Monday, February 17, 2014

Soup and Snow

I love both soup and snow, as the title suggests.  Lately, I've been seeing plenty of both.

Whew!  What a winter it's been!
I made a batch of hamburger soup this weekend that was a hit.  Soup is one of my favorites.  I put soup on the same level with cookies and bread.  Who doesn't love it?  I like simple recipes for soup, though, when I'm the one making them.  Start mentioning making a roux or using an immersion blender and I'm out.
Saturday night we went to mass at 4:00.  We came out to, you guessed it, more snow.  Was I ever glad I had this in the crockpot for dinner...

This is the first recipe I've ever made up myself.  Are you impressed?  Weeeellll... I didn't exactly make it up from nowhere.  I've seen several recipes for "Hamburger Soup", but none of them satisfied me completely.   They either had too few ingredients or too many.  So I combined what I liked from each of them and came up with this. That's allowed, right?  Lots of people create lasagna or chili recipes, but it's not like they came up with the idea of using cheese or beans on their own.  Anyway, this recipe was a success.  My kids and my husband loved it.  It will definitely go into the regular monthly rotation.

Hamburger Soup

1lb hamburger
1 medium onion, diced
1-2 tsp of minced garlic
1 box of beef broth
1 can tomato soup, plus one can of water
1 small can of tomato paste
1 can diced tomatoes
1 can of corn
1 1/2 cup chopped carrots
1 1/2 cup chopped celery
Half  a 14.5 oz. box of pasta of your choice (I used Barilla Plus Farfalle because I knew my daughter would love the bows.)

Brown hamburger with onions and minced garlic.  Drain.  In a crockpot, combine hamburger, beef broth, tomato soup, water, tomato paste, diced tomatoes, corn, carrots, and celery.  Cook on low for 8 hours or high for 4 hours.  During the last hour, dump in half the box of pasta.  Serve with grated parmesan cheese and crusty French bread.

I can't do much about the snow, but if the winter blues are getting you down, I can tell you that making a warm bowl of soup is a surefire way to comfort yourself.


Sunday, February 16, 2014

Valuable Valentine's Day

Someone once said to me that Valentine's Day is just a made up holiday.  He didn't understand why anyone would celebrate such a day.  It was dreamed up by greeting card companies and chocolate purveyors, he explained.  (Okay, maybe he didn't say "purveyors", but you get the gist.) 

My response to that?  Of course it is.  And I thank them for doing so.

The truth of the matter is, most everything we celebrate doesn't have to be celebrated.  It's not required that you eat cake on the anniversary of the day you were born or that you must gather together to eat a meal on the day someone graduates from college or that you give your spouse a few sweet words in a greeting card when the day you were married rolls around on the calendar.  No one is going to force you to do any of that. And some people don't.   I, however, choose to celebrate these things - and a few other occasions that are unique to my family.

Here's what I think.  It's valuable to have a day set aside to reflect on things like love, friendship, marriage, getting older, or accomplishing something important.  I'm not sure what a life without celebrations would be like, but I am sure it's not for me.  It's not just in the material things, like Valentine cards or chocolates, about these days  that make them special (although I do think that's part of the fun).  It's the memories you make on these days.  There's also something cool about observing the same day every year and comparing how things have changed, marking the passage of time.

This is a picture of my kids when they were three and one.  It was Valentine's Day.  I had a snow day, so I was able to stay home and fix them heart shaped toast and grilled cheese sandwiches much to my delight.  My daughter helped me bake a heart shaped chocolate cake.  Her excitement about this is something I still remember to this day along with her decorating this cake with conversation hearts. 
My son's Valentine's gift was a book of nursery rhymes and fairy tales illustrated with Disney characters.  We read that book for years.  He loves Donald Duck.  He still occasionally gets it out at eight years old.  My husband brought home red roses for me that year. 

Notice my son is eating those conversation hearts as fast as she can put them on the cake.
Such concentration - she was so proud to show her dad when he came home from work.

There have been many days when I have made my kids toast for breakfast and grilled cheese for lunch.  And there have been many times my kids helped me bake something.  But this is one of the days I distinctly remember because it was Valentine's Day.  Believe it or not, my daughter remembers this too. 

So this year, we celebrated this somewhat silly, somewhat made up, lovely holiday with heart pizzas from Papa Murphy's...

some new books (books have become kind of tradition on Valentine's Day) and goodies.

Once again, it snowed pretty much all day on Valentine's Day.  I think that's what might have reminded me of our snowy Valentine's Day seven years ago.  Again, marking the passage of time is fascinating to me.  This year I had the day off because we had two nights of parent/teacher conferences on the two days before the holiday. The kids had a half day of school.  My husband took the day off as well and came through with flowers again.

Flowers and an Amazon card... that man really knows me!

We picked the kids up at noon and had lunch at Panera.  It was a nice way to mark the passing of another Valentine's Day.  I know it's one I will remember.  There's value in that for me.


Saturday, February 1, 2014

Looking Back at January...

Looking back at January means snowmen...
 (and a pug, naturally)



I got the little chalkboard from one of my first graders for Christmas.  In case you can't tell, I wrote, "Let It Snow" on it.  I didn't know it was a magic chalkboard when I got it. Next month I'll be writing "Let Us Win the Lottery" on it.

Snowy owls...

 and, of course, snowflakes 

Snowflakes on the mugs for my hot chocolate and coffee bar...mmmmm


and snowflakes of the real variety

Looking back at January also means a book challenge group I created.  You can read about it here.  It's not too late to join if you want to play along.  This book challenge means that this is what my nightstand looks like right now.

Aren't public libraries one of the best things about our country?

It also was the month in which my niece was baptized.

We were honored to be the godparents.  They made us an offer we couldn't refuse. ;)  I actually didn't come up with that.  A friend of mine on Facebook did.  Too good not to share.

I purchased my first sewing machine.  My daughter and I made two little bags for her American Girl doll.

This was a good project for one of the four snow days we've had this month.  So yes, the Polar Vortex is something I'll always remember about this January.  It made me remember the January I turned seven.  That winter was so bad that we cancelled my birthday party three different times due to the weather.  We finally had it in February.

My husband and daughter attended their third Daddy/Daughter Dance.  I love this event.  And more importantly, I love that they both love it.


I also made a birthday dinner for my nephew who turned nineteen this month.  I don't have any pictures of him because he's nineteen and I didn't want to mortify him.  I did, however, take some pictures of the food -  lasagna and cheesecake.  I have decided I want the Pioneer Woman's job.  Not the starring in a t.v. show part.  Just the part where she makes large, delicious meals for cowboys.

To serve this meal, I used my mom's blue willow dishes that she collected when I was growing up.  She gave them to me about a year ago because she knew I'd always loved them.  You can kind of see them in the picture above. 

At the end of every January comes my birthday.  I'm an Aquarius.  I don't really buy into astrology, but I think it's kind of fun.  I've always felt the characteristics of an Aquarius fit me pretty well too.

My sister-in-law, who also happens to be my co-worker, surprised me with a bacon donut at work the morning of my birthday.

My family took me out for dinner to our favorite Japanese restaurant.  I then requested CherryBerry because, hey, it was my birthday.  We came home for cake afterwards even though we were all too full to eat a piece.  But I had to have one bite that night for the ceremony of it.

I feel like 2014 is off to a fantastic start.