Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The tasters have tasted

Congrats to my cousin Nancy--you are the lucky random winner for a free cookbook! I'll put it in the mail this weekend. Your only requirement is to blog what recipes you try and how you like them!

True to my word, I've so far tried 7 recipes from my new cookbook, Deceptively Delicious, and as promised in last week's post, I'm now going to provide you with my reviews of how they turned out. I'll comment on each one pertaining to flavor, ease of making it, and if I will make it again.

Applesauce Muffins (with butternut squash): They were moist and delicious! I especially liked that even though you are cooking healthy, you still get to put a yummy crumb topping on these. I took these with me to our Relief Society cooking group, and everyone loved them. You could not taste any vegetable content--Leah was sad that I gave away most of her "cupcakes" to "all those people". I will definitely make this again! 5 out of 5 stars.

Blueberry Lemon Muffins (with yellow squash): I was a little more hesitant to take that first bite, but the flavors of lemon and blueberry were actually quite powerful and complementary that again, you couldn't tell there was squash inside. I tested this one out on my friend Lisa and she was sold. I'll most likely make it again (I just don't normally buy blueberries). 5 out of 5.

Chicken Nuggets (with sweet potato): To bread chicken, you first coat the food in an egg/veggie puree mixture and then roll it in the breadcrumb mixture. While the food tasted great, the egg mixture was so heavy that it kept sliding off the chicken during cooking and got left behind in the pan. Anyone know a way around this problem? I would like to try making this again with the other vegetables recommended, namely pureed broccoli, spinach, or beet, and see if the flavor is at all affected differently by those vegetables. As it was, the crumbly coating was crunchy while also being moist and sweet--not at all like the sweet potato flavor I normally dislike. Leah also enjoyed these chicken nuggets far more than the freezer kind. I'd give this one 4 out of 5.

Mozzarella Sticks (with cauliflower): This one was a little iffy. Again, I couldn't get the crumb coating to stay on the cheese--they all turned into a giant glob of melted mozzarella rather than "sticks" and the cauliflower was a little "meaty" and actually made me gag a little. If I were to try this again(debatable if I will), I would add a little more corn starch to keep the shape better, and I would try to make each cheese stick smaller. Maybe that would make them keep their shape. Leah wouldn't eat more than one bite of these, and I frankly didn't really want to either. 2 out of 5.

Aloha Chicken Kebabs (with sweet potato and pineapple): Yum!! Very fun and tasty, and actually quite quick. I will definitely make this again now that I stocked my pantry with shredded coconut, an ingredient I was missing when I made this. It was a very subtle Hawaiian influence, but really quite good. Make sure your chicken fingers aren't too big or it will take forever to cook. Leah loved eating this off of a skewer! 5 out of 5.

Pita Pizzas (with spinach): This recipe is for mini pita pizzas, but they worked great on English muffins. They were our quick after-church snack, were super tasty, and actually tasted better with the spinach on them than without. And who's to know the difference? This is definitely making it onto our regular meal rotation. 5 out of 5.

Frozen Yogurt Pops (with berries): I think I am accustomed to super sweetened yogurt, because the taste of plain yogurt was way too tart for my liking, even though there were other ingredients mixed in. Perhaps more sugar would have made the difference? (thereby reducing the "healthful" purpose) Leah loves them and I will most likely feed all 8 of them to her over the course of the next few weeks. 3 out of 5.

I would still like to try making several more recipes, including rice balls, spaghetti pie, and some of the desserts. We'll see! Oh, and as soon as Chris comes home from his trip, I'm sure he'll beg me to make him all of the ones we've already tried so he can be a taste tester, too!

Some things I've learned in the process:
My 1.5 cup food processor is way too small to puree veggies by the plethora. (So I went out and bought at 6 cup food processor. I just needed a good excuse to get it!)
Don't try to make all the purees in one day. It is a lot of work, you will end up burned out, and will most likely have cauliflower on the ceiling.

I kept track of approximately how much puree each vegetable made, something that would have been a nice reference table to have in the cookbook:

1 bunch spinach = 1/2 cup puree
1 butternut squash = 1 1/4 c puree
2 medium beets = 1 c puree
2 small summer squash (yellow squash) = 1 1/2 c puree
1 large sweet potato (they call them yams here) = 1 c puree
1 head cauliflower = 3 1/2 c puree
2 large zucchini = 3 c puree

New Catalog Open House

Join me tomorrow night for a Girls Night In! I'm having a New Catalog Open House at 7pm.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Come stamp your own card (for free!) with brand new stamps and accessories and take a peek at all the exciting new products in the latest Stampin' Up! Idea Book and Catalog! Plus, there are so many ways to earn FREE stamps and accessories.

1. Book a workshop or place an order of $50 or more through me and receive the new catalog for FREE!

2. Hostesses earn free stamps and catalog merchandise based on party sales, plus earn free ink pads from me for a little extra effort.

3. Stampin' Up! is always offering teriffic promotions.

Plus, Stampin' Up! is always improving and expanding their merchandise opportunities. For example, I can now accept credit cards on all major purchases! From the new Decor Elements line of adhesive vinyl wall art, Sizzix die cuts, and a Spanish catalog supplement, there is always something new--come and check it out!

See my Demonstrator website for more details!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

When the cat's away the mice do play

My intentions for "The week that Chris is out of town" were hopeful, at best. I planned to totally clean and organize the house to an unprecedented and unrecognizeable extent, go on outings and bike rides with my happy and non-whiny children, have multiple 'girls-nights-in' with my friends, and so much more.

Since I had the expectation of deep cleaning the entire house by next Friday, I figured I would just do it once before he got home. I started the weekend by treating the kitchen with reckless abandon, piling dishes upon dishes in the sink (unrinsed), leaving PB&J remains on the table for days, sweeping crumbs onto the floor, and ultimately re-trashing the kitchen every 12 hours. My kitchen is kind of an auger for the rest of my house, meaning that if my kitchen is in order, I feel like I can keep the rest of the house in order, and vice-versa. So it should be no surprise that I find it rewarding to marathon-clean my kitchen.

Instead, owing to the state of my kitchen, dirty clothes piled up on the bathroom floor and spread into the hallway, the sheets became a tangled mess on the bed, the living room rug became a haven for leaves and dirt and cereal crumbs, diapers got tossed into a pile. All my well-intentioned projects had been half-started and then abandoned.

Given the state of my house and the solitary company of two children under the age of three, I embraced the opportunity to be depressed and so I resorted to eating cookies over the kitchen sink for dinner while my toddler had leftover mac & cheese and the baby drank a bottle. There's a half-eaten container of ice cream in the freezer-you can bet your life that it will be gone by the end of the week. The bed was too lonely for sleeping, so I stayed up late watching dumb teeny-bopper flicks and reading teeny-bopper books and letting gravity pull the tears out of the eye closest to the pillowcase (I wasn't really crying--does that happen to any one else?). Of course, even though mom stays up late, the kids still wake up at sunrise. Then I have to zonk out on the couch while the kids watch cartoons all morning, after which the pajamas undoubtedly see lunch-time. Again. Plus I look like House, I'm popping so much Ibuprofen.

Okay, so everyone was fed and dressed, but I wasn't exactly enjoying life as a hermit. It is so easy to feel sorry for myself! Then it occurred to me that I wanted to clean the house not just for my honey, but because I like having a clean house too. Why should I wait in a dirty house for him to come home, only to scramble about and stress and burn-out on Thursday, when I could live peacefully in a clean home all week. Come to think of it, if I cleaned it at the beginning of the week, the towels would stay hung up neatly, the toilet seats would stay down, and the shoes put away just how I like it. What an epiphany! (Okay, in defense of my dear husband, he does hang up his towels and he usually puts the toilet seat down, but don't get me started on the shoes).

So I cleaned the kitchen and vacuumed the rug and patched bike tires so I could take the kids on a bike-ride to the park. I set a 50 gallon Rubbermaid tub in front of the house as a make-shift pool, providing at least 2 hours of entertainment, busted out the play dough, ventured to McDonald's for a Happy Meal and playtime on the slides, and let Leah stay up late one night having a sleep over in my bed, complete with a late-night movie. But of course, there was still whining, and in two days the baby cut two teeth. That wasn't fun for anyone.

But here's where I wished I'd had a photographer nearby. The moment when the whining and potty-time bribing and the state of the kitchen didn't matter: One night I had been rocking the baby and singing to him to calm him down before bed time. I went into the kids' room to put him down, and Leah, who had been in bed at least an hour but had heard me singing said "Rock me." So there I sat in my rocking chair, with my 7-month old baby on one arm, and my 2 1/2 year old little girl curled up in the other, each wrapped in a blanket, rocking and singing our favorite primary songs in the dark. "These are my gems," I said to myself. That was a really happy moment. Maybe I can go on one more day.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Why I rinse my dishes

I used to be one of those people that just assumed dishwashers were magical and did all the work for you, and I'd pack it full of dishes adorned with all sorts of crusty food particles. I thought it was ridiculous to pre-wash your dishes before putting them into a machine that washes them for you. Isn't that, like, doing it twice? Something has happened that has led me to believe, and whole-heartedly urge you to believe in rinsing your dishes before putting them in the dishwasher, lest you learn the lesson the same way I learned it.

Story: Someone must have loaded the dishwasher wrong (there is a right way and a wrong way, believe it or not, because plastic melts on the hot metal rods at the bottom, and water collects in cups that face up). The dishes weren't getting clean. In fact, the soap wasn't even getting wet. Strange. After trying the same load several times and still having the same load dirty and the same collection of soap turning into a baked, soap cake, I decided to investigate. The water-spraying arm at the top was not really rotating freely, and there was water sploshing out (is that a word?) randomly when I tried to spin it. Strange. Upon further investigation, I noticed that there were little food particles clogging up each of the holes in said spray arm--it looked like the stuff you pick out of your teeth after you've eaten corn on the cob, only bigger. Kinda gross. I employed pliers to get some of the gunk out and gave it another spin. Interesting. This is going to be a little more work that I thought.

Fast forward a few hours, and with the help of Google and an appliance website, this is the picture you would see: I've positioned our coffee table over the door of the dishwasher so I can sit on the table and reach my head inside without removing the dishwasher door (too much work). I've got some trusty tools handy, and I've removed the top spray arm and cleaned the gunk out. I found a piece-by-piece diagram of our particular dishwasher online so that I could carefully take apart the bottom spray arm and the filter pieces below it and subsequently put them all back together correctly. It was kind of addicting to realize that I could take apart the next piece and just go one layer deeper--how rewarding would it be to purge one more layer of gunk?

Supermom tip: Did you know you can Google the model number of an appliance and find diagrams, instructions, and parts? This is very useful. I even found this one appliance parts store that will add the part you need to their directory within a day or two so you can buy it from them (helpful if you only want to pay for shipping from one place).
Did you know there were so many parts involved in a dishwasher? Secondly, do you know what you are supposedly "washing" and "sanitizing" your dishes in regularly? I'll spare you the gruesome details, but there is an awful lot of nasty gunk that accumulates in your dishwasher. Some of it you'd recognize as last week's spinach, a tomato seed, or the sticker from your apple, and the rest you'd rather not know what it used to be, not to mention years' worth of deposits from the water itself. Really gross. Think of it this way: if it could get stuck in your teeth, it's probably stuck somewhere inside your dishwasher.

I've now had the reflux-inducing experience of dissecting my dishwasher in order to un-clog, clean, and repeatedly bleach all the parts I could get to with a simple screwdriver. If this doesn't make me Supermom, I don't know what would.

Yes, I do believe that dishwashers are amazing and terrific and time-saving, but they are not magical. All that food has got to go somewhere!
And that is why I now rinse my dishes.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Experiment in Deception

I am really excited to report that I just picked up this cookbook, Deceptively Delicious, at Sam's Club this week. I've heard about it before, and I thought, "Hey, if I can sneak some more vegetables into my kids diet without them noticing, maybe I won't notice them either!" The whole basis of Jessica Seinfeld's cooking method is to puree common fruits and veggies and sneak them undetectably into everything from macaroni & cheese to brownies, meatloaf to muffins. She sneaks some pureed cauliflower into scrambled eggs, butternut squash in the macaroni & cheese, and chickpeas in the chocolate chip cookies. You say it sounds gross? I guess we're about to find out!

The recipes are common foods that kids (and their parents) usually have in their repertoire, with the added twist of a little extra nutrition. In addition to over 70 innovate recipes, Jessica outlines instructions on how to cook and puree fruits and vegetables (handy simply for making your own baby food!), and with the help of nutrition experts, she breaks down nutritional guidelines geared specifically toward children. She also details what nutrients are found in each vegetable, thereby identifying why it is important to have a variety--then she provides approachable ideas for incorporating them into your and your children's diets. I found this particularly informative and important since children are so physically active and since their bodies and minds are in such a crucial stage of development.

I love her tips for approaching picky eaters and I found that I generally agreed with her opinions and tactics about feeding kids (and adults!) in general. I love that she is down to earth about what our bodies need and don't need, and her recipes tend to constitute a good variety of nutrition and flavor. Its amazing how inadequate our standard diet is in vegetables--particularly fiber (YIKES!!). A diet adequate in vegetables can provide more energy, better skin tone, smooth digestion, better eye and mind health, and so much more. Why has it taken me so long to get on board? I think this cookbook could change the world!

Usually, I flip through a cookbook and anticipate that I will only ever attempt to make 10% of the recipes, and maybe one ever makes it into our regular dinner rotation. Last night I went through all the recipes in this cookbook, and anticipate that I will try half of them. They all look and sound so good, and seem very nutritious. Stay tuned for my recipe reviews as I try them out!

I've already made a list of the basics that I need to add to my kitchen to complete some of the recipes in this book, and I'm prepared to head to the grocery store and start pureeing some vegetables. I'm going to start with Applesauce Muffins (with butternut squash or carrot puree), and I plan to bring them with me to our Relief Society cooking group tomorrow--we'll see if anyone notices the vegetable content!

I am so excited to try out these recipes and I have so much confidence that they will work that I want to share the joy with you! Leave me a comment answering these three simple questions--I'll pick a random winner on Tuesday the 19th and I will send you your very own Deceptively Delicious cookbook!

1. Do you think your regular diet (and what you serve your family) has
a big enough variety of vegetables in it? Is there room for more?

2. Would you feel comfortable "deceiving" your children by sneaking
vegetable puree into their favorite recipes? Or does the idea of being
deliberately deceptive bother you?

3. Do you think this would work for your family?

Monday, August 04, 2008

A new perspective

This is the general substance of the lesson I taught in Relief Society yesterday. As is usual, the teacher learned more than anyone else in the process.

Imagine that you are witnessing a terrible storm. Ominous black storm clouds are billowing across the sky, the wind is blowing, the trees are shaking, rain and hail are pounding in sideways, lightning streaks across the sky, thunder makes the building shake. There is no trace of sunlight or blue sky. Such an image brings to mind feelings of insecurity, possibly peril, and to the extent that I can’t see the end of the storm in any direction, a feeling of hopelessness.

A couple of weeks ago, I was on a flight from Chicago to Salt Lake City. Our plane had been delayed because of such a storm. Later, after we’d been in the air awhile, I looked out my window to notice that the storm wasn’t past, we were simply flying around it, and since we were at an altitude of 40,000 feet, we were also above it.

I saw perfectly blue atmosphere above us, just below us was sunny blue sky with a blanket of feather-white clouds, and one isolated, seemingly small black cloud alive with electricity. It was a towering, billowing, electrically charged storm cloud. I’m certain I know what it feels like (and sounds like) to be trembling inside a house when just such a storm passes over me. But from my window on the airplane, I was given a very different perspective than if I had been watching from a window on the ground.

Seeing the storm cloud from above was a truly awe-inspiring experience for me. I don’t know why it had never occurred to me before that moment that above every storm, however daunting it seems from the ground, is bright blue sky and a shining sun—a true constant.

Each of us faces individual and personal storms—whether it be as serious as sin or death, economic struggles, feelings of loneliness and depression, or the perceived expectation to be supermom (hehehe). Do we forget that there is shining sun and blue sky on the other side? Do we forget that our metaphorical “storms” are significant and purposeful when viewed from an eternal perspective? Do we lose track of what is most important and give in to despair? or do we draw upon the gospel of Jesus Christ for hope and strength?

Given our knowledge of the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ, we know there is purpose in our trials, and there is a way to if not overcome them, endure them in faith.

“We mortals have a limited view of life from the eternal perspective. But if we know and understand Heavenly Father’s plan, we realize that dealing with adversity is one of the chief ways we are tested. Our faith in our Heavenly Father and his beloved Son, Jesus Christ, is the source of inner strength. Through faith we can find peace, comfort, and the courage to endure. As we trust in God and his plan for our happiness with all our hearts and lean not unto our own understanding (see Prov. 3:5), hope is born. Hope grows out of faith and gives meaning and purpose to all we do. It can give us comfort in the face of adversity, strength in times of trial, and peace when we have reason for doubt or anguish.”

M. Russell Ballard, “Answers to Life’s Questions,” Ensign, May 1995, 22

How can we obtain an eternal perspective? In 2003, my mom was in charge of planning the Benac family reunion, which takes place every 3 years, and was gong to be held at Aspen Grove. In the registration process, you can prioritize the week you want your group to attend. She gave first priority for the week of the 4th of July, but our family was scheduled in early June, the first week of the camping season, and Mom’s very last choice. It was inconvenient for many and we considered this an unfortunate turn of events.

If we had had the luxury of the eternal perspective, we would have been grateful that we didn’t get what we wanted, for Grandpa’s health began to rapidly decline in the months before the reunion; the second week of June turned out to be his last week in health good enough to preside over a family reunion, and by the first week of July he was in a coma. He died on July 11. The Lord is mindful of us, and our “storms” are given to us for a reason, even though we may not understand or even know the eternal purposes for the things we are made to endure.

"Wherever you live on this earth and whatever your life’s situation may be, I testify to you that the gospel of Jesus Christ has the divine power to lift you to great heights from what appears at times to be an unbearable burden or weakness. The Lord knows your circumstances and your challenges. He said to Paul and to all of us, “My grace is sufficient for thee.” And like Paul we can answer: “My strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me” (2 Corinthians 12:9). As members of the Church of Jesus Christ, we may claim the blessings promised in the covenants and the ordinances we received when we accepted the gospel of Jesus Christ.”
Dieter F. Uchtdorf, “Have We Not Reason to Rejoice?,” Liahona, Nov 2007, 18–21

I am so grateful for my knowledge of the gospel of Jesus Christ and for a loving and constant Savior! We may not understand now, or next week, 50 years from now, or in this life at all why we are made to endure what we are, but there is a plan for each and every one of us--and just like the sun is always shining, so is the Son of God offering “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).