Sunday, December 29, 2013

To Make Them Smile!

We often hear on the news about the homeless.  More so this time of year whether it is because of the holiday spirit being in people's hearts or if they are more aware of the inclement weather that these people must live in.  More often than not, we take for granted having a roof over our heads and enough food to fill our bellies.  We need to be aware of this more often throughout the year.

Today my family once again participated in giving back to our community.  Ok, so technically, it is after midnight so we did it yesterday but you get the idea.  This has now become a monthly event around here and it's growing.  I wanted to write this as a follow up to my post last month about giving back.  To see this event, To Make Them Smile, (why not go give them a little love by 'liking' the page) grow as it has is heart-warming.  Last month we put together and passed out 30 bags of goodies, this month it was 100!  

One person had an idea.  She reached out to her friends for donations.  No one gave a lot but a lot of people gave a little.  Those little donations add up.  
These people (and more):

Donated this stuff (and more):

And filled these: 

And these:

It took about an hour to organize the work area and to not only fill the bags with socks, gloves, blankets, etc., but to also make the sandwiches and fill the baggies with fruits and veggies.  Everyone gathered together to make quick work of it, even the children.  

The children.  They are part of the reason that I wanted to write about this again.  We have children there of all ages from those who came in in strollers to those who are 17 and 18 years old.  They worked so hard.  And were so proud of themselves.  Instead of thinking that they're just kids, they were actually making a difference.  And they knew it!  They knew it.

The best part was seeing the kids handing out the bags with their parents.  Seeing children of all ages and from all walks of life showing compassion and giving back to those less fortunate.  

I found this picture to be so touching.  One small child handing a care package to a disabled homeless man.  This spoke to me because I know this child and he's quite uncomfortable around crowds and strangers but he was such a hard worker today.  He was filling bags like a pro and he didn't hesitate to take his bag to this person.  Peyton made made a difference.  And it made them both smile!

If you are in the Indianapolis community and would like to donate or participate in this, please go like the To Make Them Smile page and join us!  We have a lot of fun during the process of actually putting the bags together and will always welcome more help or donations!

If you are not in the Indianapolis community, find something to do in your area to give back.  Even if you don't have resources to donate, donate your time.  

Remember, sometimes, the littlest things make the biggest difference!

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Merry Christmas!

I wanted to take a moment to say Merry Christmas to you all!  

When I started this, I never thought anyone outside my class would ever read this. I found that I enjoy writing it and love comments and feedback from you all!

Thank you for taking time out of your day to indulge me in reading this.  May you all have a wonderful holiday!


Monday, December 23, 2013

Christmas is almost here!

In these last few days before Christmas, we're baking and wrapping and putting those final touches on everything.  I've decided that I'm enlisting help this year and the kids will be wrapping most of what is not for them.  It's not about how nicely it's wrapped but in the love that is put into the effort.  Yea, I'm going with that!

We're baking cookies as well.  Not just for munchies around here but we're also putting together little boxes for some neighbors.  We are going to help again this month with putting together bags for the homeless that we pass out and we're making extra cookies to put in those.  

We're adding something different too.  My son learned about a Yule Log at school, the cake not firewood.  I keep teasing him because I knew it as Buche de Noel and call it that.  He tried a store bought one at school and I told him the homemade ones are way better.  So we're going to make one.  I made one years ago and it's yummy but time consuming.  But he wants to make one so we're going to make one.  It'll be fun!  Here is the recipe we'll be using to make Buche de Noel.  This would be a fun gift for someone too!

Another thing that I have done to put together a fairly inexpensive gift is what I call a "dinner in a box".  I include homemade egg noodles.  Since I'm a little rushed today, I'm copying this recipe from another blogger but this is the recipe I use that is in the Joy of Cooking.  I like that this blogger includes the techniques in making the noodles.  I usually make large batches of these and I take my wooden clothes dryer and cover the dowels with plastic wrap and drape the noodles over that to dry.  Once they are dry, you can store them in a Tupperware type container or, as I do, one of those popcorn tins that everyone seems to get during the holidays!

In the dinner box, I'll include enough noodles in a large Ziploc bag.  I'll also include a can of chicken and a large chicken broth (If it is someone close by that this won't be waiting to be opened, I'll include frozen chicken and frozen homemade chicken broth).  I'll throw in some homemade dinner rolls that are par-baked that way when they are warmed up they won't over cook.  (Par-baked means almost done, if a dinner roll says to cook 11 minutes, I'll cook it for 7)  I will also include some type of dessert, cookies, a cake, pie, whatever I have time to make.  This is a gift that you might take to an older person who would enjoy a home cooked meal that might not be able to make for themselves.  This is also a good box to take to someone who's been ill.

Regardless of what you do or how you do it, try to include something homemade in your Christmas celebration.  Even if you just get a roll of pre-made cookie dough and bake them with your kids, it's still doing something together.  And being together is one of the best things about the holidays.  Enjoy your family and if, like us, you're going to try to make a Yule Log with a 9 year old, just remember, it doesn't have to be perfect, it just has to be done together and with love!

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Vacation Extras!

We had another round of snow last night/this morning and it's cold and icky out.  It's Indiana, what do you expect?  LOL

I'd like to take just a quick minute to remind everyone that if you have elderly or home-bound neighbors to please, at minimum, check in on them.  See if they need anything.  Shovel a walk or steps.  It doesn't take much time and can be a true life-saver to them.  

Hubby and my 9 year old went out last night and cleared the sidewalks and steps (we live on a hill) and as always they did the neighbor ladies as well.  they are 87 and 62 and neither one of them has any business using a snow shovel.  It only take a few minutes.

There's my PSA for the day!

We are behind because of finishing up the semester so we are working really hard to get things in order to get the tree up.  My son found some change on the floor under a side table.  He knows that "found money goes in Fred" so he put it there.  

This is "Fred"

Fred is a circa 1970's ish piggy bank.  I have absolutely no idea where it came from buy my kids have had it since my oldest (now 26) was little.  Fred's been around a while!  LOL

So found money...if I find money in the washer and it's under $20, I put it in Fred.  I know a lot of people who do the laundry keep it for themselves but this is an old habit from when we were really poor!  Any found money around the house is put in Fred too.  If you put it all in one place, you'd be amazed at how much loose change you find in a year.  In the past, we would wait until vacation time and count what was in Fred and we'd figure out what we could do for vacation on the amount of money that was in Fred.  

Now that things are a little easier and we can do real vacations, we still put money in Fred.  Now though, we wait until vacation planning and see what is in Fred.  We let the kids decide on what we are going to do with that money while we are on vacation.  One year, they decided that on our way home from camping in the Smokey Mountains that we would stop at Santa Claus Land.  I know, I know, it's called Holiday World now but to me, it will ALWAYS be Santa Claus Land.  There was enough money in Fred to pay entrance for everyone and to have snacks and meals in the park and buy a couple of souvenirs.  That's a LOT of lost dimes and quarters!

So find yourself a fun and quirky bank, the cheesier the better, and put it somewhere out of the way but yet somewhere where you can see it.  That way it is a reminder to put found money in it.  Then when your vacation plans are made, see what's in there and find something fun and frivolous to do with it!  My kids love Googling the area we are going too and finding something fun to do there or on the way there.  It's an adventure!  We've had some really fun times doing this.  

Oh and please remember, check on your neighbors!  

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Making a long week easier!

This week is the final week of the semester at IUPUI.  Between finals, papers due, kids parties, Scouts, making some gift baskets and needing to use some major coupons on Christmas gifts before they expire (Hey, they're really good coupons and some Kohl's cash), it's gonna be a long week.

How can you make a long week easier?  Eliminate cooking!  Ok, so that's not possible.  Or is it?  No, I'm not talking about eating out every night, tempting as that may be.  I am going to use my freezer stash.

As I have posted about in the past, I stash leftover bits and pieces just for occasions like this.  This week we are having chicken pot pie, lasagna roll ups, beef & noodles, tacos and pizza.  The pizza isn't leftovers but I won't be home Friday night so I have enough points for a free pizza so I'll have that delivered for the family.

The pot pies will be the hardest of my meals for the week.  When I made pies for Thanksgiving, I made extra pie crusts and put them in my small pot pie pans.  I put each one in a Ziploc bag and stashed them in the freezer.  I froze the top crusts in discs rolled out to size to put on top.  I have left over chicken in the freezer and left over mixed veggies in a small mason jar in there.  Add some diced southern style hash browns to that.  You can make a thick chicken gravy or even use cream of chicken soup (don't dilute it) if you'd rather.  Mix the chicken, veggies and gravy, toss in the pot pie crust.  Put the top on, crimp the edges, vent it (just cut a little slit in the top) and bake.

The lasagna roll ups are a recipe I found on Pinterest and tweaked to our tastes.  Here is the recipe for it.  I use cottage cheese instead of ricotta because it is cheaper.  I also use 1/2 a package of spinach because my family will eat it but in limited quantities.  It's easy to use a good, sharp, serrated knife to cut the entire box of frozen spinach in half...just throw the other half in a Ziploc bag and back in the freezer.  I also keep a wedge of Parmesan to grate my own, overall, it's cheaper that way.  I had made these and frozen them before so all I have to do now is take them out of the Ziploc, put in a casserole dish in the morning.  I also have a jar that I put left over meat sauce in in the freezer, I'll move it to the fridge in the morning too.  When it's time for dinner, pour the sauce over the top and bake until hot.  During the last few minutes, I'll sprinkle some mozzarella cheese on top.

The beef & noodles is the easiest of the week.  Next to the pizza anyway...LOL  I have beef stock that I froze a while back, I'll thaw that.  I have left over roast that is in the freezer as well.  I'll set them in the fridge the night before because that much broth will need the time to thaw.  For dinner, just bring the broth and meat to a boil and add the egg noodles.  If I have time, I might make some mashed potatoes to go with.  My Mom always served beef & noodles on top of a piece of bread and mashed potatoes.  Talk about carbs!  Anyway, half the family does like it on mashed potatoes, so if time, I'll make some.

The last time I made tacos, I made too much taco meat with beans so I froze the rest.  All I'll have to do for that meal is to heat up the meat.  Open some diced tomatoes, set out some cheese, sour cream and lettuce.  Toss in the taco shells and sauce and dinner is good to go.

I almost feel bad about giving the family pizza on Friday because I'm going with friends to have some of the best sushi around!  I'm telling you, if you're ever in Fishers, Indiana and have a little extra money, you have got to try Wild Ginger.  It's seriously good eats!  (I think I've mentioned how much I like Alton Brown...LOL)

One caveat here, you have to plan on using those things that are left over in the freezer.  You can't keep them for a year and a half and expect to produce a fabulous meal with them.  They won't keep forever.  I watch what I put in the freezer and if I'm not having a week like this one, I'll just plan on integrating them into our meal rotation.  I knew that finals week is always rough so I made sure to have several meals at the ready.  Even something as simple as a post it note on the freezer can serve to remind you of what leftovers are in there that need to be used.  It's all about the planning!

Anyway, sometimes it might be easier to toss those extras left over after a meal but if you save them and plan on using them, they can make a rough week just a little bit easier.  

Now, who can help me with finals??  LOL

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Here comes the snow!

We, here in Indy, are preparing for our first major rain/sleet/ice/snow event of the season.  From what "they're" saying, we should be receiving all 4 over the course of the next 24-36 hours.  "They" say in total we should end up with 4"-6" or 6"-9" of snow depending on which one of "them" you listen too.  

Regardless, the gas stations are using the "impending" storm to jack prices up.  In the time it took me to go into the store to buy canning jars, the gas prices went from $2.99 when I went in to $3.35 when I came out.  Ridiculous.  There are also those who made the "French Toast" run.  You know, whenever there is snow in the forecast, everyone must go buy milk, bread and eggs.  It's generally craziness.  They should include some chocolate chips in that run!  LOL

Now we're all wondering (hoping) that school is delayed or cancelled.  I don't like driving in all this, so I'm secretly hoping that school is cancelled and the kids have a long weekend.  Safely at home!

So how do you spend a snow day?  If not for the ice, I'd take the kids sledding at the park.  However, since we have ice, we will bake!  I will also take advantage of getting some things made for stock ups.

I've been making homemade Bisquick.  It's pretty easy.  

Mix in a food processor (I do half at a time):

8 cups flour
1/3 cup baking powder
2 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons sugar (optional)

Then pulse in:

1 cup of butter-flavored Crisco

You can store it in an air tight container or Ziploc bag.  It's nice that you can take 1 1/4 cups of mix and 1/2 cup of milk and it makes 2 biscuits.  Great with homemade jam!

I am also going to make thumbprint cookies (Recipe is here) using my homemade jam.  Yummy!

If you are snowed in tomorrow (or any day) you should really get the kids in the kitchen and bake something.  It makes the house warm and cozy and it's something fun to do with the kids.  Let them pick what cookies to make or what cake to make or muffins.  

Oh, and don't forget the hot cocoa!

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Christmas Ornaments

December is here!  Christmas isn't far away.  It's too early to start baking but it's not too early to get in on some holiday fun.  

The ornaments on my Christmas tree are a mix of things my children have made over the years and the "new" ornament we get each year.  That is a tradition that my dear Mother always did.  Each year there was a new set or ornaments, one for each of those in the house and if not matching exactly then obviously part of a set.  

In the lean years, we made ornaments.  One year, she got some little plastic figures from the manger scene, like the biggest plastic person was about an inch tall.  We took the tops and bottoms out of tuna fish cans and covered the can with felt and brick-a-brack from her sewing box.  We then tied a string around it so it would hang in such a way that you were looking at a circle.  I hope that makes sense.  We'd glue cotton balls where the bottom of the circle was and the glue the little plastic characters on the cotton.  I wish I had a picture of those to share.

There are ornaments you can make with your children rather inexpensively.

The picture here shows some of the ornaments that my kids have made over the years.  Some of these were made through school and some through Girl Scouts and some just because there was boredom in the house. 

The one on the upper left is great for little kids.  It is just a clear glass bulb that we removed the hanger out of the top.  Then covered the entire bulb in Elmer's glue, just plain white school glue.  I put glitter on a paper plate and let the kids roll the bulb in it, they also used their hands to sprinkle it on.  This is not a non-messy project but they sure do have fun with it.  You can spray a clear sealer over it if you'd like but we didn't and this one in the picture is at least 15 years old.

The one on the upper right is so easy.  It is just a colored bulb that you can use paint or a colored sharpie to write their name on it.  Then you glue it to an ice cream cone.  Again, with Elmer's school glue.  Easy.

The lower left is a little more challenging.  Start with the same clear glass bulb and remove the topper that it hangs from.  Break up potpourri and carefully put it down inside of the bulb until it is full.  Put the top back on the ornament.  Then take some lace that has some holes in it that you can weave a thin ribbon through.  Use the ribbon to bunch up the lace and tie it around the top of the ornament.  We make the ribbon match the color of the potpourri but you can use whatever you like.  These smell fabulous too!

Finally, the one on the lower right is easy but requires some patience.  Again, start with clear glass bulbs.  Remove the top and put a little paint inside.  Not a lot and roll it around to get the paint down in it.  Wait a bit and add some more and do the same thing.  You don't want to use too much paint at a time as it will pool in the bottom of the ornament, too little and it won't cover all the glass on the inside.  It really works well if you can let it sit for 10-15 minutes between colors to allow it to tack up so that when you add more paint, it won't become a muddled mess.  I have one or two that ended up that way and they're on the tree too!

These are just a few ideas of things that we've done over the years.  The best part isn't in what ornament you decide to make or how beautiful it is, it's about having fun with your family.  Making something together.  That years from now, you will look at your Christmas tree and think "I remember how much fun we had making that one!"  

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Giving Back

I hope this Saturday after Thanksgiving finds you all healthy, happy and Thankful.  I know that for most people, the Friday and Saturday after Thanksgiving involve lots of shopping and even more indulgence over and above the Thanksgiving feast.  There is nothing wrong with that in the least.  I'd just like to remind you to remember those less fortunate than we are.

I have talked about my Mom's group before, my IndyMoms, a fantastic group of women who never cease to amaze me.  One of those Moms, Satch, is the owner of the Blue Spatula in Indianapolis.  She organized a "Make them smile" event for people to get together and put together bags for the homeless.  We not only gathered items needed but put the bags together and delivered them to the homeless in downtown.  

As we Moms always do, it's not about spending a large amount of money, it's the little things that I have put together with the little things that another Mom brings and so on and so forth, that add up to make a wonderful bag of stuff.  Included was not only the usual items needed for winter in Indiana, hats, gloves, socks, scarf, and lightweight fleece blankets but also a wash cloth, soap, toothbrush, toothpaste.  We also included bottled water, lunchmeat & cheese sandwiches, pb&J sandwiches, carrots, slim jims, crackers with cheese.  You get the idea.  We had food they could eat now and food for later.  And no one really spent a lot of money.  

My family and I went down to help assembly and distribute the bags.  I should point out that this wasn't just us Moms, everyone brought their whole families.  We had so many children there who were so anxious and willing to help.  The loved the assembly line process of filling the bags and they all got to carry them as we walked the couple of blocks to deliver them.  

I know for me, I was so very touched to see the appreciation of the homeless person receiving the bag as well as the looks on the faces of the children as they realized that THEY were making a difference in their own little way.  Many of them, including my own 9 year old wanted to do more.  He was upset that there were some who didn't get a bag.

As we walked back, there were so many adults in tears and children who had made new friends and had so many ideas about wanting to do more.  It was fun listening to some of their ideas.  It was refreshing to see so many giving back to those less fortunate.  

I don't know if you'd call it a sign (no pun intended) but when I got home and turned on my computer to finish the homework I had left when we headed downtown, but a friend has just posted this sign to Facebook

This is something that more people need to remember.  No matter how little we have or how hard life may be at the moment, there is always something to be thankful for.  (Thanks for posting this sign Michelle).  

There are always those less fortunate than us out there too.  If hands on, face-to-face isn't your thing, please remember that all year, but especially this time of year the  homeless shelters, food pantries, and other agencies can use some extra help to provide some holiday cheer for those in need.

I'm going to throw a plug out here too.  Satch and The Blue Spatula at Jumbo's in the Market are at the City Market downtown.  If you'd like to support a small business that gives back to the community, I'd highly suggest the Chicken Pot Pie and the Dark Chocolate Mousse is divine!

Just know that big or small, organized or a quiet drop off, we can all do something to help.  Little things add up to great things!  How are you going to help?

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Thanksgiving hints!

Good morning!  We are in the home stretch with school, the semester will end around December 12.  I am more than ready for that day, it's been a tough one.  Working around homework, I am trying to get ready for Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving is a time to be together, enjoying each other and the day, not about one person spending the entire day away from everyone else in the kitchen. 

I don't know about you, but I am not a fan of the thought of busting my butt the day before and getting up at the crack of dawn on Thanksgiving to get the Thanksgiving meal together.  There are things that you can do early to make it easier.  

Just a few hints:

You can make pie crusts a head of time and freeze them right in the pans.  It doesn't take much time at all to thaw when you're ready to fill or bake.

Dinner rolls can be done early too.  You can make the bread dough early, follow your recipe up to the point of shaping into rolls.  Freeze them on a wax lined pan, then put into a Ziploc bag.  

The day or so before Thanksgiving you can pull them out and let them rise.  You can also par-bake them so they're almost done.  Then on Thanksgiving day, you can finish baking them for a couple of minutes and have fresh rolls that don't tie up your precious oven space.  

Have the kids help by setting the table the night before.

If, like us, you have stuffing and chicken and noodles at dinner, make some chicken stock a few days ahead of time and portion it out to what you need for each item.  Homemade is easy to make and doesn't have a ton of salt or preservatives in it.

I also make the noodles a week or so in advance, dry them out and store in a Ziploc or a Tupperware type bowl with a good sealing type lid.

I also save the heels of bread or any that may have gotten a little stale and I dry them out in the oven.  Generally, after I have baked something or made dinner in the oven or what have you, I'll put a tray of dried bread in there after I've pulled out what I'm baking and shut the oven off.  Make sure the bread is in a single layer, as the oven is cooling, there is enough heat to dry it out well.  Gram used to include some leftover cornbread as well.  You can put those last couple of pieces or so in the freezer until Thanksgiving and thaw them out and dry them in the oven.

Remember, if there is any cutting, chopping, dicing, etc. that you can do the day or so before, do it.  You can store the items in Ziploc bags in the fridge, if you get the air out of them, they'll lay flat and stack.  If you dice up onions, double bag them to control the smell in the fridge!

It's no secret that I am a list maker.  The joke is that my lists have lists...LOL.  Anyway, make a menu for the day, go over it and decide what you can do early and what is definitely a last minute to-do.  Make a to-do list of things a week early, a few days early, the day before and the day of.  This will help you keep the day running smoothly.  It will also let someone out of the kitchen a bit to enjoy time with family and friends.

If you haven't started yet, make a list...Thanksgiving is in a few days!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Kids in the kitchen

One thing that I enjoy immensely is when my children want to be in the kitchen cooking with me.  They all like to bake because, well let's face it, you have yummy sweets to eat at the end of baking.  Cooking is different because it's dinner and involves veggies.  LOL.  I've tried to make sure that they all know the basics of cooking whether they wanted too or not.  It's just really nice when they want to do it.  

My kids have always helped in the kitchen.  From the time they could walk.  Even a 2 year old can set the table.  We call my kitchen "the cave", it's small, hard to brighten up and secluded from the rest of the house.  So, it's always been that when little, they've been in the kitchen with me so I knew what they were getting into...LOL.  Anyway, even at 2 years old, I would stack the items needed for dinner on the counter next to where I was working and I'd give the little one one plate at a time and tell them, "this goes where Mom sits" or "this goes where you sit".  If they take one item at a time, it may take them most of my prep time to set the table but they are occupied and helping.  And if a plate gets broken, it'll be ok.  Just remember to not use the "good" china for this.

Kids can also help with the food prep.  Even little kids can wash veggies, tear lettuce, help to mix a salad.  Just remind them that "tossing a salad" doesn't mean throwing things...LOL  They can put butter on bread, they can help clear a table.  There are lots of things that little kids can do.

As kids get older, they can actually help with meal preparation.  First and foremost, always put safety first!  I found this safety list for parents on JustMommies and this one for older kids on the Kraft website.  Take a minute to go over the safety rules and once your child gets into cooking, maybe even print them and put them on the inside of a cabinet door for them to refer to.

I decided to write about this today because my son had worked on a badge for health that required him to plan some meals but not a lot of cooking.  He decided he wanted to help here and there anyway, normally he helps to bake and set/clear the table.  

Anyway, he has kinda gotten into it, even helping me make Belgium Waffles last weekend and now asked me to help cook for a whole day, breakfast, lunch and dinner.  I know he can do it.  The idea of the menu kinda scares me, but I'm game.  We're gonna work on the menu later this week.  

A few helpful hints when working with kids in the kitchen is to make sure you plan extra time.  Keep it simple.  Think tacos over fried chicken!  LOL  Bring your patience, you're gonna need it.  Run a sink of soapy water, you'll need it.  And make sure they help with the clean up.  Make it fun (even the clean up), put on some fun music and turn it up louder than normal.  

Don't forget to laugh and have fun!  It can be so much fun to have your kids in the kitchen with you.  Embrace it (and the mess) and ENJOY it!

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Grandpa's Cornbread

Happy Halloween to those who take part in the celebrations!

It's a rainy day here, rainy enough that Trick-or-Treating has been moved to tomorrow.  So tonight, we are staying in and having ham and beans, fried potatoes and my Grandpa's cornbread.

I tried for years, YEARS to make cornbread like my Grandpa did.  His was always crunchy on the outside and so moist and fluffy inside.  No matter what I tried or how many times, it was never right.  A couple of years before he passed, he decided to share his secret with me.  It involved a cast iron skillet.  Knowing my Grandparents, I should have known.  LOL.  

Normally, I make it in a square cast iron skillet but this time I used this one, just an 8" round, well seasoned skillet:

The ingredients are pretty simple too:

1 cup corn meal
1 cup flour
1/4 +/- cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 egg (beaten)
1/2 can of cream corn
1 cup milk
1/4 cup butter

I have the butter cut like you see in the picture because the slices are to be melted in the microwave to be used in the batter and the other one is for the skillet.  You see, that is Grandpa's secret.  When you have all the ingredients out, you put 1/2 stick of butter (ok, Grandpa used a whole stick but dang, that's a lot of butter!) anyway, put it in the cold cast iron skillet.  Then, put the skillet in the oven and THEN set the oven for 400 degrees.  

Now you work on making the batter.  It's a simple "muffin method" to make it.  

I put all the dry ingredients in the bowl and mix them well.  I make a well in the center of the dry stuff, like in the picture on the left above.  I put the egg in the center and lightly beat it with the spoon, center pic.  Then I add the corn and milk.  Don't mix it yet.  I put the butter that was sliced in the glass measuring cup and melt it in the microwave.  (I try to dirty as few things as I can..LOL)  Once the butter is melted, I pour it in and lightly mix it.  Just until it comes together.  Don't beat it like a cake batter, just mix it.  

Let it rest for a minute or two.  

Check on the butter in the skillet.  

When the butter in the skillet is melted and looks like the picture on the left, you're good to go.  Put the batter quickly into the skillet.  You'll hear sizzling and the butter will rise up over the edges on the sides.  If you look closely, you can see the bubbly butter on the edge of the batter in the pic on the right.  THIS is how Grandpa got that wonderful crusty outside!

Bake it for 25 minutes or so in a 400 degree oven until done.  I use a toothpick inserted in the center to check to see if it is done.  If it comes out clean, it's ready!

See the crunchy edges?  Oh my word, that's the best part!  Back on track...I put a plate on top of it and flip the cornbread out of the skillet.  It's easier to do this if you have oven mitts.  If you don't use a couple of towels.  (Be VERY careful, that skillet is heavy and really hot!)  I do this because cast iron will stay hot for a good while and will continue cooking your cornbread.  

It looks like this on the bottom:

There you have it!  The best cornbread out there if I do say so myself!  Oh yea, the beans weren't bad either!

Monday, October 21, 2013

Fall and Apples!

Today was one of those absolutely beautiful Fall days.  The weather was cool but not cold.  There wasn't much wind and the sky didn't have a cloud in it as far as you could see.  It was crisp, clear and gorgeous out!  And we got to go to Brown County!  (for those not from Indiana, check out this site)

We had family pictures taken today by my very dear friend, Sarah of Lillybug Photography.  She always picks a different cabin in Brown County and she does Fall pictures there.  We love getting to go to the country, the Fall foliage there is breathtaking!  We walk around the woods around the cabin to find the best spots for pictures.  There is nothing better than a nice relaxing walk in the country.  We also always make a stop in Nashville, Indiana as well.  It has such quaint little shops and it's just a nice afternoon.  We were outdoors in the beautiful country.  Ahhhh.

Apples.  I was going to write about apples.  Apples mean apple crisp, apple pie filling and best of all, Apple Butter!  It seems like every waking moment not filled with school, kids sports or Scouts has been peeling apples.  I did get a wonderful peeling/coring machine from another friend that has been great, but, I'm a little picky and still take a paring knife to "clean up" any missed peels, seeds pockets, and whatnot.  

Yesterday, I peeled and cored about 30 pounds of apples to prep for apple butter.  I make mine in the crock pot and it takes about 18-20 hours on low for that quantity.  So after peeling and cutting all those apples, my hands are trashed.  I have so many nicks and cuts it's not funny.  I really whined about that after I did the apples when I cleared all the peppers out of the garden for the year and was cutting, dicing and de-seeding JALAPENO peppers.  Oh Lord, that stung...LOL.

Back to apples.  I rough chopped the apples and split them between multiple crock pots to cook.  I try to keep it fairly simple, apples, brown sugar and spices (cinnamon, cloves, allspice, ginger and nutmeg) and let the the crock pots do the work.  Once the apple butter is reduced and thickened I put it in sterilized jars and process them in a water bath canner.  

After feeling crappy about my hands stinging all day, I was kinda focusing on that as hubby drove us home...LOL.  Anyway, when we got home and walked in the house, oh the smell.  That wonderful smell of fresh, warm apple butter filled the entire house.  Oh, it was so yummy!  My husband even tried to convince me to fry some biscuits for him.  I told him no, he could wait.  Besides, I didn't have room to drag out the deep fryer when I had all the crock pots and the canning stuff out all over my tiny kitchen.  Don't worry, I'll make him some fried biscuits and apple butter this weekend!

So all in all, this weekend was an overall success.  Family pictures, a day in the country, apple crisp, homework done and several dozen jars of apple butter!  Woohoo!

Saturday, October 19, 2013

The Wind is Chilly!

It's cooling off outside, it's hoodie and boots weather as my friend says.  There seems to be a crisp breeze most days now.  It won't be long until Winter is here bringing with it that "S" word.  Snow.  One would think that growing up in Pennsylvania would make a person like snow.  I'm not one of those persons!  

Something that I dislike more than snow and coldness is paying the gas company.  My husband gives me a hard time about how much I detest paying that bill every month.  Don't ask, it's a long story...LOL.

Whether you have a gas bill or you heat with electric, now is the time check out your house to see where you could save money on those bills.  Some very little things could help to save bundles over the winter.  And with natural gas prices predicted to go up 13% and electricity predicted to go up, I think they said 6% (don't quote me on that one) every little thing that you can do to save on those bills adds up.  They can add up a lot.

One thing that can help save bunches is a programmable thermostat.  You can get them at your local home improvement store, modest ones are about $50.  It will MORE than pay for itself rather quickly.  What we do is since we live in a two story house (and heat rises) we set ours to turn down at night to about 62.  It is set to turn down to about 58 during the day, right after we all leave.  It comes back up about a half an hour before we get home.  I'm home a lot of those days but I am rather warm natured so I just get a sweater.  We have a different set of settings for the weekend since we're home more.  We save more than $25 per month over what we paid before changing the thermostat to a programmable one.

Something else that is pretty easy to do, especially with the windy days is to check for air leaks around windows and doors.  On a windy day you can easily hold your hand around windows and doors and feel a draft coming in.  Remember, if you feel a draft coming in now, that will be your heat going out in winter! Caulking is pretty easy.  Caulk is under $10 for a couple of tubes of it and the caulk gun is well under $10 here.  If you're unsure of the type of caulk you need, just ask at the home improvement store.  I would suggest you practice on a piece of cardboard to get the feel of how the caulk gun works.  It's pretty easy when you get the hang of it.

You should also change the furnace filter every month.  How many of you just went "The furnace has a filter?"  I did too before I married someone who is HVAC/R certified...LOL.  Anyway, the furnace will work more efficiently if it has a new filter every month.  On a side note, it's a good idea to have your furnace cleaned and serviced every year to keep it working at it's optimum ability.

Check for register vents too.  I had two that were getting the curtains fluttering until the curtains ended up over them and the heat was going behind the curtain.  A deflector is a couple of dollars and it keeps the curtain behind it.  Another little trick you can do is to sew big washers one the backside of the curtain on the hemmed part.  The weight will hold the curtain down so it doesn't flutter.  And by sewing it on the backside of the hem, you won't see the stitching.

Don't forget to check the bottoms of doors too.  You can buy one of those door snakes to put against the door or they make these things now that slide on the bottom of the door so you don't have to remember to put the snake in place.

Also, always remember that when it is sunny outside, regardless of whether or not it is cold, open the windows.  Let the sun shine in.  It not only lets some heat in from the sun but it just makes you feel better after days of dreary winter weather!  Just make sure you close them at night to help hold the warm in!

Remember too that some things that you can do to help insulate your home against the winter cold are tax deductible.  Check out the Government's Energy Star website for more information here.  

You can spend a couple of hours on a weekend to give the house a once over.  Check for any way that you can cut down on the amount of money that you give to the gas (or electric) company.  It's better in your pocket than it is in theirs, right?

Monday, October 14, 2013

Freezer eating

It's that time of year around here.  That time when we need to be sure that the freezer has enough space in it for our beef when the time comes.  We don't get beef from "meat markets" here in the city, I buy a cow (or part of a cow) from a farmer and have it butchered at a butcher.  I know they sound the same, but they're very different.

First, I've gotten beef from a farmer I know in the country for over 20 years.  It's worth the drive back to where I used to live to get it, too!  The way he does it is that he raises the beef and sells either 1/4, 1/2 or a whole beef.  One the day that they're to be slaughtered, we pay whatever "on the hoof" market price is on the day they are taken to the butcher based on how much the cow weighed that day.  We (those who are sharing a cow) share the "kill charge" based on our percentage of the beef.  That fee isn't much at all.

Next, the butcher.  It's not like the butcher at the grocery store.  This is a true butcher.  You can't buy meat at this type of butcher.  They only take in live animals, slaughter them and clean, but and package them.  it's important to find a great butcher.  I've heard of less-reputable butchers who will just butcher everything that comes in and then divvy it up, regardless of whose cow was whose.  That might not sound like a big deal but some people like certified organic beef, some like grass-fed and I've known some who believe you can taste the grass in the beef and absolutely don't want grass-fed.  So, it really does matter that you have someone reputable that you can trust.

I also like the fact that I can specify not only what cuts of beef I get but in what quantity as well.  For example, I prefer getting burger packaged in one pound packs where a larger family might prefer two pound packs.  I also prefer getting steaks packaged two per package because sometimes two steaks are enough to feed the four of us.  I pass on the organ meats.  ORGAN meats should tell you why I pass on them.  I do, however, request all the soup bones I can get.  They make amazing stocks and broths.

Overall, I get good, quality meat far cheaper overall than I can even buying sales.  Depending on the year (hoof weight is tied to the markets), I pay on average $1.39-1.59 per pound overall.  Now, I know with sales, you can find hamburger cheaper than that.  Sometimes.  But, I challenge you to find Steak or Roasts cheaper than that.

The quality is so far above what you can get at the grocery.  I can tell my butcher that I want my burger leaner, they just put less fat in it.  When I fry up a pound of beef, I don't even have to drain the grease, I just use a paper towel to sop up what little is there.  That's the best part.  I control the cut, the mix, the packaging.  I can make the most of my meat purchase.

It does require saving up to be able to pay for a year's worth of beef all at once.  For my family, a 1/4 beef isn't enough for a year but 1/2 is too much so, what we do is one year we get a quarter and the next year we get a half.  This year is a little easier because it is the year I get a quarter beef.  So I don't have to make as much room in the freezer.

Which brings me back to eating from the freezer.  The beef will be butchered in a month or so.  That means that first we need to not only move things around in the freezer so that the old and new beef aren't mixed up.  I generally use a red Sharpie to mark the old packages this way we eat the older ground beef before the newer.  We'll also eat some of the things I've put up like soups and stocks, the extra chicken/turkey that I've put up for other meals, basically anything that I can cook for dinner from the freezer will make it easier to make room for the beef.  I don't think the family will complain too much!

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Rainy Fall days

It's a rainy day here today.  One of those days where you want to be lazy and sleep.  Unfortunately, I have too much to do for that to be an option...LOL.  A second option is to make the house smell fabulous!  Other than taking my short dude to a birthday party, I'm going to cook today. 

This is a great day for chili.  The nice thing about chili is that for a few minutes of work, you can just let it simmer for a while while you do something else.  I always make a double batch so I can toss some in a Ziploc in the freezer.  I love being able to grab it for a quick lunch on the weekend so I don't have to stop to cook.  And in all honesty, if you have a dinner failure then this is in the freezer to rescue the day.

I will also get my weekly menus together and do whatever I can to prep a head of time.  This might be pre-browning the meat or cutting veggies or setting things out of the freezer to thaw.  Whatever I can do to make the weeknight easier.  Although football is done for the year, I still have school and this week is Parent-Teacher conferences, Scouts...we only thought things would slow down after football season!

I will also bake today for the week.  I just had made 4 dozen cupcakes for Devon's football championship game (They won!  WooHoo!) so I think we'll go with something else this week.  I will make cookies for the week.  Remember too that if you make a batch of cookies but don't want that many cookies available that you can portion out the cookie dough onto wax paper, freeze it and then toss in a Ziploc.  When you want a tray of fresh cookies, just pop out enough to put on a tray and bake.  They take a little longer than fresh but you have warm, yummy cookies in a short amount of time.

I may come up with some other things to make ahead of time as well.  If I'm going to heat up the oven and kitchen, I'll go ahead and make things that I'll need for the week.

What do you do on a rainy day?

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Onions, Carrots and Leeks! Oh my!

Since rain is predicted, by the weatherman AND my asthma, the family helped me last night to harvest the onions, carrots and leeks.  Today I am working on getting them put up.

Onions are pretty easy in that I just wash them, chop them up and freeze them.  Yes, there are tears.  Lots of them.  But I chop them all at once and it's done.  Once they're chopped, I put them in a Ziploc bag, not too many in each bag.  I like to get as much as out as possible and flatten the bag out.  I don't like the bag to be more than 3/4" thick this way because onions clump when the freeze, no way around it that I have found yet.  But by keeping the bag thin, it's pretty easy to break them up frozen to use just want I need.  That way, I don't have to use a ton of bag to freeze small amounts but I can still get out what I need without having to thaw them.  I've also been known to take the smooth side of my meat mallet and taking a few frustrations out on my bag of frozen onions...LOL.

The carrots are easy too.  I clean and slice them all.  I take the ends and pieces that aren't uniform in size and put those aside, we'll talk about those later.  The ones that are somewhat uniform, I will blanch and shock those like I do corn, you can find that blog post here.  I lay them out on a clean towel to dry and then on a wax paper lined cookie sheet to freeze them like I talked about int he blog post on berries here.  Once frozen, put them in Ziplocs and back in the freezer.  This will let you pull out just what carrots you need without having to thaw them all.

I haven't forgotten those ends and pieces.  I trim the carrots up nicely before I slice them but these odd pieces, I just put straight into a Ziploc back and into the freezer.  These are the pieces that I pull out when I am making stock and broth.  I do the same thing with Celery bottoms and leaves and the onion ends.  It's like free flavor into your soups and stocks.  I'd rather put them in broth than in the trash!

Leeks are new for me this year.  They grew very well in the garden this year.  I had to research how to deal with these but it was pretty easy.  They also go into the freezer.  I sliced the root end off and then sliced them up almost to the leafy part.  I put the slices in a LARGE amount of cold water, kind of separating the slices a bit.  Don't worry about getting them all, it will be ok.  I took the upper parts (not all of it but maybe 2" above my slices) and cut them in half lengthwise and soak them in a sink of water.  You soak them to get let the dirt between the layers to fall off.  Once they've soaked, I put them in a colander to drain and then in Ziplocs.  These pieces I use for stocks and broths.  The slices I put on towels to dry and then in Ziplocs once dry.  

Remember to label and date the Ziplocs!  You'll have them to use all year!

Friday, September 27, 2013

Eat seasonally

Everyone knows produce is tastier when it is in season.  It's cheaper too!  I'm super busy this weekend but thought I'd share a chart I found online about what is in season when to get the best tasting produce at the best price.

This restaurant, The Accomac, shared this chart on their website/blog and it has a lot of great information!

Now, get outside and enjoy the weather while we can still enjoy warm and sunny weather as opposed to cold and snowy!

Thursday, September 19, 2013

It's catching on!

This morning, as I was trying to get my first cup of coffee in me, the Today show was on in the background.  I was absolutely flabbergasted when I heard a teaser about "Food Conservation".  Of course, my interested was piqued.  I had to get some coffee in me during the commercial break though so I could actually comprehend it...LOL

They pretty much did a Magic Chicken!  I loved, loved, loved it!  You can watch it here.  

I wanted to share this here, not to brag, but because it is relevant that the national news and shows like Today are not only not poking fun at those of us who cook this way but they're showing others how to do it too.  We've all noticed the sharp rise in food prices in the last few years...we've not noticed an increase in wages to match them though.  

I think it is important that we get back to learning to not just cook at home, but to know how to stretch the food dollar to it's maximum potential to feed our families.  I don't foresee the prices coming down anytime soon so it is on us to learn this.

Now, I think I might have choked on my coffee if they'd called it "Magic Chicken"  LOL!!!

Monday, September 16, 2013

Ahhh, Fall weather

This weekend, my son's football team had a double header followed by a parade.  We'd had such crappy hot weather lately that I hadn't really been looking forward to it.  It's tough to watch the little kids out there with all that gear on in such blistering heat!  Anyway, it was such a welcome relieve that the weather broke and we went from extremely hot to high 60's over night.  I know, welcome to Indiana weather!  The boys played hard and won both games.

I love Fall!  It's not too hot, it's certainly not snowing (most of the time anyway, it is still Indiana), you can break out the light jackets and have a bonfire.  Fall food is pretty awesome too.  Weenie roasts, s'mores, stew, chili, soups.  I love making fall food.  The house always smells so wonderful.

Last night, I was going to break out the beef broth and make some veggie soup.  I'd lost track of my stock supply and was actually out of beef stock.

 ***Side note, there is a difference between stock and broth, I use the terms interchangeably even though I shouldn't.  There is a long-drawn out definition of the difference on the Cooking Geek that you can read here.  Just know that for me, they mean the same thing.

So I realized that I was out of beef stock and made a change to chicken and dumplings for dinner as I still had chicken stock on hand.  But supplies are low!  LOL.  That's another nice thing about Fall doesn't heat the house up to unbearable levels to have a pot of stock simmering on the stove.

This week, I am going to make stock.  It's pretty easy and oh so yummy.  I get soup bones packaged up when I have our beef butchered each year but you can talk to the butcher at your favorite grocery or butcher shop and ask about soup bones.  They should be really inexpensive.

I actually season the soup bone with salt and pepper and brown it in a skillet with a little bacon grease to kind of carmelize the outside of it.  I then put the bones in the big stock pot and add whatever veggies I have in the drawer.  Carrots, celery, onions, celery leaves, green peppers and garlic all go in and I'll add salt, pepper, a bay leaf, some thyme, basil or whatever else strikes me as needing to go in.  Then I fill the pot with water.  Bring it to a boil and then reduce to a simmer.  

Do not be alarmed if you get icky, foamy stuff at the top, just use a slotted spoon and scoop it out, not a big deal.  I will let this simmer for a very long time, maybe a couple of hours.  It will reduce quite a bit, that's why I use my biggest stockpot.  I will taste it as I go as I use the taste of it to determine when it is done.  I don't think there is any set time that you leave it on simmer.  I think it is done when it tastes like beef broth that I want to eat veggies in.

I let it cool for a little while and then strain it to get the remains of the veggies out.  Then I will put it in Ziploc bags for the freezer.  Be sure to get the air out as best as you can, this will let them lay flat.  Also, as always, label and date what it is.

This is not only a stock that tastes so much better than store bought, it is MUCH cheaper and you know what is in it and if needed can control (or totally omit) the salt if you need to.  I can almost smell it now.  Making stock is on this week's agenda and I can't wait to smell the house as it is cooking.  It's definitely a "Fall" smell for me.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Together, we can accomplish miracles!

I have talked about my Mom's group before and truly feel they are an amazing group of women.  Included are women of all walks of life and in all stages of life.  What do we have in common?  We are Moms.  We care about children and families.

A couple of days ago, a fellow Mom who happens to be a teacher shared a story with us.  I'd like to share it with you:

"What is $0.30?  This quarter and nickel is a symbol of love, a symbol of gratitude, and a symbol of selflessness.  How?  I will explain.  A very poor 7 year old girl approached me this morning with her fist clenched.  She told me she had a gift for  me.  She went on to say that she had nothing that was special enough to give me but she wanted to tell me thank you for loving and helping her.  She opened her hand to show me these coins.  She then explained it was her entire piggy bank.  It was pennies but her mom wanted it to be more special so she traded the pennies for the larger coins.  I asked her if she wanted to buy something nice with the coins instead of giving them away and her response was almost enough to bring tears to my eyes.  She said, "There is nothing more nice than how kind you are to me and I want to thank you.". This friends is why I am a teacher."

Then our teacher friend shared a little more.  These children were refugees and after a home visit she found they had nothing.  No toys.  No school supplies.  Barely any clothes for school.  What they did have was hard working family members and a drive to learn.  They were working hard with very little but were not giving up.  Within hours, this was being posted on the personal Facebook walls of many of our members:

"Friends - a fellow mom/teacher is teaching in a school where one child takes home a stuffed animal home each night, from the classroom to cuddle because they have no toys.  We have lots of moms helping to rectify this, collecting toys, clothing, furniture, etc.  I would like to do a school supply drive and put together kits the kids can have at home.  Collecting crayons, pencils, paper, easy reading/picture books, scissors, stickers, glue stick, whatever you might have.  Please let me know if you might have anything. (verbage stolen from Julie)."

I have several reasons for sharing all of this.  

First, when you doubt that there is any kindness, caring or compassion in this world, think of this teacher and the way that she cares for these children and the way that these various people who may only have the fact that they are Moms in common came together to help a class of children and their families.

Second, even if you don't have much to give, give something back.  These children will be thrilled with their new pencil and a box of crayons.  To many, it's not much.  To these children, it's the start of an education.  I'm sure there is something in your community that you can donate too.

Third, I never cease to be amazed when a group of people are able to put their personal feelings or animosities aside to come together for the greater good.

Some call it Paying it forward.  Some call it banking good Karma.  Some just call it the right thing to do.  What ever you call it, just do it!  You will be amazed at how you feel and what it brings into your life.  The way your heart feels so full.

Even if you don't have the ability to give a lot, give a little.  A box of crayons is Fifty cents.  I might not be in a position to donate $50 to get a child's school supplies but if 25 of us donated $2, it's covered.  Even if you are only in a position to donate that extra glue stick from the pack of 4 you had to buy because your child's teacher requested 3.  It's one less glue stick that they need to buy.  

It really is the little things.  Little things add up.  

Give of yourself.  Give back.  I'm sure that each one of us has been given a break sometime, somewhere, even if it was the smallest gesture.  If may take a little bit of your time out of your day but that time may absolutely make the day for someone else.  

Within a few days, items had been donated, arrangements were being made to gather and get it to the teacher.  What started as a way to help one child has grown into helping about 30 and creating an in-class book in a baggie library for the kids.  All because one person donated a gently used book.  Another donated some crayons.  Yet another gave some scissors.  And someone donated that glue stick.  

It starts small people!

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Routines & Lists

I will admit it, I am a creature of habit.  My life may seem hectic and chaotic at times but without my routines, it's an absolute nightmare.  In addition to work, in our household we have one in intermediate school, one in high school, two in college, a teen with an after school job, and a small business.  Throw in extra-curriculars like football, softball and soccer and hectic becomes an understatement.  Your particulars might be different but I bet you're just as harried!

Ever since I was in the hospital, things were so up in the air and so many doctor's appointments were thrown in that I got away from my routine.  Now, we still ate and still had clean clothes, etc.  But MY routine was totally screwed up.  By that I don't mean just the extra appointments and things although, those contributed to it.  I mean those things I specifically do on Sunday or how I cook on Wednesday, etc.

I had gotten out of my habits.  Things like on Sundays, I deal with my coupons and coupon binder while having coffee and I make my weekly menus.  Just those two little things can mess up the week and the budget.  First, I truly do not like the "What do you want for dinner?", "I don't know, what do you want?" game.  This can go on for a bit and then it's late and you end up at a restaurant for dinner.  There goes the budget.  Once the menu is made on Sunday, the family has until sundown (you just heard old western showdown music in your head, didn't you?  LOL) to protest the menu or ask for a change. 

Yesterday, I decided that I had to get back on track.  I sat down, made my menus and made my lists.  Yes, I like lists too!  Some days I don't think I'd remember my name if not for my lists.  I'm old fashioned with them too, I like to actually write on a piece of paper (usually an old envelop or the back of some school assignment).  I have the apps on my phone to make to-do lists and grocery lists and it's just not the same.

By having my menus done, I know that I have what I need to make each meal. I can also make note of those items I will have replenish the next time I go to the grocery.  I can plan ahead to have easier meals on busier days.  I know what days I need to break out the crock pot and let it do the work for me.  And there are no more $40 mid week restaurant meals.

Whether you make lists on paper or on your electronic device, they seem old-fashioned but it really helps to keep me on track.  I have a household book with lists that let me keep the house fairly clean (I have kids and a husband, so it's never totally clean).  Sometime in the future, I'll share my book and lists as a couple of them need updated.  I also make lists of other things to keep things moving along.  For example by making a list of my errands, I can sorta map them out so that I'm not backtracking and wasting gas.

I know some of you will say "Aren't you wasting time by making the list?"  Well, I generally make my lists while I'm having coffee or waiting in the car on the kids or waiting in a doctor's waiting room.  Those few minutes you might be playing Candy Crush Saga, you could make a list.  I'm not knocking CCS at all, I'm on level 181 myself, but miss a round or two and make your own list!  

I should warn you though.  There is such a feeling of accomplishment in taking a pencil and crossing off something on your list.  I tell my husband, you can't always see what I do so crossing it off the list lets me feel that accomplishment!

So here I go, back to my routines and my lists!