Monday, July 29, 2013

Freezable Zucchini Soup

Ewwww. What IS this green stuff? 

This might be your kids' first reaction to seeing zucchini soup dished out at the dinner table. But if they are anything like my kids, or their many friends that we've fed around our table, they will be pleasantly surprised. In fact, my kids can't get enough of this deliciously mild soup. And since someday I'm guessing they will want to make it for themselves, I'm sticking the recipe some place they'll be sure to find it.

There's nothing worse than getting halfway through a recipe only to discover that you are missing an essential ingredient, so I like to set everything out before I get started. I see I am missing white flour and fresh parsley.

To begin, add the following ingredients to a large pan or pot:

9 cups chopped zucchini
1 1/2 cups water
1 large onion, chopped
1 1/2 tsp seasoned salt
1 1/2 TBSP fresh parsley
6 tsp chicken base

Cover and cook until zucchini and onions are soft. Then puree in batches and return to the pan. FYI, I found this soup to be even yummier after I bought a quality blender. It just gets things that much smoother.

In the meantime, start the white sauce by melting 6 TBSP of butter in a non-stick pan.
Then stir in 6 TBSP white flour and 1/2 tsp ground pepper. While stirring, allow the flour the cook in the butter for a minute or so.

Then add 4 1/2 cups almond milk all at once.
Whisk. Whisk. Whisk.
Cook until thickened, stirring frequently.

Once the white sauce is thickened, pour it into the zucchini base. Stir and and allow to heat through.

Personally, I think the bright green color is lovely.

And my kids think it tastes great.

Oh, and if you have more zucchini in your garden right now than you know what to do with, you can freeze the zucchini base!! When your taste buds are ready for zucchini again in say, October, simply whip up the white sauce and add the defrosted zucchini base. Super simple.

Garden Fresh Zucchini Soup

Zucchini Base
Combine the following in a large pot:

9 cups chopped zucchini (can include other summer squash such as yellow crookneck, patty pan, etc.)
1 1/2 cups water
1 large onion, chopped
1 1/2 tsp seasoned salt
1 1/2 TBSP fresh parsley
6 tsp chicken base

Cover and cook on medium heat until onions and zucchini are soft. Then, puree in batches and return to pan.

White Sauce
Melt 6 TBSP butter in a non-stick pan. Then add 6 TBSP flour and 1/2 tsp ground pepper. Stir and cook for about a minute.
Then add 4 1/2 cups almond milk (yes, you can use regular dairy milk, too*). Wisk and cook until thickened, stirring frequently.

Once white sauce has thickened, add it to the pureed zucchini base. Stir to combine and heat through.

* Honestly, we all like this soup a little better with 2% dairy milk, especially if we are planning on any leftovers for the next day (almond or soy milk really thickens it up by day two). BUT in an effort to have less animal products in our diet, we've been ditching more dairy in favor or almond or soy milk.

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Sunday, July 28, 2013

Peanut Butter Swirl Brownies

Secret Recipe Club

It is time for The Secret Recipe Club again.  With this post comes my usual excitement for reveal day, but also a bit of sadness.  This will be my last month participating in The Secret Recipe Club.  I am not keeping up with this part of my life anymore and it is time to let it go.

Now,  I want your focus and attention to be on my assigned blog, My Beautiful Disasters.  This fun blog is written by a Casey a high school athlete and aspiring cook.  She makes the most wonderful things for her family and blogs about the food and her family!  I loved reading about their celebrations and the treats they enjoyed.

For my recipe I struggled to make a choice.  Casey's blog is full of all kinds of mouth-watering recipes, but when I saw this recipe for Peanut Butter Swirl Brownies I was drawn in.  My husband DEVOURS anything with peanut butter and chocolate, so I knew this was the right recipe for me.  Plus, I have been crazy busy this month and wanted something that was quick and easy.  This recipe fit the bill by using a brownie mix.

I am typically a brownie purist.  I like dark chocolate flavors without anything adorning the batter.  Simply put, I just want them to taste like chocolate.  These brownies were a nice change, and I will be making them again VERY soon :)  These weren't the most beautiful brownies I have ever made, but they were sure tasty!   I did doctor up the brownie mix with a tablespoon of instant coffee which enhances the chocolate flavor, and 2 teaspoons of vanilla extract and reduced the white sugar to 1/4 cup.  If you wanted a homemade brownie you could make my recipe for Andes Mint Brownies and omit the mints. ENJOY!

Peanut Butter Swirl Brownies
Recipe Source: Modified slightly from My Beautiful Disasters

1 brownie recipe prepared, or a box mix prepared according to the instructions
1/4 cup peanut butter
1/4 cup white sugar (Casey uses 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons)
2 Tablespoons flour
1 egg

Preheat the oven to 350 F and prepare an 8x8 or 9x9 pan with butter or cooking spray.

Prepare the brownie recipe or mix, and spread it into the prepared baking dish.

In a separate bowl, combine the peanut butter, sugar, flour and egg until well combined.  Then, drop the mixture by spoonfuls on top of the brownie batter.  Run a knife through the peanut butter to make a swirly design, (mine didn't swirl too well).

Bake 30-35 minutes or according to the package directions until the brownies are set.  Cool and serve.

Bedtime Bust

Forget everything I ever said about loving bedtime.

My sweet eight-year-old has had anxiety flare-ups for the last few months that make putting just this one child to bed an absolute terror. As in, drive all the way up into the mountain pass until 11pm hoping to return home with a normal boy again. But he is working on it. We are working on it. And I think there's been lots of progress.

That's one child. 

A few months ago Lyla started climbing out of her crib so we decided it was time for a big girl bed. It was also time for her to switch rooms with her older sister, Sophia. After sharing a room with Halle for a couple years, Sophia had been asking, begging, bargaining even, for her own room. She loves Halle, but not all the Polly Pockets and My Little Ponies constantly scattered all over the floor. And her tween pride sulked when her friends looked around at the Hello Kitty poster and Fancy Nancy decorations on her walls.

So Lyla took Sophia's place, bunking up with her next oldest sibling, Halle. Perfect. Two little girls close in age, neither of whom could possibly get enough pink. Both excellent mess-makers. And surely it couldn't be that bad to get them both to sleep at night.


Clearly I did not remember well enough having gone through this torture with my older children. But trust me- it all came flooding back that first night of Halle and Lyla sleeping in the same room.

"Mom! She's in my bed again!"

"Mom! She just tore all the pages out of a library book!" (Fantastic. MORE library fines to pay.)

"Ouch! Mom! She just bit me! OUCH! MOM!!!"

So I did what any sane mother would do. I knew I would regret it later, but with Tyjah needing extra attention, and Wes working several late nights a week, I didn't have much choice.

"Scootch over," I said,  I'm going to lie down between you two until you fall asleep."

Oh, yah. Halle sleeping on the top bunk on her own? That lasted all of about 5 minutes.

"But Mom, it's SCARY up here. I want to sleep in my old bed with Lyla."

And so for the last two months I have sandwiched myself between these two little girls on their double bed, enduring eye-poking, rib-jabs, and incessant whining for more water, more food, another story, back rubs and, of course, the same ploy we all used as kids- "but I HAVE to go to the bathroom and I CAN'T hold it!" All while silently- sometimes audibly- praying for sleep to overcome these two little angels.

I'm not done. It gets better. 

Halle has always had difficulty with separation anxiety. And by laying down beside the girls- innocently trying to keep the peace, mind you- all I did was exacerbate the whole separation anxiety thing. Now she is SURE she cannot fall asleep without me. And heaven forbid she wake up in the middle of the night to find Mom GONE! ALL THE WAY DOWN THE HALL!

So after spending hours, HOURS putting children to bed at night, I am woken up several times through the night as each of three children crawl into our bed. 

I try to take the time to return them to their beds, but sometimes I am so dead tired I don't fully wake up until I am completely folded into a 3 foot square corner of my KING-SIZED bed. Blearily I count the bodies STRETCHED OUT, laying criss-crossed over each other and wonder two things-

1. Why? Why are they not encroaching on my husband's space??? He seems to be sleeping peacefully- fully stretched out on his side of the bed. 
2. Is it worth the effort to remove them all to their beds again or should I just go enjoy the few remaining hours of darkness ALONE on the couch. Lately, having the couch all to myself has won out more times than I care to admit.

So if you have noticed my slurred speech, frumpy hairstyle, or even if by chance I have bitten your head off recently, please just smile and gently remind me, "...this too shall pass."

I just hope and pray it's sometime before school starts again!

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Saturday, July 27, 2013

150 Mile Summer (Part 1)

It was sometime around May when the conversation started.

"So, what are we going to DO this summer?"

Well, sleep in, for starters. That one scored pretty high on everyone's list...except for Lyla's. Unfortunately two-year-olds just don't see the appeal.

But after everyone in the house eventually rolled out was dragged out of bed, we could head to the library and gorge ourselves on good books of all sorts.

We would take trips to the Zoo and visit local museums. We would play at the beach, build our giant slip and slide, and get together with friends.

And, of course, we would hike. 100 miles? Too easy. 200 miles? A bit of a stretch with everything else we had planned. But everyone agreed 150 miles this summer was a manageable goal.

Because my children are suckers for checklists and progress charts, Sophia decided to make a poster.

In June we hiked to the top of Cedar Butte. Halle was particularly excited to reach the top and find what her mom and older sister had come home laughing about last year. What six-year-old wouldn't look forward to reading "Ceder Butt" on an official geographical marker?

We hiked to the top of Little Si.

And the kids all joined the polar bear club with their Dad at Talapus Lake. I'm sure it was refreshing after the two mile climb in 80 degree weather, but I chose to stand back and take photos. My husband was not surprised. He knows the only time I have ever jumped into an alpine lake was while we were dating. And the more I tell that story to my kids, the more sheets of floating ice appear in the climax. Yes, I liked him that much.

And I sure do like all these little hiking buddies we've created!

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Friday, July 26, 2013

Honey Whole-Wheat Challah Bread . . . with Dried Cherries

Whoa . . . can't quite believe it's been so long since I last posted. I think I've set a Jane's Sweets non-attendance record. Where have I been? Well, I can tell you I wasn't circumnavigating the globe in a sailboat. And I haven't been languishing in suspended animation in a hospital bed. Nor have I been hard at work on a cookbook destined to take the pastry world by storm, and I most certainly have not just had a baby. Nothing as remarkable as all that.

To be perfectly honest with you, I needed a little break. One that did not involve a laser focus on baking fantastic treats. I've been working, you see, on shrinking off a few pounds and it seemed expedient to lay off the homemade delicacies in order to help facilitate that thorny effort. You might say I temporarily pulled my own baking plug. And joined Weight Watchers in the process.

I mean, let's face it . . . I'm essentially a junkie when confronted with high-quality confections, especially those of my own creation. (Yeah, yeah, I know. A stunning revelation. You never could have guessed that, right?) I realized it was truly necessary for me, literally and figuratively, to back away from the dessert cart for a while in order to regroup. At least I can report that, in this semi-unplugged interim, I've made some meaningful shrinkage progress. Nothing dramatic or jarringly obvious, mind you, but all such progress is relative if you inherited chubby genes like mine.

So, anyway, a couple pounds off here, a couple pounds off there, and it all adds up. More exercise, less sugar and butter, way more veggies. It's a happy development. Progress, at this point, is admittedly slower than molasses, but that's okay. I can live with that. Slow and steady wins the race . . . right? 

What does this mean for me and my beloved blog? It just means I'm baking more selectively, for now at least. And if I do bake something luscious, I need to be darn sure that leftovers won't stick around here to tempt me. Earlier this week, for example, I had to make this big birthday cake for my younger son, who just turned 17. It's a chocolate extravaganza of a cake, and he's requested it every year for his birthday since 2010. Naturally, I was concerned at the idea of it lingering around here; lock me and a chocolate cake in a house together for a few days and the cake doesn't stand a chance. So, after his small celebration here at home on Tuesday night, about three-quarters of the cake remained. I put it in a cake-keeper, relegated it to the basement fridge, and repeatedly encouraged him to take the whole kit 'n' kaboodle away to share with his pals. Wednesday night, thank heaven, that's what he did. Problem solved.

About this recipe . . . 

All that said, I just wanted to share this bread with you while it's still fresh, both in my mind and on my kitchen counter. Adapted from a formula in Simply Great Breads, by bread master Daniel Leader (I love this little book), this is a great variation on traditional challah, with a lovely crust and appealing crumb. Wonderful flavor, too. And it's not something that will completely destroy one's diet, if partaken of judiciously.

What did I change? Well, the original recipe included olive oil and, while I do periodically use olive oil in bread, I didn't want it to compete with the other flavors in this loaf so I substituted the more neutral-tasting canola oil. Also, I fiddled with the flours a bit (Leader uses whole wheat flour and all-purpose; I used mostly whole wheat, then a combo of bread flour and all-purpose). I reduced the amount of honey slightly, and I used chopped dried cherries instead of dried apricots, though I think either one would be tasty. And, of course, I reworded the recipe to reflect exactly what I did. This is a very simple loaf to put together, with a pleasingly soft and pliant dough that's not too sticky to work with easily.

The bread is yummy, even unbuttered. I haven't tried it toasted yet but I'm sure it's divine. Maybe a nice, thin, toasted slice tomorrow morning will be called for.

Honey Whole-Wheat Challah Bread with Dried Cherries

(For a printable version of this recipe, click here!)

Yield: One large braided loaf, or two smaller standard size loaves baked in 9"x5" pans

2 cups whole wheat flour (about 8.5 oz)
1 cup bread flour
3/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
2 and 1/4 teaspoons instant yeast
1 and 1/2 teaspoons fine sea salt or kosher salt
3/4 cup luke warm water
2 large eggs, room temperature and lightly beaten
1/2 cup canola oil
3 tablespoons of honey
1/4 cup of well-chopped dried cherries

For egg wash: 1 large egg, lightly beaten with two teaspoons water (to brush on the unbaked loaf before putting it in the oven)

* * * * *

In the large bowl from your mixer, lightly whisk together the three flours, the yeast, and the salt. Into that, pour the water, eggs, oil, and honey. Using a spatula, stir this up by hand for a few seconds. Now put the bowl back on the mixer and, using the dough hook, mix the dough for about five minutes on the lowest speed, sprinkling in the chopped cherries after about two minutes of mixing. Take the bowl off the mixer and dump the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface. Flour your hands and finish the kneading by hand, for a couple more minutes, until the dough feels soft, smooth, and spongy. It should be tacky but not wet/sticky.

Put the dough into a large, clean bowl that's been oiled/sprayed. Cover it with plastic wrap that's also been oiled/sprayed, and let the dough rise at room temperature for about 90 minutes or up to 2 hours, until it's obviously doubled in size.

On a very lightly floured work surface, dump out the risen dough and deflate it by pressing on it with your palms. Divide the dough into three equal parts (I suggest weighing the dough first; my ball of dough weighed about 35 oz. total, so each of the three dough chunks for the braids weighed a little over 11 oz.). Roll each piece into a rope that's 15 inches long; be assertive and don't worry if the dough tries to shrink back a little as you're doing this.

On a large baking sheet, spread a sheet of parchment paper. Place the three ropes of dough in the middle of the parchment, right next to each other, and pinch the ends together tightly at the top. Proceed to braid the dough snugly (starting from the top with the right braid over the middle braid, then the left one over the center, etc.) until you reach the bottom end; tightly pinch the bottom ends together and tuck the pinched part underneath.

Dust the top of the braided dough with a pinch of flour (the bread flour or all-purpose flour) and cover it with a clean piece of plastic wrap. Let it proof for up to 2 hours, until it looks almost doubled in size. While its proofing, preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

Just before the bread is ready to bake, whisk together the egg and water to make a wash; brush some of the egg wash generously onto the top of the loaf and lightly down the sides.

Bake the bread for up to about 40 minutes, until the internal temperature reaches 200 degrees (use an instant-read thermometer to check if you're not sure), and the color is deeply golden all over. Let the baked bread cool on a rack for a while before slicing.

*If you're baking your bread as two unbraided loaves in standard size (greased) loaf pans, I'd suggest checking them after about 20 minutes in the oven.

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Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Mount Carmel Family Camp, 2013

Quote of the Day:  Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal, and give strength to body and soul alike. John Muir, The Yosemite

At Mount Carmel Family Camp with my boys!

I'm a Camp Geek and I know it. I've been going to family camp ever since I was four years old. I go there with my parents, siblings, cousins, and friends. Mount Carmel, founded in 1938, has been the summer home for many camper families. My mom went there for the first time in 1948, and was on staff in the mid-1950's. I remember going there with my parents and my grandparents. Now, my kids go with me and enjoy family time, kid activity time, lake time, new friends, old friends, and every kind of fun you can have at a camp. The coolest thing about a family camp is that free time is truly free. When the kids go to kids' camps, even the "free" time is scheduled. They said that they prefer Mount Carmel.

Water Carnival
On a pontoon ride with my parents
And, my cousin Angie
Hear no evil. See no evil. Speak no evil.
(or, so you think)
I think tie-dying is still cool.
How will all these garments turn out?
Super cute!!
Millie and Willie attended camp for the first time this year.
They are already looking at dates to attend next year!
They stayed out of the water for the greased watermelon game
(like football in the water)
But, enjoyed a slice of the fruit when the game was over.
They thought that the game of Drip, Drip, Drop and the little kids were the cutest.
Of course, the Mount Carmel staff was a lively and talented bunch!
The talent show was a hoot, as always.
Next year, we'll do another Aalgaard skit!!!
Millie and Willie vowed to make an appearance.
Mount Carmel is truly a place where you can play together and pray together.
From babies to Grandparents, there's something for everyone, and everyone has fun together.
The only thing missing for me this year was my big boy. He's enjoying a summer in Spain.
We thought of you, Bobby!
Thanks, founders of Mount Carmel, for creating this place 75 years ago! Thanks, Mom & Dad, for bringing us there when we were kids. Thanks, kids, for still wanting to go to camp with your mom and other relatives!
Hope you're all having a wonderful summer (or winter for you southern hemisphere folks)!
Go. Create. Inspire!
Journaling Prompt:  Write about a camp/vacation experience with family or friends.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Truth and Tears at Jell-O's funeral

The small pile of dark brown earth stood out among all the deep green foliage.

Tears formed in my eyes. And when they threatened to spill over I fought desperately to discreetly wipe them away. Would my husband ever let me live this down? Crying at the funeral of my children's smelly pet hamster they so classily named Jell-O?


Wasn't it bad enough that we were having a funeral for a rodent?!? And that the melodious strains of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir singing Consider the Lilies poured forth from my husband's iPhone?


But I was so touched.

The familiar refrain echoed in my thoughts.

Not only did I feel that Heavenly Father created and loved this pitiful little creature, but also that he was keenly aware of each of us standing in that circle.

And that, like Jell-O, we would someday each pass out of mortality.
"But there is a resurrection, therefore the grave hath no victory, and the sting of death is swallowed up in Christ."
As I stood there considering the doctrines of the atonement, the resurrection, and eternal families, the beauty and vastness of the plan of salvation overwhelmed me.

I rejoiced knowing that if circumstances were different, if we were gathered with tear-stained cheeks around one of our own sweet family members, it would not be the end.

A loving Heavenly Father has provided a way that his children may share in his eternal happiness both in this life and the life to families!

With my husband's "amen" my children each tossed their wildflowers on top of the little shoebox. Wes turned to look at me, his face a reflection of my own. The tears rolling down his cheeks revealed our common experience. And we both smiled, then shrugged as if to say to each other, "Really? Here at the funeral of a rodent?!?

Two years have come and gone and the tiny grave remains a hallowed spot in the corner of our property. It serves as a reminder of the truths that the spirit etched into our hearts that day.

Through Christ's atonement there will be a resurrection and families can be together forever.
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