Category Archives: Recipes/Food

P365 – Day 55 (Forts and Food)

Sigh. I think they are out to get me. If I didn’t know better I would think Daniel had read my Fort blog and was eager to push my buttons and test which was stronger, my love or my hatred of forts.

beginning of a fort

This used to be my living room.

Daniel, however, doesn’t really read this blog. Joshua and Rachel are regular subscribers. Joshua reads faithfully each morning, forgiving me graciously when I am slow to post, and Rachel catches up every other day or so. Daniel looks over the pictures but doesn’t actually bite into the meat of the blog. If he did see the fort blog, he probably focused in on the photos and went away inspired.


Underneath this mess is some nice living room furniture – and maybe a child or two.

I don’t really blame them. It’s rainy and cold, perfect Fort Building Weather. Here is Fort Number One – a true masterpiece.

fort 1
sarah and the fort

How could the boys resist this face? It cries out for some fort building assistance.

As the day progressed and players changed, another fort evolved in the living room. This one involved secret paths and tunnels, going under, behind and, in some cases, through, furniture.

david and the fort

going through

Here she goes! Sarah climbs her way THROUGH the coffee table.

here she goes

To offset the distress of all this fort building mess, I turned quickly to chocolate and got Rachel started on some chocolate chip pancakes.

rachel 1
rachel bakes
rachel eats

Thankfully Rachel was willing to help in any way she could. Actually what happened was I told the kids they could have pancakes for breakfast if they wished. Since I did not leap up with great vim and vigor in the morning – being the serious student of Saturday morning sleep – Rachel decided to make the pancakes for the family. Way to go, Rach!!

These pictures were taken later on in the day, when there was some leftover batter and everyone begged Rachel to add chocolate chips and fix a few pancakes for snacking.

Our game of choice today (yes, as accused we are a SERIOUS game playing family these days) was Puerto Rico. We played it Friday night with a friend from church and were eager to play again (especially those of us who lost, oh that would be ME!!).

Puerto Rico is a fun game. It’s creative and interesting but not too difficult or competitive. I especially missed the Burts, today, when we played. They would like this game and wouldn’t mind the several hours that it takes to play. The only problem is only 3 to 5 players can play. That would mean if all four adults played then only one child could join us. Something to think about. I wonder if you could combine two games and include more players. We find to have the best prices on these Rio Grande and May Fair games.

The grey day and chilly temps required some nice hot apple cider. Tim’s sister, Posie, gave us some of these drink packets for Christmas one year and the children are hooked.

apple cider

I bought this box at Costco.

Daniel and Joshua set up the game while Rachel worked on the hot cider. Tim did a little computer work while waiting for the game to be ready.

daniel and the game
tim works

We had to work hard to get Rachel to join us for a game of Puerto Rico. She had the (VERY misguided) impression that the game was either boring or too difficult for her. Reinforced by mugs of hot cider, we marched forward.

hot cider trio

All of our prodding and begging and arm-twisting worked because Rachel, not only played the game, but won the entire thing! I’m sure it was all those chocolate chips that gave her the strength to overcome her worries and come out triumphant.

Again I was driven to some serious chocolate. This time I took no chances and went straight to the pantry for the right antidote (chocolate has medicinal properties, right?) and placed it in Joshua’s capable hands.

chocolate brownie mix

Worrying that regular brownies would not sufficiently console the group of Puerto Rico losers, I steered Joshua in the direction of something, shall we say, MORE chocolatey.

chocolate pizza recipe

Any time you have the word chocolate and overload near each other, you are bound to end up with something delicious.

Joshua, a true son of his chocolate-loving parents, more than outdid himself with the chocolate pizza. He fixed the brownies on a round pizza pan, adding chocolate chips to the batter, then frosted them. Next, he sprinkled two types of chips on the top and drizzled chocolate sauce over the entire concoction. Rachel said it was BEYOND chocolatey and went into some other realm of sugary goodness. There was a manic sort of jittery look to the children after they had their slice of ‘pizza.’

Of course, we sent them straight to bed. Isn’t that what good parents do? Feed their children sugar and caffeine and then expect them to settle down to sleep?

chocolate pizza

Ooey, gooey goodness. Why do chocolate desserts have such lethal names? Death by Chocolate or Devil’s Food Cake. I’ve even seen Triple Bypass Chocolate Fudge. And why are chocolate treats referred to as sinful?

Excuse me as I try not to drool. I had better end here.


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Birthday Cakes throughout the Years

I am NOT a cake decorator. Both my mother and my mother in law have studied cake decorating and made beautiful cakes over the years. My mil worked for a caterer for several years and is an extremely talented baker. She made our wedding cake – I should say cakes since there were NINE of them in all (each a different flavor, of course) – and did a fabulous (and delicious) job.

wedding cake

This picture doesn’t do the cakes justice as they were gorgeous. Mom E., I STILL like the dark green leaves!

With this much raw skill in the family, it’s a shame that I am such a poor cake decorator myself. One time my mother in law came and presented a cake decorating class for my Mothers of Preschoolers (MOPS) group. Where was I? Working in the Moppets department. I missed the entire thing. Sigh.

david 1 year old

David’s one year old birthday cake. That year everyone got their own little, individual cakes.

messy eater 1

messy eater 2

A neat and tidy eater that made us all proud. “Somebody get me a washcloth and hurry!”

When it comes to birthday cakes I try to outsource this job as often as possible. With five children, however, this can get quite expensive. Thankfully my children’s grandmother is as kind and generous as she is talented and we’ve received some beautiful birthday cakes over the years. Last year she even made Tim’s birthday cake. I know some people would be upset that their mother in law made their husband’s cake (boundary issues and all of that) but I was more than thrilled. She makes the BEST Black Forest cake that is truly Tim’s favorite cake ever. What a great birthday present!

two year old david

Age 2 – David obviously remembers the chocolate cake fiasco from last year’s birthday party and is a bit wary. Where is that washcloth?

daniel helps david 2

Thankfully Daniel is right there to help.

There are times, however, when a girl needs to step up to the plate (so to speak) and make the birthday cake for her own child. Or at least find a decent cake at the grocery store – whatever it takes. Today was one of those days!

david is 3

I don’t know what to say here. Looks like a panCAKE to me. He’s one excited three year old.

blow it out 3

Whew, I wasn’t sure he’d be able to actually blow this one out. Good job, little guy.

Rachel, Daniel, Sarah and I set out for the store to buy the perfect cake for David. Hmmm. We came up with less than spectacular options. The cakes were either totally bland looking (not much to excite a 6 year old there) or expensive (you want HOW much for some flour, sugar and eggs?). There were some impressive cakes in the display book but, um, that doesn’t really work when you’re a ‘last minute’ kind of mother. You have to plan ahead if you’re going to get something fancy like that. Also, I’m sure those are way too expensive (boy, that is some NICE colored frosting there – how much did that cost me?).

david is four

David is four! Oreos and licorice cover a multitude of inadequacies in the cake decorating department.

daniel david 4

Notice Daniel is, once again, right there to “help” when needed.

In a fit of “I can DO IT Myself-itis” I rejected all the cakes behind the counter and led the children to the baking supplies aisle. There are certain people who should never say “I can do this better/just as cheaply/prettier/fill in blank” – at least not without a laugh track playing in the background. I am normally not this optimistic (or cheap) but something about those plastic looking cakes filled me with a renewed sense of baking confidence. No doubt it was all the high fructose corn syrup in the air – addles the brain.

race car cake

race car 2

David is 5!! He had a race car birthday party complete with a race track birthday cake. Note the excessive sprinkles and crumbled Oreos that cover most of the cake.

Armed with a cake mix, a can of frosting, a box of pudding, a tube of decorator icing, and a fancy candle (and this is home-made how??) we set out to make David a birthday cake worthy of his lofty six years.

A friend from my homeschooling e-mail loop shared a cake recipe from the Confessions of a Pioneer Woman website. The entry is called the best chocolate cake ever and she includes beautiful, crisp pictures of each step of the recipe. She is obviously a talented photographer as well as a witty writer. I haven’t tried out her recipe but it looks divine.

I was inspired by her descriptive blog and decided to copy her technique. [As if this blog wasn't long enough already.]

This is the creation of David’s birthday cake for 2007.

The humble ingredients.


The first cake, top cut off to create a level surface, ready for filling.

first cake

The chocolate pudding filling with a little cookie help to give it some added crunch (and up the chocolate factor).

pudding oncookiespudding

The top layer is on.

top layer is on

The frosting choice of the day.


And on it goes.

frosting on

Almost done – starting to look pretty.

getting pretty

Now for some real decorating – how easy can you get? No bags to mess with. Just change the frosting tip (included with the can) and off you go. Ah, this is the life.

blue icing

My attempt at “stars.”


Add a little writing and we’re almost there. Thank you, Betty Crocker.

david's cake top

Add some candles, a little bit of red, white and blue sprinkles and we are all set.

cake is done

Everyone gave this cake a big thumbs up rating. David left one bite on his plate and told us all he didn’t want to eat too much, as he was going to “try and be healthy.” Good job, Buddy! Way to be healthy. We won’t count the samples, the spoon from the cake batter, the ‘practice’ cookie with pudding, and the frosting spatula that found its way into your mouth.

Happy Birthday, David!

Being a true son of his mother, David has been more than happy to extend his birthday from Friday on through the weekend. He called it his birthday all day today; after all, we hadn’t had the cake yet and cake equals party in his mind. He even managed to finagle permission to sleep on the floor from his father (“since it’s my birthday, Daddy.”). He’s obviously learned from the best about stretching celebrations out. Lol!


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Recipes and Veggies and other Tales

I’ve been thinking about the subject of cooking these days. I’ve known average, good, and excellent chefs in my travels through life’s meals but have often wondered what is it that determines their status. Is it presentation? Variety? The ability to follow a recipe? Creativity?

Some illuminating (or at least amusing) quotes:

“The cook was a good cook, as cooks go; and as cooks go she went.”

“The qualities of an exceptional cook are akin to those of a successful tightrope walker: an abiding passion for the task, courage to go out on a limb and an impeccable sense of balance.”
Bryan Miller

“A good cook puts something of himself into the preparation — he cooks with enjoyment, anticipation, spontaneity, and he is willing to experiment.”
Pearl Bailey, Pearl’s Kitchen (1973)

“HAM AND EGGS – A day’s work for a chicken; A lifetime commitment for a pig.”

“A clever cook, can make….good meat of a whetstone.”

“Tis an ill cook that cannot lick his own fingers.”
William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet

“My doctor told me to stop having intimate dinners for four; unless there are three other people.”
Orson Welles

Recently I’ve been enjoying two new cookbooks and sensing, in them, the possibility of becoming a better cook. Also I have been blessed by some creative chefs in my acquaintance. One of whom came to my home and prepared this amazing salad (Thanks Jennifer!!) that introduced me to several new wonderful green vegetables.

rainbow chard?

Name this vegetable!

Jen's salad

Jen’s delicious salad.

After enjoying the leftovers of this salad for several days, I went to the grocery store today and bought large bags of fresh fruits and vegetables. The kids were thrilled to have the fruit bowl stocked again and snacked on strawberries all day.


For dinner tonight I put these greens together to make a yummy salad. I’m afraid it was a bit stretching for my (“I would be fine with iceburg lettuce”) family but at least two of them ate a big plate full. Jen introduced me to bok choy and I am already a HUGE fan. It’s sweet and crispy and perfect in salads. I haven’t tried it cooked but I read at this organic greens site that it is also good in stir-frys.

I have been so bored and frustrated with vegetables lately. I eat a fairly healthy diet that includes a hearty serving of vegetables at both lunch and dinner. After almost two years of following this food plan, I’m a little tired of the vegetables I’ve been preparing. How lovely to discover some new things to add to my repertoire. Several of the greens are ones I’ve avoided, fearing they would be bitter in a salad. Instead, I was thrilled to discover swiss chard and kale have subtle, pleasant flavors; perfect for a green salad.

I’ve already mentioned this cookbook but I want to bring it up again in order to share a recipe or two. Perfect Recipes for Having People Over by Pam Anderson


I’ve made the cornbread muffins twice and they have been a huge hit each time. They are easy to prepare and cook beautifully.

Moist Savory Corn Muffins
1 can (14.75) creamed corn
2 cups yellow cornmeal
1 cup buttermilk
2 large eggs
8 tbs butter, melted
1 cup flour
1 tbs sugar
1 1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda

Heat oven to 450 degrees. Set 12 cup muffin tin in over to heat while you make batter.

Put creamed corn in microwaveable dish and heat until comes to a full boil. Stir in 1 cup of cornmeal to make a thick, pasty mush (if not stiff, microwave another 30 seconds). Whisk in buttermilk, eggs and butter.

Mix remaining 1 cup cornmeal with flour, sugar, salt, baking powder and baking soda. Pour wet ingredients into dry ones and stir until just combined.

Remove muffin tin, spray with cooking spray. Fill tins. Bake 15 minutes (until golden brown). Serve.

This evening I made the Yorkshire Pudding/Popovers recipe from the same book.

1 1/2 cups instant (quick mixing) flour, such as Wondra
1 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups nonfat milk
4 large eggs
2 tbs butter, melted

Mix flour and salt in medium bowl. Mix milk, eggs, and butter in small bowl. Pour egg mixture into flour mixture; stir until smooth. Spray muffin pan with cooking spray. Fill 3/4 full.

Set oven to 425. Bake for 35 minutes (starting with cold oven and w/o opening oven door).

These puffed up so beautifully I had to call the children in to come and see the yummy sight.

kids looking

kids smiling

The pictures I took of the popovers while they were baking in the oven didn’t come out and I was too busy putting the rest of dinner together to capture the finished product on film. Unfortunately I thought they looked like they were browning too fast in the oven so I took them out before the 35 minutes were up – they rose beautifully and then fell just as beautifully. Thankfully they were absolutely delicious and no one seemed to mind their fallen state at all. I will try these again soon.

The other cookbook that is the focus of my attention these days is Sunday Suppers: Informal American Home Cooking by Melanie Barnard (who seems to have also written several cookbooks for William Sonoma). My aunt (one of those excellent chefs that I noted earlier) gave me this book for Christmas. I believe when someone whom you admire gives you a present regarding their talents and gifts you should give it some careful consideration. I spent a good portion of the day reading/devouring the recipes in this cookbook (at stop lights, while waiting for the children at the Y, when I should have been making dinner). This book, in particular, carries the unique distinction of personal, hand-written notations from my aunt in the margins of her favorite recipes. What a precious addition to an already yummy book.

I am eager to get into the kitchen and start mixing and stirring. I hardly ever cook with lamb or pork and there are several delicious looking recipes featured in these two in the cookbook. My family is in for a real treat.


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Blend Ministry

Recently I was asked to come in to work to help with a project that hoped to launch on the following day. Ordinarily, I am off on Mondays, working longer days the remainder of the week to compensate. But on this particular occasion the need is great, and so I rode the train with an unusually tired and grumpy crowd, no doubt exhausted from the festivities.

I must admit, the weekend seemed awfully short to me, accustomed as I am to luxurious three-day weekends. I squandered much of Saturday playing a new computer game that Kathy bought me for Father’s Day, and then the Burts came to stay with us for games and pizza (which was a lot of fun, even if I didn’t win Settlers of Catan. I did manage to sneak in an hour or two of building shelves in the garage, which pleases Kathy.

Several Sundays ago was our church picnic, at which I had planned to provide smoothies; it was a busy day. Our church rented a nearby elementary school field and had the entire service (and subsequent picnic) outside. It was a fun event … the skies were cloudy and temperatures cool until almost the exact best moment … once the service was over and lunch began, the clouds burned off like magic. I was reminded of the famous hymn It Is Well With My Soul, which refers to the return of our Lord, in which the line “… the clouds are rolled back like a scroll.” All my worries that my blends would not be wanted evaporated like the morning mist; by the time we had our tables and blenders set up, a crowd had already formed, and we were off. I estimate we served between 350 and 400 blends to our church family (some were repeat customers) over the course of the following three hours … Greg and Tina joined in like old professionals and Kathy (who usually eschews mass-production) even got in on the fun, running one of the Mocha Granita production lines in her own cheerful style.

I had to nip out twice (once for more ice and the second time for more milk) as the demand outpaced my supplies. I have never before provided smoothies for more than 120 people … this event really stretched my capacity to the limit. The next day my legs were aching from standing behind that table and from walking (and sometimes running) back and forth to the car with supplies … but I must say that it was all very much worth it. For one reason or another God has wired me so that I enjoy making blends for other people, even strangers; it turns out that I really enjoy making blends for large numbers of other people.

For those who could not attend this gala celebration, or who somehow missed the smoothie table, I offer this consolation: it isn’t too late to go buy a smoothie machine and carry on this important blend ministry your home town. Here’s what you’ll need:

  1. A smoothie machine. I recommend the Smoothie Elite manufactured by Back to Basics … on sale for about $37 at your local Wal-Mart, Target or Costco. The key thing is for your blender to have a spigot so that you don’t have to pour out the smoothie … for mass-production, the spigot is critical. These machines also have a stir stick that is carefully designed to reach nearly to the bottom without actually hitting the blades. It is very helpful in producing a smooth, even consistency across the entire blend, so you don’t get customers comparing their blends unfavorably.
  2. Choose one (or at most two) recipes. I generally do a Mocha Granita and a Strawberry-Lemonade Blend, recipes below. It can be nice to have a separate blender for each recipe, unless you want to do a lot of washing when you could be blending.
  3. Purchase an ample amount of the proper supplies. You’ll need:
    • Ice (and probably a cooler, unless you plan to use it all quickly)
    • Power (these babies don’t run on batteries)
    • Water or milk, depending on your recipe
    • Dry (and frozen) ingredients
    • Cups
    • Lids (or you can always hire a carpet cleaner)
    • Straws
    • Flavorings
    • Optional: cardboard drink carriers for ease in delivery
  4. Find some customers … you’ll want to set up in a well-trafficked place but where the noise of your blender(s) won’t annoy. The Smoothie Elite machines are surprisingly loud when initially crushing the ice.
  5. A marketing strategy. I have rigidly adhered to the “Smoothies Should Be Free” slogan (and philosophy) for my blend ministry, but you may wish to place a “Donations” cup at your Blend Booth if you want to defray the cost of ingredients or raise support for some other worthy cause. As soon as you charge money, I suspect you cross the line into requiring a business license and certification by your local food safety health inspector types. Don’t look here for actual legal advice, though.

I estimate that it costs between $0.25 and $0.35 (not counting labor) to make a 12-ounce blend or smoothie, when you factor in the cost of the cups, lids, straws and ingredients (not to mention the occasional blender that dies). Considering that most people would pay at least a dollar for one of these blends, this means that for every blend you create you are tripling or quadrupling the utility of your money (in Micro-Economics terms). On a hot day you may see this factor double or even triple … I have been told by many that my Mocha Granitas are comparable to Espresso-booth products purchased for $2 and $3. For some reason, even though I never charge money, I get a lot of vicarious enjoyment out of all those people who drink my blends.

Smoothie Recipes:

Mocha Granita

Fill the blender up about half way (between 24 and 32 oz, depending on your blender model) with milk. I use skim milk when I make these for myself, and 1% or 2% when I am making them for other people. I’ve never had anyone complain about this.

Add three scoops of Nestle Quik mixture using the large scoop provided in the Costco-sized Quik container.

Add three large scoops of Frappe Freeze Mocha mix (available at Costco, usually near the coffee) using the same scoop you used for the Quik.

Add ice until the blender is full (but not overflowing).

Add coffee syrups (I personally prefer Hazelnut) or a healthy squirt of some Java chocolate syrup (in case it isn’t already strong or sweet enough).

Put the top back on the blender, and ensure the stir-stick is firmly centered in the hole in the top of the blender. This is a critical step unless you want to repaint your ceiling (or so I’ve heard).

Blend and stir until nearly smooth (noise of ice chopping sound should level off).

Serves 4 twelve-ounce blends with a little left over for the chef.

Strawberry Mandarin Lemonade Delight

Fill the blender about half way with water.
Add in six to eight (depending on how sweet you like it) small scoops of Smuckers Strawberry Lemonade mix, using the scoop provided in the Costco-sized container.

Add in six to eight large frozen strawberries.

Add in a half-can of Mandarin oranges (or the whole can, if you prefer).

Fill the blender with ice (but not overflowing).

Put the top back on the blender, and ensure the stir-stick is firmly centered in the hole in the top of the blender. This is a critical step unless you want to repaint your ceiling (you’d think this would be self-evident, but even master blenders make mistakes, or so I’ve heard).

Blend and stir until nearly smooth (noise of ice chopping sound should level off).

Serves 4 twelve-ounce blends with a little left over for the chef.

Tricks and Tips

Sometimes you will get a little carried away with your liquid and dry ingredients, leaving insufficient room at the top of the blender for ice. In such cases, simply bleed off a cup of the liquid from the bottom, making more room for ice at the top. Then pour the liquid in at the top once you’ve dispensed enough blend to make room for it.

Sometimes you get a little carried away with the ice, and your blend will barely ooze out of the spigot while your customers tap their feet impatiently. Simply pour an extra cup of water or milk (whichever was the base of your original blend recipe) and your smoothie will loosen up nicely.

Never try to get the last drop out of your blender until it really is your last blend. Let the last half-cup of the blender roll over into the next batch … this will save wear and tear on your blender.

If you have a large crowd, consider using eight- or nine-ounce cups instead of twelve- or sixteen-ounce cups. I haven’t found the smaller cups with lids, though, so only do this when you are outside. I use plastic cups, but you could probably go with paper without any trouble. Blends don’t store very well at room temperature, anyway.

On really hot days I tend to make my blends with more ice and water and less sweet ingredients. In cooler weather I will sometimes add a flavored yogurt, tending more toward the creamy, frothy consistency. Blends don’t move well on cold days, although I can usually find customers for the milk-based Mocha Granitas year-round.

I have never yet failed to find lots of eager hands to distribute smoothies when my customers are dispersed … kids of all ages seem to love to be the bearer of blends. It is helpful to have those cardboard drink carriers (like you get at a fast-food drive-in) … they can be had in bulk for about five cents apiece, and are reusable for several iterations, depending on the person carrying them. As far as I know, they do actually deliver the blends, although a couple of times I have wondered about this.

Ingredients are always a problem … it is very hard to estimate the amount of each that you will require, especially when making blends for large numbers of people. I try to err on the side of having too much, but sometimes I still don’t have enough. One way to insure against disaster in blend-making is to have a bunch of frozen concentrates around. Then if you run out of one ingredient or another, you can always throw in a concentrate. I really like the Raspberry Lemonade concentrates … they have saved my bacon (so to speak) more than once.

Some blend purveyors prefer to sport some form of recognizable headgear … I traditionally sport an attractive beaver cap and operate under the pseudonym “Boris Brainfreeze”. This should not be attempted, however, by those lacking my (admittedly intimidating) combination of panache, majesty, dignity, distinction, and savoir faire. It isn’t such a good idea on a really hot day, either.

Sometimes people tease me about taking blending so seriously, especially when they see me packing in all my supplies, ice, ingredients and blenders (it is not unusual for me to fill the back of my little station wagon). “It’s just a blend, dude!” they will say (as if a smoothie were not an end in itself). There are those smug seminarians who will try to tell you that smoothie-making is not really a spiritual gift. Some will decry the cost of the ingredients and will even mock the sacred “Smoothies Should Be Free” philosophy, as if blends and vulgar cash could mix. And of course, in every large crowd there will be Philistines who do not appreciate the subtle flavor of your best blend offering, who will callously leave full blends to melt forlornly on a picnic table. Do not go gently into that smoothie-less dark night. Resist such nay-sayers and keep cranking out the blends. For every jealous sidewalk detractor there will spring up ten young disciples. Admittedly, some will probably fall by the wayside, and a few may settle for being pastors, evangelists and missionaries. But in the end a few hardy souls will persevere to the lofty height of Master Blender.

It is said that when the new city of Jerusalem is established, that a river will flow out from under the throne of God, along which will grow the tree of life. This tree will bear twelve distinct fruits according to the season. It all seems tailor-made to me … you have high-quality water and heavenly fruit; all that is lacking is ice. I’m thinking that the position of God’s personal blend-maker is still open and I can set up shop along the side of the river. It reminds me of James and John, and how they asked to sit at the right and left of Jesus, when he comes into His glory. I hope the other blenders of the world don’t get mad at me.

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