Five Favorites – Kitchen Tools. Hand-Held. Non-Electric.

I love to cook, and I love me some kitchen gadgets. I have all sorts of cool things to make cooking easier and more fun. This is largely because my husband likes to buy me cool kitchen things for Christmas and birthdays. Check out what he got me for my birthday this year:


A machine for cooking sous vide style!! I used it this week for the first time to cook pork chops, my culinary nemesis. And they were actually pretty good! By far the best pork chop I’ve ever cooked. And by that, I mean they were edible. I have some refining of technique to do, but I am so thrilled with my new toy (I’m going to try poaching eggs in there next!).

Now, as cool as some of my fancy gadgets are, most of them get used only occasionally. The things I use more frequently are usually much more simple. And today I’m putting them together here to tell you what my very favorite, used-almost-every-day, hand-held-and-non-electric kitchen tools are. Top five. Ready?

5. My garlic press

IMG_3856I really hate mincing garlic, and I also hate having noticeable chunks of garlic in my food. The garlic press is my very favorite way of dealing with garlic. I have had many garlic presses over the years. All of them were kind of hard to clean and got rusty or broke after not too long. This garlic press is the best. I’ve had it for many years now and it’s easy to clean and it gets the job done. Fave.

4. My measuring cups and spoons from Pampered Chef.


They have little notches on the handles, so they snap together. They don’t get lost in the drawer, and I don’t have to mess with getting them on and off a ring. Plus the spoons are shaped so that they fit into a lot more spice jars. Measuring spoons here. Cups here.

3. My apple corer/slicer.


My kids really love apples and pears, but they aren’t big enough to eat a whole apple each. I have an aversion to getting out my cutting board unless it’s absolutely necessary. So this corer thing is perfect. I don’t really even know what brand mine is or where I got it. Scratch that. I just googled it and found mine on Amazon. It’s this one. I probably got it from Target. I’d really like to get one like this that cuts the slices more thinly, because I always end up cutting each of my sections in half lengthwise. But the one I have is fine.

2. Paring knives like these.


I have a choking phobia. I cut food up a lot. I love my cheap little paring knives for this purpose. When I use my apple slicer, I grab one of these guys, cut out any remaining core, and then slice the segment down the middle lengthwise.Quick and easy and without getting out my cutting board. These knives are small and versatile and dishwasher safe. The last part might be my favorite. I like not having to hand wash one of my fancy knives every time I need to cut something (which happens about 34 times per day).

1. My all-time favorite – the wooden spoon.


I always cook with a wooden spoon. It doesn’t scratch my non-stick. It won’t melt. And I just love the feel of my wooden spoons. The only downside of them is they aren’t good for serving, because they don’t scoop up much. My mother in law has a handmade wooden ladle that I covet. I think she found it at some roadside market in Appalachia or something. I’ve never seen another one like it, but it’s a dream of mine to someday have my very own wooden ladle.

I’m inking up with Rachael from Efficient Mama for five favorites.


Tell me your favorites in the kitchen!!


A Flexible Meal Plan – Week Eats

I’m linking up with Nell again with my meal plan for the week.


My meal plans always start on Wednesday, so let’s backtrack a bit.


My husband had requested a Spanish dish with seafood in it.


I made scallops in garlic cream sauce with tomato jam from this cookbook. This recipe might be similar. I caramelized some fennel bulb for a side dish.


The older two girls have gymnastics until 5:15 on Thursdays now, so I have to go with a slow cooker recipe most of the time. This week I tried one out of one of the cookbooks I got for Christmas (many of the recipes are also online):

Whole Chicken in the Slow Cooker


It was pretty good, though the breast was dry. I got a bag of organic microwavable green beans to make with it. My girls love them.


We are beginning a new effort in our house of going meat-free on Fridays throughout the year, not just during Lent. Also, our FIAR book this week was Papa Piccolo, set in Venice, so I found a recipe for Venetian Fish Soup.


So, so yummy. Especially with a little pat of butter stirred into the bowl.

As an aside, for lunch on Friday the girls had meatless spaghetti in keeping with the theme of the book,


and, except for Sis, who is going through a very picky phase right now, we all tried sardines. The girls said they liked them!


I had recipes planned out for Saturday and Sunday, but I forgot that my husband is working this weekend, which means Vigil Mass on Saturday, which means we go out for family dinner after. And then we got invited to watch the Packer game tomorrow and have dinner with friends. So I changed around things around mid-plan (am I the only one who frequently does this??) and what I had planned for Sunday will be on Monday.


Fish tacos. This was the dish Lass requested. We’re having a very seafood-heavy week! I bought frozen fish things to throw in the oven, flour tortillas, and some avocados. I have some cabbage leftover from my Beef and Beet Borscht, and I’ll make some yummy sauce with mayo and chile powder and maybe a little lime juice. Done.


Nachos. One of my girls’ favorites, and I’m making dinner for Super Friend and her family too. This is an easy meal to make for your own family and another family at the same time.

Nachos (makes enough for two families of 2 adults and 3-4 smallish kids)

  • 1.5 lbs ground beef
  • 1 lb ground fresh chorizo
  • 1 onion
  • 2 cans black beans, drained and rinsed
  • Guacamole (this is my recipe, and the amount is probably nearly enough to split for two families, maybe add one more avocado and adjust the recipe accordingly to have plenty)
  • 2 bags of corn chips
  • 2 bags of shredded cheddar cheese
  • 2 containers of sour cream
  • 2 small cans of sliced black olives
  • 2 pints of grape tomatoes, halved
  • several scallions, chopped
  • 2 jars of salsa and any other nacho toppings you like

I brown the ground beef with a pound of my husband’s homemade chorizo, then take the meat out, drain off most of the fat, leaving in just a bit for sautéing the onions, which is the next step. While the meat is browning and the onions are cooking, mix up the guacamole. After the onions have softened, put the meat back into the skillet and add the beans. Keep warm while you finish up the guacamole, slice the scallions, and get the rest of the ingredients ready.

If you’re making this to take half to someone else, put half of the meat/bean mixture into a travel container. Pack a bag with half of the rest of the ingredients – 1 bag of chips, 1 bag of cheese, 1 container of sour cream, 1 container each of black olives, tomatoes, and salsa. Chop some scallions and put half in a baggie for your friends. Put half of the guacamole in a bowl to travel. Take it to your friend’s house and you’ll both have dinner ready in a few minutes from that point:

Spread chips on a baking sheet, cover with the meat/bean mixture, and top with cheese. Bake at about 350 until the cheese melts (maybe 5 minutes or so). Top with any or all of the other ingredients. Done.

Note: If I’m making this just for my family, I use just one pound of ground beef or venison and season it as I do for taco night, then mix it with one can of beans, and obviously halve everything else.

What are you eating this week? Be sure to check out the link up at Whole Parenting Family for more meal plan ideas and recipes.


New Year, New Goals (7QT)

Last year I made some goals. I wrote about them in this post. I didn’t do a great job of keeping them.

I was doing pretty well for a while and then got derailed in the summer, mostly on my fitness goals. This year, I will do better.

New year, new goals.

1. Last year I had a goal to start using my camera in manual mode, and I did. I’m getting better and learning a lot just by using this setting. This year my goal is to take better photos, still using manual mode most of the time, but to spend less time behind the camera and more time in the moment. I think that means I need to really work on refining my skills and go beyond the trial and error phase that I was in last year. Trial and error means taking lots and lots of photos to figure out what works, but then I miss out on some of the fun of whatever I’m taking photos of. I need to have a better balance. Now that I’ve been shooting in manual a bit and learning how things work, I think I need to try to get some instruction. I don’t know from where/whom yet, possibly a person, maybe a book, perhaps a website. Something. I will learn.DSC_0145


2. I will get myself back in shape. I have found a great tool to help me with this, My Fitness Pal. The simple act of logging all the things I eat and the exercise I do makes me less likely to eat stuff I’d rather not log, and more likely to exercise so I can log it. Win!

3. I will meal plan!!! I must meal plan. I have so many cookbooks I’ve underutilized for the past year or two. Gorgeous cookbooks with amazing recipes. I failed on my cooking goals for last year because I didn’t plan what I wanted to cook before going to the grocery store. Meal planning will help me to cook new and fun recipes, to keep our food choices healthy, and to keep myself from hating to prepare dinner.

My husband came up with the fun idea for me to take requests from him and the girls each week before I make my plan. This keeps me from having to choose all the recipes myself and prompts me to cook new and different things. At least at least this is the case with my husband’s requests. He requested “something Spanish” last week and “something using Italian sausage” this week. The girls tend to choose things like BLTs and spaghetti.

Meal planning will also help me pick recipes to celebrate feast days or to go along with our school lessons. Tonight we listened to Russian music and I cooked Beef and Beet Borscht, because we’ve been reading “Another Celebrated Dancing Bear,” which is set in Russia.


That may be the prettiest bowl of food I’ve ever prepared ^^

4. I will be more organized, especially with homeschooling. I tend to do last minute prepping or just wing it the day of, which is okay for this year, but I want to get into a better rhythm so I’ll be more prepared for next year when Miss is in first grade. I have tried so many different planners and printables and nothing really lights my fire. I bought a small planner last year and used it for one week. It went in the trash yesterday, with almost nothing written in it. I’ve discovered that printing planner pages and putting them in a binder isn’t the way for me to go. I don’t like using binders for anything other than containing pages for storage.

I have heard rave reviews of the new planner written by fellow homeschooling mom Kelly Mantoan of This Ain’t the Lyceum. The planner is called The Best Laid Plans. I just ordered one, and I really hope it will be the magical fix to my lack of homeschool planning. Kidding. But not kidding that I will be better organized.

5. At least partially as a result of #4, I will make a concerted effort to make school more fun. No yelling and nagging. More field trips. More art lessons. More science experiments. More feast day celebrations. More of the good stuff.

IMG_4229In our book this week the bears made tea in a samovar. So, tea party!

6. I will keep up with housework more. I hate this goal. But I have to make it.


^^ This photo is from a post I wrote in March 2014, but my laundry room looks nearly exactly the same at this very moment, with baskets of clean clothes waiting to be folded and put away. I won’t even mention the rest of my house. Homeschool Home Ec class will be instituted ASAP.

7. In spite of #6, I will blog more. I have gotten out of the groove of writing, due to a number of things: I stopped getting up early for a while there. I was spending a good portion of every day outside with the puppies. I had less time to get stuff done, and I wasn’t making time for blogging.

But now I’m getting back into the habit of waking up early (thanks in large part to #2 above, if I get up early I’m far more likely to exercise, and if I exercise, I can log it!). AND, my husband set up a perimeter system so we can let the dogs out without leashing them. Freedom!

I’m looking forward to writing more again. I’m happier when I do.


I think this year I’ll write out my goals and put them somewhere I can see them often. Last year I forgot half of them by March.

What are your goals for 2015?

Linking up for 7 Quick Takes with Kelly!


Week Eats – Thanksgiving Meal Plan and Paleo-Friendly Meatloaf Recipe

I love to cook, but on an average evening, I loathe the chore of making dinner. This is because I am terrible at meal planning. Far too frequently I spend much of my day with a low-grade anxiety about what in the world I’m going to make for dinner, and then by 4:30 I’m in all-out panic mode, “Aaahh! What am I going to make for dinner?? I need to feed people. Again!! Cooking is so stressful.”

I need to do meal planning. I try to do it, but I don’t usually follow through very well. I typically grocery shop on Wednesday mornings, and I never remember on Tuesday evening that I need to plan a week’s worth of meals and shop for them accordingly. I usually don’t even remember to make a list at all. So I end up with no eggs and 10 bottles of ketchup and four bags of dried dates and no coffee.

Clearly, I need to get my rear in gear on the planning and listing of food stuffs.

Enter Nell, of  the Whole Parenting Family blog (and Etsy shop). Apparently meal planning was not Nell’s strong suit either, so she decided to start a weekly link up of meal plans. She posts hers. We post ours. It forces the meal plans into existence. Ideas/recipes get shared. Win/win. Brilliant, right?

This is my first attempt at joining Nell’s party, and I am far behind on joining the link up this week (it starts every Saturday), but it’s Thanksgiving week, and I am quite excited about our plans for this year, so I’m jumping in, late or not (I’m backtracking to start on Sunday).

I got this magnet dry erase thing at Target a while ago, with meal planning in mind. It has Sunday at the end, which is where I’ll be starting.


Yeah, awesome plan, huh? I know it’s a little, um, lacking in substance (does anyone else love leftovers as much as me??). But it’s better than nothing, so here I go.

Sunday – Paleo Mini-Meatloaves and Asparagus


Generally, dinner around here consists of a meat dish and a vegetable. I almost never include a starch. So Meatloaf/Asparagus is it. This meatloaf recipe is a fast prep one that I got from one of my favorite cookbooks, The Best 30-Minute Recipe. It’s one of my favorite go-to meals, because I almost always have the ingredients on hand. The original calls for cracker crumbs, and I prefer to keep processed carbs to a minimum, so I paleo-ized the recipe for my family. Here’s my revision:

Paleo Mini-Mealoaves (with Ketchup Glaze, of course)


  • 2/3 cup Almond meal
  • 1/4 cup whole milk (if you’re strict about non-dairy, you can use coconut or almond milk here, but the fat in the whole milk makes it better)
  • 2 Tbsp Coconut Aminos (you could also use Worcestershire sauce)
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 Tbsp Dijon mustard
  • 1 tsp Onion powder (optional, you could also use chopped onion if you happen to have some on hand)
  • 1 Garlic clove, minced or pressed (optional, you could also use 1 tsp garlic powder)
  • 1 pound Ground venison (or beef)
  • 1 pound Ground breakfast sausage
  • Salt and Pepper
  • 2 tsp Oil of choice (I use olive or coconut)


  • 1/3 cup Ketchup (make your own if you want strict paleo)
  • 2 Tbsp Coconut sugar
  • 4 tsp cider vinegar

Place your oven rack in the center position and preheat oven to 500 degrees.

Mix thoroughly all meatloaf ingredients except the oil. Form the meat mixture into five mini loaves. Heat oil in a large non-stick, oven-safe skillet over medium-high heat. Let it get nice and hot before you put the meatloaves in it. Place all the meatloaves in the pan and let them get brown on one side, about three to five minutes.

While the loaves are browning, mix together the glaze ingredients. Flip the meatloaves over carefully. Spoon the glaze over the browned sides, and then put the whole thing in the oven. Bake at 500 degrees until the loaves register 165 on an instant-read thermometer (about 15-20 minutes). Serve.

For the asparagus, I just snapped off the woody ends and put the tops on a baking sheet. I drizzled a little bit of olive oil and sprinkled a bit of salt on them, mixed it all together, and put it in the oven. Since the meatloaves need 500 degrees, and that’s a bit too hot for the asparagus, I put the asparagus in first at 400 degrees for 15 minutes or so, while I was prepping the meatloaf. Then I turned up the oven for the last few minutes before taking the asparagus out and putting the meatloaves in. This is my typical technique for cooking most veggies: oil, salt, roast. Easy.

Monday – Jambalaya

I use the recipe in The New Best Recipe. It’s the mother of all cookbooks.


I can’t put in a link to the recipe I use, but here’s one that looks pretty good. The recipe I linked says to chop the celery, onions, peppers, and garlic. It’s easier to just put big chunks of these into the food processor and pulse them six or seven times to get them nicely chopped but not pureed. Also, I think it’s better to cook the meat (chicken, then sausage) in the hot oil until it’s mostly done (then take it out so it doesn’t get over cooked), then cook the veggies until they’re softened, then put in the rice and stir it to get it coated with the fat in the pan, then add in all the liquids and seasonings and cook until the rice is done, adding the chicken and sausage back in and then the shrimp right at the end so it gets cooked just enough. Just my two cents.

Tuesday – Leftovers!

I love leftovers. Tonight we’re having leftover meatloaf and jambalaya. I might throw some baby carrots into the oven to roast because the asparagus is gone.

Wednesday – Date Night 

My husband and I have a meeting with our priest tomorrow night, so I have a sitter and we’re going to go out for dinner afterwards. I usually have a few things on hand to make for the girls on nights like these: Annie’s mac-n-cheese, frozen mini-meatballs, chicken tenders, peas, etc.

Thursday – Thanksgiving!

I don’t like turkey, and we never ate it for Thanksgiving when I was growing up. My husband doesn’t like turkey. So we don’t ever make it in our home on Thanksgiving either. Last year my husband cooked one of the hams from our pig in his smoker. But this year it hasn’t quite had enough time to cure, so we’re going with prime rib. Here’s our menu:

  • Roast Prime Rib of Beef with Horseradish Crust – Recipe here
  • Savory Bread Pudding with Caramelized Onions and Gruyere – Recipe in this cookbook 


  • Celery Root Mashed Potatoes
  • Mashed Acorn Squash with Butter and Brown Sugar
  • Biscuits (from a can, thank you Pillsbury)
  • Green Salad
  • Pumpkin Pie – Recipe here
  • Pecan Pie – This one is pre-made this year, from a fundraiser at Miss’s school.
  • Cranberry Bread (because we are reading this book from FIAR, and the bread features prominently in the story, which comes with the recipe)

We are having the Super Family over for Thanksgiving dinner, and I can’t wait!

Friday – Leftovers again. Of course.

It is a criminal offense to eat anything other than leftovers on the day after Thanksgiving if you spent all day cooking on Thanksgiving Day.

Saturday – I don’t know yet. Either more leftovers or BLTs or something easy.

I have to go get my kids up from naps and run to the grocery store to pick up all the ingredients I need for our feast. Go check out Nell’s blog for more meal plans and recipes!

7 Quick Takes About Miraculous Twins, Being a Crazy Stalker, and Other Stuff

Linking up with Conversion Diary, and actually making it on Friday this week.

1. Last weekend was Miss’s first piano recital. DSC_0115 Doesn’t she look so tiny?? Her song was about ten seconds long, and I was nearly in tears when she was done, it was so cute. DSC_0117 She went up in front of the audience like she owned the place. DSC_0118-2 She was thrilled to play in front of a crowd. I had no idea she could be so cool under pressure.

2. Last weekend we also potty trained Sis. DSC_0112 I like to use this 3-Day Potty Training method, which is horrid for three days and then awesome forever (except for a few days after I did the program with Miss, which were far, far from awesome).

It’s very strange to no longer be changing diapers! DSC_0132-2 3. Lass had her first haircut on Wednesday. Just as it was with Miss, her first cut came at 3.5 years old. She was so excited. IMG_3097 And I am so mad at myself because I forgot to save a snip of it. IMG_3099 All that beautiful hair, and I didn’t save any of it. I just want to cry every time I think about it. But she loves her haircut and has no idea that I messed up. Hopefully she won’t hate me when she’s 15 and realizes I saved hair from her sisters’ first haircuts but forgot hers. Or rather, hopefully she won’t hate me for that.

4. When we first got to the salon and the girls were climbing in the chairs to get started (Miss got her second haircut at the same time, so you can see they’ll be going for haircuts about as often as I do), I had an interesting exchange with the woman cutting Lass’s hair:

Her – “How old are they?”

Me – pointing at Lass, “She’s three,” and pointing at Miss, “and she’s five.”

Her – eyes bugging out, “Are they twins?

Me – blinking. . . “Uh. Nooo?”

Her – “Woooowwww.”

I get asked all the time if they’re twins. But never quite like that.

An “After” photo of my not-twins: IMG_3101 IMG_3102 5. It’s not uncommon for me to run into Super Friend when I’m out and about on any given day. We live in a not-huge town and we go to all the same places. The grocery store. The Catholic store. Target. We always laugh when we see each other as if it’s soooo craaaaazy that we’re running into each other again.

It was much the same thing on Tuesday when I pulled into the Target parking lot and saw her car there. I texted her real quick “Are you at Target???” She replied something like, “Yes! At Starbucks” (I’d like to take a moment to interject how amazing it is that there is a Starbucks in our Target store. Marketing genius, is what that is).

So I hopped out of my car and chuckled to myself all the way into the store, where I walked in to see her standing right near the entrance (since that’s where the Starbucks is). I laughed and said, “I swear, I’m not following you!” in cheesy reference to the fact that I had just seen her at the grocery store the day before.

Unfortunately I wasn’t paying attention to my surroundings when I said this and was oblivious to the fact that my crazy-stalker-lady comment scared the crap out of the woman walking right in front of me. She jumped and looked quickly over her shoulder with an expression of terror, made worse by the fact that Super Friend and I were cracking up laughing at my stupidity. So then I said, “Oh, I’m not following you either!” as the woman rushed into the store to get far, far away from me. I hope she got a laugh out of it once the initial horror was gone. Maybe?

6. I recently bought the book “Feast! Real Food, Reflections, and Simple Living for the Christian Year”  by Haley and Daniel Stewart to help me in my attempts at teaching my girls about the liturgical year and celebrating it as a family. It’s a wonderful book, and is full of delicious-looking (haven’t had a chance to make any of them yet) recipes for Advent, Christmas, Lent, and Easter seasons, as well as for many saints’  feast days.

So with the book you can read about a saint and make a meal that somehow represents that saint’s story (mostly by being a dish from the place where the saint lived, I think, though I haven’t looked through the whole book yet) on the saint’s feast day. History, religion, geography, and dinner, all in one! The book has lots of saints in it that I have never heard of, and recipes for foods I’ve never tried, so I can’t wait to make some of the dishes.

7. “Feast!” does not have a recipe for commemorating St. Rita’s feast day, which was yesterday. You may remember that St. Rita is the patroness of impossible cases, and I chose hers as my confirmation name.

So I took inspiration from the book and found my own recipe to celebrate her day. St. Rita is from Cascia, Italy, and I found a recipe for “Lentils with Sausages in the Style of Cascia” in this cookbook.

I cooked lentils once, a looong time ago, and they were awful. I didn’t get the texture right, and they had no flavor. At that time I told my husband that I would never, ever cook lentils again, but I couldn’t find any other traditional Cascian dishes, so I went for it anyway. Never say never, right? He actually remembered me saying that, and mentioned it to me yesterday.

Thankfully, this time the lentils were much better. DSC_0140 These actually had very good flavor, and I think the texture was how lentils are supposed to be. I realized that I just don’t much like lentils, because their texture isn’t appealing to me. But this dish was pretty good. As my husband said, “Edible lentils! That’s an improvement.”

Also to celebrate St. Rita’s day the girls watched this video, we colored a picture of her, we looked up Italy on our world map, and we made a bee craft, since my girls were especially interested in the part of St. Rita’s story involving the bees. It was a great way to celebrate a special feast day, though maybe next year I’ll search harder for different recipe from Cascia, sans lentils.

Have a wonderful Memorial Day weekend, and for more quick takes, check out Conversion Diary.

Seven Quick Takes New Year’s Edition

Linking up with Conversion Diary.

2013 was an interesting year here. We had some rough experiences. We had lots of changes, some good, some bad, some amazing. I think I will remember 2013 as a year of change and challenge.

I’m eagerly looking forward to 2014. I don’t make New Year’s resolutions as such, but I do like to think about the past year and the upcoming year. The good, the bad, what I want to modify, what I want to accomplish. I like to look forward to the new year and make goals. Here are a few of mine for 2014 (well, seven to be exact):

1. I haven’t completed any sort of race or other fitness event since running the Disney World Marathon six years ago. I am not sure which event I will do yet, but I will be training and getting back out there for some sort of race/event in 2014 (one thing I am sure of, it will not be a full marathon).


2. Currently, I can do two unassisted pull-ups (unassisted meaning without a resistance band), and eight straight-body (not on my knees) pushups, and I can back squat 135 pounds. By the end of the year my goal is to be able to do ten pull-ups, twenty pushups, and to back squat 185 pounds.


3. I read somewhere around 43 books in 2013. I really don’t need to make a goal to read more. Actually, I probably should make goals to read less and get more other things done in my free time. But that’s not going to happen.

With that in mind, here are some books on my “To-Read” list for 2014:

Catholicism for Dummies – I’m almost halfway through this one.

Divergent – I have a secret love of teen dystopian novels (Hunger Games, anyone?).

10 Gifts of Wisdom: What Every Child Must Know Before They Leave Home

Wool – My husband finished this audiobook recently. It sounds interesting, and when possible, I like reading the same things my husband has read/listened to so we can discuss. We’ve been talking about Screwtape Letters a lot recently, and I really enjoy our conversations (not that I expect this book to be on par with Screwtape, but maybe still fun to talk about)

The Sun Also Rises – This was on my Summer Reading List and I forgot about it. I’ll get to it this year.

Something Other Than God: How I Passionately Sought Happiness and Accidentally Found It – You know how much I enjoy Jennifer Fulwiler’s blog. I’m giddy about her upcoming book.

Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child

He Leadeth Me – Another one from the summer list that I forgot to read.

Things Pondered – I just saw a link to a ton of free Kindle books by this author. This one in particular is interesting to me, but I nabbed all of the free ones and hope to read them all this year.

That’s just a start. I also intend to start reading my Bible more this year now that I’m almost finished with 150 Bible Verses Every Catholic Should Know.

4. I will work on experimenting and using different settings of my camera. I almost always shoot in the “P” mode of my camera, which controls everything but the flash for me. I need to start learning how to shoot in the “A,” “S,” and “M” modes.

DSC_0560 DSC_0568

At least once a week I’ll be experimenting with different camera settings, lighting, etc. I have tried reading books. I’ve tried taking a class. I need to just do different things with my camera if I really want to learn.

DSC_0558 DSC_0566 DSC_0537

5. I need to pick a Kindergarten curriculum (!!) I also really need to work on being more organized in my homeschool planning and scheduling. I haven’t yet found a system that I’m comfortable with. Suggestions would be welcome.

6. I’m instituting a Family Game Night. We had our first one tonight. I saw the game Cootie on Amazon the other day and remembered how much I loved playing it as a kid. I ordered it.


What was I thinking? It is not fun. But we have lots of other games too, and I think Super Friend has a bajilllion games for her kids, so I’ll ask her for some recommendations as well.

Unfortunately, I suspect my kids will be choosing Cootie as our game for a while.

DSC_0586 DSC_0584 DSC_0583 DSC_0580

7. I will be getting back into some cooking adventures. My husband and I used to have fun doing a little version of the Food Network show “Chopped” at home (I even have a whole category in the “Topics” drop-down dedicated to this). Then last year he got me some great books and I started some other fun cooking projects.

I cooked lots of egg recipes one week.


^^Homemade mayo


^^ Shirred eggs (yeah, I didn’t know what that was either) with cream and parmesan-reggiano


^^ Souffle !!

Another week I did Spanish dishes.


I like doing things to make food prep fun, but I’ve gotten away from doing this for a while and have been in a cooking rut (mini meatloaves, lettuce wrap tacos, chicken with mustard/maple sauce, repeat).

So. Back to fun stuff. My husband got me some gorgeous cookbooks for Christmas. Italian and French. I’m going to get closer to my roots and go Italian first. Then I think I’m going to go in depth with onions. Then French. Then, who knows? Sunday I’ll be making gnocchi in tomato butter sauce from scratch. Yum.

I love the feeling of beginning a new year. Reflecting and anticipating. 2014 is gonna to be good.

What are your goals for 2014?

See more quick takes here. Happy New Year!

Easter. A Birthday. I. Am. Blessed.

We had a fun-filled Easter.

We woke up to yarn trails leading to Easter baskets and an egg hunt.

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We tried a new recipe for Easter breakfast. I had seen “Resurrection Rolls” mentioned on other blogs and probably on Pinterest too. I didn’t really consider making them until a good friend suggested it, mentioning that it is a fun way for kids to get a visual/hands on learning experience of the whole Jesus-in-the-tomb-and-then-not-in-the-tomb/Resurrection thing. Though we read several books about it, I’m still not very good at explaining this stuff to my kids (this is all very new, here), so I decided to give it a try (and make our traditional Easter breakfast of creamed eggs for lunch or dinner).

The girls had a lot of fun rolling the marshmallow “Jesuses” in the butter and cinnamon sugar and wrapping them up in the crescent roll “tombs.”

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Seriously, they were delicious (recipe here).


The girls got a huge kick out of breaking open the rolls looking for Jesus and finding them empty. Lass kept saying, “But Jesus isn’t in here!” each time she took a bite.

Thanks for the tip, C.


We got all dressed up in our Easter finery and went to church. We even got there 30 minutes early so we could get a seat. It was packed.

When we got home I insisted on a few photos of the girls in their Easter dresses before everyone changed and had lunch.

How many photos does it take to get a good one when a four-year-old decides she will. not. smile.?

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Not too many once we start telling her not to smile (but still several more than what you see here!).

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It was a little easier to get a decent one of just the girls, since we didn’t have to coax smiles and just had to try to get them  all to be at least sort of facing in the direction of the camera. They were looking at me instead of at my husband with the camera, but I still love this photo.


After lunch and naps (I even had a wonderful, long nap myself), we watched some basketball (yay Michigan wins, boo Duke loses; I know, I went to U of L!) and I made creamed eggs.

Creamed eggs is the traditional Christmas and Easter morning breakfast from my childhood. I enjoyed having the Resurrection Rolls for breakfast this morning, but could not have Easter without creamed eggs, so we had them for dinner.


I’m even going to share our secret family recipe with you (now that I’m finally able to make it myself without calling my Mom to ask how).

Creamed eggs:

You need butter, flour, milk, hard boiled eggs, and salt and pepper (and bread for toast).

Melt a stick of butter over low – medium low heat. Add about 1/2 cup of flour (give or take), stirring it in gradually until you have a nice, paste-like roux. Then add milk a little at a time, stirring it until all lumps are gone with each pour, until you have a good creamy consistency for your base. Cut about 6 hard-boiled eggs into small chunks and add to base. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve over toast.


It doesn’t look that awesome, but it is so, so yummy. And it’s a good way to use up Easter eggs.

Miss and Lass weren’t all that into it tonight (though they loved it on Christmas), but I think that’s because they filled up on Easter candy at snack time. Sis went to town eating it up.


And finally, to top off a wonderful Easter, we had another birthday party.


Yep, I turned 37 today.


It was a really wonderful birthday with my favorite people. My little family of 5.


My big girls helped me to blow out my candles, open my cards, and open my birthday gift.


At bedtime, when I was chatting with my older girls I told them “thank you” for helping me to have a wonderful, happy birthday. Miss said, “Are you happy because you got a present?” I said, “I love my present. But the very best part of today was being with you girls and your Daddy. You are the best present I could ever have.” She smiled her big four-year-old smile at me and said, “Yeah, we are.”

Rudolph on Repeat

The holiday spirit is in full swing around here. Last night Daddy (aka Santa) helped me wrap the rest of the presents and get them under the tree. The girls inspected them closely this morning and eagerly asked about each one. They are excited about Santa coming tomorrow night.

Today was a day for playing Christmas music and making treats in the kitchen. “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” was on repeat, at Lass’s request, and we made cookies for Santa.

As Rudolph played in the background (for quite a while Lass was insistent we listen to nothing but that, but after a while I snuck in some Charlie Brown Christmas and we were all able to move on), the girls got warmed up with the rolling pin.

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They had fun spreading out the flour and then got down to business.

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After a few rounds they really got into trying to pound the dough flat before rolling it.

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Santa is going to be very pleased. Especially since Miss says we need to leave chocolate milk for him to have with his cookies.


And speaking of Santa being pleased, he was very happy, as were we all, with the fresh (and huge) ham he cooked for our dinner tonight. He cooked the other ham from our hog at my parent’s house last week and was a bit disappointed by how it turned out. The flavor was wonderful, but the meat was dry.

Today he nailed it.

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The house was filled with mouth-watering smells all day and the finished product did not disappoint.

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We’ll be eating ham for Christmas dinner, and I have plans to use the bone to make a yummy ham and vegetable soup later in the week. I’m happy that we won’t need to be in the kitchen all day to make dinner on Christmas. I’ll cook some Brussels sprouts with bacon and sauté some fennel bulb and the meal will be complete.

We can spend Christmas day as it should be spent. Snuggling and laughing and playing sister games (though I will spend a little bit of time in the kitchen in the morning, after opening presents, cooking our traditional Christmas morning breakfast of creamed eggs).

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We’ll probably play Rudolph a few more times too.

Merry Christmas.



A Blizzard Named Draco and Other Random Stuff

I’ve been spending lots of nap and bedtime breaks this week addressing Christmas cards and wrapping presents, so I’m trying to catch up with a big post full of a bunch of random happenings from the week.

As I type this post, a big winter storm is raging outside my window. Snow is flying sideways. Wind is howling. My power keeps flickering out. It’s a blizzard called “Winter Storm Draco.” We woke this morning to a winter wonderland. The girls are thrilled, as this is the first big snow of the year.



I love that they are naming winter storms now. I think it gives some street cred to the hassles, and sometimes perils, of living in the north country. We’ve had snow falling for about 16 hours, but Draco is just starting to pick up steam now, so we’ll see how it turns out. Hopefully we don’t lose power before I get this post done…

Meanwhile, we’re just staying in and trying to keep busy. We’re preparing for Christmas (I still have a ton of wrapping to do before the weekend) and reading lots of Christmas books. “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” “Mr. Willowby’s Christmas Tree,” and “Christmas in the Big Woods” are the Christmas favorites right now. Other popular reads this week have been “The Snowy Day,” “The Gruffalo,” and “Interrupting Chicken.”

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The girls are finding cozy spots to hang out, to hide from monsters, and to play peek-a-boo.

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We got a fun and thoughtful gift from a friend of my Mom’s last week. She came across this Cinderella’s Castle gingerbread house kit, thought of my girls, and got it for them! What a sweet thing to do.

The girls were so eager to get it out and start working on it. I struggled with putting the frame of the house together on Monday and then had to put it away for a while to let it dry (and let myself recover from the frustration of getting it to stay up). We finally finished it today, and they had a blast!

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They were so proud of the finished product.


They’re already begging me to take it apart and eat it. Thanks Mrs. P!



I drew my last Chopped ingredients a few weeks ago. They were Crab, Pineapple, and Black Licorice. Holy crazy combination.

I decided to make Crab Tacos with a corn, roasted red pepper, and pineapple relish and some black licorice and lime mayo.

I roasted some peppers and then chopped them up and put them in a pan with some corn and chopped up pineapple. I seasoned this with salt, cumin, and a little bit of chili powder and threw in some minced cilantro when the cooking was done.

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I cooked the crab with minced garlic and chopped onion that had been sautéed in butter. I used cumin, salt and pepper for seasoning.


The ingredient that I had the hardest time with during the cooking was the licorice. I wanted to melt it to add it into some lime mayo, but couldn’t figure out how to get it to melt. I tried just putting it in a pan over medium heat, but it started to burn.


I got some new licorice pieces, added some water, and put it over low heat to avoid burning. The licorice was melting very slowly and the water just kept evaporating. After a long time messing with this, I ended up getting enough licorice-y liquid to add to the mayo and the licorice was soft enough that when I strained the liquid, I could mash little pieces of licorice through the strainer to get more of the flavor in the mayo.


Sound gross?

I know, my Chopped experiments probably always sound kind of gross.

This one turned out pretty well though.

The girls helped me with the cooking and learned about always tasting your food before serving it.


We decided it needed more salt



The finished product was good. Though the licorice was the trickiest ingredient during the cooking, the thing that caused the biggest problem in the taste of the finished dish was the pineapple. I used a little too much and didn’t chop it finely enough, so it was pretty overpowering. The licorice got lost under the lime in the mayo, so it wasn’t easily detected in the dish.


Weird as it sounds, and in spite of the problems, it really was quite good. I might even make this one again (with less pineapple).

Haven’t picked my next ingredients yet.

The week has been packed with Christmas readying and savoring. Last night I took the girls for a drive through a local park to see the Christmas lights. They called out through the whole drive, “Look Mama! More! Look, I see more!” over and over.

We got out to see the live reindeer they had on display. Lass would go anywhere near them, but Miss was pretty excited.


She really wanted to see Santa, but he’s only at this display on Friday and Saturday nights. I’m going to try to brave the mall to see him tomorrow if the roads aren’t too bad.

We’re embracing winter and the holidays this week. My girls are begging me to go out and play in the snow. They’re pretty persistent, but I have insisted that we wait until the blizzard stops, party pooper that I am. They are eager to make a snowman (Miss says it will be a Snow Queen, complete with a crown) and snow angels, and get into all sorts of other snowy fun. Wish me luck with this in our two feet of snow!



In the Kitchen

The other night the girls helped me make pizza for dinner (our letter this week is “P”).

I love having them in the kitchen with me.

Today they helped me bake for Thanksgiving.

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Squares and Pecan Pie (I’m really milking the “P” thing).

I don’t think there is any better way to help them use all their senses in learning and have a feeling of competence. They love measuring and stirring and mixing. Cracking eggs is a special favorite too. We make sure to smell all of the ingredients and taste what we can as we go along (we had to make sure the chocolate chips we used today were “good”).

Look at these faces. I love this. Love.

Unfortunately I’m not really a “this-is-going-to-be-super-messy-but-it’s-great-for-them-to-learn-so-who-cares” kind of gal when it comes to my kitchen. Messes in my kitchen make me anxious. I typically try to clean up as much as I can while I’m cooking. I don’t like dishes in my sink (thank goodness for a husband who does the dinner dishes while I put kids to bed). I don’t like stuff spilled on my counters and floors.

I’m a little uptight about my kitchen.

But. I do think it’s important to let them help with cooking and baking. I know they love it, and I do enjoy being in the kitchen with them.

I just have to give myself a pep talk beforehand is all.

“Deep breath. It will be messy. They will spill things. It will clean up. It’s no big deal. Now get out there and have fun making a mess with your kids!”

And I do.

Yes, I clean things up as we go along. I keep wet wipes nearby to wipe hands immediately after they crush eggs all over them. Sometimes I get a little antsy. Sometimes I have to step back and take a deep breath. But I have fun. And so do they. Even Baby Sis comes into the kitchen to watch her big sisters.

We had a successful morning today.

Here are the Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Squares. It’s a Martha Stewart recipe. Delish. And, I got the tip from her site to put the foil in the pan before spreading the batter in it. Brilliant! After the squares baked and cooled I just turned them out onto a cutting board to slice them. I didn’t even have to wash the baking dish!

I’m especially proud of this pecan pie. This is only the second time ever that I’ve made a pie from scratch (Except for the crust. I don’t do crust. They have perfectly good crust for sale at the store. Who wants to make crust?)

I can’t wait to eat some of this tomorrow.

I have really wonderful memories of making holiday treats with my mom every year (with Johnny Mathis Christmas music playing in the background, of course). I also have fun memories of baking cookies with my cousin and getting into a flour throwing battle or smearing batter on each other (we were much older than my kids of course).

Time in the kitchen is essential for littles. I want them to have many, many memories of fun in the kitchen with me and with their Dad.

Tonight we are leaving for the Farm again to spend the holiday with family.

Happy Thanksgiving!