Thursday, October 28, 2010

Thursday is the new Friday! -- Take 2

    Ahh, it's the end of the day and I'm watching NC State take on the 'Noles. (Go Pack!) How did the rest of my day go, you ask. Did I do any of what I needed? Well, after my first post today, it was nearly time for Abby to take her morning nap. When I went to get her up, she was already up. But was she in her crib? No. WHAT?!?!?! No she was not in her crib. She was on the floor playing. Didn't I  hear anything that would've aroused my suspicion that something was off, you say. When I heard her crying about twenty minutes prior to going in there, I looked at the video monitor (courtesy of Nate's parents when Kyleigh was going through her poop phase...that's a story for another day) and could've swore I saw her little head in the crib where it was supposed to be. Then the crying stopped. I thought she had gone back to sleep. But yes, the crib is as low as it goes and it will now be turned around since the back is higher than the front. 
    After that fun surprise, lunch was greeted by a minor four year old meltdown. I decided that going to Party City to get Abby's costume would be a good way to use up the time until afternoon naps. This was greeted by the mother of all four year old meltdowns-- just trying to get her socks and shoes on, that is. Getting the socks and shoes on should have taken five minutes. The whole ordeal of the tantrum followed by timeout, took about forty minutes. And we still decided to go to Party City, which actually turned out fine. Abby will be a bear since that is her favorite thing at the moment.
    Abigail was so tired that she fell asleep in the car on the way home and didn't stir at any point from getting her out of the car to putting her in her crib. She actually slept until almost four o'clock (after falling asleep at about 1:30pm). Kyleigh did not sleep-- I think they have an agreement that if one sleeps, the other doesn't. The rest of the day is pretty uneventful...well, stressful, but nothing you want to read about.

    For dinner this evening I didn't know what to do. I went into the kitchen and decided to peel and chop up the other half of a small pumpkin I had leftover from earlier in the week. While that was steaming, I put a couple tablespoons of butter in a pan over medium-highish heat. I then peeled and sliced up two apples and put them in the pan with the melted butter. I then sprinkled on a good amount of cinnamon and let that simmer; occasionally swishing it around. I removed the pumpkin from the heat and let it cool down...still unsure of where all this was headed. I added raisins to the pan of buttery cinnamon apples and tossed a bit. What does cinnamon apples say to me? Pancakes! I took out my blender and pulsed the pumpkin a bit. I noticed that I had two very ripe bananas and decided to add those to the blender. After the big chunks were pulsed out, I added cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and allspice (good compliments to the pumpkin). The pumpkin-banana puree coupled with the buttery cinnamon apples...*sighs* heavenly. The aroma coming from the kitchen was just sensational. It even enticed Kyleigh into the kitchen with her nose in the air, excited about whatever it was she smelled. (That rarely happens! haha) 
Anyway, I then went on to start making the pancake batter...whole wheat pancake batter. I added in the pumpkin-banana puree into the batter and then turned the heat off for the pan of apples and covered it. Then I made pancakes! When on the plate, butter the pancake, lay some apple slices and raisins on top and drizzle on some maple syrup. Yum! 
    Unfortunately, after getting the girls set up with their pancakes, feeding the dog, and taking the trash out, I couldn't wait any longer to eat. So that means no final product pictures. Guess I'll just have to make them again and take pictures then. Darn! :)

Thursday is the new Friday!

    Well, sort of. Okay, maybe not really but it still a good feeling when you wake up and realize it's Thursday. You are that much closer to the weekend! 
    I'm sitting here at the breakfast table with my girls. Abby has a strawberry jam goatee from her 'toe', which is baby for 'toast'. On my left is Kyleigh, working on her whole wheat English Muffins slathered with Nutella. Since today is not a school day, I've decided to let the television stay on Mickey Mouse Clubhouse during breakfast-- NOT a regular occurrence I assure you. Abby is giggling at her toast strips because for a reason unbeknown  to me, toast strips with strawberry jam are silly. 
    I like looking out the window from time to time, and today it is a grey day. It looks like it is trying to rain but the clouds can't fully commit either way. So for now it is cloudy, grey, and sprinkling off and on. 
    As I sip my coffee, my second cup of coffee already, I wonder what to do today. My doggy is in need of her playdate, but if my mom isn't feeling well (and I hope she is feeling better today) or if her yard is soaked then that is not in the cards. I need to go to the store to get my baby her Halloween costume and decide if I want one. It would be nice to pick up some more toys for puppy since she is chewing whatever she can find--and yes, she already has chew toys. I'm a little dizzy this morning and not quite feeling up to much, least of all going out. My little one is going to be going down for her nap before long so perhaps Kyleigh and I can finish baking the rest of the Gingerbread Cookies. There is also some housework that needs to be done; vacuuming, laundry, you know the drill. 
    My husband has accused me of being a coffee elitist. I scoffed at this. I've only been drinking coffee since Kyleigh was a few months old (I never had a sip before that but being sleep deprived is good motivation to start) and I just know what I like. Today's cuppa joe is a Starbucks bag of whole bean Espresso Roast from the grocery store. After putting cream in it, I can't say I taste a whole lot of flavor. Now it's not awful tasting, otherwise I wouldn't be almost finished with my second cup. It's just easy to drink quickly. I find this appealing because I can't remember the last time I was able to sit long enough to fully enjoy a cup of coffee. 
On this note I come to a close for now and wish everyone a Happy Thursday!

Friday, October 22, 2010

Apples & Pumpkins

    Today was another beautiful fall day here in North Carolina. What does cool, crisp fall air make me want to do? Go to the Farmer's Market of course! We actually had an objective this time. We were out of pumpkin and Abby has been asking for apples. So after picking Kyleigh up from school and meeting up with my mom, we set out for apples and pumpkins.
    This time, I remembered my camera! :)

Abby was very excited to spend time with my mom and see the pumpkins!

                 This is the large inflatable pumpkin that Kyleigh is posing under.    

This picture, and the following flower pictures, were taken by Kyleigh.
                                               Kyleigh and Abby sitting with the big pumpkins!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Mom's Banana Bread Muffins

     Every so often, when I just don't know what I want to do for dinner, I ask Kyleigh if there is something she'd like to have. As long as it's not something crazy, like ice cream for dinner, I'll usually go along with it. Well on Thursday when asked, Kyleigh said she wanted French Toast. Sounded good to me. I had also recently bought value priced bananas with the intention of making banana muffins-- so I made those too. I only did half of the original recipe because of time.
     I was on the phone with my mom while getting dinner started. I confessed that I feel that I do breakfast for dinner a little too often. To which my mom laughed and told me that when I was little, we'd do that all the time. My Mom's Banana Muffins were a hot item in our house...something that hasn't changed over the years. Let's face it, who wants to make a big breakfast first thing in the morning? And if you do make one, like I've done on occasion one weekend morning, who is actually hungry enough to eat much at all? So breakfast for dinner solves both of those dilemmas! Thanks Mommy!

My Mom's Banana Muffins, makes 17 muffins

1 c. butter, room temperature (or shortening can be used)
2 c. sugar, divided
4 eggs, beaten
2 c. mashed banana
1 c. whole wheat flour
3 c. all-purpose flour (or all 4 c. of flour can be whole wheat)
8 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp vanilla
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease pans or, if using paper cups, line muffin pans.
Mash bananas and set aside.
Beat eggs with 1 cup sugar and set aside. Beat butter (or shortening) with 1 cup sugar til well combined and mixture is creamy. Add egg mixture and mix well. Add bananas and mix well.
In a separate bowl, combine flour, salt and baking powder.
Add the flour mix to the wet mix a little at a time. Once all of the flour has been incorporated, add the vanilla and mix well.
Bake each batch for 15-17 minutes; til the muffin tops are a nice golden brown.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Half-Way Thru

We are half way through the week. Sadly though, my little baby is under the weather. So what does Momma do when someone gets sick? Make Chicken Noodle Soup of course. I didn't have time today to make my famous slow-cooker Get Well Chicken Noodle usual cure for when my girls or my husband catches a cold. I've even made it for my mom and step-dad when they got sick. However today, I didn't have all day to cook it. And I really didn't just want to pop open a can and serve it up. What's a girl to do? Well I'll tell you.

Chicken Noodle Soup - On The Fly

4 c. water
4    chicken bouillon cubes
1    chicken breast
1/3 c. light balsamic vinaigrette dressing
1/2 tsp parsley
1/2 tsp dried basil
1/4 tsp onion powder
1/4 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp rubbed sage
1/8 tsp ground cloves
salt and pepper
1 c.  mixed veggies (peas and chopped carrots mix)
1 can cream of chicken soup
small pasta (I used spaghetti, broken into small pieces)

    In a soup pot, bring the water to a boil. Once boiling, turn heat down to medium and add bouillon cubes. Whisk together to dissolve the cubes. Add in spices. Cover and let simmer. (If using frozen veggies, add now.)
    Meanwhile, in a small pan (one with a lid) pour in balsamic vinaigrette dressing, add chicken and sprinkle a pinch of salt and pepper over chicken breast (to season). Cover and let cook over medium heat. Turn once bottom has become a nice brown; the top will be white.
    While the chicken is cooking and the soup base is simmering, bring another pot of water to boiling. This one is for the pasta. If using spaghetti, break into small pieces before adding to the salted water. (I used whole grain spaghetti.) Cook pasta according to package directions, taking it off heat 2 minutes early. Drain most of the water and then add to the soup pot. If using leftover veggies, as I did, or fresh add now as well.
     Stir the condensed cream of chicken soup into the soup pot. Once the chicken is finished cooking, chop it up into small bite-sized pieces and add to soup pot. Cover the pot and let simmer just a few minutes longer.
     Serve with biscuits, crackers, or home-made breadsticks! :)

Spiced Pumpkin Pancakes...For Dinner!

    After Abigail's morning nap, we went over to my mom's house. My mom raked up the leaves in her front yard so the girls would have a nice pile to jump in. It was a blast! Abigail loves leaves and this was her to speak. She could not stop giggling. It was glorious. Kyleigh and my mom would toss them in the air and it would send Abigail into new fits of laughter. I, of course, forgot my camera at home. When I get the pictures from my mom, I'll post some. Jumping in piles of leaves, pumpkins, the fair, Halloween--I love fall!
     My girls and I were dragging a little yesterday after naptime. We all needed some good 'ole comfort. So I decided that pancakes for dinner was in order! It worked: those frowns were turned upside down! :)

My favorite spices to use with pumpkin.

1 3/4 c. all-purpose flour
2 Tbsp  sugar
1 Tbsp  baking powder
1/4 tsp  salt
1/2 tsp  cinnamon
1/2 tsp  nutmeg
1/2 tsp  allspice
 1        egg, slightly beaten
1 1/2 c. milk
3 Tbsp vegetable oil
1 c.    pureed pumpkin

Using a 3/4 measuring cup, pour batter.
    In a large mixing bowl, combine all the dry ingredients. In a separate bowl, combine the egg, milk, and oil. Stir the bowl of wet ingredients into the flour mixture. Gently stir in the pureed pumpkin.
   Heat a pan over medium heat (on a scale of off to 10, use a 6) and use cooking spray. I use a 3/4 dry measuring cup to pour the batter onto the heated pan; it makes the perfect size pancake.
   The pancake is ready to be flipped when the edges start looking dry and the bubbles in the middle start becoming a little larger and a little more frequent. (The second picture.) The second side will only need to be in the pan for one to two minutes.
Dry edges and bubbles.
    After the first pancake has been taken out of the pan, turn the heat down to just under medium. (On the same scale of off to 10, turn down to a 4.) It will take another minute or two on the first side, but it allows the pancake to cook through better while keeping it from burning on the outside; it gives it its beautiful color (third picture). 
    This makes about 10 pancakes. At our table, no one could eat more than two, so if you have more than four people sitting down to eat then you might want to consider doubling the recipe.
The color you are aiming for.
     These pancakes are super delicious with butter and sifted powdered sugar, butter and maple syrup, or for fellow chocolate lovers, Nutella and maple syrup is also super scrumptious.

Spiced Pumpkin Pancakes

Good with butter and sifted powdered sugar.

Pumpkin Pancakes with Nutella and maple syrup. 

*Note: The pumpkin puree used in this recipe was made from fresh pumpkin (of course!) and had been in the refrigerator. The fresh pumpkin was purchased from my local farmer's market.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

T-shirt, Jeans, and Rainbows

      It feels like it's been awhile since I've shared any good buys. Over the weekend, we decided to go to Old Navy and check out their sales. I'm really glad we went because the girls are in need of pants and pajamas. For Kyleigh we got two pairs of jeans on sale for 2 for $11 each. Then for Abby, I found one pair of jeans and one pair of corduroys for $2.99 each!! I found them in the clearance section and was going to get them for $5.99 a piece, but they came down even more at checkout. I was super excited! The moral of this tale? Go to Old Navy and look through the clearance items because they come down another 40% at checkout!
      Now of course I can't go to Old Navy and not look through the clothes for me for a good deal. Their waffle-knit long-sleeve tops are 2 for $16. Naturally I had to take advantage of this deal and got a white and a green. I don't have any green shirts, so I'm excited that this one looks good. :) But there is another deal going on right now that I'm considering going back and getting more. Their perfect fit tees, v-neck and crew, are only $5! I got a dark heather gray and don't want to take it off. It is incredibly soft and fits wonderfully! Like I said, I'm considering going back and getting one or two more. So there are my good deals.
Jean Anderson
      In addition to clothes shopping (the first time in a really long time might I add), we also went to the library. One of the reasons I was looking forward to going to culinary school was to learn about all different cuisines. Since that isn't a possibility, where does one go to learn about something? I turn to books. Always. (That is how I taught myself to knit actually.) If I don't know something or how to do something, I read. That is where the library comes in. I want to learn about different cuisines. What makes it different from others, what is special about it, and so on. So while at the library this last time I found A Love Affair with Southern Cooking by Jean Anderson.  Yes I am a southern girl, so why would I be reading up on southern cooking? Especially when I've lived in the south all my life. Well, it's simple. I want to learn what sets it apart from other cuisine. I will post as I go. ;) I'm excited!
      Lately I have been craving some good 'ole comfort food. Last night, after going to the grocery to get what I needed, I decided to make meat loaf. For those who know me well, touching raw meat is something I go to great lengths to avoid. Last night was a turning point. I took off my wedding rings and went in with both hands. It turned out fantastic and I wanted to share my recipe. (Yes mine. It's only the second time I've ever made it but I was goin' by the seat of my pants.)

Good 'Ole Meatloaf, makes 4 servings
1 lb      lean ground beef
3/4 c.   panko bread crumbs
2 Tbsp all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp thyme
1/4 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp rubbed sage
1/2 tsp dried basil
1 tsp    parsley
1 1/2 tsp kosher salt
 1        egg
1 Tbsp oil, especially if using ground turkey
1 c.    chopped onions, fresh or frozen

Meatloaf Topping:
1 small can tomato paste
about 1 c. tomato sauce

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Spray 4 mini loaf pans or 1 medium loaf pan with cooking spray.
Measure out all ingredients and place in bowls around where you are working to make it a little easier; and so you won't have to touch a lot of little bottles with meat-covered hands.
In a large bowl, drop in the ground meat. Add in all dry ingredients and work in with your hands. Add in egg and oil and continue using your hands to mix it up. Finally, mix in the chopped onions with your hands.
Divide evenly among the four mini loaves, or shape it into the one medium loaf pan.
Cook for 25 minutes. Turn the oven off and let the meatloaves sit in the oven for an additional 10 to 15 minutes.
While the meatloaf is in the oven cooking, make the sauce. In a small saucepan over medium-low heat, heat up tomato paste. Once it is warmed through and can be stirred easily, stir in the tomato sauce. Cover, stirring occasionally.
Enjoy with mashed potatoes and mixed veggies!

Monday, October 18, 2010

It Was A Good Weekend

It's Monday again. My husband is back at work after being home with us for four days. It was a wonderful weekend. We went to the state fair, got together with friends, and just enjoyed being together. Somehow, I only made one dinner over 5 nights. That is so abnormal...and yet, not stressing about dinner was kind of nice. :)
Nate, Kyleigh, and my Mom on the ferris wheel.
Me and Abigail on the ferris wheel.

Kyleigh and Grandma at the end of the pony ride.

The girls are goin' bananas!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Giving The Patio A New Look- part2

To refresh memories, the first thing I did to my patio was give the little table a new top and get another chair that was on clearance. The next step was to install outdoor blinds I purchased at Lowe's for only $15. This past weekend, my wonderful hubby helped me out with that.

So there it is. The blinds cut down on the morning sun, which streams in through the sliding glass doors into the dining room right in Abby's face usually. The bottom picture kind of gives you an idea of the set up. The sliding glass doors are off to Kyleigh's left. Nate is ready to get more blinds for the other side (off to the right of the picture) to block out our lovely view of the parking lot. Then to add fall plants. :)

Cookin' By The Seat Of My Pants- Biscuits

Here are the biscuits from last night's dinner of Fall Soup.

3/4 c. butter
1 1/2 c. milk
1 c. whole wheat flour
2 c. all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp. baking powder
1 Tbsp. sugar
1 tsp. salt
3/4 tsp. cream of tartar
1 1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1 1/4 tsp. onion powder
1 c. shredded sharp cheddar cheese

Begin by cutting up the butter in a bowl to sit out to come to room temperature. Measure out the milk so it, too, can sit out to come to room temperature.
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Using baking spray, grease the muffin pans (which is what I use and it makes 12) or cookie sheet.
In a large mixing bowl combine the flours, baking powder, sugar, salt, cream of tartar, garlic powder and onion powder. (I like to use a whisk to combine it because it mixes it all up well without compacting it too much--it keeps it light and fluffy.) Using two butter knives, or a pastry blender, cut the butter into the flour until there are coarse crumbs. Pour in the milk and cheese and stir with a fork to get it all combined.
Drop into the 12 muffin cups or drop 12 'dough balls' onto the cookie sheet. Bake at 450 degrees F for 12 minutes.
Serve warm! Enjoy with the soup!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Cookin' By The Seat Of My Pants

Dinner was huge success! I'm so excited that I could barely wait to come post it! I went into the kitchen without a clue as to what I was going to make and came out, with this:

*This is a good quick soup that has all the flavor of a crock-pot soup that has been cooking all day.*

1 can beef broth
1 can cream of potato soup
1 tsp minced garlic
1 large tomato
1/2 red bell pepper
1 c. chopped frozen onion
2 tsp. capers
1 c. pureed fresh pumpkin
1/2 tsp. ground allspice
1/2 tsp. ground ginger
1/2 tsp. dried basil
1/4 tsp. dried thyme
couple pinches of kosher salt

In a soup pot over medium heat, combine broth and cream of potato soup. Stir in minced garlic. While that is heating up, diced up the tomato and stir it in. In a saute pan over medium-high heat, pour about 1/2 c. wine (or oil). Dice up the bell pepper and add to the saute pan. Also add the frozen onion and capers. Sprinkle a pinch of salt overtop. Stir occasionally.
Meanwhile, add the pumpkin to the soup pot. Add in the allspice, ginger, basil, thyme, and a pinch of kosher salt. Stir together. By now, it should be simmering. Turn the heat down to medium-low; you want it to keep simmering so the flavors will develop in a short amount of time. Stir often so it won't stick on the bottom.
Once the onions in the saute pan start turning a golden color, add to the soup pot. After a few more minutes of simmering, it should be ready but the longer it simmers then the more flavorful it will be.

I served this with my biscuits just altered a bit. Recipe tomorrow.
*Note: This recipe was enough for the 4 of us with none left over. The next time I make it, I will double the recipe and if you are going to try it, I recommend you also double it.

Precious Moments

    Ahh, a Tuesday that is like Thursday. I'm happy about this false illusion because my husband has actually taken Thursday and Friday off this week! My girls and I couldn't be happier about this. It is going to be a fantastic weekend!!
    Today started out with a very precious moment. As I was getting dressed this morning, my husband came in and informed me that he found our four year old on the floor in the laundry room. She had loaded the empty washing machine (we have a front-loading one) and had opened the soap tray. She was sitting, in the process of trying to open a jug, when my husband opened the door. Kyleigh looked up and said to him "I'm trying to help Mommy". How sweet is that? That completely melted my heart.
     There was another precious moment in my day today. While at my mom's house, we were outside so the doggies could play more freely. I was sitting on the deck to block Abby from trying to go down the stairs. Kyleigh was on the trampoline and the dogs were scattered about. Abby held her arms out over her head and said, with her pacifier still in her mouth, "hug" and came at me and fell into me. This became a game (a most wonderful game) and after she would stand back up from one hug, she would do it all over again. Her hugs don't come all the time, so to be showered with little hugs melted me all over again.
    I am running out of time as nap time is coming to a close. At the request of my husband, I will post what we had for dinner last night.

Fall Chicken
3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (fresh or frozen)
1-2 eggs
panko bread crumbs
apple cider vinegar
salt and pepper
1 large, fresh tomato
1 apple
ground allspice
ground ginger
dried basil
kosher salt
vegetable oil (olive oil would probably be better)

   Place a large pan (one that has a lid that fits on it) over medium-high heat with the vinegar and oil drizzled in the bottom. In one shallow dish, beat the egg with a splash of the vinegar. In a second shallow dish, add about a cup (might need more depending on how large the chicken breasts are) of the bread crumbs, salt and pepper. Set these close to the pan to avoid some mess. Coat chicken in the egg wash, followed by coating it in the bread crumbs then place it in the pan. Do this with all the breasts. Cover. Clean work area and wash hands.
   Slice apple into wedges (leaving skin on) and remove seeds. Then cut into chunks and toss in the pan with the chicken. Dice up tomato and also place in the pan. If it looks like it might be getting dry, pour in a little of the oil. For a little more flavor, if you have wine on hand, I added some at this point. At this point, add the seasonings. Don't be afraid if it seems you are being "heavy handed" with the spices because it all comes together well and it will be quite flavorful. Making sure to get some over everything, sprinkle in about 1 tsp ground allspice, about 1/2 tsp ground ginger, a little more than 1 tsp basil, and some more kosher salt. Cover. When the chicken starts looking golden brown, turn it over and make sure to give the rest of the pan a stir. The chicken is done when juices run clear when cut.

I served mine over a bed of white and brown rice that cooked in my rice cooker while I was doing everything else.

    I have another moment to share. I went to wake Kyleigh up from her nap and discovered her covered up in bed surrounded by books. She is definitely one of us. Her tag reader books were all around her--even under her! And the tag reader pen was under her pillow. It was adorable and I wish I'd had a camera with me to show you. It actually took her a bit to be coaxed out of bed. So cute when she wants to be. <3

Monday, October 11, 2010

Cooking in a rut

      As my hubby could tell you, I'm in a cooking rut. We've had breakfast for dinner a little more often than I'd like to admit, finally ordered pizza, and so on. So to get re-inspired, I've gone to the library across the street. I found Desperation Dinners!, by Beverly Mills and Alicia Ross, because I love the concept and that is the concept that I've always used when cooking by the seat of my pants--tasty, healthy meals in not a lot of time. While flipping through it, I'm a little apprehensive due to the amount of ingredients going into each recipe. I'm cooking on a budget remember. With some smart shopping, I think this is going to be fun!
      What's on the menu for tonight? There is a Jamaican Macaroni recipe that looks good. Or a Cheesy Ham Casserole. Or something with rice, pumpkin, tomatoes...we'll see.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Fall in the South

Fall in the south is a welcome time of year. The end to the 90+ degree weather is here and the scenery is absolutely beautiful. The trees around here look as if they are slowly being set afire. The base of the leaves are still green, but as your eyes travel up and outward along them the colors become yellow then orange then red. The trees are glowing. I am filled with a renewed sense of awe whenever I'm out driving and see nothing but glowing trees.
Today we spent the afternoon at a local farm that has a corn maze. Of  course, today it wasn't in the 70's. Noo, today was in the upper 80's and the corn, withered and browned as it was, offered no relief from the burning sun. A nice fall day? Nah, but it was a lot of fun anyway! We went with my husband's parents and had a great time. In addition to getting lost on purpose, there were hay rides, bounce houses, pony rides, face painting, a sand area for the little ones, food, tractors, hay piles for climbing and other fun stuff. After going through the maze in the hot sun, we didn't have too much energy left for some of the activities. Kyleigh did get her face painted and jump in the bounce house and do a little hay climbing. Abigail preferred the shady sand area. The cool sand felt good on her shoe-less and sock-less feet. They do night runs there--that would be an interesting twist.

The design of the corn maze.

An encouraging sign found in a dead end of the maze.

Last night, my four-year-old and I decided to make Pumpkin Butterscotch Muffins. Sadly, the recipe only made 19 muffins and after trying some while they were fresh and breakfast this morning, there are only six left. Needless to say, if I want to share some with people, the recipe needs to at least be doubled. Here is the scrumptious recipe:

Pumpkin Butterscotch Muffins

1 3/4 c. all-purpose flour
1/2 c.   packed light brown sugar
1/2 c.   white sugar
1 tsp    ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1 tsp    baking soda
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
 2         eggs
5 Tbsp butter, melted
3 Tbsp cooking oil
1 c.      fresh pureed pumpkin
most of a 6oz bag butterscotch chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease muffin pan or line pan with paper cups.
In a large bowl, combine flour, brown sugar, white sugar, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. (I like to combine the dry ingredients with a large wire whisk because it combines everything nicely without compacting the flour too much.) In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs, butter, oil, and pumpkin. Add the pumpkin mixture to the dry ingredients and stir til combined. Stir in the butterscotch chips. (Or I also like to substitute the butterscotch chips with mini chocolate chips.)
Bake at 350 degrees until a toothpick inserted in the middle of a muffin comes out clean, about 20-25 minutes depending on the size muffin pan being used.

The pumpkin I used in this recipe was fresh that I got from the local Farmer's Market. Fresh is better! :)

Reading in the down time

What I'm reading: A Dog's Purpose, by W. Bruce Cameron

I finished reading this awesome book Saturday night. I'll admit, it made me cry a couple times--it is just that touching. It is a must read for any dog lover. This book gives you a new perspective to consider when it comes to your dog. 
The dog in the story lives four lives before discovering his purpose. Each time, he takes what he learned before and applies it to his current situation in trying to fulfill his purpose. I think this book gives a better understanding  to the phrase "Man's best friend". 

What to read next?

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Reading in the down time

What I'm reading: A Dog's Purpose, by W. Bruce Cameron

       My mom couldn't put this one down. As soon as she finished, she passed it along to me. This book spoke to her because the term 'dog lover' is an understatement when describing my mom. The thing that has me captured is the sentence on the inside flap of the book: "All dogs go to heaven...unless they have unfinished business here on Earth."
       A Dog's Purpose is told through the eyes of a dog. For praise of the book, I've included the link but the site does not provide a description of the book. So here it is:
       This is the remarkable story of one endearing dog's search for his purpose over the course of several lives. More than just another charming dog story, A Dog's Purpose touches on the universal quest for an answer to life's most basic question: Why are we here?
       Surprised to find himself reborn as a rambunctious golden-haired puppy after a tragically short life as a stray mutt, Bailey's search for his new life's meaning leads him into the loving arms of eight-year-old Ethan. During their countless adventures, Bailey joyously discovers how to be a good dog.
        But this life as a family pet is not the end of Bailey's journey. Reborn as a puppy yet again, Bailey wonders-will he ever find his purpose?
        Heartwarming, insightful, and often laugh-out-loud funny, A Dog's Purpose is not only the emotional and hilarious story of a dog's many lives, but also a dog's-eye commentary on human relationships and the unbreakable bonds between man and man's best friend. This moving and beautifully crafted story teaches us that love never dies, that our true friends are always with us, and that every creature on Earth is born with a purpose.

I haven't gotten too far into it yet, but I am enjoying it so far. I'll keep you posted. ;)

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Happy Hump-Day!

Ah, we've made it halfway through the week. The weekend is in sight! Today was a good day. Kyleigh, my four-year-old, went to preschool today and after we got back from dropping her off, my fifteen-month-old went to sleep. That gave me an hour of quiet. ::sighs contentedly:: I wasn't too productive because I wasn't feeling well, but that's okay. My puppy Peanut kept me company on the couch. Peanut is a brindle boxer who is very affectionate. She's just over three months old. I love her so much already, she is always with me. Having Peanut in my life was an important step for me to recover from losing my mom's ten year old boxer. We got Bandit, a fawn little boy boxer, at the beginning of my freshman year of high school. We had to put him to sleep because it was discovered that he had a rare advanced form of cancer. He was a loyal, sweet, gentle dog who was still a puppy til the end.

So, while Kyleigh is at school, Abby usually naps. I love getting my little Abby up from her naps. She is such a ray of sunshine. Abby loves to snuggle right after I get her out of her crib. She is so warm and still a little sleepy and just smells like baby. It warms my heart when she wraps her little arms around me as best she can and lays her head on my shoulder and just lets me hold her. After naptime we ate lunch and then went to get Kyleigh. Watching Abby get so excited about picking up her big sister, it gets you super excited too. She follows Kyleigh out of the classroom and in her own way, is asking for a hug and a kiss. It is so sweet.
After school, we had a playdate with one of Kyleigh's classmates from last year. It was a lot of fun for everyone. Kyleigh didn't want to leave when the time came. Her friend actually came downstairs upset and said to her mom, "Mommy, Kyleigh messed up my bed!". Turns out Kyleigh was hiding in the bed. It looks like we'll be having another playdate soon.
Once we got back it was time for naps for both of my girls. Abby slept but, as per her usual, Kyleigh did not. After Kyleigh's quiet time was over and she had a snack, we colored Halloween print-outs together. When Abby woke up (three hours after putting her down!) she colored with us. However, after coloring for a short time, Abigail got hungry and decided to snack on her jumbo crayons. There are now small chunks missing from a quarter of the crayons. She'd look over at me guiltily, and then grin her big grin -- with purple covering her four teeth. Then, since these are washable crayons (hence, water-soluble) there are later green and orange marks around her mouth. All I have to say is 'thank God for non-toxic crayons'!
Then it was time for dinner. I just wasn't feeling it today and my husband had the brilliant, nay, genius idea of ordering pizza! Since we really don't order out hardly at all, I was game. So the recipe for today? Last night's dinner: My Mom's Banana Muffins. Yes, we had breakfast for dinner and it was awesome!

Mom's Banana Bread

1 c. butter (mom uses shortening)
2 c. sugar, divided
4 eggs, beaten
2 c. mashed banana
1 c. whole wheat flour
3 c. all-purpose flour (mom uses all 4 c. whole wheat flour)
8 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. vanilla

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease pans or, if using paper cups, line muffin pans.
Mash bananas and set aside.
Beat eggs with 1 cup sugar and set aside. Beat butter (or shortening) with 1 cup sugar til well combined and mixture is creamy. Add egg mixture and mix well. Add bananas and mix well.
In a separate bowl, combine flour, salt and baking powder.
Add the flour mix to the wet mix a little at a time. Once all of the flour has been incorporated, add the vanilla and mix well.
Bake each batch for 15-17 minutes; til the muffin tops are a nice golden brown.

They are good warm, cut in half with butter alone, melting on top, or melting butter and strawberry jam.

Since we have most of these things on hand at any point in time, but budget idea is this: buy the bananas at the grocery that are marked down. They are already starting to brown and are therefore sweeter than the slightly green bananas. These bananas are bundled together and are cheaper than the usual ones-- although bananas are pretty cheap as it is. Enjoy!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

"Tooting My Own Horn" For A Minute

In addition to cooking and baking, I enjoy scrapbooking, knitting, painting, drawing, reading and just about anything where I can create something with my hands. My most recent project was redoing my patio with as little money as possible. With the weather finally cooling off here, I wanted to have a space to sit out and enjoy it. My first part was to give a "face lift" to a small old table that is out there. (This table has been around my family for as long as I can remember.) After giving it a serious scrubbing down, I gave it a new top. At Lowe's I found flooring tile for 88 cents/tile and bought only 2. I put one down in the middle then cut up the second to cover the edges of the top.

Here's a top view-- now the plastic table has a stone top. (2 self-adhesive flooring tiles from Lowe's, 88 cents each)

Here's a side view-- I used the middle of the second tile for a center piece on the bottom and used the rest of the second tile to fill in around the top.

The second part of this project was getting more chairs. At WalMart, I found their plastic outdoor chairs on clearance. I bought one (with the intention of going back to get a second) for only $9. We do have two chairs out there now, they just don't match. :)
The next part? To hang up outdoor blinds I bought, also at Lowe's for only $15 dollars. :)

Monday, October 4, 2010

I've Been Waitin' All Day for Monday Night!

The cure for a case of the Mondays? Monday Night Football baby! Really though, today wasn't a bad day. My 4-year-old had preschool today and after we picked her up we went to my in-law's house to drop off a birthday present. My girls and I hung out with my father- and brother-in-law for a bit then met my mom at the Farmer's Market. There is something very relaxing--no, that's not the word...poetic?--about shopping at the Farmer's Market. It is one of my favorite places to be. Not to mention it is a little easier on the wallet than buying produce at the grocery and it's a good feeling knowing you are buying from local farmers. My girls LOVED the pumpkins and it took my mom and I a bit to get them out from the rows of orange that towered over them. (Speaking of large pumpkins, who can drop $65 on a pumpkin?!? The large ones there were really that expensive. If I could spend that much on one pumpkin and not blink an eye, well, we'd be doing really well. But that just seems crazy to me.) The girls kept trying to grab all the pumpkins they saw and put them in the stroller. I brought my camera but left it in the car. Next time we go I'll take pictures.
While at the Farmer's Market, we bought two more pumpkins for baking bread and two more ornamental pumpkins bringing our total of little ones to five. (Since they are only fifty cents I let my girls each get one when we go.) The ones for baking were only $1 each. (The same ones at the grocery are $2.49 each.) I found zucchini squash at 99 cents/lb! That is really great considering everyone else was selling them at $1.49/lb. I also got gigantic sweet potatoes at 50 cents/lb--also a great buy! I'm telling you, if you haven't shopped your local farmer's market yet, you really should.

Tonight’s Menu:

Whole Grain Penne Pasta with Tomato Cream Sauce

1 box whole grain penne pasta
1 can tomato sauce
1/2 c. half & half
splash hawaiian marinade (for a kick)
dash – 1 tsp. garlic powder, onion powder, basil, paprika

Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain and return to pot, over medium-low heat.
Meanwhile, add the remaining ingredients to a pot over low heat and stir occasionally.
Once the pasta has been returned to the pot, pour the sauce over it and stir (or toss) to coat pasta. Cover and let simmer 2 to 3 minutes.
Serve and enjoy! (Everything is better with cheese, and grated Parmesan cheese would be delicious on top!)

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Sunday Blues

It's Sunday again. It seems like we spend so long in anticipation of the weekend and it goes by in the blink of an eye. Ah well, such is life.
I didn't really do any cooking today because Sunday is usually my husband's day to make his chili. Sunday+football+chili=what could be better? We didn't have the usual today, but my husband still made dinner. This morning though, I did decide to try to make cinnamon biscuits with icing. I have a "base" biscuit recipe that I have tweaked here and there depending on what we are having with them. I have added shredded cheddar to them before and got a similar biscuit to those at Red Lobster. Yum!
Made-from-scratch Sunday Morning Biscuits (better than canned cinnamon rolls!!) makes 12
  Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. I started by cutting up 3/4 cup butter into a bowl and pouring 1 1/4 cup milk into a liquid measuring cup so that both would come to room temperature by the time I was ready for them. Then into a mixing bowl, I combined 3 cups of flour, 1 Tbsp baking powder, 1 Tbsp sugar, 1 tsp salt, and 3/4 tsp cream of tartar. I then tossed the butter with several teaspoons of cinnamon. Then added the cinnamon butter into the bowl of dry ingredients and used two butter knives (or a pastry blender would be awesome) to cut the butter into the flour until I had coarse crumbs. Then pour in the milk and stir with a fork until moistened. (For these kind of drop biscuits, I like to put them in my muffin pans but they are also good when baked on a greased cookie sheet.) Using cooking spray, grease the muffin pans then evenly divide the dough among the 12 muffin cups. Bake for 10 minutes until they start turning a nice golden color; the peaks may start browning before the rest of the biscuit turns golden, in which case they are still done when the peaks brown.
While the biscuits were baking, I made the icing. The only part I measured out was the butter and this purely coincidental. So, 2 Tbsp butter mixed with a bit of half & half (or milk) then add as much powdered sugar til the desired consistency is reached. (I believe I had a few tablespoons in mine.) Feel free to add a dash of vanilla extract, as I did, or another flavor just to give them the extra "uumph".
Once the biscuits are done and have been removed from the oven, turn them out onto either a plate or a cooling rack and drizzle the icing on top. Enjoy!

Friday, October 1, 2010

Winding Down

As I write this, you find me sitting on my patio/deck/porch (not really sure the appropriate name of it in a first floor apartment) with a glass of wine in the dark with my puppy Peanut on the chair facing me. I can hear the people in the 2 apartments above since they have their sliding glass doors open as well. Two floors above me it sounds like a little kid is hitting something and then yelling after each slap. I can hear the mom speaking in another language to the child. Perhaps it is him getting spanked. Whatever the case may be, it is pretty irritating having to listen to it. Ah wait, now the sound of laughter. Nothing is more golden than the laughter of a child.
Across the parking lot (yes, I get to look out over the parking lot. lucky me, right?) someone has left their blinds open in their living room while they watch tv. From the looks of it they have a large screen tv....then again, who doesn't have a large-ish tv these days? I wonder what they are watching. Do they have kids? Are the kids in bed? Is it, instead, a family movie night and they are all gathered around snuggled together?
I didn't intend for this to be a post of "people watching" but it's kind of hard to live in an apartment complex and not notice each other at one point or another.
As anyone close to me could tell you, I aspire to be a chef/baker/I'll do it all. I have no formal training, and I doubt that I ever will. (it's a financial thing) But it doesn't make me sad. It makes me crave knowledge and seek it out wherever I can. So part of the reason for even starting this blog is to chronicle my journey to achieving my goal. Of course it will be baby steps, but they are steps in a forward direction and that is what counts.
I shared earlier today my failure, my first failure, with my usually wonderful pumpkin bread. Now a dinner success. For dinner I made Shepherd's Pie. I learned this one from my mom--it's always been my favorite thing she made me while growing up and it was always my birthday dinner request. But that is not the success I want to share. I also made an impromptu pasta for my husband since he can't eat corn (one of the 3 parts of the shepherd's pie).
   I started with half a box of medium shell pasta and cooked that for 8 minutes, then drained it. While it was draining in the sink, I threw into the pot 3 Tbsp butter, small drizzle of veggie oil, good squirt of spicy brown mustard, small squirt of lemon juice, dash of pepper, pinch of rubbed sage, and good sprinkling of salt and garlic powder and basil. I then tossed the pasta shells back in and tossed it all together then let it sit while on low to let the pasta finish cooking in the yummy sauce. I do this so that as the pasta finishes cooking, it will absorb some of the flavor of the sauce. Then, after it has been plated but just before serving, sprinkle some Parmesan cheese on top. Yum!
If anyone tries this recipe, and you should because it is a very quick dinner, I hope you enjoy it!

First day of October has arrived!

The first day of October is finally here! With the new month comes exciting events that are awaited all year long: the state fair and Halloween. Something else comes with the new season: pumpkins. My girls are beside themselves with renewed excitement each time they see pumpkins outside the grocery store or at the Farmer's Market. My 15-month-old can barely contain herself and her barely 2 1/2-foot tall body starts shaking while exclaiming "ooooo" and points her chubby little finger at the sea of orange before her. My four year old starts running up and down the rows of pumpkins that are nearly as big as she is and it will be awhile before I can reel her back in.
Another thing my 4-year-old and I enjoy doing together is baking. The fall is an especially fun time for this since pumpkins are "in season" as well as apples and the fall squash. For our pumpkin bread, we prefer to use fresh pumpkin instead of the canned--who wouldn't? We made some a couple weeks ago (the first batch of the season) and it turned delicious! So last night we decided to make more. I have been using this recipe for years now and it is good every time. However, last night's batch didn't turn out well at all! I can't figure out what went wrong. I didn't forget anything and we followed the directions, same as always. It just didn't seem to rise even though it was in there long enough, same as always. I am really bummed. It has always turned out well. Guess we'll just have to do it again.