinner table.  If you know what I mean by that, 100,000 bonus points to you.

These also freeze great.  This recipe makes 16 servings.  I will bake 6 for dinner that night, and freeze the other 10.  For our family, that's two extra meals or a bunch of lunches.  I'd say that's some pretty efficient use of time.  If you are making them as a main dish, use large baking potatoes, and be generous with the ingredients.  If you are making smaller sides, just use smaller potatoes and pull back a bit on the ingredients.  You really can't mess this one up.

Loaded Twice-Baked Potatoes

8 large baking potatoes
1/2 pound bulk pork sausage
1/4 cup butter, softened
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
1 1/2 cups diced fully cooked ham
6 bacon strips, cooked and crumbled
1 cup sour cream
1/2 cup Italian salad dressing
salt and pepper to taste

Scrub and pierce potatoes.  Bake at 400 for 40-60 minutes or microwave on high for 12-14 minutes or until tender.  (Totally depends on your potato size and microwave!  My jumbo potatoes took about 20 minutes in my microwave.)  Meanwhile, cook the sausage until no longer pink, drain.

When the potatoes are cool enough to handle, cut in half lengthwise; scoop out the pulp into a large bowl, leaving a 1/4 inch shell.  Mash the pulp with the butter.  Stir in the sausage, cheese, ham, bacon, sour cream and salad dressing.  Add salt and pepper if needed.  (I never think it's needed.)

Spoon mixture evenly back into the potato shells.  Place those you are baking on baking sheets.  Bake at 400 for 30 minutes or until golden brown. 

To freeze, wrap each potato tightly with plastic wrap after you stuff the shell.  Place in labeled freezer bags.  To cook, pull out the number of potatoes you are cooking, allow to thaw and bake as directed above.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Two Happy Flautists

Today our family musical spotlight was shining brightly on Brenna!  She has worked so hard this year, growing into quite the happy little flautist.  And I didn't even know the word "flautist" until she started playing the flute.  I still think it should be flutist.  I mean really:  there's a bassoonist, a pianist, a violinist, a cellist and then a flautist??  Anyway...

Brenna has been working on a duet with her very close friend, Julia, for the last couple months.  Today they finally got to play it at the Solo/Ensemble Festival for an adjudicator.

They practiced literally for two hours yesterday, were outfitted in matching outfits, complete with a dress rehearsal with Alex playing the part of the adjudicator.  The dress rehearsal brought a bit of's very hard to play the flute when you have the giggles, you see. 

the dress rehearsal

They got up this morning wanting their hair curled in matching styles, of course.  Happy to do it.  Since I can't pass along any musical wisdom, at least I can make their hair look pretty!

gettin' the sillies out

I'm happy to say that their performance today could not have gone any better!  Neither of them appeared the least bit nervous, so they apparently giggled all that out last night.  They both played with great poise and confidence...and I'm so proud.  Music has not come completely naturally to Brenna, and she has had to work very hard.  But in true Brenna form, she just decided to work hard everyday and it has worked!

one last practice, and then...

...the big performance!

And the adjudicator was quite happy with their performance, right down to the matching outfits!  We just heard that they scored a Superior on that duet!  A big, hard-earned and much-deserved WOO-HOO to Brenna and Julia!!!

So, of course, we had to get the celebratory ice cream to complete this happy day!

Great job, Julia and Brenna!!

Thursday, March 18, 2010


I had another day back in the pre-school class today.  Here are some gems that I just had to document:

~One little boy with a physical handicap has so very much charm and the most darling face that you very quickly don't even notice the part that is different.  Just the sweetest little guy.  While we were playing in the "deep, dark cave" (which was actually a bathroom playing the part of a cave, complete with glow-in-the-dark bugs on the walls and pre-schoolers with explorer hats and flashlights), one of the little girls said, "Ooh, I'm scared!"  She said it in a very playful, not-really-scared-but-playing-the-part-for-fun kind of voice.  This little boy put his arm around her shoulder and said, "Don't be scared, "Jane", you're my girl."  Sweetness.

~A profoundly sweet (when she wants to be)/profoundly autistic little girl let me push her on the swings today (a big deal), and threw her head back and laughed at the sun on her face and the wind blowing her hair back.  A perfectly "normal" recess and a nearly autistic-free moment that I got to witness.  After recess, I was sitting by her at the snack table, and she linked her arm through mine for a brief moment.  Connection.  More sweetness.

~And, lastly, a little boy whose name I wish I could use because it's a very fun name that makes you smile, gave me quite the compliment.  I was wearing a pink sweater today, and towards the end of the day he said, "Leanne, you are pink-alicious today!!"  In my 40 years, I do believe this is the first time I have been called pink-alicious!  That's some kind of pink-alicious sweetness!

That all adds up to a pretty fabulous day. 

The previous two days, I heard more profanity than I do believe I have heard in my life combined.  Some combinations of words that I didn't even know existed.  Absolutely assaulting to the ears.  And absolutely heartbreaking to see late-elementary aged boys with such rage inside of them.  And yet, I loved those two days with them also.  Different, but good.  And the attempt to throw the chair across the room?  Intercepted by a gifted teacher with cat-like reflexes.  All those that do that day in and day out, and do it well, they are gems.

So to be ending my week with these littler people is quite refreshing.  Heart-warming.  Just plain pink-alicious.

Monday, March 15, 2010

CCC #4 ~ Chocolate Chip Pretzel Cookies

So today brings us to the end of chocolate chip cookie week.  I have a couple other recipes I would like to try, but they will have to wait.  But that will work to build my anticipation and I always enjoy that, so all is not lost.

Today's recipe has the fun little twist of added pretzels.  This was a new one for me, but I was intrigued by it.  I love chocolate-covered pretzels, and I love salty & sweet together.  (Next time you go to the movies, bring in a bag of Peanut M&M's to go with the popcorn.  It's oh-so-good!)  Anyway, this cookie turned out to be quite good.  The salty kick comes in very small waves, but it's in there.  I think if I had to do this over again, I would try it with dark chocolate chips instead of semi-sweet.  Not sure why, other than it just sounds good to me!  This dough also turned out quite soft, so I stuck mine in the refrigerator for a couple hours before I baked the cookies.  I could have softened the butter too much or something, and if I did I blame it on this ridiculous time change that has my internal clock all messed up!

Chocolate Chip Pretzel Cookies

1 cup butter, softened
2 cups sugar
3 TBSP molasses
2 tsp. vanilla
1 tsp. baking soda
2 eggs, lightly beaten
2 cups salted thin pretzel sticks, crushed
2 1/2 cups flour
1 1/2 cups chocolate chips

Beat together butter, sugar and molasses until light and fluffy.  Add vanilla and baking soda, mix well.  Add eggs and beat together.  Mix in pretzels.  Add flour gradually and mix until just combined.  Stir in chocolate chips.

Bake at 350 for 9-10 minutes.  Cool 2 minutes on pan and then transfer to cooling racks.

Goodbye for now, chocolate chip cookie week.  You've been good to me!

Saturday, March 13, 2010

It's Good To Run Green

Oh, it's been a fun Saturday!  Today was my first (public) 5K since my winter boot-edness.  I have been working so hard for takes a lot of discipline for me to work at something slowly and stick with it.  I want to go in all the way or not at all.  So this slow and steady nonsense really was quite irritating.  So although I'm running farther than a 5K 4 days a week, hopefully this week bumping up to 5 days, it's a different thing (for me) to go run one in a crowd. 

I like the personal space of my treadmill.  I like my controlled climate of 62 degrees.  I like the distraction of the t.v.  I like watching the distance tick by and knowing exactly how far I've gone and how far I have to go.  None of that when you are doing the events!  Today there were 1246 runners.  Not a lot of personal space.  It was dry but an icy wind off the water that just wanted to hang on, the last half blowing against us.  Cold, cold, cold.  There was no t.v, but I must admit some interesting characters to help distract me.

And even so, it was a great run!  We ran in the Tacoma St. Patty's Day Run.  This was the first time that Brad and I ran side-by-side the entire course.  Well, at least when we weren't weaving in and out of people.  I swear we ran an extra half mile just zig-zagging through the sea of greenly clad people.  Okay, that's a bit dramatic.  Maybe an extra .313 miles.

The last hill, going against the cold wind, was tough.  I always speed up going up hill, because I just want to get it over with.  And it's a great time to pass people.  Then I got to the top, rounded a corner, and my stomach rolled in a very peculiar way...let's just say I about had to pull off to the side and make a scene.  So I slowed to a walk for about 20 steps and then we were off again.  The downhill finish was great fun! 

We crossed the line with a time of 27:29.  I'm just a minute and a half off my best time, so I'm happy.  And it felt gooood.  No miserable pain.  No "why am I doing this???" nagging thoughts.  Out of 127 women in my age group, I finished 12th!  Happy result!

There were some crazy costumes at this run.  In most cases, you can tell who's there to have a little fun and who's there to just get the run done.  And all kinds in between.

At one point, we saw a large group of these girls, all dressed in matching green tutus and giant green bows.  There was no way I was letting someone dressed in a tutu beat me, so I sped up and passed them and left them way behind.

These two ladies were quite the fun!  They walked/ran the entire course in these outfits, which had to be quite the treat for anyone behind them who had to dodge those streamer skirts blowing in the wind.  They have decided to enter as many races as possible in 2010 with some other friends.  Last weekend they walked a half marathon, and they are doing a 5K just about every weekend around Washington and Oregon.  Very fun adventure!

Brad and I had decided awhile ago that we were going to consider this a date, and that we did.  It was nice to have a drive up there, lots of conversation that can be hard to find in the daily life.  And after we were able to drive around and find someplace for lunch and just hang out with no set plan.  Loved it.

and, yes, I know I look tired.  I am.

I would just love to tell a story about our lunch, but I just can't do it here.  It involved 2 older ladies, an inappropriate conversation, voices too loud, and they just about spoiled my appetite.  Brad very calmly looked into my eyes and said, "You need to let this go.  Just let it go."  I so badly wanted to go offer those ladies some kind common sense that they were obviously lacking.  If my children had been with me, I would have in a heartbeat.  Actually, Brad probably would have beat me to it.  I resisted, which I found to be much harder than resisting a cookie.  Which I really am craving right now.

Friday, March 12, 2010

CCC #3 ~ Guest Blogger!

My sister, who is at least as good of a baker as I like to think I am, was kind enough to contribute her favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe in honor of this blessed holiday week. 

She may even be a better baker than me, in a side-by-side taste test, but only because she has a few more year's experience on me.  She's also wiser, and knows how to be straight to the point with her words, so I will simply paste in her exact post to you.

This recipe is one of my favorite cookies, too.  I've sadly forgotten all about it, and it's been years and years since I've made them.  That will be changing soon.  I must introduce my children to the wonder of these cookies.  I would fall woefully shy of any kind of Mother of the Year nomination if I did not let my children experience these.

Now that I've babbled on with my own thoughts, I will get back to the point and NOW I will simply paste in my sister's straight-to-the-point post:

"These are the best chocolate chip cookies...........I love them.  I think I'll make them this weekend even though I am on a diet!!!

Nieman Marcus Cookies
(recipe may be halved)

2 cups butter
4 1/8 cup flour
2 tsp. soda
2 cups sugar
5 cups blended oatmeal***
24 oz. chocolate chips
2 cups brown sugar
1 tsp. salt
1 (8 oz) Hershey bar, grated
4 eggs
2 tsp. baking powder
2 tsp. vanilla
2 tsp. fresh lemon juice
3 cups nuts (your choice)
*Measure oatmeal and blend in a blender to a fine powder.
*cream the butter and both sugars.
*Add eggs and vanilla, mix together with flour, oatmeal, salt, baking powder and soda.
*Add chocolate chips, Hershey bar, and nuts.
*Roll into balls and place 2 inches apart on cookie sheet.
*Bake for 10 minutes at 375 degrees.  Makes 112 cookies."

So thank you to my sister for a great recipe!!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

CCC #2 ~ Chocolate Chocolate Chip Marshmallow Cookies

I love that I got to type chocolate twice in that title.  Go back and read it again.  Just for fun.  Thank you.

These cookies are an oldie...I made them up over 15 years ago.  I make them very infrequently, and every time I make them I wonder why I don't make them more often.  They are a very rich, brownie-like cookie.  And I'm very tired, so I'm going to cut right to it and just list the recipe!

Chocolate Chocolate Chip Marshmallow Cookies

3 cups flour
2/3 cup cocoa (Hershey's Dark, please)
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup butter
1 cup sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
1 pkg. mini chocolate chips
mini marshmallows, frozen

In a medium bowl, combine flour, cocoa, baking soda, and salt.  In a large mixing bowl (use your stand mixer if you have one, this is a very stiff dough!), combine softened butter and sugars.  Beat until creamy and fluffy.  Beat in eggs.  Add in flour mixture in small amounts, just until blended.  Stir in chocolate chips.

(make sure the marshmallows are in the freezer.  they need to be frozen or they will melt too much while baking.)

Using the 1 1/2 inch cookie scooper (or just make about 1 1/2 inch balls), scoop out 6 balls of dough. 

Flatten each ball into a disk about the size of the palm of your hand.  Place 4 mini marshmallows in the center of each disk, then fold the dough up to cover marshmallows completely. 

Roll the dough between your palms to make it back into a ball shape, making sure the marshmallows are covered on all sides.  Place onto parchment-lined baking sheets (6 per sheet). 

Bake at 400 degrees for 8 minutes.  Remove from oven and let cool on pan for 2-3 minutes, then remove to cookie sheets to cool completely.

In honor of chocolate chip cookie week, Costco is running a coupon for their 72 oz. Nestle chocolate chips!  Okay, I'm sure it's not in honor of this week, just a blissful coincidence.  But still, don't miss out on a great deal!!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

CCC #1 ~ Super Dooper Scoopers

Quick...this is a quiz...what is CCC???  Chocolate Chip Cookies, of course!  I am sorry to say that I let Chocolate Chip Cookie week begin without any acknowledgement.  Actually, without any memory of it, too.  I was so craving a warm chocolate chip cookie a couple days ago.  I truly felt like I needed it that night.  And I am proud to say I resisted.  And survived.  But now I know it was my stomach trying valiantly to communicate with my brain, to jog its memory of what this week is meant to be.

It didn't happen until last night, I had the sudden memory return that March 7-15 is Chocolate Chip Cookie week!  According to...?  I don't know, and I don't care.  It just gives me great pleasure to celebrate this week with a bunch of chocolate chip cookie recipes.  Every day?  I don't know about that.  But we'll see how it goes. 

The first is a giant-sized super dooper cookie.  They are great for a "special occasion" cookie, for a party, for a gift to anyone you love...and they are a fun treat for kids, because anything big is extra special, right?  This recipe comes from a cookbook I've had for many years, by Cristina Ferrare, who Oprah calls one of the best cooks she knows.  Although she has yet to cook for me, I can say that I love all her recipes very much.  I hope you can try this and that you enjoy it!

Super Dooper Scoopers

2 1/4 cups flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar (the recipe calls for dark, I usually only have light.  use what you like.)
1 tsp. vanilla
2 large eggs, room temperature
3 cups chocolate chips
1 1/2 cups chopped pecans or walnuts (I like pecans because it reminds me of chocolate pecan pie, but walnuts are great, too.  or leave them out if you must.)
1 cup raisins (you KNOW I leave this out.  yuck!  but if you are into that sort of thing, go for it.)

In a medium bowl, stir together flour, baking soda and salt.

In a large mixing bowl, beat the butter, sugars and vanilla together with an electric mixer until well-blended.  Beat in the eggs, one at a time, until well-combined.  Stir in the flour mixture until blended.  Stir in chocolate chips and nuts.

Preheat oven to 275.  Yes, 275.  Not a typo.  Scoop dough onto cookie sheet using a 1/4 cup measuring cup or a medium sized ice cream scoop.  Do not crowd these onto the cookie sheet or the heat won't circulate.  I only cook 3 cookies per sheet with this recipe, just leave about 3 inches between the cookie dough scoops.

Bake until the cookies are set and light golden brown, about 30 minutes.  The low, slow baking is part of this cookie.  You'll be glad you did.

Let cool for a couple minutes on cookie sheet, then remove to cooling racks to cool completely.

I did have one last night.  And it was good.  Then I sent the rest to Brad's office so I wouldn't be tempted to have another or three.  I regret that a bit because I would certainly enjoy one right about now.  Oh, yes I would.

this makes me salivate.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

My Children, My Musical Marriage Refs

This weekend we had a marriage breakthrough.  It was years in the making, deeply profound, and so utterly satisfying (for me) that it needs to be documented.

It all started with yet another concert.  This time it was "Space:  The Final Frontier" with the Capital Philharmonic Orchestra.  When Alex saw the music for this concert a couple weeks ago, he was pretty excited.  He kept grinning as he looked through the Star Trek and Star Wars pieces.  He sheepishly said, "I remember when I was a little kid and I saw Star Wars for the first time, I really wanted to be in the Star Wars band."  (Back then he thought there was one band that was responsible for all that music, and dreamed of being in it someday!  How cute is that?!)  So Saturday he got to live out a little dream, playing in a "band" he long ago aspired to! 

The first part of the concert was amazing:  the group Quattrocelli performed, and was an incredible blend of fabulous music and great comedy.  They were here from Germany, and I loved every note they played.  Don't pass up an opportunity to hear them, they make beautiful music.

The real magic of the evening happened after the concert.  We end each of these concerts by going out to dessert.  Alex's dessert is sometimes a burger, fries, and ice cream...but most of us just dessert.  So as we are walking to the car, someone asked where we should have dessert.  Because it was getting so late, I said, "How about Applebees, right across the street?"  Brad nodded his head and said, "Okay".

Flash forward maybe 2.21 minutes, and we are pulling out of the parking lot.  Brad blows right by Applebees.  "Where are you going?"

His response?  "I don't know.  Where do you want to go?"

So I told him that we just had this conversation and that we were going to Applebees.  "No, you didn't say anything about Applebees."  Ugh.  My blood pressure begins to rise just retelling this story.  So then we go back and forth with the "I said this, then you said this."  "No, you never said anything about Applebees."  Annoying doesn't even touch the surface of my feelings about this type of conversation.

And we have them frequently.  He swears I never said anything about...whatever...and I assure him I told him and that he responded.  And then he gets frustrated with me because I remind him of things and he feels checked-up on.  And I feel a little distrustful of his follow-through, yet resent having to ask the follow-up questions.  And around and around we go, me feeling more crazy with every passing "you never said that" conversation.

So we pull into the parking lot of Applebees, still discussing the phantom conversation that he doesn't remember.  From the backseat, Alex pipes in, "Actually, Dad, you did respond to her when she suggested that.  She said (_____) and then you said (______)."

"I did??"

Brenna:  "Yes, I heard you, Daddy."

Beth:  "Yep, I heard it!"

And with that, a chorus of angels began to sing above my head!  FINALLY I had witnesses that I said something to which he responded of which he had absolutely no memory!  I cannot tell you the relief I felt.  And Brad had a great realization that maybe I wasn't crazy after all.  At least not in that way.

It's a good thing that I love this man so dearly.

I love you, Brad.  I said, I love you, Brad...

And it's a good thing we have these three musical marriage refs to keep us in-line.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Monday Menu ~ Chicken Cashew Sald (Plus a bonus!)

So here's the scoop on today's recipe:  this is from Farelli's, and it's known there as Phil's Creation Salad.  I haven't a clue who Phil is.  If you go, you must try this.  Years many, Connie?  Six?  I think six.  Yikes!...Connie made this for dinner when we were at a women's retreat together.  I remember seeing all her bowls of separate ingredients sprawled across the counter, and she told us we could build our own salad.  She told us it came from Farelli's and that it was best with everything on it, though she was her uber-gracious self and told us to leave off anything we didn't like.  So I decided, uncharacteristically, to put everything on it, even though I didn't think I would like some of it.  But I loved it.  Since then, I love to make this salad, especially when it's just for Brad and I and we can eat gobs of it with warm, cheesy garlic bread.  Mmm.  Anything for warm, cheesy garlic bread.

Chicken Cashew Salad (Phil's Creation) 

1 bag of romaine lettuce, or mixed greens, or whatever
2 chicken breasts
cashews...about 1/2 cup?, chopped coarsely
1 (8 oz.) can pineapple tidbits, drained well
4 pieces good bacon
1/2 onion, caramelized
1/2 cup-ish grated cheddar cheese
honey mustard dressing

For the bacon...go to the meat counter and get a few pieces of good bacon.  It is just so much better.  I like the apple-wood smoked bacon, and a little goes a longer way, so you don't have to use as much.  Cook it and tear it into bite-size pieces, or crumble it, or cut it with you knife.  You know, however YOU like to do it.

For the chicken...cook it however.  You can grill it and then cut it into bite-sized cubes, or just cube it and saute it or bake it...I am aware there are plenty of ways to do this.  Do it however you like it best.

For the's a good tutorial on caramelizing if you haven't done this a lot before.

Just throw all this stuff together, and top with the honey mustard dressing.  I like it best when the chicken and bacon are warm.

While the chicken is cooking, make yourself some cheesy garlic bread.  You'll be glad you did.  Sorry there are no enticing pictures...I'm just providing you with opportunities to use your imagination.

How about a bonus recipe?  I'm just in a generous mood today, I guess.  Actually I'm stalling from what I need to do, enjoying this little cocoon of blogging.  So here's another picture-less recipe!

I found this on Pioneer Woman's Tasty Kitchen last week, and have discovered that I can finally make myself some decent "coffee" at home!  I'm totally cutting my sugar way back (and could REALLY use some warm chocolate chip cookies tonight. it's been so long.  they miss me.  they would calm me tonight.  but I'll resist.)  Anywho, where in the world was I?  Coffee...yes.  Here's a great iced mocha for you all:

Shaken-Not-Stirred Iced Mocha (I just made that name up!)

3/4 cup strong coffee, cooled
3/4 cup milk
2 TBSP flavored creamer (I'm loving the sugar free French vanilla)
2 TBSP chocolate syrup (I'm using sugar free and learning to love it)
1 packet Truvia (or the Styrofoam-y sugar substitute, if you must)
4-5 ice cubes

Place all ingredients into a container with a tight-fitting lid.  Shake like crazy.  Pour over ice and enjoy!  (I even made this hot one chilly morning and it was delicious. Just, obviously, skip the ice cubes and use hot coffee.)

Friday, March 5, 2010

Prayers for Kaylee

**UPDATE**:  Kaylee is doing very well!  She was off the oxygen all night, her wheezing is better and her little voice is back!  She is still in the hospital on her IV, but headed in the right direction.  Thank you so much for praying, and for the comments & emails! 

"The Lord is gracious and righteous; our God is full of compassion.  The Lord protects the simplehearted; when (Kaylee) was in great need, he saved (her).  Be at rest once more, O my soul, for the Lord has been good to you." Psalm 116:5-7

Hey friends,

My niece's sweet little baby, Kaylee, is in the hospital with bacterial pneumonia and RSV.  She needs to be better!  Please join me in praying for her.  If things don't turn around today, she may be flown to Spokane or Seattle.  Every prayer offered up with her name on it would be so appreciated.

Thank you, thank you!!

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Happy National Peanut Butter Lover's Day!

This day almost slipped by me without any acknowledgement of National Peanut Butter Lover's Day!  I just was made aware that this day even existed, and I sure wish I had known yesterday!  I totally would have made something in honor of this day, trust me.  But maybe it's for the best in light of the fact that I am still earnestly trying to part with the extra padding I gained over the winter of no running.  Peanut butter desserts rank right up at the top for me, as long as it's combined with chocolate.  Here I go again, getting my tummy to rumble at the mere typing of things I adore.

So, I looked my way through these fabulous recipes, and thought I needed to highlight them.  Mostly for me to refer back to in the near future when I need a fix.  Like tomorrow.  I'm kidding.  Maybe.

But just look at these beautiful little things:

Nutter Butter Balls
photo and recipe at Bakerella, link above!

I mean really now.

And this is another that caught my eye and my heart.

Yeah, you caught me.  It's the same one.  But that's how much I am falling for this.  I showed Alex the recipe and he suggested doing the same thing with Oreos.  Hmmm.  And now I'm wondering about half Oreos and half Nutter Butters?  Oh, I think I may have do some experimenting...

So, be a sport.  At the very minimum, grab yourself a spoon and get yourself a lick of peanut butter.  After all, it IS National Peanut Butter Lover's Day!

Monday, March 1, 2010

Monday Menu ~ Sausage Spaghetti Pie

Here's a tasty, very simple meal that is worth your time to try.  This recipe makes three pies, so you can bake one and freeze the other two.  One pie fed our family with leftovers for Brad's lunch the next day.  (Six servings per pie.)  It's a fun way to jazz up the regular 'ole spaghetti!  I found this through Taste of Home, with a couple tweaks from me!

Sausage Spaghetti Pie

1 pkg. (1 pound) spaghetti
4 eggs, lightly beaten
2/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 cup chopped onion
1/4 cup butter
1 (16 oz) container sour cream (I used Daisy light)
2 tsp. Italian seasoning
2 pounds bulk pork sausage (remember this is dispersed among 3 pies!)
2 cups water
1 (12 oz) can tomato paste
2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese

Cook spaghetti according to package directions; drain and place in a large bowl.  Let cool slightly, then add eggs and parmesan cheese.  (If you don't let it cool a bit, it will cook the eggs as you add them.  Not tragic, just not as binding as the loose eggs would be.)  Transfer to three greased 9-inch pie plates; press mixture onto the bottom and up the sides to form a "crust".

In a large sauce pan, saute onion in butter until tender.  Remove from heat; stir in sour cream and Italian seasonings.  Divide evenly among the three crusts, layering on top of noodles.

Sprinkle each pie with about 1/3 of the cheeses.

In a large skillet, cook sausage until no longer pink; drain.  Stir in water and tomato paste.  Simmer, uncovered, for 5-10 minutes or until thickened.  Spoon over sour cream layer in pie plates.  Sprinkle evenly with remaining cheeses.

If not cooking, cover and freeze pies for up to one month.  If cooking immediately, cover loosely and bake at 350 for 35-40 minutes.

To use frozen pies, completely thaw in the refrigerator.  Remove from refrigerator 30 minutes before baking, then bake as directed.