Saturday, March 31, 2012

Fabulous Friday Food - Breakfast Won Tons

I know, I know, it's not technically Friday. Just play along, will you?

Want a quick, easy, make-ahead recipe for when you have out-of-town guests for the weekend? You have GOT to try this one.

As I mentioned last week, my college roommate and her daughter came into town last weekend. We had a blast! It's always great to have them here, and hopefully, in a couple of years, we'll be seeing even more of them when E comes to school here. *fingers crossed*

Anyway, I love creating fun breakfasts when visitors arrive. You don't always know what you'll end up doing for lunch and dinner (although I always have options), but you can pretty much guarantee that everyone will be around for breakfast. I like to offer a little something sweet, a little something savory, and a little fruit. Nothing huge and heavy, but just enough to get us started.

So last weekend I made these beauties that everyone loved. I made the filling a day or two ahead of time and just baked them up in the morning when I needed them. Easy!

You only need four ingredients: sausage, cheese, ranch dressing, and won ton wrappers. You can handle four ingredients, right?

Brown the sausage with a little olive oil.

After the sausage has browned, put it in a bowl to cool just a bit.

Add about a half cup of ranch dressing.

And about a cup and a half of cheese--cheddar/monterrey jack combo.

Mix everything together.

Let me know if you need me to slow down.

At this point you can either transfer the sausage mixture into a plastic container to refrigerate until you need it . . .

. . . or you can bake these puppies up and devour them.

Here's how you bake them.

Take 24 won ton wrappers and carefully shape them into a mini-muffin tray that has been sprayed with cooking spray.

Just kind of smoosh it in, like this.

Put the tray of empty won tons in a 350 degree oven for about 5 minutes until they get slightly brown around the edges.

Now fill the won tons with a teaspoon or two of the sausage mixture.

And bake for another 10-15 minutes, but watch them! They can burn!

You'll know they're done when they are crispy and brown . . . like this.


Now pile them up on a pretty plate . . .

. . . and enjoy!

Note: this recipe actually makes about 48 won tons. I only baked about half of what I had. 

If you want the printable version of this recipe, click here.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Fabulous Friday Food - Cinnamon Coffee Cake

Sorry I'm a day late here with the FFF. Read on and you'll see why.


I often tell my college girl and her friends, "Take a good look at these people because you'll be friends with them for the rest of your life."

They kind of laugh, nervously. They're probably wondering if they really DO want to be friends with these people in 30 years. But they do. They really do.

This weekend, my roommate from college (hey, Jen!) is staying at my house. She brought her daughter for a college visit, which makes me very happy because that means that if her daughter comes here we'll have another girl to look out for (yea!) AND Jen might come visit a little more often (yea! again). This weekend, though, we'll probably drive our kids nuts as we reminisce about all the antics Jen dragged me into when we lived together.

She really was a trouble maker, that one.


It's going to be a fun weekend, and in anticipation of Jen and Ellen's arrival, I've done a little cooking. Yesterday I made some Italian Beef (forgot to take pictures--sorry!), some Sausage Breakfast Cups (recipe next week!), and a coffee cake that is heavenly.

I'm a sucker for sour cream. How about you? Pretty much anything with sour cream in it is amazing in my book. So when I saw that this recipe called for not one, but TWO cups of sour cream--an entire pint!--I knew I couldn't go wrong. (Besides, my mom has made this coffee cake for me, so I've already tasted it and I know it's amazing.)

The best thing about this coffee cake, though, is that, like wine and women, it gets better with age. The longer it sits, the more moist it becomes. So bake it a day or two ahead of time--if you can resist it that long.

Here we go.

Ingredients are pretty basic: butter, sugar, vanilla, eggs, flour, soda, salt, sour cream, cinnamon (duh!), and nuts (walnuts or pecans, whatever you like).

May I give you a little baking tip here? Set out your butter and eggs at least a half an hour, if not an hour ahead of time. Your cake will turn out so much better if you use room temperature butter and eggs. I didn't believe it until recently, but trust me, it's just better. Everything seems to mix together easier.

This is so easy. Just cream together the butter and 2 cups of sugar until they are light and fluffy.

Add the eggs, one at a time, and then the vanilla.

Now, if you don't worry about things like raw eggs (I don't--I eat raw cookie dough all the time), take a little taste of the butter, sugar, eggs, vanilla mixture. Call me crazy, but that's one of my favorite combinations in the world.

(Don't tell anyone at the Food Network. They'll never hire me.)

Moving along.

Sift together the flour, soda, and salt.

Add the dry ingredients alternately with the sour cream. Like this.


Sour cream.

Somewhere I read that you should always start and end with the flour, so that's what I did. Can anyone set me straight on that? Is that right?

Once that's mixed together, combine the cinnamon, nuts, and 3/4 cup sugar. I just used the same bowl as the flour--easier to clean up. And I'm all about the easy clean up.

Put about half the batter into a 10 inch tube pan. Yes, a tube pan. I know it's not as pretty as a bundt pan, but there's just too much batter to use a bundt pan. Sorry, I tried it and it didn't work.

Sprinkle the cinnamon/nut/sugar mixture over the top. If you want to be really fancy, you could do this in 2 or 3 layers, but I'm lazy, so I just put it in the middle.

Then put the rest of the batter on top.

Another baking tip for you. Do you have trouble spreading the top layer because the cinnamon and nuts keep wanting to come through the bits of batter? Use a spreader, like the kind you use for frosting, and spread it very gently. I think it works better.

Bake the cake at 350 for 60-65 minutes. Check it with a toothpick to make sure it's done. Cool for about a half an hour before you remove it from the pan, otherwise you'll have a cakey, gooey mess on your hands.

So there--delicious coffee cake to share with your very own college roommate. Why not call her up and invite her for the weekend?

Here's the printable version if you want it.

Now share. What are YOU doing this weekend?


Thursday, March 22, 2012

Digitally Distracted

This is going to be ugly and humiliating, so have a seat. We might be here a while.

I’ve been thinking a lot about digital distractions lately.

Our campus was hurt recently by some people misusing Twitter. I won’t go into the details, but it was not good, all around. Our president addressed the situation beautifully in chapel, beginning with the concept of digital distraction.

He suggested that chapel is probably not the place to be digitally distracted—it’s meant for more than just a community gathering time. Chapel is worship and worship might just not be the appropriate place for cell phones.

Using the example of a Christmas Eve service he attended, he explained that the gentleman sitting next to him was on his cell phone, checking email or something else, throughout the service. Our president said he didn’t know what to do. He was so distracted that he couldn’t enjoy the worshipful Christmas Eve service that was unfolding before him because of the person sitting next to him.

I’ve had the same experience during one of my daughter’s orchestra concerts. A gentleman walked into the concert late, sat down next to me, and pulled out his cell phone. The bright light emanating from his phone distracted me throughout the concert, ruining the experience entirely.

Both of these experiences have got me thinking (and here’s where things get ugly and humiliating for me)—have I been digitally distracted?

The easy answer to that question is yes. I know I have.

When I close my computer for the night, then immediately pick up my cell phone and start checking emails, I know I have a problem. When I walk in the door and check Facebook updates, I know I have a problem. When I come downstairs in the morning and read emails before I read my Bible, I know I have a problem.

Here are a few thoughts I’ve had recently as God has spoken to my heart about my own digital distractions.

When we are digitally distracted, we hurt people without realizing it. Sometimes we are so consumed by what’s going on inside the screen that we forget to look up and see what’s going on outside of it. I know I have hurt people by my own actions in this area, something that is so humbling to me I can barely stand to write it. I have also been on the receiving end of others’ digital distraction, so I fully understand the hurt I have caused.

If I truly believe that people are more important than things, I need to look up and out, not into a screen.

When we are digitally distracted, we keep ourselves from doing other things we probably should be doing. Like making dinner, hanging curtains, and cleaning out closets. These are just a few things on my to-do list. What does yours look like?

When we are digitally distracted, we keep others from doing what they should be doing. I wonder if my distraction has so consumed the people around me that it distracted them from other things as well. I wonder if I’ve been like that person in church, just checking my phone real quick, and keeping someone from worshiping God as they should.

So I’ve been wondering what I need to change, and I’ve come up with a few ideas.

Be aware. This process has already started for me, and I am so much more aware lately of how I’ve allowed digital distractions to creep into my real life. I understand that there is a time and a place for technology in my life—I couldn’t work or write without it—but there is also a time and a place to put the technology aside.

Look up, not in. I’m going to try, as much as possible, to close my computer when my kids walk in the room. Hey, I’ve got teenagers, and the conversations don’t always happen naturally. Sometimes they just happen when we’re hanging out, undistracted. I know for sure that my kids aren’t going to talk to me if I barely look up when they enter the room. (Another sentence that is slightly painful to write.)

This sounds like such a no-brainer but I need to limit my time on Facebook, Twitter, and Google Reader. Twitter isn’t that much of a distraction for me—I rarely go there, but when I do I can get sucked in. Facebook and Google Reader, though, are complete traps for me. Again, I don’t think any of this is necessarily wrong, and I find it relaxing to read blogs, but if the amount of time I’m spending there feels like too much, it’s too much.

You might be thinking, What’s the big deal? If my kids are on the computer doing homework, why can’t I just be on my computer too? Here’s why I think it’s a big deal: I think our kids take their cues from us, and if they see us sitting in front of a screen all evening, they will think the same is O.K. for them.

But the truth is, we desperately need to get away from it all. We need time and space to just talk or read or think. And being digitally distracted is not going to give us the space to do that.

Like I said, I need my computer to work and to write, but I don’t need my computer as much or as often as I think I do. This week I’m going to try, especially when my family is around, to live in the real world rather than the virtual one. Hopefully my habits will change and I’ll be a better person for it.

Of course, I might find some other things change too. I might find that I don’t need technology as much as I think I do. I might find that those spontaneous conversations actually can and do happen. I might find that I like myself a little more and that the people around me like me better too.

Trust me, this is so convicting to write, but I worry that it’s not just me who is digitally distracted. We’re raising an entire generation of kids who think they cannot survive without being plugged in. (Believe me, I see it every day at work.)

Glennon at Momastery (a fabulous new-to-me blog that I already LOVE) wrote about this recently, and she said this: “Sometimes I have to turn away from the computer so that I can experience life and then come back and write about what I noticed.”

Yes! I need . . . my kids need . . . an entire generation needs to turn away from digital distractions and simply experience LIFE. I want to be the parent who models this because I want my kids to live in the real world.

And want to live there too.

How about you? Have you been digitally distracted? What did you do about it? I’d love to know your thoughts on this.


Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Two Camps (or Yes, Another Weather Post)

Unless you’ve been living in a cave, or overseas, you probably know that we’ve been having an exceptionally warm winter, which, in the past couple of weeks has led to a very early spring. It’s a little unsettling, I have to admit, but I’m thrilled.

 Heck, if this were June I’d be thrilled.

We’re breaking all kinds of records right now. Birds and small children are confused. I’ve been sweating profusely for days, and humidity is winning the battle over my hair.

And somewhere Al Gore is sipping a Manhattan, his feet propped up on a leather ottoman, laughing.

This is crazy weather.

I’ve noticed over the past few days, with all of this weather-craziness, that there are two kinds of people: those who see these warm, sunny days as a kiss from God, and those who are waiting for the mid-April blizzard.

I’m in the first camp. I blithely reach for a short-sleeved blouse as I get dressed for work. I happily stroll across campus, basking in the warmth radiating from the sidewalk. I even stop to take pictures of the flowering trees; I’m so taken aback by their early beauty.

And even though I do have fleeting moments of wondering what all this early budding will mean a couple of months from now—will we have flowers in May if they all bloom now?—I don’t really care. I’m simply enjoying every blissfully broken record that comes my way.

 My husband, on the other hand, is in the other camp. Every day he announces (with some sense of authority, I might add) that this cannot possibly last and there’s no way spring could come this early and we haven’t seen the end of things yet.

Two camps. Two ways of looking at things. Two entirely different perspectives.

He says po-tay-to (with a strong Chicago accent!); I say po-tah-to. (Not really, but you get the idea.)

And that’s pretty much how things go around here. We’ll wait this one out to see who’s right.

How about you? Are you blithely enjoying the warmer weather? Or are you getting your snow shovel ready?


Friday, March 16, 2012

Fabulous Friday Food - Lemon Squares

Well, my friends, you've asked. . . . and asked. . . . and asked.

I cannot tell you how fun cool interesting it is to me that you actually like my recipes and want more. So, because you asked, I'm bringing back Fabulous Friday Food.

For one week, anyway.

No guarantees as to what next week will bring.

Who do you think I am, the Pioneer Woman?

I wish.

Anyway, a couple of weeks ago I shared a little meme which asked the question, "When life hands me lemons I make . . ." to which I answered, "Lemon squares, of course!"

Now, lemons, to me, are not a bad thing. In fact, lemons are good things. They are juicy and tart and bright yellow. Lemons remind me of the sun. Which is what makes this post fitting for this week because we have had SUN! Lots and lots of sun. In fact, we've broken records this week for bright, sunny, WARM March days (all oxymorons, of course).

A couple of you asked me to share a recipe for lemon squares after that meme, so, to re-inaugurate (is that even a word?) Fab Friday Food and to celebrate the warm, lemony sunshine we've been having, I'm giving you my recipe.

Except you have to know something--it's not my recipe. I use Emeril's recipe which you can find here. I've tried a whole bunch of lemon square recipes over the years, and I really do think this one is the best.

You have to know one more thing, too. I looked back to see when I last did a Fabulous Friday Food post (June, 2011--yikes!), and do you know what I posted? (Why would you?) It was Amy's Lemon Cake. Isn't that weird? I think that's weird. I also think I have a thing for lemons.

So are you ready? Here we go! Get your ovens ready because we're making lemon squares.

As always, assemble your ingredients (this really does save time). Lemons (duh!), butter, flour, sugar, eggs, baking powder, salt, and powdered sugar. Simple, huh?

First you have to make the crust, and the easiest way to do this is in the food processor. Just dump in the butter, flour, and powdered sugar and give it a whirl.

Ten pulses or so ought to do it.

Your mixture should look like cornmeal or slightly larger.

Put the crust mixture into a parchment lined 9x13 inch baking pan . . .

. . . and pat it down so the crust is evenly distributed in the pan.

Put this in the oven.

While the crust is baking, make the filling by combining the granulated sugar, eggs, lemon zest, lemon juice, salt, and baking powder. (Are you still with me? This is so easy I thought you might have nodded off there for a minute.)

When the crust has baked, it should be slightly brown. Like this.

Pour the filling over the warm crust. Emeril says that if you add the filling while the crust is still warm it will set up better. Emeril is smart.

Now bake this.

When it's finished it should look like this.

Once your lemon squares have cooled completely, dust the entire thing with powdered sugar. Cut into generous squares and enjoy with a cold glass of milk . . .

. . . on a nice, warm, sunny lemony day.

If you want a printable copy of this recipe, click here: Lemon Squares.

Now, talk to me. Do you really want more recipes? 'Cause I've got 'em if you want 'em. Just let me know in the comments. It's all for you, my friends. All for you.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Guinea Pigs

This kid?

She's a nut. 

But I love her very much.

With my whole heart, in fact.

She’s our oldest. Our first born. We brought her home from the hospital without a clue in the world how to care for her. Or how to parent her—at all, let alone well.

We’ve made many mistakes along the way, and sometimes we’ve just had to throw up our hands and say, “Sorry. You’re our guinea pig. We don’t know how to do this.”

Over the past 20 years there have been a lot of firsts with her. First to play piano. First to walk to school by herself. First to get a job. First to play a sport and first to quit a sport. First to go to college. . . .

You get the idea.

And with each of those firsts we’ve had to decide how, as her parents, we were going to handle each scenario as it came along. Sometimes the decisions were easy; other times not so much.

Last week, we hit another first, and this was probably the hardest first yet. Because last week, B and I became the guinea pigs, heading into parenting territory yet unknown.

As she and her friends began planning their spring break, Kate asked us if they could borrow our my van to drive to Florida.

*huge gulp*

Yes, that’s right. She actually had the NERVE to ask if she could take my van to Florida. My van! To Florida!

Some of you reading might just stop right there and say, “Um, no. Not happening. Not in my lifetime. Find another way to get to Florida.”

But we had a couple of things standing in our way.

First, we had precedent. See, when B was a sophomore in college, he and a friend took his parents’ station wagon to Florida for the week. They drove around, visited his grandparents, hung out on beaches, AND THEY SLEPT IN THE CAR! They went much farther into Florida than our daughter wanted to go, . . . AND THEY SLEPT IN THE CAR!

At least the girls had the good sense to rent a house.

But the second thing we had to consider was our philosophy. I’ve written about it before, but basically we are raising our girls to not need us.  I know that sounds terrible to some, foreign to others, and totally frightening to most, but our hope is to train them to be responsible, mature adults who can handle life independently of us. And we’re training ourselves, slowly, along the way, to let go gracefully.

(O.K., forget the gracefully part. That hardly ever happens. But we ARE trying to train ourselves to let go.)

So, taking into account precedent (I blame B’s parents for that one!) and our philosophy, we felt like we couldn’t say no. Well, we could have said no, but then we’d be kind of hypocritical, wouldn’t we?

Of course, there were some in our family who thought that our decision to let our daughter take a 16 hour road trip in our family car was . . . shall we say . . . irresponsible

And maybe it was.

Maybe if the trip had turned out differently, if something terrible had happened, we would have regretted our decision and called ourselves irresponsible for the rest of our lives. I don’t know. What I do know is that we stayed true to what we believe about our kids: they need to be trusted to make good decisions, to be allowed to explore the world, and to grow up. All without their parents’ constant companionship.

So we became the guinea pigs, making a tough parenting call--one that left us biting our fingernails and checking our phones for most of the week. Thanks be to God, the girls (eight girls in two cars) made the trip safely.

We did entrust them into His care last week, but really, we have to do that every day of their lives, don’t we? 

Let's talk. What do you think? Were we irresponsible parents to let our daughter drive to Florida last week? When have you felt like a guinea pig as a parent?

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Is It Really Here???

Enlighten me, please.

It's March, right? Not May?

Because here's what I saw this afternoon.

Rumor has it that robins have been sighted.

And the happy shouts of children outside surely seem to indicate that something is afoot.

Crocuses are popping up everywhere.

My front door even greets you with its own tribute.

And these?

These beauties were sent to me by a friend and are now perfuming my entire house with their glorious scent.

I'm an optimist. After looking at the weather forecast for the week and seeing temperatures in the 70s every day, I'm starting to think it's here.

Spring has sprung!

How about you? Are you an optimist, like me? Or are you waiting for one last blast of winter?