making soup and funBy the time we finish our holiday parties and polish off all the Christmas treats I feel rather, well, chunky and laden down with fat and sugar. I want meals that are simple and light and my body starts to crave veggies. This recipe is the perfect solution, especially in the cold winter days in Michigan. It also gives us a chance to gather together in the kitchen as my hubby and my daughter chop veggies and I look on with my hot cup of tea. I talked about this a bit on the radio show and, as promised, here is the recipe that they claim they start with.

Fowler Vegetable Soup

  • 1 lb uncooked stew meat
  • 2 medium carrots (sliced)
  • 2 medium potatoes (diced)
  • 2/3 cup red and white onion (diced)
  • 1/2 medium yellow squash (sliced)
  • 1/4 medium cabbage (chopped)
  • 1 small quartered tomato
  • 2 stalks celery (diced)
  • 28 oz can diced tomatoes
  • 1 small red or green sweet pepper
  • 1 small bay leaf
  • 1 1/2 cup fresh parsley (chopped)
  • 2 tbsp veggie soup base
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp marjoram

any other veggies (2-4 1/2 cups)

enough water to cover vegetables

Chop, slice and dice vegetables. Toss veggies and spices into crock pot. Pour in water, add meat and set to high for 2 hours. Reduce to low and simmer another 4 hours.

This is my husband and daughter’s creation from an afternoon in the kitchen. We’ve had it many times but it’s never been the same twice. They tweak and add, throwing in whatever suits them in the moment. So I make no claims as to how good this recipe will be, because I can’t even be certain that this is what they did the very first time so many years ago. But it’s what my daughter wrote in her cook book so it is certainly the starting point for a fun afternoon and a yummy meal.

apple cakeAs promised, here are the dueling recipes for my mom’s yummy apple cake. The first one is the original recipe in all of its delicious glory. The second is our current “healthy version” which I make as a substitute for muffins and quick breads for my kids to use as snacks.

The recipe is extremely forgiving so go ahead and try your own variations. Then let us know what you did and how it worked out.

Apple Cake – original recipe

  • 1 3/4 cups sugar
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 4 apples peeled, cored and sliced

Place all ingredients except apples in mixing bowl. Beat with wooden spoon until ingredients are well blended. Add apples and blend together. Pour batter into a greased 9×13 pan. Bake 45 minutes at 350 degrees. Sprinkle with confectioners sugar as you serve. (Don’t sprinkle ahead of time because it will soak into the cake.)

Apple Cake – the new and healthier version

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup apple sauce
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup unbleached white flour
  • 3/4 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 cup flax meal
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 4 apples peeled, cored and sliced (We like a lot of apples so I use 4 large or 5 medium apples)

Place all ingredients except apples in mixing bowl. Beat with wooden spoon until ingredients are well blended. Add apples and blend together. Pour batter into a greased 9×13 pan. Bake 45 minutes at 350 degrees.

Making Monster Cookies

Halloween Monster Cookies

Love these adorable Monster Cookie Sticks! I can already see this becoming a little food craft project for the evening. My youngest daughter and I love baking together and this looks like a fun project.

After we get done playing with our food :) we can enjoy munching on a few of the cookies. Then we can look for creative ways to package some up for the neighborhood kids when they come trick-or-treating tomorrow (I always like to do something a little special for the kids who live on our block.

These would also be a great alternative to a goody bag or cake for a monster birthday party. The kids will love ’em and they can even be used as part of your table decorations. Too cute!

P.S. If you don’t want to buy decorating bags for the icing, I’ve used Ziploc bags as an alternative. Just snip off enough of one bottom corner to fit your decorating tip through, spoon in the icing and you’re good to go.

P.P.S. If you are vegan or bake for one, she shared a vegan cut-out sugar cookie recipe you can use for this too.

Christmas Gift for Kids Every year parents fuss fume as they run around town trying to get their child the perfect Christmas present. Whether it’s a hot new item, something they’ve wanted for years, or the ultimate gear for their latest passion, we like to find it so we can see those gorgeous smiles on Christmas morning. That’s all we’re really trying to do right? To love our kids and bring them some happiness. Sometimes we get carried away and sometimes we get frustrated.

Before you begin the quest this year, here’s a little surprising news. For a lot of scientific reasons and in an attempt to determine some big ideas about human beings, researches at the University of British Columbia created a detailed study where they measured toddler’s happiness in various situations. The fascinating result, at least the one that applies to this blog post and to our lives as parents, is that toddlers were much happier when they shared treats than when they received them; and even more interesting is that they were happiest when they shared their own treats. Yes, they liked giving away their very own treats more than they liked giving away treats that didn’t belong to them, that were “found”.

Hmmm…it makes me think. I start to wonder where kids really find happiness. And I start to wonder what I can do that will help them find it. How would their lives change if I helped them earn their own money for buying gifts instead of giving it to them? What if I helped them sort through their toys and belongings so they can donate the items to Goodwill, knowing some other child will get it as a gift?

Our experiment with making presents has shown me just how true this is. I see the incredible joy my kids have in giving gifts that they’ve put their heart and soul into. So what else can I do to further their happiness? What do you do with your kids, or what have you wanted to do?

Halloween Trick or TreatIf your little ones (or your big ones:) are making you crazy as they anticipate trick-or-treating, maybe it’s time to engage them in a craft. This is a great time to make a trick-or-treat bag.

This is a fun project because you can make it as simple or as involved as you like. You can pull out all of your craft supplies or just grab some paper, glue, and markers. You can spend an hour or an afternoon. It’s totally up to you and your little goblins how much you put into this project.

Here are a few possibilities:

  • The paper bag: If you have a handled paper bag from the grocery store you can let your child decorate it. Anything goes! They can draw on it with markers or crayons, paint on it with brushes or fingers, embellish it with stickers, yarn or ribbon, or make paper creations that they glue on. Whatever their imaginations can conceive of is fair game.
  • The pillow case: We all have an old pillow case or two lying about the house and they make great trick-or-treat bags. Again, kids can create their own designs. This time they can use fabric markers, appliques, buttons, ribbon or even tie-dye. They can design it so it matches their costume or go for a whole new theme.
  • Fabric bags: All the stores seem to have them, those rectangular bags made out of plastics and recycled bottles. These are a little bit different because they will melt if you try to iron on a patch but they are still great for pinning or gluing on all sorts of embellishment from buttons to ribbon to shapes and designs. They can even add a little bling with rhinestones or beads. And they’re easy for kids to carry and open up to accept their treats.

It’s is a fun way to pass the time and you’ll be going green too.

vegetarian sandwich

While I am not a vegetarian, today is World Vegetarian Day so in honor of that I thought I’d share a vegetarian recipe I created recently. It’s rather simple and is inspired by the amazing portabella sandwiches served at The Union in Clarkston, MI (my favorite restaurant ever).

Take a sub bun, roll or flat bread of your choice. Toast the bread for a bit in a 200 degree oven. While your bread is toasting, take 1/2 of a bell pepper in different colors, red, yellow and orange, a medium onion and 3 large portabella mushroom caps and slice into strips. Add a tablespoon of olive oil to a skillet and cook the vegetables until tender.

Place your toasted bread on a pizza stone or cookie sheet, cover with the vegetables, lay slices of provolone cheese on top and place under the broiler until cheese is melted. Drizzle with a balsamic vinaigrette salad dressing and serve.

It’s a quick and simple dish to make but which tastes delicious and if you serve it to company it looks like you spent a lot of time slaving over a stove:)

Note: When I made my sandwich (in the photo) I had to melt the cheese directly on the bread since our broiled went on the blink. It works much better if you melt it over the veggies.

I’ve found myself in a conundrum lately. I’m encouraging my kids to start making their Christmas presents early this year. The last couple years November and December have gotten exceptionally busy and this year they will have even more concerts, volunteering, and even homework. I know they love our tradition of making Christmas presents, but only when there is time to do it. While they agree with me that they should get a jump on things and start making gifts now, they are a little stuck on what to make. It seems their creative powers don’t really come alive until the last couple months of the year.

Since part of my job is to peruse Pinterest and check out craft blogs, I see great things they can make. I’ve passed along some of these ideas and it’s worked well for one daughter but the other is a little more difficult. She not only wants to make the gift, she wants to come up with the idea herself. Oh boy. Talk about frustrating; to see amazing ideas and not be able to pass them on, to listen to her frustration and not be able to make suggestions – that is painful for me.

At first I let it go. Then I got irritated. Then I got information. Now I’m at peace. I read a study that was conducted on children and their happiness. It turns out that giving makes young children very happy. And giving their own belongings makes them even happier. So I started looking at it this way: She wants to do more than make a gift, she wants to give the gift of thought and attention. She wants to ponder that person, what they like and what they might enjoy, then give them something they’d like.

It’s really a lovely idea and it warms my heart to see their faces light up on Christmas morning as they watch people open the presents they’ve put so much of themselves into. So I’m focusing on that, the joy found in the spirit of giving. And since I still feel the need to help I’ve started collecting gift ideas on my Pinterest board and collecting books and magazines with ideas on my book shelf. Then I tell the kids they can peruse those for inspiration. It’s a small thing but it gives me an outlet for helping without stepping on their spirit.

womens health and fitness

Today is National Women’s Health and Fitness Day. At first I was going to ignore it. Then I thought you might be interested in knowing about it so I was just going to post it on Twitter and Facebook. But it started niggling at me and a conversation I had yesterday, one where I was saying I needed more exercise in my life, began to haunt me. So I decided to face it and maybe even embrace it.

When it comes to exercise the obvious choice for a desk potato like me is to say, “Okay, it’s time to get fit” and then draw up an exercise plan. That’s a nice idea but there’s no motivation there – only guilt. So I started thinking about what would motivate me and I realized there are some things I want; I want to have more energy, I want to enjoy more peace, and I want to feel stronger and do more with ease.

That’s good news because it takes care of part 1, the motivation. But if I want these results, and I if I want the activities that bring them about to become a part of my life, then this has to be more than a plan, it has to become a habit. Whenever I think about habits I think back to The Slight Edge. It’s a wonderful book that walks us through a simple process for achieving the things we want in our life. And one of the things I learned in applying those principles is that I must have a strong motivation to achieve a goal and I need to add small habits (ones that feel doable) to my life that support that goal.

Right now I don’t feel the need to ‘get in shape’ but I do feel strongly about getting my spiritual time in, and I’m willing to build habits around that. So in honor of this holiday I am starting the habit of a morning yoga routine. It’s just 15 minutes but I know I’ll feel better and it will lead me right into a morning meditation. All-in-all, a fine way to celebrate a holiday I had planned to ignore.

fun and silly holidays

As we talked about on today’s radio show, the tapestry of  a happy life is made up of many tiny threads. Those threads come in all different thicknesses, lengths, textures and colors. Celebrating some of the fun and silly holidays that come along are a great way to create some small threads to add to your tapestry. Since we didn’t have time to cover this week’s holidays on the show (way too much great stuff going on this week!), as promised, I’m posting them here.

Mon 24 Family Day – This is a great day to eat dinner with your children. The simple pleasure of eating a meal and enjoying each others company is a simple celebration but an important one. Or, if you have squirmy kids and sitting together is a struggle, get active. Go bike riding or roller-blading, go to the park, play Twister, or simply dance until you can’t move.

Wed 26 National Women’s Health and Fitness Day – Time to get off the couch, away from the computer and get moving. Since September is also Women’s Friendship Month you can totally make your friends join you.

Thurs 27 Ancestor Appreciation Day – A great chance to pull out those family movies and photo albums to do a little reminiscing. Maybe get on the phone or Skype or make a little visit in person to show your family how much you care.

Fri 28  Love Note Day – Love notes can be anything from a heart drawn on the bathroom mirror with an I Love You to a full-blown letter declaring your love. Most of us will fall somewhere in the middle and some of us will want to make our own cards. Whether you make a card, buy a card, or simply pop a note in your honey’s pocket, it’s a great way to remind them you care. Not great at all that mushy love stuff? Check out this post for some help with the verse.

29 Family Health and Fitness Day– I’d say this is the perfect chance to get off the couch, put down the phone, shut off the electronics and go do something fun together!! There was a photo floating around Facebook a while ago showing a beautiful outdoor shot of a wooded area with a stream running through and a log fallen across the stream. It was titled “The Original PlayStation”. So get up, grab your family, and go enjoy the original playstation. The great outdoors not your thing? Go to a pool, hit an indoor rock wall or go to the gym together and play some basketball or work out. Do whatever works for you, but do something and have fun.

Saved by the Crock Pot

crock pot

The busy season is here and ramping up; after school activities, homework, committees, and the coming holidays make meal time a considerable challenge. I know crock pot cooking has saved us from a string of dinners hastily grabbed from a drive-thru window. Whether you rely on this life-saver in your kitchen or you’re considering giving it a go you’ll need some inspiration and some recipes so here are some helpful bits to get you started.

We’re going to be breaking our crock pot out this weekend and I can’t wait to try something new. What’s your favorite recipe?

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