Thursday, October 30, 2014

Let the Gratitude Begin!

Once we had decided that we would do another blog post in November about gratitude (cliche, I know), I realized that today is the best day for me to start talking about it.  Yes, my last post was about my mom and breast cancer and some memories.  Today is some of the same, but with a different twist - so now you have to read to the end to see what the twist is.  :) 

My mom and her husband Bill

On October 30, 2013, my mom and her husband had arrived the night before (moving her from Nevada to Georgia) to help get her moved into our home following her terminal diagnosis.  The folks from hospice were expected after lunch, so we were all waiting to meet with them and get settled.  My husband, Rob, had even come home from work so he could be involved in the meetings.  Before hospice arrived that day, Rob received a call from his brother.  He found out that his mother, an active 80 year old who, for the last few weeks, had been trying to figure out what was wrong with her stomach, was diagnosed with a very fast spreading cancer and had 2-5 weeks to live.  And then hospice arrived.  To help my mom who had been given maybe 6-8 months to live.  Our lives changed in that moment, but I can't say it was all bad. 

About 6 months before that, I had started a "gratitude" journal of sorts.  It's a book I had bought called, "The Happiness Project".  Each page has a place for 5 years worth of journal entries, with only enough room for about 1-2 sentences each year.  I hadn't missed a day of my journal, and so I continued to find something "happy" to write about each day - even October 30, 2013.  That day I wrote: 


Mom is here, and one step closer to being much happier.  Carol has only weeks to live, so she is also closer to Phil and eternal happiness! 

And, I truly meant what I wrote.  My mom was happier being with her kids and grand kids for her last few months, and she knew that the end of her life on earth would be the end of her pain.  My mother-in-law had dearly missed her sweet husband Phil, who has passed several years earlier, and she expressed how excited she was to see him again - on the other side. :) 

Carol with her 4 kids, celebrating her 80th birthday

Like I said, our lives were changed that day last year.  Our 3 teenagers loved and took care of their dying grandmother, and learned a lot about life and death and especially about what is truly important.  And they watched as their parents did the same.  I would never wish this lesson on anyone else, but I am grateful that our family had this experience - together! 

Me and my mom on Christmas

Just 4 weeks later, my sweet mother-in-law Carol, passed away on December 1st.  Then, only 45 days later, my mother passed away too.  Though it was a difficult time, we found joy in remembering the lives that they had led and the examples that they were to their families.

Holding mom's hand

So as we move into November, the month of gratitude, I hope everyone can find peace and happiness in their day no matter what that day brings.  I always write in my happiness journal at night right before I go to sleep.  It gives me a minute of reflection on the day, and helps me go to sleep with good thoughts.  

Whether your life is peaceful and calm, or a little crazy right now, give it a try!  Even if you don't write it in a journal, just take a minute to think about the best part of your day, and you will see a difference.  :)


Thursday, October 16, 2014

In Honor of our Mom...

Sandra McKenney Holden
It all hit me on Sunday.  This week marks one year since my mom was diagnosed with a brain tumor, which was just one more piece of her original Breast Cancer diagnosis about 4 years prior.  The brain tumor, combined with multiple tumors throughout her body, helped us make the difficult decision to accept the terminal diagnosis.  Of course, these memories all came flooding into my mind during Breast Cancer Awareness month, which my husband likes to refer to as Breast Awareness Month - his favorite time of the year.  (LOL) 

So, Suzy and I talked about it, and rather than taking advantage of the pink ribbons we see everywhere this month and trying to encourage everyone to get mammograms (we actually discourage them - please use thermography instead), we would like to take the opportunity to honor our mother.  From that day last October when she became terminal, she only lived for 3 months.  Most of that time was spent in my home, as our families surrounded her with our love and care.  Although it was a difficult time that I wouldn't wish upon anyone, I also wouldn't trade it for anything. 
Sandy with Lisa and Suzy, about 1972

November 2013

Mom LOVED to talk about her daughters, and was so proud of what we had created with Sisters' Gourmet!  Of course, it was from time spent baking with her in the kitchen that Suzy and I developed our love for sweets!  She helped us develop some of the recipes, worked for us in many different capacities including being our first salesperson, and was the best proofreader anyone could ask for. 

We are grateful for the time we had to spend with her, and are happy that she is in a better place.  To all of the daughters reading this, give your mom an extra hug today!
Our families at her funeral in Arkansas

We love and miss you, Mom!!
Lisa (and Suzy)

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Fruit Salsa and Cinnamon Chips!

This will quickly become one of your most requested recipes.. it is definitely one of mine!  

Fruit Salsa

1 lb. fresh strawberries
1 lg. apple or 2 small apples, peeled and cored
2 kiwis, peeled
1/2 can pineapple, drained or about 1/4 fresh pineapple
3 TBSP sugar
dash of lemon juice

Wash and prepare all fruit.  I like to chop my fruit separately, but you don't have to.. Put fruit in a food processor or "salsa maker" (as pictured) and chop thoroughly.  Mix all ingredients together and refrigerate until ready to use!  Serve with cinnamon chips.

Salsa chopper makes it quick!

Stack the tortillas and cut a stack at a time

Cinnamon Chips

flour tortillas
1 stick butter or margarine
cinnamon sugar

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Melt butter or margarine.  Brush butter onto flour tortillas and sprinkle with cinnamon sugar.  I find it easiest to do one tortilla, stack another etc.. until I have 5 or 6 stacked up.  Then use either large knife or pizza cutter to cut into triangles.  If needed, sprinkle a little more cinnamon sugar before baking. Place on cookie sheet (one layer) and cook until brown and crispy- about 10-12 minutes.  Enjoy with the fruit salsa!

Here is a printable 4 x 6 recipe card for your files! (I have made a few changes since I made this, either one is great!) Enjoy

Monday, March 5, 2012

Chocolate Cupcakes filled with Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough and topped with Peanut Butter Frosting! Yum!

Last night, we all decided this is about the most amazing cupcake recipe ever!! I say "about" because we eat a lot of dessert at our house. It's truly gonna be difficult to ever declare something the "BEST EVER".

I had some peanut butter chocolate chip cookie dough in the freezer that someone had given me. So, that is where I started. I will not pretend to post a recipe for Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip cookie dough that is the same as what I used last night. I'll just say that ANY cookie dough is good! Even that refrigerated rolled up stuff. And, get creative with it! I had fun with the peanut butter theme.

**Before you can do anything else, though, you need to make 24 tablespoon sized balls of cookie dough and freeze them for a couple of hours.

Besides that, for the cupcakes you will need:
1 cake mix (I used chocolate)
1/2 cup oil
1 1/3 cup water
3 eggs
Make according to box directions. In fact, if the box says 2 eggs and 2 cups of water, then go ahead and follow the box directions. There is certainly nothing magical about what I added to my cake mix!

Divide the batter into 24 paper lined cupcake tins. Place one frozen cookie dough ball in the middle of each tin. I pressed them in just a little, but it really wasn't necessary! The cupcake will "grow" around the cookie dough!
Bake this incredible yumminess at 350 for about 20 minutes. This pic is in the oven... Cool completely before frosting.
Since the dough was peanut butter based, I decided to make a Peanut Butter Frosting - which by the way was a great idea!!

Peanut Butter Frosting
1 cup peanut butter
1/2 cup butter
3 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1/3 cup cream or milk
First, cream the peanut butter and butter til smooth. Add about half of the powdered sugar and cream, then mix until smooth. Finish with the remaining amounts. You may have to adjust and add a little more milk or powdered sugar until it is the consistency you like....and soft enough to be spreadable.

I like piping the frosting on, because it looks like it came from a bakery! Obviously my decorating skills aren't all that fantastic, but I think these look much better than cupcakes that have frosting spread to the edges with a butter knife! This one is cut in half, so maybe it isn't as pretty now, but I wanted you to see the cookie dough in the middle! Yum!

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Best (and easiest) Caesar Salad Ever!

Yes, I know...this may seem too easy and basic to even bother posting the recipe. However, this is probably my most requested recipe of ALL TIME!!

When my kids were little, and I was trying to get them to eat salad ("eat your veggies"), I found this combination - and it worked! They loved and devoured Caesar salad (as long as it was made with these ingredients), and so we had it for dinner quite often. The mistake I made was not trying other salad recipes - they ate this one, and I kept making it! So, while my kids ate MY salad, they usually wouldn't touch any other salad. :) I have long since decided to accept that as a compliment and move on. Now, they are teenagers, and will eat almost anything - so I guess it all works out in the end. And, they do eat their veggies - especially if they come in the form of Caesar Salad!!

Here's the recipe:
**chopped romaine lettuce
**grated parmesan cheese - the cheap kind in the plastic bottle, not the fancy shredded stuff.
**croutons - My family loves Chatham Village Garlic and Butter large cut croutons, but I recently learned that Marzetti's is the same company with the same recipes. A special treat is Olivia's Parmesan Pepper croutons.
**dressing - there is no other option but Cardini's Original Caesar Dressing!! If you don't do this right, then it's not my Caesar salad recipe!

Put it all in a bowl and toss - use amounts to your taste, but use more parmesan cheese than you might think. To serve 4, I probably use about 1/4 cup or maybe even more parmesan cheese. You want enough dressing that the lettuce isn't dry, but not so much that it's dripping! Next time I make it, I'll try to get some better measurements and post them so you won't have to guess.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Triple Cheesy Super Creamy Baked Ziti

Our family loves Italian food! This is definitely a family favorite - better than most Italian restaurant dishes! There is nothing else to say about it, except you have to try it! Oh, and did I mention that it's super easy to make...

1 pound dry ziti pasta
1 finely chopped onion
1 lb ground beef
2 (26 ounce) jars spaghetti sauce (my favorite is Ragu Parmesan Romano)
8 slices of provolone cheese
1 1/2 cups sour cream
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add pasta, and cook about 8-9 minutes; drain.
2. In a large skillet, brown onion and ground beef over medium heat. Add spaghetti sauce, heat through, then remove from heat.
3. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Coat 9x13 inch baking dish with cooking oil spray.
4. Layer as follows: 1/2 of the ziti, 1/2 of the sauce, Provolone cheese, sour cream, remaining ziti, remaining sauce, mozzarella cheese. Top with grated Parmesan cheese.
5. Bake for 30 minutes in the preheated oven, or until cheeses are melted. I recommend that you cover with foil for the first 15-20 minutes of baking, then remove foil so the cheese will melt and the top will be perfectly browned!

*NOTE - this is a great dish to make ahead and bake when needed. From the refrigerator, it usually needs an additional 15 minutes of cooking time.


Wednesday, January 25, 2012

International Fancy Food Show - Day 3

Whatever self-control I exhibited on day 1 and 2 were thrown out the window today! :) While I was not quite the "pig" that I normally am at the Fancy Food show, I did a lot more sampling on day 3. Here's todays favorites...
The French Patisserie's Macarons de Paris - I've seen pictures of these in gourmet magazines many times, and always wondered what they tasted like. WOW! They are so different from what I imagined! When I picked it up (I tried the Sea Salt Caramel flavor), it looked like a light brown whoopie pie, so I was thinking of a cakey treat with frosting in the middle. Well, it is hard to explain exactly how this is nothing like a whoopie pie. The best I can tell you is that the outside pieces are almost melt-in-your-mouth flaky. The inside is more like a thick saucey filling - not frostingish at all! I'm pretty cheap, and these taste expensive, but I might consider buying some if I ever find them in a store.

Helen Grace's Ultimate Truffles - Ultimate is a good word for these! They start with what they call a "meltaway" (I first misunderstood them and thought they said "Milky Way", which I thought was strange to use as the first layer of a fancy chocolate!). Well, the meltaway layer is the creamiest chocolate my mouth has ever had the opportunity to taste - think about the creamy inside of a truffle and you will be pretty close! It is aptly named "meltaway"! On top of the meltaway is a layer of perfect caramel - I say perfect because it is a smooth, melt in your mouth caramel, not the kind you have to bite into. Then, to top off the super yumminess is a "cap" of white chocolate. Truly amazing!! I think the best place to find these truffles is through a fundraising company called "Innisbrook". And, yes - I will spend the exorbitant fundraising prices to get another bite of these chocolates!

Agave Dream's Cinnamon Ice Cream - I love this ice cream! The cinnamon flavor is subtle, yet easy to imagine how perfect this would taste with a snickerdoodle cookie or apple pie. And, while taste is important - I love what the company has done. They have created an ice cream that uses Agave Nectar to sweeten it, so that those who are sugar sensitive or even diabetic can enjoy naturally sweetened ice cream. I found the ice cream to be "just sweet enough" which is a nice change from the corn syrup laden frozen treats at the local grocery story.

The Pasta Shoppe's Chicken Pasta Salad - This is one of my favorite items at the show! The Pasta Shoppe has a great line of shaped pasta, with everything from your favorite college team mascots to little hearts for Valentine's Day. They also make a few meal items, and the Chicken Pasta Salad is a family favorite! I had never thought of putting pasta in chicken salad, but it is absolutely delicious.

So, that wraps up my 3 day series on favorite tastes at the International Fancy Food Show. I guess I need to get back in my kitchen and start cooking again! Hmmmmm - what's for dinner???