Tuesday, May 24, 2011

I. Love. These. Muffins.

I tried a new muffin recipe today - and I think I have a favorite! Thank you to Pam @ For the Love of Cooking for a wonderful blog full of recipes and photos! I look forward to trying other recipes from her collection; this was the first.

For the recipe click ---> Banana, Strawberry, and Chocolate Chip Muffins

This is what my final product looked like:

I think I may have made mine a bit smaller because it actually made 21 instead of 12. Either way they were a hit at snack time today...and I've got a stash in my freezer now too :-)

Food & My Family

It has now been over a year since I left my full-time job, although my official last day was June 1, 2010. Exactly 11 1/2 years of service at the Technical College. I have always loved to cook, but never did a lot of baking. As I transitioned from a short-term stay-at-home-mom, to a licensed childcare provider, I decided I was going to do my best to improve on what I already thought of as being fairly healthy meals. We have always eaten fruits and vegetables, but we'd have our fair share of processed, convenience foods, because time was so limited after working all day, picking up the kids, and driving an hour to get home, what is better than something convenient?

Chicken Nuggets. I'm proud to say that I can't even remember the last time I served a 'traditional' chicken nugget. Well, besides the one time I made them 'home made'. They were too much work, and turned out kind of dry...not my specialty I guess. Now I just lightly season (garlic, onion powder, and pepper) and bake boneless skinless chicken breasts (in a glass baking dish, covered with foil), slice them up, and serve them with some type of dipping sauce (catsup, bbq sauce, honey mustard, etc). Easiest chicken nuggets I have ever made...and the best part is that the kids love them this way!

Hot Dogs. I will admit that I love a good hot dog. Last fall I found some on sale at our local meat market which were natural, and didn't contain any of the 'yucky' stuff (preservatives, nitrates, msg, etc...). They were super yummy. I was so happy to find them quite a while later at Costco; three packs of 8 for $9.99!  They are Coleman brand, click here to check them out. I don't buy them often, so they are more of a special treat when I do buy them. I have even used them in an alternate way - home made mini corn dogs! Cut the hot dogs in thirds, used a recipe for a cornmeal dough to wrap around, baked them, and they were ooohh so good. I haven't made them for a while...next time I do I'll snap a couple photos and post the recipe here.

Pizza Pizza! Pizza is another thing we enjoy. I've only made dough from scratch a couple of times, but we usually buy the "just add water" generic Wal-Mart brand crust mix, and it is actually pretty good. My hubby started adding seasoning before mixing in the warm water, and it makes the crust extra tasty. I also buy the all natural generic Wal-Mart brand pizza sauce...add some freshly shredded cheese, toppings, and dinner (or lunch) is served! We also make english muffin pizzas, and even whole wheat tortilla pizzas. The best part is that they all taste wonderful, the kids love them, they are fairly healthy, and cheaper overall than buying frozen pizzas.

Soup. I love soup. I have made so much soup in the last year, I can't even believe it! It is so easy, and there are so many varieties. There are a couple recipes I follow (and love!), but I mostly make up the recipes myself. I have several notepad-chicken scratch recipes that I've written as I throw things in the pot. At first I didn't write them down, but then I'd make a fantastic soup and think "grrr...I should have written this down!" So, now I do. The best part about soup is that it freezes well, and stays good for quite a while, so I always make a huge pot to store it away for later.

Baked Goods. Like I stated earlier, I had never been much of a baker. My husband would usually make the Jiffy Mix/Bisquick pancakes, and occasionally a carrot cake, brownies (from a box), etc. Not anymore. I LOVE TO BAKE! I make all of our pancakes and waffles from scratch, using whole wheat flour. I make muffins almost weekly, and am always looking for new recipes or making variations to the 'staple' ones I make. I make quick breads (pumpkin, banana, etc.). The kids and I even made brownies from scratch for my hubby's birthday this past March - they do not even compare to a boxed mix... The next 'big' thing I want to try is English Muffins from scratch. I found a recipe online that had great reviews...it's all printed out...now to just give it a run!

Baking Powder. I believe this ingredient is a good example of one of those deals where you end up needing to bake something for some reason...the recipe calls for a teaspoon of baking powder...and you wonder if it's any good because you know you've had it f.o.r.e.v.e.r. You use it anyway because you would hate to have to buy fresh stuff...to use it just once. Before I started baking, I think I had had the same small canister of baking powder since I first moved out of my parent's house in 2002. Last fall I splurged and bought some fresh stuff! I wonder how long it had been in a square container with a blue flip-top lid???  I am now on my FOURTH container of baking powder...in less than a year!

Yeast Breads/Rolls. The one thing I am still a bit hesitant on baking is yeast breads. I did make some in the bread maker that I borrowed from my mom, and they turned out just fine, but I'm still a bit nervous. I really need to just suck it up and do it! I want to make the rolls that my Finnish friend makes...she showed me how to make them last summer when I visited, and I documented it in notes and photos (she doesn't follow a recipe), so maybe soon I will attempt these. During my first trip in 2002 I wrote down the steps as we made the rolls, but when I tried them on my own at home - they were literally like hockey pucks. Maybe that's why I am nervous to make another attempt. I will though.

Smoothies & Popcorn. My favorite meal. And yes, I have served this meal to my children (and hubby!). It's also one of my son's favorite things as well! Dairy, protein, fruit, sometimes veggies, and whole grains (popcorn)! I make the popcorn in my air popper, so we could leave it alone for the healthiest popcorn, but...I usually melt a little butter with onion powder to drizzle on top. Smoothies...I love them...I think I always have, but it always seemed like too much work to have to hand wash the blender afterwards, so it was very rare that I would make one. Now, I'm washing stuff all the time, so what's a few extra pieces?!  :-)  The ingredients I use are pretty simple. My base is a few ice cubes, vanilla yogurt (I prefer Dannon All Natural Vanilla, 32oz), milk, applesauce (unsweetened), and bananas. My most common blend is strawberry-blueberry-banana, just because I always have a bag of frozen berries in the freezer. This past Sunday I made strawberry-peach (and skipped the applesauce in my base) and it was delicious!  I have also been adding a huge bunch of fresh spinach to my blends...it just slightly changes the flavor - in a good way - and packs in extra vitamins. I've also added pineapple, apples, pears, and whatever else I may have on hand or leftover from a meal. Soon I will be introducing some other varieties of veggies and fruits to my blends...the possibilities are endless!

If you have made it this far...thank you for reading :-)  I love food and I think I get a little excited and carried away just thinking about it. I love to cook/bake and it feels so good to know that I am making nearly everything from scratch and eliminating so many mystery ingredients. And while I try to keep things on the healthy side, we still enjoy the things we love, like a big juicy steak or hamburgers on the grill. Oh, and homemade Mac&Cheese, which overall is probably a lot less 'healthy' (fat-wise) than Blue Boxing it, but at least I know what all of the ingredients are that I am putting into it :-)

Saturday, May 21, 2011

It's Me.

It's me. I am the one with the problem. I just can't figure it out. But, I need to.

How can I change the way I feel? Something has to change. I often feel that I will never reach that point where everything is ok. But, I need to.

I feel like it is still there, hiding within me, and I just can't see it for there are too many things in the way. How can I find it, and bring it back? I wonder sometimes if I just don't want to. But, I need to.

How is it that Miss Independent could have fallen so far that everything seems to have fallen apart? Is that where my problem lies? I don't know if I have the strength to pick up the pieces and make things work. But, I need to.

Is it only up to me to make this work? I may need some help, but I don't know how to ask. I don't know if I can do this alone. But, I need to.

This is not something that can be 'solved' overnight. But, if I don't start somewhere then I will get nowhere.  I don't know if I can do this right now. But, I need to.

No Title...Just Spewing Random Thoughts

What is this life? Where we live each day just trying to get to the next? Things are never done, and the cycle continues day after day to just keep up on the things that do matter, but they really don't. And, even then some things just sit around waiting to be taken care of, but sit and sit because we can't keep up with what we're trying to keep up with. What is the point? Will we ever get ahead? Will we ever get through what just needs to get done to even get ahead? Is this really how I feel life should be? No. And woulda coulda shoulda's are not worth thinking about, but we all do, right? I "shoulda" followed my dream all those years ago and started over in a new land, a new language, a new life. I "coulda" had that new life if this and that and such were different. I "woulda" opened a lot of new doors along the way. Although, I can't really say where I would be today, or what my life would be like, because it is 'now' and shoulda coulda woulda's mean nothing, except possible regret, frustration and sadness. How do I get past this? Do woulda coulda shoulda's surface when we are not truly happy with something in our lives? If I were truly happy, these would not be an issue, right? I still have not found that balance in life. I feel like it has been taking too long to find it, which leads me to believe that I am not really searching for it, even though I need it so badly. What is holding me back? Why can't I just get things organized and figure it out? What am I really trying to figure out anyways? Do I need a goal, or a picture, of what I want my life to be? I would then have something to work towards instead of following this same old path to nowhere. But what do I really want anyways, besides true happiness and to be content in my life? How do I choose the right path to happiness? Where will that path lead me? What is waiting at the end? What is true happiness anyways? What does it feel like to be content? For me it may be one thing, and for you something completely different. I don't know what I want, or how to feel, so I continue on doing what I'm doing, just to get by. Some days it's upsetting to me. For the sake of my children and family, I really need to get it together because they mean the world to me, and I feel it isn't fair for them to have to endure my uncertainty because although I try to give them my all, deep down we all know that the shadow of what I really am is always lurking and before long it will 'shine' through for all to see, even despite the cloudy days.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Finnish Friday - The Butterfly

On July 27, 2010, I came into my Finnish bedroom to find this on my window screen:

I've heard that butterflies can be a sign that a loved one, who has passed away, is in your presence. My first thought when I saw it, was of my grandma who passed away from cancer in October 2007. It was a very difficult time as she meant the world to me. I still think of her often, and on that day of 'the butterfly' I felt that she was looking down on me at my home-away-from-home.

We still have distant relatives in Finland, whom I was very fortunate to have met when I made my first visit in 2002. Before my grandma got sick in 2006, I had 'convinced' her to make the trip with me to visit Finland. She didn't care much for flying (and it is a long journey to get there!) but she had decided it would be a great experience. I was very lucky to have traveled a lot with my grandma, mostly by car, but we did fly together once to Reno, and I dreamed of 'taking her' to Finland...

We never got the chance to take our trip to Finland together, but I thought of her often on my journey. Was this her way of saying "I'm here with you in spirit"? Maybe so, or maybe not, but either way I hold her in my heart, and her memory will always be with me.

Here is an interesting website that I came across: