Friday, December 11, 2015

Rudolph Treat Jars

I recently got to spend a magical week with three of our grandchildren. While I was there, our thoughts naturally turned toward Christmas. One of Delys' goals was to come up with an idea for a fun gift for their friends and neighbors that the children could help prepare. Glancing through a craft catalog, she saw a kit for creating reindeer treat jars. The kits weren't cheap, but we realized that we could purchase our own supplies and make them ourselves much less expensively. (These would make great teacher gifts.)

Here is what you need:

glass jars with lids (we chose pint size, but you can go bigger or smaller )
brown felt
brown pipe cleaners
large red pom poms
large googly eyes
hot glue gun and glue

Use the top of the lid as a pattern and trace a circle:

Fold the circle in half and cut two small slits near the center:

Fold a pipe cleaner in half and thread it through the slits to create the antlers:

Bend the pipe cleaner into a fun antler shape, glue the felt circle to the lid, and replace the metal rim. Ben and Katie, ages 4 and 6, were great at threading and bending the antlers:

We were worried about using hot glue with the children, so we chose over-sized eyes and pom poms so that their small fingers would stay far away from the heat. We placed the glue dots, and they simply put the eyes and nose over them:

Of course, the best part of the process was filling the jars with candy. We chose Tootsie Roll minis, small sleeves of Whoppers, and Smarties. But Kisses or Dove or any wrapped candy would be perfect. A whole lot of sampling went on . . . .

We trimmed the rim with ribbon--you could also add a bell--and Rudolph was ready for Christmas delivery:

Friday, December 4, 2015

Beef & Barley Vegetable Soup - The Perfect Beginning to Autumn and Winter Feasting

Does anyone else get excited for soup season? That is what I just now decided to call when it is cool enough to start making delicious, aromatic, savory soups.

I adapted this treasure of a recipe from one that my mother-in-law sent me last year. Basically, everything about this soup is healthy (you can take out the beef if you want to) and it freezes really well. You can freeze it into single portions and take it for lunch.

Beef and Barley Vegetable Soup

2 c. pearled barley--cook per pkg. instructions while preparing the rest of the soup.
2 Tbs. olive oil
1-2 lbs beef stew meat (you can usually find chunks of beef that are perfect for stew in the meat aisle)
2 c. chopped onion
6 carrots, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
8 c. beef or vegetable broth
2 (14.5 oz) cans diced tomatoes
2 Tbs. tomato paste
1 Tbs. Worchestershire sauce
1 tsp. balsamic vinegar
1 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. ground black pepper
6 c. chopped baby spinach or 1 10-oz. pkg frozen spinach, OR 6 c. finely chopped kale (can substitute cabbage as well)

While barley cooks, brown the beef and saute onion and carrots in olive oil for 5 minutes (use a large stockpot--this recipe makes 8 three-cup servings).. Add garlic, sauteing 1 minute. Add broth, tomatoes, tom. paste, Worc. sauce, vinegar, thyme, salt and pepper. Bring to low boil, simmer 20-25 minutes until carrots are tender. Add greens and cooked barley, stir well. Remove from heat and serve.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Homemade Wheat (or White!) Bread

Oh my goodness, this bread is good. Remember Wendy, my awesome nurse-mentor when I worked in the NICU? Twas she brought the delicious Butternut Squash Harvest Soup to the weekly Sunday potluck at work. Part of the reason that soup stole my heart, though is that it was paired with this amazing homemade bread.

I feel inadequate to fully describe the deliciousness of it. It's soft but not crumbly. The texture and taste are amazing. Also, I love that it calls for 100% wheat flour and still delicious. (Don't you sometimes feel like fractioning out part-wheat, part-white is missing the point? I want it either completely whole grain or completely fluffy and light. Then again, I'm new to bread making; ask me again in a few years.)

I knew I needed to share this recipe with my mom (and the world), but when I went to make it a few days ago, I could not find my wheat flour. I could have sworn I had a quarter bag left... Yet it turns out, this oversight was destiny. I already had the rest of my ingredients in my mixer and didn't want them to go to waste, so I added white flour instead, and the result was another amazing loaf.  My husband fell completely in love, and our family ate the entire loaf in an embarrassingly short amount of time. I'm not going to even tell you how short. It was that good.

So I'm set: whether I need a white or wheat loaf, this recipe is gold! (And if I want a crusty, artisan bread, mom's No-knead, Overnight Bread is another no-fail winner. I typically make it without any mix-ins, and it's delish.)

1 1/4 cups warm water (very warm to touch)
1/2 Tbs yeast
1/2 Tbs salt
1/4 cup honey
2 1/2 Tbs canola oil
3 cups wheat (or white) flour

Mix water, yeast, salt, honey, oil and flour together until well mixed.  Knead for 10 minutes.  Let rise, covered in greased bowl for 1 hr.  Form into a loaf and transfer into a greased loaf pan.  Cover with a clean dishcloth and let it rise for 1 hr. Bake in 350 degree oven for 25-30 minutes.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

"Go With Everything" Lace Baby Skirt

Several weeks ago I attended a baby shower and sat next to my dear friend, Melanie, and her beautiful baby. Mia was wearing a onesie with an ivory lace over-skirt and looked like a princess. Melanie told me that she loves the skirt because she can put it on over any color/style onesie and turn it into an adorable outfit.

I found a similar skirt at Target and actually bought one to send to another friend for a baby gift. But then, of course, I couldn't resist trying to make one myself.

I happened to have a spool of very wide ecru lace (6 1/2" wide) that I bought at a thrift store months ago, knowing that I would have a use for it at some point:

But if you don't have a spool of lace handy, simply purchase 1/2 yard of lace fabric; it will work just as well. Cut two pieces of lace. The first one, the bottom layer of the skirt, should be 1 1/2 yards wide (or the width of your fabric) and 6 1/2 " long. Cut the top layer 1 1/2 yards wide (or the width of your fabric) and 5" long.

If you have a serger, place the two pieces of lace on top of each other with the right sides of both pieces facing up. Serge the top edges of the lace pieces together. This creates the finished edge of the waist of your skirt.

If you don't have a serger, place the right side of the 5" piece on top of the wrong side of the 6 1/2" piece. Sew a narrow seam along the top of both pieces. Go back and zigzag the raw edge to keep it from fraying. Then open up the lace and fold the short piece over the long piece to hide the seam and create the layers with the right side of both pieces showing. Iron the seam flat.

Measure around your baby's waist, add 1/2," and cut a piece of 1/2" soft elastic that length. (I didn't have a baby handy to measure, so I took the measurement from an 18 month size baby skirt that I had at home. It was 18 inches.) To create a casing for the elastic, measure down 3/4 inch from the top edge of the skirt and sew along that line, back-stitching at the beginning and the end of the stitching.

Thread the elastic through the casing by pinning a safety pin through the front end of the elastic and pushing it through.

(I use a straight pin to secure the back end of the elastic to the front end of the casing so it doesn't pull all the way through and get lost inside the casing.) When you reach the end of the casing, undo the safety pin being careful not to let the elastic slide back into the casing. Use a straight pin to secure the front end of the elastic to the end of the casing.

Place the right sides of the skirt together, matching the raw edges. Stitch the raw edges together with a 1/2" seam, making sure that you catch both ends of the elastic in the seam. Zigzag the raw edges and turn right side out:

Pair it with a favorite onesie and. . . .

Think how cute this could be in a soft denim as well. You could hem it--or not. I think frayed edges would be fun.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Silent Night - SSA Arrangement

The moment you all have been waiting for is here.

Actually, nobody has been waiting for this and it probably isn't very exciting to you at all. But it is exciting to me because I arranged an SA or SSA arrangement of the song Silent Night -- and I am posting a link so that those who are interested can download it.

I volunteer as one of the music leaders and organists at my church and it has not always been easy to find solo and choral and instrumental arrangements to use at home and at church. It is always exciting for me to find a new song or arrangement that I like. So here is my little contribution to the world of Christmas music. If it brightens your day and helps you feel a bit of that peace "which passeth all understanding," then it has fulfilled its purpose. Please comment if you have any questions about anything in the music. (I am hoping to put an mp3 of it up eventually as well.)

Click here to download.

If playing or singing Christmas music isn't your thing, you should at least take a listen to one of "Mack's" Christmas arrangements:

Mack Wilberg is the current director of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and a musical genius (in my humble opinion). And this song is my husband's Christmas favorite. You have to make it through the entire song because by minute 3:30, I feel like the music and vocals are so perfect that it is almost unreal. 

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

The Best Lunch Salad

Not too long ago, a friend observed that she wished people would stop serving salad as a meal. It doesn’t matter if you try to fancy it up with fruit or chicken, she said. Salad’s place is as a vegetable, a side next to the real food. This made me laugh for two reasons. One, I had just hosted a little lunch at my house where the main course was spicy honey chicken salad from the Our Best Bites blog.

The other reason for laughing, though, it that I used to completely relate to her opinion. I'd eat my greens for the pleasure of checking off my "vegetable" box and then quickly move on to more delicious fare. In the house where I grew up, most of us never even added salad dressing. Am I right, Elin? It was rabbit-food, basically.

Yet now for my confession: I eat salad for lunch almost every day. No, I'm not on a diet, and no, I don't hate myself. Rather, I have come to realize two important things. The first is that vegetables are crazy-good for you. While so many foodies advocate cutting out gluten, dairy, or any-oil-but-coconut-oil, I believe that the best thing many of us could do for our diet is to add more fruits and vegetables. 

I remember studying the Dietary Approach to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet in nursing school. This isn't a "diet" as much as healthy eating guidelines to help lower high blood pressure. It mostly aligns with the original "Food Pyramid" which we all learned in elementary school: healthy whole grains, lean meat, low-fat dairy, healthy oils, limited sweets and, of course, fruits and vegetables. What startled me was the amount of servings it recommended for the latter two. Any guesses? 4-5 servings of fruits and 4-5 servings of vegetables.

That was twice as many as I thought we were supposed to get! That stupid "5-a-Day the Color Way" commercial deceived me! 8-10 servings of fruits and vegetables sounded like so much. But the benefits to those who eat this way are remarkable. Aside from lowering high blood pressure and cholesterol, this diet also is associated with lower risk of several types of cancer, heart disease, stroke, kidney stones, and diabetes. And, no surprise, those who follow it also tend to maintain a healthy weight.  (Find out about it at or here.)

My nursing and nutrition classes really helped me shift my paradigm on vegetables, and I have a goal to incorporate them into our families meals and snacks. One wonderful way to do that is by making delicious salads. At first, salads seemed like a pain. I felt like I needed lots of ingredients which would go bad before I used them all up. I'm too poor to waste food! Yet I finally found "The Best Lunch Salad." It's simple, and the ingredients will last from several days up until a week. Plus, it tastes like happiness.

The Best Lunch Salad

First, I use spinach. I'm sure there are other tasty greens out there; any will do! Yet spinach is packed with lots of good nutrients and lasts a whole lot longer than lettuce. I was throwing out so much romaine, but no more. I almost always have a bag of baby spinach on hand.

Next, I add roma tomatoes. I like that they are small and sweet, just the right size for a personal salad. Cherry or grape tomatoes work well, too. 

Next, avocado. True to form, I love my California avocados. I also love that you can buy a whole bag of them at grocery outlet for $2 when they are in season! Seriously! This bag only cost $2! I usually use half an avocado per salad and save the other half for the next day:

To make my salad filling, I like to add protein. Often, I'll keep a stock of boiled eggs in the fridge and slice one on top. Other times, I have a supply of cut up perfect chicken on hand to add.

Then I top it off with mozzarella cheese. Nothing beats expensive, fresh, soft mozzarella cheese that comes in those tiny little balls. Mmm. Yet I can't afford such luxuries, and so shredded mozzarella in a bag is also very tasty. I actually really like Walmart's mozzarella; the pieces are big and soft.

Can you see the healthy goodness? Toss it with some Italian salad dressing (yes, I do use dressing nowadays), and it tastes good, too. Happily, I find that as I eat more fruits and vegetables, I naturally eat less and less junk food, without even trying.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Wedding Greeting Card Mat

Several years ago, I ran across a box that contained many of the cards that were sent or given to my parents when they were married in 1941. As you can imagine, they are charming reminders of a by-gone era, and I hated to throw them away. So with my mother's permission, I absconded with the box and decided to use the cards to create a customized mat to frame one of my favorite pictures from their wedding.

There were too many cards to use all of them, so I tried to choose ones that were unique, unusually charming, or that had been given by special family members or friends. For example, one of my father's neighbors was President Heber J. Grant, prophet and president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at the time. He sealed my parents for time and eternity in the Salt Lake City Temple, so his card is a lovely treasure.

Using a plain white mat as a template, I put the cards together like a chaotic puzzle, making straight lines along the inner and outer edges but overlapping the cards inside the mat so that there were no gaps and the most interesting greetings, signatures, and illustrations were visible. (I apologize for the poor quality of these pictures. This hangs in our family cabin, and the only camera I had available was the one on my ancient flip phone. I hope what you see at least conveys the essence of the idea.)

After I had the cards arranged, I carefully stuck them in place using acid free mounting squares.

All of my parents' wedding pictures were in black and white, but I think I would have opted to go black and white anyway because I liked the way it looked with the faded/muted feel of the vintage cards:

 I chose a simple black frame and put it all together:

Think how well this idea could adapt for other special photographs. You could frame birthday pictures with birthday cards, baby pictures with cards that came with shower gifts, or school pictures with a collage of  spelling tests, math assignments, and art projects. My mother had exquisite handwriting, and I was thinking how fun it would be to frame a picture of her using excerpts from copies of letters she wrote to my father while he was serving as a missionary. Use your imagination and then share what you create!

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Chocolate Brownie Trifle

Okay, I promised to give out this recipe weeks ago after I made this dessert for a get-together with my husband's high school buddies. It tastes a little bit like heaven, and the happy part is that it's easy to make! I modified it from Chocolate from The Cake Mix Doctor. I love this book. I hardly use real cookbooks anymore, what with the handiness of the internet, but this book is an exception.

Time for pre-recipe disclaimers? I only have a couple. The Cake Mix Doctor uses "frozen whipped topping" (code for "Cool Whip") in her recipe. Her reason is that since this dish is already so decadent, she wanted a topping that wouldn't add to the richness. Buying a tub of frozen whipped topping cuts out both calories and preparation, and the end result is incredible. That being said, if you're morally opposed to using Cool Whip (mom?), go ahead and beat up some fresh whipped cream. It will taste amazing either way.

Also, I feel like trifles can look really fancy and elegant, but my presentation never seems to live up to my expectations. So if you make this and it looks as good as it tastes, please post a pretty picture! You'll get a gold star and my admiration.


1 package (19.8 ounces) brownie mix (and ingredients to bake according to directions)
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
optional: 1/2 cup chopped pecans

1 1/2 cups semisweet chocolate chips
1 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream

1 container (8 ounces) frozen whipped topping, thawed (or 2 cups whipped cream)
1/2 to 1 lbs fresh strawberries

Grease a 9x13 inch pan. Preheat oven and mix brownies according to package directions. Pour batter into the prepared pan and sprinkle with chocolate chips (and pecans, if desired). Bake until the outside 2 inches have formed a crust and brownies feel firm (typically 25 to 30 minutes for most mixes in a 350 degree oven. Again, follow the box's baking instructions and temperature, keeping in mind that the chocolate chips will extend the cooking time by a few minutes. Don't under-bake the brownies for this recipe!) Remove the pan from the oven and allow to cool for 30 minutes.

While the brownies are baking, whip up the mousse! Pour the chocolate chips in a medium mixing bowl and set aside. Pour the cream into a saucepan over medium heat and bring to a boil, stirring often. When it reaches a boil, pour the cream over the chocolate chips and stir until the chocolate melts and the mixture is well-combined. Place the bowl (and your electric mixer beaters) in the refrigerator to chill for 1 hour.

Once the cream-chocolate mixture is completely cooled, remove from the fridge and beat on medium-high until it forms stiff peaks. This should only take 1 to 2 minutes; do not over-whip the mousse! It should look thick and, well, mousse-like (and it tastes like heaven; try a little!)

Wash, de-stem, and quarter your strawberries.

The brownies should be cool by now, so it's time for assembly! Three cheers for all ye folks who have a beautiful trifle dish. I... do not. I usually use a large glass bowl. First, crumble one half of the brownies into half-inch pieces. I find it easiest to use 2 forks for this part and tear little pieces off of the giant slab of brownie. But it matters not how: crumble half of the brownies and place the pieces evenly on the bottom of your serving dish. Next, add half of the mousse, making sure to spread it out in an even layer. Top with half of the frozen topping (or whipped cream). Repeat these layers, crumbling the remaining brownies, adding the mouse, and topping with a flourish of whipped topping. Add copious amounts of strawberries on top, and voila! Trifle. Spoon into individual serving bowls and enjoy. (If you're not going to eat it immediately, cover with lid or plastic wrap and keep chilled in the refrigerator. I'd recommend adding the strawberries close to serving time.)

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Pre-School Letter "C" Lesson Ideas

I've been rotating with three other moms to teach our 3 year-olds all sorts of fun things. We base our lessons around the alphabet, and I thought I'd share the fun stuff I recently did for the letter 'C'. I did the following activities over a 2-day period. We met for 2 hours each day. Enjoy!

Ideas for teaching the letter 'C' to pre-schoolers:

1. Introduce 3 sounds of 'C' using this : Chocolate Chip Cookies are Circles

Give each child an I Spy Coloring Page and have them identify and color 3 things that they spy on the page that start with the letter 'C.'

2. Craft

 Give each child the "c" from the Letter "C" Crab craft. Let them move it around and ask them what it looks like. (ex. rainbow, bridge, bowl). Then make the crab craft.

3. Music Time

*If You're Happy and You Know it Clap Your Hands

*'C' is for Cookie

* Chattanooga Choo Choo - The first minute and a half of this are fantastic. It is awesome how the instruments sounds like a choo choo train in the beginning. I didn't show the whole video clip. Just the first couple minutes. Then we had fun saying "Chattanooga Choo Choo" several times.

4. Story Time

Goldilocks and the 3 Bears

Surprisingly, none of the four girls that I was teaching had ever heard the story of Goldilocks. So I had a lot of fun telling this one to them. I used a blond doll I had to be Goldilocks and sort of acted it out with the doll while I told the story. They loved it. After the story, I had them color a scene from the story (Goldilocks coloring page) and we talked about some letter 'C' words from the story-- like the chairs Goldilocks sits in and how she eats the bears cereal and one of the bowls of cereal is too cold.

5. Outside/Nature Time

Look at the clouds in the sky and talk about the different types of 'C' clouds: Cumulus, Cirrus, & Cumulonimbus. Let them trace the letter 'C' and make their own clouds with cotton balls.

6. Baking (Tactile) 

Have some sugar cookie dough ready to go and let them roll out and cut out cookies. (I had a letter 'c' cookie cutter and several other shapes that start with 'c' like car, cat, and circle.)

If you want to get fancy, you can even make some chef hats with them.

Chef Hats

7. Math Time

Make some clocks beforehand that you can give out and introduce how to tell time.

8. Sign Language

Teach them 3 sign language words that start with 'C'. I taught them how to make the letter 'C', and how to sign "cereal" and "cat."

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Turkey/Mozzarella/Ciabatta Sandwich

There are so many wonderful reasons to visit family in Utah and Arizona, and most of them have nothing to do with food. But to be honest, one of the things that we look forward to is having at least one breakfast and/or lunch at Kneaders. They make to-die-for French Toast, crusty artisan breads, and mouth-watering sandwiches.

So imagine my excitement when I spotted a recipe in the September 2015 issue of Better Homes and Gardens that seemed to have all the key ingredients of one of my favorite Kneaders creations. I made it for dinner tonight and was blown away. Here's what you will need:

3 T. mayonnaise
2 t. chopped fresh rosemary
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 c. fresh spinach, chopped
1 14 oz. can artichoke hearts, drained, chopped, and dried
2 8 oz. rounds ciabatta loaves, halved crosswise (I used a skinny ciabatta baguette, cut into sandwich size slices)
6 oz. sliced mozzarella cheese
1 medium tomato, thinly sliced
4 oz. sliced, smoked turkey

I love recipes that let me use some of my fresh herbs.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. In a medium bowl, combine mayonnaise, rosemary, and garlic. Add spinach and artichokes; stir to combine. Set aside.

Remove enough bread from inside each half to create a 1 inch shell. (I just sawed my baguette slices in half and they worked perfectly.) Lay each bread half on a baking sheet.

Line each half with mozzarella. Spoon vegetable mixture onto each bottom bread shell. (I goofed and put everything on both the top and bottom. Serendipitous mistake--twice as tasty):

Top with tomato and turkey:

Bake 8 to 10 minutes or until toasted and heated through. Assemble sandwiches. Makes four servings:

The great thing about this sandwich--besides being delicious--is that it really is a complete meal in a bun. Enjoy!

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Baby-Proof the Patio with Foam ABC Mats

This is basically a brilliant, inexpensive idea to make your home that much more baby and kid friendly.

I was sitting at my friend Katy's place when I saw it. Like so many in Silicon Valley, she has an apartment. Rent here is through the roof, and buying a house is a joke unless you want to put down over a million dollars on a tiny 3 bedroom home built in the late 70's. Yikes... I don't mind apartment living, though. I love that I can drop off my baby monitor with my sweet neighbor so I can run a quick errand or go on a date. There's less space to clean and less pressure to decorate, paint, and remodel it to perfection.

Yet now that I have a beautiful toddler, I really wish I had a backyard. Yes, there's a park just around the corner, but sometimes it would be nice to let SourPatch have his fresh air fix without leaving the house. We're lucky enough to have a little balcony, but a small rectangle of cement never seemed like a great playing spot for a baby.

Back in Katy's living room, about a year ago: As we were chatting, I saw from the window that on her balcony, she had a colorful, foam ABC puzzle mat. You know the ones, right? I knew they existed, but I had always seen them used indoors. When I asked her about it, she said that many of our friends did the same thing to their patios. So apparently this isn't an original idea, but I had never heard of it.

One trip to Ross later, and I had myself a package of 26 alphabet puzzle squares for $12.99.  This covered less than half of my balcony, but SourPatch was just a little guy, so it worked out great. He and his friend could soak up the fall morning in colorful comfort.

But, like all children do, Patches began to crawl. Everywhere. So imagine my delight when, a few months later, some of our neighbors put out a second play mat for free! It was in great condition, and now 75% of our balcony was soft ground for our ever-moving child.

Love this idea. Now you can tell from the second picture that, sitting in the sun, the colors fade. Also, as SourPatch got older, he started to enjoy pulling the puzzles apart more and more (meaning mom gets to put them back together). Yet for less than $15, this is one of the best ideas I have gleaned from other mothers. It makes porch time much more comfortable and fun for both of us. Thanks again, Katy!