Thursday, February 23, 2012

Crockpot Macaroni and Cheese

I've been trying to find more and more crockpot recipes this year. My intention was to try a new recipe each week but . . . that isn't exactly happening. So my plan is to continue to research and try new crock pot recipes and to post when I do.   This recipe can easily be meatless and organic.
Crockpot Macaroni and Cheese (serves 6)
2 cups of dry elbow macaroni
4 cups of liquid (I used evaporated milk, chicken broth and Campbells cream of celery)
2 cups of cheese (I used colby and monteray blend)
Combine ingredients in a bowl and stir
Spray crockpot
Pour ingredients into crockpot
Cook on low for 4 hours.
My crockpot has 4, 6, 8, 10 hour options. I cooked the mac and cheese on the 8 hour setting for 4 hours and then unplugged the crockpot.   I used the round crockpot but if I doubled the recipe I would use the bigger oval crockpot.
I sprinkled some bacon bits on top and it was really good.
Next time I might add some celery, carrots, carmelized onions, ham, bacon, red pepper or some combination.  The liquid can be any combination of evaporated milk, broth, 1 egg, cream soup, or sour cream.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Psalm 51

In Mass today Father Ron's homily was centered around the first sentence of the first reading from the prophet Joel "Even now says the Lord, return to me with your whole heart".

The Psalm response was "create in me a clean heart oh God" as I enter Lent I want to let these two simple ideas to take hold of my heart.

Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.
-- Psalm 51:10

Create in me a clean heart, open and receptive, so that I may embrace the many ways you choose to visit my life.

Create in me a clean heart, cleared of the refuse of old battles with others and deadly opposition with myself.

Create in me a clean heart, purified through the daily disruptions and the life encounters that take me beyond my grasping control and ego-centeredness.

Create in me a clean heart, freed from the clutter of cultural enticements, so that I can enjoy the beauty of life’s simple things and relish the gifts I so easily take for granted.

Create in me a clean heart, bathed from harsh thoughts, shame, and perfectionist tendencies, warmly welcoming with others with the embrace of nonjudgment.

Create in me a clean heart, brushed free of frantic busyness, so that I will have time to dwell with you in the listening space of solitude and silence.

Create in me a clean heart, rinsed of the residue of false messages about my identity, enabling my inner goodness and light to shine through all I am and do.

Create in me a clean heart, cleansed of anxiety and lack of trust, restoring in me an enduring faith in your abiding presence and unconditional love.

Create in me a clean heart, scrubbed of racism and prejudice, drawing me toward all as my sisters and brothers.

Create in me a clean heart, washed with your mercy and strengthened by your love, helping me to move beyond whatever keeps me from union with you.

Create a clean heart in me, God. Dust off the unmindful activity that constantly collects there. De-clutter my heart from harsh judgments and negativity. Wash away my resistance to working through difficult relationships. Rinse off my unloving so the beauty of my generous and kind heart can shine forth. Remove whatever keeps me from following in your compassionate footsteps. Amen.

From Out of the Ordinary: Prayers, Poems, and Reflections for Every Season by Joyce Rupp

Thursday, February 16, 2012

What Mommy Books Don't Tell You

When I was pregnant I felt like I had arrived. I was an older Mom when I started my family and I know that I knew more about a lot of things compared to "those younger Moms" that were now my peer group. It was true that I had an entire life filled with lots of accomplishments and successes but motherhood levels the playing field. I can humble myself now some 10 years later but not so starting out.

I read all of the books about having babies and taking care of babies. I watched all the shows that were on TV at the time about popping those babies out. It all seemed so easy. I was the Mom who could tell you (according to the book) on what day my babies eyelashes were developing and how many times I felt movement that day. I think about it now and realize how I must have driven friends and family crazy. I really thought that I was an expert on babies and by the amount of reading and time spent with kids up until having my own. I was determined to be a good mom and convinced myself that if I studied everything from nursing to child development I would achieve supermom status. I was prepared.  I thought.
What I was not prepared for was having 4 kids in under 6 years. I found that the books did not prepare me for the everyday demands of taking care of my babies. The books really didn't help me with my self-imposed idea of what I needed to do to be super mom. The books didn't tell me that my kids don't need a supermom they just need a mom who is present and loves them no matter what.

The books didn't tell me about friends. Friendship is hard no matter where you are in life but when you have young kids it is no longer about you and another person, it is a package deal. Finding a mom who has the same values, goals, ideas can seem impossible.
The books didn't tell me that my friends would be determined by:
  1. Whether you are a "boy" mom or a "girl" mom--my first was a boy but I would meet Moms who had girls and would say "oh, I have a girl" and for that reason we could not be friends.
  2. I had a child who was a biter--that is isolating.
  3. I have a child with special issues--when you have a kid who is different in any way you immediately find out who your friends are NOT.
  4. Having a bigger family-- people either embrace it or reject it.
  5. My parenting style and the choices we have made for our family.
  6. What activities my kids are involved in.
  7. Where they go to school.
  8. Our choice to homeschool.
  9. Where we are on our faith journey.
  10. Where I see myself going not where I've been.
Finding and keeping friends when you have smaller kids can be tough but not impossible because everyone needs a friend--your potential friend is looking for you! I have found great lasting friendships from my churches Mom's group, from our homeschool coop and from our school. I am very blessed by a small group of women. That is all I need to feel supported.

Thank you God for giving me the gift of motherhood. I pray that I might be open to serving you through the challenges and demands of this incredible vocation. Thank you God for my friends that have loved me, friends that needed to leave me and friends that stay with me even on the hard days.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Stay Home Sundays

I love my home. I love making my home a place to just be. Our house is busy--the 6 of us all have things that interest us and take us away from our home but on Sunday we all come together and become "homebodies". We limit our activities to church and school on Sunday. Ideally, we go to Mass on Saturday night so we have all day on Sunday to:
  • stay in our pajamas
  • read an entire book
  • have pancakes and bacon without rushing
  • spend time alone with each kid
  • bake bread
  • take a shower without looking at my watch to see how far behind I am
  • pray and entire rosary
  • make lots of cookies and freeze the dough
  • make a huge train track and turn it into a city
  • plan our week
  • fold laundry (see my previous post on our laundry system)
  • listen to the kids have a concert
  • go for a long walk
  • breathe
  • think without being rushed
I try to prepare our meals for Sunday on Saturday so I need to spend less time in the kitchen. Our Sunday kitchen time is spent working together at a slower pace and enjoying our time rather than the Monday through Friday flurry of meals in under 15 minutes.   

When my kids were younger it was much easier to have stay home days--a time to catch our breath and rejuvenate ourselves. That time of having leisure toddler time has passed and our family needs to be mindful of how important it is becoming to spend time together in a very intentional way. As  our lives become busier I feel it is hugely important to balance it with calm.

Thank you God for taking a day of rest. You have shown us that what we accomplish in 6 days through your blessings and grace will not crumble while we rest on the 7th day.

Leviticus 23:3 You have six days in which to do your work, but remember that the seventh day, the Sabbath, is a day of rest. On that day do not work, but gather for worship. The Sabbath belongs to the Lord, no matter where you live.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Recipe Organization

I love cooking.  I love food.  I love the smell of cooking.  I love dinner time with all my kidlings sitting around the table and laughing, talking about their day, enjoying the moment of being together.

Before kids I cooked very elaborate meals both at home, in my catering and in the various restaurants that I worked in.  Now my meals are less complex but still delicious and wholesome.  Over the years I have worked with some awesome chefs and I have always kept lots of recipes.  Too many really for one person to ever cook in "real life".

One day I decided to get rid of the zillion cookbooks that I had and just keep the recipes that I used.  I found a 3 ring binder and began filling the page protectors with my favorites.  Some of these included recipes from my wedding shower (I had asked for a fat quarter of fabric and a recipe) these heirloom recipes are so wonderful to have and I really do treasure them.  I did make a beautiful wedding quilt as well. 

I have continued to add to this three ring binder as I try new recipes that everyone enjoys.  I have also started writing down the recipes that I want my kids to have.  You see when my Mom died she had lots of cookbooks and tons of handwritten recipes.  It is so special to follow a recipe that is in her handwriting--it feels like she is really with me in my kitchen.  My mom also had tons of recipes stuck in books that were held together with rubber bands.  The year after my Mom passed I decided to replicate all of her Christmas cookies--she made dozens of different kinds--no exaggeration, plus fudge and chocolate covered cherries--crazy amounts of baking.  I had success except for her date pinwheels. 

I tried every date pinwheel recipe and none of them tasted like hers.  I don't even LIKE them but I felt consumed to find that one cookie recipe.  I gave up.  I gave up on chasing a memory of a cookie.  It wasn't really about the cookie, it was about sharing something with my Mom after she was gone.

What I want for my kids is to have the recipes that I use.  I want them to work with me in the kitchen, not only because it makes it more fun for me but I want them to have something that I don't have.  I want them to have my muffin recipe. 

I make muffins every two weeks--24 muffins and I freeze 18.  You see every week we have Muffin Monday.  I usually make pumpkin or banana--it needs to be predictable for the kids.  I always have 3 weeks worth of muffins in the freezer.  It lightens my mental load to know that one breakfast every week is taken care of with food the kids love. 

Thank you God for giving me the gift of organization so the my house might run smoother giving me even more time to serve you.  Thank you for giving me the gift of cooking and nourishing those closest to me.  With Your grace I hope that I can feed their souls as well as their stomachs.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Top 10 Chicken Dinners

Feeding a family of six on a budget can be a challenge.  We rarely eat out so coming up with interesting things for dinner, that everyone will eat, can be sort of boring if you let it. 

I plan out all of my meals because it helps my budget, helps maintain my sanity and I crave the predictablily of the evening meal.  Our days are filled with enough impromptu, glitches, and oppsies.  My kids are young and I curb our evening activities so that we can eat together each night.  I treasure this time with my kids because I know it is fleeting.

I have 10 go-to chicken dinners.  I usually use my crockpot to cook the chicken one day for meals the following days.  If I am baking all day I like to roast the chicken. 

roasted chicken

1.)  Chicken and White Bean soup.  I use the Frontera grill chili starter base and have added peppers, onions, celery, carrots, more beans and rice or whatever else I have in my refridgerator. 

2.)  Chicken and Stuffing bake.  Chicken, gravy and some veggies in the bottom of a oven safe pan and top with stuffing and bake until hot and bubbly.  This can be assembled ahead of time.

3.)  Chicken quesadillas.  I heat a pan, toss in a tortilla then add cheese and warmed chicken.  I use plain chicken for some and seasoned chicken for others.  I serve it open face so everyone can decorate with sourcream, salsa and lettuce.

4.)  Chicken stock.  When ever I cook a chicken in the crockpot I always save the stock and freeze it in ziploc bags or mason jars.

5.) Leftover Chicken noodle soup.  I use the homemade chicken stock and and simmer veggies and the chicken and then add noodles and simmer until they are done.  I use leftover baked chicken--I find that crockpot chicken reheated in this slower cooked soup falls apart and that is not appealing to me.

6.)  Sunday dinner.  I put the chicken in the oven, prep the potatoes for mashing and prep the veggies.  Serve with a salad. 

7.)  Stir fry with Rice:  We love having this dinner with Grandpa Pop Pop.  I cut the chicken as thin as possible--you can freeze the chicken for a while to make it easier to cut, find as many veggies as possible and cook them in my wok.  I do not add sauce to the stir fry but have some teriyaki (I love the Soy Vay sauces) and peanut sauces on the table with some roasted cashews.  I set the wok in the middle of the table and enjoy.

8.)  Grilled BBQ Chicken.  We have this at least once a week in the summer. 

9.)  Homemade chicken nuggets.  I find boneless, skinless chicken breast or do it myself and cut them into 1 inch squares or for tenders you can make them strips.  I coat them in salad dressing and dredge them in bread crumbs.  I make homemade bread crumbs by saving the bits and ends of bread in the freezer and when I need crumbs or want to make a batch I just zoom it in the food processer.  I always have storebought just in case as well.

10.)  Chicken Salad.  I use leftover chicken of any kind including boiled chicken.  Basic salad I add mayo, celery, onion, two touch of hot sauce.  For variation I add cranberries and yougurt or ginger salad dressing with they mayo and sesame seeds.  The kids only eat the basic salad but I love to play with different combinations.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

House Rules

I repeat myself.  Not because I forget what I'm saying but because the four kidlings that I spend my time with can't seem to remember what I have said even if I have repeated it a million times.  As a parent we try lots of things to get our point across and when something works we rejoice.  I have found, by trial and error, that screaming, sarcasm, growling, jumping up and down (while waving my arms screaming sarcasm), and slamming kitchen doors are not effective was to motivate my children.
So I decided that maybe we need some rules to help us all live in harmony.  A few years ago now while on a trip to our cabin, where everything is better, we sat down together to write these rules:

1. Say Please and Thank you.
2. Keep your hands, feet and objects to yourself.
3. The door is not a toy.
4. Treat others the way you want to be treated.
5. Help each other be what God wants for them.
6. Do everything without complaining.
7. Honor God and your parents.
8. Be gentle, loving, kind and respectful in your words, choices and actions.
9. Take responsibility for your own actions.
10. In everything give thanks.
When we came home we posted them on the wall in the kitchen. I had a grand plan of maybe framing them or making them fancy in some way.  The fancy part never happened but we still have this tattered paper in the kitchen of our new home.
These simple rules have given us a positive way to help each other be accountable for what we say and do.
Thank you God for giving us choices. Thank you for the grace you bless us with when we make choices that please you.