Sunday, November 30, 2014

Welcome to December - and DeBloAdMo!

Tomorrow is the first of December and with December comes Advent Activity Calendars and the arrival of our Elf on the Shelf!

Scott and I took the kids to pick out our Christmas tree this evening. I had started wondering if we'd be better off getting an artificial tree again, but I'm glad we went with real. I love the smell!

And Banoffee Pie drove in this evening for the month. Nice to see you again, Banoffee!

And our Advent Calendars are filled with notes from the elves listing our activities for the month. This is my favorite of all the traditions we've started with our family. Instead of chocolate, we get to do something together to get us into the Christmas spirit. Some of the activities this year are fairly low-key since I work a lot of evenings now, but regardless, the kids will be excited to do them!

Here's what we have planned this month, in case you'd like to start a similar tradition and need some ideas to get you started!

1. Decorate Christmas tree.
2. Call Santa. (Free hotline: 951-262-3062)
3. Make Christmas cards.
4. Check email for message from Santa. (
5. Watch a Christmas movie and string popcorn.
6. Go to Girl Scouts Christmas party.
7. Make gingerbread men for the Christmas tree.
8. Donate food to charity.
9. Choose toys to donate to charity.
10. Cut out snowflakes and hang them.
11. Have a picnic in pajamas on the floor.
12. Eat dinner by candlelight.
13. Go to Lolly’s Frozen birthday party!
14. Drive around looking at Christmas lights.
15. Go out to dinner for Daddy and Lolly’s birthdays.
16. Film a Christmas video for Granny and Grampa.
17. Make a cake for Daddy’s birthday.
18. Open Lolly’s birthday presents.
19. Sleepover at Mimi and Poppi’s! (Still to be confirmed! Might have to change it!)
20. Make Christmas crackers.
21. Go on a treasure hunt to find an early Christmas present.
22. Make Christmas tree ornaments.
23. Eat Christmas pancakes for dinner.
24. Put out snacks and reindeer food for Santa’s sleigh team!!

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Mini Pumpkin Hand Pies

Tomorrow's Thanksgiving! One more pumpkin day to go!

I didn't make anything yesterday, because I have officially run out of pumpkin. Ten cans lasted me a good while, though. Now that I've experimented so fully with pumpkin, I am going to choose my favorite recipes for taking to my various Thanksgiving dinners. I will make a traditional pumpkin pie one day (because you just have to), the Pumpkin Chocolate Cheesecake Bars for another and Pumpkin danishes for breakfast on another. Today - if I get around to buying more pumpkin today - I'm going to try one last recipe I was sent to try. But before I get to that...

Mini Pumpkin Hand Pies!

(Why they are called Hand Pies, I don't know. I guess because you sort of use your hands to seal them?)

I used this recipe shared by Sugar and Charm on, linked to me by my sister-in-law. (Phew! That was a lot of links.)

Rather than use round biscuit cutters, though, I used some cheap Thanksgiving cookie cutters I got for 69¢ at the Dollar General. Acorns, leaves, turkeys and pumpkins. So cute!

I won't copy the recipe here since it's all there in the link (and I always feel like I'm plagiarizing if I copy a recipe), but they were really easy to make. Just cut shapes out of chilled uncooked pie crust, fill with a small spoonful of filling (pumpkin purree, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg and heavy cream - see the recipe) and seal with a fork. Don't overfill them, though, because they will ooze out the edges while you're sealing. Mix up some egg with cinnamon and sugar for the glaze before baking.

Fifi, who normally loves pumpkin pie, didn't like them. Lolly, who doesn't like pumpkin pie to start with, helped me make these. I think Fifi didn't like that they had too much crust and not enough pumpkin. But I liked them, and so did all the other adults I shared them with. So oh well. Fun to make with kids, maybe not fun for kids to eat. Maybe mine are just picky.

I settled down after bedtime with one of these on Monday night, a dollop of pumpkin pie whipped cream and a pumpkin pie spice coffee. Mmmm. Autumny.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

A Better Pumpkin Hot Chocolate Recipe

Since my previous (and disastrous) pumpkin hot chocolate attempt, I've been wanting to try my own version. It turns out, as I've come to realize, pumpkin in and of itself doesn't taste like much and it's the spices that make all the difference. So here's my (much tastier) hot chocolate recipe.

Pumpkin Hot Chocolate

1 1/2 cups unsweetened Silk brand coconut milk (carton NOT CANNED, and any other brand would do)
1 tablespoon cocoa powder
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon pumpkin puree
1 small handful semi-sweet chocolate chips
whipped cream (I used pumpkin pie flavored)
cinnamon for sprinkling (if you want to add cinnamon or pumpkin pie spice to the recipe, I'd add only 1/2 tsp)

Combine coconut milk, cocoa powder, sugar, pumpkin, and chocolate chips (and cinnamon/ pumpkin spice if desired) into a microwave safe mug and heat for 2 minutes, stirring halfway through. Top with whipped cream and sprinkle cinnamon over the top.

This recipe could easily be de-pumpkinized by just leaving out pumpkin puree and the cinnamon spices and sprinkling the top with cocoa. And marshmallows. If I'd had marshmallows, they'd be in there too.

It's not too sweet so if you love super sweet hot chocolate, consider using sweetened coconut milk (or sweetened soy milk would work). I like the vague coconuty taste, and in fact, sprinkling a little coconut over the whipped cream would probably be nice too. Enjoy!

The Science of Pumpkin: Devil's Food (Pumpkin) Cupcakes

I consider myself an adequate, even good, baker. I can make delicious cookies, cakes, and breads from scratch. But I'm also a busy mum and have no shame in the fact that unless it's an occasion (or a weird month long food fetish), I will often resort to a mix. I learned long ago (from my own mom, passing down kitchen wisdom) that the oil in a cake mix can be replaced with applesauce for a less fattening option. (Now that I *on a good day* *obviously not this month* eat a low carb, high fat diet, I don't feel so grossed out by oil, but still.) After baking with pumpkin for nearly a month now, I feel I've come to be a bit of an expert on the science of how pumpkin interacts with baked goods. So I wanted to test my pumpkin hypothesis and see if it acts similarly to oil like I predicted. I bought a Devil's Food cake mix for 99¢ at Kroger and made cupcakes.

I simply followed the directions on the back of the box - combine mix, 3 eggs, 1 cup of water and instead of 1/3 cup of oil, 1/3 cup of pumpkin puree. I whisked it all up with a hand blender, and the batter appeared to have the right consistency. I taste-tested the whisk... tasted good to me!

And then I baked them. I baked them for the time stated on the back of the box for cupcakes, and they rose and baked throughout just as they were supposed to. The science behind it had worked!

But. How would they taste? Pumpkiny? Weird?

Drum roll please. They. Were. Perfect. I've used this particular mix before with oil and with applesauce. Both ways turn out great cupcakes. But perhaps it's just my obsession speaking, but I felt the pumpkin added a smooth velvety-ness that the other two ingredients don't quite match. They were a wonderful texture - not too light but not too dense - and were just... smooth. That's the best word I can come up with. I topped them with a can of chocolate buttercream frosting and oh man they are so good.

After baking my first dozen, I mixed the remaining batter with cinnamon to see if I could bring out the pumpkin taste. I would've used pumpkin pie spice, but surprise surprise, I've run out this month! I think I added just 1/2 tsp since it was half the batter. The cupcakes with cinnamon didn't have a very strong cinnamon taste but the subtle cinnamon flavor made me think a little more cinnamon wouldn't be too bad, and the slight spiciness made me think I should try crushed red chili peppers sometime too. Chocolate and chili - yum.

So there you go, another way to use pumpkin!

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Pease Pumpkin Hot, Pease Pumpkin Cold, Pease Pumpkin in a Pot Nine Days Old

Except there is no pease because ew with the pumpkin.


Pumpkin Hot?

Yesterday I repeated a recipe somewhat from earlier this month; I made pumpkin oatmeal again. Only this time I remembered to put it in the Crockpot the night before. And the recipe was ever so slightly different from the Raisin Pumpkin Oatmeal. Basically no raisins and in a Crockpot.

Crockpot Pumpkin Oatmeal

2 cups old-fashioned oats
2 cups milk
2 cups water
1 cup pumpkin
1 tsp (or so) pumpkin pie spice
1/2 cup brown sugar

I put all of the ingredients minus the butter in the Crockpot the night before. I set it up to a timer to turn on High at 4am. It cooked on High from 4 to 6:30am when we woke up. It was perfect. A little stir and it was the PERFECT consistency. I put a little tab of butter in each bowl and didn't need to sweeten it at all. We all loved it. It fed all five of us and then some. I love warm, delicious-smelling oatmeal waking me up in the morning!

Pumpkin Cold?

Tuesday I made a Pumpkin Pie Frappe using this recipe from Peanut Butter & Peppers. I made the coffee version. This one takes a little pre-planning; you need to have some frozen coffee waiting. I realized after making this that this is the perfect way to not waste leftover coffee - freeze it! I always make half a pot yet only drink one or two cups, leaving some to get poured down the sink later after it's cold. Now I will put it in ice trays for making frappes later.

This was really, really tasty. Just please pay attention to the fact that the recipe calls for coconut milk IN A CARTON, not the kind in a can. Canned coconut milk is for cooking, not for drinking.

Though you can get the recipe from the link, I'm posting it here using my own measurements, since I made a few slight changes.

10 cubes of frozen coffee, partially thawed*
2 tbsp pumpkin puree
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp pumpkin pie spice
1 1/2 tsp Truvia**
1/2 cup CARTON Coconut milk, NOT CANNED

Put all ingredients in blender and blend until smooth. If desired, top with whipped cream and a dash of cinnamon. I didn't have any whipped cream or else I'd have tried that.

Okay notes:
* Definitely make sure your frozen coffee is partially thawed. I set mine out for, like, five minutes, and thought it was "thawed" enough. It wasn't. The blender couldn't break it up and at one point it actually shot a huge piece of ice (with frappe all over it) right into my eye! It pretty much hurt. And yes, the lid was on. I turned off the blender, opened it up to stir the ice that had gotten trapped and inertia or something caused the ice cube to shoot out of the blender and attempt to blind me. Damn physics. So yeah, partially thaw first.

Also, next time I'll just put in all the ice cubes. I was afraid it would be too strong with so much coffee, but I think it would've been fine.

** The original recipe has the measurements for Stevia. Stevia and Truvia are not the same so I had to do some math to figure out the Truvia amount (which is what I had). 1 teaspoon of Stevia is equal to 1 cup of sugar, and 1 cup of sugar is equal to 1 1/2 teaspoons of Truvia. I only put 1 1/4 tsp in my frappe and it wasn't quite sweet enough, so I'd recommend using the full 1 1/2 teaspoons, unless you prefer things not very sweet.

This was really good. I will definitely make it again. I've got frozen coffee in trays right now! And I think I'll get some whipped cream for next time too.

Oh, and don't like the idea of opening an entire can of pumpkin just to take out 2 tablespoons? Well, if none of these other recipes can inspire you, use the rest of the pumpkin in cornbread or dump it in a chili.

Pumpkin in a Pot Nine Days Old?

Erm, no, gross, but warm in a mini muffin pan? Sure!

This recipe from A Beautiful Mess for Sour Cream Pumpkin Muffins was yet another recipe sent to me on Facebook. I'm amazed at how so many recipes including pumpkin have been so good! These are super light and fluffy, not in the least bit dense or rich. They have a slight Fall taste to them due to the cinnamon and nutmeg, but it's not overpowering. I chose to make these in my Mini Muffin Pan, mainly just because I don't get enough opportunities to use my Mini Muffin Pan, so the only thing that really changed with this recipe was the baking time. I thought these being small would mean I'd eat less of them, but it actually just means I pop one in my mouth every time I walk into the kitchen. I must put them away. After I eat one more. Maybe two.

I did everything according to the recipe except decrease the baking time to about 15 minutes, so I'm not going to recopy the recipe. Just look it up here. These would be delicious for breakfast (especially full sized), maybe with some walnuts or blueberries tossed in? Mmm, I might have to do this recipe again and experiment with extras. Apple bits, banana, strawberry, gosh ANYTHING would taste good in these!

Honestly. All three of these recipes: Go and make them.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

More and More Pumpkin

I have a confession - for two days I missed my pumpkin challenge.  Saturday and Sunday were so busy that no pumpkining occurred.  I tried, but time got away from me. I've been in some kind of crazy nesting mood - if I didn't know better, I'd be a bit worried I was pregnant! (I'm not, by the way.)  But over the weekend, the urge struck me to finally paint those hunter green flea market end tables I was complaining about last time. Technically I should have sanded them first, but I didn't, and I'm going to pretend I don't care.  They probably need another coat of paint, but I'll save that for another night. I also might need to lacquer them but again, that'll be the next burst of energy.

I also started my Christmas crafting this weekend. And I also decided to reorganize all my kitchen cabinets and incorporate a little more yellow to match my new dishes. So basically, baking and cooking just got totally forgotten amongst all the painting and cleaning.

Yellow candles, 75¢ each, on my wedding candlesticks from the Rudds.
Pampered Chef Trifle Bowl filled with lemons. Because lemons are yellow.Pumpkin lemonade, anyone?

My yellow chair and bananas. Because bananas are yellow.

Yellow hand towel, $2 or something, from bathroom section.
I'm on the lookout for a yellow kettle now.

Now, I do have three pumpkin recipes to update you on. The first was my pumpkin chili. I was certain I took a photo of it, but seeing as I can't find it, I clearly didn't. My pumpkin chili recipe was literally my normal chili recipe with a half cup of pumpkin. It made it a little thicker, I think, but there was no change in taste. It's not worth buying pumpkin for, but if you have pumpkin leftover that you don't know what to do with (for instance, if you made a recipe that only called for 1/2 cup or a tablespoon or something), it's a good way of using it up.

Pumpkin Chili
1 lb ground beef, browned
2 cans of dark red kidney beans
2 cans of diced tomatoes
1/2 cup pumpkin (you could put in a full cup, but I just used what I had leftover from the last recipe)
garlic cloves
1 heaping tablespoon of beef stock paste
2 tablespoons of taco seasoning (roughly... I don't measure it out, I just pour a whole lot in)

Throw it all into the crockpot and serve however you like to eat chili. I like it with Fritos and cheese, or over rice, or even over a tortilla.

The next night I made Pumpkin Cake.  This was an old recipe I've had in my recipe scrapbook for one hundred years (give or take), so I don't know where it came from. I feel like I got the recipe from Kathy Freeman. It is the most delightfully moist, scrumptious cake ever. We basically lived on this all weekend while Scott tackled the new expansion of World of Warcraft and I tackled the world of arts-and-craft.

(Speaking of World of Warcraft, have I mentioned that I'm the best wife ever?)

Surprised Scott with this the night the expansion came out.

Pumpkin Cake

1 16oz can pumpkin puree
2 cups sugar
1 1/2 cup oil
4 eggs
2  cups flour
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
3 tsp cinnamon

Mix wet ingredients first, then mix dry and add dry to wet.  Grease pan and bake at 350° for 1 hour. I like mine in a bundt pan.  I also made an apple cider glaze to go over the top - just powdered sugar and apple cider. I don't know the actual measurements because I just poured until it was the right consistency.  The apple cider glaze was AMAZING.

Skip two days and yesterday I made Pumpkin Chocolate Cheesecake Bars from Keep It Sweet Desserts, another recipe linked to me on Facebook. I tried to make these to take with me to work last night and share with my coworkers, but I failed to realize after baking they needed to be refrigerated for at least 4 hours. So I'll bring them with me to work tonight... if I don't eat them all first. These are YUM.

The only difference between my version and the recipe is I made a graham cracker crust instead of gingersnaps, only because I couldn't find gingersnaps at the store. And I also nearly DESTROYED the whole thing by accidentally pouring in ALMOND EXTRACT instead of vanilla. The bottles look the same! I don't measure out my vanilla, I just dollop it in and as soon as I did and the color was clear instead of brown, I realized my mistake and immediately scooped out the whole area I'd poured into with a big spoon. I think some of it still seeped into the mixture but not enough to ruin the batch. I could still smell almond and when I tasted the batter, it faintly tasted almondy, but the finished product tasted fine. Whew!

Pumpkin Chocolate Cheesecake Bars

 These may not make it all day.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Out With The Old, In With the New

In April 2013, before our family moved back to the US, I came here for a short visit. While I was here, I rented a storage unit and started putting some things in it for when we would all get here a few months later - the bunk beds my stepdad had found for us on Craigslist, a mattress my brother gave us, that sort of thing. I also put in some lime green dishes I'd found at the Dollar Tree. I love that green color, and there the dishes were, a dollar each, in the Dollar Tree, so I bought a set of eight to get us started.

Those dishes have served us well, but I don't love them. They kind of make food look a little unappetizing. There are no matching side plates and the mugs don't stack.  However, they are functional, they serve a purpose, and so we've been eating on my Dollar Tree dishes for a year and a half.

I've dreamt of getting new dishes, imagining what I'd buy if I could start all over. I've longingly gazed at beautiful designs and fabulous colors in department stores and shopping centers but sighed and moved on. We have dishes. We don't need to buy new ones.

I've kind of become a little obsessed with yellow lately. (Haven't we all?) I keep seeing yellow things that I like and could imagine looking great in my kitchen - if I were to redecorate in yellow. But my house is decorated in duck egg blue, because that's the color the walls are painted in our rented home. I've added some lime green accessories that I love, but they don't really match the blue; they never have. But yellow would be so cute with the duck egg blue! I'm always thinking. And then I move on because I don't need to frivolously buy things in yellow when I already have what I need in whatever color it's already in. (Greyish green sofas that were a steal on an online yard sale, the hunter green and wood coffee- and end-tables we found in a flea market, the comfy olive green tweed rocking chair I picked up at a garage sale for next to nothing- along with my lime Dollar Tree dishes and to-die-for handcrafted green pottery that I adore, you'd think we had a thing for all shades of green, no matter how they clash with each other).

I saw a lovely yellow set of dishes at Target a few weeks ago. I didn't linger long with them, just long enough to sigh with the pleasure of looking at pretty things, before meandering along to the next aisle to admire pretty Christmas decorations. Then tonight, while shopping with my stepmom, I passed by the dishes again. I pointed them out to her, and she loved them too. We fawned over them for a few minutes before I noticed the price tag - very inexpensive! I was tempted - very tempted - but I was ready to move along. I don't need to buy something I already have just because it's pretty. But they were so reasonably priced... 

I hemmed and hawed for a few minutes, then decided to call Scott. He's incredibly practical and if he said we didn't need new dishes, then we don't need new dishes. So I called him, and right away he told me to buy them. Didn't even ask what they looked like. He just said to get them if I liked them, that it was absolutely fine.

I still wasn't sure. I put them in my cart. Guiltily. I guiltily put them in my cart, feeling like this wasn't necessary. Yet they were so pretty. And next to the duck egg dishes on the same shelf, they looked incredible, so instead of getting two four-piece sets of yellow, I put one yellow back and replaced it with one duck egg. They looked so nice together. They would match my walls so perfectly.  It was so hard to justify to myself, but Scott (and my stepmom) convinced me it's okay to treat myself once in a while.

So I treated myself. My lime Dollar Tree dishes are going in the garage for a rainy day (or a garage sale), and my new grown-up dishes are ready to replace the old ones. Meet my new bowls, mugs and plates. They are so pretty!

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Pumpkinpalooza Times Two

Yesterday was a somewhat busy day, and by the time I realized dinner time was approaching, I had nothing prepared. I'd gotten off menu over the past few days, so I'd already made the designated curry for Monday night. I also didn't have a pumpkin recipe planned, because that too had gone off menu and already been made. So I robbed Peter to pay Paul - or whatever that phrase is. I took Thursday's Carrot Pumpkin Soup recipe and quickly chopped, sauteed, boiled and blended a delicious soup.

I found the recipe here on Hello Giggles and followed it pretty closely, except for the seasoning. I'm not a big fan of curry powder flavor and was pretty sure the kids would not be either. I also did not fancy adding nutmeg, so I just seasoned it with salt and a little crushed red pepper.

It was very yummy and is definitely going on the Make Again list.

Also, I wish that my house had better lighting, and my camera took better pictures. I'm always jealous of everyone else's food photography.


Then this morning, I made the MOST DELICIOUS PUMPKIN CREAM CHEESE DANISH in the world. This recipe from Lauren's Latest was linked to me on Facebook by one of the many friends who have started connecting the name Lori to the word Pumpkin. I followed this recipe perfectly too. The filling was actually twice what I needed so I made two danish logs. Scott and I may or may not have eaten one of them entirely by ourselves...

Again, most DEFINITELY on the Make Again list. Make Again Soon. Make Again All The Time.

And if all this pumpkin lately just isn't your thing, maybe a cute black cat in a basket is?

Sunday, November 09, 2014

The Worst Hot Chocolate These Lips Have Ever Touched

No offense to the lady who put this recipe online.  I actually can't even bring myself to link to the recipe, because I don't want to defame this woman or discredit her blog.  But it was awful. AWFUL.  I took one sip and spit it out. It was awful. I even double checked the recipe to make sure I hadn't skipped an ingredient or put in the wrong measurements, but I followed it perfectly. I'm so sad.  I was so excited about pumpkin hot chocolate.  Really just excited about hot chocolate in general.  Yuck. Sad.

The recipe was unsweetened almond milk, pumpkin puree, cocoa powder, maple syrup and almond extract. Sounded beautiful. Smelled beautiful. Tasted horrible. Sad.

Attack of the Little Tiny Personal Space Invaders

Staying at home with a two year old involves a lot of physical contact with another human being.  I love his squeezy hugs and sloppy kisses; they melt my heart away.  I love holding him in my arms while he sleeps - if I have nothing else to do, or want to nap with him. But by the time my daughters get home from school, I'm pretty "touched out". I've had Jaguar clinging to my legs, reaching up for me to hold him, crawling all over my lap, and coorieing in as if trying to somehow get back inside my womb all day long. My girls come home and want hugs too, which is fine, and I'm happy to oblige.  But sometimes the girls, especially Lolly, want to coorie in too, sitting half on top of me for long extended cuddles, and I'm ashamed to say this drives me crazy.

Often times I tell her to please move or to give me space. If I'm already in a less than patient mood, I might be brusque about it. She'll often snuggle up next to me while I'm sitting in my armchair and wiggle her little head up underneath my arm to get right in as close as possible. Often this is while I'm on my laptop doing something (not necessarily important) and I kind of need my arm. It drives me up the wall. Sometimes I'm not very patient with her about it. 

I like my space. I get claustrophobic in tight crowds, I get restless without adequate elbow room and breathing space. I love hugs and kisses just as much as the next person, but they have a time limit, and I kind of prefer them to be on my own terms.  At night, I like to have Scott to cuddle up next to me for a few minutes and then scoot away. During the day, I like Jaguar to hug me for a few minutes then run off and play. Luckily, Scott is willing to scoot, but my kids are not always so willing to run off.

I know it's important for parents to have their personal space; after all, we are people too with boundaries and individual needs. All too often, however, I forget that my children are also people, who have hidden insecurities and the need for physical contact.

I read something today about a woman taking in a troubled teenage girl and how hard it is to meet her needs. The advice overwhelmingly included lots of physical touch and one-on-one time. Suddenly I began to feel very guilty.

I find it so hard to share my personal space with clambering children. I have to share it all day with a toddler who will scream and throw a fit if I deny it to him, so by the time my other two kids get home from school, I don't want to share it anymore. They don't usually scream or throw a fit about it, so I don't think twice about asking them to move away. Yet in their minds, what is my refusal to cuddle with them telling them?

In their minds, though they are not screaming or throwing a fit, are they thinking I don't love them? Are they thinking I don't like being close to them? Are they thinking I don't have time for them or want them? Are they being made to feel unwelcome in my arms?

I never want them thinking that, especially as the vulnerable, insecure preteen years are quickly approaching. I am always thinking of ways to let the kids know that I am there for them, available to them, always willing and open to talk to them. My body language, however, probably gives a very different message.

I started writing about this post yesterday. As I was writing, Lolly woke up and came straight to my chair and curled up next to me. I reached around and hugged her, kissing her head, letting her snuggles linger. I stopped writing and drew my little girl in close, and just enjoyed a few moments of close, loving contact.  Fi noticed the attention her sister was getting, and when Lolly got up, Fi came in for hugs.  I sat for several minutes longer hugging her.  Jaguar started crying, jealous of the attention the girls were getting.  It was exhausting, but for a few minutes, I sat patiently with one child under my arm, another child on my lap and another child curled up on the ottoman hugging my legs.

I can't do everything right and I can't change my need for space, but I must start making an effort to extend more loving touch to my children. Even when it physically makes my body cringe, they need my physical presence and I need to give it to them. The message I send them really is more important than my personal boundaries sometimes.

The Most Depressing Film I've Ever Watched... But First, Pancakes

Yesterday we made pumpkin pancakes for brunch. They were pretty tasty, especially drenched in maple syrup. I used this recipe from Everyone liked them, and Lolly even claimed they were the best pancakes ever. However, she says that about every pancake she's ever eaten, and I'm pretty sure Scott still holds the Pancake King title in this household.

I'm liking finding new ways to use pumpkin, but it's definitely meant eating a LOT more baked goods and carb-loaded foods than we are used to. We haven't been on a strict keto diet for a while, but we've developed primarily low-carb eating habits over the year. Between the Halloween candy and the Pumpkinpalooza, the good habits we have formed are quickly falling away. I'm still going to finish my pumpkin challenge, but I'm going to cut back on all the rest of the unhealthy food we've gotten back into eating. If a pumpkin recipe a day is the only carbs we eat, that ought to be all right.

Now, speaking of unhealthy foods, we watched Food Inc last night. It was horrendous. I'd been putting off watching it, because I knew it would upset me. I mean, I already knew our food was bad and our practices are inhumane, but I didn't really want it confirmed. I didn't want to actually face it or see it. It's easier to stay in denial.  We decided to watch it last night, though, and both Scott and I were utterly horrified. We have decided the entire human race is awful.  Agent Smith was absolutely right:
I'd like to share a revelation that I've had during my time here. It came to me when I tried to classify your species and I realized that you're not actually mammals. Every mammal on this planet instinctively develops a natural equilibrium with the surrounding environment but you humans do not. You move to an area and you multiply and multiply until every natural resource is consumed and the only way you can survive is to spread to another area. There is another organism on this planet that follows the same pattern. Do you know what it is? A virus. Human beings are a disease, a cancer of this planet. You're a plague.
The way we treat animals, other human beings and the environment is atrocious. The clothes we wear, the food we eat, the cars we drive, the petrol we run those cars on, the housing materials we build our homes with - everything is made by exploiting fellow human beings, killing off and abusing animals and destroying the earth and its atmosphere. It was the most depressing film I've ever watched, and that's saying something.

We aren't rich and we live on a budget, but Scott and I decided last night we have to do something, even if it's just a little tiny thing that barely makes any difference. We're going to start with buying grass-fed, free-range chicken and eggs, and seriously cutting back on our corn product consumption for our kids. (Scott and I don't eat cereals and grains very often, but our kids still do.)  One of the farmers on the film commented that people balk at paying $3 for a dozen free-range eggs, while drinking a 75¢ can of Coke. It won't make even a dent in the global problem, but it will hopefully make a small difference somewhere, even if only to our little family.

If you haven't watched this movie, I suggest you put away all junk food and sit down to make yourself watch this. It's on Netflix, if you have Netflix. We have managed to get warning labels put on packs of cigarettes (going up against tobacco giants), and now we must do something about inhumane food practices.

(Yet even saying that is depressing, because I know we won't. The collective "we". Society. We'd all rather save a buck than think about the illegal workers who are hired and brought over by US companies on the agreement with the government that they can then arrest a certain number of those individuals if they turn a blind eye to what the companies are actually doing. We'd all rather save a buck than think about the farmers whose hands are tied into treating their animals inhumanely, because they will lose everything if they don't. A dollar saved is worth more to us than the men, women and children being oppressed behind that dollar. Unbelievably depressing.)

Friday, November 07, 2014

Mince and (Pumpkin) Totties

Tonight I added pumpkin in my mashed potatoes.  It tasted mostly the same.


Thursday, November 06, 2014

Check the Wanted Ads

A few weeks ago, a woman who used to work at the community center passed away. One of my co-workers began arranging food and casseroles for the family, liaising with the family's church to arrange food for every night of the week for several weeks. It was very touching to see so many people rallying around a family in their time of grief. I began wondering if anyone would rally around my family if tragedy ever struck. We have some friends, but we don't have a church or a community like that to jump in when times are tough.

If I'm honest with myself, I have to admit that there are things about church that I miss. I haven't been to church in about ten months - with the exception of my niece's dedication - and for the most part, I haven't missed it. But there are aspects of church that I do miss.

A little while ago, a friend of mine said the thing she misses most about church is the community. At the time, I couldn't relate. I didn't miss the church politics, the gossip disguised as prayer requests, or the hypocrisy at all.  I was still too close to the grief and anger to remember anything other than those things about church. But as time has healed the hurt, I have begun to remember all the good things about the church community: the get-togethers, the automatic friendships, the common bond. While I don't at all miss the religion part, I do miss the community. I miss belonging to a group. I miss knowing that there are casserole coordinators who would feed my family for a little while if I were to die and leave Scott in charge of the kitchen.

Group Singing
I love singing. If you ever pass me on the freeway, it's unlikely I'll even notice you because I'll be too busy singing along to the radio at the top of my lungs to see you waving wildly. My favorite part of church was the praise and worship time, because I love to sing. I loved leading the worship at church too, because I love to sing. I have yet to find anything short of live concerts in the secular world where corporate singing is normal. I should join a choir.

Okay, the reasons are getting a little frivolous here, but seriously. No one outside church does potlucks! Why is that? I love making something interesting and creative to share with a group - and I love eating all the interesting and creative things everyone else has brought. I miss church potlucks. I especially miss that person who always cheated and brought in the bucket of KFC chicken legs. I miss the three different varieties of baked beans, the cheese dip, the potato salads, the mystery casseroles and the entire table full of desserts. And the banana pudding. Oh, someone always brings banana pudding. Bless the person who brings the banana pudding!

(And bless my book club, because they sort of do potlucks too.)

See? Getting frivolous! But seriously, I miss having an excuse to get dressed up on Sunday mornings. I miss having the excuse to dress my kids up on Sunday mornings. I miss having the excuse to buy a new dress in Spring because of Easter. Sure, I can wear dresses any day of the week if I want, but I miss having a really good reason to. I liked it being part of my weekly routine.

So segue into...

Today I attended my second MOPS meeting - Mothers Of Preschoolers. I went a few weeks ago for the first time with a new friend Victoria, and this was the next meeting on the schedule. Last time was a craft day, so I was curious to see what the discussion day would be like. Would it be super churchy? Would I feel out of place? I was actually feeling pretty nervous about it.

Somehow last time, by simply sitting at the first table with spare chairs, I ended up getting myself assigned to that table. Earlier in the week I was included in a group text from an unknown number saying it was our table's turn to bring food. I didn't even know I was a part of a table, but I love bringing food! Potlucks! So I offered to bring something (pumpkin of course) to contribute. I got up this morning early enough to get make-up on and put on a cute outfit (new skinny jeans, heels, a cute dress, infinity scarf), and I made apple pumpkin breakfast cookies*. I was really quite excited about all of this!

When I arrived, the nerves hit me like crazy. My hands were actually shaking as I put out the cookies on my pretty three-tiered cake stand. Why was I so nervous?

I am not entirely sure, but I think it was because I really, really wanted to like MOPS. And I was afraid I wouldn't.

It has so many of those qualities of church that I miss. The community especially. I really want to make new friends, socialize my son more, and have a thing I regularly go to. I am so desperate for a community  But I felt very vulnerable.

My thoughts were things like these:

Will they still like me when they find out I'm not a Christian?

Will they accept me when they find out I'm not one of them?

Will they view me with suspicion or keep me at arms length if I use the A-word?

Will they try to (re)convert me?

Am I going to end up considered a missionary project, rather than a friend?

I was already prepared for the praying and the Bible verses, and I was okay with all of that being a part of the group's purpose. I just worried about fitting in. Believe it or not, being anything other than some denomination of Christian makes it very hard to fit in here in the South.

So after I shakily put out my cookies, I filled my own plate with the Orange Table's delicious homebaked goodies and poured myself a cup of coffee and took my seat at "my" table. Victoria was already there, giving me someone to talk to and chill out a bit with. We small talked around the table before the announcements started, and then we had a speaker. The speaker was rather entertaining - he did a magic show which he then tied up with the topic of discussion "Taking Risks". Then it became table discussion time. The table leader went through four discussion questions like "When did you take a risk?" and "How will you teach your kids to take risks?" Girls at the table, timidly at first, spoke up to answer some questions, and eventually the conversation began to flow a little more. Nothing ground-breaking was said, but I got the feeling that a few people who needed to speak got the opportunity to do so, and I was touched by that. Afterwards, someone suggested arranging a table-wide play date with our kids. By the time we left, I felt I'd made a few acquaintances and had three new events to mark tentatively on my calendar - a play date, the Ladies' Night Out and the Christmas party. I even caught a couple of names.

I'm feeling optimistic about this group. I enjoyed it this morning, and I think I'll go ahead and join. I still feel nervous, afraid of how things could possibly change once it comes out that I'm atheist. But as my friend Esther said tonight at our kids' swimming lessons, if they don't accept me, they aren't acting like Christians. It was comforting hearing that come from a Christian, because while I know that this is true, and while I myself had tons of non-Christian friends when I was a Christian, I also can't help but notice how un-accepting some people can really be. It sucks being vulnerable; it's hard walking into a room full of people, knowing you are different, especially in such a culturally unwelcome way, and hoping to make friends.

I just want a community again. One with no strings attached. And singing, they need to add singing.


Apple Pumpkin Breakfast Cookies!!

I had picked out a recipe for Paleo Pumpkin Breakfast Cookies, but when I actually went to make them, I realized the recipe called for a few things I didn't have, like almond butter. So I searched and searched for a recipe that included ingredients I already had, and finally came across this one from Nestle (boo, hiss!). I didn't have every single ingredient, but I had enough substitutes to make it work. I ended up adapting the Nestle recipe somewhat and the end result was Apple Pumpkin Breakfast Cookies. They were very good, especially straight out of the oven! They are a little cakier than I wanted, and stickier because of the apple sauce, but still really yummy. The recipe makes over 5 dozen, so we actually have quite a few left. Someone needs to come over stat and eat them for us.

Ingredients (after adaptation)
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/3 cups quick oats
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup applesauce
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup pumpkin puree
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 apple, cored and finely chopped (peeled if desired, but I liked the flecks of red color)

Mix dry ingredients - flour, oats, baking soda, cinnamon and salt in small bowl. In larger bowl, beat butter, applesauce, brown and white sugar on medium speed until well combined. Beat in pumpkin, egg and vanilla just until mixed. Mix in apple. Scoop onto a greased cookie sheet and bake each batch for about 14 minutes at 350°F. Cool on wire racks.

I used a medium scoop and got five dozen and four cookies out of this recipe. And like I said, straight from the oven, these are heavenly. At room temperature, they are a little sticky, so I'm going to refrigerate them tonight to see what texture they come out when cold. Pretty good recipe. Will I make them again? Maybe. Maybe if I get invited to another potluck.

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

The Day That Changed Cornbread Forever

Okay. I just have to say that my pumpkin experiment for tonight was so incredibly good that I almost don't want to share it with you, so that I can dazzle family at get-togethers and strangers at potlucks with this delicious "home baked" side dish. However, I will share it wit you anyway, because you need to eat this.

Pumpkin Cornbread.

It's not even an actual recipe. It's only technically "home baked" because you mix it up and bake it at home. It's nothing more than just a Jiffy Corn Muffin Mix with one added special ingredient - and you don't have to guess too hard to figure out what that is.

All you need is this:

Disclaimer: I don't work for the Jiffy brand or profit from them in any way, so believe me when I say, you should use the Jiffy mix. Use others if you wish, but I'm just saying... Jiffy.

So you need 1 pack of Jiffy Corn Muffin Mix (8.5oz), 1 egg, 1/3 cup of milk, 1/2 cup of pumpkin puree, and olive oil for the pan. Optional: A cute kid to help you mix. Recommended.

These could be muffins, if you prefer muffins, but I like making johnny cake. To make johnny cake just right, cover the bottom of a cast iron frying pan with olive oil and preheat it in the oven at 400°F. (Use just enough oil to cover the bottom, you don't want the mixture swimming in it later.) Meanwhile, mix all the ingredients together. I actually doubled this recipe since my frying pan is large, and because we love cornbread.  Once the oil is hot, pour the mixture into the frying pan. It will instantly start sizzling and cooking around the edges, which gives it that beautiful brown crust. Put back in the oven for 25-30 minutes. (The Jiffy mix says 20-25 but with the added moisture from the pumpkin, I gave it a little longer.) Serve with butter.

Holy grains, this cornbread is AMAZING. Sometimes normal cornbread can be on the dry side, but this was so perfectly moist and tasty. And it in no way had any pumpkin flavor. You may hate pumpkin with all your squash-hating heart, but you will never know there is pumpkin in this. All the recipes for pumpkin cornbread I found wanted you to add pumpkin pie spice and sugar to make it pumpkiny, but I wanted savory cornbread, not sweet, to go with our broccoli and cheddar soup. I'm so glad I forewent the internet's advice to sweeten it and just made it plain. My kids raved about dinner all night and begged for more cornbread.  There's just enough left from my double batch to put a little slice in their lunch boxes tomorrow. If Scott and I don't eat it all before that.

This has changed cornbread for me for life. I will never make it again without pumpkin. Cornbread isn't low-carb anyway, so might as well add in the additional carbs if I'm going to serve it already and make it worth our cheat!

This is going on the Make For Every Family Holiday Get-Together Ever For The Rest of My Life list. It's that good.