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Happy Birthday Don and Alexandra!

23 Mar

So what’s the best birthday gift *you* ever gave someone?

ORIGINALLY POSTED MARCH 23, 2012

Today is a very special day.

Today is Alexandra’s birthday.

Today is also Don’s birthday.

That makes me the best wife ever because seven years ago for Don’s birthday at 1:22 am I gave him our third daughter.

I know, I know, best gift ever, right?! It’s hard to top that one though, so I don’t really try. I’m back to t-shirts, pajama pants and stuff like that for his birthday gifts.

Alexandra’s First Birthday 2006

Since sharing his birthday with his daughter, Don has been blessed with getting to have a Snoopy party, a My Little Pony party, a Dora party, a Purple party and this year…Hello Kitty. Technically they’re not his parties obviously, but you see what I mean.

Birthday crowns all around on Alex’s second birthday.

Thankfully, my parents have this neat tradition that they started with us where we celebrate the adult birthday parties at their house each year and we “kids” get to choose our meal and our cake. I choose….well I won’t tell you what I choose until it’s my birthday this summer. But Don chooses a totally opposite type of meal and cake than I would choose, so I guess it’s good that we each get a chance to choose our own, to choose what we like. Don chooses meatball sandwiches (made with my mom’s homemade meatballs and gravy) with lemon cake for dessert. It’s probably the only time all year we have it and he really enjoys it.

Therefore, today I thought I’d share with you the recipe for Don’s birthday cake of choice each year, the lemon cake. It’s really yummy, I particularly love the corners.

***********************************************************************************

LEMON CAKE

A cake *just* for Daddy!

INGREDIENTS

1/4 cup oil

1/2 cup water

2 beaten eggs

Duncan Hines Lemon Cake Mix

1 can lemon pie filling (divided)

DIRECTIONS

In bowl by hand, mix together oil, water, eggs, cake mix.

Add 1/4 can of lemon pie filling into the mix.

Put into greased 9×13 dish.

On top, distribute the rest of the pie filling.

Bake 35-40 minutes at 350 degrees.

When cool, glaze with:
1 cup confectioner’s sugar mixed with 1 Tablespoon lemon juice. Add a little hot water if necessary.

Happy St. Joseph’s Day!

19 Mar

Are you ready for some Zeppole?

ORIGINALLY POSTED ON MARCH 19, 2012

Are you wearing your red today? I am!

It’s March 19 and that means it’s one of my most favorite dessert holidays ever!

Happy St. Joseph’s Day to you!!

I’d personally skip right over St. Patrick’s Day and go right to St. Joseph’s Day because if it’s St. Joseph’s Day then it means……zeppole!!!

You might ask: What on earth is a zeppole??

My answer is: It’s the most wonderful cream filled, fried dough dessert in the world; kind of a cross between a donut and a cream puff I guess, although from what I understand, they have changed in nature over the years. However, the way you see them here is the way I’ve always known them to be and the way that I love, love, love them.

More than a decade ago, when we were first married, we lived in another state for a few years. That first year we were there,  St. Joseph’s Day rolled around. We went out that day, searching for a zeppole, and had the hardest time finding them. When we did, they weren’t even all that great. I was so disappointed. We’d only been there three months and I already knew we were going to have to come back. There was no way I was going to live in a place where there weren’t any good zeppole to be had.

Near us you can get a zeppole almost any time of the year, but we never, ever do, except on St. Joseph’s Day. It just wouldn’t be the same. It probably wouldn’t even TASTE the same!

I’m sure it’s no coincidence either, that my daughter Alex was due to be born on St. Joseph’s Day. She wasn’t, but still, there’s something significant in that, I just know it.

Being in city where there are just zillions of Italians, it means that there are also zillions of fantastic Italian bakeries in the area, so you can take your pick as to where you want to get your zeppole from. Everyone seems to have their favorite spot where they go each year.

Our family has gotten their St. Joseph’s Day zeppole at Solitro’s for decades and it thrills me to share this tradition with my kids.

To me it’s a really big deal to go and get them. I go to the same bakery where my family has gone forever and ever to get them. The first time I took my children there with me, I almost cried, I was so overwhelmed with the emotion I felt. I remember waiting with them in a line that stretched from the bakery counter to the door. I remember lifting them up so they could see into the back where the zeppole were being made; it looked like what I’d imagine Italy itself to look like. I remember pointing to the shelves that held trays upon trays upon trays of zeppole, all lined up in rows. It’s even magical to me how they put them into the white bakery box and tie it with string. There’s nothing like it. The zeppole taste wonderful, but the tradition and memories that go with it are such a big part of the day for me as well.

The case was full, both baked and fried zeppole, and this was only the day *before* St. Joseph’s Day.

And so, today I will again have my zeppole. My family doesn’t love them as much as I do, and I have to say, I’m glad. It means all the more for me.

I hope you’re able to get a zeppole today too! If not, I’ll be thinking of you all as I indulge.

Happy St. Joseph’s Day!

I hope you get your zeppole fix today too!

Happy St. Patty’s Day: Irish Soda Bread

17 Mar

ORIGINALLY POSTED MARCH 16, 2012: Everyone loves a good Irish Soda Bread with their St. Patrick’s Day meal! This one was passed along to me by my father-in-law last winter and it was wonderful. I can’t wait to make it again this year. It’s probably the one and only recipe where I don’t think about subbing out the raisins for chocolate chips!!

INGREDIENTS

4 c  flour

1 c white sugar

1 tsp baking soda

2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

3 eggs

1 pint sour cream

1 cup  raisins

DIRECTIONS

Preheat oven to 325 degrees

Grease two 8×4″ loaf pans

Mix first five ingredients

Add eggs, sour cream and raisins

Mix until just combined

Distribute batter evenly between the two pans

Bake loaves 1 hour at 325 degrees

Fun Friday: In honor of Pi Day: Chocolate Chip Cookie Pie

13 Mar
Life-changing, indeed!

Life-changing, indeed!

Tomorrow, March 14, 2015 is National Pi Day!

No, silly, not PIE day, PI Day!!

You know,”Pi: the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter, approximately 3.14159, an infinite number which has been calculated to over one trillion digits beyond its decimal point. As an irrational and transcendental number, it will continue infinitely without repetition or pattern.” (For more information like this about Pi, Pi Day and related celebrations, click on the link above!)

Pi Day also falls on the same day as Albert Einstein’s birthday. How great is that?!

Pi Day does have some similar qualities to Pie Day though (and if there isn’t actually a Pie Day, there should be), in that many people like to encourage the eating of pie of any kind to help with the celebrating of the mathematical concept!

To that end, my oldest daughter’s Algebra class will be celebrating Pi Day tomorrow with some sweet treats during class, so I said I’d send in a pie for them to use as part of their Pi Party. I had a single crust in the freezer and just enough ingredients to make the newest pie that I’ve fallen in love with this winter: a chocolate chip cookie pie.

This pie recipe was sent to me by a friend during the first blizzard we had in January as one of 23 different Chocolate Chip Cookie recipes to try out. The list claims to be a life-changing experience. If this pie recipe is any indication, I’d say they’re right!

This is a really quick pie to put together. Few ingredients, few steps. You don’t need to pre-bake your crust and the cook time is about an hour give or take, depending on your oven. The recipe is found on the Love from the Oven blog, and she has credited the original recipe to Nestle.

Obviously I did not make the Pi Day pie and then eat it myself, so my photos here are from the second blizzard of 2015, when I made this pie for dessert one night. It was a keeper for sure, and that’s the only sad thing about sending away a pie for Pi Day….we got to smell it baking, but didn’t get to eat it!

Quick, easy and perfect for Pi Day 2015!

Quick, easy and perfect for Pi Day 2015!

Chocolate Chip Cookie Pie Recipe from Nestle
Preheat oven to 325

1 unbaked pie crust, homemade or store bought
2 large eggs
1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup white granulated sugar
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
3/4 cup butter softened (1 and 1/2 sticks)
1 cup chocolate chips
1 cup pecans or walnuts (optional)

DIRECTIONS

Beat eggs in a large mixer until foamy.

Now add in flour and sugars. Beat until well blended. Beat in the softened butter.

Stir in your chocolate chips and nuts.

Stir and pour into unbaked pie crust.

Bake at 325 for  50-55 minutes. Let cool before eating.

Serve with ice cream or whipped cream (optional).

Monday Musings: What’s the objective?

9 Mar
Sometimes I assume everyone has a mental check list, but maybe it's just me?

Sometimes I assume everyone has a mental check list, but maybe it’s just me?

I had lunch with a friend a month or so ago, and we were talking about things in life, big and little, that we wanted to be sure we taught our kids while we had them here with us, life skills to impart on them before they venture out into the world as independent citizens.

The conversation reminded me of a blog post I’d read somewhere along the way where a mother was writing to her daughter at the “halfway point” of being about 10 years old. The writer talked about how so far, many of the things on her list of things to teach her daughter had been developmental, like how to tie her shoes, how to ride a bike, things like that, and how now that she was turning ten and beginning a new phase in her life, it was time to shift the list and be sure to teach her other important things.

It got me thinking of how I’m semi-obsessed with that concept myself. And, I say “semi,” but I might actually mean “totally and completely,” but take it as you will.

As a student teacher, we learned to write our lesson plans so that they always had an objective. As time went on, it became common practice to even post the student learning objectives in the classroom for each lesson, so that the students (and anyone visiting the room) knew what they should have learned by the end of the lesson: at the end of the lesson, all students will…..be able to write their first and last name…..be able to identify and sort the odd and even numbers…be able to understand and analyze the reasons for the American Revolution….. and so on and so forth. The student learning objectives change and get more difficult as the students move through their education. What they need to know gets harder and what they need to do with that learning in terms of studying and applying what they’ve learned to real life, gets harder too. Sometimes lessons are on-going and build on skills previously learned. They don’t learn it and leave it behind, they take what they’ve learned with them and use it for the next thing.

I think that life as a parent is just like that. Having objectives for your lessons gave you clarity in why you were doing what you were doing in the classroom, and I think that raising kids is the same way. I just naturally assume that everyone drives around and walks around thinking constantly about their objectives and whether or not they’ve been met, just as I do: at the end of 18 years, my children will know how to and understand the importance of:   choosing a healthy snack, utilizing appropriate portion sizes, making pancakes from scratch, creating a meal plan and grocery list, looking at unit prices to get the best deal, using coupons to extend their savings even further, sorting their own laundry and having a good system for how to put it away, doing dishes, budgeting their spending, having financial goals, making a hard decision (and having to say no to things they really want, at times, but feeling extra good when they’ve worked hard for something and can say yes), sacrificing something for the good of someone else, choosing a good fit for their spiritual community, volunteering their time for the good of the whole community…..and so on and so forth.

Sometimes our objectives are something minor and physical, like tying shoes, or making pancakes, and other times they’re really big, like some of the deep dinner table discussions we’ve had to have with our kids, the examples we try to set for them as role models, emphasizing for them our morals and values, but at the end, I always make a check mark on my mental list, as if to say, “Okay, she’s got that down. I’ve done my job, as parents we’ve done what we’re supposed to do by teaching this really hard lesson, by modeling this life skill. She’ll be okay when she’s on her own.”

And then I move on to the next thing. My list is ever-growing as life is ever-changing.

I’m constantly retrieving memories from the back of my brain as to things I had to know when I was on my own. I remember being the only one who knew how to make a ham and cheese omelet (thank you Grandpa Grello) and I remember not knowing that I had a flat tire, and driving all the way from home to work and getting that really angry phone call when I arrived there (sorry Dad), and I think in my head of all the wisdom both literal, practical, and the more big-picture, that we need to impart on our kids: Don’t be afraid to try something new, have good manners, love and respect the elderly, it’s okay to lose, always try again, you can do anything…and can they tell time on an analog clock, can they count back change, do they know to use different measuring cups for liquids and solids??

See what I mean? I’m constantly, constantly thinking and checking.

(And I still recently drove on a flat tire, having no idea it was flat, so I’m not sure how good a job I’m doing in teaching that skill to my kids.)

Recently our first-ever female governor announced an essay contest she was running, and only my middle daughter is eligible to enter it. She’s someone who’s always willing to put herself out there and take a risk. She enters things, tries for things, but doesn’t always see the success at the end that her other sisters who’ve entered and won various big deal things, have seen. At bedtime one night she said to me, “In the contest rules the governor wrote that she often tells her daughters that they can do anything, and that’s just like you always tell us.”

As I leaned over and kissed my middle girl goodnight, I made a mental check mark on my list.

Objective met.

 

 

We interrupt our regularly scheduled programming to bring you this important news

6 Mar
I think our students have reached their breaking points.

I think our students have reached their breaking points.

I had planned a different post for today, but when I looked at my blog’s editorial calendar, I decided to switch that post for another day, and share with you some of the stories I have in this week’s newspaper. I’m very proud of my work this week, and I think the three stories tie in so well together, each telling a different piece of the same story, and I also think our story here is not so different from many of my blog readers’ stories all over.

As an education reporter, and as a former educator who lives with three current students and one current educational administrator, I get probably more of my dose of education news and perspective than many. I see educational trends and their impact from all sides. I’m in and out of classrooms from preschool through high school all week long and I sit in on meetings of all kinds both as a parent and as a reporter.

I truly love my job and I love getting to see these many sides to one story as well as to help decipher the education news and share it out to others.

Often however, I notice that many of the people making the decisions about education aren’t teachers, sometimes have never actually even taught in a classroom or run a school and oftentimes have never had children of their own.

I’ve attended forums and heard the guest speakers who have equated knowing what students are going through as students, because they have extended family who have kids, that they know what it’s like in the trenches of the classroom because they have friends who teach.

It’s always struck me as odd, and what they say they’re seeing is completely different from what I know that I’m seeing, hearing and living.

I decided recently that although our kids are the ones who are bearing the brunt of all these educational trends and decisions, it’s rare that we get to hear from them, and oftentimes when I listen to my own kids speaking of their frustrations and experiences, I wonder, “Is it just them? Is it just us?”

It’s not.

I spent the day on February 21 listening to kids talk about school for five hours. It was one of my most favorite interview days ever. I loved meeting the kids I didn’t know previously and I loved hearing their perspectives. I was glad to be able to give them a voice and in turn give a lot of the teachers and administrators a voice as well, because much of what the the teachers and administrators have been saying about the current trends in education are well reflected in the students’ opinions and experiences.

Now clearly, 11 kids does not make a scientific study about education, and I don’t pretend that it does, but it’s enough of a peek into the lives of our students to know that there is much work to be done in the world of education, and I don’t think much more of it can be done by the students.

This week our newspaper published my story, The Voices Behind the Numbers, and the response to it has been outstanding, and a relief to many adults who have wondered the same as we did: Is it just us?

Again, it is not.

Coincidentally, after I’d written and submitted that story, I met with the head of our district’s data team. She’s been in charge of collecting, analyzing and reporting out all kinds of data for quite some time, but recently the big focus has been on chronic absenteeism and trying to determine what types of factors contribute to kids being out so much. A task force was assembled. I am on it representing the faith organizations in our city, but clearly I’m a parent and of course, a reporter, too, so I can give many perspectives in my role. Given the half year’s data explored thus far, the attendance task force has decided that student anxiety needs to be explored in depth, as an important contributing factor in chronic absenteeism, and our state’s department of health is on board to explore this important issue too.

I couldn’t agree more.

You can read that article here, and I do think it ties in well with our students’ perspectives from my own article. I also think that overall in our country there has been an increased concern with mental health, social and emotional wellness, and I think we need to consider that when we think about our students and the impact of the decisions being made when they trickle down to the classrooms.

And finally, I love good news in education, and I love a strong thematic unit that incorporates and encompasses good teaching and still hits all the standards. So often I am disappointed when I ask about some of my favorite classroom units and projects from past years, looking to cover them again in the new year, only to find out that they’ve been cut out of the teaching programs due to lack of time.

This article tells the story of a fabulous program for students that is taught in just one of our city’s 17 elementary schools’ fifth-grade classrooms. The classroom teacher has hung onto it for a decade, firmly believing that it’s an important foundation for his students’ learning, and I couldn’t agree more. I can guarantee you that the standards have been met by the end of this comprehensive math and writing unit, and I know that Mr. Gemma’s students will remember this learning forever and apply it to their real lives after they leave his classroom. I commend him for his continued efforts and congratulate him on this year’s latest success.

 

 

 

 

What’s for Dinner Wednesday: Creamy Mushroom Orzo

4 Mar
I loved the texture and flavor of this recipe!

I loved the texture and flavor of this recipe!

ORIGINALLY POSTED JANUARY 15, 2014: Recently my friend Melissa shared a recipe that came through Facebook. Although Facebook is a great place to find and share recipes, you can’t always be sure where the recipe truly originated, so it’s hard to credit someone. It seems as this recipe for Creamy Mushroom Orzo may have originated on the page of Sharon Fox, who lists herself as author, food editor, radio personality and personal chef. However, even she says that the recipes found on her page are not from her own cookbooks, but are recipes she’s tried and loved. But, we do the best we can. I always like to give credit where credit is due, if I can.

No matter what, I’m so glad that someone, somewhere, originally made and share this recipe! I really loved it. I used it as a side dish for a kind of “boring” meal that we were having and to me, it made my meal so much more exciting.

The kids did not love it quite as much and I think it’s because it calls for white wine and it really holds the flavor.

I think that’s why I loved it so much!!

The recipe was fast, easy to make, and delicious; all my top qualifiers for a recipe.

I’m sharing it here, give it a try if you’re looking for something to jazz up one of your own meals!

This was an easy-to-make recipe, fast and delicious!

This was an easy-to-make recipe, fast and delicious!

CREAMY MUSHROOM ORZO

INGREDIENTS

1 tablespoons olive oil

1/2 chopped onion

3 cloves chopped garlic

2/3 cups orzo

1 cup sliced fresh mushrooms

1/2 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

1 tablespoon fresh sage

1 tablespoons butter

1 cup low-sodium chicken broth (or water)

3/4 cup white wine

1/4 cup freshly shredded Parmesan cheese

DIRECTIONS
1.In medium sized skillet, heat oil over medium heat. Add chopped onion and garlic.

2.Stir, cooking until onions are golden and soft.

3.Add orzo, mushrooms, Worcestershire sauce, sage, and butter. Cook, stirring about 5-6 minutes until mushrooms are tender.

4.Pour both chicken broth and wine into orzo mixture. Bring broth to a boil. Stirring often cook 10-15 minutes or until orzo is soft and liquid is absorbed.

5.Stir in Parmesan cheese before serving.

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