Sunday, August 12, 2012

Shelby Cookies

 I made Shelby Cookies for the first time today and they were FABULOUS!



Backstory: My  older son's (Ian) girlfriend (Shelby) is allergic to peanuts. My gallant son won't eat anything with peanuts or peanut butter for fear of causing her an allergic reaction. While she was home in Texas for summer break from college, I made a batch of peanut butter cookies just for him to enjoy while he was able. I got to thinking...hmmmm, wonder if this might work with Nutella (chocolate hazelnut spread)?

So today, I took my trusted peanut butter cookie recipe (originally from a Martha Stewart TV show years ago) and tailored it so Shelby could partake of their decadent yumminess. I must say, I am more than pleased with how they turned out. It's highly possible they are even better than the peanut butter variety.


*****************************************************************************

Shelby Cookies


Preheat gas oven to 350 degrees, electric to 325.


½ cup butter flavor shortening
1 cup brown sugar
1 large egg

½ tsp. vanilla

1 cup Nutella
1 ½ cup all purpose flour

1 tsp. baking soda
¼ tsp. salt

Sugar, for rolling and dipping fork. 

Using an electric mixer, cream shortening and sugar in a large bowl. Add  egg and vanilla and blend. Add Nutella and blend until mixed in.

Place flour, soda and salt in a medium bowl and whisk together until blended. Gradually stir flour mixture into Nutella mixture until fully incorporated.

Cover surface of dough with plastic wrap and chill in refrigerator.

Roll dough into 1 inch balls, roll in sugar and place on ungreased baking sheets. Press dough with a fork dipped in sugar, making a criss cross pattern.

Bake for 9 minutes. Allow to cool for a few minutes on baking sheets and carefully remove to wire rack to cool.

Makes 2 ½ dozen cookies.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Refreshing Couscous Salad

I found this recipe online the other day and it just sounded so fresh and light that I just had to try it. I was glad I did and now I have an entire bowl in the fridge for a meal and/or lunches this week. I plan to grill or bake some chicken breasts with some Greek seasoning and serve that with the salad for one meal.

I have never cooked with couscous and was surprised to find that it is just really teeny, tiny pasta! It tasted good just by itself before I mixed up the salad.

I added the cucumber to the original recipe. After I finished making the salad and walked outside for a few minutes and walked back into the house....the entire place just smelled so fresh and green from chopping the ingredients. I love that.

If you try it, let me know how you like it.



Tomato Basil Couscous Salad
From Taste of Home website
8 servings         Prep: 20 min. + chilling



Ingredients


  • 2 cups chicken broth
  • 1 package (10 ounces) couscous
  • 1 cup chopped red onion or to taste
  • 1 cup chopped English cucumber (my addition)
  • 1 cup seeded diced plum tomatoes (I subbed in halved Cherub tomatoes.)
  • 1/3 cup thinly sliced fresh basil
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 1/3 cup red wine vinegar (I had to supplement with balsamic vinegar.)
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 cup halved cherry tomatoes (Again, Cherubs.)


  • Directions



  • In a large saucepan, bring broth to a boil; add couscous. Cover and remove from heat.
  •     


  • Let stand 5 minutes. Transfer to a large bowl; fluff with a fork and cool.

  •      

  • Stir in the onions, tomatoes, cucumbers, basil, oil, vinegar, pepper flakes,

  •      salt and pepper. Cover and refrigerate until chilled.
         (I whisked together the dressing ingredients and poured over, then mixed.)
         Garnish with tomatoes.
      
         Nutrition Facts: 1 serving (1/2 cup) equals 223 calories, 10 g fat,
         (1 g saturated fat), 0 cholesterol, 389 mg sodium, 30 g carbohydrate,
         2 g fiber, 6 g protein.

    Lemon Cake, Anyone?

    I found myself yearning for something lemony this weekend and decided to make one of my favorite recipes. This recipe was shared on a website I used to visit and I've made it several times since discovering this simple lemon delight. I have made it in its original form and also tailored the recipe when I want to cut calories a bit. Enjoy!



    Lemon Cake


    Preheat gas oven to 350 farenheit (325 for electric oven)

    1/2 cup butter, softened
    1 cup sugar
    2 large eggs

    1 1/2 cup flour
    1 1/2 tsps baking powder
    1/2 cup milk (I use 2%)
    Zest of 1 or 2 lemons, depending on how lemony you want it to be. (I use zest of two.)

    Cream butter and sugar together. Beat in the eggs, one at a time. Sift half of the flour and baking powder into the butter/sugar/egg mixture. Stir and pour in half of the milk. Stir until well blended. Repeat with last half of dry ingredients and then the rest of the milk. Stir in the zest.

    Pour into a 9x9 or 8x8 cake pan or round pan that has been sprayed with cooking spray. Bake for 35 min. at 350 degrees or until toothpick inserted into center comes out clean.

    Glaze:
    1/4 cup sugar

    2 Tbsp lemon juice (about one lemon)

    Mix sugar and lemon juice and pour over hot cake in oven. Turn oven off and let cake sit in oven for about 10 minutes. Remove and cool before cutting.


    9 servings

    Warning: If you do not use fresh lemons for the zest and juice in this recipe and I find out about it.....I will hunt you down and shake my finger in your face while scolding you. I promise.

    Note: The cake is usually best after sitting overnight. Also, if I'm feeling really wild, I'll double the glaze.

    For the lighter version: I replace the sugar with 1/2 cup Splenda sugar blend for baking and use Egg Beaters instead of the eggs. Using these substitutions, I have calculated the calories to be about 248 and the fat to be about 11 grams per serving. (I have not calculated the calories/fat for the original version.) Not the lightest thing out there, but a little better than the original recipe. When lightening up the recipe, I do not replace the sugar in the glaze as I'm not sure how it would effect the consistency.


    Saturday, May 19, 2012

    Shadows of The Past

    What do Dark Shadows, my Mom and The Carpenters have in common? Sit back and relax; I'm about to tell you.



    One of our favorite activities in my family is watching movies together. We are big Johnny Depp fans so my son, Ben, and I decided to spend the afternoon watching Dark Shadows at the theater. We both really enjoyed it. One of my favorite parts was a montage of images as a family is working to rebuild their business in town and welcome a new relative into their lives. Over that part of the film, a song by The Carpenters was playing. It made me smile and actually brought a few happy tears to my eyes as I remembered my Mom. Let me give some back story....

    After my parents divorced, my Mom struggled to support us. We did okay, but there usually weren't any funds leftover for things like vacations. If I remember correctly, the only vacation we ever took during that time was a short trip to Cincinnati, OH to visit King's Island amusement park. This was in the mid 1970's and I was probably 14 years old or thereabouts. While we were at the park, we attended one of their variety shows. During that show, a group performed The Carpenters' song, On Top of The World. It is a song I remember singing together with my Mom in the car during that time, too. We had such a good time on that trip. This is my sweet Mom.



    ...so when On Top of The World began playing during the movie today, I had a flood of happy memories come to me and was overwhelmed for a moment. It made the movie all that much more enjoyable for me. (I will note here that the movie itself is not really the happy-go-lucky type. But it has its moments of humor and sweetness.) I drove home with a smile on my face.

    So that is what Dark Shadows, my Mom and The Carpenters have in common. Here is the song I enjoyed hearing again today after such a long time. I hope you enjoy it and smile, too.

    Wednesday, May 16, 2012

    BBL, Gotta Get Married!

    Yep, I caught me a man and we're getting married on May 25, 2012!























    Seriously, we have been together for 8 years now and finally decided to make it official. We are so happy that we are finally going to be husband and wife. I am so thankful I found such a wonderful man to spend the rest of my life with. I couldn't be more thrilled.

    Even with a small ceremony in my home, there is so much to do in the next week-and-a-half and then we have a nice honeymoon to be spent in my favorite place on earth. I will report back on our trip.


    Sunday, April 29, 2012

    Springtime Visitors!


    I've always been fascinated with the fact that some butterflies migrate to the South in Autumn and return to their Northern homes in the Spring. Just an amazing thing. I've noticed the Monarchs going south in September, but not taken much notice of their return when the earth is coming back to life.

    A week or two ago, I noticed my Common Privet (Ligustrum vulgare) was just blooming and smelled the wonderful aroma of its tiny white flowers. (While researching, I was surprised to see the aroma described as unpleasant on more than one website. I love the fragrance.) As I looked more closely, I could see hundreds of Red Admiral (thank you to my friend, Liz, for identifying them for me) butterflies enjoying the nectar from the flowers. A few days after taking the photos for this post, there were thousands (or so it seemed) of butterflies, including Monarchs and some that I couldn't identify. Just a wondrous sight!!


    I felt like I was in a fairy tale each time I walked into my back yard. The flowers are fading and so I suppose the butterflies will move on, nourished by the nectar provided by my humble Common Privet.

    In my eyes, a true miracle of nature.

    I hope they stop by next year.

    Tuesday, April 10, 2012

    World, Stop!

    I have always naively wondered why the world and everyone in it doesn't stop and take notice when someone dies. A life has ended, a light has gone out, a song has been silenced, hearts are broken. How can the world just keep going on without a glance in our direction?

    My sons had to deal with the loss of their paternal grandfather last week. As I witnessed their pain and grief, I found myself once again wondering why everything just didn't stop for a while. My children were in pain and I couldn't do one thing to make it better. That is such a helpless feeling. They've dealt with the deaths of both of my parents, but this one seems to have hit them a bit harder. They are at the age now when they can truly understand the finality of death and possibly even their own mortality.

    I know in reality that everything cannot just come to a standstill when someone passes from this life. It would just be nice to think that it could. I suppose knowing and understanding that others in the world must deal with the same grief, countless times daily, should be some consolation. But is it?

    Monday, March 26, 2012

    Light Chicken Fettuccine Alfredo

    I decided to share this recipe because it is a huge favorite with my family and it's lighter than any other fettuccine alfredo I've had. I've always enjoyed alfredo sauce-based dishes, but most are so rich that I can usually only eat a few bites. This recipe has the perfect balance of richness and light flavor. This recipe can also be tailored to your taste or needs. It could be made without the chicken. I've made it with shrimp. Vegetables could also be added to your liking. All in all, it is one of my all-time favorite recipes. I hope you try it and enjoy! Please let me know if you do and how you liked it. The recipe follows the photos.







    Light Chicken Fettuccine Alfredo

    Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Sprinkle one boneless, skinless chicken breast with garlic powder, salt & pepper. Bake, uncovered, in a pan for 30 min. Cool chicken and chop into bite-size pieces.

    [NOTE:  I highly recommend having the sauce ingredients measured out and ready to go. It is a very quick process and it helps to have everything ready. Even then, it is very easy to scorch the garlic. Be careful.]

    [NOTE 2: DO NOT FORGET TO SAVE OUT THE PASTA WATER FOR THINNING BEFORE YOU DRAIN THE PASTA. This is VERY IMPORTANT for the recipe to turn out correctly. I've forgotten in the past and had to use milk. It turned out okay, but not as good as with the pasta water.]

    INGREDIENTS

    -1 Tbsp butter
    -1 clove garlic, minced
    -zest of one lemon
    -2 tsp all-purpose flour
    -1 cup 2% milk
    -3/4 tsp salt
    -2 Tbsp Neufchatel or low fat cream cheese
    -3/4 cup grated parmesan cheese (not powdered)
    -3 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley
    -freshly ground black pepper, to taste
    -12 oz. fettuccine pasta (fresh or dried, I use dried and cook for 14 min.)


    DIRECTIONS

    Make the sauce: Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the garlic and lemon zest and cook until the garlic is slightly soft, about 1 minute. Add in the flour and cook, stirring with a wooden spoon, about 1 minute. Whisk in the milk and 3/4 teaspoon salt and cook, whisking constantly, until just thickened, about 3 minutes. Add the Neufchatel and parmesan cheese; whisk until melted, about 1 minute. Stir in the chopped parsley, chicken and pepper. Remove from heat and keep warm.

    Meanwhile, in a large pot, boil fettuccine in salted water until al dente, stirring often. RESERVE ONE CUP OF COOKING WATER BEFORE DRAINING. Return drained pasta to pot.
    Immediately add sauce to pasta along with about half the reserved pasta water. Gently toss until pasta is coated, adding more pasta water to thin sauce. (I usually use about 3/4 of the pasta water.)
    (This recipe easily makes 8 reasonably sized servings. I am including the nutritional info from the original recipe. It is calculated as making 4 servings and DOES NOT include the chicken meat.)
    Per serving: Calories 490; Fat 15 g (Saturated 8 g); Cholesterol 48 mg; Sodium 734 mg; Carbohydrate 66 g; Fiber 3 g; Protein 20 g







    Tuesday, March 13, 2012

    Sensible Shoes.......or, I Must Have Been Temporarily Insane

    I plan to be married in May. We are not having a lavish affair and will be going to the courthouse and be married by a judge. Still, being a woman, I felt the event justified a pretty dress. I visited a bridal superstore last week just to be sure of my choice. Being a 50-year-old bride makes finding just the right dress very difficult. Given the choices at the bridal shop, I could have chosen to look like a prom nightmare or an elderly mother-of-the-bride. I wanted neither and decided to stay with the pretty white silk chiffon I ordered from Macy's website. Although white is not my first color choice, (not because I'm not virtuous, but because white isn't the most flattering color for my complexion), I believe that I can pull it off by adding some color by choosing pretty shoes and jewelry.

    Let me note here that I have suffered from degenerative arthritis for several years. I have endured several surgeries, including two surgeries on my right knee. I have been told that I will someday need to have knee replacement and I hope that is very far in the future. I am very careful to avoid activities that might result in any injury to my knee.

    That being said, I was led like a lamb to the slaughter to the shoe section of the bridal superstore. Knowing in my mind that I cannot tolerate much more than a 2 inch heel because of my knee issues, I allowed the (very kind and helpful, I must note) salesgirl to lure me into buying these 4 inch heeled beauties....



    ......and this is what I must have looked like while giddily writing the check for my purchase....


    Let me tell you this: while shopping for anything wedding/marriage related, even the most mature and sensible 50-year-old becomes a starry-eyed bride-to-be and cannot be trusted with important decisions. Never ask financial or life advice from one of us at these times; you may regret it if you follow said advice. Consider yourself warned.  So that is the excuse I'm going with on how I came to buy a pair of shoes that I have no hope of ever wearing.

    After the bloom was off the rose and I was home with the shoes, I tried them on again.....remember the stepsisters in Cinderella desperately trying to shove their giant feet into the dainty glass slipper????....that's pretty much what went on in my bedroom that evening. Even after struggling into the shoes, I was almost unable to walk in them. Even exchanging the shoes for a larger size would not remedy that fact.

    So. I have a photograph of lovely shoes that I'll never be able to wear. I also have the assurance that I will be able to walk and enjoy my honeymoon week by choosing to wear a shoe that will not cripple me. But look out....I may just have those sensible two inch heels dyed a bright blue or purple just to show I still have a bit of life left in me! Just watch me!

    Monday, February 27, 2012

    I Am A Republican

    Let me begin by saying that I do not like to argue about political beliefs. Not in the least. I do not like conflict or debate. That may not make sense to some, but that's how I feel. I don't like defending what I believe to be correct. I only know how I feel about things political and am basically just putting some thoughts down for posterity. (P.S. I'm not a wimp, I WILL speak up when necessary. I just don't make a practice of spouting off.)

    I am certainly no expert on politics. I do know that every four years, as America prepares to decide who will be our next President, the punches start flying from each political party. Some of the comments I've seen recently posted by liberal "friends" on Facebook have sometimes caused me to do a double take. To be fair, I have seen vicious words thrown around by conservative friends as well. I tend to feel that negative or derogatory comments can be more polarizing than productive. No one will listen to you if you are calling them names.

    I was in a situation on Facebook today where I felt I was being goaded into a confrontation, no matter how "civil" the situation seemed. I stated pretty much what I said above (in a nutshell though, it was Facebook after all) and left the conversation. No harm done on either side.

     So I honestly don't know what my point is here....just this: How about we all be grown-ups this political season and at least respect each other's right to our beliefs and ideals. It's what America is all about. Just stick with what you believe and don't let anyone draw you into unsavory behavior.



    Monday, February 20, 2012

    Gulp....I'm A Quinquagenarian!!!! And Other Thoughts...

    Quinquagenarian-n.  A person 50 years old.

    Well, not officially until Wednesday, but let me say that this fact is certainly at the forefront of my thoughts as the day draws near. Here are some thoughts on the matter.



    First let me say that I do not feel like a 50-year-old. Sure, there are days when my joints ache from arthritis and I feel a hundred years old. But inside....where my soul resides....I still feel like a 20-something most of the time. That is, of course, unless I am preoccupied with paying my son's college tuition or making sure the insurance is paid up. Then I feel much more "grown up".

    I still love seeing new places and trying new things. Sometimes my mind just flies around from idea to idea on where I want to go or things I want to try. It's difficult to land and concentrate on one single thing with all the thoughts going on in my head. But this makes me feel alive and vibrant. My idea of trying new things or seeing new places may not be another's idea of adventure, but the simple things have always pleased me. I can make an event out of a 20 mile drive for a special meal. I actually get excited at the idea of some of the things I find myself doing. A new recipe can send me into a joyful tizzy! Planning a movie night at home with my family is always a treat to me. Someday I hope to be able to travel more. Again, my idea of where I want to go may not appear adventuresome to others, but there are so many things yet to see that are right outside the small cocoon of my world. I've never travelled outside of the United States and although I would welcome the opportunity, I'll be happy with seeing the places I do get to visit right here in my own country.

    Honestly, it is more than a bit scary to think that, statistically at least, my life is about two-thirds over with. Very humbling. I think we can all agree that as we age, we become more mindful of how we spend our time. I surely don't want to dwell on how much time I have left in this world, but I am certainly reminded that the clock is ticking.

    Happily, I can say that I have become much more health-conscious within the last couple of years. For the first time in my life I exercise regularly. I have become mindful of what goes into my body and have developed healthier eating and cooking habits. I can proudly say that I might just feel the best I have ever felt. Improving my habits has been a gift. I'd like to spend my later years enjoying life rather than fighting illness and the effects of being overweight. I'm very happy with my decision to make those changes and have vowed to continue these habits.

    So I welcome 50 in a couple of days. I may as well welcome it because there is nothing I can do to change it. Hopefully, when others look at me, they can see beyond the gray hairs and the effects of gravity (DO NOT get me started on that!). Maybe they can see that 20-something that resides in my soul and peeks out every now and then.




    Wednesday, February 8, 2012

    State Fair Sandwiches

    I came up with this recipe last year and we have enjoyed it many times since. If you've ever been to The Great State Fair of Oklahoma, you've smelled the aroma of peppers and onions and sausage cooking in huge skillets to make sandwiches. This is my version and I named it after the wonderful aroma that wafts through the house while the sausage and vegetables are sauteeing on the stove. Heaven.

    ~State Fair Sandwiches~

    Sauce:
    -2 or 3 cloves garlic, minced
    -One 14.5 oz. can Del Monte Diced Tomatoes w/ Basil, Garlic and Oregano, undrained
    -One 8 oz. can tomato sauce, any brand

    In a medium saucepan, heat a small amount of olive oil over med/high heat. Add the garlic and cook and stir until garlic starts to brown slightly. Immediately pour in tomatoes and sauce. Once sauce comes to a boil, turn heat to very low. Using a potato masher, mash the tomatoes a bit. Let simmer over low heat until thickened, stirring occasionally. Set aside and keep warm.



    Sandwiches:
    -About 4 sandwich rolls, split (I've used everything from hoagie rolls to bolillos. I have also tried whole grain and do not find it as tasty as a good ole white roll.)
    -One large green bell pepper, cut into thin strips
    -One large red bell pepper, cut into thin strips
    -One large onion, cut into thin strips
    -One 13-16 oz. package smoked sausage, sliced into med/thin slices. (I use turkey smoked sausage to cut back on fat a bit.)
    -4 slices mozzarella cheese, or shredded mozzarella



    In a large skillet, heat a small amount of olive or canola oil over med/high heat. Add peppers, onions and sausage. Stir and cook over heat until all are slightly browned, but the vegetables are still bright and a bit crisp.



    Spoon sausage/vegetable mixture over bottom of bread. Ladle as much or as little of the sauce over, depending on your taste. Layer cheese on top of sauce.

    Heat broiler to normal. On a flat pan covered with foil (easy clean-up, folks), lay the sandwiches open-faced with tops alongside. Watch closely. Broil until cheese is melted and bread is lightly toasted. Place tops on sandwiches and cut in half if preferred.

    Serve with extra sauce on the side.

    This recipe leaves plenty of leftover sausage/pepper/onion mixture and sauce for more sandwiches if desired. Can also be reheated and eaten alone with the sauce. Enjoy!!







    Sunday, February 5, 2012

    For The Love Of The Game??

    I write this from the comfort of my favorite chair as I watch Super Bowl XLVI. Let me first say that I am in no way disrespecting this venerable American tradition. I just wanted to offer my thoughts.

    I wouldn't say I am a devoted NFL fan. I enjoy watching and keeping up with my favorite players throughout the season. I especially like keeping an eye on former University of Oklahoma players who have gone on to the big time. OU football is my first love and always will be, at least in the sports world. That is another subject for another time, but those who know me would not disagree with that statement. GO SOONERS!!!!

    Back to the situation at hand, Super Bowl Sunday is a huge day in the United States. Even those who don't watch a single game all year long tune in, even if just to catch the interesting commercials and halftime shows. It almost seems unpatriotic to miss it!

    Food is the central part of this tradition, unless you are actually at the game. From chips and dips to huge elaborate spreads, households across our country are sitting down to enjoy their favorite food and drink while enjoying the game with family and friends. Offerings can run the gamut from simple pizza to fanciful creations. See for yourself:


















    Times sure have changed when it comes to halftime entertainment. The first Super Bowl in 1967 included performances from trumpeter Al Hirt, college marching bands and a high school drill team. I think I even spotted a guy in a jet pack in the center photo!!
















    Now, in 2012, we have a totally different type of show, which includes appearances by Madonna and Nicki Minaj.










    Quite a difference, huh?



















    Interesting, too, how the cheerleader situation has changed through the years. Here is an image of Green Bay Packers cheerleaders in 1967, followed by the 2012 New England Patriots squad. See if you can spot the differences without looking at the colors of their uniforms...















    Oh, and how about the players? This is a game after all. I give you images of the Most Valuable Players of the 1967 and 2012 games.






    Okay, so not much of a difference there. Regardless, I think we can all agree that they typical NFL football player has changed significantly over the years. Although both past and present players put a lot of blood, sweat and tears into developing their bodies to play the sport, showboating and product endorsements have become a a huge part of the careers of more than a few NFL players in the current leagues. Materialism, flashy lifestyles and "bling" abound for some. Some players have even been charged and convicted of crimes including drug possession, firearms violations, murder and (infamously) running dog-fighting rings. I have a hard time believing that the players of 1967 were involved in similar lifestyles or activities. Maybe I'm candy-coating the old days, but that's how I remember it.

    So whether you are watching for the love of the game of football itself, or for the commercials and entertainment, remember that you are taking part in a time-honored American tradition; the championship game of the National Football League. I hope your team wins and that you enjoy the game.....or the commercials.....or the entertainment....and the food.....or all four!!

    What are some of your favorite foods, traditions, Super Bowl moments or actual plays from the Super Bowl? Do tell!!


    Oh, and GO PATS!!!

    Thursday, February 2, 2012

    When Life Hands You A Lemon, Bake Brownies

    Life handed me a lemon yesterday and I wanted to tell you all the events of the morning. For your trouble, I will include a sweet recipe at the end of this entry. Everybody wins!

    I left home and took my usual route to work. That route includes a daily stop at my local convenience store. I could say they have the best coffee in the city, but it's actually their sinfully delicious French Vanilla creamer that keeps me coming back. Anyway, as I pulled in to their parking lot, I was forced to park along the far side of the lot as many others were also at the store getting their RDA of the coffee creamers and cappuccini at the store. While returning to my car I looked up and noticed that my right rear tire was almost flat! Had I not parked where I did, I would not have seen that side of my car thus returning to the street headed for the highway and possible disaster. Luckily, the store also sells gasoline and has a free air pump available. I filled the tire and drove straight to my local tire store/mechanic. As my tire was not covered under the Road Hazard Warranty, I would be required to pay the cost of repair. After quickly repairing my tire, the gentleman at the store told me I wouldn't be charged. I am a longtime customer there and he was doing me a favor.

    Now, luckily, I did have the extra $20 it would have cost me to pay for the tire repair. I think we can all agree that, unless we are having a tough time financially, $20 is not a big deal to most people. And yesterday it was not a big deal to me. The fact that the gentleman at the store considered me a good customer and did me a favor.....well that was a big deal to me!

    So, long story short, I decided to repay the kindness of the tire store employee and bake a batch of brownies to take to his crew this morning.

    Recipe courtesy Taste of Home website. I added some chopped pecans and used milk chocolate chips to make them extra special.


    Speedy Brownies

    Ingredients

    • 2 cups sugar
    • 1-3/4 cups all-purpose flour
    • 1/2 cup baking cocoa
    • 1 teaspoon salt
    • 5 eggs
    • 1 cup canola oil
    • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
    • 1 cup (6 ounces) semisweet chocolate chips

    Directions

    • In a large bowl, beat the first seven ingredients. Pour into a greased 13-in. x 9-in. baking pan. Sprinkle with chocolate chips.
    • Bake at 350° for 30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. Cool in pan on a wire rack. Yield: about 3 dozen.
    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


    And now for the fun part!!


































    Now go bake some brownies and make someone's day!!

    Tuesday, January 31, 2012

    Virtual Friendships In The Real World

    I decided to borrow this topic from my wonderful friend and fellow blogger, Sheena. Thank you in advance, dear lady!

    I joined Facebook back in 2009 after another old friend urged me to give it a try. I didn't know at that time how much I would enjoy a silly place where people play at farming and chasing jewels and fight Mafia wars. Although I don't take part in any of the games myself, I've seen it is a big part of others' Facebook experience. I like it for the social networking it provides.


    I am not the most social person. My world revolves around my home and family. I like to cook, work in the yard, handcraft soap and I love to travel. Even in my younger years, I never had a huge circle of friends. I'm not really a loner or a snob, nor do I particularly care to be alone most of the time. I've just never been a "socializer" and that's just who I am. Especially at my age, it is difficult to find those with similar interests whose schedules jive enough with mine to make socializing possible.

    My first "friends" on Facebook were folks that I knew in high school. The big 30 year reunion was being planned and it was so exciting to see all the faces from the past and hear of the arrangements being made to visit. Although I was unable to attend, I almost felt as if I was there with all the sharing of experiences and photos by my old classmates. Interestingly, some of the people who I now call friends were really no more than casual acquaintances in high school. I've found as I have gotten to know them that we really weren't that different after all. Or maybe it's just that with the angst-ridden and awkward years of high school past us that we now just seem more similar. The insecurity of thinking I wasn't "good enough" is long past and I don't posses the shy nature I had back then either. Really, were we not much more than children in adult bodies during those high school years? I didn't feel truly "grown up" until I reached the ripe old age of thirty!!

    My sons actually seemed okay with being "friends" with me on Facebook and several of their friends and acquaintances have also "friended" me. It's pretty neat seeing how they interact and I hope they see me as a pretty cool Mom.


    Well.....maybe not the coolest, but cool nonetheless...

    I've become friends with other Moms, too, and we can keep track of what's going on in every one's lives. I've also reconnected with dear cousins. In the past we were just far enough apart in age to not have many common interests. Now I feel a real connection to my family.

    I've "liked" and joined pages of interest in a myriad of areas. Travel destinations, restaurants, recipe sites, TV shows....the list goes on and on. I've even joined fan pages of bands and musicians and actors and athletes and artists and writers and radio and TV personalities. It's fun believing that these folks actually take time to make posts for their fans/friends to see. I feel like I have a knack for being able to tell the famous ones who update their own pages and the ones who just have their "people" make the posts. A lot of them are plain old folks, just like the rest of us. I've forged friendships with other folks from those same pages, too. I've been informed of events and even attended some that I would not have known about otherwise. Once, after reading a post of a last-minute reservation cancellation on a cabin at a state park here in Oklahoma, I hauled off and grabbed that cabin for the weekend and headed out with my son and our dog. It was a wonderful time!

    Happily, I've not had too many negative interactions on Facebook. There have been a few that I quietly unfriended or ignored due to content I viewed as offensive or for just being plain annoying. But generally I've enjoyed my Facebook experience so far. I don't take part in the "Chat" portion as I have learned from past experience that that can be a real time waster for me. I still feel like I probably spend more time on Facebook than I should, but I don't feel like it interferes with my life too much.

    So, I suppose...if I really think about it....Facebook has enriched my "real" life in more ways that just the occasional comment or wisecrack I so enjoy posting. It truly has made me a more social person in that I've done things I would normally have not done. I've learned a lot about others' politics and beliefs and lifestyles and, even if they don't exactly match my own beliefs, I'm more accepting of these ideas than I ever was in the past. It sure has been a ride and I'm looking forward to forging more friendships and learning a lot more about the world outside my small sphere I call home.

    Sunday, January 22, 2012

    Don't Look Back??

    "Don't mourn bad decisions-overcome them with good ones." Joyce Meyer


    The quote above caught my attention today as I perused Facebook. Lately I've been giving a lot of thought to past mistakes and bad decisions in my life that I am not proud to own. Some of those events are very painful and frightening for me.

    Just last week as I was driving out to spend some time with Bobby, I was riding along listening to music and was just thanking God for all the joy and good things in my life. Sometimes my heart just overflows with happiness when I realize all the blessings I have.

    I don't have a fancy car or a palatial home, but I have what really matters. I have love in my life....my wonderful sons, my devoted fiance' and a little dog who worships the ground I walk on. I have a warm, safe home...even if it is slightly crooked....I think it has character! I have relatively good health even as my body winds its way toward the big five-o. I am able to provide my family with good food and we don't go hungry. I have heat in the winter and cool air in the summer. We all have clothes to wear and shoes to help us walk through life.

    The next day I heard the song, "Don't Look Back", by the band Boston. It reminded me of the times when regretful thoughts and reminders of past mistakes sneak into taunt me. Sometimes it can be so painful to realize how foolish I was in the past. One dark memory leads to another and before I know it, I'm wondering if I really am the good person I believe myself to be. It can be a dark spiral into a terrible place if I let it. But being a believer in God helps me to turn to Him at those times. I ask Him to remove the thoughts from my mind. I am also reminded that I have been forgiven of those mistakes; sins, if you are a believer. According to God, they never happened because I asked His forgiveness at some point in my life. What a comfort to know that He isn't dwelling on those things in my past, even if I tend to let them creep in to try to chip away at my happiness. As I write this, reminders of bad decisions still try to flood my mind.

    We've all made bad decisions in our lives. It's part of being human. We can't do anything about them and dwelling on them will only bring us down. We move on and make better decisions as we go along in life. We cannot change our past, but we surely and thankfully can learn from those past bad decisions.

    Life is not easy, it was never promised to be. But I can be thankful that I have more love and good things in my life than I do regrets. So look back. Learn from the past. But then, for goodness sake, look ahead....to all the possibilities the future holds. Look forward!!

    Monday, January 16, 2012

    Delightful Herbs

    What is paradise? But a garden, an orchard of trees and herbs, full of pleasure, and nothing there but delights.

    William Lawson, 1618
     
     
     
     
    I love herbs. Only within the last few years have I started growing my own in pots and have yet to venture into the more exotic offerings. But I have so enjoyed the rosemary, thyme and mint that have thrived under my not-so-watchful care. They are forgiving when briefly forgotten in the sweltering days of August and sometimes continue to grow even after Jack Frost has visited our yard. If a sunny window was available, they could thrive all through the winter inside a warm home.
     
    As much as I enjoy growing herbs, I LOVE using them in my cooking! If you have never used fresh herbs, let me suggest that, if you try them, you will wonder why you never did it before. The flavor is so different than that given from dried herbs. And the aroma...it just cannot be described sufficiently here. I love chopping up fresh herbs then, if I have walked away for some reason and returned to the kitchen, smelling the wonderful green aroma they give. Don't get me wrong, dried herbs have their place in certain recipes, but fresh can be substituted and will give wonderful results.
     
    Here's a tip for using fresh herbs: When substituting fresh herbs for dried, use twice as much (Example: 1/2 teaspoon of dried rosemary would be substituted with 1 teaspoon.) Drying of herbs concentrates the flavors and they are much stronger than when fresh. Of course this means that when substituting dried herbs for fresh, that you would use half as much in your recipe.
     
    Purchasing fresh herbs at the market or grocery store can really put a dent in your budget. By purchasing one or two plants in the spring, potting them up and caring for them, one can save a ton of money and enjoy fresh herbs almost year-round.
     
    Here's another tip: When frost threatens, herbs can be taken in for use all winter long. Just cut the stems of the herbs and rinse, leaving the leaves on the stems. Once dry, put them in zippered freezer storage bags. When they are frozen, rub the storage bag so the leaves fall from the stems. The leaves can then be collected and stored in glass jars or similar containers in the freezer. I also keep the stems that have not given up their leaves and use them whole for baking chicken, fish, etc. Although the herbs don't appear as brightly colored as when collected, their flavor and aroma is as close to fresh as you can get. Measure as for fresh herbs when using in recipes. (Although I have not tried, this method may work if store-bought herbs are leftover and would otherwise go to waste. I can't say how it would work for leaves such as basil. But would be worth a try to keep from wasting good, expensive herbs.)
     
    There are some herbs that I routinely purchase at the market and are relatively inexpensive. Parsley and cilantro are almost staples in my kitchen. I attempted to grow cilantro years ago and had terrible luck so have not tried since. I admit I have not tried to grow parsley, but that may just be something I add this spring. I always have leftovers when using either or both and have found a wonderful way to keep them from going to waste.
     
    Tip: Finely chop the parsley and/or cilantro and keep them in a container in the fridge (with a dry paper towel to absorb moisture so they don't go soggy too quickly). I add them to my salad greens and they give an earthy and different flavor to my salads. A little variety goes a long way when green salads are a big part of your diet.
     
    What are your favorite herbs and how do love using them? I would love to read some new ideas!
     
    Here is a very simple, yet delicious method I use and am glad to share with my friends and readers:
     
    Herbed Chicken
     
    Preheat gas oven to 350 degrees (electric, 325 degrees).
     
    Place several sprigs of rosemary and thyme in the bottom of a baking dish. Lay boneless, skinless chicken breasts on top of the herbs. Drizzle chicken lightly with good olive oil, salt and pepper. Bake, uncovered for 30 minutes or until juices run clear. When removing from dish, remove the sprigs.
     
     
     

    Wednesday, January 11, 2012

    The Other Man

    It is time to face the facts. There is another man in my life and this must be addressed. I have kept this secret in my heart and the weight of the guilt must be lifted.

    I met this man when I was just blooming into womanhood. He leaves me for a while, but always returns and my heart swells each time. I have struggled to live without him and I can go for months without a single thought of him entering my mind. Then like an old familiar flame, he enters my life once again.

    This man is Stephen King, the author. I adore his storytelling. I just finished his most recent work, 11/22/63. I was given the book as a Christmas gift from my son and I had to read it in small doses so I could savor it as long as possible. Although he is most well-known for his horror tales, Mr. King also writes "normal" stories, too. The thing that always strikes me as I read his works, even with the horror stories, is this: No matter how absurd-sounding or fantastical the tale, his words make it so that you can actually imagine the story happening in real life. This is his gift, but also my curse. Once I begin, I cannot stop reading until I am finished. When I do finish, I feel as if I've lost an old flame again until his next offering appears. And I wait.




    Books and stories have always been an important part of my life, but I am not able to devote as much time to them as I would like. What have you read lately and who is the other man, or woman, in your life?

    Tuesday, January 10, 2012

    Name Change...

    Greetings readers! I just wanted to note that my name on here has changed. I edited it for privacy reasons, but it's still lil ole me!!

    Monday, January 9, 2012

    A Scent From The Past

    Just a quick blib to make you smile. I've recently discovered a new hobby, melt-and-pour soap crafting. I am having a wonderful time with this and plan to make more posts about that topic in the future. I recently placed an order for some supplies for my new hobby and received them in the mail today. Nestled in my parcel of goodies was a new scent, Violet.



    When I was a little girl, one of my favorite dolls was a tiny little girl in a purple dress. She was scented and I had never been able to identify or locate that wonderful, sweet aroma. I once purchased a book published by Penhaligon's, the famous English fragrance company, and it was scented similarly.

    My new scent, Violet, is almost a perfect memory to me of my little girlhood doll. When I opened the bottle and smelled it, I literally got tears in my eyes.

    Scents are such a powerful part of our lives. They can instantly takes us to places and times of our lives with just one little whiff. I was once walking behind a woman who wore the same perfume my Mother loved and it brought such sadness, yet was comforting in a way as well.

    I think that is one reason I am enjoying the soap crafting. I can use lovely scents of my own choosing and create beautiful things with them.

    What are some of your favorite scents, my friends and readers?

    Saturday, January 7, 2012

    New Tools

    I love to cook. Within the last several years I have finally discovered my love of chopping and mixing and making fresh, homemade foods for my family. I wish I had perfected my techniques before my children were born. Maybe that way they would not have had endure childhoods filled with Hamburger Helper, boxed mac-and-cheese and the like. I did make some homemade things, but nothing like what I have been able to produce since I started concentrating on learning. At the time, the quick and easy ways were all I thought I was capable of or had time for. Anyhoo, I can't change that now and am glad I can provide them with better tasting offerings now. Don't get me wrong, I still use some pre-fab ingredients and meals from time to time, but am also able to make all kinds of wonderful, from-scratch dishes that I am proud to serve.

    All this to show you a picture of my latest acquisition of cooking-related items. I have learned a lot from watching instructional programs on The Food Network. One of the best tips I've gathered is the idea of "mise en place." A fancy term to describe having "all your ingredients prepared and ready to go before you start cooking", (reluctantgourmet.com). Anne Burrell uses this term quite a bit. Some of the recipes I use move really quickly when adding ingredients, especially when making sauces and such. I've wanted to get some little containers to use as prep cups so I could have the ingredients ready to go, just like they do on some of the cooking shows.

    So without further ado....I give you....my new prep cups!!



    These little jewels can be found in the kitchen section of Wal Mart and cost all of 88 cents each. I've already broken them in while prepping the ingredients for my non-Miss-Grumpypants supper tonight. They did the trick!!

    I hope to share recipes and more cooking tips in the future. Stay tuned!

    So He Wouldn't Have To Deal With A Grump

    Bobby needed to go do a chore this afternoon. Me going would not have really helped. I had the option of staying home to enjoy a quiet afternoon. I could have gone and been a perfect grump for the rest of the day. I went with my heart and decided to stay home instead of going and not enjoying the trip and possibly transferring my grumpiness to all involved.

    I'm thankful for a man who is so easygoing. His chore involves wrapping up some loose ends of a friend who died a while back and I just swell with pride to know I am marrying such a good man. He'd give you the shirt off of his back, literally, if that is what you needed.

    So Miss Grumpypants will not make an appearance today and for that we can all be grateful. Bobby will receive a nice home cooked meal tonight from a smiling partner.

    I just didn't want to go.

    Friday, January 6, 2012

    Edited to add...

    ....It was pointed out to me that when speaking of my little dog in my first blog post that I gave the impression that you would not like owning a Miniature Dachshund. Let me say my comment was intended to say that you would never want another breed of dog because the Miniature Dachshund is the sweetest breed there is. I feel the wrong is now righted. Thank you to my editor and proofreader, Bobby.

    Thursday, January 5, 2012

    ...and away we go!

    Not sure where to start, but here it is. I'll share a bit about myself this time. I am  a 49-year-old mother of two teenage sons. Ian is a sophomore in college and Ben is in the 8th grade. I am now the "shortie" of the family, that is if you don't count Tootsie. She is my constant. My little 13-year-old angel and pet miniature Dachshund. Take a tip from me and NEVER get one. You will never want another dog. Consider yourself warned.

    I'm so proud of how my young men have turned out. I've been told it was because I was a good mother (thanks, Bobby). I think they are just good people. Ian is a smart, talented man with a golden future ahead of him. He is pursuing a degree in Music Production at the ACM@UCO in Oklahoma City. I was honored to hear his first production effort earlier this year and was as pleased and proud as a mother could possibly be. He is a gentle giant and has a huge heart. I still see the little boy in him even as he grows into a man before my eyes.


    Ben. My baby. He is smart and talented and calm and quiet. He has such a beautiful smile and gives the best hugs. If you met him you would think, "What a shy young man." This is part of his charm as he has a wicked sense of humor and surprised us all when he performed stand-up comedy in his school's talent show this fall. He killed! My hairdresser even told me of 3 people who told her how funny his act had been. The talk of our town.

    I live in a teeny tiny house with a not-so-teeny-tiny mortgage. I bought it last year and plan to stay here at least until Ben has graduated. I don't want to move him away from his school and family even though I plan to be married within the year to a wonderful man. My sweet Bobby. He lives about 40 miles away on 10 acres in the country where we plan to build our dream home within a couple of years. That undertaking will probably be a blog in itself. Anyway, I will split my time between here and there and Bobby will do the same. I thank God for finding such an understanding man for me to share my life with. We are committed to each other and, even living apart, we make a great team.

    If you have read this far, I hope you will stay tuned. There are so many things I want to share here. I'll tell you about things I love, things I don't love, frustrations and joys, new things and old things. I hope to share recipes and other things from my life that I enjoy. I'm open for suggestions.

    Stick with me, old friends and new. Maybe you'll learn something or just be entertained.