Saturday, January 28, 2012

Lemon Garlic Chicken

crock pot meals are something i really enjoy.  the scent of food cooking in a slow cooker is so enticing and knowing i don't have to scramble at 5:30 to find something by 6:00 is relieving.  i look through cookbooks, blogs, and "real" sites, using, tweaking, and adapting the recipes i find to fit my food inventory and what my family likes.  i've inevitably had a few bad outcomes, like a cranberry dump chicken... blegh!  but a whole chicken in the crock pot has never failed me yet.  incredibly tender, the chicken falls off the bone!  and what's even better is that we can easily get 3 or 4 meals out of the bird.  

remember how i like to hide vegetables in my cooking to get the extra nutrients, fiber, antioxidants, etc. into my family?  this was an excellent way to repurpose the previous night's roasted squash as the base for a sauce for my side dish of rotini.  who doesn't like their chicken with a little noodle?  am i right?  read on for the complete recipe.  it was so good, i dug in before i took a picture of the finished product... sorry!

slow cooker lemon garlic chicken
this recipe could easily be altered for an oven - just budget a minimum of 1.5-2 hours, depending on the size of your bird.

  • 3-4 lb. whole chicken, giblets removed, rinsed, and patted dry
  • 2 C water
  • 2 t instant chicken bouillon
  • 2 T minced garlic
  • 4 T lemon juice
  • 2 t thyme - this herb compliments lemon very nicely
  • 2 t parsley
  • 2 t garlic salt
  • 1 t peper
  • as mentioned, removed giblets, rinse, and pat dry the bird
  • place into your crock pot
  • heat water briefly and add in bouillon, minced garlic, lemon juice and pour over bird
  • now add seasonings to bird; if you added them before the liquids, they would just wash off
  • set the crock pot on low for 8-10 hours, or on high for 4-5
  • i highly recommend using fresh lemons for their juice and to add the slices into the crock while cooking, but i rarely keep them on hand so bottled lemon juice is my go-to for this recipe.
rotini with creamy squash
i find i "match" my side dishes to the main dish, using as many similar tastes, like herbs and seasonings to help tie the meal together.  you could very easily make this without already having leftover squash or using another vegetable mash like potatoes or carrots.  it did make preparation a lot quicker, though.  you could make this with a roux, too; but as i mentioned early on, i like "hiding" vegetables and this is a perfect opportunity to do so.

  • 1/2 an acorn squash, roasted or steamed
  • 1/2-3/4 C milk
  • 1/2-3/4 C liquid from crock pot
  • 1 T butter
  • same seasonings as bird, but in your desired amount
  • 8 oz. noodle of your choosing - minihe picked rotini although i was thinking penne
  • boil noodles according to package directions, but just until al dente - you will finish cooking them with the addition of the sauce
  • while that is going, mash your squash
  • mix together squash, liquids, and seasonings in a large 2 cup measuring cup or small bowl
  • drain noodles
  • add sauce and cook down until reduced to your desired thickness - i think it took mine only 2 minutes
  • add butter and serve immediately

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Crayon Art

as i promised last week sometime, i have a very creative art project that takes only about an hour and half, about $10 in supplies, but adds a unique pop of color to brighten any room.  the added bonus is that it can easily be done with kids!

as i've cited before, pinterest is, shall we say, a hobby of mine.  i won't go so far as obsession, although sometimes it borders on that.  if you haven't checked out the website yet, take a few minutes to peruse this online pinboard and marvel at the magnitude of ideas you can get.

i found this activity on pinterest and just had to do it.  i won't bore you with the details and the process since i can link you to it -- the pictures and descriptions are far better than what i would give, anyway.  i will post the pictures of my own creations, though.

so you're probably wondering by now what it is....

wait for it...

melted crayon art.  sounds crazy, right?  kinda is.  but i like how you can control the colors to match your decor, involve the kids, and it only takes a few supplies and less than two hours to complete.  this would look exceptional in a kids room as well as a living space.

here's what i used:
  • 3 larger sized canvas
  • 96 count box of crayons
  • 5 hot glue rods and (1) gun
here's how i did it:
  • i soaked the crayons in some warm water to remove the paper.  you could leave it on, but i liked it better without.
  • minihe picked out the colors and we discussed colors, shades, light and dark, and had a grand old time deciding what went together.
  • i glued the crayons to the canvas
  • minishe helped me tip them upside-down and blow dry the crayons to make them melt.
  • to this day, months later, she still points to them and says "hot, hot, hot."
  • i then attached that 3M poster hanging stuff to the backside of the canvas and hung them up on the wall. 
  • all was said and done in under 2 hours
here's what i learned:
  • i tried to recreate an actual design first.  bad idea. just do the "original" way until you know how the melting colored wax will act.
  • melted wax does not remove off of surfaces as well as i thought.  i ruined a two towels and a rug with this little project.
  • be careful not to run the hot glue gun on the crayon itself.  while this may seem like a no-brainer, i didn't think of it a first and gummed up the tip of my hot glue gun.

this is what my center one is supposed to look like.
i think adding some artificial daisies might help...

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Raising Beef

living in the midwest has its perks.  we seriously have some great resources!  meat is in abundance, farmer’s markets are in nearly every town from may until october, we live in place that literally feeds the world.  living in the grain belt is way of life.
minihe and browny
d and minihe doing chores
growing up on a small farm, my life revolved around the seasons of planting, county fair, harvest, and snowmobiling.  my personal favorite was county fair.  it was this experience with 4-H that truly shaped my values as a youth and into adulthood.  furthermore, i was able to, quite successfully, explore my interest in raising and showing beef cattle.  i knew i wanted to marry someone with similar values and experiences that we could ultimately share with our own children.  i found that in d.  we began our own cattle operation a few years ago, and in doing so, began setting up our children to appreciate the hard work and rewards of the farm life.  
part of the reason we began this operation was to supplement our income.  raising our own corn, oats, hay, and straw alleviates overhead costs.  selling the cattle to customers and/or nearby market helps put a little extra cash in our pocket and make the payments on the farming equipment for said overhead costs.  it is definitely a cyclical operation; one part cannot coexist without the others.  the hay and straw operation is also an income builder.  we probably could not run a successful cattle operation without having this resources so accessible.
another reason we took on this responsibility was to keep a freezer full of food.  purchasing meat is expensive.  the quality of meat at some big box and even local grocery stores stock is questionable.  moreover, as i mentioned in my post about my “nearly home-made” cooking style, i like knowing what i’m putting in my body and the bodies of my family.  so many animals are fed unnecessary antibiotics, growth hormones, and sub-par feed.  d takes pride in the fact his animals are all-natural and fed whole-foods from fields we plant and harvest.  we take pride in the fact that we are providing our customers with a product they can feel confident they are consuming without any worries.
if you haven’t considered buying a quarter or half or even a full beef, i highly recommend it.  the cost saving benefits are numerous and are more far-reaching than your own pocketbook:
  • you pay a flat fee per pound; this may make hamburger seem expensive, but steaks are way cheap
  • you can choose the types of cuts you want, how much burger to have made, how thick to have steaks, etc.
  • it comes frozen so there is no wasting of meat that gets forgotten in the back of the fridge
  • shelf life is a few years, depending on your freezer capabilities, if you don’t eat through it first!
  • it is grown locally, fed from local feed sources, slaughtered by a local meat market - all supporting local businesses and limiting the carbon footprint made from transporting meat in from states away
raising or purchasing beef, or any meat for that matter, from a neighbor, friend, or relative is, oddly enough, a ‘green’ way to live.  in my opinion it’s healthier, more economic, and something to definitely consider the next time you’re standing in front of the spread of meats wanting a better option.

i'm all about giving credit where credit is due!  one of the pictures in this post came from this website:

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Nearly Homemade

i have come to realize that my cooking style is distinctly like that of my grandmother’s generation, where whole foods weren’t a trend, but rather the only option.  nutrition is a concern for me, of course, but my main priority is to make food with good, wholesome ingredients that my family will enjoy.  i have also come to realize that i display my love for my family by cooking.  i make special meals for valentine’s day and birthdays, generally a favorite for whoever i’m cooking for.  i have created some beautiful customized birthday cakes for my kids‘ birthdays instead of buying one from a store.  i pride myself in making home-made food items.  
i give chef sandra lee a considerable amount of credit for showing people how they can cook more health-conscious home-made meals that aren’t made of completely home-made ingredients.  i would actually consider my cooking style to be ‘nearly‘ home-made, based on what she considers ‘semi‘ home-made.  i have a few of her cookbooks and regularly consult her website.  i am excited that people are getting back in their kitchens and cooking for their family instead of grabbing a bag full of food from the closest drive-through.
the epidemic of childhood obesity deeply concerns me.  working at a school and seeing what is served daily is scary.  our cooks make nice meals, but there is absolutely zero color deviation from orange-ish yellow.  anyone that knows anything about nutrition knows that a plate that looks like a rainbow is best.  but i also recognize that carbohydrates and corn bi-products are more cost-effective for families and schools.  it is so sad that eating healthy comes at such an expense, but the cost of not eating healthy is far greater.  dare i say - food for thought the next time you (or i) pull out the good ol’ mac and cheese and hot dogs...
what difference does using whole foods make, you ask?  i think a considerable amount of difference.  i can create as delicious a marinade as any popular company out of the similar ingredients, but instead of adding preservatives and chemicals to maintain a shelf-life, mine have the same or better flavors because they are made fresh.  i can create an excellent white sauce without the additional calories of popular jarred versions.  i can add in hidden ingredients so my family gets vegetables without even knowing it.  i know that i can safely add seasonings like salt, pepper, etc. because they haven’t been previously added to the foods.  i know exactly where my meat is coming from because i know the people that raise it.  these are the things i have the freedom to do when i know what is going into our food. 
i am not so crunchy that i only buy organic, mill my own flour, and milk the cow every morning and night.  i, too, throw together quick meals where i can’t control all the elements.  and that’s ok.  remember - everything in moderation.  what i am very conscience about is what i buy, where i buy it, and how i prepare it to preserve as many nutrients as possible.  i love having a beautiful farmer’s market right in town and try to frequent this as much as possible.  i also love the system that many grocery stores have adopted to help people determine healthy choices in their aisles.  (click here to visit fellow bloggers kelsey and eric williams’ blog entry and a link to usa today's article on this very subject.)  
d does not like whole wheat bread, pasta, chips, baked goods, etc.  but thankfully, he eats them anyway.  he’s not a big vegetable fan, but he puts at least one bite on his plate to show the kids that you can still eat something even if you don’t like it.  i have found jessica seinfeld’s process of adding “hidden” vegetables to increase the nutritional value of your dishes highly effective - even d is none the wiser....  (until he reads this, of course.)  i think you have to develop strategies to introduce whole grains, more vegetables/fruits, calcium-rich dairy products, and healthy fats in a way that works best for your family.  i am not claiming to be an expert, by any means; i just know that i feel good about what i’m doing for myself and my family and want to encourage you to do the same if your mealtime choices are lacking in variety, color, and nutrients. 
knowing about proper nutrition is also critical in making good food selections for your family.  i know a considerable amount of information about nutrition, portion sizes, best preparation methods, and so on.  i also know that everything in moderation is perfectly acceptable.  a few marshmallows in a fruit salad will not harm anyone, especially if the fruit is fresh, there are no other added sweeteners, and dressed with yogurt in place of cool whip or cream cheese dip.  real butter in mashed potatoes is perfectly acceptable, especially considering there is “hidden” acorn squash and a sweet potato in the mash and margarine is only one molecule away from plastic.  i would rather use butter than a buttery spread because i know exactly what butter is made from.  anything i can’t pronounce i don’t think i should be putting inside me.  to me, that is what whole-foods cooking is all about.  
does this work for everybody?  most certainly not.  is it always cost-efficient? absolutely not.  does my family always eat their vegetables and like my cooking?  no.  but at the end of the day, i can sleep well knowing i did my part as resident chef to feed myself, my kids, and my husband the best meals i can.  sometimes i have some real flops, but sometimes i have some real wins.  i enjoy challenging myself to recreate restaurant-style dishes in a healthier way.  i relish putting together a meal that is delicious and wholesome.  i love that there is an abundance of bloggers cooking, baking, and embracing this ‘nearly’ home-made way of feeding our families.

i'm all about giving credit where credit is due!  the pictures featured in the post were taken from the following websites:

Monday, January 23, 2012

Snow Days, Not School Days

oh how i love snow days!  seriously, i love cozying up and hunkering down, cooking, cleaning, and spending time with the munchkins.  (although, i usually do a little happy dance when naptime rolls around.)  this morning was greeted with a 5:45am one call from the school district announcing the delay, to which i happily turned off my alarm.  then again around 8 i received the coveted cancellation call.  finally around 9 we all woke up and i casually made breakfast (cinnamon raisin pancakes - see recipe to follow) around 10.  don't judge.  we are generally not in a rush on snow days.  after all, where are we going? this was the gorgeous view from our table this morning.  i absolutely love, love, love it when the snow sticks to the branches.  i can't imagine a whole lot of other nature scenes that are more beautiful...  another perk - i caught shemar moore on ellen, and all i can say is YUM!!  

today's snow day gave me an opportunity to practice more positive parenting, too.  as i revealed yesterday, i struggle with parenting two under 4.  but it has become my resolve, not just because a new year has come but because it is high time, to be a better, more patient, kinder parent.  i want to encourage my children to make good choices because of my guidance, not because i yelled loud enough to get their attention.  

anyway, when the dreaded tears and back-talking started as i attempted to serve lunch, which might i add was pretty tasty, albeit incredibly simple, i actually followed through with my threat to remove the children from the table if their refusal to eat continued.  minishe exclaimed, "i'll eat! i'll eat!" when i began to pull her chair out from the table, and shoved some sausage in her mouth faster than i could blink.  when i transitioned my attention to minihe, he asked through his tears, "how many bites do i need to take?".  i sat down in satisfaction knowing that i had just won myself a small battle in the war against my children's most annoying habits - the mealtime breakdown.

as for our unexpected breakfast at home today, the kids literally screamed "pancakes" and trampled each other in a fast scramble to help me assemble them in the kitchen.  as i've mentioned in a previous post, pancakes are literally my children's favorite food.  not only do they gobble them up, but they love to help with the prep work.  minihe loves to crack the egg, scoop out flour, stir everything around... minishe is just content to have her own [empty] bowl and spoon and pretend to get in on the action.  

the inspiration for this morning's cinnamon raisin pancakes comes from the absolutely delectable cinnamon raisin biscuit/muffin my daycare provider made last week.  i have been craving one since.  j is an expert at, well, everything!  i am truly blessed to have such a wonderful childcare provider, and i would also call her my friend.  those of you reading this with children in daycare centers or in-home providers know just how valuable it is to find someone you can trust to have your children's best interest as their number one priority day in and day out.  after all, their work is to fundamentally raise our children while we work.

at any rate, here's this morning's pancake recipe.  why i didn't think of adding these ingredients together sooner is beyond me!!

cinnamon raisin pancakes:
look at how fluffy they are fluffing up!
ingredients: enough to make 12 pancakes
  • 1/2 C raisins
  • 1 C bisquick mix
  • 1/2 C milk
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 t cinnamon
  • 1 T sugar
  • 1 t baking powder (can be omitted but this simple ingredient makes the pancakes really fluff)
  • dash nutmeg
  • before you start your batter, soak the raisins in warm water to plump them up a little
  • add remaining ingredients to a bowl and stir to mix
  • drain off water from raisins and fold into batter
  • heat a titch of oil on a griddle 
  • spoon batter onto griddle and flip when bubbles pop and don't fill in
  • i served with syrup but i bet a cream cheese drizzle would be excellent (see below)
yes.  i use paper plates and plastic utensils. i abhor washing dishes.
cream cheese drizzle:
  • 2 oz cream cheese
  • 1/2 C powdered sugar
  • 1-2 T butter
  • milk to thin
  • warm cream cheese, butter, and milk in microwave
  • mix, adding more sugar, milk, or cream cheese to desired taste and consistency

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Sunday Night Meals

typically speaking, my most elaborate meals are on sunday nights.  i have completed my weekend tasks (hopefully) and love to bring my weekend to a close with a very nice meal.  growing up, sunday noon was always the meal my grandma took the most time and care preparing.  to this day, i still love a deliciously cooked pot roast with root vegetables and brown gravy.  i think it is with this memory that i strive to do my best for my family on sunday evenings, keeping this tradition alive and instilling family meal time in my own children’s hearts.  this week was no exception.
here is my rendition of pork steaks, mashed potatoes, roasted acorn squash, and fruit fluff.  i hope you enjoy it as much as we did!  everybody was a member of the clean plate club tonight!

mashed potatoes ingredients:
  • 5-6 small yukon gold potatoes
  • 5-6 small red potatoes
  • 1/2 C cubed acorn squash with skin removed
  • salt, pepper, and parsley to season
  • 2 oz. whatever-fat-content-you-want cream cheese
  • 1/3 C sour cream
  • 2 T butter

  • after boiling potatoes and squash until tender, drain off water and add remaining ingredients and seasonings.  
  • mash or mix with a hand mixer

roasted acorn squash:
  • 1 acorn squash
  • 1 1/2 C water
  • 1/4 C canola oil
  • nutmeg, cinnamon, all-spice, ground cloves to suit your taste
  • 2 T brown sugar

  • cut squash in half and scoop out seeds and stringy stuff
  • cut into strips and cut strips in half
  • remove skin from a few strips and cube for use in mashed potatoes
  • place in a baking dish; add other ingredients and toss to mix
  • cover with tin foil and bake at 400 degrees for 35-40 minutes; i removed tin foil in last 5-10 to encourage the liquid to evaporate and condense flavors
i had never eaten squash with the skin on it but it was just fine.  the steaming/roasting left the skin very tender and not chewy or rubbery like i expected.  i did melt a few small pats of butter over the squash after i removed it from the oven and it was really yummy!
pork steaks ingredients:
  • 4 pork steaks
  • 1 T oil
  • s&p

  • heat oil until smoking on a griddle or frying pan; this could also be done on the grill or broiling pan very successfully
  • lay seasoned side down and season the side up with s&p
  • flip
  • continue frying until internal temperature reaches at least 165* degrees - pork must be cooked at a slightly higher temperature than beef to kill any bacteria; i typically am not too concerned with this but as this meat was not our own, i took extra precautions. 
  • total cooking time was right around 15 minutes
  • *Since originally writing this, the USDA relaxed on their guidelines and the new recommendation for pork is 145 degrees Fahrenheit for internal cooking temperature.

i saw these greek seasoned pork steaks at the grocery store for a very reasonable price (approximately $2 for 2 steaks).  although i'm not a pork fan i picked them up and thought i'd give it a whirl.  it was interesting to eat supermarket meat after only consuming home-raised; something i don't especially care to do again, but these were ok considering what my taste buds are programmed to like.

fruit fluff ingredients:
  • fruit on hand - i had apples, bananas, and a can of tropical fruit mix
  • 1/2 mini marshmallows
  • 1 t lemon juice (this is an excellent way to protect against browning of apples and bananas before you serve them)
  • 1/2 vanilla yogurt (a great way to get some additional protein and calcium into our tummies)
  • 2 T cool whip (i find this helps give it a fluffier texture)

  • mix ingredients together in a bowl and place back in the fridge to remain chilled until served

my grandma also used to add a little miracle whip, probably something like 1-2 T to her fruit salads in addition to the yogurt or cool whip.  that extra tang was different and i always liked it.  d, however, does not think miracle whip belongs in a fruit salad, so i don’t include this ingredient anymore.  sounds a little gross, but seriously give it a try sometime!

Quick Weeknight Meals

i adore meals i can get on the table in under 30 minutes.  in fact, this is primarily the type of meals i make.  this week was a whirlwind and at the end of the month, and i was scraping together what was left in the fridge and pantry.  despite this, i had some winners!  the recipes that follow are eggs benedict, bake deli sandwiches, and sausage and biscuits.

eggs benedict: on the table in under 15 minutes, this quick fix was yummy!

  • eggs - as many as you need to serve your family; we used 6
  • bread slices for toasting
mock hollandaise sauce--
  • 1/2 C miracle whip or mayo
  • 1/4 C sour cream
  • 1 T mustard
  • 2 T lemon juice
  • dill and thyme to your taste
  • milk to thin
  • boil a pot full of water; salt boiling water
  • crack an egg into a measuring cup and very carefully pour into boiling water
  • boil 2-3 eggs but make sure egg has enough room to "breathe"
  • once egg floats freely, remove from boiling water with a slotted spoon
  • meanwhile, add miracle whip/mayo, sour cream, mustard, lemon juice, dill and thyme to another small pot, heating through; add milk to thin to your desired consistency
  • toast and butter bread
  • serve egg on top of toast, slather a little mock hollandaise sauce and enjoy!

baked deli sandwiches: a very quick, but delicious take on the typical deli meat and cheese sandwich.  i love reading other people's blogs and this recipe is my adaptation from karly's buns in my oven baking blog.

  • buns 
  • 4 slices of deli meat per bun (i used a combination of 2 slices turkey and 2 slices roast beef)
  • cheese slices (i folded the slice into 1/4's and placed two of the small squares on top of each meat pile
  • 1/2 C melted butter
  • 1 t ground mustard
  • 1 t poppy seeds
  • 2 t onion flakes or 1 t onion powder
  • 2 T worcestershire sauce
  • slice buns open and place bottoms in a pan that accommodates your number of sandwiches
  • layer meat, followed by cheese
  • place bun top on sandwich
  • mix melted butter, mustard, poppy seeds, onion flakes/powder, sauce and pour over buns.
  • cover with tin foil and bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes.

sausage and biscuits: my uncle gordy from omaha makes exceptional sausage and biscuits at our thanksgiving get-togethers.  no matter how much i try to reconstruct this recipe, it is never quite as good as his.  this recipe came as close as i have gotten yet, though!

sausage and gravy ingredients:
  • 1/2 lb bulk pork sausage
  • 1/2 lb italian pork sausage
  • 1 t lawry's seasoning salt
  • 1/2 t garlic salt
  • 1/2 t pepper
  • shake of red pepper flakes
  • 2 T corn starch
  • 1 1/2- 2 C milk
  • cook sausage with seasonings, draining any ridiculous amount of grease off. (i left a little grease so i wouldn't have to add butter to create the roux)
  • when thoroughly cooked, add corn starch, stirring into meat
  • after 30-60 seconds, add cold milk, heating on medium low until the gravy reaches your desired consistency.
biscuit ingredients:
  • 2 1/4 C bisquick mix or any bisquit mix of your choice
  • 2/3 C milk
  • 1/2 C shredded cheese
  • 1/2 t minced garlic
  • 2 T butter
  • mix all ingredients together in a bowl
  • drop by spoonful onto a baking sheet
  • bake for 9-12 minutes in a 400 degree oven
serving suggestions:
gordy serves his sausage biscuits and gravy with hard-boiled eggs, green peppers, and onions.  adds another dimension of flavor!

Parenting Toddlers.... Simultaneously.

i love you not...
i love you...
facebook is a definite vice of mine and i certainly enjoy reading about people's lives.  i feel empowered to share something today after reading 80-some responses about quirkiness and the weird things we do.  strangely, people weren't judging each other!  i hope in reading this, you won't judge me after you read this entry.  i think we all have our struggles in love, marriage, raising kids, work...  i am no different but just have a platform to vocalize these struggles.  parenting toddlers simultaneously is serious work and something I seriously struggle with.  this post is not about how we magically solved our problems; but rather admitting we don't have the answers, our parenting style is a work in progress, and reflecting on what we can do better.  hopefully my admission about my shortcomings as a mother helps me reflect on what i do well and, more specifically, what i can do better.  if it helps you through your parenting struggles, too, well, that's an added bonus.
it should go without saying that i absolutely adore my children!  they are funny, smart, inquisitive, and pretty stinkin' cute.  i love being their mom.  but they are also crabby, whiny, needy, and demanding.  the later four characteristics are, unfortunately, what i normally see.  and sadly, this takes the enjoyment out of parenting for me.  while they are finally starting to play together, in the blink of an eye, they turn on each other and on me.  what's even more perplexing is that they can turn on and off this behavior for d, and the in-laws.  i think they have a fearful respect of their father and gpa, and that mil's elementary education background gives her skills that i don't use in my upper elementary/secondary teaching.  i am always amazed by how d's mom is so good with the kids, especially minihe.  there have been very few times i can recall her giving him a timeout.  pretty sure he's never gotten a spanking at their house, either.  i have always heard d's family comment on how well-behaved d and his sister were as kids.  d's mom was also a sahm (stay-at-home-mom) for their early childhood years, which is yet another reason i think she's so good with my kids - she developed strategies as a parent 27 years ago that serve her incredibly well as an elementary teacher and grandmother today.
identifying the fact i struggle with parenting takes a lot for me.  i generally only do things i'm good at, but i obviously can't discontinue parenting because it's hard -- and it's only going to get harder.  i want so desperately to have polite, quiet, well-behaved children that use their manners without being prompted, that follow directions the first time, and that are cooperative 100% of the time.  but who am i kidding?  everybody ideally wants their children to be that way.  i have great admiration for parents that have done an excellent job of raising their children, many of whom are my relatives.  perhaps that's what makes me aspire even more to be a better parent and raise better children: because i know it can be done.
their kids don't just become this way overnight.  they have established clear guidelines, expectations, consequences, and rewards.  this is not a revelation for me or probably for you, either.  the purpose these observations serve for me is to reflect on what i can do differently and how i can adapt my parenting to achieve that level of success with my own children.  from what i have seen, they remain calm, speak with care and respect, and probably most important of all - follow through.  i know what i need to do, i just don't know how to do it and make the change last when it gets hard.
i am impatient.  i raise my voice way too much.  i am not always "present" with them.  these, among others, are my major shortfalls when it comes to my parenting.  i have tried positive reinforcement; i have tried redirecting; i have tried speaking calmly; i have tried countless other strategies to manage minihe's rollercoaster-like behavior and minishe's drama-filled tantrums.  all i have found is that he'll do well for a few days and then he reverts back to old behaviors, and that she is spoiled and isn't satisfied until she gets her way.  i am somewhat of a pushover and have probably enabled these behaviors just to keep the house peaceful.  i wouldn't go so far as to say that we can't control our kids, but their behaviors are so upsetting to us that we don't take them to places where sitting still for longer than 5 minutes is required.  the different ways we parent and the results they yield has created some disagreements in our marriage.  perhaps this is partially because after we agree on a strategy we want to be effective, we both revert back to our own ineffective behaviors that contribute to this situation.  one more admission - i do this more frequently than d does...  
i will have to say that despite our different parenting philosophies, we back each other up and support the decisions we make when another parent is not present.  presenting a united front, regardless if we agree with it or not, is the most important parenting philosophy we share.  i don't want to discipline my children with fear.  i want to discipline them with love, respect, and authority.  i do not have answers for how to actually achieve this.  all i know for sure is that i will keep trying to be a better parent, and the first step for me is confessing how much i struggle in these efforts and recognizing that there are better ways to achieve a happy household.
maybe you have your own struggles.  maybe you have some effective strategies that work for you.  either way, embracing these struggles and how we overcome them is one of the greatest joys of parenting - knowing that we're not alone in our endeavor to raise a generation of kids that are caring, respectful, thoughtful, and considerate.

what have you done well in your parenting?  what do you wish you could do better at?  sound off in the comment area below this post!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Broccoli Cheese Soup with Potatoes - Slow Cooker

with a basketball game this last week that i had the joy of taking minihe along to, i planned ahead with a crock pot waiting for us with this winter favorite.  a special thank to my fil (father in-law) for actually getting out the crock pot and starting it up for me since i forgot!!  :)

i looked at probably ten different recipes for this kind of soup and found everything on the spectrum - things that were incredibly rich and incredibly bland; different ways to increase the thickness and creaminess.  i finally decided on the following hybrid.  i did all of the prep monday night while waiting for my shrimp to cure in their marinade so all i had to do in the morning was turn the crock on.

broccoli cheese soup with potatoes - slow cooker:
prep time - 30 minutes
cook time - 8-10 hours (on low) 4-5 (on high)
3 heads broccoli, trimmed and chopped into small chunks
4 carrots, peeled and cut on the angle 
*the angle cut is probably not necessary but i think it looks nice when i eat soups that way in a restaurant, so when in rome, right?
1 medium onion, finely diced
10 small potatoes, peeled and quartered
*i happened to have both red and yukon, so i used 5 of both and, as you can see, they are fairly small
*you could also use other vegetables like celery, corn, peppers...
*i bet bacon would be good in this, just make sure to fry it first and crumble it in, reserving a few pieces to crumble fresh when you serve the soup
1 C velveeta cheese, cut into 1" chunks
1 1/2 C milk
2 C chicken or vegetable broth
*i didn't want to use sour cream, cream cheese, creamed soup, more velveeta, or more milk to save on some extra calories, fat, and so on, but i did need some more liquid...  see preparation for how i plan to make the soup creamy without the use of these ingredients
2 T butter
other choice of herbs/seasonings you enjoy

throw everything in the crock pot
cook on low for 8-10 hours or on high for 4-5
when done, remove approximately half of the soup and let cool slightly
place in small batches in the blender, and run until smooth
add back to the crock
serve and enjoy!

let me know if you have any recipes similar or what you do with a soup like this.  i think had i had more time, this would have been delicious with some seasoned croutons or oyster crackers...  i'll be trying that next time!

Monday, January 16, 2012

I Have A Dream

a common question i have received from family and friends over the last few days has been "do you have the day off on monday?" My standard answer was "ugh. no." but why do i think i even deserve a day off?  

after reflecting on my attitude about this as the day has progressed, i have a few thoughts.  isn't the best way to celebrate the life and work of MLK to actually work or go to school?  wouldn't it defeat the purpose of this great man's passion if we didn't experience civil rights in action on a daily basis? wouldn't that be the legacy that he would want for himself?  this is the living, breathing result he died to bring to fruition.  his efforts were not for us to have a day off from work, but for us to embrace our differences and revel in the amazement that as red, yellow, black, and white; male or female; young, old, or somewhere in-between; gay, straight, bi, trans-gendered; religious, spiritual, or atheist; republic, democrat, or independent-- everyone is created equal.  

"When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the "unalienable Rights" of "Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." 
~I Have A Dream, Martin Luther King, August 28, 1963

as we near the 50th anniversary of this monumental speech, i certainly recognize and hold dear everything this man stood for.  in actuality, i cannot even begin to fathom what the civil rights movement means to minorities.  after all, it was a major turning point in our history and although we have made exceptional strides since 1963, we are quite obviously still a far cry from accepting of differences.

this day absolutely deserves recognition. "i have a dream" stands on the same ground as the declaration of independence, signing of the constitution, and the emancipation proclamation.  i don't think there has been any more important speech in modern history that has had such an impact on society as this.  i implore you to consider just how crucial and just how alive this movement is yesterday, today, and tomorrow...

"I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character."
~I Have A Dream, Martin Luther King, August 28, 1963

to see and hear the full "I Have A Dream" speech, click here.
to see the development of the MLK monument, click here.

Lemon Garlic Shrimp and Butter Noodles

as promised this afternoon on facebook, here is what was for supper tonight at reeder ranch!  at the bottom is a picture of the finished meal, served with steamed green beans and fruit salad.  the fruit salad is my grandmother's concoction, and i cannot locate it in my recipe box.  i'll post it sometime later this week after grandma emails it to me.  the kid's call it frozen cupcakes and go crazy for them!

lemon garlic shrimp and butter noodles:
preparation time - 35-65 minutes
cooking time - 10 minutes

basic ingredients:
thawed shrimp
*enough to serve your family; i used 1/2 pound but probably could have done the whole pound... i'm trying to cut back on my portions, so it's also probably fine that i didn't use the whole package :)
*could use uncooked, but pre-cooked makes the process faster and more cost efficient
8-10 oz. thin noodle (spaghetti works fine)
*again, use as much as needed for your family. i had a 32 oz. box of vermicelli and used about a third.

shrimp marinade:
3-4 T lemon juice
2 T honey
1 T oil
1 T minced garlic
1 T soy sauce
sprinkle ground mustard
sprinkle salt
sprinkle red pepper flakes (optional)

butter noodles:
3 T butter
medium palmful parsley flakes (1/2-1 T?)
small palmful garlic salt (1/2 t?)
extra small palmful basil leaves (1/4 t?)
1-2 T leftover marinade, if desired
serve with a sprinkle of parmesan, if desired
thaw, remove tails, rinse and pat dry shrimp 
*i remove tails because of the kids, but if you like it with tails on, by all means, do what you like...
mix with marinade and let sit for 30-60 minutes
prepare grill pan for skewered shrimp or frying pan for sauteed shrimp 
boil water, adding 1 T oil, 1/2 t salt to water 
*rachael ray says that the oil prevents the noodles from sticking to each other and the only time to season the noodles is in the boiling process
follow package instructions to prepare noodles
after adding noodles to water, heat pan for shrimp
*avoid overcooking pre-cooked shrimp or it gets rubbery
drain off water and immediately add butter, parsley, basil, garlic salt, and marinade
toss to melt butter
sprinkle with a dash of parmesan and some fresh parsley right before serving

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Molasses Cookies

i have been promising minihe we'd make cookies for a while now but things just didn't work out for us - naptime, suppertime, bathtime...  i love molasses cookies but have never made them myself. probably because i don't happen to keep molasses on hand, but with seasonal items, like molasses, in stock and highly visible, i thought this would be a delicious project for the two of us.  the recipe is not my own, although i did have to use golden brown sugar instead of dark since that's what i had on hand. i also only had whole cloves instead of ground so i neglected that ingredient from my batter.  i used a tiny, itty, bitty sprinkling of nutmeg instead.  they're similar, right?   click here to view the website where this comes from.  

dry ingredients:
2 C flour
1 t baking soda
1/4 t salt
1 t cinnamon
1 t ginger
1/2 t ground cloves (omitted)
wisk together in a bowl and set aside

wet ingredients:
1 stick unsalted butter
1 C dark brown sugar (i used golden)
2 T oil
1/3 C molasses
1 egg
1/2 t vanilla
beat butter and sugar until light and fluffy, 2-3 minutes. scrape sides and bottom of bowl frequently.
add remaining liquid ingredients and beat until incorporated. scrape sides and beat briefly.

add flour to liquid bowl, beating with each addition.
refrigerate for a minimum of 2 hours or overnight.  this step is important because the batter is sticky and extremely difficult to work with.

preheat oven to 375 degrees.
cover baking sheet with parchment paper
place 1 C sugar in a bowl
roll dough into 1" rounds and then roll in sugar
using the bottom of a glass, flatten each round slightly
bake 9-10 minutes or until tops start to crackle
cool on a wire rack

don't these just look delicious?