A little more than four years ago, Big Daddy and I departed on a new adventure.    We moved five hundred miles away from our little white house in Illinois and moved to small town Ohio.  Big Daddy set up an office off of the living room and began to telecommute full time.  The telecommuting years have been very good for me.  Having Big Daddy available to me all day has done so much to heal my anxiety.  It gave me the time to work with a therapist and start to work myself out.  My confidence has returned.  I’m pretty sure I’m not just going to drop dead and yes, I’m totally serious about that.

Big Daddy has become my true helpmate these past four years.   He does breakfast and brushes tangled hair.  He watches Baby Bee so I can volunteer with Littlebit’s class.  He goes to day time conferences with me. A few times, we’ve been able to sneak away for a weekday breakfast.
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Our little girls don’t know a Daddy that leaves the house to go to work.   Baby Bee actually gets a little…weird…when Big Daddy isn’t at home.  In their world, life means always having a mommy and a daddy at home.    It’s an opportunity that most people never get to have, but…

There’s always a but, isn’t there?

But, life moves in seasons and the season of Big Daddy being at home full time, all the time has ended.

It’s one of those bittersweet moments.  It feels like a rite of passage, in a way.  Big Daddy is moving on to something bigger and better and his world will get a little bigger than it has been these past four years.  It’s something he needs and it’s a time in our lives where the travel his new opportunity will entail won’t be so difficult.   The doors that are cracking open are exciting.  It’s a big step forward for Big Daddy in his career and, we’re so lucky that when he’s not traveling he’ll still be at home. With us.  With me.

I’m sure there are people who think Big Daddy is a little bit insane for giving up his good at-home gig and they probably think I’m just as insane for encouraging him to take this new opportunity.  But, I didn’t marry a static creature.  I married a very dynamic man with an amazing mind.  He’s driven and ambitious and an extrovert and the very best person I know and I knew that he needed to spread his wings some.

But, just a little bit.

We’re happiest together.

Good luck, Big Daddy.  Not that you’ll need it.

 

The Menu Plan
MondayPork Fried Rice
Tuesday Shake and Bake chicken, rice and veggies (Look, maybe shake and bake is cheating a little bit, but it tastes good, isn’t totally unhealthy and it’s fast and sometimes that’s fine)
Wednesday Turkey Taco Lettuce Wraps and Spanish rice
Thursday Sloppy Toms
FridayShrimp Scampi
SaturdayDinner Out
SundayCrockpot Beef and Noodles

October kind of went out like a wet sneeze and a shudder.  We had great weather for Trick or Treat on the 30th.  It was cool and dry, just the right kind of weather for tromping up and down the streets for candy.

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However, the bounty of good weather ended Friday night as Big Daddy and I endured the last football game of the season.  It moved from drizzle to rain the entire time.  We made it to half time and got to see the Princess march for the last time this season.  She’s sad that it’s over, but I can’t say I’m too sorry about having our Friday nights back.

The frost has been heavy and while we should see one more warm day this week, the cold is settling in.  I don’t really mind, of course. I consider November and December to be in my wheelhouse.

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The Menu Plan

Monday
Easy Crock Pot Cream Cheese Chicken Chili

Tuesday Dinner with my Grandpa. <3

WednesdayCajun Chicken Alfredo

ThursdayCrockpot Chicken and Stuffing

Friday My cousin is coming in from out of town, so I’ll hold off on a decision until I hear from them when they’re going to be here.

Saturday Baked Sweet and Sour chicken

The days are getting cooler and Halloween is done.  Sometimes the season feels a little bit in limbo, to me.  The leaves are off the trees and Christmas is beckoning me, but it’s too early to give myself all the way over the Christmas, yet.  The autumn decor has been up for a month, at least.  But, this is the time of year when I start to wrap myself up in my home.  During the summer, I give over to minimalism that the hot weather seems to demand.  Extra decor is stripped from the house.  The banisters are bare.  The surfaces are clear, but as winter comes on adding in all the little extras seems to make the house feel warmer and more cozy.

This bread is definitely a warm and cozy bread.  Inspired by the Amish friendship bread that makes the rounds every now and then,  this bread is dense, cake-y, moist and delicious.  It’s a good fit for an after dinner treat or perfect warmed in the microwave for a hot breakfast.   It takes simple ingredients, most of which you probably have on hand, and churns out two loaves (one to eat warm and one to eat the next day).  Have plenty of your favorite butter or spread on hand, it’s best drenched with butter.

The original recipe is from Redfly Creations, but I made a few small modifications to better suit our tastes. Enjoy!

Amish Cinnamon Bread
Author: 
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
 
Ingredients
  • 1 c butter, room temperature
  • 2c white sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 4 c of flour
  • 2 c buttermilk
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • .5c sugar
  • 3 tsp cinnamon
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and grease two loaf pans well
  2. Cream together butter, 2 c of sugar and eggs
  3. Mix in flour, buttermilk and baking powder.
  4. IN a separate bowl, mix together .5c of sugar and cinnamon.
  5. Spoon ¼ of the batter into each loaf pan.
  6. Top batter with cinnamon sugar.
  7. Top cinnamon sugar with remaining batter (1/4 in each pan).
  8. Using a knife to swirl the cinnamon sugar through the dough.
  9. I set my timer for 45 minutes, initially, but ended up baking the bread for 55 minutes. Start checking your bread at around 40 minutes because bakeware and oven temperatures can vary your results.

 

Last month the call came down.  Honeycrisp apples were in at the orchard and I tossed Baby Bee into the car and we went as fast as we could go to make sure we got some.  Our local orchard sells out and I need to make sure we get our fill.  We’ve just finished our fourth half peck bag and have one more half peck to go*.  We’ve finally slowed down on eating them whole and raw with juice running down our chins and I decided it was time to make them into something.

Last year, I chopped up some and made crockpot applesauce and it was eaten so quickly that 1) I only got one dish of it and 2) I didn’t get to freeze any for later, which was my plan, but this year I knew I wanted to make a pie.

Honeycrisp apples, in my opinion, are the perfect apple.  They are sweet with a hint of tartness, crisp and never mealy and juicy but not TOO juicy to make them not good candidates for cooking.  I will pay stupid prices for honeycrisp apple at Trader Joe’s in the winter when our stores are gone.  They’re apple perfection.  And this pie?

Well, let’s just say more than one person in our family licked the plate clean.  It was that good.  This skillet pie is a little unique, because you start out the pie with a butter and brown sugar sauce on the bottom.

That’s probably why people were licking the plate. This skillet pie doesn’t turn out as a pretty as a regular apple pie, but if you have perfect crust anxiety, this is a good alternative.  Sure, it’s a little ugly, but I promise you no one will mind once they get the fork in their hands.  They might even lick the plate when they’re done.  Right, Big Daddy?

Skillet Apple Pie
Author: 
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 8
 
Ingredients
  • 8 medium honey crisp apples
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • .5 c of white sugar
  • .5 c of butter
  • ⅔ c brown sugar
  • 1 package refrigerated pie crust
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees
  2. Peel, core and slice apples. I used my apple slicer and then cut each slice into fourths.
  3. Mix apple slices with cinnamon and white sugar.
  4. Melt butter in the bottom of an 8″ oven proof skillet over medium heat. Once the butter is melted, whisk in the brown sugar. Stir occasionally until smooth. Remove from heat.
  5. Lay one crust into the bottom of the skillet and press carefully up the sides. The caramel sauce and pan WILL BE HOT, so press carefully.
  6. Dump apples into pan and top with the second crust. I crimped along the edge of the pan, trimming any extra.
  7. Bake around an hour. I began checking for doneness at 50 minutes and it took 65 total minutes to bake.

This past week, at our house, it was all about the Crock-Pot. My trusty Crock-Pot was a gift from my parents for Christmas after I broke my first trusty Crock-Pot. We can go months without using it and then when I pull it out again it’s like I’ve discovered it new! How were we living without this marvelous invention?

Look, I know every single home and family blog that has ever blogged about cooking has probably blogged about their Crock-Pot and their favorite recipes. But, if you’re like me, your slow cooker gets tucked away some place and it’s just not working for your family like it could.

And by working, I mean slaving over the hot stove for you. That’s where I was last week. Chuck Roasts were on sale at the grocery store and I did a little more planning to include other slower cooker recipes on our menu plan.

Can we talk about how low stress dinner time was? Because, well, it was. Even though we had a few nights where we had to be someplace at 6 p.m., I still had dinner served and cleaned up before we had to leave. This is way different from other nights where we had semi-early obligations and it ended up with a hot out of the pan dinner being served 10 minutes before we walked out of the door.

Sound familiar?

It happened at our house. A lot. And I wanted to avoid that strife and air of bad feelings and hurry-it-up before we walked out of the house to do something that was supposed to be fun.

And, then came the Crock-Pot and I did manage to put together the kind of nights I wanted us to have; a home cooked deal, dishes in the dishwasher and happy faces before we walked out of the door. It was so easy! How is it that I don’t do this all the time?

Well, I don’t like a lot of Crock-Pot recipes. There, I said it. I feel like the variety and technique is lacking. Things get chewy or fall apart or just don’t turn out the way I’d like them. Oven baking browns and crisps things that a slow cooker never will, but with some experimentation, I’ve found some recipes that fit the bill and I hope you like them as much as we did.

  • Crock-Pot Spaghetti and Meatballs. Don’t make my mistake. Mix up your spaghetti sauce, water and spaghetti!
  • Three Envelope Pot Roast Sliders I think this is the Princess’s favorite home cooked meal. She was very enthusiastic of her praise of it when we had it last week, and she’s 14 so enthusiastic praise is tough to come by.
  • Crock Pot Potato Soup This purports to be a Weight Watchers recipe and I think it comes it at 4 points per serving (but don’t ask me how much a serving is. I don’t know). I use potatoes o’brien and the pepper and onions give it a little extra flavor. It heats up well from refrigerated.
  • Salsa Chicken serve over rice (instant or microwavable for a truly quick dinner) and control the heat with your favorite salsa.
  • Crock Pot Chicken and Gravy Comfort food to the max. Serve over mashed potatoes (if you have time, you can make your own, but refrigerated mashed potatoes available at the grocery are a tasty time saver).

This weekend, like a lot of the country, we slid into fall. I pulled out my sweater and the air was brisk and cool. I can’t say I’m sad, of course, considering my long love affair with Fall. I don’t mind the cooler days and brisk nights. We leave the windows open all night long and snuggle down under the duvet like a couple of bears ready to nap. My thoughts turn, as always, to thick soups and hearty stews and pumpkin.

I know, I know, every has a pumpkin something these days. Pumpkin cookies and cakes and coffees and pies and chilis and food of all kind. I don’t have to explain why pumpkin in the fall is natural and how our ancestors would have eaten pumpkin in the fall as that is when they ripen. Right now, in gardens, pumpkins are slowly turning from green to orange and it won’t be long before they’re all picked and being used or eaten by someone or something.

But, back to this recipe. I woke up on Sunday morning, buried under the cover and knew that it was a day for pumpkin pancakes. I’d turn on the oven to make bacon (not making bacon the oven? You should!) and the house would be filled with delicious smells and we’d have our breakfast with hot chocolate and coffee. I left Big Daddy sleeping still and went to the store for maple syrup and whipped up a double batch of pumpkin pancakes.

Pumpkin Pancakes
Author: 
Recipe type: Breakfast
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 4
 
Ingredients
  • 1.5 c of milk
  • 1 c pumpkin puree (not pumpkin pie filling!)
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tbsp melted butter (plus more for greasing your skillet during cooking)
  • 2 tbsp vinegar
  • 2 c all purpose flour
  • 3 tbsp brown sugar
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp all spice
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
Instructions
  1. Mix wet ingredients together with a mixer
  2. Add in dry ingredients. Mix into well incorporated.
  3. Heat a griddle over medium high heat and grease with butter.
  4. Once the griddle is hot, spoon batter onto griddle with a ¼c measuring cup. Wait to flip pancakes until the are bubbly.
  5. Flip to allow them to finish cooking
  6. Serve with maple syrup and butter.

I doubled the recipe and we got enough for breakfast plus 8 to throw into the fridge or freezer for breakfast next week.  They weren’t overly sweet, but had a delicious pumpkin flavor.

 

The Menu Plan

Sunday-Beef Burgundy over mashed potatoes.  I know I usually don’t start my menu plans on Sunday, but this recipe is a favorite and it’s such a perfect Sunday dish.  It cooks slow, but requires little tending.  Put it on before the big game starts and enjoy it afterwards.  We never have any leftovers.

Monday Out. The girls have started dance and we’re moving our usual Friday night dinner out to Monday to see if that works with the new schedule.

TuesdayCrock Pot Chicken and gravy over mashed potatoes with veggies

Wednesday Roasted chicken with carrots and potatoes

ThursdayCreamy chicken and rice

Friday Game Day for lots of families around the country. We’re no different! Crockpot Turkey Meatball Sammies with chips and veggies with dip

The recipe my Mother used was handed over by the neighbor. It belonged to her sister. It was revolutionary. It had chocolate chips in it and sitting down to a thick slice that was slathered in butter was a treat that couldn’t be duplicated, particularly if it was warm out of the oven. I still remember the way the recipe card looked (do people even use them anymore?) and the name of my neighbor’s sister and I certainly remember that bread, though my recipe is different.

Maybe. I’ll leave that teaser for later.

I think zucchini is a miracle food. It be cooked sweet or savory. It can take the place of noodles and taco shells and pizza crust.

You can bake it, stir fry it, steam it, saute it…anything Bubba Gump came up with for shrimp, you can probably do with zucchini, but my favorite is baked into bread. I serve it for breakfast and I serve it for dessert, it works for both. It’s sweet enough to pass for a treat, yet contains enough vegetables that I feel like I sneaked one over on the kids. It’s another thing that paired with some scrambled eggs and fruit makes a wonderful breakfast. Do I toast my zucchini bread? I do not, but I might warm it up in the microwave to make sure the butter gets all melty and delicious. Can I eat half a loaf on my own? Yes, I’m no lady in that regard. I don’t know anyone in my house or can’t/won’t eat half a loaf in a sitting. It means I have to make extra and none ever lands in the freezer to eat in Autumn as I had planned.

This year, I tried a new zucchini bread recipe. In addition, of course, to my usual. Double chocolate zucchini bread? It sounded like something we would like. I already add chocolate chips to our bread, so it wasn’t an unusual idea. The verdict? So delicious! I was afraid it might be too rich, but it wasn’t. It was a little crumbly straight out of the oven (we couldn’t wait) but firmed up nicely after cooling.

I did exchange the honey in the recipe for plain sugar. Honey and sugar can be substituted for each other exactly up to one cup. I didn’t feel like trying to get the honey out of the bottle and into the measuring cup and then into to the mixing bowl so I took the lazy way out. Maybe honey would have made it better? It’s possible, but it was so very, very good I just don’t see how it could have been any better.

Additionally, I was able to make two loaves of my annual stand-by.

Betty Crocker’s cookbooks have changed a lot over the years, but some things she’s still getting right.  This recipe is in my 2000 edition cookbook and I’m willing to bet it was in my Mom’s 70’s edition as well.  It’s a tried, tested and loved recipe but we make one little change.  You, of course, could add nuts and raisins, but we enjoy chocolate chips. About 3/4 of a bag lends just the right amount of chocolate to each loaf.  Betty Crocker’s Zucchini Bread recipe makes 2 loaves and our first didn’t survive it’s first night out of the oven.

 

Is school back in session in your neck of the woods? If it’s not, I bet it’s on its way. I guess I’m lucky in that I enjoy both the summers AND the school year. But, even I can admit to being ready for a little more schedule and structure once the end of summer rolls around.

However…

Mornings are hard. They’re a delicate balancing act of finding time with finding sleep and it’s kind of doubly difficult considering that neither Baby Bee nor I are morning people. Baby Bee and I both move slowly. We take a long time to wake up and it seems like our limbs are stuck in syrup.

This means that breakfast, most usually, is something that can be made quickly. Typically, instant oatmeal or cold cereal with milk. They’re fine breakfast choices, but I wanted to do something a little differently this year. Additionally, since the Princess is in charge of getting herself off I wanted some quicker, more filling options for her as well. I’ve done freezer cooking before and I’ve frozen leftovers pancakes and waffles, but I think this is the first time I’ve tried to put together a freezer full of breakfast foods.

My entire shopping bill for the following came up to just about $70 and I estimate that I have at least 65 breakfasts available. Of course, we’ll be supplementing with fruit, milk and eggs as desired, but for most of these recipes, the cooking time is literally 30 seconds to 1 minute in the microwave.  The food in the freezer should see us through the school mornings of September.

Here’s the recipes we’ve stocked up on with any notes on my changes…

 

1. Baked French Toast Stick

I stuck to the original recipe, but used a full loaf of Texas toast.  I estimate we’ll get 10 breakfasts from a full loaf of bread.  Be sure NOT to allow your sticks to soak in the egg mixture for too long or they’ll be sure to fall apart and/or require more baking time.  I like to put my French Toast sticks in the toaster, just be sure you use full length sticks so they don’t fall down beyond where you can safely retrieve them.

2. Buttermilk chocolate chip pancake squares

The kids gave these rave reviews!  We doubled the recipe for 24 generously sized squares.  Paired with fruit or eggs, this is a winner.  My one change was to omit the “pancake syrup” from the recipe and just increase the sugar to 3 tbsp instead of 2 tbsp.  I saw no compelling reason to put the syrup in it.   The kids even ate it without syrup, but you could add some without issue.  These baked up nice and cake-y.  To serve, they require just 30 seconds in the microwave to warm.

3. Sausage breakfast bowls

We used the recipe to kind of create our own thing.  Oddly enough, this recipe calls for .95 cups of sausage?  Which makes no sense.  I made 2 lbs, added a full bag of frozen hash browns and 18 eggs to come up with 12 generous 1 cup servings. At 1.32/serving it’s still FAR less than the name brand version at the grocery store.  The sausage and eggs pack a good protein punch to help keep kiddos satisfied until lunch AND it only takes 1 to 2 minutes in the microwave to re-heat.


4. Pumpkin Waffles
A double batch of batter makes about 16 waffles (half a cup of batter per waffle). I like to cook mine on the highest setting on my waffle iron. These are lightly sweetened with a hint of pumpkin and spice. Like an Eggo, I toast mine in the toaster after removing them from the freezer

5. Egg McMoms

I’ve been making these breakfast sandwiches for a long time. They are a great alternative to a fast food breakfast and they cost lost and take less time one you’ve got them in the freezer. They cost me just about a dollar a piece and need about 2 minutes in the microwave straight from the freezer. You won’t even get from the order box to the window in two minutes AND they taste better than drive thru. If you’re health conscious, it’s easy to swap in organic or light options and you know exactly what’s in them.


To get eggs that are ready to fit an English muffin, I use two circle cookie cutters as egg molds. I spray them before each use with cooking spray. However, be sure to be patient while your egg is cooking. Pulling the molds off too early will result in your eggs running across the pan as eggs will do.

I did my cooking in two sessions that totaled about three hours, but yielded a full month of delicious breakfasts in the freezer.

The first third of summer is already gone.  Time flies when you’re having fun, right?  That’s always the case.  I feel like I’m digging in my heels, trying not to let one minute slip through my fingers.  The girls have been getting along so well and I’ve felt so peaceful about things.


To make matters worse, the school supplies are already coming out and I know what it feels like to be those people who start fussing about Christmas stuff coming out in the stores so early.  Quit taking my summer, school!  We still have 2/3 left!

I won’t say I’m sorry to see July, however.  We have a lot of awesome stuff coming up and even though I’m trying to slow down and enjoy every single June day, I can’t say I’m super sorry to see July peeking it’s head over the fence.

 

We are having a “clean out the pantry/freezer” sort of week.  I’ll probably buy some fresh produce and some odds and ends to make meals, but overall, I want to use some stuff up.  I feel like we get ahead of ourselves sometimes and buy things we don’t use right away and suddenly the pantry and the freezer are bursting at the seams and we still have nothing to eat.  It’s kind of weird.

Monday Spaghetti with broccoli.  Baby Bee requested this for her birthday dinner, but we had cake for dinner instead.

TuesdaySloppy Toms, oven fries and carrots

Wednesday Southwest Chicken Chopped Salad

ThursdayBelated Date Night Menu (if Auntie Awesome is agreeable) Steak Bite, grilled zucchini and roasted garlic mushrooms.

FridayPicnic at the Park! Smoked pork and other picnic goodies! I have a ton of pasta, so I’m thinking I will probably make a pasta salad.

This week, the forecast is calling for warm, rainy days and that means the girls and I will be in the house more than we were last week. It’s tempting, when the weather gets iffy, to end up in front of the tv a lot. I admit to being a tv lover. I think I could probably watch 18 hours of tv a day if I didn’t have kids or a guilty conscience problem. But, I want summer to be a lot more fun than just endless hours of tv and video games.

The girls and I made bouncy balls a few weeks ago. We bought our kit at Five Below (for, well, less than $5), but this kit from Amazon makes a nice amount of balls for the same price. It absolutely worked and was easy enough for Littlebit to use with no help and for Baby Bee to use with minimal help.

Our one complaint is that as the balls dry out, they stop being bouncy, which is a bummer. Even soaking them in water doesn’t restore them, it only makes them slimy,but for me the price for the quiet activity time works out to a plus even when we take the hard balls into consideration.

Ahem.

We’ve also been enjoying playing with kinetic sand. Okay, it’s a little pricey for $20 for two pounds and, to be honest, you’ll need two pounds per kid. I also purchased a tray for playing and some molds, which makes this a pretty pricey activity, but the amount of play and interest far surpasses the price. The sand stays moist and pliable. It’s easy to mold/build with. It doesn’t dry out and since it sticks to itself, it’s easy to clean up. It even tempts adults to play with it and the texture is just…different. I love letting it run through my fingers.

I’ll be sure to share more fun rainy and sunny day ideas as we discover them over the course of the summer.

 

But, for now, the menu plan

 

Monday Grilled steak, baked potatoes and veggies

Tuesday Smoked chicken, mashed turnips and veggies

WednesdayChicken Fajita Kabobs and Spanish Rice

Thursday Date night: Grilled steak bites, grilled zucchini and roasted garlic mushrooms

Friday Family Date Night

Saturday Grilled Chicken and Southwest Cornbread Salad

Sunday Baked General’s Chicken with Rice and Broccoli