Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Crock Pots and Dips and Recipes, oh my!

Today I'm linking up with both Boomama and Kelly for some awesome link parties. (Is it any surprise I want to link up to food parties?) The parties, respectively, are the DipTacular and Crockpotalooza. So, without further ado...

DipTacular: Baked Cheddar Bacon Spread
(recipe & photo via Allrecipes)

  • 2 (8 ounce) packages cream cheese, softened
  • 2 cups sour cream
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons mayonnaise
  • 1 pound sliced bacon, cooked and crumbled
  • 4 cups shredded Cheddar cheese, divided
  • Assorted crackers

In a mixing bowl, beat the cream cheese, sour cream, onion and mayonnaise until smooth. Fold in bacon and 3 cups of cheddar cheese. Transfer to a 2-qt. baking dish. Sprinkle with remaining cheese. Bake, uncovered, at 375 degrees F for 30 minutes or until lightly browned. Serve with crackers.

Verdict: Ya'll. I made this dip for an appetizer for my daughter's birthday party because it was freezing cold and it was a morning party and I figured bacon + cheese = sorta breakfast. This was THE BEST dip ever. I had multiple friends emailing me after the party for the recipe. It was scarfed down in a matter of minutes. Best. Dip. Ever.

Crockpotalooza: Red Beans & Rice
(recipe mine, photo not mine)

  • 1 1-lb package dry red beans
  • 4 cups chicken stock
  • 5 cups water
  • 1 lb smoked sausage
  • 1 Tbsp oil
  • 1 heaping cup of seasoning mix, enough to cover the bottom of a large skillet (I prefer Guidry's because it has tiny bits of red pepper; if you don't have seasoning mix, do 1 small chopped onion, 1/2 cup chopped celery, and 1/2 c chopped bell pepper)
  • 5 tsp minced garlic
  • Liberal amounts of Tony's (or your preferred creole spice mix)
  • 1/2 tsp thyme
  • 1 bay leaf
  • a few dashes of Tabasco (optional)
Begin by pouring the dry beans into the crock pot. Add the chicken stock and water. Depending on how hot your slow cooker cooks, you might need to add some more water later on in the day, but this was a perfect amount in my slow cooker.

Slice sausage into small discs and brown on stove. Once the sausage is browned to your desire, remove it from pan and add the oil. Dump in the veggies and cook for a few minutes, until softened. Sprinkle Tony's liberally over the veggies once they've softened, then sprinkle the thyme. (This is a trick I learned from Pioneer Woman - add the spices to the veggies.) Next add the garlic and cook for just another minute or two; you don't want the garlic to burn. Remove from stove and add the veggies and sausage to the slow cooker. Toss in a bay leaf. Add Tabasco or hot sauce if you so prefer. Turn the slow cooker to high and go enjoy the rest of your day.

Now, here's the trick to making it real New Orleans style. After about 6-7 hours, check and make sure the beans have softened. If so, scoop out several ladlefuls of beans and broth into a bowl. Fish out any pieces of sausage and set those aside. Then using a potato masher, the back of a ladle, an immersion blender (my preference), or by pouring the bowl contents into a blender, "cream" the beans to desired thickness. Return the smushed beans to the slow cooker. Put any sausage you took out back in as well. Cook on high for an additional 1-2 hours.

What happens then is magic. The beans that were creamed thicken to make an awesome gravy. Give the pot a good final stir to make sure everything is combined, then pour a heaping ladleful of thick red beans over hot rice. Then dig in while you realize really good red beans is everything that's right with the world.

Verdict: This was delicious. I was super surprised at how good it turned out. I was also thankful it wasn't a complete disaster since I was feeding it to a room of hungry teenagers. Is it as good as Blue Runner? I'd say yes, and it was almost as easy. In fact, the only extra step with this that I don't do with Blue Runner was creaming the beans. And since I make my own chicken stock, it was quite a bit cheaper than making it with Blue Runner.

Now, variations.
  • True Louisiana folk might notice a certain pork product is missing. Yes. I find ham to be a vile form of meat; therefore I never use it. However, feel free to toss in a ham hock or a package of cubed ham if you prefer that taste. Just don't invite me to dinner if you do.
  • I also used only smoked sausage. Most prefer andouille, but andouille is a little too spicy in my opinion, and it's too spicy for SC. Sum of these two points: use your own meat preferences.
  • I didn't list any salt or pepper because I make my own chicken stock, and it's seasoned pretty well. Test your broth about halfway through and if it needs it, add some S&P.
  • Go crazy with your spices. I like tons of Tony's but am not a fan of Tabasco-based heat. You might be the opposite. Just ease yourself into it. You can always put more in, but you can't take it out. I don't even measure my Tony's anymore because I've gotten so accustomed to eyeballing how much I need for a large pot. And it's always a lot. Yum.
  • You can also increase the thyme if you like. I only did half a teaspoon because thyme is disastrous for my vitamin K levels. If you don't take blood thinners, have fun with the thyme.
  • Even though the flavor balance was awesome, I think the garlic could be increased too. But I love garlic. If more garlic is wrong, then I don't want to be right. But if you don't like garlic (or if you're a vampire) leave it where it is. It's nice and subtle.

Hope ya'll enjoy! Let me know if you try either of these and like/dislike them! :)

Friday, August 26, 2011

Friday Freebies :: Autumn Love

Is anyone else totally ready for autumn? I cannot wait. Of course, I'm deluding myself since it stays hot till the first of December here. But I can dream. And I have dreams of colorful leaves, cool breezes, scarves at football games, and hot apple cider. If you love autumn as much as I do, I hope you'll love today's freebie!

{This post is linked up to House of Hepworths}

Friday Freebies :: Scripture Memory Cards (Micah 6:8)

Today's freebie is Micah 6:8. I love this verse, and it's one that has been very important, a very great reminder, to me this year. Download this, print it out, and may it be a great reminder to you too!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

10 Days In and Questions Answered

We are 10 days into our first (real) year of homeschooling, and I figured I better record my initial thoughts of the process and what has stuck out to me.
  • I am blown away by how much a young child can learn and retain.
  • I am blown away by how long of an attention span SC (my girl) has.
  • I am slightly overwhelmed at the amount of planning that has to go into making sure we have our schedules taken care of for each day. If my planner would get here already I don't think I'd feel quite so overwhelmed.
  • It takes up a lot of time outside of the "teaching" times. Printing, planning, gathering supplies, working in the 20ish minute drives to the library, etc.
  • There is nothing quite so amazing as seeing the gears of a young brain start turning.

High points:
  • SC has taken to saying, "You know, when something is hard, you just have to think it through." She'll tap her temple as she says it (I think she picked it up from Wordworld). But regardless of where she got it from, she has put it into practice. The other day she was counting up to 100 by 3's, and I could see her little mouth whispering numbers as she worked her way up. She was fully engaged, thinking and deducing.
  • I showed her on a flat map where Spain was and traced the trail Columbus sailed to the Caribbean. The next day when we pulled out her globe, I pointed out Spain, and before I could do another thing, she goes, "Hey, I know where Columbus went!" And she traced the whole trail herself.
  • I love seeing the marriage of learning + memory. She's memorizing lots of facts, but she's also making a giant effort to learn as well.
Even though my brain has turned into nothing but, "School, school, school!" I'm having a great time. I have been blessed with such a wonderful child who loves to learn and strives to excel at everything she works on.

And now for the long part of the post... :)

Many of my friends have had lots of questions about our choice for her education. So for anyone who has been curious, here's my answers to the most common questions I've gotten.

Why homeschooling? What's wrong with public school? Before I jump into why we chose what we did, I just want to put out there that I don't believe there is any one "right" way that will fit every single family. The beauty of the freedoms we have in this country is that those freedoms allow us to make the choices that we feel are best for our families. So just because this is working for us (for this year, at least) doesn't mean it is what is best for you or your family. I myself am a product of 13 years of public school, and I went to college for free (actually, they paid me) because I received an excellent education in the public school system.

So with my great past experience, why homeschooling for us? One reason is the condition of the public schools here, which, despite attempts by the city & parish to reform, are still sorely lacking. It's a pretty common thing in New Orleans for parents who can afford to have their children in the private or Catholic schools, or in the event they can actually get in, the nicer charter schools. Private schools were not an option to us. We don't have the money to cover the tuition for even the cheaper private schools. That left only public, charter, or homeschooling. Another concern was how soon SC would be exposed to things that we find objectionable. We don't want her to be naive by any means, but at the same time as her parents we are responsible for protecting her innocence for as long as possible. The things that young children are exposed to these days blows my mind. We've even had to quit having the TV on ESPN at night just because of some of the commercials. I want to protect my child from the deceptions and manipulations of this world for as long as possible. We also wanted to make sure that whatever she was taught was taught in line with our faith.

What curriculum do you use? We joined Classical Conversations, which is a wonderful program where the kids actually "go to class" one day a week. They have a "tutor" there to introduce all the information to them. For SC's grade (kindergarten) they do a lot of memory work. They study history, geography, English, science, and Latin. They complete art projects and perform science experiments. They also have a presentation they have to make each week to the class to foster public speaking skills. They have P.E., recess, and lots of fun things to do throughout the day. The parents are responsible for teaching the rest of the material the remaining days of the week. We have to supplement a reading and math program in addition to the CC materials. For reading we are doing the Learn to Read program at Hooked on Phonics. For math, we use the Singapore 1 math program.

Did you have any concerns about homeschooling? Absolutely! This was not a decision we entered into lightly! My two biggest concerns were the socialization aspect and myself (yes, me!).

I did not want to become one of those families where the child is closeted within the house all the time. I don't believe that would have been healthy for me or SC. I wanted my daughter to have a healthy social life. Starting her in dance classes last year helped her get over her shyness and she has really come out of her shell. By joining CC (and also having a thriving Sunday school & Wednesday night class at our local church), SC is getting good classroom experience. We have also signed up with an additional 2 co-ops where she can participate in activities such as art, P.E., Spanish. She'll also be able to take field trips with all three groups. I'm trying not to freak out over how busy we'll be once everything gets underway. (This is why I need my planner by yesterday.) ;)

The other issue was (is) me. I was terrified of being responsible for her education. I'm not the most organized person. Truthfully, the only thing I keep organized are the different folders on my computer. I have a very hard time finding systems that "work" for me, let alone can incorporate the other two peeps in my house. I knew this would be a huge challenge and would require beaucoup self-discipline on my part. That is why I like CC so much. It's structured. It tells me, "Hey, this is what you need to teach this week." It also provides accountability. I know I have a responsibility to teach her throughout the week because there will be review periods the following week. I realize that makes me sound like an awful homeschooling mom, but my point for saying it is that it keeps me from saying, "Well, it's OK if we don't get to everything today," if we're both tired and one (or both) is a bit cranky. It gives me a schedule I have to stick to.

What have you learned so far? Balance. I've discovered that SC can go for about 3 hours before she needs a brain break. I've learned that if she's on a roll with math that day, let her keep going, and maybe do extra science the next day. I do try to get in a bit of each subject each day, even if it's just going over her memory work.

What are your favorite resources? Two things: the internet and the library.

The internet is a wonderful place to find crafts, activities, printables - pretty much anything you need to supplement a lesson! There are also so many wonderful teachers who have blogs and give descriptions of the things they do in class and offer (free!) downloads. I started boards on my pinterest page to catalog everything I'd found. Now when I need to lesson plan, I just hop over to pinterest, click around for a bit, then plan & print.

And then there's the library. I'm spoiled because I have access to two very awesome, very large libraries. Usually what I do is spend an evening scouring Amazon for books that correspond to what we're studying that week, make a list at each library from what I've found on Amazon, then request the books. Then I just go and pick up the books off the reserve shelf when they're ready. So easy! See, I am spoiled. :)

What does your day typically look like? Ah, that's the true beauty of homeschooling! (I kid... kind of.) My family has the notorious reputation of being night owls. We are, and we own it. We are not morning people at all (although my hubby, bless his heart, has been waking up early each day to do Bible study and class study before work). 6:30 AM breakfasts and 7:30 AM school days do not work in our house. My daughter usually drags herself out of bed anywhere between 8:30 and 9, and it takes her about 30 minutes to eat and "wake up" (poor child... she gets it honest). Once she has finished breakfast, dressed, and we've straightened the house so we can work, we get started. We usually do small things before lunch - mostly memory work where she is reciting what she's learned. Then we have lunch with Daddy, which is a nice break. In the afternoons we do more concentrated work: reading books, coloring maps and doing puzzles, flashcards, worksheets for math, craft projects, etc. We usually wrap up around 4 or 4:30 because that's typically when she's had enough, and my hubby will be coming home shortly after five. Again, I'm so thankful that she enjoys learning for so long. On days where we have P.E. or art, we'll have to adjust our schedule accordingly. Our study schedule is: devotion + prayer, history, geography, science, Latin, English, math, phonics, art, and reading for fun (i.e. a Fancy Nancy book to wind down).

Anything surprised you? Any misconceptions? How time consuming it is. I know, I know. DUH! Of course it's time consuming. I just didn't expect it to be this time consuming. Also the expense. We've spent over $1,000 already (which is barely 1/5 of the cheapest private school tuition I could find, so... not complaining). Obviously if we'd gone a different route our expenses would be different. But that's been a big adjustment this summer.

Anything about it you just love? The amount of knowledge SC is gaining. The fact that she can continue to learn at her own pace. The late mornings. ;) The flexibility of our schedule. The many opportunities for social gatherings.

I think those are the most common questions I get asked. And I feel a little ridiculous for writing this after only 10 days, but these are the initial answers to the questions. Ask me again in May if I still feel this way. ;) We're very excited about this year, and I can't wait to see how much SC is going to learn and thrive! I just hope I can keep up with her! :)

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Saturday Pinspiration

Each week I think I'll link up the things I've found and tried on Pinterest.

(Are you on Pinterest? If not, you should be. If you are, leave your page URL in the comments so I can follow you!)

Most of the things I tried this week were food. (Imagine that!)

Eggplant sticks with marinara. OK, I had to make some revisions to this one. 1, I didn't have any wheat germ, so I subbed italian bread crumbs. 2, leaving them under the broiler for only 7 minutes? Not enough time! The sticks were still raw in the middle, and maybe you are a fan of raw eggplant but noooooooot me. I almost gagged up my dinner. I tossed them back on the pan and cooked them an extra 20 minutes at 350. (My poor hubby, who doesn't have eggplant very often, chowed down on them like they were no big deal. He thought that was what they were supposed to taste like.) I do recommend doing the broiler first, because it helps the outside get nice and crisp, then bake them longer for the inside to get soft.

Three cheese chicken alfredo bake. I halved this recipe and it was a huge hit. My five year old scarfed it down and asked for seconds and thirds.

Angel chicken. Another big winner. It was too mushroom-y for me (I hate mushrooms!), but the two fungi-bores I live with absolutely loved it. And it's all about keeping your people happy, right?

Pepperoni muffin bites. These were delicious and SO easy to whip up!

Pioneer Woman's cajun chicken pasta. I had low expectations, even with it being Pioneer Woman. I mean, she lives in Oklahoma, and I can get cajun chicken pasta from the little restaurant down the street that will knock your socks off. Well, Pioneer Woman knows what she's doing. This was divine. You'd never know it came from an Oklahoma girl. It's Louisiana approved. :)

We made freezable Egg McMuffins. My daughter thinks I'm the most awesome mom in the world now. :)

My daughter is studying Columbus this week, so one of our crafts was making a Christopher Columbus inspired telescope.

We also used this great site to practice her skip counting. Wonderful resources!

And of course, it wouldn't be a pinterest recap without something funny. This one made me (literally) laugh out loud.

So that's all for now. What about you? Pinned anything awesome lately? Tried anything that was PINspired?

Happy Saturday!

Friday, August 19, 2011

Friday Freebies :: School Days

Today for Friday Freebies I also have some art I created that's all about school! Most of us have (or know) someone who have either started or will be hitting the books again over the next few weeks. These are some fun printables I made to celebrate back-to-school time.

Hope you all have a wonderful weekend!

Friday Freebies :: Scripture Memory Cards (Psalm 73:26)

Welcome to the very first installment of Friday Freebies. Check back here every Friday for downloads I've created just for you - completely for free! I cannot tell you how much I have been blessed by other sites uploading and offering things for free, and I want to pass that on to anyone who lands here. (That's also a good reason to subscribe and follow on Facebook, right?) :)

One of the freebies I will offer every week is a different Scripture Memory Card. It's kind of a neat story on how this particular freebie came about. Way back in college between my junior and senior year, I sublet my friend's room in her apartment while she was gone for the summer (shout out: she has a blog too - You Frill Me - which is a oh-so-fun resource on fashion, trends, delicious recipes, and anything else that's frilling!).

Every day when my roommate and I left for the day, we'd close our bedroom doors. So when I'd come home in the afternoon or at night, I'd always have to open the door to walk into my bedroom. Well, Fran had taped an index card to the outside of the bedroom door. Scrawled in pencil on the front of the card was one simple verse: Hebrews 2:3, which states, "How shall we escape if we ignore such a great salvation?" I can still to this day see the words in her handwriting. After passing that card upwards of 90 times over the course of the summer, the verse was etched into my brain. And 10 years, a mama brain, and a memory-destroying dosage of coumadin later, I can still recite it without hesitation.

The summer I spent subletting from Fran taught me one thing: if I'm going to memorize Scripture, it needs to be where I can see it. Daily. Hourly. It has to be something I come face-to-face with each day so it imprints into my subconscious. I've known for years that trying to memorize while doing my Bible reading just doesn't cut it. If my brain is going to memorize Scripture, then Scripture has to do life with me.

Which brings us to today's (and each subsequent week's) download. I created some cards to tack up around my house (the majority of them being in the kitchen, since that's where I spend about 87% of my time, it seems). And I want to share those cards with you. So you can print them and put them on your wall, your bathroom mirror, your car dash - wherever you find yourself spending lots of time and could benefit from having Scripture present.

Today's card is Psalm 73:26. This is a special verse to me, kind of my verse-of-the-year for my 29th year.

Do you have any tips for Scripture memorization? Any particular verses you'd like to see made into cards? Let me know in the comments!

The fine print: I would be honored if you wanted to share my free files with others. If you choose to share, please always link back to my blog to share. Please do not download my files and then upload them to your site for download as your own creation(s). One of the reasons there's so many great free things to download in the blogosphere is because most bloggers are respectful of other blogger's creations, be it words, images, ideas, or photos. Let's all do our part to keep it that way.

Welcome to my new blog home!

Hey there and bienvenue! Welcome to my new blog home! I am so happy that you've stopped by. :)

This blog (along with my Facebook page) is going to be where I post updates, sneak peeks of new products, host giveaways and contests, and offer discount codes on my products, and upload freebies for download (yay! who doesn't love FREE stuff?). This is also going to be the place for my personal musings - when I have time to add those! Between homeschooling, designing, having a super-busy 5 year old, and a husband that works full time and is getting his master's, it stays pretty busy around here!

So how do you stay updated? Simple. I recommend 4 easy things.

1. Subscribe to this blog via RSS. See the link over in the sidebar? Click on that and it will allow you to add the blog feed to your favorite reader.

2. Follow via Google Friend Connect. It's also in the sidebar, just over there to the right.

4. Finally, follow me on Twitter. I'll be honest, this is the one element of social media I've had more trouble mastering, so you'll get the least amount of info from Twitter. I just can't get into it. But for those of you who are Twitter experts, you can follow me here (and maybe pass on some tips to help me get better!).

Thanks for checking in. And to my "old faithful" blog friends who have followed me through about a million personal blog changes, I promise this is the last stop. Thanks for being patient with me - you're the best! :)