Tuesday, December 29, 2009

January: Use-Up Month

As 2009 comes to a close, I thought I'd share a little plan I'm cooking up for January.

It seems like my cupboards and freezer always get over-stocked during the holiday season with all of the cooking and baking that goes on. And of course in January, we are all pinching our pennies trying to make up for all that spending that we did in December. So... this January I'm going to kill two birds with one stone... or should we say "love-tap" two birds with one stone (I don't really want to kill them). Anyway, in order to get a fresh start in 2010 and save some buckaroos, I'm designating January as "Use-Up Month." The goal of this month, as the name implies, is to buy as little food as possible and use up all the food in my freezer and pantry. Then come February, we will have saved a good chunk o' change, and we will have freed up some space in the pantry and freezer too!


Obviously, I will need to buy some groceries, such as milk, fruit and other fresh items to keep my family healthy. But my goal is to buy as few ingredients as possible and work around what I already have.


To make "Use-Up" month a success, it's going to require a little creativity on my part and a big shift in the way I cook and plan meals. See, usually I go through my recipes and cookbooks, decide which meals I want to make and then purchase the ingredients. This month, everything will be backwards... I'll look at the foods I already have and try to come up with recipes that use those ingredients. I am excited for this fun cooking challenge. I feel like an Iron Chef! Just call me Mario Batali, everyone. I plan on getting a lot of inspiration from web sites like allrecipes.com, where you can type in the ingredients you have on hand and find loads of recipes that use those things.


For instance, I have several cans of mandarin oranges in my pantry, along with tons of rice... so I'm thinking of trying out this delish orange chicken recipe. I also have some evaporated milk and some boxed stuffing mix in my pantry, so I might try this recipe for chicken and stuffing casserole.


Even though it'll be use-up month, there's just NO WAY I can forgo baking for an entire month. These jam bars are a great use-up for the 12 gajillion jars of jam I have accumulated over the last 6 months. The recipe calls for apricot jam, but any old jam will do. (P.S. If you use blueberry jam, they taste exactly like Blueberry Oat Bars from Starbucks! My fave!)

Another item I have loads of is canned pumpkin. I have at least three large cans that I can see, probably more buried in back of the canned goods. I'd like to try this zucchini pumpkin bread, since I also want to make things healthier this month AND I have a whole bag of oat bran I need to use up! Also with pumpkin, I love making the pumpkin oatmeal and pumpkin coffee cake from from Deceptively Delicious by Jessica Seinfeld (love this book!). These pumpkin cookies sound divine, and I have all the ingredients on hand already.


I have a few cans of white (cannellini) beans to use up, so I was thinking of making this soup recommended by my friend Gina.



Hopefully by the end of the month, I'll have a few new recipes in my repertoire. And all month long, I'll be updating my extensive readership with the ups and downs of "Use-Up Month," so stay tuned!


For now, I leave you with a "before" pic of my busting-at-the-seams pantry, hopefully to be followed by a much-less-cluttered "after" pic about a month from now!


It's embarrassing to show the extreme messiness of my pantry to the droves of you reading this... but I just gots ta keep it real, yo!

Finally, my dear friends and patriots, I invite you to join me on this adventure! Let's trek across this uncharted territory together.


Happy New Year from my embarrassingly messy pantry to yours!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Bennett: A Lesson in Empathy

I decided to start a new Christmas tradition this year... a tradition of giving to the less fortunate. I wanted to give Bennett a little perspective in the midst of all the toys, goodies and train rides. I wanted him to realize how very blessed he is. I wanted to him to understand what it means to have a giving heart.

So last week, Bennett and I collected some of his toys. I explained that we were going to give some of our toys to little boys and girls who didn't have any. His first response was, "not my dinosaurs, right Mama?" I told him that he could keep his dinosaurs and encouraged him to find some other toys that we could give to "the boys and girls." At first he was hesitant, but after we found a few toys to give, he began to get more excited about it. He even took a few of his cars, (his most prized possessions) and cheerfully put them in the donation bag.

A few days later, McPreachy and I piled the kiddos in the car and drove to the Orange County Rescue Mission to drop off the toys. When we arrived, we let Bennett carry the toys to the donation drop-off and turn them in himself. He was very proud.

Then, as we were driving away, Bennett asked, "Why don't those boys and girls have toys, Mama?"

"Well, because they don't have any money to buy them, buddy," I answered.

"So what do they have in their house?" This was his way of verbalizing the fact that he couldn't comprehend a house that didn't have toys in it. I decided to take this opportunity to open his eyes to the world around him, sad as it may sometimes be. I know he's young, and it's a lot of information for a 3-year-old to digest. But Bennett is an "old soul," and I knew he could handle it. Besides, this was one of the reasons we were giving our toys away... to teach Bennett empathy.

So I said, "You know what, bud? Some people don't even have houses. They have to sleep on the street."

His first response to this world-rocking information was denial. "Mama," he said with a chuckle. "They don't sleep on the street."

"Yes, Bennett," I said in a gentle voice. "They do sleep on the street. Isn't that sad?"

He nodded, his eyes wide. "Do they have blankets?" he asked.

"No, buddy. Some people don't even have blankets or pillows or beds or food." I answered. "That's why we need to help them. That's why we are giving them our toys."

"Do they have drinks?" he asked, as if it was unfathomable that they might not... as if this was the final straw.

"No sweetie, not even drinks."

He was silent for a moment. And then he asked me, "Mama, can Jesus go buy blankets and pillows and binkys and food and drinks for all the boys and girls and give it to them? Then they will be happy and not have to sleep on the street?"

But I didn't answer him. Because I was so overcome with emotion that I couldn't speak. The empathetic, giving heart that I saw my son express just overwhelmed me. As I sat quietly in the front seat weeping, my sweet husband took over for me, answering Bennett's questions and affirming him.

I cannot remember a time in my life that I have felt prouder than listening to my sweet, precious boy trying desperately to figure out a way for all the children in the world to have blankets and pillows and binkys and food. And drinks.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

For the Love of Joe: Product Spotlight

As you have heard time and time again, I LOOOOOOOVVVEE Trader Joe's. If I'm having a bad day, I just step through their hula-inspired doors, and everything seems right with the world.

Maybe it's the wonderful selection of unique and gourmet items. It might be the friendly staff, the clever packaging, the out-of-this-world prices or the stuffed lemur they hide around the store to keep my kids entertained while I shop. Perhaps it's because of the free samples they are always giving out or the quaint, neighborhood-grocery-store vibe of the whole place. Whatever the reason, TJ's just makes me happy when I'm feeling blue. What can I say? I'm easy to please.

Yet, unbelievably, I have several friends who don't shop at TJ's because they say they feel intimidated when they go in and don't know what to buy. They know that Trader Joe's is an absolute treasure trove of delectable delights, just waiting to be unearthed. But they just don't know where to start diggin'. So... I've decided to do weekly TJ's product spotlights of some of my TJ's favorites and how I use them. Consider it a little piece of foodie-aloha from me to you!

Today's product spotlight hails from the bread section on TJ's. She's a seasonal gal who loves butter, jam and leisurely dips in egg batter. That's right, folks... please welcome bachelorhood number one... It's TJ's Sliced Panetone Bread!



Panetone is an Italian fruitcake-inspired bread that is big around the holidays (Giada is a big fan, of course). It is a sweet, dense bread loaded with candied orange peel, almonds, cranberries and raisins (I'm usually not a fan of raisins, but they are good in this). YUM!

I spotted this beauty at TJ's yesterday, while looking for sandwich rolls, feeding small bits of grape to Mallory to keep her from screaming and telling Bennett for the ump-teenth time to please stop standing up in the cart.

I brought her home, and this morning we used her to make a batch of festive, holiday French Toast!

Here's what you do:

Crack a few eggs in a shallow dish. Add a splasheroo of milk, a shakeroo of cinnamon, another splasheroo of vanilla extract and a zesteroo of half an orange. These measurements must be exact.


Whisk it all together and dredge (that's a fancy way of saying "dip.") the bread slices in the egg mixture.




Now slap those dredged puppies on a hot skillet and cook both sides until golden brown.



Serve up your fancy-schmancy Panetone French Toast with butter and warm maple syrup!




Enjoy!

Monday, December 14, 2009

Cookie Day: All That and a Bag of Chocolate Chips!


Today was Cookie Day! As previously mentioned, My Mom and I have Cookie Day every December, and as the name suggests, it is a day where we make loads and loads and LOADS of cookies to give to our friends and neighbors (and of course, devour ourselves).


Here I am with some of our delicious, delectable creations. Please forgive my makeup-less, sweatshirt-clad appearance. Just keepin' it real. We don't dress up much around these parts when it's cookie day.



Here is my rediculously messy kitchen, in the throws of Cookie Day. Again, just keepin' it real...



This year we made several different types o' cookie goodness. We made:

These Snickerdoodles were actually made for our annual church bake-off last night, and they won in the cookie category! The were really good!!! Here's the recipe:

Ingredients:

  • 3/4 c. chopped almonds, toasted
  • 3 c. flour
  • 1/2 tsp. cream of tartar
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 1/2 c. sugar + 1/4 c sugar for the topping
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 tsp. almond extract
  • 3/4 c. dried apricots, chopped
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp ground cloves

Directions:

  1. Whisk together flour, cream of tartar, baking soda and salt. Set aside.
  2. Using a hand mixer on medium speed, cream together butter and sugar in a large bowl until light and fluffy (5 minutes).
  3. Add eggs and almond extract to butter mixture and blend until incorporated.
  4. Add half of the flour mixture, beating on low until combined. Add remaining flour, beating only until just incorporated.
  5. Fold almonds and apricots into the dough until evenly distributed.
  6. Mix together 1/4 c. of sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves in a shallow bowl or plate.
  7. Shape dough into 1.5 inch balls. Roll the dough into sugar/spice mixture.
  8. Transfer cookies to greased cookie sheets and bake at 350 degrees for 10-12 minutes, until cookies are lightly browned. Cool completely and enjoy!

Another part of this year's cookie day fun was making a gingerbread house with Bennett. My dad and McPreachy did this fun project with Benny while my Mom and I were in the kitchen baking away!


We used a gingerbread house of the pre-baked variety, and it worked great. Why go to all that trouble baking the house, when decorating is really the fun part? At least that's the way I see it!





Here are the fun and delicious candy decorations.




Here's Benny-boy overseeing the construction of the house.

In all honesty, Bennett was much more excited about trying to eat all the candy decorations than he was about actually decorating the house. But he did have a lot of fun. After he got bored with it, McPreachy finished decorating it himself.



Here are a few shots of the finished product. Come along, kiddie-winkies... I'll give you the tour.

Here's the side of the house, where little graham cracker bunnies just love to frolic and play amongst the gumdrop tulips.
Here's the other side of the house. Question: What in the world is that little white swirly-swoop on top o' the lollipop? It scares me a little, as do the frosting "wigs" our gingerbread poeple are wearing. Methinks McPreachy got a little craaaazy with the frosting.

Here's the front door of our Casa de Gingerbread. Notice the very Sistine-Chapel-esque rose window above the front door (McPreachy is very cultured).
Merry Christmas, Cookie Lovers!

Sunday, December 6, 2009

December: Christ, Crafts, Cookies and CRAZINESS!


To My Faithful Blog Readers (All 4 of you):

Thank you for your polite, little nudges reminding me to get this blog a-rollin' for the holidays... to trim my cyber tree, if you will. The kick in the patootey was just what I needed to drag myself away from my mile-long to-do list and give a little shout out to Christmas.

I LOVE Christmas... Very few things get me as excited as pulling out my Christmas decorations and getting things decked for the holidays. But each year, things seem to be getting crazier and CRAZIER and CRAZIER! I think my problem is that I want to do it ALL! The baking, the homemade gifts, the fun family traditions, the caroling, the decorating... I could go on forever baby (name that Christmas movie). A few days ago, only mere hours into December, I was already on the verge of a nervous breakdown. There are simply not enough hours in December to do it all, and I need to come to grips with that if I'm going to enjoy my Christmas and make it meaningful for my family. So I am *trying* to remember to slow down amidst all the things I want to do. I am *trying* to pace myself and just take time to sit on the couch with the ones I love, looking at our tree and drinking cocoa!
It's not easy to say no to some things that I really want to do, but I'm *trying.* (somehow, putting asterisks on the word *trying* softens the meaning of the word and gives me a little more grace in the event that I fail horribly.)

But seriously, this year my goal is to remember God's Son and His birth each time I do something Christmasy... to do things that point to Jesus and bring joy to my family, myself and others instead of just doing task after task out of obligation.

I know, I know... who ever thought Casey Crocker had all these deep thoughts just swimming around in that bleached-blonde head of hers. Not me... that's for sure!

That being said, here are a few things I am really looking forward to this month:

  • Taking Bennett on the Santa Claus Train at Irvine Park. This is a fun tradition, and I love seeing my son's face light up with joy when he sees the train all decorated and lit up for Christmas.
  • Baking Cookies with my Mom. Every year we have "Cookie Day" where we bake, bake bake until we just can't bake no more!
  • Making a Gingerbread House with Bennett. He was too young for this last year, so I'm excited to start this tradition this year.
  • Watching some of my favorite Christmas Movies... It's a Wonderful Life, The Grinch, Home Alone 1 and 2, The Santa Clause Movies... I pack them away all year, and they are ONLY to be watched in the month of December. Those are the rules of Christmas Movies and they are unflinchingly rigid.
  • Making and baking some cute, homemade gifts. Sorry I can't divulge my secrets yet, as a few of my blog readers will be the recipients of said gifts.
  • Making some fun crafts with Bennett. I know a few of you have asked me about our school-time theme this month. December (like November) is proving to be a difficult month to pick a theme because anything I pick ends up being limiting. There are just so many Christmas symbols to choose from. So I'm just going to title it "Christmas Month" and call it a day. Don't worry... we will be resuming more specificly-themed months come January. Snowflake month, anyone?
  • Taking the kids to go see Christmas lights. I LOVE bundling everyone up in the car and taking along some thermos' of hot chocolate and coffee. Last year we found an online list of the best local light displays. They were amazing!

  • The food, food, food! You can expect to find some festive recipes on my blog in the coming weeks. Christmas cooking (and eating) is the BEST!

  • The music! I LOVE Christmas music and only listen to it in the month of December (*see Christmas Movie Rules, above). Here is our precious man singing "Good Christian Men, Rejoice." And yes, I bribed him with a candy cane so I could catch it on film. Don't judge me. I'm only human.


video

And with that precious display of holiday spirit, I will bring this holiday shout out to a close.

Merry Christmas!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

November School-Time: Thankfulness Month... or Pilgrim Month... or Turkey Month

For November's school time theme, we had quite a difficult time choosing between thankfulness month, pilgrim month or turkey month.

Actually, to me, it's a no-brainer... TURKEY MONTH! I always gravitate toward the craft-friendly and food-related themes!

But McPreachy said he didn't like Turkey Month because we need to expose Bennett to more history... hence Pilgrim Month was born.

But then I thought it would be great to center the month around the idea of thankfulness in preparation for Thanksgiving. So I thought maybe Thankfulness Month.

After all... we're making this wonderful Thankfulness Tree where we add leaves every day saying what we're thankful for.


Bennett has expressed thankfulness for some pretty cute/quirky/precious things, including blueberries, "happy things," and my personal favorite... the unsolicited, "I'm thankful for you, Mama!"

But you can't make thankfulness sugar cookies or cut thankfulness out of construction paper or cover thankfulness in glitter glue... so I decided it's really too obscure to be our school-time theme.

And yet... I really want to focus on the importance of thankfulness this month! It is much more important than turkeys or even pilgrims!

For those of you scoffers who say I am spending too much time thinking about something that doesn't really matter, I say "Oh P'shaw!" (This is a phrase my mom used to say all the time. It is also translated: "That's crazy talk! What do you mean my holiday school time theme doesn't matter?!") Because really, how can life possibly go on if we don't have one, all-inclusive, holiday-centered theme for school time? It is of utmost importance.


So I am therefore naming November:
"Thankful Pilgrims and Turkeys Month!"

See.. it covers all my bases in one fell swoop!
Besides our thankfulness tree, a few items on this month's academic and fun-o-demic agenda are:
To do this, place heavy whipping cream and salt in a clean Tupperware or mason
jar and shake, shake, shake it until you've got butter!
  • Hand print Turkeys


  • Check out some special Thanksgiving books from the library.

Here are a few that we've gotten already and love!


*Thanksgiving at the Tappletons' by Eileen Spinelli


We love this book about a Thanksgiving dinner gone horribly wrong. We especially love the wonderful prayer at the end, which we are memorizing for Thanksgiving. It goes:
Turkeys come, and turkeys go
And trimmings can be lost we know.
But we're together, that what matters,
Not what's served upon the platters.


*One Little, Two Little, Three Little Pilgrims by B.G. Hennessy


A very cute book about the first Thanksgiving.. surprisingly
educational!

*Thanksgiving is For Giving Thanks by Margaret
Sutherland




So there you have it... "Thankful Pilgrims and Turkeys Month."
Doesn't it just warm the cockles of your heart?

Stay tuned for more thematic delights!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Faux-Fancy Dessert: Trick Your Friends and Co-horts!

No pics today, friends. But I wanted to share this wonderful idea for a faux-fancy dessert.

In case you hadn't already guessed why I call it faux-fancy, don't worry... I'll clue you in. I take sympathy on people who don't immediately put things together on their own... who stand scratching their heads while everyone else is laughing hysterically. You are not alone; I am one of you.

Anyway... I call this dessert faux-fancy because, like faux-fur...


or a faux-hawk...


...it is only pretending to be fancy when it is really quite simple. (Oh look at me... I said no pictures but I just couldn't help myself!)


Here's what I did when I needed dessert in a snap:

I took a box of one of my favorite fall staples, Trader Joe's Pumpkin Bread Mix.

I prepared it according to the package directions and baked it in my mini muffin tin. Which brings us to step one for creating a faux-fancy dessert:

1. Make It Mini!
Have you ever noticed that fancy restaurants always serve tiny little portions? Or think about those darling little mini-tarts or tea sandwiches at tea houses. Those are sooooo faux-fancy! I mean come on, all they are is cream cheese and cucumber slapped between plain white bread. Ahhh, but cut them into cute little triangles and... voila! Fancy little delicacies. So next time you are getting ready to bake up a packaged-mix but you want something a little more special, consider baking them in your mini loaf pans or mini muffin tins.

Next I made a glaze for these darlin' little pumpkins... which brings us to step two for creating a faux-fancy dessert...

2. Top it, Baby!
Create a snazzy topping for your simple, out-of-the-box dessert, and your guests will be none the wiser!
In the case of the mini pumpkins (Hmmm... that sounds like a film noir waiting to happen), I made a quick and simple, yet fancy-sounding glaze. Here's the recipe:

Brown Sugar Caramel Glaze
courtesy of The Cake Mix Doctor by Anne Byrn

3 Tbsp butter
3 Tbsp light brown sugar
3 Tbsp granulated sugar
3 Tbsp heavy whipping cream
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • Place all ingredients in a saucepan over medium heat.
  • Bring the mixture to a boil, stirring. Let boil for one minute, stirring often.
  • Remove the pan from heat, and let the glaze thicken slightly. Spoon or spread the warm glaze onto the cake (or faux-fancy mini-cakes) of your choice.
So, like I was saying, I whipped up this delicious, DELICIOUS concoction to drizzle over the tops of my cakes... but there is still one more very important step to creating a faux-fancy dessert...

3. Dish It Up!
As with anything, presentation is everything. The way you display your dessert will really determine whether it deserves the title of faux-fancy or not. Even if your dessert isn't anything super special, you can make it special by serving it on a pretty platter and/or giving it a fancy title. On this particular occasion, I wrote out the name of the dessert on a small piece of white card stock and laid it in front of the dish. (I don't always do this, but I know some people don't like pumpkin desserts, so I took this extra step). I called them, "Mini Pumpkin Cakes with Brown Sugar Glaze." Super fancy sounding, but it took no time at all!

So there you have it! 3 easy steps to a fabulous, faux-fancy dessert.

THE MORAL OF THE STORY: A DUTIFUL DISCLAIMER
Don't Forget... fanciness is fun and all, but what your guests will remember most is what a gracious hostess you were and how welcome you made them feel in your home. That's what true hospitality is all about. I really do enjoy making things fancy and special for my guests, but not when it overshadows my ability to be truly hospitable. It should be about making your guests feel special, not about impressing everyone with your mad skills (like nunchucks, for instance). And that's my two cents...

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Kitchen Miracles: Trader Joe's Pizza Dough

I love the pizza dough from Trader Joe's! You will find it in the refrigerated section, and it is fabulous!

Not only is it great for making traditional pizza, (which we will discuss momentarily) but I love it as a "use-up" for leftovers or a great way to clean out your meat and cheese drawer. For instance, if you have leftover BBQ chicken, make a BBQ chicken pizza with cheddar, cilantro and red onions. If you have leftover taco meat, make a "taco pizza" with the leftover meat, cheese, black olives, beans, etc. You can put almost anything on some dough, throw it in the oven and call it pizza! Get some inspiration from CPK's menu. Just look at all the unique pizzas they offer!

But if a non-unique, conformist pizza is what you're looking for, look no further... Casey Crocker's got you covered there too! In fact I just prepared said pizza for dinner tonight, and it was received with accolades, rave reviews and festoons of roses. Okay, there weren't any roses... but there should have been. It was a good pizza.

Why order Round Table when you can make your own healthier, cheaper, just-as-delicious version right at home?!

Here's how to make a healthier version of a "Supreme" Style Pizza:

Grab your whole wheat TJ's pizza dough, and let it sit at room temp for about 20 minutes. Meanwhile pre-heat the oven to 475 and chop up your veggies and toppings!

I used:
  • TJ's pizza sauce
  • grated mozzarella cheese
  • grated cheddar cheese
  • grated parmesan cheese
  • pepperoni
  • chicken sausage, browned and crumbled
  • mushrooms (on McPreachy's half only)
  • green peppers, diced
  • yellow onion, diced

When your 20 minutes of getting-the-dough-to room-temperature time has elapsed, just stretch the dough into a big circle on your pizza stone or baking sheet. Next comes a small amount of sauce, followed by mozzarella, cheddar, meats, veggies and finally the parmesan.

Pop it in the oven for 12-15 minutes.

In the words of my dad, "Pizza, You Singin'-a My Song!" (don't ask...)



BONUS: Two meals for the work of one!

So, after I'd made my pizza tonight, I had a good amount of leftover sauce, meats and veggies. So I decided to make a "ready-to-go-pizza freezer bag" (I'm thinking of trademarking this super concise, catchy title!)

No clue WHAT I'm talking about? Come on, I'll show ya!

Here's the poor, distraught, leftover veggies, fearing the inevitable... that they'll get shoved into Tupperware in the back of the fridge, never to be heard from again.

But wait, dear veggies! There is hope!

I wrapped each veggie individually in plastic wrap...



Then placed then in a big Ziploc along with the half-used tub o' pizza sauce...

...the pepperoni (still in it's package)


  • And a baggie's worth of cooked chicken sausage.




  • I packaged it all up, labeled and dated it, and... drumroll...
    Here's my perfectly wonderful little pizza-freezer bag!


    Now the next time we have pizza, most of the work will be done already. All I will need to do is defrost the baggie overnight and grab some pizza dough and cheese from TJ's!

    Mama Mia! Bonjourno Pizza-pessa!

    Thursday, October 15, 2009

    Just when you think things are going well, you find poop smeared everywhere.

    ***Note: This post is not for the squeamish or faint hearted. There are horrible re-tellings of smeared fecal matter herein. Approach with caution.

    First of all, I need to say what a wonderful son Bennett is. I adore him, and I feel so blessed to be his Mama. God really gave me a treasure when He knit sweet Bennett together in my womb 3 years ago, and not a day goes by when I do not count myself the luckiest Mama in the world.

    That being said... here's a story for those of you who wonder if everything is always sunshine and roses in my neck o' the woods. There were no roses in my house today. No sunshine. Only fertilizer.

    It actually started out as a great day. We got out of the house and off to MOPS without any meltdowns or issues. We even got through a grocery store-stop on the way home without incident.

    Then came nap time.

    Nap time and bedtime have been a real struggle lately. Bennett gets out of bed over and over and over again, and dealing with it has been exhausting.

    Another *seemingly* unrelated struggle we've been having lately is that Bennett keeps pooping in the pull-up he wears for naps. He's been potty-trained for months now, and I'm positive he has plenty of time to make it to the potty when he feels the urge. So basically the pooping incidents are laziness on Bennett's part. I can just see him sitting there, thinking to himself:
    "I really need to poop but I don't feel like walking over to the potty right now. I'm playing cars. I think I'd prefer to just poop in my pull-up and hang out that way while I finish playing."

    Needless to say, Bennett has quickly figured out that Mama doesn't really jive with this lazy, poop-my-pants approach to bowel movements.

    It was today... on this lovely fall Thursday, that our two biggest toddler struggles collided. It was quite an incident.

    I put Bennett down for his nap, reminding him that he MUST stay in bed and that I'd be back to check in a few minutes to make sure he was obeying Mama. Then I went downstairs and got so engrossed in a few things I was doing that it was about 30 minutes before I went and checked on him.

    Quietly I tiptoed upstairs, hoping beyond hope that he was asleep. And there he was, sitting half naked on the carpet playing puzzles. As soon as he saw me, he smiled up sweetly.

    "Hi Mama!" he said with a grin. "Guess what? I went poopy! I flushed it in the toilet!"

    I checked the toilet, and his story seemed to be true.

    Even though I was frustrated that he wasn't asleep, I was thrilled that he seemed to have gone poop in the potty chair and not in his pull up.

    And then came the kicker.

    "Mama... " Bennett said, turning sheepish and pointing to the bed, "I got some poopy on that."

    I looked down and noticed that his comforter was covered in poop. I began scanning the room, realizing that there was poop everywhere... all over Bennett, the bed and the carpet where he'd been sitting playing puzzles. Then as I walked toward Bennett, I stepped in a wet spot on the carpet.

    "Bennett," I said, "Why is the carpet wet?"

    "Oh," he said, matter-of- factly, "I went potty on it, Mama."

    At this point I saw a soiled pull-up "hidden" behind Bennett's bed. (I put "hidden" in quotes because it was quite a terrible hide-job.)

    "Bennett," I asked in my serious Mama voice, "Where did you go poop? In the potty chair or the pull-up?

    My sweet boy tried to lie for a moment. I could just see his little wheels turning. But he quickly caved and told me the truth. "In my pull-up, Mama."

    What happened next is a blur of baby wipes, carpet cleaner and discussions about being deceptive and how wrong that is.

    As calmly as I possibly could, I cleaned and disinfected my son and the carpet. I put the bedding in the wash, put Bennett back in bed and went downstairs.

    Then, I caffeinated.

    And prayed.

    Because sometimes the only thing that can fix your terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day is caffeine. And the grace of God.

    Monday, October 12, 2009

    Seasonal Home Cookin': Favorite Fall Meals

    I'm a huge fan of seasonal cooking. By this I mean that I have special recipes I only pull out and make in the winter, spring, summer or fall... (all you have to do is call... and I'll be theeeere!) Sorry... I digress.

    Anyway today was wonderfully chilly and crisp, and it inspired me to put It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown! on for Bennett and make a fall-inspired meal for dinner tonight.

    Tonight's meal was:
    Buttermilk Baked Chicken
    with Mashed Sweet Potatoes and Oven Roasted Applesauce*

    It was an Autumnly Amazing!

    To make the sweet potatoes, just peel, boil and mash a few sweet potatoes. Then add a little milk or cream, butter, honey and cinnamon. YUM!

    *For the applesauce, I skip the whole "food mill" step at the end (sometimes Martha can take things one step too far. I love you Martha, really I do... but seriously... a food mill?! Who has time for that?) Anyway, after the apples are good and soft, I just grab a good old potato masher and go to town. We like our applesauce a little chunky. Or you could pop it in the food processor too!

    Another one of my favorite fall meals is Rachael Ray's Open-Faced Hot Turkey Sandwiches with sausage stuffing and apple-cranberry sauce. Can I get a Yum-o?!

    More fall recipes to come...
    In the meantime, go make some hot apple cider, jump in a pile of leaves and try out these delish seasonal recipes!

    Friday, October 9, 2009

    My Favorite Season: It's Fall, Ya'll!

    Holy Toledo, am I excited for fall!
    Did I just say Holy Toledo?
    That's what the fall does to me. It makes me giddy.

    I LOVE FALL! The pumpkins, the apple cider, the candy corn, Southern California's glorious changing seasons... whoops. I guess I kind of miss out on that part.

    But worry not, my pretties... I make my own fall. Come along. I'll show you...

    Here's the console table in the family room all decked out for autumn.


    Here are a few random little paper buckets that I grouped together on a white tray to make a counter-top candy buffet.



    Here's the spoooooooooky mantle...


    And here is my Halloween pajama-clad daughter, chewing on a rubber giraffe.


    Happy Harvest!

    Holiday PJ's: I'm Obsessed

    Why is it that I just can't help myself from buying seasonal PJ's for my kids every year.

    It's become an obsession. Until I have our holiday PJ's in hand, I just feel like something's missing. Like there is a huge, holiday void in my heart that can only be filled with kitschy sleepwear.

    Here are Mallory's. Aren't they darling?





    I nearly had a panic attack in Kohls when I realized they didn't have any Halloween PJ's for boys. (I know, I need help). But not to worry (and I'm sure you were agonizing over it)... I found these puppies for Bennett. They were on sale and meet my Halloween PJ standards (no witches, vampires, skulls or other scary things. That's not how we roll... we're a peaceful, pumpkin-lovin' bunch).

    I keep telling myself to simplify my holiday traditions, decorating, baking and the like... and I'm trying... really I am.
    But when it comes to holiday PJ's, I'm a goner. I'm hopeless. I'm beyond saving.
    But really, who could resist seeing this little lady in these precious PJ's?


    Mallory looks a lot like her Daddy in this photo: (If her daddy were wearing polka-dotted Halloween PJ's, that is)

    Tuesday, October 6, 2009

    Frugal Frannie: Make Your Own Taco Seasoning

    I hate to admit it, but I'm not usually the Frugal Frannie of my family. I'm more like Convenient Constance or Aesthetic Annie.

    Mc Preachy fills those shoes.

    He's very McFrugal.

    But I just came across a great money-saving tip, tried it out... and I'm a believer! It's a recipe for taco seasoning that you make yourself to use in chili, taco meat, fajitas, etc. If you're anything like me (Convenient Constance), you probably buy those taco-seasoning packets at the grocery store when you want to whip up your favorite Mexican dishes. The problemo is, those packets can be quite expensive. Well bienvenidos, Frugal Frannie. Welcome to my world. This mix is fabulous and much more budget-friendly.

    BONUS: This tip will not only turn you into a Frugal Frannie, it will also make you quite the little Healthy-Hattie. Because those packets at the grocery store are loaded with TONS of salt, MSG and other gross, unpronounceable additives. This mix is au' natural and much more healthy for your family.

    Here's the recipe. My one addition was... SALT! Okay, I know I just mentioned Healthy Hattie, but seriously, taco meat needs salt! And look at it this way, even if you add a good amount of salt, it will still not even come close to the amount of salt in one of those store-bought packets. So pat yourself on the back for saving on sodium and then shake it, baby, shake it!

    Here's what I'm going to make this week with my sauteed and delish-seasoned ground beef:

    Taco Salad a' la' Casey Crocker:
    • Romaine lettuce-- washed, dried and chopped
    • Ground Beef-- browned and seasoned with homemade taco seasoning mix!
    • 1 can corn, drained
    • 1 can black beans, drained
    • 1 avocado, cut up
    • tomatoes, chopped
    • black olives, sliced
    • dressing of your choice (I like spicy ranch for this salad.)
    • crushed tortilla chips

    Mix all ingredients together and toss. Top with crushed tortilla chips. Enjoy!

    Friday, October 2, 2009

    Halle-flippin'-lujah: These Cookies Just Might Save the World

    My dear friend Arizona Amanda gave me the recipe for these truly, truly scrumptious (Chitty Chitty Bang Bang reference intended) cookies last year. And I hate to admit it, but I lost it. Twice.

    Sorry Amanda. I will blame it on being pregnant and absent-minded. And the fact that I was moving. It has nothing to do with the fact that I am unorganized. Nothing at all.

    Anyway, imagine my elation when I found the recipe the other day, in my wallet of all places. I just made them today and HOLY COW... they are good.

    They are goodness incarnate.

    They are the Mother Teresa of cookies.

    WARNING: If you don't like peanut butter, just walk away. These cookies are not for you. Although, I think we will have some serious relationship problems if you don't like peanut butter, but I will try to move past it if you will.

    Onto the cookies.

    Peanut Butter-Chocolate Chip-Oatmeal Cookies
    • 1 c unsalted butter, room temp.
    • 1 c granulated sugar
    • 1 c packed light brown sugar
    • 3/4 c. creamy peanut butter
    • 2 large eggs
    • 1 tsp. vanilla
    • 2 c all-purpose flour
    • 1/4 c unsweetened cocoa powder
    • 2 tsp. baking powder
    • 1/2 tsp salt (omit if you use salted butter)
    • 2 c chocolate chips
    • 2 c oats

    Using an electric mixer, beat butter, sugars and peanut butt-ah until well blended. Beat in eggs and vanilla until smooth.

    In another bowl mix flour, cocoa powder, baking powder and salt. Slowly beat flour mixture into butter mixture until well incorporated. Stir in chocolate chips and oats.

    Drop two tablespoons worth, 3 inches apart on greased baking sheets.

    Bake at 350 for 9-11 minutes. (note: if you forget the cookies and bake them for 25 minutes, they will be ruined... not that I did that.)

    Take the cookies out when the tops just feel set when lightly touched. They will seem under-cooked, but don't worry... they'll firm up when they cool.

    Let stand 5 minutes on sheets and then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely... or just long enough that you don't burn your mouth when you start devouring them.

    Now go forth and save the world, one cookie at a time!

    Wednesday, September 30, 2009

    Message in a Toddler: Today's Reminder That All is Not Lost

    The last two days have been... shall we say... awful.

    So far it has been one of those bad-Mama-weeks where everyone is cranky, nobody naps, nothing gets done and I begin to doubt my sanity and faith in humanity.

    I always find on days like these, that God sends me sweet, little messages of hope and encouragement, usually by way of precious Bennett (in-between whines, time-outs and meltdowns, of course). Here's one from today. It came just in time: right before I was about to drink 5 cups of coffee, eat frosting out of the tub and cry my eyes out. It might not sound like much to you... unless all you've listened to for the past 72 hours is a whining 3 year old and a screaming baby. Only then, can you probably appreciate how this sweet little moment changed my perspective today.

    It happened during breakfast this morning...

    Bennett HATES eating. We all know that. Therefore, I dread mealtimes. Whining ensues, discipline abounds, nerves are frazzled. How many times must I say the words, "STAY IN YOUR CHAIR!" before they sink in? So this was how my morning was spent, doing everything I could to stay positive and make eating oatmeal fun! But try as I did, we had several "time-out-for-getting-off-our-chair" situations.

    Enter Diego. Bennett has this toy called "Diego Knows Your Name." It is programed with a timer, and at certain times in the day, Diego will just randomly call out things like: "It's time to sleep, Bennett! Animal Rescuers need lots of rest. Good night, Bennett!"

    Bennett has been getting really irritated with this toy lately. He doens't like Diego's assertiveness or his suggested activities. He'll say things back like, "No De-go! I'm not tired!"

    Then this morning, right after I told Bennett to get back into his chair for the 5 bazillionth time, at a moment when we were both pretty testy, Diego chimed in from the other room:
    "Come on, Bennett! Al Rescate! To the Resuce!"

    Bennett turned to the toy and said in a very firm voice, "No De-go! I eating breakfast right now, and I do not want another time out!" He said it with such conviction, all I could do was laugh. I had to stop right there and applaud my little man for not giving into "peer pressure."

    Even though my mealtime-ettiquette training hasn't quite sunk in yet, this little event got me thinking that other things are sinking in. Like doing the right thing even when your friends (or demanding action-figures) tell you not to. There is hope. All my work is not in vain. And that little reassurance was all I needed to put the frosting tub down and keep on keepin' on.

    Tuesday, September 22, 2009

    I Love You a Bushel and a Peck: Apple Pickin'

    As a part of September's apple theme, McPreachy and I took the kids apple pickin' on Monday!

    Here's Bennett on the way there:

    video

    We drove to Julian, a quaint, old town surrounded by U-pick apple orchards. First we ate lunch (and apple pie, of course) in one of Julian's fine eateries.




    Mmmm.... apple pie... delicious


    Mallory is such a sweetie-pie (Hah! Get it?!)



    Bennett was excited about the boot-shaped water glasses.


    I love my precious boy and his little puppy-dog eyes!


    Then it was off to Peacefield Orchard where we picked a peck and a half! (say that fives times fast!)


    Doesn't Mallory look like a nun with the blanket over her head like that?! It was very sunny, and we can't have our princess getting too much sun!


    Apple pickin' (notice that I refuse to say "picking"... it must be said with a twang!) was especially fun for Bennett because for the last week or so I have been teaching him about Johnny Appleseed. He was so excited to pick apples just like Johnny.
    Benny Appleseed



    Mallie even joined in the fun!








    Here's Bennett hugging the sweet man who owned the orchard. They were fast friends.



    Our booty:


    Johnny Appleseed Jr. couldn't wait to dig in!