Wednesday, September 24, 2008

One-dish wonders

A slightly different take on Taco Salad, but really good. With rice added...and if you wanted to, you could throw in some black beans too.
Hamburger Rice Skillet

1 pound ground beef
1 small onion, chopped
1 small green bell pepper, chopped
10 oz. can Rotel (tomatoes and green chiles)
1.5 cups water
1 cup uncooked long-grain rice
1 packet mild taco seasoning mix
1/2 tsp. salt
2 cups chopped lettuce
3 green onions, chopped
1 tomato, chopped
1 avocado, chopped
2 1/4 oz. sliced black olives, drained
1 cup Mexican cheese blend shredded cheese
tortilla chips

1. Cook first three ingredients together in a large skillet (that can be covered) over medium-high heat. Drain.

2. Stir in Rotel and next 4 ingredients. Cook, covered, over medium heat for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Uncover and cook 15 more minutes*. Remove from heat.

3. Sprinkle lettuce and next 5 ingredients over hamburger in skillet**. Stand tortilla chips on edge around edge of skillet; serve with chips and salsa.

Serves lots!

*I test the rice after I uncover the dish. If its tender and fully cooked, I usually only cook for 5 additional minutes...but test your rice first.
**While I love one-dish wonders :) serving something in a hot skillet with little fingers within reach isn't always ideal at our house, so I always transfer this to a serving bowl before topping the meat with the lettuce, etc.

And doesn't one-dish wonders just make you think of one-hit wonders? Which makes me think of that movie and song..."That Thing You Do". And now that song will be stuck in my head all day long :)

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Do you like grits?

For the majority of my first 24 years, I was not a fan of grits. And then my oldest was born. The first solid food I got to enjoy after Hadleigh was born was grits. Hospital grits, at that. But I put plenty of butter and salt on them and they were the best thing I'd ever eaten. (I do remember that I was SO hungry after at least 30 hours of not eating. So I imagine that even pork rinds would probably have tasted good. Maybe.)

I still love grits to this day. And I really enjoy trying recipes where they're not a breakfast side. Like shrimp and grits. And this fabulous recipe...that we all really loved! This is a great cozy meal for the approaching autumn season!

Wild West Beef and Smoked Gouda Grits
1 package (17 oz.) refrigerated fully cooked beef tips with gravy
1 Tbsp. olive oil
6 oz. Portobello mushrooms, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup chopped red onion
chopped fresh parsley
3.5 cups water
1 cup quick-cooking grits
1 cup shredded smoked Gouda cheese
2-4 Tbsp. butter, softened
1. Bring water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Add grits, stirring constantly. Reduce heat to med-low; cover and cook for 5-7 minutes until thickened, stirring on occasion. Add cheese and butter; stir until completely melted. Remove from heat; cover and set aside.
2. Meanwhile, heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add mushrooms and onion. Cook 4-5 minutes until onion is tender. Stir in beef tips with gravy; cook until heated through, about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
3. Divide grits among four bowls. Top with beef and garnish with parsley.
Serves 4.
Fellow haters of mushrooms, beware. I tried these. They were surprisingly good. (I love the flavor that mushrooms give, so I usually cook with them BUT eat around them. It's a texture thing. Don't avoid these. Yum. I never thought I'd ever say I liked a mushroom.)

Monday, September 15, 2008

Little Bits of Fun

So first of all, this little guy started potty-training this weekend...
and he is all about getting M&M's. He's doing great so far, only 3 accidents in 3 days (and none today yet)...but the real question is whether he will ever stop in the middle of doing something to tell us he has to go. He'll say yes when we ask, but...

I thought I'd share some things we're enjoying around here lately!

Trash Ties. These are fabulous. I got one set of the standard lengths in pink (go figure) for Hadleigh, and I plan on ordering LOTS more. It is so much easier to do fun pigtails and such with these than regular ol' rubber bands. And they don't snag on hair, which is huge when your little girl "thinks" she has such a sensitive head! I ordered a long chocolate brown tie for myself and I'm having fun playing with it...and wishing my hair was a little bit longer so I could do more with it.
Here's a close up:
Brent discovered these from a friend...they are wood chips made from Jack Daniels whiskey barrels and when you soak them and then use them on the grill with your meat...well, they definitely make a great burger!
And Mom brought these for Hadleigh on her last visit... a Tissue Paper Flowers kit. We've had lots of fun with them...and there are SO many to make! We haven't even made a dent in the kit!

And, um, a really really fun surprise from my sister this past Friday:

These two are engaged!!! Congrats Katy and Alex...we are SO excited for you!Hope you're having a great Monday!

Friday, September 12, 2008

23 thoughts

about my little sister Katy, today on her 23rd Birthday. And they're a bit random. I wish I had all of our old pictures to share :) that would be FUN!1. Katy was an answer to prayer. I wanted a sister. I am so thankful that SHE is my sister. (And she was due on my birthday, how cool is that?)

2. She got the athletic genes in the female side of the family. Basketball...cross country...track...I've always admired how much she enjoys running. And growing up, she was "known" for that super-long blonde ponytail swishing back and forth as she ran up and down the court. I love the times I got to see her play. And run.

3. She kept every pair of basketball shoes in her closet up until college when I convinced her we had to give or throw them away. (That gene runs in our family too. The sentimental one.) I love this about her. Because I must admit that I do the same thing...but not athletic shoes. The other ones.

4. We are six years apart, seven years in school. When I was in middle school, she would get Valentine gifts from boys in her class in PRE school. I'll admit it. I was a tad bit jealous, even if I didn't like chocolate covered cherries or want Disney figurines!

5. She is fun to surprise. I'll never forget flying home from college for her 13th birthday to surprise her at the stroke of midnight because for years, she had been sad that I wouldn't be there. I'll never forget the hug she gave me when Brent and I surprised her at her "Surprise" Sweet 16. I was so thankful I could be there. Wish I was with her today.

6. She is a terrific cook and a wonderful photographer!

7. I admire her ability to step out in faith and trust God is the direction that He leads her.

8. She is one of the most generous people I know. She gives of herself so selflessly to so many.

9. One of my favorite pictures from my wedding is of my best friend Stephanie painting Katy's toes. Painted toes and curled hair...just for me, since it was my day. (It's no longer quite a big deal for her to paint her toes, do her hair, or wear makeup...but it was for a long time!)

10. She is a loyal friend. You couldn't wish for a truer one. I'm thankful she's not only my sister but also my friend.

11. She doesn't like cats very much because she took care of mine for my first year of college. I don't blame her. He wasn't a very nice cat, but she was so sweet to have done it for me.

12. She IS a dog person. She has a soft spot for all of the sweet dogs our family has had. She's always wanted a beagle...I guess we'll see if she gets one now that she's "on her own".

13. She has seen each of my children on the day they were born. And been at every birthday so far. I love the way she loves them. And the way they love her.

14. I'll never forget the day she decided to go to Baylor. It was THE day that you had to send in your acceptance letter. The LAST day. I called her and she was in tears over her decision between Baylor and Duke. I'm so thankful for your time there, Katy.

15. She gives THE BEST foot rubs. Ever.

16. She is a great listener. She is fun to laugh with. Easy to cry with. Perfect to be silly with.

17. We always stay up late into the night to talk when she visits. I love our deep conversations...and our not-so-deep ones too. And how we fall asleep on the couch.

18. We both share a love for Pride and Prejudice and You've Got Mail.

19. When we were all little, my brothers and I used to fight over who got to carry Katy on piggy-back at the beach. We have pictures to prove it. I can picture them now. We all adored her to pieces. We always said we'd put a brick on her head to keep her little. She grew up anyway. We still adore her to pieces.

20. She has a heart for ministry and mission work. She is a true blessing to those who she's around.

21. I love the relationship that Katy and Brent have. They are truly big brother and little sister. It's fun to see.

22. She has always wanted to be taller than me...but has yet to pass me in height!

23. She is faithful. As a friend. As a daughter. As a sister. And as a follower of Christ.

I love you Katy. I hope you have a wonderful birthday...have fun tonight!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Easy Reads

I have always been a reader. A stay-up-until-all-hours-til-it's-finished kinda girl. (ahem, Stephanie can vouch for that!)

But I go through phases with reading these days. A stream of parenting books. Then old favorites. Classics. New books that I hear good things about. But with lots of space in between. I no longer have as much time as I'd love to devote to reading, so I read in spurts.

That's one reason I love addition to all the lovely pictures :) I really enjoy reading "little" stories and articles. Some things just for fun and other things because I want to grow in different areas of my life. And it's not quite the time commitment during this stage of my life.

I've subscribed to all sorts of mags over the years...In Style in college (and I occasionally pick one of those up from the store), Martha Stewart Living for a long time and then off and on, Cooking Light when I got a good deal, The New Yorker while I was teaching, Creating Keepsakes scrapbooking for a few years...

Now I get these:

Cottage Living--I've been a subscriber since the very beginning. I have every issue. (It's the one that I can't bring myself to tear stuff out of and then throw away/pass on). I love the decorating stories...the Cottage Industry article is one of my faves! And they usually have some good recipes, and you know I love that!

Southern Living--I'm a southern girl, what can I say? I love this magazine for all the great ideas of things to do...both close to home and far away. Great ideas for trips to take. And DELISH recipes.

Victoria--I began subscribing about a year before they stopped publishing (a few years back) and was delighted when I found out they were starting the magazine last fall. Brent's parents gave me a subscription as a birthday gift last year and it's been great. Such beautiful photography and graceful lifestyles. They had a feature recently on the Biltmore Estate farms and it just made me homesick.

Better Homes and Gardens--I got a really good offer and I always buy their fall and winter magazines anyway, so I went for the subscription. (Are you always as tempted by autumn and holiday magazines as I am? I cannot resist.) Another one full of good decorating, gardening, and cooking ideas.

WORLD Magazine--We love this magazine for it's worldview in reporting news. Definitely refreshing from the mainline media slant. And Andrea Seu is such a gifted writer. I love reading her column.

and we just got our first issue today of God's WorldNews to put into our homeschool curriculum. Very excited about that...and my little girl was thrilled to get her OWN magazine in the mail. She loves mail. Like her mommy. :)

and here's a magazine that I don't subscribe to (yet)...but if he offered a subscription, I would be first in line to sign up.

Matthew Mead--I've talked about his great ideas and inspiration in the past, but he has a new special issue magazine out with ideas for Halloween. I'm not a huge Halloween fan, but I see a lot of neat ideas for the fall, regardless. I really hope this magazine becomes a standard feature...because I love his website. Great decorating ideas, hostess tips, and uh, recipes, of course!

So, what are your favorite magazines? (And don't forget to look at the post below for today's recipe!)

Deconstructed Chicken Parmigiana

That's basically what this is. Similar tastes, easy prep. (Of course, it also answers to"That pasta-chicken thing" around here.) And it's oh-so-yummy. And oh-so-easy. I get double the ingredients each time I make my weekly-ish run to the grocery store, that way there's always something to throw together at the last minute when it's been "one of those days".

Deconstructed Chicken Parmigiana

1 lb. penne pasta, I prefer Barilla
1 jar Vodka Sauce, I buy Bertolli
1 package frozen breaded chicken breasts, like Tyson's
1/4 to 1/3 cup grated parmesan cheese
3/4 cup shredded mozzarella

1. Cook 3-4 chicken breasts according to directions. Meanwhile, prepare penne pasta according to package directions, adding salt to the water; cook until al dente. Drain pasta and place in a lightly-greased casserole dish.

2. Sprinkle about 1/4 cup parmesan cheese on the pasta; toss to coat.

3. Cut cooked chicken breasts into bite-sized pieces and toss with the pasta. Pour contents of sauce bottle over pasta and carefully stir to combine. Top with mozzarella cheese.

4. Bake at 350 degrees for 15-20 minutes until cheese is melted and bubbly.

This is perfect with a salad and garlic bread. (And the Pepperidge Farm frozen garlic bread is great to have on hand as well!)

Now, you could easily make your own sauce and pasta and breaded chicken and bread...but I like the ease and convenience of this every once in awhile, don't you agree?

Friday, September 05, 2008

Hadleigh's New Adventure Begins!

Well, despite being a short week and a busy week, this was also the week that Hadleigh began our homeschooling journey.

(I couldn't get a picture of her smiling without her sticking out her this was the best of the bunch. She was so excited about her backpack and her pink pencil pouch and her 64-count box of crayons and her pink notebook. Mmmm, school supplies!)

After ordering all of the kindergarten curriculum, we decided to do some kindergarten material (because she's ready for the learning challenge and more of a routine) but officially call this year "Pre-K". I went back and forth about the decision, but in the end, she won't be five until October and I've never talked to anyone who regrets waiting until their children were a bit older to begin school. So we're doing some math (calendar skills, counting which will be mostly review, etc.) and she adores all the manipulatives. Pattern blocks and tangrams and counting bears. Who knew they could be so much fun? We're using the Saxon K materials, which are recommended for Pre-K by Veritas Press, the curriculum provider we've chosen to use for now.

We're also using the Veritas Press Phonics Museum, which I am SO SO SO excited about. I saw this program when Hadleigh was probably still one year old, and I knew then that I wanted to use it. It combines phonics skills, learning to write, art, and a bit of history to teach children to read and write, using music, fine art flashcards, a "paper doll" style museum, games, crafts, coloring pages, and so much more. It's very easy to teach through and very thorough. Hadleigh really enjoys the majority of the activities, though I must say that the handwriting part has been our biggest challenge/struggle this week.

For our Bible course, we're reading this Story Bible and using a devotional that my parents gave me when I was three. (It's special to remember reading it with my Mom and Dad while I spend time reading it with Hadleigh and Nathanael.) I'm keeping this part simple for now, since we're also attending a Chapel School program once a week (a preschool-type program that I help teach with four other mothers) and Community Bible Study on Thursdays.

We will also be doing some fun art/craft projects in addition to the projects in the phonics program. I have a few different art books and craft books that I am using to come up with projects.

I also hope to take advantage of some neat museums and have some fun field trip days! Today we went on a field trip to our county fair to check out some of the animal and farm exhibits that they had set up for children. It was a lot of fun...and a perfect way to spend a rainy morning and still move around a lot!

Needless to say, I am drained. It's been a change to not have my afternoon's to myself, so I definitely feel like I need to find another time (early in the morning?!?!?) to just get some quiet moments to myself to do something I enjoy--be it reading, scrapbooking, blogging, etc. However, I have really enjoyed our first kind of feels like I'm "playing" school. And despite the challenges that we're facing (and they are the ones I expected to face), it has already been so rewarding: to hear Hadleigh make a learning connection between something she learned at Chapel School and then we repeated at home, to see her have the self-control to finish her last worksheet today without whining, to watch her correctly identify the short "a" sound in the midst of all the other short vowel sounds!

And the best part for me has been the excitement in her voice as she asks me "Are we going to do school today?" and then gives me the sweetest thank you and hug when I say yes. I know it won't always be that exciting for her (I'm sure I will soon hear "Do we have to do school today?") But when she tells me that "I liketo be with you all the time, Mommy."--what more could I ask for? It's the encouragement I need and a reminder that this is the right option for us right now.

Whew, if you made it this far, I'm impressed! Sorry that was so long-winded, but I really wanted to get these first week thoughts down. :) Some fun stuff for next week! Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Birthday recap, long weekend, and a recipe!

Thanks for all the sweet birthday wishes...I really had a wonderful day full of great food and my sweet family, as well as sweet birthday greetings from many family members and friends! Having my Dad with me the previous weekend was so so special. It really caught me by surprise! My Mom and Hadleigh made me scones and hot tea for breakfast...we ate a delicious lunch at a favorite restaurant in town (we both had the Harvest Chicken Salad--chicken, dried fruit, salad greens, walnuts, and the MOST delicious maple dressing ever.) We spent some time just talking (and working) in the kitchen together. Brent took me out to dinner (at the same restaurant...which was fun since I'd never been there for dinner before!) and we had a delicious meal--I had duck with two different autumn fruit sauce and a port wine fig reduction which was AMAZING!

After dinner, we returned to find Nathanael crying...he and Hadleigh had been carefully placing candles on the cake and in his attempt to hurry (since we were coming through the door), his hand slid along the edge of the cake, leaving a big spot of cake without frosting! Precious boy...he had been worried that he messed it up. He quickly said, "Mommy, it's your BIRTHDAY CAKE. With CANDLES." (Birthday cake and candles are the most important birthday items in his mind. It's all about those two things at his age!) The Red Velvet Cake was a labor of love (Mom made it with H & N) and so so delicious.

We managed to take that picture above...not exactly perfectly cooperative...but still a cute memory! The cake was delicious...followed by fun gifts (which were hidden), which my children led me to by playing the "Hot and Cold" game. Sometimes they would walk to where the gift was and say "I'm hot Mommy!" Too cute.

Red Velvet Cake is one of my very favorites. My Mom sometimes uses cream cheese frosting and sometimes uses fresh whipped cream. But this year she found the best recipe ever. It's from the website Joy of Baking (that link will take you to where she found the recipe.) It's the best of both frosting worlds...light and fluffy like the whipping cream but with the flavor of the cream cheese. It's perfectly delightful with Red Velvet, and I'm sure it would be great with many others!

I thought I'd share it with you's fabulous.

Cream Cheese Frosting

1 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream
1 - 8 ounce cream cheese, room temperature
1 - 8 ounce tub of Mascarpone cheese, room temperature
3/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup confectioners' sugar, sifted

1. With a hand mixer, process the cream cheese and mascarpone cheese until smooth. Add the vanilla and sugar and process until smooth. Transfer this mixture to a large mixing bowl.

2. Then, in the bowl of your electric mixer, or with a hand mixer, whip the cream until stiff peaks form. With a large spatula, gently but quickly fold a little of the whipped cream into the cream cheese mixture to lighten it. Then fold in the remaining whipped cream, in two stages.

3. Cover and place the frosting in the refrigerator for an hour or two, or until it is firm enough to spread.

I hope you all had a great Labor Day Weekend. We sure did, though it was busy. We took my Mom to the airport Saturday morning (we miss you Mom!) and took advantage of the city of Wichita to go to the zoo, a golf store, a scrapbook store, McAllisters sweet tea, and Carrabbas for dinner. Can I just say that their Italian white sangria is my favorite? It was a wonderful day and the kids did great, despite the lack of a nap for either of our younger ones.

Monday we had a VERY full day...we played at the park...Madeleine went swinging for the first time and loved it! Then we went to the Splash Park, where the kids played in the water and we ran into some friends. Hadleigh and Brent played golf during naptime and then we went out for burritos for dinner, a quick stop at Hastings and Staples, and then onto the city park where they have a train and carousel that operate Memorial Day to Labor Day. We got to ride up front on the train which was fun...the kids LOVE that train!

I have a love/hate relationship with long weekends...usually when the day off is a Monday. I love the time together as a family and having Brent home...but Tuesday is a bit tough for me to get back. This week we have a lot going on, so it's feeling a little crazy. Crazy but good. :) I'll report more later! Have a great day!

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