Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The Resolutions We Make...and Break

I don't know about you but like rules, I believe resolutions are meant to be broken. Year after year, we enthusiastically make these resolutions (Lose weight! Quit smoking! Save money!) only to lose nothing but steam come Valentine's Day (all that chocolate..) Now, I'm all for self improvement, but without all the added pressure of doing it for the sake of New Years. Instead of focusing on what we can't do, maybe we should focus on what we can. Maybe volunteering, being more patient with our kids, cooking healthier and being a better friend should top our lists. For me, I hope to savor the small moments with my kids, slow down and allow time to pass without feeling like we need to cram more in. I want to snuggle longer, give more kisses and dole out compliments more often than I give time-outs. I want to try new recipes, let my kiddos help more in the kitchen and keep my home company-ready. I hope to be a better wife, putting my hubby first and making our marriage a priority. One way or another, I want to connect with my man weekly, whether with an official date and a babysitter or simply on the couch with a glass of wine. Lastly, and most importantly, I want to connect weekly, daily, hourly, with my heavenly father. I want to be in a constant state of prayer, and spend more time in the word. I know that alone will help me accomplish all that I want in the next year. Be safe and make it a Happy New Year!
What will you do differently in 2014???

Friday, December 27, 2013

The Calm After the Storm

Do you ever feel like Christmas goes by way too fast? Like you wish you could have squeezed in one more party, shopping trip, baking session?? Well, once you have kids, it only speeds up. This year, I was determined to slow down, enjoy one activity at a time and just savor the moments with my little ones. It didn't stop the clock but it allowed me to focus on what the season is really about...family, friends, creating traditions and really celebrating the birth of Christ. This year we established a few first traditions (light-looking in the car with Del Taco, baking and delivering cookies to neighbors..) and enjoyed a few old favorites (visiting Santa at Bass Pro Shop and going out for burgers on Christmas Adam, the day before Christmas Eve..) I tend to be a high energy, on-the-go person and this year was no exception but I did my best to stop and smell the roses because when the gifts have been unwrapped, the decorations put away for next year and the toys have all been opened and strewn about the house, I want my kids to remember the time and togetherness as a family. So while you plan for the year to come, make those resolutions and no doubt get organized from the chaos, be sure to reflect on what matters most. Your family, time spent creating and upholding traditions and seeing the look of delight on your kid's faces as they play with their Christmas bounty, those are the moments to relish. Next year can wait.
"Be happy for this moment. This moment is your life." -Omar Khayyam

Thursday, December 19, 2013

It's Cookie Time!

Gather 'round you friends of mine. We're Wilderness Girls and it's cookie time, it's cookie time! Anyone else remember that song from Troop: Beverly Hills?? No?? Ok, moving on...
It's the time of year where folks everywhere are baking and buying treats, no guilt allowed. It's Christmastime, after all!! So as if you really need yet another reason to make some more, I suggest baking batches as gifts. Have you gotten all your Christmas shopping done but still want a "little something" for that neighbor, teacher, mail-carrier?? It's not too late! A couple weeks ago, my kiddos and I (but mostly I...) baked and packaged cookies to take to our neighbors. It was a fun activity, the kids had a blast walking the neighborhood to deliver the goods but mostly? The takeaway from it was that it turned out to be such a blessing to us to surprise our friends and remind them we love them. It's something I plan to do every year (You're welcome, friends!) So here's what we made. Maybe it's time for a bake-off of your own!

                   

Chocolate Mint Cookies:
  • 2 sticks butter, slightly softened
  • 1 cup powdered (confectioners) sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 2-1/2 cups flour
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  •  1/2 cup white chocolate chips, melted
  •  Crushed candy canes

  • Combine all ingredients except the white chocolate and roll into small rounds. Bake 8-10 minutes at 350 degrees until just done. Let cool then melt white chocolate in microwave for 30 seconds and drizzle over cookies, sprinkling tops with crushed candy canes. Super festive and addicting!! (Do this with store-bought dough for an even easier and faster treat!)

    Peanut Butter Oatmeal Bars:

  • 2 sticks butter, slightly softened
  •  3 cups flour
  • eggs
  •  1 tablespoon baking powder
  •  1 cup rolled oats
  • 1 and 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  •  2 1/2 cups peanut butter
  • Combine all ingredients and press into a 9X13 inch baking pan. Bake at 350 degrees until edges are just starting to brown, about thirty minutes. Allow to cool COMPLETELY before cutting into squares.

    You can package your treats in cookie boxes, tins, baskets, paper bags...the possibilities are endless! Just be sure to stock up on pretty ribbon, waxed paper and cellophane and you'll be all set. Get creative and get crackin'!

    Monday, December 16, 2013

    Bagel Me!

    Since it's no secret how much I love Starbucks and bread, it should come as no surprise that I discovered Starbucks freshly toasted bagels with cream cheese and it's since become a slight obsession. It's something so simple yet sooo good. I don't know if it's just that someone else is preparing it, but once I get a whiff of that fresh and warm goodness, it's all over. Crisp on the outside, chewy in the middle and toasty on the edges, bagels just speak to me. Now, I have a major sweet tooth as well so the humble bagel sat on the back burner for a while, being ignored in favor of coffee cakes, scones, and the like. And now I have harder decisions to make. Try the Cranberry Bliss Bar or just stick with the bagel? On my birthday, I enjoyed one of these bad boys and of course, it got me thinking...could I, should I, try to make bagels at home?? Is that just too crazy? Maybe. But I tried anyway. At five a.m. one morning when my family was all still asleep. I recommend tackling this recipe when you actually have time for it, not on a school day when you'll be scrambling because you need at least two hours, thanks to that darned yeast. So finicky, won't let you take any shortcuts! So here's the recipe I tried and I have a few tips for you so yours will turn out better than mine:
    - Don't allow the dough to rise on the oven..I thought this was a great idea until I realized the high heat almost melted the dough, making it really sticky.
    - Boil for at least two minutes on each side. Don't rush this step or the bagels will disintegrate into the water.
    - Again, allow enough time for the dough to rise both times.
    - Be sure to have an abundance of fun toppings such as cream cheese, butter and jams, if you can wait long enough to slice and top them. Not speaking from experience or anything, but you just might be tempted to inhale them straight from the oven, burning your hands in the process. Enjoy!!!
    Homemade Asiago Cheese Bagel Recipe - just like Panera! | howsweeteats.com

    http://www.pinterest.com/pin/86412886573821096/

    Tuesday, December 10, 2013

    Holiday Hassle

    I love to decorate and prepare for the holidays but nothing is more of a hassle than trying to declutter, decorate, shop and make sure everything is in its place for family and company. But with a few simple shortcuts, you can have a festive home, cross items off your to-do list and keep your sanity in tact. With Christmas quickly approaching, I am trying to slow time, create memories with my kiddos and indulge in as many seasonal activities as possible. Tree lightings, parades, parties, shopping...it can all get overwhelming if you let it. So pick your favorites, have fun and get going! We already saw Santa, made Christmas cookie deliveries and have begun watching our favorite Christmas movies. Busy? Yes. Fun? Oh yea. Nothing beats this time of year and I try to instill a love of tradition in my children. As they grow, I hope they remember and cherish all we do as a family. Here are a few tips to enjoy the holidays and stress less:
    - Shop early, often and online if you can! Jot down gift ideas as soon as you think of them and order as early as possible. Also, consider getting everyone the same gift such as pajamas or a delicious gourmet treat.
    - Choose a couple places in your home to decorate and focus there. Instead of cramming every spare space with holiday decor, focus on the bathroom and entryway, for example, lighting a few candles, hanging some garland and calling. it. a. day.
    - Take family photos early and order Christmas cards online.
    - Decide what activities you really want to participate in and which ones you can live without. You don't have to say yes to every invitation, especially if it will cause more stress to attend.
    - Order large quantities of one gift, like See's candy, for teachers, babysitters, and neighbors.
    - Ditch the guilt! Not everything has to be homemade, perfect and right on time. Store bought treats and gift cards can be real time savers.
    I hope you are enjoying all that Christmas has to offer. The goodies, get togethers and memories you create with your family are priceless. Enjoy the buildup and then relax on Christmas morning relishing in what the holiday is really about, the birth of Christ!



    Wednesday, December 4, 2013

    Drool-Worthy


    Few things in the food world excite me as much as freshly baked bread. It's a weakness of mine. There, I said it. I will not, cannot turn it down. From sweet to savory, I don't discriminate. A few of my favorites hail from Mrs. Knott's Kitchen, The Islamorada Fish Company and Macaroni Grill. Slathered with butter, hot from the oven, it's irresistible. I've made and copied many versions over the years but thus far, none has rivaled the most recent. Eager to try something new for Thanksgiving, I gave a recipe my sis passed my way a whirl. Boy, was I happy I did. As I was mixing, kneading, allowing to rise, cutting and allowing to rise yet again, I'm ashamed to admit I did have the fleeting thought "I'm so buying frozen dough next time". And then I tasted them. And so did my family. The rolls were the first to go and I have already made them again to accompany a batch of soup. So here's the recipe and I insist you try it immediately, following it to a T (I stress this since I have the tendency to take shortcuts for the sake of time...not worth it!) Oh, and I used regular flour...
    http://www.anoregoncottage.com/soft-100-whole-wheat-dinner-rolls/

    Monday, December 2, 2013

    A Day in the Life (Mommy Needs a Drink)

    No need for an alarm clock, I awaken nice and early at about six to the sounds of kids, my eyes feeling like they might bleed. Through a haze, I make my way downstairs for coffee, sweet coffee. I take kids potty, get them dressed and then finally, blessedly, pour my first cup of the day. Between breakfast demands, getting laundry going and emptying the dishes, among other chores, the morning goes by fairly quickly. Kids are settled, playing nicely so I sit down to check e-mail.
    "Mommy!!!" Hmmm...interesting timing. I trudge upstairs to put out a fire. One called the other mean and someone needs a snack. Back downstairs I go in my next attempt for quiet time but now I have a monkey on my back. Literally. And he's pulling my hair and trying to climb on my shoulders while repeating "I want peanut butter jelly."  So lunch is made, served and cleaned up. Park sounds good. Maybe they will burn some energy and be tired later?
    So off we go. They run and play and I stroll the perimeter, enjoying a few minutes of quiet. Hands in pockets, walking. This is kind of relaxing. Wow, they are being so nice. As I make my way around the playground, they ask for more time. "Keep going, Mommy. Five more minutes. Don't watch us." Wow, I'm lucky today! They are playing sweetly with the other playground kids, digging in the dirt. Making a cake or whatever. I almost feel guilty for being so impatient earlier. I vow to be kinder. And then as I come a little closer, I notice the extent of the mess. Under their nails, in their hair. They are caked in dirt. And where did the water come from? Oh, I see one of the park kids got hold of a soda can and has been filling it at the water fountain. Nice. So now it all makes sense. The little bastards! Grrr. Well, they are dirty now so we stay a little longer, until it gets chilly and I have to pee.
    Once home, I declare mommy time. Twenty minutes on the treadmill should be no big deal...right?? Netflix to the rescue! I let them pick a show, get them settled on the couch with a snack, their drinks and hop on, door ajar so I can see them. OK, I'm going. Jogging slowly, breathing in and out. Stress slowly melting away when...
    "She just got going at a moderate pace", one must have whispered to the other..."Mommy!!!" they yell. "What is it??" I holler back. Can't make it out so I keep going when crying ensues. Hop off. Go inside. Put out fire. Hop back on. Put out next fire. This goes on for about fifteen minutes while I squeeze my mile in. Show's over. Time to make dinner.  I figure they can help, keep their little hands busy.
    Cutting board, veggies, kids on counters. Pull out meat, spaghetti, sauce. Get water boiling. I decide to make cookies for dessert. "No fingers in dough, guys", I say calmly. Reasonable enough. Or maybe not because I repeat that another six times or so just while stirring. Dough flings, splatters. Cookies make their way into the oven and pasta goes into boiling water. Someone dumps sauce on the counter. Another dips their fingers in it, wipes it on their shirt. Breathe in. Take kids off counters and set them up at kitchen table so I can finish up. Breath out. Crack open a Diet Coke, wishing it would be acceptable to pour in some rum.
    "Mommy, Logan is messing up my picture." Take a big gulp, stir pasta.
    "Logan, stop". So he grabs scissors and attempts cutting for a few minutes, just enough time for me to brown meat. "Mommy, he's putting the scissors in his mouth."
    "Logan, scissors out of mouth." Break up pieces of the meat with a wooden spoon.
    Check on spaghetti.
    "Logan, scissors out of mouth!"
    Strain spaghetti.
    "LOGAN, SCISSORS OUT OF MOUTH!!!" I grab the scissors and put them up. Crying, lots of crying. Slam said wooden spoon on stove. Gulp Diet Coke, grab crying boy and console for a minute or so until he wriggles out of my arms and goes back to table to torture sister.
    "Mommy, he's bugging me! Go away, Logan!" she wails.
    Ahhh man, where is my hubby? He better be on his way. Is it too early for wine??
    I put out some veggies and dip, they dive in. Once again, I go back to dinner. Open freezer, pull out garlic bread. Take out cookies, put bread in. Mmm...cookies smell good.
    "Mommy, may we have a cookie please??" ask my blue-eyed cherubs.
    "After dinner."
    "Please, Mommy", they whine.
    "After dinner."
    "But Mommy, we're hungry."
    "AFTER DINNER!!!"
    Hubby arrives, rum goes into Coke. Dinner is served. Kids bathed, teeth brushed and off they go with Daddy so I can finally, finally finish my darned workout (why do I even bother?? I haven't sat all day so surely I'm burning calories...)
    Off to bed they go and I change into jammies, flop on the couch and relax. An hour later, kids kissed and checked on and I'm out like a light, sure to face the same madness tomorrow. Wouldn't change it for the world...

    Thursday, November 14, 2013

    Kitchen Confidential

    So did you ever go to make cookies or a cake or brownies perhaps, only to realize you were out of one ingredient? Then curse yourself for not being prepared? Then curse yourself again because you are too lazy/tired/not willing to drag the kids to go to the grocery store?? No? Me neither (cough, cough..) but let's pretend that happens. A lot. Then go ahead and follow a few basic steps to A) get prepared and B) keep things in stock. If you think it might be a pain, you are correct. Unless you are already organized then no need to read on. But if you are a little like me and slightly disorganized, read on sister, read on.
    First, pull everything out of your cupboards and get those babies wiped down. Sort through your items and chuck whatever does not belong in your kitchen cupboards (batteries? Easter baskets with the messy paper grass?? Yes, those were in there.) Then decide where you want things to go. I decided to have one of my main cupboards for snacks, canned and dry goods, and the like and the other purely for baking. I went to town with my baking cupboard because, well, it just makes me happy!
    So once everything is out on your counters, take stock of what you have and what you'll need. I suggest making a "top ten" list of things you make often. A few on my list are: spaghetti and meatballs, homemade pizza (for pizza Friday, of course), oatmeal-chocolate chip cookies, and chili with cornbread. So think of what ingredients you need and stock up! Then the fun part...choosing containers! I decided to go with mason jars of varying sizes because they are pretty, clear so you know when you are low on something, and timeless. Oh, and affordable compared to say, matching cookie jars. You can take the time to find them at yard sales to save money but Wal-Mart, Target and even some grocery stores carry them. Super easy to find. Then get filling! Load your cupboards, take a step back, and survey the beauty. Then give yourself a pat on the back. It'll be such a joy to make recipes once you actually have all the ingredients on hand. You can then move on to the refrigerator, freezer and even take the organization to the rest of your house which I fully intend to do. One room at a time. You gotta pace yourself, girl. Have fun!


                                                                               scary....
                                                                             success!!

    Tuesday, November 12, 2013

    Memoirs of a Peppermint Mocha

    All it took was one sighting of that trademark red Starbucks holiday cup and it was all over. You see, I've been making do with flavored creamers, pumpkin lattes and homemade hot chocolates but nothing says "holiday" like that signature peppermint mocha from Starbucks. Now, I am not one to swoon over the coffee conglomerate and in fact, I tend to be a bit "anti-Starbucks" to tell you the truth. I prefer to keep my neighborhood java joints in business. But I have to admit, there is something about walking through the doors of a Starbucks during the holidays that puts a bit of a spring in my step. Maybe it's the bedecked windows and counters, the old fashioned Christmas carols playing and the smell of warmed treats that gets to me. Whatever it is, I am hooked. I fully admit that it is ridiculous to pay upwards of $4 for a "tall" beverage no matter how good. So I am on a mission to recreate that creamy goodness at home for a fraction of the price. Here is what I came up with:

    Starbucks Peppermint Mocha Recipe (and 5 others)

    Starbucks Peppermint Mocha Recipe

    Ingredients
    • 1/4 cup of sugar
    • 1/4 cup of water
    • 1/4 teaspoon peppermint extract
    • 3 tablespoons powered cocoa
    • 3 tablespoons warm water
    • 1/2 cup hot espresso
    • 1.5 cups steamed milk
    1. Stir water and sugar in a pot until sugar dissolves and bring to a boil.
    2. Reduce heat to a low simmer and add 1.5 teaspoons peppermint extract.
    3. Allow mixture to simmer for 20 minutes
    4. Mix cocoa and water in a cup until paste forms.
    5. Add espresso and 1.5 teaspoons peppermint extract.
    6. Add milk and serve immediately.

    Starbucks Eggnog Latte Recipe

    Ingredients
    • 1/2 cup eggnog
    • 1/4 cup milk
    • 1/4 – 1/2 cup espresso
    • sprinkle of nutmeg (for garnish)
    Directions
    1. Combine eggnog with milk and steam.
    2. Add espresso shots to steamed mixture.
    3. Sprinkle with nutmeg and serve immediately.

    Starbucks Gingerbread Latte Recipe

    Ingredients
    Gingerbread Syrup
    • 2 cups water
    • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
    • 2 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
    • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
    • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
    • 1/2 cup fresh espresso
    • 8 ounces milk, steamed (with a little foam)
    Garnish
    • whipped cream
    • ground nutmeg
    Directions
    1. Make the gingerbread syrup by combining water, sugar, ginger, cinnamon and vanilla in a medium saucepan. Make sure your pan is large enough so the mixture won’t boil over
    2. Bring mixture to a boil then reduce heat and simmer syrup, uncovered, for 15 minutes. Remove the syrup from the heat when it’s done and put a lid on it.
    3. Make a double shot of espresso (1/2 cup), using an espresso machine. Use the machine to steam 8 ounces of milk, or heat up the milk in the microwave if your machine does not foam and steam milk.
    4. Make your latte by first adding 1/2 cup espresso to a 16-ounce cup. Add 1/4 cup gingerbread syrup, followed by the steamed milk. Stir.
    5.  Top off the drink with a dollop of whipped cream, and a sprinkle of nutmeg. Serve immediately.

    Friday, November 8, 2013

    Gratitude

    With the holidays in full swing, it's easy to forget what it's all about. Crafting your Thanksgiving menu, compiling your Christmas list, trips to the crowded mall, baking cookies for your kid's class...things are bound to get lost in the shuffle. The first that seems to go? A true appreciation for what makes this time of year so amazing. We have a few Beebe family traditions we look forward to all year long: visiting Santa at Bass Pro Shop, strolling Downtown Disney for their warm beignets and Christmas decor and watching the Newport Beach Boat Parade. We try and savor the moments and enjoy the time with our families, teach our kids the true meaning of Christmas and reach out to those in need.
    There is so much to be grateful for and I've found that small things: the sympathetic shopper who lets you go ahead of them in line when your kids are out of control at the grocery store, the friend who understands when you have to flake..again, and the grandparents who lend a helping hand when you just need a break (shout out to my ma and pa!), are just as important as the more significant: a family member who bails you out when you need help financially, someone who brings you meals and support when you've just had a baby and friends who never fail when the chips are down.
    Let's all take a little time this year to put on the brakes, make more time for family and friends, for cranking up the music and dancing with your kids, for Christmas movie marathons, for watching the rain fall and for having an attitude of appreciation and giving. Yes, it will take more time if you let the kids stir the batter, if you let the frazzled mom cut in line and if you stop to take that phone call or visit from the friend in need but maybe you'll find that the more you give, the more you'll receive. 

    Wednesday, November 6, 2013

    Pumpkin: A Love Story

    I know I'm not alone when I say I'm eager for the first signs of fall: changing leaves, cooler weather, sweaters and of course...all things pumpkin. When Starbucks, McDonald's and bakeries everywhere roll out their offerings of pumpkin lattes, pumpkin cookies, scones and muffins, I am downright giddy. Because it is only a short time we have to enjoy these offerings, I indulge, baby. So here are a few recipes you can make at home to enjoy all year!

    Pumpkin Spice Latte:
    1 cup hot coffee
    1/2 cup hot milk
    1 tablespoon pumpkin puree
    1 tablespoon sugar, adjust to taste
    whipped cream and cinnamon for top
    In a large mug, stir together hot coffee, pumpkin puree, sugar, hot milk and mix well. Top with whipped cream. Sprinkle with cinnamon or garnish with a cinnamon stick before serving.

    Homemade Pumpkin Spice Latte

    Pumpkin-Chocolate Chip Bread:
    Combine and mix in bowl:
    3 ½ c flour
    1 tsp nutmeg
    1 ½ tsp salt
    1 tsp cinnamon
    2 tsp baking soda
    3 c sugar
    Make a well and then add:
    1 c oil
    2 c canned pumpkin
    2/3 c water
    2 c chocolate chips
    4 eggs
    Pour into 2 bread pans and bake 1 hour and 10 min at 350 or until a toothpick comes out clean. If crust is getting too dark and the bread is not done yet, you can cover the tops with foil for the last 10 minutes. Remove from pans and cool.





    Tuesday, November 5, 2013

    My Boy

    This morning, in the wee hours, my son whispered "I uv you, Mommy" in the dark. Although the sun had yet to rise and I was just hoping for a little more sleep, I was suddenly putty. "What did you say, buddy?", I whispered back. I just had to hear him say it one more time. All the jumping, noise, yelling, throwing and climbing on furniture for no reason were suddenly a distant memory. All I could think was how lucky a mommy was I that God chose ME to mother and guide this little man through life. ME to teach him how to be a gentlemen and treat girls right. He chose ME because He knew I would have the patience, love and endurance to withstand the coming years with a rowdy boy!
    Girls are full of sugar and spice and everything nice? Whoever came up with that never had a boy AND a girl. Yes, girls are sweet and my daughter is a testament to that. She is so good with her brother, constantly helping and teaching him. She loves to snuggle in the morning and read to me, do crafts and have "mommy and Jovie" time. But there is something unexpected about a boy. As crazy as they are, and they ARE crazy, they have a soft, tender side that just may take you by surprise. Like this morning before dawn. Enjoy them, ladies.





    Thursday, October 31, 2013

    Happy Halloween!

    I hope you and your family have a wonderful, fun-filled day celebrating Halloween! Make some candy apples, have a spooky scavenger hunt or make a fun craft with your boys and ghouls! Be safe!

    Tuesday, October 29, 2013

    Ten Minutes at a Time

    The other day, while struggling to fit my workout in, I asked my kiddos to sit quietly at the kitchen table and play Legos while I was on the treadmill. Who was I kidding?!?! That kind of request is one that crazy mothers make, right? Well, it worked...sort of.  For about ten minutes. Before I knew it, they were moseying over to the treadmill, making requests, asking for help building. I had to hop off and tend to my kids. What else could I do?? I fit in a few more minutes here and there throughout the day and realized that sometimes, that's the only way to get things done...ten minutes at a time. I try and foster independence in my kids by allowing them to get bored sometimes, find things to do on their own and play together but that only lasts for so long. They always make their way back to me, needing help, needing a snack or drink or just needing me. So I've succumbed to this life with kids knowing that if I want to read a book, catch up on a TV show or get laundry done, it will happen- in ten minute bursts. So take advantage when the kiddos are quiet because it won't last!

    Tuesday, October 15, 2013

    The Three Bite Rule

    For those of you who know me, I've been on a health kick for the past six weeks in hopes of shedding baby weight from my third pregnancy. It was easy this far but now, I can feel the last five or so pounds hanging on for dear life. Isn't it always those last five or ten that are the hardest?? Well, I've come up with a plan that seems to be working. In addition to cutting out the junk and walking, I decided no foods would be "off-limits". I think when you begin restricting whole food groups, you fail. It's too hard to say no to everything...snacks, cocktails and desserts are usually the first to go when on a diet. I say, no way! My favorite things: chips and guacamole, cheesecake, coffee with sugar and cream and a nice glass of wine are not indulgences I want to give up. So I thought about the "three-bite" rule. It is simple. Allow yourself a small taste or serving of your favorite treat and stop. Easy enough, right?? Not really. Especially not when you are extra hungry from eating foods like whole grains, veggies and protein instead of your usual carbo-loaded fare. Or maybe that's just me. But really, it's better to allow yourself a small taste of something than to deny yourself completely because then, you'll just want it more!!! So try it with me. Eat as healthy as you can and eat real, unprocessed foods but when the craving strikes, go ahead and allow yourself a little. Just don't overdo it. Good luck!!
    What are your diet secrets??

    Wednesday, October 9, 2013

    Spice:The Name of the Game

    This week, I'm on a bit of a mission to liven things up everywhere: projects with my kids, in the kitchen testing new recipes and, most importantly, with my hubby. I strongly believe that the foundation to a happy, healthy family starts with mom and dad. If we are not communicating, spending time together and putting our marriage first, it trickles down and nobody is happy. So first order of business?? Date night! Thanks to our sweet babysitters, we were able to have a weeknight happy hour date followed by a little cruise on my hubby's motorcycle. Absolute perfection.
    Next up? Testing out some yummy recipes for dinner and making homemade granola with my kiddos. As we all do, I get stuck in a cooking rut from time to time...nothing thumbing through recipe books can't cure. I've got some great dinner plans for the week and can't wait to serve the granola in the morning with yogurt. It's a quick and healthy breakfast for us all.
    Lastly, crafts! October is a great month to get crafty with the kids. Pumpkins are the perfect ingredient for activities. Teach the kids how they grow, what you can do with the seeds (roast and eat, of course!) and how to make the perfect jack-o-lantern. I like to buy die-cuts from Michaels and let them decorate to their hearts content. Whatever the season, there are always fun projects to be had so get crackin' and add a little spice to your day!
    Here are a few recipes to get out of your cooking rut:
    Asian beef w/steamed broccoli and brown rice- Place a five-pound roast in your slow cooker on low for about six hours. Once tender, shred and add 1/2 cup soy sauce, two sliced green onions and 1/2 cup teriyaki sauce. I just threw a bunch of my condiments in and it was yummy! Just make sure you add at least a cup or so of liquid or it will be dry. Serve over brown rice with steamed broccoli.
    Chicken tortilla soup- Bring six cups chicken broth to a simmer and add one can corn, one can black beans, one can crushed tomatoes and one cup shredded chicken and heat through. Add tortilla chips, shredded cheese and green onions on top before serving.
    Homemade granola- Mix five cups oats, one cup cranberries, one cup slivered almonds, one cup honey and one cup unsweetened applesauce until coated. Pour onto baking sheet and bake at 350-degrees for twenty minutes. Serve over yogurt.
    What are you doing to liven things up at home??

    Wednesday, October 2, 2013

    Get Real

    While I was at the library waiting for my kid's story time to end, I randomly picked up the book "Skinny Chicks Eat Real Food" to browse through. Being at the beginning of a weight loss journey after pregnancy, I became quickly intrigued. Although we all know that the key to losing weight is simple: eat better and move more, it got me thinking how much better I could eat and how much better I'd like my family to eat. I think we do a generally good job, making sure our kids are active and don't eat too much junk. But then, I have to be honest with myself. I often use food as treats and allow them a Slurpee or hot dog to stay quiet during Target trips, destinations ending with juice to stay happy during long walks so mommy can get a workout in and candy as rewards for helping around the house. We also allow too many chicken nugget and french fry meals in our life. But no more!! The past couple weeks, as I've been trying to get my act together, I've been trying harder to get my kid's diets in check as well.
    We have been limiting fast-food altogether and making better choices when we do go out to eat and I've been insisting on more fruits and veggies throughout the day. Water is the main attraction as far as beverages go and I feel more in control with my own eating. I don't know about you, but at the end of my pregnancy, I gave myself cart blanche to indulge in whatever fare I was craving at the time. I was just too tired to care anymore. But now, three weeks later, I am feeling amazing. I am officially 32 pounds lighter, have energy to spare and can finally keep up with the kiddos. I think carefully about every morsel of food that goes into my mouth and while it's not fun, it's totally worth it! I'm far from perfect but I'll take it!
    How are you doing on your journey to a healthier lifestyle?

    Tuesday, September 24, 2013

    A Pain in the Neck

    This morning, a small crick in my daughter's neck from sleeping, became a big pain in MY neck. As I attempted to drop her at school, drama ensued. Screaming, clinging and crying was about all anyone could hear from room 4A and after about five minutes of this wailing, I decided enough was enough. We were going home. Why she waited until we got to her school, to her class to tell me this, I'm not sure. What I do know is that for the remainder of the day, she was a bit of a mess. But to my dismay, my whole day was thrown off too. Gone was the long walk with my little guy, gone was the quiet time to do laundry, check up on e-mail and empty the dishwasher and gone was my sense of routine. Luckily, something even better than chores came of the day. I was able to spend quality time with my kids. Playing school, going to the library and laying in bed together making up silly alphabet songs filled the day. For some reason, we explored everything "apple", including homemade apple tarts, an apple craft and studying up on Johnny Appleseed and it was...amazing.
    So sometimes, as the saying goes, the best laid plans of mice and men often go astray...


    Wednesday, September 11, 2013

    Before and After

    As we all know, with pregnancy, great babies come with great...weight gain. You know how you bargain with the scale? Like.."Okay, 150 I can handle but you better not take me to 160!!!" and then the doc starts using the larger pointer at the top and you know it's over. Well, my latest and third pregnancy was the hardest. I gained the most weight, topping out at a solid 172 on delivery day and I was tired, cranky and swollen the whole time. With that said, the day after delivery, I already felt much better. It was like night and day! I have my energy and stamina back, I can finally breath again and I feel a huge weight has been lifted...literally. But this is just the beginning of the battle. I am ready to begin a workout and diet regimen and actually looking forward to it. I got a few new items to add to my exercise gear and am planning to purchase new running shoes (once I can use my Kohl's coupons, of course!)
    So it will be an uphill battle but I have a game plan that will be easy and straightforward: Cut the junk, eat more fruits and veggies and get walking! I'll keep you abreast of my progress and I hope that if you have weight to lose or you just want to get healthier, you'll come along on my journey!
    How do you get back into shape following a pregnancy??

    Friday, August 30, 2013

    Chicken N' Dumplings

    With the need for another new dish in my repertoire and with it blazing hot here in SoCal, I wanted to make something for dinner that was easy and could be made in my Crock-Pot. It seems that lately, with our 100 degree temps, turning on the oven adds just enough heat in the house to offset the AC and make everyone miserable. So a-searching I went for a recipe for chicken and dumplings, easy style.  This recipe is so simple, it's silly!

    Chicken and Dumplings
    4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
    2 cans cream of chicken soup
    1 onion, diced
    2 cans refrigerated biscuits
    2 tablespoons butter

    Place all ingredients except biscuits in Crock-Pot and pour enough water over mixture to completely cover. Let cook until meat is tender and cooked all the way, about four hours on low or two on high. Then about thirty minutes before serving, add the biscuits and allow them to cook through but not so much that they dry out. You can adjust this recipe by adding more veggies with the onion, trading the biscuits for noodles or potatoes or adding your own twist! Enjoy!







    Tuesday, August 13, 2013

    Signage

    I am all about making my mark in my home and putting personal touches throughout. I decided to make a little wooden sign recently with one of my favorite bible verses, Micah 6:8, to put in my kitchen. That verse speaks so much to me as it is a simple reminder daily of where my priorities should lie. So off to Michaels I went in search of the perfect items for my sign. I already had a weathered piece of wood found in the garage that would be the perfect size. You really do need to consider the size of your sign. You can use canvas or wood or even do it on a glass picture frame but be sure your wording is proportional to your piece. This project is super easy and requires very few things to assemble. It would make a great, inexpensive gift too! Here's what you need:

    - Wood, glass or canvas as a base
    - Paint, unless you want it on a blank piece
    - Mod Podge/foam paintbrush
    - Letter stickers

    Start by painting your piece if you're going to. Once dry, mock up your piece with your wording. Make sure everything looks perfect before sticking the letters on for good. Then coat your piece with Mod Podge. Be generous and make sure it is even with no big globs. It will dry clear but it needs to be a nice, even coat. Let dry overnight and voila! You have a personal and fun addition to your home decor.
    What projects are you working on??




    Sunday, August 11, 2013

    Morning Scramble

    All of a sudden, I am thrust in the morning rush that goes with having school-aged children. Although my daughter is just beginning kindergarten, I realize I must be much more organized for our mornings to run smoothly. School starts at 7:45 which feels early considering I like to leave by 7:15 to allow for any hiccups, which are inevitable with little ones. And considering some days my little ones sleep until 7:00, we don't have much room for error. Which I learned last week. So to make mornings easier, it helps to get organized the night before. Or even better? Prepare everything the Sunday before the school week. So that's my plan...get organized and have lunch and breakfasts ready to go ahead of time because apparently, a granola bar just does not suffice for breakfast, according to my daughter.
    So I did my big shopping trip for the week this morning. At 6 am. With my little guy in tow, who was up with the sun raring to go. Once home, I divided snacks into five-year-old-sized portions so I can just grab and fill her lunchbox before heading out the door. I highly recommend this method because it takes all the guess work out of what to make for lunch. String cheese and crackers, sliced fruit, Pb&j, small bags of chips or nuts...anything that can be assembled ahead of time should be. Then grab and pack! I decided to allow her the option of buying lunch once a week (since she was envious of the buyers on pizza day...) so I only need to plan for four days. Here's what our lunch and breakfast plan looks like for this week and I'll go ahead and throw in dinner too!! I hope this gives you a little inspiration for your week to come!!

                    Breakfast          Lunch                         Dinner
    Monday: Smoothies          Pb crackers/grapes      Fettuccine Alfredo w/Chicken and Broccoli
    Tuesday: Yogurt/Granola  Buying!                       Stir Fry w/Chicken and Veggies
    Wednesday: Pancakes     Granola Bar/fruit           Homemade Pizza
    Thursday: Cereal/fruit       Pb&J/Chips                 Meatball Sandwiches w/Corn on the Cob
    Friday: Toast/Bacon         String cheese/crackers   Dinner out!

    How do you make mornings easier???

    Friday, August 9, 2013

    PB & J...Bars

    Do you and your family love peanut butter and jelly sandwiches? Peanut butter on crackers? On apples and pancakes? Well, we do. All of the above! Peanut butter is a staple in my house and something that I offer frequently, especially when a picky eater rears it's head. So any recipe with peanut butter involved is worth trying for me. These peanut butter and jelly bars are a hit in my house and make the perfect snack or breakfast on the go and are perfect for kid's lunchboxes. They are not too high in sugar, which makes it easy to serve to the kids without guilt. I recommend making the full batch if you have a large family or if you plan to freeze half but trust me, they won't last long!! The full recipe yields enough to fill a 9X13 pan, about twenty servings. If you are going to half it, then use an 8X8 pan.

    PB & J Bars (Full recipe)
    3 cups flour
    2 sticks butter, softened
    2 cups peanut butter
    jam for top, about 1 cup
    1 1/2 cups sugar
    2 eggs
    1 tablespoon baking powder

    Mix all ingredients except jam and place in pan. Spread jam over top and bake for about thirty minutes at 350 degrees, just until edges are browned. Enjoy!!




    Saturday, August 3, 2013

    Where is the Love??

    So I don't know about you, but being in the throes of the early years with little kids, most romance between my hubby and me is few and far between. Although we were never a super sappy couple to begin with, these days, it feels like a miracle just to be able to have a conversation! Once daddy is home, the kiddos want all his attention, so we spend time as a family, catching up about our day and playing. Then it's time to get the kids bathed and off to bed. Once we've cleaned up and watched a show or two, it's lights out for us too. We are definitely in survival mode and recently I mentioned to my hubby that since my kids paw on me all day long, I have a tendency to want to just sit. Alone. Quietly. I realize this has to be a recipe for disaster, but really, my kids suck the life out of me and most days, I just have nothing left to give.
    Sure, we see the occasional movie together on date night and we manage to kiss each other hello and goodbye, but it should be better. So with the hopes of rekindling the life and spirit of our marriage, I am going to make a concerted effort to give a little more of myself. Whether I'm tired or not, I am going to make a pledge. First thing? I think Mama could put forth a bit more effort in the appearance department. I will try to pull my (ragged) self together and do a quick clean up of the house before hubby arrives. Secondly, I'm going to aim to be more affectionate on a daily basis. Who says just because you've been married ten years you can't hold hands and cuddle on the couch?? Done and done.
    Lastly, and this is a toughie for me, I need to find more helpers so we can get out together more. I have a sickness that keeps me obsessing about my children even if we're just going out for a quick bite to eat. I know I need to let this go because, like "they" say, soon our kids will be grown and it will just be the two of us! I'm excited to see where things go in our marriage and I know that the years to come will just keep getting sweeter and sweeter but let's be real, it ain't gonna happen on it's own.
    How do you keep your marriage alive???

    Friday, July 26, 2013

    The Risotto is Mush!!

    ...the famous words of Gordon Ramsey! For those of you who, like me, have a sweet spot for that brassy brit, God bless you! I have always loved watching Hell's Kitchen, Master Chef, Hotel Hell...any show he's in, I'll watch! There's something about his accent and saucy demeanor that pulls me in. One of the main dishes that constantly seems to baffle contestants on Hell's Kitchen is the humble risotto. A simple combination of rice, seasonings and chicken broth can be the death of some on the show. I've always wanted to try it and so a few years ago, I did. It's really easy, but time consuming though the end result is always worth it. Served alone or with meat and veggies, risotto is a meal in itself. Hearty and comforting, and inexpensive to make, it's the perfect dish for vegetarians and carnivores alike! Try it for dinner tonight!

    Risotto:
    2 cups long grain white rice
    4 cups chicken stock (or veggie..whatever you prefer)
    1/2 diced onion
    1/2 stick butter
    Saute the butter and onion until onions are soft and translucent. Next, add the rice and stir until well coated with the butter. Slowly add about a cup of your stock and let simmer on low heat until just absorbed. Add another cup or so at a time, allowing the rice to absorb it. Be careful not to wait too long between adding the broth or the rice will dry out. Keep the heat low and once the stock is all absorbed and the rice is soft and creamy, it's ready! This recipe makes about four side servings or two main dish servings. I like to serve mine with grilled chicken and veggies. Enjoy!


    Tuesday, July 16, 2013

    Too Much of a Good Thing?

    This past Saturday, eager for something to do that was indoors, cheap, and would burn some of my kid's energy, I headed to McDonald's with my dad. We decided a cone and some playtime would be the answer. My dad is always so good with the kids and willing to help so off we went! The kids behaved marvelously for a good hour, playing, running around with new friends and stopping to catch their breath every now and then. But the time came to go and we all know this is always the hard part. I had to get going, get dinner started and so the warning was given. Not wanting to leave, they started running around like crazy, trying to hide from mommy. And then it happened. Logan took off his shirt. And then his pants and underwear. And he ran. I refuse to chase after my kids and once they take off, they immediately lose privileges so it was on. I finally got a hold of him when it was Jovie's turn. She decided her shirt needed to come off too. Really?? There I was, struggling to get Logan dressed when she started in. So it was Papa's turn. He wrangled a very angry Logan and got him dressed while I dealt with Jovie. I explained to her that while it is inappropriate to remove our clothing in public, it is especially inappropriate for young ladies. She laughed at me. So hot, sweating and eight months pregnant, I pressed on, ignoring the stares from the parents around me and got them out the door. All I can say is, thank God my dad was there to help that day. Sometimes things get ugly and at some point, you have to be able to tune out the noise around you and laugh it off. Yes, it was embarrassing but that just goes with the territory. Next time, we'll leave a little sooner...before things get out of hand!

    Thursday, July 11, 2013

    Pizza Pie

    My family and I really like pizza...I mean, what's not to love? It's easy and quick and almost never disappoints. Lately, I've been letting my children help out in the kitchen and make their own. It's fun for them to shape the dough, spread sauce and sprinkle cheese. I love making different flavor combos for the hubby and me and overall, it's always a hit! Here's my recipe for the pizza dough. You can buy it pre-made but if you have a little extra time, go for homemade. It will yield four small pizzas or one large enough for sharing. Spread it thin and add pesto or cream sauce or make a deep dish pie with a classic marinara. Whatever you do, make it yours!!

    Dough:
    1 cup warm water
    1 pkg. instant dry yeast
    2 1/2 cups flour (plus more for rolling..)
    2 tablespoons olive oil
    1 teaspoon salt
    1 teaspoon sugar

    Pour warm water in bowl and sprinkle yeast over surface. Let sit a minute then add the remaining ingredients and mix until completely combined, scraping sides and forming into a ball. Let sit out, covered with a towel, for at least two hours. Once dough has double in size, place on floured surface and knead gently a minute or so. Then either split dough into portions or roll out for one large pizza. Cover with sauce, cheese and toppings and bake for about twenty minutes at 450 degrees. Enjoy!


    Sunday, July 7, 2013

    Cow Appreciation Day is Back!

    Cow Appreciation Day is almost here! This week, my kids and I will be enjoying free lunch courtesy of Chick-Fil-A on Friday, August 12th. The catch is, you have to dress like a cow in order to receive a free meal. This picture is of the first time we started the tradition. This is a win-win for all. Chick-Fil-A gets lots of business, families eat free, mommies don't have to cook and the kiddos get to dress up! Fun for all (except maybe my hubby who humored me with a few dots on his shirt..) They even have templates you can print online..couldn't be easier. Enjoy!
    http://www.chick-fil-a.com/Cows/Appreciation-Day




    Friday, July 5, 2013

    Michael's to the Rescue

    Looking for a fun and inexpensive activity to do with your little ones this summer?? Well, look no further than your neighborhood Michael's store. A place we frequent already, they have just upped the ante for this mommy with kid's crafting days. Here's the best part...you can leave your kids for about 45 minutes while they work on an activity to take home and you shop in peace!! My little guys love having the independence of being dropped off for a bit and doing something alone. So from now until Friday, August 2nd on Monday, Wednesday and Fridays from ten until noon, you have the chance for a fun outing with the kids! The price is just $2 per child and the activities are different every day so you really could do it all three days. What are you waiting for??

    http://www.michaels.com/Passport/pti,default,pg.html

    Thursday, July 4, 2013

    Proud to be an American

    I consider myself and my family lucky to be born American. We are a country that is revered, privileged and modeled after. In a world where so many live in destitution, caste systems and gender inequality, I feel that as Americans, we have it all. We are free. I don't have to worry about where my children's next meal or drink will come from, don't have to fear that I might be kidnapped, raped or chastised just for being of a certain religion, sex or race and things like human trafficking and slavery are not part of my vernacular. True, we all have problems but considering how much worse things are around the world, I can't complain. We have people who are brave enough to leave the safety net of our country and fight for our freedom and rights and who face, ultimately, death. They keep our doors and windows tight and maintain the level of safety and comfort we've gotten used to. Don't get me wrong. I am not naive. I realize there is crime and terrorism here too but the level is much less than say, Pakistan or Iraq. My favorite Independence Day song, and one that should be an anthem for all Americans is Toby Keith's "Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue". My favorite line is "Justice will be won and the battle will rage. This big dog will fight when you rattle his cage. You'll be sorry that you messed with the US of A...cause we'll put a boot in your ass, it's the American way". We are strong. We are fighters. We are Americans. Take some time to remember the fallen and the fighters of our country today. Happy Fourth!!

    Saturday, June 29, 2013

    Three's a Crowd

    For the last year or so, I have had nightly interruptions, usually ending with a child in my bed. Yes, every night. It's exhausting getting up night after night with whiny children, then trying to reason with them, only to have them end up in bed with me. Again. My daughter is five and so much easier to deal with. If she has a bad dream, has to go potty, or needs a drink, I can get her what she needs, walk her back to bed and she drifts back to sleep. My son is a different story. For some reason, he had become extra picky about his bedtime routine. Not only did I have to rock my almost-three-year-old to sleep but then he'd awaken in the middle of the night, wanting to bunk with me and daddy. I've obliged this long until recently, he stopped. Just like that, on his own. Cold turkey. I had debated the different methods....let him cry it out? Rock him back to sleep? But ultimately, I needed to sleep too and so a (bad) habit was formed. I'm lucky he has grown out of it because a rested mommy is a happy mommy. I'm glad I let go and let him figure it out on his own. Sometimes the power struggle is just not worth the fight...especially when sleep is involved! Whatever your issue with your children, just remember...this too, shall pass.
    What are you fighting for?

    Saturday, June 22, 2013

    Tie Dye: Hit or Miss??


    I decided, on a whim at Michael's, that I was going to tie dye with my kids. It was either going to be an epic failure, with kids, furniture and floor covered in dye, or something we'd love and want to do again and again. I could see it going either way. Well, I'm happy to report that the results were better than I hoped and we had lots of (mostly clean) fun doing it. I'll admit that with little ones, you will end up doing most of the work though my kids didn't seem to mind. They were totally interested and curious about the process and eager for the end result. You'll need just a few items before getting started:

    T-shirts or other items you plan to dye
    Dye- (I recommend buying a kit which includes various colors, bottles, gloves and rubber bands)
    Plastic trash bags, a couple old towels or other material to cover work surface

    So to get started, grab your t-shirts or item to be dyed and twist, securing with rubber bands along the way. I used about four rubber bands per shirt, just randomly twisting and banding. Then, fill your dye bottles with water according to directions and squeeze color onto your items. I let the kids choose two colors each. More than that, and it will blend together too much to distinguish the colors. Then let sit in a plastic bag for about an hour to absorb the dye. I just did the whole thing in the plastic bag then tied the top and let sit on my table. After an hour, cut rubber bands and rinse your shirt carefully so as not to get dye on everything around! I did this in my bathtub but an outdoor hose would be perfect too. Rinse until the water runs clear then wash and dry your items. Be sure your tie-dyed items are the only thing in there. The color will run! Once they are dried, they are good to go. I put the shirts in with my regular laundry the next time and nothing bled but you might want to keep them separate the first few washes. Like I said, it takes a little time but the shirts came out so pretty and my kids LOVE wearing them!! This is also perfect if you have something with a stain on it but you can't bear to throw the item out! Try this project today!!
      





    Wednesday, June 19, 2013

    A Twist on Chicken


    Want to create a meal that is delicious, healthy and will impress your family? Try stuffed chicken! It's super simple to prepare and with the addition of a couple yummy sides, is a complete meal. It's easy enough to throw together during the week so there's no excuse not to have a fantastic dinner ready in no time! This recipe is really more of a suggestion because let me tell you, there are endless ways to try this dish. Start out with boneless, skinless chicken breasts and slice them about half way, leaving a little pocket to stuff with your favorite ingredients. Next, fill the chicken with your favorite cheese and veggie or other item. I chose ricotta with red peppers. You can have so much fun with this and make everyone their favorite combos, even enlisting the kids to help come up with new flavors: ham and swiss, eggplant with parmesan or mozzarella and pepperoni! Just get filling! You can close the open side with a toothpick but I found that was unnecessary. Once your chicken is ready, saute in a hot pan for about five minutes on each side, being careful not to move the chicken around too much. I served mine with some steam-in-bag green beans and homemade mashed potatoes. This is a great meal because you can throw it together in a snap and make it as simple or as gourmet as you want. You can have a lovely, nutritious meal on the table in just a half hour!
    What flavors will you try??


    Tuesday, June 18, 2013

    For the Love of Cheesecake

    After watching an episode of Master Chef and drooling over the cheesecakes that were made, I knew I had to try it for myself. I've attempted to make cheesecake over the years, but it's just never quite hit the spot. After sampling The Cheesecake Factory's extensive list of yummy confections over time, I have all but given up on the idea of making anything as good at home. But alas, I was up for a challenge. I knew my recipe had to be easy and quick or it just wouldn't happen. I settled on a Philadelphia cream cheese recipe with strawberries, my hubby's favorite. Here is my recipe, try it for yourself!

    Crust:
    1 cup graham cracker crumbs (made with one sleeve graham crackers.)
    1/3 cup melted butter
    3 tbs. sugar
    Cheesecake:
    4 packages cream cheese, softened to room temperature (very important!)
    1 cup sugar
    4 eggs
    1 tsp. vanilla
    2 cups chopped strawberries, for top
    Glaze:
    1 cup chopped strawberries
    1/2 cup sugar
    2/3 cup water
    1 tbs. corn starch plus 3 tbs. water

    Combine crust ingredients and press mixture into a 9-inch spring form pan. Pre-heat oven to 325 degrees. Mix cheesecake ingredients, except strawberries, until smooth and pour into pan, baking for an hour. (It will set as it cools so don't worry if it seems under-cooked.) Meanwhile, combine one cup strawberries, sugar and water in small saucepan and bring to simmer, letting the mixture cook for ten minutes. Strain mixture through a sieve to remove seeds and pulp then return to pan.  Keep heat on low and add the cornstarch/water mixture and allow to come to a boil for about three minutes or until thickened. Let cool. When cheesecake is cooled, combine glaze with about two cups strawberries for top and chill overnight. This would be perfect for Fourth of July with a few blueberries thrown in...just sayin'...
    Enjoy!!!!




    Saturday, June 15, 2013

    A Father's Day Note

    I know what it's like raising the kids with the daily demands and struggles of life but it's hard to imagine what it's like for a man. There is a lot of pressure to provide for their families, keep them safe and create a loving and stable environment. For my hubby and me, we have only grown more patient, loving, and conscientious since having children. Being with them day in, day out, makes us realize that there is more to life than work, chores and the daily grind. It forces us to stop and see the wonder in the small things: a rolly polly crawling on the sidewalk, a pretty flower and the joy of savoring a Popsicle, one drip at a time. They make us slow way down.
    I've seen my husband grow in his faith, in patience and in integrity and I couldn't be prouder. Not only does he work a full day and then come home to more side jobs so we can enjoy fun family extras, but he always makes time for the kids. Whether it's playing a little Mario Bros. with them or snuggling before bed, he takes time to show his love. Oh, and he shows that he loves and respects their mommy too, being the best role model for them both. My daughter will never have to wonder how she should be treated, holding a high standard for the suitors to come. And my son will, God willing, follow Daddy's footsteps and be a kind, hard-working and honest man. With so many men out there who leave their families, mistreat their wives and abuse their children, I feel blessed to be living such a privileged and sweet life. I'm so grateful I chose Mike to be my husband and never take my blessings for granted. I was fortunate enough to have the same foundation my daughter does, with a clued-in father who is to this day, one of my biggest confidantes, supporters and fans. He is one of the first people I call when a crisis arises, when I need advice or when I just need to vent. He encourages me to follow my passions, cheering on my latest hair brained scheme and has never once allowed me to doubt myself. I'd say I got pretty lucky!
    So on this Father's Day, show that special dad in your life how much you care. Our good men need to be appreciated!

    Friday, June 14, 2013

    Father's Day Gift Guide

    With Father's Day quickly approaching, I'm sure you are considering what to do for Dad! Maybe you've already got it all figured out (good for you!) but if you need a few ideas, here you go! My kids and I plan to whisk Daddy away for the weekend so he can indulge in some much-needed relaxation, extra sleep (his request...) and a little fun in the sun. Whatever your hubby or dad is into, you are sure to find something to make him happy and feel appreciated on his special day!

    - Breakfast in bed. This is a classic for a reason! Who doesn't like to sleep in a little while the kids and mommy prepare a nice, hot breakfast, maybe with the newspaper or his favorite magazine included in the spread. Donuts and coffee work too!
    - For the reader, a new book with a coffee gift card tucked in is perfect.
    - For the snacker, and I happen to know a few, how about an assortment of cheeses and crackers or chocolates? Throw in a six-pack of his favorite beer or a bottle of wine and you've got it made.
    - Bake something! This is my answer to everything and for good reason! It's easy, inexpensive and a personal way to show your love. This year, thanks to a wealth of bananas from a neighbor, I baked homemade banana nut bread for the fellas in my life and wrapped them to gift.
    - For the guy who spends most time in the garage (my hubby, of course!) a gift card to Sears, Matco or Snap-On are great options because they WILL get used. Or, listen extra carefully for a tool he needs and get it for him. This takes some paying attention because for me, most of that stuff goes over my head!
    - For the man with the creative side, think about getting him a set of Lincoln Logs, K'Nex, a model car kit or some other item he can create with the kids. They will all have fun making something together (and bonus, give you some quiet time!)
    I hope these suggestions were helpful! It's always fun to have a reason to shop, bake and craft so get moving!
    What are you getting that special guy?

    Wednesday, June 5, 2013

    Happiness at Home

    Being a stay-home mom isn't always easy. Yes, I can stay in my pajamas til noon if I want, go to the park or other adventures on a whim, get my errands done before dinner and there is not much pressure as far as our schedule goes. But on the other hand...I'm with my kids all day, must entertain them, keep them fed, keep dinners on the table, food in the cupboards and there is more pressure to keep a tidy home because...what else am I doing all day? Ha! I have the lovely task of scheduling all the doctors appointments, dental check-ups and getting the oil changed, the car washed..etc. So although there are perks to it, being home with my kiddos all day, every day can definitely be draining. For the first year or so of having two kids, I hit the ground running, constantly staying busy, meeting up with friends and taking my kids on field trips until it hit me..my life is just a series of play dates. And who the heck am I putting all this effort out for anyway? Me...or my kids? To beat my boredom or their's? So I'm trying to slow down, savor the morning, prepare for the day leisurely, have a cup of coffee and let the day take us where it may. After all, life is not a race and if the kids end up making a huge mess out of blankets, pillows and sheets all for the sake of creating a secret hideout, then by all means, I let them go for it. The grocery store can wait. Being happier does not equal being busier. Being happier at home just means being more content with my juncture in life, taking things as they come and holding myself to my own standard, not comparing myself to what other mothers out there are doing. And I think I'm doing a pretty good job.
    What's your secret to being happy at home??

    Thursday, May 30, 2013

    10 Years and Counting...

    Tomorrow my hubby and I will celebrate ten years of marriage, fifteen years together total. Wow. When I look at my life, my home, and my two beautiful children, I have a hard time finding words to describe how I feel about all we've achieved together. Lucky? Blessed? Overjoyed? It has been a work in progress but I can honestly say I am happier now at this point in our lives than ever before. Having children has enriched our lives beyond words and our relationship has only grown, strengthened and solidified over time. We've gotten far past any jealousies, insecurities or petty concerns that might fuel arguments in those first years of marriage. We know each other in a way that nobody else does and have a trust, friendship and bond that's incomparable. I believe the Lord put Mike in my life during a time when I needed him the most, those tumultuous teenage years! He was a steady rock then and continues to be a comforting presence whenever I need him most. He keeps me grounded with his level-headed approach to problems and gives me a sense of accomplishment for all I do as a wife and mother, constantly affirming my role in his life. Without being too cheesy, I think the words from "Come What May", our first song at our wedding, continue to say it best..."Never knew I could feel like this, like I've never seen the sky before. Want to vanish inside your kiss, every day I love you more and more." And I do. Really! Every day is better than the last. I continue to see the best in my goofball of a partner, never taking for granted what we've built over time and what the Lord has so richly blessed. So over a romantic dinner, we plan to celebrate, reminisce, and plan for the next ten! I can't wait to see what's in store.
    What's your love story?

    Tuesday, May 28, 2013

    Coconut Cream (or Dream...) Cake

    I found this Coconut Cream Cake recipe on Pinterest and just HAD to try it. I adore all things coconut and had never made a cake with this feature flavor, believe it or not. It's super simple as it starts with a boxed cake mix. It's similar to a tres leches cake as it's super moist and flavorful throughout. Here's the recipe and if you are an Almond Joy lover like myself, you've got to give it a try!

    Cake:
    1 white cake mix
    3 eggs
    1/2 cup oil
    1 cup milk
    1 pkg. vanilla pudding mix (just the powder, do not make the pudding)
    Filling:
    7 oz. coconut milk (can be found in the Asian food aisle...took me some help to find!)
    7 oz. sweetened condensed milk
    Topping:
    1 tub whipped topping
    1 cup coconut, plus more to garnish

    Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees and prepare cake mix, pouring into a 9X13 pan and baking about 20 minutes or until golden brown. Once cake is cooled, mix the sweetened condensed milk and coconut milk and, after poking holes in cake with fork, pour over top. (You'll only need half the can of both so I froze the rest for another cake..) Allow to cool in fridge about an hour then top with the whipped topping mixed with 1 cup coconut. Then, if you really want to get fancy, toast a little extra coconut to sprinkle over the top. Enjoy!




    Monday, May 27, 2013

    Happy Memorial Day!

    I hope you all enjoy your day off and have a wonderful time with family, friends and hopefully, some good grub! Let's not forget what this day is about..remembering the brave men and women who tirelessly defend our country and freedom. Happy Memorial Day!

    Thursday, May 23, 2013

    Holla for Challah

    I was thumbing through a cookbook the other day when a recipe for challah bread caught my eye. I enjoy making bread but not wanting to deal with a fussy recipe, I tweaked it a bit to work for me. Challah bread is different than any bread I've made in that it has eggs. The eggs lend for a dense, rich texture and subtly sweet taste. Braided and topped with poppy seeds, it makes for such a stunning start to any meal. And the smell? You just can't beat the smell of freshly baked bread! If you've never tried making bread, this is easy, I promise.

    Challah Bread
    3 1/2 cups flour, plus extra for kneading
    1 pkg. active dry yeast
    1 cup warm water
    2 tablespoons honey
    1 teaspoon salt
    2 eggs, beaten (3 if you want an egg wash over the top..I skipped this step.)
    poppy seeds, for top

    Mix warm water and yeast in a mixing bowl then prepare dough by adding the remaining ingredients and mix well. Allow to rise for at least an hour. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Then, working in two batches, braid the dough on a floured surface then transfer to a baking sheet. Sprinkle poppy seeds over the top and bake for about thirty-five minutes or until golden brown. Serve with lots of butter and jam.

    Tuesday, May 21, 2013

    My Menu This Week

    Coming off a Pinterest bender, I've found some recipes that are sure to shake dinner up! I have been so tired of my usual chicken recipes so it was time for something new. Here's my menu for the week, maybe it will inspire you to try something new too!

    Tuesday: BBQ...going to make some burgers on the grill with fresh corn on the cob (wrapped in foil with butter and salt...mmmm!)
    Wednesday: Chicken bacon ranch pasta- bite-sized chicken breast with a can of Italian style tomatoes, a little milk, garlic and a ranch dressing packet served over pasta, topped with crunchy bacon.
    Thursday: Crock-Pot pork tenderloin (Pork tenderloin and BBQ sauce..that's it!) served with my favorite Hawaiian rolls and fruit salad.
    Friday: Lean ground turkey tacos with all the fixins'.
    Saturday: Crock-Pot baked potato bar...wrap potatoes with foil and place in slow cooker for 4-6 hours! Serve with chili, sour cream, cheese, broccoli..etc. You can always microwave them...two potatoes take about 15 minutes on high..
    Sunday: Dinner out!
    What are you cooking this week?

    Monday, May 20, 2013

    Another Day in Paradise...

    So everyone lets their children play out back in water naked, right?? No? Maybe it's just me but lately, as the weather has warmed, I've needed to come up with yet another creative way to keep my kids busy, cool and happy! So it was time to drag out the pirate water table and get going. Being practical, I don't like the idea of them getting their clothes soaked or having to change in and out of swimsuits for sometimes ten minutes of fun so...naked they go! Day after day, I fill the table with clean water, they have their fun, splashing each other and me. Then they dig in the dirt and make a muddy mess and inevitably there are watery, muddy footprints in the house after all is said and done. But they have fun, cool off and share plenty of giggles. Definitely worth the mess!
    What do you do to keep your kids busy in the heat?


    Friday, May 17, 2013

    Cinnamon Rolls: Take Two

    Recently I decided a good batch of cinnamon rolls was in order for a yummy Sunday morning breakfast. After looking over several recipes, I decided to make a version by the Pioneer Woman, Ree Drummond. You just can't go wrong with her simple, decadent recipes! I've tried many and have never been disappointed. After realizing the dough would be more time-consuming than I thought, I chose to make the rolls the night before and heat them in the morning, saving us precious time while rushing for church. This recipe yields enough dough for about eight large (and I mean large!) cinnamon rolls, sixteen if you don't halve the recipe like I did. Don't make the same mistake I did by underestimating how much the dough would rise and choose a too-small pan. I had to finagle the rolls in the middle and switch to a larger pan, creating a mess and not-so-pretty rolls but in the end?? They tasted mighty good and I plan to do this again soon. Oh, and my hubby and I couldn't even wait until the morning to try them. We wolfed a couple straight out of the oven! Here's my recipe, adapted only slightly, from Ree's. Next up? I plan to tackle her donuts!

    Cinnamon Roll Dough, halved:
    2 cups whole milk
    1/2 cup oil
    1 pkg. active dry yeast
    4 cups flour, plus extra for rolling dough
    1/2 tspn. baking powder
    1/2 tspn. baking soda
    1/2 tbspn. salt
    Filling:
    1 cup sugar
    1/2 stick melted butter
    cinnamon
    Glaze:
    1 cup powdered sugar
    2 tbspns. milk, more if needed to thin out

    Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Heat the milk and oil over low heat until just warmed. Sprinkle yeast over the surface and let sit for a minute. Add remaining ingredients and stir to combine. Allow to rise for about an hour, or until doubled. Roll out on a floured surface until about 1/2 inch thick. Spread with the melted butter, cinnamon and sugar. Roll into one large piece and then slice. Place in baking dish and allow to double once again, another hour or so. Then bake for 25-30 minutes or until cooked all the way through. Glaze immediately and serve warm. Enjoy!!


    I made this!! Soooo good!

    Saturday, May 11, 2013

    A Note for Mom

    Motherhood is hard. Ask any mom and unless they have a live-in nanny, I'm sure they will agree! Between the demands of little ones, chores, errands, cooking and keeping a marriage alive, it can be overwhelming, to say the least. I joke (kind of) that the best part of the day is when my kids are in bed! But then again, the next best part is when they awaken and come snuggle with me in the wee hours of the morning. I live for those moments. I'm sure motherhood has it's own set of challenges as kids grow and move away, but for now I'm in the trenches of the little years. Wake up, eat, get dressed, play, bath, bed. Repeat. And repeat again. Half the time, I feel like I'm stuck in the movie Groundhog's Day with no rest in sight. But then I get a sticky kiss, or a cuddle or an "I love you, Mommy" out of the blue and I suddenly remember why I decided to have kids in the first place. The unconditional love, pride and the fierce protection I have over their little lives are priceless. It's not an easy job, but it's the best one. I now appreciate my own mom in ways I never could have before. How did she handle my tantrums? Keep it all together with five little ones? I can barely deal with two! Thanks Mom, for your never ending love and encouragement and for always being supportive of me, my life and my family, for talking me down from ledges and for being my first responder when things go haywire. Happy Mother's Day!