Thursday Check In – On Birthdays



So I’m sitting in my Wednesday moms’ group, talking about ways we take care of ourselves, and I’m sharing what I’ve learned about Sabbath, about intentionally leaving one day free of obligations and commitments so that it can be what I want it to be instead of what it has to be (I truly think this idea is genius, and this podcast was a great listen for me).

Then another mom echoes my thoughts, and shares that for her family, that day has always been Sunday.  They go to church in the morning, and then it’s a day for family time.  She said her daughters know that if they get invited to a birthday party on a Sunday, they understand that they probably won’t be going.  That a lot of birthday parties her girls get invited to are those, “invite the whole class,” kinds of birthdays, and she feels comfortable turning those down.  I nod my head in agreement, because that makes sense to me.

And then I find this post, from one of my most favorite blogs, What Would Gwyneth Do? all about saying yes to birthdays.  Because some kids are just waiting for a classmate to say yes.  Because inviting the whole class is a display of kindness that not everyone shows.  And again, I’m nodding my head in agreement, this makes perfect sense, too.  And it sounds a lot like celebrating everything, which we know is something I’m into.

This is about the 800th reminder to me this week alone that there is no right and wrong, good and bad, black and white way to be a family.  What works for one unit doesn’t work for another.  One family has a great reason to turn down Sunday birthdays.  Another has a great reason to gratefully accept all the invitations they can.  When birthday party season hits us (preschool? kindergarten?) I don’t know where we’ll come down in terms of our RSVPs.  But I am forever grateful for the moms who share the real whys behind their choices.

Exhausted Moms Rejoice [deb’s favorite brownies]

AGOMYR touts one of Smitten’s brownie recipes as her favorite ever.  If I’m not mistaken, she calls them quiet brownies because they can be made without a noisy mixer, and all in one bowl.  But that’s not what Deb calls them, and I always have to go back to the site and remind myself which recipe she loves.  It’s this one, isn’t it, AGOMYR?  I’ve made them multiple times, and they always disappear before I can snap a photo and blog about them.

And I was going to make them (and properly blog them) for a little friend coffee date I had coming up, but then I remembered Deb also had a “favorite” brownie recipe, one she posted after her cocoa brownies.  So I clicked on that one, and I read the post.  Reread would be more accurate, because I’m sure I read it when it went up in 2012.  But oh, how I looked on it with fresh eyes.  Or tired eyes.  The eyes of a mother who also has a tricky sleeper.  One who appreciates a brownie recipe that can be started and finished within 45 minutes on an entirely new level.  I owed it to sleep-deprived mothers everywhere to try it out.

It works.


To make 16 small squares, you will need:

3 ounces unsweetened chocolate, roughly chopped
1 stick unsalted butter, plus extra for pan
1 1/3 cups granulated sugar (I might even cut this to 1 C next time!)
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon flaky sea salt
2/3 cup all-purpose flour
*And of course I added chocolate chips because I just don’t believe in brownies without them

Heat oven to 350°F. Line an 8×8-inch square baking pan with parchment, extending it up two sides, or foil. Butter the parchment or foil or spray it with a nonstick cooking spray.

In a medium heatproof bowl over gently simmering water, melt chocolate and butter together until only a couple unmelted bits remain. Off the heat, stir until smooth and fully melted. You can also do this in the microwave in 30-second bursts, stirring between each. Whisk in sugar, then eggs, one at a time, then vanilla and salt. Stir in flour with a spoon or flexible spatula, stir in chocolate chips, and scrape batter into prepared pan, spread until even. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out batter-free.

Let cool and cut into desired size. If you’re like me, you will prefer these and all brownies, cold or even frozen. But I bet you’re normal and will just eat them hot from the pan. If desired, dust the brownies with powdered sugar before serving.


A Post with too Many Photos [boursin mac and cheese]

Warning:  All the photos ahead.  I had way too much fun scrolling back through the last 10 years’ worth.  Ladies.  Ten.  Years!

A long, long time ago, in a much simpler time in all of our lives, when we (almost) all lived in close proximity to one another, and had 0 children among us, CV(D), AGOMYR, Hey Girl Hey, My Ex and I got together on the regular to eat cheese and crackers and drink copious amount of wine.  Sometimes we called it book club (LOL).  Other times, we planned to go out afterward, but were having way too much fun with each other to waste time with bars and men.  (And still other times, we went for it with the bars and men.)



Those were the days.  Cheese and cracker and wine-filled days.

Out of habit, I was always content to stick a slice of extra sharp cheddar atop my beloved triscuits, but I’d be remiss if I was hosting and I didn’t include Boursin cheese in the spread.  It was an essential to a handful of these lovely ladies.  But I could take it or leave it on its own, which is odd, given my penchant for herbs and cheese.

Nonetheless, this recipe on Cup of Jo caught my eye, because it took all the flavors I love and added pasta, and fine, fine, I’ll give this Boursin stuff a shot.


What I found discovered was everything I never knew I was looking for. This is like a more sophisticated, homemade version of Annie’s Mac and cheese.* Too good to be true. 

To make pasta for 4, you will need:

1 lb. medium shell pasta
1 package (5.2 oz.) Garlic & Fine Herb Boursin
1 1/2 cups fresh peas (frozen are fine too)
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. fresh black pepper
zest of 1 lemon

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the shells and cook until just al dente. (They will continue to cook in the sauce.) Reserve 1 cup of pasta cooking water. Drain the shells.

In a large sauté pan over medium-high heat, add the 1 cup of pasta cooking water** and the Boursin. Break up the cheese as it melts. Simmer the sauce for about one minute. Add the peas and the shells to the pan and stir. Cook for about a minute until the sauce has thickened around the shells and the peas are cooked through. Stir in the salt and pepper and taste for seasoning.

Plate the shells and garnish with the lemon zest and fresh black pepper. Enjoy!

*When I served this up, my husband thought it was Deb’s alfredo. The two are similar, but distinct enough that I will be hanging on to each recipe in its own right. 

**At first, when I added a whole cup of water, I thought, holy goodness, I’ve done ruined the sauce.  Just let it keep simmering a while, and everything will thicken up.  Even more so when you add the pasta back in.

A Very Basic Fall [cream of chicken noodle soup]

Do I get points for being over three weeks into fall and not having worn leggings as pants yet?  Hope so.


Here are the basic fall trends I’m into and not:

Pumpkin:  No thanks.  I make one pumpkin dessert a year (currently eyeing this one) + pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving.  That’s it.  That’s all I need.  Hold the pumpkin spice lattes, please.

Plaid:  In theory, I am all about plaid.  In practice, I have, and thus, wear, almost none.

Duck boots:  Yes, yes, yes, and yes.  I love them, they are perfect for the rain, and they are one of my favorite fall classics.

Apple picking:  This is another one where in theory, it’s a great idea.  In practice, it’s a long day that involves lots of schedule coordinating, and lots of apples.  If I had a huge family to feed, though, I’d be swimming in this applesauce, and living off of this cake with our hypothetical harvest.

Soup:  Bring me all the soup.  After surviving the most blazing parts of the summer, in which all one can hope for is a trip to the beach or the pool, I am always so anxious to get to soup season.  I always make it way to preemptively early, in hopes that maybe my doing so will kick mother nature into gear, and bring us cooler temperatures and crisp fall air.  If you’re doing fall right, at least in my book, you’ve got a pot of soup, stew, or chili on the stove at least once, if not twice, each week.  It’s the epitome of comfort.  Friends of ours did a different soup every week last fall and winter, and I’m thinking it could be our family’s next ritual.  As always, stay tuned, dear readers.

My most recent foray was (surprise!) a slow cooker soup.  Slow cooker cream of chicken noodle soup, to be precise.  Your table needs this.  It’s all the comfort of chicken noodle plus the richness of cream.

To make soup for 6 (except the way I kept eating more, it would probably only feed 4), you will need:

3 chicken breasts, cooked and cubed
5 cups chicken broth/stock
2 tablespoons butter
1 cup chopped onions
1 cup chopped carrots
1 cup chopped celery
1 can corn, drained
2 cans cream of chicken soup
1/4 cup evaporated milk
8 oz homestyle dry egg noodles
salt and pepper to taste

Melt butter in a skillet. Add onions, carrots, and celery and saute for about 4-5 minutes or until veggies are just soft. In a slow cooker combine chicken stock, cream of chicken soups, and evaporated milk. Whisk. Add cooked chicken, sauteed vegetables, and corn. Cook on low for 3 1/2 to 4 hours. Add noodles, cover, and turn slower cooker to high. Cook on high for 1 more hour. Serve with bread or crackers.

Thursday Check In – The Other Half of the Sentence

Wooden Nickels claims that I started talking at 9 months and haven’t really stopped since.  CV(D) tells me I’m a verbal processor.  I have to talk things through before I can get any kind of clarity.  But that doesn’t mean my thoughts come out of my mouth with clarity.  I find myself stopping in the middle of a sentence to switch gears too, too often.

live simply (the wheatfield):

(The Wheatfield)

Tsh Oxenreider writes extensively (and quite well) about living simply on her blog.  When I read her book, Notes from a Blue Bike, I learned that Tsh and her family live simply, so that others can simply live.  I had no idea that was the second half of the sentence for her, and it completed the picture for me in terms of the way her family frames so many of their choices.

Since I’m in this new season in life, where my days just sort of stretch out in front of me, with no routines quite as well established as those that were in place while I was working full time, I’m playing a lot with saying yes and saying no.  So much so that I realized that there’s one sentence I always get halfway through.  I’ve said no to some things.  But I do that so that I can say yes to others. Ah, there’s the other half.

All the Lean In-ers, and Girl Bosses will tell you no is a complete sentence, and I firmly believe that (never ruin an apology with an excuse and all).  But though it’s a complete sentence, it’s not necessarily the whole sentence.  A no to one activity or task means a yes to another, hopefully much more meaningful something in its place.

Huge blog confession coming up here, dear readers, but one thing I don’t do right now is make Gooplet’s food from scratch.  It was always my intention to, and I did for a little while.  But here’s the thing.  Right now, he’s pretty much eating single-ingredient foods.  And while I once babysat a toddler who ate risotto, and have since dreamed of having a child just like that, I’m totally fine with feeding him butternut squash that someone else made and pureed.  Or kale and pears and raspberries (a recent favorite).  You know there’s no kale in our house.  This choice means way less dishes, less time at the grocery store trying to buy a CSA’s worth of veggies to make sure he’s eating a variety, and way less time spent praying that he can happily occupy himself in his jumper while I steam it, puree it, and store it in those little food blocks.  (I do really love these food blocks.)  And that choice, that “no,” or even that, “not right now,” opens up space for more of the things I want to do.

p.s.  Here are two other lists of no’s in my life.

A Different Muffin Entirely [banana muffins with olive oil and dark chocolate]

Perhaps above anything else I know how to make, I know how to make banana muffins.  I’ve been making Giada’s recipe since 2005, and if you’ve known me since then, you’ve probably eaten one or two.  There has never been a better banana muffin.

But when I saw Jessica’s, I paused.  These were a different muffin entirely.  They had olive oil and dark chocolate, and made me think of my favorite toast toppings.  They were worth a try.


If you want a classic banana muffin that reminds you of the kind of banana bread a neighbor would bring just because they made an extra, then Giada’s recipe(sans Mascarpone frosting, is the way to go.

But if you’re in the market for a sophisticated muffin (did you know such a thing existed, dear readers?) I highly recommend these.  They feel like just enough of a departure from the classic that they’re worth hanging onto.  The olive oil and chopped chocolate (chop it somewhat unevenly, please, so that there are both flecks and huge chunks of chocolate studded throughout) give the muffins a tinge of fanciness.

To make 18 muffins, you will need:

  • 2 cups whole wheat pastry or all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 3 large bananas, mashed
  • 2/3 cup milk
  • 6 ounces high-quality dark chocolate, chopped (I used 3.5 oz. dark, and 3 oz. semi sweet chocolate chips)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. In a bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt and spices. Set aside. Line a muffin tin with liners.

In a large bowl, whisk the egg and brown sugar together until smooth and no lumps remain. Add in vanilla extract, olive oil and bananas, whisking again until combined. Gradually add in dry ingredients, mixing until just incorporated. Stir in the milk and mix until just combined. Fill each muffin liner 2/3 of the way full with batter (I use a 1/4 cup measure to get the muffins to be of equal size). If you’d like, you can place a very thinly sliced banana slice on top of the muffin before baking.

Bake for 15-17 minutes, or until tops are no longer wet and become slightly golden. Remove and let cool until cool to the touch.

Oops [white chocolate churro crunch]

For the past several weeks, I have been constantly hungry between 11-3.  I eat breakfast, and then lunch is this on-going affair that usually involves some attempt at a “meal,” mixed with handfuls upon handfuls of whatever is closest.

And then I listened to my beloved Sorta Awesome (I don’t even remember which episode, I’m sorry!), and I believe it was Kelly who mentioned that when she is taking care to eat well, she’s not constantly hungry throughout the day.


I have not been eating particularly well lately.  Suggestions for easy, filling, and healthy breakfasts and lunches welcome!

I had already purchased the ingredients to make white chocolate churro crunch before having this epiphany, so I felt a little bit like the person who always says the diet will start tomorrow. What else am I going to do with a box of Honeycomb cereal?

That all worked out kind of great for me, because this snack mix is simply amazing.  It involves melted chocolate, so my picture is a bit of a lie. But if this blog had an alternate title it would be, the misadventures of a horrible chocolate melter, so I just ate all my globby-chocolate-blobs and snapped a picture of the rest of the mess.

I could not stop eating this. It’s absolutely addictive, and while I won’t say it’s better than muddy buddy mix, I will say it hits a different sweet spot. There’s room for both o rely sweet cereal concoctions in your life, too, I’m sure. 

To make snacks for a little group, you will need:

  • 4 cups Honeycomb Cereal
  • 4 tablespoons melted butter
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup melted white chocolate

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.  Toss honeycomb with melted butter in a large bowl.  Then add cinnamon and sugar, and toss to coat.  Bake for 15 minutes.

When Honeycomb mixture has completely cooled, drizzle with melted chocolate*.  Refrigerate or freeze till chocolate is set, then serve.

*I hate working with melted chocolate, because things always come out so much blobbier for me than other, more seasoned food bloggers.

I’m Rolling My Eyes at Myself [slow cooker ketchup]

I don’t want to say that I’m a food snob.  I try really hard not to be.  But this one time, I needed ketchup, and I was at Whole Foods, and they don’t have non-snobby ketchup.  So I bought snobby ketchup.  And when I say snobby, I mean some organic ketchup that had way more flavor than regular ketchup, and I didn’t put it on regular old hot dogs, but I put it on things where I could really taste the difference and where it felt fancy.


And then my husband and I were perusing The Kitchn’s slow cooker archives, and we saw slow cooker ketchup.  He got really excited about it, and he gets really excited about so few things, so we added it to the menu.

It’s truly amazing.

And now I’m going to be that person who only uses the fancy homemade ketchup that she made.

I put it on tater tots, so you know I’m not that fancy.  Tater tots are the best vehicle for ketchup.

To make a batch, you will need:

  • 1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
  • 1/2 small onion, diced
  • 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1/4 cup packed brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon celery seed
  • Pinch ground allspice

Put everything in the slow cooker.  Cook it on low, uncovered, for 6 or 7 hours.  Puree everything with an immersion blender or food processor.  (I let mine cool completely before I processed, but you don’t have to.)  Serve with whatever makes your heart sing.  People put ketchup on the strangest foods.

Executive Decisions [slow cooker short rib sauce]

In life, there are times to hem and haw, and there are times to make executive decisions.  I am an expert at both hemming and hawing, but I can appreciate the brilliance of making an executive decision.  Once you do, it’s done.  It’s decided.  There’s no point looking back when life moves in a singular direction, that direction being, of course, forward. I find that making executive decisions helps me to simplify, or to do something I know I should do, but I don’t necessarily want to admit I need to do.

These decisions can be big or small, and more often than not are somewhere in between.  Recent executive decisions I have made have included:

  • Just go ahead and buy Gooplet the cute Christmas pajamas you want him to wear come December.  No, they will not go on sale, and yes, they are too expensive, but they are cute and it’s his first Christmas and church is doing a pajama service, and he needs to look his best.
  • For goodness sake, Jennie, put the Lilly clothes in the ThredUp bag.  You haven’t worn them since high school, Ocean Allison has made you tons of pillows out of other old skirts and dresses, and you might as well get some cash for them (seals bag quickly and tightly, so it cannot be tampered with, and this executive decision cannot be undone).
  • Get the afternoon cup of coffee.  It’s just for today, it doesn’t mean you’re on the path to 8 cups every morning like every other member of your nuclear family (ummmm).

My most recent executive decision was not to sear these short ribs before putting them in the slow cooker.  My America’s Test Kitchen Family Cookbook contains seared meat in almost every recipe from the slow cooker section, and a quick peek through the Williams Sonoma slow cooker cookbook revealed that they suggest this too.  So it’s gotta be a valid suggestion.  But when I’m busting out the slow cooker, I want dinner to be easier than easy.  I want to throw everything in that giant vessel, and not look at it again for seven or eight hours.  So no searing.  Executive decision.  I don’t regret it at all, this sauce is amazing anyway*.


To make (executive decision) slow cooker short rib sauce for 4, you will need:

8 beef short ribs
12 ounces cremini mushrooms, chopped
1 onion, chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes
1 (28-ounce) can tomato sauce
3 tablespoons tomato paste
1 cup beef stock
1 cup red wine
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
a few sprigs of fresh thyme
3 tablespoons brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1/3 cup freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano cheese, plus more for topping

1 pound pasta, cooked

Add the short ribs, mushrooms, onions, garlic, diced tomatoes, tomato sauce, paste, beef stock and red wine to the slow cooked with the ribs. Stir in the oregano and thyme. Stir as much as you can, then cook on low for 8 hours.

After 8 hours, remove the ribs with a pair of kitchen tongs (keep the sauce covered) and let them slightly cool until you can touch them. Remove the beef from the ribs and add it back to the slow cooker. Add in the brown sugar, salt, pepper, red pepper flakes and cheese. Stir well and cook for another hour on low heat. Remove the thyme sprigs.

Before serving, taste the sauce and season additionally if desired. You might need more salt and pepper. Don’t be afraid to add it! Serve over pasta and top with extra cheese.

*I find that for dishes like this, there is always leftover sauce, and I’m someone who hates throwing away food that could surely serve some other purpose.  My mother-in-law will take an immersion blender, and whir up the remaining sauce for use with another cut of meat, another night.  It’s really not a bad idea.