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Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Quick Meatless Dinner Option

Seems that I have been on a potato kick lately and that’s ok, because who doesn’t love potatoes? They are hearty and pair well with just about anything. Tonight, my boys were having a hunkering for hotdogs and mac and cheese, even the Husband had jumped on this band wagon. Not that there is anything wrong with hot dogs or mac and cheese, but I was just not in the mood. Their request was prepared, but I decided to make myself my own little delicacy.  What did I have to lose; if it came out horribly wrong, there was hot dogs and mac and cheese already made right? lol
Fabulous Mmmm

Not having large baking potatoes, I had to make do with Yukon Gold mini’s. This was no problem for me; I actually prefer their rich butter texture and taste to the plain ol’ Idaho Russets. I decided to spray my potatoes with a little cooking olive oil spray and sprinkle with some sea salt and pierced them with a fork to let steam escape. Into the oven they went to be baked. 

While they were baking, I sautéed an onion in olive oil cooking spray. Once that was translucent, I added corn shucked off the cob and a ¼ cup of water. Let this cook until the corn is done. Then, to the pot I added a drained can of no salt-added black beans and threw in a handful of cherry tomatoes from my garden on a whim. Mixed this all together with 1 tablespoon of Tony Chachere’s Creole seasoning and left it simmering on my stovetop. You could added in hot sauce for more of a kick. 

When the potatoes were done baking, I set them on a plate and slit them open. I then spooned the black bean mixture over the top and sprinkled with some cheddar cheese. This was fabulous and very fresh tasting. I had originally planned to top them with salsa, but the steamed/sautéed cherry tomatoes really added a great flavor so I went with that instead. They may have just been my favorite part of the dish in the end. Their little bursts of bright fresh flavor really complimented the sweet corn and spicy black beans. 

Enjoy : )
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Monday, July 30, 2012

Baseball Comes to an End

We just completed our last baseball tournament of the 2012 season. It was so much fun, good baseball was played, the weather was beautiful and we even made time to see some scenic sights.  This tournament stands out to me as one that my son will remember, laugh, and reminisce about with his friends as he gets older. The team had 3 hotel rooms and the boys got to stay in them with just their roommates and no mom or dad. The stayed up late and giggled, swam a lot and ate snacks into the late night. Even the younger siblings of the players got to have fun. They swam a lot, giggled and ate entirely too much.
Infield Meeting

It was a good season, one where I could really notice the difference in how much the players had improved and grown. At the end, they played together like a team who had been doing this for years. The boys are all good boys, they have become great friends and it warms my heart to know my son has made lifelong friendships. He has leaned to be a good sport, a team player, a good winner as well as a graceful loser. These are all life lessons that will carry him through to adulthood. 

Stopping to see the view

I can’t help but wonder where this summer has gone. It’s the end of July, baseball is over. Football starts in roughly 2 weeks. The boys of fall, will don their pads and helmets, they will practice and practice before the games begin in September. School is just around the corner and already I am stock piling school supplies to last the year. 

The View from Deadman's Hill
School shopping is a lot like canning and food preserving, always something to be put away. You can never have enough crayons, glue sticks, pencils, or paper.  My jams are made for the standard peanut butter and jelly sandwiches that my boys still love. All though, I would like to try my hand at making grape jelly. I have not tried that one and the boys do like it. I have always been a strawberry jam girl myself. 

The days may sometimes seem long but the years, they are going by so fast. It is important to remember to slow down and enjoy them, to live in the moment for just a bit. The end of summer is when my back to basics mantra, live simple, really hits me. The time has flown by and summer is half over. I have to make time to enjoy the simple things in life.  Carve out that extra bit of time to watch my children grow. Watch them make friends and enjoying the simple moments in life while life is still simple for them.  It is said that time flies when you are having fun.

Enjoy life my friends  : )

We found someone's Honey Hole.

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Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Potato Bakes of Goodness

I don’t know about anyone else, but it has just been too hot to turn on the oven. Breakfast and lunches have been scaled down to quick easy no cook meals and we do a whole lot of grilling for dinners. That is summer at my house, fresh veggies and grilled meats. Now and again, though, I get a good hunkering for something more substantial, something that screams comfort food and winter. Call me crazy, but yesterday morning, while having my coffee and browsing pinterest I came across a recipe for baked potatoes and eggs. It looked fabulous. I could just smell the goodness from the computer, so like any rational adult would do, I set to baking potatoes before the house got too hot. 

I scrounged up some Yukon Gold potatoes from my cupboard and began by washing them and slicing off a thin section on the bottom so the taters would stand up without wobbling around. Then I used a paring knife and widdled away at the middle to core out a nice hole to hold my egg.  I lined up about a dozen of them on a cookie sheet and sprinkled with salt and fresh cracked pepper. 

Conveying my masterpiece of little taters, I thought there is no way to fit a whole egg in there, so I improvised. I scrambled up some eggs and added some green onions then I spooned the egg and onion mixture into each potato and topped them off with some grated cheddar cheese. These then went in the oven at 350F for 45 minutes. I checked them at 30 but the potatoes still seemed a bit stiff so they went back in for another 15 minutes.
These little potato bakes were amazing. I served mine up with a side of fresh salsa.   

The weather has turned scorching hot again so the oven is back in its dormant stage but I can see bringing these little bits of goodness back once autumn hits.  Using a larger potato would also be a great breakfast to pack in foil and take to early morning youth football games or just about whatever else people do that may need some on the go breakfast.   They are so versatile; I think I have mentally planned out 30 different ways to prepare this. Wouldn’t cream cheese and lox stuffed in there be great? Or asparagus and gouda? Possibilities are endless. 

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Friday, July 20, 2012

Freezer Jam

I seem to be on a freezing kick when it comes to preserving food for my family. I, for the most part, have always used a water-bath to can my jams, jellies, pickles and other high acid foods but today I had some berries for canning but not enough to really make it worthwhile to fire up the water-bath. Instead, I picked up some freezer jam instant pectin and made my first ever batch of freezer jam. 

I followed the recipe that was on the box. I crushed my berries in a non reactive bowl,  using a potato masher,  and then mixed the sugar and pectin together in another bowl before adding it to my berries. Once everything has been added, you stir the mixture for 3 minutes. Be sure not to skimp on the stirring because this does help dissolve the sugars and pectin as well as helps to thicken the jam. 
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After the mixture is all stirred up, I then ladled the jam into clean mason jars. Let the jam sit at room temperature for half an hour to finish setting up before putting away in the refrigerator or freezer. If freezing in the glass mason jars, please allow at least a half inch of head space in the jar. This allows for the jam to expand as it freezes without cracking your glass jars. Bell also makes freezer jars that are plastic, but I used my good ol’ glass ones.  Freezer jam can be kept in the fridge for 3 weeks and in the freezer for up to 1 year.

Today, I made blackberry, strawberry and a triple berry jam. The triple berry is a mixture of raspberries, strawberries and blue berries.  The jams all set up well and we kept out a jar of each flavor to enjoy right away.  I have to admit, as this is my first time preparing freezer jam, it is really good. I think the flavor of the berries is more pronounce because the jam is not being cooked or further processed in the water-bath canner. In the recipe I followed there is also less sugar needed.  So far, the jams are all frozen and no cracking of glass has happened.  

If you are doing a lot of jam making and space is also an issue, than freezer jams might not be the way you want to process. When I have a lot of berries at mid-season, I do go for the water-bath method. I can process quite a few jars and store them in my pantry. The mason jars do stack nicely. I must say though, for making small batches freezer jam seems to be the way to go. I am pleasantly surprised at how easy it is and how good the finish product tastes. 

Enjoy : )
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Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Carrot Cake Pancakes for a Birthday Boy

Today is my youngest son’s 10th birthday. To celebrate he is having some friends over for the night, pizza and cake will be eaten by all. Or at least I hope all, because I have a large cake and I don’t want to have it sitting around calling my name to eat it. . .Ok, back on track, for this recipe I have tried adapting my mother in law’s recipe for carrot cake cookies into carrot cake pancakes. My son loves carrot cake and carrot cake cookies but it is not always so loved by most kids his age so we went with a chocolate cake and chocolate frosting for the party. This is my way of making him a special breakfast and giving him carrot cake. . . .

Ingredients needed:

2 cups of Bisquick or other pancake mix
1 large carrot – shredded
1 tablespoon of brown sugar
2 teaspoon of pure vanilla extract
1 tablespoon pure maple syrup
2 teaspoons of cinnamon
½ teaspoon of Nutmeg
½ teaspoon of ginger
¼ cup of buttermilk
Optional mix-in’s chopped walnuts, pecans or toasted coconut flakes
And water to thin out batter to desired consistency

shredding carrot
I start by shredding my carrot and setting it aside. Then in a bowl mix the pancake mix, sugar, and spices. To that add the vanilla, maple syrup and carrots and any additional mix-in’s such as chopped walnuts.  I then add the buttermilk as I mix. This can be done in your stand mixer but I do it by hand. The batter will be thick so after the buttermilk is added, begin to thin the batter with water to your desired consistency. I prefer thicker pancakes so I tend to add only about ½ a cup of water. 

To a hot buttered griddle pour your batter and watch for the batter to bubble. Once the batter is bubbling that is a sign to flip your pancake. 

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I top these with a mixture of cream cheese and whipped cream.  I use room temperature cream cheese, 2 tablespoons, and fold it into a pint of heavy cream that I whipped up with a teaspoon of fine sugar. For the calorie conscience you can use just cool whip free to top them and avoid the added fat grams but since this is a once in a while treat, I just give my boy the goods. 

Enjoy : )
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Saturday, July 14, 2012

A Quarter Horse for Me...

I have come to the conclusion, when I go back to work my very first large purchase is going to be a horse. Living in the Village, we do not have the land to keep horses, so there will be fees for boarding the horse at a nearby facility. It is just something I need to do, you see, I have loved horses all my life.
Growing up I liked nothing more than visiting my grandfather and tending to his horses. I spent many school vacation days getting up early to muck out stalls and turn the horses out. My grandfather kept a number of Quarter horses on his property in Mid-Michigan as well as in Texas. There was an occasional Painted Pony or Saint Bernard; they were large enough to qualify as small horses, but the Quarter Horse reigned supreme.  
The Quarter Horse is a great family horse. They are usually between 14 to 16 hands high, which makes them a nice size for most riders. The temperament of a Quarter Horse is for the most part gentle with a docile demeanor.  This makes them a good fit for children as well any beginner rider. They are intelligent animals that take to training well. They are surefooted and make for a great trail ride horse. 
The Quarter Horse is a steady working breed. Cattle and rodeo was my grandfather’s game and the trusty Quarter Horse was a constant companion. They are known to be able to sprint at fast speeds but are agile enough for working in ranches as well as the rodeo.  Their name was originally associated with the horses’ ability to do well in quarter mile races.  This speed was an asset when cattle workers were moving herds. A well trained Quarter Horse is a hot commodity on a working ranch. They have an ability to instinctively work with their handler to read each other and the cattle’s body language. The horse can separate cows from the herd as well as round up the occasional wayward cow. Watching a rider and horse while working is like watching a dance, they move with each other while working to a common goal in the most graceful manner.
Cactus Dude and my Grandpa peeking out from the barn
Quarter Horses may be a working man’s dream horse, they are great for the hobby rider or sport rider. It is pretty common to find them stalled at the fairs and festivals around your country towns. They are there for barrel racing, calf roping and other competitions. They are ridden by novice to expert riders. Always spirited for the next round of competition, the horse is a wonder to be hold while in action. Their speed is mind boggling as the gates open and they race forward to make figure 8 turns around barrels at break neck speed or wait for a cowboy to whirl his lasso over a calf. They hold steady as the rider jumps off, ready to finish roping the calf, trusted to hold their end of the rope and to hold that end tight for their partner. The Quarter Horse is a sight to be seen.

While my grandfather has passed away and the horses are just a fond memory of mine, I still get the same nostalgia from walking through barns at 4-h shows and fairs. The smell of the hay and horse takes me back to days when a girl’s best friend was her grandfather and a Bay Quarter Horse named Junior.  Once you have been bitten by the horse bug, it is hard to let it go. This “bug” gets ahold of your soul.

There is something so majestic about the animals. They are large and extremely intelligent. The bond between rider and horse is a strong one. It is built on trust. The animal trusts you to be responsible with its care, to lead them with care and integrity and in return the rider trusts the horse to take commands and care, not to hurt the rider. It has always been amazing to me that these clever animals are so willing to trust humans.
This bond between horses and their owners is evident when talking with old cowboys or cowgirls. My grandfather always kept his favorite horses bridle hanging up even after the horse had long since passed away. The bridle always had a place in his home, a tribute to the relationship between horse and rider. My mother is the same way. She has tucked away in her closet, her horse’s stall name plate. Cactus Dude still has ahold of her heart even after all these years. 

My son riding on our friend's pony, Summer Sunshine Waters
My grandfather always said “You train the horse first, the rider will follow”. He was a brilliant man and the importance of that concept is not lost on me. Horse training is not for the faint of heart. They are strong animals, capable of causing injury. An unbroken, intact male, is certainly an animal to be respected as is a mare in season. A horses’ power is natural; the muscles of a horse are well sculpted. Automotive companies did not invent the term horse power for nothing.  They are able to run at great speeds, pull loads, jump fences and they do have teeth.  I have found that a key to reading a horse is to notice their ears. They will give you signs for when they are listening to you, have had enough of something and they can warn you when you might get a bite. All that being said, though, I have never been hurt by a horse on purpose. A horse does not want to hurt anyone. It is not in their nature but respect must be given to their size and power. 

The Quarter Horse is in general is a great horse, used for sport as well as working. Their temperament and learning ability have made them one of the most popular breeds in America today.  This comes as no surprise to this Quarter Horse lover; I still hang a beloved horse’s bridle from a hook in my home and look forward to the day I can trail ride with another Quarter Horse partner.
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