Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Morning Sickness

As a doula, women tend to ask me for help or advice with a lot of things. Morning sickness is one of them.

By far, it has to be one of the least pleasant things about pregnancy.

I wonder who named it morning sickness anyway. It's all the time, night or day.

It's also one of the things about pregnancy that can be managed for almost everyone without any medical interventions. I have found that sometimes all you need is distraction. If you are busy with something else, you don't have idle time to sit around and analyze how you are feeling. It's a very psychosomatic symptom - one that your mind can make better or worse fairly easily.

After having my first pregnancy end in a loss, I always found the arrival of morning sickness strangely comforting. Not that I was glad to have it, but I was glad it showed up. Those first few weeks seem like an eternity when you've lost a baby before.

I know a great many women who never really had problems with it. Who sailed through the first trimester peacefully. Who didn't want to wretch every time they pumped gas. Who could brush their teeth without dry heaving. Who could actually set foot into the grocery store without turning three shades of green.

I was like those lucky women once. Twice, really. With Aidan I would occasionally get nauseous, but it was never an overwhelming wave of sickness. I never found myself hugging a toilet. With Ashley I was a little more nauseous, but I only threw up once.

And then I found myself pregnant with Ally, and I didn't need a pregnancy test. I was sick as a dog from over a week before I could even find out if I was pregnant. I was so sick I kept asking the doctor to make sure it wasn't twins. I couldn't eat anything, I couldn't even drink water. I ended up getting IVs a few times, lost over 20 pounds. Fun stuff.

I ruptured the blood vessels in my eyes because I threw up so much. Shudder.

In that lovely 20+ weeks, I tried everything. (Yes, I had morning sickness with her into my fifth month of pregnancy). I wore the sea sickness bracelets. Nothing. I tried eating a cracker or two before I sat up in bed in the morning. That just made it worse. I changed the times I ate, I changed what I ate, and none of it worked. I had to stop taking my prenatal vitamins completely since they made me so sick.

Here are the things that helped get through that time.

- Ginger. The real stuff, not artificially flavored ginger things. Real ginger ale. I found that I couldn't drink much, having too much liquid in my stomach was a trigger too. They make lollipops now, called Preggy Pops with ginger. Those got old quickly, but I found a ginger supplement to take. I wish I could say that this was the cure, but it just helped alleviate it a little.

- Flavored water. I couldn't drink plain water at all. I had to put some lemon juice in it, or a splash of something else. Plain water was nasty. I don't know why, but it was. I found myself eating ice since it went down and didn't come back up. As often.

- Strange combinations. Plain potato chips and lemonade together helps. It's the combination of salt and sugar that does it. Anything with that combination will do the same.

- Mouthwash. If brushing your teeth makes you sick, buy mouthwash. Use it every time you brush, then if you can only stand to brush for a few seconds, you're still getting your teeth clean.

- Figure out what your triggers are and try to avoid them. For some, it's rapid temperature changes, for others it's certain smells. Things you loved before may make you sick now. Just part of the fun.

- Grocery Store Delivery Services. I couldn't even walk in the store. Could. Not. Do. It. Thankfully, these services had just started. Best $10 I could have spent. I'd send Tom every other time, use the service the rest.

- Plastic bags and paper towels. Keep em in the car. Enough said.

- EAT! Morning sickness is made worse by low blood sugar, far worse. Not eating will only make it worse. I had gestational diabetes with all my babies, and the worst by far was Ally. The hypoglycemia would make me nauseous, I wouldn't eat, and my blood sugar just got lower and lower. And I got sicker and sicker. One of those downward spiral things. Do not stop eating, no matter how sick you are. You are far better off to eat and vomit, trust me. Though it might not seem like it, your body is absorbing something.

- Get water in your body however that needs to happen. Dehydration is a bad idea in pregnancy for all kinds of reasons, and you need to avoid it.

- Don't be afraid to ask for help. I refused medication for the nausea, but I've known a lot of women who have taken it. There are many different ones they can prescribe, some work better than others. I often wonder if I would have been better off taking it, since I ended up calling the nurse line several times and in urgent care with IVs a few times for dehydration.

- If you lose more than 5-10% of your body weight, it is too much. Call your doctor.

Remember that for almost everyone, morning sickness will pass by about the 15-16 week mark. Most are done before then. There are a handful of women who have to deal with it throughout pregnancy, and for many of them, medication is the only choice.

I very vividly remember the night my morning sickness passed. I hadn't eaten anything in so long, there were many days all I got down was a cup of chicken broth. I stopped going to the grocery store entirely. Then, all of a sudden, a KFC commercial came on the TV. And I wanted chicken. Even though it was 10pm.

I've never seen my husband fly out the door that quickly. I got my chicken. And let me tell you, having not eaten in weeks, it was amazing.

Morning sickness isn't fun. But it's also temporary. And it's worth it.

Slime

Here's another quick and easy way to keep kids busy. We've made this a few times, and it always entertains while simultaneously grossing out the kids. Slime.

It's simple enough, completely harmless and made with just a few things you probably have at home already.

- Corn starch
- Water
- Food coloring (if you want it colored)

Put about a cup of cornstarch in a bowl, add water a little at a time until you reach the desired consistency. It appears solid in the bowl, but turns to slime when you try to pick it up. My kids LOVE this stuff.

You might be able to save it in a ziploc bag after they are done, but don't count on it. Fortunately, it's super cheap.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Flying with Kids

We've only done this a handful of times. We've done it with newborns, babies, toddlers and preschoolers. We learned a long time ago that it's totally worth just driving unless you have a really long way to go.

If flying is the only option, here are some tips. To save your sanity, and that of everyone else on the plane with you.

- Obviously, if it's a long flight, try to swing a red eye. The kids might sleep once you get in the air - and sleeping is your best chance for a calm flight.

- I don't advocate giving benadryl or other medications to knock your kids out, but I know people who use them. One word of caution though....if you're gonna do it, try it before at home. It makes some kids REALLY REALLY HYPER, and you don't want to figure that out for the first time at 27,000 feet.

- If you are flying with a baby, nurse or feed them on take off and landing. If they won't eat, try to use a pacifier. The pressure buildup in their ears is painful and they don't know how to fix it. For this problem in older kids, use gum or chewy candy.

- If you are flying with an older baby or toddler, you might just be better off paying for the extra seat. Yes, they can ride on your lap, but if they are accustomed to sleeping in the car, you have a shot they might sleep in their seat. Not to mention the whole turbulence thing.

- If your kids have a lovey or something special they sleep with, bring it on the plane. Do not check it. Just in case your bags don't meet you where they are supposed to, you don't want to be out a lovey too. Plus, it might help them sleep on the plane.

- Gate check as much stuff as they will let you. This usually means one item per seat. So even if you have 3 kids, it might be worth lugging the extra booster seats and car seats to the gate if it means you can check another bag. Airlines have gotten ridiculous with the charges for baggage, double check before you go to the airport.

- Let the kids have the window. There is more room for them to fidget and there is more for them to see.

- Bring snacks. Lots of snacks. They are insanely overpriced on board.

- Check the in-flight movies before boarding. If there aren't family friendly options, download movies onto a laptop or other portable device you can use in the air. Even if you normally limit screen time, it is your best friend right now. Trust me.

- Load your ipod with music your kids like. Hand it over.

- Handheld games. Some airlines actually have video games on board these days. If yours doesn't, and it will amuse the kids, bring one.

- Even if your kids are out of diapers, bring wipes. And tissues.

- Coloring books, color wonder sets, etch a sketch, and anything along those lines. Anything small and portable. Bring notebooks and pencils or pens to draw with. Twistable crayons are great for little ones.

- For older kids, have them choose some new books, comics or magazines.

- If they are old enough, bribe them in exchange for good behavior. I am not above bribery. It happens to work, especially if you only bust it out as a motivational technique occasionally.

- New coloring books, mad libs and subject specific workbooks (I get them in the dollar section at Target).

- My girls are the age to bring little purses filled with little pets. If you have a kid with a favorite toy that happens to be small, bring it.

- Bring stickers. Lots of stickers. My kids love stickers. All kids love stickers.

- Play games like Tic Tac Toe. Play Hangman. Draw funny characters alternating who draws which feature.

- If your kids are into this kind of thing, you can bring supplies to make braided bracelets or lanyards. If they have never done it before, teach them.

- If your kids are old enough to be reasoned with, talk to them about your expectations before boarding. Tell them what is and is not acceptable behavior. Tell them they will earn something in return for exceptional behavior, and stick to it.

- Catch the naughty behavior before it starts to spiral out of control. You are in a confined space, and the grumpiest people always sit next to the kids. Always.

- Be super vigilant about chair kicking. They can fidget in your general direction, but try not to let them bug other people too much. (I said try!)

- Secret stash. You must have a secret stash. This secret stash must contain really awesome snacks and new things you know they will love. The things in the secret stash must be new, and they must be awesome. Choose wisely.

- Give them a break. They are kids, and they will get antsy. They won't always be quiet. They will whine. This is why you have a secret stash. Use it wisely.

Eventually, you'll get off the plane. It might seem like forever, but it won't be.

And you just might decide it's easier to drive.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Traveling with Kids

There are few things that can strike fear into the heart of a parent more than the prospect of spending hours in a confined space with bored children. Miles of open road ahead of you, whining kids sitting behind you. Road trips.

They can be fun. Really. And the time spent in the car doesn't have to be painful.

I've spent a lot of time in the car with my kids. A lot. Here are some of the things I have learned along the way.

- If at all possible, drive overnight. It's rough on the parents, this is true, but it's much easier on everyone in the long run. If you've got more than 12 hours to drive, can sleep in the car and are willing to switch off drivers, this is the way to do it. There is less traffic, you might be able to avoid staying in a motel along the way and the kids will sleep. Obviously this is only an option if the weather is decent and you are sticking to the interstates.

- Pack a lunch in an ice chest and plan to stop to eat it. Throw some perishable snacks in there too, like cheese and yogurts. Much faster than finding a restaurant.

- I bring a small ice chest just for me. I need my diet cokes and my frappucinos. (Have I mentioned that I do almost all the driving? Mama needs some caffeine!)

- Bring snacks, but bring ones that are easy on the stomach. Also think about the mess potential of snacks. I take granola bars, goldfish, fruit and water. Bring reusable water bottles and refill them when you stop rather than buying plastic water bottles. Juice boxes are reserved for use outside the car only.

- Buy a roll of the cheap bathroom sized trash bags and stash it in the driver's door. Every gas station or rest stop, the trash gets cleaned out.

- Even if your kids are past diaper age, stash some wipes in the car where you can reach them.

- If traveling with a baby or toddler still in diapers, keep in mind that you may have to let them get out and walk around so they can poop. I learned this the hard way on my last trip. AJ was miserable, we thought he was teething and hungry. Nope, he just needed to get up so he could go.

- Bring a towel or two to cover the car seat in case someone doesn't make it to the rest stop.

- Tissues, a roll of toilet paper, a roll of paper towels, and a few good ziploc bags (in case someone gets sick on the road....trust me). Let's hope you don't need them, but you'll thank me if you do.

- Plan to stop about every two hours to let the kids go to the bathroom. Everyone goes, every time. Ideally, you can plan the stops to be located at large rest stops with grassy areas. Get the kids to run around. On our trip to Minnesota, we'd make the kids race to the rest stop fences and back twice before they could get back in the car.

- Sight see. Find the goofy roadside attractions. Kids love gigantic fiberglass dinosaurs.

- Figure that you will need to add about 15-20% of the expected driving time to your actual travel time. Yes, everything just takes longer with kids.

- Bring an ipod or CDs. There are huge parts of the country without radio stations. Huge. Download some music the kids like and get everyone singing. Besides, you know you love The Jonas Brothers.

- If possible, rotate seats when you stop. Make one seat special, like the closest to the ice chest.

- I'm not at all above popping in a DVD and having the kids watch movies. Bring only movies they all will watch without whining, and movies you will be able to listen to without going crazy. If you're feeling nice, get a new one and surprise them on the road. If you have an old-school DVD player like we do, make sure the kid sitting by the controlling console knows how to operate it.

- Count heads when you get back in the car. Don't leave anyone at the gas station. Yes, this really happened to someone I know.

- Keep the kids busy. Bored kids are whiny kids. And whiny kids make a 500 mile trip seem like 5000.

  • Travel bingo. This may or may not hold their interest. No promises.
  • Sing songs. One that usually works for a little while are the alphabet songs, where you have to alternate thinking of an animal/food/city that starts with each letter.
  • Handheld games. We have Leapsters, but any kind of handheld game would do it. Keep in mind that this may only be a good idea if all your kids have one and you have headphones for them.
  • Color wonder sets. They make great little travel sets, I always get a few of these to surprise the kids with when the boredom sets in.
  • Etch a sketch and/or magnadoodle boards.
  • Fill in the blank books - like Madlibs and Diary of a Wimpy Kid Do-It-Yourself.
  • I spy.
  • Rock, Paper, Scissors.
  • Brain Quest - nothing wrong with a little learning on the road. And if your kids are anything like mine, they ask questions constantly. Here's your chance to ask some back.
  • Card games, if your car is laid out in a way that they can play them.
  • Take turns inventing a story. Each person gets to make up a part, then passes it on.
  • Try to find yellow cars. Or road signs with Z's on them. There aren't many. Make it a game.
  • Count cows. Or sheep. Or whatever you seem to be seeing a lot of.
The main thing to remember on a road trip is that the driving portion of it is part of your vacation just as much as the time you spend at your destination. The more fun you can make it, the less painful it will be.

And don't forget to keep your sense of humor fully intact. You just might need it. Okay, so you will need it. That much I can promise.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Strawberry Ice Cream

Just made this today, and I've decided to stop using recipes I find other places all together. Winging it seems to work just fine. Even Tom said this one is the best one yet.

Perfect for the upcoming holiday weekend - make and enjoy! Share if you're feeling extra nice.

Strawberry Ice Cream

- 1 cup cream
- 2 cups skim milk
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1 tsp vanilla
- 3/4 cup pureed fresh strawberries

Mix all together thoroughly and cover. Put in the freezer for about an hour to chill. Run through ice cream maker, placing back in freezer after if it needs to set a bit more.

Homemade Play Dough

Here is a great recipe for homemade play dough. It's cheap and it's easy to make. And it can keep the kids busy for a while....always a good thing during the summer!

- 1 small package sugar-free jello, whatever flavor you think smells good!
- 2 cups flour
- 1 cup salt
- 4 tbsp cream of tartar
- 2 tbsp oil
- 2 cups boiling water

Combine dry ingredients in a large pot. Mix oil first, then boiling water. Stir until it forms into a ball. Let cool completely.

Lasts a few weeks if stored in an airtight container.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Vinegar

If you haven't fallen in love with vinegar yet, I'm on a mission to make it happen. It's one of those things that most of us have in the house all the time. It's one of those things that our grandmothers probably used a lot more than we do. And it's one of those things we should use far more often than we do.

It has so many versatile uses that there is no way I could list them all here. There are full websites devoted to it. Seriously.

My personal favorites uses are these:

- Making buttermilk. If you have a recipe that calls for buttermilk, but don't want to run to the store, add a little vinegar to the desired amount of milk and let it sit for a few minutes. Voila. Buttermilk.

- Tenderizing meat. Add a little to a marinade, make that cheaper cut of meat seem pricey.

- Get the onion smell off your hands, just sprinkle with a little vinegar, rub, and wash.

- To make peeling hard boiled eggs easier, add a tbsp or two to the water before cooking.

- Make a scouring cleanser with vinegar and baking soda (one of my other favorites).

- Clean the inside of the coffee maker by running vinegar through it, then clear water.

- Remove lingering bad odors by placing a bowl of vinegar after you clean up the offending mess. Let it sit overnight.

There are more, lots more. One of the best websites for tips is this one:

http://www.vinegartips.com/Scripts/

Friday, June 25, 2010

Cheesy Chicken

The last few times I've been to a restaurant with Friday's in the name (hint, hint), I've ordered the cheesy chicken skillet. Yesterday, staring at a mostly empty refrigerator, I was a little puzzled as to what to make for dinner. I had a red pepper, chicken and onions. But no tortillas, so no fajitas. I didn't want to make kebobs, they are just too labor intensive for a weeknight. Then this idea popped into my head. I wonder if I could make that meal from the restaurant?

I did, and it tasted just about exactly like it does when you pay good money for it. Yum. I guessed as to the ingredients in the marinade, but I guess I've gotten pretty good at guessing. I don't have a cast iron skillet to make this with, so a saute pan, a baking dish and the broiler had to make do.

Cheesy Broiled Chicken
- 3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, pounded thinner
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- 1 tsp ground sea salt
- 1/2 tsp ground pepper
- 1/4 garlic powder
- 1/4 ground cayenne pepper
- one red, green or yellow bell pepper, seeded and julienned
- one medium onion, thinly sliced
- 4 slices American cheese
- 1/2 cup cheddar cheese

Combine the oil, salt, pepper, garlic powder and cayenne pepper in a small bowl. Pour over chicken and marinate in fridge for 4 hours.

Place chicken in greased baking dish and bake at 400 for 20 minutes, until almost done. Meanwhile, saute the bell pepper and onion on the stove. Remove chicken from pan, layer the cheese, pepper and onions on the bottom of the dish, place chicken back on top. Broil for 5-10 minutes, until chicken is done.

I also made garlic mashed potatoes and a salad to go with it. My kids eat a lot.

It's that good.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Creamy Fruit Dip

This is one of those unbelievably simple, yet amazingly good recipes. Guaranteed to be a hit at any backyard BBQs or 4th of July parties you might be heading to. Serve with sliced fresh fruit.

Hint: If you plan to use apples, sprinkle sliced apples with lemon juice so they don't turn brown.

Creamy Dreamy Fruit Dip
- 1 jar marshmallow creme
- 8 oz package of cream cheese (can use the fat free and it's just as good)
- 1/2 cup skim milk
- 1 cup light sour cream

Blend all ingredients together with a whisk or in a blender. Chill in fridge for at least an hour.

Slice, Dip and be Happy.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Mexican Chicken Casserole

This is a great, quick dinner. One of the things I love the most about casseroles is that no side dish is required - everything is in there already. This one is pretty quick and easy to make, and can easily be spiced up if you like a little more heat.

Mexican Chicken Casserole
- 1 lb boneless, skinless chicken, cut into 1 inch cubes
- 1/2 tsp cumin
- dash salt
- vegetable oil
- 1 can refried beans
- 1 can diced tomatoes with chiles, drained
- 1 can Mexicorn (corn with added peppers and onions)
- 2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
- tortillas, cut into wide strips (best with a pizza cutter)

Cook chicken in pan with 2 tsp oil and the cumin and salt. Combine beans and tomatoes in a bowl. Spread 1 cup of the bean mixture in the bottom of a greased 13x9 baking dish. Layer with tortilla strips, half the chicken, half the corn, half the cheese and repeat. Top with tortilla strips and brush with vegetable oil.

Bake at 350 for 30 minutes.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Orange Ginger Marinade

Here is a great marinade recipe, one that I usually use for grilled chicken kebabs. I haven't made it yet this summer because AJ appears to be allergic to oranges....hmmm....hoping he isn't. Because I love this recipe.

Orange Ginger Marinade
- 1/2 cup orange juice
- 1/2 cup honey
- 1/2 cup soy sauce
- juice from 2 limes
- 1 tbsp minced garlic
- 2 tbsp minced ginger
- 1 tbsp minced green onion

Chicken Kebabs
- 3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (can use thighs too) with marinade above
- 1 bell pepper, seeded and cut into large chunks
- 1 red pepper, seeded and cut into large chunks
- 1 yellow pepper, seeded and cut into large chunks
- 1 vidalia onion, peeled, halved and cut into chunks
- 1 pineapple, peeled and core removed, then cut into chunks
- cherry tomatoes

Combine all marinade ingredients, and pour over prepared chicken pieces, reserving some of the marinade for brushing on during grilling. I cut the chicken into 2 inch cubes for making the kebabs before marinating. Let sit in fridge for 4-6 hours.

I have metal skewers, but you can use wooden ones if you soak them in water first.

Assemble kebabs and grill, brushing with reserved marinade. For an extra treat, I put the leftover pineapple on it's own skewer and grill it.

The best part about kebabs like this is that all you need are some dinner rolls and you have a complete meal. :)

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Honey Lemon Summer Salad

Sitting on the back patio after a long day's work, sipping some peach iced tea and eating this salad. That's what Summer is made for.

- head romaine lettuce, rinsed and torn into bite size pieces
- 1 small carrot, julienned or cut into small slivers with peeler
- handful of cherry tomatoes, halved
- 6 strawberries, sliced
- 1/4 cup candied walnuts
- 1/2 cup crumbled blue cheese

- you could top it with some grilled chicken for a full meal

Toss it all together with this dressing.

Honey Lemon Vinaigrette
- 2/3 cup honey
- 2 Tablespoons white wine vinegar
- 6 Tablespoons olive oil
- Juice of 3 lemons
- 1 Tablespoon lemon zest
- 1 tsp shallots, finely minced
- 2 tsp garlic, finely minced
- 3 Tablespoons salt
- 1/4 teaspoon pepper

Makes plenty of dressing for this salad and a few more. Cover and store in the fridge for up to 2 weeks.

Put your feet up and enjoy the sunset.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

World's Best Coffee Cake

This is by far the best coffee cake I've ever had. Ever.

I first had it when my mother in law brought it over for a brunch a few years ago. It's from a recipe she received from a good friend of hers. I'm sure that friend got it from someone else.

It's that kind of recipe. One the weaves it's way across the country being passed from one person to the next. This is the kind of recipe you are going to want to try. I promise.

And it's super duper easy. Which makes it even better.

Father's Day is next week....this could make the men in your life happy.

World's Best Coffee Cake
- box yellow cake mix
- stick of butter room temp.
- 1 1/4 brown sugar
- 3 eggs
- 1 pint sour cream (I use light)
- 1/2 tsp cinnamon
- 1/2 cup chopped walnuts (if you'd like to add them)

Mix 2/3 cup cake mix with the butter, sugar, cinnamon and nuts.

In another bowl, beat the eggs. Add the sour cream and remaining cake mix.

Pour half the sour cream and egg mixture into a greased 9 x 13 pan, layer with crumb mixture and repeat with each again to make four layers.

Bake at 350 for 45-50 minutes.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Crockpot Black Bean Soup

Here is a great recipe for your crockpot. This is one of those uber healthy meals, and this recipe lends itself to substitutions and additions well.

Spicy Black Bean Soup
- 1 pound dry black beans, soaked overnight (can substitute with 2 cans of beans, be sure to rinse them first)
- 1/8 cup diced jalapeno peppers

- 2 tomatoes, seeded and chopped (can substitute a can of diced tomatoes)
- 6 cups chicken broth
- 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 tablespoon chili powder
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon ground black pepper


Combine all ingredients, cook in crock pot for 6-8 hours on low.

You can mash some of the beans at the end or run it all through a food processor (heat proof) if you like a smoother texture.

If you want it hotter, add some cayenne pepper or hot sauce (like Cholula or Tabasco)

You can add chicken to the recipe, cut into 1 inch pieces and cook before adding.

Last time I made it, I added a cup of corn and half a diced onion.

Best topped with some sour cream and fresh salsa.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Mosquito Repellent

Though there a lot of things I love about the summer, mosquitoes are not one of them. Last night I counted four bites on one foot. Four. I don't just taste good, I'm downright delicious.

The biggest problem with mosquitoes, aside from the annoying itchy bites, is that they can carry dangerous diseases. The threat of West Nile is high here, especially since we live fairly close to standing water in nearby ponds and lakes.

Ashley is allergic to the bites. When she is bitten, she doesn't just get your typical itchy spots. She gets huge areas of swelling. Last summer, her eye swelled completely shut. The itching drives her crazy and she can't sleep. She is on round the clock antihistamines, and needs benadryl more than just occasionally.

Unfortunately, there is little that you can do in terms of prevention. Sure, you could never ever go outside. You could always wear long sleeves and pants in the middle of the hottest time of year. You could slather yourself with chemical sprays constantly. You could.

Keeping Ashley indoors just isn't an option, and wearing long sleeves and pants when the thermometer is flirting with triple digits isn't either. I am more than a little leery of the chemical based insect repellents. I mean, really, the labels all say to wash it off before you go to bed, not to reapply more often than every so many hours, to make sure you wash your hands thoroughly before eating, remove and wash all clothing sprayed. Then, they try to get you to believe it's safe to squirt on every square inch of your exposed skin. Not so sure on that.

I've spent a lot of time trying to find natural repellents. Things without 27 letter in their names and warning labels in bold print. This particular concoction is one I started using last year, and it seems to work pretty well. You do have to reapply it periodically and it stinks. But it's not scary. The ingredients are fairly easy to find at natural food stores.

Homemade Mosquito Repellent
- clean squirt bottle
- eucalyptus oil
- lemon oil

Fill bottle with water, add about a tsp of eucalyptus oil and a few drops of lemon oil. Shake vigorously before each use. Avoid spraying in face, as the oils will irritate eyes, nose and mouth.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Blueberry Gelato

Things I love about summer....lazy afternoons at the pool, flip flops, sunscreen scented kids, grilled hamburgers and blueberries. I love blueberries.

I love blueberries plain. Or in just about anything you could put a blueberry in. Muffins, cobblers, scones, coffee cake, oatmeal.

And gelato.

I don't know where this craving came from, but I've had a hankering for some frozen blueberry deliciousness. My body must be in dire need of some antioxidants or something. I've never actually had blueberry gelato before, I can honestly say.

I haven't branched much in the frozen dessert creating arena. Sure, I've made vanilla ice cream, and vanilla ice cream with stuff in it. But never a fruity flavor. This was all a bit new. I looked online for a recipe, and couldn't seem to find one that sounded right. Either they were sorbet-ish or ice creamy, and I wanted something more in between. So I just made it up. What the heck, right?

Blueberry Gelato
- 2 pints blueberries, rinsed
- 1 cup sugar
- juice and zest of one lemon
- a dash of salt
- 1 cup heavy cream

Combine berries, sugar, lemon juice and zest in a saucepan. Heat on medium-low until sugar melts and mixture become just bubbly. Cook for about 5 minutes, until the berries all start to fall apart. Transfer to heat safe blender or food processor and puree. Cover and chill in the fridge for at least an hour.

Remove chilled berry mixture, and pour into ice cream maker, adding the cream. Run machine until gelato starts to form and mixture thickens. Remove from maker, cover and chill in freezer for at least 3 hours or until fully set.

Happy summer!

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Banana Bread

If you are anything like me, just the idea of touching an overripe banana, let alone eating it makes you want to throw up. There's just something icky about the texture. Can't do it.

We don't generally have overripe bananas in the house here. In fact, I often find myself making extra grocery store trips every week to get more. Four kids will do that. Too bad it's not warmer here. I could use a banana tree.

Anyway, if by chance you happen to have bananas that have gone past their prime, they are still useful! We usually put them into smoothies, but they can be used for something even better. Banana bread. Yum.

This is one of those recipes that can be fairly easily tweaked.

Banana Bread
- 3/4 cup sugar
- stick of butter, room temp.
- 2 whole eggs
- 2 overripe mashed bananas
- 1 tsp vanilla
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 2 cups flour (plus 1 tbsp if above 3500 ft.)

Beat sugar and butter, add eggs one at a time, then vanilla and bananas. In separate bowl, combine flour, baking soda and salt. Add to banana mixture, stirring just until combined.

Bake in a greased loaf pan at 350 for one hour.

Alterations:
- 1/2 cup walnuts (no other change to recipe)
- 1/4 dried cranberries (no other change to recipe)
- 1/2 cup mini semi sweet chocolate chips (no other change to recipe)
- 1 cup blueberries (decrease to one banana and add another 1/4 cup sugar)

Montage Legal Group

I figure since I have this platform, I should use it to brag about my amazing friend Erin.

Back when we were in law school together, we promised each other that someday we'd have a mommy law firm. Where we could set our own hours, focus on areas we loved, choose our clients and work together, all while simultaneously raising our kids.

And, really, she just might make the cutest kids in the known universe.

Though I failed to make good on my end of the deal, she did. And I can't be more proud of her and excited for her and have to admit to being just a little bit jealous.

She's awesome. Seriously.

If you ever are in need of legal services in Southern California, check her group out. They do all kinds of contract legal work. It seems to be growing larger and larger by the week.

You go girl.

http://www.montagelegal.com/

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Rainbow Cake

A few weeks ago, I came across a recipe for a rainbow cake and I was intrigued. I had to find a reason to make it.

Each layer of the cake is a different flavor. The pink is raspberry, orange is orange, yellow is lemon, green is lime, blue is blueberry and purple is blackberry. You add some pureed fruit or zest and juice for each layer, plus a little food coloring. There you have it, rainbow cake. The icing didn't quite come out the way I would have liked, but it was yummy. White chocolate buttercream. Can't go wrong there, really. The bottom layers did get a little compacted, but it was still good. Next time I make it, I'll do a better job. I made some notes on the recipe. :)

It tasted a bit strange, like a bowl of Fruit Loops in cake form. Each layer really did have a distinct flavor, all from the real fruit used in the recipe. The kids thought it was pretty cool. Most of all, the birthday girl was amused.

Here is the recipe, borrowed from another website. If you've got a few hours to spare and are curious, it's worth the effort. And if people don't know what is under the white frosting, it's a pretty cool surprise.

Rainbow Cake
2 boxes white cake mix
6 eggs
1 c. water
2/3 c. oil
1/2 c. raspberries (pureed and strained)
Zest of 1 orange + 2 T. juice
Zest of 1 lemon + 2 T. juice
Zest of 1 lime + 2 T. juice
1/2 c. blueberries (pureed and strained)
1/2 c. blackberries (pureed and strained)
Food coloring to make red, orange, yellow, green, blue and purple

In a large bowl, combine cake mix, eggs, water, and oil together. Scoop 1 cup of batter into six small bowls. In the first bowl, mix raspberries and 1/4 tsp. red coloring. In the second bowl, mix orange zest and juice, and 1/2 tsp. orange coloring. In the third bowl, mix lemon zest and juice and 1/4 tsp. yellow coloring. In the fourth bowl, mix lime zest and juice and 1/4 tsp. green coloring. In the fifth bowl, mix blueberries and 1/4 tsp. blue coloring. In the sixth bowl, mix blackberries and 1/4 tsp. purple coloring.

Prepare six 8 inch cake pans by greasing and flouring each generously. Using a spatula, spoon and spread each color of batter into its own cake pan. Bake in an oven, preheated to 350 degrees for 17-20 minutes, or until tops spring back when touched lightly.

Bake 3 layers at a time, on one rack of the over to allow for even baking.

Allow to cool completely. Frost with White Chocolate Frosting.

Billowed White Chocolate Frosting
1 c. butter, softened
1 bag white chocolate chips
3 lbs. powdered sugar
1 1/2 c. milk (room temperature)

In a large bowl, microwave white chips until melted. Immediately beat in butter until smooth. Add half the sugar, then the milk. Beat. Add remaining sugar and beat with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Makes enough frosting to ice between each layer of cake, and around the outside of the cake.

Corn Chowder

I could write all day about the things I love about the Fall. I love the weather. I love the fact that it can be 80 degrees one day and snowing the next. I love the first time the girls get to put on their tights and boots for school. I love sweaters. I love the smell of the air in the Fall. I love the leaves changing. I love the autumn breezes. I love the holidays that come with the season. I love the magic in the eyes of the kids when we are picking out costumes. I love staying up late making stuffing. I love, love, love pumpkin spice lattes.

Perhaps one of the things I love the most about the Fall is the food. I love to make it. Comfort food. Crock pots. Soups. Chili. Warmth. Love.

Here is one of my most time-tested recipes. If you're ever in need of something that warms you from within, that fills your belly with comfort, this is it. Enjoy. Share. Repeat.

Corn Chowder

  • Cut 4-6 pieces of bacon into small pieces and cook in a large pot until browned. Remove and put aside for later.
  • In the bacon grease, cook one diced green or yellow pepper and one diced onion until the onion is transparent (but don't let it brown)
  • Add 32 oz. chicken stock and two small-medium potatoes, peeled and diced. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes.
  • Add 6 cups corn (I use thawed frozen white corn and I put about half of it through a blender or food processor first)
  • Bring back to a boil, then reduce and simmer until potatoes are tender
  • In a separate bowl, combine two cups milk, 2 tbsp flour and salt and pepper. Add this mixture to the pot and heat thoroughly.
  • Add crumbled bacon pieces and combine

Strange Brew Beef Stew

This isn't the beef stew you might be accustomed to. The ingredients aren't the ones traditionally found in it. No carrots. No potatoes. Not even beef stock. And when you see the recipe, be prepared to make a face. It doesn't really sound like the flavors would go together well. You're just going to have to trust me on this one.
It takes some time, but it's well worth the effort.
Strange Brew Beef Stew
Ingredients List
  • 3 pounds beef stew meat
  • chicken stock
  • Large can of pears, chopped, juice reserved
  • vegetable oil
  • 1-2 medium onions, diced
  • 2 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed
  • 1/4 cup raisins
  • half a stick of butter
  • lemon zest
  • bay leaf
  • ketchup
  • salt
  • pepper
  • cinnamon
  • ground cloves
  • dried thyme
Instructions - takes approximately 2 1/2 hours start to finish
  • In a large pot, brown beef stew meat in a little vegetable oil. I recommend doing it in a couple batches. Set aside.
  • Add butter to the pot and onions. Saute until onions are clear.
  • Remove from heat and add the following: 1 tbsp ketchup, 2 tsp salt, 1 tsp lemon zest, 1/2 tsp thyme, 1/2 tsp pepper, 1/4 tsp cinnamon and a pinch of ground cloves. Stir together, then add 1/3 cup flour.
  • Add chicken broth, a little at a time and stir to combine. Add pear juice.
  • Add one bay leaf and beef to pot, bring to a boil. Reduce, cover and simmer for one hour.
  • Add sweet potatoes, cover and simmer for 45 minutes.
  • Add chopped pears and raisins.
  • Heat through. Remove bay leaf and serve.

Fancy Macaroni

Fancy Macaroni & Cheese

  • Box of elbow macaroni, cooked and drained
  • 1/2 small onion, finely diced
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 12 slices american cheese, cut into pieces
  • 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
  • salt and pepper
  • bread crumbs

Saute onion in butter until clear. Add milk and cheese a little at a time. Reduce heat and melt all cheese together. Add salt and pepper to taste. Mix cheese sauce with pasta, pour into 9x13 casserole dish. Sprinkle top with bread crumbs and extra shredded cheese. Bake at 350 for 15 minutes. This is the dinner the kids request on their birthdays.

Italian Crockpot Chicken

Italian Crockpot Chicken

- 1 1/2 pound of boneless, skinless chicken
- 1 container of fresh mushrooms, washed and sliced
- 2 cans stewed tomatoes (do not drain)
- 1 can tomato paste
- corn starch
- oregano
- clove of garlic, chopped
- basil
- salt
-pepper


Put the mushrooms and chicken in the crockpot. In a bowl, combine the tomatoes and tomato paste with 1 tsp corn starch, 1/2 tsp oregano, 1/2 tsp basil, garlic, and a pinch of salt and pepper. (You can substitute an italian seasoning blend - if you do, use about 2 tsp) Pour mixture over chicken and set crockpot to high for 4 hours or low for 8. Don't open the lid until ready, so you don't lose the moisture.

Serve with cooked pasta and garlic bread.

Broccoli Soup

Though I could open a can easily, I decided to make some homemade broccoli soup last night. You can always tell when something is good around here when Ashley asks if she can take it for lunch the next day.

It's not hard to make and it's so much better than anything you get out of a can. And if you aren't feeling so great, it makes you almost forget that for a few minutes. If you make it for yourself, you'll be glad. If you're lucky enough to convince someone else to make it for you when you are sick, sit back and enjoy the aroma. And if you happen to know someone who needs a little TLC in a warm bowl, bring it over. They'll thank you for it, I assure you.

Broccoli Soup
  • 3-4 fresh broccoli crowns, chopped
  • 8 cups of chicken broth
  • one diced onion
  • 2 bay leaves
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 cup half and half (can use cream if you want it thicker)
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 8 oz diced ham
  • shredded cheddar cheese (optional)

Put the broccoli, broth, onion, bay leaves and salt and pepper in a large stock pot. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat, cover and simmer for 40 minutes. Remove bay leaves and process soup in a blender or food processor. (Make sure to do it a little at a time and remember it's hot! Only use a blender if you have a heat proof canister.)

Return soup to pot. In a bowl, stir together the half and half and flour until smooth. Add to soup and whisk to make sure there aren't any lumps. Bring to a boil, then reduce and heat until thickened, stirring constantly. Add ham and heat thoroughly.

Serve with cheese sprinkled on top.

Hot Wings

At some point, I got a cookbook as a gift that we just recently started using. I'm not even sure how long I have had it, but it's a shame it went unused for as long as it did. It's a book that has tons of recipes for things you love already. Things you pay good money for. Things places are famous for. It's a restaurant recipe stealing book. And it is awesome.

We've only tried a few things out of there so far, but I have to say that they are pretty right on with the recipes. Now, I don't know if these are actually the recipes the restaurants use, but they are pretty darn close if they aren't. I can take no credit for this one I am sharing today. It's not my recipe. I didn't even make it. Tom did. He spent a good while last night making these bad boys for the first time. And he's kicking himself for it now, because he just lost an excuse to visit the place that is known for them.

They are just about exactly like you get in the restaurant, minus the jiggling delivery girls.

Hooters Hot Wings
  • vegetable oil for frying
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1/4 cup Frank's Red Hot sauce
  • dash ground pepper
  • dash garlic powder
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1/4 tsp paprika
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 10 chicken wing pieces (can use other portions of chicken, or boneless, just adjust cooking time)

Combine flour, paprika, cayenne pepper and salt in a small bowl. Coat wings evenly. Put in the fridge for 1-2 hours to set.

Combine butter, red hot, pepper and garlic powder in saucepan, heat thoroughly.

Use a deep fryer or very large pot and heat oil to 375. You need enough to cover all pieces. Fry wings 10-15 minutes, making sure that they aren't touching, until edges turn dark brown. Remove from oil and drain on paper towels. Put in large bowl and toss with butter sauce. Serve with blue cheese and celery pieces.

Feel free to jiggle if you think it makes them taste better. ;)

Vanilla Cupcakes

One of the benefits of having kids in the house is that I don't have to make fancy things all the time. I have never held my breath in anticipation of a souffle falling. I've never used a kitchen torch for creme brulee. I've never once constructed a torte. Cupcakes, cookies and brownies are just fine.

Though I generally like a little more flavor to the things in my life, I am surrounded by people who love all that is vanilla. Who will only buy vanilla ice cream. Who actually request white cake. I don't really have anything against plain vanilla, don't get me wrong. It's just not what I would ever choose given other options.

Ally brought me a page from a magazine last week and asked if I could make the cupcakes in the picture. Mostly they drew her attention because they were topped with fluffy pink frosting. I laughed when I saw the title. Vanilla cupcakes. Sure, I'll make them. But I'm going to change a few things first. ;)

Never content to leave a recipe alone, I tweaked it a bit. I made them last night. I accidentally overfilled the cupcake pan and they overflowed a little. AJ was pretty happy about it though, since he got the pieces of the cupcakes that didn't survive the extraction process. I have to say that even though these are just plain old vanilla cupcakes, they are the best ones you've ever tasted.

Vanilla Cupcakes
  • 3 cups flour
  • 2 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 3 sticks butter, softened
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 4 eggs, plus 2 more egg yolks
  • 4 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 cup buttermilk (If you don't have buttermilk, you can make it. Put 1 tbsp white vinegar in a measuring cup and add milk to make 1 cup. Let it sit a few minutes before using.

Beat butter and sugar. Add eggs and vanilla, then buttermilk. Combine dry ingredients in a separate bowl, then add to the butter mixture. Beat until smooth. Fill lined cupcake pan 2/3 full. Bake at 350 degrees for about 25 minutes. Makes about 3 dozen cupcakes.

While the cupcakes are in the oven, I make the frosting. I'd like to tell you that there is a real recipe, but it's not that simple. You just make it.

  • 1 stick butter, softened
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 2-3 tbsp milk
  • 2 lbs powdered sugar

To make it, you start but combining the butter and vanilla. Add 2 tbsp milk, then start adding sugar a little at a time. Stir until smooth, then see if you need to add more. If it gets too thick, add a tiny bit more milk. Too thin, add more sugar. It's not an exact science. You want it just a little on the thinner side since it will set a bit. Let it sit for about 15 minutes to thicken, stirring occasionally. By the time the cupcakes have cooled it should be a good consistency to frost with. Frost cupcakes, then let sit at room temperature until frosting sets.

The cupcakes I made last night had orange frosting, done just by adding red and yellow food coloring until the desired color was achieved. Again, it's not a science. But, it's so worth it to make your own frosting.

Make, bake, frost and share. They're pretty good, even if they are just vanilla.

Split Pea Soup and Cornbread

Last night I perfected my split pea soup. It's funny, because I would never touch the stuff as a kid. My parents used to always want to stop at Pea Soup Anderson's on the way to Solvang. No matter what they tried, I would never eat the soup. I'd get grilled cheese or something else. Anything else. They loved the stuff. So did my brother. But just looking at it made me want to throw up. I couldn't imagine eating something that looked so disgusting.

I can honestly say that I had never eaten it, not even once, until last winter. I reluctantly made it for Tom, since it's his all-time favorite kind of soup. It didn't come out great, the consistency was weird and it wasn't thick enough. But it tasted okay, all things considered. I guess since I invested so much time and energy in making it, I should try it. It wasn't as bad as I thought it would be. Actually, it had some potential.

After refining my cooking skills more over the last year, I decided to try it again. I changed a lot of the things in the original recipe I used, and it made all the difference. It was good. Really good. Even Ashley ate it, reluctantly at first. Her immediate comment was that it was funny soup. It looks really gross, but tastes really good. And she's right.

To go with the soup, I made homemade cornbread for the first time too. Goodbye to the packets and boxes of cornbread mix. Mine is better. Served with a slathering of honey butter, yum. Food doesn't get much better than that.

Split Pea Soup
  • 4 cups chicken broth
  • 4 cups water
  • 2 ham hocks (can use ham bone or any meaty part of the ham)
  • 2 cups of dried split peas
  • 1/2 tsp dried marjoram
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1/2 tsp pepper
  • 4 stalks celery, finely diced
  • 4 medium carrots, peeled and finely diced
  • 2 large potatoes, peeled and finely diced

Place broth, water, ham hocks, peas, marjoram, bay leaves and pepper in large stockpot. Bring to a boil, the reduce heat and cover. Simmer for an hour, stirring occasionally. Add vegetables and bring to a boil. Again, reduce heat and cover. Simmer for about 40 minutes, stirring occasionally. Soup is done when the peas have disintegrated and the other vegetables are all tender. Remove bay leaves before serving.

Homemade Cornbread and Honey Butter

  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 cup corn meal
  • 3 tbsp sugar
  • 1 tbsp baking powder
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil

Combine dry ingredients in one bowl. Beat eggs in a second bowl, then add milk and oil. Pour the eggs mixture into the dry ingredient bowl and stir only until combined. Pour into greased 9x9 pan and bake at 425 for 20 minutes. Check it with a toothpick inserted in the middle. If clean, it's done. If not, bake for a few more minutes. Serve with honey butter.

Honey Butter

  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 1/4 cup honey

Stir together until smooth, this makes enough for one pan of cornbread.

Apple Cider Soup

Tuck this one away for the fall....you'll love it then. :)

There are certainly several ways that one can enjoy the deliciousness of apple cider. My personal favorite is hot, infused with cinnamon and spiked with spiced rum. Warm happiness. Plus, you get the added benefit of warming up the house with the sweet smell of apples.

Though it was far from a hit with my husband and children, I recently made a soup that uses apple cider as one of it's ingredients. I thought it was fantastic, but the kids thought it was weird to have soup that tasted sweet. Tom took fault with the consistency of it - he likes his soup thick and chunky. You know, like in the commercials. Smooth and refined don't interest him. He could care less about teasing out the flavors of intertwined goodness. Mostly though, he's just tired of soup right now.

So, here it is. Only bother with it if you aren't opposed to a soup with a hint of sweetness. If you need chunks in your soup, give it a pass. But if you are looking for something new and different, try it out.

Apple Cider Soup
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • medium onion, finely diced
  • one butternut squash, peeled and diced
  • 4 apples, peeled, cored and diced
  • 4 cups chicken broth
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 cups apple cider
  • 3 tbsp brown sugar
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • dash of ground cloves

In a shallow pan, boil the cider. Cook until it reduces to about one cup. While the cider is reducing, saute onions in butter in large stockpot until transparent. Add squash, apples, broth, salt and bay leaves. Bring to a boil, then cover and reduce heat. Simmer for about 30 minutes, until squash is tender. Remove bay leaves, then scoop out the squash and apples. Run through a blender or food processor (not too much at a time, remember it's hot!). Return to pot and add cider, sugar, cinnamon and cloves. Heat through.

Chocolate Overload Cake

Warning: Do not make this cake unless you really, really, really love chocolate.

Chocolate Overload Cake
  • 2 cups flour
  • 3 squares unsweetened baking chocolate, melted
  • 1 1/4 cup buttermilk (can make it with 1 tbsp vinegar, then add milk to make desired amount, let set for a few minutes to thicken)
  • 1 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2/3 cup shortening
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder

Combine all ingredients. Mix on low for one minute, then on high for 5 minutes. Pour batter into two 9 inch round, greased and floured pans. Bake at 350 for 30 minutes. Assemble and frost when cooled.

Spoon-licking chocolate frosting

  • 12 oz bag of semi sweet chocolate chips
  • 1/4 cup shortening
  • 3 cups powdered sugar
  • 1/2 cup milk

Melt chocolate chips and shortening together. (Using double boiler or microwave) Do not overheat. Add sugar and milk, stirring until fully combined and fluffy. Use to fill and frost cake. Make sure you leave some in the bowl. Let the spoon fighting begin.

Chicken Parmagiana

Chicken Parmigiana
  • 4-6 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • stick of butter (1/2 cup)
  • 1 1/2 cups plain bread crumbs
  • 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese
  • 1-2 tsp Italian seasoning
  • 1/2 tsp garlic salt
  • 2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese

Heat oven to 400 degrees. Put butter in 13X9 baking dish, melt in the oven. Rinse chicken and pat dry. Combine dry ingredients in a shallow flat dish. Using tongs, dip chicken in melted butter, then coat with crumb mixture. Place back in baking dish. Bake, uncovered, for 50 minutes. Remove from oven, sprinkle with cheese and let sit for a few minutes before serving.

Cheap and Easy Dinners

At the request of a friend, I am throwing some fast, easy and cheap dinner recipes on here. Times are tight, but you gotta eat, right? Here are some super fast go-to dinners, quick and pretty well-balanced. All can be made for 4-6 for about $10 or less with little preparation time.

Papa's Casserole
- one can peas, drained
- one can corn, drained
- one can reduced sodium cream of mushroom soup
- one pound browned ground beef, cooked with a tsp of dried onions
- combine all the above in a casserole dish, cover with mashed potatoes
- bake at 350 for 20 minutes

Chicken Tacos
- 1 pound boneless chicken
- 1 pkg low sodium taco seasoning
- 1 can tomatoes, half drained
- combine and put in crockpot, cook on low for 8 hours or high for 4.
- shred chicken, put in tortillas with beans and shredded lettuce.

One pot spaghetti with a twist
- brown 1 pound ground beef, drain and set aside.
- cook 1 pound pasta, drain and return to pot
- add one large can or jar of spaghetti sauce, meat and a drained can of corn with peppers, stir to combine and heat through.

Chili
- brown 1 pound ground beef (I add dried onions to the meat)
- one large can chili beans
- one can finely diced tomatoes, drained
- 1/2 small can tomato paste
- Combine all ingredients in crock pot, season with desired pepper and chili powder. Cook on low for 2-4 hours, until bubbly.
- we eat it with fritos and shredded cheddar cheese

Chicken and dumplings
- 2-4 breast or other boneless pieces of chicken, cut into small pieces
- 2 cans cream of chicken soup
- one small onion, diced
- 1 stalk celery, diced
- 1/4 cup carrots, diced
- bay leaf
- one chicken bouillon cube
- 2 cups water
- add all to the crock pot, cook on low for 6 hours
- tear refrigerated biscuit dough into 1 inch pieces, roll into balls and drop into cooker. Cover, cook on high for 30 minutes.

Teriyaki stir fry
- defrost one frozen bag of stir fry vegetable blend
- cut up 1 pound boneless chicken into bite size pieces
- cook in 1-2 tbsp oil on stove on high until chicken done
- add vegetables and heat through
- toss to coat with 1/2 cup teriyaki sauce (I like Yoshida's gourmet sauce too)
- serve with steamed white rice

Chicken fried rice
- cook white rice, set aside
- dice 1 pound chicken, cook in oil on high until done
- add thawed frozen mixed vegetables, cook through
- add 4 cups rice, 2 tbsp butter and 1/2 cup soy sauce, toss and heat.

Homemade chicken nuggets
- Crush 3 cups corn chex cereal
- add 1/2 cup parmesan cheese
- 1/2 tsp garlic powder
- 1 tsp seasoned salt
- 1/2 tsp paprika
- combine all dry ingredients
- cut chicken into bit size pieces, coat with melter butter and roll in crumb mixture
- bake at 400 for 20 minutes, check for doneness.

Chicken noodle soup
- dice two chicken breasts and one small onion
- cook in vegetable oil until onions are clear and chicken is done
- add 8 cups chicken broth, 3 diced stalks celery, 2 large diced carrots and 2 cups pasta of choice - bring to a boil, then cover and reduce. simmer for 3o minutes.

Pound Cake

I know, I know. It's swimsuit season and this is just wrong.

Butter. Who doesn't love butter? It really does make everything better. And when you have a lot of butter, I swear there is harmony in the world just for a little while.

Don't go blaming me if you love this and want to use it to make all kind of amazing desserts like strawberry shortcake. I know that it would be just heavenly with a warm blueberry compote on top. There are some out there (you know who you are) that would just eat it plain. Who would be content to leave it alone.

Whatever you do with this, don't blame me. People want to know how I make these things, so I share.

And really, this doesn't get made often. Good god, it's swimsuit season.

Buttery Sour Cream Pound Cake
- 1 stick of butter, room temp.
- 3 eggs, room temp.
- 2/3 cup sour cream (can use the light if it helps you feel better about it)
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 tsp vanilla
- 1 1/2 cups flour
- dash baking soda
- 1/4 tsp baking powder

Beat butter and sugar forever. Until it's super light and fluffy. Then add eggs one at a time, scraping bowl as you beat them in. Add sour cream and vanilla. Combine flour, baking powder and baking soda in separate bowl, add a little at a time to butter mixture. Beat until fully combined and batter is smooth.

Pour into greased and floured loaf pan (8x4x2) and bake at 325 for about 70 minutes. Check for doneness with a toothpick.

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