Tuesday, October 21, 2014

White Chicken Chili - Super Speedy Style


It all started last week when my son said, "Remember that soup you made that had the crispy tortillas on top?  Can you make that again?"



I kept promising I'd make it, but the craziness of life kept getting in the way.  Emergency trips to the vet, shuttling kids to activities, and late nights working on school stuff consumed my time.  On Tuesday, I promised I'd make it, but the dog needed the cooked chicken breast (remember that vet visit) and I didn't have time to make more.  (I may be feeding him cooked chicken breast, rice, and broth for every meal but at least he's finally eating!)  With that promise broken, I PROMISED again to make it on Wednesday.  Wellll, I didn't actually remember that I had a staff meeting on Wednesdays and that I wouldn't get home until 5:00 and the whole family would need to be out of the house by 5:30.

I walked in the door at 5:10 and pulled up my recipe.  I was missing a few ingredients but I didn't want to let me kids down again.  My hubby and daughter were just about ready to walk out the door with empty tummies, but they grabbed a snack and said they'd eat at 7:30, after soccer.  I made my grocery list, grabbed my son, and headed out to the store.  We pulled out of the driveway at 5:20.  Now, friends, here's the amazing part.  My son had to be at church at 6:00 for Youth Group.  We drove to the store, shopped for our ingredients, drove home, prepared a fabulous homemade chili, ate, and got him to church by 6:00.  Chefs around the world would be shaking their heads at me, because quality soup/chili cannot be made quickly.  They take time to set and let the flavors mesh.  But, moms all over the world would be high-fiving me for this new record I set!! Yes, I've got my fist out waitin' for a fist bump!

Here's what I did:

I started by cooking a pound of chicken breast in the crockpot so it was one less thing to do when I got home. 

In a pan, melt 2 tablespoons of butter.
Add 1/2 small diced onion, cook for 3 minutes
Add 1 clove of minced garlic, cook for 1 more minute
Add 1/2 cup flour and mix
Slowly add 1 cup of half and half and 1 cup of milk
Add 8 oz of light cream cheese
Add 1 1/2 cups of Monterey Jack Cheese, shredded
This mixture makes kind of a mac and cheese type sauce.
Slowly pour in 3-6 cups of chicken stock (depending on how thick you like your chili)
Add 1 can of diced tomatoes, drained and rinsed
(or chop your own)
1 diced yellow pepper
(corn would be good too, if you are not a fan of peppers)
1 can of white beans, drained and rinsed
1/4 tsp chili powder
1 tsp salt
dash of pepper

It made a thick, yummy, cheesy, chicken chili that everyone loved.

My hubby says this recipe needs to go in our regular rotation. The kids both loved it too!
By the way, those little tortilla strips on top were just cut and tossed with olive oil and a bit of taco seasoning.  Then I baked them for about 5 minutes to crisp them up.  They were a perfect little topping for the chili.

Happy cooking!

Monday, October 13, 2014

Fall Dining Room Decor

It's Fall, and I love decorating for Fall!  My dining room lends itself very well to fall decor.


With wheat colored walls, warm wood, and now new drapery panels, it's just a warm and cozy place.

  I needed something simple for my dining room table.  I'm always frozen with indecision when it comes to table decor.  I look online and in catalogs for inspiration.  Inspiration for my glass jars came in the form of a Pinterest pin in my Reggio Emilia board, rather than my home decor boards.  I love the way the light comes through this room and the transparent jars are just what my table needs.  In the spring, I filled these jars with fresh flowers. Now that I'm back to work, I knew I couldn't keep up with the real stuff.  For my fall display I used a few pinecones, some pumpkins, wheat I already had, and some leaves.  

My favorite thing about this room is that just about every time you look out my dining room window, you'll see my hubby and son playing basketball in the driveway.  The picture below is a bit dark, but I wanted you to be able to see out the window.  That little blur out the right window would be my guys playing 1 on 1. Hard to see, I know.


It's my furry guy's favorite room in the house too.  He loves keeping watch over his neighborhood.  I swear he can tell time because he will sleep all day, but when it's just about time for the kids to come home from school, he pops up and starts watching out the window.  


Happy Fall decorating!


Sunday, October 12, 2014

Make Ahead Chicken Echiladas

Being a "new" teacher is tough work!  I put new in quotes because this is my 19th year teaching, so I'm not really new.  I'm just new in the district, since moving to Snohomish this year.  I have had a lot of new teacher meetings to go to, which means I'm home later than I was last year.  There are many nights when my kids need to be fed and out the door by 5:30, so my after school meetings are making it tough to feed my family a decent meal.

Last weekend, I was very proud of myself!  I spent a little extra time making meals to put in the freezer.  I left a note on the counter for the kids to put the enchiladas in the oven at 4:00pm at 400 degrees.  By the time I got home from my meeting, dinner was ready!  Oh, how I love it when a good plan works out.



I usually start by putting a few chicken breasts in the crockpot with some taco seasoning (Yes, I buy the package even though I try not to buy prepackaged stuff.). I let that cook all day and by late afternoon, I'm ready to assemble the enchiladas. 

Combine 1 cup sour cream with one can of Cream of Chicken Soup.
Add a package of taco seasoning to the creamy mixture.

Lay out a tortilla shell.
Spread a little of the creamy mixture on the tortilla.
Add cheese and chicken.
Roll it up and put it in the (greased) pan.
Think of it like a taco and build it like that.
You can decide how much meat, cheese, and sour cream you usually like.

Once you've used all of the meat, lay the enchilada in the pan and smear (that's a technical term) the rest of the creamy sauce over the top.  Top with cheese and bake for 30 minutes at 400.  The cook time will be longer if it is coming straight from the freezer.


I guarantee this is a family favorite in the making.
It's Sunday again, so I'd better getting cooking for the week ahead!
Happy cooking!

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Decorating the Front of the House for Fall

It's here!  It's here!  The time of year has finally arrived for the front door Fall-ification.  Sometimes I jump the gun on this and my neighbor, Tammy, comes outside shaking her head at me.  This year I waited.  Ok, I didn't really mean to wait.  I was just forced to wait because my brother-in-law had our ladder and my fall boxes were up high in the garage.


I didn't do anything different this year.  I keep thinking I'd like to add something "Better Homes and Gardens-ish" but every year I put up the same decor. I still love it though.


My Boo and Eek pillows are back.  They have held up pretty well for the past 3 or 4 years.  I painted this burlap with fabric paint and embroidered the boo and eek fabric scraps.  Just a few weeks ago I noticed that they actually sell burlap fabric that looks exactly like this now!  I guess I was ahead of my time.



My front benches have seen better days.  They have been refinished more times than I can count and the seats are finally starting to break.  It kind of makes me sad to see them go.  I bought these in 2000, when I finished my Masters program. I think part or all of the set was given to me as a gift when I graduated.  I still feel a sense of accomplishment when I look at them, but they really are looking pretty shabby.  The chairs I have always pictured in the front of my house are white Adirondacks.  They just look so cottage-like and cute.  I can't decide if I need two chairs, a table, and a two seater bench, or if I should just get 3 or 4 chairs.  I would love opinions!!!  Either way, the hydrangeas need to be cut back a bit.


I'm kind of thinking I would prefer the same set up with the two chairs and a bench, but maybe it's just because I'm stuck in my ways.

My hubby bought me a few mums for my birthday and I always love the way they add a fall-feel to the front of the house.


One thing that is missing from the front porch this year is our built-in bench.  Unfortunately, it has rotted out and looks like it was starting to take the support beam with it.  Rather than replacing it with another bench, which we never actually sit on, I'm thinking we'll just continue with the railing.  It will still have a finished look and be much less expensive.


The rails were not there when we bought the house.  We added those on because the great-grandmas on both sides needed a little help getting up the stairs.


Ultimately, I think it would be cool to put a deck off of that side.  It would be so fun to put my Adirondack chairs there, surrounded by pots of flowers.  I don't think there is any way of convincing my hubby that a deck would be a good idea.  I guess I'll just have to stick with spindles. 


Happy fall decorating!

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

8th Grade Photography Class

My son is taking 8th Grade Photography as his elective this quarter, and his mommy couldn't be more thrilled!  I live my life with a camera around my neck and the kids often complain that I take too many pictures.  My son signs up for photography and, all of a sudden, he can't get enough of it!!

I've been finding pictures on my camera card every time I pull them up.  I have to say, they are pretty good! Take a look.




Let me tell you, friends, that he's shooting in manual and doesn't even need a tutorial before he goes out.  He sets white balance, ISO, and plays with shutter speed and exposure.  Ummm, I think I had to take several photography courses before I was confident enough to do this! 



By the way, those are root beer bottles for the cowgirl birthday party.  We didn't serve them beer.  

One last funny story:

In response to a conversation about The Golden Hour, my son told his teacher that this hour is also known as, "The time my mom yells at us to hurry up and change our clothes and get ready because she's losing her lighting."

Yep, I'm creating fabulous memories for my kids!

Happy picture taking!

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Kids in the Kitchen

I really do believe my kids enjoy spending time in the kitchen with me.  I don't think they are just trying to humor me.  Over the weekend, I had both of my kids in the kitchen at the same time.  One was making lunch and the other was making dessert.  

My son made the pesto, basil, tomato, and mozzarella pizza.
(He even picked the tomatoes and basil from the garden.)


My daughter made her Cowgirl Cookies.  They have chocolate chips, M&M's and oatmeal.  The kids don't love the oatmeal, but my hubby and I thought it was a pretty tasty cookie!


Considering the CRAZY work week I had last week, having my kids do the cooking on the weekend was a great treat.  (For the record, my hubby did all of the cooking during last week's craziness.  So, it's not like I needed a break from cooking, I just needed a break!)

You've just gotta love having your kids in the kitchen!

Monday, September 22, 2014

Cowgirl Cookies

My daughter had her birthday party at the beginning of this month.  She wanted a cowgirl theme - with no pink cowgirl stuff.  It was to be a red cowgirl party and she certainly had opinions of what she wanted this party to look like.  She found pictures of her perfect party and proceeded to plan out her list of important features.  There were to be red bandannas, root beer in bottles, and several very specific games.  Cowgirl Cookies were not on the list, but at the last minute (when I couldn't find pool noodles to make pool noodle horses for our race) I changed up one of the games to include making our own jars of Cowgirl Cookies.  I found the recipe on Bakerella.  I had every intention of cutting cute toppers, but we just ran out of time.

We made the jars with the dry ingredients.  To make the cookies, you just need to add the wet ingredients.  My daughter decided to make them on Saturday.  We poured the sugars in the bowl first and we added one stick of softened butter.  Once that was creamy, we put in one egg, 1 tsp of vanilla, and mixed it up.  Then we added the last of the dry ingredients.  We baked the cookies at 350 degrees for 8 minutes. 


My kids are not fans of oatmeal in cookies, but they ate them anyway and seemed to like them.


Here's Bakerella's Cowgirl Cookie recipe.  Please note that in her recipe, she uses melted butter.  I used softened butter and I also creamed the sugars and butter first.  I'm sure her way works just fine.  After all, she's Bakeralla, but I just did this my way because that's how I roll.  

Happy baking!

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Classroom Chairs



I just realized that I never actually pushed the "post" button on this one!    We're heading way back to the lazy days of Summer when I had time to redo some old furniture!


What's the first thing you do when you get the keys to your classroom?  Spruce up the furniture with paint and fabric, and get ready to move in!  I've been waiting all Summer to get the keys to my classroom and now that I finally have them, I have to overcome my fear of the security system at the school and move in.  One more little project needs to get finished up before I take the plunge. My chairs need a makeover.  Today, I hit the fabric store, bought myself some chevron, and purchased a couple cans of black paint.  




My friend, Crystal, gave me these chairs a few years ago.  They needed paint and new seats.  They've been a perfect "homey" addition to my classroom, but the fabric finally gave out last year.  I'm always impressed with the difference paint and fabric can have on a chair.  

Happy chair sprucing!

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

LeapFrog LeapBand Review

Most of you know that I've been lucky enough to work with LeapFrog in two ways over the past year or so.  I've been writing content and taking photos for their Learning Path site for several months now, which has been an absolute dream come true! I've also been part of their network of bloggers who review new products.  The first job, as a writer and photographer, is a paid position.  The second job, as a product review, is not paid.  They just send me products and I tell my readers what I think, coming from the perspective of a teacher and a mom.  So, the opinions you read here are completely my own.  I'm not paid for posting about the new LeapBand.  I was simply given the product to review and share my honest opinions.


Now that the legal stuff is out of the way, let's get to that "honest" part.  I was super excited to get the LeapBand in the mail.  I had heard a little about the concept of the LeapBand and couldn't wait to see what LeapFrog would do with the idea.  As you might know, I think LeapFrog is THE MOST brilliant company on the face of the Earth when it comes to educational toys for kids.  I was a HUGE fan even before I worked for them.  So, the LeapBand arrived and I let my daughter play around with it first. (She's 10, by the way, which is past the recommended age of 4-7 for this product.)  She opened it up, played around with it for about 3 minutes and said, "Hmmm.  I guess little kids might like it."  Usually, with any new LeapFrog toy, she will at least show some interest.  After she tossed it aside, I decided to play around with it and - honestly - I thought it was slightly better than ok, but not the coolest thing LeapFrog has ever come out with. (Keep reading because things do get better!)

I played around with the LeapBand for a few more days, and I'm glad I did.  Not only did I learn a few things by playing with it, but I learned a TON by watching a few different online video reviews.

Cool LeapBand Facts:

*It's the first activity tracker for kids!  I see people wearing activity trackers all the time and hear about how cool they are.  I've always kind of wanted one, but haven't actually bought one yet.  If you were a "fit band" type of family, and you had a young, 4-7 year old, child... wouldn't it be cool to have a an activity tracker just for the kids?  You can even connect it to the computer to track data and play with the settings.


*It visually shows activity done throughout the day. There is a little bar that colors itself in as you move.  The more you move, the more it lights up. It encourages kids to move and be active!

*The activity challenges are pretty cute.  I think I might need to put this band on the wrist of a few of my kindergarten students.  I can just see it now - sitting in Writer's Workshop and all of a sudden I hear, "Jump like a kangaroo!"  I can name a handful of my little friends who would LOVE (and need) one of these!







*It doubles as a watch.  I had trouble with this feature at first.  For some reason, it wouldn't let me set the time.  I finally noticed that I had checked a box on the computer setting that wasn't allowing me to set the time.  Not only is it an activity tracker, but it's also a watch, and it's a personal pet you can take along with you all day long!  How cute is that?

*There is a great app called Petathlon.  You download the app on your phone, sign in with your email and LeapFrog password and you unlock new games to play that connect with your LeapBand.  It gives you "fit" advice and tips along the way as well. It even connects with your LeapFrog Tablet!


(Screen shot from my phone)

To sum it up, at first I thought it was good product, but not great.  After playing around, I'm thinking this is a keeper!  For the price of $39.99, this is kind of awesome!  It does SO much more than I expected.  I really think I might try this out in my classroom with a few of my bouncy friends.  Nice job LeapFrog!  This new product is pretty cool. (And I'm sorry I doubted you momentarily!)

The Craziness of September

You know you're a teacher when your husband tells you, "You do this every June and every September."

Yep, it's that crazy time of year again - the time when I'm running around like a chicken with my head cut off, trying to figure out how I can possibly get my work done and still feel like a caring mother and wife. I tend to start questioning myself.  What on Earth made me think I could handle working full time as a teacher and part time for LeapFrog?  Will I ever have any time to do anything for myself again?  Will I ever make it home at a reasonable hour?  Will my kids look back on their childhood and wish I was home more during the school year? HAS ANYONE SEEN MY LABEL MAKER AND HOW COULD STAPLES POSSIBLY BE SOLD OUT OF LAMINATING POUCHES?

I'm usually very organized with my meal planning, but in June and September that all goes out the window.  Thankfully, my hubby has been saying things like, "I've already got the turkey burgers on the grill!"  That's an awesome statement to hear when you walk in the door 15 minutes before your kids need to walk out of the door.  Any other month of the year, and I would have had dinner in the crockpot by 7am and a salad ready in the fridge.  In September, on the other hand, it's all about school and all sense of home organization just feels buried beneath school work.  

Needless to say, the blogging has taken a back seat while I settle into my new school, new district, and get to know 34 little friends and all of their needs.  At least I have memories of Summer relaxation to fall back on when the going gets tough.





Happy September!

 

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