Tuesday, December 25, 2012

christmas wishes

merry christmas, from our homes to yours.

may your days be merry and bright.

Monday, December 24, 2012

mmmmm, mondays: bacon and swiss quiche

i love special breakfasts on christmas morning...or christmas eve morning. i love having an extra moment to spend with my family in the midst of the holiday chaos. this year i threw together a new quiche and it turned out amazing. it is just as good reheated the next day and my kids devoured it both the first and second time around. need a new special meal for your family? try quiche for breakfast.

bacon and swiss quiche

one pastry single pie crust (i either buy one frozen or refrigerated. there is no   
      need to make something that is just as good purchased.)

5 eggs, beaten

1 1/2 cups half & half (or whole milk)

1/2 cup sliced green onions

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon pepper

1/8 teaspoon nutmeg

8 slices bacon, cooked until crunchy and crumbled into pieces

1 1/2 cups shredded swiss cheese

1 tablespoon all-purpose flour

prepare the pastry for a single-crust pie and place in a pie tin. crimp the edges as desired. line the pastry with aluminum foil and bake at 450 degrees for 8 minutes. remove from oven. 

heat oven to 325 degrees. in a medium bowl, mix all remaining ingredients well with a wire whisk. pour egg mixture into prepared pastry shell. bake at 325 degrees for 45 minutes. let stand ten minutes before serving. 

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

non-traditional christmas gifts

my grandmother has a miserable combination of dementia and alzheimer's. there are some days when one part of her memory is off and other days when her brain is affected by the other disease. it's rough going. she doesn't know who i am. if she gets something new, she does not understand what is happening. she will usually declare that it is not hers and promptly give it to someone else. in her mind, everyday she eats new things because she can't remember ever eating it before. she meets new people...everyone including her family is a stranger. some days my grandpa is still alive and is just out running errands. those days are great ones. 

i love my grandmother and i remember her heart and mind the way she used to be. if you haven't read it yet, read "my life in quilts" to know a piece of my life where my grandmother is concerned. 

i want to honor her at christmas but i know that regular gift giving is out of the question. my husband's grandmother is suffering in a similar way so traditional gifts for her have become difficult. to find a ways to both honor our grandmothers and perpetuate their heritage, i'm giving them the gift of giving and donating in their names to some of my favorite charities. this is perfect for someone for whom a traditional gift is no longer feasible. beyond that, it is something i'm doing for my kids as well. let's face it...our kids probably get enough gifts at christmas to last the year through. i can certainly substitute one of their toys for food for a child somewhere else in the world to keep them from starving. again, even at their little ages, they are filled consumed with "first world problems". i'll take any opportunity possible to start to change their world focus.

in case you are looking for something non-traditional to give for christmas, here are my favorite charities to support, not only at christmas but the whole year through.

compassion international

my husband and i both sponsored kids with compassion before we were married. since then we have continued that tradition together. we have pictures of our little sponsored kids on the refrigerator and my kids ask about them all the time. they are surrogate members of our family. for $38.00 a month, you can give a little one a better chance to live without struggling for basic necessities. there are so many kids that need help.  sponsorship can start during christmas and continue the whole year through. 

world help

this organization has so many ways to give. you can buy school uniforms, wheelchairs, clean water, food, animals, bibles, anything that suits your desire to give. visit their "gifts of hope" link for dozens of great ideas. looking for something unique for your family? they also have a link to buy gifts created in third world countries to support their local incomes. it's a win for everyone involved.

for unique christmas gifts from third world countries:

samaritan's purse

i love samaritan's purse. i love their "operation christmas child." we participate in giving the christmas boxes every year and i love involving my kids in the shopping and stuffing for other children. beyond the christmas boxes, samaritan's purse offers dozens of other cool christmas gifts. buy hot meals, milk, fruit trees, build a house, and everything in between. if you have the means, you can even pay to fly a child to receive heart surgery. their line up of gifts is extensive. find something to give to honor a loved one today.

heifer international

these are great for christmas because it is a simple, one time gift. give a flock of chicks for $20.00. rabbits, honeybees, geese, a piece of a cow, anything could help a family survive and thrive for years to come. 

whichever way you choose to give, you cannot go wrong when you think of others and remember how privileged we are. we are so blessed. christmas is a great time to take time to bless others and to teach our children to do the same. my grandmother was a generous giver. this is the perfect way to honor her legacy. how about you? do you have someone you could honor today?

Monday, December 17, 2012

mmmmm, mondays: chocolate covered pretzels

my kids love little christmas treats. let's be honest. i do too. december is usually not a month that is big in the weight loss category in my house.

anyway, i love to make chocolate covered pretzels for the kiddos. they are so easy and they will last several days. grab your ingredients and go!

chocolate covered pretzels

one bag old fashioned dipping sticks

one bag milk chocolate chips

one bag white chocolate chips

christmas sprinkles (any kind)

melt one bag of chocolate in a microwave safe bowl. start by microwaving it for one minute. mix well. return the chocolate to the microwave in 15 second intervals, stirring each time, until the chocolate is a melted, smooth consistency.

dip each pretzel into the chocolate using a spoon to coat all but one tip. place covered pretzel on a wax paper lined cookie sheet. 

sprinkle with various holiday decorations. let cool at room temperature until set. 

remove from wax paper and share. repeat the process for the white chocolate covered pretzels and you're set! enjoy!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

the fall of the elf on the shelf

i had the highest aspirations this year. i was going to be one of those crazies who has a plan for what "charlie", our elf, will do each night. i scoured pinterest. i made lists. i was organized. i even had a pretty good run. charlie was more creative than ever. i felt like a rock star.

here are some of my efforts. trust me, you'll want to save your applause until the end.

i was pretty proud of myself. i thought i was the toast of elfing mothers everywhere. 

then i got busy...and tired...and sadly forgot all of my best laid plans. the kids didn't seem too upset...until i found this note from my daughter in our office.

in case you had trouble reading it, it says: "dear santa clause, please ask our elf to move to a different place? it has been three days and he still hasn't moved. from addalynne. to santa."

yep. greatest letter ever. sadly, that is my favorite thing that has come from the elf on the shelf this year. i did move him after this...but i think i set my own standards for charlie a little too high. there was no where to go but down. so sorry, charlie. better luck next year. 

Monday, December 10, 2012

mmmmm, mondays: heavenly fudge

i'm going to be real here. fudge is my holiday weakness. i could eat an entire tray of it myself. it's one of those treats my grandmother used to make for me and it holds not only value for its deliciousness but sentimental value as well. honestly, any dessert that consists almost entirely of chocolate, butter and sugar is probably on my top ten list. this recipe is simple and delicious. my five year old has helped with the stirring process the last two years and it turns out amazing. looking for something to share with your neighbors? this just may be the dessert for you.

heavenly fudge

1 1/2 cups butter

6 cups sugar (yep...you read that right!)

1 1/3 cup evaporated milk (a little less than one 12 ounce can)

2 packages (12 ounces each) semi-sweet chocolate chips (use chocolate chips 
         and not baker's chocolate.) 

2 (7 oz.) jars of marshmallow cream

2 teaspoons vanilla

melt the butter in a large saucepan. add the sugar and the evaporated milk and mix. bring the mixture to a rolling boil over medium-high heat, stirring constantly (this is a great time to bring in the kiddos and have them take turns stirring). continue boiling over medium heat for five minutes. stir constantly to prevent burning. 

remove from heat. add the chocolate chips, marshmallow cream and vanilla and mix until fully melted and incorporated. pour into a buttered 9 x 13 pan and a 8 x 8 pan (there should be enough to fill both.) cool at room temperature and cut into squares. heaven!

Thursday, December 6, 2012

a very married chistmas

nellie & my mr.

once upon a time, i was married without children. when i reminisce, i find those distant days in my past appear like a foggy mirage. during the holidays, my husband and i cuddled more, spent time together, searched for the perfect gifts to make each other happy. those days feel like a lifetime ago.

the christmas season is swirling around us. i am the first one to admit that christmas without children sounds like a christmas tree without lights. it may look fine, but something would always be missing. christmas with kids, however, has become so pumped up on steroids that it's hard to stay focused. moms these days have to create magic...not just on christmas day, but the whole month through. advent calendars, service projects, elves on shelves, and other christmas activities fill up the entire month of december and once the 26th rolls around, i usually can't wait to pack the whole business up for another 11 months.

when you add a husband to that mix, things can get ugly. there is so much pressure to purchase the right gifts, make everything beautiful, keep children engaged, be service minded, and entertain family that marriages can face some tough holiday waters. somehow the participation and collaboration of a spouse that used to be totally acceptable is just not good enough anymore. the pressure that mothers feel to get everything right becomes the squeeze that gets transferred to their husbands when they don't seem to understand or contribute like they should. i hear more of my friends who are angry with their husbands in december than in any other month of the year. i certainly do not believe that is coincidental.

this year we're doing something drastic. my husband and i are going on a cruise the week before christmas. that's right folks, these milky white, post-thanksgiving thighs are going to be seen poolside for an entire week. the cruisers won't know what hit them. i'm sure some people will think the timing is selfish...how could we not want to spend those days before christmas with our kids? believe me, i've heaped my own pile of mommy guilt on my own head thinking about it. that guilt has only lasted for only a minute before wisdom has kicked in and i realized that christmas is not just about our kids.

christmas should be about family...as a whole...husbands not excluded. i'm sure the kids would rather have happy parents than every other christmas trimming. so often i am so busy with the five kids that my husband and my marriage take a back seat. those days of taking time together and treating each other with even more love and affection during christmastime are long, long gone. don't you think it's time to bring them back?

i get it, a cruise is not in the plans for most couples this christmas...but something else still can be. take some time just to be together. put down the smart phones and the christmas lists and do something fun. here are some ideas:

  • rent a movie and watch it by the fire together. make hot chocolate and popcorn. cuddle. (crazy, right?) 
  • go out to dinner. can't afford much? go out to coffee. if you can't afford a babysitter, swap childcare with a friend. offer them a night out and watch their kids and then have them do the same. 
  • play a board game together. 
  • feed the kids sandwiches one night and order take out for the two of you. wait to eat it until they go to bed and sit and just talk for a while.
it doesn't have to be extravagant...just take time in this crazy time to spend time together. 

okay, so here's my last little tidbit before i sign off. to all you husbands out there who may be reading "the third boob..." 
  • first of all, you rock. any man that goes to a site with the word "boob" in the title just for reading purposes is a good, good man.
  • secondly, if your wife is crazy during december, there is a good reason. do something to make her happy this month. does she like coffee? go get her one. are flowers her thing? pick her up a bunch. 
  • third, if possible, do something extra each day. your wife is working double time this month to make the magic happen. if you don't normally clean the bathrooms, pick up a toilet scrubber. is the dishwasher full? empty that sucker. christmas cards need addressing? offer to address a few. doing something so your spouse doesn't have to means that she is free to spend time with you. when things get done around the house, wives are usually happier people. that saying..."a happy wife means a happy life" is so, so true. my husband steam cleaned the carpets on the stairs the other night. i have never loved him more. 

i really, truly cannot wait to hear your responses to this one. got any other ideas of how to spend time with your spouse? i'm dying to hear them. extra tips for husbands during december? pass them on. christmas is my favorite time of the year, truly. at the end of the month, once all the celebration has ended, i want to come out of the experience merrily married. how about you?

Thursday, November 29, 2012

filling the advent calendar

i love the idea of advent calendars. i love the anticipate they build and the chance we have to celebrate each and every day leading up to christmas. i do struggle, however, with the thought of giving little gifts on each day of the month. i feel like kids get enough gifts during december. even if the calendars are only filled with little pieces of chocolate, i still feel like it can be too much. that combined with the fact that i have five children (and no little box or space for any day of the month is going to fit five pieces of anything) left me wanting to try something new this year.

i tried to think about what we love most about christmas. i thought about our family traditions and how we try to give back during the holiday season. after spending quite a bit of time brainstorming, i was able to come up with 24 activities to do or special moments to share with our kids during advent.

i spent time writing each item down on a calendar and then i typed out each day's event with a number at the top. here are some of the advent days i used...

after printing out the days on christmas scrapbooking paper, i cut out each day's activity, folded it up and sealed it with a sticker. each activity fit (with some convincing) in our little advent snowman.

now we have a month of doing things together, giving back as a family, and remembering what christmas is all about.

if you haven't started an advent calendar tradition, it's not too late! how can your advent calendar compliment your holiday season?

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

mmmmm, mondays: turkey tetrazzini

okay...i know...it's tuesday. i think i'm still in a post thanksgiving coma. i am, however, getting back in the swing of things.

this recipe is now a part of all my post turkey consumption. i buy the ingredients when i'm shopping for thanksgiving. this is the best and most delicious way to get rid of those last four cups of turkey...and to stretch your turkey into one more meal. it does take some time to get your sauce up and ready. i enlisted the help of my five year old on a stool to help me stir. worked like a charm. he stirred, i chopped turkey. make this a part of your post thanksgiving meal plans. you won't be sorry!

turkey tetrazzini

 1 bag frozen chopped onions (or about 1 and a half cups fresh)

3/4 cup chopped red bell pepper (about half of a bell pepper chopped)

1/2 cup butter

1 tablespoon minced garlic

1 pound white button mushrooms, sliced

1/2 teaspoon paprika

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

1/4 teaspoon onion powder

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1/4 teaspoon dried oregano

3/4 teaspoon ground thyme

1 tablespoon dried parsley

2 teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon pepper

1/4 cup all purpose flour

1/2 cup white wine

2 cups chicken broth

1 3/4 cup low fat milk

1 pound wide egg noodles

4 cups chopped (bite sized) turkey

3 cups parmesan cheese

panko bread crumbs

melt the butter in a large skillet. add the onions and the peppers and saute for about four minutes. add the garlic and cook for about a minute. add the mushrooms and all the spices and cook for about five minutes more. add the flour to the mixture until well blended. add the wine and chicken broth and stir until smooth. add the milk and bring to a boil until the sauce is thick and smooth (about ten minutes more).

while sauce is thickening, bring a large pot of water to a boil and cook the egg noodles. drain and set aside.

preheat the oven to 375 degrees. butter or spray an extra large casserole or baking dish.

when the sauce has thickened, add the noodles and turkey. mix until thoroughly combined. place half of the mixture in the backing dish. cover with half of the cheese. layer with the rest of the pasta mixture and cover with remaining cheese. sprinkle entire dish with panko bread crumbs.

bake uncovered for about 20-30 minutes until hot and bubbly.

serve with leftover thanksgiving veggies and rolls...perfection!

*this recipe was adapted from a recipe by emeril lagasse.

Monday, November 12, 2012

mmmmm, mondays: apple crisp

perhaps i am not the person to post a dessert like this. i pretty much believe fruit belongs in a salad and not in a dessert...unless it is a strawberry covered in chocolate. then i'll make an exception.

still, this dessert makes me think of fall. it's pretty delicious served warm with a scoop of ice cream. sometimes i wish i could just eat the topping...but that probably wouldn't fly in the dessert category.

so here you go...apples and all.

apple crisp

8 cups apples, peeled and sliced

1/2 cup water

1 cup sugar

1 cup brown sugar

1 teaspoon nutmeg

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 cup flour

1/2-1 cup butter

place sliced apples in a 9 x 13 pan. sprinkle them with water. put aside and prepare the crust. mix together the dry ingredients and sprinkle evenly over the apples. cut the butter into pieces and lay over the layer of apples and topping. cover with foil and bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. uncover and bake for an additional 30 minutes. serve warm with ice cream. enjoy!

Thursday, November 8, 2012

first world problems

this week hasn't been a good one for electronics here at the nellie household. the quote from the heating and air conditioning units alone was enough to make me rethink how important it is to warm my house. then our twelve year old bose idock died and lastly, our poor nordic track treadmill. i kept wanting to scream to them all, "stay away from the light. just stay away from the light!" my attempts to woo my machines away from their imminent departures did nothing to keep them with us. now i am forced to face the world without them and without a budget to replace them. i am not going to lie. i was pretty sad there for a while.

then i was reminded of a conversation i had with a friend this week. he was sharing his accomplishments of the day and shared that he had thoroughly cleaned his refrigerator. he shared the sentiments that i have felt at times, "there was just too much food in there...some of it had to go." we then discussed the hilarity of finding expired salad dressings and moldy cheese tucked into some far reaching corner of our refrigerator. i've been there too. i'm pretty sure most of us have.

another person involved in the conversation stated the often ignored obvious, "this is definitely a first world conversation." those words knocked my attitude over the head with a two-by-four. unlike many people in the united states, i have seen third world problems face to face. i lived in cartagena, colombia for three and a half years. we moved there when i was pregnant with my first born and i had my sweet girl while we were there. while we were definitely living with the upper class, the desperately poor permeate that city and we were able to visit them in their homes and see their incredible need.

you see, of the one million people who live in cartagena, half of them are displaced. they have been forced from their homes at gunpoint from the narco-traffickers who take over the people's homelands for their own drug trafficking benefits. people traveled in masses, usually with only the things they can carry on their backs, to cities around colombia. cartagena is the home to approximately 500,000 of these people. they are generally poorly educated, poorly skilled, indescribably poor and with very little chance to improve their circumstances. the levels of poverty i have seen are beyond what most of us can imagine.

the people in the background are lining up for used clothing.

the line forming to receive used clothes mailed to us from the united states.

being "sized" for the two pieces of clothing she'll receive.

the kids lining up to pick two used toys from the u.s.

smiling outside of a school that was funded by european donations. it was a safe enough location to do our large clothing distributions.

when i lived in colombia, i used to become so upset with privileged people in general. i never understood how they could be so calloused, how they could be so blind to the needs of others. now i am back in the united states. even in the midst of a struggling economy and the death of major appliances, we still safely cocooned in our land of privilege...and i am becoming a part of the complaining masses.

i'm working on changing my perspective. instead of complaining about another clogged toilet, i'm going to be thankful we have one. instead of complaining about the food i have to vacuum off of the floor after each meal, i'm going to remember to be grateful there is food to feed each of my children, multiple times a day, with enough extra not to be missed when it hits the floor. instead of complaining about an appliance that no longer functions, i'm going to remember what a luxury it was to have appliances at all, and how many would be in awe of every facet of my life.

it's november, a month we are reminded to be thankful. perhaps it is time to reevaluate all that we have. we are often thankful for so many lofty things. perhaps we need to remember to be thankful for the basics. today i am going to be thankful for food. my kids aren't hungry. their tummies are full. they are not malnourished. their bodies are not showing the signs of starvation. they have water to drink. their bodies are not diseased from unsanitary living. my love for my children is not agonized by a reality that means i cannot care for them. i am blessed, beyond measure, and this month and every month, i'm going to remember to be thankful.

Monday, November 5, 2012

mmmmm, mondays: whole wheat bread (bread machine)

i love the fall. everything about it makes me happy. one of my favorite things about this time of the year is the good that i get to make each week. i love soups, crockpot dishes, warm comfort foods and just about anything i can dump in my bread maker. chach and some of my other college roommates bought me my bread maker as a wedding gift. that poor machine has been lugged around three countries and still works like a charm. i don't know what i would do without it. 

if you don't have a bread maker, don't despair. first off, christmas is right around the corner and it would make a fantastic gift. secondly, you can make all the great bread machine breads with just a little more work. here's one of my favorite bread machine recipies (and the instructions to make it on your own if you must...christmas lists, ladies...christmas lists).

whole wheat bread

1 5/8 cups warm water

1/3 cup packed brown sugar

2 teaspoons salt

4 2/3 cups whole wheat flour

1 tablespoon active dry yeast

for the bread machine recipe: dump in all the ingredients and select the "wheat bread" setting. wait about four hours. spread with butter...the real stuff. eat.

for the non-bread machine recipe. mix the dry ingredients. add the water and mix until a soft dough forms. turn onto a floured surface and knead until smooth. turn into a greased bowl. cover with a towel and let rise until doubled in size (about 1-2 hours). punch dough and pour into a large loaf pan. cover with greased plastic wrap. allow to rise until dough rises over the pan by about one inch (about 1-2 hours). preheat oven to 350 degrees. bake bread for 35-40 minutes. (you can put a bit of aluminum foil in a tent pattern over the bread while baking to prevent it from getting too brown on the top.) spread with butter...the real stuff. eat.


Monday, October 29, 2012

mmmmm, mondays: crockpot creamy turkey and rice stoup

i am always looking for good crockpot recipes. i couldn't find any that i liked for turkey and rice soup so this is what was created. it ended up chunkier than i first thought...so i stole rachel ray's "stoup" category and am posting it here. the kiddos loved it and it was perfect for a cold, stormy day. enjoy!

crockpot turkey and rice stoup.

3 cups chopped onions (one 12 oz. bag frozen chopped onions)

4 cups chicken stock (one box)

4 cups chicken broth (one box)

2 cups chopped carrots

2 cups chopped celery

1/2 cup white wine

2 bay leaves

1 tablespoon minced garlic

2 cups dried wild rice mix

4 cups turkey (chopped into bite sized pieces)

2 cups milk

1/2 cup butter

1/2 cup flour

add onions, chicken stock, chicken broth, carrots, celery, wine, bay leaves, garlic, and wild rice to crockpot.  cook on low for four hours. add turkey. melt butter in a pan. add flour and mix until smooth. whisk in milk and cook until creamy. add creamy mixture to crockpot. turn crockpot to high and cook for another four hours. season with salt and pepper. serve with fresh baked bread (recipe coming next week). enjoy!