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I grew up in a household where food was plentiful and tasty.  Chicken was almost always fried, potatoes were served with gravy and I had to beg my mom to buy me rice-a-roni.  She couldn’t figure out why in the world I would want to eat that packaged junk.  When I became an adult and started cooking for myself I had a lot of food related realizations.  I’ll share some with you today.

Chicken doesn’t have to be tough as leather in order for it to be safe to eat.   My mother had a fear of salmonella or something.  I remember her putting chicken in the frying pan and leaving it there for a REALLY long time.  When we sat down to eat it, we would wear our jaws out chewing it up.  I don’t remember it tasting bad at all, it was good.  It was just so TOUGH.  You can be sure it was cooked thru, though.   The first few times I made chicken for myself I was shocked at how little time the recipes would say to cook it.  Shockingly, it was always done and even moist and tender!

Baking is not that difficult of an undertaking.  In our house, almost everything was home-made.  The exceptions were most baked goods and bread. (especially cakes, some cookies and pie crusts)  The closest to home-made bread my mom got was using the refrigerated bread dough rolls.  For some reason, my mom just did not have the patience or desire to try whipping up a yeast dough.  Honestly, I don’t even know if she ever attempted it.  In the past year I have made several yeast dough projects and they have always turned out at least decent.   As far as baked goods go, she always bought the mixes for cakes and cookies, too.  I’ve come to really not like boxed cake mixes.  I don’t like the chemically taste.  As far as cookies go, I LOVE to make home-made chocolate chip cookies and find that even the cookie logs you can buy are gross to me now.

There is such a thing as “too sweet.”  My mom’s claim to fame was her sweet tooth.  This woman would start the day with a Diet Coke and Hostess Snow Balls.  No joke.  I don’t think she put salt in anything.  She would double the amount of sugar in recipes!  I found this out by helping her make a pie one time.  That explained why her pies never set up properly.   I’m not saying that I don’t have an affinity for sweets because I will be the first to stuff a Twinkie in my face but I have learned that good flavors are all about balance.  I don’t like cheesecake unless it’s served with a side of tart cherry topping.  Sweet is good, but sweet and salty or sweet and tart is tens times better.

Not everyone is raised in a household where the food is delicious and home-made.  I vividly remember my mom saying “most people don’t know what good food is.”  I found that to be a cryptic statement.  Good food is good food, right?  I get it now.  Now, that I have been around different families, co-workers and friends. It’s all relative.   It seems that some folks are totally happy with the orange mac and cheese and cookies made from a log.  I know a lot of it is how we are raised.  If orange mac and cheese is what your mom made you when you were sick, then that will be your comfort food when you are in your twenties and thirties.  I feel so very lucky that I know the taste of home-made sausage gravy and pudding made the old-fashioned way with eggs and flour.

What food epiphanies have you had in your life?

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Disclaimer – I forgot to take a picture of the cake after we cut it! ARGH!  It was beautiful, though, with lots of delicious layers!

I made my own birthday cake this year! Several years ago we had an ice cream cake from Marble Slab Creamery for my birthday and it was delicous.  My favorite flavor of theirs is sweet cream so we had a sweet cream and raspberry cake made.  Even my picky family raved about that cake.   I have been thinking about the cake lately, so I decided that I would try to make one for myself.  I used a recipe from Food Network for a guide, changing it just a little.

Here are most of the ingredients I used.  Vanilla ice cream, chocolate cake, chocolate sandwich cookies, magic shell, raspberries and whipped cream.  I didn’t even use the chocolate ice cream.  My husband and I ate that after the cake was gone.  Shame, shame on us!

The first thing I did was make a chocolate cake using a cake mix.  I followed the directions on the package, except I used leftover coffee instead of water.  I think it adds a little deeper flavor.  I made the cake in a round cake pan.  It needs to be set aside to COMPLETELY COOL! If you try to put the ice cream cake together without cooling the cake you will be in trouble!

While the cake cooled, I crunched up the cookies.  A big plastic ziploc bag and a rolling pin work great for this step.

When the cake has completely cooled you can assemble the ice cream cake.  Also, you will need a springform pan.  I guess you could make it in a different pan, but the springform worked so well for getting the cake out when it was totally frozen.   First mix about half of the cookie crumbles with about half of the chocolate shell.  Stir it around until its mixed in together.  Now is a good time to use the spoon or fork to crunch up the cookies more if you have big chunks of cookies.

The magic shell stuff is very liquidy! I didn’t expect that and I did make a mess of it when I poured it into my crumbs.  Woops!   The step is making the bottom layer which is the r/shell crust.   Press the moistened crumbs into the springform pan.  Make sure you press them tightly to get a good base for the rest of your cake.

The next thing I did was put some frozen raspberries on the cookie crumb layer.  I did quite a few because I love the floral flavor of raspberries!  I think this cake would be much too sweet if you didn’t have a nice tartness from some form of fruit.

Then, it was time for the first layer of ice cream.   The ice cream will be much easier to spread if it’s thawed out quite a bit.   I found that it worked well to put big dollops onto the cake and then spread them all around.  Really pack it down.  The flatter you can get it the better, in my opinion.

After this, it was time to put the cake into the freezer and let it freeze up for a while.   I made sure to cover it with plastic wrap so that it wouldn’t absorb any funky freezer smells. At this point, I went out to meet one of my best friends for lunch.  We had fried green beans at one of my favorite places.  I LOVE friend green beans!

Later, after I had returned from lunch, I finished the assembly part of the cake.  I pulled it out of the freezer and put the chocolate cake I had made earlier on top of the ice cream layer.   I had to cut my cake layer in half because it would have been too thick otherwise. It’s okay if it looks crooked and uneven. You’re going to cover it up anyway.

I really had to smash the cake down to make sure that I would have room for more layers.  Next, I added another layer of cookie crumbs and chocolate shell. Just mix up the rest of your shell and crumbs and then smash it down on top of the cake.  I followed that with more raspberries.

Finally, another ice cream layer.  See how I totally ran out of room on the top?  So many layers of goodness!  More plastic wrap and then it’s back into the freezer.  I would let it freeze for at least two to three hours.  Overnight would probably be best.  Don’t be like me, and try to make it on the same day you are serving it!  Too stressful!

After it has frozen together well and at least two hours or so before you need to serve it, you can make your whipped cream frosting.  I used about half of a large cream container and whipped it up with the hand beater.  It made plenty of whipped cream.  Oh yes, I also sweetened the cream with a little splenda because I didn’t have any sugar.  I popped the cake out of the springform pan and spread the whipped cream all over the sides and top, smoothing it as much as I could.  Then, I used a large bag with a hole cut on one side to pip large dollops around the top.

The final touch was adding some colorful sprinkles.  Then, I popped the cake back into the freezer to allow the cream to set for about fifteen or twenty minutes.  When the cream was hard, I draped the cake in plastic wrap and put it back into the freezer for about an hour or two.

This was right before we cut into it.  My family really enjoyed it.  It was really sweet and over the top!  This is one of those recipes that you could make so interesting by changing up the cake, cookies and ice cream.  I’m thinking a peanut butter, chocolate, devil’s food combo would be awesome. You could chop up peanut butter cup candies and make a crust with Nutter Butters or pretzels.  Yum!

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My birthday is right around Father’s day so every few years it falls on the actual Father’s day holiday.  Growing up, it was kind of neat though.  On the years that it was the same we would celebrate both and I never felt like my birthday was upstaged or forgotten or anything like that.

For the past several years Father’s day has been completely different, though.  It’s now a very confusing day, one where I reflect on past events and have a hard time picking the right card or saying the right things.

I remember reading a story about Jennifer Anniston in a magazine once, and the article mentioned that she was estranged from her mother.  I thought to myself, how can anyone not talk to their parent at all?   The whole concept of estrangement was so foreign to me.  Until it happened in my family.

My parents were married for forty years when my dad up and left.  Just moved out one day and in with another woman.  It was shocking.   My parents had always had a strained marriage, we kids knew that their relationship wasn’t what we wanted for ourselves when we married one day.  They would go days without talking and he did even leave for about a week once when I was in junior high.  He came back though, and my mom never questioned why he had left, she just took him right back.

We seemed to have the perfect family from the outside, and we did in a lot of ways.  We genuinely loved each other and I knew that my dad would do anything for us kids.  He was involved in sports, church and spoiled us with material things.  I never doubted his love for us.  I think because everything else in our lives was so good, we kind of pretended that the spirit of unhappiness my dad seemed to have, didn’t exist.

I am the youngest child and as I got older, I could see that things seemed to be deteriorating between my parents.   I lived at home while in college so I had a front row seat to the impending train wreck. Dad had always worked a lot but now he would get up super early and stay away until late at night.  When he was home, conversation was strained or non-existent.   I remember going on a weekend trip and when I returned that Sunday afternoon, it was obvious something had happened.  Mom could barely talk, she was so upset, and there was a new car in the driveway. (to this day, I don’t know what happened) The tension in the air was suffocating.

That was pretty much the last straw for me, I had to get out of that house.  At this point, I was done with college and had a good job.  I went out and found an apartment that week and moved out.  I think in my heart of hearts I knew that once I left things could fall apart.  I decided that I had to leave, regardless.  It wasn’t my responsibility to be the glue that held the family together.

It was about a year later that he left.  He didn’t even have the nerve to tell my mom to her face.  He went to my older sister and told her.  She had to be the one to tell my mom what was going on.  Although my mom was absolutely heartbroken, I don’t think she was surprised.  I think she had been praying for years that it wouldn’t happen like this.   Within a week or two of him leaving, we found out that there was another woman involved.  She had been married also, and had left her husband and three young girls for my dad.

My siblings and I were angry beyond belief.  We knew that things weren’t right between my parents but the lying and adultery was totally shocking.  It went against everything he had instilled in us growing up.   As the months went on, we found out that he had led two lives for years.  We immediately took our mother’s side.  I wanted nothing to do with him.  I was so mad I couldn’t even talk to him.

As the months went by, he and the woman holed up in a condo he had bought on the sly.  His booming business fell apart, mostly because the whole town thought he was a lying scum bag.  His sometimes aloof and flaky behavior was no longer tolerated for my sweet mother’s sake.  People actually said to me “I always thought your dad was a big jerk.” I’m not sure if they meant to make me feel better, but it always made me feel worse.

The months dragged by and before I knew it, it has been about 2 years since I had spoken to him.  He had tried maybe three times to get in touch.  A random birthday card or a phone message at Thanksgiving.  It was like he had decided that the previous forty years had been all of the time he was putting into us and now he was clocking out.

The foundations of my world were rocked even further when my mom was diagnosed with stage four cancer.  For a year and a half we shuttled to and from doctors appointments and treatments.   During this time I did not have the energy to even think about my dad.  I was emotionally drained.  Caring for my mother and dealing with the grief that we all knew was coming was overwhelming.  She passed away after eighteen months of fighting the disease.  Three months before she died I gave birth to my daughter.  Someone asked me if I was going to call my dad to tell him.  I didn’t have the desire or energy and didn’t feel the slightest bit obligated to call.

Estrangement from my dad was a really weird feeling.  I kind of knew that I would talk to him again eventually, and I’m glad that God gave me the chance to.  It would have been devastating if something would have happened to him while we weren’t communicating.   Forgiving dad was the key to getting past our estrangement.  When you are hurt that bad, it’s hard to forgive.   I wish I would have forgiven dad sooner.  Even though he and my mom had such a messy divorce, he would have been supportive when my mom died.  There is no doubt in my mind about that.  Our estrangement robbed him of the opportunity to bless us and redeem himself a bit in our time of despair.

When my daughter was about eight months old, my sister decided to make peace with dad.  I think in her mind it was better to have one parent, rather than none at all.  Both of us decided that it would be better if we did it as a group.  We met dad for lunch one day.  It was awkward but pleasant.  None of us made reference to the past four years.  A few months later we even went to his house for a birthday dinner for my grandmother.

It’s been two years since we reconciled.  Things haven’t always been great.  One of my siblings still has major issues with dad and that has made it a little hard.   I try to meet him for lunch every month or so and it’s not nearly as awkward as that first meeting.  My little girl is always excited to see him and he seems genuinely happy to spend time with her.   He’s not the perfect dad, but for a lot of years he was really close and I’ve decided that has to count for something.

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We just got back from our Austin getaway.  We had a blast, but boy, are we tired.   We did a lot of driving and walking which combined with the Texas heat, really drained us.  Also,  I’m pretty sure I gained at least ten pounds in about 4 days!  We ate and ate. And then ate some more.

We started the trip with a short drive to Dallas and spent an afternoon and evening shopping and eating.  First, we went to Northpark Mall to stretch our legs and do some window shopping.  I love that mall but most of the stores are a bit too fancy for my tastes.  Our little girl had fun at the Disney store.  She had never been in  one before and when we left, she had a total meltdown.  A Wetzel’s pretzel cheered her up again.  That was my first taste of their pretzels and they are really good.  I think I like them better than Auntie Anne’s.

For dinner that night we chose Chip’s Old Fashioned Hamburger.  It was awesome.  The burgers were juicy and very flavorful.  It was my favorite of the two burgers I had on the trip.   The place was pretty tiny and we got there just in time.  As we were finishing up, the place filled up and they started playing the Mav’s/Heat game on TV.  We got out of their fast as I am still mad at the Mav’s for beating my team.

The next day we headed down I-35 towards Austin.  Back in the early spring by husband had driven to Houston for work and stopped at Collin Street Bakery in Corsicana for lunch.  He was so carried away with it that he bought a bunch of bread and cookies back home to me.  Their cherry ice box cookies are his favorite. He LOVES them. Personally, I would rather have a chocolate chip cookie.  Anyway, when we saw a billboard advertising a Collin Street Bakery in Waco we knew we had to stop there for lunch.

I was really impressed with the place.  It was sparkling clean and the employees were super friendly.  They serve sandwiches, soups and salads and also sell pies, cakes, coffee and nuts.  We got sandwiches for lunch and while we ate them we took turns going to the counter to look at the baked goods so we could figure out what we wanted.

My husband wanted some cherry cookies and I ordered a white cupcake.  I wasn’t sure if it would be good but it was delicious.  The cake was super moist and tender and the icing was perfect.  Not too sweet and it didn’t have that shortening taste at all.  I saw people carrying them out by the dozen.  I wish I had one right now!

After our lunch it was only a few hours to Austin.  When we got there, we decided to drive all the way downtown and then work our way up towards where our hotel was located.  My husband loved the eclectic look of sixth street and Guadalupe.  He had no idea what to expect so I was pleased that he was digging Austin.  We checked into our hotel and then decided to head back down to Mount Bonnel for a good view of the city.

We parked our car and hiked up the stairs to the lookout.  The view from Mount Bonnel is very neat.  You can see lots of super nice houses and a pretty good view of downtown.  The only bad part was the heat! It was scorching hot and I had forgotten to put sunscreen on my little girl so we didn’t stay long at all.  We took a few photos and then headed down the mountain in search of a nice cold drink.  I can’t wait to tell you about the rest of our trip.  We packed a lot of fun into just a few days.

 

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Doughuts :) by Amy Loves Yah

Doughnuts 🙂 by Amy Loves Yah

Tomorrow is National Doughnut Day.  That is something to celebrate.

Doughnut grease pretty much runs thru my veins.   One of my first memories is being very small, probably only two or three years old, and going to the doughnut shop where my teenage sister worked.  I remember sitting in the small shop with my mom and brother eating doughnuts watching her work behind the counter.  She started working there at the tender age of fifteen and basically ran the shop after the owner went home when he was done making the doughnuts.  He even trusted her to pay herself out of the money from the cash register!

My sister moved on from the doughnut shop after a few years but we still frequented the town’s other doughnut places.  If we didn’t go to get doughnuts on Saturday then we had them at church on Sunday.  As a special treat after dinner, sometimes my doughnut loving mom would make doughnuts with canned biscuit dough that she fried in oil and glazed with a powdered sugar and milk frosting.  Those doughnuts were so good, piping hot and dripping with gooey icing.  Anyone else drooling right now?

My husband and I got a kick out of discovering that we shared a doughnut-laden background.  His big brother had a job at another doughnut shop in town several years after my sister graduated from school.   There was even a time when his parents had to fill in at the doughnut shop for him so that he could start a more promising job at a big local company.  My mother-in-law says she hated coming home smelling like grease and sugar but how bad could that really be?

When I was in college, I saw Rosie O’Donnell raving about Krispy Kreme on her talk show so when I visited NYC for the first time, I sought out the famed doughnut shop and tasted my first one.  It was a cream-filled chocolate-glazed pillow of heaven!  The day that we flew back home, I got up early to take the subway back to Krispy Kreme in order to buy a dozen to take back home for my family to sample.  They somehow survived a full day of flying across country with only minimal smushing.   You can imagine my disgust when my family declared them “okay“.

A few years after that, Krispy Kreme opened a store near our town.  There was a huge line for weeks to get those things.  Of course, I was one of the carboholics waiting in line for an hour for one of the hot doughnuts.  I don’t think that anyone can deny their awesomeness when hot out of the fryer.  Delicious!

The doughnut theme in our family almost came full circle right after my husband and I got married.  We saw an ad in the paper for a doughnut shop that was for sale.   It cost about ten grand and we even took a drive to go check it out one Sunday afternoon.  We didn’t have the money but planned on borrowing it from my dad.  We thought about it for several days but ultimately decided that it wasn’t a good investment.  When we think about that now we find it kind of hilarious.  The thought of us making doughnuts for a living is too funny.

Sadly, doughnuts again became a staple in my diet a few years ago.  My mother had been diagnosed with cancer and due to the aggressive chemotherapy she was taking, her appetite went down to nothing.  She literally almost starved herself to death at one point.  One of the only things that she could even think about eating were doughnuts.  Before her treatments, we would stop by the doughnut shop that she liked and get some.  The maple glazed were her favorite but she usually would only eat a few bites. During this time, I was pregnant with my girl and I would easily put away three or four doughnuts while watching my mom pick at hers.  I definitely think that eating those doughnuts became a small comfort to me at a time that was so heavy with worry and sadness.   It’s been two years since she passed away and I can’t drive past that doughnut shop without getting a little overwhelmed emotionally.

We’ve passed our love of doughnuts onto our little girl.  She even has some doughnut themed pajamas.  I’ll have to make sure they are clean so she can wear them to bed tonight.   I’m even thinking about making doughnuts with her as a way to pass on the doughnut love that my mom and I shared.  If I do, I’ll post about it later.  Until then, go eat a doughnut and think about all of the ways those fluffy circles of dough heaven make our lives better!

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1. In school, I studied french for two years. Hence, the title of this post.

2. Right now, I’m craving Little Debbie Oatmeal Creme Pies so bad I can barely stand it.

3. I’m obsessed with Jersey Shore.  Sick and pathetic, I know.

4.Today I went to the zoo with my toddler and my husband.  It was super fun.

5. I could eat hot dogs everyday for the rest of my life.  They’re that good.

6. My husband and I have known each other since the fourth grade.

7. I have nightmares about gorillas and lions.  I’m kind of worried about tonight. (see number 4)

8. My favorite coffee drink is a skinny vanilla latte.

9. I’m a little OCD.  Actually, this blog was born out of a need for distraction from some of my obsessions.

10. I’ve eaten almost an entire jar of almond butter since Friday.

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I’ve told you before that I love to cook but I’m kind of lazy when it comes to making weeknight meals.   The last thing I want to do is make a huge dinner and then clean all of that up before having to bathe my toddler and get her ready for bed.  That’s why I really like recipes that require just a few ingredients and don’t mess up a lot of dishes.

The husband and I are trying to eat more protein and less carbs which means a lot of chicken.   About a week ago,  I wanted to make chicken strips for dinner but didn’t have any bread crumbs, which is what I would usually use to bread chicken tenders.  I dug through my cabinets to see what I had and the only thing I could find was plain Cheerio’s.  Target brand to be specific.  I decided that those would have to work.  What I came up with was the tastiest, crunchiest chicken tenders that I have ever made at home and it only takes about three ingredients to make – chicken, Cheerio’s and Cajun seasoning.  I’m not counting the oil, salt or pepper.

When it comes to making chicken, I prefer frying it. I know that it’s not the healthiest option, but I just can’t seem to make good chicken in the oven.  My baked chicken always ends up being super tough or not cooked all the way.   This fried chicken always turns out juicy on the inside and nice and crispy on the outside.  My husband says that these are the best homemade chicken tenders he has ever tasted.  The cereal seems to add a lot of subtle flavor and texture that you don’t get when using bread crumbs or flour.

The first thing I did was put about 2 cups of the cereal in a large plastic freezer bag and then got my toddler to work smashing them.  I’ve since found, that a rolling-pin is the best way to do this, but you can pretty much use anything heavy.

Crush the cereal up pretty fine, until it is unrecognizable as Cheerio’s.   Then, add about 1 tablespoon of Cajun seasoning.  If you like things spicy, you can add more to taste.  Also, a pinch of salt and pepper wouldn’t hurt anything right about now.  Once you have your spices in there just shake the bag up a little bit to combine everything.  After that, pour the crumbs onto a plate or shallow dish.

Now it’s time for the chicken. I used frozen chicken breast tenders.  The first time I made this, I tried to take the chicken right out of the freezer and dip it into the crumbs.  The crumbs wouldn’t stick.  I ended up de-frosting them for a bit in the microwave.  They don’t have to be defrosted all the way through, just enough so that the outside of the tenders are wet looking.  That will make the crumbs stick.  Here’s what my tenders looked like before I de-frosted them.

See how they look frosty?  That’s not good.  They need to glisten in order for the crumbs to stick.

The next step is getting the crumbs on the chicken.  The first time I made this, I just dumped the chicken into the bag with the crumbs and shook it around.  That worked, but it was hard to get the tenders out without making a mess.  I’ve since found that it’s better to dip them one by one into the crumbs on the pie plate.

Pour your oil (I used olive oil) into a skillet and place on medium heat.  I usually put a little crumb of cereal in the oil and when it sizzles, I add the chicken to the pan.  Do this carefully so that oil doesn’t splash you. That hurts!  Fry the chicken until it’s cook through, turning once to get both sides browned nicely.

When the chicken is done, transfer it to a paper towel lined plate to cool it off.  Serve with dipping sauce or ketchup.

Tips

If you want to make it even crunchier, you can add another step.  Whisk one egg white up until frothy and then dip the chicken into the egg white before the cereal crumbs.  The chicken will have a thicker, crunchier coating. 

Adding a teaspoon or so of seasoned salt to the cereal crumbs will make it even spicier and more flavorful.

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