Friday, February 26, 2010

Peanut Butter & Dark Chocolate Chip Cookies

Warning: These cookies are highly addictive and cause restrictive diets to self-destruct.

Disclaimer: I cook and bake with real ingredients. I use real butter and real sugar, always. That being said, after reading many cookie recipe reviews wherein people suggested using Crisco or margarine, I tried it. I admit it. I did use some butter-flavored Crisco in this recipe. Not a lot. I still used real butter too. Honestly, these are some of the best cookies I've ever tasted. Use all butter if it bothers you. We've wolfed down several cookies already and lived to tell about it.

Now, on to the cookie recipe.

Peanut Butter and Dark Chocolate Chip Cookies

3/4 C unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 C unsalted butter (real butter), softened
1/4 C butter flavored Crisco (see it isn't that much)
1/2 C brown sugar
1/3 C white sugar
1/2 C peanut butter (I used Smuckers creamy organic brand)
1 egg
4 ounces dark chocolate chips (I used 1/3 bag Ghirardelli 60% cacao bittersweet chocolate chips)

*I used unsalted butter and didn't add extra salt to this recipe because the peanut butter has plenty of salty flavor in it.

Preheat Oven to 350 degrees.

1) In a small bowl whisk flour and baking soda together. Set aside.

2) In a medium mixing bowl, cream butter and Crisco together. Using an electric mixer, beat in sugars, peanut butter, and egg. Stir in flour mixture until incorporated. Stir in chocolate chips.

3) Drop by rounded spoonfuls onto cookie sheet. These cookies really spread out while baking, so don't use more than one rounded tablespoon of dough per cookie.

4) Bake for 8 to 10 minutes in the preheated oven. Allow cookies to cool on baking sheet for a few minutes before transferring to a wire rack, plate, or your mouth.

My measurements for the ingredients are only half of what a regular cookie recipe would call for. This recipe made about twenty large cookies. I do this for portion control. There were plenty of cookies for my family even after sharing with our neighbors.


Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Ruffled Onesie - Tutorial

My fellow crafty bloggers have been sewing ruffles on everything for quite some time now. I decided to give it a try and quickly found out ruffles (especially in knit) are very easy to sew. Now, I'm addicted.

So, I made this cutie pie! This is a picture of the back of the onesie.

I wanted to add three rows of red ruffles on the bottom of a plain white onesie/bodysuit. The bodysuit measured roughly 9 inches across.

I cut my red knit fabric 1 inch tall and 22.5 inches across(which is 9 in. x 2.5). The ruffle fabric should be about 2 1/2 times the width of the onesie.

Since knit fabric doesn't fray, there was no need to sew the edges of my ruffle fabric.

I set machine to the longest straight stitch possible (basting stitch) and sewed right down the middle of my ruffle fabric the entire length. I did not backstitch at either end so I could do the next step. (I only used black thread for this tutorial so it would show up better in the pictures.)

I pulled only ONE thread while bunching the fabric up into ruffles.

I eyeballed where I thought the ruffle looked even and pinned it onto the onesie. I sewed it onto the onesie sewing right down the middle of the ruffle. I backstitched at the beginning and end this time.

I made two more ruffles and sewed them onto the onesie as well, bunching them together so they overlapped just a bit.

On the front of the onesie I sewed on a little ruffle flower and added a button to the center. To make the ruffle for the flower, I sewed my basting stitch on the side of my ruffle fabric instead of down the center. When I pulled one thread, the sewn side ruffled while the other side fanned out creating the flower. I stitched it in a circle onto the onsie and sewed the button on by hand.

Since I have twins, I did this whole project twice. It was very simple and took about an hour to create both onesies. I was flying by the seat of my (ruffled) pants and enjoying the learning-as-I-go process.

Now I want to chop up all my old t-shirts and put ruffles on everything!

Monday, February 15, 2010

Felt Chocolate Chip Cookie Tutorial

Sophie is quite a girlie girl. She loves baby dolls, purses, shoes, sparkly dresses, and shopping with her little grocery cart. Her imagination runs wild when "cooking" too, so, I made her some felt chocolate chip cookies to add to her grocery stash.

Felt cookies are very easy to make.

Step 1) Cut two "cookie" circles out of tan felt and five "chocolate chips" from dark brown felt.

Step 2) Sew chocolate chips onto one tan cookie circle.

The back will look unsightly, but no one will see it.

Step 3) Sew RIGHT sides of the two tan cookie circles together, leaving a small opening for turning.

Step 4) Turn cookie right side out. Add some stuffing (batting) between the cookie layers.

Step 5) Sew small opening closed.

Sophie is enjoying her felt cookies while wearing her chocolate chip cookie pajamas.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Fennel and Feta

It has become a tradition at my house to enjoy spaghetti every Sunday night. My husband actually licks his bowl clean after eating seconds. Sophie wolfs down her bowl of spaghetti like a vacuum cleaner and out eats me every time. Spaghetti is, by far, my families favorite meal. I have three simple suggestions to raise regular old spaghetti to a tasty new level.

1) In a saucepan, warm 1 1/2 teaspoons of fennel seed in 1 1/2 tablespoons of olive oil. Add your spaghetti sauce and stir. Fennel bursts with flavor and heightens the aroma and taste of your sauce.

2) Sprinkle crumbled feta cheese on individual bowls of spaghetti just before serving. The feta melts, adding a rich and creamy flavor.

3) Consider using Target's Archer Farms Chili Pepper Spaghetti. It adds just a touch of heat to your traditional meal.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Hello, My Name is Curt.

adjective: short, brief, terse, abrupt, concise, brusque
If you describe someone as curt, you mean that they speak or reply in a brief and rather rude way. (googledictionary)

I did it again. My husband was on the receiving end of my curt responses. Do you have moments when words fly out of your mouth before you've softened them? We were in a hurry, again. I was trying to accomplish all that is necessary when taking three little ones out to run errands. Tummies full. Diapers changed. Coats on. Socks...

We had twenty minutes to get Sophie to her haircut appointment. Instead of eating lunch ourselves, Judd and I busied ourselves meeting the needs of our girls. Lunch for Mom and Dad would have to wait.

It was a simple question Judd asked. "Are you and I going to grab some lunch on the way to Sophie's hair appointment?" "No! Don't you see what time it is?" I curtly replied with an implied, "duh". Instantly I felt a prick in my heart. This was one more rude response in the string of replies I'd given Judd. I was so focussed on my objectives of being punctual and having a stress-free outing, I was steamrolling over my family in the process.

Right now I am the single most influencial role model in my three daughters' lives. Sophie already wants to be just like me, but, sometimes I don't want to be just like me.

Judd told me he didn't like the way I was talking to him. He shouldn't have had to say anything. I already knew I was wrong. I quickly, and sincerely, apologized, but knew my rudeness stung him, and a fast "sorry" wouldn't suffice. I let a few minutes pass then took his face in my hands. I looked deeply into his eyes and told him how very sorry I was for being rude. I told him I didn't like the way I talked to him either. I kissed him and hugged him tightly. Accepting my apology, he released the offense.

I don't want to take my husband, family, or friends for granted. I want to live life with graciousness and gratitude. I want to place people above my need to complete tasks. I want to be found worthy of my daughters' imitations.

"He who guards his mouth and his tongue, guards his soul from troubles." Proverbs 21:23 (New American Standard Bible)

Monday, February 8, 2010

Identical Snowflakes

There are gigantic snowflakes falling in my part of the world today. We all learned in elementary science class that no two snowflakes are identical. I'm reminded of when I first found out I was expecting twins. I wondered if they were identical. Although identical twins have an incredible cuteness factor, part of me hoped mine would be fraternal instead. I wanted them to be treated as individuals, not a pair. Snowflakes aren't identical and neither are people, even if outward appearances imply it. After the girls were born, we quickly saw their individual personalities shine through, and it no longer mattered whether they looked alike or not. Piper loves to sing and bounce to music. She lights up whenever she hears a note. Riley is our little bulldozer. Nothing will stop her. She'll take on anything or anyone who tries to stand in her way. The girls are as different as night and day and didn't end up looking like each other at all. Most people do not realize they are twins.

One of my favorite movie quotes is from "What a Girls Wants" (2003): "Why are you trying so hard to fit in when you were born to stand out?".

I endeavor to be the best me I can be. My intention is to instill in my girls great value for their unique traits and talents. I want them to be so full of self esteem found in who they are in Christ Jesus, that they have no desire to follow the crowd or be compelled to fit in regardless the cost. The price to fit in is too high. It is the loss of one's individual identity and potential.

How do you celebrate your unique qualities and those of your family members?

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Old McDonald's

We rarely eat fast food. If we do need to grab a quick bite, we opt for Subway or Qdoba Mexican Grill.

Sophie, our two year old, is in a phase where she wants to know the names of everything we pass while riding in the car. After church today, she pointed to the fast food restaurant with the golden arches and asked if it was Arby's. I told her it was McDonald's. Sophie asked if it was Old McDonald's. Since the first McDonald's opened in 1940, I suppose she was correct. Yes! Sophie, it is Old McDonald's.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Show Us Your Life - Favorite Hair and Beauty Products

I'm joining in the fun over at Kelly's Corner with my favorite Hair and Beauty Products.

I'm a simple girl who doesn't have time for a lot of fuss. I keep my hair and makeup products to a minimum and buy quality items. Two hair products I swear by are: 1) The Original MorracanOil Oil Treatment. This products makes my thick hair feel as smooth as silk and really does reduce drying time.

2) L'Oreal Elnett Strong Hold Hairspray keeps hair manageable and holds the style without making one's hair crunchy or dry. I use this hairspray on the days I actually put effort into my hairstyle.

My two favorite beauty products are: 1) Arbonne's Virtual Illusion Makeup Primer (No, I don't sell Arbonne - ha!) It makes my skin tone even and has an almost powder-like finish. I don't use foundation or powder over it, although one could.

2) I also like Mary Kay's Ultimate Mascara (No, I don't sell Mary Kay either). The rich formula thoroughly coats my blond eyelashes without getting gloppy or flaky. These quality products are ideal for the no-fuss, on-the-go woman.

Walking Belt

When I saw Ashley's sewing tutorial for her "learn to walk belt" I just had to whip one up for Riley. Riley is raring to get up and go but still needs some help with her goin'. Here's my hubby using it with our little chick. Does anyone else suddenly want to sing the puppet theater song from Sound of Music, "Lonely Goatherd"? Riley enjoys moving around the house, and I enjoy not having to hunch over her.

Thanks to the Clothes Horse Neighbor

I have truly amazing neighbors. I doubt they come any better. My neighbors have one granddaughter who just happens to be exactly one year older than my oldest daughter, Sophie. Their granddaughter, Kailey, is quite a clothes horse. I guess in actuality her mother and grandmother are the ones who buy all the clothes.

When Sophie was one year old, Kailey's mom began giving me all of the clothes Kailey had outgrown. Huge plastic storage tubs arrived on my doorstep filled and overflowing. How could one little girl possess so many items? We received coats, shoes, socks, shirts, dresses, Halloween costumes, pants, shorts, jeans, swimsuits, hats, barrettes, etc. Many items were brand new. Most things were only worn once or twice. No piece had the chance to show wear.

The tubs of clothes have continued to march into our lives and Sophie's closet. Now that she is two years old, Sophie enjoys looking through her "new clothes" as much as I do. She squeals with delight and dances around while holding up each item. Of course she wants to try every single thing on as well. My twin girls, Piper and Riley, are now old enough to start wearing many of those first hand me downs.

Thanks to the kindness and generosity of my neighbor's daughter, all three of my kids stay well dressed. "I have never seen the righteous forsaken nor their seed begging bread". - Psalm 37:25.

What simple act of kindness can I use to make someone else's life easier?

Jen's Chicken Rice Soup

• 2 large or 3 small chicken breasts
• 1 1/2 cups uncooked Lundberg Wild Blend Rice
• 3 fourteen ounce cans of Swanson Natural Goodness Chicken Broth (100% fat free, no MSG, 33% less sodium)
• 3 Cups water
• 6 fresh cloves of garlic - smashed or pressed
• 4 to 5 carrots - sliced
• 4 to 5 celery stalks - diced
• 1/2 large sweet onion - diced
• 1 can Campbell's Healthy Request Cream of Chicken Soup
• 2 T. butter

Pour rinsed rice in steamer bowl. Pour 1 can chicken broth over rice in bowl. Steam the rice until tender, which takes about an hour depending on your type of steamer. In a large stock pot, sauté onion, garlic, celery, and carrots in butter until onions are transparent. Add diced raw chicken to the stock pot and sauté. Add 2 cans of chicken broth and water. Boil on medium heat for about 15 minutes, then reduce heat and simmer at least 30 more minutes or until you are certain the chicken is fully cooked and carrots are tender. Just before serving, stir in the steamed rice and can of cream of chicken soup. You will be surprised how much flavor this soup has without adding any additional salt, pepper, or spices. Enjoy!

Kindness of Others

It is humbling to need help. It is very humbling to need lots of help, especially being an independent type of person. This past year I had three major surgeries, each requiring 4 to 6 weeks of "no lifting" recovery. It didn't matter that I had three children under the age of two (twin newborns and a twenty month old). No lifting. period.

We were a family of five living off my husband's income. He had to be able to go to work. We needed lots of help while I recovered. I can't recall ever feeling so helpless and needy. Out of sheer necessity I contacted friends and family.

I learned that when given an opportunity, and when help is really needed, people rarely let you down. I have some amazing women in my life and am glad they are my friends.

When asked for help by someone who genuinely needs me, I hope I am always able to say, "Yes". Helping is inconvenient. Helping requires selflessness and time. Helping is a gift that answers someone's prayer. I am forever grateful for the women who said, "Yes", in my times of need. Although I'd rather give than receive help, I learned valuable life lessons through this experience. I appreciate the kindness of others.

Nap Mat for Toddlers

I wanted Sophie to have a boutique style nap pad to sleep on while attending Mommy's Day Out. I wanted it to be durable and washable, yet soft and comfortable. I purchased a standard fold up Kindermat for about $5 at Walmart. I decided to make a slipcover for the mat which could easily be removed for washing. I used home decor upholstery weight fabric for the side of the cover touching the floor. I used soft brushed cotton fabric for the side Sophie would lay on. I made a matching thin blanket out of the same soft cotton fabric. The slipcover has Velcro closure at the foot end to slip the Kindermat in and out. The mat folds up on itself so the durable floor side doesn't "contaminate" the soft side because the two sides never touch.

Grosgrain ribbon pulled through plastic closure rings holds the nap pad in a closed position. A laminated name tag was attached to the rings. The name tag is removed before washing the nap pad cover.

Sophie takes great naps on this and finds it comfortable. She has a unique and personalized nap pad which she easily identifies amongst her classmates' mats.

"I Want Seconds" Italian Sausage Soup

This soup is so delicious those enjoying it will beg for seconds.

1 pound ground Bulk sweet Italian sausage
1 yellow onion, chopped
10 oz. bag of shredded carrot
3 (14oz) cans of beef or chicken broth. (I used the lower sodium kind)
2 (14.5oz) can diced tomatoes with basil, oregano, and garlic. (I used the no salt added kind)
1 (16oz) can red kidney beans-drained
1 (16oz) can of great northern beans- drained
6 oz (1/2 a box) Bowtie pasta

In a large pot, cook the sausage, onion and carrots together until sausage is browned and crumbles. Stir in the broth, tomatoes and beans. Bring to a boil then reduce heat to med/low and simmer for 20 min. Add the pasta: simmer for 8-10 minutes, or until pasta is tender. Serve with grated Parmesan.

This recipe is my "tweaked" version of a recipe my friend, Angela F., sent me. Thanks, Angela! We eat this soup almost every week!

About 3 Little Chicks' Name

As an elementary school teacher I often used little chick themes. I calmed students' first day jitters by telling them I would care for them like a momma hen cares for her little chicks. I even wore a little chick charm bracelet. Now I am a stay at home mom to my own three little girls. Sophie, Piper, and Riley are my very own three little chicks.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

"And There's Its Buddy"

Shortly after Sophie's first birthday, Judd and I decided to start the in vitro process again. We had two frozen embryos just waiting for us to give them a chance at life. Everything went so smoothly when we did in vitro and had Sophie. Our Sophie embryo was fresh, and these were frozen. Would in vitro work for us this time too? We used both embryos to give us the best chance that one would make it. For the past year I had a framed picture of these embryos on my nightstand. I'd hold the little picture as say, "Momma is coming to get you and bring you home." To me, they were my future kids, not embryos, not blobs.

The clinic did a blood pregnancy blood test about a week after the in vitro process. I had a feeling I was pregnant because I didn't feel well. The phone call came with the test results confirming I was pregnant. The pregnancy hormone level was 97, a perfect number for one healthy embryo. A week later they did another blood test to confirm I was still pregnant. I was, and I felt it. Just a few weeks pregnant, morning sickness was already starting. Yuck!

At my first ultrasound appointment my doctor pointed out the baby's beating heart and little amniotic sac. I pointed to another section of the screen and asked, "What's this?" She replied, "And there's its buddy! There's its beating heart and its amniotic sac."

And time stood still.

"Are you kidding me? Are you kidding me? Are you kidding me?" I kept repeating. There are two?! Yep. Two. Two babies. Two. One, Two. Two…Two. My husband smiled from ear to ear. He was so happy he could not contain himself. I, on the other hand, could not even wrap my brain around it, accept it, or talk about it for five days. Two babies. In me. At the same time. Plus a one year old. Two babies! So much for the "97 hormone level usually means one healthy embryo." Ha! I was not prepared for two. If you've never gone through fertility treatments, perhaps it seems ridiculous not to think one could get pregnant with twins if you placed two embryos in. But, if you understood how small the chances of just one of them working was, let alone both of them, you would understand my shock. It was less than a 10% chance that both embryos would work, so I didn't give a second thought. Eight weeks of nightly shots in the hip completed completed our second successful in vitro experience. Of course, in the end (pun intended), it was all worth it.

This second pregnancy was much harder on me. I battled morning sickness for months and was exhausted from taking care of Sophie. I didn't feel like exercising. I felt miserable. My stomach got so big with the twins. It was mentally and emotionally hard too. At seven months I was so uncomfortable I didn't know how I could possibly make it two more months. I complained all the time. It got to where I couldn't carry Sophie, tie my shoes, sleep, lean over the sink to wash dishes. I felt like I was of very little help around the house. At least I could still watch Sophie, so she didn't have to be in someone else's care.

Six weeks before my due date, Judd and I took Sophie to the park. I felt so bad I just stayed in the car and watched my little girl play for an hour with her daddy. She was having such a good time, and I was miserable. Blah! Later that night, my water broke. We called a friend to come watch Sophie and headed to the hospital. I was having contractions, but not in much pain. I took my time getting my things together and arrived at the hospital about two hours after my water broke. When they examined me they told me I was ready to have the babies, but they needed to confirm both were head down. Unfortunately, baby B (the baby up above) was head up. I would have to have a C-section for both babies. An hour later, at 2:11, Piper Jentry was born and at 2:12, Riley Autumn was born. I just caught a glimpse of them before they whisked them off to the NICU. They were tiny, and six weeks early. They weighed four pounds and eleven ounces and four pounds and seven ounces.