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'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 lists, 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.