Saturday, December 31, 2011

Delivering Grace - Teaching Lessons That Will Last A Lifetime

“Grace,” our son said proudly with one hand folded into his other, fingers intertwined.   We probably shouldn’t have, but we laughed.  We had just started saying grace at our dinner table a few weeks ago.  Instead of doing the “Bless us, Oh Lord, and these thy gifts” blessing I had been raised on; my husband and I decided to start our own tradition of grace by simply giving thanks.  We didn’t know how long it would take to catch on, but we were ready to give it a shot with a three-year-old and a twenty-two-month-old who each seemed to be picking up on so much lately.  So three weeks into our new routine when our preschooler volunteered to say grace, my husband encouraged him.

“Great Luke!  Go ahead, you say grace tonight.” 

So pure, so blunt.  He said it.  “Grace.”  And like I said, we laughed.  It was beautiful and he was proud.  Then we clapped.

The next night he wanted to say it again, but this time we invited him to continue. 
“Say what you are thankful for.”  Sure we helped him out and gave him ideas.  “You could be thankful for your family.  Your brother.  Your food.  Your home.” 

He got it immediately.  “I’m thankful for my mommy.  My daddy.  My ZZ,” he announced as he looked at each one of us around the table.  Then he glanced down and mentioned our dog.  “I’m thankful for my Yukon.” He paused in a slump; he had run out of living and breathing blessings.  Then with an excited charge he concluded, “and I’m thankful for my ambulance.”  His new favorite toyHe smiled. 

Impressed, my husband and I looked at one another and then back at him and said, “Amen!”  He repeated it and his little brother with his hands semi-clasped, said his best Amen.  Then we clapped and told Luke what a great job he did and gave his little bro some props too for his participation. 

A week later, at Christmas Eve dinner with grandma and grandpa, he suggested he say grace.  “Grace.”  Now he’s doing it just to get a hearty laugh from his dad, which is delivered on queue.  But he does follow it up being thankful for each of us at the table, even grandpa twice.  Then out of the blue, he says he’s thankful for his Aunt Kathy who actually couldn’t join us this year.  With all fairness, he hears her name often, undoubtedly earlier in the day. 

The brilliant part of all of this isn’t that a three-year-old is hamming it up in front of family, or that it’s cute that he’s thankful for a toy or a missed aunt, but it’s seeing the whole purpose behind our efforts to set an example for our kids actually work.  Things can actually click.  Maybe even before you know it.  But it’s happening.  And here we are just weeks after starting our dinnertime blessings and not only were they catching on, but they were really getting into it!  I know what you’re thinking…just wait a few years and see who’s excited to say grace.  Probably not two boys who would rather go play with friends or their new DS game (assuming DS is the thang in 2015).

I know my efforts can have a great impact on my children’s lives.  I know this, but it still astonishes me at times.  For instance, a few months ago I started explaining to my boys after I had taken them somewhere really fun, like Chuck E Cheese’s or the pool, that it’d be really nice if they said to whomever took them, “thank you so much for taking me there.”  When I started saying it, I always felt like I was talking to myself, as I glance in the rearview mirror to see them just looking out their windows, never saying anything back to me.  But I kept it up for several weeks, never really thinking it would work.  Then one day we were leaving the park and out of the blue my boy says it.  “Thank you so much for taking me to the park with all of my friends.”  I was so excited I wanted to cry.  It worked!  I couldn’t believe it worked! 

Ultimately, whether or not they will want to actively participate in saying grace as they get older, they will be learning to be aware of what they are grateful for.  As my husband and I continue to try to lead by example and show them that gratitude can come in many forms-be it family, food on the table, toys or even an event or a feeling; they will start to recognize it in their own lives away from the dinner table, throughout their every day.  They will be conscious of it.  As they experience things they will have an appreciation of what is actually enriching their lives rather than just taking things for granted. 

Sometimes they are the lessons that seem so simple.  And they can be.  These are the lessons that can last a lifetime.  But it’s got to start somewhere and be nurtured.  It’s up to us to deliver grace. Then we have one more thing to be grateful for.  Amen!

Friday, December 30, 2011

Or…Not Doing It All

I had to write a little follow up to my last article (for those of you that missed it, I included it below!), because, as usual…I’ve been doing some deep thinking on the matter.  It bothers me that I can’t figure out what exactly makes it all work…until I realized, duh!  I don’t do it all! 
The thought occurred to me as I went to go brush my teeth, with my electric tooth brush, that hasn’t worked for two months because it needs batteries.  All I have to do is walk into the kitchen and put new batteries in it…but of course, this is an extra five minutes I’m not willing to take.  Or, when I walked upstairs last night and realized why it’s so dark up there!  There’s only one out of eight light bulbs working!  And none of the lamps in our house have light bulbs!  Do you think they are on my grocery store list right now?  No!  I keep forgetting.
Callie needs bigger socks, and Clayton needs bigger jeans.  To continue the list, Callie also needs longer jeans…she’s been high-watering it lately.  I have pictures laying around upstairs—until I have time to finish paining, my car has crusted cereal stuck to the carpets, and I need to clean out my closet, my winter clothes are still in storage!
So, while my kids get a healthy, home-cooked meal every night, and most days my house is clean…the rest of my life is still a disaster, no matter how it looks.  But…over all it’s working!  I guess it’s just about knowing you can’t do it all.  And being perfectly okay with it, or at least, working on accepting it!

Doing it All
I am often asked by friends and family how I do it all.  They want to know how the heck I take two young children to two different places in the morning, make it to work, work an 8 hour day, then turn around, get both kids…head home…cook a home cooked meal, then clean the kitchen, give baths, story-time…etc, etc.  You get the point.
So I got all geared up to write this article.  And my fingers hovered over the keyboard for several minutes…and nothing.  How do I do it?  How am I not nuts…or, maybe I am nuts but how am I still doing it all.  I could give you my daily schedule, tell you I’m not stressed most of the time, that I have it all figured out and hold it all together.  That I know exactly all the secrets to time management and organization.  I know the tricks to multitasking and ultimately always get the job done.  But—that would be total BS!
There are days I wake up and am threatening to rip both my children’s heads off (you think I’m kidding!) if they don’t get a move on it.  Callie loves to sleep in and is a bear cat in the morning!  Clayton isn’t much better.  I can’t count the days I’ve driven to work crying because I was going to be late, the kids just weren’t cooperating, I’d forgotten Callie’s lunch, or all the other things that could and did go wrong that morning. 
There’s also been many nights I’ve had breakdowns because my house wasn’t clean.  I have serious OCD about my house, and can’t handle it being dirty or messy.  Working full time and having two young children makes this nearly impossible…but I can’t convince my brain.  So, Shannon being the great husband he is helps extra that night, giving baths and helping me fold the laundry afterwards. 
The top tips to making my household run smoothly, when it does, are simple: make your menu for the week, then your grocery list by aisle.  If you want to cook healthy meals, you should be shopping on the outer skirts of the grocery store mainly (dairy, produce, fresh foods).  Do a load of laundry every other night.  Enlist your hubby’s help to split chores, then pick one day consistently to do them.  Our day is Saturday or Sunday am for floors, deep kitchen cleaning, and bathrooms.  The hubby should also be helping for bath nights, story nights, whatever works for you.  If you are a working mommy, then you should not be doing it all!  Some husbands cook (mine doesn’t, which is okay because I love cooking!)  so you can trade off cooking nights as well.  Have a schedule on your fridge for groceries, meals (then you remember what meats to take out to thaw) what you need to remember for your kids backpack the next day, lunches…so on and so forth.  Crock pot meals work great for soccer and basketball practice nights. 
I think the best tip of all is knowing your limits.  I know the amount of me time I require and if I don’t get it, then watch out!  It can get ugly.  Another thing to note is that I have more energy than most people…I can do five things at once as long as it gets the job done.  It may not be up to your standards, but it works for me!  I eat, type, clean, talk,  and think faster than the average person, because that’s how I’m made!  I’ve given up trying to slow down, although many of my bosses and friends have told me I need to.  This is how I am, and it’s the reason for so many of my strengths, including being able to do so much.   If you are detail oriented, meticulous person…your list will just have to be much shorter.   You take the time to make sure everything is in order and perfect, thus, there is just simply less time.  This is good too!
In addition...some great advice a friend once told me…do what works for you; stop trying to be someone else or do things the way they do (I guess this means I’ll never be Martha Stewart!  Crap!)

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Guest Bloggers, Causes We Believe In, Recipes, Mommy Advice and Humor... and Wine in 2012

We have a lot of exciting things coming your way in 2012.  We have a remarkable new direction in our book (wine lovers stay tuned).  Of course, we will keep posting our Anti-Chicken Fingers Movement recipes twice each week.  Our MomAhas! on Facebook and Twitter will keep you filled in on mommy tips- helpful and sometimes a bit sarcastic.  And be sure to look out for a MomAha! app for your phone in late Spring/early Summer.  Of course, we will be reporting to you monthly on our donations to Children’sMiracle Network Hospitals and National Children’s Advocacy Center.  All this in addition to our stories of mommyhood! 

In this new year, we want to be the voice of real moms…not just through our own experiences which we know you relate to; but through your experiences-battles and triumphs included!  Trina and I are excited to announce we will be regularly posting stories from featured guest bloggers.  So when Heather Von St. James contacted us with her inspiring story a few days ago, we couldn’t wait any longer to get moving on this! 

When her daughter Lily was just 3 ½ months old, Heather was diagnosed with Mesothelioma; a type of cancer that kills 90-95% of those who have it.  Today, six years later, she is cancer free and sharing her courageous story with other moms.  She is a source of hope and  inspiration to Trina and I-we know you will gain something from her story, along with a few laughs from this witty Minnesota mom.

Please check out Heather’s blog, and sign up to follow our blog to be one of the first to know when she posts on ours (also, we will donate $1 per new blog follower to the charities we support)!  If you have a story or experience to share with our readers, please e-mail us (see contact page).

Happy New Year, Mommies!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Anti-Chicken Fingers Movement- Grandma's Chicken Pot Pie

Okay Friends, now that the holidays are over, we are back in business as far as normal Anti-Chicken Fingers Movement Posts, stories about our crazy mommy lives...and well, just Mommies Need Sleep Too stuff.  We are glad to be back!  This recipe is AMAZING.  It's a bit of southern yummy so the hubby was satisfied, but had enough veggies and (Shhh!  Don't tell!) lowfat ingredients so I felt good eating it.  Thanks Grandma Kim for a rockin recipe!


Ingredients:
1- Pillsbury pie crust  (red box, roll up kind, refrigerated)
1- Lg Onion (diced)
1- TBL Smart Balance Butter 
1- Cup sliced mushrooms
1-TBL of olive oil
1- Bag frozen bag of frozen veggies of your choice (we used peas, beans, corn, carrots)
1/3- Cup of Flour
1- Tsp salt
1/2-Tsp pepper
1 1/2- Cups Chicken Broth
1-Cup fat free 1/2 & 1/2 or 2% milk
3- Lg Chicken Breasts, Cubed

Brown chicken in olive oil till decently cooked through, remove from pan.  Brown onion and mushrooms in butter, in same pan.  Add chicken broth and flour, bring to boiling, then simmer till bubbly.  Add all veggies and salt & pepper until mixed well and semi-cooked through.  Add chicken, then pour into pie dish, with pie crust (uncooked) on bottom.  Top the mixture with the pie crust topper.  Cook at 400 for 30 to 35 minutes.

Enjoy Friends!

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas Everyone!!

Why I Chose Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals 

If you read my recent post on the importance of Christmas memories versus the gifts you buy, you’ll know that this has been a tough year on my family financially.  But one thing I am certain of is that I am one very lucky woman.  I am aware of this day in and day out.  I’m so blessed to have had the gift to conceive without a hitch and then give birth to two healthy boys.  I continue to count my blessings each and every day with the health of my family. 

Just a few days after Trina and I posted about our search for a charity to support, I had a meeting with a woman selling advertising for a radiothon-a pitch I knew I’d be declining on behalf of my boss.  The sales exec detailed that the proceeds of the radiothon would be going to Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals, an organization which raises funds and generates awareness of for the benefit of children and local children’s hospitals.  She illustrated stories of a few children who have benefited from the donations to the organization and suddenly, I was wide-awake in a meeting I initially had little interest in. 

There are so many children out there having to fight for their lives.  Whether they’re two, eight or fifteen; whether its cancer, birth defects, a blood disorder, appendicitis or a broken bone –they are having to find strength and persevere through experiences and hardships I probably have never come close to.  These children are heroes.  And I decided I want to reach out to them.

A strong factor for me in choosing Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals is that donations could stay local.  Medical University of South Carolina Children’s Hospital, the largest and most comprehensive pediatric healthcare system in the state, is just fifteen miles from my front door.  As I plan to raise my children right here in Charleston, I would be proud knowing donations would stay in my community.  However, if you send a lot of followers our way (or not), shoot me an email and tell me which children’s hospital you’d like to see next month’s donations go, and I’d be happy to oblige.

To learn more about Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals, founded by Marie Osmond and her family in 1983, check out their national website.  Stories by the Network’s Champions will enrich your soul-read about the Champion of your state right here! 
Please sign up today to follow our blog.  Not only will our fabulous, often funny and overwhelmingly relatable stories come right into your inbox, but you will be touching a child and their family.  Extra karma for getting your friends and family members to follow us too! ;)
Merry Christmas to you and yours!
Cheers,
Leah



Why I Chose National Children’s Advocacy Center

What better day to talk about charities than Christmas day.  As I stare at my two beautiful and most importantly, protected and safe children open their gifts with anticipation and glee....I can't help but feel a tiny bit of sadness deep inside.  I can’t just spend this day with my family, enjoying such a wonderful holiday while also knowing that there are so many children out there who are abused…mistreated.  Maybe don’t even get a Christmas day because their parents are on drugs, or alcohol…or whatever.  I can’t simply just be on Christmas, or any other day. 
I look at my children, their precious faces…their innocence amazing.  And I think to myself…I would kill for these small beings.  I would do the same for your children.  I would do anything necessary to protect any child in the world.  So I’m putting my money where my mouth is and beginning here.  I urge you to join me!  Stop just being here…stop just living in your own little world.  I know all about it, because I’ve done it for years.  You can make a difference.  If you save one child from being beaten, sexually abused…ONE CHILD.  Even one incident of abuse, its well worth it.  It’s worth a lifetime of sending money, volunteering…whatever is necessary. 

The National Children’s Advocacy Center is the charity I chose due to my passion for protecting children.  Their website is here:
http://www.nationalcac.org/.  Take a moment and check it out.  Ever dollar counts.  Their mission statement: Models, Promotes and delivers Excellence in child abuse response and prevention through service, education and leadership.  Also, one of their recent articles: Once again, child sexual abuse allegations have people everywhere shaking their heads in disbelief. Anger and frustration fill the airwaves, news columns, and blogs with questions like "How did this happen?" and "How did it go unreported for so long?"  Many organizations, including the National Children's Advocacy Center (NCAC) have responded to the Penn State Scandal. 
THEIR INFO ON GIVING:  One of the easiest ways that you can help the abused children served by the National Children’s Advocacy Center (NCAC) is by joining our Protectors’ Circle.  Abuse robs its victims of their childhood and the innocence every child deserves.  By making a financial contribution you are helping us better serve as a beacon of hope.  Please make plans to include the NCAC in your annual giving. Please contact Meredith Payne, Development Coordinator at 256-327-3783 or by email mpayne@nationalcac.org This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. for more information.
There are two easy ways that you can make a donation to the Protectors' Circle:
1. By giving online, you can not only donate the easy way, but you can manage your account and update your information, see previous donations, print off tax letters, register for events and much more!
2. Donations can also be sent by mail along with this
form (online) to The Protectors' Circle at 210 Pratt Avenue, Huntsville, AL 35801
Merry Christmas from my family to yours...thank you for taking the time to follow our blog, to read our posts...we truly are blessed to have you all in our lives!
Trina

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Holiday Recipe Spectacular - Side Dish - Connecticut Meat Stuffing

"Connecticut" because the recipe comes from my family's long-time friends The Ganleys.  We met them while living at Andrews Air Force Base when I was probably six.  Jim (from CT) and Diana had an older son close to my age and a younger son just about my brother's age.  Over the next few years, we spent many evenings and weekends with them.  Lucky me, that meant Star Wars, G.I. Joes and Transformers.  Barbie, who?  I wouldn't dare get her involved!  However, I remember it being endless fun hanging out with the Ganleys.  One visit I remember the boys' dad had built them a two-story "clubhouse" out of a couple refrigerator boxes.  We had a whole afternoon of fun!  They even visited us in Hawaii for a week when the boys and I were in our teens.  I haven't seen their sons in a good ten years, but Jim and Diana came to my wedding and sometimes they're with us on vacation and I really enjoy them...just like an aunt and uncle to me.  So cheers to the Ganleys, from my family to yours!  And Merry Christmas to everyone reading this!!!

Connecticut Meat Stuffing

  • 1 lb. ground round
  • 1/2 lb. pork sausage
  • 4-serving instant potatoes
  • poultry seasoning to taste
  • sage to taste
  • "Pie Crust Topping, opt."
Brown ground round & crumbled sausage. Drain. Prepare instant potatoes as directed. Fold into meat mixture. Add seasonings. Place in greased casserole dish. If desired, prepare pie crust topping and cover meat mixture. Bake @ 350 degrees for forty minutes. May be baked ahead of time and heated up in microwave.

Holiday Recipe Spectacular -Best Sugar Cookie & Frosting Recipe

These cookies are a must on Christmas!  My friend gave me the frosting recipe for cakes...but my family loved it so much that we use it for our holiday cookies as well, is spreads thin & easy on the cookie
making decorating simple.  If you want to make this an even quicker recipe buy the bagged sugar cookie dough mix!







Cookies:                                                  

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups butter, softened
  • 2 cups white sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 5 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt

Directions

  1. In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugar until smooth. Beat in eggs and vanilla. Stir in the flour, baking powder, and salt. Cover, and chill dough for at least one hour (or overnight).
  2. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C). Roll out dough on floured surface 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick. Cut into shapes with any cookie cutter. Place cookies 1 inch apart on ungreased cookie sheets.
  3. Bake 6 to 8 minutes in preheated oven. Cool completely.


Butter Cream Frosting:                                        

Ingredients:
1/2 Cup of Butter
1/2 Cup of Crisco
1 t. Vanilla
4 Cups Powdered Sugar
3 T. Milk

Directions:
Cream together butter and crisco. Add vanilla and milk and mix.  Add 1 cup of powdered sugar at a time,  mixing on medium speed until well blended.  Whip until lightly fluffy (for cakes, you whip until really fluffy)


Thursday, December 22, 2011

Doing it All

I am often asked by friends and family how I do it all.  They want to know how the heck I take two young children to two different places in the morning, make it to work, work an 8 hour day, then turn around, get both kids…head home…cook a home cooked meal, then clean the kitchen, give baths, story-time…etc, etc.  You get the point.
So I got all geared up to write this article.  And my fingers hovered over the keyboard for several minutes…and nothing.  How do I do it?  How am I not nuts…or, maybe I am nuts but how am I still doing it all.  I could give you my daily schedule, tell you I’m not stressed most of the time, that I have it all figured out and hold it all together.  That I know exactly all the secrets to time management and organization.  I know the tricks to multitasking and ultimately always get the job done.  But—that would be total BS!
There are days I wake up and am threatening to rip both my children’s heads off (you think I’m kidding!) if they don’t get a move on it.  Callie loves to sleep in and is a bear cat in the morning!  Clayton isn’t much better.  I can’t count the days I’ve driven to work crying because I was going to be late, the kids just weren’t cooperating, I’d forgotten Callie’s lunch, or all the other things that could and did go wrong that morning. 
There’s also been many nights I’ve had breakdowns because my house wasn’t clean.  I have serious OCD about my house, and can’t handle it being dirty or messy.  Working full time and having two young children makes this nearly impossible…but I can’t convince my brain.  So, Shannon being the great husband he is helps extra that night, giving baths and helping me fold the laundry afterwards. 
The top tips to making my household run smoothly, when it does, are simple: make your menu for the week, then your grocery list by aisle.  If you want to cook healthy meals, you should be shopping on the outer skirts of the grocery store mainly (dairy, produce, fresh foods).  Do a load of laundry every other night.  Enlist your hubby’s help to split chores, then pick one day consistently to do them.  Our day is Saturday or Sunday am for floors, deep kitchen cleaning, and bathrooms.  The hubby should also be helping for bath nights, story nights, whatever works for you.  If you are a working mommy, then you should not be doing it all!  Some husbands cook (mine doesn’t, which is okay because I love cooking!)  so you can trade off cooking nights as well.  Have a schedule on your fridge for groceries, meals (then you remember what meats to take out to thaw) what you need to remember for your kids backpack the next day, lunches…so on and so forth.  Crock pot meals work great for soccer and basketball practice nights. 
I think the best tip of all is knowing your limits.  I know the amount of me time I require and if I don’t get it, then watch out!  It can get ugly.  Another thing to note is that I have more energy than most people…I can do five things at once as long as it gets the job done.  It may not be up to your standards, but it works for me!  I eat, type, clean, talk,  and think faster than the average person, because that’s how I’m made!  I’ve given up trying to slow down, although many of my bosses and friends have told me I need to.  This is how I am, and it’s the reason for so many of my strengths, including being able to do so much.   If you are detail oriented, meticulous person…your list will just have to be much shorter.   You take the time to make sure everything is in order and perfect, thus, there is just simply less time.  This is good too!
In addition...some great advice a friend once told me…do what works for you; stop trying to be someone else or do things the way they do (I guess this means I’ll never be Martha Stewart!  Crap!).   ~Trina

Holiday Recipe Spectacular - Broccoli & Cheese Casserole

Rice, Broccoli, & Cheese Casserole. Photo by under12parsecs    THE PERFECT SIDE DISH TO ANY MAIN COURSE!
My mother in law got me started on this dish, and now I make it every year.  It's from the south so you know it's packed with calories and fat...however it's absolutely delicious and for Christmas?  Who cares!  Indulge!

Ingredients:
1 Bag of Frozen Broccoli
1 Stick of Butter
1/2 Large Onion or 1 Medium Onion - chopped
Bag of Microwavable Brown Rice
Jar of Cheez Whiz (the jar!)
1/3 Cup of Milk
1 Can Cream of Mushroom Soup

Instructions:
Melt butter in medium skillet, then brown the onions.  Add Broccoli, cream of mushroom soup, cheez whiz, milk and cooked rice according to directions.  Once it's all mixed together and creamy, pour into baking dish and bake at 350 for 25 to 30 minutes or until bubbily.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Anti-Chicken Fingers Movement - Carolina Barbecued Pork

If you're in the Carolinas, then it may feel like tomorrow is going to be the first day of spring, rather than winter.  With a balmy 75 degree high today and a chance of thunder this evening, who would know the difference!  Though my Christmas tree is telling a different story.  What a better way to celebrate the arrival of any new season than Carolina Barbecued Pork.  This slow-cooker recipe is the bomb!   So flavorful and the meat is so tender.  Serve with baked beans, mac n cheese...if the weather is just as nice where you are, open up a few windows and enjoy this "barbecued" dinner.

Carolina Barbecued Pork



2 onions, quartered
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon paprika
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
4 to 6 pounds boneless pork loin
2/3 cup cider vinegar
1/2 cup water
4 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
1/2 teaspoon garlic salt
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
hamburger buns
cole slaw, optional

Directions

  1. Place onions in stoneware.
  2. Combine brown sugar, paprika, salt and pepper rub over roast. Place roast over onions.
  3. Combine vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, red pepper flakes, sugar, mustard, garlic salt and cayenne stir to mix well. Drizzle 1/4 of vinegar mixture over roast.
  4. Cover and refrigerate remaining vinegar mixture.
  5. Cover cook on Low 10 to 12 hours or on High 5 to 6 hours. Remove meat and onions and drain. Shred meat and chop onions.
  6. Serve meat and onions on buns. If desired, top sandwiches with coleslaw. Pass remaining vinegar mixture to drizzle over sandwiches.

Holiday Recipe Spectacular - Desserts - Pecan Pie Tarts

Yes, Trina's pecan pie recipe is a winner!  But I wanted to propose an alternate option.  No longer will your guests feel the need to take on a whole slice of pecan pie.  Let's be real, this will allow everyone to say they only want one...then feel free to indulge in another by popping one in their mouth while nobody is watching.  These individual mini pecan pies are decadent and easy to bake!

Pecan Pie Tarts


1 recipe pastry for a 9 inch double crust pie (or Pillsbury pie crust)
2 eggs, beaten
1 cup white sugar
3 tablespoons butter, melted
5 tablespoons dark corn syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup chopped pecans
cool whip

Directions

1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F (165 degrees C). Lightly grease 8 3-inch tart tins.
2. Roll out pastry and cut 8 5-inch circles (I use a shot glass for perfect circles). Fit pastry circles into greased tart tins.
3. In a large bowl, combine eggs, sugar, butter or margarine, corn syrup, and vanilla extract. Mix well, then stir in pecans. Pour an equal amount of mixture into each pastry-lined tart tin.
4. Bake in preheated oven for 30 to 35 minutes until pastry is golden brown and filling is set.  Top with cool whip.

Original Recipe
Photo Credit

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Holiday Recipe Spectacular - Pecan Pie

Okay, so I have to admit...I'm not a huge nut fan.  So, when I married my husband...whose from the south, I was surprised to find that this dessert was a huge hit in his household for just about every holiday.  We just didn't eat the stuff growing up!  And while I'm still not giving in (hey, I'd rather have pumpkin cheesecake!) to the craze, my mom made this the other day and even I will admit- it was delish!

Ingredients:
Premade frozen pastry shell
3-slightly beaten eggs
1-Cup corn syrup
2/3-Cup Sugar
1/3-Cup butter or margarine, melted
1-Tsp vanilla
1 1/4-cups pecan halves

Instructions:
Cook frozen pastry shell according to directions.  For filling, combine eggs, corn syrup,  sugar, butter and vanilla.  Mix well; stir in pecan halves. Pour filling into cooked pastry shell.  Cover edge of pastry with foil to prevent overbrowing.  Bake at 350 for 25 minutes.  Remove foil. Bake for 20 to 25 more minutes (or until knife test comes clean).  Cook on wire rack. Cover & refrigerate within two hours.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Holiday Recipe Spectacular - Appetizer - Easy Veggie Dip

My mom started to make this a few years ago and it's way better than your plain ol' ranch dip.  Quick and easy to whip up...perfect with veggies and chips!

Easy Veggie Dip


ranch dip mix
1 cup sour cream
1 1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1/2 cup bacon bits

Mix and refrigerate for at least an hour.  Serve with veggies and we like our Ruffles with Ridges for this one too!
Photo Credit

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Finding Your Own Identity as a Mommy

I've decided to write this article because it's another one I feel quite passionately about.  Through having two children, both under the age of 5; being married 6 years and deciding that it's never always going to be a walk in the park; and finally deciding that I've  found what I want to be when I grow up...I've found my true self.  Not only as a person, but as a mom.
     Although I did get lucky in marrying a wonderful man at the age of 23, I've decided no woman should marry before she is 30 years old.  Seriously!  We don't even know who we are as a person yet.  How on earth can we know who we will be a as a wife?  And don't even get me started on going to college at 18.  At 18 years old I wanted to be a lawyer.  Ha!  I have a hard time sitting at a desk and focusing for 8 hours.  Researching laws, remembering details, working till 3 am....I'm already cringing.
     I became a mother at the age of 25.  Much too young I assure you, however if you'd known me at 13, you'd understand.  I was babysitting kids by the truckloads and wanted to have at least five kids by the time I was 30.  Again, at 25 I had no idea who I even was yet.  Let alone, who I wanted to be as a mom.  I saw other other moms in action, friends and relatives, and friends of friends.  I immediately judged and assumed I'd do better; I thought I had everything figured out.  
    I've written plenty of stories to explain to new moms and mothers of very young babies one important thing:  Do not judge other moms.  It will bite you right in the ass.  However, this article isn't focused on that so I won't go into it.  The point I'm making is that at 25, I had no flipping clue what kind of mother I was going to be.
    I thought being a mom entailed picking out the cutest outfits, making sure your babies had the healthiest foods; and assuring that your children partook in creating the latest crafts and putting together the age-appropriate puzzles.  Learning words, the ABC's, spelling their name; this all was part of who I would be as a mom as it represented who I wanted my children to become.
   Wrong!  In bright red letters, see the word WRONG!!!  Identity as a mother has nothing to do with what you teach your children or how smart your kids will be, or anything to do with what America's standards are for our society of mothers.  
    Your identity is who you become, what you create, what you want for you as a mom.  I learned fast I don't have the patience to sit through a full puzzle, so instead,  the majority of the time I teach them the ropes, then I watch with glee as they learn on their own.  I teach them the ABC's by singing to them, then watch as their little sponge brain's associate the song with the actual letters.  I play with each of my children as much as a I can, while still being myself as a wife; as a woman.  Let me tell you, that differs very much from how much my best friend, or my sister, or even my own mother played with her children. 
    I discipline my children very differently from other mothers, and of course I get advice every time I turn around.  Could I give you advice?   Sure!  But since you are not me, and your children are not mine, it could very well be a waste of both our times.  Find your way!  Find what works for your kids!
   I am amazed at the woman I've become; at the mother I see myself forming into every day while I mother and love my children.  Am I perfect?  Hell no.  But neither is that twit down the street that is pretending to be.  I'm owning up to being imperfect...that's just the way I am.  
  My advice is pick the books you enjoy reading to your child, and then the books they enjoy.  Choose the amount of TV you want for your children to watch; not what books and magazines say is appropriate.  Decide what form of discipline works for your family, not what works for your friends.  Cook the meals you feel comfortable feeding your family; if that includes fast food, so be it!  Everyone's situation is different.  Everyone of us is different.  You have to come up with what works for you.  I figure, as long as I know my identity; who I want to be as a mother and what I want to accomplish in that role- I am winning all the way around! ~Trina
    

Holiday Recipe Spectacular ~ A Holiday Brunch: Sourdough Strata

Picture of Sourdough Strata With Tomatoes and Greens Recipe
Sourdough Strata with Tomatoes and Greens, perfect for a holiday brunch with the family, and maybe a mimosa if you desire.  There's nothing like cooked tomatoes in any Italian recipe, they are delicious!  This could also go for our Anti-Chicken Fingers Movement Recipe, you can cook this anytime of the year.  Takes about 2 1/2 hours, ENJOY!


Ingredients

  • 8 plum tomatoes, quartered lengthwise
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 cups whole milk
  • 8 large eggs
  • 10 ounces mixed Italian cheese, grated (about 3 cups)
  • 1 cup grated parmesan
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 1-pound loaf sourdough bread, cut into 1-inch cubes (about 8 cups)
  • 4 cups chopped greens, such as kale, spinach or arugula.  I would suggest spinach.  A great way to sneak in a healthy veggie & it's delish.

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Toss the tomatoes with the thyme, olive oil and 1/2 teaspoon each salt and black pepper in a bowl. Spread on a baking sheet and roast, stirring once or twice, until the tomatoes are slightly dried and browned in spots, 1 hour to 1 hour, 15 minutes. Cool completely.
Whisk the milk, eggs, italian cheese, 3/4 cup parmesan, the cayenne, 1 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper in a large bowl. Add the bread cubes and greens and toss to coat. Pour into a 3-quart baking dish, then top with the roasted tomatoes. Cover and refrigerate overnight.
The next day, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Sprinkle the strata with the remaining 1/4 cup parmesan and bake, uncovered, until golden brown and almost set, about 45 minutes. Turn off the oven, but keep the strata inside 10 minutes before serving.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Holiday Recipe Spectacular - Appetizer - Bronco Cheese Ball

Or should we call it Tebow Cheese Ball now???  <wink, wink Denver> So why "Bronco" cheese ball, you ask?  You see, my  parents have been die-hard Denver Bronco fans for 30+ years and its a requirement on Game Day at the Bellacera house (for those of you who don't know - that is my fabulous and very Italian maiden name!).  Somehow it found its way into our Christmas feasting repertoire and as a traditionalist, it shall never find its way out!

Bronco Cheese Ball

8 oz cream cheese, softened
1 1/2 cup shredded cheddar jack
onion powder
garlic powder
Worcestershire sauce
sliced almonds

Mix powder, Worcestershire (a few splashes seem to do the trick!) with cream cheese. Add shredded cheese.  Shape in a ball and roll in sliced almonds.  Refrigerate overnight.  Serve with crackers (I recommend Low Sodium Wheat Thins).
Picture credit

Friday, December 16, 2011

Holiday Recipe Spectacular - Christmas Swirl Chocolate Bars 12/16/11

How gorgeous are these?  Great for a party, family get together, to take to co-workers...whatever!
Dulce De Leche-Chocolate Bars

Ingredients
  • cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup confectioners' sugar
  • teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/3 cup packed dark brown sugar
  • 14 ounce cans sweetened condensed milk
  • Pinch salt
  • 10 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped
  • ounces white chocolate, melted
  • Red and green food coloring
  • Red and green mini M&M candies
  • Red and green fruit leather

Directions

1. Make crust: Heat oven to 350 degrees F; place rack in center. Line a 13-by-9-inch baking pan with parchment paper, allowing paper to extend on two sides.
2. In a mixer bowl, beat together butter and confectioners' sugar on medium speed until light, about 2 minutes. Beat in extract, then flour and salt until combined well. Press along bottom and 1/2 inch up sides of prepared pan. Bake until just golden brown around edges, 12 to 18 minutes. Transfer pan to a wire rack and let cool completely.
3. Make filling: Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan, combine butter, brown sugar, milk and salt. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly. Reduce heat to low and gently simmer, stirring constantly, until thickened and a deep caramel color, about 15 minutes. Pour over crust and spread evenly; refrigerate until completely cool, about 1 hour.
4. Melt semisweet chocolate; let cool slightly. Using a spatula, evenly spread over filling (for swirled top, see below). Refrigerate until set, about 1 hour. Using a knife, score chocolate layer into 1-12-inch squares.
5. For swirled top: Divide white chocolate into three parts. Tint one part red and one part green. Leave remaining part white. Dollop red, green and white chocolates over semisweet layer. Using a toothpick, gently swirl together colors.
6. For decoration: Using white chocolate, adhere candies to squares, making holly or wreaths. Using a small, clean paintbrush, make a snowman out of white chocolate; decorate with candy.Let stand until set, about 20 minutes.
7. Run a sharp knife under hot water; dry. Following score marks, cut into squares. Wipe knife after each cut (run under hot water and dry as needed). (Can be made ahead. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator up to 1 week.)

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Holiday Recipe Spectacular - Breakfast - Haitian French Toast

The kids have opened all of their gifts and are running around playing and squealing and it's only 7am.  Plenty of time for breakfast...and at least five hours until dinner.  Get in the kitchen and delight your family and guests with this twist on French Toast.  *Send your husband in to make this if you are the one running the show for the big feast later on!

Haitian French Toast

1 8oz loaf french baguette
1 cup orange juice
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
2 eggs
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 cup white sugar
dash nutmeg
dash Jamaican allspice
3 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons confectioners sugar
syrup

Directions
Cut loaf ends off and reserve for another use.  Cut remaining loaf into 1 1/2 inch slices; let stand overnight.  In a 9 x 13" baking pan, combine orange juice, cream, eggs, cinnamon and white sugar.  Place bread slices in pan and turn until liquid is absorbed.  In a large skillet, melt butter over medium heat.  Add bread slices and cook until golden on both sides, about 5 minutes.  Dust generously with confectioners sugar and serve warm with syrup.  

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Holiday Recipe Spectacular ~Crock Pot Apple Butter: An Awesome Gift In a Jar! 12/16/11

What better gift than a homemade one?  Make these with your kids, and make your Christmas giving extra special this year.



Step 1:
About 15 apples (depends on the size of your crock pot and your apples - I used a 5 qt crock pot and had medium sized apples)
1 cup apple cider

Peel, core, and thinly slice all the apples until your crock pot is full. Turn it on high, add cider and cook for about an hour, then turn heat to low and cook about 8-10 hours.

Step 2:
2 - 2 1/2 cups sugar
4 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg

When you take off the lid, the apples should be reduced to about half their volume and most of the chunks should be gone.  Add sugar and spices, stir until well mixed and cook on low for approximately 8 more hours. If its still not smooth, blend with an immersion blender or in a food processor or blender.  Spoon into jars and enjoy. Keep refrigerated for about 2 weeks or can by processing in a water bath.

The Anti-Chicken Fingers Movement ~ Healthy Sweet Potato Bake

All you health nuts- this is the health friendly version of this dish.  I love sweet potatoes, as a side for a regular meal or of course, for the holidays!  This mixture may not sound appetizing, but I promise you, the blend of flavors is amazing!




2 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed
1 large apple, peeled, cored, and cubed
1/4 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup apple cider
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Chop sweet potatoes and apples into approximately 1/2" cubes.  Divide potatoes and apples evenly among to two ramekins, divide cranberries among baking dishes.  Add half of the cider to each ramekin.  Combine spices in a small dish and sprinkle over potato mixture.  Toss to combine.    

Bake approximately one hour, stirring every twenty minutes until cider has cooked down to a glaze and potatoes are easily pierced with a fork. 

Budgeting, Credit Scores and Responsibility - These Things Can Be Learned

Who me? On a budget? Oh I couldn’t possibly live like that.  That’s what I thought when I was 22 and my dad was coaching me on how to use credit cards responsibly and what exactly a credit report was.   A freshie at college in a town hundreds of miles from my family, the credit card handouts were just another wondrous beautiful element of college life.  Dinner out every night?  Yes, please!  Should I buy that cute dress from Express, it would be brilliant for that frat party on Saturday night.  Done!  Road trip to Atlanta…I’m in!  This independent living thing is pretty groovy, I remember thinking. 

My first bill showed up.  Fifteen dollar payment this month-no problem.  I could definitely make enough money to cover that at my O’Charley’s serving job.  Then two more bills showed up asking for the same.  It made me a little nervous, but then I figured out the concept that even though I was paying the credit card companies fifteen dollars, in a few days I could use ten of that fifteen.  So really, I was only losing about five dollars each every month. 

I kept using my cards.  I kept playing these games.  And my balances grew.  So did my minimum payments. 

I was drowning.

I ran to my daddy.  I don’t know how this happened, I cried!  I had found myself in debt of $950; it could’ve been worse.  But to me at that time, that was a ton of money that I didn’t have!  My kind father sat me down that day with a forgiving hug and explained to me the way credit works, the importance of credit scores and the ins and outs of being financially responsible.  He had no idea that kids like me were being bombarded the moment they stepped onto campus with offers.  Unfortunately it took me a few more years of learning the hard way that when you purchase things with your credit cards they aren’t in fact just magically paid for. 

The great news is that in 2011 I can finally say I understand the value of a dollar.  I “get” that paying for things with cash is so much more rewarding then that initial buzz you get when you buy something you think you want.  I am internalizing “which would I rather have” instead of buying anything I want.  I am buying responsibly.  This mindset even during the season of giving.  I’d love to buy all of my friends the finest of gifts.  Who wouldn’t?!  But I’m finally being smart about money and that will pay off big in my family’s future.

I don’t have all the answers, I actually don't have many; this is still a huge learning process for me.  But I can say that in 2012, I will be able to say I have no credit card debt.  Don’t get me wrong, I will still use my credit cards, but I will have a sound plan on paying them off each month.  In March, I will finally look into getting that free credit score (remember, I’m being smart with money)- I’ve been dodging for the past few years and I will analyze it and make my new “game” watching that score rise higher and higher!  In hindsight, I can’t believe it has taken me this long to figure it all out, but I’m also very happy that I have figured it all out!  So here’s to a solid foundation and a retirement filled with travel, golf and fine dining-paid for with cash, of course!