Friday, October 28, 2011

Book Review: Catching Fire and Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

These books are the second and third books in the Hunger Games Trilogy.   We recently read the series for my book club (personal, not business) and I think they are a great book club selection.  There is just soooo much in these books to discuss, ponder, speculate, and theorize.  If you missed it, here is my review of the first in the series, The Hunger Games.

So book two (Catching Fire) starts out exactly where book one left off:  Katniss and Peeta are back in District 12, living the posh life in the "victor's village."  But the Capital has not forgotten them, or their defiance of the Hunger Games.  If anything, they are more in danger than ever.  The increasingly large number of rebels see Katniss as their fearless leader and the Capital president (a creepier character has rarely been written by the way) has "encouraged" her to play his puppet role...or else.  Through an extra sinister twist, Katniss and Peeta are tossed back into the Hunger Games arena, with other past victors as opponents this time.  What follows is a densely-plotted story, part political thriller, part adventure, part coming-of-age with a hefty dose of teenage angst.  This was a good book but lacked the oomph of the first and sometimes read as more of a "bridge" to connect books one and three.

On to book three, Mockingjay.  This is when the proverbial poo really hits the fan.  Katniss has thwarted the Capitol again, but Peeta is now held prisoner there.  Katniss must rally the rebel army, save Peeta, keep her family safe, and deal with some very ambivalent feelings for two boys.  Just another day in the life of a 15 year-old hero.  As the rebels prepare for battle in an underground bunker, Katniss is thrust into a role that she is not prepared to play as the face of the rebellion.  The action picks up in the later chapters as the rebels push towards the Capitol and the line between good and bad become very blurred.  This book, if possible, is even darker than the other two, and fairly gruesome as well.  But, the story is interesting and Collins does an excellent job building a detailed and at times disturbingly familiar alternate reality.

If you like dystopias and action/adventures, than these books are for you.  Me, I'm glad that I read them but would rather not ever visit that particular world again!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Meatless Monday: Spaghetti Alla Ceci

Somehow, this weekend we had heavy red meat dishes three days in a row.  So by Monday, I was more than ready for a meatless meal!  For inspiration, I scanned some old recipe books and came across a loved but forgotten recipe for spaghetti with chickpeas in Rachael Ray Express Lane Meals.  I didn't have all of the ingredients but it provided a great starting off point for a great pasta dinner, with a little more of a Greek flair than the original.

Here is the original recipe, which is wonderful.  

Here is my adaptation:

1 lb thin spaghetti
1 can chickpeas/garbanzo beans, drained and rough chopped in the food processor
2T extra virgin olive oil
1/2 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1T herbes de Provence
1/2 T oregano (just a shake or two)
Black pepper
1/2 cup unsalted chicken stock
1 can fire-roasted crushed tomatoes
Small handful kalamata olives, pitted and roughly chopped
1/2 cup flat-leaf parsley, chopped
1/2 cup Parmigiano Reggiano
Crumbled feta cheese

Bring a large pot of water to boil and cook spaghetti.  While spaghetti is cooking, preheat a large skillet to medium high with olive oil.  Add chickpeas and saute for a few minutes.  Add onion, olives, garlic, and herbs.  Stir and cook a bit longer or until onions start to color.  De-glaze with chicken stock and reduce down for a minute or two.  Add tomatoes, turn heat to low and cook for 10 minutes or so.  Drain spaghetti and toss in sauce with parsley and cheese.  For an extra Greek twist, add some crumbled feta on top.  Mmmm...this was such a yummy and simple meal, light and hearty at the same time!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Grandpa's Birthday

Last weekend was my dad's birthday and they were nice enough to bring the party to us.  In exchange for them making the trip down the Turnpike (with some of the "Jersey" clan in tow), I decided to make him a nice birthday dinner.  Making something special for dear old Dad is a little difficult as he is not really a fan of most food that I would consider "special."  As in, he's pretty much a meat and potatoes,nothing "weird" type of guy.  But, he does really love a good lasagna (who doesn't?) so that's what I decide to make.  I even threw in dessert.  From a box, of course

On a rare trip down the baking aisle, my ever-helpful 4 year old said with some skepticism "Mom, do you even know how to make brownies?"  Well, my dear, I know how to buy a box and I know how to follow directions, so there!  Just to stack the deck a little bit, I sprang for the "gourmet" brownie mix, no plain ol' Betty Crocker for my dad.  So, here's the line-up:

Lasagna (adapted from my great friend Catherine...10 years later and I still call it "Catherine's Lasagna"):

1 box Barilla lasagna noodles
1 lb lean ground beef (sometimes I thrown in a little breakfast sausage, it gives a nice extra flavor)
2T Extra virgin olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
2-3 cloves garlic, chopped
4-6 button mushrooms, wiped clean and sliced or chopped
1 large (28 oz) can crushed tomatoes with basil (Muir Glen is my favorite)
1 T dried oregano
Black pepper
1 large tub (3 cups) low-fat, small curd cottage cheese, drained slightly (just pour some of the liquid out with the lid slightly loose)
1 egg
1/2 cup grated Parmiggiano Reggiano
Handful of fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped (or 1T dried)
8-16 oz good-quality mozzarella cheese

Heat a large pot of water to boiling.  Drop noodles in and stir.  Under-cook noodles by a few minutes, as they will keep cooking in lasagna.  Drain noodles and set aside, tossed with a touch of olive oil to keep from sticking.

While noodles are cooking, brown meat in olive oil.  Avoid stirring meat for the first few minutes so that it develops a nice brown "crust" that will add flavor to the sauce.  Drain fat, if necessary.  Add veggies and cook a few more minutes until veggies get some color on them.  Add remaining sauce ingredients (tomatoes and seasonings).  Turn to low and simmer for 20 minutes or so.

In a large bowl, mix cottage cheese, egg, parm cheese and parsley (with a little extra black pepper).  This is your "ricotta" layer.

Spread a little extra olive oil evenly over a large glass baking dish (or use cooking spray).  Spread a thin layer of red sauce in the bottom of the pan.  Slightly overlap noodles over sauce (my pan takes 4 noodles per layer with a little extra for the ends).  Top noodles with 1/3 of the cottage cheese mixture, 1/3 of the red sauce, and 1/3 of the mozzarella.  Add another layer of noodles and repeat sauce layers.  Repeat again until you have three layers each.  Add a bit more mozzarella and parm and fresh parsley to the top if desired.  Toss that baby in a 350 degree oven and wait 45 minutes for bubbly, cheesy goodness!

 I apologize for the lack of an "after" shot but by that point I was focusing on hostessing and not blogging!  Trust me, it was yummy and beautiful.

I served this with a chopped salad of romaine, red bell pepper, kalamata olives, yellow tomatoes, and more cheese.  And, of course, buttered garlic bread!  Crack a clove of garlic and heat it with 2-3 T butter in the microwave for 20-30 seconds.  Discard garlic and add some olive oil, fresh herbs, and black pepper.  Smear on bread and forget to count the calories while it browns lovingly in the oven with your lasagna.  Gild the lily with some Ghiradelli turtle brownies and a nice glass of red wine.  I chose Jarhead Red for this one in honor of my dad.  Does he drink wine?  No, but he was a Marine and I managed to enjoy a nice glass in his honor anyway!  It was actually quite tasty, and the proceeds go towards the Marine Corps Scholarship Fund.  Bonus!  Semper Fi Dad!  And happy birthday.  I hope this makes up for the fact that I didn't actually buy you a gift.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

A Day at the Museum

Today was the grand opening celebration of the Stuart Wing of the Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art.  I've been pretty excited about going and the heavens actually aligned for all of us to be free on this beautiful Fall day!  Off we went to the OU campus to search for a parking space with all of the other alumni families wanting to relive their college days (or something like that).  On the way across campus we came across a favorite statue and had to stop and tickle some enormous toes.  Luckily they didn't wake him up!

Once inside the museum, we had to take a quick tour through some old favorites before checking out the new stuff.  Truly, the new wing is a work of art itself.  It is simple, modern and soothing with large wooden stairways with hand-carved details and a three-story wall of slim cables reminiscent of a waterfall.  A short video we watched explained the architect's vision of tying in elements from the earth such as wood, sky, water and air.  And it absolutely works!  One of my favorite parts is the glass wall of pottery through which you can see classrooms in the art school.  It is an important reminder of the true purpose of this wonderful university.

The museum houses an extensive and diverse collection, including modern, Native, and ancient art along with an astounding impressionist collection and many sculptures.  In the Stuart wing, there is space to showcase some of the museum's extensive Native art and artifacts collection.  My daughter loved the stained glass on the wall and I hear that it is truly something to see driving by at night.  Between that and the crazy-eyed mustang, it's a wonder there aren't more wrecks on Boyd!  

You must see these colors in person!
For extra fun, there was a professor playing native flute music and a visiting artist in one of the galleries demonstrating pottery staining.  I'll have to admit that my little ones had the occasional crying, "falling on the floor" moment at being asked to just wonder around and look with eyeballs instead of hands but overall they did really well.  This is a museum I highly recommend.  If you are slightly attention-span-deprived like me this museum works because each gallery houses something completely different than the last.  Whatever your particular art tastes may be, you will find something representative of it here.  Plus, admission is only $5 most days and is free every Tuesday and on many other days throughout the year (like today).  Get out and check out your local museum!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Soup's On!

Ahhhh, fall has finally hit the Great Plains after the longest, hottest summer on record!  I say, bring it on.  I'm ready for tumbling in autumn leaves, wearing boots and jackets, and eating steamy pots of soup.  Lately I have been slightly fixated on chicken noodles soup.  I'm not sick.  I'm not sad.  Maybe a little stressed but what else is new?  Anyway, it just sounded...good.  So today I hauled out the soup pot and started cooking.  Here goes:

1 package boneless, skinless chicken breasts, mine was 1.2 pounds
1 box chicken stock
1 C water
1 lemon, halved
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
1 onion, halved and trimmed of ends
2 bay leaves
Several black peppercorns

Clean and trim chicken.  Add to pot with other poaching ingredients.  Poach gently on medium low for about 20 minutes or until cooked through.  Remove chicken to a large bowl and strain out solids from poaching liquid.  Reserve the onion and garlic, chop and add back to the pot with the other veggies.  Shred chicken with two forks and set aside.  Now onto the veggies!

2-4 large carrots, chopped, diced, sliced, whatever
4oz. white mushrooms, cleaned and chopped
1 small Fresno pepper, finely diced (this adds a nice fruity, mild spice to the dish)
Notice I did not use celery, 'cuz I don't like it.  Toss some in if you want to be "authentic."
Reserved chopped onion and garlic from poaching liquid

Add veggies to the pot and simmer for 20-30 minutes.  Add chicken back in.  Add black pepper, paprika, and cumin.  While veggies are simmering, boil a pot of water and cook 6-8oz egg noddles.  Check seasonings  (you may need to add salt if you used unsalted stock).  Scoop noodles out of boiling water with a slotted spoon and add to soup.  It doesn't  matter if you get some noodle water, it is soup after all and the starchy water will add an extra consistency to the soup.  Cook, stirring, for a few more minutes until everything comes together.

Ladle into large soup bowls and top as desired (I used parmigiano reggiano and chopped chives) and serve with bread or crackers.  Mmmmm....mmmmm.....good!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Cookie Cutter Pumpkins

A couple of years ago, I had a newborn, a young toddler and a burning desire to do everything just right.  Can you say 4th trimester hormones???  So, one morning I suddenly decided that we just had to carve a pumpkin.  The problem was, I am not well blessed in knife skills myself and I couldn't figure out how to allow my daughter to carve a pumpkin without putting a death instrument into her chubby, clumsy little hand.
Suddenly, I had a moment of brillance!  For some reason I have a ton of cookie cutters.  It's doubly strange because I do NOT bake.  We leave that to Hubby in this house.  So I busted out some star cookie cutters in various sizes, strapped Baby in his bouncy seat and got myself set to "carve" a pumpkin.

Here were my supplies:

1 small to medium pie pumpkin
Paper, for the goo
1 large spoon, for scooping
Several metal cookie cutters
1 small, sharp knife, for touch-ups
1 meat mallet (In revisiting this idea again this year, I discovered that I did not invent the wheel on this.  Here is a great link with extra carving tips.  Note that they use a rubber mallet.  We will be trying this method this year as the metal mallet sometimes can damage the cookie cutters.)

Cut the top off of Mr. Pumpkin and hand the spoon over to your toddler.  They love this part, mucking around in all that stringy pumpkin goo.  Once pumpkin is clean, choose the cookie cutter shapes you like.  I used stars for the first time and it turned out really cute.  I have also used a candy cane as a crooked smile and small Easter eggs for eyes.  Really, you can use anything and see what you come up with.  Give your cookie cutters a good inspection and see what else you can "see" in their shapes.  Gently tap cookie cutter into the flesh of the pumpkin.  I used the cookie cutter to cut all of the way through the pumpkin but you can also use it just to make your outline and then finish up with a knife.  You may want to use the second method with a larger, thicker-fleshed pumpkin.  Either way, you should end up with a cookie cutter design on your pumpkin.  You can create "faces" with the cutters or just simple designs.  Here is an example of our first attempt:

 Not bad for a crazy sleep-deprived mom of "two under two!"  If I can do this, anyone can.  Break out those cookie cutters and carve yourself a pumpkin!  Happy Halloween!

Monday, October 17, 2011

Fancy Nancy Dinosaur Dig!

Grammie created Fancy Nancy!
Nope, that is NOT a typo!  This is what happens when you ask a 4 year old what kind of birthday party she wants.  Well, let's see...she's part girly-girl princess, part rough and tumble adventure girl.  Sooo, I should not at all be surprised when she asked for a Fancy Nancy dinosaur dig party.  Surprisingly, it came together fairly easily thanks to the help of some great friends and a lot of luck.

The first thing we needed were dinosaur bones.  You know, for the dig.  Our wonderful neighbor happens to work at the local Natural History Museum and was more than happy to start sending us a steady stream of not-quite-perfect museum replica bones.  We had vertebra, jawbones, and a lot of other miscellaneous bones courtesy of the upcoming baby apatosaur exhibit.  Just for extra fun, I bought the dollar store out of small plastic dinosaur skeletons as well.  I mean, I really thought the museum bones were a superb find, but I figured those tricky pre-schoolers might be more impressed with a dinosaur they could actually see.  Next up, we poured several bags of sand into an already-blank spot in our landscaping, buried the bones and waited a few days for them to develop a "weathered" look.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch (ranch house that is), we had to work on the Fancy Nancy aspect of the party.  I sent out eVites this year with an image from Fancy Nancy Explorer Extraordinaire and lots of extra fancy language (one of my daughter's favorite parts of the books).

I did some research and found lots of wonderful ideas for activities like decorating your own purses or hats and other very "girly" things.  Problem was, half of our guests would be boys.  So instead of girly accessories, we made "explorer boxes."  Basically, they were cigar boxes (again, provided by my neighbor) painted with gold metallic paint.  Inside there was a paintbrush (for dusting bones), a magnifying glass, and a pack of flash cards for dinosaur identification.  I bought Hobby Lobby out of clearance stickers and each child decorated their own explorer boxes.  Then it was on to the dig!  What fun the kids had rummaging around in the sand pit and unearthing the bones.  My son spent pretty much the whole party in the sand, digging and re-burying the bones.

If the kids got tired of the dino dig, we had the handy bounce house running at full throttle.  Truly, there is nothing better for entertaining kids than a bounce house.  Next it was time for "refreshments" as Fancy Nancy would say.  Pink and purple cupcakes, with sprinkles of course.  Fancy Nancy would never dream of a cupcake without sprinkles!  We also had fruit salad, PB&J dinosaurs, and Fancy Nancy's extra pink, extra fancy pink lemonade (recipe to follow), with bendy flower straws of course.

Overall, it was a great time.  The activities went over very well and my daughter had a blast.  Plus, the entire thing probably cost less than $100.  Like I said, luck was on my side with the dinosaur bones and the free bounce house.  But it did take some creativity and tips from helpful friends on pulling off an extra fancy, girly-girl yet boy-friendly party!  I guess now I can rest easy for another year.

Extra Fancy, Extra Pink Lemonade (From Fancy Nancy, Explorer Extraodinaire):

1 Concentrated can pink lemonade
1 can water *
1 bottle cranberry juice
1 Cup fresh or frozen raspberries

Mix and sip, daintily, with pinkie up if you please!
* This recipe really needs more than one can of water.  I diluted it a little and it was much better that way.   The kids loved it both ways though!

Merci to everyone involved, my Fancy Nancy loves you all!

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Deviled Eyeballs...oooooooohhhhhhh, oooooooohhhhh......

I have a great women's fellowship church group that meets monthly for crucial "moms' night out."   This past week we had a Halloween party, complete with costumes (I'm sad to say  I didn't have it in me for a costume that night) and themed snacky snacks.  For my contribution, I made deviled eyeballs.  Basically, I made deviled eggs with a green olive half on top.  Simple, sweet (savory actually) and lip-smackin' good!  Here we go:

12 eggs, boiled and peeled
2T yellow mustard
1/4-1/2 C mayonaise, start with a little and add until you get the desired consistency
1 t chopped capers, plus 1 t caper liquid
4-6 chives, chopped
Ground black pepper and sea salt
24 green olives with pimentos, halved
Paprika, for dusting

Halve eggs and remove yolks to a medium mixing bowl.  Add mustard and 1/4 C mayo and mix.  Add remaining ingredients except paprika and mix.  Add remaining mayo as needed. Spoon or pipe into egg white halves (I used a small melon baller and it worked excellently).  Arrange an olive half on top of each egg so that it looks like an eyeball (if making eyeballs).  Sprinkle with paprika = bloodshot eyeballs!  Sccccaaarrrryyyy good!

Note: these are pretty tangy eggs.  If you are a fan of the sweet eggs (with sweet relish) you may not approve but I'm a savory girl and thought these were just perfect!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Gorgonzola Stuffed Mini-Meatloaves

Yesterday, I pulled some ground beef our of the freezer to defrost and asked Hubby if he wanted meatloaf or taco soup for dinner the next day.  He replied "Um, meatloaf.  Have you ever met me?"  Touche, the man tends to shrink from anything labeled "soup" but I keep trying to shove it down his throat.  Not literally.  Yet.

I had some Gorgonzola and spinach hanging in the fridge waiting to be used so I thought I would use that as a starting point and here's what I came up with.

For Meatloaves:

1 lb lean ground beef (I like longhorn or sirloin)
1/2 small onion, chopped
Handful of button mushrooms, wiped clean and chopped
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 T extra virgin olive oil
1 egg, slightly beaten
6 whole wheat saltines, finely crushed.  Or 1/2 C bread crumbs.
2-4 T Worcestershire sauce
Black pepper, cumin, herbs de Provence
4 oz. Gorgonzola or other blue cheese, cut into 4 1 oz each pieces.  Or the equivalent amount of crumbled blue cheese.

Pre-heat a small skillet with olive oil.  Saute veggies until tender-crisp, then set aside to cool.  Meanwhile add remaining ingredients in a large bowl, except for cheese.  Add cooled veggies and mix until well incorporated.  Form a mound of meat in the bottom of the bowl and score it with the side of your hands to make 4 equal-ish wedges of meat mixture (a Rachael Ray trick).  Scoop out a wedge and form it into a patty, like you are making a burger.  Add the piece of cheese in the center and fold up the meat around it, like you are making an empanada.  Carefully form the meat around the cheese until the cheese is completely covered inside the meat.  Form into a football-ish shape and put in a glass baking dish that has been sprayed with non-stick spray.  Repeat with the remaining meat mixture.  Bake at 375 for 30-45 minutes, until meatloaves are browned and cooked through.

Spinach and Grape Salad:

This one's tricky so pay attention...combine fresh spinach leaves, halved grapes, pecans if you have them, and dressing of choice.  Look the other way while your kids eat only the grapes.  Actually my daughter ate all of her spinach, and her brother's.  My little rabbit girl!

I also served this with Knorr Stroganoff noodles.  Yes, sodium-filled, processed, dehydrated, packaged food.  They're yummy and go great with meatloaf!  The spinach cancels it out, right?

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

A visit to the Pumpkin Patch!

Recently, my mom came to spend the day with us.  I love Grammie day, and so do my kids.  On Grammie day, we go out to lunch, usually do some shopping, and play, play, play!  I'm pretty blessed with an amazing mom who is responsible enough to be a great mentor but kooky enough to be a small child's superhero.  Way to go mom!!!

So this last week, instead of hitting the mall, my mom and I took the kids to the pumpkin patch at a church in our hometown.  Rumor has it that there is a pumpkin shortage this year, so you'd better stock up while you can!  The McFarlin pumpkin patch is so cute and the perfect size for little ones to explore and chose a pumpkin for their very own.  I let each kiddo choose one decorative pumpkin and one carving pumpkin.  I don't know if I will be brave enough to allow carving this year or not, but we're prepared just in case.  My daughter chose a green pumpkin called a "Cinderella" pumpkin...surprise, surprise.  My son "chose" the one my daughter shoved at him and said "Here, this one is YOURS!"  Luckily, he seemed happy with it so I let it go.  Then, of course, we had to do the wagon rides!  I think they are suppose to be for the real pumpkins, but my little pumpkins loved it.
Pull, brother!

So, now we have a porch full of pumpkins that I have to try and keep is relatively good shape for another month or so.  Wish me luck!

Here's a side tip:  When my son was a newborn, I determined to carve a pumpkin.  With a newborn.  And a not-quite-two-year-old.  I just had to make sure that my daughter not miss out on fun holiday stuff just because there was a new baby in the house.  Can we say "4th trimester hormones?"  Anyway, I ended up discovering a a neat trick:  Using metal cookie cutters instead of knives.  Just use a meat mallet or something else heavy to pound them in.  Sweet and simple!
Awww, look at that face!

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Slow Cooker Pulled Pork Tacos

I've been in a rut with my pork loin roast, making it the same old way every time.  Toss it in the slow cooker, add some bbq sauce, some apple sauce, some seasonings, onions and bell peppers, cook on low all day, serve on buns w/ extra bbq sauce and maybe some salad.  It's yummy but this weekend I got a hankering to try something different, slightly.  I came up with pulled pork tacos!  Mmmm....  I googled a recipe but couldn't find one that really "spoke" to me, or the ingredients in my kitchen!  So, as usual, I picked and chose what I liked best from all of the recipes and here is what I came up with:

1 pork loin roast, my store sells them in 1.7lb packages
1 medium onion, chopped
2-3 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 fresno or jalapeno pepper, minced
1 can fire-roasted diced tomatoes
1/2 T each chili powder, cumin, oregano, black pepper (one recipe I saw called for unsweetened cocoa powder, like mole sauce, if I had that I would  have used it but I didn't so I didn't!)
Pinch of chipotle chili flakes
1 T brown sugar

Rinse pork and trim off extra fat and connective tissue.  Place in slow cooker and top with veggies.  Mix remaining ingredients in a large bowl and pour over the pork.  Cook on high for 3-4 hours or low for 6-8 hours.  I started mine at 11 and turned it to low at 2.  By 4 it was perfect and I turned the heat off to let it sit until dinner time.  When ready to serve, remove the pork and some of the sauce (depending on how saucy you want it) to a large bowl.  Shred with two forks.

Spoon onto tortillas and top with desired toppings.  I used diced tomato, shredded lettuce, pepper jack cheese, and an avocado sour cream sauce (mix 1 avocado, heaping T sour cream, 1/2 a fresh lime).  Use the rest of the lime for your Negra Modelo!  Yummy yum yum.  The kids even ate it.  I think I see a new "rut" in my future.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Sculpture Walk

The weather this week has been so lovely that I really wanted to do something fun outside.  We are lucky enough to live very close to an awesome and beautiful university campus, the University of Oklahoma.  For those of you not in Oklahoma, you may be used to hearing the word "football" after that particular title but I assure you that there is a lot of other great stuff about OU, which is saying a lot considering I am an alum of Oklahoma State University!

Annnnnyyyyway, one of my favorite things about OU is the amazing public art, including a huge variety of sculptures, intricate gardens, fountains, ect.  Some of it is beautiful in that classical sense.  Some of it is very modern and abstract.  Some of it is even controversial, but the mix is what makes it all the more interesting.  So I gathered up cameras, snacks, friends, and off we headed for our very own self-guided "sculpture tour."  We started with the ballerina sculpture, 'cuz we had two four year old princesses in tow!  Pirouette, girls, pirouette!

Next up, we headed down the road to check out a sculpture of a Native American woman, then did a tour of the rose garden outside of the library.  Of course, we couldn't just go past the library!  Ahhhh, the lovely smell of books, books, books!  Nerd, you say?  Yeah, I came to grips with that long ago.  The "old section" of Bizzell Library is, in my opinion, the most beautiful building on campus.  There's all sorts of crazy stuff going on with that building; it's a work of art itself!  We visited with my former professor/boss from when I was in library school (yes, there is such thing) and then headed back out to explore.

Peek a Boo!
All in all, we probably ran across about 20 sculptures and hidden little gardens, not to mention just checking out the cool architecture.  The kids ran around outside and see some cool stuff, the mommies strolled and chatted (with a bit of kiddo chasing thrown in) and we all had a fun time.  This is one activity that is definitely going into the regular rotation!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

God for Little People

Last month I did something that pre-Mommy me would have rather ripped out her toenails than do:  I taught preschool Sunday school at my church.  And I liked it!  It's possible that I may have even volunteered for a second round in the near future.

We started with the beginning, as in "In the beginning was the Word..." sort of beginning.  We talked about God creating plants and trees, birds and fish, and the Earth, ocean and sky.  All with helpful flashcards, silly songs and buzzing bees, of course.  When asked what their favorite plant that God created was I got answers like "ice cream" "candy" and "chicken nuggets."  It took some convincing but eventually I garnered some appreciation for trees, juicy apples, and beautiful flowers!  I even took those little wild things outside for a mini field trip around the church's garden.  With about four extra wonderful helpers, of course...I'm not that crazy!

Overall, it was really chaotic and slightly crazy.  It was also amazing to see their little faces when they realized something amazing, like that God made everything.  Everything, can you believe it?  Kids said they were thankful for their mommies and daddies, that they thought their big brothers needed extra prayers, and that their favorite "creation" was Spiderman.  It really was reaffirming of my own faith to get to see the beginnings of a small child's religious journey.

This week I was back to just plain ol' mommy and not teacher-mommy.  I asked my daughter how she liked her Sunday school class.  "Great!" she said with enthusiasm.  Then I asked her what they talked about in class.  She didn't even have to think about if for a second when she said "God....again."  Well, sweetie, He's kind of a big deal!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Rachael Ray's Turkey Tamale Pie

Last week on her show, Rachael Ray made this yummy turkey tamale pie and it reminded me to give it another spin.  I have seen her make a similar recipe before (you know, cuz I apparently watch a little too much RR) and I remembered that Hubby really liked it when I made it.  This newer recipe was a bit different than I wanted, but I used it as a jumping-off point for my own dish.  So, here is the original recipe:  Tex Mex BBQ Turkey Tamale Pie

Here is my slight variation:

1  lb lean ground turkey
2 T extra virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 red bell pepper, seeded and chopped
1 large or 2-3 small to medium cloves garlic, chopped
1 large carrot, peeled and cubed

Brown turkey in cast iron skillet with olive oil.  Drain liquid if needed (turkey tends to put off a lot of watery liquid).  Add veggies and cook until tender-ish, about 8 minutes.  Next, mix sauce  ingredients.

1 can no-salt-added tomato sauce
Small handful of brown sugar
1 can of diced tomatoes with green chilies, drained
1-2 cups chicken stock or borth, start with 1 cup and add more until you get the consistency that you want
2-4 T worchestershire sauce
1 T each chili powder, cumin, and oregano
Pepper to taste

Pour sauce into skillet and stir.  Cook for an additional 15-20 minutes, adding more stock as needed.

1 box Jiffy corn muffin mix, prepared according to package directions.
1 1/2 cups shredded cheese (I used medium cheddar)

Spoon cornbread mix gently over the turkey mixture.  Spread as evenly as possible.  It won't be perfect!  Top with cheese and cook at 375 for about 20-30 minutes or until cheese is bubbly and cornbread is fully cooked.  Spoon into bowls and enjoy!
 This was super yummy; thanks Rach!!!

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Al Fresco!

It was another Saturday work day for me, something that is becoming increasingly tiresome for myself and the family.  Still, I managed to slug through eight hours and came home to find homemade brisket, salad, and jalapeno poppers.  Oh, and did I mention a bounce house at full throttle?

The first thing my daughter said when I walked in the door was "Can we eat outside Mommy???"  Well, sure, that sounds like a splendid idea!  Here's me with a beer in one hand and a giant bottle of magic bubbles in the other.  Yessir, we know how to have a good time!

I love to dine "al fresco" but the truth is that it often seems like a better idea then it actually is.  It's too hot or too cold or too windy or the flies are everywhere.  Today we had a rare "perfect" day in Oklahoma.  Low wind, clear skies, and wonderfully moderate temps.  This happens for a week or two every season change, right in between "hotter than hell" and "the worst blizzard of the decade, except for the one last year."  So, we'd better enjoy it!

After a lovely dinner thanks to Hubby, the kids and I took a spin in the nearly-new bounce house that my great friend gave us.  I love a bounce house.  What I really love is a trampoline, but I'm pretty sure they call child services on you if you buy one of those these days so the bounce house will do.  This one really isn't supposed to accommodate adults but I gave it a whirl anyway.  My daughter loves this thing, she has even figured out already how to switch it off and on by herself.  My son, well, he's still on the fence about it but he'll come around.  

This look says "I worked eight hours at the public library, came home, drank a beer, ate too much food, then had a romp in a kiddie-sized bounce house.  You're welcome!