Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Poor, Poor Broken Kaden!

The phone call from the school started in a way that made me worry. "Jill? Hi, this is Karen from the elementary school. First, Kaden is fine." Why is it that, when something bad has happened, they always start that way? The secretary continued to tell me that Kaden had fallen off the playground equipment and was in the office with ice on his arm. "He says that he wants to go back to class so we are going to send him, but you might want to look at his wrist later, he says it hurts."

When Kaden got home, I knew there was something wrong. Kaden will milk an injury for about five minutes to get some sympathy, after that, he goes on with his life - faking an injury just interferes with his play! But this day he was not using his left arm. I asked him to move it, he could but he said it hurt. When I didn't ask him to, he wouldn't move it. I tried tricking him into moving it but without fail he used his other arm. I decided a doctor needed to look at it. Unfortunately, it was too late to get an actual appointment for that day and so we needed to take a trip to Urgency Care. Three hours later, we came home with the news - he had broken both bones in his left arm just above the wrist. The sent him home in a rigid splint and a week later he got a bright red cast.

Since we spent three hours in Urgency Care, and Kaden was feeling pretty sore, I decided it was time for some comfort food. We had Baby Soup. I call this recipe Baby Soup because I found a recipe similar to this in a cookbook in which the author recalled that this was the soup that her grandmother always made for her when she was very little and she had always called it Baby Soup. The name stuck even though I have altered it and made it my own.

Baby Soup

Sauté in olive oil:

1 carrot, finely chopped
1 stalk celery, finely chopped
1/4 of an onion, finely chopped


4-6 c. chicken stock (enough for however many people you wish to serve)

Bring to a boil and add:

1/2 c. of miniature pasta (alphabet letters, acini de pepe, or whatever)

cook until pasta is done. At the last minute stir into the gently boiling soup:

1-2 eggs, well beaten.

Cook until eggs are cooked (it will take about 1 minute, the finished soup will look a little like egg drop soup you get at the Chinese food restaurant).

Serve and top with grated Parmesan cheese.

This is good with crusty bread and a salad or some fruit. You can alter this by adding some sesame oil and leaving off the Parmesan cheese.

Yum! And super easy too!


Friday, May 16, 2008

The Joys of an Off-Set Spatula

(Updated: The above picture is of an off-set spatula. Some people (ahem, Jenifer) said they didn't know what one looked like, so here it is.)

There are certain things in life that aren't neccessary but help make life so much sweeter. Right now I'm sitting out on my deck overlooking my backyard (thank you husband for the wireless laptop!). The grass is that amazing green that it gets only in late spring when the spring rains and the first warm days collide. My flower pots are full of pansies which are running riot, much to my delight. My chickens are wandering the yard, nibbling grass and clucking softly to each other. My neighbor is mowing his lawn which makes for some noise I could do without but is also generating that heavenly fresh-cut grass smell which says "Spring!" to me. I don't need any of these things, but man, do they make life better!

There are some kitchen gadgets that are a lot like fresh-cut grass and foraging chickens, you can cook without them but they sure make it a lot more fun. My off-set spatula is one of these. I love my off-set spatula. You can get them in lots of different sizes but my favorite is my little one. It is about the size of a butter knife, I got mine from Pampered Chef the last time the Pampered Chef parties went through my group of friends. I don't think I bought it on purpose, it was probably that extra $5.oo I needed to get that free gift or something, but oh, am I glad I did! The official use of an off-set spatula is for spreading things like frosting on a cake or sandwhich spread on bread, or something like that. For this use it is fabulous. Because the handle is off-set (hence the brilliant name!), you don't get your fingers covered in goop. It also provides a good angle so that you can make those frosting swirls on the top of the cake like you see in the cookbooks.

The other uses are what I really love. My favorite use is to unstick muffins. I never use paper liners when I make muffins, partly because I really cheap, partly because I'm trying to be "green" and the wasted paper just kind of gets to me, and partly because I have silicone muffin tins so I don't really need liners. But I do need to go around the edges to loosen the muffins from the pan and then tip them out without burning my hand. The off-set spatula is perfect for this! The angled handle lets me get it in along side the muffin and the fact that it doesn't have a sharp edge lets me pop them out without gouging my muffins all to bits. I also use the spatula for loosening the bread from the bread pans before turning them out on the rack to cool.

I could go on and on, but I won't. Just suffice it to say that I love my off-set spatula, almost as much as my chickens!


Thursday, May 15, 2008

Substitutions for health and cheapness!

As I was writing the previous posts on muffin recipes I debated with myself about whether I should explain how I alter the recipes or if I should just serve 'em straight! I ended up posting them pretty much how they came out of the recipe book but now wonder if I should have altered them. You see, I almost never make a recipe exactly the way it is written in the book. Oh, don't get me wrong, I do it exactly the first time I make it and then tweak it to be easier, healthier or tastier.

In my muffin recipes I always use whole wheat flour for half of the regular flour. I have tons of wheat in my food storage and this is a good way to eat it up. Plus it is way healthier for my family, and gets them used to eating whole grain stuff. I figure I will get them used to whole wheat with yummy stuff like muffins, which will make the change to whole grain cereals, breads, rice, pasta, etc, easier. I started this a long time ago and my kids never have white bread (and I don't think they miss it), and we use almost exclusively brown rice and no one complains. We haven't made the complete switch to whole wheat pasta but I'm now using 1/2 whole wheat and 1/2 regular, without too many complaints.

Also in my muffing recipes I substitute applesauce for some of the oil/margarine/butter. I do this for two reasons. First for health reasons. If I'm using whole grains and less fat, those muffins might actually approach healthiness! We all could use a little less fat in our diets and this is an easy way to reduce it. Secondly, I have applesauce on hand all the time and it is cheap. I can TONS of applesauce every fall and I can get boxes of apples for cheap ($12 for a 40-50 lb box, I usually do two or three boxes). Since the applesauce is really cheap, and butter is not, I figure I am saving a little with each batch of muffins. The applesauce substitution works really well in recipes where the apple taste won't be noticed - muffins, banana bread, zucchini bread, etc. If you use it in cookies, substitute just a little bit or the cookies will turn out more cake like and less crispy, chewy, cookie-like. I usually substitute a little less than half in most recipes and about a tablespoon or two in cookies.

Eggs are another thing which you can substitute. I have chickens in my backyard and hence, a free source of eggs so I rarely do this unless I'm out. I refuse to buy eggs from the store very often (unless I'm doing mega-baking and need several dozen at once - my poor girls can't produce that many eggs!) You can substitute one heaping tablespoon of soy flour and one tablespoon of water for each egg. You don't want to do this where the flavor of the eggs is important (ie, crepes, challah, etc) but for pancakes, muffins, quick bread, meatloaf, etc it can save you when you are just one or two eggs short. Yes, soy flour is relatively more expensive than other flours but you are only using one tablespoon and it keeps for a long time in your pantry/food storage.

I don't substitute anything for sugar but I do often use less than the recipe calls for. You can usually leave out several TBS to 1/4 c. and no one will notice. Be careful when doing this, though, in some recipes (cookies for instance) the sugar is responsible for some spooky chemical reaction that makes the recipe work, with out the sugar (or enough sugar) the recipe might not be what it is supposed to be!

So, this is how I cheat on recipes. It is not really cheating, but whatever. This site has some other great substitutions.



Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Muffin Madness Recipes - Blueberry Muffins

My aunt lives on about three acres and she has a huge row of blueberry plants. For years she allowed us to come and pick as many blueberries as we wanted. We would pick lots and freeze them so that we would have blueberries all winter long. I haven't picked blueberries at her house for about 5 years or so, for a lot of reasons, but I really miss having my "blue gold" in the freezer. Those blueberries went into muffins, pancakes, coffee cakes, and oatmeal (drop a couple of frozen berries in your kid's oatmeal and it cools it down and adds a fruit serving). Now I buy them at Costco and they cost almost as much as gold! But they are worth it when you use them in recipes like this one:

Blueberry Muffins
makes 1 dozen (or so)

Cream together:

1/2 c. butter or margarine
1 c. sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla
2 eggs


2 tsp baking powder

Next add (alternate the addition of these, a little flour, a little milk, etc):

2 c. flour (can use part whole wheat)
1/2 c. milk

Stir in:

2 - 2 1/2 c. blueberries (small berries are better but the big ones work)

Put in muffin tins and bake at 375 for 30 minutes or so. You can, of course, make mini muffins, but the small berries are even better for the mini muffins. The big berries tend to "take over" the muffins!

Muffin Madness Recipes - Pumpkin Muffins

All but one of my children attended the same preschool with the same teacher, Teacher Sue. My oldest child still hasn't forgiven me for not sending her to preschool. Every October in Teacher Sue's class, the kids make pumpkin muffins. Each child gets to take home a bag with several muffins, that they helped make, home to their family. After child number two I had to ask for the recipe. This is the recipe Teacher Sue gave me and it has become one of my family's all-time favorite muffins.

Every October I buy a couple of cheap pumpkins and cut them up and cook them. Then I package them into one cup packages (in Ziplock bags) and put all the little bags in one big bag and put the whole thing in the freezer. Then all year long I have pumpkin for my muffins.

Pumpkin Muffins
makes 1 dozen

Cream together:

1/2 c. margarine or butter
1 c. sugar
2 eggs

Stir in:

1 c. pumpkin puree (not pie filling)
1/4 c. milk
1 tsp vanilla
1 3/4 c. flour (can use part whole wheat flour)
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon

Mix until uniform but not smooth. Pour into muffin tins and bake at 375 for 15-20 minutes. You can, of course, make mini muffins out of these. When I make these with whole wheat I feel like my kids are getting a fruit serving and a grain serving, with milk it is an almost perfect snack.


Muffin Madness Recipes - Lemon Muffins

Due to a large volume of requests (ok just one, thanks Mandy!!), I am posting the recipes I used for my Muffin Madness day.

For the lemon poppy seed recipes, I cheated and used a box mix because it was sitting on my counter (they were on sale at Albertson's awhile ago for $1.00 a box and with coupons I got them for even cheaper. I bought lots and not all of them fit in my storage box where I keep my "mixes"). I do however have a great recipe for lemon muffins.

Lemon Muffins
makes 2 dozen

Combine in a bowl:

2 1/2 c. flour (can you half whole wheat flour)
1 1/2 c. sugar
2 1/2 tsp baking powder
3 tsp salt

Combine in a different bowl:

3/4 c. melted butter or margarine
1 1/2 c. lemon juice (if you are using the stuff in the bottle use less, it is stronger)
5 eggs
grated lemon peel (whatever you get off the lemons, 1 tsp?)

Add the wet to the dry and mix until uniform but not smooth. You can add poppy seeds or you can add blueberries (YUM). Bake at 375 for 15-20 minutes. When they are done and slightly cool you can dip the tops in a mixture of 1/4 c. and 1TB lemon juice, then dip in sugar. You can of course make mini muffins out of this also.


Friday, May 2, 2008

Who Says Teenagers are Bums?

I read about lazy teenagers all the time. Kids who party, take drugs, disrespect their parents and the law, play video games all day, drop out of high school, and expect their parents to buy them all the clothes, gas, and fast food they want. I, however, have had a very different experience. I currently have two teenagers and yes, they occasionally would rather watch t.v. than, say, scrub floors. Most of the time they are very hard working in the areas that matter most. Take Jana for instance. This is a picture of Jana taken this morning. She has the day off from school and she is very sick. The snuffly-nose-coughing-body-aches-headache kind of sick. But what is she doing today when she could be sleeping or curled up on the couch watching mindless sitcoms? She's studying for her AP US History exam. The exam is in a week and she has been studying nothing but US history for weeks now (in fact, this morning she told me she was going to "throw up US history facts") and she could probably take part of the day off, but she's not. It is important to her to pass this test and get college credit. She works hard in all her classes in addition to being in the a cappella choir, on the track team, and president of her church class. I'm impressed and sometimes exhausted watching her.

Not that my kids are perfect, they're not. And not that they are the only ones who work hard, they have lots of friends who are amazing also. We need to hear more stories about these kinds of kids. Because in my experience, teenagers are amazing.


Thursday, May 1, 2008

Muffin Madness

Today I baked muffins. Lots of muffins. Here's how I see it, if I'm going to take the time to do the work of making muffins, I'm going to go all out. They freeze well and they are terrific snacks for the kids to eat after school and to take to school for snacks or as part of their lunch. If I make them myself they are cheap and nutritious, too. Today I made 4 dozen regular sized muffins and 60 mini muffins. I did lemon poppyseed, blueberry, and pumpkin. The blueberry and pumpkin are both half whole wheat flour so they have some "staying power" to them. I will freeze (in freezer bags) most of them so I will have quick snacks for weeks (hopefully, but with four kids I'll be lucky to last a week!)

The above picture doesn't include all the muffins my family already ate. The muffins were done when the kids came home from school and Jim came home from work - amazing how fast muffins can disappear!