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Fun Friday: To warm your heart and soul

10 Feb
We have had blizzard conditions for most of the day today, but we're warm and safe and all together.

We have had blizzard conditions for most of the day today, but we’re warm and safe and all together.

Today (Thursday, as I type this) was our first snow day of the school year, and tomorrow (Friday) will be our second. We had quite a storm today, with about a foot of snow falling throughout the day. It was cold and windy and snowy, but inside we had a lazy day for much of the day, and we were warm, safe and together, which is really what matters on a day like today.

I thought I’d take the opportunity to share some recipes with you for some nice, warm, delicious treats, since it’s so cold and snowy here. Even if it’s not snowy where you are, there’s nothing like something warm and delicious to warm your heart and soul in the winter months.

DIY crepes in both the regular and gluten free varieties.

DIY crepes in both the regular and gluten free varieties.

Early in the day we had crepes, which is one of our favorite special breakfasts. They are labor intensive, so we don’t do them often, but they’re so delicious when we do. They can be made gluten free, so we make both kinds. My husband does the majority of the cooking for these, but today I did the hot bananas with the maple-brown sugar sauce and Elizabeth made the scrambled eggs, so he had some help. We put out many filling options for our crepes: scrambled eggs, ham, bacon, cheese, peanut butter, Nutella or a Hershey’s chocolate spread, bananas, and today the maple-brown sugar bananas. Everyone can fill them as they wish.

The recipe we use is the same for both gluten free and not, but we use gluten free all-purpose flour for our gluten free crepes, specifically Bob’s Red Mill 1:1 All-Purpose Flour. This is the recipe we use:

Thanks to the New Betty Crocker Cookbook!

Thanks to the “New Betty Crocker Cookbook!”

Warm chocolate pudding is soothing on a sore throat, especially on a snowy day.

Warm chocolate pudding is soothing on a sore throat, especially on a snowy day.

Tonight, my youngest daughter requested homemade chocolate pudding, which is a relatively new recipe for us, but I have posted it on the blog before. You can find it here. She’s had a sore throat and cough, and prefers the pudding to be warm, which would soothe her throat. I didn’t have a sore throat myself, but that pudding sounded good to me too, especially on a day like today, so I obliged. Another warm and soothing recipe that I make often in the winter months is homemade hot chocolate. Although I didn’t make it today, I will re-share it here anyway, since it’s been a long time since I originally posted it. It’s an absolute favorite for my family.

Finally, I had some great new articles in this week’s paper to share with you too, and they will warm your heart and soul also. You can find my latest feature from this week’s Providence Journal here, about Rachel’s Sugar Shop in Cranston. She’s got lots of great Valentine’s Day treats on deck, and she does amazing wedding, birthday and all kinds of occasion cakes, so stop by and see her if you’re local.

I have lots of stories in this week’s Cranston Herald, but this one about a family who immigrated to the United States is one of my favorites, especially with all that is in the news currently about immigration to America. I also loved doing this one about Janet Tanury, the owner of Botticelli’s, which is a local store whose tagline is “Generous clothing for the curvaceous woman.” Janet is working hard to make plus-size shopping a whole new experience for women of all ages, especially when it comes to formal wear, and her shop is wonderful, as is she. If you have a prom or formal event on the horizon, stop in and visit her in North Providence, RI or visit her website here. She’s hosting a special prom shopping event on President’s Day from 10-5pm.

You can view all of this week’s Cranston Herald stories by visiting their website, and there you will see all of my work for this week. It’s certainly been a busy one!

newspaper-1     newspaper-2  newspaper-3

newspaper-4   newspaper-5   newspaper-7                  newspaper-6

 

 

 

 

What’s for Dinner Wednesday: Two weeks of meals and a new recipe

25 Jan
Last time around, we utilized our crock pot three times in one week!

Last time around, we utilized our crock pot three times in one week!

It’s hard to believe another whole month has passed! It seems like I was just posting Christmas cookie recipes, but yet here we are in the final stretch of January!

It’s been a couple of weeks, and I have our Two Weeks of Meals for you, but I also have a new crock pot recipe for you that we tried out in the last round of meals. It was new, so I didn’t post the recipe last time, until we tried it. I promised to post it if it was good, and sure enough, it got all thumbs up from all five of us. It’s rare to find one thing that all of us like, especially with a picky eater and another eater who will eat very little meat, and this was beef to boot, so that’s a feat in itself.

The recipe we tried out is called Slow Cooker Mongolian Beef, and you can find it on the Recipe Critic’s site by clicking here. It was quick to prepare, easy because it was cooking while we were gone, and delicious! We used stew meat instead of flank steak and it was delicious.

Be sure to visit the Recipe Critic's site to try out her slow cooker Mongolian Beef recipe!

Be sure to visit the Recipe Critic’s site to try out her slow cooker Mongolian Beef recipe!

Without further ado, here is our two weeks of meals for you and links to the recipes I have posted in years past. I hope it helps you to plan your own budget-friendly meals for the next couple of weeks!

Saturday: Marinated London Broil with mushrooms and onions, with vegetables and red potatoes with fresh rosemary and olive oil

Sunday: Chicken stuffed with herbed cream cheese and broccoli with rice pilaf

Monday: Chicken Marsala over white rice

Tuesday: Pasta with tuna sauce

Wednesday: Leftovers

Thursday: Pork chops and homemade applesauce with broccoli and cauliflower

Friday: Homemade Pizzas (Hawaiian, Margherita, and BBQ chicken) and salad

Saturday: BBQ chicken breasts on the bone, on the grill and sugar snap peas

Sunday: Chicken Parmesan and pasta with salad

Monday: Beef Stir Fry with sweet and sour sauce and Asian vegetable mix

Tuesday: Ravioli with shrimp and tomatoes in a garlic and oil sauce

Wednesday: Pastena Soup and salad

Thursday: Breakfast for dinner

Friday: Nachos

Fun Friday: Chocolate Raspberry Brownies from My Soup for You

12 Feb

1Happy Friday!

It’s very cold here and today’s recipe will warm your heart. It’s from my friend Paula’s blog, My Soup for You, and it’s a delicious fudgy brownie with a hint of raspberry.

To me, there’s nothing more decadent than chocolate and raspberry together. I have always loved it. I love it in chocolate raspberry chip yogurt, in a big box of chocolates and pretty much any other way I can get it.

So on Superbowl Sunday night when this link appeared on my Facebook timeline, I gasped out loud. I don’t like football, but I love my friend Paula’s blog, I love a great brownie recipe and I love the addition of raspberry jam in the recipe. I examined the ingredients and I had them all, as long as I substituted the same amount of brown sugar for the turbinado sugar, and as long as I used the Pillsbury Gluten Free flour blend that I’ve been using in most of my baking so that everyone could eat them. In fact, as luck would have it, I’d just bought a new jar of raspberry jam that very afternoon, so I was in business.

2The new recipe gave me the opportunity to use a new cooking tool from my Pampered Chef hostess gifts, the small micro-cooker. I had decided to start small and order the small one first and if I felt I needed the next size, I could order the large one at a later date.

I really loved this new tool! I was able to melt my chocolate, butter, brown sugar, white sugar and jam all in this one small cooker in the microwave. It made making these brownies very easy and with minimal cleanup afterwards since I used so few bowls. I am someone who has burned chocolate chips in the microwave in the past, so this was a great addition to my cookware and I was relieved not to see any smoke or charred chocolate this time around.

I also used another little Pampered Chef tool that I got from my hostess benefits: the test and release tool. It’s a cake tester on one side and a tool that allows you to go all around the edges of your baked goods to easily release them from the edge of the baking dish. It’s curved just enough to get underneath the baked goods a bit. I’ve used it with cupcakes, banana bread, and now brownies, and I love it every time. Pampered Chef always seems to know what we need and creates it for us. This was such a simple concept and yet, so helpful.

Our brownies were a huge hit on Superbowl Sunday and throughout the rest of this week as we munched away on the leftovers. I’d most definitely make them again. Making them gluten free did not seem to change the recipe at all. The consistency of the brownies was great, and the taste was perfect.

3I’m also sharing a tip with you today. I shared it on Facebook on Sunday night as I was posting about my brownies and some people had heard it before, while some people had not, so I thought I’d add it in here as well. Last year I was cutting still-warm brownies at some event or other and they were getting all gunked up on the knife that I was using. My Grandma Grello, (who happens to be a die-hard Patriots fan, by the way) was watching and she said to me, “You need to use a plastic knife. If you use a plastic knife, the brownies won’t do that.” I suddenly remembered her advice when I was getting ready to cut the brownies last week, which were in fact, still warm. I went into my pantry closet and got a plastic knife. Sure enough, they were very easy to cut, with the knife sliding right on through each and every row. Grandma Grello has 95 years of experience under her belt and she’s been cooking and baking with the best of them throughout those years. I take anything she says as pretty solid advice. I wouldn’t pass it along to you if I didn’t!

With Valentine’s Day coming up this weekend, this would make a great treat for you or your loved ones and it’s certainly cold enough here to enjoy a warm treat, just make sure you use a plastic knife when you cut it!

Have a great weekend!

 

Got a future engineer? Try the Young Architect kit!

2 Feb

This project takes some time to complete, which is something I like about it. It shows just how much time and thought is involved in creating house plans.

I spent much of last month discussing many of the STEAM-focused gifts my girls received for Christmas, but there was one that I held off reviewing because although we’d opened it and played with it, it’s not a one-and-done type of project. It’s something that takes some time, and as my nine year-old daughter worked on it, I watched her and took pictures, but I wanted the project to be more complete than not, when I shared it in a blog post. We’re finally getting to that point where she’s almost done, not 100%, but enough where I can share it and you can get the whole picture.

After watching her do some pretty complex house plans on the old Etch-a-Sketch toy, it was clear she was ready for the next step.

After watching our nine year-old do some pretty complex house plans on the old Etch-a-Sketch toy, it was clear she was ready for the next step.

At our house we watch a lot of house hunting/renovating/designing types of shows. We’re big fans of “Love It or List It” and other shows like that. Our youngest daughter in particular has been quite inspired by the house planning and design portions of those types of shows. She’s on the edge of her seat, watching the blueprints take shape and it’s really influenced how she plays and the thing she likes to do in her spare time. She started off this fall, playing with our old Etch-a-Sketch, creating blueprints of imaginary houses, and announced that she’d like to be an engineer when she grows up (she’s also wanted to be a real estate agent, a dog groomer, and a veterinarian in the past, so things could change at any moment, and we get that.)

We know that engineering, like many other math, science and technology jobs, is a career in which women are a minority, and we’ve talked about that with her, but that doesn’t seem to scare her off, at least not so far, which is great. We work hard to keep our kids’ love for these subjects going as they approach their teenage years because we know that it’s often at that time where they get scared away and lose their confidence as compared to males in that same age bracket. We talk a lot about future careers and programs, even at a young age. We’ve already taken her to see the Computer Aided Design department at our local high school’s Career and Technical Center to check out what’s available for her in a few more years. Her mouth dropped when she saw the drafting tables and computer technology available to her there. She was amazed by the 3D houses on display that the students had created. Had she been able to enroll that day at age nine, I think she would’ve signed right up; she was in her glory during that visit. She looked up at the sign that said, “Architectural Engineering” and she said, “That’s me. That’s what I want to be.”

This kit includes everything you need to go from a paper design to a 3D design.

This kit includes everything you need to go from a paper design to a 3D design.

In November last year, as the girls were making their Santa lists, our daughter found a similar kit in a magazine catalog to the Alex brand Scientific Explorer Young Architects kit pictured here, and she put it on her list. At the time, it could be found for $55 on the Walmart website, and ran about $75 in the other catalog where she first saw it.

Watching and listening to the thought process and problem solving that goes into these house plans was amazing.

Watching and listening to the thought process and problem solving that goes into these house plans was amazing.

The kit came with everything she’d need to create a blueprint house design on paper, fill it with furniture and then add walls, windows and doors using plexiglass fixtures, creating an entire 3D house plan. It was very exciting when she opened it on Christmas morning. She was so thrilled and could not wait to get started.

Over the vacation weeks she began

It was fascinating to watch the project go from its beginning stages of using stencils to outline the rooms to the more complex stages.

It was fascinating to watch the project go from its beginning stages of using stencils to outline the rooms to the more complex stages.

working, using the stencils to lay out her walls and determine what spaces would be which kinds of rooms. That alone, took some time. It was fascinating for me to be a fly on the wall, watching her figure things out, thinking out loud and problem solving as she went along. She worked for hours at a time, several nights in a row, until she had all the rooms drawn out. She asked me for little post it-notes to label each room so she wouldn’t forget what was what when it came time to add in furniture. Picturing the doors for each room as a little half circle was a little confusing for her, so we went into our bedrooms and I showed her how the doors made the half circle marks on the rugs, which on paper would indicate where an actual door would be, and then she got it, adding them in and figuring out in which direction they opened and closed in or out of a room.

The kit has absolutely everything she needs to create a very comprehensive house plan.

The kit has absolutely everything she needs to create a very comprehensive house plan.

The kit included a plexiglass table-top board, extra-large pieces of tracing paper, stencils for outlining the rooms, diagrams for tracing all kinds of furniture, doors and appliances into the rooms, colored pencils for coloring the furniture (we added in a bigger variety of colored pencils), and plexiglass walls of all sizes, along with the cubes to connect them and keep them standing upright, which creates the 3D effect, as is seen at the top of the blog post.

When we had our blizzard last week, she took out her kit and finished up coloring in her furniture and began placing the cubes in the corners of each room so that she could put up her walls. Her house plan currently looks just as the photo shows it at the top of this blog post. I couldn’t be more proud, and more amazed at her work, at the level of the complexity of her thinking, and at her talent. The only step she really has left is to use the included removable decals to add in windows and doors on the walls of her rooms. We can’t wait to see the finished product, and I think she’s already looking forward to having it on display for a little while and then taking it all apart in order to start all over again. Thankfully there are six pieces of tracing paper in the kit so that she can do up to six different house designs before I have to find more paper for her.

I’d highly recommend this Alex Young Architect design kit for all your aspiring young architects and engineers whether they are boys are girls. The kit is moderately priced, and is well stocked with everything they need for hours and hours of creating and designing. It’s been a perfect, perfect STEAM gift for our aspiring female architectural engineer, and I can’t wait to see what she creates next.

Young Architect Kit 7

 

 

 

 

Fun Friday: Blizzard Juno

30 Jan
The calm before the storm.

The calm before the storm.

The last time I wrote, it was Monday, and now it’s Friday, just like that.

So we had a blizzard!

Yep, just as the forecasters had predicted for days prior, we got approximately two feet of snow, give or take an inch or twelve, depending on the drifts.

I spent most of Monday running from store to store to gas station getting the rest of what we needed for food, batteries, and gas for the car. By the time I sat down to start my actual work for the day it was 2pm and by the time I finished it, it was midnight, but I’d beat the storm both in my work and in my preparations at home. I was ready.

Thankfully, we didn’t ever lose power. The temps were frigid and the winds were howling, and we thought for sure it was going to go at any moment, but it did not. That made the week of days out of school and work much more enjoyable. It was like a surprise vacation.

At times we could barely see out the window, especially at the height of the storm.

At times we could barely see out the window, especially at the height of the storm.

We spent the first part of Tuesday literally just hanging out. People slept late, some later than others, and we watched the snow falling furiously and listened to the wind. The term “white-out conditions” was fitting for most of the day and night. We’d gone to bed with about 5″ of snow Monday night and woken up to find 12″ in the morning. By the next day we had at least 18 inches, maybe more. The plows would come by, and seemingly minutes later, you could barely see the path they’d made. We sat and watched TV until about 1pm and then we shut it off for most of the rest of the day.

Even though we didn’t lose power, we made use of the meals we’d planned, and we had several days to hang out, do things we never get to do (including put laundry away), and relax. The kids still had things from Christmas they hadn’t gotten to play with or use yet, things that are more involved and take time, so those things came out early on and I tried my best to make sure we made use of at least one of each child’s “things” during the week, so that no one felt left out. Because we had power, we baked; making special snacks using some fun kits the

The day after the storm dawned so bright and beautiful, a perfect, sunshiny day.

The day after the storm dawned so bright and beautiful, a perfect, sunshiny day.

kids had gotten for Christmas–individual pie makers, giant sugar cookie makers, and the like, all things I’ll focus on for upcoming blog posts throughout the next month or so. We had a family movie night, right in the middle of the week, all piled into the living room, watching an older movie that most of us had never seen.

We had three days out of school and on the second day out, they all got to go outside and play, and as cold as it was, they were in snow-day heaven, as was I. It was so great to see them free and relaxed, enjoying outdoor play time in the middle of the day, in the middle of a week. So much time is spent working on work at school and then working on even more work after school, and doing extra-curricular activities, that many a day go by when outdoor play time just isn’t in the cards. Although everyone had homework this week, some more than others, they still had time to play inside, to play outside, to catch up on sleep, to relax, to cook, to create and to hang out.

For a blizzard, it was a great week.

And guess what?
It’s going to snow on Sunday and Monday. A big Nor’Easter. Again.

I’m not returning my extra batteries and hand-warmers yet!

No matter how old you are, you can always find something fun to do in the snow.

No matter how old you are, you can always find something fun to do in the snow.

Hooray for snow days!

Hooray for snow days!

{Meal} Planning for a blizzard!

26 Jan
It's going to be a good one!

It’s going to be a good one!

We live in what I consider to be one of the most beautiful places in the United States. Clearly, I’m biased, but we love it here and we love it for the experience of every season. In the winter it snows, in the summer we have the ocean, in the spring we have rebirth and in the fall we have the splendor of autumn. For those who love nature and scenery, we can’t be beat.

That said, it definitely snows here and sometimes it snows a whole lot. In 1978, when I was a child, we had the Blizzard of ’78 (well named, right?) In 2013 we had Blizzard Nemo, my first really intense snowstorm with a family of my own and one of my kids’ all-time favorite memories so far. Tonight we are expecting a similar type of storm which should last through early Wednesday morning.
It’s very exciting stuff. I love the hype of a good storm and I love seeing all of the various predictions coming in, although I must say this time around they all pretty much match up to each other. They all say it’s going to snow a ton, two to three feet.

Today, I spent most of the day running around getting last minute supplies. I had picked up batteries and water yesterday and some food earlier in the weekend, but that food shopping was done before we’d gotten the newest data for the weather, showing just how bad the storm was going to be.

Last time we were out of power for several days. That meant no heat, but we did have hot water and the ability to use the top of our stove. Thankfully when it’s a blizzard (versus a summer or fall hurricane) it’s cold enough outside you can keep a lot of things out in the snow, so you don’t lose a lot of your perishables.

Knowing that, and having one of my strongest memories from that NEMO week being the moment I woke up in the middle of the night to the sound of my oldest daughter’s teeth chattering in her sleep (we all slept in the living room), here’s some of the planning I’ve done today, including some meal planning and prep.

Supplies:

Batteries in sizes C and D for flashlights and for the radio (we have several smaller lights that take AA and AAA batteries, and we’re well stocked in those two sizes already.)

Extra blankets brought in from the car, washed and dried

Gas in the car, filled up. Thankfully gas is so cheap now!

Prescription needed for midweek picked up

A case of water, (we already have two gallons of water also)

Two bottles of apple juice plus a case of Vitamin Water for the one who won’t drink apple juice

Extra gallon of milk, plenty of half and half for my coffee or to top off a hot chocolate made with water

Lots of bread (white, wheat, rolls, and cinnamon swirl)

Hamburger and hot dog rolls

Cans of tuna

Cans of soup

Cups of fruit (we do have fresh fruit also.)

Hot dogs and ground turkey for hamburgers

Plenty of packets of oatmeal and hot chocolate

Plenty of flour, sugar and eggs

Muffin mixes (to bake ahead for grab and go. Well really, for grab and stay put.)

A thermos for regular coffee

Hand/body/toe warmers (I got ten sets of each figuring five people times two days.)

 

Don't they say beauty comes with sacrifice? There's some prep involved in getting ready for a snowstorm.

Don’t they say beauty comes with sacrifice? There’s some prep involved in getting ready for a snowstorm.

For meals we can have:
Breakfasts: French toast , pancakes, oatmeal, eggs, cereal, grilled bagels (anything hot can be done on the stove top on a flat topped griddle, in a tea pot or in a cast iron pan)

Lunches: sandwiches such as tuna, peanut butter, jelly, lunch meat, grilled cheese

Dinners: Pasta with leftover sauce and pork from last night’s dinner and salad, hot dogs/hamburgers with steamed broccoli and cauliflower, leftover chicken and gravy over mashed potatoes, which will be left over from tonight’s dinner, and we could even do omelets if we need another stove-top meal, which I’m hoping we won’t.

To me, it’s very exciting preparing for and thinking about an impending storm. I like being in the stores, talking to people in line who are all doing the same thing I am, and chatting about the upcoming weather. It brings people together. In situations such as these, you can either choose to smile and be kind or you can choose to be miserable, and today I found most people have chosen to smile and be kind, even those who are working the cash registers and dealing with long lines of customers.

The most important thing is to be sure everyone is safe, warm and fed. The rest is just waiting it out, and with that comes lots of memories. I’m sure I’ll catch you on the flip side of this storm and let you know how it all played out, so watch your weather news over the next few days, and be thinking of us New Englanders!