Starting a journey to health

JoyfulTurtleStopGivingUpWell, it’s rather misleading to say I’m just starting this journey.  In fact I’ve started and failed many, many times.  This past April I had my annual physical and found that ohmywordimdying.  Well, that might be an overstatement.  But, my HgA1C was high (an indicator for diabetes/prediabetes), my cholesterol was way high, and my BMI seems to be creeping up a bit each year.  And all of this because I love both food and relaxing (read: not running).   Continue reading

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Snow peaks: the best Christmas cookies ever!

Who wants to make typical Christmas cookies when you can make these?

Let’s just say it was the perfect way to try out my brand spankin new stand mixer. The best birth-mas gift ever (that means, birthday/Christmas combined gift, in case you were wondering)! (Thanks, mom and dad!)

They’re super simple and a huge hit with kids and grown-ups.

Snow Peaks recipe

4 large egg whites

1 tsp cream of tartar

1 cup sugar

1 tsp vanilla

5 oz Ghiradelli bittersweet chocolate chips

3+ candy canes

Preheat oven to 225 and line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper (or silicone baking sheet). After separating the eggs beat the egg whites on medium low speed till foamy (1-2 minutes). Add cream of tartar and beat at medium till the egg whites are fluffy. Add sugar slowly and increase speed to medium high, then add vanilla. Keep it going for 5-7 minutes, until the egg whites are stiff, glossy, and look like this:

Spoon it into a ziplock bag, squeeze as much air out as possible, and snip the corner off. Pipe it into bite-size peaks and bake for an hour.

Turn the oven off and let them sit there to dry out overnight, or for 6-8 hours. Then melt chocolate in a double boiler (or bowl stacked on top of a pot). Keep in mind, the bottom part needs a couple inches of water in the bottom, but the bowl on top can’t touch the water, or your chocolate will scald and get all clumpy, dry, and gross.While the chocolate is melting, put candy canes in a thick ziplock baggie, and use a rolling pin to crush them. Spread the candy cane crumbs and chunks in a thin layer on a cookie sheet.

Dip the peaks into the chocolate and then set them on the candy-caned cookie sheet.

The chocolate will harden and dry at room temp in an hour or two, or you can pop them into the fridge to speed it up. Store in an air-tight container – they don’t need to be refrigerated. They taste a lot like peppermint bark, but with the extra light crunch of meringue.

I’m thinking next time I’ll add red food coloring – the paste kind that doesn’t turn pink – and use white chocolate to dip them in. Then they’ll be Santa Hats! I was also thinking about substituting orange extract for the vanilla and skipping the candy cane, for chocolate-dipped orange peaks. Keep in mind, a lot of the flavor comes from the chocolate, so don’t skimp on that. Use the good stuff!

Cranberry Sauce!

I’ve discovered in recent years that I love cranberry sauce – the good kind though. Of course, in my mind “the good kind” means that kind that when you dump it out of the can it doesn’t maintain the form it had in the can. That’s my barometer for good.

I discovered today that you can make your own (way better) cranberry sauce in all of 15 minutes. Total. Start to finish. The key is to make it early – it needs to cool completely to fully thicken, and you don’t want to rush the process Thanksgiving morning. Besides, if you make it early, that’s one thing to tick off on your list.

Ingredients:

1 c. water

1 c. sugar

12-oz bag of fresh or frozen cranberries

Process:

Combine the water & sugar in a sauce pan over med-high heat. While it heats up throw your cranberries into a colander, wash them, and throw out any mushy ones. Stir your water as you bring it to a boil, and encourage that sugar to dissolve. When you’ve got it to a good boil add your cranberries. Listen as they start to pop – it’s pretty cool. Reduce your heat to medium low and let them cook for about 10 minutes, stirring frequently to keep the ones at the bottom from burning to your pan. Remove it from the heat, and it’ll gel and thicken as it cools.

Don’t forget to lick the spoon… it’ll have you pining for turkey day!

Happy Thanksgiving!

 

Necessity is the mother of invention

At our house Friday night is dessert night, and as you can well imagine, the kids are really into it. So when I realized at 5:30 this afternoon that not only did I not have dessert, but I also didn’t have anything to make dessert with, I nearly panicked. The only sweet thing I had in the house (that wouldn’t require an hour or more of my time to bake) was hot cocoa mix. And since they’d had hot cocoa with snack after school it didn’t make sense to make that dessert.

So I threw a few things together and created (drum roll please!) soft pretzels with chocolate peanut butter for dipping. Alas, it was eaten so quickly I only got 1 blurry shot.

Here’s the ‘recipe’ (if you want to call it that)

Soft Pretzels

Break apart sections from 1 can of pillsbury refrigerated breadsticks. Roll each one between your hands to create a ‘rope’ and then twist it into a pretzel shape. The way I did it was to create a circle where the ends overlapped into a tail, twist the tail once and then fold it over the circle. Actually, Bean (age 7) did most of that. Sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar (I think next time I’d brush with an egg wash to get that crispy pretzel outside). Bake at 375 for 13 minutes – the instructions on the can say 10-13 minutes, but since the pretzels are bulky when folded they need the full 13 minutes. Voila!

Cocoa peanut butter

Throw 3-4 TBS hot cocoa mix into a bowl with a splash of whipping cream and 2-3 TBS peanut butter. Microwave 20 seconds, or until it’s soft enough to be mixable. Mix till well combined. As it sits it’ll firm up again into a spreadable, less goopy mess – perfect for dipping.

Sorry, no pictures of this one. Tummies were quicker than lenses.

3 things

1. My girl saw the dentist for the first time. Verdict? She’s a cavity-free 7 year old who loves the dentist. Her only complaint was that visits to the dentist are messy.
2. All 3 of my children ate their dinner tonight. All of it. And 2 of them asked for seconds. (Recipe below, but no picture – the kids ate it faster than I could photograph)
3. I got a new client today, which means we have a little more wiggle room at Christmas (a.k.a., Super-fun-trip-to-grandparents-and-Legoland)

Recipe for Mudlark’s Chicken & Yellow Rice  (Mudlark’s mom’s chicken and yellow rice is far better, but I couldn’t be bothered today to search for the recipe – but this was a big hit with the kids)
1 TBS butter
1 medium onion
1 medium carrot
1-2 cooked chicken breast halves
1 small pkg of yellow rice with saffron seasoning
1 can of chicken broth
3/4 c. raisins

Chop the onion and carrot, and saute in butter till onion starts to brown and carrots are soft. Add rice and broth, reduce heat and cover, and cook about 20 minutes or until rice is cooked. Remove from heat and stir in raisins. Cover and let sit 5 minutes. Voila! (And give kids extra raisins…)

Mudlark’s banana bread

Over the years there have been countless banana bread recipes. This time, folks, I think I’ve perfected it to the apex of perfection! Don’t forget the orange maple butter though – it’s to die for. To give credit where credit’s due, I tweaked Flour’s Famous Banana Bread from Giada at the Food Network. It was great. But this is better.

Mmm Mmm good...Ingredients:

1 2/3 c. flour

1 tsp baking soda

1/4 tsp cinnamon

1/2 tsp salt

1 c + 1 TBS sugar

2 eggs

1/2 c pumpkin puree (makes it really moist)

3 bananas, mashed

2 TBS vanilla yogurt

1 tsp vanilla extract

1/2 c mini chocolate chips

Preparation:

Butter, spray, or otherwise prepare your pan (I used a pretty bundt pan since there was too much batter for my small bread pan). Preheat oven to 350.

Mix dry ingredients (except the sugar) and set aside. Beat eggs and sugar till fluffy – give it a good couple of minutes with the mixer. Add the pumpkin, yogurt, and vanilla, and beat it some more. Fold in the flour mixture till well incorporated and then fold in the chocolate chips. Pour into your pan, and bake for an hour, or until a toothpick comes out clean. You know the drill.

Orange Maple Butter ’cause butter’s even better with maple and orange!

1 stick of butter, softened

1 small orange

a couple tablespoons maple syrup (I know, really precise, right?)

When the butter’s softened, grate about half the zest of the orange into it. Cut the orange in half and squeeze the juice from half of it into your butter. Drizzle in some maple syrup and whip it with an electric mixer. Adjust amount of maple syrup and orange to suit your taste. Refrigerate, and spread copious amounts over toast, banana bread, or the carb of your choice.

Halloween baking time

When the mom of an only child bakes super cute treats for the preschool party, it’s adorable. When the mom of two does it, it’s ambitious. When the mom of 3 still hasn’t learned that she can get away with store-bought ready-made treats, you have to wonder why she doesn’t learn.

For Bruiser’s “fall” party tomorrow (since “Halloween” is taboo in schools these days), I volunteered to bring not one, but two home-made cutesy treats. (What was I thinking?)

Here we have Witch Fingers:

These are super easy – refrigerated Pillsbury breadsticks with an almond on the end. If I’d been ambitious I would have added some green food coloring, re-rolled the dough, and had ghoulishly green witch fingers. But instead of ambitious, I was busy. And I’m ok with that.

Next I made Mummies:

I used a pastry bag to drizzle melted white chocolate around pretzel rods, and then added mini chocolate chips for eyes. The ‘recipe’ said to dip the pretzel rods in regular melted chocolate first, but I’m thinking the dozen or so three year olds won’t miss the extra dose of chocolate, and their moms will be quite happy I left out the added sugar.

Now, I’m off to finish the spider costume I started for Little Man, and finish the kitty cat costume I’m working on for Bean. Glutton for punishment? Or just overestimating the number of hours in a day? (Pictures of the costumes to come later… closer to ‘last minute’…)

Feeling domestic

I’ve been pulling weeds bit by bit every day this week. While the kids ride bikes and go wild outside, I fill up trash bag after trash bag with weeds. It would seem that there is no grass in our yard. Just weeds.

Well, we made a trip to Pike’s nursery today and picked up some things. A little (very little) gardenia bush that I planted next to the front walk; a Veggie Tales growing kit for the kids to grow tomatoes and banana peppers; seeds for zinnia and other flowers that Bean picked out; and a slew of veggie seeds. As long as there’s no groomed yard, I don’t see why I should waste good backyard space with weeds. So this morning I planted Bean’s flowers (since, after all, she doesn’t like dirt – which she told me after we bought ‘her’ seeds). I planted my gardenia. And the boys and I did the Veggie Tales planting kit. Tomorrow I’ll get to work with the rest of the seeds. Tomato, cucumber, zucchini, pumpkin, watermelon, eggplant, and chives. You can probably guess which ones I picked out and which ones the kids picked out.