Browsing Category: Lets Eat

Just Crockin’

All I wanted to do Monday was provide dinner for my family.

That is ALL.

Yet somehow that went terribly, horribly wrong.

Allow me to backtrack.

Mondays are our craziest day of the week (although we are quickly filling in with semi-crazy days of the week as well. Whoever said homeschoolers stayed “home” was wrong.). On this particular day. we leave casa de phillips around 7:40am and return sometime after 4pm. The children and I put in a full day at Classical Conversations (Foundations in the morning and then I am teaching an art class for siblings…and my kids….of the Essentials students in the afternoon. If you are unfamiliar with CC, I apologize for throwing around such terminology like “Foundations” and “Essentials”. Isn’t inside terminology the worst???). By the time we get home, unload our car (I cart an unhealthy amount of stuff to CC. Part of my packing list involves shower board. This is extreme, people.), eat a snack and put all of our stuff away, dinner time is upon us.

For some reason, my people always want to eat three meals a day. Go figure.

I decided that Mondays this year would be the day of the crock-pot. “Crockin” seemed like the answer to dinner on such a busy day. Everyone on Pinterest pins crock-pot recipes. One lady cooked for a whole year in her crock-pot. I did an event with “The Crockin’ Girls” (and their main PR person is the mom of one of our babysitters) Surely I could swing Mondays and cooking in a crock pot.

Here’s the catch: I have never been able to successfully cook in a crock-pot.

I can cook most things. I have figured out baking successfully. I can even make a roux (but totally had to spellcheck to make sure I spelled that correctly.)

But the whole “crockin” thing is beyond me.

Despite this inadequacy, I have decided to push on. Press forward. Provide a meal for my family that has been simmering on low all day long while we went about with our day.

For this past Monday, I opted for Mexican Chicken Spaghetti. I chose this dish because three out of the four people in our house would eat it and it is normally not something I would fix (Let’s face it, Velveeta…one of the main ingredients of this dish…is not food.). I thought we would all enjoy some spaghetti, this bread (which I have made several times), salad and a veggie come Monday evening.

I had visions of great conversations, clean plates (three out of four) and fully bellies.

Monday afternoon the children and I entered the house after a long day. For various reasons, Monday had stretched from long into beyond crazy long. We were on lock-down at the church where we do CC due to circumstances (not having to do with our community). This meant kids stayed in all day. I taught both morning and afternoon classes with half a voice (Bless the child who raised his hand and told me something was really wrong with my throat). Afterwards the children and I went to TWO shoe stores and the MALL looking for size 12.5 ballet shoes.

The mall, people.

Not just any mall, our local mall which contains an aquarium and Legoland, both of which my children beg to just “swing by real quick.”

We finally drug our selves in the door very close to dinner time. But, hey, I was not worried about dinner because I was crockin that day.

Yet upon opening the door, no delicious smells of melted cheese and spicy chicken met my nose. Rather, I smelled burnt mess.

Yep, our meal was burned black and stuck to the bottom of the crock pot.

I would like to say this was an isolated experience, but it has happened everytime I attempt to cook in a crock-pot. Everything goes from raw to crispy in a split-second. Monday was the breaking point. I was hot. I was tired. I had just braved the mall with two kids (where I had a hot mess of an experience of attempting to buy pricey skincare from a vending machine. Yeah, don’t do that.).

I texted the husband “I am throwing away the crock-pot” and then quickly grabbed two heavy duty trash bags and stuffed the supper-filled crock-pot into them. A quick march to the garage and the bag containing our supper was tossed in the big trash can, thus ending all my dreams of crockin and easy Monday dinners.

The children were elated because the backup plan was pancakes.

And bread.

At least we are good on our carbs for the week.

“Mom Gives Up Diet Soda and Survives”

I am a thirsty person.

I truly believe I was born thirsty, as I have always felt the need to be drinking something. I drink a crazy amount of liquids during the day. Bless any wait staff who works the table I sit at in a restaurant because they will be doing double-time to keep my drink filled.

My thirstiness intensified when I was pregnant with both of my kiddos, which I did not even think was possible. I would order two drinks when out to eat and advise the waiter that I would be in need of LOTS of water.

In the past, my go-to drinks were diet sodas. I lived for the Sonic Happy Hour and Route 44’s. I would often run out at night once the kids were in bed and grab a big gulp of soda for the husband and myself at the nearest gas station.

Like I said, I am a thirsty person.

In the fall, I started to realize that despite my extreme thirst, I probably needed to back off of the diet sodas. My weight was not really were I wanted it to be and money seemed to be falling out of my wallet every time I scooped up a mega-large, extra-caffeinated, fake sugar soft drink. I always figured since I was drinking diet soda, that consuming so much of this sweet nectar of goodness would not effect the size of jeans I wear.

Then  a study came out discussing the negative effects of artificial sweetener and how it can sabotage one’s diet plans.

Oops.

The children began noticing my soda habit as well.  They were taking such notice that they were requesting their own carbonated drinks. The boy has had Sprite a handful of times, but that is it. The husband and I do not want little soda junkies for children and have kept their liquids to milk, water and juice thus far. It was starting to become a bit hypocritical to tell them they could only have healthy drinks while I was frantically attempting to poke a straw into my gallon-sized drink and get my soda fix for the morning.

At the beginning of October, I gave up soda.

Surprisingly my local Sonic did not call to see if I had fallen terribly ill. They also did not shut their doors and declare bankruptcy. In fact, they seem just as busy as they were in my hay days of swinging by and grabbing one (or two) extra large drinks.

Giving up “the juice” was difficult for a few days but I pressed on. After about a week, it was not as difficult. Once a month passed, I did not really even miss it that much.  I have had a few sodas since October, especially during the holidays. However, I quickly realized that once one goes without drinking soda on a regular basis they taste much too sweet and syrupy to be enjoyable anymore.

Since giving up soda, I drink water (lots and lots of water), coffee, iced tea and the occasional (small) glass of milk. I use Truvia or Splenda (in a pinch) to sweeten my tea and coffee. Artificial sweetener is no longer a staple in my diet. My jeans fit just a bit better, my mind feels a bit clearer and I no longer attempt to work our schedule around getting a large soda to drink.

 

Yesterday on Pinterest, I found this interesting diagram of what soda does to the body.

 

 

It is not good, folks.

 

By the way, I also gave up BREAD in October.

BREAD.

That one was hard, but I’ll save that story for another blog post.

 

What food/drink have you given-up that has had a postive effect on your health?

 

Children who lunch…and the mothers who fix it

 

Mommy confession time: Last year I did not have to pack a single lunch.

Throw your stones now, readers, because I know such a statement can make many a mother green with envy.

Want to know how I know? Because this year I DO have to pack lunches and I am none too thrilled about the idea.

First allow me to explain as to why there was no lunch packing last year. The children attended preschool two days a week, yet went to a program who did academics from 8:00am to Noon. Students could stay for lunch and rest time or parents could come retrieve their bundles of joy at noon. Last year, I scooped up the kids at noon and fed them at home. Our set of lunchboxes stayed neatly tucked away in a kitchen cabinet.

This year, E is eating at school one day a week, Isaac and I are eating at our learning community one day a week and then the whole family is eating at co-op one day a week. I know the extent of this lunch packing is incredibly mild compared to the mamas who are making lunches for multiple children five days a week. However, most mothers can attest to the fact that repeated lunch box preparation is a bit tiring, regardless of how many times a week one must do it.

I do not know what it is about the actual packing of lunch that makes mothers want to run screaming from the kitchen by mid-October. Obviously, parents want their children to eat and feed them lunch when children are home during the day. Perhaps it is the monotony of doing the same job of putting in a milk box, an apple and a sandwich in a cartoon-covered cloth box 180 days a year that does us moms in. Maybe it is the stress over packing a lunch that is both appealing to the child and the teacher (everyone knows the teachers always quietly “discuss” the child with the weird lunch…at least I did when I taught). It might even be the desire to be Martha Stewart-esque and provide some fun new lunchbox trick, such as writing on a banana with a toothpick, that makes moms completely over the whole lunchbox thing and perfectly willing to give kids the $2.75 to eat in the cafeteria each morning.

Whatever the reason, lunch packing can be a burden at times*

(*Know that I use the word “burden” for humor’s sake, as all of us moms know how fortunate we are to have food in the pantry to feed our children with on a daily basis. Recognizing the blessing of food to be prepared should never be taken for granted.)

As I prepare to re-enter the world of lunch box packing, I developed a few organizational tips for myself to make the process as painless as possible.

 

1. Know the rules

I have a child whose main source of protein is peanut butter. However, we live in a time when most schools/groups are nut-free zones. I have no issue with the “No-Nut” policies that are prevalent these days, contributing the rise of nut allergies to the ways to today’s society (read up on it and you will understand what I am talking about). Also, I do not want to be the parent that packed a PB&J sandwich that caused another kid to have to use an epi-pen. In packing lunches, know the rules of the school. If there are specific guidelines, observe them knowing you would want other parents to do the same for your child. As for my peanut butter obsessed girl, we are looking at other options for packed lunches this year and saving the peanut butter for home.

2.Make a checklist of lunch items

Make a master list of items needed for lunch boxes to consult when grocery shopping. This helps prevent the Sunday night panic when one realizes that she is both out of organic fruit snacks and juice boxes. A master list also helps mom remember what things she has packed in the past that went over well with the kiddos.

3. Take a poll

I love these lunch box polls, even if some of the feedback might hurt just a bit. :)

 

4. Create a lunchbox station.

I am a big fan of the station, simply because they cut down on wasted time and misplaced items. A lunchbox station houses all the needed items to assemble a quick, healthy lunch. Keep these items out of the normal daily rotation of snacks and foods so that when it comes time for the child to eat his packed lunch, all the food is exciting and slightly different than the fare at home. A lunchbox station houses reusable bags, prepacked snacks (either purchased that way or divided up when bought in bulk), lunchbox notes, plastic silverware, napkins and small containers. By housing all the non-perishables together, lunch box assembly is streamlined.

 

5. Assemble lunches the night before school.

The tip of preparing lunches the night before has been around since Ma on the farm was packing tin pails and sending her children off to the one room schoolhouse for the day. I really like the notion of preparing lunches the night before, yet I detest a soggy sandwich. When prepping the night before, I fix everything but the sandwich and then quickly add that in the morning. Being organized and on top of your game is great….until you bite into soggy bread and wilted lettuce.

 

What is your lunch box tip?

 

Farmers’ Market Pizza

One of the best things about summer is how local farmers’ markets begin popping up on every corner.

How I love me a good Farmers’ Market.

An easy, quick, light summer meal one can make to sustain the entire family’s appetite is Farmers’ Market Pizza. Almost all of the ingredients for this savory pie can be found among the stalls and vendors of your local farmers’ market.

Ingredients

  • Basil
  • Onion
  • Bell Pepper
  • Tomato
  • Fresh cheese
  • Pizza Dough (either homemade or store bought..the one above was purchased for a mere dollar at my local Central Market)
  • Any other fresh veggie that looks good at the Market

 

Directions

  1. Chop all ingredients into small pieces. Because this is a “Farmer’s Market” pizza, I like to make a rough chop and keep pieces slightly chunky.

  • Roll out the dough on a floured surface. Transfer to a baking stone. Bake in a 450 degree preheated oven for three minutes.

 

  • Poke holes in any bubbles that formed during baking, a favorite task of any child who happens to be lingering about.

  • Top pizza with ingredients. (I added a bit of cooked sausage to give my family some protein).

  • Sprinkle with a touch of Kosher salt and a dab of olive oil. (Anyone else impressed with my exact measurements? And I wonder why I never cook the same thing twice….)

 

  • Bake on the bottom rack of the oven for 11 minutes or until cheese is melted and turning a golden brown.

  • Remove pie from oven, cut and serve alongside other farmers’ market finds.

Anyone can create a healthy, beautiful pizza at home. Simply choose fresh ingredients and get a little creative in the kitchen. Skip the sugar-laden pizza sauce in a jar and opt for a large chunk of fresh mozzarella. Forgo the greasy pepperoni and tosh on a few extra organic veggies. The sky is the limit with this pizza…take advantage of summer’s fresh produce and make something delicious and yummy for the family tonight.

Easy Easter Brunch

Holidays make people hungry.

They also make waiting at a restaurant with active, tired, cranky preschoolers not an option for our little family of four.

Whatever the holiday…Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, Mother’s Day….we often choose to dine in rather than fighting the crowds at a restaurant.

Would I love to sit in a cool, peaceful environment sipping a lovely brunch-inspried beverage and munching on a tasty concoction of french toast and syrup this Sunday?

Yes.

Is such a scenario possible with two young children who are hyped-up on church-supplied donuts and wanting to do anything but sit in a cool, peaceful environment while their mother sips a brunch-inspired beverage and munches on tasty french toast?

In a word: No.

For those of you who choose to dine in as well on busy holidays, I have a great little brunch for you to fix for your family this Easter weekend. This little Easter menu is not fancy nor will it ever compete with the echelon of food bloggers. However, it is the perfect meal that can be partially prepared before attending Easter services at one’s place of worship and has items which are pleasing to the palettes of young children (One of my children gobbled this up, including the frittatas, while another one did not. If you know my children, you know who refused to eat it and opted to go to bed slightly hungry.). It’s a win-win situation when it comes to an easy, simple Easter brunch.

Mini Ham and Cheddar Frittatas and

 Cheddar Chive Biscuits

 served with Fruit Kabobs and

Honey Yogurt Dipping Sauce

 

 

Ham and Cheddar Frittatas

Ingredients

  • 1/4 pound of Honey ham from the deli
  • 1 cup of sharp white cheddar cheese, grated
  • Chives, chopped
  • 8 eggs
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • melted butter

Directions

  1. Dice the deli ham into small pieces. Combine in a bowl with salt, pepper and grated cheese.
  2. Beat the eggs in a separate bowl.
  3. Brush melted butter on the inside cups of a mini-muffin pan.
  4. Spoon in about a tablespoon of the ham and cheese mixture to the bottom of the muffin cups.
  5. Using a ladle, fill the muffin tin cups up the rest of the way with the egg mixture.
  6. Bake for about 12 minutes at 375 degrees or until tops of frittatas are a light golden brown.

Cheddar Chive Biscuits

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup yellow cheddar cheese, grated
  • 3 tablespoons chives, chopped
  • 2 1/4 cups Bisquick
  • 2/3 cup milk
  • melted butter

Directions

  1. Combine Bisquick, milk, cheese and chives together in a bowl, stirring until a soft dough forms.
  2. Knead the dough ten times.
  3. Roll out dough to about one inch thickness.
  4. Cut out biscuits (I use a mini-biscuit cutter. This is a great thing for kids to do in the kitchen!)
  5. Bake for about seven minutes at 450 degrees, or until biscuits are golden brown.
  6. Brush tops with melted butter immediately after they come out of the oven.

Fruit Kabobs with Honey Yogurt Dipping Sauce

Ingredients:

  • Assorted seasonal fruits
  • 2 cups low-fat Greek style Yogurt
  • 1/4 cup Honey
  • Wooden skewers

Directions:

  1. Mix the yogurt and honey together.
  2. Thread fruit onto wooden skewers.
  3. Chill until ready to be enjoyed!

 

Simple….Easy…Inexpensive….and no one had to wait in a cramped seating area for a 15 year old hostess to seat them at a table.

Enjoy!

Easy King Cake for Fat Tuesday

Today  is Fat Tuesday.

I know this because while I was dusting the living room I saw Kathie Lee Gifford completely tear apart a King Cake in search for what she called “Baby Jesus.”

(Can you tell it was a preschool morning, thus the reason I was watching actual Live adult television while being productive?)

Although I am leary of any day with the adjective “fat” placed before its name, I am always up for cake.

Especially when that cake involves chocolate of some sort.

In honor of this Cajun celebration, I am whipping up a batch of easy King Cakes for the family to enjoy.

The traditional Mardi Gras King Cake is often fried (think doughnut rather than cake) and filled with either cream cheese or a praline-type mixture. A tiny baby or trinket is often hidden in the cake (not Baby Jesus, as Kathie Lee informed her millions of viewers). The person who finds the baby is said to have good luck….and they have to purchase the cake for the following year.

My easy King Cakes are neither fried nor bear any sort of plastic toy.

They are, in fact, easy.

And yummy.

And did I mention easy?

Behold, the ingredients:

  • Powdered Sugar
  • Milk
  • Colored Sprinkles and Food Coloring (in Mardi Gras colors of yellow, purple and green)
  • Crescent Rolls
  • Chocolate Chips

Pop open the crescent rolls, laying them out on a baking stone. Place a good portion of chocolate chips at the largest part of the rolls. Roll up the crescent according to package directions.

Bake for 12-14 minutes at 350 degrees.

While the rolls are baking, mix up a simple icing using sifted powdered sugar and milk. I use approximately 1 tablespoon of milk for every 1/2 cup of powdered sugar.

Divide the icing into three bowls. Keep one bowl of icing white, while making another bowl purple and the final bowl of icing green using the food coloring.

Once the rolls are finished, allow them to cool for about five minutes before drizzling the icing over the King Cakes. I like to use a fork to make a nice decorative drizzle. For fun, I topped the cakes with sprinkles and an additional dusting of powdered sugar.

Hello, King Cake.

Why must you visit only once a year?

Happy Fat Tuesday!

Snowmageddon and Kitchen Essentials

In the next 12 hours, Snowmageddon 2011 is set to hit our area. IceForce 1 (a local sanding truck) and Meltdown 20 (Apparently THE name in snow melting material) are ready to go the instant a first frozen drop of rain falls from the sky. Supposedly the state of Wisconsin donated a super-expensive snow blower to our metro area for the week and trucks are on stand-by as far as six hours away. Considering Super Bowl 45 is in our back yard this year (figuratively, not literally), football fans combined with icy conditions in a state used to warm, dry roads could make for an interesting week.

The last (and only…to date) snow storm that hit our area left casa de phillips with a whopping .2 inches of powdery snow on the ground. Said .2 inches dried up before naptime could even come to an end that day.

Fingers are crossed that something significant falls from the sky tomorrow.

I do not know what it is about snow/ice/inclement weather, but such conditions make me want to bake up a storm in the kitchen. Although said baking does not coincide well with my attempt to lose some holiday weight, it still is quite comforting to whip up a batch of muffins or cookies while the snow falls silently outside (or in our state’s case…while the ice hits the trees and ground in a noisy, dramatic manner).

As I make plans for tomorrow’s Snowmageddon, I wanted to share some tools in the kitchen that I find to be essential. Of course, there are the obvious ones of  an oven and microwave and the more select of a center island and gas stove top (both new to me with this house and both on my list of requirements for any living space from now on). Aside from those standards, here are a few kitchen essentials for casa de phillips.

  • The Small Bowl. I have been a fan of cooking shows/demonstrations since I was little. On sick days home from school, I would plop myself in front of the morning talk show junket, in hopes of catching a cooking segment. On television, chefs always use small prep bowls to hold ingredients that the can effortlessly toss in at just the right moment in their cooking process. Although such a style of cooking is not very efficient in the home kitchen, those little bowls have many uses. I have several sets of bowls that I use for a variety of things. Sometimes they hold condiments that pair with our meal (for example, last week I served baked potatoes for dinner and the bowls held bacon, chives, cheese, and sour cream), other times the bowls hold a portion of fruit on a plate and still other times they hold a serving of yogurt or applesauce for the kids. I do use the bowls in the cooking process as well, often times to hold a scoop of flour to dust a pastry mat with or a side of marinade that I have reserved for later.

 

  • The Pastry Mat. A few years ago I taught myself how to work with yeast. I learned how to make a variety of bisquits, pizza crusts and breads from scratch. This type of baking involves quite a bit of flour and a whole lot of mess. There is little I detest more than scraping stuck pieces of half-wet flour off of my counter tops. Enter: The Pastry Mat. I have a large green mat that I lay over the kitchen island whenever I am making a bread product. I can easily roll the food out and remove items from the mat. When clean-up time rolls around, I simply roll up the mat and walk it over to the sink where all the bits of flour and dough can be washed effortlessly down the drain.

 

  • Small Milk Pitchers. On the typical day, breakfast is not a fancy ordeal here at casa de philips. The children get to pick (within reason) what they would like to eat. On school mornings, I attempt to have breakfast on the table ready for their little mouths once they wander down from their rooms. A lot of times the kids will eat cereal, paired with fruit or yogurt. Rather than standing at their beck and call when they need milk added to their cereal, they are each given a little pitcher of milk to use. This helps them practice their pouring technique and it gives me a chance to eat my own breakfast and accomplish something like unloading the dishwasher or getting their bags ready for school.

 

  • Mini Spatula. I believe a few years ago, my Mother-in-Law gave the children two little rubber spatulas for Christmas. Those spatulas now live in my utensil drawer where they are used on a very regular basis. They are the perfect tool for scrambling eggs, they come in handy when I need to make a small amount of sauce and they have been known to stir a glass or two of chocolate milk. Their small size does not take up very much room in my utensil drawer and they wash up nicely in the dishwasher.

 

What tools are essential in your home kitchen?

Arctic Blast 2011 and Aprons

Yesterday, Arctic Blast 2011 was set to blow through our area.

Can I tell you that there is little more in this world that I love other than an overly-hyped weather pattern? Especially when I live in a place whose weather only vacillates between mild and extremely hot with a few thunderstorms tossed in for fun.

Alas, I heart the weather hype. I love to jump on the frenzied bandwagon and watch newscasters say basically the same thing (“There is a potential for snow”) for five hours straight. I love when “Ice Force 1” is deployed (Yes, our metro area has a sand/salt truck that is named) and when the ins and outs of “Meltdown 20” is discussed.

It’s just good TV, people.

As I was saying, snow was set to fall in our area yesterday. Because we drive a bit of a ways to get to church, we decided not to risk being out in icy weather and chose to stay home instead. The children never made it out of their pajamas and Miss E. questioned if I was sick because I happened to actually be sitting on the couch watching television (Gasp!),a sight they normally never see.  It was a very good, very lazy day here at casa de phillips.

Besides inspiring me to join the weather hype, snow days also inspire me to cook. Perhaps I want to be sure my little family of four is well-nourished if “Arctic Blast 2011” lasts for more than four hours or perhaps the frigid temperatures outside make me want to heat things up inside. Whatever the reason, snow days equal cooking in my mind.

Because it is the beginning of a new year and I am in need of losing a few holiday pounds, I resisted the urge to make every dessert in my repotrie and instead made a simple pot of hot chocolate and a container of Pioneer Woman’s salsa. No particularly glamorous cooking took place yesterday during our inclement weather (in which we got .2 of an inch of snow), but fun was had by all. I got to toss on an apron, the children got to drink large amounts of chocolate and marshmallows and the husband had plenty of chips and salsa to keep him nourished during all the football watching.

Speaking of aprons, have I mentioned what a fan I am of this kitchen staple? In the past, I have messed up many a nice shirt or outfit with grease splatters or cooking food stains. I used to constantly be in need of a towel to wipe my hands on during a critical moment of cooking and was left attempting to tug off a paper towel while navigating a saute pan.

Not anymore, dear reader.

Enter: The Apron.

Channeling my inner 50’s housewife, I typically wear an apron every time I cook. Sometimes I forget to take the darned thing off until the children are tucked into bed. Not only are aprons cute (wait…I am going to share some links of super cute aprons) they are incredibly functional. Mine all have pockets, which are great for holding such things as a telephone, pencil or annoying toy that was confiscated from a child.They are also the perfect tool for wiping hands, snotty noses or tear-stained cheeks. I used to wear an apron during my teaching days, so why not during my stay-at-home mom days?

Remember how I mentioned that aprons are cute and not reminiscent of those tattered rags one was forced to wear in Home Ec. years ago?

Check these out:

This cute red, black and white number is beyond darling. Who would not want to cook wearing this?

The other day, Miss E. put on an old baby bib, pulled a chair up to the kitchen island and informed me she had on her apron and was all set to help me cook. Too cute. That little girl and I might need to check into getting some matching mom and daughter aprons soon….

I don’t think I could love this apron anymore if I tried.

And when else can an adult woman wear polka dots well unless she is wearing an apron?

One can never go wrong with the classic chef’s apron.

This winter, as you behold the wonder that is “Snow Catastrophe 2011”, be sure to tie on an apron, step into the kitchen and whip up something tasty.

At least you will look cute for the winter apocalypse…

Sugar Cookies 101

*This post originally ran in December 2009*

There are a lot of mommy skills that I thought would come naturally the moment I birthed my first child. I figured I would instantly know how to change a diaper in under 27 seconds. I thought I would be able to cook dinner, clean the house, play with the baby and hit the gym all in the same day while managing to squeeze in a lunch with a friend and a stop at the library. I also assumed that I would be able to make killer cookies that my child would boast about on the playground one day.

Once the postpartum hormones settled, I realized that such Mommy skills had not been bestowed upon me and that I would actually have to figure out such tricks of the mothering trade. I eventually learned how to diaper a child quickly and I soon realized that accomplishing two out of the 15 things on my to-do list made for a productive day. I also figured out that if I practiced my cookie making skills then someday I would eventually be able to whip out a batch of homemade treats that would make my family cheer.

I have worked furiously over the past four holiday seasons to successfully improve my Christmas cookie skills. I can now confidently carry in a plate of sugar cookies into any school party of moms group cookie exchange with confidence. Allow me to pass along my semi- cookie wisdom.

First, use this recipe for complete cookie yumminess (slightly adapted from http://www.foodnetwork.com/)

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup Crisco
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1 tablespoon milk
  • Powdered sugar, for rolling out dough
After allowing the dough to chill for about 30 minutes, roll it out in sections between two sheets of parchment paper. This allows you to NOT have to use flour for rolling out the dough (which can make your dough stiff and your cookies BLAH!)
After rolling the dough out between two sheets of parchment, throw it back in the fridge. I usually place mine on clean cookie sheets, still between the parchment. Let it sit at least an hour or up to a day.
pressed sugar cookie dough
When ready to cut out cookies, peel one side of the parchment away from the dough. Lay that side of the dough on your baking surface (I swear by Pampered Chef Baking Stones), then peel away the top layer of parchment paper. Lightly dip cookie cutters into powdered sugar (NOT FLOUR!) and cut away. Cookies will not stick to your counter because you are cutting them on the baking surface….Genius
The key is to place all cookie cutters on the dough before you actually cut.
sugar cookie cookie cutters
This ensures that you use almost all of the dough in one cutting experience. Place scraps in pile and continue on with next sheet of dough. (Scraps can either be frozen for another baking experience or rolled back out, rechilled, and cut)

sugar cookie cutouts

Bake cookies in a 375 degree oven for 7 to 9 minutes or until cookies are just beginning to turn brown around the edges, rotating cookie sheet halfway through baking time. Let sit on baking sheet for 2 minutes after removal from oven and then move to complete cooling on wire rack.

Allow to cool completely and frost. (Cookies can be stored in an airtight container for up to 1 week.)

Spend the next three weeks discovering random green and red sprinkles in the crevasses of your kitchen.
iced sugar cookies

Transforming the kids’ table this holiday season

Every holiday party has one. Usually it is set up in a dark corner of the room, perhaps hidden by an awkward cabinet or masked by an overstuffed sofa.

Who is this mysterious dinner guest that no one really wants to have at a party?

 It is the kids table.

The table that boasts no fine china, the table parents attempt to keep far away from the adult area, the table where children are forced to sit and eat such things as steamed asparagus and carrot raisin salad.

This holiday season take a minute to transform the kids table from feared to favored. A bit of advance planning and a touch of creativity can make the kid’s table the “it” place to be at your next holiday gathering. Below are a few tips and tricks that will allow you to complete such a transformation, creating a kid’s table that will be the center of your next party.

  • Set out child-sized finger foods. Often times children’s negative behaviors stem from the fact they are hungry. Be sure to stock the kid’s table with an assortment of finger foods suitable to a child’s palate. Grapes cut in half, mini carrot sticks, pretzel rods and crackers are popular with the younger crowds. Provide a fun dip such as hummus or a yogurt-based dip and let kids enjoy dipping and eating before the official meal begins.
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  • Have a craft out to keep hands busy. Over-eager little hands can make social gatherings stressful for parents. Entertain those hands by setting out a craft for children to complete. They can make a hand print turkey or construct Thanksgiving-themed headgear. When setting out a craft be sure that it is simple for little ones to complete with minimal guidance and requires only a few supplies to create.
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  • Provide conversation starters. Although adults can usually find an ample amount of things to discuss around the dinner table, children can struggle to find something to talk about. A lack of conversation usually results in rowdy antics that disrupts the entire meal. Leave out a few conversation starters for older kids to read during the meal. Younger children can be provided with a few pictures of some popular movies or toys that will prompt a discussion with their table peers.
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  • Encourage kids to draw on the table. Cover the kids table with a white paper table cloth, set out a bucket of crayons and encourage young guests to create masterpieces on the table cloth. Draw a few tic tac toe boards and some word games on the table to keep older children engaged in the activity as well.
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  • Establish a “No Adults Rule”. Children appreciate when the tables are turned and adults have rules. Set up a “No Adults at the Kid’s Table” rule. Have a few adults attempt to sit at the kids table, only to be turned away by the children. By making this area a kid-only zone, it encourages children to take pride in their designated area.
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    The kid’s table does not have to be the dreaded dinner guest this holiday season. No longer does it have a life sentence of being a boring, drab place at festive feasts. Make this the year that your holiday party embraces the kid’s table and makes it the place to be.

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