Monday, July 30, 2012

All Olympics, All the Time!

Here in the Shetler household, we anxiously await the Olympics every other year. The DVR has made it such that if we are in the house, it is an all Olympics, all the time scenario. This year, we put off a camping trip in order to have an Opening Ceremonies party. I knew we needed some kind of Olympic-themed food, and was also in the mood for a dip meal. These two thoughts led me to Olympic colored dips, in the colors (and arrangements) of the Olympic rings. Three of them ended up being original recipes (see below).

Red: Salsa and chips (peach-pineapple from Safeway)
Green: Guacamole  and chips/veggies. (It was great, but next time I'd use about half the salt.)
Black: Chocolate Peanut Butter Oreo Dessert Dip (inspired by this recipe) with graham crackers
Yellow: Tangy Curry Mustard Dip (using a mustard-pepper sauce I got as one of my food souvenirs at a farmer's market on vacation this summer in Indiana) with pretzels/veggies
Blue: Blueberry Fruit Dip (inspired by this recipe) with fruit.

Another fun addition was our Olympic "torches," which I saw on Pinterest :-)  Then, when we were all dipped out, and the Parade of (all 204) Nations started, we stayed interested by trying to find the answers to some Olympic trivia questions that I had come up with. Many of the answers were mentioned by the announcers, but those that weren't, Google took care of. Those that completed the questions (and anyone else who wanted one :-)) got gold medals (aka, Rolos :-).)

In addition to the Olympic food, we also planned on having it set up so we could watch the ceremonies from my parents-in-law's pool via a rear projection set-up my husband rigged. A few technical difficulties that night meant we all watched the events inside, but this idea's time will still come during the London Olympics and I am psyched :-)

Tangy Curry Mustard Dip

1 c. plain, non-fat yogurt
1/2 c. mayo or Miracle Whip
1/4 c. mustard-pepper sauce*
1 T. curry
2 T. minced onion
1/2 t. salt
1/4 t. pepper
1/2 t. spicy brown mustard
1/2 t. garlic powder

Mix all ingredients and refrigerate for an hour or more. Serve with pretzels and/or veggies. Yield: approximately 1 3/4 cups.

Blueberry Fruit Dip

8 oz. fat-free cream cheese
1/2 c. milk
6 oz. blueberry yogurt (1 small cup)
1 c. fresh or frozen, thawed blueberries
1/4 t. almond extract
1/2 c. fresh blueberries to top the dip with (optional)

Mix cream cheese and milk until smooth. Add yogurt, and extract. If desired, blend the 1 c. blueberries before adding to dip. Top with fresh blueberries. Serve with apples, bananas, peaches, nectarines, melons or graham crackers. Yield: approximately 3 cups.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Oreo Dessert Dip

8 oz. neufchatel cheese
6 oz. vanilla yogurt (1 small cup)
1 pkg. sugar-free chocolate pudding mix (4 serving)
1 c. milk
1/2 c. peanut butter
2/3 c. crushed oreos
1/4 c. crushed oreos for topping (optional)

Mix cheese and yogurt until smooth. Add pudding mix and milk and mix until smooth. Add peanut butter. Fold in 2/3 c. crushed oreos. Top with crushed oreos. Serve with graham crackers and Nilla wafers. Yield: approximately 3 1/2 cups.

*If I had to guess at a substitute for the mustard sauce, I'd probably try something like this: 2 t. vinegar, 1 T. dijon mustard, 1/2 t. brown sugar, 2 t. chopped sweet pepper, dash of cayenne)

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Sensational Summer Suppers from Sunset

I am lucky enough to have parents-in-law who wanted 1) an escape from the heat and 2) friends to hang out with them. So, they used Vacation Rental By Owner to find a fantastic "cabin" (4 bedroom house on a golf course) outside of Flagstaff, AZ, about 2 hours from Phoenix, where the air is cool and the pines smell fantastic. Thinking that they were even-ing things out, they said they'd pay for the cabin if the rest of us provided food. Silly them. That turns out to be an added bonus for me! I took it upon myself to do all the cooking for the 10 days, and just had others contribute funds toward the cause. So, I got to plan the meals and cook them, while Marilyn happily took care of Pax. It was a vacation for both of us!

At some point, Jay had picked out a few recipes from the Sunset magazine (a new favorite of mine) that sounded good to him, and so I made those, along with a few other things. I kept them all in a Google Doc if you want to see the nitty-gritty :-) Also, let it be known, that almost every meal involved some grilling (which was not intentional), and Jay gladly did a fantastic job of grilling everything I handed to him. Here are some of my favorites from the week:

  • This is a simple uncooked tomato, basil and garlic pasta sauce served over seashell or spiral pasta and I made some super-fast acorn squash in the microwave with a bit of butter and brown sugar, with a salad for good measure. A light, refreshing, summer meal!
  • Another fantastic summer meal was going out on a limb, for me. I made Indian-Spiced Salmon with a grilled Potato Salad. And for a girl who doesn't like fish, it was pretty darn good! A unique spice blend that wasn't overpowering or too spicy. And another salad. I'm pretty sure we rounded out almost every meal with a salad :-)
  • Using my new favorite ingredient, smoked paprika, we had a great Chicken, Corn, and Spinach Salad with a paprika dressing. (It's my new ingredient because it's great, but also because it took me forever to find it! Thank you Winco!) 
  • One of the first nights, I made a Slow-Cooker Curry Chicken that was decent the first night, but when I had it left over the rest of the week, it just got better and better, especially with brown rice pilaf, diced apples and raisins. (I did decrease the cayenne on this to a modest 1/2 teaspoon for this non-Texan.) 
  • One morning, we had an excess of bananas left over from grilled peanut-butter banana sandwiches, so I located a recipe for Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Muffins and modified them a bit. I substituted 2 bananas for the oil and then divided the batter in half. Half of it I made as peanut butter banana chocolate-chip muffins and half as peanut butter banana and jelly. To do this, I filled the muffin tins half full, put a teaspoon of jam on top, and then added more batter so they were 3/4 full and baked them. Both were yummy! :-) I would still like to find a way to work some oatmeal into them somehow or another... Also, I made them as regular muffins (not mini) and baked them for 20-25 minutes at 325. 
  • For dessert one of our last nights, I felt we needed something light and summery, so I made Strawberry Shortcake. I had a favorite recipe for this at home which is almost more like a pound cake and is rich and buttery, but for this occasion, I decided to go with the biscuit style, that I grew up with at home. I followed this recipe, but with 2 extra tablespoons of sugar to give it just a bit of sweetness (but less sugar on the strawberries). I didn't get around to whipping the cream, so we just poured it over the top and it was heaven! :-) 
Then, when we got home from Flagstaff, the only thing I wanted to get done in the three days before we left for our next vacation (!) was to use up the leftovers. It was a challenge, but we got it done :-) 

Monday, June 11, 2012

Baking Day

A few weeks ago, I asked my mentee Kayla if she wanted to bake something for a mentor activity over the summer. She answered a quick "Yes, cupcakes!" So, that we did. I needed to make a dessert for a fundraiser on the weekend and so we had baking day. She, being a fan of the originals, decided to go with white cupcakes with white vanilla frosting. And sprinkles. :-) 
Coincidentally, I used the same really simple white cake recipe for my cupcakes. Mine were a bit more complex, with brownie on the bottom, white cake on the top, and peanut butter frosting to finish it off. The cupcakes should have been simple with a brownie mix and a white cake mix, but being generally against mixes, I made them both from scratch. The white cake was really fantastic, as long as I mixed in the eggs one at a time, and alternately added the dry ingredients and the milk. The peanut butter frosting was amazing. Period. Make it and try not to eat it all out of the bowl. Since they weren't particularly pretty when I was done, I shaved some dark chocolate over the tops and they looked great! After the fundraiser, apparently the fundraise-ee proclaimed how wonderful they were from the stage ;-) (I didn't hear this, since Pax and I left early, as he was being noisy baby.)

Simple White Cake

1 c. butter
1/2 c. sugar
2 eggs
2 t. vanilla
1 1/2 c. flour
1 3/4 t. baking powder
1/2 c. milk

1. Preheat oven to 350. Grease and flour 9x9 inch pan. 

1. Cream butter and sugar. Add eggs one at a time, beating after each egg. Add vanilla.

2. Sift flour and baking powder together. Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients, alternating with adding milk. 

3. Pour into pan. Bake for 30-40 minutes (18-25 minutes for cupcakes).

Yield: 12 servings or 12 cupcakes. 

Fluffy Peanut Butter Frosting 

1/2 c. butter, softened
1 c. smooth peanut butter
3 T. milk, or as needed
2 c. powdered sugar

Blend butter and peanut butter together. Gradually mix in powdered sugar. Add milk 1 tablespoon at a time until it reaches desired consistency. 

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Family Favorites

Yay for summer! It always takes me at least two weeks of summer, saying every day, "Oh, it feels SO good to be home!" to get over the joy of it :-) I think I should have more time to post now, in the evenings after the baby goes to bed. Which is good, because I've been writing posts in my head for weeks.

I have a cookbook binder that has a cover that bends in the middle so that it stands up while you're looking at it (no cookbook stand necessary). I love this feature. However, my original purple one broke at the hinge, it got used so much. I could have just ordered a new one, but mom had an old one sitting around that she wasn't using. (She'd bought a few old cookbooks with that kind of cover just for the cover and thrown out the things in the binder part :-) So, I inherited one. The cover/spine says "Family Favorites," and it's from Paradise Adventist Academy in California. I have no idea what the place is, but it holds my recipes. And not just any recipes, only my favorite recipes, that I want to make routinely (which is rare for me) get put into the binder.

This is the recipe that advanced to the binder today (and that I am eating as I type): Berry Lemon Applesauce. I'm not a big applesauce person, though my husband is. He grew up eating it as a side dish at many (if not most) meals. To this day, he prefers his mac and cheese with applesauce. However, since I do the cooking around here and applesauce isn't my thing, it doesn't get made. Until I found this recipe. As they say, this changes everything. The redeeming feature is the berries (strawberries in my case). They give it a nice juicy tang and make it amazing! :-) No red hots needed here for extra interest!

Berry Lemon Applesauce
Yield: 6 servings

5 apples, peeled, cored, and roughly chopped
1/3 c. dried cranberries
3/4 c. apple cider or juice
2 T. lemon juice
1/2 t. ground cinnamon
1 T. honey
2 c. raspberries, blueberries, or sliced strawberries
1 T. lemon zest

1. Combine the first five ingredients in a saucepan and simmer, covered, for 15 minutes, stirring regularly. Add water or more juice if the rest has boiled off.

2. Mash apples with spoon to desired consistency. Stir in honey and cook for 1 minute.

3. Remove from heat and stir in berries and zest. Serve cold, room temperature, or warm.

Makes 4-5 cups.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Party Planning

A few weeks ago, I knew my mother-in-law's 60th birthday was coming up and I wanted to do something special for both her and my father-in-law who turned 60 about a month earlier. As I pondered it, I thought a birthday party would be nice, because Marilyn often does this for us and we have rarely, if ever returned the favor. Hence, I decided this year we would throw them a big party for a big birthday :-) I'm not really a big party organizer, but I decided to give it a shot. And as it turns out, my extended 3 AM use of Pinterest came in quite handy, since party decor and food are a common theme on that site.

As with many of my good ideas, the bulk of it came to me all at once, and got planned out in my head in about in hour. Then I wrote everything down in my favorite recording place: the lowly steno pad. So good for so many things! Luckily, I had two lovely friends to help me put all my plans into action :-)

For the non-food aspect of the party (which is how I see most things: food-related and non-food-related), we had a number of things.
  • We had a great Pandora playlist going of 50s and 60s country based on the likes of Gene Autry and co (Jay's favorite style of music)
  • Our 7-year-old friend Josie made a fantastic poster with a giant 60 for people to sign. 
  • Some friends made a great poster with pop culture from the years Jay and Marilyn were in high school
  • Notebooks with kind thoughts from both of their workplaces
  • A poster of sayings from Jay's hometown, Pigeon, MI. (Examples: "You ain't wrong." "You're just a dog, you don't have a face." "It's awful flat outside.") No one else knows what they mean, but Jay thinks they're hilarious. 
For sustenance, we had the following: 
  • a ham set out for people to cut slices and make sandwiches with
  • cream cheese carved into the shape of a 60 and covered with jalapeno jelly, to eat with crackers (great appetizer that Marilyn loves) 
  • spiced nuts
  • olives
  • soft pretzel bites and cheese dip, cinnamon cream cheese dip, and mustard
  • cups with veggies and dill dip
  • Tex-Mex popcorn and Tuscan popcorn (Jay's Sunday night meal)
  • Dove chocolates (Marilyn's favorite)
  • German Chocolate jumbo cupcakes (for Jay)
  • Carrot cake jumbo cupcakes (for Marilyn) 
While this may not have been the most elegant combination of food, I knew it was things they would like, and they did! It was great fun. While the party wasn't a surprise, the guest list, displays, and food were a surprise, so that was fun. A good time was had by all. 

Thankfully, the cupcakes were over really well, so I will share their yumminess with you now. :-) 
As is my new obsession, they were jumbo cupcakes, just for the joy of a big cupcake! My favorites were the carrot cake ones. (I probably liked those better because I forgot to add the vanilla in the German Chocolate ones! :-)) I chose this recipe because a reviewer said they tried 5 different carrot cake recipes for a wedding and this was their favorite :-) It has pineapple in it, which keeps it nice and moist. And my decision to add caramel drizzled over the top of the cream cheese frosting was not the wrong decision :-) As usual, the recipe came from

Carrot Cake Cupcakes
Yield: 12 jumbo cupcakes

  • 3 eggs
  • 3/4 cup buttermilk
  • 3/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 1/2 cups white sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups all-purpose 
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 2 cups shredded carrots
  • 1 cup flaked coconut
  • 1 (8 ounce) can crushed pineapple with juice

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease and flour jumbo muffin tins
  2. In a medium bowl, sift together flour, baking soda, salt and cinnamon. Set aside.
  3. In a large bowl, combine eggs, buttermilk, oil, sugar and vanilla. Mix well. Add flour mixture and mix well.
  4. In a medium bowl, combine shredded carrots, coconut, and pineapple.
  5. Using a large wooden spoon or a very heavy whisk, add carrot mixture to batter and fold in well.
  6. Fill muffin tins about 1/2 full, dividing batter evenly between all 12 cups. Bake at 350 degrees F (175 degrees C) for 1 hour. Check with toothpick.

8 oz. cream cheese, softened
1/2 c. butter, softened
1 t. almond extract
1 t. vanilla
3 1/2 c. powdered sugar

1. Mix all ingredients together with a hand mixer. Spread or pipe onto cupcakes. 

3/4 c. chopped pecans
Caramel sauce, drizzled over the top. 

1. Drizzle frosted cupcakes with 1-2 t. caramel sauce. Sprinkle 1 T. chopped pecans on top. 

Monday, April 23, 2012

Things I Learned on Maternity Leave

As I near the end of my 9 weeks at home on maternity leave (or in today's lingo, FMLA, for Family Medical Leave Act), I have finally had a few moments to reflect on things. More accurately, Pax has finally begun 1) sleeping longer at night, 2) taking naps and 3) taking naps that last longer than 10 minutes. Since I am more rested, I, being the terrible nap-taker that I am, have been thinking while I should be napping. These things that I've learned on maternity leave are what I was thinking about yesterday.

1) The baby is in charge. Period. If he wants to eat, end of story. Whatever I'm doing (for instance, eating breakfast) is officially over and/or paused until an unknown time. This morning my cereal sat on the counter until 10:30. If he has a poopy diaper, it needs to get changed, 5 seconds ago, unless I enjoy prolonged crying in my ear. If he is in a smiley, cooing mood, everything stops for that as well, because who could resist trying to keep this face around longer?

2) Get comfy pajamas. E. ssential. The first couple weeks after bring the little guy home, a person moves slowly, and the comfier you are, the better. I had a pair of the lightest, softest black pajama pants loaned to me that I wore for the last trimester of pregnancy and the 6 weeks after the baby was born. I was loathe to give them up...

3) On the other hand, never underestimate the power of a shower or fresh air. I am a shower person. I ALWAYS shower every day. First thing in the morning. So, when I got to take a shower the day after Pax was born, it was amazing. I finally felt like I could emerge from this crazy experience and rejoin the world again. Then, after staying in the house for so long and camping out with the baby, getting in the shower and cleaning off the dust that has been sitting around your house for a month along with you feels amazing. So does getting out and realizing that the world has changed to an entirely different season while you were dedicating most of your day to nourishing another human being. Exercise does a body good. It does a body even more good if Grandma can watch the baby while you get your exercise :-), though the sling is an effective back-up.

4) Let people help you. As I learned how to take on an entirely new role in life, it was immensely helpful to have friends and church family bring us meals. It meant we could sit around in the evenings and stare at this amazing new person in our lives! When my parents were here and I developed mastitis, my mom "took control" in her words, and made let me stay on the couch all day feeling sick. I haven't had that in ages! How fantastic :-D Having a mother-in-law come and fold my laundry (as much as I hated to let her do it), was a huge blessing too. As it turns out, it's awfully difficult to fold a T-shirt with one hand :-) If someone offers to do something for you, protest once for your dignity's sake, and then accept.

5) If something isn't right, get help. Generally, my "seek medical attention" philosophy is Wait a few days and see if it gets better on its own. This worked nearly 100% of the time previously, (but it sure helped to have a Nurse Practitioner mother who could confirm that there was nothing to worry about). My other medical philosophy is "Walk it off and/or Suck it up." Needless to say, I don't go to the doctor often. However, before the baby was born, through our Bradley classes and a book I'd read on breastfeeding, I knew within 5 days after Pax was born that something was not right, because I was in pain. The nurses at the hospital, my obstetrician, and a lactation consultant all told me that nothing was wrong, I just had to get used to the feeling. However, a wonderful person at church who has done a lot of work with LLL, convinced me that it shouldn't be that way, and so I kept looking elsewhere. Finally, I found a lactation consultant and a subsequent pediatrician who confirmed that something was wrong. The baby wasn't getting enough to eat because of the bit of skin under his tongue was too short. A simple 5 minute procedure took care of it, and he started gaining weight like nobody's business. Without  prodding from someone to get help, I never would have known this! So again, get help if something doesn't seem right. You've got time; do it.

And those are some of the things I learned while learning to be Momma, which as it turns out, can be a really enjoyable job  :-)

[This accidentally didn't get posted until now. Oops! We'll call it Mommy brain :-)]

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Apps for Baby

It seems that my iPod touch has grown into my hand. It spends as much, if not more time with me than Pax. Since I've been pregnant with him, it has found many uses. There are 4 pregnancy/baby apps that have been the most commonly used. In case anyone is in need of such resources, these are the most useful ones I've found so far :-)

Full Term Contraction Timer: First, when my contractions started and I was debating when to go to the hospital, I had an app that wasn't just a timer, but kept a log of all the contractions I had so I could see what the consistent pattern was. Exactly what I needed.

Then, when the baby was born, I was thrilled and wanted to tell everyone, but was too tired to do all the notifying work, the Bambinapp let me fill in the 3 relevant details and send it straight to Facebook so that everyone knew about our new bundle of joy :-) (And in a cute way, of course.)

Since Pax has joined us, and we've been at the pediatrician (and lactation consultants), they want to know how often he's eating, pooping, and sleeping. With the What to Expect Baby Tracker app, it lets you input all the information with very simple motions (no typing). (PS: I have found lots of useful information for first-time moms through their daily emails as well, which you can sign up for on the website.) Also, it helps reveal patterns. It's been most useful to me to help me remember when he last ate, which side he nursed on, and how long he ate for. Also, it's been super-useful as the weeks have passed to see when (if) there are sleep patterns. So it helped me see that he has slept for almost exactly the same amount of time the last 5 nights (though not necessarily at the same times). It also has a notes section for each category to note things like what strategies I used to get Pax to sleep (swaddled, not swaddled, lamp on/off, etc.) Anyway, great app, I'd highly recommend it.

Finally, we have been back and forth to Target, Home Depot and the grocery store on many occasions. (Okay, this isn't that different from any other day of my life :-) However, the new app that helps me keep these things organized in the palm of my hand is called Slide To Buy. It's just like many other list making apps, but my favorite part is that it lets you see your lists without unlocking your device. I always hated having to unlock the iPod and then swipe and click through to find and open the app and the appropriate screen. With this one, you can light up the device and your list(s) are all right there for you to see and cross things off. Definitely helpful in my world.

 And in case you were wondering, a number of these apps I've discovered using the Apps Gone Free app, which has a daily alert of 5 apps that are temporarily free. There's usually at least one game, most days there is a kid-friendly app like a story book, etc., and many times there is a productivity or photography app as well. And all free! :-)