Sunday, March 11, 2012

Back on Facebook...

Well I'm back on Facebook and doing OK with how much time I've spent on there vs. on other things. Then again it's been a busy time as we had Jack's 6th birthday party with his friends on Saturday. I'll just say he and his friends had fun and we survived....Joey, his 2.5 year old brother, not so much. He seemed to be having a grand time but got way overwhelmed after an hour and just started having meltdown after meltdown. But I'll have to share then fun and photos from the day in another post. I can't believe he's going to be 6 next week!

Anyway with all the prep, day of and then come down from the party I haven't had much time to Facebook nor bake/ cook. Thursday I did make the lovely Apple Carrot Muffins listed below, again...less than 48 hours after I made the last batch. Jack and I love them! I think this week I'll be making a big pot of my own Homemade Chicken Noodle Soup (good luck describing this recipe MJ) and a new chicken enchilada recipe.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Cooking and baking my way out of a Facebook addiction....Day 3

Apple Pie! This is another recipe I used last Fall as a result of excess apples. This was the 1st time I've made it since then and I tweaked it a bit. 1st I have to confess that I've never made a homemade pie grandmothers would shake their heads a bit if they knew. But the refrigerator pie crusts are so great and so easy to use. And hey, really before this I made very very few pies so this is great progress for me!
Again I started with another recipe I found on, and a very popular one at that with over 4,00 reviews. Here's the recipe as listed on (my individual changes are listed below that):
Apple Pie by Grandma Ople (and now by me with my changes!)

1 recipe pastry for a 9 inch double crust pie
1/2 cup unsalted butter
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/4 cup water
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
8 Granny Smith apples - peeled, cored and sliced

1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees F (220 degrees C). Melt the butter in a saucepan. Stir in flour to form a paste. Add water, white sugar and brown sugar, and bring to a boil. Reduce temperature and let simmer.
2. Place the bottom crust in your pan. Fill with apples, mounded slightly. Cover with a lattice work crust. Gently pour the sugar and butter liquid over the crust. Pour slowly so that it does not run off.
3. Bake 15 minutes in the preheated oven. Reduce the temperature to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Continue baking for 35 to 45 minutes, until apples are soft.

My changes this time around included:
  • This was the 1st time I used Granny Smith apples which is now a new must! But I only needed 5 small apples...I can't imagine ever needing 8 like the recipe calls for.
  • To the lovely caramel syrup mixture on the stove, I added about 1/3 of a teaspoon of cinnamon. I don't like strong cinnamon flavor but this gave it a nice and noticeable hint. And I also added 1/2 a teaspoon of vanilla to this mixture.
  • I also added about a 1/2 a tablespoon or less of corn starch to help thicken up the syrup just a bit as it is quite runny...some reviews added more to make it much much thicker.
  • Oh and I also created my lattice pie crust top on a piece of wax paper before starting the whole process so that it was ready to go when the pie was all assembled.  And I also brush egg whites on the bottom crust before putting in the apples to help keep it from gettins soggy (so they say :).
  •   I usually have some of the syrup left over so I don't have to worry about overflow (but I'm still chicken and put a pan under it so I don't destroy my oven.)

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Cooking and baking my way out of a Facebook addiction....Day 2

Ah, yes this is of the recipes I discovered last Fall when we were over run by apples after our family's 1st trip to the apple orchard....though it really only uses 1-1.5 apples. Apple Carrot Muffins! I made it a couple times back then but haven't made it in months. I got the recipe from my favorite place to go for recipes or starting points for meals. When cooking I tend to look at several similar recipes and combine them as I like...baking I'm not so confident in doing that.

But with today's recipe I did buy more healthy bran flakes without raisins (had only 5g of sugar vs. the Raisin Bran with 17g of sugar) so I did add a 1/4 cup more sugar to the recipe. Also it's a must to sprinkle the tops of the muffins with sugar and a dash of cinnamon before baking. It gives the top of the muffins a lovely sugary crunch. And since there is so much other healthy stuff in them, a little extra sugar is worth it to make them yummy. And they are! Everyone in my family loves them...and today I made some without raisins and some with to please everyone.

Apple Carrot Muffins

1 3/4 cups raisin bran cereal (this time I used plain bran flakes, added 1/4c sugar)
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup sugar (plus 1/4 cup to make up for less sugar in bran flakes)
1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon (I used less...maybe 3/4 of a tsp.)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 egg
3/4 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup canola oil
3/4 cup finely chopped peeled tart apple
3/4 cup grated carrots (I use the matchstick kind and then throw them in the chopper to make them smaller)
1/4 cup chopped walnuts (skipped this because of picky eaters!)

1. In a bowl, combine the first six ingredients. In a small bowl, beat the egg, buttermilk and oil. Stir into dry ingredients just until moistened. Fold in apple, carrots and walnuts. Fill paper-lined muffin cups or cups coated with nonstick cooking spray three-fourths full. Bake at 400 degrees F for 20-23 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool for 5 minutes before removing from pan to a wire rack. Serve warm.
Here's the link to the original recipe. FYI they look much darker than in the picture (sometimes I wonder where they get those pictures from.)

I love this recipe and everyone else seems to as well since they are already almost 1/2 gone and I finished making them not more than 3 hours ago.

Update from previous recipe -Mardi Gras Dinner: It was a success except with my picky eater Jack. I think if I make a small section without tuna next time it will go over better since he said "Mommy, there are parts that I really like in this and parts I really don't like."

Monday, March 5, 2012

Cooking and baking my way out of a Facebook addiction....Day 1

After getting frustrated with myself for spending too much time on Facebook and too little time on other things, I "gave" (ha, forced) myself a one week break from Facebook. I started this last Saturday. Part of my plan is to try to more productively use my here-and-there spots of down time. And that time is here and there since I'm a stay at home mom of 2 boys. I wanted to find more things to direct my time towards that I would enjoy doing (not laundry) but would also still contribute to the household. So I'm going to try to bake and cook more. Now don't fool yourself, I'm no Martha Stewart or even Betty Crocker AND I have a picky 5 year this will be pretty simple and basic much of the time.
And what a better way to hold yourself accountable to a new commitment than by proclaiming it to....well maybe 3 people? I've been away from blogging for so long and was never very consistent at it anyway, that I know that my hand full of followers have probably dropped me, understandably. But that's OK because this is for me. WOW something for me? What a crazy concept as a stay at home parent, or a parent in general.
So here starts my attempt to cook and bake my way out of a Facebook addiction! I still hope to spend some time there as it is my only way to stay in contact with many friends, but just with more balance....and happiness and sense of satisfaction over all.

So for the 1st official day of cooking and baking I made a recipe dear to my heart, but I had not made in a while. Mardi Gra don't let the title fool you, it is unspicy and unsouthern as you can get IMO. It's basically a cheesy tuna casserole with tomatoes. Unlike anything I'd ever had, and really the only tuna I was willing to eat as a child. It's something my Grandma Mary made when I was a child, which may have been part of why I was willing to eat it. She was magic in the kitchen. I'll probably be turning to her tattered recipe box a lot for this project :) So here's the recipe:

Marci Gras Dinner (Grandma Mary)
1/2 a stick of butter/ margarine (you know this is an old recipe because she says "oleo")
3 Tbs flour
1/2 tsp salt and pepper
1 1/2 cup of milk
1 1/2 cup of cheddar cheese
1 1/3 cup instant rice (or I used 1 cup of regular long grain...or more)
1/2 tsp of oregano, cayenne pepper (though I know she never really used the cayenne pepper and I left it out as well.)
1 Tbs of parsley
1 cup of tomatoes (I used the onion and garlic kind and used the whole can)
1/2 cup of onion slices (I omitted this since I used onions above, we'll see)
2 cans of tuna

Cook the rice as directed, under cooking somewhat.
Make white sauce (with the butter, flour, and she expects you know what this mean) add cheese.
Place rice in casserole, sprinkle with oregano, cayenne pepper if using it, chopped parsley, and salt and pepper.
Place 2/3 of the tomatoes over rice, top with onions if using them, and flake tuna over it all. Pour on cheese sauce. Add remaining tomatoes on cheese sauce. Garnish with paprika (which I skipped). Bake 375 degrees for 30 minutes covered.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Summer 2010

My summer was filled with special times (and challenging times too of course) with my boys and very little else. I think in years past this may have bothered me some but somewhere in the last year I seem to have finally settled into being a parent and a stay at home mom. Yeah, I know, it only took me 4.5 years right? All I know is that I'm very happy! I think this recent facebook status of mine sums it up...

There are many things in life that I thought I'd be, but I'm not. And there are many things in life that I never thought I'd be, but I am.

Yet the reality is that I am happy and am loved (and that I love) more deeply than I ever could have imagined.

I love my boys so much and enjoy spending time with them and learning new things about them each day. Jack and Joey are so drastically different from each other, it does make things interesting. I also think that a big factor in my recent surge of happiness and peace is related to my parents moving to town. They are now just 20 minutes away instead of 5 hours away. They frequently come up for lunch with me and the boys a couple times a week and usually come on the weekend to babysit the boys for a couple hours so John and I can reintroduce ourselves to each other over breakfast or lunch. I know getting to see them so often has really helped decrease the isolation I have felt in the past from being a full time stay at home mom. And it has been wonderful to see their relationships with each of the boys continue to grow.

Here's a picture of us celebrating my dad's birthday with "little grandma and grandpa" this summer:

Anyway it was a wonderful summer where we did a whole lot of wonderful nuthin' together. The one big thing we did do as a family was go up to my aunt's cabin in July with my parents and my aunt. Despite the fact that there wasn't any AC in our cabin with 90 degree weather we still had a great time.
Here's some photos from the trip:

Nothing quite like playing with big brother's toys.

One of the highlights of the trip for Jack was frog catching... or chasing... or unfortunately sometimes clunking. (And yes those are dragon wings taped to the back of Jack's shirt in the picture above...and yes ironically enough the shirt is an ACDC shirt.)

And to a one year old, most anything is an adventure.

The boys had fun but clearly they were thrilled to be back home again... John included :)

It was a great trip and Jack and I will be going back to the cabin this week on our own with my parents. I'm excited for our first Jackie-Mommy only trip. I know we will miss Joey and John/ daddy, as they will us, but we will create some wonderful memories with my parents... and hopefully not freeze!
Here are a few snapshots of the rest of our summer:
Early in June we celebrated Joey's 1st Birthday. It was low key for many reasons but still lots of fun.

Joey started walking everywhere in June and has been going non-stop since, usually with a crazy smile on his face. And it seems like when he isn't walking he's climbing something dangerous!
I'm sure one of the highlights for the boys was when the workers came to remove the diseased Elm tree from our backyard. They parked themselves by the back patio window for hours!

We also went to the amusement park at Mall of America. Jack is really looking forward to hitting the height requirement to go on the next level of rides which includes a big roller coaster.

And we went to the MN Zoo a couple times. Once I was adventurous and went on my own with the boys... we survived :) Here they are in the play area in a big "nest".

But much of our summer was simply spent by almost daily walks to the local store for a donut or muffin and viewing of the local construction site a well as lots of backyard adventures.
And constant exclamations by Jack of "Nooo Joooeeeey!!!!"

As summer winds down and we spend more time in doors, this has become the most recent brother activity. Between their rough play together and Joey's propensity for climbing anything and everything, I'm sure Fall/Winter 2010 will probably include a trip to urgent care at some point!
My life is quite simple but filled with so much love. It amazes me how being a stay at home mom can be so mind numbing and yet so challenging to the core! But I love being home with my boys (most days) and wouldn't trade it for the world.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Jack's Birthday Celebration(s)

In case you didn't see my last entry (way below the millions of pictures), I changed the title of my blog to The Better Late Than Never Blog. Yeah, this is one of the reasons why the title fits so well. I am just now sharing Jack's birthday celebration pictures. So here goes:

We had presents and cake with just us on Jack's birthday and a big friends party the following Saturday. Here's a picture of my big beautiful 4 year old with his token (you'll see why later) birthday cake on the day of his birthday. I love that sweet smile!

And here he is pigging out on cake. Much of the time he just eats the frosting... of course.

And here's the birthday boy getting in a before bed wrestle with his little brother.

And here's the Jack on the day of his birthday celebration with his friends. I think the hat lasted all of about 2 minutes. We had 6 friends over for his birthday - 3 boys from school (Ben, Will and Nathaniel) and 3 girls we regularly have playdates with (Teagan and then 2 sisters, Angela and Leah). We were a bit worried about it being chaotic with 7 kids running around and expected at least a couple of meltdowns but it went very well (despite me having to tell one child that we don't say "what the hell!" in our house :) and we had ZERO meltdowns! Honestly, I most expected one from my own emotional child but it was a fun tear-free day.

We had my friend Lori make Jack a crocodile cake because he's been pretty obsessed with crocodiles much of 2010. The cake she made was AMAZING! I love Jack's expression here (as well as throughout the party) when we had him come see the cake for the first time. It's that special little smile and giggle you get when he is so genuinely excited and surprised about something.

The opening of presents was utter chaos of course. But Jack got some wonderful presents from all his little friends.

The kids thought the cake was really amazing. Jack was a pretty disappointed because I carved up the tail and wouldn't let him eat the crocodile's head right away. We had family coming over the next day for a small celebration so I wanted to save it till then. Again I love his expression here - pure excitement and wonder!

With preschoolers it's kind of hard to think of what to do with them at a party. They are a bit young for most party games (not to mention it's asking for a Jackie-meltdown) and Jack's birthday is March so going outside is tough. So we thought of to blow up a ton of balloons (OK 72 balloons and John blew all of them up but one) and put them in the basement with the gift boxes. It was a bit hard to come up with a theme around a crocodile so we did somewhat of a pirate theme. Here is Jack leading his friends down to all the balloons.

They had tons of fun just running around kicking and batting the balloons up into the air. It was a good way to get out some energy :)

Gradually they discovered the gift boxes sitting on the trunk with a big stuffed crocodile "guarding" them.

Eventually one of the kids (probably the oldest, Angela) got the idea to push a bunch of the balloons into the little closed off hallway off the family room so they could really be in a "room" filled with balloons. This is where many of the kids spent the next 45 minutes.

Jack got the idea to collect bunches of the balloons in a big box and then dump them into the little enclosed space all at once. He was quite intent on his job :)

But would still join in the fun once the space was filled again.

I love this picture and I love these girls! The 3 girls had a great time together. Good thing too since 2 of them have separately talked of marrying Jack or having him as their boyfriend, so things could have been kind of awkward.

Oh my sweet Jackie! I'm so glad you had a wonderful birthday celebration. You are such a special boy and worth celebrating!

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Changing my blog name

Well as I've finally started to work on the blog entry about Jack's birthday, which was over 2 months ago, I've decided to change the name of my blog. Every entry I do is much later than I intend and there are a dozen blog entries in between there that never get written. So I'm changing my blog name to The Better Late Than Never Blog. It really described my blog style. Maybe it will help me give myself more grace and just write when I can rather than feel guilty about not recording things in a more timely manner. And in reality as Loving the Simple Life described my life pretty accurately, so does Better Late than Never. I've started (and restarted) many things in my life rather late. I got married in my thirties and started having kids in my mid-thirties. Got my masters around then too, which also changed my career focus. Well technically my career focus right now is being a stay at home mom and not loosing my mind at the same time so I suppose even with my new career direction on hold it will be another "better late than never" kind of thing. I plan to hopefully resume working when Joey is preschool age. Anyway, I introduce to you The Better Late Than Never Blog.

(And for my own personal historical purpose I'm going to include here the original description of my blog when it was titled Loving the Simple Life. It still fits but this new name seems to fit better right now :) -
Loving the Simple Life - I'm Mary Jo or MJ. As my blog title states, I'm loving the simple life. I mean it isn't always overtly simple but I'm loving the "simple" things in my life like being a stay at home mom, my fun intense son Jack, my sweet sweet smiley baby Joey and my rock of a husband John. I've realized that the difficult things I've gone through in life, the not so simple times in my life, have caused me to appreciate times like this. So this is me, just loving the simple life.