Dinner of Champions

Paula and I lived together all through our 20s. One of our apartments was a two bedroom, one bathroom on the bottom floor of a two story building built in a mid-century style. Big, wide floor to ceiling windows in the living room and light green tile in the kitchen. We called it the cave because it was always cool and dark in that place, even in the height of summer. Of course, we were two blocks from the beach, so that helped some.

About six months after we moved in, a newly divorced young mom with two small kids moved into the apartment next to us. The kids were small, probably 2 and 4 years old. Their names were Landon and Maddy. Every day when they came home, Landon would look through the window and wave. Sometimes one of us would say “Hi, Bud” and then he’d holler to us about his picture or his game or whatever.

One night, Paula was standing in the front of the window eating from a bowl when Landon came home.

“What are you eating?” he asked her.


“You’re eating cereal for dinner?????”

He went running into his house, yelling for his mom. A big pause. Then the door opened and he stuck his head out.

“MY MOM SAYS YOU CAN’T EAT CEREAL FOR DINNER!!!” he yelled. Then he slammed the door.

Catholic kids know better. We can eat cereal for dinner. It happens all the time, like Fridays in Lent. Pancakes. Waffles. Egg sandwiches. And cereal.

Just no bacon.

And waffles are a MUCH better option then that other Catholic Friday stand-by: tuna casserole.

(My mom is screaming right now “But you LOVED tuna casserole when you were a baby!!!” Fine. But then I grew some taste buds. Just sayin’).

I use the Better Homes New Cookbook recipe for waffles, minus the cooking oil and sugar:

1 3⁄4 cups all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon baking powder

1⁄4 teaspoon salt

2 eggs

1 3⁄4 cups milk

Of course, I add the same secret ingredients as my Super Secret Saturday Pancakes: vanilla and cinnamon (we eyeball it).

Gabriel shook off my waffles the other night and had cereal and yogurt instead. Of course, I made sure Paula saw this picture. She said “Cereal: the breakfast, lunch & DINNER of champions!”


Breakfast: It’s what’s for dinner.

DIY Chicken Broth

I have noticed that more home cooking calls for more chicken broth.

Soups, stews, rice, quinoa, roast—I end up using a ton of it, pretty much all year round. And the only way it comes organic at our store is in a 32 oz container. I never use it all at one meal unless it’s the holidays so I end up tossing whatever is left after a week.

More than once I wondered why they don’t sell it in one cup pouches. And then a few months ago, as I cleaned up a carcass after a roast chicken dinner, I wondered something better: “How hard is it to make my own broth?”

At first I wanted to make Rebecca Katz’s “Magic Mineral Broth” from Cancer Fighting Kitchen, but it has chicken, carrots, leaks, onions, celery, potatoes, sweet potatoes, yams, garlic, parsley, kombu, peppercorns, allspice and bay.

Yeah, I don’t know what kombu is either.

So I reached for my other cookbook bible, the BHG New Cook Book, circa 1990.

First make this, or buy a roasted chicken at the store.

Keep the carcass in the refrigerator until you’re ready to use it.

Then into a large pot throw:

1 chicken carcass (I leave bits of meat hanging all over mine)

3 celery stalks, chopped

2 carrots, chopped

1 large onion, chopped

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon thyme

1 teaspoon sage

½ teaspoon pepper

2 bay leaves

6 cups cold water.

Bring it to a boil and simmer for two hours.

Then I strained it and measured it out into one cup portions to freeze. It’s much less salty than the store bought version so the real flavors come through and it’s wonderful to cook with. I use it instead of water for my quinoa and rice, which gives both enough flavor that my kids are not missing those pre-seasoned salt bomb boxed rices.

Our roasted chicken recipe calls for stuffing the chicken with citrus. The first time I made this broth, I took the lemons out of the carcass before starting the broth. An hour later, I was shocked to find a lemon floating in my broth.

“Who put lemon in my broth?” I asked my husband and son, both of whom have official cooking rights in my kitchen. Blank faces. An hour later, Kate came in and asked “Mom, what’s broth?” Turns out she was the lemon bandit. She thought I was making soup and she was pretty sure—from all her cooking show experience—that it needed some acid.

Thanks, Cutthroat Kitchen.

And she was right. So in this picture, you can see I left the lemon and grapefruit in the carcass.



All about the bucket

Thank you to my SIL Susie for having this cool bucket in her home!
Thank you to my SIL Susie for having this cool bucket in her home!

One of the things that Dana and I have noticed about being sparkly Queen of the Castle moms who happen to make a lot of our food and cleaning supplies from scratch, is that if we say that we order pure goat milk soap from this awesome homeschooling family in Pennsylvania, people will automatically assume that we’re crunchy. Or if I talk about canning jam and baking bread, or Dana talks about homemade deodorant—maybe this one most of all—we can almost see the mental eye roll.

There is nothing wrong with being crunchy. But we aren’t. We both drank a Diet Coke on Sunday.

Our approach is more big picture. We accept that there are only so many days in the week and so many hours in the day. We don’t want to be tied down to our sewing machines and stoves and ovens and laundry trees for most of our day. There are for sure times when we cut corners, from Happy Meals to Maybelline mascara. Sometimes for the convenience and sometimes because the homemade stuff flat doesn’t work.

This is the way we see it. A Diet Coke is not going to kill anyone. Shampoo with pthalates is not going to kill anyone. A juice box or applesauce with artificial sweeteners is not going to kill anyone. Wearing lipstick with lead on a big night out is not going to kill anyone. But when we start piling Diet Cokes on top of shampoo on top of juice boxes on top of lead lipstick every day, then the danger piles up too. If that’s all we eat or drink every day, then we are living a pretty toxic lifestyle. And that is not crunchy drama. That is scientific fact. You can double check me here and here.

So we think of our intake like a bucket and we watch what we put in there. We try very hard to make sure that we are not putting toxins in our bucket. And when we do, we try to make sure that we balance that with something that we know will act as a cleaner in our system. We drink lots of water. We read labels. We don’t keep soda in our homes. We make our food from scratch whenever possible and we’ve taught our kids to believe that homemade treats from scratch say we love them way more than any store bought cake ever could.

Just kidding. Kate had a store bought Frozen cake from Stater Bros for her birthday and it was good, scary blue frosting and all.

What we’re fighting here is accumulation. We don’t want to accumulate toxins in our bodies. That’s why we visualize the bucket because it helps us see what’s in there. If we drank soda and Starbucks and ate GMO and fast food every single day—and lots of people do—then our buckets would be full of chemicals and toxins and hormones. We don’t want that, not with our family histories of cancer. If we eat fresh food, organic food, homemade food and low salt food, then our buckets are not as full and they kind of get bigger too. Think about it: one mini-Snickers, or a whole half pint of fresh, ripe, sweet raspberries.

Lots of times, I have chosen the Snickers. Just not every time, or even every three times. We each have a guilty confession, too. Mine is non-dairy creamer, vanilla flavor. Which is straight up fake. And yes, I’ve tried making my own, and I’ve tried half and half and even heavy cream and it just isn’t the same and yes, I need it. Dana’s is that she uses Cascade dishwasher detergent and Finish, because the homemade stuff makes the dishes look awful and she has a discerning mother-in-law.

Our point is that we aren’t perfect when it comes to this healthy lifestyle thing, but we know our environment is dirty and big corporations are not looking out for us, so we have to balance the crap we can’t control with good stuff that we can. We aren’t judging anyone else and we try not to preach.

Although, I may need to work on this part because just a few weeks ago my dad turned to me in exasperation and said “I’m 68! I don’t care anymore!”

Fair enough.



Cravin’ ~ Jen

One of the best things about blogging has been the other bloggers that we’ve “met”.

Miss Indeedy is a Christian mom somewhere in New England with two kids, a past volleyball career and a passion for Alabama football. She writes with a gentle wit and faith that we just love.

A while ago, she introduced another Christian website called Proverbs 31 Ministry.

Secular feminists have a lot to say about Proverbs 31 and its very specific description of a noble wife. When I was younger (and unmarried), I felt the constraints of the expectations of the scripture—that a noble wife was one who cared all hours of the day for her husband and family. And I still acknowledge that a literal, strict interpretation of this passage could lead some to believe that a woman’s God-given place does not require education, career, personal choice or other forms of autonomy.

But I’m a Catholic and we don’t do literal interpretations. Turns out, I’ve discovered that being a wife and mom means I do in fact work 24/7. Not constraining, just the reality of my personal choice. And since I stay home, my contributions to my family pretty much follow the scripture exactly in terms of division of labor.

Even so, I was worried about Proverbs 31 Ministry. Visions of braided hair and prairie dresses and other such things that are just not for this Christian feminist.

I should have known Miss Indeedy would not lead me astray.

In the About section of Proverbs 31 Ministry:

Who We Are

Proverbs 31 Ministries is a non-denominational, non-profit Christian ministry that seeks to lead women into a personal relationship with Christ. With Proverbs 31:10-31 as a guide, Proverbs 31 Ministries reaches women in the middle of their busy days through free devotions, daily radio message, speaking events, conferences, resources, online Bible studies, and training in the call to write, speak and lead others. We are real women offering real-life solutions to those striving to maintain life’s balance, in spite of today’s hectic pace and cultural pull away from godly principles. Wherever a woman may be on her spiritual journey, Proverbs 31 Ministries exists to be a trusted friend who understands the challenges she faces, walks by her side, encouraging her as she walks toward to the heart of God.”


Then I bought a book by one of the founders, Lysa TerKeurst, called What Happens When Women Say Yes to God.  It was a simple, strong read, with guided Bible study at the end of each chapter. To  be honest, it’s a little too Chicken Soup for the Soul in some parts for my taste, but I am a very cynical reader. And the foundational message was so powerful and right in line with my resolution to Be this year.

This is where it gets providential, because of my post about my weight and my determination to be the healthiest version of my heavy self as possible. After I finished What Happens, I thought I might try one of their online Bible studies. So I looked up the next one. Guess what it is:

“Join the next Proverbs 31 Ministries online Bible study, Made to Crave, and you will:

  • Break the cycle of “I’ll start again on Monday,” and feel good about yourself today.
  • Stop agonizing over the numbers on the scale and make peace with your body.
  • Replace rationalizations that lead to failure with wisdom that leads to victory.
  • Reach your healthy goals and grow closer to God in the process.”(www.proverbs31.org)

Dang. It’s like they knew I was coming.

The study is free, and the book is available for purchase on Proverbs 31 Ministry for $14.99. The study starts Sunday, January 19 and you can sign up on the website. There are already 30,000 women good to go—their largest online Bible study ever.

I’ll be there. Miss Indeedy will be there. Want to join us and see what happens?


Proverbs 31 Ministries Online Bible Studies

P31 OBS Blog Hop

Suzanne’s Spicy Pumpkin Pie* ~ Jen

We hope that you are feeling calm and ready for tomorrow. We got this. We all got this.

Happy Thanksgiving from our families to yours. We are so thankful to count you among our many graces!


*Courtesy of www.simplyrecipes.com

A few years after I conquered cranberry sauce, I decided to take on pumpkin pie. “How hard could it be?” I asked my cousin over a bottle of wine the night before Thanksgiving. Are you sensing the theme here?

My first attempt was to buy the giant can of Libby’s Pumpkin Pie Mix and a Pepperidge Farms frozen pie crust. I took it to my mom’s house and proudly called it homemade. The truth is that it was bland.

Then I found a recipe that called for canned pumpkin. I added the spices. That was the year I met and got engaged to the World’s Best Pie Crust Maker, so no frozen crust needed. I also decided to make whipped cream myself. We took it to my mom’s and called it “really homemade”. It was not bland. Everyone loved it.

But then I read that most of what’s in those cans of pumpkin is not really pumpkin as we think of it. In fact, Libby, the world’s leading producer of canned pumpkin, uses a variant of a Dickinson pumpkin called a Libby Select. It’s a GMO.

The jury is still fighting with itself on GMOs, but just to be safe, last year I decided to make a pumpkin pie from scratch starting with the dang pumpkin because (say it with me) “How hard can it be?”

Not hard. All you have to do is buy a pumpkin, cut it in half, pull out the seeds and roast it in a 400 degree oven for 45 minutes or until the skins are soft. Let it cool, scrap the pulp into your food processor or blender and hit puree. One medium sized pumpkin will give you at least four cups of puree, which is enough to make 2 pies, plus Vitamins A, C, K and E, good carbs and healthy fiber, magnesium, potassium and iron. And antioxidants, those beloved cancer fighters.

Plus, the pulp freezes beautifully (Lesley, that one’s for you!).

Now I make my pies from scratch. I use Suzanne’s recipe because it makes a spicy, tasty pie.

Suzanne’s Old fashioned Pumpkin Pie

2 cups of pumpkin puree

1 ½ cups heavy cream or one 12 oz can of evaporated milk

½ cup packed brown sugar

1/3 cup white sugar

½ teaspoon salt

2 eggs plus the yoke of a third egg

2 teaspoons of cinnamon

1 teaspoon of ground ginger

¼ teaspoon of ground nutmeg

¼ teaspoon of ground cloves

¼ teaspoon of ground cardamom

½ teaspoon lemon zest

1 good crust

Preheat oven to 425 degrees

Mix sugars, salt, spices and lemon zest in a large bowl. Beat the eggs and add to the bowl. Stir in pumpkin. Stir in cream. Whisk together until well incorporated.

Pour pie into shell and bake at 425 degrees for 15 minutes. Reduce temperature to 350 degrees. Bake 40-50 minutes or until a knife inserted in middle comes out clean.

Cool on rack for two hours.

Whipped cream: using the whisk on a stand mixer, or a handheld mixer, blend one cup heavy cream, 1-2 tablespoons sugar and 1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla until light and fluffy.

Happy Thanksgiving!

PS: Nine years ago today, I made the best decision of my life and married Shea. It was Thanksgiving weekend, it was raining AND it was the Notre Dame-USC game. Folks showed up anyway. It was awesome. Love you honey! Thank you for this wonderful life!