December 20, 2013

Pudding Reindeer. Just because they're cute!


Hello super adorable chocolate pudding reindeer! I mean seriously, these are too cute! I made them for my daughter's party at preschool and served them with powdered sugar donut hole "snowballs". So fun!

They are really easy to make, though they do take a little time, but it's mindless enough work that it can be done while watching HGTV or Food Network…though I don't recommend wielding a hot glue gun with any shows you get too involved in--I don't want anyone getting hurt!

Here's what you need to make your own Pudding Reindeer:

- pudding cups
- pipe cleaners
- google eyes (peel and stick, if you have them)
- something for red noses; I cut circles from red foam sheets, but you could use felt, constructions paper, fake berries, fuzzy balls, whatever.
- scissors
- hot glue gun

Stick two google eyes to each pudding cup. Cut out your red noses from whatever material you're using. Hot glue noses to the cups with just a dab of glue. If you have standard length pipe cleaners, cut each one into fourths. (You will need one pipe cleaner per pudding cup for the antlers.) For each antler, wrap one piece of pipe cleaner around another, about a third of the way down, until tight enough to stay put. Then shape the ends of the "antlers" a bit so they look like, well, antlers. (Use the photos here as reference.) Repeat with the remaining two section of your pipe cleaner to create the other antler. Then hot glue the ends of each pipe cleaner antler to the sides of the pudding cup. And presto! Pudding Reindeer! Hurray!

Until next time, happy holiday snack crafting!

December 13, 2013

This Week in Food: Lasagna Soup

Warm and hearty, this soup will fill you up without sitting too heavy or killing any attempts at healthy eating…and it's pretty darn easy. One pot cooking, which I love. A little chopping, cooking the meat and veggies, then it's just assembly and simmer time. Once I got things going, I was able to cut out shapes from construction paper so my kids could do a Christmas craft at the kitchen island while I cooked. Not bad.

And if you like the taste of lasagna, then you'll like this soup. It's super hearty and the leftovers reheat well (though if you don't add extra liquid when you reheat, your leftovers will eat more like deconstructed lasagna than soup…which is fine by me.). It would also be a nice alternative to a pan of lasagna when taking dinner to a friend in need.

Tonight I'm trying a new corn chowder recipe, so we'll see how that goes. I guess you'll know if and when I share the recipe! In the meantime, you can try out this yummy lasagna soup.

So, on to the recipe…

photo from
Lasagna Soup (Adapted from Bobby's Lighter Tastes like Lasagna Soup recipe on
2 tsp olive oil
1 lb Italian turkey sausage, casings removed
1 onion, chopped (white, yellow or sweet)
1 green bell pepper, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
4 c. chicken broth
1, 15oz. can tomato sauce
1, 14.5oz. can petite diced tomatoes
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp crushed red pepper (less for less kick, more for more kick)
4 oz. broken whole wheat lasagna noodles (about 4 noodles, more for thicker soup- but don't do more than 6)
1/2 c. chopped fresh basil
3 tbsp grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 c. reduced fat shredded mozzarella cheese

Heat the oil over medium-high heat in a large nonstick sauce pot or dutch oven. Add the sausage (casings removed), onion, bell pepper and garlic. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the sausage is crumbled and browned, 8-10 mins.

Add the broth, tomato sauce, diced tomatoes, salt and crushed red pepper. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the flavors blend, about 20 mins. Add the noodles and return to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until the soup thickens slightly and the noodles are tender, 10-12 mins. Remove from heat. Stir in mozzarella, basil and Parmesan until combined. Serve with fresh bakery bread or garlic toasts, and enjoy!

(Note: whole wheat noodles typically take longer to cook.)

(Also note: If you have anyone in your family who does not like chunks of tomatoes (like my husband) you can just puree the diced tomatoes in a food processor before adding them to the soup. I do that with any recipe that calls for diced/chopped tomatoes. You still get the flavor and the healthfulness, but without the offending mouth-feel.)

That's it for today.

Until next time, happy cooking!

December 9, 2013

Book Recommendation: Eleanor & Park

Looking for a good book to give someone…or yourself…this holiday season? Well here's a great one: Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell

I stayed up till after midnight to finish it the other night because I just couldn't put it down. (And yes, I was crying and had puffy eyes the next morning.) I absolutely adored this book. None of that "it took me 70 pages to get into the book" business here. I fell in love with these characters quickly and completely. I loved their multi-dimensional, real world quirkiness. I loved their honest teenage insecurities. I loved Eleanor and Park for who they were and for the parts of myself I saw in them.

So, what's it all about? Eleanor moves into a tiny house, joining her mom, (awful) step-dad and younger siblings and begins a new high school only to be bullied and teased incessantly. But soon she finds a bright spot in her groundhog-esque bad days…and his name is Park. Their friendship develops slowly but becomes deep and intense. The book follows one year of high school life for these two with all twists and turns and ups and downs. And it's quite a ride.

For me, Rainbow Rowell is one of the best kinds of writers: so real. Her characters may be great at a turn of phrase or witty comeback, but they're also still awkward or shy or just wrong enough at times to be real. And she does a fantastic job of capturing the teenage experience and the teenage heart. If you ever had one of those intense first loves in high school or college, you will connect with that feeling again while reading this book.

I first was introduced to Rainbow when she wrote a pep talk for the NaNoWriMo experience I participated in last month. Her's was one of my favorite pep talks. So I thought I'd check out her books--two of them were actually already on my to-read list. And after loving this one so much, you can bet I will be reading Fangirl, her latest novel, very soon. 

So, if you decide to check Eleanor & Park out at the library or bookstore, you'll find it in the Young Adult section. Eleanor and Park are both high-schoolers and I'd say this book is appropriate for high-schoolers and up. But, trust me, it's such a great book, the only thing that makes it young adult is the age of the main characters.

In the meantime, I will mourn the end of Eleanor & Park…I miss them both so much already. And I hope they're doing well.

Until next time, happy reading!

December 6, 2013

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year? Well, not if I have anything to do with it!

I am a gigantic ball of stress.

My shoulders are up by my ears. I have a tension headache radiating up from the knots in my neck. I will likely develop TMJ from my tightly clenched jaw. I am in an almost constant state of shockingly frenzied to-do-list panic. I yell way more than I find acceptable.

"Help." I call quietly from the center of my being. "Help me, please."

Somebody pull me out of this crazed state of overwhelmingness. Somebody take away my computer and my phone. Somebody take away the iPad and the TV from the kids. Somebody hide my planner and my to-do lists. Somebody grab me by the shoulders and look me in the eye and tell me sternly to just stop.

Stop shopping online at all hours. Stop with the Christmas cards and the Christmas calendar. Stop yelling at the kids for being crazy kids and driving me nuts. Stop being driven nuts by my children only because I'm already overwhelmed. Stop with the decorating. Stop with the errand running and the marathon Target shopping sessions with a 2 year old. Stop with the trying to find the perfect gift for everyone. Stop with trying to help other people find the perfect gift. Stop feeling guilty because I forgot to rsvp to breakfast with Santa and there are no longer any spots open. Stop with the birthday party planning and gift buying and party favor getting and craft planning. Stop with the…

Just stop.

Then tell me to go play with my kids. Tell me to curl up on the couch and watch a show with my husband. Tell me to have a cup of coffee...sitting down…but not driving the car. Tell me to have a glass of wine. Tell me to go ahead snack without feeling guilty…we'll get that in a few weeks, now is not the time. Remind me that the kids don't need all of that stuff. Remind me that none of my favorite memories of Christmas as a kid were of breakfasts with Santa or cute Christmas cards from Shutterfly or running errands with a frenzied Mom (I don't even remember my mom being frenzied).

I remember lots of Christmas music and silly singing and dancing. I remember selecting and decorating the tree. I remember yummy food. I remember being with my family. I remember shopping for gifts for the ones I love. I remember Christmas Eve and Christmas Day traditions. I remember my dad's immense love for the season despite working in retail. I remember all of my mom's wonderful Christmas decorations.

And as an adult, before having kids, I remember all of that being so enjoyable to do…decorating and shopping were things I looked forward to, not things I was just trying to cross of my list so that I could move on to the next task. I remember being so much like my dad at Christmas time.

But not this year. Not last year either, if memory serves.

So remind me that I want that feeling back. I want this to be the most wonderful time of the year, like it was for my first 35 years. I don't want to be the Grinch or Scrooge or what the new Christmas classic should be--a story in which the main character kills the Christmas spirit by trying to "do it all". We'll call her Amy. The Amy Who Stole Christmas.

Don't let yourself be an Amy this holiday season.

Reconnect with the spirit of the holidays. Reconnect with what you've always loved most about the holidays, with what the holidays really mean to you. Focus on those things and let all the rest of it go.

Sing songs. Dance silly. Eat cookies (make them if that will bring you joy…otherwise just buy some). Watch movies. Sip hot cocoa. Cuddle with your sweethearts. Look at the pretty lights. Revitalize your favorite traditions. Start some new ones…like sending New Years cards instead of Christmas cards. Or make Valentine's Day your big gift giving holiday with your spouse and make Christmas just about the kids. (Both things I'm considering for next year.)

And for God's sake, put down that damn iPhone and re-engage with the world around you.

And if you see me, please grab me by the shoulders and shake some sense into me. "Snap out of it, Amy!" Say it right to my face. "Don't be the Amy who stole Christmas!"

And then get me a hot beverage, take me by the arm and take a stroll with me to look at Christmas decorations.

We'll find the kids again once we're done. I'm sure they'll be fine. They're pretty durable.

Until next time, go enjoy the most wonderful time of the year…and don't be an Amy!

Happy Holidays!