Monday, March 30, 2009

Menu Planning Monday - IV

OUR DINNER MENU FOR THE WEEK OF MARCH 30 - APRIL 5, 2009

  • MONDAY - Chicken Pesto Pasta, Broccoli, Garlic Bread
  • TUESDAY - Asian Beef Linguine, Carrots, Homemade Bread
  • WEDNESDAY - Toasted Parmesan Chicken Hoagies (thanks Francis!), Asparagus
  • THURSDAY - Slow-Cooked BBQ Beef Sandwiches, Corn, Applesauce
  • FRIDAY - Homemade Cheesy Potato Ham Soup, Homemade Bread
  • SATURDAY - Baked Oatmeal, Cantaloupe (brunch) & Beef Stroganoff, Sugar Snap Peas, Homemade Bread (dinner)
  • SUNDAY - Lunch with Wrights

Monday, March 23, 2009

Menu Planning Monday - III

OUR DINNER MENU FOR THE WEEK OF MARCH 23-29, 2009:


  • MONDAY - Creamy Chicken and Rice Soup, Homemade Bread
  • TUESDAY - Grilled Lemon Pepper Chicken, Parmesan Noodles, Mixed Veggies
  • WEDNESDAY - Slow-Cooked Chili over Rice, Garlic Bread
  • THURSDAY - Birthday party at Chuck E. Cheese
  • FRIDAY - Tacos (with all the fixins), Applesause, Cornbread
  • SATURDAY - Leftovers
  • SUNDAY - Lunch with Wright's

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Maple Syrup Season

We had the opportunity last week to visit Kensington Metro Park to get some maple syrup schoolin'. We met up with our friends, the Snyder family, and had an absolute blast learning all of the interesting facts and history that go along with collecting and making maple sap into maple syrup. After the lesson, we were treated to a wonderfully yummy pancake dinner - topped off, of course, with 100% real maple syrup that was collected right from Kensington's Sugar Maples. It was a fun AND educational experience - gotta love it!
Learning about the trees

Even the youngest ones enjoyed being outside for the lesson


The naturalist demonstrates how the trees make the sugar for the sap


The youngest explorer in our group


We discussed different ways to identify sugar maples - the leaves (on the ground at this time of year), bark and branches


Maple sap becomes maple syrup in this little "shack"


Kids + sugar = fun at the Sugar Shack


Ethan learns about the process of boiling the sap down into syrup


Kevin just couldn't get over how wonderful it smelled!


Ethan's enjoying the smells, too!


Elijah watches those water molecules escape from the sap - the process in progress


Looking for the perfect tree to tap


Found it!


Inserting the spile


Discovering first hand how the Native Americans tapped for syrup


Inside for a little art & crafts . . .


. . . and a little Maple Syrup Word Searching


Anticipating our pancake dinner!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Confessions of a Recovering Narcoleptic

"Narcolepsy is a chronic sleep disorder (a dyssomnia) characterized by overwhelming daytime drowsiness and sudden attacks of sleep. The condition is most characterized by excessive daytime sleepiness (EDS), in which a person experiences extreme tiredness and possibly falls asleep during the day at inappropriate times, such as at work or school." (Thanks, Wikipedia!)

No, I do not clinically have narcolepsy, but as a result of being a very pregnant mother of three busy boys I have developed some very (humorous) narcoleptic-like symptoms. The most obvious symptom would be my irrational ability to fall asleep in the most unlikely places and while doing the most unlikely things.

Recently I have been dealing with a few particularly difficult days (brought on by my pregnancy-induced anemia and hypoglycemia, I would suspect) and seem to fall asleep practically every other minute. Some of the more obvious conditions that seduced me into momentary slumber included read-aloud time with the boys (cuddling up on the coach is a sure-fire way to sing me to sleep, even when I'm the one reading), Elijah's read-aloud time to me (I parked us at the kitchen table for this one, hopeful that the hard wooden chair would keep me awake and vigilant. But alas, apparently I am able to succumb even when uncomfortable), attempting to soak away my weary muscles by reading in the bathtub (this is simply a surefire way to end up with a soggy book) and while watching a movie with Kevin (even if it was only 8pm and it was an exciting adventure movie - Quantum of Solace is not typically considered a lullaby by most . . .).

Some of the more unusual places that I have drifted off include sitting on a stool next to Kaden in the bathroom as he potty trained (cold hard seat . . . cold hard wall . . . 3 year old perilously perched on the porcelain . . . oh yeah, I can totally see what beckoned me), reading Eli his short story problems in math (one sentence and I was out!), during a particularly powerful and exciting bible study by Beth Moore (if it was boring and monotone falling asleep might not be a big surprise, but she is loud and boisterous and very engaging at all times . . . huh?), taking a shower (I just had to close my eyes for a second since the warm, steamy water was so wonderfully relaxing. Good thing I was leaning against the shower wall or may have dealt with a concussion from this one), eating breakfast (this was a close, almost face full of milk and cereal encounter), while writing this blogggggggggggggggg............... zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.........

What?! Huh?!

Okay, maybe I'm not quite that bad, but it feels as though I could become a sleep causality at any moment and must be steadily on my guard. I have to be especially careful while driving, as you can imagine how dangerous I could be to everyone on the road (not to mention to my dear, sweet, unsuspecting kiddos in the car with me)! Please pray that I will be able to overcome this recent malady so that nothing too traumatic happens to me and the boys (the idea of the face full of milk and cereal still frightens me . . . ). :)

Hello, my name is Heather and I am a recovering Narcoleptic.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Requested Recipes for March 16-22

Kevin's Homemade Wheat Bread

This is Kevin's standard bread recipe and it is perfect for just about everything. We use it for sandwiches, as a side for dinner and it also makes great dinner rolls if divided. The measurements given will make two small loaves so he typically doubles it to make 3 larger loaves (sandwich-size) at once. We store the loaves in the refrigerator and have never had any problem with freshness, but I would assume you would want to consume the bread within 8-10 days due to no preservatives.

  • 2 cups warm water (100-110 degrees F/45 degrees C)
  • 2/3 cups white sugar
  • 2 Tbs honey
  • 1 1/2 Tbs active dry yeast
  • 3 tsp salt
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil (olive oil works too)
  • 4 cups bread flour
  • 2 cups wheat flour
  • 1 egg white (optional)

In a large bowl, dissolve the sugar and honey in warm water; stir in yeast. Allow to proof until yeast resembles a creamy foam.

Mix salt, egg and oil into yeast. Mix in flour one cup at a time. Knead dough on a lightly floured surface until smooth. Place in a well oiled bowl, turn dough to coat on all sides. Cover with a damp cloth. Allow to rise until doubled in bulk, about 1 hour.

Punch dough down. Knead for a few minutes and divide in half. Shape into loaves; place into 2 oiled 9x5 inch loaf pans. Allow to rise for about 30 minutes.

Bake at 350 degrees F (175 degrees C) for 30 minutes or until internal temperature is 185-195 degrees F.

Optional Step:
For a beautiful glossy finish, pull bread loaves out 10 minutes before done and brush with egg white. Return to oven and bake until done.



Three Cheese Chicken Penne Pasta Bake
This is an easy, delicious and beautiful dinner - the entire family loves it! I like to serve it with a quick salad and homemade garlic bread.

  • 2 cups penne pasta, uncooked
  • 1 pkg (9oz) fresh spinach leaves
  • 4 boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into bite-size pieces
  • 2 tsp. dried basil
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 Tbs olive oil
  • 1 jar (14 1/2oz) spaghetti sauce
  • 1 can (14 1/2oz) diced tomatoes
  • 2 oz. cream cheese
  • 1 cup shredded Mozzarella cheese, divided
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Cook pasta according to package directions (under cooking slightly), adding spinach to boiling water for the last 1 minute.

Cook and stir chicken, basil and garlic in oil in large skillet on medium-high heat for 3 minutes. Add sauce and tomatoes; bring to a boil. Simmer 3 minutes or until chicken is done. Stir in cream cheese.

Drain pasta mixture; return to pan. Stir in chicken mixture and 1/2 cup mozzarella. Spoon into 9x13 pan. Cover with foil and bake for 20 minutes. Remove foil, sprinkle with remaining cheeses. Bake, uncovered, for an additional 5 minutes, or until cheese is melted.

Serves 5-6

Braised Balsamic Chicken

This is one of my all-time favorite "company's coming" meals. It is quick and easy but the flavor is rich and sophisticated. It tastes like you've spent all afternoon toiling over the stove! I love to serve this dinner with green beans and pine nut couscous. Yum!

  • 5-6 boneless skinless chicken breasts
  • pepper, to taste
  • 2 Tbs olive oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 medium onion, thinly sliced
  • 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1/4 cup chicken broth
  • 1 (14 1/2oz) can Italian-style diced tomatoes
  • 1 tsp dried basil
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 tsp dried thyme

Season chicken breasts with pepper. Heat olive oil in a medium skillet; brown garlic, onion and chicken breasts.

Pour tomatoes, chicken broth and balsamic vinegar over chicken. Season with basil, oregano and thyme. Simmer until chicken is no longer pink, about 15 minutes.

Serves 5-6

Monday, March 16, 2009

Menu Planning Monday - II

OUR DINNER MENU FOR THE WEEK OF MARCH 16-22, 2009:


  • Monday - Hamburgers (with this wonderful weather, we gotta break out the grill!!!), Baked Beans, Cantaloupe

  • Tuesday - Three Cheese Chicken Penne Pasta Bake, Glazed Carrots, Garlic Bread

  • Wednesday - Maple Breakfast Tour (for dinner!) at Kensington Metro Park with homeschool friends

  • Thursday - Chinese Broccoli Beef, Jasmine Rice, Homemade Bread

  • Friday - Braised Balsamic Chicken, Pine Nut Couscous, Sugar Snap Peas, Homemade Bread

  • Saturday - Slow-cooked Chili, Cornbread

  • Sunday - Lunch with Wright's

If there are any of the above dinners that you would like the recipe for, please comment via my blog or facebook and I will try to post it right away.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

It's That Time of Year!

I am always so excited for the official start of Spring and am often looking for the tell-tale signs that it is coming. One of the key indicators, in my opinion, is the moment the seeds and gardening supplies make their debut in the stores. I always find this to be incredibly premature (much like Valentine stuff appearing on the shelves the day after Christmas!!!), but it is an exciting milestone, none-the-less.

On the home front, I know Spring is right around the corner when the seed catalogs begin pouring into our mailbox with gusto! I LOVE to garden and will spend as much time as possible pouring over seed and bulb catalogs whenever I have the chance (which isn't often, but you can find me with a catalog shoved in my purse, one in the door of the car, a few stacked on the nightstand and you even might find one hidden in the homeschooling books - just in case I get a moment to thumb through it while Eli is contemplating an assignment).
Every year I try to set aside a small portion of the budget to expand my perennial beds and to add to/improve on the hardscaping around our house. Plus, there is the large vegetable garden that I love to toil over each year as well. Any excuse I can make to get out and play in the dirt, I do. I love spending the time outdoors in God's beautiful creation and I don't even mind getting dirty when it's for the right reasons. I also see that there is so much work to do on the landscaping around our house and I am motivated to get out there to experiment and beautify things, as the kiddos allow. We started with a blank slate at this house (I think it was as blank as it could possibly get) and all I see is there is still so much to do! I haven't even ventured to putting in the landsscaping around the front of our house yet (I have to wait for Kevin to fix the grading first)! I am both looking forward to and am completely overwhelmed by that project. :)

This year is going to be a HUGE challenge for me, however. With the birth of our fourth child due in late May, I am afraid my gardening abilities will be nil. Before the baby comes I will be too big and uncomfortable to really get down and dig in the soil. And after the baby comes I know I will be too sleep deprived and busy to devote much attention to the outside of our house (not to mention the inside of the house . . . the laundry . . . the cooking . . . the - oh, you get the idea!). However, this reality does not stop me from dreaming and devoting too much time to flipping through the seed and bulb catalogs page by page. I am sure that even if I do not get any flowers in this year, at least I will try to plant a few of the vegetable basics. Most years I start a lot of my own seeds, but this time I am already resigned to buy starts from the local nursery. The time commitment is much less this way, but the cost factor is majorly limiting. I will purchase as much as the budget will allow and pray that the baby will let me spend time in God's great outdoors. I'm hoping I will be coherent enough and not too bleary-eyed to enjoy the reprieve that being outside in the nice weather can be. Oh, how I am looking forward to the much anticipated arrival of Spring!

Recipes

A few people have inquired (off blog) about some of my recipes, so I decided to post them for anyone that was interested. If there is another recipe that you might like, please feel free to comment via this blog or facebook and I will do my best to post it for you.

Enjoy! :)


Ranchero Chicken Wraps
We love this simple and quick recipe! Typically I will cut up the chicken, onions and garlic and toss them with the lemon juice and seasoned salt when I have a spare moment earlier in the day. Then, all I have to do is pull it out of the refrigerator, saute' and dinner is on the table in less than 10 minutes!
  • 4-5 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • 1 tsp. lemon juice
  • 1 tsp seasoned salt
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 Tbs. olive oil
  • 1 can (4 oz) mushroom pieces, drained (optional)
  • 1 medium onion, thinly sliced
  • 1/4 cup ranch dressing
  • tortillas, lettuce, cheese, sour cream and salsa

Cut chicken into 1-inch cubes and place in medium bowl. Sprinkle with lemon juice, seasoned salt and garlic; toss lightly.

Heat oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. Add chicken and onions; saute' for 2 minutes. Add mushrooms. Cook 3 to 4 minutes longer or until vegetables are tender and chicken is cooked through, stirring occasionally. Reduce heat to low. Stir in dressing and cover.

Spoon chicken mixture equally into center of tortilla. Top with lettuce, cheese, sour cream and salsa, if desired. Fold edges in to cover filling and roll up tightly.

Serves 4-5.


Creamy Chicken and Rice Soup
This yummy, economical recipe is a bit more time consuming, but it makes a large enough batch to feed us for almost three meals! Often times I will boil the carcass the night before in order to speed up the process for dinner the next day. I freeze the leftovers for a quick lunch or dinner on those really busy nights.
  • 1 leftover chicken carcass (we typically use the remainder of one Costco Rotisserie Chicken for the base of this soup)
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2-3 medium onions
  • 2 large carrots, diced
  • 2 celery ribs, diced
  • 3/4 cup butter
  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups milk (or half-and-half)
  • 1 cup uncooked long grain rice
  • 1 chicken bouillon cube
  • salt and pepper, to taste

Place chicken carcass and bay leaves in a large soup kettle and cover with water. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat ; cover and simmer for 1-2 hours. Remove carcass; cool. Set aside 3 quarts broth. Remove chicken from bones and cut into bit-size pieces; set aside.

In a soup kettle or Dutch oven, saute onions, carrots and celery in butter until tender. Reduce heat; stir in flour until blended. Gradually add 1 quart of reserved broth. Bring to a boil; cook and stir for 2 minutes or until thickened.

Add milk/cream, rice, bouillon, salt, pepper, remaining broth and reserved chicken. Reduce heat; cover and simmer for 25-30 minutes or until rice is tender.

Serves 10-12.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Menu Planning Monday

I know, I know, it's not Monday . . . BUT I saw on another person's blog that they post their weekly menu each Monday and I thought it was a great idea! I typically plan my menus out a week or two in advance (with some tweaking done throughout the week) so this concept is nothing new to me and I love the idea of being accountable to get the planning done on time. Sometimes the crazy-busy weeks come and I do get behind. This outlet may not be the pencil and paper I'm accustomed to, but it's even more official, which is nice. Also, it will make sure I keep a good variety of foods passing over our table so no one (not my family or you) gets bored. Variety is the spice of life, as they say. :)

THIS WEEK'S DINNER MENU:
  • Monday - Spaghetti, Corn, Homemade Bread
  • Tuesday - Homemade Creamy Chicken and Rice Soup, Homemade Bread
  • Wednesday - Ranchero Chicken Wraps (with all the fixin's), Applesauce
  • Thursday - Slow Cooked Beef, Noodles, Asparagus, Homemade Bread
  • Friday - Baked Ham, AuGratin Potatoes, Green Beans
  • Saturday - Leftovers
  • Sunday - Eat Out with Family?

Arts & Crafts with Daddy

I love to see my best friends working together on something fun! Here are some pictures of Kevin and the boys working on an arts and craft project together at the kitchen table. Our fine, feathered friends will have the snazziest house in the neighborhood! :)









Thursday, March 5, 2009

Happy Birthday, Kaden!

Happy 3rd Birthday to my baby boy!

video

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Field Trippin'

The temperatures may still be frigid, but with the sun shining and with cabin fever at it's peak, the boys and I decided to head out to Kensington Metro Park to meet our friends, the Stevens. When we arrived, the thermometer said it was a whopping 28 degrees F, but we were fortunate enough that by the time we left (around 2pm) it hit a high of 38! Ha ha! We bundled up as best we could, but the wind still cut right through us so we spent much of our time investigating the smallest and most intimate details of the Nature and the Farm Centers.

Ethan, Thomas, Kaden and James take a break from our chilly hike

All photos courtesy of my handy-dandy camera phone!

The highlight of our time out was having the opportunity to hand feed the chickadees and the small woodpeckers on the nature trail outside of the Nature Center. The boys loved the experience, although Kaden was a little unsure once one of the chickadees actually landed in his hand. Elijah had the best luck since he stood the most still and exhibited the most patience. The chickadees were so hungry that they even followed us out of the woods and into the parking lot looking for more sunflower seeds!

video

Eli was so excited and the birds were very brave!

How many birds can you count? (There were at least 7 around Eli at this moment!)

After the Nature Center we took a break for a picnic lunch and then went to the Farm Center and petting area. We really enjoyed looking at all of the new baby animals that had been recently born at the farm. There were about a dozen piglets, 7 new lambs and a baby goat that the boys had the opportunity to observe and pet. The pigs were the most fascinating because when we arrived they were all snoring in a corner, but soon the mama sow called them to eat. It was a very noisy piggy frenzy as all the little pink porkers rushed over to mommy and pushed, shoved, squeezed and trampled each other for the best milk spout. It certainly made me glad that God decided to create me as a human mother and not a fine swine!

From the baby animals we traveled to the second story of the barn to where they had various farming displays set up and there was a hands-on children's activity center. The boys had a fun time playing with all of the equipment and tools, and my friend Alyssa and I had a good time talking and enjoying a little "mom time." It was nice to have a bit of a respite while the boys entertained themselves with educational toys. Not to mention it gave us the opportunity to warm ourselves back up!

After a quick tour of the remaining petting farm animals, we headed back up to our cars to head home. The day was a lot of fun and it was so nice to be outside enjoying the sunshine. Can I say again how glad I am that we have the opportunity to homeschool! There was a school group at the park the entire time we were there and I had to count my blessings that we are able to pack up and "do" school at the park anytime we want. The traditionally-schooled children only have the opportunity to get out of the classroom every once in a while. This real-life, day-to-day education is so much fun and a wonderful, relationship-building, memory-making experience.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Officially 30!

Here are some pics of my recent birthday celebrations. We celebrated on Friday afternoon with Kevin's parents and grandparents and then we celebrated with my family on Sunday evening. I still can't believe I'm 30! Here's to a whole new decade . . .

CELEBRATING WITH THE AUTRY FAMILY:
Decked out in my party hat! One of my best buds! Self portrait Me and My Best Friend These scarves were my gift from Kevin's grandparents. His grandma hand made them both. Aren't they beautiful?So excited about the Aqua Globes!

CELEBRATING WITH THE WRIGHT FAMILY: Another of my best buds!
Preparing the candles on the cake
Bring on the inferno!
They think I need a little help putting out all of the flames!
Kevin's on cake cutting duty - it was still pretty frozen solid
A slice of perfection!
Papa and Cole enjoying the chocolate rush!
Sugar buzz!
Trenton loved the ice cream and frosting - yum!
There's no denying it now - i'm old! :)