"Lo, Children Are An Heritage of the LORD: and the Fruit of the Womb is His Reward" - Psalm 127:3

Monday, December 24, 2012

Merry Christmas to Me ;)

I got myself a little something for Christmas :)  I've never had anything that was the newest/latest/best, and I don't care to, but the advertising on this one had me hooked months ago.  But I wasn't planning on getting one because I didn't want to upgrade to a smart phone and have to pay more every month.  Then my old basic phone started having major problems.  I tried ordering a replacement online, but it was a disaster.  So I gave in and got the one I really wanted.  I managed to get it for $100 due to discounts and the refund for the one that I had to return.  I figure that's not too bad, given the fact that one of the things I do most with my phone is take pictures.  So it's really like investing in a camera... right?  Lol.  I had it for a week before I was brave enough to take it out of the box and activate it ... with the 22 year old's help :)  This is going to take some getting used to, but I love it already.  It's a minor thing, but the alarm ring tone I used this morning was a really soothing, pleasant way to wake up :)

All My Boys Together :)

 I finally have all my boys back together!  Our oldest son is home for the holidays, and enjoying a little brotherly fun.  The four year old is pretty attached to him already.  Last time he was here (over a year ago) the four year old was pretty afraid of him.  He arrived home in uniform, and is really tall, and the four year old is afraid of everything, so he freaked out and didn't want to be near him.  But that was then, and this time around he is his brother's little shadow.  He's enjoying all the special attention.

 The eight year old especially loves his brother's phone, which has games on it ;) You'll notice the four year old nosing in on the action in several of these scenes...

Here's all my boys together.  Now we're just missing our daughter, who is spending the holidays with friends in Washington, DC.  She is on break from college and didn't come home.

Grandpa is here too (my dad). He helped us out by picking up our oldest son from the airport and bringing him up.

The other day my in-laws came over too, so we had a good chance to visit with everyone.

The poor baby was sick that day (Saturday).  He had a bad fever and just slept most of the day.  We've all been fighting sickness this week.  A few of the daycare kids were sick - some with fevers, some with colds, and some throwing up.  Yeah.  So now it's running through our family, just in time for us to take it to the rest of our family in Colorado.  The eight year old had a bad fever Friday and slept all day.  Then he went skiing Saturday and had a major crash and had to be rescued by ski patrol, after being stuck on the mountain for an hour and a half.  Thankfully the worst of it was a bad bloody nose, but I can't tell you how glad I am that we've made him wear a helmet.  He hit the back of his head hard enough to bloody his nose.  He's fine now. So back to sick people... I woke up early Sunday morning feeling horrible - stomach bug.  I was the only pianist in town so I went to church long enough to play the music for the morning service, then headed home before the sermon.  Meanwhile, my husband, who was feeling fine when I left, had to leave the service twice to be sick.  He came home and spent the day in bed.  Hopefully we'll end it there.  I'm sure Grandpa and our oldest, who are staying at a hotel, are hoping not to get it.  But our oldest came here with a really bad cold already, so who knows.

Okay, so I didn't mean to get into all the gory details - lol.  We're having a great visit.

The baby has been very leery of his oldest brother, and hasn't really warmed up to him yet.  It didn't help that he was feeling so sick when they arrived.  But the 22 year old is building up his trust, and playing with him a lot.  He still won't let him hold him though.  At least not for long.

They're having fun playing, though.

I asked the eight year old to snap some pictures, and this is what I got ... no heads.

Except for this one...

Merry Christmas :)

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Gluten Free, Dairy Free Shepherd's Pie

 I made a version of shepherd's pie last night that was baby friendly (by that I mean no eggs, dairy, wheat or nuts).  In an act of sheer genius, I forgot to take pictures past the "brown the meat" phase.  But I wanted to remember the recipe, so here it is, despite a lack of finished product pictures. 

I started out by cooking a pound and a half of ground elk meat, with olive oil, a chopped onion, and a can of mushrooms.  When the meat was almost done cooking, I added a bag of frozen peas and corn, and cooked until it was all hot.  I put the meat mixture into a ceramic dutch oven, then used the same skillet to make gravy.  This was the trick to making it dairy and wheat free.  I used beef broth and corn starch to make the gravy.  Half of a can of beef broth went into the skillet.  I mixed 2 T. corn starch in a shaker with 1 tsp. onion powder, shook it up really well, then added the other half of the can of beef broth to the shaker, and shook until it was well mixed.  Then I poured the shaker into the hot beef broth in the skillet, and whisked until it was hot and bubbly, and the thickness I wanted.  I poured the gravy over the meat mixture, then added smashed potatoes to the top.  Instead of mashing the potatoes with butter and milk, I just added a touch of olive oil and a little garlic salt and used a masher for a chunky texture.  I baked it until the gravy was bubbling up through the potatoes - maybe 15-20 minutes.  The guys say it was really good.  I didn't eat it because of my diet - instead, I pulled out some of the elk/onion/mushroom mixture and added a little salsa and garlic salt to it, and just a touch of cheese, and had that with green beans.  We were all very happy with dinner ;)

Afterward, we played dominoes, which the baby thought were put out just for him, so we corralled him in the high chair.  He and the three year old were tickling each other through the back of the chairs, and giggling hysterically.  Being a Mom is good stuff :)

They're so entertaining!


 I normally get up before 6 am, and I enjoy my QUIET, ALONE time.  The other day though, all three boys were up by 6:30.  NO, NO, NO!  They came out to the living room, where they immediately fell asleep on the floor.  ;)

The baby actually made it until around 10 before crashing.  One minute he was playing, and the next he was out cold :)
This was the day he was clinging to me in the kitchen.  He brought a blankie into the kitchen, spread it out and snuggled into it ... right in the middle of my pathway ;)

I'm Having a Very Pinteresting Christmas

 My daughter (who will be 20 tomorrow - yikes!) usually does all the goodie making at Christmas, but she's of to college on the other side of the country this year, so I'm on my own.  I wanted to make goodies (even though I'm not allowed to eat them on my diet :(  I've been pinning Christmas treat ideas all year, so I figured it would be a great time to try out some of the ideas.  They all came out perfectly.  So here's some of the things I've made...  

  This was called Christmas Crack - because it's as addictive as crack.  I would have to agree.  Glad I'm on a diet, or I would have eaten a whole pan of this stuff myself.  It's very simple - put a layer of saltine crackers on a foil lined pan with sides (I used a big sheet cake pan).  In a saucepan, cook 1 cup of unsalted butter together with 1 cup of brown sugar until bubbly and starting to thicken - somewhere around 5 minutes or so.  Pour that over the crackers, spread to coat, then bake at 350 degrees for 8-10 minutes, until bubbly.  Pull out of oven and sprinkle a bag of chocolate chips on top. When the chips have melted, spread out the chocolate, then chill till set.

Santa hat pretzels. My eight year old made some of these (he got tired of it quickly though, so this is all we made).  I'm guessing you can figure out how to do this without instructions ;)

 I had little helpers too.  One clinging to my leg (ever try to move around the kitchen with a one year old attached to your leg?) and the other hoping I would drop something, or grabbing things off the counter when he thought I wasn't looking.  He typically doesn't like sweets - won't eat cake or pie and doesn't even really like ice cream.  But he does love bugles and pretzels... and m&m's.  And he loves the Christmas crack.

 I made cinnamon popcorn.  This is super easy - just melt down 1/2 cup of red hots with a quarter cup of water and pour over popcorn.  I used two bags of microwave popcorn for that amount of cinnamon.  Good stuff.

 The eight year old made the Santa hat bugles too.  These are yummy - the perfect blend of chocolate and salt ;)  I'm not a big fan of almond bark, which I cheated and used on this.  Next time it will be white chocolate chips, which are just as easy to melt down. 

 The mint oreo truffles were a bit more work, but soooo worth it.  Wish I could afford the calories & carbs to eat a whole one of these.  Instead, I had to make do with just a tiny taste.  But ooh.  I'm definitely gonna have to make these again.  It's a pretty simple recipe too - I put a whole package of mint oreos in the food processor and pulverized them, then added a package of softened cream cheese to the food processor.  It was a little hard on the food processor, so next time I'll probably just stir them in with a wooden spoon.  I made two batches of these, and one of my packages of cream cheese was 1/3 less fat, which worked out much better.  The full fat variety was too soft.  Mushy even.  I put them out on the porch to cool (until it started snowing), then dipped them in white chocolate tinted green.  The original recipe called for peppermint extract in the white chocolate, but I was running low on that, so I didn't use it, and I think they turned out just fine without it.  I had saved some cookie crumbs to sprinkle on top, and I'm glad I did.  The white chocolate was a little dirty looking after rolling the truffles in it, and sprinkling cookie crumbs on top hid that.

 I made a few with dark chocolate coating too, since that's my husband's favorite thing.

 The cinnamon sugar pretzels were the easiest thing to make.  1/2 cup of vegetable oil, mixed with 1/2 cup sugar and 2 tsp. cinnamon, stirred together really well and poured over a 16 ounce bag of pretzels.  Then baked in the oven at 300 degrees for thirty minutes, stirring twice.  Much easier than chocolate dipped pretzels, which I also made.

 I tried peppermint divinity too, but I don't think I did it right.  It seems awfully dry. I suspect is has something to do with my cooking time due to our elevation (7,200 ft. which is 1 1/4 miles for those of you impressed with Denver's "mile high" status).  Anyway, either my candy thermometer is off or cooking it that long was a problem. 

At any rate, here's the recipe:
  • 4 cup(s) granulated sugar

  • 1 cup(s) light corn syrup
  • 3 large egg whites
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon(s) peppermint extract
  • 6 drop(s) red food coloring
  1. Oil a 9" by 9" pan and a spoon and set aside. Combine sugar and corn syrup in a medium saucepan with 3/4 cup water and cook over medium heat until mixture reaches 260 degrees on a candy thermometer, about 20 minutes.
  2. Beat egg whites to stiff peaks in a large bowl using an electric mixer set on medium-high speed. Reduce speed to medium and slowly pour sugar mixture into egg whites. Add peppermint and continue to beat until mixture is very thick and fluffy, about 12 minutes.
  3. Immediately transfer to prepared pan and smooth using back of oiled spoon. Dot divinity surface with red food coloring and drag a skewer through to create a marbled effect. Let stand at room temperature until firm, about 2 hours. Slice into 1-inch squares. Note: For a simple variation, drop dollops of divinity batter onto an oiled baking sheet, then top with chocolate kisses.
The recipe is from the Country Living website.

 I needed something vegan for my 22 year old son, so I made these peppermint crackers (fake thin mints).  They're just town house crackers dipped in dark chocolate which has a little peppermint oil mixed in.  I also dipped some pretzels in the dark chocolate for him, and am thinking of making him a batch of cinnamon popcorn too.  I'll have to dig out my air popper for that though.  The only thing that makes the other cinnamon popcorn not vegan is that I used microwave popcorn, which contains butter.  I may make some with the air popper though because the one year old could have that too, even with all his allergies.  I'm not sure that's such a good idea though, since popcorn is already a choking hazard.  We'll see.

 Then I made peppermint patties.  And boy, are these incredible - better than any store bought ones I've ever had.  Simple too - a can of sweetened condensed milk, a little peppermint oil, and 5-6 cups of powdered sugar.  The recipe called for 6 cups, but 5 1/2 was plenty dry.  I made these into little patties (I scooped them with a cookie scoop, then cut that ball in half and made two patties from each scoop).  They sat in the garage overnight getting good and cold and dry, then I dipped them in dark chocolate the next day.

I also made flavored oyster crackers.  These are just vegetable oil mixed with ranch dressing mix and poured over the crackers.  You have to let it sit for a couple of days for the flavor to be good.  I didn't measure - just mixed it freehand - maybe around a cup of oil, who knows how much ranch, and two bags of oyster crackers.  That was the only recipe that wasn't from pinterest. 

Well, that and the chocolate dipped pretzels. I was surprised how easy all these recipes were (except the divinity).  And I ended up making a lot more treats than I expected to.

Oh, and incidentally, I have snitched a few bites here and there (definitely more than I intended to), but it hasn't been too hard on the diet.  I've already lost two pounds since Monday.  I'm not pushing my luck though.  If you're trying to not snack on goodies while you make them, I highly recommend ice breaker mints.  They have a strong flavor, and no carbs, and things won't taste right if you snack on them.  That or toothpaste ;)

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Homemade Rice Milk

 Last week I tried my latest adventure.  I decided to try making my own rice milk.  It is costing us a fortune to provide soy or rice milk for our one year old.  He's the one who is allergic to nuts, eggs, wheat and dairy.  His food options are very limited.  Our local grocery store carries about 10 different varieties of Almond or Coconut milk (he's allergic to both) and only gets one case a week of Silk soymilk - priced at nearly $5/half gallon.  I can drive to Jackson Hole (77 miles north) or Rock Springs (100 miles south) and Eighth Continent or Simply Organic for half as much.  Problem is, it's not free to drive there, and I need to buy in bulk so I can make fewer trips ... but then where do I store it?  I was keeping it in the garage, where it was as cold as a refrigerator, until the temperature started getting so cold it would freeze.  (It's supposed to get to 15 below zero tonight).  When soymilk freezes, it gets chunky ... and something about it changes and the baby reacts to it just as he does to the things he is allergic to.  I hadn't really even thought about it being possible, but when I was looking on Amazon to see if I could buy a powdered version of something he could drink, I read a review in which someone talked about  making their own rice milk.  So I googled it can came up with a very simple recipe.  Simple, but very time consuming.

It basically amounts to boiling one cup of long grain brown rice in 8 cups of water.  You bring it to a boil, then cover and leave on simmer for three hours.  Then, fill the blender with equal amounts of the boiled rice mixture and water, and puree until as smooth as possible.

I just turned it on and let it run for a few minutes.

Then strain the liquid.

And pour it into a clean container.  The baby wasn't thrilled with it at first because it's definitely not as sweet.  So I mixed it half and half with soymilk so he can adjust to it.  I also added sugar (1/4 cup for a gallon of rice milk) to some of it, but he hasn't tried the sugared stuff yet.  The site where I found the recipe (which I can't find right now) said they sometimes add maple syrup to theirs.  I may try that, depending on how he likes the sugared version.

Anyway, it worked out well, and I figured it cost me about 50 cents to make nearly two gallons (I doubled the recipe).  This will obviously cut down our costs, and will also solve the problem of having to run out of town every week or two.  And I just might not go broke.  I found that our normally very expensive local store has a bulk bucket of long grain brown rice - 43 pounds for $29 - which is surprisingly one of the best prices I've found.  The next thing I want to get is a grain mill so I can make his flour too.  Mixes are $6-$7 for very little flour - or for one cake mix.  If I ground my own rice flour and oat flour, I could save a ton of money.  I could even make him pasta too.  That would pay for the price of the very expensive grain mill pretty quickly.  I keep hoping he'll outgrow the wheat allergy, but so far, no luck. 

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Early Potty Training

 The baby has been very interested in the potty lately.  With the daycare kids and his four year old brother using the potty all the time, he's decided he wants to try too.  So whenever I take anyone else to the potty, he wants to go to.  He's had success with it twice, but not at all yesterday.  I'm not sure he's really ready, but as long as he shows an interest, I'm going to try.

He's only 17 months old, and that's the earliest I've tried to potty train any of them.  He's probably the smartest baby I've had though - he understands everything we say and his vocabulary is very good, so if any of them can do it, this will be the one.

Trim Up the Tree

 I'm having a hard time getting into the Christmas spirit around here.  We finally have our tree up, but it really doesn't seem like Christmas time.  I'm not sure why.  Maybe it's that my two oldest kids aren't here.  My daughter usually does a lot of the decorating, and this year with her in college and not coming home for Christmas, I guess I'm missing all those extra decorations.  I feel bad for the little boys but I'm just not into extra decorating this year.  I don't think they know or miss them though, so I'm not going to stress out over it.

My husband and the eight year old worked to get the tree brought into the house last Thursday.

We have a 10 foot ceiling in the living room, and we still had to cut two and a half feet off the tree to fit it inside.  It's a really pretty tree though :)

We got all the lights on it that day, but no decorations until Sunday.  We have new LED lights this year that we bought at the after Christmas sales last year.  Wow are those bright!  The white ones are stars and they are very cool.  I'm going to look for more of those this year.
They brought it in and put the lights up while the four year old was napping.  He was in awe when he got up to find it in the house :)  It was pretty cute.

On Sunday afternoon, the boys got busy decorating.  I like to let everyone get involved.  Great Christmas memories.  I'm not one of those people who has to have everything just right on the Christmas tree.  I'd rather let them enjoy themselves and build great Christmas memories.

The baby latched on to a candy cane ornament made of bells.  I think it's funny that he was eating it, since he doesn't know what a real candy cane is :)

The four year old was playing with a little mitten ornament that is on a clip and clips to a tree branch.  He had it clipped on his finger.  He's the one I'm having a hard time keeping out of the tree now. He wants to play with the ornaments.  I expected the one year old would be the problem there but he listens pretty well and leaves it alone when I tell him not to touch.

  Monday night we did our annual tradition of watching How the Grinch Stole Christmas.  It's our favorite Christmas movie. 

Since we rearranged our living room for the daycare, we have to improvise when it comes to movie watching.  We get all the chairs and line them up facing the wall-mounted tv. 

The baby stole Daddy's chair.  He was pretty excited. :)  He didn't sit still for long though, and every time there was a song in the movie, he had to get down and spin in circles to the music.  Tuesday when I went to the library they had their Christmas movies out on the counter (the slips for them anyway) and I brought home the Polar Express and we watched that one too.  I'm on a waiting list for the Charlie Brown Christmas movie.  We really don't watch many movies or shows, so this is quite a treat.  (We might watch a movies once every month or two).  So anyway, that's pretty much it for my Christmas spirit.  Wish I could conjure up some more, but it's just not happening.  I'm so busy and overwhelmed this year that I've decided to call it good.  My shopping is pretty much done (still need a couple extended family things, and something for my husband, but I'm drawing a blank on what to get all of them...  Hopefully I'll be able to wrap that up on Saturday while my husband has ski team coach training.)