Saturday, January 31, 2015

Valentine's Day Story Bracelets - Toddler Time

When I was looking for some fun Thanksgiving activities for my toddler to do around the holidays, I was introduced to story bracelets. Basically, the idea behind these is as you tell a story to your child, they put beads on a bracelet that correspond with a person, thing, or event in the story. Eventually, they will be able to tell the story themselves by putting each bead on the bracelet and relating the part of the story that corresponds with that bead. (Click here to see the Thanksgiving story bracelet that I found worked really well with my 2 1/2 year old and her friends.)

I loved using pipe cleaners and big chunky beads for the bracelets, because they were so easy for my toddler to work with. And she still plays with the pipe cleaners and beads just for fun.
picture from
I got these wonderful beads from Hobby Lobby.

Since Valentine's day is fast approaching, I decided to do a Valentine's Day story bracelet. (I adapted the little story below from this little story.) If you are interested, give it a try with your kids! If you have boys that you think will be less than interested in a story about cats, birds, and squirrels, you can make the animals different types of dinosaurs or dump trucks or something that will amuse them.

Valentine's Day Story & Story Bracelet

"One Valentine's day, a pretty black cat (black bead) sat in the sunshine wondering what special note or treat she could give to her friend Evie (blue bead). Evie, you see, was sick and had to stay in bed, and the pretty black cat wanted to do something special for her. As she walked along the snowy (2 white beads) path, the pretty black cat met a furry red squirrel (red bead).

"Good day, Mrs. Cat," said he. "Where are you going?"

"To find a valentine for little Evie who is sick," said the cat.

"There is no one I love better than little Evie, "said the squirrel. "She always feeds me my favorite food: acorns. I will send her a valentine too."

"Oh good," said the cat. "Meet me under the big oak tree (green bead) at 3 o'clock."

The pretty black cat (black bead) continued to walk along the snowy path (2 white beads) and met a sweet brown robin (light brown bead).

"Where are you going?" asked the robin.

"To find a valentine for little Evie who is sick," replied the cat
"I want to get a valentine for her, too," chirped the robin.

"Oh good," said the cat. "Meet me under the big oak tree (green bead) at 3 o'clock."

At 3 o'clock, the pretty black cat (black bead), the furry red squirrel (red bead), and the sweet brown robin (light brown bead) met under the big oak tree (green bead) and together they went to Evie's house to give her their valentines. Little Evie (blue bead) was asleep when they came to her house, but they left their valentines on her bed. When Evie woke up, there on her bed was 1 fat shiny chestnut (1 dark brown beads), a dark pink rose (1 dark pink bead), and a pink note shaped like a heart (1 pink heart bead) that said,

"Little friend, so kind and true,
These valentines we send to you
Our very dearest love to tell.
We hope that you will soon be well."

Evie smiled as brightly as the sunshine (yellow bead)."

Monday, January 19, 2015

Pumpkin Gnocchi

I am not a very inventive cook. I tend to prepare the same dishes over and over. (My husband is so kind and uncomplaining.) Occasionally, however, a recipe jumps out at me, and I just have to try it. That was the case with this recipe for Pumpkin Gnocchi. I expected it to be hard; it wasn't.  It does take some time, but it makes a fairly large batch, and I think it is delicious. And it has pumpkin in it!

The recipe suggests serving it with a special sage butter, but I loved it with my absolute favorite homemade pasta sauce, Kit Jensen's Chicken Pasta Raphael. 

Pumpkin Gnocchi

1 1/2 c russet potatoes, peeled, then boiled until tender
1 c pumpkin or squash puree
1/4 c grated Parmesan
1 egg
1/4 t freshly grated nutmeg (I used about 1/8 t dried)
few twists freshly ground pepper
1/2 to 1 t salt
1 1/2 to 2 c unbleached, all purpose flour


In a large bowl, mash the potatoes and allow them to cool. With a fork, gently mix in the remaining ingredients except flour. Add flour a little at a time until you have a smooth, sticky dough. Briefly knead the dough in the bowl just until the last bits of flour have been incorporated. (I just used my KitchenAid.)

Bring a pot of salted water to a rolling boil while you divide the dough into 6 pieces. On a floured surface, roll each piece into a long rope, one-half inch in diameter. Cut the rope into half-inch pieces. Roll each piece of gnocchi down the back of the tines of a floured fork to make sauce-holding shallow grooves. (I'm not very good at grooving, but it held the sauce just fine.) Set the pumpkin gnocchi on a floured baking sheet. Repeat the process with the remaining dough.

Immediately begin boiling small batches of gnocchi. They should rise to the surface after a couple of minutes. Once they rise, boil for 2 to 3 minutes more. Test a piece from the first batch to make sure it is cooked through and not gummy, and adjust cooking time accordingly. 

Remove the pieces with a slotted spoon and add them to a lightly buttered bowl. Cover to keep warm.

(Source of the recipe and picture above:

Kit Jensen's Chicken Pasta Raphael

2 chicken breasts
1/4 c olive oil
1/2 t salt
Red pepper flakes to taste
3 8 oz, cans tomato sauce
2 16 oz cans diced tomatoes
2 16 oz cans artichoke hearts
2 c chopped onion
2 T minced garlic
1/2 t dried oregano
1/2 t dried basil
1/4 c grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 chopped fresh Italian parsley
1 t black pepper

Rinse the chicken and pat dry. Cut into bite-size pieces. Brown chicken in olive oil. Add garlic and onion and saute 1 minute. Drain the artichoke hearts. Add tomatoes, tomato sauce, oregano, basil, black pepper, salt and red pepper flakes to the chicken. Cook over medium low heat for 10 minutes. (I often let mine simmer longer.) Stir in the artichoke hearts, Parmesan cheese and parsley just before serving. Heat to serving temperature. Serve over gnocchi (or angel hair pasta).


Monday, January 12, 2015

Just a Simple Organizational Tool. . . .

In a way, I feel silly blogging about this; it's such a simple thing. But it has also made such a big difference for me.

We were blessed to have my parents live with us for the last several years of their lives. As they became more frail and their care became more complicated, we realized that we needed a way to keep track of their daily needs--medications, meals, hydration, etc. Delys and her family were living with/near us during much of that time, and we had other help as well, and it was difficult to know who had done what when. So Delys created and printed a simple document on the computer that allowed us to keep a daily log. She went to Walmart and purchased an inexpensive plastic 8 x 10 frame with glass and a dry erase marker. She inserted the document under the glass and--voila!--we had an easy way to make sure that all the caregivers knew exactly what had been done. At the end of each day, we erased it all and began again the next morning. As the needs changed, we simply modified the document.

At some point, I realized the magical potential of the system and created one for myself--not to keep track of medications or meals, but to help me work on the everyday things that needed to happen in my life (but didn't always seem to). I have been using it for more than three years, and it has helped me organize and prioritize.

My document has a line at the top for the goal I am currently working on. Down the left side is a chore list which divides my weekly household tasks into six easy segments; if I stick to it, I basically feel that I am getting the house (somewhat) clean each week. Underneath is a list of daily things I hope to accomplish.

On the right side I left room to write in a to-do list of the random things that come up on any given day and other things that might be coming up later in the week. I keep the frame and marker on a counter that I pass frequently throughout the day and cross items off as I get them done.

Like I said, nothing extraordinary--just very helpful for me.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Slow Cooker Baby Back Ribs

Fact: My non-chicken repertoire continues to grow. Can we talk about how expensive groceries are in Silicon Valley? I mean seriously, I'm only shopping for three! And yet my bill seems colossal. In an attempt to cut costs, I've been more vigilant about checking the discount meat when I shop. And if I find a good deal, I tend to buy it, despite having no recipe in mind.

Thus was the case when I bought a half rack of baby back ribs. I think ribs are delicious; they're my go-to meat when I'm at a steak place and want to conceal the fact that I don't know much about picking steak (always medium-rare, but I don't really know how to pick the cut.)

I was a little skeptical that we could possibly make yummy ribs without a grill. However, I found a few recipes online suggesting that I could make moist and tender ribs in a slow cooker.

Oh. My. Goodness. So delicious. So simple. It's a keeper.

Slow Cooker Baby Back Ribs

1.5 lbs baby back ribs
1/2 cup water
Salt and pepper
Barbecue sauce (Sweet Baby Rays, anyone?)

Step one: Put the water in the crock pot.

Step two: Salt and pepper the ribs to taste.

Step three: Put the ribs in the crock pot. I thought they might not fit, but they did!

Step four: Cover and cook. I cook on high for 4 hours. I'm sure low for 8 will work as well.

Step four: Preheat your oven broiler. Take the ribs out of the slow cooker. Appreciate how tender, fall-off-the-bone they are! I put them on an aluminum lined baking sheet (which is good for cleaning, not-so-good for the earth...)

Step five: Brush the ribs with your favorite barbecue sauce. My college roommate McCall introduced me to Sweet Baby Rays. I'm a big fan.

Step six: Broil until the sauce caramelizes and gets bubbly, about 3 minutes.

Step seven: Enjoy! Sooooo good.

So I realized I have no finished product picture. It makes me sad inside. It makes Jeff happy inside; apparently we need to have these again, and soon!