Monday, October 8, 2012

And I Simply Decided to be Happy Again

I was just thinking today about my decision to be happy.

My husband had passed away and I was determined that I would be one of those widows who always wore black and had the air of dignified, brokenhearted sadness about her.

Really, I was never going to smile again. Then the Big Guy would know just how much I loved him and missed him. So would the world.

Ahhh… how noble it would be to go through life and never again experience joy because of my loss.

A plastic grocery bag blew across the street in front of me and I started crying. It was pretty pathetic.

Then one day, I caught myself smiling and laughing at something.

I cried all over again, because really, was I supposed to be happy?

I decided then that this sad life was not the life I wanted. I didn't want to be a martyr. I wanted joy again. I wanted my kids to see me laughing. I wanted them to be happy.

And so I decided to be happy.

It wasn't an automatic switch.

It still took time.

I still cried when I answered the phone and someone asked for my husband.

I still cried at night when I said my prayers.

But the decision was there and happiness followed.

I am so glad that I made that decision. My big guy would have wanted me happy. 

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Idaho Baked Potato Soup

Idaho Baked Potato Soup is one of my all time favorite soups for fall. Imagine a big baked potato smothered in butter, bacon, cheese, and sour cream. Now imagine it hot and ready on your stove all day long!
This soup smells wonderful and is so filling. It lasts pretty well in the fridge and heats up nicely for lunch. It's probably not a good cantidate for freezing, but we never got that far. For more family favorites, clicky here.
This recipe is from my sister-in-law. She's an Idaho girl. =]
Idaho Baked Potato Soup

½ c butter
½ c flour
7 c milk
4 lg potatoes, baked, cubed, and peeled
4 green onions, sliced
1 lb bacon, cooked and crumbled
2 c shredded cheddar cheese
1 c sour cream
1 t salt
½ t pepper

Melt butter in a large soup pot. Stir in flour. Heat and stir until smooth. Gradually add milk, stirring until thickened. If you pour it all in at once, it takes forever to heat and doesn’t seem to thicken. The dump it all together method does not save time on this one.

Add potatoes and onion. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Reduce heat. Simmer 10 minutes. Add remaining ingredients. Stir until cheese is melted. Makes 2 ½ quarts.

Navajo Tacos / AKA Almost Copycat Taco Bell Chalupas

Have you ever tried Taco Bell's chalupas? I know it's probably uncool, but I have to confess that I love 'em. That's why they're here in the 30 Days of Family Favorite Recipes.

These babies, Navajo Tacos, remind me of them. They're a special treat and we don't have them often, but when we do....ahhhh....bliss!

They're pretty simple to make - so simple in fact, that my kids can make them, and often do when I need to study. If your kids are young you should probably do the cooking, but my youngest has been mixing and rolling these since she was six or seven.

Navajo Tacos

3 c small uncooked red beans
1 lb lean ground beef
1 – 8 oz can tomato sauce
1 pkg chili seasoning mix
Chopped lettuce
Chopped tomato
Chopped onion
Grated cheddar cheese
Salsa or taco sauce

Soak beans in cold water for at least two hours or overnight. Drain beans and place them in a large pot with 5 cups of water. Bring to a boil, cover and cook, boiling steadily for one hour. Reduce heat and cook, covered, for two more hours. Beans are done when the skin peels back when you blow on them.
While beans are cooking, brown beef and crumble, about 20 minutes. Drain grease. Add tomato sauce and chili seasoning and simmer for an additional 10 minutes to blend flavors.
While mixture is simmering, prepare a double batch of fry bread. 
To serve, spoon bean mixture onto hot fry bread and top with any combination of lettuce, tomato, onion, cheese, and salsa.
Indian Fry Bread

5 c flour
2 T baking powder
1 T melted butter
2 t salt
2 c milk
Oil for frying

          Mix dry ingredients. Stir in milk and butter a little at a time. Mix into soft dough but do not knead. Divide into golf ball sized portions and roll to 1/4-inch thickness. 
          Heat oil to medium heat. Oil will be up to temp when a small piece of bread dough sizzles when placed in oil. Fry til golden brown. Flip and fry on other side. Drain on paper towels. These can be kept hot in a 170 degree oven til ready to serve.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Show Your Kids How Much You Love Them

I fell off the wagon. I was going to post thirty recipes in thirty days, then life got busy and I stopped. Now it's been....awhile...and I'm almost embarrassed to come back. Aaarg.

So much for goals.

Here's a better one, at least for the moment, that I found on Amy Lynn Andrews' wonderful Facebook page.

I decided to put this one to the test.

I hugged my 13 year old daughter goodnight and didn't let go.

She hugged me back and didn't let go.

For a long time.

And then we both started giggling.

For a long time.

It made me wonder how many times I pull away first because important things need to get done - and how much my kids want to hold on just a little longer.

It's sometimes hard as a single mom, and a widow at that, to find the time to do everything (which is why my kitchen floor is still a mess, but that's another story). Yet when the day comes to an end, they are most important in my life....and they need to know it.

Try an experiment. Hug your kids tonight and wait for them to pull back first. See if they notice a difference. I think you'll be pleasantly surprised.  =]

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The Lightest, Crispiest Waffles Ever

My kids were astounded one day to see frozen waffles in the grocery store. We've always made them. Not from a mix, mind you, and not because I'm a waffle snob. I'm cheap.

After years of making waffles from scratch, I splurged and bought a mix. Know what I discovered? Scratch is better! And the bonus? They really don't take much more time than making them with a mix.

This recipe is the one we have used for years and have always had great results. The waffles are light and crisp. Top them with a little butter, yeah, the real stuff, and drizzle them with syrup and you're good to go.

This post is one of 30 in a series of Family Favorite Recipes. To see the rest, check here.

As a mom with a wild schedule, I have been known to cook up a bunch of these at once and freeze them in Ziplock baggies.

If you decide to try this, undercook slightly so you can pop them in the toaster later without burning them to a crisp. Let them cool on a wire rack before bagging or they stick together. To reheat, the toaster is the best option I have found to retain some crispness. If you're doing a bunch, put them on a cookie sheet and stick them under the broiler. Just keep an eye on them or they'll burn.The microwave will work in a pinch and are a great option for kids, just don't expect them to be crisp this way.


1 ¾ c flour
1 T baking soda
½ t salt
2 eggs, separated
1 ¾ c milk
½ c oil

In a large mixing bowl, stir together flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside. In a small mixing bowl, beat egg yolks with a fork. Beat in milk and oil. Add to flour mixture all at once. Stir til blended but still slightly lumpy.

In a small mixer bowl, beat egg whites ‘til stiff peaks form. Gently fold beaten egg whites into flour/milk mixture, leaving a few fluffs of egg white. Do not over mix. The egg white is what makes your waffles light and crispy. Cook on a lightly greased waffle iron as usual.

I have used up to ½ whole wheat flour with good results.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Recipe for Disaster

Not every day is perfect. Some need serious work. The newest recipe for the month of Family Favorite Recipes is not one that I'm fond of....sorry. If I could have skipped it, I would have. Really.

Recipe for Disaster

1 busy lady running full tilt
1 handful children
8 expected dinner guests
1 messy house
1 very solid and immovable couch
1 medical insurance policy that can't be used because the deductible is through the roof

Mix all together and watch the poor lady laugh and cry on the floor while she holds her foot. Groan in sympathy as she attempts to put her dislocated pinky toe back in place (it worked) as the kids look on in fascination. Serve with sympathy and dash of compassion as she hobbles around the house for the next week.

May you never find yourself serving this meal.

~ Erin  =]

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Tortilla Stew

If you like Taco Soup, you'll love this. It has a similar flavor but is thick and hearty and feels more substantial. My kids are not real soup fans. but they like this one. Maybe because it's not real soupy? For more kids friendly meals, check out 30 Family Favorite Recipes.

Savory chicken in a thick, slightly spicy stew, and garnished with tortillas, cheese, and cilantro, this dish is perfect for a cold winter night. 

The recipe is easy to double and freezes well. Portion out the soup to freeze before you add the tortillas. Package the tortillas separately in a Ziploc bag and add to the soup after reheating.

Tortilla Stew

2 qt chicken broth*
¼ c taco seasoning
1 c shredded chicken*
1 can corn
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 can Piquinto beans (small pink beans in a mild sauce) or any other variety
1 pt salsa
1 c flour mixed with 1 ½ c water
1 can black olives. Sliced
3 tortillas, cut or torn into 1-inch squares (I prefer flour, but corn is good, too)
Grated cheddar cheese to garnish
Cilantro, chopped (optional – but really, really good)

Combine broth, taco seasoning, chicken, corn, beans, and salsa. Bring to a boil. Stir in flour mixture to thicken like a stew. Add olives and stir.
If serving everything, then add tortilla pieces and stir as well. If there will be leftovers, offer tortillas as a topping. This keeps them from becoming a soggy mess the next day. Garnish with cheddar cheese and cilantro if desired.

Toilet Paper from Heaven

Sometimes blessings come from the most unlikely places.

I had an experience several years ago that will stay with me. It confirmed to me that our Heavenly Father hears us, He know our needs, and He will help us.

Once upon a time, I was sick as a dog. I couldn't do anything. It was bad. My husband had died the previous year and not one of my six kids was old enough to drive. And then the worst happened. We were on our last roll of toilet paper.

Source unknown
Low and behold, at about 11 PM that night, my boys got all excited and came running into my room. "Mom! Someone TP'd our house!" 

My reply? "Oh, thank you Heavenly Father for answering prayers! Boys, go roll it up. We're gonna make it. "

We have a big tree in our yard. Those kids didn't skimp, let me tell you. They used rolls and rolls and they must not have been pros because they left several of those rolls only half used. And it was the good stuff. I felt spoiled.

Lessons learned?
  • Heavenly Father answers prayers.
  • He has a sense of humor. Really.
  • Blessings can come from unlikely sources.
  • Sometime you have to look for those blessings in the gifts that are given.
  • What you do today may be the answer to somebody's prayer.
  • May we give of our best! =]

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Sloppy Joes

Sloppy Joes are awesome. They're messy and full of flavor and give you an excuse to lick your fingers at the dinner table. Those qualities alone should gain them a place on the 30 Family Favorites list.

My mother-in-law made this meal for her eight kids for years. I talked her out of the recipe. The rest is history.

These joes are the perfect balance of tangy with a touch of sweet, inexpensive to make, can be made ahead of time, can be frozen, and can hide healthy things. I've substituted cracked wheat cereal or 9-grain cereal for up to half of the meat without getting caught.

I did make some changes to her original recipe to fit my family's needs. I believe in the make it in a hurry method whenever possible. Life is busy. Kids have sports. Sometimes I forget to start dinner....sigh.

Sloppy Joes

2 lb hamburger
2 c catsup
1 T lemon juice
½ c chopped celery
¼ c chopped green pepper
1 onion, chopped
2 T vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste
¾ T Worcestershire sauce
2 T brown sugar
¼ c water
½ T dry mustard (or less)

Brown meat and drain. Add all ingredients and let cook on low heat for one hour or longer until sauce becomes thick.
My In a Hurry Method: Brown and drain the hamburger. While meat is cooking, sauté the celery, peppers, and onion in 1 T butter until tender, then add to the meat. Add all remaining ingredients, but omit the water. Simmer for 10 -15 minutes.
Healthy variation: I have also substituted up to 2 cups of cooked 9-grain or cracked wheat cereal for half of the hamburger. This was usually left-overs from breakfast. Kids never knew the difference.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Sweet and Sour Salad be honest, my kids can live without this recipe. It has green stuff in it. With that said, tough luck. It's my pick. I win.

To see the other recipes in my 30 Family Favorite Recipe series, clicky here.

I love a good salad, and this one is one of my favorites. My cousin gave me this recipe years ago and I had the sense to hold onto it. You'll want to, too.

The lettuce is crispy and the dressing has a sweet/tangy flavor. What makes it fantastic, though, is the addition of buttery, toasted Ramen noodles and walnuts. Oh. My.

I'll post a picture when I can actually find my camera. =]

Sweet and Sour Salad

1 c vegetable oil
¾ c sugar
½ c red wine vinegar (or regular)
3 t soy sauce
1 c chopped walnuts
1 – 3oz pkg Ramen noodles, dry and broken into small pieces
4 T butter
1 head romaine lettuce – rinsed, dried, and chopped
1 head fresh broccoli, chopped
1 bunch green onions, chopped

Whisk together oil, sugar, vinegar, and soy sauce. Best to make a day ahead but it’s not the end of the world if you don’t. It’ll be delicious anyway.
Melt butter in a frying pan over medium heat. Add crushed ramen noodles and walnuts; toast til golden brown.
Combine the Romaine, broccoli, and green onions. Add the dressing and toss. Sprinkle with ramen mixture before serving.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Ultimate Grilled Cheese

Keeping to the 30 Family Favorite Recipes theme...

I'm posting one of my favorite simple recipes today because I have a million things to get done. I'm working on getting my first ever passport today!

As some of you know, I am a nursing student. This semester, over winter break, actually, I have the chance to travel to Ecuador for nearly a month as part of a cultural nursing course. I am excited and a bit nervous, but mostly in a panic to get the paperwork in order.

Sooooo...with that said, Ultimate Grilled Cheese it is. Probably for dinner tonight, too.

We all pretty much know how to make grilled cheese, right? Butter the outside of the bread and slap a piece of cheese inside, then fry it up.

What makes it really good is....drumroll, please...shredded Parmesan cheese toasted up to golden, crispy deliciousness on the outside.

The Parmesan can make even standard American cheese slices taste amazing.

Think Sizzler's Cheese Toast made into a sandwich.

For the record, the stuff in the plastic container will work in a pinch, but it tends to be saltier and isn't nearly as good.

Step it up and try Swiss cheese slices (yep, Kraft, in the wrapper).

Wanna get wild?

Use pepperjack cheese. On sourdough bread. With Parmesan on the outside.

Or slice a big, fat loaf of sweet French bread into a two-inch thick slice, from the bottom, cut a little pocket into the center of it (almost like you're trying to cut it into two slices but leaving the sides intact), stuff it with a slice of mozzarella cheese, and dip the outside in shredded Parmesan.

Notice how everything comes back to Parmesan?

Try it. You'll thank me. =]

Ultimate Grilled Cheese

2 slices bread of choice
1 slice cheese of choice to cover bread
Shredded Parmesan cheese

       Butter one side of each piece of bread. Sprinkle Parmesan cheese on a small plate. Press bread, buttered side down on the Parmesan. This makes the cheese stick a bit better than if you just sprinkled directly onto the bread. Place cheese between non buttered sides of bread.
       Grill in a non-stick pan at medium heat, flipping when the first side becomes golden brown. You know the routine. Don't wander away to be efficient and do something else, because it can burn fast. Especially if you think you have a minute to go check Facebook. I know.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Brown Sugar Sausage-Bacon Appetizers

I think I've told you that my mother-in-law is a fantastic cook. She has a recipe stash to envy. She makes everything, and lots of it. She revels in family parties, and food has always been a central part of those parties.

This is one of her recipes. The first time I saw these babies one Christmas morning, I thought yuck. Bacon and sugar?

But it was Christmas and I was a new addition to the family, so I was brave and tried them anyway. And then I tried another, and another. Little pieces of sausage, wrapped in bacon, coated with caramelized brown sugar, hot and sweet and salty...I about died.

This is one of those recipes that I recommend making infrequently. It does not go in the healthy section. It goes in the spoil me silly section and should be used accordingly. 

Christmas morning is a good time. Preferably when you have lots of company and have to share. 

I can't remember if this recipe was on my list of 30 Family Favorites to share with you guys. If it wasn't, it is now. There's no way I could pass on it. I'd feel like I was hoarding a family treasure, and I did promise to share.

I know my picture is dorky. Bear with me.

Brown Sugar Sausage-Bacon Appetizers

24 links uncooked sausage, cut in half
1 lb bacon, cut in half
1/2-1 lb lt brown sugar

Wrap each sausage piece with a piece of bacon. Secure with a toothpick. Arrange in a 9x13 pan. Sprinkle sausage with brown sugar. You can make these up the night before, cover and stick in the fridge at this point.

Bake at 350° for 1 to 1-1/2 hours to desired doneness.  Baste occasionally with drippings and break up any lumps in the sugar. Sugar will caramelize while cooking.

A Variation on Tacos

For the record, I made this for dinner tonight.

I burnt the hamburger while helping my daughter google primary sources of those who were aboard the Mayflower.

Then I dropped a glass bottle of jalepeno peppers while getting the cheese out of the fridge.

Then I got the whole blasted thing together and couldn't find the camera for your viewing pleasure.

Then I typed it all up and forgot to post it. So much for a post a day.

Move over Pioneer Woman. I am obviously stiff competition.

It still got devoured, by the way. I left to pick up daughter number two and came home to a pan that had been scraped clean. Just sayin', burnt and all.

My mom gave me this recipe several years ago. It's one of the few recipes that ALL of my kids eat without complaint, which puts it right up there in the solid gold department as far as I am concerned.

This is another recipe in the 30 Days of Family Friendly Recipes series. To see the rest, click here.

This one is pretty simple, can be made up ahead of time and baked just before dinner, and can easily be augmented to feed extra bodies that happen to stop by.

It's called Chili Stack - maybe because taco seasoning is made with chili powder? I contemplated changing the name to Taco Stack, but really, I couldn't do that to my kids. Chili Stack is family.

Chili Stack

2 lb hamburger
1/2 c onion, chopped fine (or 4 T dehydrated onion - I usually cheat and use dehydrated)
2/3 c taco seasoning (about 3 pkgs)
4 c water
8-16 oz shredded cheese 
8-10 flour tortillas

Brown hamburger and onion and drain grease. Add water and taco seasoning and simmer 10 minutes. Layer meat, cheese, tortilla, six times in a deep casserole dish. Top with meat and cheese. Pour any leftover sauce over the top. The sauce is juicy and soaks into the tortillas.

If you double the recipe, you can use a 9x13 pan. I often use extra tortillas and spread the meat and cheese a little thinner.

Cover and bake at 375 for 25 minutes. Let set for 5 minutes for juice to soak in. Cut in squares to serve.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Swedish Pancakes - American Style

This is part of my 30 Days of Family Favorite Recipes challenge. To see the rest, clicky here.

This is probably THE most requested breakfast meal in our home. If it's a birthday, this is what they want on their day. If we have company, this is what they want to make to show off.

The kids love these and tend to eat several, so I taught them how to make them. Makes them appreciate the work that goes into them, you know? These are fast for a small family, so don't let me scare you.

Swedish pancakes are basically a crepe, and we fill them, usually, with butter and powdered sugar that melt into deliciousness. Sometimes we'll use syrup instead, but powdered sugar is the regular go-to topping. Fresh strawberries are good if they're in season and we didn't eat them all the day before, or fresh peaches as pictured above. Not likely, but it COULD happen.

The trick to these is in the wrist and a good, non-stick pan.

Eventually I'll add pictures to this, but for now, use your imagination.

Swedish Pancakes

4 eggs
2 c milk
2 c flour
1/8 c sugar
powdered sugar

Beat together eggs, milk, flour, and sugar until batter is smooth. It will be thin. If you have a blender, it'll do a great job. You want it as smooth as possible because all your little lumps will show up when you pour the batter out.

Heat a large, non-stick frying pan over medium heat. Add a small amount of butter to the pan to coat. Pour a 3-4 inch circle of batter in the center of the pan, remove from heat, and tilt the pan in a circular motion to make the batter spread out to cover the bottom of the pan. Batter should be 1/8 -1/16 of an inch thick.

When edges appear lightly brown, flip and cook on the other side. These babies cook pretty fast, which is a good thing because kids eat them prety fast.

Remove from pan and top with a sliver of butter, then roll up or fold in half. At this point, I usually have a cookie sheet in the warm oven and I stockpile pancakes so everyone can eat at once. Just as easy to feed each person in rounds, serving up another hot one as it is done.

Now this is the important part. Open these guys up and sprinkle the powdered sugar inside. Not outside. It looks pretty outside, but the deliciousness is the butter/sugar melty center. Eat with a fork, or if you're like us, pick it up burrito style and have at it.

30 Days of Family Favorite Recipes

I missed day one and two. I'm going to cheat from the start and post those later today.

For now though, the goal is to post a one of my family's favorite recipes each day for the month of September.

This is a challenge for me as

1) It's hard for everyone to agree 100% on a favorite ~ I have a child that doesn't like melted cheese and another that doesn't like chocolate. Excuse me? They won't have a say here. Six against one. Majority rules.

2) I don't think I've ever done anything for 31 days straight. Not even make my bed. Maybe I should add bed making to my goals instead.

Just as a heads up, we're pretty basic around here. You won't find the fancy stuff that takes hours to make and minutes to devour. If I want to impress someone, that's another story, but we're talking efficiency now, and as a single mom with a busy schedule, efficiency rules the day and the dinner table.

All of the recipes in this series are ones that we have made many, many times. They are tried and true. The kids have given them the thumbs up review.

We gravitate towards foods that are fast, easy, use everyday ingredients that I have on hand, and use minimal prepackaged mixes. I like to cook from scratch because I know what's in my food that way and yeah, it's cheaper.

This morning I posted a recipe for homemade ice cream. I can't think of a better way to start.

I'll be adding to this list as I go along, but to give you an idea of what we consider favorites:

Jeanette's Basic Ice Cream
Swedish Pancakes
Ultimate Grilled Cheese - Basic with a twist that makes it great
Idaho Baked Potato Soup - From one of my Idaho sisters-in-law
Brown Sugar Sausage-Bacon Appetizers - Oh. My. Gosh.
Party Punch
Tortilla Stew
Sloppy Joes
Sweet and Sour Salad - I don't care what the kids say. This is fantastic!
Stafford Breakfast
Chili Stack
Chicken Dressing Casserole
Chicken Poppy Casserole
Hot Chicken Salad - another mother-in-law recipe - yumm
Navajo Tacos and Fry Bread - Courtesy of my sister-in-law - my kids love it!
Chicken Roll Ups - A mother-in-law recipe, which means it's delicious
Sweet and Sour Chicken - Reminds me of Panda's orange chicken
Chili - Make a bunch and freeze it for later
Biscuits Supreme - A definite must have recipe
Basic Muffins and Favorite Variations - A breakfast favorite
Flour Tortillas - All the kids help make these - simple and great
Pumpkin Streusel Bread - A favorite for fall
Braden's Famous Focaccia - My son has been making this since he was eight and it's great
One Hour Cinnamon Rolls - Yep, start to finish in an hour
Puffy French Toast - You know those crispy, puffy french toast sticks you can get at restaurants?
Waffles - light and crisp and perfect
Super Simple Smoothies
Oatmeal Cake
A Recipe for Disaster

...and a little space for last minute picks...

If you have a family favorite, feel free to share! ~ Erin

The Best Ever Homemade Ice Cream

In honor of Labor Day and many, many family parties with  homemade ice cream...the day just wouldn't be the same without it.

This is the first in my attempt to post a recipe a day of our family's favorite recipes. To see the rest, clicky here. For the record, this is a work in progress until the end of the month. =]

My husband was one of eight kids, seven of whom were boys. When we all lived close together, family get-togethers were a blast. OK, yes, I muttered at the time, but our kids loved hanging out with their cousins, and of course, there was the food...  

When it came to family parties, we were all assigned to bring something. Most of us daughters-in-law got assigned homemade ice cream to go along with whatever else we brought, but no one could compete with my mother-in-law when it came to the ice cream. 

Believe me. I tried. 

One time, in desperation, I bought a couple cartons of Breyer's Mint Chocolate Chip (my favorite brand because it tastes homemade), plopped it in a bowl, used the mixer to soften it up, then stuck it in the ice cream maker and called it mine. 

I did get rave reviews at that family party, but couldn't keep a straight face when asked for the recipe. I confessed and got a couple of high-fives from my sisters-in-law. My kids still tease me about it.

This is my mother-in-law's recipe and she is famous for it. It's pretty much a given for Labor Day, Memorial Day, family birthdays, etc.

She has a basic base and then adds what she wants to it. A few of the favorite alterations are below. 

Jeanette's Basic Ice Cream
4 eggs
4-1/2 t vanilla
1/2 t salt
2-1/4 c sugar
4 c whipping cream
4 c half and half
1 c milk
Beat eggs ‘til slightly thickened. Add vanilla and salt. Slowly add sugar and beat til mixed. Mix in whipping cream and 2 c half and half. Pour into one gallon ice cream container and add remaining half and half. Add milk to fill line. 
Freeze according to ice cream maker instructions.
For our favorite variations, add the following to the base as directed:

Cookies and Cream:
1 sm pkg Oreo cookies - 2/3 broken and 1/3 finely smashed/crushed. 
To be fair, my mother-in-law scrapes the filling off the this last third before crushing, but I can never bring myself to do that.
When mostly frozen, after about 10-15 minutes, add cookies. Letting it set up a bit keeps everything from settling on the bottom.

Toasted Almond
1/2 c Nestle Quik
1/4-1/2 t almond extract
1-1/4 c toasted almonds 
For toasted almonds, heat oven to 350. Place almonds on a cookie sheet. Stir after 10 minutes. Cook for 3-5 minutes longer. Watch carefully as once they start to brown, they go from toasty to burnt quickly. Cool before adding to ice cream. These are soft when warm, but as they cool, they get crunchy.

Chocolate Chip:
1/2 c grated dark chocolate
1/2 c grated milk chocolate
I like to add peppermint extract, but I couldn't tell you how much. Maybe I'll experiment today. =]
For Chocolate/Chocolate Chip, add 1/2 c Nestle Quik as well.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Lift up Your Head, Princess...Finding the Fun in Adversity

How true. I don't know who said this originally, but I loved the thought. We need to remember who we are, for we are daughters of a King.

Along that general theme, I stumbled across the picture below awhile ago, and it's stuck with me. The quote is from President Uchtdorf and the sweet graphic can be found at Holy Handouts.

I lost my husband to cancer eight years ago and was left to raise six children on my own. I can remember sitting down one night after a very ordinary day was done and feeling so frustrated. I pulled out my journal and started to write. Woe is me. Oh, the troubles I had faced!

"I am feeling very stressed. The house is such a mess. We have piles in every room and tools everywhere. Kids keep getting out of bed and it is after 10:00PM. I started school today but missed half of the first class. We are out of bread. Boys missed the bus again. Emily wet her pants at school (kindergarten - just sayin' for her sake, lol). Kate called home in tears. Courtney doesn't know her times tables...The bank closed too early. Braden has a health "sex" class that I need to preview materials for right now. I don't have time. I have a test tomorrow and only made one out of the four hours of class today. I just want to cry. I am not up to this and sometimes feel like I just can't do it."

I think I did cry that night. The next night brought a different journal entry. I listed the things that had gone wrong in the month since my husband had died, and followed by...well, I'll get to that.

"Since Rick died, our oven died, the computer quit working, the dishwasher broke, and now my dryer's not working. Also, one of the circuit breakers blew out, the A/C isn't working, a window broke, I ran into an angle iron trailer parked on our street and cut open the side of our car, and the phone quit working."

Not bad for a month, eh? And it was just the tip of the iceberg. The fun part, though, came after my sob story, because that's when I thought back to all of the things I had LEARNED. I started writing, and the amazingness of it overwhelmed me.

I learned how:
To install a ceiling fan (yep, it broke, too)
To wire a light fixture
To pull and replace a circuit breaker
To take the front off a dryer and look for a heating element
To remove an oven (the wires melted inside the wall so the whole thing had to go)
To remove cabinets/counter/tile (went with the lovely oven fiasco)
To install baseboards and doors (we were in the middle of a project when my husband died)
To ask for help (probably the hardest lesson)
To program the heater (it's a man's job, you know)
To test a phone line (in an attic full of yucky spiders)
To repair a phone line in said attic
To find the humor is a frustrating situation (the car vs the trailer, but that's another story)
To grout tile
....and the list went on...

Two pages! I filled two whole pages with lessons and blessings that came from those trials. This was a turning point for me. Oh, the difference it made to look for the blessings and lessons! What a blessing in and of itself to have written them down!

I've heard of gratitude journals before, but this was my first experience with the healing and comfort that they can bring. Now when things are difficult, I can look back and remember that the times I struggle are often the times I grow the most. I believe I really did become stronger, wiser, and more joyful because of those trials.

We all have our trials and adversities. It's how we chose to look at them that is important. The lessons and blessings are there for us if we chose to see them.

If you like inspirational quotes, I've got a bunch on Pinterest. They'll make you smile.  ~ Erin

Friday, August 31, 2012

Top 20 Apple Recipes This Fall

I love fall. I love the cooler weather and the leaves turning on the trees. I love the fact that I can BAKE without heating us out of house and home. And the smell of freshly baked goodies....!!! Last time I got on a kick, it was for pumpkin. If you're a pumpkin fan like I am, you can check out my posts here and here.

I kind of got on a food frenzy the other day, as I contemplated the change in seasons. Thought I'd share some of the favorites that I came across. Enjoy!

I just opened an Etsy shop called ThisOnesMineDesigns, and I am so excited! My kids and I make ceramic buttons and badge reels.

Just to keep in the spirit of the post, these are my country apple buttons. I'd love it if you popped over and took a look around, and clicked the "favorite" button on the top right part of the page if you like them.

If you want to come back here and give me some honest feedback, I'd absolutely love that as well. =]

Back to apple recipe wonderfulness...

I have an apple thing. They look so fresh and country and wholesome. And just like my kindergarten teacher wrote in my very first report card, "when they're good, they're really, really good, and when they're bad, they're horrid." Maybe that's why I like 'em.

Make sure you get some good ones! Sweet, juicy, crisp. I love Fuji for all around use, and Granny Smith for baking and canning.

Once upon a time I purchased a bin of apples, yep, one of those huge boxes, and made applesauce and apple pie filling to my heart's content. If you have access to something like this but don't want them all, consider splitting a bin with friends.

If you decide to go it alone, the apples last pretty well on the back porch in cooler weather if you don't want to process all of them. Just pick up some apple boxes from the grocery store to keep them in and be sure to sort out any bad ones before storage.

A recipe for Homemade Canned Apple Pie Filling an be found at Skip to my Lou. I've canned lots of apple pie filling and it is a wonderful thing to have on hand for a last minute baking splurge. There's a recipe for cobbler on the same page that looks delish.

If you're really ambitious, it makes beautiful gifts at Christmas time. Just make sure you give it to someone who appreciates the difference between a can from the store and the real deal. =]

Along those ambitious lines is something I've never tried but have always wanted to attempt. Apple Butter. I've made apricot butter before, which was intense and one of the best jam type things I've ever made. It seems like it took hours of stirring over a boiling pot, but it was worth it. Really. I imagine this would be wonderful. The cool part? This Apple Butter is made in the crock pot. The recipe is at Changing My Destiny.

These sweet-tart apple cookies are fully of soft, melty caramel. It uses an instant apple cider mix rather than real apples, but ohhh, doesn't it look divine? You can find the recipe for Caramel Stuffed Apple Cider Cookies at Scrambled Henfruit

These babies look fantastic. Little mini apple fritters. Because sometimes you want the taste without the whole 10,000 calories, you know? Check out Seemingly Greek for the recipe. This young lady has a fun story about how she ended up in Greece. =]

If you want some serious volume, check out this Apple Fritter Bread found at Flour Me with Love. The dough gets rolled out thin, then covered with apple-y-cinnamon-y goodness, cut in squares, then stacked together in a loaf pan to bake. The result? Bread that comes apart in layers. My apple fritter loving son was begging for this one. =]

Kind of along those lines is this beauty. The dough is made, then wrapped around little bundles of apple filling. Oh. My. The Apple Cinnamon Pull-Apart Loaf recipe can be found at Cooking with Chopin.

This. Oh, yes. This is my kind of breakfast! Apple Cider Buttermilk Pancakes with Apple Caramel Syrup. Aren't you just dying to make breakfast right now? And breakfast for dinner is always good, right? The recipe is at Cherry Tea Cakes.

To be fair, here's a recipe for Apple Pie Oatmeal. I am not a fan of oatmeal for the most part, but I think this recipe could change that. Who could pass up the taste of pie for breakfast? And healthy pie at that! Family Feedbag has the recipe.

These muffins are low fat and low cal. Just thought I'd sneak 'em in here. I love hot muffins on a cold morning and the crumbly top should add a touch of the sweetness I crave. I haven't tried these yet, but I will. Muffins are a mainstay here. The recipe is from Fitness.

Are these gorgeous or what! Apple chips are one of my favorites. I think I'd use Fuji instead of Red Delicious, just because I like the sweet/tart favor better, but you've got to admit that the red contrast here makes them as fun to look at as I'm sure they are to eat. Vittles and Bits has the recipe and beautiful photo..

Apple Enchiladas? Flour tortillas stuffed with apple pie filling and covered with a syrupy sauce, then baked 'til golden? A definite yes. My kids are all for this one because, well, they're a BIG treat, you know? And what an easy and fun way to do it. The recipe is at Cornfed Mama.

Bite Sized Apple Pies are a fast and easy treat since they use refrigerated pie crust. If you're a stickler, you can make your own. I absolutely love pie crust baked with cinnamon and sugar sprinkled over the top. Add the apples and mmmm.... Cookin up North has the recipe.

Another quickie, Upside-Down Cinnamon Apple Coffee Cake uses canned cinnamon rolls for a base. She had me at cinnamon rolls. The recipe can be found at Lady Behind the Curtain.

This baby is like a quick and easy version of apple pie. Can you see it now, served up with a scoop of vanilla ice cream? And did I mention easy? With six kids, desserts go fast here, so quick, easy, and delicious are the prerequisites. Annie's Eats has the recipe for Apple Crumble Bars.

And if you want to get fancy, Apple Pie in a Jar......from Our Best Bites. You could use your home canned apple pie filling for these. I love how these are decorated. Wouldn't these be neat for gifts or dessert at a party? Can you imagine a table lined with your choice of apple, or cherry, or peach, or apricot...

Apple Cider Caramels??? Mmmmm...yes, please. I have a thing for taffies and caramels. I think it goes back to years of wearing braces and feeling deprived. I think, as an adult, I should make up for that deprivation.   Bourbonnatrix Bakes has this recipe, and no, there isn't any bourbon in them. =P

This is a baked apple, filled with vanilla ice cream, then drizzled with caramel sauce. I'm thinking it would make a fun Family Home Evening treat. Can you just smell those apples baking? The recipe calls for brandy in the sauce, but another liquid could easily be substituted. Time for a Little Something has the recipe.

This one is special. I'm thinking Thanksgiving, maybe, because my sister always makes something spectacular and I'm the just get it done girl. LOL. Candy Apple Pie...a graham cracker crust filled with cheesecake and apple pie filling, then topped with whipped cream, caramel, and pecans. I already have that Thanksgiving feeling of being unable to eat another bite. Clicky here, at Doughmesstic, for the recipe.

And to go with all of that deliciousness, wassail. I love wassail. It makes me smile. A hot cup, a good book, a warm fire, a rainy day, and life is at its best. Gathered Round Our Table has a recipes for wassail and spiced cider. I've made a couple, and the pineapple juice in the wassail makes all the difference. Don't skimp or substitute on it. They're worth writing down and tucking away.

Just to get you started, and to give you a bit of energy while you bake up a storm, try this Toffee Apple Dip. It's cream cheese blended with brown sugar and Heath Toffee Bits. Everybody I know who has tried it has absolutely loved it. When I make it, I add a little splash of vanilla, and I like to serve it with sliced Granny Smith apples since their tart flavor balances out the sweet. You can find this recipe at Mel's Kitchen Cafe.

Unfortunately, I don't have a link for this picture, and no it's not a recipe, just a bonus. If you know where it comes from, let me know and I'll post the link.

I love how these were used for candles, though. If I made them, I'd bust out the drill with a bit that was votive size and bore the hole just deep enough to insert the candle. If you don't have a drill, then a paring knife would do the trick, with a little skill. =]

Get some apples and have fun!

Friday, August 17, 2012

Friday Night Date Idea

It's Friday night. When my husband was alive, that meant movie night. Usually it consisted of the kids going to bed early and the Big Guy, he was 6'6", and I watching a video on the couch. I usually ended up getting a really great shoulder massage out of it, so it worked for me. We had our together time, but with six kids, a dating night out wasn't always the easiest option.

One of my all time favorite dates was the night we bought a big bag of M&M's and sat outside our town's tiny airport and watched the planes land. A little chocolate, a little cuddling, quiet time to just talk without a TV in sight...after 15 years of marriage, that date still stands out.

I wish we had done more.

I think now that he's gone, I wish that the most.

So with that said, what have I learned? Time together is precious. Dates don't have to be expensive to be fun. Dates don't even have to be away from the house, though the mental break is nice. Dates, quality times, are often the quiet moments talking and learning about each other...whether you're in the "new" dating stage or after years of marriage.

I found a cute blog list of 30 Things to talk about. One topic a day...for 30 days. Here are a few of the questions:
1.   List 20 random things about yourself.
2.   Describe 3 legitimate fears and how they became fears.
16. What are your 5 greatest accomplishments?
30. What are 10 things you would hope to be remembered for?

Maybe a fun idea to start on a Friday night date?

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Bring on the Heat! Making Fruit Roll Outdoors

I am not a hot weather girl. I'm a wimp. I'm also a bit frugal, which translates to a woman who hates to turn on the air conditioner because I can literally hear the the bill add up. So why have I suddenly had a change of heart? What's with the hot weather hoorah? Why do I smile when thermometer hits 100 degrees?

Fruit roll....AKA fruit leather, but I grew up calling it fruit roll, so there you go.

I love the stuff...and we make it by the table full. When I was a kid, my parents used to make it. My brother and sister and I could strip the table bare in a day. It's a wonder we ever had any to store.

My kids and I usually make it with fresh fruit - bruised and overripe works fine. You can get the "ugly" stuff pretty cheap at fruit stands and the farmer's market. I've bought 40 pounds of peaches for $4 before. We'll pit it, heat it in a big pot with a bit of water to soften it up, then blend it to a puree. Don't bother to peel anything, even with the peaches. The skin adds a beautiful color, increased nutrition, and fiber. It also makes things much simpler, which is what it's all about when you've got a half dozen kids.For the record, peach, plum (delicious), apricot (favorite), nectarine, and pear all work well.

This time we had a bunch of canned fruit that had passed its prime. Awhile ago. The fruit was still good, but it gets unappealingly mushy after awhile. Enough said. We drained the cans, popped 'em in the blender, and we were good to go.

The kids set up the high tech special drying tables. By this I mean a scrap piece of plywood balanced on some 5 gallon buckets. The wood was covered with heavy black plastic garbage bags that had been cut open and clamped in place. You could probably use clothes pins to secure the plastic if your wood is thin enough. I use little spring wood clamps because I have a garage full of tools and my husband doesn't get upset anymore when I borrow them. There are advantages to being a widow at times. =]

The fruit puree was poured on top of the plastic and spread to about 1/8" thickness, then left in the sun to dry. Behold the finished product. We had to's part of the quality control process.

Before you ask, yes, the occasional bug does find its way onto the table. Be tough. Brush him off. Most stay away from it because the black plastic gets so darn hot in the sun. If your plastic touches the ground, you may have to deal with ants, though. Not fun. Keep that plastic pinned up.

When it was dry to the touch, I used a table knife to score the fruit leather and then peeled it up in sheets.

Then we placed it on saran wrap, rolled it up, and stored it in a ziplock baggie in the freezer.

One Crazy Lady's Fruit Roll

2 cans apricots
1 can peaches
1 can pears

Drain fruit and put it in the blender. Puree. Cover a flat surface with thick plastic. I prefer heavy duty contractor strength black garbage bags. Make sure the edges are secure or a breeze will blow them up and they'll stick to your fruit roll. Little spring wood clamps work great.

Pour out the fruit puree and spread about 1/8" thick. You can do this with your hand. Try to get it as even in thickness as possible, since the thin areas will dry faster. I tried making a leveling tool but my plywood wasn't quite flat. Hands it was.

Chase the kids away. They'll sneak into it. Peel up when dry and transfer to saran wrap, then roll and store in a ziplock baggie in the freezer. If you let it dry too long, it gets brittle when it cools.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Pottery Barn Black - The Dresser Painting Experiment

The kiddos and I found a bargain dresser for $25 at the thrift store a couple of months ago. Daughter #1 claimed it. She thinks it's beautiful. Ug.

It's been sitting on the back porch just waiting for some attention. Realized a little belatedly that I didn't take true "before" pictures so you could see the true, uh, beauty of this piece, so just imagine it put back together.

My parents used to have something like this years ago...with a big ol' mirror on top.

Theirs didn't have chewed up corners, though. Just sayin'.

Stripped off the hardware. Like my fancy screwdriver? For the life of me, I couldn't find any other Phillips screwdrivers. My kids are grounded.

All drawers out and ready to sand...

Getting fancy here, I know. The finish was actually pretty good, so all I did was rough it up a bit with some 220 grit sandpaper. Make sure to sand with the grain. Like the left handed sanding action photo? That's because my action photo skills need some work.

Rust-oleum black satin spray paint was recommended by a friend of mine who is a furniture painting guru.

Taped off the drawers for painting. Really could have done a better job of the taping but I was in a hurry. Not good, because that means I had to sand off the overspray later. So much for hurrying. Put on three to four coats and used three cans of spray paint. Total cost? Less than $15.00.

I was going to replace the hardware, but my daughter (who laid claim to this dresser) nixed the idea. When it went back on, I kind of liked it. It works.

The full effect...

Roughed up the edges a bit to give it a worn look. It kind of brightens it up, too.

Dresser is in my room until the girls have space in theirs. Not sure I'm going to want to give it up!

Just realized that I forgot to take pictures of the mirror before it was painted to match. It will hang above the dresser. It used to be gold. Now it's a lovely satin black with a little gold peaking thru. Flash from the camera on the beveled edges is giving it that tic-tac-toe look. =] 

The tall dresser on the right is now on the back porch waiting for a facelift. It got sanded today. New pics soon...