Tuscan Mac and Cheese

Mmmm… now that Fall is coming, I am ready!  I have new recipes, I have enthusiasm, I have sweaters! I also have two small children who will eat anything with pasta and cheese, so I’m really glad to be able to add this recipe to our regular rotation on the family menu.  It’s a quick dish that is done in roughly half an hour and can be served with a large tossed salad.

Tuscan Mac and Cheese

  • 1 1/2 c. orzo
  • 8 oz. shredded Provolone cheese
  • 2 c. 2% milk
  • 2 Tbsp. +1 Tbsp. butter
  • 2 Tbsp. flour
  • 1 4 oz. can sliced olives
  • 1 c. roasted red peppers, diced
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 1 1/2 c. frozen peas
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, minced
  • salt and pepper to taste
Cook the orzo according to package instructions and drain.  Toss through with 1 Tbsp butter and set aside.
In a large saute pan, heat about 1 Tbsp. olive oil and add the onions to saute until tender. Dice the roasted red peppers and along with the olives, garlic and peas add to the pan.  Stir in the orzo.
In a heavy bottomed sauce pan, melt the 2 Tbsp. butter until crackling.  Whisk in the flour. Stream in the milk and add the cheese, continuing to whisk during the additions so that the sauce does not become lumpy. Then, pour the sauce over the orzo mix in the skillet and stir well.
Place the skillet in a 400 degree oven for 10 minutes, or until the cheese is bubbling and browned. Serve hot with feta cheese crumbled over the top.

Wordless Wednesday – Powder Puff Football?

I love our back yard.  We spend hours out there everyday just running and playing.  Liam has been “playing soccer” for a while now, but Sylvi has decided she’s more of a football girl.  Matt pretends to hike the ball to her and she takes off running better than I could imagine.  Proudly, she clings to the ball that is over half her size and charges through the grass.  Liam can often be found running in and out of the “game” with his soccer ball and attempting to tackle.  To say I’m excited to sign them up for organized sports in the coming years is an understatement!

A Rainy Monday

I love rainy days. The drearier the better.  Today was the perfect day to start my homeschool routine with Liam.  I really didn’t have the intention of doing so with my own family, but having worked with the area school systems, I can’t say I feel tremendously confident sending my kids out of the house to learn. Even with that concern aside, as I watch my children learn about the world around them, I don’t want to give up those aha! moments. It really started when I was working with Liam on learning to use the potty. I didn’t realize how much I’d enjoy working through a challenge with him.  And every single success he has, even now months after he conquered the understanding of his bodily functions, is something to celebrate.

The blocks: covered and uncovered
The completed blocks

Together we are working through letter sounds and fine motor skills.  He is always so proud of himself when a new skill is mastered and I love to watch his creativity blossom.  Today, we played our new activity dice.  I saw the idea here and here on Pinterest and decided to run with it.  I found foam cubes in the floral section of JoAnn Fabrics and covered them in paper before adhering fabric on all the surfaces.  Since I had 2 blocks, I made one with movements like animals and one with general physical activities.  I chose a total of 12 activities that both kids would be able to do, typed them up and then printed them backwards onto transfer paper.  I ironed each activity onto a small piece of white fabric and then using spray adhesive attached them to the individual sides of the cubes.  I also put a coat of Modge Podge over the entire surface of the cubes so that they were sealed in the event we decided to use them outside.

Liam spinning according to the roll of the die.

Today, I had only planned to do a fun segment on mail carriers. I hadn’t planned on the activity cubes being such a hit.  Both kids had a blast rolling the cubes and hearing what their activity was.  And really, hearing them laugh hysterically as they waddled like penguins or did 5 squats was almost more fun for me than for them. We ended play time while the rain poured down and Sylvi curled up for a nap. Liam and I then headed to the kitchen to make a version of Me on the Map that is suited to his age.  He has learned the name of the street we live on, but is confused with the concept of a city or a state.  My favorite way to teach is with visuals, so I traced pictures of our state and the country, I sketched our house, but only wrote the name of our city.  (I couldn’t figure out how to make that one work for a 3-year-old.) Liam colored the pictures and glued them to the sized cardstock and then we stacked them according to size. I don’t expect him to memorize these things, but it was nice to get through a conversation about where we live without him arguing with me that live in our house and not Ohio. Never underestimate the power of pictures.

Sylvi checking for her action
Jumping like a kangaroo!

You can be as “realistic” as you’d like about my experience today. He’s 3. It’s our first day of an official plan.  He’ll grow up and decide he doesn’t want to be homeschooled. I don’t actually care what people think about my choice to homeschool.  I love teaching my children. I had so much fun planning this week and next week and the week after that… I take my kids out to participate in story times and the nature center classes and church and MOPS and the children’s museum and the zoo… I don’t isolate us from the rest of society.  But I am taking the time to teach them the way to handle conflict and interact with other children kindly.

I think my opportunity to love and raise my children is the best I could have been given.  These moments we spend talking about our address and the letter “M” and little things in nature are just the beginning of what we will eventually see.  I know it’s odd, but I loved potty training.  I really, truly did.  The way I see it, if I can get that much joy from something that involves the control of bodily functions, then I think I’ll be ok when it comes to math and manners.

 

I’m linking up with Lydia at Small Town Simplicity for Mindful Mothering Mondays today!

Fitness Friday – 08.24.12

I know it’s been a while since I updated in the Go Green Get Fit challenge, so today it’s going to be fairly comprehensive.  I’m doing well with my routines, and am up to running 3 miles at a time.  I am still slow as molasses, but I’m finishing and I’m not miserable for 2 days after a run. I haven’t been able to make it to my regular classes because of circumstances around my home, but my weight is still totally in control and last night when we went for a family walk, I was able to blaze through it, charging up the “hills” without an issue.

I love this.  I love feeling healthy and alive.  I’m sleeping better than I have in years.

You what I love the most?  The change I see in my family.  When my 3 year old is getting angry or stressed, I see him making choices to run and exercise. He tells me always feels better. He asks to go for walks and while we are on the walk, he asks why I’m not running. My little peanut of a daughter can hold plank for an unbelievable amount of time. It makes me laugh so much to watch the two of them attempt jumping jacks.

I joined the Go Green Get Fit Challenge thinking it would be me who changed, but when I realized my husband had to tighten his belt another notch this week, I realized that the last few months haven’t only impacted me. I’m back to making meals that focus on the whole food aspect and less and less on the planning. We are going on family walks more and more frequently.  We walk to soccer games and the park. I park all the way in the back of the parking lot, even with both kids so that I can burn those extra calories.

So even though the challenge will end eventually, I hope that within my own home, it will continue to be our lifestyle.  I’m enrolling Liam in a gym and swim class to help him continue to be active throughout the Fall and Winter.  Sylvi will tag along and we’ll do what we can considering her skills aren’t quite as advanced as his. And I will continue to plug on toward my last two goals that will be coming up in October of another 5k and a sprint Triathalon.

What are you doing to take care of your family and teach them to exercise and stay healthy?

Snackin’

When the July NatureBox arrived and I saw that it had dried apple rings in it, I was reminded that my mother used to dry all sorts of fruits to keep on hand for our snacks.  I had bought my husband a dehydrator for his birthday so he could make beef jerky without all the chemical preservatives, so I checked online to see what the guidelines for drying peaches.  Why peaches?  Well, I bought 3/4 of a bushel last week thinking I would want to can every single last one.  But after a full day and 24 pints, I was over it.  I don’t like peach flavored smoothies and really, how much of a peck of ripe peaches can you eat in a few days?  Very few.

I peeled the peaches and tossed them with lemon juice so they would keep their color, which isn’t a strictly necessary step, but they do look so much more appealing if you do. Each slice of peach was about 1/4 inch thick.  Not too thin or when they dried, they would be like flimsy sheets of paper that crumbled before eating. Each tray for my dehydrator held 1 and half peaches and I have 5 trays. I chose to start my dehydrator before I headed to bed, set it at 135 degrees and checked them in the morning. (You’ll notice I completely neglected to photograph the progression.) I should have rotated the trays of peaches, but I forgot, so the ones on the bottom are a little drier than the ones at the top.

It took about 20 hours for the peaches to dry, but I wanted them dry and not chewy. They were also very juicy peaches! I didn’t add any sugar to them before drying and they certainly did not need any. From this batch of drying, I got 2 quart sized bags of slices packed and then put in the freezer. I’m going to be doing another batch of peaches tonight and then we’ll see where I stand with those peaches!  Right now, the dehydrator is filled with tomatoes… I’m trying a new experiment this year. Wish me luck!

What about you? Have you ever dried anything to preserve it?  What’s your favorite dried fruit?

Homemade Mayo

When I first started blogging, I took Julia Child’s advice seriously and was as fearless as I could be (my first blog’s name was The Fearless Chef).  I really didn’t know too much about cooking and there were honestly so many nights that we threw out my latest creation and hit the drive through.  I was so terrified of cooking meat or casseroles and now it just makes me laugh to think about how I would call a friend and ask her to tell me I could lift that roast out of the package, season it and put it in the roaster.

I’ve been working my way to a simple self sufficiency in the last few years and I decided this was the year to tackle condiments.  Have you ever read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle?  If you haven’t, do it.  It was the first book I bought for my Nook even though I’ve read it several times.  I love it.  Barbara’s life is my dream… except for the chicken processing.  I’m a pansy.  What I am not a pansy about is homemade mayo.  Granted, this is my third try, but I tried it again because a friend of mine encouraged me to.  Sometimes you need friends, right?

I’ve made mustard (which we’ll talk about soon), Remoulade, salad dressings and plan to tackle ketchup very soon.  Mayo had been on the list for a while, but it took me running out to actually do it.  And I’m so glad I did.  It will last for 2 weeks in the fridge, so I will only make half a recipe from now on since we have a small family.  Unless I get brave and try to ferment whey to make it last.  Which very well may happen in the next few weeks.  Until then, I’ll be enjoy this batch on my sandwiches thankyouverymuch!

Simple Homemade Mayonaise

  • 1 1/2 cups oil (You want to use as neutral an oil as possible.  I had a light olive oil and mixed it with about 1/4 cup of canola.)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 Tbsp. Lemon juice
  • 1 tsp. white vinegar
  • 1/2 tsp. sea salt
Place the eggs in a deep container, like the measuring cup an immersion blender comes with, or a wide necked Ball Jar.  Then, add all the other ingredients.  Using an immersion blender, insert it all the way to the bottom of the container and start blending.  As the eggs and oil begin to emulsify, the bottom will thicken, so just raise the blender above the thickened part and continue to blend.  It took less than a minute for my mayo to emulsify completely and thicken to the same consistency as I’ve gotten used over the years of buying mayo at the grocery.  Store in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks in a lidded jar.
That’s it.  No streaming in oil, no fussing about the order of the ingredients.  Just simple mayo that tastes amazing.  Zingy and creamy and perfect.

Farmer’s Market discoveries

Welcome to the August 2012 Carnival of Natural Parenting: Farmer’s Markets

This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama. This month our participants have written about something new they’ve learned about their local farmers.

When Matt and I first got married, I discovered the joy of farmer’s markets.  I don’t know why I’d never really been to one before, but once I got started, it was hard to imagine ever purchasing my food anywhere else.  Over the years, I’ve met many vendors, tried new vegetables and learned so much.

Through farmer’s markets, I met the man who supplied us with lamb for the past 5 years, half a sheep at a time.  Because of him, I know how to grill lamb chops and can make a killer shepherd’s pie.  I bought my first chicken that had been butchered mere hours before and roasted it up for the most flavorful meal I’d experienced up to that time.

Before the market downtown, I’d never had a purple carrot or an orange, heirloom tomato.  I didn’t know you could raise shrimp right here in Ohio.  I had no idea that one could subsist solely on food grown/raised within 50 miles of your home.  I didn’t realize how diverse the agriculture in Ohio could be! I wasn’t aware that an average housewife could make her own cheese from a gallon of milk.  And don’t even get me started on the baked goods I didn’t know even existed!

Throughout the years, I’ve met new people, tried new foods, learned how to store and prepare vegetables, fruits and meats.  Now, I’m learning how to make these foods appealing to a preschooler who only likes bananas and watermelon.  I’m learning the best markets to go to that I’ll be able to corral my little ones and still shop.  My children?  Well, they are learning the names of the vegetables, even if they won’t eat them.  They are learning patience as they wait and wait and wait as I circle the stalls and taste and sample and talk.

Every year as the Downtown Farmer’s Market starts announcing it’s coming in the paper, I find myself waiting anxiously for the vendors to set up and my stroller basket to fill with fresh produce.  And while the market is here, I’m happy to try all kinds of new recipes and stock my shelves with home canned goodies to open in the dead of winter and give me hope for next year’s Farmer’s Market!

***

Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!

Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:

(This list will be live and updated by afternoon August 14 with all the carnival links.)

 

Real Chocolate sauce

It is no exaggeration that I love my coffee time.  I also like the nice, coffee-house style coffee as a treat here and there.  I don’t care for the 4-dollar-a-cup price tag, though.  I learned how to make a homemade mocha, but the only way I could get the chocolate aspect right was to buy Hershey’s chocolate syrup.  I did it a few times, but the guilt over the ingredient list and the plastic waste (Beth Terry has made a major impression on me!) was really starting to get to me.  There are dozen’s of homemade chocolate syrup recipes online, but regardless of the formula you choose, it is one of the easiest things I’ve ever made.

I make a full pot of extra strength coffee and mix my chocolate syrup in while it’s still hot, cool and then store in the fridge so we can add ice and milk as we see fit throughout the week.  It’s been amazing all summer to have iced coffees ready to go, but this week I actually drank a few cups of hot coffee since the weather is cooling enough that I can enjoy it the way I like it best.  This morning, I made Matt a mocha complete with whipped cream and chocolate syrup.  And yes, I am starting to fill my Pinterest boards with Fall themed recipes and projects…

Homemade chocolate Syrup

  • 1 1/2 cup water
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1.5 cups cocoa powder (I had dutch processed on hand, but you can use any powder you like.)
  • 1 Tbsp. Vanilla extract
  • pinch of sea salt.
Pour all the ingredients into a heavy bottomed sauce pan and heat through.  Just before the sauce comes to a boil, turn the heat down and simmer for 10 minutes.  You’ll need to stir frequently to ensure it doesn’t bubble up and over like mine did and leave a potentially huge, sticky mess on your glass stove top.  Once the sauce is cooled, store in a glass jar in the fridge.  The sauce will be thick, but very pourable.  I did find one blog with instructions for canning and my mind is swirling with ideas for gifts!!
**Side note: I choose to use as many organic or fair trade ingredients as I can, so the cost does not really change by making my own chocolate syrup.  What did change was who was in control of the ingredients.  And the calorie count is somewhat lower, not enough for me to really get excited about, but 18 less calories/serving could be something that brightens your day!

Wet and Wild Wordless Wednesday

Last week, we took a family day and visited a local water park to celebrate my 31st birthday.  It was wonderful and I had so. much. fun. going down the water slides!!!!  Yeah… the oldest person standing in line by at least 15 years was me, but man, I haven’t done something that carefree in YEARS!  Liam doesn’t do well with the splashing water and it took nearly 2 hours for him to relax and settle in to enjoy the 2 foot deep water.  He was content to sit in the water, under one of the water slides where he wouldn’t get splashed.  Sylvi, on the other hand, threw herself into the water with abandon and had more fun than I had ever thought possible for a 15 month old.  🙂  We also finally got the chance to photograph Liam blowing snake bubbles.  I’d like to mention that I had to specifically purchase a plastic water bottle since I rarely have one in our house!  And finally, I took the kids to the Splash Pad in the next town over yesterday for 2 hours of fun.  Sylvi had a blast tearing around in the spray and running free.  Liam did loads better than he did last year… he didn’t scream once, but still stayed on the edge of the water.  This summer, while as hot as Hades, has been one of adventure and we are loving every moment!

Retreeeeaaatttt!!!!

That was me yelling up there in the title.  Yep.  I went away this weekend for the first time since November 2009.  This year, I’m the new Publicity/Media person for my church’s MOPs charter.  I joined MOPs while I was still pregnant with Liam and I think that at times, it’s fair to say my sanity is a direct result of getting connected.  I don’t have much family in the area and it’s been great to make new friends every year.

Anyway, I was wreck about leaving my kids overnight and had a hard time relaxing and enjoying the other moms and our “work” of planning out the 2012-2013 year.  Once I settled in and we started talking I managed to sit back and appreciate this time away from my home to recharge.  Although, use of the word recharge is only applicable in the mental sense as I stayed way past my bedtime and am still feeling the effects of treating my aging body as though I were still in college.  😀

For me, one of the best parts of the weekend was coming in from a short morning run and having breakfast already made!  Eggs, pancakes, fruit, yogurt, granola… oh my.  Breakfast is tough in this house because it’s time consuming and the kids almost always steal my plate.  Thankfully, last night, I managed to finally figure out a quick hash brown recipe that will keep overnight in the fridge.  Initially, this was a side dish for our supper last night, but since we had leftovers, I tried them 2 different ways this morning and now cannot wait to get back to the farmer’s market and pick up more new potatoes!

Yes. That's a homemade iced mocha in a Ball jar. Recipe to come!

Farmer’s Market Hashbrowns

  • 2 pounds small red/new potatoes
  • 1 small green pepper
  • 1 small red pepper
  • 1 medium candy onion
  • 2 Tbsp. butter
  • seasonings of your choice (I used garlic salt, paprika and mustard powder)
Wash the potatoes and cut them however you like best.  I chose to quarter mine since they were so small.  Place them in a steamer basket and then into a medium sauce pan with about 2 inches of water in the bottom.  Steam the potatoes until they are just fork tender.  The fork should be able to pierce the potato, but not smash it.  Bottom line: the potatoes still need to be a bit firm.  In the meantime, chop or slice the peppers and onions in a size that is comparable to the potatoes.  Heat a skillet over a medium burner and add the butter.  Saute the peppers and onions until tender.  When the potatoes are done cooking, add them to the skillet with the peppers and onions and saute for about 5 more minutes.  Add more butter if necessary and then season to taste.  If you are making these ahead, store them in the fridge for up to 3 days.  They can be reheated in the microwave or (like I did) just tossed into the pan after you’ve cooked your eggs.
What do you like to eat for breakfast?