Thursday, June 21, 2012

So I know this has nothing to do with food...

Just a few months after my fourth child was born I was sitting peacefully in the Celestial room at the Mt. Timpanogas temple when a distinct thought came to my mind that “my house was not yet full.” I knew immediately that we were meant to have at least one more child in our family. I actually came home feeling very distraught. I remember going outside and yanking the weeds from my garden. My last two pregnancies had been very difficult and I was determined to be done. Over the course of the next few weeks I convinced myself that I misunderstood my impression. Maybe it meant something else entirely… I began to systematically pack up all of our baby things as our littlest grew out of them and donated them to other families. I actually begged my husband to go “get fixed” just to be sure. He said it didn’t feel right. “I don’t know if we’re done,” he said, “right now I feel like we have all that we can handle but I feel like down the road we’ll change our minds.”

About two years ago I was reading in my scriptures and came across this passage:
“Children are an heritage of the Lord: and … happy is the man that hath his quiver full of them.”Psalm 127:3, 5.

It touched my heart and I couldn’t get it out of my head for days. I kept thinking of that feeling that I’d had while at the temple. But during this time in our life we were going through some enormous trials at home. I couldn’t imagine adding to the chaos of our home with a pregnancy and then another child. This was actually a very touching time during my life and because of the trials that we were going through I was able to bring myself closer to the Lord than ever before. I began to focus on ways that I could fill my quiver without another child of my own.

I worked in the nursery of our church at the time. Some people dread this calling, comparing it to babysitting and are sure they are being denied the Spiritual food that those in the other classes are being fed. Though I’d always loved working in the nursery (where else at church can you take off your shoes, sit on the floor and eat snacks?!) I was definitely of the mindset that I was being denied my spiritual food. I decided that I would make it a goal to gain something spiritual out of nursery every single week. That’s all it took! I immediately felt as though I were “filling my quiver” with other people’s children. I began to bond with them and felt the spirit stronger than I’d ever felt it in any other class. It was there when I was able to calm a crying child or when a timid little girl began to play for the first time. It was there when I was walking through the halls and these little babies would run into my arms. It was there when they learned my name and beamed when I remembered theirs. It was there when I saw a glimmer of reverence in their eyes when we discussed the Savior during our very short lessons. It was there when they sang. It was there when they danced…

From there I continued to fill my quiver through various church callings, all within the Primary. I taught sharing time lessons and learned over 100 names of all the children in our ward. I taught the 4-year-old class and fell in love with close to 20 children- all of whom I know love me too. I joined the ranks of Cub Scouts and learned how fun little boys really are!

During conference last October, Neil L. Anderson spoke to me personally in his talk entitled “Children”. It was as if he were compelling me to understand this sacred responsibility and open my heart to yet another of my own. A dear friend of mine was days away from delivering her seventh child. She too had felt that their family was complete when she had a similar impression at the temple. She heard a sweet little voice asking her if she could join her family since her “way had been blocked.” I was shocked to see that when this sweet little girl was born, she had broken the “cookie cutter” mold of the family and had a look all her own. I will admit that when my friend first shared her experience at the temple with me I actually did have the thought “good, you can have another baby and then I won’t have to!” But as I held her baby in my arms, I again had that feeling that I needed to be holding one of my own.

But the timing was not right. Doubts began to creep in and I never shared my sentiment with my husband. Life was just too hard right now! For every reason to have another child, there were 100 reasons not to. But for the first time in many years I actually did have that honest yearning in my heart. When our church’s annual General Conference rolled around in April this year, I was shocked that the very first talk after President Monson’s opening comments was again directed towards me personally. In his talk “And a Little Child Shall Lead Them” President Packer reiterated the importance of children:
"One of the great discoveries of parenthood is that we learn far more about what really matters from our children than we ever did from our parents. We come to recognize the truth in Isaiah’s prophecy that “a little child shall lead them.”Isaiah 11:6.
In Jerusalem, “Jesus called a little child unto him, and set him in the midst of them,
“And said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.
“Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”Matthew 18:2–4.
“Jesus said, Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven.
“And he laid his hands on them, and departed thence.”Matthew 19:14–15.
We read in the Book of Mormon of the visit of Jesus Christ to the New World. He healed and blessed the people and commanded that the little children should be brought to Him.
Mormon records, “They brought their little children and set them down upon the ground round about him, and Jesus stood in the midst; and the multitude gave way till they had all been brought unto him.”3 Nephi 17:12.
He then commanded the people to kneel. With the children around Him, the Savior knelt and offered a prayer to our Father in Heaven. After the prayer the Savior wept, “and he took their little children, one by one, and blessed them, and prayed unto the Father for them.
“And when he had done this he wept again.”3 Nephi 17:24.
I can understand the feelings expressed by the Savior toward children. There is much to be learned from following His example in seeking to pray for, bless, and teach “those little ones.”


President Packer even quoted Psalms,
“Children are an heritage of the Lord: and … happy is the man that hath his quiver full of them.”

I am deeply humbled and grateful for the opportunity to finally add one more of Heavenly Father’s precious children to our family. There is nothing so monumental than to be trusted with one of His beloved spirits let alone five. I am also so grateful for the opportunity I have to serve your children every day through volunteer work at the school, in the community, and at our church.

Our newest edition is due late in January next year.




Thursday, December 22, 2011

Baked Potato Soup

I hate being cold. But I do love Winter because of the following: Christmas, sweaters, and soup. There is just something ultra comforting about all three and it's a special treat when you can sit under the lights of the Christmas tree wrapped in a cozy sweater eating some warm and hearty soup. Ahhhh!

Baked Potato Soup
5 large baked  potatoes
1 small onion, diced
1 small bell pepper, diced
2 Tbsp butter 
3-4 pieces cooked bacon, crumbled
8 oz. sour cream
2 cups milk
2 cups chicken broth
1 tsp dried basil
1 tsp salt
freshly ground black pepper
shredded cheddar cheese
minced fresh parsley

In a 5 qt. Dutch Oven melt butter over medium-high heat. Add chopped vegetables and saute until tender-crisp and lightly browned. Add broth and milk and stir. Cut potatoes into large chunks and add to pot along with crumbled bacon. Fork mash the potatoes, leaving some good chunks still in tact. The more you mash, the thicker your soup will be.  Add salt, basil and ground black pepper to taste. Garnish with fresh parsley and some shredded cheese.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies and Christmas Magic

Just a few days ago I was complaining to a friend that Christmas, usually my favorite time of year, just didn't feel magical to me this year. I'd been trying to get into the Christmas Spirit but still hadn't managed to come up with my normal Christmas cheer. No goodies had been baked for the neighbors, no carols had been sung, no presents were under the tree. Trials are hard... They are harder at Christmas.

There is something about the season that just seems to accentuate the losses that we've experienced, whether it be the loss of family, of work, of faith, or even the loss of it all. Every Christmas carol reminds you of days gone by. Every brightly lit home of the cheer that should be within. Even the smells of cookies and eggnog bring back treasured memories that seem so far away. Sometimes, whether or not we are struggling financially, we feel so poor in Spirit... It is from these shallow depths that some of the most important lessons in life are experienced.

Last night we had a surprise knock at the door. Somebody delivered Christmas magic to our front step. My first response was almost a panicky plea for them to take it all away to somebody who needed it more than us. I know there are so many! But in came boxes with gifts and food... But we're fine, I said, and haven't been struggling to buy groceries for goodness sakes! But then a closer look showed me that these weren't just groceries- They were the ingredients to holiday baking. They were the perfect gifts for my children. They were thoughtful items meant for each member of my family. They were a way of saying,
"I know you. I love you.You are my friend and I care." 
I immediately felt the Holiday magic that had been missing surge through me with a challenge to rise above my trials and do more to help those around me. So thank you, whoever you are. You humbled me, brought tears to my eyes and magic into my heart. Merry Christmas!

With our goodies was several containers of oats and cinnamon which was so perfect since I'd had this recipe saved as a draft for a couple weeks. This gave me the perfect opportunity to bake today!

I have been playing with this recipe for the past twelve months. Last year my aunt mentioned that her husband (one of my favorite uncles) LOVES oatmeal chocolate chip cookies but they always have a hard time finding any that are really delicious and live up to his high expectations. I made it a personal quest to create the perfect oatmeal chocolate chip cookie for him for this Christmas. (Yes I realize I sound like a complete nut working on a recipe for an entire year just to give somebody a cookie... )

Anyway, the thing that I always struggled with when making oatmeal cookies was that they always ended up being flat and unappealing. I'd try to add more flour and then they'd taste more like flour than oats... Finally I think I've figured it out and the recipe is as follows:

Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies
1 cup (2 sticks) butter
1 1/2 cups brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
2 eggs
2 tsp vanilla
1 1/2 cups white flour
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
3 cups quick cooking or rolled oats
1 1/2 - 2 cups chocolate chips

 Set oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Depending on your oven and cookie size each batch should take about 10-15 minutes. I usually make my cookies on the smaller side so mine take about 10 minutes.

Cream butter and sugar. For the best results, beat until mixture is lightened in color. I mixed mine for close to 5 minutes to get the texture I was desiring. (This is where it'd be nice to have a Kitchen-Aid mixer.) I've learned that this is an important step when making oatmeal cookies or they tend to come out quite flat.

Add eggs, vanilla and salt and mix well.

Combine flour, soda, oats and cinnamon in a separate bowl and then gently combine into your wet mixture. Don't over-mix or, again, the cookies will end up flat and runny.

Fold in chocolate chips.

Drop by heaping tablespoonful onto cookie sheets lined with parchment paper. (You can skip the parchment if you absolutely don't have it... but I highly recommend it!)

Bake with the oven light on so you can monitor your first batch. I usually take the cookies out before they look completely done. They should be dry and slightly browned around the edges, but the middle may still look a tad underdone. Trust me on this! The cookies will continue to cook after they've been pulled from the oven and they will set into soft, chewy cookies instead of little rocks.

Saturday, December 03, 2011

Marinated Mushrooms

Ok, I couldn't get marinated mushrooms off of my mind since my heart was set on them last week. So, despite the enormous size of my mushrooms, I did cook myself up a batch yesterday. However; I did not leave them whole...
Also, no pictures this time. I tried, but no matter what angle I snapped I just could not figure out how to make a fungus (especially a sliced fungus) look delicious. Oh! But they were delicious!

And just a quick side-note. I am extremely thankful for my herb garden when I am cooking recipes like these. Last week for my pate, I threw on my slippers, grabbed my flashlight and picked parsley at nearly midnight because, on a whim, I decided I wanted to add it. This one was thought ahead more so I didn't have to pick the herbs in my pajamas. But if I didn't have these on hand, I would sacrifice and add dried over paying an arm and a leg for fresh.

Marinated Mushrooms Recipe:
1 pound of brown or white mushrooms, or a mix of both
4 tablespoons of good extra virgin olive oil, or more if needed
3 tablespoons white wine vinegar
2 cloves of garlic, minced 
1/4 cup of red onions or shallots, finely chopped
2 tablespoons of fresh oregano, finely chopped (Use 1 tsp dried leaves if fresh is not available)
2 tablespoons fresh thyme, finely chopped (Use 1 tsp dried leaves if fresh is not available)

1/2 teaspoon of salt
1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns
1/4 teaspoon coriander seeds (optional)

Wash mushrooms well and remove stems. Boil mushrooms in salted water for about 10 minutes, drain and let cool. While mushrooms cool, combine all other ingredients in a jar or large bowl with a tight-fitting lid. Close the lid and shake until it's all combined. Add mushrooms, close lid and refrigerate overnight. Remove from the fridge at least 10 minutes before planning on serving it.

Friday, December 02, 2011

Happy December! (Chocolate Chip Cookies)

Here it is December already and to be honest with you I keep thinking that it should still be October! I am seriously lagging behind in the Christmas Spirit this year so to pump it up a notch I decided to bake some cookies today. This is always dangerous for me because I am an honest-to-goodness cookie addict and for Christmas this year I decided to give myself back my favorite jeans. (A Summer of stress does not bode well for for the waist line...) So the first thing I had to do after snapping pictures was to load these morsels up and give them away! (I may or may not have eaten one first...)
I scoured this blog the other day and realized that I didn't even have my all-time-favorite-standby chocolate-chip cookie recipe on here. Sometimes we take for granted that which we bake all the time. So here they are, the best chocolate chip cookies ever. Enjoy and Happy December!

Chocolate Chip Cookies
1 cup soft brown sugar
1/2 cup powdered milk (or use 1/2 cup granulated sugar)
1/2 cup soft butter
1/2 cup Crisco
2 eggs
2 tsp vanilla
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
2 cups flour
1 cup rolled oats
12 oz. chocolate chips (or 2 cups)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Cream butter, Crisco and sugar in a mixing bowl. Add eggs and vanilla. Mix well. Combine dry ingredients except oats and chocolate chips and mix in completely. Stir in oats and chocolate chips and drop by teaspoonful onto ungreased cookie sheets. Bake 8-9 minutes or until slightly golden on the sides.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Smoked Salmon Paté

My husband and I seldom exchange gifts on our birthdays. Instead, we like to shower each other with attention and service. For Mike's birthday this year I took him on a camping trip, just the two of us. For my birthday, he cooked me dinner. But not just any dinner! He went all out and smoked some wild-caught Alaskan salmon. Wow! That is definitely a new birthday tradition around here. I wish there were some way I could describe how delicious it was. In fact, it was so delicious that we decided on an encore for a Thanksgiving appetizer. It really was too good to turn it into a paté but I'd been wanting to try a new recipe. My thought was that I could put this on my daughter's bagels for the days that she insists on only bringing a bagel and cream cheese for lunch. That way she's at least getting some extra nutrients, right? I have the pickiest seven-year-old so we are constantly trying to find interesting things to try in her lunchbox. The girl won't eat peanut butter and jelly... But she did it this!

Smoked Salmon Paté
6 oz smoked salmon
juice of 1/2 lemon, or to taste
1/4 lb low-fat cream cheese
1/2 tsp smoked paprika
pinch of cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp prepared horseradish
2 Tbsp fresh chopped parsley

Put the ingredients into a blender or food processor. Process until smooth and creamy. Season with additional pepper to taste and add fresh, chopped parsley if desired. Transfer to a bowl, cover, and put in the refrigerator. Tastes great on bagels, crusty bread, crackers and cucumbers.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Stuffed Mushrooms

I almost never host Thanksgiving since I have a mother-in-law who shines in that department. I do, however, love to cook Thanksgiving dinner which means my husband usually gets to eat the meal twice over the holiday weekend. He doesn't complain...
This year we tried a new method of cooking turkey which was OUTSTANDING and really very simple. Here is the link that explains each and every step. We cooked ours in the oven instead of on the grill, but other than that the process was the same and our turkey turned out beautiful, moist, and delicious. My husband thinks that he needs to consult Meathead for every problem in life (well at least in the kitchen) and I have to admit I'm becoming a big fan myself!

Anyway, as my contribution to Thanksgiving at my mother-in-law's house, I was planning to bring some marinated mushrooms. I bought an entire 10 pound box of fresh mushrooms so I'd have plenty to eat at home as well.
To my surprise when I went to go pick them up I found that I'd ordered them JUMBO size... not exactly fitting for the appetizer I'd had in mind!
All was not lost though and I came up with this delicious alternative. And with these jumbo-sized mushrooms this could easily be turned into a meal by adding just a little ground beef or turkey in with the stuffing. I tried a couple different versions and if you love mushrooms you will love these!

 Stuffed Mushrooms
12-15 whole fresh mushrooms (or 6 giant ones!)
1 small onion, chopped
1 stalk celery, diced
1 Tbsp butter
1 large clove garlic, minced
1/2 tsp poultry seasoning or Simon & Garfunkel Rub (I used S&G- another Meathead Favorite)
1/2 cup. mozzarella cheese, shredded
1 cup dry bread crumbs
2 Tbsp fresh parsley, chopped

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Spray a baking sheet with cooking spray. Clean mushrooms with a damp paper towel. Carefully break off stems. Chop stems extremely fine, discarding tough end of stems.

2. Heat butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onion, celery, and chopped mushroom stems to the skillet. Saute about three minutes until vegetables are tender-crisp. Add garlic and seasonings. Cook an additional two minutes.

3. Add bread crumbs and cheese and stir until completely combined. Using a little spoon, fill each mushroom cap with a generous amount of stuffing. Arrange the mushroom caps on prepared cookie sheet.

4. Bake for 20 minutes in the preheated oven, or until the mushrooms are piping hot and liquid starts to form under caps.

**As made, I thought these mushrooms were fabulous! But I love mushrooms. For my husband who only likes mushrooms he thought these were a bit too mushroomy and needed something extra. The following is a variation I made for him which I actually thought was a tie with the first but they taste quite a bit different. These are not quite so Thanksgiving'ish so would be a good appetizer for any occasion.

6-8 whole fresh mushrooms (or 2 giant ones!)
1/4 cup chives, chopped
1 Tbsp dry sherry
1 Tbsp butter
1 large clove garlic, minced

1 teaspoon herbes de Provence or dried thyme
4 oz. cream cheese
1 cup dry bread crumbs
2 Tbsp fresh parsley, chopped
2 Tbsp walnuts

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Spray a baking sheet with cooking spray. Clean mushrooms with a damp paper towel. Carefully break off stems. Chop stems extremely fine, discarding tough end of stems.

2. Heat butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add mushroom stems and sherry to the skillet. Saute about two minutes. Add garlic and seasonings. Cook an additional one minute.

3. Add bread crumbs, cream cheese, chives and walnuts. Stir until completely combined. Using a little spoon, fill each mushroom cap with a generous amount of stuffing. Arrange the mushroom caps on prepared cookie sheet.

4. Bake for 20 minutes in the preheated oven, or until the mushrooms are piping hot and liquid starts to form under caps.