Monday, November 23, 2009

Christmas Ornament Exchange & a Contest

I absolutely love the holiday season.  One of my favorite things is shopping.  Not because I *LOVE* shopping, but because I really enjoy findOing the right present for each person.  I love knowing that I have found something that they enjoy.

Often, as parents, we get caught up in the craziness of the seasoI wn and focusing on the kids.  I love Christmas morning because I love to see the faces of my kids as they light up with excitement.  Sure, I love opening presents - but the true joy for me comes in the giving to others.

I wanted to start a fun tradition: an ornament exchange.  Some friends and I have done this in the past, and it is so fun to pull them out each year and remember who sent them to me.  It creates some great memories.

SO!  Click this link to sign up for the ornament exchange.  The website that coordinates this is very secure, and only the person who gets your name will see your information.

Also - invite friends to join!  Respond to this thread with how many invites you sent.  I will be awarding 2 prizes.  One for the person who invites the most.  And one for the person who has the most friends sign up.

Winners will receive a VERY special "Brainy Farm Wife" ornament.

I am extending the deadline to sign up until December 3rd.  However, since the exchange requires you to send an ornament that represents your hometown, feel free to find it anytime and then send it when you receive your name.

Let's have fun!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Fall Celebration Cookie

I developed this recipe as a way to have a special Fall cookie with some of the best flavors of the season.  The best part, none of the flavors overwhelm any of the others, and it creates a great blend.

3 cups pumpkin butter
1 cup packed brown sugar
4 eggs
1 tsp orange extract
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 cups flour
½ tsp salt
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp pumpkin pie spice
5 cups rolled oats
1 cup dried cranberries
1 cup mini chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350. Spray cookie sheets with non-stick spray.

Cream together butter and brown sugar until smooth. Beat in eggs, vanilla and orange extract.

Add flour, salt, baking powder and pumpkin pie spice. Blend into sugar mixture. Add rolled oats, cranberries and chocolate chips.

Use a small scoop, and drop onto prepared cookies sheet.

Bake 9-11 minutes. Allow to cool completely on baking sheet before transferring to cooling rack.

These make a thicker, chewy cookie.  My kids adore them, I hope you do too!

Pumpkin Butter

1 (29 oz) can Libby’s pumpkin puree (not pie mix)
1 Tbs pumpkin pie spice
1 box dry pectin
5 cups white sugar

Mix solid pack pumpkin puree, pumpkin pie spice and dry pectin in a medium saucepan over high heat. Bring to a boil.

Mix in sugar all at once. Stirring constantly, return to a full boil and boil for 1 minute. Remove from heat.

Transfer immediately to sterile containers. Seal and chill in refrigerator until serving.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Creamy Split Pea Soup with Ham and Bacon - Crock Pot

32 oz bag of dried split peas

3 cups diced cooked ham
1 ½ cups cooked carrots
1-2 onions, chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
4 bay leaves
1 Tbs salt
1 Tbs pepper
Boiling water
2 cups heavy whipping cream or milk
1 package bacon, cooked and diced

In a slow cooker, layer peas, ham, carrots, onions, garlic, bay leaves and seasonings. DO NOT STIR. Cover with enough boiling water that it covers all ingredients and about a 1/2 inch to inch above.

Cook on high for about 3 hours.

Stir, add in cream or milk. Cook for about another 1-2 hours. Add water or milk for desired consistency.  Add in bacon last 30 minutes.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Pumpkin Hummus

2 cans Garbanzo beans, drained with liquid reserved
1 (15 oz) can pumpkin puree
1/3 cup lemon juice
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
4 cloves garlic, minced

Drain cans of Garbanzo beans and reserve liquid, place into blender. Add enough of the liquid until beans are covered then blend until a paste forms.

Add other ingredients, blend again. Add extra reserved liquid for desired consistency.


* I didn’t have any tahini paste, which is a typical ingredient in humus. If you have it and want to add, you will add 1/3 cup. Otherwise, it’s great without it.

* Also, you can substitute 1/2 tsp of each cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice for seasoning

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Gold Cords

While I have always loved learning, I have never placed a strong focus on my grades. After a couple of experiences in high school, I realized that the grades never really reflected my learning. The only time I cared about my grades was when I had to bring them up to a certain level in order to get my driver’s license.

This philosophy pretty much held true in college as well. I was busy working full-time and school was just something to get through in order to get the degree. It felt like hoop jumping many times, taking 2 years of general education courses that were just a little bit more than repeating high school.

However, my life took a detour when I quit a good job/career, moved across country to be closer to family, and then ended up divorced with two small children. I decided to go back to school to get my teaching credential and master’s degree. At this time, I made a decision: I was going to get straight A’s and graduate with honors.

I’m not sure exactly what prompted this decision, I think it was mainly to show that I could. That I had always been capable of doing so, I had just chosen not to.

I remember once telling my mom that school was a lot more stressful when you cared about your grades. I even joined the honor’s society as soon as I qualified and ordered my gold cords that would represent my academic achievement at graduation.

Three years after beginning my classes, changing programs, getting married, moving from California to Washington and beginning a new career path and master’s focus – it was finally time for graduation.

My family and I flew down to California so that I could walk in the ceremony – a day all graduates live for and are excited to share. However, upon driving from the airport to the hotel I had a sickening realization: I had left my gold cords at home. Safely packed away in my cedar trunk. I was devastated.

I knew that no one else would really recognize their lacking, or even know what they meant. After all, it was just a piece of rope. But, to me, it was a symbol of my decisions, my dedication and my focus. It showed that I really COULD accomplish anything that I desired.

My husband had a solution – we would attempt to replicate the cords so that I could wear them at graduation. We borrowed a set from a good friend of mine and colleague and set out to find a fabric store. After hunting through the areas, we finally came up with an idea: we would dye a piece of white upholstery cording and add some dyed tassels to the end. The color wouldn’t be exact, but it would be close.

It was almost comical to see my husband dying the pieces in the bathroom sink at the hotel and putting them together for me. But my appreciation was far greater.

I then wore them in my graduation ceremony as I walked across the stage.

Now the homemade gold cords with the tassels having fallen off and the ends unraveled hang on my memory board on the wall in front of my desk. My official cords have never been removed from their protective package.

One represents the academic accomplishment.

The other represents a love attained – and that is the one that I will hold tight and remember forever the love my husband has for me. That he was willing to support me with my goals, my dreams and my plans.

It’s easy to get caught up in the craziness and plans of life.

We need to focus more on our relationships with those around us and hold tight to the things that are really important.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Vegan, Gluten Free Chocolate Chip Zucchini Brownies

I work with a lot of people who are a lot more health conscious than I am.  It's good for me, as I experiment with healthy versions of favorites. Plus, I love to find ways to use up all of the zucchini from my garden that I shred and freeze.  It is so great to bake with it all winter long!

I made these for a team meeting once, and it was a huge hit.  You wouldn't know they were 'healthy' unless someone told you.  They make a very fudgy, yummy brownie and even my kids adored them! 

For those of you have been asking, sorry it took me long!

2 cups Bob’s Red Mill Gluten-Free All Purpose Flour
1 cup Splenda blend for baking
¾ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
2 cups frozen, shredded zucchini – thawed, with its water.*
1 cup applesauce
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup mini chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a large bowl, stir together the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking powder and salt.

Add zucchini with its water, applesauce and vanilla; mix until well blended. Mix in chocolate chips.

Spread evenly in a 9x13 inch baking pan or in a bar pan (I use my Pampered Chef one, it is PERFECT).

Bake for 25-30 minutes and let cool completely before cutting. They are very fudgy and yummy!

*If you haven’t stored any zucchini, or don’t want to use it in the recipe, then substitute 1 cup of water.

Makes 16 servings at apx 187 calories a serving.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Granny's Fried Chicken

So, a couple years ago my sister-in-law started a great recipe blog to collect recipes from friend's and family.  My dad, ever the creative one, added one of his favorite recipes from his childhood.  Here is a direct quote, and a link if you'd like to find it.

As most of you know, I grew up on a ranch. Not the cool kind, like horse ranch, or cattle ranch… a chicken ranch. And let me tell ya, there is nothing romantic about a chicken ranch. But they do have chickens! We would get a few hundred chicks every couple of months. They were two days old and were supposed to be all hens, since my dad was an egg producer. Well along about 4 or 5 days old it was always apparent that they missed a few roosters. These were destined for the fry pan. Now I don’t remember how old they had to get before they became dinner, but here is the "recipe".

*Find an old galvanized pipe about 4 feet long.

*Grab your "dinner chicken" out of the cage and hold by both legs.

*Hike up your dress to just above your knees and spread your legs with one foot on one end of the pipe.

*Bend over and insert chicken’s head under the pipe so the pipe lays just across the neck.

*Place other foot on other end of the pipe, bending at the knees.

*Hold tight to the chicken legs, straighten knees, straighten your back, look up, and pull on chicken legs.

*When head pops off swear softly under your breath and toss chicken away about 5 feet.

*When chicken stops running around (yes, they do this) go gather him up.

*Cut around the "vent" and pull out the innards with one clean jerk (I think this is an Olympic event in some 3rd world countries).

*Toss the innards on a sheet of newspaper, pick out the gizzard, liver and heart and discard the rest.

*Cut off the legs at the knees and discard. (Except in Africa where they are saved for the cooking pot… yum, right Tyler?).

*Dip the chicken in a pot of boiling water to loosen the feathers and make it smell really good (NOT!)

*Pluck off all the feathers, even the little bitty ones. (Granny didn’t always follow this step very well).

*Cut up chicken in various pieces.

*Roll the chicken pieces in some whipped up eggs.

*Roll the chicken in some flour that you just kinda dump on the counter top.

*Fry the chicken for a while in some Crisco in an electric skillet at a pretty hot temperature.

*Salt and pepper to taste.

Now some suggestions: If you’re frying up white leghorns (pronounced "leg-erns") you will need about 1 chicken per person. There ain’t much meat on them, they are bred for laying eggs, not for eating. Second, and perhaps most important, don’t forget to clean up the flour on the counter right away. If you don’t, some young boy is likely to come along and slap it with his hand. This is very entertaining as Granny lets out a delightful yelp and chases the boy around the house. This could happen several times if you don’t clean it up right away. So be sure to do that. I’m not sure you will be able to find the boy to help clean it all up. He usually doesn’t come back until it’s time to eat the chicken.

That’s the recipe I grew up with. If I recall right, it’s mighty tasty. And Granny loved cooking it. Even the young boy part.

Pop J.

I love my Granny!  She was an amazing inspiration and role model for me.  I wanted to add a picture I put together composing one of her quotes.  Towards the end of her life as she was battling Alzheimer's, she had periods of amazing insight.  This is one of them.

Friday, November 6, 2009



It’s a word we’ve heard a lot lately in the news. Change in politics. In healthcare. In finances. In education.

When things aren’t going well – we want CHANGE! But preferably change for the better, right? Not just something different or worse.

But today I want to talk about a different kind of change. A monetary change. Literally – the change in your pocket.

You know the stuff. The pennies that get casually tossed into the bucket at the cash register or sucked up into the vacuum. You spend it without thinking. It’s casually dropped or lost without a care.

So I tried an experiment. I saved up the change I was getting and didn’t spend it for a month. Then, I poured it all into a gallon-size zip lock bag and ONLY used change for my daily purchases for one week.

Here is what I learned:

• Most people have never seen a 50 cent piece or Susan B Anthony dollar.

• Some have seen the Sacagawea dollar.
• It is much easier to shop with just change in Oregon where there is no sales tax

• It’s also easier when you know what you’re getting ahead of time and can count it out and show up prepared

• Many business are grateful when you give them change – because they are often running out

• The bus driver, however, will look at you a little annoyed when you drop 300 pennies in the counter for your bus fare

• This takes approximately 1:22 minutes.

• It makes me unrealistically happy to do it

• Again, count it out ahead of time so the bus driver won’t look COMPLETELY annoyed

• You actually think about what you’re buying a little bit more when it takes some effort to pay for the purchase

• Some people behind you in line act a little confused when you pay with change and may feel sorry for you, thinking you’re completely broke

• Cashier’s at drive-ups often don’t know how to add mixed change

• Some can only count in Spanish (or Russian)

• It’s not as convenient to carry change, and your pockets look funny

• Don’t try it at an airport

There are a couple of things I determined I would not pay for in change:

• Rent

• Gas

Overall, it was a fun experiment. It almost felt like I was getting everything for free this week, because it wasn’t coming out of my normal budget!

Next change experiment: Saving up enough that one day I can go into my utility company and pay the bill in change. I may roll it first, though.