Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Teacher Appreciation Dinner

The Story:

This year so many people have assisted Briz and I in raising our princesses, we wanted to show appreciation to three who left their marks on our family. Ladybug's two teachers have put in the extra time to find how much to push without pushing too hard. She loves going to school and misses Miss Valerie during the holidays.

I have been Little Mother's teacher this year, but Aunty Melody worked with her countless Wednesday mornings for a couple of hours so I could get a break. She was able to coach, teach and cajole where I as the mother had lost my influence.

We invited these teachers and a guest to our home for an Appreciation Dinner. In preparation, Ladybug and Little Mother pondered what they loved about these women then wrote it in tribute. They also helped make a tile for each teacher as an appreciation take home.

Each child sat by their teacher/guest. They were responsible for their guest's comfort. They offered appetizers, filled water glasses, and carried over each dish for their guest. Between dinner and dessert, each child stood and gave their tribute. After the meal was over, the girls couldn't resist a little showing off from the tree or the swing set for their teachers.

"I'll bet my teacher wants to come again for breakfast!"
"That was so fun! I thought you were going to take care of the whole thing. When I found out I had to take care of them I was a little worried. But I did just fine. I escorted them to the table and did everything I was supposed to."
"Miss Valerie is my best teacher ever. She even taught me how to hold my fork so I don't eat like a barbarian."

The Decorations:
Vases filled with limes and topped with flowers (we raided an abandoned yard for their wild roses.)
Napkins tied with jute and stuffed with a wild rose
Plaques for each teacher on a stand
Miniature potted shrubs ... they last all summer and look Mediterranean and cute.
Solid Red and Red and white tablecloths
Pitchers of ice water filled with sliced strawberries, limes or cucumbers

The Food:
Sweet Grilled Chicken
Cucumber Mouse Cups
Pink Blush Salad
Grilled Sweet Potatoes
Rosemary Boule
Italian Cream Cupcakes
Chocolate Chip Cookies and Animal Crackers for the kids

The Recipes:

Sweet Grilled Chicken
The kids asked for seconds of this! That is exciting.
12 ounces 7-UP
12 ounces Zesty Italian Dressing
Chicken Breasts for 10-12 (I used 3 breasts pounded)

1. Pound out you chicken. No one likes a thick dry piece of cardboard. Place your breasts between 2 sheets of plastic wrap and pound away!

2. Mix 7-up and dressing. Place all in a covered container or gallon zip lock bag. marinate a few hours or even better, overnight.

3. Grill 6-7 minutes or till done.

Cucumber Mouse Cups
easy and elegant

3 cucumbers
4 ounces cream cheese
2 ounces blue cheese crumbles
salt and pepper
bacon pieces

Peel cucumbers and slice in 3/4" slices.
With a melon baller, scoop out center of cucumber making a cup. Whip cream cheese and blue cheese till creamy. Add salt and pepper to taste. Fill the cucumber "cup" with the cheese mixture. Sprinkle with bacon pieces and garnish with chives.

Italian Cream Cupcakes

This has been my favorite birthday cake for years... with the substitution of hazelnuts from Cuisine At Home, it becomes to die for delicious!

Whisk Together:
3 cups flour
1 t. baking powder
1/2 t. baking soda
1/2 t. salt
Cream: Add
2 cups sugar
3 sticks butter, softened
6 eggs separated
2 T hazelnut syrup
1 1/2 t. vanilla extract
1 cup buttermilk

Beat; Fold In:
Reserved egg whites
1-2 cups coconut, toasted
1 cup hazelnuts, skinned chopped

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line two muffin pans with paper liners and coat with nonstick spray. (This way you can get huge tops to cover with icing and they will pop out easily).

Whisk dry ingredients in a bowl; set aside.

Cream sugar and butter on medium speed until white and fluffy, about 5 minutes. It really does get white and fluffy. This means that air cells have formed in the mixture. Add yolks, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition; mix in syrup and vanilla until incorporated. Mix 1/2 the dry ingredients into butter mixture followed by the buttermilk, then remaining dry ingredients; blend just until incorporated.
Mix nuts with 1 T flour. This keeps them from all sinking to the bottom.
Beat whites to stiff peaks in a bowl with a mixer on high speed; fold into batter with coconut and hazelnuts. Fill liners to top with batter and bake until toothpick inserted in center of cupcake comes out clean. (25 minutes) Cool cupcakes in the pan for 20 minutes, transfer to a rack, when cool, frost with icing.

Cream Cheese Icing
1 pkg. cream cheese, softened
1 1/2 sticks butter, softened
1 1/2 T hazelnut syrup
2 T heavy cream, milk or buttermilk
1/2 lb. powdered sugar

Whip cream cheese and butter together in a large bowl. Add syrup and cream. Beat in sugar until creamy.

Garnish with coconut and hazelnuts. I've always been partial to a strawberry on top.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Hungry and Homeless

Our family has tried to focus on gratitude this year. I wanted to use a dinner celebration to increase our gratitude and teach my children a bit about the world they live in.

The evening started a bit rough. Briz was not too excited about my plans. In his defense, he was concerned about his family's safety and worried that my good desires would cause me to do something foolish, as in the past. After we came to an understanding, we had a sweet sweet experience.

My achievement girls helped me make cookies this afternoon. We had a quick (low carb) dinner. A sandwich assembly line taught sandwich basics such as: mayonnaise goes to the edges of the bread, and mustard only goes on one side.

We toured our house, noting our full pantries, our extra rooms, our huge yard, our library and so on.

While driving we read Lilly and the Paper Man. That started a beautiful discussion. My children asked, "Why are people poor? Are they born that way? Did they lose their jobs?" We answered as honestly as possible, trying not to trivialize a very complex problem. They were fascinated and the discussion lasted till we reached a very poor and dangerous neighborhood. We drove through slowly, pointing out blanket covered windows, tiny unkempt yards, security chains on fences etc. Questions arose such as, "Why don't they take care of their yards?" and "Do they want to live somewhere else?" and "Are there good people who live here?"

A woman slept against a pole, obviously beaten and utterly spent. We knew she needed a kind thought and left a brown bag lunch next to her. We continued up and down the roads looking for those who needed food and a shot of caring. Our takers gratefully grabbed the brown bags and immediately began munching our cookies, apples, and sandwiches. One gentleman said, "God Bless you. I could eat six of these." We left him with two.
One man shivered as he wrapped his blanket around his head. He had the sandwich eaten before Briz and Sunshine returned to the car.

When we reached a lull and did not find homeless at the usual places, we gathered the children around for a quick prayer. We asked to find those who needed both our lunches and a bit of hope. Within ten minutes our remaining seven bags found grateful and gracious homes.

As we drove home, we read and discussed Mosiah4:16-25. Some of it reads as follows:

Ye will succor those that stand in need of your succor; ye will administer of your substance unto him that standeth in need; and ye will not suffer that the beggar putteth up his petition to you in vain.

Perhaps thou shalt say: The man has brought upon himself his misery; therefore I will stay my hand and will not give unto him of my food, nor impart unto him of my substance that he may not suffer, for his punishments are just. But I say unto you, whosoever doeth this the same hath great cause to repent. For behold, are we not all beggars? do we not all depend upon the same Being, even God for all the substance which we have?"

As we drove out of town, we passed the lonesome battered woman once again. She had moved away from the bag, fearful of its contents perhaps. We stopped and reassured her. Her red eyes, puffy face and defeated demeanor deeply disturbed my girls.

Around and around the car we went, sharing our gratitude lists with each other. My heart warmed to my grateful and sensitive children. They prayed for each recipient of the brown bags, and hoped that along with the food, their hearts would be full, that they would walk a little taller knowing that we cared.

Little Mother said, "Can we do this again and again?"
Ladybug asked, "Who feels good inside right now?"
Sunshine just kept spouting her gratitude list and Briz.... he just reached over and kissed the back of my head three times and said, "That's for nothing."

Here is the lunch bag cookie that my kids were sure others would just LOVE. I must admit, they are so chewy they are addictive. They remind me of a chewy chocolate chip cookie that is peanut butter flavored.

Chewy Peanut Butter-Chocolate Chip cookies
1/2 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup peanut butter
1 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
2 eggs
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
2 tablespoons water
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups chopped semisweet chocolate or chocolate chips

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees
  2. In a large bowl, cream butter, peanut butter, brown sugar and sugar until smooth. Beat in the eggs, one at a time. Stir in the corn syrup, water and vanilla. Combine the flour, baking soda, and salt; stir into the peanut butter mixture. Fold in chocolate chunks. Drop by 1/4 cupfuls 3 inches apart on ungreased baking sheets.
  3. Bake for 10-12 minutes or until edges are golden. Allow cookies to cool for 1 minute on the baking sheets before removing to wire racks to cool completely.
  4. Yield: 2 dozen large cookies

Friday, May 8, 2009

Star Gazing

Today's post is a total bonus!!! I am giving out tons of fabulous recipes.

So, this evening, my sweetheart took the kids to work out at the gym. I currently have shin splits, so I went and luxuriated in the library. I returned home three minutes before they returned and I knew they would be hungry. I decided that it would be the perfect night for a star gazing party.

To begin, I cooked the quickest meal I could find that would hold everyone over till late when I woke them up for our midnight snack. Grilled Cheeseball Sandwiches!!! A lovely blogger posted a great cheeseball recipe for this snack, but hey, I'm in a hurry here. So... three ingredients, 3-4 minutes, and dinner! There aren't any side courses because... Shhhh. I want them to be hungry, for later.

Grilled Cheeseball Sandwiches
Favorite cheeseball (homemade would be to die for... but hey! I'm in a hurry)
Whole grain Bread

Heat the griddle. Slather cheeseball onto bread, butter top and bottom, Cook, flip, cook and eat! How's that for simple!

At 10:00, the full moon lit up the sky. We set up our evening meal under the stars and went to wake our small ones.

They clung to us like sleepy Koalas until we deposited them outside, wrapped in blankets. Immediately they wakened to the charm of the night sky and the novelty of a night revel.

Briz pointed out constellations and the North Star. We watched a shooting star. We smelled the freshly cut grass. We listened for owls. We snuggled to get warm. (It was 38 degrees). We spoke in whispered tones so the night magic would stay. We dipped apples in Carmel cream dip. We bit into savory Pizza Pockets. We toasted the night sky with a Butter Punch.

The children were loathe for their special night to end, so we went on a moon lit walk. The moon lit up the pastures and we watched horses sleep, and ducks protect their ducklings under their wings. We returned home and warmed up with Amaretto Hot Cocoa and slipped our little people back into bed. We decided to make this a monthly tradition during the summer months- It was too magical for the children.

Here are some of the elements of our stargazing party.

Butter Punch
(I call it this because of it's unique smooth flavor. It is soooo simple, yet it is the perfect drink to match a savory meal as it doesn't detract with its own strong flavor.)

2 liters Diet Shasta Grapefruit Soda
1 can frozen white grape juice concentrate
lots of ice

Yep! That's it. I have substituted Fresca for the Shasta in a pinch, but it's not quite as good. This punch is great to serve at weddings.

Caramel Creme Dip
(As an apple dip lover, this is maybe the best- I'm not sure if I like this one best or the one with toffee bits. ) This is another EASY recipe.

Mix equal parts of Tom's Gourmet Caramel Sauce and cream cheese softened. I'm sure you could use a cheap Caramel sauce but you would get a cheap tasting dip. Tom's tastes like the best homemade Caramels. I guess you could make your own!!! I've got to try that.

Pizza Pockets

Pizza Dough- you can use the cans- I make my own
Pizza Sauce
Veggies -I used red and yellow peppers and onions
Meats - I used pepperoni and Canadian Bacon
Olive oil
Mozzarella cheese
Parmesan cheese
kosher salt

Saute the veggies in a little olive oil till tender crisp. Mix with pizza sauce. Roll the pizza dough out into 7x4 inch squares. Place 1/4 cup of the sauce/veggie mixture on the dough. Layer meat
then cheese. Roll dough over filling then pinch and seal. Brush the top with olive oil. Sprinkle with a bit of Parmesan, kosher salt, and rosemary. Bake at 450 degrees for 25-30 minutes.

Castle Pizza Sauce

3 garlic cloves, minced
1 T. olive oil
1 (28 oz.) can crushed tomatoes
2 tsp. honey
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 tsp. Italian seasoning
1/2 tsp. dried basil
1/4 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes

Saute' garlic in oil until tender. Stir in tomatoes, honey, salt, pepper, and herbs. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat; simmer uncovered for 30 minutes or until sauce reaches desired thickness. Sauce may be refrigerated for up to 1 week.