And together we learn

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Last minute preparedness

Andrea and I went to the case lot sale at the grocery store today. Since we're so totally on top of things, we got there at 8:00 on the last night of the sale. We're kind of slackers, but at least we made it!

Within mere minutes, my cart was filled to capacity with tomatoes, black beans, evaporated milk, corn, sugar and much more. Sammy had to pull his own weight and obligingly carried a box of Ziploc for me. No worries about that--it just might have been the most exciting thing he's seen in his whole 4 month life. Oh, but those were exciting bags!!

We weren't the only ones who had procrastinated--the store was packed with people stocking up on the basics before the sale ended. And before inflation kills us, or the world ends, or whatever!! But you know, I felt so great about it. With all the insanity going on around us, at least I'll be able to feed my family some basic foods. There isn't much that I can do personally, but I CAN stock up on the things that we need.

Last week we canned peach syrup, tomorrow, applesauce. I still am going to stock up on clothes for the kids in the next few sizes. Just basics--some shoes and plain stuff. Nothing fancy, but enough so I'll feel that I'm doing everything in my power to take care of my family in a very uncertain time.


Thursday, September 25, 2008

Food. Yummy yummy food.

All day long, I write blog posts in my head. They're witty, informative, full of sparkling and creative prose. Then I get in front of my computer each night and ..... nothing. I got nothing, folks.

So I'll revert to the easy way out and do a couple of food posts. Because things have been GOOD around here in the food realm of the togetherwelearn household.

My sisters and I are embracing some communal living--we've had dinner together almost every day this week. There's something so right about working together as women. There are some aspects of polygamy that make a whole lot of sense. Just some, mind you. The big negative??? There's just no getting around that one obvious flaw in the system. But the hanging out with other women idea of it is fabulous.

Anyway, the food. Oh, the food!! Last night we made some Greek-type pita hamburgers that were inspired by a recipe from the Smitten Kitchen's kebabs. Oh, help me, these were good!! Not just a little good. These were groan-out-loud, roll eyes and swoon good.

Greek hamburgers
1/2 cup oatmeal, or cracker crumbs, or bread crumbs
1 small onion, finely chopped (about 1 cup)
1/4 cup loosely packed fresh parsley leaves
1/4 cup loosely packed fresh cilantro leaves
1 lb ground meat-- we used hamburger, but lamb or turkey would be excellent
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/8 teaspoon cayenne (do more if you don't have little people!)
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon black pepper

Mix everything up and grill patties. We served ours on pita bread with sliced cucumbers, garden tomatoes, red onions, feta, and a mint yogurt sauce.

Eat, with lots of napkins and you'll be really really happy.

For dessert, I made Cherry Chocolate Cupcakes with Vanilla Almond Buttercream. And those, my friends, are happiness incarnate. Oh, so yummy! I found this recipe at Cast Sugar, and I'm so glad I did.

Chocolate Cherry Cakes with Almond Buttercream

1/2 c. butter
1 1/2 c. bakers sugar
2 eggs
1 1/2 tsp. almond extract
1/2 c. good unsweetened cocoa powder
1 3/4 c. cake flour
1 1/4 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
1 (21-oz.) can cherry pie filling
For the buttercream:
1 1/4 c. confectioner’s sugar
1/3 stick unsalted butter at room temperature
Pinch of salt
1 1/2 tsp. almond extract

Preheat oven to 350 F. Lightly grease and flour one 9x13 inch baking pan.

Cream the butter with sugar until light and fluffy. Mix in the eggs and almond extract and beat well. Add the cocoa powder and mix until well combined.

By hand, stir the cake flour, baking soda and salt together. Add flour mixture to the butter mixture and mix until just combined. Stir in the cherry pie filling. Pour the batter into the prepared pan.
Bake at 350 F for 30 to 35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the middle comes out clean. Cool.

For the buttercream: Add the butter, confectioner’s sugar, salt, and almond extract to the stand mixer and mix on low using the paddle attachment until combined. Turn the speed to med-high until the buttercream is fluffy. Spread or pipe onto the cooled cake.

I realize the photos are pretty crappy. There's an art to taking food photos, and I haven't mastered it yet. But please know that these are utterly and completely delicious.

And since I'm on a roll here, tonight for dinner I made a recipe from Mollie Katzen's Vegetable Heaven that I've had my eye on for years. You can tell by just the name that it's going to be yummy, and it surely didn't disappoint.

Lentils with Caramelized Onions and Slow Roasted Tomatoes

4 onions, cut into rings
3 T butter
1/2 t salt
4 big tomatoes
1 T brown sugar
1 T balsamic vinegar
8 C cooked lentils (about 3 cups dried)

Melt the butter and add the onions and salt. Cook for a long time on slow heat, until really brown and soft and delicious. About 30 minutes, stirring frequently. Meanwhile, roast the tomatoes whole in a oiled pan in a 400 degree oven for about 30 minutes. Let them cool a while, then skin them and chop them up, draining all the extra water that oozes out.

Meanwhile again, cook the lentils in about 8 cups of water. Add some salt to the water if you feel like it.

Combine the cooked lentils, tomatoes, and caramelized onions in a 9 x 13, and add the balsamic vinegar and brown sugar. Salt and pepper generously, then bake, covered with foil, for about 30 minutes.

Feel really really good about your life when you eat them.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Young politicians, all of them!

I vacuumed and swept today.

Really, that shouldn't be a big deal, but seeing as it's been DAYS since either of those basic things have been done around here...I'm just thankful for little steps in the right direction. Steve is traveling again, and we're all in a bit of a funk. The kids are having that rough adjustment to the new situation that they go through every semester, and I'm kinda just mopey a bit myself.

But the floor is clean now, and everything is seeming more manageable now.

Calvin is being a stinker like you wouldn't believe. I KNOW he's acting up because he misses Steve, but that doesn't make it any easier to deal with in the moment. He's really disobedient and defiant, and will melt into the most heartbreaking puddle of tears when he's missing Steve. And oh, he's being mean to the girls!!

Hazel came upstairs crying, holding her eye and sobbing that Calvin had hit her in the eye. I started talking to him to see what had happened.

Me: "Calvin, did you hit Hazel?"

C: "NO! I Didn't!"

Me (sternly): Please tell the truth Calvin. Did you hit your sister?"

C (unrepentant and wickedly): "I didn't hit her. I PUNCH her!!!!"

I have to admit, I did giggle just a little bit.

I was back in my room putting the baby down for his nap. The kids were supposed to be doing their jobs. When I came out, I saw them taking turns standing on the hearth, making grandiose speeches. When I asked them what they were doing, they answerered matter of factly, "playing Sarah Palin and Rocco Bama."

The things they pick up on!


Wednesday, September 10, 2008


There are moments in life that take your breath away when you realize just how not in control we are. Moments where you are faced with the reality that it is God directing our paths, and He is the one in charge.

The other day I went to the grocery store with the girls and the baby. Calvin stayed home with Steve. After I returned, he mentioned that Calvin slipped out of the house and was riding his scooter and a neighbor brought him home. I didn't really think that much about it. Steve had been playing with him, then went into the other room and Calvin ran out. I was grateful, of course, to my neighbor, but not really aware of what had really taken place.

When I saw her the next day, I thanked her for bringing him home. She hadn't told Steve all the circumstances surrounding what had happened, but she told me then.

She told me that Calvin wasn't just riding his scooter around. He came looking for Mommy, and was turning onto a main road that leads to a very very very big road that you have to cross to get to the store. Calvin knows the way. He would have ridden his little scooter down to that very very very big road.

My dear friend told me then that never before has she felt so compelled to follow a spiritual prompting. She drove way out of her way, in her words "pulled" to the spot where he was rounding the corner. The path to the big road is off to the side--a few moments later and he would have been lost from sight until he was at the very very very big road.

I feel so humbled. So humbled knowing that God is aware of my sweet little son, and that his time on earth isn't over yet. So grateful for promptings of the Spirit, and for people who listen and follow.


Sunday, September 07, 2008

Blessing day

What a beautiful day!! Perfect from start to finish. Sammy was (of course) happy and smiley and peaceful. Steve gave him a beautiful blessing, and it was so wonderful to have so many of our favorite people there with us.

Everyone came for dinner after--there ended up being over 30 people!! About 15 more than I was expecting--fortunately I always make waaay more food than necessary, so there was plenty for everyone.

Hannah asked the other day how I can throw parties with a newborn and 3 other crazy kids. Answer?? What you don't see here is the big picture. Sure, I can throw impromptu parties left and right, but I sure don't blog about the state of my laundry room!! Or the disorganized everything in my house, the weeds in the garden, the scrapbooks that I've never done...this list could go on and on for miles. So I do get some things done really well, but at the expense of other, equally valuable things.

But anyway, here are some pictures of my precious little Samuel on his perfect blessing day.

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Saturday, September 06, 2008

Getting ready for the party

We're blessing my sweet baby Samuel tomorrow (Blessing = christening for the non-LDS among us). All the other kids have been much littler than his 3 month self, but we've been busy this summer! We were out of town every possible Sunday until now.

Everyone is coming over after the blessing for dinner and a party. I've been busy baking all kinds of delicious treats for it. I made Key Lime Cheesecake Bars--oh these are good!! Usually I NEVER repeat recipes, but this is the 3rd time I've made these this summer. Very very worthwhile recipe.

Key Lime Cheesecake Bars--recipe originally from Cooks Illustrated

5 ounces animal crackers (about 1 1/4 C crumbs)
3 tbs light or dark brown sugar packed
pinch salt
4 tbsp butter melted and cooled slightly

2 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
1 tbsp grated lime zest
1 can (14oz) sweetened condensed milk
1 large egg yolk
1/2 C key lime juice or regular juice (do not use bottled juice)

Garnish (optional)
3/4 C shredded coconut toasted until crisp

1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 325 degrees. Cut about 12-inch length extra-wide heavy duty foil; fold cut edges back to form 7 1/2-inch width. With folded sides facing down, fit foil securely into bottom and up sides of 8-inch square baking pan, allowing excess to overhang pan sides. Spray foil with non-stick cooking spray.

2. To Make Crust. In workbowl of food processor, pulse animal crackers until broken down, about ten 1-second pulses; process crumbs until evenly fine, about 10 seconds. Add brown sugar and salt; process to combine, ten to twelve 1-second pulses. Drizzle butter over crumbs and pulse until crumbs are evenly moistened with butter, about ten 1-second pulses. Press crumbs evenly and firmly into bottom of prepared pan. Bake until deep golden brown, 18 to 20 minutes. Cool on wire rack while making filling. Do not turn off oven.

3. To Make Filling: While crust cools, in medium bowl, stir cream cheese, zest and salt with rubber spatula until softened, creamy and thoroughly combined. Add sweetened condensed milk and whisk vigorously until incorporated and no lumps of cream cheese remain; whisk in egg yolk. Add lime juice and whisk gently until incorporated (mixture will thicken slightly).

4. To Assemble and Bake: Pour filling into crust; spread to corners and smooth surface with rubber spatula. Bake until set and edges begin to pull away slightly from sides, 15 to 20 minutes. Cool on wire rack to room temperature, 1 to 1 1/2 hours. Cover with foil and refrigerate until thoroughly chilled at least 2 hours.

5. Loosen edges with pairing knife and lift bars from baking pan using foil extensions; cut bars into 16 squares. Sprinkle with toasted coconut if using, and serve. (Leftovers can be refrigerated up to two days; crust will soften slightly. Let stand at room temperature, about 15 minutes before serving.)

If you make these, be sure to include the toasted coconut. It takes them from yummy to over the top fabulous.

I've mentioned before my very bad habit of making brand new recipes for large groups of people. Of course I had to continue in that tradition, so I tried blondies with white chocolate chunks, dried cranberries and pecans. Even though I haven't tried them before, how could you go wrong with this set of ingredients?

Basic Blondies
6-7 TBS butter, melted
1 cup brown sugar
1 egg
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup flour
1/4 tsp baking powder (optional, creates lighter blondie texture)

“Add in” (see below)

Preheat oven to 350.
Line an 8×8 pan with foil and lightly spray with PAM.
In a large microwave safe mixing bowl melt the butter. Allow to cool for 5 mintues. Mix the brown sugar with the melted butter and beat until smooth. Beat in egg and then vanilla. Add salt, stir in flour and baking powder (if using). Mix in any additions (some ideas below).

Pour into prepared pan and use a greased spatula to evenly spread mixture in pan and level the top. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until set in the middle. (I baked for 22 minutes)Cool on rack before cutting.

Add in ideas:
1/2 to 1 cup chocolate chips, peanut butter chips, white chocolate or butterscotch chips
1/2 cup chopped pecans, walnuts, almonds
1/2 cup M&M candies1/2 chopped Reese’s PB cups
1/4 cup toffee pieces
1/2 tsp mint extract in addition to, or in the place of vanilla extract