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I love Halloween. I love the dressing up and taking my kids to see all the neighbors.  It’s just plain fun. There is only one drawback. All that blasted candy.

A few years ago, we bought our first house. It was the first time neighborhood kids would come to our house trick or treating. I went all out, buying two huge bags of candy. This was the good stuff: Snickers, Reese’s, Almond Joys, everything. It was a week or two before Halloween and I stashed the candy in my pantry. A few days later, ahem, or that same day, I opened the bag, you know, to have one or two. Yeah, before I knew it both bags (BOTH BAGS!) were gone. How on earth did that happen? I had to go buy more candy to give out. The problem? My child went trick or treating and back into my house came another big bag’s worth of candy.  I wish I could say that we savored that candy, and ate it over a few months’ time, but no.

That was the last time I ever gave out candy at Halloween.

Since then I have read how sugar negatively affects our body. No one should be eating the amount of sugar that we all do.

So now I give out stuff that isn’t candy. Guess what! The kids love it. I did an experiment this year at a trunk or treat. I gave the kids a choice between sticky hands or candy (the good stuff). By the end of the night, I went through 140 sticky hands and only 8 pieces of candy.

Another positive about giving out non-food items is they don’t go bad. No one has to eat the leftovers, and I keep mine to give out the next year.

The hit this year was the finger lights. The kids LOVED them. I would turn the lights on and put them on their fingers. It made them easy to see in the dark.

People are also concerned that not giving out candy might be lame, but really the kids love it. I got this text the day after Halloween. That same day, I had two separate groups of kids come to my door cause they had heard I gave out cool stuff.

Getting non-candy items takes a few days planning because I order mine online, but I am sure a party store would have the same stuff. People ask me if it is expensive. It is about the same price as the fun size candy bars and it is way longer lasting. Kids only expect to get one item this way. I am never tempted to give out handfuls, and you can save the extra until year.  Some items are more expensive than others, so you just have to decide what you want to do.

1.       Finger Lights– By far the biggest hit of the night! 17¢ a piece

2.       Sticky Hands 9¢ a piece

3.       Bouncy balls 7¢ a piece

4.       Play Dough – A more expensive option 46¢ a piece

5.       Flying Frogs 33¢ a piece

6.       Pencils 10¢ a piece- Bought at Walmart

7.       Spider Rings Left over from last year. Bought at Walmart. I think they were about 3¢ a piece

8.       Bracelets- Also bought at Walmart last year. I think 5¢ a piece

9.       Foam Gliders 17¢ a piece

10.   Slap Bracelets 26¢ a piece

11.    Book Marks  27¢ a piece

As a comparison, chocolate fun size candy can average between 14 to 25¢ a piece.

Let me know if you have any other ideas on what it give out for Halloween. Enjoy!

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In my photos of of half a loaf. I used the other half to make rolls for soup. Gauge accordingly.

Blueberry Lemon Swirl Rolls

Single loaf bread recipe of your choice

My sourdough recipe is posted at the end of this post.

Filling:

4 C Blueberries (I use frozen)

Zest of 1 Lemon

2 tbs Sugar

2 tbs flour

 Glaze:

Juice and zest of one lemon

1 C Powdered Sugar

1 tbs softened butter (optional)

Heat blueberries, zest, and sugar in saucepan. Boil five minutes while mashing berries.  Wisk in flour and bring to boil.  Cool in refrigerator.

Divide dough in half. Roll each piece into roughly a 12 x 16 rectangle. Divide filling and spread evenly over dough.  Spread close to every edge, except one long edge. On that edge leave a 1 ½  inch margin. Roll opposite long edge to margin and pinch seam closed.  Use thread or unflavored dental floss to slice into 1 ½ inch rolls. Place in 9 x 16 cake. Let rise until double. Preheat oven to 350°. Bake 15-20 minutes.  Cool slightly.

Wisk together lemon, zest, sugar, and butter. Drizzle over warm rolls.

Whole Wheat Sourdough  Bread

½ C Natural Leaven or sourdough

1 C warm water

1 tsp. salt

2 tbsp. honey

1 tsp. active dry yeast

2 tbs. coconut oil (can substitute olive oil or butter)

3-4 C Flour (I use whole wheat)

Use natural yeast/sourdough that has been fed recently, has doubled in volume, and is bubbly. Mix natural yeast/sourdough, water, salt, honey, active dry yeast, and coconut oil in mixer. Add 3 cups flour a cup at a time. Add flour a little bit at a time until dough cleans the sides of the bowl. Dough should be sticky. Continue kneading for 10 minutes. Place in oiled bowl, cover, and put in warm place. Let raise 6-24 hours. Form into loaves, pita, rolls,  doughnuts, or cinnamon rolls. Let raise until double. Bake

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Fall must be on its way, cause all I want to eat is soup. Not that it is really quite cold enough for soup, yet.  This recipe is my Grandmother’s and one I remember loving as a child. I have changed only a few things from her recipe. Ultimate comfort food.

 

Potato Pea Soup

1 tbs. olive oil

½ Onion (finely chopped)

3-4 Potatoes (mine were very large so I used 3) cut into ½ – 1 inch squares

½ tsp. salt

½ c Flour

1 C Half and half (can use Fat Free)

Salt and Pepper to taste

2 cups frozen green peas(or as much as you want)

In large sauce pan, brown onions in olive oil. Add potatoes. Fill the pan with water so that it covers potatoes by one inch. Boil potatoes until almost tender. Do not drain potatoes. Whisk flour and one cup water from pot until smooth. Add mixture and half and half to pot. Heat to boiling, making sure not to scorch the bottom.  Add peas, and heat all the way through.

Let me know what you think!

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In my Bountiful Basket (a vegetable/fruit co-op that is akin to Russian Roulette) on Saturday I received Fennel. As in Fennel. Uhh, Fennel? I didn’t even know what it was. I had to spend fifteen minutes online to just figure out what the vegetable was.  Apparently it is a licorice flavored bulb. Yes, you read that right, licorice flavored. Cut that baby open and the smell will hit you in the face. I fully admit I have received this same vegetable from Bountiful Baskets before, and it rotted in the bottom of my refrigerator. I wasn’t even sorry to see it go when I threw it out. Here is what it look like.

I was determined this would not happen again, so I did a little research before I came up with a recipe. Soup. It is hard to mess of soup, but licorice flavored soup? I didn’t know how it would work, but it tasted delicious. When I told my husband what was in the soup he was eating he said, “Wow! It is like you took everything that nobody wants to eat, and blended into a soup.” Thanks, babe. He said it tasted good but, “smelled funny.” At least he is honest.

My six year old son absolutely loved it. If I would have showed him the whole vegetables and told him to eat them, he would have run from the room screaming. But for some reason when they are bended up, he loves it. I can’t blame him. I don’t love the texture of most veggies.  I do have a secret weapon when it comes to getting my kids to eat blended vegetable soups. This baby right here.

 

Really, what kid doesn’t want to eat all the letters? I just cook these up and mix them in his bowl and wha-la! Instantly kid friendly.

Don’t be daunted by the massive list of ingredients. This is the kind of soup you can just use what you have. If you are missing some of the vegetables, don’t stew… oh no…

Fall Soup

1 C  red lentils

1 butternut squash

1 onion

2-3 cloves garlic

1 fennel bulb

2 C cabbage

1 apple, cored

2 celery stocks

1 C cauliflower

2 cans Vegtable or chicken stock

2 C Water

Fresh Basil to taste

Fresh Sage to taste

Salt and Pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 400°. Chop vegetables. Place roast for 40 minutes or until lightly browned. Place in crockpot. Add water, vegetable stock, and lentils. Cover and cook on low for 6- 8 hours or on high for 4 hours. In blender or with immersion blend vegetables and broth with basil, sage, salt and pepper. Serve hot or cold.

Other possible vegetables are potatoes, carrots, white green beans, red/yellow/orange bell peppers. I avoid green vegetables because my kids more readily eat red or orange blended soups opposed to green.

A few tips-

I cooked the butternut squash in the crock pot the day before. Not that it necessary, but it is easy to get the meat out when it is cooked, and the crockpot is an easy way. You can just peel and dice the butternut squash instead.

If you work, roast the veggies the night before, throw everything in the crockpot in the morning, and enjoy for dinner.

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This morning I made these Blueberry Scones. The problem with making yummy food, is I then want to eat it all… by myself. I sent one of these in my son’s school lunch. When I went to pick him up he said, “Mom! That blueberry thing I had for lunch was amazing. I loved it more than anything. Well… I love you the most and then that blueberry thing.” He asked me if I could make more, today!

Unfortunately, I am out of blueberries so it will have to wait.

Sourdough Blueberry Scones

(Altered from the recipe over at Feasting at Home- linky)

Ingredients

Sponge:

1 1/3 cup room temperature sourdough starter (mine is 3 parts water to two parts flour)

1 egg

1/3 C luke-warm water

2 1/2 cups whole wheat flour

Scones:

2 C frozen blue berries
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup cold butter, cut eight pieces and one down the middle to make 16
lemon zest of one lemon

Glaze:

Juice from one lemon

1 Cup powdered Sugar

Dissolve sourdough in water. Mix in flour and egg, cover, and let sit on counter for six-eight hours. Mixture will be very stiff. Line 8 inch pie plate, round cake pan, or square cake pan, and with plastic wrap. Layer blueberries on bottom of the pan, on plastic wrap. Mix salt, baking powder, baking soda, lemon zest, and sugar in separate, small bowl. Place sponge and sugar mixture in mixer or food processor for twenty seconds. Add divided butter and mix into dough. Mix until just combined. You may still have little chunks of butter, and that is ok. With wet hands, press over blueberries, filling in all the cracks. Cover with plastic wrap and place in freezer for four hours, or overnight.

Preheat oven to 400f. Remove from freezer. Pull plastic wrap to remove from pan, (I used a little warm water on the bottom to loosen.) Let sit on counter for 15-20 minutes to thaw slightly, until able to cut. Cut into pie shaped wedges (with round pans) or squares (for square pan). Bake 20 minutes or until golden brown.

While baking, prepare glaze. Juice lemon. In small saucepan heat lemon in sugar until sugar is just dissolved. Drizzle over warm scones. Enjoy!

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Baking and cooking is something I have always loved. As a child I went through a phase where I wanted to be a chef. I had to serve all the plates at our family meals, and I always arranged the food as beautifully as possible. Waiting tables for years to pay my way through college dispelled romantic notions about being a chef, but I never lost my love of making good food.

The only problem is I am kind of a nutter when it comes to what I make. I use only 100% whole wheat (or other whole grains) flour from grains I fresh grind– with a machine not with a mortal and pestle or something. I also use natural yeast (AKA sour dough) to break down the nutrients in wheat to make it easier for our body to digest. I make sprouted lentil spaghetti and today I threw blended walnuts in the taco meat. So if you find some of the recipes a bit on the strange side, you’ll know why.

Even though some of the things I make might seem a little strange, they always taste good. I am going to put up some of the recent things I have made so if you find one you like, let me know!

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I met “Jack” at my very first Parisian Anonymous meeting. Of course it is so much easier to write about someone else’s problems, so I will tell you about his story instead of my own, although the two seem remarkable similar. So don’t worry, Jack gave me permission to tell his story, and I have changed the names to protect the innocent.

A few years back Jack, who was born and raised in Montana, discovered something, something his mother tried to hide from him. He was a quarter French poodle. I know what you are thinking, “There is nothing wrong with being a quarter French poodle.” And in this day and age, there isn’t. But his grandmother was raised near a fire station, and back then poodles were thought to be much too delicate for any kind of real work, and were meant only to be fawned over by the rich. She wanted to work and be active, you see, so she made up some other background, and happily rode around on the back of the fire truck until the end of her days.

Well, it wasn’t until Jack was out walking his human Barb and a neighbor came to ask what poodle mix he was that Jack ever had any inkling of his true identity. Barb agreed he did have French poodle blood, and the two went on their way.

“You seem pretty distracted today, boy,” Barb said they played fetch that night. “Are you tired?” But he wasn’t tired. He just couldn’t believe what he had heard. Jack went on with his normal life for a long time, but always his identity ate at the back of him mind.

His human started dating some guy, and Jack didn’t really care for him.  He did everything he could to impress Barb. Barb is really into fine wines, and this guy didn’t have the nerve to tell her he didn’t like them, so instead of telling the truth, he would dump his wine into Jack’s dog drink bowl. Jack owned to me that he never liked the wine either, but it wasn’t long before he could name all the wines his human had.

Soon he was having wine tasting parties with his friends. But since they kept waking his human, they decided to hold the parties outside after dark, when all the humans had gone to sleep.  So they met at several houses around the neighborhood, ate baguettes, tasted wine, and even on occasion tried to paint. It was about this time, Jack discovered Amazon, the shopping website, not the rainforest. He bought a beret with the one click shopping, and since it arrived while his human was a work, she was not the wiser. She must not check her credit card, because soon he was ordering anything French he could get his hands on, from soap to pastries. And Jack, for a dog, had exceptionally refined tastes. He blamed it on his poodle blood.

Barb noticed something was amiss when Jack wouldn’t leave the house without a scarf, but she thought it might just be a phase.

Barb was scheduled to go out of town on business when Jack tried his biggest online purchase yet. He actually booked a flight to Paris. Of course a purchase like that couldn’t be ignored. Barb confronted Jack. The guilt had been eating him for months and he came clean, even showing Barb where he had buried his I Love Paris shirt and bottles of perfume in the back yard.

He attended Parisian Anonymous group the next week where we met.

We became fast friends, but I could tell he was not happy. His just felt like his real place was somewhere else, and in his heart he knew that his place was in Paris.

One night, Jack called frantically saying we needed to talk. We met up for a heart to heart chat at a local coffee shop. Of course he got a tiny espresso, while I contented myself with a delectable pastry with tiny curls of chocolate on top.

“I think it is time for me to leave,” Jack said, stirring his steaming cup with a spoon.  “I have to go there.” I didn’t even have to ask where “there” was.

“Jack, you know you can never be one of them,” I said. “You can never truly be Parisian. They will despise you for trying.”

“I know,” Jack said, “But I have to try.”

“What about Barb?”

“Oh Barb, ” Jack sighed peering out the misty windows,  “I will always love her, but she will soon forget all about me.” I shook my head in disbelief. How could anyone forget Jack? But he seemed determined.

We said our goodbyes and I let him walk out the door, his scarf blowing gently in the fall breeze.

Sometimes, even now, I miss him so much my stomach hurts. It’s just not the same to throw a ball when there is no one to bring it back to you.  I know Barb misses him to, but she did move on. She got herself a cute Schnauzer puppy. Maybe she learned her lesson about poodles.

But I know he is happy. About once a month he sends me a picture of him standing in front of the Louvre or the Eiffel Tower or some other ancient or wonderful part of the past and he looks happy. He found where he was meant to be. And he is always wearing a scarf.

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So it has been two years since I was diagnosed with Lymphoma, specifically mine is a cancer of the white blood cells. The diagnosis came exactly one week after my 28th birthday. I wrote the following a few weeks after the diagnosis, when the pain, anger, and frustration were still keen and fresh. Since then, my attitude towards my cancer has changed, probably because I have responded well to treatments, but I thought you might like to see what I wrote in the days following that afternoon in the Doctor’s office. Although my attitude towards my cancer has become more positive, the love I have for people and my desire to live with no regrets has not. I will always view time as the most valuable currency.

How Being Diagnosed with Cancer Changed Me

Every second I rock my six month old baby to sleep is precious. I look into his face and wonder, “Will I ever see him walk? Will I hear his first word? Kick a ball? Drive a car?” I don’t know.

Those 20 minutes of snuggling with my four year old before bed used to seem so long, with so many other things that need to be done, but now it feels so short. He asks me why I cry. Instead of telling him I say, “I love you. Don’t ever forget how much I love you.”

Every tear my husband has shed since the diagnosis is pain and a comfort in one. Every touch feels like the first time.

The people I love very most in my life become more real because death becomes more real.  I never know when someone I love will be snatched away.  At the same time they feel more distant because you are in a cancer box that no one can understand until they are in that box too, and you really don’t want that to happen to anyone else.

Every day is now tainted by cancer.  As I do every day things like cutting vegetables or doing laundry, I hear the words, “I have cancer, I have cancer,” over and over ringing in my ears.  When I used to go to sleep at night I would think about my day and my kids and my love, but now I think about cancer.

Past memories that used to be free of cancer are now tainted by the realization that the cells in my body had already begun the process of trying to kill me.

I hate driving by those Inspirational Cancer billboards on the road because it just reminds me even more that I have cancer, as if I forgot.

Every second becomes valuable.  Wasting time doing things of no consequence is not an option.

I feel betrayed by my own body.  I consider myself very healthy, eating well and working out and I have had my fair share of obscure and difficult health issues.  But none of them feel like the betrayal this does. My own cells, the cells that make up my entire body have turned on me and become malignant.

I didn’t want to tell even my closest friends, because I don’t want them to worry and somehow if they know it becomes more real.  Also, I don’t want them to think of me differently.  I don’t want to be fragile.  And I definitely don’t want anyone to tell me they are sorry or ask me if I need anything. I don’t need your sympathy.

It changes my whole body image.  Suddenly that ten pounds of baby weight I need to lose becomes trivial.

It makes me think differently about heath care.  Everyone deserves the chance to receive lifesaving medical care.  No one deserves to die the slow and painful death of cancer or any other disease because they can’t afford medicine, in this country or around the world.

It makes me so grateful that I live in a day and age where cancer is treatable where it is not a death sentence.

It makes me thank my Heavenly Father every day that he put people in my path so I could get diagnosed in the early stages of this disease.

It makes me even more grateful for all the blessings I have been given.

It makes me grateful for the decisions I have made in the past to put the things that I really think are important first.  I have no regrets about my life decisions.

Being diagnosed with cancer has given me hope and love: hope for the future and love for the present.

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The first push of the pedals. The adjusting of gears. Already my body anticipates the adrenalin.  I hit that first downhill slope and can’t help but smile. The air sings in my ears and I am free, falling and flying at the same time. My legs pump against the trail, moving the tires through sand, dust, and pebbles. Up ahead the road narrows. I hit the breaks to squeeze through a broken boulder. My back tire skids through the sandy trail, stopping only inches from the twenty foot cliff to my left.

My pedal scrapes the side of the boulder as I pass. I hit my pedals hard, pushing to the next pinnacle only to fly down and push up the next and the next. Sweat drips down my face, mixing dust with salt.

The setting sun reflects on my sunglasses, and for a split second I am blind. I hope this isn’t that moment I have had so many times before, when I hit something, anything wrong, and my bike stops and I keep going.

But we do keep going. For miles I see just the few feet in front of my bike as we fly by at inhuman speed. Every breath brings a surprise: sagebrush, pine, dust, and some floral scent I can’t place. The wind whistling through my helmet is masked by my labored breathing and the sound of the chain pushing through the gears.

I’m tired. But I can’t stop. Every uphill mocks me. It laughs at my fatigue. Every time I can’t quite make it up a hurdle of rock, or when I second guess myself when jumping a two foot cliff. My exhaustion makes me reckless, dangerous, and I know I should step back, slow down. But I don’t. I can’t.

I scream with my legs, “I am not weak. I am strong.” The trail has no choice but to believe me as I speed by.

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This last week I started an MFA in Writing Popular Fiction from Seton Hill University. Talk about the most overwhelming week I have ever experienced.  It is a low residence master’s program so students travel to campus twice a year for an intensive week of courses and then the rest of the program is online.

The program is perfect for me in so many ways, with its low residence calendar and focus on genre fiction. My mentor is the amazing, fantastic, wonderful author (oh, no, am I gushing again?) Maria V. Snyder.

So what’s with the Imposter Syndrome? Well my brother said they addressed Imposter Syndrome in his MFA program at UW. They said everyone has it, and after you realize that you can all get on with learning. Even being aware or Imposter Syndrome, I was surprised at how paralyzing it is. For the first few days I was there, I kept thinking in my typical brutally honest fashion, “What am I doing here, with all these amazing people, all these great writers. I am just a stay a home mom who couldn’t stop thinking about writing, and foolishly decided waste a whole bunch of time pursuing it.” Ouch.  I fully understand how destructive this kind of thinking is, but knowing something isn’t the same as doing it.

As a part of the residency we submit ten pages and ten other students critique our submission, and we critique other student’s submissions.  I had received the following e-mail a few days before residency from someone who read my submission, and it was the only thing that kept me from either throwing up (wow, TMI, Erica) or breaking down, sobbing.

Welcome to Seton Hill!

I’m a “5” – and I also had the pleasure of critiquing your submission. I wanted to drop you a note and let you know how much I enjoyed your piece. As a writer, editor and English teacher (and wife of a professor), I’ve read thousands of essays/stories/poems and it’s not often that I encounter a natural-born writer. I don’t know what your writing background entails, but you have a gift – a rare ability to craft lush and descriptive scenes and believable characters in a way I’ve rarely (if ever) encountered in a “one”. I can’t remember the last time I had to read through a piece several times to find anything substantial to critique!

I’m looking forward to meeting you in a few days!

I think this is the nicest thing anyone has ever said to me. It was funny though because even after she wrote me this, I thought, “Oh no, she doesn’t know this is literally my fourteen draft of my chapter, and it is nothing like how it started.” I even heard the word “imposter” in my head as I read her words.

I learned so many things at residency that I will be blogging about in the future, but the first valuable aspect I learned was about kindness and building others instead of tearing them down. It didn’t cost this woman anything to write me these kind words, but they were very affective. With all the negative energy in this world, I want to be a source of positive strength that builds up others instead of tearing them down.

Lest you get the wrong idea, I don’t need to be coddled when it comes to people reading what I write. My piece got ripped to shreds in critique session with honest criticism and I enjoyed every minute. It was truly amazing and enlightening. Knowing what is wrong makes revisions easier and worth the work.

That being said, a little kindness goes a long way, and I am glad I didn’t throw up or cry on top of all the other embarrassing things I said and did.

 

 

 

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