Friday, October 31, 2008

Bah! Humbug!

I am a Halloween Scrooge. I admit it. Our children do not trick or treat. We do not give out candy. We usually do not participate in Halloween events, and I do not believe my children are missing out on anything. They get dress-up opportunities. They get way more candy than they need. We do lots of other fun things.

However, I am not so much opposed that we pretend Halloween does not exist or think anyone who chooses to participate is a heathen. I even let the children watch some of the Halloween cartoons on Nick Jr. and Disney, explaining to Elizabeth and Hope that witches, ghosts, and monsters are not real. They are pretend, just like monkeys who talk (Boots!) and the Backyardigans' adventures.

When I saw "It's a Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown" on our Dish guide, I recorded it to watch with the children. I have not seen it since I was a child, but I have memories of enjoying it, along with all the other seasonal Peanuts cartoons. We finished schoolwork on Wednesday and piled into my bedroom to watch together before Daddy got home from work. I was all warm and fuzzy about sharing something from my childhood with my own darlings. The opening scene of the cartoon shows Lucy yelling at Linus for writing a letter to the Great Pumpkin. She calls him stupid and a blockhead, words we do not use at our house (except when Mommy slips and must apologize... ). My 14 year old looked at me with raised eye brows, as if to say, "Hmmm. I'm surprised you are letting us watch this." Then there was the scene with Lucy promising not to move the football and pulling it out of the way, letting Charlie Brown fall on his back. Another look from Hannah. "That Lucy sure is mean," I said, meekly. For the next 20 minutes or so, we watched as children yelled at each other, called one another names, and used the terms stupid and blockhead a lot. Oh, and there was the scene where Snoopy plays the Red Baron, shooting down enemy planes, getting shot down, and crawling through enemy territory. Oh yes, pleasant TV time for my little ones. When it was over, I apologized to my children. I told them I really remembered enjoying the show. I guess my ears are much more sensitive now than they were when I was a child. It appears that my children's are, too. They did not complain, but they did not enjoy the show, and I am wonderfully glad. We will skip this episode in the future...but maybe we'll look for the Thanksgiving show next month and see if my memories of that one are more accurate. Maybe I'll preview it alone first.

But there's more to my Halloween experience. My dad lives in a neighborhood that gets hundreds of trick or treaters, and the city council changed trick or treating to Thursday instead of Friday this year. (I do not know why. Makes no sense to me.) Dad asked if I would come give out candy because he and his wife are under the weather and could not do it. Of course I was glad to help.

Oh, it was quite an experience. I want to share my many thoughts and observations.

I do not know if there is a maximum age for trick or treating, but I think there should be. If you have your car keys in your back pocket, you ought not be coming to ask for Skittles from me. If you plan to vote in Tuesday's Presidential election, you need not be knocking on my door asking for gum. Stop at the Double Kwik and pick up your own when you are filling up the tank.

If your child is not old enough to walk, you may want to consider waiting a year or two before taking him trick or treating. I gave candy to numerous moms and dads carrying tiny little babies dressed in tiny little costumes. Just who is going to eat that candy?

I saw more than one scantily clad young girl at my porch. I wanted to ask where the parents were, but on some occasions, Mom and Dad were right there on the sidewalk, beaming proudly at Sally's pretty costume. What is that about? Why would you want to dress your child like a hooker, or a sexy witch, or a cave woman with a lot of cleavage to show? Are you going to wonder why she wants to dress like that at school? Are you going to let her? Do you plan to encourage her to show as much skin as possible and teach her that boys love to look and that people will like her if she dresses that way??? Arrrgghh!

It is definitely a different era than when I was growing up (and yes, I did observe Halloween growing up). Would you believe that some kids were talking on their cell phone while they were out? They walked up to me, never missing a word in their conversation, held out their bags for a piece of candy, and walked away. It's hard to say thank you when you are chatting about what Bobby is wearing for a costume and what Jenny said to you when you bumped into her outside of the cafeteria today.

The parents are every bit as interesting as the children. One lady, with a lollipop sticking out of her mouth, walked up to me and stuck her hand out. "Trick or Treat," she said. I wasn't sure if she was serious, but she stood there until I put a piece of candy in her hand. She chuckled as she walked back to the other adults she was walking with. (I saw no children with them.) She looked back at me and muttered, "My kids are stingy and won't share." I am not making this up! Gee, I wonder where they learned such poor manners. It was so hard for me not to say, "Then go the friendly Wal-Mart and buy yourself a Snickers bar, Lady." I refrained. But I did not smile.

One child thanked me for his treat, then turned to his mom and told her he was cold and ready to go home. "Don't you want to go on up there to the fancy houses and get the good candy?" Honestly! She really said that. I just smiled and said, "Sorry, just Dum-Dum suckers here." What else can I say about that? I hope her cold little boy enjoys the cheap candy he got here in the ghetto. I hope his manners are a little better than his mother's.

Perhaps my favorite parent observation was the Mom driving around the neighborhood in a golf cart. Several parents let their children out, then drove along the street watching as the child went from house to house. Why park and get out to walk with your child? It's cold, after all. At least they were supervising. Lots of parents just let the children out and waited for them at the corner. Oh yes. I understand letting your child roam free, going door to door in a neighboorhood where you don't know everyone. When it's dark and crowded. Right. But one mom lives in this area and just got out the golf cart. She did not avoid the low temps, but at least she didn't have to walk with the crowds. Interesting.

In all fairness, let me say that there were some really nice children who were dressed in age-appropriate costumes, whose parents made sure they said please and thank you, who stayed on the sidewalk rather than running through the grass to cut in front of other children. I saw lots of kids who had appropriate sized treat bags or buckets, instead of the pillowcases some brought. (PILLOWCASES! Just how much candy are you expecting to get?) There were lots of children who only stopped at my house one time, unlike the double-dippers (those were usually the pillowcase goblins). Lots of nice children enjoying a night out.

My conclusion: For the amount of time, money, and energy spent on costumes, gas, and dental visits, it seems to me parents could get a lot more. They could buy some nice treats rather than going door to door in the cold asking for candy from strangers. They could do something crazier, like playing dress up at home, baking some cookies (or healthy muffins!) together. They could make caramel apples, take lots of pictures, and laugh together. What fun memories they would be making.

But then again, I am a Halloween Scrouge.


Thursday, October 30, 2008

Quick Dinner - Pizza on Pita Bread

Sometimes, no matter how much you plan, a wrench gets thrown into the schedule and you have to make due. That happened today, and I did not have the time or energy to make what was on our menu. I admit that I was tempted to ask Mark to pick up $6 Hot and Ready pizzas from Little Caesars on the way home, but I resisted. I had whole wheat pita bread and that chicken I had put in the freezer a few days ago. Ah, pizza ingredients.

I spread pizza sauce from a jar on the pita bread. (If I had remembered, I would have sprayed a little olive oil on them first.) I added bite-sized pieces of the chicken and some pineapples. (Any ingredients would work, but I avoid the fatty, though delicious, pepperoni and sausage.) We were out of mozzarella cheese, so I used the fiesta blend we had. I had two cookie sheets with 6 pizzas each on them. I baked them at the same time in a 350 oven until the cheese was melted and the pizza was warmed through (10-15 minutes?). While those baked, I chopped some spinach, tomatoes, and cucumbers for a salad. The little girls will not eat a lot of fresh vegetables yet (but I keep putting the veg. on their plates and urging them to take bites), so I heated some corn for them. Abel and Elizabeth had prepared a jello and fruit dessert earlier in the day, and it turned out really well. Good job, you two! There you go. Dinner was saved with very little effort, and this was much healthier than Little Ceasers (with all due respect to the pizza industry...). Yay for us!

I still have recipes from last weekend and some funny stories to share. I will get to those next week, but today I am off to visit my parents. Enjoy the weekend!


Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Beef and Vegetable Pasta Casserole

This recipe started with one I found in a cookbook, but I made enough changes that I am comfortable calling it mine. This was yet another that I was not sure about, but we all really loved it. It's really simple. It turned out to be bigger than I expected, such that the whole casserole would not fit in my 9 x 13 pan and I had to use a 1.5 qt Corningware for the extra, but there was only one serving left and Mark claimed it for his lunch tomorrow. Wow. My kids eat soooo much lately. I have a teenager daughter and two sons eating their way toward their teens, so maybe I should not be surprised.

The recipe (Note that none of these measurements need be exact. This is a casserole, not a soufflé.)

2 tsp olive (or your favorite) oil
1 lb lean ground beef
1 red onion, diced
1 green (or red or yellow) pepper, diced
2 cans diced tomatoes (I look for the no-salt added.)
1 cup beef stock
1 lb whole wheat penne (or your favorite pasta, but use something whole grain!)
2 zucchini, sliced into bite sized pieces
1 cup of frozen peas (I think frozen peas and carrots would go well here, too.)
Your favorite shredded cheese. I used mozzarella.
About 1/2 tsp each of dried basil, parsley, rosemary, thyme. (You can use whatever herbs you like. These worked well.)

Preheat oven to 400. Cook pasta according to package directions, except cook a little al dente since it will finish in the oven. In the meantime, cook the beef, onion, and pepper in a large skillet. Drain any fat. Add herbs, tomatoes, and beef stock, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer 15 minutes.

Stir in pasta, zucchini, and peas, then carefully pour into a large baking dish. Either sprinkle cheese over the top or stir it into the mix. (The next time, I will mix it in rather than leaving it on top so there's cheese in each bite. A small amount would go a long way, I think.)

Bake for 10-20 minutes, or until heated through and cheese is melted and browned if you like it that way.

Yummy, healthy, filling... I will make this again!


Chunky Chicken Slaw

I hit another homerun yesterday, though I really thought this one was a foul ball.

I am making two dishes with chicken this week, so I did a little prep work to make things inexpensive and easier. Before bed on Sunday night, I removed the skin from a whole chicken (not necessary, but I wanted to cut back on fat), placed the chicken in my crockpot, and added a good coating of lemon pepper (no water). I turned the pot on low and let it cook all night. When I got up, I turned off the crockpot, but left the lid on while the chicken cooled. After breakfast, I used a fork and tongs to remove the chicken (it honestly fell right off the bone). I divided it into two bowls; froze one for later in the week and put the other in the refrigerator for the slaw.

After lunch, I prepared the slaw so the flavors would have some time to blend before dinner. It is so quick and easy to make.

The recipe:
(This makes a lot. You may want to halve the recipe.)
2 cups or so of cooked chicken (use leftovers, rotisserie, whatever is easy or available)
1 small cabbage
2 medium carrots
2 scallions, 1 small shallot, or your favorite onion
1 celery stalk
1 Granny Smith (or your favorite) apple
any other fresh vegetables you have that you think might be yummy
Ranch dressing

Shred all the vegetables in a food processor, in small batches, of course. (I put the mixture in the microwave for a few minutes. I have that issue with raw veg.)
Cut the chicken into bite-sized pieces and add it to the vegetables. Add Ranch dressing, enough to coat, and stir. (I set some aside to mix with fat-free dressing, which I honestly like. Everyone else had Hidden Valley.)

I served this with a pot of cream of broccoli soup. I thought it was okay, but I did not love it. Everyone else did. Mark even took the leftovers for lunch today. I guess I will be making it again.




I truly love learning about healthy eating and introducing exciting new dishes to my family. But when I am following recipes with titles I cannot pronounce or ingredients I have never heard of, I ask myself if this is really necessary. The answer: yes and no. We may lead long, healthy lives without eating this way, but our chances are greater if we learn to consume (and enjoy!) a wider variety of the good-for-us foods God has so richly provided. I did not grow up eating broccoli, spinach, butternut squash (yum!), and so many other delicious vegetables. I ate iceburg lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, peas, carrots, and white potatoes (which are all very good), but I also enjoyed Cap'n Crunch cereal, ravioli from a can, and potted meat. I am trying to develop a taste for more good foods as an adult, but it is not always easy. I believe if I introduce my children to a variety of tastes and flavors, they will be more likely to make better choices as adults.

Thus, I made muesli for breakfast yesterday. I used a recipe from an Australian cookbook that my husband found, so I had to convert some of the measurements (how much is 200 grams of yoghurt, and why is it spelled that way Down Under?!).

The result: I would not choose this over Cap’n Crunch, if we had Cap’n Crunch in the house, which we never do. Oh, but have you had the peanut butter flavor? Sigh. Good stuff, even if it is puffed sugar.

But I digress…This blog is about healthy living and wise choices, after all. I have trouble eating raw fruits, vegetables, and nuts (allergies), so this was not for me. However, my husband and children LOVED it! They had the leftovers for breakfast today. Wow. Very nutritious and easy.

The recipe (adapted slightly from The Total Well Being Diet, Book 2):

(This must be prepared the night before, so if you make it, and I highly recommend that you try it at least once, plan ahead.)

1 cup old fashioned oats
1 cup untoasted meusli (I got this at Whole Foods. Grocery stores may carry it, but our Super Wal-Mart did not.)
1 cup wheat bran
2 cups hot water
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/4 cup almonds
2/3 cup plain or vanilla yogurt
1 large Granny Smith apple, diced (I left the peel on -- lots of fiber.)
Your choice of fresh or frozen fruit for topping

Place the oats, meusli, and bran in a large ceramic dish and blend. (This makes a lot. I used a 2-quart CorningWare dish). Add the water and lemon juice. Allow to soak for 30 minutes. Add almonds, yogurt, and apple, and stir to combine. Cover and refrigerate overnight. Serve with additional yogurt, fruit, and/or honey to taste.

This will keep for 3-4 days, if it lasts that long!


Sunday, October 26, 2008

Political Rally

I took my children to see Senator Mitch McConnell yesterday. He is doing a campaign bus tour through the state and stopped in Lexington bright and early in the morning. We talk about government and politics a lot in our home, especially around the dinner table. We truly hope to raise active, informed citizens who love their country and are willing to do their part to keep it strong and godly. To enforce that idea, I decided I would take the children to meet and listen to candidates when we have the chance.

During the gubernatorial election last year, I took them to see Governor Ernie Fletcher. We did not necessarily agree with everything he stood for or had done (though I do think he was not as bad a guy as the media wanted us to think, but that's for another entry). I just wanted the kids to see him, to see that he was a real person, not just a faceless authority they heard about on the news. We heard his speech and got to shake hands with him. It was short and did not take a lot of time, but Abel was particularly impressed. For days and weeks afterwards, he kept saying, "I shook the Governor's hand." You better believe he listened a little more each time he heard that name, or news of the election, as well. It gave us an opportunity to talk (and listen!) to him regarding the important issues. Yippee!

So, I decided to try again. I got my crew out at 8:30 on a cold Saturday morning. (Mark had to go into work.) That in and of itself is noteworthy. When we got there, many people were standing outside the Republican headquarters, a small office in a strip mall. After a few moments, Senator McConnell emerged from the bus, greeted some folks, and proceeded inside, where he would give his speech. The problem was that there were more people present than would fit inside. I had five children with me, two in strollers, and I was not the only one there with little ones. Many of us could not fit inside. The boys wormed their way in (I suspect they were looking for the donuts they kept seeing people come out with), but Hannah and I stood outside the door... with the the cold...with babies... It was interesting, but you would not believe how well-behaved they all were, especially given the circumstances.

When the speech was over, my dear son waded through the crowd until he got to the front. He was bound and determined to shake another politician's hand, and he got his wish. I was so proud of him, and he was grinning ear to ear. When he came out, he said, "Mom, you know that tobacco issue Dad was talking about last night? Mr. McConnell mentioned it, too." Did you catch that? He was listening! He listened to the speech. This just might work! Just as I started to get a little lump in my throat, he added, "Now, can Robert and I go get a donut?"

I'll have recipes to share later. It's getting late and I have a busy week ahead. I need to get to bed.


Friday, October 24, 2008

Southwestern Soup

We have tried several new recipes lately, and will keep many of them. That's so exciting! I receive Weight Watchers magazine and Taste of Home (a gift from my wonderful Aunt Jeanie). Some months I don't even have time to open them, but I stole a few moments and read the new issue of Taste of Home cover to cover when it arrived, dog-earing the pages with recipes I wanted to try. We are slowly and delectably working our way through them.

Last night was Southwestern Soup. Hannah made it by herself and served it with a salad and tortilla chips. (We rarely have chips here, but I thought they would go well with the soup. They did.) I liked the soup, but I think I want to make some adjustments the next time. It had more liquid than I would have liked, and I wonder if adding some black beans or more kidney beans would be an improvement. Nevertheless, it was tasty and we enjoyed it.

Southwestern Soup
(October/November 2008 Taste of Home)

3 cups water
4 cans (8 oz each) tomato sauce
2 cans (16 oz each) kidney beans, rinsed and drained
2 cans (14.5 oz each) chicken broth
2 cups frozen corn
2 cups salsa
2 tsp dried minced onion
1 to 2 tsp dried oregano
1 to 2 tsp dried basil
2 cups (8 oz) shredded cheddar cheese

Tortilla chips, optional

In a dutch oven, combine the first nine ingredients. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat; simmer, uncovered, for 10-15 minutes or until heated through .

*We made this in the crockpot. Hannah combined the ingredients in the pot the night before and put it in the refrigerator. Before we left for our co-op, she set the crockpot on low. We turned off the pot and let it stop cooking/start cooling about an hour before dinner. It was still warm, but not steaming. No tongues were burned!

Sprinkle individual servings with cheese. My children also stirred in a dollop of sour cream. Serve with tortilla chips if desired.

Yield: 12 servings, 1 1/3 cups each

Tonight is a recipe from Ellie Krieger, one of my favorite Food Network cooks (chefs?). I am not sure when I will get to post about it since we have a spelling bee tonight and lots of activities tomorrow.

Until later,

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Pan Sauteed Chicken with Vegetables and Herbs

We tried a new recipe again last night, and it turned out well. I adapted the recipe from a Swanson ad I found in a magazine. It turned out well, but took a little time to prepare. It tastes much like a pot roast with chicken as the base, very tender and juicy with all the flavors blending so nicely. Everyone over the age of four loved it. I wonder if this would work just as well cooking in the crockpot. I think browning the chicken and the vegetables in the skillet first helps bring out the flavor. I will definitely make this again.

Pan Sauteed Chicken with Vegetables and Herbs
(adapted slightly from Swanson recipe)

ground black pepper
4 chicken breast halves (boneless or bone-in)
2 tsp olive oil
2 small red onions, cut into chunks
1 lb new potatoes, cut into chunks (I used Idaho. Worked just fine.)
8 oz fresh whole baby carrots (about 16), green tops trimmed to 1 inch (I used pre-washed baby carrots that I had on hand.)
1 ½ cups chicken stock
3 Tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp dried oregano or 1 Tbsp fresh
1 tsp dried thyme or 1 Tbsp fresh

1. Heat the oven to 350. Sprinkle chicken on one side with pepper and paprika. Heat the oil in a 12-inch oven safe skillet over medium-high heat. (I do not have an oven safe skillet. I used my deep skillet, then transferred to a glass 9 x 13 to put in the oven.) Add the chicken, seasoned side down. Season the other side and cook until it is well browned on all sides. Remove the chicken from the skillet and set aside. (This helps the juices come back out in the meat.)

2. Add the onions and potatoes to the skillet and cook for 5 minutes. Add the carrots, stock, lemon juice, and oregano and heat to a boil. Return chicken to the skillet, or transfer everything to an oven-safe pan.

3. Cover and bake for 20 minutes. Uncover and bake for 15 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through and vegetables are tender. (I cooked it thoroughly in the skillet.) Sprinkle with the thyme, if desired.


Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Who needs toys?

Why do we spend money on toys? Our living room is overflowing with playthings purchased at Toys R Us and Walmart. But my darling 2 year old, Hope, usually prefers to play with pots, pans, plastic plates and bowls, or even Splenda packets. She woke up and found me working at the computer at 5:30 this morning. She reached for the box of sweetener I had set out while I was pouring the coffee. She took each packet out of the box, one at a time, and placed it on the table (all while squirming in my lap as I tried to finish the newsletter I was typing for our homeschool group). She carried the box into the living room after breakfast and stacked the packets on the couch, counting in both English and Spanish (thank you very much, Dora and Diego). She stacked them on her legs, on my legs, in my palm, on the treadmill, and lots of other places throughout the day. She threw some away, but we caught her before too many made it to the trash.

As I was making dinner tonight, she abandoned her little yellow treasures and got out the cutting boards, pizza pans, and plastic trays. She spread them across the kitchen then used them as stepping stones as she counted some more. What fun. I hope this is a sign of her creativity and simple tastes. May she always find joy in the everyday things of life.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Taco Soup

Gee, the majority of recipes I've posted are either soup or chili. I guess that's what I really enjoy.

Abel made dinner by himself tonight. I'm very proud of him. He is really learning his way around the kitchen, and truly enjoys it. He made one of our favorites (do I say that about every recipe?), taco soup. I've passed this recipe along so many times that everyone I know has it. It's a Weight Watchers recipe, and there are numerous versions of it. It is simple, easy, inexpensive (!), and yummy. What more could you want?

Taco Soup
1 lg onion, chopped
1 pkg taco seasoning (or to taste)
2 cups frozen corn
1 can (2 cups) chicken broth
1 can black beans
1 can white beans
1 can ff refried beans
1 can diced tomatoes or Rotel

Saute onions (or skip this step and use onion powder if necessary). Add all other ingredients and simmer 30-40 minutes. You can also simmer this for several hours on low in the crockpot, especially if you like the beans soft. Makes 15 cups; 1 point per serving.

Cornbread (Just a bit different than with buttermilk, surprisingly yummy)
2 cups self-rising cornmeal (or ½ cornmeal, ½ flour)
1 ½ tsp oil
2 cups plain ff yogurt
2 large eggs

Preheat oven to 400. Combine dry ingredients in one bowl, and wet in another. Combine just until blended. Bake in non-stick muffin pan for 12-15 minutes, or until brown. Makes 12 muffins.

*Note to those from the south who insist that cornbread only be made in a cast-iron skillet. First, good for you! This can also bake in a skillet. Be aware that you do not need to add a quarter inch of oil or bacon grease to the pan. Just coat it with cooking spray and heat it for a minute or two in the oven before adding the bread batter. (Mark has converted me to olive oil and it is available as a spray now.)


Monday, October 20, 2008

50th Day of School

Today was our 50th day of school this year. Yippee! The semester is going so well and I wanted to celebrate, but I couldn't really come up with anything creative to do. I gave the children 50 minutes of recess, and then we made caramel apples before dinner. It was a nice day.

I am reminded that it takes so little to make special moments and special memories. The apples were so simple. (Did you know the caramels now come in little bits, like chocolate chips, so you no longer have to peel all those little cubes? Neat!) The children did all the work while I ooh-ed and ahh-ed and smiled. They melted the caramels, dipped their apples, and put them in the refrigerator to chill. They loved having them for dessert tonight. I didn't spend a lot of money or go to a lot of trouble, but I think my children will remember the time together. I certainly will.

Tomorrow is day 51. May it be full of memorable moments and educational opportunities. Most importantly, may I remember to be thankful for these wonderful blessings God has given me, especially when one of them is sitting in my lap getting into everything on my desk as I try to post to my blog, or when they get out of bed 47 times, with 47 excuses, instead of going to sleep! They are my world, 365 days a year.


Sunday, October 19, 2008

Black Beans and Salsa in the Crockpot

Have you checked out this blog: ? It's by a woman named Stephanie who set out to use her crockpot every day for a year. She posts a picture of the ingredients, the recipe, and commentary about each recipe. It is fabulous! Today she wrote about cooking beans in the crockpot, something I do occasionally but not always. She compares the cost of canned beans with cooking your own (you know which is less expensive!), and also mentions that it costs about 2 cents an hour to operate a crockpot. Why am I not using that device each day??? One website I found said it costs about 25 cents an hour to use the oven. Even if those are not exact numbers, based on types of appliance and cost of energy, I would think the comparison (2 to 25) is accurate. (I am only speculating.) Regardless, I'm sure cooking in the crockpot is cheaper than in the oven.

But I digress, I was talking about beans... We make a very simple dish that Mark calls Aztec beans. When it's a busy week (well, busier than normal), I use canned beans, but I try to be economical and use dry. Mark likes the beans to be really soft, so I cook them longer than most people would. The afternoon before we are eating this meal, I put the beans in the crockpot to soak. (I do not turn it on.) Before bed, I drain and rinse, then add fresh water. I cook them on low all night. In the morning, I drain most of the liquid and add a jar or two of salsa. Again, it cooks on low all day.

We eat this like a thick soup topped with shredded cheese (whatever kind is on hand) and sour cream. It is also good with triscuits or tortilla chips (which are not core!). It takes planning ahead, but certainly takes much less time than preparing most meals. And it's yummy and nutrituous, especially if we all eat the salad or fresh vegetables to dip I place on the table.

More later...


Saturday, October 18, 2008

Black Bean and Pumpkin Chili

The October/November issue of Taste of Home magazine has some fabulous fall recipes. We tried the following chili recipe this week. (I do not know if it is against the rules to post recipes from published sources here, but I will remove them if someone persuades me to, like by telling me they are swearing out a warrant for my arrest.) I used rotisserie chicken instead of turkey, and 2 tsp instead of 2 tbsp of oil. I would not have expected these flavors to go well together, but it was really yummy. Try it on a cool fall day.

Black Bean and Pumpkin Chili

1 medium onion, chopped
1 medium sweet yellow pepper, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 cups chicken broth
2 cans (15 oz each) black beans, rinsed and drained
21/2 cups cubed cooked turkey
1 can (15 oz) solid pack pumpkin
1 can diced tomatoes (undrained)
2 tsp dried parsley flakes
2 tsp chili powder
1 ½ tsp dried oregano
1 ½ tsp ground cumin
½ tsp salt

In a large skillet, sauté the onion, yellow pepper, and garlic in oil until tender. Transfer to a 5-qt slow cooker; stir in the remaining ingredients.

Cover and cook on low for 4-5 hours or until heated through.

Yield: 10 servings

We are off to a cookout with our homeschool group. It is a beautiful, crisp day here in Lexington, and I am excited about enjoying the fresh air and friendship.


Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Cream of Broccoli Soup

We had another family favorite last night, cream of broccoli soup. A few years ago, I would have thumbed my nose at the very thought, but becoming a mother and joining Weight Watchers (ahem, not so faithful there, but not willing to give up) encouraged me to learn more about healthy eating. It's almost a passion for me now. I love, love, love trying new recipes and experiencing new tastes. Most importantly, I hope I am giving my children the tools they need to be healthy eaters all of their lives. Oh, they love this soup, too. Hannah did not love it from the start, but now she adds shredded cheese and sometimes sour cream, and it works for her. Abel even requests this for his birthday dinner some years. The toddlers do not eat soup yet, but I keep putting it in front of them. They will eventually learn to try it.

Cream of Broccoli Soup
1 medium onion, chopped (or a dash of onion powder)
1 medium garlic clove, minced (or a dash of garlic powder)
2 lbs fresh or frozen broccoli, chopped
4 cups fat free chicken broth
1 cup fat free evaporated milk
salt and pepper to taste

If using onion and garlic, simmer it in ¼ cup of water until onion is soft, about 10 minutes. (If using the powders, just begin with the next step and add powders to the broth.) Add broccoli and broth. Bring to a boil over high heat. Turn down heat and simmer until broccoli is soft but still green, about 8 minutes. Do not cover pot or broccoli will turn grey.
Remove from heat and blend a few cups at a time in the blender or use hand held blender. Add evaporated milk and seasonings. Garnish with fresh chives, if desired.

Yield: Four servings, 1 ¾ cup each. Core or 2 points per serving on WW.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Excuses, excuses...with some good recipes thrown in

I've not been lazy, honestly! I've had a cold which is trying to become a sinus infection, and we have been on the road. We had some yummy dishes that I want to share, though.

On Wednesday, Hannah made vegetable egg rolls (first time doing it by herself), and they were fabulous! I'm so proud of her. Here's our recipe:

Vegetable Egg Rolls
1 small head cabbage, shredded
about 2 cups carrots, shredded
3-4 scallions (to taste)
8 average egg roll wrappers

*to taste: garlic cloves, soy sauce, ginger (minced root or dried), any other seasonings you like

I shred the veggies in a food processor. Combine shredded vegetables and any seasonings you wish to add. (I like a bit of garlic powder and soy sauce.) I sometimes add a cup or so of corn and peas to the mix. You can add cooked chicken or other meat, but then, of course, they are not vegetable egg rolls. Microwave for a few minutes to soften carrots and cabbage. Place a large spoonful of mixture onto an egg roll and roll up according to directions. Spray lightly with cooking spray. Bake at 350 for 20-25 minutes, or until brown and crispy.


Since we have our homeschool co-op on Thursday and are out most of the day, I usually do a crockpot dish. This week, we also had a field trip on Friday, so I really had to plan ahead. I bought a rotisserie chicken and tore the meat into small pieces, then froze them to be used in these two dishes.

White Chili
8-10 servings.
1 lb large white beans, soaked overnight in water, drained (or 3+ cans white beans, depending on how much you want)
6 cups chicken broth
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 medium onions, chopped (divided)
2 (4 oz) cans chopped green chilies
2 tsp olive oil
2 tsp ground cumin
1 ½ tsp dried oregano
¼ tsp cayenne pepper
4 cups diced cooked chicken
1 cup grated Monterey Jack (or your favorite) cheese
1 jalapeno or serrano pepper, chopped (optional)

1. Combine beans, chicken broth, garlic, and half the onions in a large soup pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until beans are very soft, 3 hours or more. (I just put it all in a crockpot and simmer on low all day.) Add additional water or broth if necessary. Another option: if you like a creamier chili, like a soup, you can puree some or all of the beans in a blender, small amounts at a time, before you add the chicken mixture.
2. In a skillet, sauté remaining onions in oil until tender. Add chilies and seasonings and mix thoroughly. Add to bean mixture. Add chicken and continue to simmer 1 hour. Check seasoning, add jalapeno or serrano to level of desired hotness.
3. Serve topped with grated cheese. Garnish with cilantro, chopped fresh tomatoes, salsa, chopped scallions, and/or guacamole. Serve with fresh warmed flour tortillas or tortilla chips if desired.

Southwestern Chicken-Bean Salad (adapted slightly from Robin Miller/food network)
4 servings

2 medium scallions, chopped
1 medium red or green pepper (or ½ of each), chopped
15 oz canned black beans, rinsed and drained
2 pieces corn on the cob, kernels removed (or 1 cup or so of canned or frozen)
2 tbsp lime juice (lemon works, too)
1 Tbsp your favorite oil
8 oz chicken breast, cooked, skinless, chopped (oh, for crying out loud, use leftovers or get a rotisserie chicken!)
2 tbsp taco seasoning, or to taste
4 tbsp fresh cilantro (optional)
sour cream

Combine scallions, peppers, beans, and corn in a large bowl; toss until well mixed.

Add lime juice and oil to bean mixture; toss to coat. Add chicken, taco seasoning, and cilantro; toss. Top with sour cream and serve.

* This is also yummy wrapped in a tortilla, with salsa and spinach. It would likely go well with chips, pita bread, or corn bread.

See you tomorrow!

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Crispy Peanut Butter Treats

This recipe is from a Quick Cooking Magazine from 1999. I used to make this dessert and take it to work, and we all loved it. I plan to make it for a cookout we are going to next weekend. (I had to dig through boxes in the garage to find these old magazines. I cut them apart and punched holes in them, then put them in ringbinders years ago.) This is a rice crispy treat for chocolate lovers.

Crispy Peanut Butter Treats

2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
¾ cups peanut butter
7 cups crisp rice cereal
1 package peanut butter chips
¼ cup butter or margarine
2 Tbsp water
½ tsp vanilla extract
1 cup confectioners’ sugar

In a large microwave-safe bowl, heat chocolate chips and peanut butter, uncovered, on high for 1 minute; stir. Microwave 30-45 seconds longer or until chips are melted; stir until smooth. Stir in cereal until evenly coated. Pat half into a greased 13 x 9 inch dish. In a microwave safe bowl, heat peanut butter chips and butter, uncovered, on high for 1 minute; stir. Microwave 10-20 more seconds or until chips are melted; stir until smooth. Stir in water, vanilla, and confectioners’ sugar until smooth. Carefully spread over the cereal layer. Carefully press remaining cereal mixture over peanut butter layer. Cover and chill for at least 1 hour. Cut into squares.



Monday, October 6, 2008

Chicken Pasta Salad

Tonight's dinner was nothing to write about -- spaghetti and meat sauce (yummy, but nothing new), so I want to share a recipe for a dish I made this weekend. This is adapted from a recipe I found in a book about salads. I do not remember the title or the author, but the author's nickname was "The Salad Man." I hope that helps if you decide to look for the book. I found it at our library.

Chicken Pasta Salad
4 Tbsp (or more) Italian salad dressing (ff, light, or regular)
2 tomatoes, cut into bite sized pieces
1/2 chopped red onion
1 lb whole wheat pasta (I like rotini because the juices stick in the spaces.)
1 large head of broccoli, cut into florets (save the stems to use in coleslaw or other dishes)
1-2 cups frozen peas (I do not measure with dishes like this.)
2 cups or so shredded, cooked chicken (I bought a rotisserie chicken. I used some for this and froze the rest to use in my white bean chili later this week.)
Baby spinach or your favorite greens
Salt and Pepper to taste

Mix 3 tbsp of the salad dressing with the tomatoes and onion in a shallow dish. Set aside to marinate.
Cook the pasta for the number of minutes suggested on the package, but add the broccoli 3 minutes before the pasta is cooked. One minute later, add the peas. Drain.

Combine the pasta mixture with the tomato mixture. Add the chicken and seasonings. Toss gently. Serve on top of greens and top with remaining salad dressing.

*My family loved this, and there was enough left for leftovers. About the whole wheat pasta, it is all we eat. I hear people say their children will not touch it, but it is all my children know. You may start the transition by doing half whole wheat and half white (what is the right term?). The whole grains are so much healthier, and frankly, I think whole wheat breads and pastas are delicious. Give them a try!

(2 days in a row...Can I keep it up?)


Sunday, October 5, 2008

Here we go again...

I'm terribly embarrassed and disappointed about the lack of posting I've done since starting a blog. But today, I'm starting over. I spent a lot of time this summer working on homeschooling and getting my house and yard in order, and though none of those is in perfect condition, it is time to work on the next items on the list: blogging, finishing my medical transcription course, and WINNING THE BATTLE WITH MY WEIGHT. Oh, I am so tired of losing 3-5 pounds, then eating like a bird for the next several weeks. (Birds can eat half or more of their body weight each day; I think I've done that a few times lately.) It's so frustrating!

But I digress. This is not the time to focus on the negatives or the past. This is the time for looking ahead and getting on the right track. For one thing, I am changing the focus of my blog. One of the reasons I do not write, even when I have a few minutes while Mark is putting the baby to bed and the house is quiet, is that I do not think I have anything intersting to write. But one thing that is always interesting to me is food. I love to look for or create new recipes, and I spend a lot of time each week planning and preparing meals for my family. It gives me much joy. I am trying to learn more and more about healthy eating not only for my wonderful husband and children, but also for myself. I did not grow up eating like the food pyramid says I should (and I was thin for the first 30 or so years!), but I want my children to taste and enjoy a variety of fruits, vegetables, and other good foods.

So, I plan to share recipes we try or that I create. Someday, after I figure it all out (!), I would love to publish a cookbook with menus, recipes, ideas for feeding children of all ages, etc. For now, though, I will focus on feeding my family, reaching my goal weight, keeping up with school work, teaching English at our co-op, keeping the house in order, enjoying the children, spending time with Mark, growing spiritually... Yes, all that... and in my free time, I'll... :-)

My first recipe is one I sort of made up. I have made banana bread for years, and lots of people really seemed to enjoy it. It is full of shortening, white flour, and sugar, though. I wanted to make something tasty but a little more nutritious. We have "fend for yourself" mornings a couple of times a week, so having healthy muffins on hand is really nice and helps me not feel guilty about not cooking a hot meal.

Banana Blueberry Bran Muffins

3 med-lg bananas, mashed and set aside
1 to 1 1/2 cup fresh or frozen blueberries, rinsed and drained
1 1/4 cup skim milk
1 cup bran cereal (Bran Buds or Fiber One, for example)
2 cups whole wheat flour
3/4 cup brown (or white) sugar
1 egg
1/2 - 3/4 cup unsweetened applesauce
1/4 tsp salt
1 Tbsp baking powder

Combine cereal and milk in a large bowl and set aside to soften while preparing other ingredients.
Combine flour, sugar, salt, and baking powder and stir lightly. Add egg, banana, and applesauce to cereal and stir. Pour dry ingredients into wet and stir only until evenly moistened. Add blueberries.
Spoon into muffin cups (about 2/3 full). Bake at 400 for 15-20 minutes until tester (aka, toothpick) comes out clean. (Test often until you see how long they take with your oven and bakeware.)

I used the large muffin cups and this recipe filled 12 cups. It may do 20 or so of the regular cups.

My children loved these. They are not overly sweet, but very yummy. Top with a small pat of butter or your favorite spread, or have them alone with a glass of milk or a cup of coffee. Enjoy!

My time is up. The babies are fussy and snotty, so I have to go help. I WILL BE BACK TOMORROW...OR TUESDAY...OR... and I will discuss my other goals and other recipes.