Monday, May 31, 2010

Learning to Serve the Hard Way part 1

Being Memorial Day, I wanted to post this in memory of my friend Erik....

It was 1988 and I had just had my first baby. I had worked full time before the baby and I was living 2,000 miles from my family. I was now home all day with the baby and was having baby blues with a 2 bedroom apartment and not much to do all day.

Erik was a boy whose father was a drummer in a famous band. He grew up around drugs and alcohol his whole life. He was addicted to drugs at a very young age. He fought with his addiction many times in rehab and couldn't seem to shake it.

Erik lived with us for a short time but we were his friends for years. One day, I was feeling sorry for myself and laying in bed. The phone rang. I was so into feeling sorry for myself that I did not answer the phone. The person calling, hung up when the answering machine picked up.

That evening, I got a call saying that Erik had shot and killed himself after calling several rehabs and being told they had no room that morning. It was around the time of my hang up call.

As I sat stunned by the news and the feelings of dread that came over me, I began to "freak out" and felt as if the walls were crashing in. I WILL NEVER FORGET WHAT HAPPENED NEXT! I felt like someone slapped me. The thought ran through my head. "Quit feeling sorry for yourself. You have a beautiful daughter and home. There are others who have lost that and could use someone to comfort them. Forget yourself and help them."

It was like someone had taken me out of a fog and dunked me in a cold lake. I jumped up and called Erik's home. His aunt answered and I asked if I could come over. They said that would be great. I took my baby over who was now at an adorable age. She played with Erik's mom and got her to smile. I helped clean up the house and sort through Erik's belongings. I also planned and put on the luncheon after the funeral.

I have NEVER forgotten the lesson that Erik's situation taught me. It saved my life in so many ways. I visited Erik's mom a few years ago and told her that story and she said, "Then Erik's death wasn't in vain."

Here is a poem that Erik wrote a few weeks before his death. Such a sad loss of life but in his death, he gave me and those we serve a gift.


Some call her a friend
Some call her a lover
up until the end
She rules the mind, body
and soul
She kills without reason
You pay the toll
Cocaine is like a woman
Beautiful and bright
Cunning and deceitful
All through the night
She destroys the mind
but seems ever so kind
She drags you under
darkness surrounds you
Now you're alone
You try to hang on
but all feeling is gone
Now, when you need her
She is gone
Now you see her
ugly and demented
You see your mistake
all feelings have left you
you begin to shake
you think of death
destruction and hate
Love has no meaning
You now have met your fate
Cocaine is a killer
unfeeling, unkind
She goes for the heart
then strait for the mind
She makes you feel
unwanted and all alone
You want to get free
But she holds on

Erik 1988
Age seventeen
1970 - 1988

We miss you Erik!

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Five Minute Barley Vegetable Soup

Take every can of vegetables in the cupboard and open them and put them in a pan. Don't drain them, just open and put into a pan and heat. If you want to add some meat, pick a meat, brown it and then open and add the cans of vegetables.

Next, add 1 tsp Caraway Seeds
1/2 cup of quick cook pearled barley
Small drop of crushed garlic is optional

Simmer for a few minutes to allow the barley to soften. If you don't want to use the fast cook barely, just follow the steps above and boil for 1/2 hour or so.

My soup comes out different each time depending on the vegetables that I have in the cupboard. The standards are sliced potatoes, carrots, peas, green beans, black beans, corn, cut tomatoes, mushrooms and tomato sauce. Sometimes I add cut spinach as I did in this batch which gives it a green color.

I added hamburger to this soup which gives it a minestrone feel.
I never add salt to my soups because canned veggies are high in salt and our family loves to eat soup with chips. Corn or potato chips crushed into our soup is tradition now. I prefer potato chips but some kids enjoy the tortilla chips better.

My older kids all took boxes of canned vegetable to college and made this soup especially in the winter. Their roommates picked up on it as it is something you can make quickly for dinner if friends just drop in for a visit during dinner time. In the words of my youngest, "This soup is really good mom."

Friday, May 28, 2010

Gluten & Dairy Free Banana Nutmeg and/or Pumpkin Waffles

Some of my children have dairy and/or wheat or gluten allergies. I have adapted their gluten free waffle mix to make some of our favorite banana nutmeg waffles so they can enjoy our favorites as well.

We have learned to cook with rice milk since most of our family has some degree of dairy allergy. We use rice milk on cereal and we have tried most other types of milk alternatives. My favorite alternative milk is oat milk. It tastes like whole milk and is very creamy but if it sits for long, it gets thick and lumpy at the bottom. Shake it well before using. Almond milk is good but is a bit more expensive.

Soy is hard for the body and has an estrogen similarity in it so many people develop allergies to soy or have thyroid problems if they use soy very much because most prepared foods have some soy in them now.

We use the Gluten-Free rice waffle and pancake mixes. They have a good flavor. I just add 1/4 cup pumpkin flour, 1/8 tsp nutmeg and 1 mashed banana to the mix. If it still seems a bit thick, I add a drop of water at a time until it becomes the right thickness.

We cook them as usual in the waffle maker. They are more flaky and break easily as they don't have the gluten in them which usually holds wheat items together. They are best eaten fresh and don't freeze well. We top them with whatever favorites we enjoy. Raw agave is a good sweetener which doesn't affect the blood sugar like sugar if you have a diabetic in the house. We splurge with raw nuts and sometimes coconut over fruit and yogurt.

Sometimes we make our own yogurt from dried milk but for the most part just use store bought. My favorite fruit topping is pomegranates. These don't last long as all the kids will enjoy them.
Enjoy our family treat!

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Banana Nutmeg and/or Pumpkin Waffles Part 1

For years I have made large batches of waffles and frozen them. I bought a box of bread sacks at a clearance center and I stick about 20 waffles in a bag and freeze them.

I always loved the Better Homes and Gardens Cook Book growing up so when I got married and saw one for sale, I bought it. I enjoy it so much that I have given out several for wedding presents.

This is my favorite waffle recipe from it and I always quadruple the batch so I can have them frozen for a month or so. The kids take one out, toast it and eat it like a piece of bread with butter on it.

I usually collect the bananas as one gets over ripe and put them in a jar and freeze it until I collect enough to make these waffles. However, banana's get eaten quickly at our house so I buy older bananas from the store at a discount. I ask the grocer if they have any old bananas for sale. I usually get them 3 or 4 lbs for a $1.

Banana Nutmeg Waffles

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
(for pumpkin add 1/4 cup pumpkin flour and reduce regular flour to 1 1/2 cups)
1 Tbs baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
2 eggs
1 1/2 cups milk
1/2 cup cooking oil
2/3 cup mashed bananas
1/8 tsp nutmeg

In a mixing bowl, mix all dry ingredients. In another bowl, beat eggs, add in milk and oil. Add dry mixture to wet mixture all at once. Add bananas and mix till combined but still slightly lumpy. Cook according to your waffle makers instructions.

To make pumpkin flour. Cut pumpkin into thin strips about 1/4 inch thick. Put them on a dehydrator. Dry completely. Once they are dry, put them in a blender, food processor or a vitamix and blend until it becomes a fine powder. You can do this with any veggie or fruit. Pumpkin is good because there isn't much you can do with dried pumpkin and it is hard to "can" at home so this is a way I've found to use my pumpkin other than freezing it. If I leave it in the strips, it takes up lots of storage space, so I make it into flour fitting a large pumpkin into a Tupperware.

I substitute vegetable or fruit flour for a small part of the regular recipe flour and see how the kids like it. It is fun to use things like spinach, tomato or pumpkin to color the food. You can use almost anything to make flour. For a sweeter flavor you could use mango or papaya.

We usually enjoy our waffles with yogurt and fruit. Sometimes we sprinkle them with nuts. Other times the kids like syrup and powdered sugar. My favorite is to melt coconut oil on them and eat it like toast. I also use the coconut oil to coat the waffle iron so I get that coconut flavor.

I hope you enjoy our favorite waffles. When I am going to visit friends and family, I take a bag of our waffles to share. Many have called me for this recipe. There are other variations but I will save those for another day!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Angels World! Part 2 Don't Know Where She Gets It!

By age three I realized that “time out’s” were not the way to punish Angel because that would lead to murals on the wall in whatever medium was available to her at the time she was placed in time out. We had many museum worthy walls before giving up on the “time out” idea. She would also stand on her head, sing and have several conversations with herself while in the "time out corner."

From the time she was young we also realized that she had an affinity for eating things. By four years of age my husband would joke that I was on a first name basis with poison control. I gave her a sucker one afternoon and knowing her well, I told her that if she dropped the sucker I wouldn’t give her another. (She was smart enough to figure out that she could almost finish the first, drop it and then get a new one.)

So while at an old factory with lead paint chips everywhere she dropped the sucker which in turn stuck to several sizable lead paint chips. Not wanting to give up the sucker, she ate the paint like potato chips. She didn’t like the epicac syrup much but I thought she had finally learned a lesson.

I guess some lessons are harder to learn that others. She ate ant traps the day we moved. Soon after moving, she found a charcoal descant in her grandpa’s garden and proceeded to tear open the plastic container which read “do not eat” and ate the contents.

I looked in my rear view mirror while driving home and stopped in horror as black drool was running down both sides of her mouth. That was a fast drive to the health department where we looked up the content to make sure another bout of epicac wasn't needed.

In kindergarten she placed a tack on the teacher’s chair. On another kindergarten day, she talked several of the other children into skipping school until the principal found them an hour and a half later on the playground where they all said, “Angel said we could stay out an play.”

Lest you think it is my parenting that is wanting, I will say that I took her into school to apologize to the teacher since she didn’t know it was Angel that put the tack on the chair. A concerned teacher walked by and saw my daughter crying hysterically and offered to take her to class seeing that she was upset to leave me. When I informed the kindly teacher that she was crying because I was taking her into confess to her teacher the tack incident, the nice teacher quickly changed her offer and excused herself with an odd look on her face.

Now, I don’t want you to think that in Angel’s world things are all bad. She has always noticed things with her hawk eyes that we don’t take the time to notice. When she was four, I was running late and she was squatting on the grass. I hollered for her to come and get into the van. She continued squatting and looking down at the grass.

Finally, I went over and asked her what she was doing and she replied, “Watching the grass grow. See the new grass mommy?” Around that same time she pulled me into the bathroom one night while I was making dinner and said “I think there is corn in my poops” and showed me the corn.

While moving across country in November that same year my husband was following behind the van in the moving truck. He called on the CB to find out what all the “stuff” flying out the window was. I hadn’t noticed a thing. Angel informed me that the activity book I had spent five months making was hot so she was cooling it down by throwing pages out the window. I never did remake those pages.

The excitement has never left our home and the experiences have just changed over the years. Angel is such a loving person and since she is so observant she often sees others’ needs long before anyone else. When someone is napping she is the first to cover them. When someone is sad she is the first with a gift, hug or kiss. When the baby would cry she was the first to run to her aid. If there were ever a problem needing to be solved I would want Angel on my team because in her world there is always an answer even if it isn’t one most of us would come up with.

So, as I struggle along with my five girls in tow I realize that parenting is not exact. I no longer judge others by saying “I’ll never do that.” Each child lives in a world of their own where they see things in their own way and the “real” world is the better for it. I think sometimes we need to visit them in their world to understand them better.

As I drove home one night, my five year old at the time yelled from the back of the van, “Angel is picking her nose!” Angel denies it. I question further and she admits to taking wax from her melted green candle and putting it on her finger to tease her sister.
I had to ask myself, that day and many times since, “Whose world are we in today?”

I don't know where she gets it!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Angels's World! Part 1, The Joy of Parenthood

Often as a teenager I would think to myself, “When I’m a parent I will never do that!” These thoughts would occur as I would watch parents struggling with their children trying to do the most simple of tasks. These thoughts were of course only thoughts that would come to someone who didn't have children of their own.

When I thought about parenting I would picture myself with a wonderful life. I would ease through child rearing by avoiding all the things I had sworn off. The plan worked well with my first daughter. She was the typical first child. She walked and spoke early. Excelled in anything she tried. So of course, when her younger sister Angel was born two and a half years later I felt like I had a system down and was ready for anything.

The first six months in Angel's world were heaven. She missed nothing. She rarely cried or fussed as long as she could see what was going on. Angel would sit for hours watching everything like a cat watches a mouse. I was apparently the mouse and she was the cat. For when she learned to crawl the cat was let out of the bag.

At first I just thought that I wasn’t paying enough attention to keeping things out of her reach. The books all came off the shelves, drawer anywhere in arms reach were emptied. By sixteen months she took me by the hand, led me into the bathroom and said potty and actually went when I placed her on the toilet. There should have been some clues in there that she was special.

I no sooner would replace the books on the shelf then she would have the kitchen cupboards emptied and I would finish putting those items away and she would have the desk drawers strewn out around our small apartment. I couldn’t keep up so eventually I just left anything below 3 feet empty so she could climb in, on and around them without making me crazy.

When she was about two, I filled the tub and was going to bathe her when the phone rang. I closed the door to the bathroom so that she wouldn’t climb into the full tub. I answered the phone in the kitchen while undressing her so she could be ready for the bath. I then stood in the doorway facing the living room while I was finishing my phone call. My industrious child pulled a kitchen chair over to the counter and proceeded to butter herself like a piece of toast from head to toe remaining as quiet as she had as a baby. I turned to hang up the phone and froze.

She was so buttered that she started slipping on the chair. I tried to pick her up but could not get a hold. She was the greased pig trying to escape the excited mob. I kept telling her not to wiggle for fear I would drop her. So, silly me, put her on the waxed linoleum where she then became the ice skater. I finally skated her to the tub and carefully placed her in.

Upon doing so, a fine layer of fat skimmed the surface and she looked like a chicken in a pot of simmering soup. It took me three baths to get the butter off of her and the tub. I ran out of hot water!

To be continued.....

Monday, May 24, 2010

Manna From Heaven as a $5 bill

Many people ask why I have a $5 bill on my gratitude frame. I really enjoy telling them this story.

While going through my divorce, I had limited finances and mostly ate salads and fruit in my diet. Finding those items expensive on my limited budget, I contacted a local store and asked what they did with their older produce when the newer shipments came in. The answer was that they would sell it for a few dollars a box to the pig farmers.

I asked if I could buy them for a few dollars a box to feed my “little pigs.” They told me it wasn’t for human consumption but once it was out the door, they couldn’t control where it went. So, for a few years, I would check the store once a week or so and buy a box of produce for a few dollars.
We would get a box of pineapple, or mangoes etc. Most of the time, the fruit was in great condition because they had just gotten a new shipment and exchanged it for the fruit that was on the shelf. So, in the morning, I would buy the old, in the afternoon, I would buy the new. That is weird that in the morning I would pay $3 for a pineapple and in the afternoon, that same pineapple was $3 a box.

I would take the fruit and dehydrate it. I would always “pay it forward” or “pay tithes” on the fruit I would get by sharing some with those who helped me in some way or welcoming in new friends to the neighborhood. We enjoyed trying new fruits dehydrated that would normally be too expensive to dry; kiwi, pineapple, mango, papaya, coconut, different melons and some different vegetables as well. jicama, yams, sweet potatoes, parsnips, Jerusalem artichokes and others turned out to be quite good dehydrated in slices with salt on them. Dried, they taste similar to a potato chip.

I have a strawberry stem on my gratitude frame as one day, my daughter said, “I wish we had some strawberries.” That day, I went to the store and we ended up with two flats full of strawberries. I dehydrated those as well.

Fast forward a few years. I no longer needed the fruit and had since heard that someone sued the store chain because they got sick eating some “bad fruit” which seemed to me a shame and a set up. However, since being sued the store would no longer sell its older fruit. I was driving to the bank and it is across from the store where I used to get the fruit.

I said a prayer of gratitude in my heart that while I needed help in that way the Lord provided a way for our family to have the fruits and veggies we needed at a price I could afford and that it was available to me while we needed it. I turned the corner and floating in front of me in the air fluttering to the ground was a $5 bill. I pulled the car to a stop, I didn’t have to get out, it landed next to the car.
I opened my door and pulled in the brand new crisp $5 bill and said to the kids in the back, “Look kids, Manna from Heaven!” They then asked me what “Manna” was and I then told them what manna was and about my prayer and how I felt it was the Lords way of telling me that he would always provide if I continued to honor him and give gratitude. He can send Manna or Money from heaven.

I pulled into the bank and no one had “lost it” and so it was my gift from God. I went on to run errands and ran into someone I knew and was telling them about my “manna” from heaven and they said, “Did you go to the dairy and buy everyone an ice cream with it?” I told them “No, It won’t ever be spent. It is my Manna from God and a reminder to me that he will always provide as long as I do my part.”

So, the $5 is at the top of my gratitude frame in a place of honor. The $5 means nothing but what it represents to me is priceless.

What “Manna” does God bless you with?

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Saltine Cracker Toffee

About 18 years ago, I went to a party at my friend Andrea's Tennis Club. I tried some not so exciting looking toffee and since that moment, I was in LOVE! I asked her to find out who made the toffee and get me the recipe. Thanks Andrea for this gem!

I have made this for years and come up with my own variation of the quickest method and how to get the most out of the recipe. I get requests for it at all the family parties. I have given this recipe away in the line at the grocery store while buying bags of mint chips, at parties, online and many have called over the years asking for it. Both my older girls called me from college asking for details on how I make it. Since you are now a trusted member of my Blogging "Family" I will share this most cherished family recipe with you!


1 cup butter
1 cup brown sugar
1 sleeve saltine crackers
1 ½ cups chocolate chips and flavored chips (mint, pb, etc)
toppings such as: chopped nuts, m & m’s, coconut, Butterfinger etc. (optional)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a large cooki
e sheet with tin foil and then cover with saltines. In a sauce pan, heat butter and brown sugar to boiling. Once boiling, boil for 3 minutes EXACTLY, stirring constantly. It should look like this. If the butter is still on top, boil a bit longer continually mixing until the butter is mixed into a caramel.

Then, pour mixture over crackers and coat all crackers. Next, place sheet into oven for exactly 5 minutes. Remove promptly and use a fork to put crackers back together.

Pour chocolate chips over tray and allow to melt for 1 minute or so. Using a fork, spread chocolate evenly over entire tray of toffee and cover with your favorite topping. Let it cool until it is hard. Break into pieces and serve.

For a variation, you can use stripes of different chips, ie. 1/3 mint, 1/3 butterscotch and 1/3 chocolate and then use three different toppings across all three making it look like you made 6 different trays. I did five flavors and 5 toppings on this one just to give you an idea.

The white, peanut butter, Wilton disks and butterscotch chips don't melt as well as the chocolate, cinnamon and mint chips. You can see in the picture how they mixed in with the caramel because they are harder to get to melt.

If you want an elegant look, I just do crushed nuts and one type of chocolate and place it on a nice tray. If I am giving them as a "thank you" gift, I put it on paper plates, cover with aluminum foil and write with a Sharpie pen on the top of the foil eliminating a card. You can let the kids decorate the foil with colored Sharpies and give it as a piece of artwork with the toffee!

One more thing, I take the little pieces that fall off when I am breaking it apart and put them in a baggie and put them in the freezer. We use that as a topping for ice cream.

Your family will never be the same!

Friday, May 21, 2010

Coconut Cream, Curry Chicken and Dehydrated Veggie soup

I wanted to try using the vegetable I dehydrated that I haven't used in cooking before. I took all the stuff I dehydrated last week and made a soup out of it. I kept them in baggies all in the same Tupperware for easy use. Basically, I opened the Tupperware, opened the bags, dumped them in with water and we were on our way.

Coconut Cream, Curry Chicken and Dehydrated Veggie Soup:

Dried Carrots ( I tried crinkle cut and baby carrots)
Dried Celery
Dried Spinach
Dried small tomatoes
Dried mushrooms
Dried sweet peas whole
Dried string beans broken in to pieces
Dried onions chopped
Dried Broccoli
Canned or cooked chicken or beef. My kids wanted chicken. I used some I canned a few months ago.
2 onion bullion packets or cubes
Garlic powder about 1 tsp
Curry powder about 4 tsp
Coconut oil 4 tbs
1 pint cream or you could use 1/2 cup dried milk whisked in.
salt to taste.

OK, I dumped everything but the cream and coconut oil into the pan and filled it with water. I actually let it boil for an hour but thought the carrots were still hard so I put it in the pressure cooker to help it along but if left boiling, it would have been OK. We tried it without the cream and coconut oil but the kids weren't really excited about it. If we had soaked the veggies first, it wouldn't have taken so long to cook. I put them in dry. If you want, soak them overnight or on the counter all day. You could also put it in a crock pot and it would be done when you arrived home.

I added the cream and coconut. The daughter I had try it first had four bowls. It was really good. It tasted Thai. I think we will do this again. We thought it would have been really good in a thicker sauce over rice.

The peas were very good. The beans were good. The tomatoes were good. The onions, mushrooms, celery, spinach, and broccoli were all good. The crinkle carrots weren't liked by anyone. The baby carrots were better. It was weird that the carrots didn't take the flavor of the soup. They tasted like carrots. It is nice to know that in an emergency, we can enjoy good food with everything we have on hand. This could be made with fresh, frozen or canned veggies as well.

We finished it off. Not a drop left. I think I will try it with smaller veggie pieces and a thicker coconut curry sauce to put over rice! Happy rehydrating!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Dehydration of Veggies Part 2

Friends have asked that I do more posts on my dehydrating. I usually just do fruits and veggies that we use for snacks but thought I would branch out and do something new. My family is glad I did.

I tried drying some veggies that I hadn't done before. I dried the little finger carrots. When I freeze carrots, I find them chewy when I put them in soup. So, I thought I would dehydrate them. They got very small and hard and took about 36 hours to dry. They aren't good to snack on dried as they are VERY hard.

I dried spinach. I have dried kale and parsley and a few other greens but nothing as delicate as spinach. I wanted to see how it would rehydrate for the soups and to use it in omelets. We really enjoyed it in the omelets and I am blogging about the soup I made and how each veggie came out tomorrow.

I have dried broccoli in the past and used it in omelets but I had never dried it and used it in soups so this time I left them in florets to see how they rehydrated in soup. Here is how they looked dried.

I have dried large tomatoes but never the little ones, they are usually eaten before they could make it to the dehydrator. They were the favorite dried veggie snack. They were so good dehydrated. They had a burst of flavor and a good texture.

I dehydrated some string beans a few weeks ago and REALLY enjoyed them dehydrated, they had a good flavor and I wished I had salted them before dehydrating them so they would be like a potato chip. They are on the left in this picture. Some of my kids liked them dehydrated, some didn't. I left them long when I rehydrated them in a cabbage soup but they were long and difficult to eat, however, the flavor was good. So, I learned when using string beans dehydrated, break them into small pieces to rehydrate.

In the past, I have dried mushrooms in slices but never the whole thing so I dried whole mushrooms. I also dried crinkle cut carrots. They lost their color for some reason as you can see above, they turned yellow.

I also dried celery as you can see in the top photo. From now on, I am going to dry the top leaves of the stock and all the little greens in the center for soups. I have frozen them in the past for turkey soup but sometimes they go dark in the freezer. From now on, I think dehydrated is the way to go. Buy on sale, dehydrate, use in soup!

Because of how good the beans were, I thought sweet peas would be even better dehydrated. I was really surprised by the outcome. I wet the peas and salted them before dehydrating them. They were horrible dried. They were kind of leathery and I didn't like the texture. None of us liked them dried. That made me worried about using them in anything. However, I will share tomorrow but our favorite veggie in the soup was the peas! I never would have guessed that outcome. So, not a good dried snack but VERY good rehydrated. It was just the opposite of the beans.

I am enjoying learning this part. I have dried most other veggies but haven't done soup veggies, usually just stir fry veggies.

Happy dehydrating! Tomorrows post..... Coconut Curry Cream of Dried Vegetable Soup!