12 days of cookies…Day 1 – Sugar Cookies

lil tree

Today is December 1st and therefore marks the official start of the Christmas season. We spent this past weekend decorating the house for Christmas and it looks so bright and merry! I decided to take a different spin this year and do 2 Christmas trees – a small one and a ginormous one. The main tree is in our front room and we can’t see it from the family room which is where we spend most of our time. It is too big to move to the family room so I set up a smaller tree for us to enjoy separately. On the little tree, which has colored lights, we put all the homemade ornaments that the kids have crafted over the years. The main tree, which has white lights, got the store bought ornaments which still hold special memories for us. The best of both worlds.

And so today also begins 12 days of Christmas Cookies. My goal is to incorporate the traditional favorite of the season along with some new recipes that we haven’t tried before. So today’s cookie is traditional – a sugar cookie. This recipe is my go to for the softest yummiest cookies. You can make them for any day and if you change the color of the sugar you can coordinate with any holiday. I make orange and black ones for Halloween and green ones for St. Patrick’s Day. Since this is a Christmas cookie, I went with red and green. I am sure the family is expecting a cookie today so this we be sure to not disappoint.

1st cookie

Chewy Sugar Cookies

Ingredients
2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup softened butter
1 1/2 cups white sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoons milk
Sprinkles or colored sugar, for decorating

Directions

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

In a small bowl, stir together flour, baking soda, and baking powder. Set aside.

In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugar until smooth. Beat in the egg and vanilla. Gradually blend in dry ingredients. Add enough of the milk to moisten the dough and make it soft, not wet.

Roll rounded teaspoons of dough into balls and roll in plain or colored sugar. Place on a parchment lined cookie sheet or Silpat. No need to flatten, they do that on their own.

Bake for 8 to 10 minutes or until slightly golden. Let stand for 2 minutes before removing to cool on a rack.

Pumpkin Pie with Pecan Strudel…

pie

Happy Pi Day! (3.14 – get it?)

So, what is the best thing about the ides of March? Pie Day!  Here is a delicious pie that I whipped up using the fresh pumpkin that I still have in multitude in the freezer. It is so delicious! Imagine if Pumpkin Pie and Pecan Pie married and had a baby and this is what you would get.  The taste of Thanksgiving but with the Spring weather. Perfect!

Go have some pie! Make this one or a cream pie or maybe a berry pie but for heaven’s sake – get yourself some pie!

 

Pumpkin Pie with Walnut Struesel Topping

Prep Time 
Cook Time 
Servings 8 Difficulty Easy

Ingredients

  • FOR THE PIE:
  • 15 ounces, weight Canned Pumpkin Puree (I used 2 cups of fresh puree)
  • 14 ounces, weight Canned Sweetened Condensed Milk
  • 2 whole Eggs
  • 1 teaspoon Cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoons Ginger
  • ½ teaspoons Nutmeg
  • ½ teaspoons Salt
  • 1 whole 9 Inch Unbaked Pie Crust
  • FOR THE TOPPING:
  • 2 Tablespoons All-purpose Flour
  • ¼ cups Packed Brown Sugar
  • 1 Tablespoon Ground Cinnamon
  • 2 Tablespoons Butter, Chilled
  • 1 cup Walnuts, Chopped (I used pecans because I ran out of walnuts)

Preparation Instructions

1. Preheat the oven to 425 F. Put your unbaked pie shell into a pie pan and set aside.

2. In a large bowl mix together the pumpkin, sweetened condensed milk and eggs. Add in the cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and salt. Whisk until blended and smooth.

3. Pour into pie shell.

4. Bake in the preheated oven for 15 minutes.

5. While pie is in oven, make the topping. In a small bowl, add the flour, brown sugar and cinnamon and mix to combine. Add the chilled butter and blend with a fork or pastry blender until mixture is crumbly. Mix in the chopped nuts. Set aside.

6. When it’s done remove pie from oven and sprinkle with streusel topping.

7. Reduce the heat to 350 F. When oven gets to 350 F, return pie to oven and continue to bake for an additional 40 minutes.

Kids and Excercise…

skate park

How much exercise do your kids get? Childhood obesity is on the rise in the United States and although I think there are several societal factors that are contributing to this fact, one of the big problems is that kids just aren’t moving. If you really stop and think about it,  most kids are not getting nearly as much exercise as we did when we were kids. I read recently that children should get at least 1 hours of active exercise per day. And that does not include exercising their thumbs on Minecraft. With budget cuts and the increase emphasis on test scores, public schools have cut gym classes to just twice a week, unlike when I was in elementary school and we went to gym every day. And with most family budgets being cut back too, parents cannot afford to put their kids in the same amount of activities that they once did. So, what is a family to do? Get creative!

First and foremost, use what you have. We spend time with the kids outside on most sunny days. We take trips to the local parks and make use of what they have there. A park near us has a skatepark that we take Josh to a few times each week. He spends an hour or two riding his bike or scooter through jumps and bowls. He is having so much fun that he doesn’t realize that he is getting exercise. There is also a track located next to the skatepark where Brittany and I walk while Josh is riding. Most of the time, we will walk about 1 1/2-2 miles while Josh is riding. That is extra movement that Brittany and I are both getting that we wouldn’t be if we had stayed at home. This park also has a gymnasium with a basketball court and indoor track for those rainy days when we can’t get outside.

We also take advantage of the local Greenway for bike riding and running. Typically John and I will run the Greenway 3 times each week and at least one of those, we take the kids on their bikes. If the weather is nice, it is not uncommon for us to be out there with them for 2 hours or more.

Fun exercise is also season dependent.  In the Spring, we spend more time on bicycles and the trampoline but in the summer you will also find the kids swimming for a few hours each day. In the Fall, hiking is fun for our family. The winter is the hardest time to get exercise in for the kids but I have found the best way is to look for pockets in each day where the weather is warm enough to go out and then schedule exercise in that time. Sometimes this might be directly after school or after dinner. Even if it is just a walk after dinner, everything counts.

The key to getting more movement in your child’s day is to make it a priority and schedule it. Make it fun for them and become a participant too. If it is done right, exercise shouldn’t be burden but a fun family activity. Now, go out there and get moving!

Friday Motivation – Dreamers and Doers…

 

I saw this on Pinterest and thought it was very true. Who you decide to surround yourself with is so very important.

Proverbs 13:20 (NASB) says “He who walks with wise men will be wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm.” and Proverbs 27:17 (NIV) states “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.”

Who will you choose to spend your time with?

dreamers and doers

Money comes from work…

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One of the most important lessons that John and I want to teach the kids is that money comes from work. I want them to equal money with work so that when they are older, they do not have a welfare mentality. I don’t want them to feel as though they deserve anything without putting work into it. The only way to build a muscle is to exercise it. The only way to build the work=money muscle is to give them a job. They already have a list of chores that they must complete each week to get paid. No work = no pay. That is a real life lesson. But there are times when we need extra things done around the homestead and they need extra money so the two pair up nicely. That was the case this past weekend. Josh had $8 from this last paycheck but he wanted to go play air-soft with some friends. I called and was told that the cost was $15 to play. So, he had a shortfall.

Lucky for him, John pulled into the drive way with Big Willie (our Econoline van) full of wood that needed to be hauled to the back yard and stacked up. We negotiated a payment of $7 for Josh to help John haul it all back there. And it was  a lot of wood…

firewood

But the important thing is that he did it. And it wasn’t exactly with a great attitude especially since he got hurt twice (once he dropped wood on his foot and the other time he walked into my garden fence) but he pressed on and finished the job. And he got paid. The good news is that he got to play air-soft with his buddies and one of them even had a coupon making the cost only $11 – enough leftover to buy his own Mello Yellow, which of course, we made him pay for.

And Josh learned a valuable lesson that day. He learned that money comes from work and the best place for a broke person to go is to work. He also learned to take pride in what he does and that he has skills that are marketable. So, what will you teach your kids about money and work? Hopefully a lesson that will carry them through to adulthood. As a wise person once told me, we aren’t raising children, we are raising future adults.

Blessed by Meals…

new_food_blessing

I am from the South and as such, I am a big believer in blessing people with food. I love to bake and you never know when I will show up with some cookies or brownies to bless you during your day. I feel like the food fairy sometimes but I have never had anyone tell me that they don’t want something that I have made for them. It is really how I show people that I care.

I especially believe it is important to bless people with food when they are going through a crisis or transitional time. If the family has had a death, a birth or an illness, that is the perfect time to throw on an apron and get out some tried and true recipes. I think the problem that a lot of people run into when trying to do this is that they don’t know what to cook. Here are some ideas of things that I have found to be winners:

Main Meals

Lasagna: The good thing about Lasagna is that it can be customized to whatever your friends like to eat. If they don’t eat meat, you can make it with just veggies or if they prefer chicken you can sub that out. It also provides a large meal so that depending on the size of their family, it can feed them for more than one dinner or even several lunches.

Beef Stew: I like this because you can put it all in the crockpot and when it is done cooking, just take it to where you are going. It has lots of fresh veggies in it and if you wait and find the meat on sale, the cost is not crazy.

Beef Tips and Rice: This uses the same kind of meat at the beef stew but with a delicious brown gravy to go with it. Kids especially love this one even thought it has mushrooms in it, which not all kids will eat. It also cooks in the crockpot so it is easier to prepare when you have limited time.

Baked Chicken and Rice: This warm meal has the right amount of creaminess, starch and protein. It is also a winner with kids since most of them like rice.

Potato Cheese Bacon Soup: I love to bring this to people in the winter time. When they are not feeling well and it is cold outside, nothing feels as good as a pot of hot soup. This soup is hearty enough to feed even the largest meat eater but it is budget friendly since the only meat in there is bacon.

Pot Roast: If you can find a good sale on this cut of meat, it makes a great meal to take to someone. You can either bake it in the oven or toss it into a crockpot along with potatoes and carrots. It makes plenty of food for dinner and often there is enough leftover for sandwiches the next day.

Chicken and Dressing Casserole: What is more comforting than a meal like Grandma would make? And that is exactly what you want when you are taking a meal to someone, to comfort them.

Side Dishes
Steamed Broccoli, Rice, Mashed Potatoes, Baked Potatoes, Roasted Asparagus, Macaroni & Cheese, Salad

Bread
Crescent Rolls, Rosemary Bread, Cornbread, French Baguette, Yeast Rolls

Dessert
Brownies, Cookies (chocolate chip, peanut butter, ginger), Banana Pudding

When blessing someone with a meal, I am sure to include a main dish, side dishes (if applicable), bread (homemade if possible) and dessert (hopefully kid friendly). I will also stop by the Dollar Store and pick up disposable containers to put the the meal into since no one wants to try to remember who to return dishes too. If dinner sounds too daunting a task, most people also appreciate breakfast items such as cinnamon rolls, biscuits or an egg casserole. And since they will need to eat during the day too, you can always bring something for lunch – sandwich makings (lunchmeat, lettuce, tomatoes, rolls) or salads (chopped, egg salad, tuna salad or chicken salad) along with bread and dessert. The possibilities are endless.

Don’t stress about what to make, concentrate on blessing someone who is in need of a meal. Home is where the heart is and my heart is in the kitchen.

 

Yeah for Cheerios…

cheerios

When Brittany and Josh were small, there first taste of “real” food was Cheerios. Just plain Cheerios that they could pick up themselves with their pudgy little fingers. From infancy until just a few years ago, the inside of my car was always littered with Cheerios. And now that they are older, not much has changed.

I got a box from BlogSpark that included two movie passes and a huge box of plain Cheerios. Whenever I get a box in the mail, I normally let whichever kid spots it first to be the one to open it. It kinda like a mini-Christmas experience for them. So, when Brittany saw this box on the front porch, I thought it would be fun for her to open it. Now, I knew what was in the box and being that she is 11 years old, I thought she would go ga-ga over the movie passes. I was expecting her to ask me to take her to the latest movie playing at the local AMC. But what reaction did I get? She went bananas over the Cheerios! I couldn’t believe it. They were just plain Cheerios, no exotic flavor or prize inside, but she immediately asked if she could open them.

So, needless to say that box of Cheerios didn’t last long at our house. When Josh saw them, he dove in after them too. And John finished them off. I guess it doesn’t matter if you are 8 months old or 80 years old, Cheerios are a comfort food. Just simple, nutritious and delicious.

Disclosure: The information, products and General Mills gift pack were provided by General Mills through MyBlogSpark but the opinions are my own.

ProgressOh! Soup and a Giveaway…

ProgressOh_Makeover_Image_-_sans_legal

It’s going to be getting a lot colder and when it gets cold, I want soup. I want Chicken and Dumplings or Beef Stew or Chili for dinner and something lighter and easier for lunch. Nothing tastes as good as a hot bowl of tomato soup that you dip a grilled cheese into. I really miss having grilled cheese. I have been thinking of trying dairy free cheese to make a sandwich but I haven’t gotten up the nerve yet.

Recently, the very nice people at BlogSpark sent me some Progresso Light Soup to try and I was excited to get it in the mail. They have over 40 flavors that are 100 calories or less. They sent me two flavors – Chicken Pot Pie and Potato, Bacon and Cheese – and while they both have dairy in them, I am going to try the Chicken Pot Pie soup for lunch today. I am just getting over a cold and a bowl of hot soup is too tempting to resist. Especially since I have leftover homemade bread to eat with it. Yum.  I think I will invite a friend over for a soup and sandwich lunch and some girly chat time with the other can of soup. Both flavors look delicious and I can’t wait to enjoy them.

chicken pot pie
Progresso Chicken Pot Pie Soup

 

Giveaway: BlogSpark and Progresso also want to bless one of my readers with some soup to help warm up on a cold day. Leave me a comment on this post telling me your favorite flavor of soup and I will draw a name to be sent a prize pack from Progresso.

Disclosure: The information, products and ProgressOh! gift packs were provided by Progresso through MyBlogSpark but the opinions are my own.

Grouponiversary…

This is our 17th anniversary last year. We do the same goofy pose every year - it's a tradition!

John and I will celebrate our 18th wedding anniversary this month and we are doing it in high style but without a high price tag. According to Google, porcelain is the contemporary gift for the 18th anniversary but I disagree. I believe the Groupon is the new contemporary gift for any anniversary, especially when you have been married as long as we have. There are three elements to our anniversary celebration – where to sleep, where to eat and what to do. Groupon to the rescue!

Where to stay:

We try to go somewhere overnight every year for our anniversary. It just gives us a little time to connect and remember that we are people first, not just parents. The past 2 years, we have gone to Gatlinburg, TN. When deciding where to go this year, we thought about returning to Gatlinburg or maybe Asheville or even Nashville. We set a certain budget and our trip has to fit inside the budget and within a certain drive time. Our budget does not allow for airline tickets and John doesn’t feel comfortable with us being that far from the kids when they are still young. Because we have been saving for a car, we decided to keep this years trip simple and close to home. So, we are headed to beautiful downtown Atlanta!

Once we had decided on a location, I began to search for a hotel and things to do. It was shortly after that when I began to notice the Groupon deals. The first deal was for a downtown Atlanta hotel for $85/night. That fit nicely in our limited budget. It is a beautiful hotel with breathtaking views of the downtown skyline. We have never stayed here before but we have been in the hotel a few times and have been impressed so I am excited to try it out.

What to do:

Next I began looking for things to do using Groupons. I found several cool things to do – a segway tour of Atlanta (too expensive!) and a tour of a local brewery (not open on Mondays!) were at the top of my list. But then I saw a Groupon that hit all my buttons – Under the lights at the Atlanta Botanical Garden! One of John’s favorite painting is Van Gogh’s Starry Night and the Atlanta Botanical Garden was recreating that night scene in their Christmas lights display this year – perfect!

 

Where to eat: 

There are a total of 2 lunches, 1 breakfast and 1 dinner during our one night anniversary celebration. We had already decided to eat dinner at Hard Rock Cafe since that is where we met almost 20 years ago. But that left 3 meals unaccounted for – Groupon to the rescue! I began to scour the daily deals that flooded my inbox and weed through all the restaurants. I think that most of the daily deals that come through are for some kind of eating establishment or another. I had certain criteria that I wanted met – it had to taste good, be inexpensive and sound somewhat interesting (Chick-fil-A has it’s place but not during our adventure, thank you!) The first one I grabbed was for breakfast at a little place about a mile from our hotel. The menu showed lots of different choices and none of them were more than $6. It even had one of John’s favorite, Chicken and Waffles, which I took as a sign that it was the one. The next one was a lunch place called Smashburger. This is a limited franchise operation that I have been to once before and had some really interesting burgers on the menu. I got a $12 Groupon for $6 which should cover most of our lunch (plus I snagged a $2 coupon off their website that I plan on using too). That only leaves 1 lunch that I am still looking for. All total our meals should ring in less than $75 total and I even have a free Starbucks beverage on my giftcard waiting to be used. Score!

This sounds like a great Grouponiversary and I am very excited to be off on our journey. Who knows? I might even be brave enough to do the Groupon Roulette wheel for our next date night – this is where you go on a date to whatever Groupon comes up next – who knows what you will get?. Happy Grouponiversary to us!