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.

THE BIRTHDAY TWINS CELEBRATING THEIR SPECIAL DAY IN 2016

 

 

What’s for Dinner Wednesday: Two weeks of meals and a tribute to a team player

15 Mar

He’s always outnumbered by the strong-willed women in his life, but he is our biggest fan and we are his, and he is an amazing team player in our family.

Recently, my kids were showing me an online video of a man who surprised his girlfriend by getting down on one knee and proposing to her during a photo shoot. I was misty-eyed watching her reaction and his proposal. I was telling my kids afterwards that when my now-husband and of course, their dad, Don, proposed to me, he asked if he should get down on one knee, but I said no, that instead I wanted him to sit down on the bench next to me in the gazebo where he’d chosen to propose. I wanted us to be equal, at the same level.

Now, more than 20 years and three kids, several dogs, multiple goldfish and one frog later, that equal level, that partnership and teamwork still stands. I don’t think we could make it through a day or a week if it didn’t. As I sit and  write this, it is International Women’s Day and I am reflective and thankful for my chosen partner in life, my best friend and all he does to support me and to support us. He will literally do anything that we four women ask him to do or need him to do, even things that are considered traditionally to be a “woman’s job.” In a day and age when so many are not so privileged as we are to have such support, when women’s rights are being taken away on a daily basis, or have yet to exist at all, I am grateful for my own personal situation, my teammate. I could be married to this guy, or some of the many men in our world just like him, or someone much, much worse.

This week’s menu is brought to you by my husband Don. We usually both sit down together to figure out the family’s schedule and the coordinating menu for the upcoming two weeks, and most often he then goes and does the shopping. He often cooks at least half the dinners. This past week was so busy that we didn’t have a chance to sit together and figure it out, so he created the menu AND did the shopping. I appreciate all he does, very much. Our system would not be successful here if we weren’t both equal partners, and I can’t imagine it being any other way.

Here is Don’s list of meals for you for two weeks of dinner inspiration:

Sunday: Homemade Chicken Soup (now made with gluten free pasta)
Monday: Paninis
Tuesday: Pork Chops with Homemade Applesauce
Wednesday: Shepherd’s Pie
Thursday: Pasta with Tuna Sauce
Friday: Homemade Pizzas
Saturday: Tacos
Sunday: Chicken Pot Pie (not homemade this time, but here is a recipe for homemade if you’d like it)
Monday: Steaks
Tuesday: Cobb Salad (This is new for us. It’s a salad with bacon-we use turkey bacon, hard boiled eggs, avocado, and grilled chicken, in addition to the usual lettuce, tomato, and cucumbers.)
Wednesday: American Chopped Suey
Thursday: Stir Fry
Friday: Happy St. Patrick’s Day! Corned Beef and Cabbage

Thanks Don!

Don and all his ladies, looking fierce.

 

Fun Friday: Three ingredient cookies

10 Mar

I added a fourth ingredient…can you guess what it is?

Good morning and TGIF!

Happy Friday to you all. It’s been a little bit since I did a Fun Friday post, so I thought I’d share a fun one with you this week.

My whole “after school snack” routine has gotten a bit derailed lately, mostly because many days no one is coming right home after school, which makes me really the only one who is home and hungry and means I’m always throwing an extra snack into everyone’s backpack to get them through the day. They eat lunch so early in the morning at school that they are starving by 3:00.

Additionally, since my youngest has had to go gluten free a little more than a year ago, one of the things she often takes for lunch is muffins (gluten free, obviously). That knocks off a good 3/4 of my go-to after school snack ideas. I love muffins and I loved making them to eat after school because then we have them for breakfast the next day, if there are any left. Now, out of convenience, I buy six packs of freshly made muffins, four varieties at a time every couple of weeks, at our local gluten free bakery, A&J’s, and I freeze them. By the time she eats lunch they have thawed.

I try to make my snacks healthy as often as I can, and so in going gluten free, I’ve relied on many dips (like this one from 2012 or this one from 2013), cheese and apples, fruit platters and the like. However, I did find a go-to cookie recipe that is fast, easy, healthy and gluten free, as long as you have gluten free oats, which I always do (thanks Bob’s Red Mill!). I have seen this recipe on several sites, and the one I am sharing today is from Recipe Diaries. I have seen versions of these cooked in the oven and I have even seen some that are microwaved. I have only ever cooked mine in the oven.

This week when I made these, I used 3 bananas and 1 1/2 cups of oats to make more cookies. I am also partial to Craisins over raisins, so I used a box of Craisins that is the lunchbox snack size (mostly because that’s what I had on hand) and it was the perfect amount. I’m also VERY partial to chocolate chips, so I threw some of those in too. In the past I have subbed dried pomegranates for the fruit and they were tasty too. Almost anything goes.

I have always tried to make my kids aware of serving sizes when it comes to food, and they always ask me how many or how much of something they are allowed to have, especially when it comes to something like muffins or cookies. With these, it’s nice to know that although they still can’t have an unlimited amount, at least the ones they are having are really pretty healthy, overall. They make a great snack and they satisfy my craving for a little something sweet.

I encourage you to try out the recipe at Recipe Diaries, and have a great weekend!

Monday Musings: When your friend shows up with Brussels Sprouts

6 Mar
I never expected to see this when I walked out the door on Tuesday.

I never expected to see this when I walked out the door on Tuesday.

Did you ever just have one of those weeks? One of those months? You know…the kind where you’ve got sick kids, crazy weeks at work, more sick kids, a smashed windshield, and a broken trunk?

Yeah, me too.

No? Well then consider yourself lucky.

Some weeks seem to definitely personify the whole, “When it rains, it pours” theory and this past week and really, even the weeks before it, seemed to point in that direction. For a short month, we really packed in the crazy. And, true to form, March seems to be coming in like a lion, and I don’t mean with the weather.

That said, the normal, day-to-day stuff, above and beyond the crazy, has been fine, good even. Work is good, weather has been unusually warm for February, and overall I really am blessed and thankful. Even though I’ve been dosing out antibiotics for a month now, the illnesses they’re for are minor, and I know that. They’re curable. It’s annoying stuff, but overall it could be worse. I’m just trying to keep my head above water, that’s all.

When I walked out the door on Tuesday, I found my car as you see it above. Broken back windshield, no idea how it happened or if someone had done it or not. It was mid-day and our neighborhood is eerily quiet during the day, so it was shocking to see this and wonder if it had been purposeful or not. We may never know.

The windshield was fixed by the end of the week, quickly and efficiently, except now when I went outside to drive it for the first time on Friday, the tailgate was slightly open and it wouldn’t latch shut. Then we got it to latch shut, only to find we couldn’t actually get it open. Later in the weekend we got it open, but had to latch it stuck shut again, because it still wouldn’t latch properly.

Not sure what’s up with that.

Yesterday after a couple of other annoying, minor situations, it just seemed like it had been one of those days. For five days and really, for four weeks.

Basketball has been an amazing experience for her and for us.

Basketball has been an amazing experience for her and for us.

On Saturday, we drove our car and its latched-shut trunk, over to the playoff games for my youngest daughter’s basketball team. This has been our first-ever experience with basketball, and it’s been amazing. The Cranston Youth Girls Basketball league was started by the husband of a friend of mine from high school, and this year when my daughter Alex asked to join a league, I knew just the one. Shortly after the season started, her friend Mia joined also. It’s been such a great experience for both of them, and for all of us, their biggest fans. Our two families have sat together all season long, through practices and game after game. Cheering them on, biting our nails, watching the clock, and chatting during half time.

It was during one of those chats several weeks ago, that we got started talking about dinner and what we were making later on. Mia’s mom Carolyn, mentioned that she was going home to make dinner which included her favorite recipe for Brussels Sprouts. I mentioned, emphatically, that I love Brussels Sprouts and that I am the only person in my family who does, so I rarely get them. I’ve been known to buy them for myself and eat them myself, just to have a chance to have them.

That was weeks ago. The days came and went after that. This weekend when she said, “So how’s everything?” I had an earful for her about my car and that whole saga. There wasn’t much she could say, but she listened and shook her head as I told the story.

This meant so much more to me than a new recipe or a side dish for my dinner.

This meant so much more to me than a new recipe or a side dish for my dinner.

Last night, at 7:00 p.m. our doorbell rang. We were sitting at dinner, eating Beef Burgandy, and we couldn’t imagine who could be at the door at this time on a Sunday night, after dark. My husband scooped up the dog and answered the door. There on my front doorstep was Mia’s dad, Ed…. Ed who has taken the girls for ice cream after basketball practice on many Wednesdays when I’m too tired to say “no” to ice cream very convincingly, Ed who has taken them to his office to help them study for Social Studies tests until they knew the information inside and out.

There was Ed, holding up a container filled with something.

“What is it?” I asked. “Just open it and see,” he said.

Inside….Carolyn’s Brussels Sprouts. I was shocked, and also elated.

“Wait til you taste them,” he said. “They’re amazing.”

And he was right. I took the container up to the table and sat right down and ate them. They were life-changing, as much as Brussels Sprouts could be. They were absolutely delicious.

The thing is, they were so much more than Brussels Sprouts to me. In my mind, it was a reminder of just how truly lucky we are. We have good people all around us. Good friends, thoughtful friends, and people who are just as busy, if not more-so, and have just as much going on, if not more-so, and yet they are people who still take the time out of their day to think of us, to remember something I said about my love for Brussels Sprouts weeks ago, and to go out of their way to pack them up and send them over.

I thanked Carolyn profusely through a series of texts, showing her my empty container, and raving about the recipe. She made my whole night, and she made the start to a new week a little tastier, a little bit easier to take on whatever needs taking on. In our texting back and forth, she was kind enough to send me the recipe. I am sharing it here for you, and I plan on making it myself, for myself, and eating every bite.

Much later in the night, I got a text from my oldest daughter. She was getting into her car, letting us know she was leaving her theater banquet at a restaurant in a nearby city, one known for its decadent desserts, and she was on her way home.

“I’m leaving now,” she said, “And I’m bringing you a surprise.”

You know what? I think it’s going to be a better week.

I can just taste it.

Here's to good friends, good kids and good weeks.

Here’s to good friends, good kids and good weeks.

 

 

 

What’s for Dinner Wednesday: Two weeks of meals

1 Mar
Ready for another two weeks of dinners?

Ready for another two weeks of dinners?

It’s Wednesday! We are officially halfway through the first week back to school after our February vacation week, and what a busy week that was! I think I needed a vacation from the vacation. We had visits from family and lots of appointments all week long, and the week flew by. Because we had family in from out of state, our menu was reflective of that, and we ate a few things we don’t always have, special items our guests can’t always get to eat where they live. We also took a ride down to the beach one afternoon, and even though it was too chilly to actually be IN the ocean, it was certainly a beautiful sight to see and reminded me that summer isn’t too far away!

With that thought in mind, here is our two week menu for you with links to the recipes if I have them.

SUNDAY: Chicken with garlic wine sauce and mushrooms. Recipe is here.

MONDAY: President’s Day holiday and the day our first guest arrived. We opted to eat dinner out that night. We ordered in, and everyone got what they wanted at the various restaurants on this particular street. One restaurant, Mosaic, is new to our area and offers Middle Eastern fare, so that was our gift to our guest, and something she doesn’t get to have very often. Those who didn’t want that option ordered in Chinese and Mexican. It was a very culturally diverse dinner table for sure!

TUESDAY: Chourico and peppers. There are many different versions of this Portuguese recipe. My husband’s recipe is made with peppers and tomato sauce. This is great in a sandwich or on the plate. It is something we don’t get to have often so it was a treat for us too!

WEDNESDAY: Hot dogs, chicken burgers, tater tots

THURSDAY: Baked fish with crabmeat and crumb topping, gluten free

A special dessert to cap off a week filled with special meals

A special dessert to cap off a week filled with special meals

FRIDAY: Our second guest arrived. We had a big family dinner of pasta, meatballs and Chicken Parmesan,  with both sides of the family at the table, and we got a special dessert from a local ice cream restaurant, Newport Creamery, which is unique to our area. The dessert was a Jimmy Roll. Jimmies are chocolate sprinkles and the ice cream roll is made out of French Vanilla and Chocolate ice cream.

SATURDAY: Marinated London Broil with red roasted potatoes, coleslaw and broccoli. Marinade recipe is here.

SUNDAY: Lasagna, both gluten free and regular versions were made

MONDAY: Grilled kielbasa with a potato and egg omelet. The omelet used the leftover potatoes from Saturday’s dinner.

TUESDAY: Teriyaki Chicken breasts cooked on the grill with rice and salad using a gluten free sauce

WEDNESDAY: Leftover lasagna

THURSDAY: Honey Sesame Chicken in the crock pot. Recipe can be found here.

FRIDAY: Liz’s Meatloaf Burgers. Recipe here

SATURDAY: Dinner out on the way to a weekend event. Time to plan another two weeks of meals!

Just seeing it reminds me that summer is almost here!

Just seeing it reminds me that summer is almost here!

Monday Musings: Working together to make a difference in the world

27 Feb
Fish, plants, and test tubes are just some of the things you'll see when you visit The Greenhouse Effect at Western Hills Middle School.

Fish, plants, and test tubes are just some of the things you’ll see when you visit The Greenhouse Effect team at Western Hills Middle School.

I know I say it often, but I truly love my job as a newspaper reporter. I love what I do every day, even on the busiest, toughest days. One of the reasons I love it is that as a reporter who focuses on school news for the Cranston Herald, I get to see some really amazing things being done in the schools. Another reason I love it is that I often get a glimpse into the educational goings-on for my own three children as I get to cover many of the big things they are involved in at school. Today’s post shares the news about a story which combines both of those perks.

My second daughter Liz has been involved in the after school extra-curricular STEM program at her middle school for both of the years she has been enrolled at the school. My youngest daughter has also joined this school year as a new sixth-grader. The club usually meets a couple of times a week and over the past four years or so that it’s been in existence the group has worked with app development, coding, drones, 3D printing, and more. The club has had a team of their students win the Verizon App Challenge “Best in State” title for several years in a row and the “Best in Region” title once as well. They have had a great reputation for winning this challenge, which provided money for the program and prizes for the kids, and over the years the club has grown to 100 or more members, with a second faculty advisor, John Worthington, recently stepping in to help out the founder, Michael Blackburn, because the numbers were so big.

This past fall, the students finished up the annual Verizon App Challenge and went right into a new challenge, the Lexus Eco Challenge. Multiple teams ranging from approximately four to six students had just two weeks to complete the Lexus Eco Challenge. This was a brand new challenge that the STEM club had never tried before and they were under the gun with just two weeks to complete the challenge before the deadline. The challenge asked the students to choose from a variety of environmental issues, such as pollution and poor air quality. They then had to work together as a team to find a possible innovative solution for the chosen problem, create a PowerPoint presentation, a prototype, a video and a Public Service Announcement (PSA) if they had extra time. You can read about all of the teams and their innovative ideas for the Lexus Eco Challenge in this article.

Friday the 13th of January turned out to be a very lucky day for Liz and her Lexus Eco Challenge team, The Greenhouse Effect.

Friday the 13th of January turned out to be a very lucky day for Liz and her Lexus Eco Challenge team, The Greenhouse Effect. Here she is, stunned, shortly after receiving the news that their team had won.

On Friday, January 13th, Liz got an urgent request from a student at her school on behalf of Mr. Blackburn, to take a Facetime call at 3:15 pm, just minutes after she’d gotten off the school bus. It seemed odd, unusual, almost concerning, so she took the call and was given the news from Mr. Blackburn: her team, The Greenhouse Effect had won the Lexus Eco Challenge! She was stunned. We were thrilled for her. In winning, her team became one of just four middle schools and four high schools across the country to win. Each child was given a cash prize, splitting $7,000 between them. The school and the teachers were also given cash prizes. When the check arrived, along with it was a memo that said, “Thank you for making a difference in the world.” You can read about the winning team and their reactions to the news here. They are a special group of amazingly smart students.

More than two dozen plants are being grown as part of The Greenhouse Effect's final project. They are hoping to feed the world and save it, all at the same time.

More than two dozen plants are being grown as part of The Greenhouse Effect’s final project. They are hoping to feed the world and save it, all at the same time.

Now, the students are continuing their mission to make a difference in the world. The Greenhouse Effect team has taken on the next and final stage of the Lexus Eco Challenge. They are working to feed the world, and to save the world. Visiting their team recently, speaking to them, listening to them describing their project, their prototype and their end goal was humbling. I don’t think I was ever this smart as a child, this forward-thinking. I am proud to know these kids, and grateful for their teachers who go above and beyond, and then above and beyond that, every single day. You can read about their final challenge project here. I wish them all the best as a reporter, and I am proud to be able to help them spread the word about what they are doing and what they have already accomplished. I am also proud as a parent and thankful that I have the privilege to take an occasional peek into the world in which my kids spend much of their day.

Fish are an integral part of The Greenhouse Effect's final project.

Fish are an integral part of The Greenhouse Effect’s final project.

If you would, please also take a moment to check out The Greenhouse Effect on their blog and on a variety of social media platforms. Like them on Facebook. Read their blog. Part of their challenge involves spreading the word about their project and let everyone, everywhere know what they are doing. Please help them change the world, do your little part to help them out by visiting their sites:

Facebook

Blog

Twitter: @LexusEco,  Instagram: @The_Greenhouseeffect

Snapchat: Greenhouse_whms,  and on their YouTube channel.

Congratulations again, and best of luck to The Greenhouse Effect and to their amazing, wonderful teachers, Mr. Michael Blackburn and Mr. John Worthington.

The best Lexus Eco Challenge team around, The Greenhouse Effect!

The best Lexus Eco Challenge team around, The Greenhouse Effect!

 

*Thanks to The Greenhouse Effect for the use of their photos for this blog post!*

 

 

 

Kitchen Science: Hard Boiled Eggs

20 Feb
Perfection! How did we do it?

Perfection! How did we do it?

We can’t be the only ones who have this problem: we love hard boiled eggs for breakfast or for a healthy snack option, but every time we boil up a dozen we never know if they will be easy to peel and eat or if they’ll be a big battered mess of shells and whites.

Recently I was at a dentist appointment with Elizabeth and the television was on while we waited. We were watching The Rachel Ray Show and the featured guest was a chef who was talking about his trick for making the perfectly peel-able hard boiled eggs. My daughter and I took note, and I texted myself his instructions.

Which method would work? Cover and refrigerate or shake, shake, shake to peel?

Which method would work? Cover and refrigerate or shake, shake, shake to peel?

In a nutshell (eggshell?) he said to cook the eggs in boiling water for 12 minutes, and then to take them out and put them in a container, covered for 30 minutes in the refrigerator before peeling them.

In the meantime, Liz had seen a different video online that showed another completely different method of peeling the eggs that told cooks to put their freshly boiled eggs into a covered container and shake them vigorously, at which time all of the shells would come off easily.

This method of shaking the eggs to peel them seemed too intriguing not to try it out.

This method of shaking the eggs to peel them seemed too intriguing not to try it out.

One Friday afternoon after school I had a request for hard boiled eggs, and I had the time to do it, so we boiled them up. When it came time to cook them, we remembered the episode of Rachel Ray from the dentist office visit, and Liz remembered the video she’d seen online about shaking eggs. We decided to try it both ways.

We boiled up one dozen for the 12 minutes that the chef on Rachel Ray had suggested, and then we split them into two groups of six eggs each. The first six went into the covered container and into the refrigerator. I set the timer for 30 minutes.

Did it work?

Did it work?

We used that 30 minutes to experiment with the shaking of the eggs method. This was fun. Messy at times, but fun. And, as with any science experiment, we had to try this method several times, and we had some unusual outcomes mixed in with our results.

First off, for the shaking I used some small, square covered containers from the dollar store that I had on hand. We cracked two of them in the process and had to throw them out. So, if I were to do this again, I’d use a better quality container for shaking. Luckily it was a multi-pack, so we had lots of them for our scientific trials.

We ended up marking our egg with a Sharpie to see if it was the same one not cracking each time or not. It was.

We ended up marking our egg with a Sharpie to see if it was the same one not cracking each time or not. It was.

Second, we found the oddest thing in our results: one egg would crack perfectly, and one would not crack at all. It seemed to be the same one not cracking at all, and we could not figure out why. It was the strangest thing to open the case and see one egg whose shell was completely shattered and off the egg, and one completely untouched. We decided to mark the egg with a Sharpie marker to see if it was the same egg each time, and it was. We still don’t know why. Ultimately, when we peeled it separately, it peeled fine, so there were not issues with the egg itself. We couldn’t tell if it was something to do with the force of the two eggs together which made one break and one not, but it was fascinating.

We learned the first time that you can definitely shake the eggs too much, yet our first egg still never cracked.

We learned the first time that you can definitely shake the eggs too much, yet our first egg still never cracked, even with all that shaking.

When the timer went off to indicate the 30 minutes had ended, we had gone through our six shaken eggs with only one casualty of the six which was a result of a little bit too much shaking.

We brought in the covered container and uncovered it. Inside, the eggs were still hot. I began to peel them, which would be the ultimate test: would they peel easily or would they be a big mess?

eggs-6

The end result: the eggs peeled perfectly! The shells came right off and the eggs remained unscathed underneath the shell. No messy, pitted egg white disaster. It was amazing to see just how easily the shells came off.

Ultimately, we decided that although both methods worked, it was easier to do the refrigeration method: 12 minutes to boil and 30 minutes in a covered container in the fridge. No rinsing in cold water, no over-boiling.

This was not something we had planned to do, it was a completely spontaneous kitchen science experiment, but it was a fun one and it shows just how much science does go into cooking, and how fun cooking can be. As with any science experiment, you need to do it many times to see if your results are reliable, so we will be trying this out the next few times we make hard boiled eggs, but we do hope we have found a great solution.

Do you have any tried and true tricks for ensuring a great, easy-to-peel hard boiled egg? Leave them for me in the comments!

Perfection! How did we do it?

Perfection!