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Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Picking/selling blueberries works for us

I mentioned in this post last week that one thing that works for us is to have our kids earn some money toward their summer camps and activities. Specifically right now, that is our daughter who is the only one really old enough to participate in camp. This week, I wanted to share with you one of the things that we did this year that really worked well for us.

We went to a pick your own blueberry farm to pick blueberries.  We then packaged them and sold them for $3/pint.

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What I liked about it was that Sarah had to really get out there and do some physical work to have the blueberries to sell.  I also liked that it was an opportunity for her to earn her money from people other than her mom & dad.  And blueberries are so easy to pick that if you get out there early in the morning, it’s actually quite pleasant.

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The downside was the cost.  It’s a two hour drive for us to get out to the area of East Texas where the blueberries are good.  We were already planning to go out to visit family in that area, so we really didn’t count the additional cost of gas, but that would be a factor otherwise.  And there is the time investment of four hours in the car plus at least two hours picking berries. 

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But the conclusion I came to was that it was worth the cost.  It was worth my investment of time to help my daughter learn that we have to work for the things we want to do.

We ended up picking two big gallon buckets worth between the kids, my mom and I on the first trip.  Sarah and I went back the following weekend and picked another big gallon bucket.  We got about 9 pints out of each bucket.  I sent out an email or two and posted a message on Facebook.  Between all my friends online and at church that saw my messages, we sold every bit of them quickly.  At $3/pint, we had her money very quickly.

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Again, I admit that I cannot take credit for this idea. Credit is totally due to my sister.  She has done this for years with her boys but this is the first year for us.

I do believe we’ll be doing it again.

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This post is linked up to Works for me Wednesday over at We Are THAT Family.  For more tips, visit Kristen at We Are THAT Family and click on some of the links.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Birthday party filled chocolate cupcakes

I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that my baby had turned a huge 5 years old.

I still can’t get my mind around it.

We had a small impromptu swim party on that Saturday, then he pretty much got whatever he wanted on the day of his birthday as he opened presents little at a time all day long and got to pick what we had for our meals all day long.

He actually said at one point, "I'm the boss of my birthday."  I guess since someone, whether his dad, me or his older sister is always the boss of him, he HAD to be the boss of something.  HA!

Back in May, during the last week of school, I took cupcakes up to his class so that he could celebrate his birthday in class with his friends.  When I asked him what kind of cupcakes he wanted, he made his request very specific.  He wanted chocolate cupcakes with white filling, white icing and blue sprinkles. 

No fire trucks this time.  Just very specifically chocolate cupcakes with white filling, white icing and blue sprinkles.

And when it came time for his actual party, he asked for the same exact thing.

Well, okay.

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Obviously, I’ve gotten pretty good at making these recently so I thought I’d share the recipe with you.  The chocolate cupcake recipe is one from Cook’s Illustrated that I have adapted to be a little more pleasing to the kid palette.  I’ve tried a few cream filling recipes, but this one that I discovered over at Evil Shenanigans takes the cake…. or fills it.

Chocolate Cupcakes

Ingredients:

8 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 ounces semi-sweet chocolate
1/2 cup cocoa powder (1 1/2 ounces)
3/4 cup all purpose flour (3 3/4 ounces)
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
2 large eggs
3/4 cup granulated sugar (5 1/4 ounces)
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup sour cream

Method:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Combine butter, chocolate and cocoa powder in heat-proof bowl and set over a small amount of barely simmering water in a sauce pan and allow to fully melt and combine until smooth.  (To quicken the process, you can melt the butter in the microwave and pour it over the chocolate and cocoa to begin the melting process sooner.)  Once melted, set it aside to cool for a few minutes until just warm to the touch.

Meanwhile, in a small bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda and baking powder and set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk eggs until smooth.  Add sugar, vanilla and salt and whisk until fully combined and smooth.  Add cooled chocolate mixture and whisk until combined.  Sift in 1/3 of the flour mixture and whisk to combine.  Whisk in sour cream then sift remaining flour mixture over and whisk until batter is homogenous and thick.

Using a large scoop, place 1 just over-full scoop into each cupcake liner.  The recipe makes 13, so if you only have room for 12 cupcakes, you will have a bit left over.

Bake 18-20 minutes at 350 degrees F.

Allow to completely cool before filling and/or frosting.

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Cupcake Cream Filling

Ingredients:

2 teaspoons hot water
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 – 7 ounce jar marshmallow cream
1/2 cup shortening
1/3 cup powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Method:

Dissolve salt in hot water.  Whisk marshmallow cream, shortening, powdered sugar & vanilla with stand mixer until fluffy.  Whisk in salt water until incorporated & fluffy. 

Use a pastry bag fitted with a decorating tip poke a hole down into the cupcake and fill until a little peeks out the top.  One batch fills approximately 3 dozen cupcakes.

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Top with your favorite butter cream icing along with some sprinkles if desired and enjoy.

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In this post:
Chocolate Cupcakes
Cupcake Cream Filling

Monday, June 28, 2010

a weekend of scrapbook awesome

I failed to mention this last week, but do you know where I spent my weekend?

I went on a scrapbook retreat to an inn that caters to scrapbookers on the weekends.

Did you even know that I do scrapbook occasionally?

Well, yes, as a matter of fact, I do. 

I have been on a retreat before with my friend Val and some people that she and her Aunt know, but this particular weekend was really fun because I knew all the ladies pretty well.  I didn’t get a ton finished because I wasn’t as organized as I have been in the past, but I did get a good start on our family’s 2006 album. 

Yes, I said 2006.

And I don’t mind telling you that I had a lot of fun reminiscing, oooh-ing and awwww-ing over some of the pictures of my kids from that year.

My friend Val, who organized the weekend, had some prizes available.  Categories were: Most Pages, Most Pictures on a Single Page, Most Creative Layout, Best Photography, Most Fun Layout.  We all voted on the last three categories on Sunday before we left.

Now, I may not have gotten a ton finished, but,surprisingly enough, I won two prizes.

I won Most Creative Layout with this one entitles “How we spend our days”:

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I had an idea of where I wanted this page to go, but it took me describing it to the other ladies there to get the specifics down.  It took me a while, but the sun is all torn and I used pastels on the edges of all the paper.

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I also won Best Photography for this layout.  I do have to admit, that these are my favorite pictures I have ever taken of my kids.

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So that was most of my weekend.  How was yours?  Did you do anything awesome?

Friday, June 25, 2010

Sesame Noodles w/Chicken, Shortbread + some pie {Cook’s Illustrated Challenge}

This is the third month of my personal challenge to myself to cook at least two new recipes from my collection of Cook’s Illustrated magazines.

*** Note: I’ll try to post some of the recipes next week.  I ran out of time.***

I went a little nuts this month. 

Or maybe you could just call me fruity. 

It’s the bounty of fresh summer fruits that are available that does it to me.  It’s really not my fault.

I was originally supposed to make Sesame Noodles with Chicken (Issue #70, September/October 2004, page 20) and Buttery Shortbread (Issue #53, November/December 2001, Page24-25) this month.  However, the summer fruits called and I made 2 new pies instead of the shortbread. 

This can’t come as a shock to you.  Because, as we all know, I LURVE me some piiiihh.   And if there is any pie that my man loves, it’s fruit pie. 

I knew we were made for each other. 

But I digress.

First things first.  Sesame Noodles with Chicken.

This really was fairly easy to make and now that I’ve made it once, would be a wonderful weeknight meal.  I also found it to be fairly inexpensive since I already had most all of the ingredients and only used two boneless skinless chicken breasts and we got two dinners out of it.  Shredding the chicken is an easy way to stretch it and your budget a bit.  The flavor was really good with a nice little kick to it. 

Actually the nice little kick may have still been too much of a kick for my kids.  Note to self: don’t add as much Tabasco next time. 

I did things just slightly out of order just because of how my time was going.  I cooked the noodles earlier than the recipe called for because I also needed to cook the edamame or else we would have a revolt in our house.  (The kids love it just that much.)  As a result, the whole dish ended up being pretty much room temperature, which being the middle of a 100+ degree summer wasn’t all bad.  But I felt that since the noodles were cold, the sauce, which is simply made in the blender and not cooked at all, could have been warmed just a little bit to help it distribute better over the noodles and chicken.  I expected the noodles to be a little more slippery than they ended up being, which I felt made the whole thing just a little bit of a challenge to mix together in the end.

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Still, all that said, I really liked this dish and will likely be making it again.

With less Tabasco.

I mentioned that I also made some fruit pies.  Well, one was cherry and one was blueberry.

The pies were fun to make.  I’ve really begun to get very comfortable with my pie crust recipe and technique and can do it without a lot of thought.  One thing that was really fun about both of them was that as I read the accompanying articles, the secret ingredient in both of them that really helped them out was another fruit. 

In the Sweet Cherry Pie (Issue #105, July/August 2010, page 23), it was pureed plums that added the additional juice that the pie needed since the sweet cherries down break down in baking like sour cherries do.

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The cherry pie was made for my man for Father’s Day.  Cherry is his absolute favorite and this pie didn’t disappoint.  It was a fun one to make since the whole family got involved.  The kids pitted all the cherries for me and Mike halved them.

In the blueberry pie (Issue #93, July/August 2008, page 25 and 2010 Summer Entertaining, page 47), the secret ingredient was grated Granny Smith Apple that lent its pectin that helped to firm up all the juices from the fresh East Texas Blueberries that I used without making the filling pasty and gummy.

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I made this one then took it to share with my fellow Vacation Bible School coordinators and my son’s VBS teacher (who is a huge blueberry pie fan) last week.  Most of the family was involved in making this one as well since the kids helped pick the blueberries and some of them even came from my parents’ blueberry bushes.

One thing I’ve learned about serving fruit pie over the last two weeks… it’s nearly impossible to cut a small piece of fruit pie.  A word of advice… just take the big piece. :)

Have you made any fruit pies so far this summer?  If not… you’re missing out.  I highly recommend that you try it.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Working for it

Summer can be a fun and quite expensive time.  There are the wonderful lazy days that the kids just get to stay at home and go swimming and watch movies with the babysitter.  And there is also no shortage of activities for which we must pay.  And pay.  And pay.

There are water parks, movie theaters, sports camps, church camp, ranch camp… you get the idea.

Now, I believe in giving my kids the opportunity to have many different experiences while they are under my roof.  I believe every dollar I spend on various camps is an investment in who they will some day become.  I love giving them the opportunity to learn a little more about a specific sport for a week.  I love the fun an intensity of church camp and with as many wonderful experiences as I had at church camp, I love sharing that with them.  I also think that going out to a ranch for a week of camp is important for my city born and bred kids in order to get them out of the city environment for a while and allow them to do some good old fashioned work and have fun while doing it.

BUT.

As much as I believe in all of these things, it gets really expensive.

From the first time Sarah when to a camp where she spent the night, she was responsible to earn a portion of the money to pay for that camp.  The amount she has to earn is pretty small ($50 + spending money).  And being so young, there is only so much she can do to earn money and most of it is still earning it from us by doing chores around the house.  But we are beginning to instill the idea of working for it.

You see, as much as I believe that the experience of summer camps is an investment in my kids’ futures on my part, I want my kids to know that going to camp is a privilege.  Not a right.  A PRI-VI-LEGE.  So many in our society feel so entitled these days and don’t realize that much of what we have is not a right but a privilege.  I really want to instill in my children early on the difference and that sometimes we have to work for it. 

And we appreciate it much more when we do work for it, don’t we? 

I know I always do.

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Next week I plan to share one of the extra things we’ve done to earn some of the cash.  Stay tuned.

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This post is part of the Works For Me Wednesday blog carnival over at We Are THAT Family.  Hop on over there to get more practical tips from a lot of great bloggers.

Ro*Tel Across America – Spicy Stuffed Shells

I don’t know if you noticed the badge on my sidebar as of late for the Ro*Tel Across America Recipe Contest.  If not, where have you been?!?!

A while back, Ro*Tel announced on Facebook and Twitter that they were going to have a recipe contest.  I immediately thought, “I cook with Ro*Tel all the time.  Surely I could come up with something to submit.” 

As I thought through my repertoire of recipes in which I use Ro*Tel, none of them seemed quite creative enough.  They are the usual things you might expect; Creamy Tortilla Soup, Southwestern Stew, and Mole Chicken and Rice to name a few.  But I felt like I just really needed something new and different.

So I began to think.  And mull.  And think some more.

And then, one night, as I was sitting at the table with Mike, I began to think of one of my favorite stuffed shells recipes and as I thought about it, I came up with Spicy Stuffed Shells that were topped with Ro*Tel tomatoes & chilies. 

So I developed my recipe, tested it, liked it and submitted it.

And I waited.

The day came and they announced the 10 finalists last week.  I didn’t make it.

:(

But that was okay because my friend Kelly did make the top 10 and you can see her Beef Empinadas recipe and vote on it here.  (Please please please go vote for her!)

Then on Monday, I saw where Ro*Tel announced on Facebook that there were 10 runners-up.  Guess who made the list….

Go ahead.  Just guess.

*blush*

So, today I wanted to share with you my Spicy Stuffed Shells recipe.  (It can also be found over on the Recipe Blog here.)

 Spicy Stuffed Shells

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Ingredients:

12 ounces andouille sausage
6 ounces (approximately) jumbo pasta shells (about half of a box)
4 ounces monterrey jack cheese (shredded)
4 ounces goat cheese
½ cup roasted red pepper (chopped)
1 ear sweet corn, roasted, removed from cob (about ½ cup)
1 cup chopped fresh baby spinach
1 egg
¼ cup Italian seasoned bread crumbs
1 can Ro*Tel tomatoes & green chiles
Olive oil as needed
Kosher salt as needed

 Method:

Rub corn with olive oil (or butter) and place on indoor or outdoor grill over medium high to high heat. Grill while turning occasionally to get all sides just slightly charred (while doing other things). Set aside to cool slightly. Once cool enough to handle, remove corn from cob by holding the cob up on end and slicing downward with a sharp knife and pressing against the cob with the knife. Transfer corn to a bowl and set aside.

Put a pot of water on to boil. Add several good pinches of kosher salt. Once boiling add pasta and boil for approximately 8 minutes. Drain and allow to cool.

Cut andouille sausage into pieces by quartering lengthwise then slicing into ¼ to ½ inch thick pieces. Place just a little olive oil in a skillet and set over medium high heat. Once hot, add sausage pieces and reduce heat to medium. Allow the sausage to not only brown but also cook out some of the fat. Once browned, remove to a paper towel lined bowl to absorb some of the grease. Set aside.

Chop up roasted red peppers and baby spinach place in bowls and set aside. Lightly whisk egg in a separate bowl and set aside.

In a large bowl add sausage, peppers, spinach, corn, bread crumbs, egg and both the Monterrey Jack and goat cheeses. Using a large spatula or spoon, mix all ingredients until all are evenly distributed.

By hand, stuff each shell until full but not over-flowing and place in a baking dish. Top the shells with 1 can of Ro*Tel tomatoes. Cover with foil and bake at 350 for 20 minutes. Remove foil and bake for an additional 10 minutes.

Monday, June 21, 2010

A new sport discovery {Mama Braggin’ Monday}

Last week was about the busiest week we will have all summer long; we all participated in Vacation Bible School in the mornings and each of the kids participated in separate sports camps in the afternoons and evenings. 

When giving the kids the options of which sports camps they wanted to do, choices for Nathan were somewhat limited, so enrolling him in soccer camp wasn’t a big deal or surprise.  However, it really surprised Mike and I when Sarah decided she wanted to do basketball camp. 

Sarah has never played basketball before and had not really expressed much of an interest up to this point.  But she said she wanted to try something new. 

And from the looks of the outcome of what I guess were some competitions they did on her last day, I’m thinking she enjoyed it and did well.

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So, it appears that we’ve discovered a new sport in our house and I’m thinking we’re going to have to find a basketball team for this girl next season.  And it would appear that the basketball goal we have out front may get used afterall… if we ever get a ball.

Oh and aside from several meltdowns from being so tired from the week and a random bloody nose all that made him, me and the bathroom floor look like a crime scene, I think Nathan had a good time a soccer camp. 

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Wednesday, June 9, 2010

It’s summertime {Wordless Wednesday}

 

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Sunday, June 6, 2010

Baby? What baby? {Mama Braggin’ Monday}

Did you know I have a baby?  It’s a bouncing baby boy.

Here-He-Is- Did you also know that the last time my baby looked like this…

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… was five years ago?

F-I-V-E, people.  FIVE.

And it’s been 4 years since he  had curly locks like this:

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It’s been 3 1/2 years since he was this stinkin’ cute:

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And now, at 5, he looks like this:

100_8451  100_8479And he is still stinkin’ cute if I do say so myself.  And he’s bright, and he makes us laugh SO hard. 

I love you, my little man.