Monday, July 28, 2008

God's Not Fair! and a SALE

Did that catch your attention? Have you ever said that?

"God's Not Fair!"

No, He's not.


Huh? What?

Well, if He were fair, I'd not have the opportunity to be saved from my sin. If He were fair, I'd not be on my way to heaven.

That's what was on my mind recently as I pondered the fact that I've been saved now 18 years today. August 3rd is a special day to me because that's the day the Savior reached down and justified me, and washed me white as snow.

To celebrate this, we have a special in my bookstore just for you. If you go to my bookstore, you'll see that my book, Quiet Times in Loud Households is on sale for 40% off for this week. This includes both the print book and the ebook version of Quiet Times in Loud Households. Furthermore, I have a special audio I've been working on which is free with your order. I will also throw in a copy of Dr. Gene Gurganus' book "Path to Truth and Freedom" for the first 50 people that order the print book. This is a great book covering the basics of our faith, including some apologetics.

Quiet Times in Loud Households was written over the course of my first 10 years as a took me that long just to get it down on paper. The origin of that book all started when I tried to find a balance as a new mom, and maintaining my relationship with the Lord. You'll be blessed and encouraged!

Bolognese Sauce with Penne Regatta

The title sounds fancy doesn't it?

What it actually translates to is spaghetti sauce with a different kind of noodle. In this case, being out of spaghetti noodles, I used some penne regatta instead (sort of like muscacholi noodles, only smaller. They were on sale at Kroger recently, so I bought several boxes.

I started by thawing some ground beef, and then lightly browning 1 onion and 2 cloves of garlic in a large sauce pot. I then added one optional teaspoon of fennel seed. I like the flavor it gives.

Here's a tip for you...when you add seeds and spices, add them at the start of the cooking process (especially whole seeds). When you're adding herbs, you add them towards the end.

Add the ground beef, and brown that. If there is excess grease when you're done, pour it off before proceeding.

Stir in 2T of MSG-Free Onion Soup Mix or Worchestershire sauce. I suppose these are optional, but they really bring out the flavor. I buy the onion soup mix in bulk. It's also available from

Pour in some crushed tomatoes and tomato sauce (I average 3 small cans or two larger cans or jars of home canned sauce). Crushed tomatoes make it thicker and chunkier, so I use those more often.

season with: fresh basil, oregano, thyme, rosemary, and Marjoram.

I also added a spoonful of finely minced pickled capers. Capers are the flower bud from an herb that grows in the Mediterranean, pickled and put in jars. You can buy it in many stores. I pull out a small spoonful, and I finely mince them with my chef's knife.

I let my sauce simmer with a bay leaf in it for about 30 minutes.

In the meanwhile, i allow my water to come to a boil for the pasta, and I prepared it according to package directions.

I also made a luscious country loaf of herbed bread to go with our meal, and served the Penne Regatta Bolognese garnished with fresh basil, fresh Parmesan cheese, and herbed bread.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Parmesan Cheese: Discovering the Wonder of the Fresh Stuff

On the left is what I've always bought for Parm. On the right is something new I've been trying...a brick of fresh Parmesan Cheese!

Why use fresh Parmesan Cheese? My own reasons are:
  • Taste! Oh, it tastes SO GOOD!
  • Cost. On the outset it may seem like you're paying more because a brick of fresh Parmesan costs more, but it also lasts 10 times longer (or more). The fresh is also used more sparingly as the flavor is stronger, and you can get more by grating the brick yourself as needed
  • It's an attractive garnish on your plate

So how do you use it? There's a few different ways:
  • Use a grater
  • Use a vegetable peeler for thicker slivers of cheese (this is what I do--see the photo below!)
  • Use a julienne peeler (or as my daughter calls it, "The finger-slicer") for thinner strips.
  • Grate/peel it fresh at the table over your plate for super fresh cheese!

Using Fresh Herbs

How do I get started using fresh herbs when I am cooking?

Great Question!

I think that most fresh herbs have a stronger flavor than the dried herbs you get at the store. There are some where there is simply no comparison (Fresh Basil, Cilantro, and Basil for example) in flavor. I mostly use those herbs that taste better fresh. These are also usually not only growing in large amounts in my garden, but also in smaller quantities in a planter box in my kitchen.

For Basil, I could give you recipe after recipe. Pesto is a recipe with fresh basil is amazing (just puree fresh basil with a dash of lemon juice, olive oil, salt, parmeasan cheese, and walnuts and use it as a sauce or thin it for use on noodles). We love pesto in the summertime! Sometimes I take fresh basil leaves, and I add them to regular salad for a little extra flavor. I just toss it in with the lettuce. Actually, I do this with all sorts of herbs and fresh, edible flowers (that's another post...edible flowers in salad).

I also use Basil fresh in most Italian dishes.

I start by picking some leaves, washing them, and taking the stems out. Then I stack the leaves up together, and thinly slice them in strips. At this point I either use it as a tasty garnish like this, or I finely mince them to add to a sauce.

When you are adding fresh herbs, you should add them near the end, by the way.

In the off season, I usually have plenty of basil finely minced in a food processor (diluted with a little bit of water) and frozen in ice cube trays. I then store the basil in my freezer in freezer bags for quick use. One cube is about enough for a pot of spaghetti sauce.

I use fresh Cilantro in a similar fashion. Cilantro is good in all things Mexican. It smells obnoxious, to be sure, but thankfully tastes delicious. It is a key ingredient in salsa and in guacamole. I usually mince/chop it up on a board with a chef's knife, after removing the stems as much as possible.

As with the Basil, I have cilantro ice cubes in storage in my freezer too. Martin usually craves guacamole even in December, after all!

Parsley is used just like Cilantro, only it can go in pretty much any kind of dish. The thing I use it most often for is in Tabouleh salad, which is one of my favorite things.

Chives I usually snip over baked potatoes or onto my salad with a small pair of kitchen shears.

I love fresh thyme on a grill with chicken laying on top of it, with just a touch of lemon juice. Fresh thyme is also good when you are making salad dressings (a Greek Vinaigrette). I pull off a branch, and just run my forefinger and thumb along the branch "zipping" off all of the leaves.

Fresh Rosemary I usually use in Italian, Greek, or Provencal-style cooking. I like it especially in a hearty loaf of county bread. This loaf here has fresh chopped rosemary, a pinch of fresh thyme, a whole head of roasted garlic (YUM), and some chives in it. Let's just say we didn't have leftovers. :-)

Now...about Parmesan cheese....

Friday, July 25, 2008

Lebanese Fair: Cooking up some Falafel with Hummus and Tabouleh

When we lived in the city, we often ate at Anita's Kitchen, on Maple west of Livernois, in Troy. They have the BEST Lebanese cuisine I have ever tasted. I've worked hard to perfect the art of falefel making, measuring it against the high standard of their super-falefel sandwiches.

I love having a Falefel sandwich with Hummus and Tabouleh, on either pita bread or a flour tortilla, on a hot summer's day. It's just light enough to not make you feel like you over did it, and just filling enough to satisfy. And, if you have a garden, and if you stock up on staple ingredients when they are on sale, it is a dirt cheap dinner.

First, the Falafel:

Start by soaking about 2 cups of garbonzos overnight (also known as chick peas or chi chi beans as my aunt calls them). Cover them by about 2 inches. If you are also making hummus from dried chick peas, soak extra for the hummus but it is easier to keep them separate.

By about 4pm the next day, you should be good to start work in the kitchen (I also make large batches and freeze the individual falfels on freezer paper, before storing in zipper bags for ease of use).

Start by putting your chick peas into your food processor, and grind them until they are coarse like bulgar or cracked wheat. Add to them a chopped up onion, a handful each of parsley and cilantro (fresh from the garden), a pinch of salt, a generous teaspoon of cumin and coriander each, and a half teaspoon of baking powder. Blend well in the food processor. You should have a thick dough.

Let your dough sit in the fridge while you heat oil to 350-375 (if it's too cool, it will taste greasy). You can also try baking them but sometimes it is too dry that way, so brush them with oil.

Using a spoon or a mini ice cream scooper (works better), make some small balls of falafel dough, and drop them carefully into the hot oil about 4-6 at a time.

When they turn nicely brown on the outside, remove them to a paper towel lined plate.

The Tabouleh
While you are making your falafel dough, start your tabouleh by soaking 2 cups of bulgar in 3 cups of boiling water. If you are using any other grain or pasta (couscous, cracked wheat, rice, orzo, whatever) follow the package directions to prepare it at this time.

Go to the garden once more, and fetch a large bowl full of parsley, and several generous handfuls of mint (don't use the chocolate mint for this.:P)

Finely chop the herbs, and chop up 1-2 onions (a vidalia or a red onion tastes best, I think), as well as a tomato and/or a red bell pepper. Toss this with the finished bulgar, along with 1/4 cup each of olive oil and lemon juice. Salt to taste.

The Hummus

I usually either keep frozen, fully cooked chick peas on hand (I cook large batches of them at a time, and freeze them in baggies for later use to save time and money), or I stock up on canned chick peas when they're on sale. Recently, they were on sale at Kroger for 50 cents each. One can of chick peas makes a good-sized bowl of hummus.

Throw your chick peas into the food processor, with 1 onion, some garlic, coriander, cumin, chili powder (or red pepper), salt, a good dash of olive oil and lemon juice, as well as a splash of sesame oil (a T or so). You can also add Tahini. I like Tahini, but it is both expensive and not readily available in our area. :( Sesame oil, found in the Asian/Oriental section of the grocery store, works just as good (my husband would say better. Blend it until smooth and creamy.

To make a Super Falafel Sandwich, spread hummus on a pita bread or tortilla (or other flat bread, spoon on the tabouleh, and add several falafel to it. Roll and enjoy.

AHHHH The perfect summer meal!
You may also garnish it with other fresh veggies...lettuce, tomato, cucumbers, etc.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Review: Basic Cake Decorating with Kathy Brodock

Growing up learning Calculus, Advanced Chemistry, and reading Chaucer, I sadly missed out on other skills that I now use every day, namely homemaking skills. As a young wife and mother, beginning my career as a stay home mom (quite different from the training I had received), I tried to catch up on learning things I wish I had learned in the first place. This task of learning was difficult as there were few resources I could find that truly helped me.
That's why I appreciate Mrs. Kathy Brodock and her ministry, because she is providing resources that will help to teach and disciple other young wives and mothers who also didn't get their training early in life. Even better, you can use her wonderful resources to help you in training your own daughters, as I am doing.
When deciding which of Mrs. Brodock's DVDs to get first, the choice was easy: Cake Decorating. Why? Because that is one thing that I either outsource to others, or do a lousy job at, though I have always wanted to learn. Being an artsy sort of person, I've figured it can't be that hard to learn, but alas every workshop I've taken or book I've read has been of no help to me. I figured the real test here would be whether or not she could teach me (yes, even me) how to decorate a cake that didn't look like I had fallen somewhere in the process. Worst comes to worst, I figured, maybe one of my girls could learn how to do cakes and take that job off of my hands. Up until I watched Kathy Brodock's DVD, my pastry bag and star tip were used almost exclusively for filling taco shells with sour cream.
As soon as Mrs. Brodock's DVD arrived, I popped it into the DVD player and started watching. Even though the video was done on a home video camera and not produced slickly in a studio like other instructional videos, the content is superior, and the quality of both sound and video is well done. In a real-life, practical, down-to-earth way, Kathy Brodock takes you by the hand and shows you how to do it, making no assumptions that you already know things like how to fill a pastry bag with icing, or how to even make your own icing for that matter. For the record, I found out while watching the video that I had been doing both wrong all along. I felt like I had a girlfriend over, showing me how it's done.
I wasn't the only one watching the cake decorating DVD, though. Each of my children were soon digging through the pantry to see if we had some Crisco and powdered sugar so they could whip up some icing to practice with. For the rest of that week, too rainy to work in the garden or play outside, my girls practiced making cake decorations on waxed paper, then scraping it back into the bowls to practice more again tomorrow. They watched the engaging DVD over and over again, and even the neighbor's girls joined in and practiced making roses, leaves, stems, clowns, and more.

Mrs. Kathy Brodock has really hit on something big with these training DVDs that offer practical Titus 2 style training in a style that anyone can understand.

I've included some pictures to show you just how effective her video really is.

~Esther (age 10), ready for action~

~some first samples of piping and stars~

~Anastasia, age 11, did this rose on the first try, thanks to some wonderful instructions!~

~The Girls did this Thank You for Mrs. Braddock after they were done

~Esther, age 10, and Isobel, age 9, designed this cake all by themselves, just from watching the video

And Proof that Kathy Braddock was able to teach this old dog a few new tricks:

Success on the first try!

So, if you are looking for an easy to use video for decorating cakes, I give Basic Cake Decorating with Kathy Brodock 5 stars, and two thumbs up. One of my girls said it should be more like 10 thumbs up because each of them are also giving it two thumbs up too. :-)Look at for more quality videos and instructional materials to better learn new skills for hearth and home, and to pass those skills onto the next generation.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Joyful Momma at TEACH

I forgot to post...this past Monday, I again posted on the TEACH Magazine Blog about crazy laws...

The irony was that shortly after I posted this another "case in point" happened. My younger children (ages 9-11) were outside playing with the neighbors, riding bikes and such on a quiet side street nearby, and when they saw a car coming they got out of the street. The car it turns out was the policeman in the area, and he gave them each gift certificates to McDonalds that say, "I was caught being safe" because they had the common sense to get out of the road when a car was coming. In some ways, sure, that was pretty nice, but in other ways it was like, "I was caught using my brain!" LOL My kids even thought it was pretty "duh" (one said...if I get out of the way, i get a free ice cream cone, and if I don't, then I am in the hospital ;))...sort of like, in my post over at TEACH, where I mention the announcement over the loudspeakers about not letting your children play on the forklifts at a large lumber warehouse. No, really?,cntnt01,detail,0&cntnt01articleid=95&cntnt01returnid=56

Wednesday, July 16, 2008


I wasn't sure what I wanted to eat for dinner the other night. Looking in the fridge, I had some wonton wrappers, and I had some ground turkey, but it is too hot for wonton soup. Instead I made some Ravioli with fresh herbs and ground turkey in a marinara sauce.

It goes like this:

Mix a pound of ground turkey with the seasonings of your choice and one egg. My seasonings were fresh basil, fresh marjoram, fresh parsley, fresh chives, a finely minced red onion, and a finely minced clove of elephant garlic. I mixed this all well.

I slowly made my raviolis, one at a time, by adding a rounded tablespoon of mix in the center of a wonton wrapper, and then folding it over, and sealing it with water on the tip of my finger.

I brought a shallow pan of water to boil, and boiled the ravioli for 3-4 minutes each. This is just long enough to cook the noodles and steam the meat inside. Overcooking results in mush.

While I did this I also made a marinara sauce with tomato sauce, basil, oregano, marjoram, onions, garlic, and a dash of worchestershire sauce.

I served these on small plates, with the sauce carefully spooned over, garnished with purple leaf basil from my garden. Perfection!

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Around my Garden

One of the most frequently asked questions I get is for pictures of my garden. Whenever I am out there, I often will realize that I didn't bring my camera. LOL Then theres that part of me that is hesitant to do anything but close up shots so that no one can see exactly where I live (I'm paranoid like that sometimes). then there's that fact that with all of that rain and the heat over the last few weeks, I had a miniature replica of the Amazon Rain Forest going on in my backyard. LOL As a result, the pathways are still pretty weedy, but we have managed to clean up the beds (just ignore the paths). I tend to view my garden a success based on my yields, not how perfectly weeded it appears to be on a day to day basis. Obviously, a garden grows better if it is kept weeded, mulched, watered, and well cared for...but there's got to be a balance when you're a busy momma. Thankfully the kids do lots of weeding too. :-)

But, here are some photos anyways...again, most of them are pretty tightly zoomed when anything more would have shown some local landmarks that are visible from my yard...

In the center part of my main garden is a large square, lined with bricks, and full of culinary herbs. I love to cook with fresh herbs.

My favorite is basil...both purple ruffle and the large leaf basil. I grow about 100 plants from seed, and use every bit of it. When you see the price of basil in the grocery store, and the ease with which it grows, it's well worth it. Basil freezes well too.

Chocolate Mint makes great tea, awesome jelly, and even is pretty good when you make a strong tea, add milk, and pour it into the ice cream machine. MMMMM.

Cilantro is the leaves of this plant, and coriander is the seed. Right now, my coriander has gone to seed, but not before I harvested (and froze) lots of cilantro. The cilantro should grow back one more time before fall comes. I use this in all mexican dishes and some middle eastern dishes. Fresh cilantro is a must in making homemade falafel.

Dill, used in pickles and also some German dishes. I mostly grow it for my mother in law.

In the middle of my herb beds is a gazing globe and lavendar. I love the smell of lavender. You can use it in French (Provencal) cooking, make a tea out of it, or use it in bath goodies and sachets.

Marjoram is awesome in Greek and Italian cooking. In the background, I have a section of radishes.

Bergamot/Bee Balm (2 Varieties)

Nasturtiums are an edible flower, and their seeds can be made into "Pickled False Capers". They are also good for pest control in the garden.


My sage is blooming. I love sage with turkey!

Borage is another edible flower that also keeps the bad beasties out of the garden. I like to freeze them in ice cubes to make things pretty. Some cake decorators sugar them and use them on cakes. They can also be put in salads.

Rosemary. I love it! But, I love herbs. :-). I like to use fresh rosemary in things like Foccachia bread.

Tarragon tastes and smells like licorice. I like to use the leaves, together with dijon mustard, as a marinade on chicken breasts.

I took this picture right after cutting some parsley for my favorite summer time lunch: Tabouleh salad. Only fresh parsley will do, and growing it is so easy (and buying it so expensive) that it's a no brainer.

Some Common Garden Thyme, with blossoms. I like to cut off a big hunk of Thyme, and lay my chicken breasts down on it, and grill them on a cast iron grill in the oven or on the stove top.

Violas...No reason for these other than they're pretty! :-)

In the front of the house, I have some dog roses, which are very strongly scented, and can be used for many things like making rose water, and potpourri. I also use the rose hips (fruit) from them in tea, after they dry out. Rose Hips are very high in vitamin c.

Around this area of herbs, I have different fruits and vegetables growing. This is my first cherry tomato on the vine this year!

My cucumbers (ignore the weeds). We make lots of relish and sweet bread and butter pickles. Can I confess? I hate pickles. LOL but everyone else in the family loves them.

My currants are ripening up. Mostly the kids just eat these fresh off the vine. Sometimes we make mixed berry jelly with the leftovers.

We also grow gooseberries. These Pixwell Variety Gooseberries are just the right level of sweet and tart.

Flanking my garden are some grape vines, growing Concord and White Table Grapes. These are a few months off from being ripe.

I plant onions from sets every year. This helps when I am canning up some salsa and my pickles, as I use lots of onions for that purpose.

Sugar Snap Peas...we train them onto tee pees. My kids like to eat them fresh off the vine.

Zooming out a little bit, you see my peas on the tee pee and my tomatoes. These are roma variety of tomatoes. Again...paths need just don't pay attention to those.

I also have a few large beds full of hot peppers, and sweet red bell peppers.

When the weather gets to be a certain level of "too hot", the lettuce starts to super grow...and usually goes to seed very fast. I lost most of my lettuce when we had some super hot weather, and so we had to eat it pretty fast to save what we had left. This is my third batch of lettuce, some red bib lettuce.

Strawberry season is just about over with. We have a bed that is 4 ft. wide by 30 feet long just full of strawberries.

This is a wee little watermelon on my watermelon vines.

The apples on my apple trees are growing...we have a full load on the branches this year.

My husband and I are both unsure as to what this plant is. How sad is that? LOL He thinks we planted a peach, and I think we planted a plum. We are anxiously awaiting what this little guy is going to turn into when he grows up. I think I may be losing this bet, as it is looking more and more peach like every day.