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Thanksgivings 2016

They say old habits die hard.  As for me, this is true.  I still have to write my rough draft and revise it – I just do a lot of it in my head.  I think I’ve written this post about 20 times so far and has taken as many shapes and forms.  While I  for simplicity, it’s not going to be a short post.  This list is in no way comprehensive.  I could type for a very long time and still not be done.  It is apparent to me, and hopefully you, that we are incredibly blessed in many, many ways.  Grab a cup of coffee, a steaming mug of tea, or a beer, and enjoy the ride.

This year I am thankful for so many things (in no particular order):

  • Our daughter’s health.  After watching my friend’s 10-year-old daughter battle bone cancer, and all that comes with it, I have never been more thankful for health.  I can’t begin to tell you all that they’ve been through but I’m a proud member of #mckennassquad.  You can read more and follow their journey here.
  • My health and the health of my family. See above – just because McKenna is 10, it could easily have been any of us.  My sister-in-law is celebrating her first cancer-free milestones.  My dad is 81 – enough said.
  • Our daughter.  She is caring, kind, compassionate, intelligent, funny, sensitive, sweet, and sassy, all rolled up into one beautiful package.  She never fails to amaze us with her unique perspective.  We love to you to the moon and back.epcot_fwrover_20160630_7731311236
  • That I learned young family is more than blood.
  • That Tim and I have a huge village to help us raise Alexandra.  We couldn’t possibly do it without you.
  • That Tim and I get to be a part of all of your villages, too.
  • Our family.  Enough said.
  •  That the people I work with aren’t just colleagues, they are true friends and family.  There are around 40 of us in my building and we have endured more than our share of tragedy over the last few years.  Some days our job is more than any three people could handle, let alone one person.  We prop each other up, cry together, laugh together, go home to our families, and come back to do it all again the next day.  I seriously couldn’t have done this job for so long if it weren’t for each and every one of you.14391023_10209164449642487_463859200522357381_n
  • The amazing people that surround Alexandra and her peers every day at school.  If I had to imagine the ideal place to send her, these people embody that, from the principal to the teachers to the classroom aides to the volunteers.  They are truly the most kind, compassionate, and caring educators I have ever met.  I have no worries when we drop her off each day that she is being taken care of in the best way possible.img_5610
  • My two ageing dogs.  Even though they’re senior citizens and mostly sleep all day, I still love the doggie things they do.  I love that Magda still sleeps outside of Alexandra’s bedroom door each night.  I love that at 12, Milton has learned how to nudge your arm with his nose if you haven’t petted him enough.  I love the sounds they both make when they dream.  I smile when for a minute, they run in the backyard like they’re 3 again.img_4679
  • Having a garage door that works.  Ours broke this week and having to park in the driveway, walk to the front door, and actually use a key reminded me of how spoiled I am.
  • Being able to make Alexandra’s “dream come true” and take her to Disney this summer.  It was an awesome trip.  We made so many amazing memories. studio_stdentr2_20160630_7731599651
  • Finding LuLaRoe clothes.  I get to look really nice but feel like I’m wearing pajama pants and a night-shirt.  Some of the groups on Facebook are really fun to be a part of, too.fullsizeoutput_2017
  • Nerdy friends who get my jokes like this:i-ate-some-pi
  • For having not only enough, but an abundance, and the ability to share.
  • For perspective, as sometimes that’s all we need.
  • A husband who loves me not matter what.  He loves me at my best, my worst, and everywhere in between.  He laughs with me (and sometimes at me), wipes my tears when I cry, and supports every crazy idea I have.  He knows how to help me soar and when to drag me back to earth.  For over 16 years of building our life together, we’ve done ok.img_5013
  • For struggle – what have we learned when things were easy?
  • Alcohol – let’s face it, sometimes that glass of wine at the end of the day is like a light at the end of the tunnel.
  • Leftovers – or we’d be hungry lots of nights.  Ok, so not hungry but we’d spend a TON more on either take out or fast food and we do enough of that already.
  • My students – they never cease to amaze me.  They teach me as much or more than I teach them.  They’ve forced me to open my mind and made me a better teacher and a better person overall.
  • All of the “happy thanksgiving” texts I’ve received so far today – and it’s just past 10 am.
  • You – because if you’re reading this, somehow you must be a part of my life.  Thank you and I love you.

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Johnny Rails Pumpkin Ale – Erie Brewing

What better for the first day of spring than the first day of march madness and pumpkin beer?  Strange, I know – well, not the basketball, but the pumpkin beer.  We tried a pear saisson earlier and it was a bust.  This was a pretty safe bet.

I am a fan of most things pumpkin but with Little Bug’s cinnamon allergy, I rarely partake in cinnamon-laced anything.  Except beer.  I am fairly certain that she’s not going to end up in my beer since we usually drink it once she’s in bed.  This makes pumpkin beer an extra special treat.

My favorite is still O’Fallon’s Pumpkin but Erie Brewing’s Johnny Rails is a close second.  It’s spicy but the pumpkin flavor is clear.  So many times all you get is the spice and no squash – that can be so disappointing.  The balance is good but it is lacking a bit of the creaminess that I like.  I could drink a few of these given the chance.

Good luck with your brackets and cheers friends!

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Short’s Captain Fantasy

Short’s has to have one of the most impressive brewing portfolios I’ve ever seen.  They do it and do it well.

That doesn’t mean that I like them all.  

Short’s Captain Fantasy falls into the “not so much” category for me.  It’s a pear saisson that has an aggressive hoppy finish.  That means bitter and if you’ve read my other posts, you know how I feel about bitter.  I will say that it did improve as it warmed up but still not to drinkable levels.  If you manage to find some, let me know what you think.

Cheers!

Magic Hat Heart of Darkness

Mister and I are splitting a beet as usual.  He handed me this and it smelled roasty-toasty.  I could smell the coffee.  I didn’t hold out much hope.

I sipped.

I tasted toasty-roasty.  It wasn’t too bitter.  I actually got some banana.  It was surprising.  Not bad.  

Then the char hit.  Wow.  I wasn’t sure I could drink any more.  

But alas, I had another sip.  The char took a back seat and all in all, it wasn’t too bad. 

Magic Hat’s Heart of Darkness is a dark, chocolatey ale that isn’t terribly bitter.  It would make a porter-drinker pretty happy.  I couldn’t slam 6 of them (then again, I don’t think I could slam 6 of anything), but I thoroughly enjoyed my snifter tonight.

Cheers!

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French Onion Soup

French onion soup.  Just the name sounds fancy – It’s French after all.  I love French onion soup but I hate paying for it in a restaurant.

A while back I decided to scour Pinterest, where else, for the ultimate recipe.  I scoured.  I scoured some more.  I was confused – I assumed by the price you pay, it was an intricate recipe.  That didn’t make sense if I was reading the recipes right.  Caramelize onions, add beef broth, some spices, some wine and simmer.  Could it be that easy?  Really?

Yes.

It really is that easy.  There are a few tricks I learned but the process is simple.  You can scale it up or down depending on your needs.  Since we eat a lot of soup and it’s a great lunch, I usually make a healthy pot.

Some things to know:

  • When you’re caramelizing the onions, don’t add salt right away.  It draws the water out of the onions and makes it take longer to caramelize.  Add a bit of brown sugar when the onions are starting to get soft and turn brown.
  • It brings out the sweetness in the onions and really helps them brown well.
  • Don’t overcrowd the pan with onions.  While it’s tempting to try to do this all in one batch, it actually is a bigger pain and takes longer.  It is also much easier to burn the onions.  Don’t do it.  Just don’t.
  • I use a touch of dehydrated garlic and shallot to bump the sweetness.  I buy mine here and here.
  • I also like  shallot pepper seasoning for a hint of herbs.  Mister uses this on EVERYTHING but tarragon isn’t my favorite so I use it sparingly.  It really gives a nice flavor to the soup, though.  I used 1/2 tsp.

Ingredients:

  • 3 lbs yellow cooking onion, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 3 tbs butter, divided
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar, divided
  • 2 Tbs salt, divided
  • 8 cups beef broth
  • 2 cups water
  • 3 bouillon cubes

Melt half the butter in a large frying pan over medium low heat.  Add half the onions.  Let cook slowly stirring occasionally.

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After approximately 15 minutes, you’ll see the onions start to get some brown color.  When they look like this, sprinkle 1 Tbs salt on them.

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Keep stirring and browning.  When the look like the picture below, sprinkle half the sugar over the top.

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Keep cooking until all the onions are brown and extremely soft.  They’ll look like the picture below.

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Dump the onions in a stock pot.  Add the beef broth and turn on low.

Repeat the process of caramelizing the onion with the other half of everything.

Once the onions are all in the pot, add the wine, water, bouillon, and any other seasonings you’re using.  Simmer 20 minutes (or longer).

You could use a crock pot instead of simmering this on the stove.  It’ll just be a little longer of a process but would taste equally delightful.

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You can top with croutons and cheese – if you do, broil the cheese until it gets bubbly and brown.  Delish!

Be sure to share this soup – you’ll have a lot of friends you never knew you had!

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Crock Pot Swiss Steak

It’s no secret I love too cook.  It only makes sense that I love to eat.  What do I love more than that?  Making something amazingly easy that tastes like you spent hours slaving over a hot stove.

How do I manage it?  My crock pot.  I couldn’t live without it – without them – any of them.  People laugh when I say I own so many I quit counting.  *cough* nine *cough*  Seriously.  Before you ask, yes, I use them all.  No, not usually at the same time.  I often have two going at the same time, though.  They keep mashed potatoes hot on a holiday.  There’s no better way to serve sloppy joes.  Soup?  Who needs a stock pot?  I almost always make soup in my crock pot.  They are one of the workhorses in my kitchen.

A year ago we bought 1/4 of a cow.  It’s a lot of meat.  A LOT.  But since we had a big freezer that was nearly empty, it was a really good deal and a teacher that works with me raised the cow.  Did I mention it was a lot of meat?  Have you ever seen 40 lbs of hamburger in one place other than the store?  And that was just my share…

Needless to say we’ve been eating well.  We’re down to about 5 lbs of ground beef but I had a lot of round steak to use.  Where’d I turn for recipes?  Pinterest of course!  Most of them pointed to a mix of cream soup, french onion soup mix, and water.  As always, I used what I had and what sounded good.  I was a bit apprehensive because I’d tried this recipe a year ago and it was horrible but I tried cooking the steak from frozen.  We ate it for one meal and I threw the left overs out.  Yeah, it was that bad.  Make sure your beef is thawed if it’s frozen.  It makes a BIG difference.

This time, it was delicious.  It reminded me of the swiss steak my mom used to make when I was a kid – the only difference being she used cube steak, fried it, toiled over the stove to make gravy, then baked it forever.  I didn’t say it was AS good, but for the work involved, I will eat this a whole lot more than I’ll spend the time to make that.

I added fresh mushrooms because they were on sale today and looked great.  You could also use 2 cans of mushrooms that you drain well or leave them out completely if you don’t like them.  You could also add extra onions.  I didn’t want to kill the dish with onions – I know odd for me – but between the fresh onion and the cream of onion soup, it was just perfect (for me).

Enjoy!

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3 lbs round or cube steak

1 can cream of onion soup

1 can cream of mushroom soup

1 package french onion soup mix

1 onion, sliced

1/4 cup water or beef broth

1 8oz package white mushrooms, sliced

splash of wine (optional – I used dry vermouth)

salt and pepper

In a hot pan, brown steaks, approximately 2 minutes each side.  Set aside.  This step is optional but I highly encourage it.  Anne Burrel says, “Brown food tastes good!” and she’s right!

While steaks are browning, mix soups and soup mix in the bottom of a crock pot.  Once mixed, add onions and browned steaks to crock pot.

Deglaze the hot pan  with water or beef broth and scrape the bottom to get all the bits.  Pour over steaks in crock pot.

Cook on low 3 hours.

Add mushrooms and wine.  Stir.  Cook on low another 3-4 hours or until beef is tender.

Serve over potatoes or rice.

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Honey Bourbon Garlic Sesame Chicken

I like Chineese food.  Mister loves chinese food.  Little Bug loves omlette soup (egg drop).  We eat it plenty.

There’s an awesome restaurant right across the street from where my parents live.  They opened the same year that my parents moved into their condo.  We eat there often and know all of the people that work there.  A few weeks ago, they had a fire in the grease trap.  It was a total loss but everyone got out safely.  While they plan on rebuilding, it takes time and we’re desperate for Chinese.20140208-165441.jpg

Mister’d bought a package of chicken thighs and didn’t cook them.  I scoured pinterest and couldn’t find what I was looking for.  This is the closest I could come.  As always, I had to switch it up a bit so here’s what I did:

2 lbs boneless, skinless chicken thighs (breasts could be substituted)

1 tsp. dried minced garlic

1/2 tsp toasted onion powder

1/4 tsp dried minced onoin

7 oz honey

1/4 cup tamari

1/2 cup ketchup

1/4 cup rice wine vinegar

1/4 cup bourbon

2 Tbs sesame seeds

1 Tbs corn starch

1/4 cup cold water

drizzle of sesame oil (optional)

green onions (optional)

  1. Put chicken in 3 qt crock pot.  Sprinkle wiht onions, onion powder, and garlic.
  2. Mix honey, tamarai, ketchup, vinegar, and bourbon in a small bowl.  Pour over chicken.
  3. Cook on high 2-3 hours or low 4-5 hours, or until chicken is cooked.
  4. Remove chicken from crock pot and chop.
  5. Remove sauce to a 2-qt stock pot.
  6. While chopping chicken, turn sauce on medium and simmer 10 minutes or until sauce starts to thicken slightly.
  7. Mix corn starch and water in a small bowl until dissolved.  Whisk into sauce.  Return to a boil and simmer 3 minutes.
  8. Return chicken to pot.  Add sesame oil if desired and stir.
  9. Serve over white rice or noodles.  Sprinkle with sesame seeds and green onion if desired.
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Chocolate Covered Banana Oatmeal Breakfast Muffins

Today is snow day #3.  Well, not really snow, cold.  The wind chill has been lower than -15 and that’s just not safe to have kids waiting for the bus and walking to school.  I’m enjoying the extra time with Little Bug and her friend, K.  Since K doesn’t have school, there’s no day care either and she comes to our house to play.  Nothing like two 4-year olds to make the house look like a tornado hit!

A friend from work posted a recipe for chocolate peanut butter baked oatmeal.  I had to check it out.  While it looked delicious, it was a few more calories than I like to eat for breakfast.  Clicking around, I found this recipe.  It was the inspiration for what I made below.  I didn’t think to take any pictures of the process but I managed to get one before I scarfed a muffin down.

Chocolate Covered Banana Oatmeal Breakfast Muffins

5 cups old fashioned oats (400 grams)

4 scoops Chocolate Protein Powder (176 grams – may vary depending on your brand/type)

1/4 cup mini chocolate chips (56 grams)

3 tbs cocoa powder

1 tsp salt

2 1/2 cups well-mashed extremely ripe bananas (600 grams – I had a bit more)

2 2/3 cups water

2 1/2 tsp vanilla

3 tbs coconut oil, melted (35 grams)

3 tbs agave syrup, honey, or other natural sweetener

Preheat oven to 380 degrees.  Line 32 muffin cups and set aside.

In a large bowl, mix the first 5 ingredients (oatmeal, protein powder, salt, cocoa powder and chocolate chips).  In a large bowl, mash bananas until there are no more lumps.  Add the remaining ingredients to the banana bowl.  Mix well.  Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients and mix well.  Scoop mixture into lined muffin cups.  Bake 21 minutes until edges are slightly browned and they smell good.

They have a slight banana flavor but it isn’t overpowering.  The chocolate is just right.  These are so good warm!

I used my #20 cookie scoop to assure even sized muffins.  If you wanted a slightly smaller muffin, use a #24 scoop.  You’d get 34 or 36 muffins instead of 32.

Made as I have, they come out to 108 calories each with 3 grams of fat and 6 grams of protein.  Add some fresh fruit and you have a great breakfast!

Optional:

nuts, seeds, wheat germ, dried fruit, cocoa powder, more chocolate chips

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Short’s Gingersnap

Mister’s brother gave us a bottle of Short’s Gingersnap to try.  It’s a brown ale with spices and molasses.

We didn’t like it.  In fact, it went down the drain.

The ginger is really strong.  I thought it was bitter.  Mister said doughy was coming through for him.  I didn’t get much cinnamon.  Something else was coming through funky.  I know Mister’s brother liked it so give it a shot and let me know what you think.

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Arcadia Ales Nut Brown

There is nothing special about this beer – Nut Brown Ale from Arcadia Ales.  It’s a nice dark ale.  It isn’t terribly bitter but has a nice bite.  I could drink a lot of it.  As a a side, it pairs very well with chocolate cherry bread from Zingerman’s (and no, we didn’t pay $17.50 for the loaf but I swear it’s worth it!).

There’s a story behind how 6 of these beauties ended up in our fridge.

Girl meets girl.  Girls fall in love.  Girl moves to Mississippi to be with girl.  Five years later, girl is diagnosed with cancer.  These girls are my wonderful friends Auntie Bee and Aunt Laurie.  Aunt Laurie fought her heart out but it wasn’t meat to be.  With “bucket list” taking on a whole new meaning, Auntie Bee and Aunt Laurie made a trip to visit “home” for Auntie Bee.  We hadn’t seen Aunt Laurie in a few years.  Other than being shocked at her beautiful, unabashed baldness, it was like our last visit was the day before.  Our friends gathered, we laughed, we cried, we talked but we could not say goodbye.  The night before the Aunts left, we had an impromptu gathering at my house for just one more hug before we parted for what we knew would be the last time we’d see Aunt Laurie.

On the way here, the Aunts stopped at the corner store and Aunt Laurie picked out a 6-pack of this beer for Mister and me.  We drank a few that night and put the rest in the refrigerator.  A few short months later, Laurie left us to go home.  As hard as it was for us, we know she’s kayaking in the most beautiful places and is free of pain.

Since that night at my house, I just haven’t been able to bring myself to open another bottle until tonight.

This one’s for you, Aunt Laurie.  We love and miss you!

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