Monday, December 26, 2011

A Very Nice Christmas, 2011

We're finally back at home after spending the last four days up in Asheville, North Carolina for Christmas with our family. It was a nice visit and no matter how many years it's been since we lived there, it still feels like home and we do miss the mountains. The weather was nice, especially for this time of the year, but I think the kids would have been thrilled had it snowed. 
My brother-in-law Brian, his wife Linda, and their daughter Laura, drove down from Wisconsin and it was really nice seeing them again because it's been quite a few years since their last visit. We all live in different states, so we don't get to see each other as often as we'd like to, so this was especially nice.
We did get a little crazy on Thursday when we decided to do some cleaning at my in-laws', including re-painting the upstairs ceiling, and we cooked dinner for them as well---it was our gift to them and of course my father-in-law was overwhelmed by it all. The look on his face when we were finished said it all. My mother-in-law is confined to her bed and even though she wasn't able to see what we did, she was just as thrilled.
Dinner was something everyone pitched in on. My sister-in-law Sue and her family did a bunch of baking and cooking at their house and brought everything with them, so we had quite a full table by the time we got it all set out.

Brian carving the turkey (you can see my father-in-law's reflection in the sliding glass window!)

Just a few of the home baked desserts!

Laura, Brian, and Linda

Our daughter Courtney, and husband Eric

Our 19 year old son Alex, hamming it up for the usual!

Bill in the middle of the kids' group hug!

Megan, Laura, and RJ

Linda and daughter, Laura, goofing for the camera!

Unfortunately I didn't take as many pictures as I wanted because my batteries ran down and I couldn't find the ones I brought.......figures, right? Anyhow, I apologize for not getting everyone in here and will try to be more organized next time! We had a great time but it all went by so fast and then it was time for everyone to leave and make the journey home. But a lot of nice memories were made and I can't wait until we're all able to get together again.   :)

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Merry Christmas!!!

Lots going on here for the next few days---baking, packing for our trip to the mountains to be with our family, and getting the house cleaned before we leave, so this will be my last entry until next week.

I just wanted to thank you all for stopping by from time to time and leaving such wonderful comments. It really does mean a lot to me, and I hope you'll keep coming back as I try to find interesting and helpful things to talk about---and share a few recipes along the way! I've so enjoyed visiting your blogs, seeing what you've been up to and enjoying pictures of your families, your farms, and things that mean the most to you.

Well, I need to jump off of here and get busy with my chores again, so I'll stop here for now.
I hope you all have a wonderful and blessed Christmas and should you be traveling, I wish you a safe journey.......that's my wish from my family to your's.
Take care and God bless.   :)


Sunday, December 4, 2011

Chocolate Delight!

I really have to brag on my husband (hope you don't mind) and thought I would share this. Earlier today, Bill made an 11 layer cake with each layer brushed with a simple syrup, then with a layer of chocolate mousse. The outside has milk chocolate frosting and the sides covered with cake crumbles. I gained 20 pounds just looking at it!

OH MY.........!!!

This cake was kind of inspired by a show on the Food Network called, "The Best Thing I Ever Ate", and one of the features was a chef who made a 27-layer cake with a chocolate ganache and it was incredible. Of course we don't have the fancy pans and equipment that guy did, but I figure this will be a HUGE hit at my husband's job. They're having a cooking contest later this month and even if this cake wins, Bill said he would defer the prize to someone else since he's the boss. He just wanted to enter it to see how it would do.
Bill's a fabulous cook to begin with, and this time he's hit a home run!  

Another Family Favorite.......Goulash

I don't remember exactly how I came up with this recipe, but I've been making it for years and everyone loves it. It's not really a traditional goulash as you might be used to, but I suppose it's close enough! I will warn you though, this makes a BIG batch of goulash. Even when I was feeding 7 of us we still had a lot leftover but it does freeze well, so you can get more than one meal from it.
I like this recipe because it's inexpensive and quick to make. You can serve it with crackers, corn bread, a loaf or garlic bread, or just as is. I will apologize for some of the measurements because this is one of those things where I add spices to my taste, but when I made this last night I tried to pay attention to how much of each I was adding. Taste this as you go and make this how you like it.


3 lbs. ground beef, or you can also use ground venison, elk, etc.
1 large can crushed tomatoes, or if you like the diced variety you can use them instead
2 cans green beans (I use the french cut)
2 cans dark red kidney beans
2 cans corn
2 packages of brown gravy mix
1/2-1 tablespoon garlic powder
2 teaspoons black pepper
sea salt, to taste or optional
2 heaping tablespoons dried parsley
1 small box elbow macaroni noodles

In a large stock pot, start browning the meat. When done, drain and return to the pot on medium heat. In another pot, get your water boiling for the macaroni noodles. Cook those, drain and set aside.

Begin adding (including all the liquids) the crushed tomatoes, green beans, kidney beans, and the corn.

Stir well.

Next, add your seasonings, making sure you stir these in well, tasting as you go. Add the 2 packages of brown gravy mix and stir in. As I said earlier, I tried to pay attention to the amounts of the seasonings so start out with a little and as the goulash cooks, give it a stir and taste again. When you get it to your liking, turn the heat down to a low simmer, stirring occasionally.
Next, add the macaroni noodles and stir them in. Turn off the heat and let the goulash sit for 10-15 minutes.

 It's ready to serve!

That's it! A nice, hearty meal that's easy on the budget and wonderfully warming on those cold winter evenings.

This post is part of the "On My Mind" feature at Down To Earth 

Saturday, December 3, 2011

An Early Start!

I can't remember the last time I actually slept through the night and got some honest, restful sleep and this morning was no exception. I woke up because my left knee hurt like I had hyper-extended it or maybe I was just sleeping in an awkward position, so I got up. I suffer from Fibromyalgia, so I often wake up a number of times through the night due to pain, and usually it's a matter of rolling over in bed and then it's off to sleep again. Generally if I actually get up, it's to get something to drink and then I climb back in bed, but once in a great while I may get up around 3am and I'm UP. This morning I woke up at 12:30!
Anyhow, I've done a bit of cleaning up in the kitchen, made a pot of coffee, have more laundry going, bread dough rising, and now I'm here. My husband, Bill, got up briefly and came out of the bedroom looking at me rather confused, asking how long I'd been up and chuckled slightly when I told him and what I've been doing. Bless his heart, I know he worries about me, but he's used to all of this and knows when I get tired enough later in the day I'll lay down.
I had posted a while back about making your own laundry powder, and I've been very pleased with it. It's not hard to make, it's quite inexpensive, and it doesn't take much time to put together. But I've been curious about the liquid version and think I might make a batch either later today or tomorrow and see how I like it. Another reason I want to do this is to try it as a stain remover for laundry, and as a base for a household cleaner I read that Rhonda posted over at her blog, Down To Earth. If you're interested, the recipe for her liquid laundry soap is here. Just remember that if you try any of her recipes and like them, please let her know, and if you mention or post them on your blog please let folks know where you got it from. I know.......there are so many cleaning recipes out there on the internet but I'm a firm believer in giving credit where credit's due. Thanks.
Time for me to jump off of here for now, but I promise I will revisit the liquid laundry in another post and try to include some pictures to go along with it as well.
Have a great day!  

Friday, December 2, 2011

Busy Day!

Now that Thanksgiving has come and gone and life has gotten back to normal, this has been a week of catching up and running errands. Today has been a busy day doing laundry and cleaning house, two things I got behind on after the holiday weekend because I was just worn out and honestly didn't feel like dealing with it. But I got busy first thing this morning and by lunch time got a lot done. It was nice to be able to sit down and not feel guilty!
The weather has definitely gotten cooler here. Monday it rained all day and was chilly, Tuesday it was overcast, misty, breezy and chilly. We've been so spoiled with the warm, sunny days and mild morning temperatures, but it sure is a shock when you wake up and it's in the 20's! Today has been a nice day though. In the low 60's and the sun is out. No complaints for such a pretty December day.
I got my bird feeders up last week and the birds have finally started coming to them. I've seen some Black-capped Chickadees and several Tufted Titmice, and it's funny to watch them taking turns grabbing what they can and then flying off.

So far, the squirrels haven't found them, but if I don't get the squirrel guards up they'll empty the feeders in no time. Last spring I had a raccoon that would actually pull the bird feeder out of the tree and in the morning I would find it halfway across the yard, emptied. I haven't seen any raccoons in a while, so maybe they've moved on!
When we rented this house last March, one of the things I loved was the woods behind the house. Most of the trees I recognized, but there was one I didn't. A couple weeks ago my husband and I noticed some squirrels in the top of the tree eating something and as we started looking closer at the tree, it had acorns in it, but didn't have the typical, lobed oak leaves I was used to seeing. So I took a small branch inside with me and got on the internet. It only took a few minutes, but I found it and my 'mystery' tree is a Southern Live Oak, very common in this part of the South and the acorns much loved by our resident squirrels!

I like to know all the trees around me, so I don't mind doing a bit of sleuthing to identify them and see if they were used for medicinal purposes in any way, or maybe they were used in other ways. I do have one Eastern Redbud tree just over the fence in the back yard and I'm really looking forward to seeing it bloom in the spring. The blossoms are a beautiful pinkish-red, some are even lavender in color, and come out on the bark first, followed by heart-shaped leaves. This tree was a favorite of Thomas Jefferson, who had many planted at his home and Native Americans ate the Redbud blossoms both raw and boiled, and ate roasted seeds. I do know one thing, if I had my own yard, there would be quite a few of these trees planted because they're so gorgeous!

Eastern Redbud Tree
Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

Well, that's about all I have for now. The dryer just went off so I need to go fold some clothes and get started on some bread. 
Hope you all have a wonderful weekend, and thanks for stopping by!

This post is part of the "On My Mind" feature at Down To Earth.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Getting Ready For Thanksgiving!

Norman Rockwell painting, Freedom From Want, that appeared in the
Saturday Evening Post, March 6, 1943.

Thanksgiving is almost upon us and I've been busy picking up some last minute items this week, hoping I've remembered everything and impatiently awaiting a wonderful dinner that everyone looks forward to...including me!
I love cooking Thanksgiving dinner for my family, which generally means getting up early to start getting the stuffing ready so I can get the turkey in the oven and by the time the kids get up, they're rushing into the kitchen telling me how good everything smells and asking when it'll be done so we can eat! I have to admit that I'm just as impatient and love when everything's on the table and I can finally sit down and relax.
As much as our holidays have become such a big commercial business, I find that most people don't think about taking time to give thanks for what they have. Maybe they've been struggling financially, or they've dealt with health issues, or maybe their marriage isn't so happy. We live in a challenging time for sure, but if we let the problems we suffer from completely overshadow our lives, then I can understand why some folks don't feel so grateful.
But I find that I've been so very blessed in my life. I have a wonderful husband who (by the grace of God), survived and recovered from a brain aneurysm and a stroke several years ago, and who I adore and love with all my heart. I have six wonderful children and two grandchildren that I love dearly. My husband has a job, we have a roof over our heads and food on the table every day, so I'm VERY grateful that God has blessed me with so much! I won't tell you that everything's been perfect over the years, but I know God hasn't made me go through anything He feels I can't handle and I never lost my spirit of thankfulness because of any hard times I've experienced. Life can certainly be a humbling learning experience for sure!
I know everyone's busy this week and I probably won't post again until the weekend, but I hope you all have a wonderful and blessed Thanksgiving full of family, laughter, and love.
Thanks for stopping by and hope you'll visit again real soon.
Happy Thanksgiving, and God bless!


Thursday, November 3, 2011

Breakfast Burritos

A while back when my husband and I were in Arizona for a General Manager's conference he was attending, we stopped at a little place in the airport on our way home and bought a couple breakfast burritos. I'd really never had one before and didn't know if I'd like it but we were so hungry and for $5.00 we figured it was worth trying. I'm not sure about everything that was in them, but I do know there was scrambled eggs, chorizo sausage, rice, and maybe some onions or bell pepper. They were absolutely delicious!
I've fixed something similar a few times after that and everyone liked them, so I thought maybe if I make a few up and freeze them, it would be a quick and yummy breakfast break from cereal, especially now that the weather is getting cooler. So last night I made up a batch and I'd like to share the recipe with you.
These aren't expensive or hard to make, and the most time you'll spend on them is cooking the ingredients and letting it cool.

Breakfast Burritos

2 packages small tortillas or wraps (you might just need one package, but it's good to have extra)
1 small package of frozen hash brown potatoes, plain or with added onion and bell pepper
2 small tubes of beef chorizo sausage, our Walmart has these over in the refrigerated section with other Mexican foods.
8 eggs, beaten
1 package shredded cheese (mild, sharp, pepper jack.......whatever you like)
salt, pepper, and garlic powder to taste

In a separate pan, cook the chorizo sausage. Drain in a fine-mesh strainer, and set aside. Just a quickie note: I say use a fine-mesh strainer because when the chorizo is cooked it's very fine and if you use a regular colander, you'll lose a lot of meat! If you don't have a strainer, just put a paper towel in your colander and that'll work just fine.

In a second pan, add a couple tablespoons or so of vegetable oil and a couple pats of butter. Let the pan heat up, then add your potatoes. Add seasonings.

Allow to cook and brown, then turn the potatoes over to brown slightly on the other side. After a few minutes, add beaten eggs. Just before the eggs are fully cooked, mix in the chorizo sausage.

Remove the pan from the heat and allow everything to cool completely.
Once the filling has cooled, put a couple good-sized spoons of filling onto a small tortilla or wrap, Add some shredded cheese, then fold both sides in, and roll up.

Wrap the burritos in saran wrap or foil, place in a freezer bag and store in the freezer until you're ready to eat them.

When you're ready to eat them, unwrap and place in the microwave or in the oven until heated through. If reheating in the oven, you can leave the foil on.......just not in the microwave!
You can also use leftover rice and add to this if you don't have potatoes, or anything else you might want in these. Really, there's no rules to this so make them with what YOU like!
As I said earlier, these are a big hit in my house, so I hope you'll give them a try sometime.
Thanks for stopping by!

  This post is part of the "On My Mind" feature over at Down To Earth.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Cold & Flu Season Is Here.......

It's that time of year again and you know what I'm talking about. Once kids go back to school, they seem to bring home every germ floating around out there. This past week, our son RJ, was home for four days with a mild sore throat, sniffles, a low-grade fever the first day and then a cough. He went back to school today with not much of a cough and feeling much better.......of course when he gets all the work he missed last week he probably won't be feeling too good!
One thing I find that helps when the kids start getting the sniffles, is to make a batch of Elderberry syrup. You can find these recipes all over the internet and everyone has their own way of making it, but this is the one I make and I got it from HerbMentor, a wonderful website I joined a while back and highly recommend if you're interested in studying about herbal medicine and plants. If they're not accepting new members right now keep checking back, or send them an email asking when they'll have openings again. They have a video on YouTube on how to make this, as well as others you might really enjoy so check them out.

Elderberry Syrup

1/2 cup dried elderberries (I purchase mine at Mountain Rose Herbs), or if using fresh berries, 1 cup
1 cinnamon stick
5 whole cloves
1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger root
2 cups water
1 cup honey (local, raw honey is best)

In a saucepan; pour in the water, elderberries, cinnamon stick, cloves, and grated ginger root. Cover and bring to a boil, then turn down to a low simmer, partially covered, about 20 minutes or until the liquid is reduced by half.
Pour everything into a strainer over a bowl to drain, pressing the berries with the back of a spoon to get as much remaining juice from the berries as possible.

Next, add the honey once the liquid has cooled down to just warm (around 90 or so degrees). The reason for this is because raw honey contains beneficial enzymes that can be destroyed by higher temperatures and you want these goodies in your syrup! Stir the honey until completely dissolved.

I put my syrup in a pint canning jar and then store it in the fridge, where it should keep for 2 or 3 months. When you feel a cold coming on, take a teaspoon or two of this every 2-3 hours while you're sick, or 1 tablespoon every day to help ward off illness. Elderberries are a wonderful medicine that can help cut the duration of a nasty cold or flu bug considerably. These small berries are a powerhouse of antioxidants, potassium, beta carotene, calcium, phosphorous, and vitamin C.  They have been a long-standing remedy in Europe for generations, and here in the U.S.A. are finally getting the attention they deserve.
One note of caution.......DO NOT GIVE HONEY TO CHILDREN UNDER THE AGE OF ONE YEAR. The reason is that honey can sometimes contain the spores of, Clostridium botulinum, which may cause infant botulism, a rare but serious form of food poisoning. If you want to make this same syrup for your little ones, I read that you can use agave syrup in place of the honey.
If you already know the benefits of elderberries or maybe you've never tried using them, this is a great recipe to keep on hand and I hope you'll try it.

The contents and information on this blog are for your informational use only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you read here.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Journey To A New & Healthier ME!

We are often our own worst enemy, either by judging ourselves too harshly or not taking care of ourselves like we ought to. I'm guilty of BOTH.
I've struggled with my weight since I was in my late teens and always hated the fact that I couldn't eat whatever I wanted without seeing a gain on the bathroom scale. I've gone from being "chunky" to overweight, then losing weight, then gaining it back plus some. Then I started having kids and in my mind eating more was ok because I was "eating for two", meaning I could indulge and no one would really say anything and even though I lost a bit of weight after having a baby, I never really dropped down to my ideal or healthy weight.
I had my last child almost 13 years ago and since then I've probably gained another 130 pounds. I know the last time I stepped on a scale I weighed right at 300 pounds and when I saw that number I wanted to crawl in a hole and cry. I knew I was fat, but somehow when you look at the actual number it's something you can't hide from any more and it's a huge slap of reality. We live in a society where fat people are made fun of and teased, passed over for jobs, and shunned to a certain extent because we're conditioned into believing that we all need to be skinny and fit into a size 2 pair of jeans, or that men won't look at you if you're fat and aren't built like Angelina Jolie or one of the Victoria's Secret models. It's no wonder women have such horrible self-esteem issues and doubts.
In reading about obesity and the various causes, I've learned that I'm what they call an "emotional" eater. When I'm upset, sad, stressed, depressed.......I eat. It's a vicious cycle, but when you don't really like yourself, or you're disgusted with yourself, you find other things to make yourself feel good or happy. At least for the moment.......until you look in the mirror again. Ugh.
But as I've eaten my way into this mess I've noticed something else that I deal with every day and it's pain. I'm in pain when I go to bed, I wake throughout the night because I'm uncomfortable and often have to get out of bed and stay up, even if it's 3am. Mornings are generally the best time for me to do things around the house, but then by noon or so I need to take a few Ibuprofen and lay down. It does help, and I feel a bit better when I get up, but I'm still exhausted all the time. My mother-in-law swears I have Fibromyalgia and while I match up with the symptoms I've never been officially diagnosed, but I did have some blood work done to rule out other causes and the doctor said she felt that's what I have but that's as far as I've gone with it. But even so, I know in my head that my weight has put a huge strain on my body and I'm sure that's partially why I feel the way I do.
Irregardless, I'm finally in the right frame of mind and determination, to lose this weight and do it the right way.  I just got my Richard Simmons' Food Mover in the mail today and set my start date for Tuesday, November 1st. My goal is to lose 5 pounds a month until I lose my overall goal of 135 pounds. I may need to lose a bit more but for now, this is my goal and this is my first blog entry about my weight loss. So, here the journey begins!
I plan on including pictures at least once a month, so that I can share the changes I'm going through with you, friends and family. One day, I'll be able to look at those first pictures and it'll be fun to compare them to the new, and healthier me. Boy, won't that be a shock?!
Thanks for letting me share such a personal thing with you. It's not something I would normally do, but I'm trying very hard to not be so inwardly shy about some things, and maybe be afraid of what someone 'might' say. Hope that doesn't sound too silly!
In any rate, I hope you all have a great weekend.
Take care.   :)

This post is part of the "On My Mind" feature over at Down To Earth.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Tree Removal Day & Homemade Hamburger Buns

Today we're having a tree removed from our back yard that has grown up against the fence and causing a lot of damage. When we rented the house six months ago we talked about this tree, but at the time it wasn't pushing against the fence and we didn't think anything more about it. But now if we don't get rid of the tree, it'll eventually push over or break the fence, and could possibly damage the neighbor's side since they're both connected. We had contacted the real estate agents who manage the property and they sent out a man to look at the tree last night. At first he wasn't sure if he wanted to take out the whole tree, but after my husband talked to him I think he decided it was best. Anyhow, I'll know for sure when he gets here later this afternoon.
 You can see the damage that's already happened to the fence.

 Another angle.......

The fence used to stand up straight!

Funny how this tree wasn't touching the fence six months ago!

A look from the other side.......

I'll be glad to see this get fixed!

Last night for dinner we had sloppy joes and since I've been making all our bread, I made some hamburger buns using the bread recipe I posted recently. My husband asked if I could make the buns a bit smaller this time, and he said these were the perfect size!

I ended up with 22 buns all together and might have gotten a few more, but since I hand roll these I know some of them were a bit smaller and didn't rise as much as the others but that's ok. Everyone loved them and in this house they definitely won't go to waste! The extras were put in bread bags, labeled, and put in the freezer until I need them for another meal, along with the loaves of bread I made a few days ago.
It's amazing how homemade bread can bring a smile to everyone's face, so it makes me feel good that I can do this for my family. They certainly deserve it!  

This post is part of the "On My Mind" feature over at Down To Earth.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Cleaning The Fridge

There are so many little steps we can take as reorganize our homes and our lives, and eventually they all add up and goals start being met.
This past weekend I finally did something I've put off far too out the refrigerator. I don't know why I dislike this chore so much because when I got done, I felt really good about it and proud of the job I did. Also, and this may sound strange, but having a clean refrigerator made the kitchen seem cleaner! However, the one thing I'm not proud of is, that there was a whole lot LESS that I put back in compared to what I took out, and that made me feel bad because I don't like to waste things, especially food. Shame on me!

Looks so much better!

Lately I've been planning meals out a week at a time, saving money because I'm not impulse buying or buying things I don't need (that's been a hard habit to break for me), and less trips to the grocery store which means I'm not wasting gas by making multiple trips. Anywhere I can save money I'm all for it, and if I don't have to go out that means I can spend more time on chores and getting my home in order, making me very happy!
My intentions have always been good when it comes to cleaning and organizing, and in my head I see things the way I want them, but I can be very scattered or distracted and I don't finish what I started because I have too many things going at the same time. So this has been in a sense, a reorganization of ME, and if getting the fridge done by sticking to it from start to finish is where I begin, then so be it! Everyone has to start somewhere!
If you're like me, just pick something that needs to be done and finish it before moving on to something else. It may be a challenge at first but trust me, if I (at the age of 51) can change the way I do things and make life easier for me in the end, then anyone can do it! Make a list of things you want to get done and mark them off as you finish them. That's what I'm doing, and one day I'll get to check off the last item on my list and that will be a VERY happy day for me!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Backyard Visitors

I love our backyard. It's such a quiet place and you never know what you might see.......
This afternoon as I was sitting out on the patio, I noticed a couple of green Anole lizards hanging out on my wind chime. I watched them for a few minutes before going in to get the camera, hoping to get a few good pictures of these guys.
We have quite a few of these lizards, including a number of juveniles, and I like having them around because they keep the insect population down and here in Alabama we have more than our fair share of bugs!
  The males have the pinkish-red dewlap, or throat fan. 
Not sure what to think of me and my camera.
I think they're gorgeous!
This is the first time I've seen them on the wind chimes. I had to laugh because one of them kept going in and out of one of the pipes before it decided to perch on top for a bit. Usually I see these lizards on the side of the house or around the windows so I'm not sure what drew them to my wind chimes, although they seemed pretty content where they were at, don't you think?   :)

Monday, September 19, 2011

Our Son.......The Future Chef!

Last night our 14 year old son and aspiring chef, RJ, made dinner.......General Tso's Chicken, and it was delicious!
Ever since he was a little boy, RJ has always wanted to be a chef, saying he wanted to be just like Emeril Lagasse, who he watched faithfully on Food Network. As he's gotten older, Emeril is still a favorite, but RJ has a list of chefs he likes, including one I loved as a child growing up "The Galloping Gourmet", Graham Kerr. RJ's always had an interest in cooking and isn't afraid to experiment with food or want to try a recipe that's caught his eye, and he takes direction well which will help him later on when he goes to cooking school!
We went to the store to pick up a few items we didn't have on hand, and once we got home and the chicken was thawing, RJ got started on the marinade. Once the chicken thawed and he got it cut into small pieces he added it to the marinade, covered the bowl and put it in the fridge, then made the sauce to go over the chicken.
A few hours later my husband, Bill, got the oil heating up, and RJ got the eggs beaten and the breading ready for the chicken. Once the oil was ready, our 12 year old daughter, Megan, started breading the chicken for RJ. I cooked some of the chicken to get things going and showed him how long to cook it, then let him do the rest, reminding him to be very careful around that hot oil. Never hurts to repeat that.
Busy cooks!
Chicken cooking away!
The sauce.......
Happy smiles! Nice job guys!
Our dinner!

We're so proud of RJ, and Megan for jumping right in to help him out. It's nice to see brothers and sisters working together and helping each other, but then they've always gotten along really well. Makes a proud mom smile!
I know RJ will make a great chef and maybe, just maybe.......we'll see him on the Food Network one day!

This post is part of the "On My Mind" feature over at Down To Earth.

Baking Bread

Working towards a more simple and self-sufficient life is one of those things you do one step at a time, and another small step in that direction was that I started baking bread again. One less thing on my grocery list!
I used to bake quite a bit, but when we moved last spring and life got hectic, it was awfully easy to just grab a couple loaves of bread at the store and come home, saving time and energy for other things. So yesterday I got out my bread pans, set up the mixer and laughed at the fact that my husband and my kids COULD NOT wait for the bread to get done!
The recipe I used, Country White Bread, comes from Gina at Home Joys and if you've never visited her blog, you really need to. Not only does she have a lot of great recipes and tutorials, but her blog is such a warm and inviting place as she talks about her life and devotion to God, her husband and their beautiful children. Truly.......a MUST read!
This recipe will give you three nice loaves of bread, which worked out great because I have the larger loaf pans for this, although it's just as easy to divide the dough between smaller pans if that's all you have.

Country White Bread

2 Tbsp. yeast
2 cups warm water
1/4 cup honey or sugar
1 Tbsp. salt
2 eggs, beaten
1/4 cup vegetable oil or soft butter
6 1/2 to 7 cups all-purpose flour

I mixed mine a little different than Gina did in her recipe, (I used my Kitchenaid mixer with a dough hook) but as in her directions, you can mix this in a large bowl. If you have a bread machine, you can use it to knead the dough as well. Whichever is easiest for you. Just a quick note.......if you do try this recipe please make sure you give Gina credit for it and link it back to her, and make sure you drop her a note on her blog and tell her how wonderful it is.
In a measuring cup, add 2 cups lukewarm water and the sugar or honey. Stir until dissolved, then add the yeast. Set aside and allow to yeast to activate and get bubbly, about 10-15 minutes.
While waiting on the yeast,  put the salt, eggs, oil, and 3 cups of flour into the mixer bowl. Turn on low speed and add the yeast. Once the flour has mostly been incorporated into the wet ingredients, turn up to medium speed, stopping once in a while to scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl with a spatula. 
Now is the time to start adding the remaining flour, a little at a time until you have a soft dough. Of the 7 cups of flour I started out with, I think I had about a cup or so left but that's ok. You may not need it all.
Put the dough into a bowl with a bit of vegetable oil making sure the dough is evenly coated, cover with plastic wrap and a warm towel and let rise until doubled, about 1 hour.
Punch dough down and divide into 3 equal pieces. Roll the dough out, then roll up like a jelly roll, pinch ends and tuck under placing loaves in the pans seam side down. 
Let dough rise until doubled, bake in a pre-heated 375 degree oven for 25-30 minutes (mine was done in 20 minutes). Remove pans from oven and allow to cool.
If making multiple loaves just slice each loaf, put in bags and store in the freezer. Make sure you write the date on the bag and what kind of bread it is.
 Finished bread!
First loaf sliced and ready for the freezer.......

Two of my loaves didn't raise quite as much as the third one did, and that might be because when I divided the dough they weren't exactly equal, but I wasn't disappointed at all with how they came out.
The bread wasn't heavy or dense, but perfectly light and it sliced wonderfully without tearing or falling apart. 
It really made me feel good to make this bread for my family, and it gave me a great sense of accomplishment, too.
Thanks, Gina, for a wonderful recipe. My family says it's AWESOME bread! 

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Family & Traditions

So often I find myself thinking about the women in my family, my ancestors, and wondered what they were like. I know they were wives and mothers, keepers of their homes, they worked hard, and they passed honored traditions and skills down to their daughters and granddaughters. But as I get older, I think of these women more often and my connection to them, though we've never met, grows stronger and stronger.
I have in me, a strong sense of family, and I suppose that in a lot of ways I'm old-fashioned by today's standards. I never really wanted to go to college or have a career, mostly because I wasn't sure what I wanted to do at the time and going just to say, "I'm going to college", seems rather silly and a waste of time and money.
What I am is really all I ever wanted to be, a wife and mother. To make a home for my family and be the best at both to my abilities. But not having a job outside the home doesn't mean I don't work and sometimes I think stay-at-home moms are looked at with a crossed eye. I'm many things! A cook, a counselor, a nurse, a taxi driver, a teacher, an artist, a housekeeper, an accountant, and so much more. I know there have been times when I may not do these things as well as I should, and yes, there have been times when I've felt unappreciated and have been taken advantage of, but the love of my family and their praise overshadows anything else.
I hope in some way, that I've made my grandmothers proud, and continue passing their traditions and sense of home and family on to my children, and they to their's. 
Yes, I'm drawn to the old ways, and stand tall with the women who have gone before me.
I'm a wife, a mother, a grandmother, and a homemaker.
There is a quote by Earl Hamner, Jr. (creator of the TV show, The Waltons) that I have always loved and want to share with you. The words speak so much to me....... 

"I have walked the land in the footsteps of all my fathers.
Back in time to where the first one trod.
And stopped, saw sky, felt wind, bent to touch Mother Earth and called this home.
This mountain, this pine and hemlock, oak and poplar, laurel wild and rhododendron.
Home and mountain.
Father, mother, grow to the sons and daughters to walk the old paths.
To look back in pride in honoured heritage.
To hear its laughter and its song.
To grow to stand and be themselves one day remembered.
I have walked the land in the footsteps of all my fathers.
I saw yesterday and now look to tomorrow."

Thank you for letting me share my thoughts with you, as I think in your hearts you feel the same way about being wives and mothers. It is truly a proud thing to be! 

 This post is part of the "On My Mind" feature over at Down To Earth

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Straw Bale Gardening.......More Planning!

As much as I love gardening I was really disappointed that I wasn't able to do as much as I wanted this year, especially now that I have a back yard and plenty of room. Although I was able to plant a few rose bushes, basil and tomatoes, my knee was bothering me a lot so getting down on the ground and back up again was a little painful and I worried about injuring my knee even more so I didn't press my luck.
I happened to come across an article about using straw bales as a type of raised garden and I was intrigued. This isn't anything new and while I never gave it much thought, this is the perfect solution for a gal with a bum knee!
Anyhow, I continued reading through a few different articles gathering information so I'd be ready next spring. If you haven't ever grown anything like this before there is a bit of preparation with the bales before you can actually start planting, so here's what I've learned so far.......

  • Use tightly strung straw or rice bales, not hay, as they contain seeds you don't want growing in your garden. Know where you want to put the bales because you won't be moving them.
  • A good suggestion if you have moles or other such critters, is to put some hardware cloth or chicken wire down on the ground under the bales to keep them from digging underneath.
  • Wet the bales for the first three days---it was suggested once in the morning and in the evening.
  • On the fourth through seventh days, do nothing. The bales will begin to heat up as they decompose.
  • After the seventh day and the bales have cooled off, add a good inch or inch and a half of a good weed-free compost/potting soil mix on top of the bales.
  • Push aside enough of the soil to set your plants; or plants seeds as usual and mist in gently.
  • Since straw doesn't hold water as well as if you planted in the ground, you need to water your garden at least once a day during the heat of summer.
  • Use a good organic fertilizer to supplement your soil at first, then maybe once a month or so after the first couple weeks of growth.
Another great thing about using bales to grow in, is that in autumn after your last harvest you can add them to your compost pile and start out with new bales in the spring.
As far as how much you can plant in each bale, I read that four tomato plants or four pepper plants will grow nicely in one bale. Maybe with something like squash, I'm guessing one plant since they do spread out and can get rather large. If you're using the bales in a square, you could grow carrots, parsnips, or other root vegetables in the center, truly maximizing the growing space available.
I really wished I read about this earlier this spring, but this will give me time to find out where I can buy the bales locally, plan where I want to put them, and what I want to grow, so there's plenty to look forward to until next spring rolls around.
My goal with my garden is to grow more and buy less, maybe even having enough to put in the freezer to have throughout the winter. It's just one more little step towards becoming more self-sufficient and putting healthy, homegrown food on our table.
I'm really excited about this and please, if you have any tips or hints to share about straw bale gardening, I'd love to hear from you!

Remembering 9/11.........

Remembering the loss and destruction.........

September 11, 2001......a date which will live in infamy.