Thursday, December 29, 2011

New Year, New Start: Resolutions for 2012

At the end of each year I come up with resolutions/goals for myself for the next year. Sometimes I keep them, and sometimes I fail miserably at keeping them. This year's resolutions are different- these are goals I have been thinking about for quite some time and changes I am determined to make. Plus, I'll have a little help with them.

Without further ado- my 2012 New Years Resolutions:

1. Have a Date Night at least once a month with my husband.
With 3 kids and all of their activities it can be really hard to make time for just the two of us. But it is so important for us to go out on our own, without the kids. We spend so much time being parents, that sometimes we forget that we need to be a couple too. And that's what we were first, before the kids came along. Don't get me wrong- we are definitely happy! We love to spend time together, we just have a hard time finding the time to do that. After all, we really are just big kids ourselves! So this year we are determined to have at least one night a month to ourselves. Ultimately we would like to do 2 nights a month- one nice dinner out, and one fun night out. But for now, we will start with one date night a month.

2. Join a Church.
Last summer the girls attended our local Methodist Church's Vacation Bible School and loved it. They have both asked us to sign them up for Sunday school classes. It happens to be at the same church my husband and I were married in, the same church my daughters attended preschool at, the same church I have my Brownie meetings at. We have tried a couple of churches over recent years, but they never felt "right" to us. I'm Catholic, my husband is Methodist so we need to find a church that fits our needs and our beliefs. We also want to attend one that gives back to the community through it's programs, and has good quality children's programs. This one seems to be it.

3. Practice a Clean Eating diet.
We pretty much already follow a clean eating diet with a couple of exceptions. Last year's resolution was to cook most of our meals from scratch- and I accomplished that goal. Now we have just a couple more things to eliminate from our diet. We want to do this simply to eat healthier. It's so easy to fall in to a junk food rut-even with a dairy issue. But with a little effort, we can eat just a little healthier than we already do. I have already tried two recipes from The Gracious Pantry and my husband and kids loved them both so this goal should be easy.

4. Read More.
I got a Kindle for Christmas last year, and an iPad for Valentine's Day with the Kindle App. I have yet to read 2 complete books on either of them. The sad thing is I absolutely LOVE to read, and when I can't find the time to, I really miss it. I have several books downloaded on my Kindle and I am determined to get through them all. I am not going to pick a certain number of books to read this year, but I know I would like to try and get through about 1 book every 2 weeks. I am a very fast reader and can typically read a book in about a day and a half, but I have to find the time to devote to reading.

5. Learn to Sew. Again.
My Mom got a brand new sewing machine for her birthday so she is giving me the one she had. It's pretty new, in great condition, and easy to use. My MIL taught me to sew several years ago- we made curtains and a matching table cloth for my kitchen in our townhouse. But I haven't done anything since. Projects I have in mind: a baby blanket, matching aprons for the girls, sundresses for me and the girls, and apron for myself, a tote bag.

6. Run a 5K.
I want to run a 5K this year. I have one in mind that I have been wanting to do for a while. A friend of mine and I have chatted about getting together in the mornings to walk/jog. It's time we really do this. Besides, I have an awesome pair of Merrell Barefoot running shoes that need to get used properly.

7.Knit more regularly.
I started knitting a scarf for my Sammie... ummmm... a while ago. Then two little girls got into my knitting basket and cut the yarn for something else, so I had to start over. It's time to finally finish that scarf. Among other projects. Luckily, one of the Girl Scout leaders in my service unit owns the yarn shop just down the road and I've already chatted with her about some lessons.

8.Start my day with a Smoothie.
I don't eat breakfast when I get up- unless coffee counts. And that's horrible, I know. I make breakfast for the girls and my husband but I normally don't stop to make anything for myself until around 11am or so, after the middle one is off to school and the oldest one is working on her schoolwork. Because I don't eat until later, I eat lunch around 2pm- after Cat is done with school and while the little one naps. My eating schedule is a bit off lately and that needs to be fixed. I love smoothies, so my goal is to start my day with one from now on.

9. Have more coffee nights with my best friend.
I have known my best friend since our freshman year of high school. Between us we have 6 kids, so coordinating our schedules is a bit of a challenge. We make sure to call each other several times a week to keep up with each other, but we love to meet up at our local Starbucks and chat away for a few hours. It's a sort of therapy for the both of us I think, it helps us keep our sanity. This past year we've only met up a handful of times. We chatted about this the other day and we are both determined to change that. So, somehow we WILL fit in more coffee nights.

So there you have it, my resolutions for 2012.

Do you make New Year's Resolutions?

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year~Christmas

Our Christmas was perfect this year. It was quiet and laid back, spent at home with family- just the way we like it. My husband had spent the better part of November and December on the road for work, so we did not see much of him for roughly 6 weeks. (Thank God that is done with now!) So just the fact that he was home and not working made it perfect to us. As I see it, Christmas starts for us on the 23rd and goes until the 26th. Why make such an important holiday only 1 day?
On the 23rd we worked on baking our sugar cookies for Santa:

Christmas Eve is always spent at my Mom and Dad's. We used to make a dinner of hors d'oeuvres with things like shrimp cocktail, chicken bites, nachos, chicken salad on rye and pumpernickel, among other things. Over the past few years Mom has instead started doing nice sit down dinners. One year she made Beef Bourguignon that was AMAZING. This year's dinner was just as amazing- she made oven roasted Cornish game hens with a cranberry salsa ( I need to get the recipe from her). She also served a salad with a raspberry vinaigrette, rice pilaf, fresh green beans,and fresh whole steamed carrots. It was an incredible meal, and the best part- everything was completely Dairy Free!

Since Mom made the main course, I brought the hors d'oeuvers: Kale Pesto with mini toasts and Roasted Red Pepper Pesto with crackers. I didn't get a picture because we were too busy tracking Santa on the NORAD Santa Tracker. The girls love following Santa on his Christmas Eve journey around the world. They both got so very excited when they saw he was in Cape Town, South Africa delivering gifts to two of their very best friends.

I did manage to get a few pictures before dinner.

The table all set for dinner:

The girls ready to eat this delicious meal:

After dinner the girls got their Christmas Jammies, specially made by my friend over at It's My Favorite...Boutique. Once they were in their jammies it was time for "The Night Before Christmas" to be read by Nana's special Christmas Bear. Abby absolutely loved the reading bear, and insisted on hearing the story twice!

(please pardon the quality of the pictures. My camera is having issues lately and will be going back to the company soon. For now, these are the best pictures I have)

Soon after it was time to head home to do our few Christmas Eve traditions before the little ones went off to bed.
We had to put out the Reindeer Food:

I attempted to get a picture of all 3 girls in front of the tree. The Little One had other plans and ran off, so instead I only got a picture of the two Big Ones:

After pictures it was time to write our notes to Santa ( which the girls did all on their own this year) and put out cookies and milk for the Big Guy. A new tradition that the oldest one started a couple years ago is to leave a small gift for Santa too. She thinks that he should get a Thank You for all the gifts he brings, so she has started making him a Christmas gift. This year it was a tree ornament. Sam drew a picture for him.

Christmas Morning with a 5 year old dawns bright and EARLY. We were ready for them though. The coffee was already brewing, and before the stockings were opened our French Toast Casserole for breakfast was in the oven.

While we waited for my parents to arrive, the girls got to open their goodies from Santa:

Each big girl got her own chair, and the Little One got a table and chair set. They got other things as well, of course! There was Hello Kitty, Build-A-Bear stuff,and a barking dog (yay) for the Middle One; a soccer ball, and Hexbugs with 2 Habitats for the Big One. Santa brought play food, a learning kitty, and blocks for the Little One. The girls' lists were smaller this year, and so Santa brought them what they asked for.

In the break between opening Santa's gifts and Mom and Dad arriving, I snuck in some snuggle time with my Middle One:

Once Mom and Dad arrived, the room was again filled with presents, and the girls got to work opening those gifts and their gifts from us.

The were American Girl dolls and clothes galore this year, since that is what my Mom and Dad get the girls.

The Little One got her very first AG doll:

And a stroller to push her around in.

There were also Legos, Little People, clothes, books, and other things. ( I can't even remember it all now!)
Along with getting gifts, the girls loved giving their gifts to each other and to us. From my girls I got a beautiful necklace and earring set, a cookie jar and coffee mug, and One Tree Hill Season 7:-) They gave their Daddy table top fuse ball and ping pong.

The Biggest One also helped the Littlest One with opening her gifts, and the two had a lot of snuggle time together. This picture makes my heart happy:

Once the girls had all their gifts opened, it was time for the adults to enjoy opening our gifts to each other. This was the first year I had no idea at all of what to expect. I had not really asked for anything in particular, except for 1 thing- a New England Patriots jersey. Which my husband got for me:-) He also gave me a beautiful tea set from Teavana along with 2 canisters of tea, my first University of Michigan sweatshirt (GO BLUE!), and several other fun things.

From Mom and Dad I got a new Allergy Free cookbook- recipes from it will be tried and posted here I am sure, a sewing set and book since Mom is giving me her other sewing machine, and some kitchen items including new soup bowls that I have been searching for.

I gave my husband a Michigan hoody as well so now we'll match on Game Day:

Of course I gave him other things- boring "guy" stuff;-)

The funniest gift I think were the 7 flashlights my husband got! Bruin, our dog, gave him a set of 4, and my parents gave him a set of 3! Guess that's what happens when you have a hurricane hit your area and take out your power for a few days- for Christmas you get tons of flashlights! At least now we have one in every room, just in case!

We ended the day with a simple Christmas dinner of a baked ham with sides and dessert. My Mom makes the BEST Cranberry Pecan pie! By the time the day was over, we were all exhausted, but in a good way. Now we have 10 months to rest up before we do it all again next year!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Chocolate Fudge Ball Cookies~*Gluten Free* Version

**These are originally not gluten or dairy free. I adapted the recipe for my gluten free readers this year. They can be made with butter and all purpose flour for those of you not looking for GF or DF cookies. Just use the same measurements for the flour and margarine.**

My very favorite Christmas cookie recipe is one for Chocolate Fudge Balls. My mom has been making these every single Christmas for as long as I can recall. It truly is not Christmas until we have Fudge Balls and Party Mix (that recipe is coming soon!). This year I decided to make these cookies gluten free as well as dairy free. I have never used gluten free flour before- I don't have a need to be gluten free, but since I have had requests for more gluten free recipes I thought I would give it a try. And it worked! These cookies are amazing- just as they are every year! I had my husband try them and he agrees- they taste just like the ones my Mom makes.
If you are gluten and dairy free I really hope you give these a try. I realize it's very close to Christmas, but they take less time than most cookies, and only a few ingredients. I promise you- they are totally worth it!

Gluten Free & Dairy Free Chocolate Fudge Balls:

1/2 cup Earth Balance Buttery Spread
1 and 1/2 squares unsweetened chocolate
3/4 cup sugar
1 egg
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups sifted Gluten Free Flour
confectioner's sugar

Preheat your oven to 375F. Line your baking sheets with parchment paper (makes for easy cleanup)

1. Melt margarine with chocolate in a saucepan over medium heat.

Stir constantly-Be extremely careful not to burn the chocolate. Remove from heat and let cool for a couple minutes.

2.Add sugar, egg, salt, and vanilla extract; mix well.
Add in your flour using a sifter.

Those little hands on the sifter are my oldest daughter's. My girls were helping me make these.

Combine well. The batter will be thick.

3. Shape the dough into balls. You can use a teaspoon to measure the dough, but I usually eyeball it. The ball should be the size of a large gumball. Place on your lined cookie sheets.

4. Bake at 375F for 7-9 minutes. You will know they are done because they will get small cracks in them.

5. Allow them to cool on the sheet for a couple of minutes. Roll them in confectioners sugar while they are still warm.

Store them in a airtight container or freeze. They freeze really well!

If you do try them (and I really hope you do!)please let me know either by leaving a comment here on the blog or on my Facebook page or by sending me a tweet on Twitter.

Special thanks to my Mom for sharing this recipe with me and allowing me to share it with you all.

**This recipe is adapted from the "Pillsbury Family Cookbook" and I believe the copyright is in the late 1950's or early 1960's.**

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

French Toast Casserole

Christmas morning is always spent at our house, since we have the kids and Santa has been here the night before leaving piles of gifts for them. My parents come over very early, we open our stockings, let the girls open their Santa presents, and then take a short break for breakfast. We dive into the rest of the gifts once the girls have eaten. Once all the gifts are opened and the coffee pot is drained, my husband makes mimosas and we go back for breakfast #2 or start on the leftover from Christmas Eve. Since it is a special day, I am always looking for something fun to make for breakfast instead of the same old cold cereal. Before my dairy issue started, I would make quiche-like breakfast pies with ham and Swiss cheese or egg and cheddar cheese. They are called Impossibly Easy pies and the recipes are from Bisquick. They were so good, but I stopped making them once I could no longer eat cheese. I have yet to try them with my "fake" cheese.
I have found that with 3 kids and all the excitement on Christmas morning, cooking is not really an option. I need something easy, something that can be put together the night before and popped in the oven that morning. I happened to come across the perfect recipe in my Family Fun magazine and I wanted to share it with you all. It really is so easy and perfect for Christmas morning.

French Toast Casserole:
Serves: 8
Total baking time:50-60 minutes

This was adapted from Family Fun Magazine. I did change it a bit though. I omitted the nuts, used light brown sugar, extra cinnamon, added a sprinkle of nutmeg to the top, and used vanilla soy milk. The method calls for 2 layers of bread but instead I made this in a large lasagna pan and did a single layer of bread so it was not at all soggy.

challah bread (can be found in the bakery section)
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon or to taste (I used a little more)
A pinch of nutmeg
8 large eggs
1 3/4 cups vanilla soy milk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1. Grease a large pan (such as a lasagna pan) with cooking spray of your choice.
Cut the Challah bread into 1 inch cubes. You don't have to measure, they just need to be around that size.

2.In a small bowl combine the brown sugar and cinnamon.

3.Arrange the bread in the baking dish. Try to have a single layer- it will cook better and will not be soggy. Sprinkle 1/2 of the sugar mix over the bread.

4.In a large bowl whisk together the eggs. Add the soy milk (or non-dairy milk of your choice), and vanilla extract, whisking until they are well blended.

5.Starting from the sides of the dish and working toward the center, pour the egg mixture evenly over the bread. Sprinkle the remaining sugar mixture on top. If desired sprinkle a little nutmeg over the top.

6. Cover with aluminum foil, and refrigerate for at least 4 hours, or overnight. To save time I wrote the baking directions on the foil.

7. In the morning, preheat the oven to 350F. Bake for 20 minutes covered, 30 more minutes uncovered, or until the top is slightly golden.I was still half asleep when I put this in the oven since my coffee was not yet done brewing.

To me, this tasted just like french toast. I will definitely be making this for Christmas morning, along with a few other things.

*Adapted from Family Fun Magazine.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

What's Baking~Christmas Cookies

I have not yet baked one Christmas cookie. Seriously- not one. But that's not abnormal for me- I actually do not start baking until the week before Christmas. I like my cookies fresh for the Holidays and I don't like to over do it on the sweets for Christmas. Plus, I know for a fact that Santa's favorite Christmas cookies are peanut butter blossoms, and that he likes them made on Christmas Eve;-) We always save those for very last, and the girls help, since those are the ones we leave out for Santa.
So since this is the week before Christmas, we will get started on our baking. I thought I would share my Cookie Menu with you. We'll see if I actually get all of these done.

Traditional Favorites:
Peanut Butter Blossoms
Chocolate Chip ( my husband's favorite)
Sugar Cookies

Chocolate Fudge Balls

Cranberry Orange Bread (ok, so that's not a cookie)

Grownups' Favorites:
Double Chocolate Biscotti

Cranberry Orange Biscotti
Chocolate Cappucino Cookies
Raspberry Wine and Chocolate Dipped Butter Cookies (and clementines- SO GOOD!)

Do you see a theme with the chocolate? I am actually a closet choco-holic-(Shhhh don't tell anyone.) And to help with that addiction I found dairy free chocolate chips at Trader Joes.

But, first things first, I have to make Rice Krispie Treat Christmas Trees for my middle daughter's preschool party tomorrow and wrap teachers' gifts.

As I make these cookies I will share the recipes. I cannot wait to start baking this week, especially with my girls.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Looking Back ~ Christmas Past

Every year, as Christmas gets closer, I find myself looking through pictures of previous Christmas celebrations, especially the ones since I became a Mom. Christmas has always been special to me, but it took on a whole new meaning once I became a Mom. When I was a kid I always loved baking cookies with my mom, helping her wrap presents (especially my Dad's- I always wrapped his stocking stuffers). I loved the glow of the Christmas lights, singing carols, reading "The Night Before Christmas", and watching the classic Christmas movies. Once I became a Mom, I had someone to share all of those with. Now that my girls are getting older, I am not only passing on my childhood traditions, but my husband and I are adding new ones too. We bake the same cookies my Mom always did, but now we add in a couple my Mother-in-Law used to make. We have an Elf on the Shelf named Frisbee ( the girls love him), we go see Santa at Busch Gardens, and we make ornaments. Every Christmas Eve the girls get to open two presents- their new Keepsake ornaments, and new matching jammies. I am hopeful that they will carry a couple of these traditions on with their own families some day.

I love watching my family grow and change over the years. We've had several good Christmases, and a couple tough ones over the past 8 years.

2003-Baby's Very First Christmas:
My oldest was born exactly 1 week before Christmas. Her due date was December 16th, and as is true with most first babies, she was a few days late. Since she was an emergent c-section we spent an extra day in the hospital and got home on December 22nd. I spent that Christmas laying on my sofa, snuggling my new baby girl- the very best Christmas present I ever got. She spent her first Christmas napping:-)

2004-Baby's 2nd Christmas
Her first visit to see Santa. She would not sit on his lap without me, but as long as I was holding her she was happy.

Catherine also gave me a very special gift that year- she started walking the day after Christmas.

2005- Baby's 3rd Christmas: Family Reunion in Philadelphia:
Our 3rd Christmas as parents was our last as a family of 3. I was 4 months pregnant with our 2nd daughter that year.

That year my husband's family had a family reunion up in Philadelphia, where his Mom's family is from. We spent 4 days up there with his sisters and brothers-in-law, our niece and nephew, Aunts and Uncles, my in-laws, and his grandparents. This was my first trip to Philly, so we did a little sightseeing while we were there. Not a lot, I was still suffering from miserable morning sickness at that time. But we did make a trip to Valley Forge, which is where the picture below was taken.

2006-Feeling Blessed:
This year we were just glad to have made it through 2006 as a family of 4. Our 2nd daughter almost did not make it past her first few days of life, so we had so much to be thankful for this Christmas. I have tons of pictures, but far too many to share. We spent the day in our new house, with my parents and old family friends.

2007-Quiet Christmas:
We had a quiet Christmas that year. Our family was still reeling from our daughter's Cerebral Palsy diagnosis, and my father's diagnosis of cancer.

2008- A Time for Family and Friends:
Things were starting to look up, but again we had a quiet Christmas. We did have an old college friend of mine join us for the week of Christmas that year.
Visiting with Santa at Catherine's preschool party.

Christmas morning with my Sam after we were done opening presents. This is my absolute favorite picture of me and Sam- all snuggled up, just totally HAPPY.

2009- Beach Christmas:
Other than the year our 1st daughter was born, this is my very favorite Christmas so far. This was the year of our Outer Banks Beach Vacation. We rented a huge house directly on the beach and spent the entire week of Christmas with family. We brought ALL of our Christmas decorations with us, even bought a real tree to bring with us! We spent the week cooking delicious meals, baking cookies, walking on the beach looking for shells, watching Christmas movies and just relaxing. My husband's parents joined us for part of the week as well, so our daughters had both sets of Grandparents that year for Christmas. Oh, and I was again 4 months pregnant this year, this time with our youngest daughter. But this time- no morning sickness so it was much more enjoyable!

This was the year we started the tradition of going to Busch Gardens Christmas Town to see Santa.

The house we rented for the week. It was AMAZING!

Christmas Night- 2 very happy little girls.

2010-A Very Rare White Christmas:
We had a very busy Holiday season last year. Not only had we added another daughter to our family, but since the girls are older we had more things to do.

Our middle daughter played Mary in her school Christmas Pageant.

Christmas Eve at my parents' house as is tradition:

Christmas Eve before bed: My very favorite picture of my 3 girls.

And we got to spend the holiday with some AMAZING friends, that we are missing so very much this year.

We also had a very nice surprise- a White Christmas! So much snow that we actually got snowed in for a day. But that was fine with us! Our friends stayed with us, all of our daughters got to play in the snow (and so did we). It was a fantastic day!

2011-And that brings us to Christmas Present:
It's hard to believe we started this whole parenting adventure EIGHT years ago this year!

It's easy to forget with all the materialism surrounding the holiday season now, but the very greatest gift of all, is the gift of FAMILY.

From my family to yours MERRY CHRISTMAS.