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Archive for June, 2016

These little balls of breakfast bliss are a favorite in my family. My girls like them for breakfast, while I favor them as a snack. I love that they are packed with protein, whole-grain, and omega-3s. We love them so much, in fact, that I spent quite a bit of time perfecting it to our tastes, and the recipe below is DOUBLE what the original was.

peanut butter bites

Peanut Butter Bites

The original recipe called for twice the amount of honey, a bit less peanut butter, and no raisins. I found them to be far too sweet, but the honey was needed to help the balls stick together. I tried reducing the honey and increasing the peanut butter. That worked okay. I tried molasses in place of part of the honey. The first time, they were alright; the next time the molasses was overpowering and my girls disliked them.

peanut butter bites ingredients

Ingredients

A friend with a degree in family and consumer science suggested that, since we added raisins to ours anyway, that we process raisins in the food processor to make a sticky paste. It works great! One caveat: the easiest way to mix it is with your hands, NOT a spoon, as the raisin paste is a big, thick clump that needs to be really worked through the rest. Prepare to get messy!

Peanut Butter Bites

  • 2 cups oats
  • 1 1/4 cup peanut butter
  • 1 cup ground flaxseed
  • 1/3 cup honey
  • 3/4 cup raisins, processed in a food processor
  • 2 Tbsps. vanilla extract

Mix together oats, flaxseed, peanut butter, and honey. Add the raisin paste and vanilla, and mix thoroughly with hands. (A dough hook might work.) Form into bite-sized balls and store in the refrigerator.

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When I can get everyone – everyone! – in my family to eat a meal, we officially have a winner. This all-in-one we made ages ago, and it got lost in my recipe box. Found it recently and decided to try it again, remembering that everyone liked it last time. (Last time, neither of the kids were quite as picky as they are now.)

History repeated itself, and everyone ate it! (Can I get a Hallelujah?!) My three-year-old even repeated several time, “I like this supper. I like all the things in it.” The flavors complement each other very well, and everything is fairly mild, so it has kid-appeal. The egg adds a nice touch, so I don’t recommend skipping it…though I almost did.

sweet potatoe and sausage hash

Sweet Potato Sausage Hash

  • 2 small sweet potatoes, peeled, halved lengthwise, and cut into 1/2-inch slices.
  • 12 ounces bulk pork sausage. (I used 1 lb. mild sage sausage because that’s what I had.)
  • 1 fresh Anaheim or sweet bell pepper, seeded and chopped
  • 4 cups spinach and/or baby kale
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cumin
  • 1 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 4 eggs (we only did two)
  • salt
  1. In a very large skillet with a lid, heat 2 Tbsp. water over medium heat. Add sweet potatoes. Cover; cook 12 minutes.
  2. Uncover skillet; add sausage and pepper. Cook over medium-high heat until sausage is brown and sweet potatoes are tender, stirring to break up sausage. Drain fat if necessary. Stir in spinach and cumin. Cook and stir 1-2 minutes or until spinach is wilted. Transfer to a serving dish.
  3. Add oil to skillet. Heat over medium heat. Crack eggs into skillet (or alternately, into a bowl and scramble lightly before pouring into skillet, like I did.) Sprinkle with salt. Cook until desired doneness. Serve over hash.

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This blog is supposed to be about making memories, and it has sort of become about food, too. So when I can combine these topics – YAY!

A family trip to a local pick-your-own berry patch yielded a big box of strawberries and a few handfuls of tart cherries. My kids, especially the seven-year-old, had a blast picking handfuls of the tiny little strawberries. The cherries are another story, which I will share soon in a later post.

Strawberries and Cherries

Strawberries and cherries, fresh from the sun

But the real memories came after we got home. The way my three-year-old was eating the strawberries by the handful, like they were candy. Watching my seven-year-old (who likes to help in the kitchen, and SOOO badly wants to be able to cook on her own) crush graham crackers for the crust of our pie. And then the delighted clamor in what has become our homemade whipped cream tradition: one beater for each girl to lick.

And of course, savoring every bite of this super-simple pie. We had a backyard berry patch yield good results a few years ago, and I tried this recipe. Loved it so much, we made it again with about half of the berries we picked. (I actually halved the recipe and made a 7-inch pie, so don’t feel like you have to make a whole pie!) It is fresh, and sweet, but not overly so, and you really get to enjoy the berries for what they are.

strawberry pie 2

Strawberries and cherries, fresh from the sun

Fresh Strawberry Pie

  • 3 pints plus 1 cup fresh strawberries
  • 1 baked pastry shell (9 inches), OR a graham cracker crust*
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 2 Tbsps. cornstarch
  • 2 Tbsps. cold water
  • Whipped cream, optional
strawberry glaze

Making the glaze

*I highly recommend the graham cracker crust. It really complemented. We made ours by crushing up some graham crackers and adding melted butter. Totally guessed on ratio, and it ended up more of a crumble than a crust, but it was YUMMY!

  1. Set aside one cup strawberries. Arrange remaining berries in the pie crust. With a fork, mash reserved berries and set aside.
  2. In a saucepan, combine sugar and water, cook and stir until sugar is dissolved. Add mashed strawberries and bring to a boil. Combine cornstarch and cold water until smooth. Gradually stir into strawberry mixture. Bring to a boil; cook and stir for 2 minutes or until thickened. Cool for 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Spoon over strawberries in crust. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours. Garnish and/or serve with whipped cream, if desired.

Homemade Whipped Cream

A few years ago, I looked at the ingredients in whipped topping and just decided, No, I’m going to make my own REAL whipped cream. It is SO EASY, and has far less sugar.

  • 1 half-pint whipping cream
  • 2-4 Tbsps. powdered sugar.
  • vanilla, almond or other extract, if desired

With electric mixer, beat whipping cream for a minute or two, until it is no longer super-runny. Add powdered sugar and continue beating until stiff peaks form. (I judge by taking my beaters out of the bowl. If two holes stay where I just pulled them out, it is ready. If the whipping cream oozes back into the holes, you aren’t there yet.)

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Vanilla and pork? Hmmm. When we first tried this, the recipe had us make grilled peaches and a peach spread to put on pork chops before grilling them. The peach spread didn’t thrill us, but the brined pork chops are easy and incredible! The brine tenderizes the meat, and causes it to soak in flavor. (I will definitely be covering brining in a future post.)

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Vanilla Pork Chops, shown here with Veggie Trio

We make this family favorite often – even my girls love them. When we can, we grill them, but they taste great broiled or just baked in the oven as well.

Vanilla Pork Chops

  • 4 boneless pork chops
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 Tbsp kosher or sea salt
  • 1 Tbsp sugar
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  1. In large plastic bag or container, combine water, salt, sugar and vanilla until salt and sugar are dissolved. Place chops in bag and set in deep bowl. (I use a deep container and don’t use a bag.) Refrigerate 6-24 hours.
  2. Drain chops. Grill over medium coals 6-8 minutes per side, or until meat thermometer reads 145 degrees Fahrenheit. Alternately, you can broil approx. 5 minutes per side, or bake 30 minutes at 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

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When I was a kid, I hated mushrooms. They were slimy. I picked them out of my grandma’s lasagna, off of pizza, and out of pretty much anything that would allow me to separate them from the meal of the day.

Then my husband discovered sauteing them in butter. Oh. My. They come alive when sauteed in butter.

Mushrooms and carrots are sauteed to tasty perfection in this simple side dish. Personally, I feel the green beans are sort of just along for the ride. But hey, if mushrooms can get me to eat my green beans, all the better!

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Mushrooms, Carrots and Green Beans, sauteed to perfection!

Vegetable Trio

  • 1/2 lb fresh green beans, cut into 2-inch pieces. (I have used frozen, which works okay, too)
  • 4 large carrots, julienned (or you can just dump in a couple of handfuls of mini-cut carrots, though I usually still cut them in half.)
  • 1 1/2 cups sliced fresh mushrooms
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp dried thyme
  • 2 Tbsp butter

Cook and stir green beans, carrots, salt, thyme and butter over medium heat in a large nonstick skillet for 5 minutes. Add the mushrooms. Cook and stir for additional 10 minutes, or until green beans are crisp-tender.

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I’m a mom. Few children I know like to eat vegetables, at least in the quantities they are supposed to. (Heck, I don’t like to eat vegetables in the quantity I’m supposed to.)

So when I want comfort food, like Cheesy Hash Brown Bake, I find ways to be sneaky with veggies without sacrificing flavor.

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Mmm…yummy. Can you tell there are carrots and broccoli hiding in this photo of my party potatoes?

The original recipe calls for 3 lbs. of frozen hash browns. My mom always used the cubed hash browns, but I found that I prefer the shredded hash browns from a texture standpoint. This offers easy opportunity for subbing in other veggies, like shredded carrots, and/or broccoli slaw.

Food processor

My food processor makes shredding easy.

I started by buying a bag of broccoli slaw and a bag of shredded carrots and substituting these for part of the hash browns. Then I tried using my food processor’s shredding disc to shred my own carrots and the stalks from broccoli, and we liked the texture better. I also recently subbed shredded cheddar for the shredded “process cheese food” and found no difference in flavor. So here is my recipe.

Makeover Party Potatoes

  • 4-5 cups shredded hash browns
  • 2 1/2 cups shredded carrots (or bag of shredded carrots)
  • 2 1/2 cups shredded broccoli (or bag of broccoli slaw)
  • 1 (8-ounce) container sour cream
  • 1/2 cup onion, grated, or 1/2 cup dried minced onion
  • 1/4 tsp. pepper
  • 1 can cream of chicken soup
  • 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
  • 1/2 cup butter, melted
  • 2 cups chopped ham

Topping:

  • 2 cups crushed corn flakes
  • 1/4 cup melted butter

Thaw potatoes. Mix all ingredients for casserole together. Put in 9×13-inch baking dish. Top with buttered corn flakes. Bake 45 minutes at 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

*You can also split the casserole ingredients between two 8×8-inch baking dishes. Make only half the topping and top one with it. Bake this one. Cover the other with plastic wrap and/or foil and freeze. (A disposable foil or plastic pan works great for this.) Top with buttered cornflakes before baking at 350 degrees for 1 hour or until heated through.

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It was a modest gift: a hand-painted flower pot. I’ve carted it with me through the years. 21 years now. It was the poem by Emily Dickinson chosen to decorate the rim that has kept this humble item with me for so long.

In 1995, when I was in high school, my best friend painted this small pot in antique gold paint. She scrawled the following Dickinson poem around the top.

If I can stop one heart from breaking/I shall not live in vain.
If I can ease one life the aching/or cool one pain
Or help one fainting robin unto his nest again
I shall not live in vain.

My friend added this post script: “Do Not Live in Vain. Do Not Live in Vain. Do Not Live in Vain!”

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As if she hadn’t yet driven home the point, the pot is adorned with several simple ways to carry out Dickinson’s ideal.

  • Make Magic
  • Make Music
  • Make a child laugh
  • Make a big noise

My friend had moved away in 1994 when we were but fourteen. In 1995, the year of the flower pot, we would grow distant. Letters sent went unreturned. Email was not yet mainstream, and our friendship – or its absence – left a gaping hole.

Yet the flower pot and the poem painted across it stuck with me in deep and powerful ways. This friendship was one of the most important of my young life. And the poem became a guiding principle for me. It was one of the only poems I could ever recite by heart, and it embodied my philosophy for doing good. I knew I was never destined for greatness; I’m no Mother Teresa or future President. But I knew I could make a difference in small ways. I could adopt a cat (or two) from a shelter. I could help a stranger on a train find her way. I could join the board of the Friends of the Library. I could knit a prayer shawl and give it to a friend enduring pain and loss. I may not ever save someone’s life or dramatically alter the course of history, but I could, perhaps, make the world a little brighter for another human being.

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Make people believe. (She did.) Or make cookies. (We did that, too.)

My friend and I, after not speaking for four years, had a total falling out in 2002, brought about more by distance, misunderstanding, and perceived malice than by any real wrongs on either of our parts. We reconnected about a few years ago on Facebook, and the warmth has returned to cover the loss, though it is always hard to recover completely across so many years and distance.

During all this time, more than 20 years, I’ve looked at the flower pot as it’s moved around my various homes. I always felt a pang of loss upon seeing it, yet could never bear to part with it; the obvious love, time and effort that went into painting it, selecting a poem, and detailing all the creative ideas has held me captive. Now the friendship has been renewed, so the loss is gone.

And while my friend may never have known it, her small act of giving me that flower pot brought so much to my life. It has always been more that a flower pot, even as it has held bookmarks and doodads; it has been a vessel of inspiration.

If you believe Dickinson, my friend, then you have not lived in vain. By simply giving me this item, you have not lived in vain.

Post Script: I haven’t completely decided what to do with this item. It is certainly not being honored in its current state, but while this blog was meant to tell stories of sentimental stuff in order to part with it, this one may not be destined for the charity box. It may be that in this instance, the point is more to tell the story.

 

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