Old Friends Become New Friends

Perhaps you noticed that it has been quite a while since my last post. Let’s just say it’s been quite a month. Nothing super horrible or bad, just a lot of things all at once. I’ve written a few posts, but didn’t published them for various reasons. This past week I was irritated, shall we say, up to my eyebrows- a T1D med. was making my stomach feel all kinds of not good, the MRI of my foot came back not so great, I am looking for a new job, and the whole school year craziness all contributed to me being really edgy. I know I am not the only person to experience a week-long siege of not-so great stuff during this apocalypse, but it still really sucked. So I did what any girl would do and lamented to her friends! They laughed and yelled with me, made me feel heard and understood, and I felt better about the whole thing. Then, of course, I went into my kitchen for about 4 good hours, blared music and sang, and emerged a much better human being.

Let’s rewind about 2 weeks. Sissay’s best friend’s parents’ best friends (did you follow that? you may have to draw it out) just bought a house about 2 blocks away from us. Sissay went on a vacation with these 2 families last year, and has hung out with the whole group many times. Why does that matter? Well, we only knew the friends by their first names and had never met them, after all Sissay was 18 then and was with people we did know. Sissay’s BFF, Lani, was listing off people going to an event by last name, and I interrupted her mid-sentence when she said one last name I absolutely knew. Me:”Which one?” Lani:”Kyle and Amanda.” Insert my look of you’ve gotta be kidding me. Me: “Kyle and I grew up together! We were practically brother and sister. We used to vacation together growing up and our families were always together!”

Seriously, how is this possible??? We haven’t seen each other in 20 years, yet we’ve lived in the same town for almost 10 years. No seeing each other at the grocery store or the pharmacy or anywhere in this small town. How is that even possible? And then I realized that our youngest daughter has vacationed with them and hung out many many times over the years, but I had not heard their last name until then. Just. No. Way. So we met/saw each other again at Sissay’s BFF’s house and both kept shaking our heads and saying how crazy all of this was. And then they bought a house down the street from us!

They just closed on the house and were moving in/painting/demo-ing etc., so I made them a meal and took it to their new house. If you read this blog regularly, which I hope you do, you know that I absolutely love to take a meal to people for any reason. Moving is a very stressful and exciting and exhausting experience, and no moving person has time to stop what they are doing to make a lasagna in the middle of a mess, nor would they ever want to! So bring them a meal. I sent everything in disposable foil containers so they had nothing to clean up or wash and return. I made pulled pork, parsley potatoes, chocolate chip/m&m cookies, and blueberry lemon pound cake. I also brought 2 bags of chips, paper plates- a MUST if you remember from my post Taking a Meal to a Grieving Family, Capri-Suns for the kiddos and a handle of vodka and some lemonade for the adults because moving requires alcohol! My intention was that there would be something there for everyone; dinner, a snack, a sweet tooth, an end-of-the-day adult beverage. Remember, a meal is so much more than food. It is my favorite way to share love with people, and in this case it was my way of saying welcome to the neighborhood and I’m glad we get to be new (old) friends.

I made them blueberry lemon pound cake because it is incredible. Period. It tastes like summer in a way that could have you eating half a loaf on your own without even realizing it. Not that I’ve ever done such a thing, being the good T1D that I am. Nope, never. Maybe. It also makes 2 loaves of poundcake, which means you can share one and keep the other, or give yours to someone else so you are not tempted to eat it all yourself. It doesn’t require much effort, and you can do other things while it bakes for an hour, and then cools for a good hour. It also freezes well, so you can make, slice and freeze ahead of time, grab out of the freezer, and it will be thawed and wonderful by the time you get to where you are going. It’s good, trust me! This is a recipe I have made for 4 or 5 years now, and it always gets rave reviews when I make it. I have even made it into cupcakes, though I don’t remember how much time they baked, so just keep an eye on them if you go that route.

Blueberry Lemon Poundcake (adapted from chef-in-training.com)

  • 1 Cup Butter, Softened
  • 1 3/4 Sugar
  • 1 Lemon, Zested
  • 1T Lemon Juice from that Lemon
  • 3 Eggs
  • 1 tsp Vanilla
  • 3/4 C Buttermilk (1 T vinegar mixed with 3/4C -1T milk, let sit till ready to use)
  • 2 1/2 C Flour
  • 2 tsp Baking Powder
  • 1 tsp Salt
  • 2 Pints Blueberries, I always use fresh

Preheat oven to 350. Using whisk attachment on stand mixer, cream together softened butter, sugar, lemon zest, and lemon juice until light and fluffy. Scrape down sides of bowl and add eggs, 1 at a time, mixing after each addition. Add vanilla, mix and scrape down bowl. In a separate bowl stir together flour, baking powder, and salt. *Change to paddle attachment on stand mixer. Add about half of flour mix to bowl and mix on low until incorporated. Add about half of buttermilk to mixing bowl and mix on low until incorporated. Repeat with final flour mixture, mix together, final buttermilk, mix together. Using a rubber scraper, gently fold in blueberries being careful not to mash them. You just need them evenly distributed, rather than mixed in.

Be gentle with your blueberries

Pour half of batter into each of 2 greased loaf pans and spread evenly. Put in the 350 oven for 50-65 minutes, until cake tester comes out clean. Mine always take 60-65 minutes, but I start checking at 50 minutes because over-baked food is a HUGE pet peeve of mine. Remove from oven and place on a wire cooling rack for at least 1 hour until cooled.

Lemon Glaze

  • 1 T Lemon Zest (You will need a total of 2 lemons for the cake and glaze)
  • 1 T Lemon Juice (from zested lemon)
  • 1 T Milk
  • 2 tsp Vanilla
  • 1 1/2-2 C Powdered sugar

Whisk together in medium sized bowl until smooth and a glaze consistency, but not runny. You can either pour glaze in the loaf pan on top of the pound cake and then slice and serve, or cut longways down the middle of the loaf pan, then shortways into 1/2 inch slices. Remove from pan with a small spatula or butter knife, place on a plate or tray, and drizzle glaze on top of the slices. Sample the crumbs, you know you want to.

It has been so long since our families were together that I am already starting to scheme ways to get as many of us together as possible in the next year or so. But right now, I want Superman and I to build a friendship with Kyle & Amanda and their kiddos because you can never have enough great friends in your life! What a blessing to have old friends become new friends. Of course, Little Guy is very excited to have more friends, especially ones that are so close and love to fish. We are really looking forward to helping them with projects, taking down a couple cottonwood trees, and getting to know them as a couple.

It is very important to me that I cook and bake for the people I care about. It is my personal expression of love and caring, and it both relaxes and energizes me. I wish you could have seen me when I walked into my kitchen, and then again when I walked out. What a transformation! That is what cooking and baking does for me. I sincerely hope that you spend time doing the thing that does that for you, especially during this madness that surrounds us. It is so important that each of us finds our happy thing that builds up our spirit, and then spend time every week, or every day if possible, doing your happy thing. That is sure to nourish your heart.

A Week of Friends…

because it’s so much fun!

Our week began with one event planned, and concluded with friends for 6 straight days. I am not saying we are super popular, or that we have a booked social calendar because we are just so cool. What I am saying is that this week turned out to be jam-packed with visits from people we love and love to hang out with, which makes my heart sing. It also means lots of food planning, which I love! We are very blessed to live on a lake, so we are able to swim and boat and fish regardless of this world’s current craziness, and we love to have people over to enjoy the water with us.

Six days of hosting may sound overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be. Friends always ask what they can bring, so keep things simple and have them bring 1 or 2 things. Grab-and-go items are always winners around here. A light lunch or simple snacks will allow you and your guests to have fun without running yourself ragged. I also like to make a large amount of whatever I am making and serve it over 2 days so preparation is not a chore. I want to enjoy our time with friends, so I make it a point to keep things simple, which allows all of our guests to relax and enjoy as well.

So what did I make? Rice Krispie Treats, Oreo Balls, fruit tray, veggies & hummus, chicken salad, lunchmeat sliders, apple cider donuts, and crackers&cheese. We grilled out 2 days and ordered pizza once. Friends brought food as well. Did we have enough food? To feed an army, yes. Did I run out of paper plates because I forgot to put them on my list? Of course I did! But I have Melmac dishes (sturdy plastic) that I bought specifically for eating outside, so it was no big deal.

Lisa’s Chicken Salad

  • 2 pounds chicken tenderloins (or chicken breasts)
  • 1/2 pound red seedless grapes, cut in half
  • 3 ribs of celery, diced small
  • 1/2 Cup chopped walnuts or slivered almond
  • 3/4 Cup mayonnaise
  • 2Tablespoons brown sugar
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • 1/4 teaspoon onion powder

Cook chicken in Instant Pot on Manual setting for 25 minutes. I spray pan with cooking spray, add chicken, put on a little salt and pepper and let it go. While chicken cooks, cut celery and grapes. I like small chunks of celery, so I cut each rib of celery into 3 sections lengthwise and cut about 1/4″ thick. Grapes get cut in half. Place grapes and celery into mixing bowl. Quick release pressure when InstantPot is done, move chicken to cutting board and shred or cube. Add chicken to mixing bowl with celery and grapes, set aside.

In small mixing bowl combine mayonnaise, brown sugar, salt & pepper, and onion powder, mix well. Add to chicken mixture and stir until incorporated. If you want to add nuts, do that now and mix. Cover and refrigerate 2 hours to let flavors meld and salad to chill. Serve on bread, crescents, Hawaiian rolls, crackers, or eat with a fork. I bet you’ll come back for seconds. ***I must apologize- I made this 2 times during the week and did not take a single picture of the process or the finished product. That is called a blog-fail, and I did it big time! Truth be told, I am still getting used to taking pictures as I cook, and I’m not always good at remembering. I have also forgotten to take pictures of parts of a cooking process, only to realize it and become frustrated with myself. I’m trying to get better, I promise.

Our first day of friends began with a delightful little nugget, T and her boys. She is a friend I used to work with, and her boys are the most respectful, well mannered gentlemen on the planet. They are a few years older than Little Guy, so there is a lot of hero worship going on there. T is this fun-sized, very fit, healthy eating but booze enjoying, full of laughter lady you can have a heart to heart with, or people watch and cackle. I just love her, and was so excited to see her because we hadn’t seen each other in 3 1/2 months. Little Guy was on Cloud 9 all day with 2 older boys to play and swim with. T requested I make a drink that I made for us last year when we had a swim day. It’s delicious! We both love our coffee, and booze never hurts, so…

Extra Special Coffee

  • 2 oz. Patron Cafe
  • 2 oz. Kahlua
  • 1 oz. CoffeeMate Sugar-Free Sweet Cream liquid creamer
  • 2 oz. Brewed Coffee- cold preferred but can use hot
  • Splash Half and Half

Fill glass with ice. Add all ingredients, stir, and enjoy.

Wednesday is our normal swim day this summer for some of the moms and kids on the lake, so I invited over some friends from the lake and 2 of our favorite little people in the world who just so happen to be stair-steps in age with Little Guy, so they are all buddies. Turns out there were 2 boys, 2 girls, and 2 mommas. Such a fun day in the sun! Even with a decent age gap, the girls got along really well, and watching all 4 kiddos splashing and laughing together while the mommas chatted and relaxed was a fantastic way to spend the day. Our menu was less than formal- chicken salad, hummus and veggies, fruit, and pepperoni and crackers. No one complained about the casual menu, the kids were able to grab what they wanted and scarf it down in a hurry, then get back in the water where they really wanted to be. It was one of those times when I knew my audience and delivered what they wanted- easy foods that are quick to eat. Winner-Winner!

On Thursday one of my friends from childhood, Stephanie, came over with her hubby, kids, and a niece and nephew. We don’t get to see each other very often, but we are always able to pick up right where we left off, as if no time has passed. Her girls are like my own, and they know to make themselves at home, which I love. We spent the day catching up, laughing, talking, and having fun. Stephanie’s husband, B, tried to catch a fish for at least 90 minutes with no success, while the other kids caught several in that time. Let’s just say he was a little frustrated. Finally, he went over to where I suggested he try, and started catching fish like it was his job. That turned the tide on his day, and it seemed to me like he was better able to enjoy the day once he had conquered fishing. Stephanie and I remembered back to when they were in the Navy and stationed in California. Somehow, B always knew when we had talked on the phone that day, though he had no proof. He teased her that she sounded like me, and even half-way across the country, we were alike in so many ways. I have always preferred to take it as a compliment that my sparkling personality transfers across phone lines:) She and I just laugh about it. It was a wonderful day that could have gone on for many more hours, but they eventually had to get going. I love when Stephanie & Co. come to visit!

The Hooligans all came over on Friday. It’s what I have named our group of 5 couples. We always have the best time harassing each other and laughing our butts off. It started as one couple coming over because their son loves to jetski, and we decided at the last minute to turn it into a big ole Hooligans gathering, and I’m so glad we did. The girls decided that we would get the boys to grill, and we would each do a side or dessert. That meant very little work for me, which is great sometimes. My favorite thing I ate that night was a cucumber-tomato salad. It tastes exactly like summer, and I’m pretty sure I had 3 helpings of it. I still didn’t remember to get paper plates when I went to the store, but my outside summer dishes worked great. It was such a fun day, and I loved taking the boys for jetski rides that make them shriek with a fear/excitement mix. One of the Hooligans had gotten a freeze drier, and brought over some fun treats to share. So interesting how the texture changes so much, but the flavors stay. We all loved sampling the saltwater taffy, fruit, marshmallows, and ice cream sandwiches, which are now Little Guy’s favorite thing. It ended up storming a lot that night, and one couple stayed on after everyone else left to sit on the porch, have a cigar, and talk while the storm rolled in. It was so relaxing and peaceful out there. It was the perfect way to finish off the evening.

Millie’s Cucumber-Tomato Salad

  • 3 Cucumbers, peeled and sliced 1/4″ thick
  • 1 Onion, sliced, halved, and separated into rings
  • 3 Tomatoes, cored and cut into wedges
  • 1/2 C White Vinegar
  • 1/4 C Sugar
  • 1 Cup Water
  • 2 tsp. Salt
  • 1 tsp. Black Pepper, ground
  • 1/4 C Oil

Combine ingredients in a large bowl and mix well. Cover and refrigerate at least 2 hours before serving. ** When I made this a few days later, I made a small change in an effort to lower the sugar/carb content for my T1D self. I used a cup-for-cup sugar substitute and it was wonderful.**

Are you tired yet? By the time our alarm went off on Saturday morning, I was beginning to feel a little tired, but still excited about our last 2 days of friends. Our morning was completely geared toward our kids. Superman and Mike work together, and our families just clicked, so we love when they come over. We went to the training simulator, where Superman goes for training and Mike now works, to let the kids have some fun pressing buttons and turning switches. The kiddos don’t really understand what it means when they say their dads make electricity, so this was a great way for them to experience some of the scope of what the dads do. Let’s just say they had a blast! It’s very overwhelming for me to see the complexity of their job, and when the dads showed us how and what they do when they train (and at work), we were all blown away at their efficiency and how much they have to know- ’cause its a TON of stuff!! It’s no wonder they are exhausted after a 12-hour day at work! After the kids pushed enough buttons, we came back to the house and grilled burgers. They even brought us 2 amazing cucumbers from their garden, which I immediately knew would be used to make Millie’s salad. Thank you, friends with gardens who are willing to share! Such a fun day of pushing buttons, swimming and visiting and boating. Let’s do that again very soon please.

Sunday Funday! We were invited to some friend’s house for brunch made on a new grill that was needing to be broken in. Pancakes and bacon on the grill, fruit, bagels and lox, apple cider donuts, zucchini bread, and Bloody Mary’s- YUM! I was gifted some sourdough starter from one of our friends at brunch, I’ll post about that soon. After a few hours of fun and food, we had to run because our final batch of friends were on their way to our house.

Uncle V and Annie are newly-engaged, and it was the first time we had seen them together since he popped the question. Superman and V work together and have been friends for many years. Though we are not related, Little Guy has always called him Uncle V, and I call him Bro because he’s always treated me like his little sister, the good and the bad. I love having family that is not actually related- the more the merrier, right? We had made no plans for food and were just going to figure it out when they got here. Well, they came over with enough food to feed a small army! V had recently been given a large amount of fresh salmon and had spent hours smoking it on Saturday. He made this incredible dip that basically requires bagels and some sliced tomato to become bagels and lox. It was AMAZING! I am very picky about salmon because I hate the “fishy” taste it has a lot of the time, but this was Heaven. I only eat salmon if it is prepared by my chef-friend Sarah, our friend Uncle Chris, and now Uncle V. I ate a lot of that dip on a whole grain baguette. So. Stinking. Delicious. We talked and ate and talked some more. Then we went down to the lake and floated and swam, and I took Annie for her first jetski ride, and went easy on her so she wouldn’t hate me. Then I took Bro for a ride, where he kept leaning far to the side to try to tip us over like an annoying big brother. What a dork! We had a great time, and finally ordered pizza delivery when we got hungry from our snacking.

We may have eaten some before I though to take a picture. Okay, we ate a LOT.

Uncle V’s Bagels and Lox Dip

  • 16 oz. Cream Cheese, softened
  • 2 oz Capers and Brine
  • 2 Cloves Minced Garlic (1 tsp minced)
  • 1/8 tsp black pepper
  • 1/4-1/3 C Red Onion, diced
  • 1/4 C Fresh Dill
  • 8 oz. Smoked Salmon

Refrigerate for at least 1 hour to let flavors meld. Serve on sliced baguette (plain or toasted) or mild crackers. Excellent topped with thin-sliced tomatoes.

This is some serious Heaven right here!

It was a wonderful, action-packed week of friends, and I don’t regret squeezing it all into one week. Though it took me about 2 days to recoup, it is a week of friends that I will remember forever. I learned several new recipes that I will be making soon, and laughed so much I should have lost 20 lbs, but didn’t of course! 2020 has been really difficult and just plain terrible in so many ways that we all need to search out the good things in life that make us happy. For our family, it is having friends and family out to the house to enjoy the water and each other’s company. In this time of fear and isolation, these wonderful people nourish my heart.

Festive Dessert for the 4th

Every year friends of ours from the lake have a huge 4th of July party. We play volleyball, swim, eat, laugh, do lots of visiting, and watch fireworks from the boats. It is always so much fun, and we look forward to it all summer long. It’s an all-day affair, so there’s plenty of time to sample all the good food and treats that everyone brings, and perhaps enjoy a cocktail or two.

I always make a dessert and a side, and breakfast for the host family for the next morning. Hosting such a large gathering is a monster undertaking that requires all the normal party prep plus setting up tents and tables & chairs. And of course the clean up that night and the next day. It’s a lot! So I bring breakfast so they have something filling and yummy, but doesn’t require more than a heat-thru. In years past I have made cinnamon rolls, coffee cake, and breakfast pockets. Their favorite is the breakfast pockets, so I am making those again this year. They can be reheated in the oven, toaster oven, or microwave, and are quick and delicious.

Breakfast Pockets– makes 12

  • 3 tubes Crescent Rolls
  • 1/2 lb Bacon, cooked and crumbled
  • 1/2 roll Sausage, cooked and crumbled
  • 6 Eggs
  • 1 Cup Cheddar Cheese, shredded
  • Splash of Milk
  • Salt and Pepper to taste
  • 2 T Butter

Cook and crumble bacon and sausage, set aside. Crack eggs, add splash of milk, mix in bacon, sausage, and cheese. Melt butter in large skillet, pour in egg mixture. Season with salt and pepper. Keep stirring slowly until you have soft scrambled eggs. Do NOT overcook! Remove pan from heat.

On large cookie sheet or stone, press together perforated edges of 2 crescent triangles to make a large rectangle. Spread 2-3 Tablespoons cooked egg mixture on one half of rectangle, leaving a small margin around edges to seal the crescents together. Fold empty half of crescent over the side with egg mixture and press with fingers or a fork to seal the margin, creating a pocket. Repeat with all 12 pockets. Bake according to crescent roll package directions, until golden brown, but not overcooked. Remove from oven and move pockets to cooling rack to cool completely. Refrigerate in Ziplock bags or airtight container, separating layers with parchment or waxed paper. To reheat, place in microwave for 30 seconds, or oven for 5-7 minutes.

I have also made these in batches with only one meat, and store bacon vs sausage in separate Ziplock bags. You can also use diced ham or veggie. Just think of all the breakfast possibilities!

This year I decided to make a red, white & blue cake. I will be completely honest with you and say that I seriously dreamed of 2 desserts for an entire night. I even made each dessert in my dream 2 different ways. Girl, you’ve got problems! The best part is, my dreams failed me! I made the cake exactly as I did in dream sequence #1, but the frosting was much too heavy (tasting and weight) and thick, which caused very bad things to happen like frosting glopping down the edges and smearing the beauty of the colors. UGH!!! So I sliced it up and delivered it to my BFF and my in-laws and made another cake. Major Blog-Fail! But I got it right the 2nd time, and it’s perfect, I promise. The flavors of the cake and 2 different fruit spreads are absolutely to die for, light, and delicious. You will make this cake for more than the 4th of July, and I would encourage you to experiment with other fruit flavors.

After all the “no, No NOOOOO!” of the first cake-tastrophy, I did a lot of laughing at the fail and thinking about what I liked and didn’t like, as well as what I really wanted from this cake. The result of those thoughts is the cake you will find here. It’s perfect in every way from flavor profile to presentation. I could not be happier with this flag cake. Sissay, Little Guy, and their friend Lane (unfortunately for them) got to see my excitement as it all came together and I danced around the kitchen and squealed like a little girl with excitement. The girls each ate one small piece, then two pieces, then I stopped paying attention. I guarantee they kept thinking, “Seriously, it’s a cake. No need to be that excited, ya big dork.” But they never said any of that out loud. Instead they raved about the flavors and kept eating, and smiled and laughed when I’d get all goofy and dance. Thanks, kiddos for letting your momma be a big baking nerd.

Lisa’s Red, White & Blue Cake

  • 1 White Cake Mix, make according to package instructions
  • 1 lb fresh Strawberries, rinsed, cored and rough chopped
  • 1 pint fresh Blueberries, rinsed
  • 1 Cup sugar, divided
  • 1 Cool Whip, 8oz thawed
  • Fresh Strawberries and Blueberries for garnish

Seriously, that’s all you need! Make your white cake according to the box. Line a sheet pan/bar pan with parchment paper, and spread cake mix evenly, doing your best to get mix into the corners. Bake according to package temperature for 18 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool on cooling rack. You can remove cake from pan after about 20 minutes and cool parchment/cake on cooling rack to speed it up a bit.

While your cake is in the oven, chop your strawberries and grab 2 medium sauce pans. Put strawberries in one, blueberries in the other. Add 1/2 Cup Sugar to each saucepan, and bring to low boil over medium heat. Stir occasionally to move fruit and sugar around and prevent sticking and burning. Low boil for about 15 minutes until both pans have a lot of foam. You’ll know it when you see it. Remove from heat and transfer, one fruit at a time, to blender or use an immersion blender right in the saucepan. Blend until no chunks or lumps remain. Mixture will be thinner than jelly. Go ahead, taste them both. You may just start making your own jelly after this. **There will be more than enough fruit spread for the cake and tasting and to put on your toast the next day. You’re welcome. If you are not planning to cut up fruit and decorate the top of the cake, consider drizzling some of each fruit spread over the Cool Whip. That will be beautiful and tasty too.

While we waited for everything to cool, Little Guy wanted to do a little fishing. He caught a catfish and Quinn investigated.

The nerd in me grabbed Superman’s tape measure to make sure I cut the cake equally. And since I’m amazing at math, 15 divided by 3 = 5, so each layer of the cake is 5″ wide.

You can see my knife marks at 5 inches

With a cooled and cut cake, and cooled fruit spreads, you can begin to construct your masterpiece. I flipped each layer of cake over so I had a more even surface to work with. Using a large kitchen spoon, I put 2 spoonfulls of blueberry on the bottom layer and spread out to the edges. Because I wanted the flavor to be present and not just a little hint, I added one more spoonful and spread it around again. If some runs down the edges, that’s ok, and it makes it look better in my opinion. Continue with the next cake layer and then put the strawberry spread on, following the 2 spoonfulls, then add 1 more.

Add your last layer of cake and spread about 1 Cup of Cool Whip on top. I tried to make it as smooth as possible because I wanted to give the fresh fruit design a blank canvas. Don’t feel like you need to use the whole container of Cool Whip, a thin layer will be perfect without overtaking the flavors. I found similar-sized blueberries for my stars section of the flag, and cored and quartered strawberries for the stripes. Obviously I did not even attempt to be accurate with my numbers, that’s not what I was going for, and this is a small surface to work with. One of my friends teasingly suggested I create the Navy emblem rather than the US flag because Superman is a Navy veteran. I declined. That emblem is not something I would ever attempt with fruit 🙂

This cake is best served cold. Refrigerate for a few hours before you head to your party so it stays cold. If you are going to be outside in the heat, keep it covered and place your cake plate on ice or ice packs. It shouldn’t last very long once word gets out that it’s so good.

Happy 4th of July, America! Please take a moment to thank God for blessing us with the freedoms we enjoy, and remember those who have served in our armed forces or surrendered their lives throughout our country’s history so we can live free.

Biscuits for My Boys, because it’s their favorite

This Momma loves her boys! There is a 14 year difference between our oldest son and our youngest. They only lived under the same roof for about 4 years before Bubba spread his wings and got his own place. Bubba thinks Little Guy is funny and likes to make him do and say things to amuse himself, and Little Guy loves Bubba’s crazy music and wrestling with him. If you didn’t know they were brothers, you’d never guess it just by seeing them-they are different in almost every visual way. Bubba has long brown curly hair, Little Guy is a toe head with straight, slightly shaggy hair. Bubba is about 6 feet tall with broad shoulders, Little Guy is a tall 7 year old, and a string bean.

But their hearts are the same. We are blessed to have 2 sons that have the most tender, compassionate, and loving hearts. There is something so pure and beautiful about a little boy who loves ferociously, whose heart is bursting with love for his friends and family. My most favorite thing about each of them is their sweet heart. I remember the way each of them loved me at about age 3, when I was their absolute favorite person in the whole world, and I could do and fix anything! Both boys loved to snuggle when they were little. Lucky for me, Little Guy still loves it, and he is super snuggly first thing in the morning. I distinctly remember a time when Bubba was around 3 and he grabbed my face, kissed me really hard, looked me square in the eyeballs and said with so much intensity, “I just love you so much Momma!” Those are moments that I treasure in my heart.

This sap of a Momma is bawling like a baby, and tears are rolling down my cheeks as I remember and write this. Why do they stay little for such a short time? (I sound like my grandma)

When Bubba was little, his favorite thing to eat for breakfast was sausage&egg biscuit sandwiches. I made him fresh biscuits for breakfast almost every single day for a couple of years. He absolutely LOVED them, so I made them. I would make a 1/2 batch every morning, which made 4 or 5 biscuits, and he, Sissay, and I would polish them off. These biscuits are very easy to make, so it wasn’t a chore to make them each morning. I also love to cook, so making breakfast every day is something I enjoy. I am not a big fan of cereal, so my kids didn’t really eat it much growing up. There is a famous story in our family that one morning when Bubba and Sissay were about 9&11, I was running behind schedule getting ready for work/school. I told them to grab a bowl of cereal because I wasn’t going to have time to make them breakfast. They both stopped dead in their tracks, looked at me with shocked faces, and Sissay said, “Are we in trouble?” Seriously, a true story!

Little Guy has his own breakfast favorite that he wants every single day. Toast with Magic and bacon. You would call it cinnamon toast, but I had to get creative when it came to getting this picky eater to try something new. I told him that I sprinkled magic on the toast, and he fell for it hook, line, and sinker. He also prefers “magic” on his biscuits, and calls it biscuits with magic-we are very creative with our food names. It is so funny to me how many people say, “I haven’t had cinnamon toast in so long, I used to love that!” Well, bring it back into your morning and remember how good it is. Maybe you can even introduce it to your kids or grandkids, and share this oldie but goodie with them.

Bubba’s favorite biscuits are from the Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book. My dad bought me this cookbook for Christmas one year as a thank you for being his barber. It was the first “real” cookbook I ever owned, and is still one of my favorites.

Baking Powder Biscuits-from the Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book

  • 2 Cups Flour
  • 1 Tablespoon Baking Powder
  • 1/4-1/2 teaspoons Salt
  • 1/3 Cup Shortening
  • 3/4 Cup Milk
  1. In a medium mixing bowl, stir together flour, baking powder, and salt. Using a pastry blender, cut in shortening until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Make a well in the center of the dry mixture. Add the milk all at once. Using a fork, stir just until moistened.
Mine is never a perfect circle, but I prefer using my hands so I can feel the consistency of the dough.

2. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Quickly kneed dough by gently folding and pressing dough 10-12 strokes or until nearly smooth. Pat or lightly roll dough to 1/2 inch thickness. Cut dough with a floured 2 1/2 inch biscuit cutter.

3. Place biscuits 1 inch apart on an ungreased baking sheet. Bake at 450 degrees for 10-12 minutes or until golden brown. Remove biscuits from baking sheet and serve hot. Makes 10 biscuits.

** Because I change every recipe I make, I use slightly softened butter instead of shortening. Sometimes I use my pastry blender, sometimes I use my small Kitchenaid Mixer with the whisk attachment to cut in the butter. I always use my hands to flatten out the dough. My last recipe change is that I brush the tops of the unbaked biscuits with softened butter before they go in the oven. After all, butter is the secret to life.

I prefer my biscuits with butter and homemade mixed berry jam. Learn how to make my jam below.

I started making my own jam less than a year ago. It started as a 50th birthday gift for one of our friends. Nothing is better than a loaf of homemade bread and jam! I did the same thing for another friend’s birthday, and it kind of became a thing. Then one day, I bought a lot of bags of frozen mixed berries and some jelly jars the grocery store. It’s a very very simple recipe- just berries, sugar, and a little cornstarch to thicken a bit. There is a little bit of time involved, and some elbow grease if you don’t want seeds in your jam. (I do NOT like seeds in my jam) I am still perfecting the process, but it has a consistently delicious, fruity taste with just the right amount of sweetness.

Lisa’s Mixed Berry Jam

  • 2 bags frozen Mixed Berries
  • 1 1/2-2 Cups sugar depending on your tastebuds (I like 1 1/2 Cups)
  • 1 1/2 Tablespoons Corn Starch and 1 1/2 Tablespoons water mixed and set aside

Dump 2 bags of frozen Mixed Berries into a heavy dutch oven. I use my 6 qt. cast iron dutch oven. Add sugar and stir. Let come to a low boil over medium high heat, stirring every couple minutes to incorporate sugar and prevent burning. Reduce heat to medium and continue to low boil for 15-20 minutes, stirring every couple minutes until the mixture gets a bit foamy.

Remove from heat and run through fine mesh colander, saving the juice. In order to get the pulp of the fruit and remove the seeds, I mash the fruit against the colander walls with a rubber scraper and scrape down the outside of the colander and add the pulp to the juice. It requires some elbow grease, but it is well worth it! If I were using berries without seeds, I would simply use an immersion blender to finish breaking down the fruit into a jam consistency and thicken with a little corn starch.

Using a ladle, fill your jelly jars to the bottom ring of the jar and put the lid and ring on tight. Move to refrigerator to cool. Use within 2 weeks, but I’ve never had it last that long!

I made 1 large jar and 2 jelly jars.

You cannot go wrong with these Baking Powder Biscuits and Mixed Berry Jam! The jam also makes a great hostess gift, or even as little bit of sweetness to share with loved ones.

I really miss the days of making biscuits every morning for Bubba. Those years when they are little disappear all too soon. He’s a wonderful young man and I love seeing him so happy, living his life exactly how he wants to. I couldn’t be more proud of him and I still love him to pieces, but he no longer snuggles with me, or wakes me up in the middle of the night when he has a bad dream, or needs me to fix his owies. I wish I had known back then how quickly they grow up. That is the bitter-sweet part of having that knowledge with Little Guy. I know he won’t be little forever, and that makes part of me sad, but I find myself slowing down and enjoying the little moments with him because I know they won’t last forever. My two boys have very special places in my heart, and I will always make them anything in the world they want to eat because it makes me so happy to make them their favorite foods. Whether my kiddos are young or young adults, being a Momma is one of the best things in my life. And they nourish my heart.

My Mommas and Their Recipes Part 3

MommaRita is the mom of one of my BFF’s. She is one of the sweetest and most generous women I have ever met. She loves Jesus, people, and animals- in that order, and she does it all from her heart of pure gold. To know Rita is to be loved by Rita, and hugged. A lot.

My connection to MommaRita began almost 20 years ago when I met her husband, an OBGYN who delivered our youngest daughter. Women know how important it is to like and trust your OBGYN, and Doc is the greatest there is. I always felt like he was taking care of me like he would his own family. I had no idea, then, that their family would become part of ours. Fast forward several years to my pregnancy with Little Guy. It was during this pregnancy that I met Sarah, Doc’s daughter who was a nurse at his office. She and I became fast friends. Sarah was pregnant with her first baby and delivered 5 months before I did, so we saw each other regularly at the beginning and end of my pregnancy. Our boys are still best buds.

It was while Little Guy was in preschool that I finally met MommaRita. Sarah kept Little Guy a couple days a week while I went back to school to finish my degree, and sometimes I would get to see MommaRita when I dropped him off. She has a gentle, soothing voice that reminds me of a Pre-School teacher or or NICU nurse, and caring eyes that shine with genuine love and gentleness. Over the years I have spent a good amount of time around their family, and have come to feel very much at home with them, and in their home. The chaos of a large family is very familiar to me, being 1 of 5 kids, and the decibel level, activity, and amount of food at every gathering reminds me of growing up. The entire family is very welcoming, and that comes straight from the way Doc and MommaRita live their life and raised their children.

As I said earlier, to know Rita is to be loved by Rita. Very early into the life of this blog, I was blown away at how quickly it was spreading, how many readers and followers I had, and even at how writing and sharing my love of food and people energized and renewed me. I shared some of this with someone I had expected would share my excitement, but didn’t. I felt rejected, deflated, and very hurt by the lack of interest in something that was so obviously making me over-the-moon-happy. It hurt me so much that I cried off and on for 2 days, but didn’t say a word to anyone about what I was feeling. Completely out of nowhere on that second morning, MommaRita texted me and said God put me on her heart. She sent me a picture of her devotions that morning and it was exactly what I needed to hear. It talked about how much Christ loves us, and that even when we feel rejected or brokenhearted by others, He always loves, and never rejects us. Well, that had me in tears of gratitude! I shared a little snippet of what had been going on, and she responded that when God put me on her heart that morning, He told her that I was feeling rejected and broken hearted. She shared encouragement and love, and the truth about how much I was loved by my Creator- and that changed everything for me that day!

Because our lives can be crazy and unpredictable at times, it took us a good month to schedule time to cook together. When deciding what to make, I said, “Anything you want! Your signature recipe, your favorite thing to eat, your most requested food, your favorite thing to make, anything you want.” She decided on Parmesan Popcorn and Pizzelles, much to her family’s disbelief. MommaRita is an amazing cook, and has so many fantastic Italian recipes in her arsenal that they thought she should showcase. I sat there and laughed as they rattled off all the things she could make and lovingly harassed her for her choice of snack foods. I, on the other hand, was super pumped about what we were going to make. I haven’t had a single snack food on the blog yet, and I love to learn new recipes. I had absolutely no idea what pizzelles were, let alone how to spell them to look up what they were, so I was ready to have that mystery solved.

Finally, our cooking day arrived. I showed up armed with an empty stomach and my camera. Rita already had her apron on and the ingredients ready to go. After a few moments of catching up we got to work on the popcorn so we could snack on it while we made pizzelles. I love the way she thinks!

MommaRita’s Parmesan Popcorn

  • 1/3 C Orville Redenbacher White Popcorn
  • 1/3 C Grapeseed Oil
  • 1/2 C Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, finely grated
  • 1/4 C Melted Butter
  • Himalayan Sea Salt to taste

Finely grate cheese, set aside. Using stovetop popcorn maker, heat grapeseed oil, then add popcorn and shake to coat kernels. Cook over medium high heat until popping stops for about 3 seconds-shaking pan or stirring kernels (depending on pan.) Immediately transfer hot popcorn to large bowl and sprinkle with grated cheese so it can melt a bit. Add melted butter and salt, stir or shake to coat evenly. As MommaRita says, best enjoyed with an ice cold beer-and she’s right! Store any leftovers in an airtight container.

This is all that was left when I went home

Then we moved on to pizzelles (pronounced pit-sells), where I would finally learn what in the world these things are. Turns out I had seen them several times throughout my life, but never tried them because I had no idea what they were. They are a traditional Italian cookie that is often served with coffee or tea. It’s not sweet like a traditional cookie, it has more of a subtle sweetness. It reminded me of a waffle cone because of its crispy texture and light flavor. And like a waffle cone, the possibilities are endless when it comes to filling and toppings.

MommaRita’s Pizzelles

  • 1 C Softened Butter
  • 1 1/2 C Granulated Sugar
  • 6 Large Eggs
  • 1 tsp Pure Orange Extract
  • 1 tsp Pure Lemon Extract
  • 1 tsp Pure Anise Extract
  • 2 1/2 C Flour

Mix butter and sugar together until combined. Incorporate eggs, 2 at a time, stirring between additions until mixed well. Add all 3 extracts and stir again. Fold in flour, 1 Cup at a time, and stir until just mixed.

I do not like anise, but I wanted to taste it before I judged. The flavors are very subtle, and I liked it. You can use any extract you like. I will use almond extract next time since I am a HUGE fan of almond.

This is a simple cookie, a simple recipe, a simple process. There is something really special about simple flavors. I sometimes find myself attracted to complex recipes with a lot going on because I love the challenge of it all. But it’s also nice to have simple and uncomplicated. I do want to let you know that the process of making the pizzelles is a bit time-consuming, as the iron only makes 2 at a time. Don’t let that discourage you from making them! There is a comfortable rhythm in the process, and that rhythm forces you to slow down and move at the pace of the iron, which I found relaxing. Each pair takes 60-90 seconds to complete.

Place dough in the center of each mold. We used a regular spoon from the silverware drawer. Close and latch, or just hold tight, and prepare for a little dough to sputter out the sides of the iron if you went a little heavy on your spoonful. Sometimes I nailed it and put in the exact amount, other times it reminded me of when I make waffles and the batter overflows a bit. Check the pizzelles at about 60 seconds, since iron temperatures vary. You want them lightly golden, so check on them until you figure out your timing.

All finished with the iron and ready to top with delicious things.

While we cooked we talked about many things, but mostly about family and relationships, and how this pandemic has made us both re-evaluate what is important in our lives. We laughed, shared, cried, and hugged. And as always, MommaRita was full of compassion, encouragement, and wisdom. She is just such a blessing! You can tell she is listening intently to your words and praying for you at the same time. And she’s not afraid to speak truth and life to you in the most loving and encouraging way. I always leave my time with her all full of love and totally renewed. And it’s not just me that feels like that. While we were cooking, one of her sons stopped by with 2 grandkids. When they were leaving, Rita told her 5 year old granddaughter that she could take anything home with her that she wanted. This sweet little baby said, “I wanna take Grandma home with me!” And she meant it! Toys are nice, but she wanted Grandma. That was one of the sweetest things I have ever witnessed.

My time with MommaRita ended all too soon, and I had to head home and get Superman ready for a midnight shift. In true MommaRita fashion, she made sure I did not leave empty handed. I took home some pizzelles, the remaining popcorn, and she gave me one of her pizzelle irons so I could make them again. I left her home feeling like I spent the afternoon being stuffed with love. I am so grateful to have her in my life. She is my Momma, friend, confidant, and a wonderful woman who radiates love.

Thank you, MommaRita, for sharing your recipes, your time and talents, and your ability to share the love of Jesus with everyone you encounter. Your friendship nourishes my heart!

Oh, that man!

My husband is my favorite person in the world! I can hear my BFF’s groan and gasp with mock offense, but they know it’s true. I love that man like it’s my job- and it is. He is the greatest gift God has ever given me, and I intend to spend my life treating him like it.

I’m not saying we always agree, or that we don’t annoy or aggravate each other- ’cause we do! We each have flaws that are really frustrating to deal with, and occasionally I want to knock him into next week (and he absolutely has to feel that way about me. I know me, after all!) But the vast majority of the time, we really like each other, and we like being together. Today is our anniversary, so I admit to being a bit sappy, but he really is everything I ever wanted and hoped for, and more. We are the most important relationship in our lives, and we invest daily in that relationship because we still want to be head-over-heels in love when we are 90, not just married. We spoil each other with love because that is the marriage we choose to build. It’s not always easy, and I don’t always feel like being kind, or feel like cutting down cottonwood trees all weekend, or feel like sitting on the couch to watch some show I have no interest in, but compromise is required if I want my marriage to flourish, and Superman does so much for all of us all the time!

We are blessed to have found each other, there’s no other way to say it. Our personalities are very similar in some ways and polar opposite in others. We both love to be with friends and have a good time, we love to scuba dive and take naps on the beach, and we love football and hockey. But he’s a relax in front of the tv guy, while I prefer to read a book. He watches a game and can see the play developing and know what’s going to happen, and I just watch the game. I know where every thing of every one of us is at every moment, and he can’t find the parmesan cheese in the fridge. I make all the plans and the reservations, and he happily comes along. He prefers quiet and calm, and I’m music blaring all day.

We don’t do everything perfectly, but we do one thing exceptionally well- we make each other a priority. If you have never read The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman, DO IT! If you have read it, read it again! Every person shows love one way, and receives love one way. It turns out that Superman and I are a match made in Heaven. He shows love how I receive it, and I show love how he receives it, which means it’s natural for us, rather than being out of our element. He speaks directly to my heart, and I hold his hand and snuggle up next to him, and we both feel loved and content. Our friends make fun of us and tell us to get a room because we make googley eyes across the room, kiss and hold hands, and dance when our song comes on no matter where we are. Our kids roll their eyes and fake-barf when we kiss on the couch. But our kids see love, and they see us making each other a priority, they see us fight and reconcile, they hear us speak highly of each other to people, and they see us try. A few years back while driving in the car, out of nowhere Sissay said, “Mom, when I get married I want a man exactly like Superman- except way more patient!” She and I cracked up laughing at her last part of the statement, but her words left a huge impact on me. She sees how he treats me, how he treats all of us, and she sees respect and love- and she wants that for her own life. She wants a marriage like ours, and she wants a husband like him. That is the greatest compliment our kids could ever give!

Our road has not been easy, but it has been sooooo worth it! And through it all, he has been by my side. He was by my side when I was diagnosed with T1D, when we suffered our most devastating losses alone as a couple, when I was in a coma rather than on our honeymoon, when we delivered our 10lb 2oz Little Guy, beaming at me from the audience as I finally earned my degree and walked across that stage, through career changes and the challenges of raising teenagers. He has been by my side every single minute of it, and never wavered. So if I sound like I’m bragging on the guy, I am. His character and his care are worth mention. Happy Anniversary, Babe!

I’m Over It

This girl is trying to be positive, and for the most part I am absolutely killing it. But all of this isolation is taking a toll on all of our mental health, as well as our physical health. Quarantine and social distancing are really hard when you are a people-person. E-learning is so challenging from every perspective, and some days there isn’t enough grace to go around. And I’m sick of face masks and hand sanitizer, and concerned about our diminishing immune systems. Before anyone decides that I am a monster who doesn’t care about the safety of others, know that some of our dearest friends are really struggling because of circumstances that are out of their hands, and caused by this pandemic. And since this is my blog, I get to write about it if I wanna. And I wanna.

One of my very best friends and her husband own an auto mechanic shop. Because of the Covid-19 pandemic, their business has been terribly slow, which means they are paying their employees, but not themselves. They also happen to have some of my very favorite humans for children, and children cost money- especially as they eat my BFF out of house and home during remote learning. If things haven’t been stressful enough for them the past 2+ months, the torrential rains in Central Illinois this week caused their basement to flood with 3 feet of water, most likely ruining everything. They did not have flood insurance, and their home owners insurance offered them no help. Trying to dry everything out so they can see if anything is salvageable is the waiting game they are now playing So the extensive and exhausting cleanup, loss of everything in the basement, and cost of re-finishing the basement is theirs. All this added stress while their business has taken a massive financial hit. Seeing the exhaustion on her face breaks my heart.

We have another friend who is a farmer. He is waiting to see if those same rains destroyed the corn he had gotten planted between rainstorms over the past several weeks. If it is ruined, he will have to re-plant his destroyed fields to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars, get his soybeans in, and pray the rain stays at bay long enough for him to finish it all. We saw him last week, and he wore his worry and anxiety like a coat. We were having fun, but it never left him for a second. It’s not just having to re-plant, it’s the fact that this is his livelihood for the next year, and last year’s less-than-great crops are still on his mind. His paycheck has nothing to do with how hard he works, it depends on weather and a ton of other factors that are completely out of his hands. Now we are seeing on the extended weather forecast that more rain is on the way, and I am worried about how all of this stress is affecting his health, because how could it not?? It’s just devastating. And there’s nothing we can do to help.

Another BFF of mine owns her own business. She makes memorial beads and other amazing things from fresh flowers and ashes. (betsysbeads.com) Her business requires materials like clay and elastic cord from places like Hobby Lobby, which did not make the essential business list. But for her business, Hobby Lobby is essential! Online orders have been taking several weeks to be delivered, and many of the products she needs are out of stock, and that delay means her customers wait longer to get their orders. It has also drastically slowed her business and revenue stream. She and I took a road trip last week to Indiana so she could go to Hobby Lobby and get the items she needed to complete her orders and keep her business going. As we drove, I felt like we were teenagers smuggling fireworks over state lines around the 4th of July, like the police were going to pull us over and make us go back to Illinois empty handed. I cannot wait for small businesses to proudly re-open their doors, serve their customers, and have an income again. It’s their livelihood, and they need to make a living.

On a more upbeat note, the kids and I stopped in at Target the other day to get a few things we were out of, and there, next to Target, was one of my favorite stores, closed. You can’t imagine how sad I was to have to see Home Goods from afar and know I couldn’t go in? I love that store! They have the best hand soaps and cookie sprinkles in the entire world! So many hand soaps in super cool bottles with fantastic smells- and CHEAP! Why oh why did I not get those 2 bottles of bergamot soap the last time I was there? They were in my cart and I was in love, but I put them back because I thought, “Girl, why do you need so much hand soap when you just bought 2 bottles the last time you were here?” Let’s just say I’ll never have that internal dialogue again. Then there’s the sprinkles selection- incredible! They don’t have basic, loser sprinkles, they have magical sprinkles in the most amazing packaging, and they have them for every holiday and in so many colors. And they are so cheap!!! Cookies with these sprinkles on them are on a whole different level. I can lose myself in those 2 sections of the store. Seriously, where else in the world are you going to get heavenly-scented hand soap for cheap and beautiful cookie sprinkles for around $3 each? Only at Home Goods! I will be in the store on opening day, visiting this old friend of a store, and stocking up on soap and sprinkles, and probably a cart full of other great finds.

All of this upheaval has been weighing on me, seeing people we love struggling in so many ways because of situations that are out of their hands. Knowing there is nothing we can do to help is really hard for me. So I do what I can- take a meal, send a text and let them know we are praying for them, and make a phone call to check in and let them vent it all out. None of that fixes anything, but making sure they know we are standing beside them helps the isolation seem less alone. I want to encourage you to reach out to your loved ones and comfort, encourage, and support them in whatever struggles they are dealing with today. We could all use a little extra love right now.

My Mommas and Their Recipes, Part 2

This Momma is one of my greatest blessing in life, my husband’s mom, Celia. I call her Momma because she is more than just an in-law to me, she is the answer to many prayers and I cannot imagine my life without her in it. I prayed for a mother-in-law who would love me as I am, love my kiddos unconditionally, and be my friend. Well, I got so much more than I ever hoped or prayed for when I got Celia. She’s the only one like her! And while I’ll never be the favorite daughter (cause the 2nd favorite works harder according to Papa :), I know she always has my back, will never turn down ice cream, and loves her creamer almost as much as her coffee. We have laughed till we cried, shared our hearts, and gone on field trips galore for no good reason other than spending time together. She is a woman of wisdom and Godly counsel, is honest and encouraging, and she loves her family ferociously, and exactly as we are.

Momma retired January of the same year I finally got my teaching certificate. We had 7 glorious months together getting coffee once a week, hanging out, and taking field trips. Then I ruined all that fun with a job! But because she is an incredible woman, she came into my class every Thursday morning and stayed until lunchtime. The kids all call her Nana, because she is the ultimate grandma to every kid she meets. She loves them and they love her. And I love having her there too. She did anything I needed her to, and though Math is not her favorite, she helped, encouraged, laughed, and loved every student in my classroom. Kids from the previous year sometimes poke their heads in on Thursdays just to say hi and get a hug. She gives her smile, laugh, and love to every student, and they love her dearly for that. She also volunteers 4 days a week in our hometown to greet students and be a friendly face in the morning to help start their day. She high-fives and waves and smiles, and she loves it. She also helps with 1st grade Reading Workshop 2 days a week. How in the world could she even find time to work in her retirement?? She says it gets her out of bed and gives her something to do, and I see first-hand the positive effect she has on every kid she comes in contact with, and I am so lucky she is willing to dedicate so much time to my classroom. It is rumored that she learned how to do the floss, or the “Nana Floss,” as the kids call it. She plays with them at recess and reads to them, hugs them, and plain old loves them. Not every child has a grandparent nearby, or at all, but this Nana stands in the gap in a mighty way.

And then there’s the 8 grandkids… She and Papa Jo go to every game, concert, play, and ceremony they can make it to. She listens to their stories, meets their friends, and calls and texts to say she loves them. With their house conveniently located right behind the high school football field, they are a hub during football season. Parking spot, hugs, snacks, bathroom and warming up between halves are some of the services they offer. One of their greatest joys in life is seeing their grandkids, and they are always willing to travel to see their 8 favorite people, and the 6 of us kids are important too- uh huh. She is her happiest when she has seen all of her family. She lives her life showing in her words and actions that her kids and grandkids are loved, wanted, and welcomed every minute of every day, no matter what! She accepts all of us just as we are, full of flaws, never trying to change us, and loves each of us like there’s no tomorrow. What a gift to be loved so unconditionally!

Mom and Dad (Nana and Papa Jo) just celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary. 50 years! Not exactly able to gather the family during Coronavirus like they wanted, Mom made and delivered dinner to each of the 3 families to celebrate. She made each family a different meal and included some of their favorite foods. We all said that we should have been bringing dinner to them, but Mom wanted it this way. She blessed her family on their 50th anniversary.

When I asked her 3 boys what their favorite thing she makes was, I got several answers. Son #3 said baked beans and corn fritters. Son #1 said corn fritters, and Son #2 (Superman) said whatever she gives me. I have never had her corn fritters, so I asked if I could observe her making them, and take photos of the process. She hesitated for just and second, laughed a little, and said okaaaay. I promised to only photograph the food. Her recipe is from her Home Economics class in high school, so it’s just a few years old 🙂

Since I had never seen or tasted her corn fritters, I went to their house and watched her make them. We had quite a few laughs during the process. Momma was hoping she didn’t mess them up since it was being documented, but she has made them so many times that it was just like breathing to her. During the making, my niece stopped over to get some love and have a visit. You could almost watch Nana getting more content by the minute as family trickled in and devoured these tasty treats. She hadn’t made them in about a year, so I think I was momentarily put in the #1 daughter position by Papa Jo. I’ll take that!

Celia’s Corn Fritters

  • 1 Cup Flour
  • 1 tsp Baking Powder
  • 1/4 tsp Salt
  • 2 Eggs
  • 1/4 Cup Milk
  • 1 Can Whole Kernel Corn- Drained
  • 2Tablespoons Melted Butter
  • Canola Oil for Frying

Heat canola oil, about 1 1/2″ deep in large pot. In large mixing bowl, sift together flour, salt, and baking powder, set aside. In another bowl, beat 2 eggs until thick, add milk, drained corn, and butter, mix. Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients and gently fold together until mixture is just mixed.

Drop by rounded Tablespoons into hot oil until golden brown, turn to brown other side, about 5 minutes each side. Fritters will initially sink to the bottom, then begin to float. Drain on paper towels and prepare to defend finished product from fritter-snatchers (Papa Jo) until all batches are fried. Cover with a towel to keep hot. May be topped with powdered sugar, drizzled with honey, or eaten as is.

Makes a great side dish for anything-we had it with burgers. These little things are dangerous! Crispy on the outside, soft on the inside, you can pop several into your mouth while chatting with the family without even realizing it. They somewhat reminded me of a hushpuppy, they are a similar kind of treat. Leftovers can be refrigerated and re-heated, but the likelihood of there being leftovers is slim to none. There were none to be found when dinner was complete.

While she was cooking and I was watching, we laughed and talked about anything and everything. I was even treated to a story about how Superman told his parents that he had met this “great woman.” She said he was really selling me to them, and he even said that I reminded him of her in a lot of ways. A HUGE compliment, if you know the character of Celia, but of course she laughed, and we laughed talking about it because we really are very alike in some ways. We talked about how much we love our family, and just how lucky Superman is to have us both in his life 🙂 and what a picky eater he has always been, a trait he passed down to his kids. Watching her face when she speaks about her family, you see so much love. I know moms love their kids, but she does it in a way that you don’t see very often. Trying to put it into words is not something I am able to adequately do, so you are just gonna have to trust me on this one. There is never any judgement, never any ulterior motives in her care. She knows her kids are full of flaws, but it’s not her job to change any of that- she wants to make sure we always know that we are loved and accepted just as we are. That is not to say she is a push-over. She was a firm parent, and will still give tough love when it’s needed, which is why the boys still call her when they need advice, and we girls trust her counsel. Little Guy wants to live there, and his young cousins want to come and stay for extended periods of time. The teenage grandkids have had conversations with her that could make you blush, but they know she is a trusted confidant, and that she will listen and love, regardless of her interior “Oh my gosh!”

The thing I most appreciate about Celia is how she has always treated my kids. When Superman and I combined our families, she went from 4 grandkids to 6 without skipping a beat. I have never heard or seen my kids be different anyone in the family. They are as much a Johnson as the rest of them. There is never any different treatment or different love for them. It has always been important to Superman and I that there is no “step” or “real” anything- we are a family! Thankfully, this family believes that with us. There is a saying in the family that whenever the grandkids do anything amazing or anything positive is brought up she says, “They get that from their Nana!” It gets extra laughs from 2 of the grandkids who know that she means every word of it. Unfortunately, I have seen many families where this open-arms mindset is not there, and the separation is obvious and felt most by the kids. I am so grateful that this is not the case in our family, and that all of the kids know the love of their entire family.

The legacy she is building, though she would never call it that or even consider it such a thing, is one that I hope to mirror. Love, forgiveness, acceptance, integrity, and loyalty are in everything she does. She is not perfect, but she is perfect to us! Love you, Momma.

Preparing for a Meat Shortage, because cooler heads must prevail

Please please PLEASE don’t get sucked into the hysteria! Don’t Doomsday-prep and run out to every grocery store in a 50 mile radius and buy up each piece of meat you can get your hands on because the internet said you won’t be able to even buy meat within a month. The word shortage means a lack of, or deficit. It does not mean NONE. We need to be smarter than the toilet paper hoarders.

I understand that our society is used to having what we want, when we want it, but right now there is little to no room for “I want what I want when I want it.” I, I, I! What about we? What about all the other people in the community who want meat for their families too? What about the ground beef for their burgers? What about the bacon for their breakfast? We can all eat, we can all grill our burgers and pork chops- as long as people don’t lose their minds and hoard! If you believe that we are all in this together, then show it! Prove your sense of community and unity by staying calm. I’m gonna help you out.

Here is my plan for whatever is to come in the meat department: it’ll be alright! I do not have to serve my family meat each night at dinner to count us fed. Sure, meat on the plate is normal in my house, but meat doesn’t make it dinner. My first post on this blog was about breakfast for dinner- check it out, it’s pretty good. Pancakes, scrambled eggs, fried potatoes, toast, biscuits, waffles are all incredibly delicious foods, and they are not meat. They are, by the way, waaaaaaayyyy cheaper than a steak or a pound of ground beef. So, I can still eat dinner and save a little cash? Yes ma’am! That saved cash may just come in handy when you do buy some ground beef for burgers and discover that it’s a couple dollars more per pound than it was a month ago. You are welcome.

If you are like me, there’s probably some meat in your refrigerator right this very minute that doesn’t have a home. Maybe it’s the stew meat you bought when it was cold the other morning because you had an epiphany in the store about a hearty, hot stew, but then it was 80 degrees and your stew idea turned to a salad because the heat reminded you that summer is quickly approaching. Or maybe it’s that half pound of ground beef that was too much for the recipe you were making, but not enough to stand on its own. Let’s get that meat working for you! Take 5-10 minutes and bless your future self with a treat. Cut the stew meat into smaller pieces, throw in a freezer bag, add some red wine or Worcestershire sauce or both, squeeze out all the air, and lay flat in the freezer-stew meat for the next cold front that moves in, or some beef and noodles next week. Now for the ground beef. My 2 favorite things to do with that are (1) form raw hamburger patties, season, and freeze, or (2) brown the hamburger with onion, salt & pepper, portion into a freezer bag, lay flat, and freeze. Throw in your spaghetti sauce next week for a quick dinner. The point is- DON’T LET IT GO BAD AND BE UNUSED! Little Guy loves him some hamburgers, so having a spare patty or 2 ready at all times means lunchtime is a breeze. I do the browned hamburger in the freezer thing regularly because every time I am running short on time and can grab a bag out of the freezer, throw in the microwave to thaw, and complete dinner super quick, I am my own super hero. Seriously, you cannot believe how proud of myself and grateful to my past-self I am for cooked hamburger in the freezer! I may have curtsied in the kitchen a time or two for this very thing. Ok, you got me- I totally have curtsied 🙂 When life returns to “normal” please remember this for when you discover ground beef on sale- buy an extra package and become your own hero. I always buy the 3# packages because it’s cheaper like that at my local store, and cook up the whole thing while I make dinner, that way I use my time efficiently.

So what can I make for dinner if meat is not readily-available or it’s too stinking expensive and I don’t want to resort to selling my kidneys? Here are 3 weeks (21 days) worth of meat-free recipe ideas. Try 2 or 3 a week and you won’t miss the meat.

  • Grilled Cheese and Tomato Soup
  • Grilled Summer Veggies w EVOO and Herbs de Provance over Rice
  • Pancakes
  • Scrambled Eggs and Toast
  • Potato Soup
  • Veggie Stir Fry
  • Homemade Cheese Pizza
  • Black Bean Enchiladas
  • Fried Egg Sandwiches
  • Taco dip (meatless)
  • Fresh Asparagus, quickly sautéed, and Over-Easy Eggs
  • Spinach and Swiss Quiche
  • Corn and Black Bean Tacos
  • Spinach Salad with Summer Veggies (leftovers from Grilled Summer Veggies)
  • Cheese Quesadillas
  • Fried Potatoes and Cheesy Scrambled Eggs
  • Veggie Fried Rice
  • Grilled Portobella Cap “Burger”
  • Vegetarian Stuffed Peppers
  • Broccoli Cheese Soup
  • Black Bean Burgers

See, it’s not an emergency. There is no need to lose our minds and stuff our freezers until overflowing. This pandemic is hopefully teaching our generations that a little sacrifice on our part for the greater good won’t hurt us, a concept that (tough love, here) has not been practiced much since WW2 and the Great Depression. It is good to think of others. It is alright to not have instant gratification in every aspect of our existence. A little struggle is good for the soul. Teaching our children, and ourselves, that working together and doing what is right, rather than what I want to do this minute, are skills that move us forward together, instead of walking all over each other.

There are a few lessons I have learned during this pandemic that I hope stay with me forever. I have learned that the people I really miss seeing and sharing my life with are the ones I will spend time with as soon as I can, and as often as I can. During a real coming-to-Jesus moment a few weeks ago in the middle of working from home and e-learning and Outage and cabin fever, it occurred to me that my attitude and unreal expectations were overtaking me, and I needed to get my shit together! Dishes in the sink, dog hair, and laundry are always gonna be, but Little Guy and Sissay are only gonna be home with me for so long, and I better appreciate what is in front of me before this season, hectic as it it, is over. I have also learned that we need to give each other heaps and heaps of grace on a daily basis, because this is not easy, but grace makes it better. Each of us has our own families, emotions, and responsibilities to deal with, and none of us do it perfectly. So if I go from my day pajamas to my night pajamas without a shower in between, or take a 2:00 nap because e-learning for 3 people is so freaking stressful and exhausting, or put a little RumChata in my morning coffee or have 2 glasses of wine before bed, it’s alright! Even the crazies hoarding meat and toilet paper are going to be alright. We are all going to be alright! And that thought nourishes my heart.

Retirement Brownies

Retirement has to be one of the most magical words in our language! When a person retires, they quit the hustle and bustle and hopefully do all the things they have placed on their bucket list. It’s the stuff of dreams to us working folk who are still years away from it, the proverbial carrot that moves us along when we are frustrated in our career, and reminds us that financial diligence now will quite literally pay dividends later.

Superman and I talk about our dreams and plans for retirement regularly. Do we like our current investments, or should we diversify more? Will we stay in this house? In this state? How often do we want to travel? Do we want to be snowbirds? How will we balance grandkids with our desire to travel? What if one of our parents needs to live with us? Do we buy a Lincoln or a Bel Air convertible for fun? Talking about what we desire in our retirement helps us to stay focused on our financial goals, and ensures we are on the same page when it comes to when and how and where. Plus, it’s really fun to imagine a life where every day is Saturday.

I love what retirement signifies- all the years of hard work, sacrifice, and financial planning that enables a person to stop living their life around their job, and start living their life around living! To shift gears and focus their time and attention on the things in life that truly matter. Things like enjoying time with family, that long-overdue Italian vacation, playing with the grandkids in the middle of the day in the middle of the week, and being the boss of your own time. And then there’s the smile that always accompanies the “When is your last day?” conversations. I LOVE that smile. It holds promise, adventure, peace, freedom. Retirement is a milestone in life, and I love to see and hear the excitement and joy that just oozes out of the soon-to-be-retired.

This week, a great guy that Superman has worked with for many years is retiring. Superman came home and said this gentleman had 5 days left. You could fit the rest of his working life into just one hand. Now that’s exciting! I asked him to find out what he would like for his celebration snacks. Superman told him I would like to make him whatever treats he would like- as in walk into a bakery and pick whatever you want. Without hesitation, he said brownies. Well, brownies it is! And these brownies had to be the best brownies ever- they were, after all, retirement brownies.

Truth be told, I cannot think of a single time I have sent Superman into work with brownies. What kind of person doesn’t send in brownies? They are one of my favorite things in the world, how could I have never sent them in? Well, I send things that are grab-and-go, and my brownies are very soft and crumbly, and I try to steer away from items that are a potential mess. Maybe that’s why, but I’m not really sure. My go-to treats are cookies, muffins, and their favorite treat ever- Crack! Don’t worry, I will be doing a post on Crack in the next couple months. You will understand, then, why it is called that. Getting back to what I was saying… I was so excited to make brownies for such a special occasion, so happy that this man knew exactly what he wanted, and really loved that he felt comfortable making a request. I love to bake for any reason, or no reason at all, but something like this is special. I see it as the last time I will bake for this man, and I want it to be the most delicious, baked send-off ever. I know it’s just brownies, but to me it’s so much more than just food.

The next day I went to the store to get a fresh container of Nestle cocoa powder, grabbed my favorite brownie recipe, and got to work. My favorite brownie recipe of all time is from Nestle. They do, after all, make the very best chocolate (N-E-S-T-L-E-S, Nestles makes the very best, choooooocolate). It’s their Chewy Cocoa Brownies, which cannot be beaten. They are soft, chewy, super chocolatey, and plain ole YUM! I used to make these pretty often in my huge oven-safe skillet. I would immediately serve a slice in a bowl, add a scoop of vanilla ice cream, and some chocolate syrup. We call it Skillet Brownie, and it is still one of my family’s favorite desserts of all time. You really should try it that way if you want an amazing restaurant-style treat at home.

I hope you aren’t sad that my amazing brownie recipe isn’t mine after all. There are some things in life that are so tasty they don’t need to be recreated. This recipe is one of those things. If you are looking for a little something extra, feel free to spice it up with 1/2 C chocolate chips, some mini M&M’s, or my favorite addition- peanut butter swirled into the pan right before it goes in the oven. For this occasion, however, I’m going to stick with the original, and dust with powdered sugar at the end for some presentation.

Nestle’s Chewy Cocoa Brownies

  • 1 2/3 C Sugar
  • 1 1/2 sticks Butter, melted
  • 2 T Water
  • 2 Large Eggs
  • 2 tsp. Vanilla
  • 1 1/3 C Flour
  • 3/4 C Nestle Tollhouse Baking Cocoa
  • 1/2 tsp. Baking Powder
  • 1/4 tsp. Salt
  • 3/4 C chopped Nuts (optional)
  • Powdered Sugar for dusting

PREHEAT oven to 350º F. Grease 13 x 9-inch baking pan.

COMBINE granulated sugar, butter and water in large bowl. Stir in eggs and vanilla extract. Combine flour, cocoa, baking powder and salt in medium bowl; stir into sugar mixture. Stir in nuts. Spread into prepared baking pan.

BAKE for 18 to 25 minutes or until wooden pick inserted in center comes out slightly sticky. Cool completely in pan on wire rack. Sprinkle with powdered sugar. Cut into bars.

***I made a double batch of batter and baked in a 9×13 for 30 minutes. I like thick brownies, and a double batch of batter in the pan accomplishes that. DO NOT OVERBAKE! I took the pan out of the oven the second they were baked through and set it on the cooling rack until it was completely cooled. Then dust with powdered sugar and cut into squares. There is some kind of magic that happens when you allow a pan of brownies to cool completely before slicing. (I’m not talking about personal willpower to just let them sit there, but that should be noted as well)

Normally, I would send the brownies in a Rubbermaid container and let the guys grab and go. Covid-19 made that a frowned-upon thing, so I put 1 brownie into each sandwich bag (x24) and made grab and go possible again. It should be noted that when Covid-19 hit I stopped sending in treats for 3 weeks because I was unsure of how to proceed. I knew the guys would eat them no matter what, but how would the management team feel about it? Then one day Superman came home and said there was a lot of discussion that day about how to get the treats back. The guys decided that it would be acceptable to have treats again if I was willing to put them in Ziplock bags. They seriously crack me up! These guys are used to getting treats every week, and a 3 week drought was apparently hurting their collective sweet tooth. I will not try to deny that it made me feel really good. I try to do my little part to help the 12 hour shifts seem a little less long, and the time away from family and nice weather a little more bearable. Those are my boys in there, after all, and I want them to know they are appreciated.

It takes everything within me to not eat a huge spoon of batter.
The swirl on top evens out the batter and gives a nice presentation.

Well, our retiree was very happy and his sweet tooth was satisfied. My kids were bummed that I didn’t make them their own pan of brownies, so that’s probably tonight’s agenda. When I make this recipe in the future, I will think of our new retiree and send up a prayer that he is healthy, smiling, and enjoying his well-deserved life of perpetual Saturdays. And that wonderful thought will nourish my heart.