Wednesday, August 27, 2014

"Muffins For Dinner?! YAY!"

I have so much to share about the goings' on of the last three weeks - but until I gather the pictures and the words to share the new stuff, here's a great idea for a yummy Summer dinner I made for The Gang.

Fair warning, I tweaked this from another recipe so it's not entirely original to me. I had four big zucchinis in the fridge that were graciously shared with me and one of them needed to be used immediately. So I washed it down, cut off the mushy ends, and slice it length-wise into four "spears." Then I de-seeded it and ran each spear through the food processor using the grating blade. A 14" long zucchini yielded about 3 1/2 cups of shredded zucchini.

Ham and Cheese Crust-less Zucchini Quiche

1 large, chopped onion
1/4 c. butter
2 cloves garlic, pressed
4-1/2 c. baking mix (Bisquick)
2 tsp. dried parsley
1 tsp. dried basil
1/2 tsp. dried thyme
6 eggs
1/2 c. milk
3 c. shredded zucchini
1-2 c. chopped ham, to preference
3/4 c. sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
1/2 c. parmesan, shredded (optional)

In large skillet, saute the onion and garlic in butter till soft and slightly golden. Add shredded zuke and continue to saute on lowered heat till the zuke has softened and is starting to release its juices. Set aside to cool slightly.

In large bowl, combine parsley, baking mix, parsley, basil, and thyme. Beat together the eggs and the milk and pour over dry ingredients. Lightly mix till just moistened. Add the zuke, ham, and cheese and finish mixing gently till all of it is incorporated. Don't over mix!

Pour into 2 generously sprayed deep dish pie plates, or 2 9x13's, or a deep 11x14. Bake at 400 for about 18-22 minutes until they are golden brown and have raised gently. They will be moist and dense inside but a knife inserted in the center should come out clean to be sure they are done.

This time around, I poured it all into 22 sprayed muffin cups. (Yes, I was just shy of the full 2 dozen but I liked that they were nice and high and full when they were done. It's a trade-off, I guess!) I used my Pampered Chef muffin stones and they turned out moist and lightly golden all around. Li'l Empress thought I was kidding when I told her we were having muffins for dinner and Mei Mei shocked me into tomorrow by downing 1 1/2 of them. She - of the great veggie boycott! We let them dip the bites into their choice of mustard and served it all with a side of salad and broccoli.

It's another healthy way to get some good veggies into your kids and they really are delicious.  I've got two really big ones zucchinis left and I'm getting a hankering for my other Summer Favorite. Anyone else have a good zucchini recipe - other than zucchini bread! - that they want to share? Share some of your favorites in the comments!

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Field Trip to the Frontier

Last week, we took a few days to drive to the Shenandoah River Valley to see The Boss's parents. The Boss and Baby BlueEyes were planning to help Grandpa clear some brush and cut some trees into firewood. The girls and I had big plans to read, watch movies and do our nails.

However, knowing that those three sedentary activities would NEVER occupy Mei Mei long enough to actually be relaxing for anyone, I reached out to one of my adoption groups to see if any of my on-line friends would be interested in a meet-up. It took a little back and forth but finally, my friend and I settled on the Frontier Culture Museum of VA.  I'm not being paid to say this, but GUYS! If you are ever in the vicinity of Staunton VA (just south of Harrisonburg), get yourselves there for a day. It will take a full day and you should wear good walking shoes and bring a good amount of water. But it is SO worth the admission fee and the effort. What a BEAUTIFULLY maintained and managed piece of living history this place was.

The museum traces the history of the three or four main people groups that left their Old World to make a life in the Americas. Beginning in the 1600's with the enslavement of West Africans and moving through the English, the Irish, and the Germans, each exhibit is a real, working depiction of that slice of history. MANY of the structures across of the huge "campus" (for lack of a better word) are original to the region that they depict, having been disassembled and shipped to the site. There were interpretive historians on site to weave stories and give us a glimpse of daily life at each major exhibit (except the West African site. That kid was a little bit of a dud. :) ). There were animals roaming in the pastures and ducks and geese in the paths squawking for our attention (which BBE happily gave. In spades! Oh my word.) We were all completely captivated.

Here's just a few pictures of our great day. Sadly, I didn't get any pictures of the West African exhibit. It was super dark in the huts. Plus the younger kids were a little unsure of themselves in the new setting with new people. Plus plus, my new friend and I were talking our faces off getting to know each other while the kids explored. Most of the photo credits go to LadyBug.

The 1600's English farmhouse was the second exhibit on the walking path.
The dining room, work room and family room all in this one space.

This beautiful side board is an original piece.
From the 1600's!
Yes, I was drooling. It was full of lovely earthenware dishes
and cookware. More drool.

The kitchen was quite small and off the main living space, behind the stairs.
It was quite drab compared to the adjoining rooms.

The front of the 1700's Northern Irish farmhouse.
It's an original home structure, from Ulster.
The side building attached there on the right is the Weaving Room.
Each family had to produce a regular quota of cloth to pay their rent to the English landlords. 

This sheep was fantastically large.
And sat in the shade of the pasture like a dog.

Here's my gang with our super-fun travel mates!

The 1700's German farmhouse had many pieces of lovely furniture
with hand painted finishes. Quite familiar to this PA history buff :)
 This trunk was huge and very intricately painted with
a faux wood grain finish, very typical of that era.

This is the 1820's farm that is mostly still the original structure.
It's typical of the farms in the post-Revolutionary era in this
part of Virginia and surrounding colonies.

Just a few of the HUUUUGE sunflowers
in the garden of the first farm house.
The gardens of this log cabin were fantastic!

This is a farm typical of Virginia in the 1850's .
It was a massive home, with several outbuildings
and barns to support the family. 

The two little peanuts that are responsible for
this field trip so the Mommas could take the friendship
from on-line support to real-life relationship.
I love what the adoption community has added to our lives!

A great day was had by all and we came away with a lot of great memories and some wonderful insight into the rich history of Virginia spanning several hundred years. Really, if you are in the vicinity, you MUST go! And take lots of pictures. I'll bet it is simply breathtaking in the fall with all the colors changing.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Recipe for Comfort

Last week turkey kielbasa was on a GREAT sale at my local grocery store. So I threw some cabbage in my cart and let my mouth water over the plans to make one of my all-time favorite comfort foods: Polish Haluski (pronounced ha-loosh-kee). When I was growing up in North-East PA, this dish was on every single buffet line of all our church dinners and special events. There's a large Polish community in that part of Pennsylvania and lots of yummy recipes have made their way into this Irish-Italian cook's kitchen!

Traditional Haluski doesn't have kielbasa in it (or really any meat for that matter) but I love me a one-dish meal so I take liberties. It's been unseasonably cool here in our neck of the woods, and this dish was just perfect for Saturday's family dinner.

Here's the link to the recipe I used as a reference (Haluski - Cabbage and Noodles), but really, it's a "cook by touch" meal for me. The recipe was just a refresher as it had been so long since I'd made a huge batch like I did on Saturday.

First, boil and drain a 16 oz. bag of extra-wide egg noodles. Toss them with a light sprinkling of olive oil to keep them from sticking. Pour the noodles into a deep casserole dish that has been generously sprayed to prevent sticking.

Thinly slice all the kielbasa (or even smoked sausage) that you are using for your meal and brown it up gently in a lightly sprayed, deep skillet. If you are using light kielbasa or turkey kielbasa, it's wise to add a bit of olive oil to the pan to prevent sticking or scorching. It also helps to generate some drippings and thus some depth of flavor. You can also use a touch of chicken broth if you prefer. When the meat is nicely browned and the bottom of the pan is darkened up, pour the slices and the drippings over the noodles and let them sit together for a while longer.

Then, add equal amounts of olive oil and butter back into to your deep skillet. Saute an onion that has been roughly chopped until the pieces are soft and translucent. Add several cloves of freshly pressed garlic. I tend to have a heavy hand with the garlic for this meal, but you do what tastes right for you. Generously salt and pepper the mixture as the garlic softens. While you are cooking the onions, be sure to get up all the dark bits of flavor that are clinging to the bottom of the pan from cooking the meat.

Add a head of cabbage that has been roughly chopped. My sister-in-law recently used bags of pre-shredded coleslaw mix and I think that is just BRILLIANT! A time-saver for sure if you don't mind the slight addition of expense.

Once all the cabbage is softened and beginning to turn a lovely golden color, it's time to put it all together. Pour the cabbage and onion mixture over the noodles and kielbasa. Be sure to get all the good flavor that is sticking to the pan, even if you have to go back to the stove and add a touch of new butter or olive oil to the empty pan to deglaze it a bit. That flavor and the added moisture is crucial to a great haluski!

Mix the whole kit and kaboodle together very well. If you are prepping it right at dinner time, then you can go ahead and serve it as soon as you mix it all up if you wish. Or, sprinkle it generously with black pepper and cover the whole casserole tightly. I sprayed the inside of my foil to prevent sticking. Bake the casserole for 30 minutes at 325, so that the flavors can all blend and absorb into the noodles.

I particularly like to make this meal early and utilize the "delay start" feature on my oven. The flavors and ingredients get to hang out all day together since nothing in it will spoil if left in the waiting oven. I set it and then forget it till dinner time!

I typically serve this meal with a big green salad and some hearty bread. Though, certainly the bread is not necessary with all those noodles.

One of the reasons I love this dish so much is that it is really easy to prepare and is made from very simple ingredients but it packs a major delish-factor-punch for everyone. Another reason, if I chop the cabbage small enough and take extra time to pull out the "ribs" of the outer leaves of the cabbage that tend to taste too strong for my littles, is that they are also getting some awesome nutrients that they don't normally choose on their own to take in. See, they all THINK they don't like cabbage. But this meal goes a long way toward proving their little theory wrong. {grin}

An added bonus to this particular Saturday night dinner is that my son's sweet girlfriend looooves ethnic dishes like this one. She's Latvian and grew up eating haluski and she really enjoyed sharing this dish with our family.

So tell me, what ethnic dishes or comfort food dishes are you looking forward to the most, as the summer winds down and your style of cooking changes with the weather? Leave me a comment or even a link and I'll come by to say hi!

Monday, July 28, 2014

Different is Good, Right?

I mentioned last week that this summer both LadyBug and The Boss have some extra time on their hands. Unfortunately, The Boss's recent "extra time" is the sort that none of us ever really want to embrace. Due to a departmental re-organization, he has been on "summer vacation" with the kids and I since early June. It's been quite a strange summer. Most weeks feel like an endless string of Saturdays around here, as The Boss's presence at home during a week day tend to "take us all down a notch or two" as far as routine is concerned. There are definite plus's to that environment for The Gang, especially on the heels of the very difficult and high tension winter we all just survived. I'm trying to stay focused on the plus's but I have to admit, it's not easy most days.

Ironically, the Thursday before he was released from his position, we were sitting on the couch, catching our breath at the end of a fairly "routine" day. I said something to the effect of, "Gosh, I feel like we are really settling into a good new groove. Like our new normal is here and is do-able. It's kinda nice, isn't it?"

I'm not superstitious or anything even close but golly, you can bet I'm never uttering words like THAT again around here. Sheesh.

Anyway, as I was saying, there are some "upsides" to having Daddy home for the summer. We got the gift of extraordinary quality time together as a family before we sent our boy off to Basic Training. There's never going to be another opportunity to have all 8 of us home quite like this again, now that both boys are launching off into the next stage of their grown-up lives.

~ Father's Day, June 2014 ~

~ Time to leave for Basic Training ~

Letting go of Dr. D was is really hard on both The Boss and I. But knowing that he was moving on to do something he has always dreamed of doing and seeing the excitement and joy in his eyes as he prepared to go really has made it easier. He was born to do this life he is pursuing and while we miss him terribly (like, "I hate seeing his empty bed, parked truck, and my empty couch" kind-of-terrible!), we are incredibly proud of the man he has become and the path he has chosen. More substantive letters would be nice, but hey, I know better than to expect a novel! :)

Oh, how I miss this afternoon sprawl!

The Boss was also able to finish the renovation of our deck in record time, since it didn't have to be squeezed in on weeknights and weekends only. We are so grateful that we had planned this project in advance - both because of the good timing for him to do it and the finances required to complete it. I'm tellin' ya, if you don't follow the Dave Ramsey plan for budgeting and managing your money, our gang is a PERFECT testimony of why you should! We don't do it perfectly but losing his income didn't not derail this project financially. And that's particularly awesome considering that we had demo'd the deck in early May when we had some help available to do so. Living without a deck and all that mess out there all summer would have been SUCH a huge and ugly problem for this pool lovin' gang.

Isn't it so inviting?
Come on by, the iced tea is cold and the pool is warm!

And of course, the "Honey Do" list has gotten a lot of attention since the deck was completed. Little niggling tasks that we have been meaning to "get around to," things that we have needed to repair, re-decorate, or refresh, and so on. Those smaller projects are all getting checked off the list as the days go on. He is a putter-er by nature so while he does miss the routine and structure of a work day (eh, who am I kidding, he doesn't miss it yet), he is really enjoying the time to do all this physical labor and spruce up the house and the yard.

Finally, I'm getting to tackle some projects that I've had on my mental To Do list for a long while now. I mean, Daddy is BETTER than a babysitter and he's free for afternoon swim parties. So I've tucked myself away a couple times to sort through mountains of school papers and projects from the last two school years. I purged my closet and dresser. I went through my jewelry box for the first time in probably 3 years. I even got to go through 4 bags of hand-me-downs within three days of receiving them - a record in this zoo lately! I've been sorting, streamlining, cleaning out, and yes, I'm back to writing. A slow and easy start, but I'm back.

The extra bonus of the swim time with Daddy is that Mei Mei is really acclimating to the pool quite well and coming along in leaps and bounds in her ability to trust Daddy and the big sibs in the water. AND she has slept through the night pretty much every single night for more than 3 weeks now. All that sleep has drastically improved her day-time behavior (and mine). AND her language is just exploding recently. She lightens the mood around here daily with the new things she is learning to say and the mimicry she pulls out at the funniest moments! We can't get over what a difference we are seeing in her, now that her surgeries are over and her body has come to its resting place of her new normal. It's really quite remarkable and I know The Boss has enjoyed being here to see the daily little transformations that are yielding a happier more settled and peaceful little Mei Mei.

Mei Mei turned THREE at the beginning of the summer.
Actually, the night before Dr. D left.
This is her cheesey smile on her new Kai Lan bike.

So. It's a different summer than we had imagined or planned for ourselves. And a very different kind of productivity than we had envisioned. But we're finding the new groove to it and I'm working on appreciating the time we have as a family as much as I can without worrying too much about the job leads and paychecks and insurance issues. THAT kind of worry messes with my momentum in serious ways. I'm finding it to be an hourly choice to alternatively focus my attention. It's not easy and while I do enjoy that he and I are getting these tasks done with unusual (for us) timing and focus, I do have to work to not camp in the worry-tent. I guess I can be thankful for that - it's keeping me sharp and on my spiritual knees at the very least.

It's different. I'm working to find the good in this kind of different.

Friday, July 25, 2014

The Art of Distraction

Li'l Empress very often struggles to express difficult or negative emotions with her words, resorting instead to copious amounts of tears, feelings of anxiety and rejection, and a bit of a "poor me" complex. We've been getting some great help and tools to equip her to grow in this area of her emotional development. And in the process, I have realized that some of my parenting tools are a tad stale. I also have discovered that I don't use "distraction" as a tool often enough. 

Earlier this week, she had come to The Boss and I with a very minor offense and was on the cusp of turning it into a full-blown melt down in which she was being wronged in the very wrongest possible way, from which she would likely never, ever, ever recover. Ever.

Ummm. Yeah. Okay. Really?

In a flash of brilliance that I can ONLY attribute to the grace of the LORD ALMIGHTY (Cuz I was feeling far less than brilliant. Ya feel me?) I asked The Boss to stop his job hunting for a moment and do an image search for the infamous Grumpy Cat. Just that quick change of focus and the resulting images was enough to completely overcome any offense she was nursing.

So I had her pick her favorite, grumpiest face. I explained that she spends too much of her day looking like that over the littlest stuff. That THAT face should be reserved for really big stuff. We went on to have a fairly hilarious discussion of what things warrant THAT face. And I had The Boss print her favorite picture of the crabby kitty.

Then I cut apart the pizza box from dinner.
(Don't judge. I ran errands and grocery shopped all afternoon.
You want that I should cook TOO?)

I pulled out the markers, the glue, and the scissors.

There was cutting, gluing, and affixing to an old paint stick.
Took me five minutes.

credit: found on the internet
This side says, "A little LESS of THIS, PLEASE."

And this side says, "A little MORE of THIS, PLEASE."

I've used our new sign about four times in the last two days. She might have to work really hard to fight the smile that the feline provokes in her. But at least she's not fighting with her sister. Or fighting more tears. Oh, thankyoujesus.

So what funny or distracting parenting tool have you found to change the mood in your home? Fill me in here in the comments or write your own story of summer drama and creative interventions and share the link. I'll be sure to come by and learn from your flashes of brilliance, too!

Thursday, July 24, 2014

DIY: Shabby Chic Photo Gallery

LadyBug and I have been working (albeit at a decrepit, arthritic snail's pace, I admit) on some inexpensive re-do's in her room to update it and to reflect more of her love of all things vintage. Last fall, she and The Boss turned a solid white, kind of boring bookshelf into great multi-purpose storage for her room.

The first pass of sanding it down.

The finished product.

Pretty, functional and a loooong way toward finishing off her desired look. But we both knew we just weren't done yet. Curtains to replace her former little-girl-esque sheers are STILL not hung. Updated wall hangings have been added slowly over the last 8 months. Storage that is both pretty and functional had already been tackled last summer. I love watching her sense of style unfold and taking our time with this room is proving to be a great way to get to know her better.

There was a huge blank space on the wall above her bed that we just kept meaning to get to. Now that summer is here and both she and The Boss have some extra time on their hands, I put an idea out there for her to consider. She got on board really quickly and we got down to it. I had first seen a similar project using big huge French doors and black and white photos in a DIY design magazines and used the idea of it to inspire LadyBug's creativity after she and I saw something similar on our new favorite DIY show.

My great friend came through with FREE frames to get us going.

What a cutie pie!!!!

After The Boss safely removed all the glass and cleaned up the splinters,
LadyBug painted them both with a light coat of creamy off-white latex
that we already had in storage.
Then LadyBug sanded very strategically and sparingly
to achieve that vintage look she loves.

Shaggy's girlfriend came up for the afternoon
to join in the creative process.
Incidentally, she has her own blog. You should check it out!
Your tummy will thank me, I promise.

The girls flipped the dried and sanded frames over
and used a staple gun to attach chicken wire to the back.

Even BabyBlue Eyes got in on the action.
They used hammers to sink a few of the stubborn staples
and to nestle the ends of the wire more tightly against the frames.

These girls aren't just a pair of pretty faces, my friends!

The Boss hung the frames on the empty wall.

And LadyBug got busy with the clothespins
and cute pics of her BFF's that she's been saving for a while now.
Once she's home from her youth retreat, I'm pretty sure that space
will fill up fast with quotes, more pictures, and other momentos.
I can't wait!

I love the finished look.
It completes that space so perfectly
and is so complementary to the already-existing
cottage-y feel her room has.

BEST of all? This great project only cost us
LESS THAN $20 with materials to spare!!

Now if I could just figure out the curtain dilemma.
But that's another post for another day, my friends.
SO. What crafty things are you doing this summer? I'd love to hear about it in the comments. Feel free to even leave a link and I'll come on by.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Good Bye Kitty

It's a super sad day for The Gang. Today, The Boss took our diva kitty girl, Maggie, to be put to sleep.

It's been a long hard road for her these last 10 months. She started having seizures back in September of last year. Each month they've gotten progressively more intense and more difficult from which to recover. Around January or so, she started losing control of her bladder with almost every seizure. And then in March or April, she started to have lingering temporary paralysis of her hindquarters after almost every one. By May we knew we were looking at having to make a pro-active decision about ending her life humanely. In addition to the sadness of the condition and the unsanitary nature of losing control of her faculties, we knew that the increase in frequency during day time hours likely meant she was having seizures at night and when we weren't around to witness them. That's no way for my girl to live.

This week, she had what seemed to be the "mother" of all seizures to date. It was terrifying for us all to watch. And we said, "enough."

But it made it NO easier to actually pack her up into her crate and send The Boss out the door to the local SPCA to carry out our joint decision. In fact, since Tuesday, she's been so "normal" and affectionate and interactive that we really were second-guessing ourselves right up until he walked out the door this morning.

Please indulge me while I take a look back at my diva kitty girl. She was a gift to our little growing family and tolerated the many changes of 17 years with grace. Such a tolerant kitty - two big moves, four additional kids, and countless bonnets, blankets, and stroller rides. She never understood that she was "too big" to be a lap cat and though she permanently stopped lounging in my lap shortly after I got pregnant with LadyBug, she was a regular on The Boss's lap every night after the gang headed off to bed. These last months, she couldn't always make it up to the couch but settled at our feet or on the low ottoman for some late night foot-warming. She will be missed.

 First days home, in June 1997, at only 8 weeks old.

Her favorite perch when "play time" with Shaggy and Dr. D
(almost 3 and 18 mos at the time)
got to be too much stimulation and she needed a kitty nap.

One of her favorite perches in this past year,
tucked away in a corner but still in the middle
of The Gang's activity.

A tearful good-bye for this momma.

Beautiful girl, you will be missed.
April 26, 1997 - July 11, 2014


I can't believe this is what jumpstarted my blogging brain again. But at least SOMETHING has. Man, the drought of coherent thought around here has been a drag. Stay tuned, I have some catching up to do in this "family scrap book" of mine and some give-aways coming up soon, too.