Friday, October 29, 2010

Favourite Things Friday

I'm going to call this episode of "Favourite Things Friday" the honorable mention favourites.  I hesitate to share some of this, because some of the choices are a little bizarre - but I admit it, I'm a little quirky. 

Here goes (in order of importance)....

1.  Coffee.  When I find out that people don't drink coffee, I always ask them this question, "How do you get into a good mood in the morning"?  Seriously, I do.  The most inventive answer - she takes two Excedrin every morning.   This is our brew of choice - espresso contains half of the amount of caffeine of regular coffee.

we're almost to the season where I can add egg nog to my coffee every morning!

We drink our coffee very, very dark.  My motto is, if you can see the side of the cup then your coffee is too weak.  Another thing I don't want to be able to see through....

2.  Toilet Paper.  I will not use singly-ply.  Sorry environment.   I even bring our own toilet paper to the cabin.  My mother-in-law and I have this ongoing argument (very good-natured) - she thinks that if you use expensive toilet paper you use twice as much.  My response has always been, "so what"?  :)

3.  My nose.  Okay, this one is really strange - but I rely on my nose for cooking.  I can tell what a recipe needs simply by smelling a whole bunch of different things.  I can also count on my nose to alert me when my baked goods are finished.  I don't even have to set a timer! I bought some cornish game hens at the store this afternoon for dinner - I made a glaze and used some of these ingredients - I'll let you know how it turns out.

4.  I realize this ventures way too far into the TMI category - but onward I go.  I will never shave my underarms again.  And, yes, this hurts.

5.  Chicken Skin.  Love it.  Does this make me even weirder? 

Thursday, October 28, 2010

I Love Minute Steaks

Last week I made "Philly Cheesesteak" sandwiches for dinner.  My whole family loved them and I agreed they were pretty tasty.  As is typical for me, if I discover a new flavor I tend to make it over and over.  For further proof, exhibit #1, rhubarb custard pie - I made this pie about six times last spring and have the high cholesterol to prove it.  I then moved on to exhibit #2, slow-roasted tomatoes - healthier, and I used them for pizza, pasta, fish, and crostini with goat cheese.  I've had many obsessions since then, but I think my latest might be minute steaks. 

First of all, what could be better than thin-sliced steaks?  As the name implies, they cook in a short amount of time, and it turns out that the possibilities for their use are endless. 

Tonight we had pasta with bolognese sauce.  Instead of ground beef (which I actually loathe), minute steaks were a perfect addition.  One of my first posts, last September (2009) detailed the recipe.  I substituted the steaks for the ground beef, added a little bit of bacon and I think I've found a new favorite recipe! 


Pasta with Bolognese Sauce (adapted from the Pioneer Woman Cooks)

Bolognese Sauce

1 lb ground beef or 1 lb minute steaks, sliced
2 medium carrots, pretty finely chopped
1 large onion, finely chopped
5 slices bacon, cut into small pieces
1/2 tsp fresh-ground black pepper
1/4 tsp kosher salt
4 cloves garlic, chopped finely
12 button mushrooms
1 jar pasta sauce (I use Barilla marinara, usually)
2/3 cup dry red wine
1 cup milk

1. In a large stockpot, brown ground beef for 3 minutes on medium heat. Push meat to the outside of the pan, creating a well, and add the carrots, bacon, salt, pepper, and onion, sauteeing for 3 minutes.
2. Add garlic and mushrooms and brown for 2 minutes. Stir all together and add red wine, taking care to scrape up any brown bits from the bottom of the pan.
3. Add pasta sauce and stir. Cover the stockpot and simmer on low for 4o minutes.
4. Add milk and recover to simmer for an additional 5-10 minutes.
5. Add desired amount of parmesan cheese and serve with cooked pasta, your choice and shape.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Chicken Pie with Spiced Apples

Doesn't "chicken pie" sounds disgusting?  It really isn't.  Chicken pie is roasted chicken, cubed potatoes, chopped carrots, frozen peas, and a tasty chicken broth covered with a tender and flaky crust.

I first shared this recipe in my post entitled, "Laura Ingalls I am not" - check it out if you want a good laugh.  I shared how on a weekend trip to our cabin, I forgot our suitcase.  And, just so you know - I had to drive the car - not because Rob had been drinking.  Rob wears contacts and since I had forgotten our suitcase, we had no contact solution.  We were thrilled to find some solution hiding in one of the cupboards at the cabin, but when Rob put his contacts in the next morning - realized that the solution was actually cleaner.  He was teary and crying the whole way to the store.  It was not fun.

Anyway - I thought I'd share a few more pics of the chicken pie, since it is one of our favorites - and we seem to be getting to the time of year where a heartier meal tastes perfect. 

The chicken pie is a simple concept, really.  In some parts of the US, this might be called chicken pot pie - but here, chicken pot pie is something different, and it includes homemade noodles.  If you're interested in chicken pot pie, here is a link to a former post.   

The first step is to roast your chicken.  Ina Garten suggests roasting chicken instead of boiling it in order to create more tender and flavorful chicken for various applications.  The process is simple.  Place a cut- up chicken in a roasting pan, drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper.  Roast, uncovered, at 350 degrees for about one hour.  I especially love this procedure because I kind of have a weakness for chicken skin - and this stuff is lethal.  It's crispy, salty, and the fat has rendered out, so it's rather thin.

While your chicken is roasting, simply boil cubed potatoes, carrots and onions until tender.  You'll also need to add frozen peas, but I don't bother de-frosting them.  Shred the chicken, add salt and pepper and mix.

Once all of your ingredients are mixed and seasoned, place into a 9x13 baking pan.  At this point I like to add a good amount of chicken stock or broth.  I added the drippings from my roasted chicken and combined that with some chicken broth.  You'll want at least 1/2 inch in the bottom of the pan.

The next step is to cover with your favorite pie crust.  I use a simple recipe that includes butter and shortening.  I was a little nervous to discover that I only had whole wheat flour in my pantry.  I normally am not a big fan of whole wheat flour, but this actually turned out pretty tasty.  I will go back to all-purpose unbleached white flour, but it's good to know in a pinch that the healthy stuff will work, too!

Simply bake your pie at 375 degrees for about 40 minutes or until the crust is crispy and browned.  My mom also makes an oyster pie, which is the same concept but instead of chicken she uses oysters - obviously.

We also had baked apples with our dinner.  I cut and peeled some apples, mixed them with a little brown sugar, a pinch of salt and 2 T of butter and microwaved the whole mixture for about 8 minutes or until the apples were tender but still firm.  I thought it was a perfect fall meal.  Pure comfort food.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Worst Job I Almost Had

I always think it's interesting to read about celebrities former jobs.  I love to hear how some big, successful business person started at the bottom and worked their way up.  I think former professions and summer jobs offer a glimpse into one's personality.  

When our kids were younger, Rob worked as an investment advisor.  He loved his job helping people with their investments, retirement, and estate planning.  The only problem - he received no salary.  The insurance benefits were outstanding, but it was hard to budget expenses when his compensation was so sporadic.  I was busy at home with young children, and honestly, for me to work would have made no fiscal sense (the cost of day care would have outweighed any financial benefit).  But, as I was perusing the want ads in the paper, I thought I had found the perfect solution. 

I could deliver newspapers!  I figured this would be something to supplement our income and that I could work while everyone else was sleeping.  So, I called the number and scheduled to train for the following Monday.  I arranged to meet my trainer at a local high school (the newspaper pick-up) at 2:45 am.  No, that's not a typo, you read that correctly.  There is something really, really unnatural about setting an alarm for 2:30 am. 

I was not discouraged, though, I figured I could nap when the kids napped in the afternoons.  So, on my first day, I rode along with a nice enough guy who took me along on his route and showed me the ropes.  He warned me that I'd probably need to replace the brakes on my car at least twice during the year, that I'd probably see people in various states of undress through illuminated windows, and that the papers had to be delivered by 6:00 am.  We drove around in the pitch-black, I was trying in vain to see the addresses on the front of totally dark houses and my hands were black with ink by the time we were finished. 

The next day I met with a different trainer, who would ride along with me (in my car) and show me my new route.  We met again at the same location and again at 2:45.  I began to hate my life.  Honestly, it was awful.  I literally hated everything about it.  It was stressful, I felt sick from lack of sleep, and I knew this was something I could not do.  Now, if our lives depended on me delivering newspapers, of course I would step up - but, thankfully it didn't and I canceled my appointment to officially sign up to be an employee. 

I think that God has created things to give us a foretaste of eternity.  When I am inspired by nature and all Creation I think, "I wonder what heaven will be like".  When I delivered newspapers I thought, "I wonder what hell will be like".   Between you and me, I don't really think people will be delivering newspapers in hell,  but it really was that bad - like a "personal" hell.  I also think that people will be wearing ski boots in hell, like 24 hours a day, but that's just my opinion. 

I'm not really sure why this memory was sparked for me, but I'd love to hear your stories!  What was the worst job you ever had? 

Monday, October 25, 2010

Ricketts Glen State Park

The secret location for our day of family fun is located 30 miles north of Bloomsburg, PA.  Ricketts Glen State Park, a national natural landmark for old-growth trees (some trees are estimated to be 500-900 years old).  The park is located on 13,000 acres and was originally settled by the Susquehannock Indians.  We enjoyed a four-mile hike where we were able to view 22 waterfalls, ranging in height from several feet to 94 feet. 

I have been to Ricketts Glen before - once when I was young, again when I was a teenager, and then with Rob when we were in college.  I think the most beautiful time was during the winter, some of the water was frozen and it was stunning.  The park does allow "ice hiking", where crampons are required.  Um, no thanks.  

I have come to the realization that Rob and I are in our "golden years" of child-rearing.  Our kids are school-age, but young enough to still want to spend time with us.  We are past the diaper and stroller stage - and have not hit the hormone-filled teen years.  I plan to take every advantage and make as many memories as possible! 

Our day started with the revelation of our destination.  I prepared a few simple clues - which were to culminate with a grid-line on an atlas where they would discover the state park.  I was not able to locate our atlas and it is impossible to find a free atlas page on the internet.  So, I just had to give the kids the "fact sheet" that I had borrowed from wiki. 

I hand-picked some general information I thought the kids would find interesting

here are the clues - very basic: charcoal, leaves, waterfall pic

We were supposed to leave at 7:00am.  I know my family well enough to realize this was a pipe-dream.  Kate, on the other hand, is very literal and was awake and ready at 6:15am.  Her patience was rewarded when I chose to reveal to her our plan for the day - before Josh and Emma.  None of the kids were excited to be driving for a hike.  I was not concerned, because I had a few secret weapons up my sleeve.

And the first was - donuts.

My kids, like me - are pretty easy to bribe. 

Our drive time was about two and a half hours, so I rented "Diary of a Wimpy Kid" to watch in the car.  It was really funny and it was great to hear the belly-laughs of our kids. 

We arrived at Ricketts Glen around noon and were a little surprised to realize that the forecast was a little off.  Instead of sunny and 65 degrees, we were greeted with drizzle and 50 degrees.  Fortunately, I had grabbed a few extra layers for everyone and we just piled on the clothing. 

The hike that we had planned for, the Falls Trail, is a 3.2 mile loop - about 7 miles if you need to double-back.  I would estimate that our hike was about 4 and a half miles - we decided to take a short-cut instead of doubling back.  The kids loved it.  The park was crowded, probably because this was peak leaf-viewing season.  The hike was challenging.  Basically, the trail follows the waterfalls up and down a 2000 foot mountain.  As we were climbing back up the elevation, it did get a little tiring, but the scenery was such that it was more than bearable.  Actually, I would have loved to hike uphill much more, that was the first time I was warm. 

Here are some of our pictures from the hike. 

adding their names to the wall

the top of Ganoga- looking down 94 feet

in front of the Ganoga waterfall, 94 ft

The hike was great - the scenery was breathtaking.  I would, however, not have wanted to attempt this hike with children any younger than Emma's age.  There is basically no protection.  There are no hand rails, the hike is comprised largely of rock ledges and when they are wet - one slip and it could be disastrous.  We saw a few people who appeared a little less than sure-footed and I was thankful for our capabilities.  We saw one person fall and thankfully it was a lateral fall and nothing that caused injury. 

yes, that's the trail, to the left of the rock formation

We finished our hike (after waiting out a 15 minute shower underneath a hemlock) around 3:30 and we were starving.  We planned to grill our food at one of picnic pavilions that offered charcoal grills.  I had planned ahead as best as possible and brought smoked sausage (for sandwiches) and veggie packets with potatoes, onions, peppers and carrots - that I had pre-steamed.  Basically we just needed to re-heat our dinner.  Thankfully, the grill we'd chosen was still warm from lunch, because the charcoal we'd brought from our garage was about ten years old.  Rob is extremely resourceful and before long we were scarfing down our dinners. 
nothing fancy, but it sure tasted great!

We left the park around 5:00 and the sun was finally shining.  The surrounding countryside and mountains were beautiful, especially in the setting sun. 

Lake Rose, on our exit from the park

the Appalachian mountains

a pumpkin patch outside of Benton, PA
We had a fantastic day.  Really, really fantastic.  If you'd like to check out all of the pics, here is the link.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Favourite Thing Friday

is socks.  You heard me.  But, not just socks - Smartwool socks.  I will tell anyone that I talk to that 

I first found these socks at the discount clothing store where I occasionally shop, Gabriel Brothers.  The socks were priced at $3.99 for a pair, a deeply discounted rate from the usual $15.95 - $22.95 a pair.  I know this is a little pricey - but let me tell you - if I could only afford one pair, I would still buy them and simply wash them every day.  I love them this much.  I actually find them a little less expensively [than retail] when I buy them from Sierra Trading Post

I copied this from the Smartwool website, I think their history is very interesting.   Smartwool is not a small company any longer, but I love the story behind their products and I love the fact that every pair of socks that I have bought for myself or someone else is stamped, "made in the USA". 


SmartWool was born with comfort in mind. Our founders were New England ski instructors struggling to keep their feet warm. After trying a variety of materials, they rediscovered an age-old classic: wool. But while these socks may have been warm, they were itchy and shrank. So they worked on a process to make them soft and easy care. SmartWool was born on a simple belief: keeping feet comfortable on the slopes. 

But it was a difficult sell. Try as they might, they couldn’t initially convince others of the material’s merits. No one believed that a wool sock could be anything but itchy. Out of frustration, they finally challenged people to try them. And this simple tactic changed the course of SmartWool forever and pioneered a new market transformation for wool performance products. The instant people tried them they were awestruck with SmartWool’s soft luxurious feel. They were even more surprised that their feet stayed comfortable for extended periods of time in mixed weather conditions. Instead of getting clammy, the SmartWool socks stayed dry, soft and comfortable. The founders then realized that they had to get their socks on as many people as possible to let them speak for themselves.

And a funny thing happened once people started trying SmartWool: word about their comfort and performance spread like wildfire. Fueling this was the company’s commitment to using only the finest wool in the world: New Zealand merino, which produce the softest, strongest and whitest wool on the planet. The company has built intimate, long-standing relationships with its growers, who are in tune with their land and sheep and have become great partners in growing the best wool possible. 

We have skiied in these socks, we have run, biked, and hiked in these socks.  The best thing, though?  Sitting around the house.  Our house, built in 1955, has forced hot air heat.  Our house is drafty, big time.  We have mostly hardwood floors and ceramic tile.  It gets cold and I hate cold feet.  When I wear my smartwools, I have warm, dry feet.  The socks are comfortable, not itchy.  As you can see, I have several different styles of smartwools - I love them all. The company now makes apparel, clothing, hats, etc. 

So, the moral of the story is, my favourite thing for this Friday is warm feet. 

If you'd like to splurge and buy yourself a pair - here is the link to Sierra Trading Post - a selection of women's smartwool socks, to be specific.  There is a promotion that for a first-time customer, if you give them my name as a referral, you get a $10 gift card and so do I.  If you're interested, email me and I'll give you more information.  By the way, I checked, and Sierra Trading Post ships to 92 other countries, in addition to the US.  I will be highlighting Sierra Trading Post as a FTF in the next month or so - I love this company and the products they sell  [wholesale] as much as Smartwool.  I simply have to find the gumption to photograph all of the things we've purchased from them! 

Thursday, October 21, 2010


Marriage and raising children are hard work, especially when you're trying to do both.  I firmly feel that all relationships (especially spousal) go through highs and lows. 

I usually peruse the msn homepage looking for interesting articles and news stories in a way to keep current on events and, okay, celebrity happenings.  Today I read an article entitled, "How Drinking Saved this Couple's Marriage".  It was an interesting enough read, but not very practical in my situation, as the couple's love for wine lead them to start touring wineries and festivals every weekend for a month [as an assignment for the wife's article].  Married couples [with children] can't spend every weekend pursuing adult interests while dragging a kid along.  

At the bottom of the page was a related article, Five Simple Hobbies that Help Couples Reconnect .  That one was equally unhelpful.  Some of the suggestions like, take a dance class together - um, no.  Another suggestion, read a book together - I so wish we had time for this.  Another suggestion, cooking together - never going to happen either.  The article kind of reminded me of those silly articles entitled, "how to save $4,000 a year" - which then give common sense ideas like, don't buy starbucks every day or pack your lunch. 

I almost need to find an article that deals with the fact that we have so little time together.  The last time the kids were gone overnight was last week and Rob arrived home at 11:30pm and left at 5:15am.  It was real meaningful.  Life goes at such a dizzying speed and I just don't know how to make time "count".  I am struggling to carve out family time much less time for just the two of us. 

So, here is my idea for Saturday!  I am devising a little scavenger hunt.  I have found that if we, as a family, don't distance ourselves from all distractions (tv, computer, phone, etc) - we won't spend actual  time together.  Our destination is a surprise - I have told everyone that we're starting our day with doughnuts.  I hope this will soften the blow that our travel time is 2+ hours each way.  I am creating little clues that I'll give out periodically - and the first person who guesses where we're going will receive a prize.  My hope is that we have a great day together, making memories and re-connecting.  I'd like Rob to look back on raising our children and not have regrets, the way both of our fathers do. 

Rob and I have trouble relating simply because my job is to put our family first.  I obviously have a lot more free time on my hands and so planning activities is not a luxury.  I have time to unwind.  I have time to pursue friendships and hobbies.  But, I'm not willing to let him work his life away.  I'm not willing to give up the opportunity to help our family make memories, laugh together, and bond.  And we need time for that.

I'm sure we're not the only family struggling through this frenetically-paced life of raising school age children.  In fact, I know we're not - I just talked today with one other mom who said, "I'm right there with you".  I wish I had the answers.  I sometimes wish I could snap my fingers and go back to the idyllic family I see walking our neighborhood with their baby in the stroller - walking and talking.  What I would give to have nothing else to do but take a family walk - no where else to be, no homework, no activities.  I understand that this, too, is life.  This is a stage we're in - but one that will be over before we're ready for it to be - we need to savor these times, in the midst of the busyness. 

How do you spend time together with your spouse, children, etc?  How do you protect that family time without getting bogged down with all of your obligations?  I'd much rather hear your suggestions than read some meaningless drivel on

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Which Ones Do You Like?

Here is the update on the cabin prints.  I found these frames today for $3 each.  The regular price was $4.99 each, but they were on clearance at Gabriel Brothers.  By the way, these will be Christmas presents!

I am a little unsure how to proceed.  Should I only print and frame horizontal pictures, vertical pictures, or can I mix them?  I saw something very interesting on Pioneer Woman today in her photography section.  Check it out here.  I have a feeling it might be cost-prohibitive, but I'll check it out and let you know.  If it's not too pricey, I'd love to use #9 in that way!

Keep reading to see who took what pictures and which ones we like!  Thanks so much everyone for weighing in, I loved hearing your suggestions!

#1 - taken by me and I don't really like it

#2 - taken by me

#3 - taken by me, I love it and Rob doesn't

#4 - taken by Rob, I think it's weird

#5 - taken by me - I like it, but not enough

#6 - taken by me

#7 - taken by me and one of my favorites, Rob not so much

#8 -taken by me

#9 - taken by Rob - one of our favorites

#10 - taken by Rob and I love it

#11 - taken by me, Rob doesn't like the vertical

#12 - taken by me, I love the close-up

#13 -taken by me, Rob likes the far-away

#14 -taken by me, the view down the lane

#15 - same, but vertical

#16 -taken by me
#17 - taken by me

#18 - taken by me, I think this is my favorite one


I'll keep you posted - any ideas would be greatly appreciated!