Monday, December 23, 2013

Menu Plan Monday - Christmas is Coming!

Recently I've been planning my meals in blocks and that has really simplified life. This week, of course has a couple of special meals that must be planned to the nth degree so there you are!  Here are my Christmas menus - with wines so I can remember what they were next time -- and my plans for other days.

Italian Christmas Eve

Polenta  Parmesan
Ratatouille (I know, it's French!)
Broccoli (steamed) w/ shaved parm and almonds
Baked cod
A nice Chilean Chardonnay  - Copa del Rey 2009

Later, by the fire:
Peppermint ice-cream (Blue Bell of course) and Christmas cookies

Traditional English Christmas

A Tempranillo, Casajus Bebera del Duero 2009
Prime Rib (cooked in our Big Easy)
Mashed Potatoes
Yorkshire Pudding
Horseradish Sauce (really just sour cream and horseradish)
Candied long Carrots
Roasted Brussels Sprouts w/ Balsamic Vinegar &  Pancetta
and toward the end of the meal, St Michelle Select Harvest Riesling (2012)
Tennessee Stack Cake

If you've never had Tennessee Stack Cake - you must have it now. Run, do not walk to your kitchen. This year, I'll be using apple-butter Alli made last year. Oh yum.

We will also be eating:

Black Beans and Rice over Spinach
Crock-pot Chicken Tikka Masala with Jasmine Rice
Turkey Sausage and Peppers with Polenta
Florentine Omelettes with Ratatouille (since I have it on hand!)

I linked up with OrgJunkie for this Menu Plan Monday.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Sweet, Simple and Affordable Teacher Gifts

We have a lot of teachers to gift and while we sometimes have a good idea for someone, it's nice to come up with something generic we can give to lots of people. This fits the bill: Hot Chocolate Truffles.  You drop a truffle in a cup of hot milk, stir it up and viola! You have the richest, most lovely cup of hot chocolate.
I found a recipe and then adjusted it to my taste. I saw a recipe for regular truffles that tasted like Mexican Hot Chocolate and borrowed the spices from that recipe to make a batch of Mexican Hot Chocolate Truffles too!  Here is our final recipe:

  • 2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 4 oz good dark chocolate (at least 70% cacao), chopped fine
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1/4 cup  sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • Cocoa powder, crushed candy canes, instant espresso powder powdered sugar, mini marshmallows, sprinkles etc. for rolling
Using a double boiler, combine all ingredients except vanilla. Heat, stirring, until smooth. Right when it looks really terrible and hopeless, it is just about to come together.  If you don't have a double boiler, do what I do and use a bowl instead.  When smooth and shiny, stir in the vanilla and put the bowl in the fridge for at least 1.5 hours to firm up.

When firm, use a 2 tablespoon scoop to place it on wax paper on a sheet pan. Freeze for 1 hour or more.

Remove the balls from the sheet; roll in your hands to smooth, and roll in toppings.  We mix our espresso powder and our cocoa with powdered sugar because these are not overly sweet.  We shape our espresso ones like coffee beans.

Mexican Hot Chocolate Version:
Follow all the directions above but add to the hot mixture:  
  • 2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 3/4 tsp. cayenne
We roll these in red sprinkles so you can tell them from the others. (And as you can see, I write on the freezer tray so I remember these are different!)

PS -- When I had them all done, I found this cute presentation with a stir stick included.  May do that the next time!  

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Thanksgiving Hits and Misses

I am so thankful for my family. How great a gift a family is! My parents were finishing up their stay; we are already missing them so much as they went home yesterday. We had a wonderful couple of days with my brothers Guy and John here from Chicago. We hadn't seen them for 4 years since they have been living in London. To quote Sunshine, "We don't get to see Guy and John that often so I forget how much fun they are!" It was fun and it was a blessing.

We started the day with Pepper's yummy caramel rolls. Guy and John made a wonderful paper bag turkey (stuffed with popcorn) for the Littles. Pepper made an adorable crudite tray.  It was fun to have some cute Pinterest touches on the day!

We tried some wonderful new recipes; one by me, two by the Barefoot Contessa, one by Paula Deen and then all our tried and true favorites. Almost everyone helped with cooking in some way but Mamaw, Pepper and I did the bulk of it. We ate:

Dressing - The Best EVER (my new recipe)
Turkey (a pre-ordered fresh natural turkey that was super moist thanks to the prep and cooking but, frankly, a little tough)
Mashed Potatoes
Sweet Potato Puree (Barefoot Contessa) with candied pecans (contributed by Pepper)
Roasted Brussels Sprouts (Barefoot Contessa)
Pumpkin Pie (made by Mamaw, of course, and perfect!)
Fresh Apple Cake (Paula Deen)

I think we'd have liked the sweet potatoes if they weren't so orangey. We will cut the orange way back next time. We loved the cayenne in them, though! The Brussels Sprouts, on the other hand, were sublime. Oh, my goodness! The apple cake was a huge hit, too; it has such yummy apple flavor and was super moist. This apple cake will make a great addition to our New Year's brunch.

So, in the end, we were thankful for the food, too.  Here are a few assorted pictures. 

Monday, November 11, 2013

Veteran's Day and Why I Keep Crying

The crying started on Thursday when we visited the Museum of the Pacific War in Fredericksburg.  I cried for the Japanese Americans interned; I cried for the "Fighting Sullivans," I cried for lives lost. It was very sobering.

Yesterday I was very touched when the National Anthem was played at the Mass I visited. Yes  I cried. The readers were all veterans in uniform.  I have written before about my military roots and the patriotism that seems inherent in me.

I was discussing this recently with a friend in her forties. She cannot understand how I can be so uninvolved in most political matters yet have this strong patriotism. I think a lot of it has to do with how I was raised and it also has to do with my age.

In the late 60's and early 70's --my formative years -- America was embroiled in conflicts in Cambodia and Vietnam.  I started high-school in 1974 while the draft was still in effect. My sister was a senior and boys from her class and my cousin Kelly's class had to register for the Selective Service as they turned 18. The draft, though highly controversial, was a fact of life for us. A brief history lesson -- from  1969 onward, a lottery was in effect. Registered young men were classified and then called up in groups and forcibly conscripted to the military.  I cannot adequately put into words my relief when the lottery ended in 1975 and I knew my younger brothers would not be required to serve. (By the way, it wasn't only 18 year-olds who were drafted; you were eligible until you reached age 35.)

My cousin Dennis, then a college student, was classified 1A. That meant he was certain to be called up and deployed. With a life threatening allergy to bee stings, he voluntarily joined the army to avoid certain deployment to Vietnam.  My Uncle Frank had just finished his last tour in Vietnam and my Uncle John was still on active duty.

To me, the fighting in Vietnam was real. It was terrifying, it was horrifying and it was real. It was not a political cause in which one took sides. I did not not have the luxury of protesting the war; I was too busy hoping all those young men lived. The war was where young men from my hometown and from my family went to fight (and thankfully, survive). What I learned from the Vietnam war is that war changes people. War is a hard way to build a hero. It is even harder when those returning were met with protests and derision.

I was raised with the motto "Freedom isn't free." Whether or not I agree with the political motivations of the Presidents who committed us to the conflicts and wars, my family has fought for our freedom since 1675 in King Phillips War. (Did you even realize people were fighting on American soil in the 1600s?)

No matter your political leanings, today is Veteran's Day. I hope you will take the time to personally thank a veteran and say a prayer of thanks for the nearly 3 million patriots who have died in the service of our country.

Happy Veteran's Day!

Other posts on our military heroes:
Heroes Proved
Hand on my Heart for Veterans
Ponderings of a Patriot

To see how many members of the Huntley family have served in the United States military, please see this amazing website created by my Uncle Frank.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Birth Family Visit and a Falling in Love with a School

I am on vacation so Mom, Pepper and I made an impromptu trip to East Texas with a three-fold purpose:  1) Take Mamaw to see her friend Nancy Lee; (2) Take Pepper to see her birth-family, and (3) Visit Stephen F Austin State University to see if Pepper wants to add it to her list of potential schools.

Everything went beautifully and, dare I say it, I think Pepper will soon be a "Lumber Jack!"  She loved the school! We all did! I think Mamaw and I are ready to enroll too.

Here is Mom with Nancy Lee; that's on e of Nancy Lee's beautiful quilts in the background!

We did not get any snapshots of Pepper at the U, but thankfully got tons of pictures with her birth-family. Some may be a little blurry to a little baby love on the lens!

That's birth Grandma on the left!
Adorable baby Baylee

Haylee with Grandma

Those beautiful girls belong to Pepper's birth-sister; that's her brother here too! Can you see the resemblance?

Can you imagine living your life without seeing anyone who had your dna?  Here are three sibs together. This was a thrill.

What an amazing day!

Friday, November 1, 2013

Halloween Fun

Sometimes it's all about the pictures!

Na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na Batman!

Cheetah with our friend Daniella


Power Ranger!

Rosy the Riveter

Top two by Chanelle; the bottom one by Mommy and Gabe

Tinker's pumpkin

Bennie's happy jack-o-lantern

Yesi and the Littles

Our dear Becca

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Mamaw's Potato Soup with Egg Dumplings for Cold Weather

It's that time of year again. I was so grateful to see all the kids with their legs covered up this morning. Summer is long. I get tired of looking at their knobby knees! (I'm not being mean -- I'll say the opposite in March.)

It seemed like the perfect day to post Mamaw's Potato Soup Recipe.  I grew up on this soup and it is still my go-to comfort food.  A word of warning, this is the over-large family version. You may need to scale it down for your family, or just eat it two days in a row. When you refrigerate it, it appears to turn into mashed potatos, just add milk and water in equal amounts when reheating to re-liquify it. (No picture, sorry. We are always too excited to get to the eating!)

Mamaw's Potato Soup with Egg Dumplings 

5# Potatoes, peeled and cut into 2" pieces (rough cut) (I like white or russet for this)
3 large stalks celery, cleaned and chopped.
1 Tablespoon butter
Milk (lots - probably about 4 cups)
6 ounces cheddar cheese, shredded
4 eggs
1 to 1-1/2 cups flour

Cook the celery in the butter in a saute pan. Just cover the potatoes with salted water and bring to boil. Add the celery to this. Once they boil, reduce heat to simmer and let cook 10 minutes. Test with a fork to see if they are almost done.

Meanwhile, beat the eggs with a fork and slowly add the flour until it is a thick batter. 1-1/4 cups of flour should be about right. Add about a tsp. of salt to the mix. These are your egg dumplings.

When the potatoes are nearly done, drop the dumplings on top of the potatoes and replace the lid on the pot. Simmer 15 minutes. Test dumplings to make sure they are done; they should be dry inside.

By now your water should be down to less than half the level of potatoes. Slowly add milk until it is up to the level of the potaotes; heat this until bubbly. When the milk is hot, add the cheese and turn off the heat. Slowly stir the cheese in.


Add cooked, crumbled bacon to the top
Include two peeled chopped carrots with the potatoes
Add a chopped onion to the celery (we're allergic)
Top with chives or green onions

This is also a very good potato soup recipe made with a really special cheese, Cougar Gold.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Menu Plan Monday! Woot, woot!

I'm joining Org Junkie in her Menu Plan Monday link-up. Our Texas weather is still saying, "summer", but Mama is lighting the oven anyway, ready for fall food!

Monday Lunch Bento boxes: Ginger pork medallions (this recipe sans the asparagus), cooked carrots, grape tomatoes, spinach knobs with sesame sauce, white rice. (The ginger-teriyaki sauce for the pork is amazing).

Monday Dinner: Mamaw's Hamburger Pie, with green salad

Tuesday Lunch: Snack Plate (cheese cubes, crackers, ham roll ups, raw veggies, strawberries)
Tuesday Dinner: Slow Cooker Chicken Tikka Masala, "fat" couscous, Cucumber Raita

Wednesday Lunch: Leftovers!
Wednesday Dinner: (Irish Night) Homemade Sausage, Colcannon, Homemade Applesauce (all three simple recipes found here)

Thursday Lunch: Sandwiches, fruit, grape tomatoes, baby carrots
Thursday Dinner: Regular spaghetti with meat sauce, salad

Friday Lunch: School lunch day
Friday Dinner: Shrimp Salad, Cornbread Muffins

Saturday Dinner: Calorie-Wise Cheese Enchiladas, shredded lettuce, non-fat refried beans

Sunday Dinner:  Marie's Spaghetti Pie, green beans, fresh fruit. (Okay, this is not a low-cal or heart-healthy dish so plan your week with this amazing meal in mind. This dish is worth it!)

Have a wonderful week.

Friday, October 4, 2013

7 Quick Takes Friday

I'm joining Jennifer Fulwiler in her "Seven Quick Takes" today. I waved at her Sunday when we made a rare foray to 11:30 Mass and it reminded me I wanted to do this!

1. Pepper had a birthday. The worst mom ever is just now posting it. She's 17!  Where did the time go? No, seriously -- it has gone by so quickly. In typical Pepper fashion she opted for a low-key family birthday with one friend over and next weekend she'll have a couple friends over for Vietnamese food. Here is a cute shot of her with her friend Nik.  Her chosen menu was Pad Thai and Asian Salad followed by an Italian dessert, Panne Cotta. Sunshine made her a cake but we forgot to take a pic. Of course.

2. Mamaw and Papa finally got here in their motor-home from Idaho. It's about a 2300 mile drive, y'all, a pretty serious commitment. We've been playing cards, reading with the Littles and generally soaking up the love. They got here just in time for Pepper's birthday. Hopefully we'll have them till December at least.

3.  I have been learning a lot about pigs. Someone gave me the book, The Good, Good Pig by Sy Montgomery. This is a great book. It's interesting and so well written. I'm not much of a pig-lover, or wasn't, but this is just plain good reading. It's also a very good example of a memoir for all you organized people

4. Sunshine had her first day of school. The nice thing about homeschooling is that it is so laid back, you don't necessarily even get around to taking your first day of school pictures for a month. You will still have to wait a couple days because she refused to get dressed today. She is doing very well keeping up with her schoolwork and showing a lot of responsibility. I have it so easy in the homeschooling department.

5. Soapberries. You know I am a secret hippie. I have been shampoo-less for almost 2 years - wait, 3?  And my homemade body butter is working out great. Now I am thinking about experimenting with soapberries. I plan to hunt some up this weekend and give them a try. You can buy them but I am planning to find them wild around here!  Wish me luck!

6. My meal team is planing an All Saints Day surprise for the parish teens (340+).  I need some software to make saint icons for cupcakes but I want it cartoony. Any suggestions? These are my favorites but not affordable given the variety I'm hoping for. I think I may bite the bullet and buy two sets of Happy Saints and then share them with my friends so I don't feel so guilty! Just let me know if you want to borrow them.

7. I'm tired. I think several (or all) of us have a latent little virus that makes us tired and stupid. The boys are both running fevers so got a day off from school. We all look like we haven't slept in days. This too shall pass! I'm planning 6 hours of work followed by an early bedtime and sleeping in for everyone tomorrow. Yay Saturday.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Double Trouble Back to School

It's Saturday night and Pepper is watching Prince of Egypt with the Littles.

At one point, I said to The Blitz, "Do you want me to make y'all some popcorn, honey?"
"Yes, Mom, because "Mo-sep" is boring."
"Sweetie, it's "MOSES"; he's a real person from the Bible."
"Okay, Mom, well Mo-SIS is boring too."

Oh goodness.  The last of my peeps headed off to school this week, The Blitz and The Captain. (Sunshine is still on break until next week and homeschoolers technically don't head off to school). I have put off writing this post while being daunted by the production of 6 or 7 lunches every day at 6:00 a.m. My plan worked well, though, so each week will get easier.

I only cried a little -- and surprisingly not over The Blitz. It was The Captain; he looked so sad and overwhelmed when I left him for Kindergarten - the Sequel, with his new teacher, Ms. Warner. I tried to get us off on the right foot by walking him to school, which he loves, but it didn't do it. He was quite reluctant the next day, too, when we walked to the bus stop two lots away. While we waited for the bus, he hung his head and stared at his feet and when the bus arrived, he was teary-eyed. I felt terrible. But by the end of the day, he seemed happy and has been less reluctant with each day. He has two issues: He has to make all new friends, and he figured out his friends went to first grade. He is feeling shame about it and that is sad. I do not regret holding him back as I know it is the best for him but I am sorry for his hurt feelings!

The Blitz has been pretty wary of going to school, thinking it was just a trick to take him to day care (which he really did not enjoy). He goes at 11:30 so the first day, I put him in the car and drove him over there and when we pulled up in front of the school, he said, "Hey, this is Old Town Edementry" and then laughed out loud. He has been all smiles since and his only complaint is that he has to wait "too long" each day to go.  One day I'd been in appointments all day so picked up the boys from school 20 minutes early and he cried, angry at me for not letting him finish the day. Oh, the trials of Pre-K. ( Oh and of course he wouldn't look at the camera!)

I think it will be a good year for both of them. Their teachers are very sweet and they are already both getting into the rhythm of school; I am getting into the swing of things too and I feel much less stressed about the upcoming week than I did the last.

Next week when Sunshine starts, I will try for another Fab Five pic; for now, we're still stuck with the iPod photos as my new flash drive is lost in transit.  Cheers.