Padawan Pops Tarts

As our family life gets crazier, jiu jitsu keeps us busier, and my growing boys eat more like small horses, I’ve realized just how hard it is to snack healthy.  Add to this the alerts going out on social media daily telling you that everything from chicken to cereal will give you cancer, or simply drop you where you stand, and a mom starts to think more about finding healthier alternatives to daily favorites.  No, I’m not cowering in fear, but you guys know I like to take on projects, so this month I decided to try my hand at a favorite around here- breakfast tarts 😉

I did some research and found a recipe on tablespoon.com which seemed fairly simple.  I just did things a little differently…and will in the future.  I think next time I will make my own crusts so these are a little easier to shape.  I never claimed to be a baker and I think my additions to the recipe will attest to this.

Homemade Pop Tarts

    Ingredients
  • 1 box refrigerated pie crust (2 layers)
  • 1 small jar strawberry preserves (good quality) I used blackberry that we made last year
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 2 teaspoons milk (2 – 3 tsp)
    Directions
  1. Preheat the oven to 425° F. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.
  2. Unroll one of the pie crusts and square the edges. Cut into rectangles. Place 1 tsp of jam in the center of a rectangle and top with another piece of crust. Crimp all four edges. Repeat until all of the pie crust is used.
  3. Start to get upset because you can’t make twenty perfect rectangles with the crust you have.  Pull out the rolling pin and try to make more rectangles with the crust you cut away in you futile attempts to make above perfect rectangles.  Laugh at yourself through the tears as you end up with a few rectangles, some trapezoids and some kind of half-moon-looking, sad, little thing.  Keep the swearing to a minimum when you accidentally get a little crimp crazy and poke holes in the crust.
  4. Fix said holes like the baking MacGuyver you are and carry on. 
  5. Bake the pop-tarts for about 7 – 8 minutes or until slightly brown. If you don’t want to add extra sugar with the glaze, you can use an egg wash on the tops with some white sugar.
  6. Perhaps it was the fact that my tarts ran the geometric shape gauntlet, but I found mine needed to cook from 8 to 10 minutes.  Just watch them carefully, you want a nice golden-brown. 
  7. Allow the pop tarts to cool for 5 minutes. Meanwhile prepare glaze by adding milk to the sugar, 1 teaspoon at a time until the desired consistency is reached. Pour over pop tarts and sprinkle with decorating sugar. Serve warm.
  8. You need to hear this…FOR THE LOVE OF GOD!!!  LET THEM COOL FOR MORE THAN FIVE MINUTES!!!!  I cannot stress enough the importance of cooling these taste bud obliterating, hot lava-filled, innocent looking hell-born treats!  Seriously, walk away.  You can glaze them while they are hot, but I’m telling you right now, if you take a bite within the first hour, you will likely lose the power of speech and the ability to taste for a good 24 hours.  
  9. Leftover pop tarts can be stored in an airtight container. To serve warm, heat in the microwave, or flat in a toaster oven. (Placing in an upright toaster oven is not recommended).

These are really delicious and my family loved them!  So much better than the hard, store-bought variety.  Enjoy…and don’t forget to let them cool!

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Creamy Taco Dip…not just for Tuesdays

Prepping for the super bowl in our house usually goes like this:

Me: “What do you guys want for our football, finger food this year?”

The crew: “Creamy taco dip, baked taco dip (another time) and a veggie tray!”

Me: “Seriously, guys, don’t you want something different this year?  Spinach artichoke dip?  The big sandwich?”

The crew: “Nope!”

Without further ado, I give you crazy easy to make…

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Creamy Taco Dip

Ingredients:
  • 8 oz cream cheese, softened at room temp
  • 8 oz sour cream
  • 1, 1 oz packet taco seasoning
  • 1 1/2 cups shredded cheddar jack or Colby jack mix
  • 1 cup  lettuce, shredded
  • 1 medium tomato, diced
  • sliced or diced olives
  • chopped onion (optional)
  • Chips for dipping
Directions:
  1. Blend the cream cheese, sour cream and taco seasoning with an electric mixer until smooth and creamy.
  2. Spread mixture onto a 9 x 13 cookie sheet, then top with the shredded cheese (IMPORTANT: the shredded cheese will absorb moisture and prevent the vegetables from making a watery mess of the creamy mixture, so definitely sprinkle cheese before veggies).
  3. Sprinkle evenly with the lettuce, tomato, olives, etc.
  4. Chill for 30 minutes, if desired, and serve with chips.

Super easy and delicious!

Alternatives for healthier dip that still tastes great:

  • Use reduced or fat free dairy.
  • Use low sodium taco seasoning or make your own.
  • Serve with homemade, baked tortilla chips.

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On a personal note, I’m sorry for the long hiatus.  I’ve been helping a friend whose home flooded last August rebuild one room at a time and I’ve been down with sinus issues…a lot.  I’m hoping to get back on track, but I thank you for your patience and loyalty!

It’s Never to Late: a Story of Survival

As the faithful among you know, things have been very busy around here, even more so since we enrolled the boys in a martial arts class.  After watching their first couple of classes, I realized they were getting a great workout and not realizing it because they were having such a blast.  This got me thinking about my own health and how much I hate working out. Seriously, we owned a treadmill and I used it faithfully for a long time, but I’m not good at sticking to an exercise regime…especially when I’m walking and not going anywhere or sweating and not feeling like I’m accomplishing something immediate.  Yes, ADHD sometimes robs me of my ability to see the forest for the trees.

Anyway, at 43 years of age I decided to give the adult MMA class a try since they were offering 3 classes plus free MMA gloves for $19.95.  You have to understand that, until a year ago, I couldn’t handle even watching that display of “barbarism” on TV and would get annoyed with Jamie when he turned on UFC and the like, so this was a huge leap for me.

I’m almost 4 weeks in now and I can’t tell you how much I love it.  If you’d have told me a month ago that I was going to love MMA and talk about it almost as much as Crossfit people (sorry, Crossfit people), I would have laughed out loud.  I am having so much fun while getting a great workout and learning skills that could save my life someday.

What follows is a harrowing tale of mental and physical survival I attribute to skills learned at Gladiators Academy in Youngsville, LA…

The boys enjoying Nerf Night/Parents’ Night Out, courtesy of Gladiators

Last night I was walking under the oaks, thinking of the great people we are meeting and the wonderful things we are all receiving since joining Gladiators Academy for my MMA and the boys’ jiu jitsu.  It occurred to me that Eric Scallan and co. might actually help me become the warrior woman I always thought I could be and I smiled.  I suddenly knew the things that have been holding me back most of my life…EPIPHANY!  I’ll skip the details, but it was deep and I was ecstatic, tough, soft, proud and happy all at once.

Two seconds later I walked onto the patio and a giant spider landed on my foot.  Naturally, I freaked out in a very unwarrior-womanly fashion.

First there was a stuttered scream, smothered by fear and choked into a whisper- not unlike the squeak you might imagine from a mouse taught to speak machine gun…if you imagine such things.  Simultaneously, there was leg movement similar to a flailing, kicking, hip-hop karate, quite different from the kicks I’m learning in my MMA class.

But that frickin’ spider was not letting go, and as I danced like Ralph Macchio being electrocuted while doing a high kick, trying in vain to shake the little devil off of my foot, I felt the pool deck under my heel disappear.

My senses returned to me instantly and I threw my body away from the pool, toes gripping the cement through flip flops, my head violently thrusting forward, and arms pumping.  It flashed through my mind that I likely bore a strong resemblance to an Olympic speed skater, with none of the grace or fluidity.  My arms still protectively held my phone and wine glass out in front of me, initially to protect them from the water, but I realized with horror that these precious items were once again in peril.  While my jiggy-rocket-ski jump maneuver had saved me from falling backwards into the pool, I was now dangerously close to face planting onto the cement.  I tried to summon the warrior woman within, but all she could give me was, “Don’t spill your wine and break another phone.”

I somehow managed to step away from the pool and looked down at my foot, staring with terror at the heavy, alien presence still clinging effortlessly to my metatarsals.  My eyes slowly adjusted to the dim light in the pool area and the parasitic monster I’d imagined with 8 hideous, red eyes and dripping fangs finally came into view…

3 oaks leaves.  3 frickin oak leaves transformed me from “warrior woman” to Jerry Lewis doing a can-can on an old $.25 hotel vibrating mattress in 2 seconds.

This, morning I am just thankful to have remained dry, without a broken nose and of course not to have spilled my wine or broken another phone.

I can only credit my survival to the training I am receiving at Gladiators.  For now I suppose I’m just a part time warrior woman…or maybe spiders and leaves are my kryptonite?

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If you are seeking inspiration, or like I was, aren’t even sure you need inspiration, follow this amazing woman’s journey on Facebook and YouTube: 

Crock Pot Ham ain’t no Hill of Beans Soup

It’s that time, for many of you at least- the time to start making comfort, cool weather food- soups, chili, gumbo, etc.  Here in Louisiana, it’s still hotter than Hades and just as humid, but I decided to defy logic and go for a hearty meal last week when the temperature dipped down to a frigid 85 degrees (sadly, it only lasted for a couple of hours).  Also, now that school is in full swing again and the boys and I are taking some martial arts classes (I’m sore in places I didn’t know existed), I have rediscovered my slow cooker.  It has been a huge relief to come home to a meal already prepared on those later school nights.   This was a ridiculously easy, successful experiment and was a great way to clear a sliced ham out of my freezer.

Crock Pot Ham and Bean Soup

Prep time: 15 minutes                              Serves: 4 (with leftovers for the next night)-8

Ingredients
  • About a pound of cubed ham, or hocks
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 3 celery stalks, chopped
  • 1 carrot, diced
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 TBSP garlic powder
  • 1 lb great northern beans, rinsed and picked through*
  • 7-8 cups chicken broth
  • salt, pepper and Tony’s to taste
  • Optional- a dash of thyme
Directions
  1. Add all ingredients to the crock pot, stir and cook on low for 6-7 hours or high for about 4 hours.
  2. Discard bay leaves and serve.

I mean, really, it doesn’t get much easier than this.  It was a huge hit!

ham-and-bean

Notes:

For a fun twist, you can layer canned, uncooked biscuits on top a few hours into cooking for easy dumplings.

I added a little extra broth for more liquid comfort.

*If you live with all males, as I do, be sure to implement the “take it outside rule” not long after serving.  You’ve been warned.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kitchen Countertops- Shameful to SHINY!

As most of you know, our house is on the market.  Things have been fairly slow because of first, the massive amount of layoffs from the oil industry this area relies so heavily upon, and then the devastating floods that we are still recovering from, and in some places, still experiencing.

I was so determined to make something happen to sell quickly about a week and a half before the flooding started, so I decided that it was time to update the kitchen.  For this house, with the land and the pool in this area, we are within a very reasonable price range, however, my kitchen definitely didn’t have a whole lot of “wow factor.”  In fact, I hated it.  Stained and cracked old laminate counter tops with no backsplash to break the monotony and nothing to emphasize the window looking out over the yard.  I couldn’t imagine other people walking into the house and not feeling the same way.

I ran through my options- granite (not for the $4000 I was quoted on our current income, thanks), tile (meh), Ikea laminate (a trip to Houston isn’t doable these days), butcher block (expensive and no room in the garage right now, even if I wanted to make my own).  I scoured the internet, home improvement stores and my own garage, coming up totally empty.  Finally, I decided to try something crazy.

Jamie was at work, so I was safe.  He couldn’t make fun of me or choke me (just kidding, he wouldn’t.  Just eye rolling and wondering what the heck he married because “she’s at it again”) if he wasn’t here.

I measured my counters, headed to Home Depot and purchased the following-

  • Wood glue
  • Liquid Nails
  • Lots of 1×2 strapping
  • A few 1×3 straps
  • Carbon Gray wood stain
  • 1″ nails for my brad nailer
  • Polycrilic, polyurethane or acrylic resin clear protectant
  • Plastic Wood filler
  •  A cheap, new sink on clearance for $70 (SCORE!)
  • A new bargain faucet
  • Plastic drop cloths

Step 1- Remove old sink (if replacing)

Since we’ve been in this house, people have complimented the old, cast iron kitchen sink, but they have not had to use it.  It’s a 3 bowl sink with 1 shallow (3″ deep) bowl in the middle and 2 “larger” (8″ deep) bowls on the sides.  Sure, it looked coolish, but try to wash a pizza pan or have your kids wash anything larger than a dessert plate without Niagara Falls on the counters and floor.  Totally, impractical and that sucker was coming out.

If you aren’t replacing a sink, skip to step 2.  The first step in removing a sink is to disconnect all the plumbing underneath.  Have towels and bowls ready to catch drips and start by turning off the water at the wall valves.  Then you will disconnect the water lines and the drains.  I won’t kill you with details here and YouTube is where I received my instruction.  Next, I scraped all the old caulk from around the outside of the bowl, removed old glue from under the lip of the sink and checked for removable clips underneath (there were none).

 

What I didn’t know was, that what the sink lacked in user friendliness, it made up for in weight.  If you every need my help disposing of a huge body, just call because that would be a cake walk compared to getting that sink out of the counter top and then the house.  Thank God we have a hand dolly because that monstrosity would have stayed in the middle of my kitchen floor until Jamie came home to help me lug it out to the garage.

Before I continued with the demo, I built a frame using 2×4 studs to hold the new sink since it was smaller than its offending predecessor.

Step 2- Remove old counter tops

Anyway, chore from hell complete, I began tearing apart the nasty, laminate counter tops.  I debated about purchasing plywood to lay underneath the design I had in mind, but the wood under the laminate looked like it was in good shape and wasn’t going anywhere with all the glue and nails the installer had used.  I kept the wood and saved money.  This was not a fun job and about halfway through, I started wondering what in the heck I had been thinking.  I heard Gob’s voice from Arrested Development in my head saying, “I’ve made a huge mistake,” several times.

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WHY AM I DOING THIS TO MYSELF!?!?!

If you need to replace the wood underneath, you can simply purchase plywood, but you may have to add 2×4’s to give you stability.  For what I did, you will want to eliminate the chance of things falling through cracks into your cabinets and have something to glue and nail to.

Step 3- Cutting and placing

I decided to go with the 1×2 strapping because it was A) $.92 a strip and, B) would give me a look close to butcher block when completed (though I was thinking, “Please, God!  Let that be true!” at this point).  I opted to cut my strips into 2′ pieces and staggered them similarly to a hardwood floor design, obviously needing to trim edge and corner pieces to fit.  I removed my stove to make it easier to work, installed the new sink and began to lay my pieces, first gluing with wood glue, then pulling them tight and nailing with pins from the brad nailer (nail gun).  I then used the 1×3 straps to trim the edges and around the sink, setting them in place with Liquid Nails and pins from the brad nailer and was done with construction.  I was so frickin happy at this point, but I was only half way there…

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Wood placement complete!

Step 4- Sanding, putty and more sanding

By this time, Jamie had been home for a couple of days and was leaving for work again.  His demeanor, plus the fact we were washing dishes in the bathtub and couldn’t use the kitchen, did little to convince me that he could see the end result that was in my head.  I pressed on, telling myself that my vision would be realized and he would eat ample helpings of crow…I prayed that would happen, anyway.

If you have carpal tunnel, as I do, this is another point at which you will start to question your own sanity.  Lots of stretching and ice is recommended.  I use an orbital sander and the vibrations can be rough, so be sure to take lots of breaks.

First I sanded the wood after the glue dried.  You’ll need to do this because the strapping is cheap wood.  It’s hard enough to find straight pieces not full of knots, let alone smooth ones.  I strongly recommend building a plastic cage like I did to keep the dust from invading and covering the rest of your entire house.  I also put a fan in the window to blow the dust outside and you will absolutely need a respirator of some kind and eye protection.  Simply attach strapping to the ceiling with plastic sheeting hanging down and weight the bottom of the sheets with more strapping to eliminate too much movement, like so-

Initial sanding complete, I was ready to vacuum the sawdust that remained and start to fill the gaps with putty.  Originally, I intended to only fill the large gaps, but my OCD got the best of me, so I spent a VERY, VERY long time filling ALL the gaps between the slats and the nail holes.  The plastic wood I tried this time was the perfect product for the job.  It dried quickly and went on pink, drying to a natural wood color.  I just prayed that it would stain like wood as the label claimed.  I sanded the dried putty and wood slats to a smooth finish, then prepared for stain.

Step 5- Staining

This is when I allowed myself to get a little excited, catching a glimpse of the finish line for the first time.  I started to stain, brushing it on and wiping it off in a few minutes, and my vision was becoming reality.  I wasn’t sure about the color because I had pictured a slightly lighter gray with green undertones (tying kitchen, dining and living together), and would maybe have gone with an ebony if I’d known.  The staining was finished fairly fast, but I wasn’t in love.  I took a little mahogany stain I had in the garage, lightly ran some over the top of the gray and was happy with the result.

Step 6- Backsplash

I originally thought that there was enough glass tile left from the previous owner’s work in the bathroom to complete a backsplash in the kitchen.  I was mistaken.  Working on a tight budget, I headed to Home Depot again and realized that there was no way I could justify the cost of new tile for the job.  I thought about using some red cedar I had, but it just didn’t look right.

Eventually, I decided to try ripping the 1×2 strapping in half with the table saw (a terrifying job) and at first was discouraged that I couldn’t get all of the pieces to the same width.  This was a blessing in disguise because I realized it was adding character to the overall look.  I cut these into 12″ pieces, stained them with 4 different stain colors I had in the garage and staggered them, trying a few different variations before deciding on the final layout.  I used a lot of Liquid Nails and a few pins from the brad nailer to attach them to the wall.

I’m pretty happy that I didn’t have enough tile!

Step 7- Polyurethane

I only had to wait a few hours for the stains to dry and was able to come back and apply the polyurethane to the counter tops and the backsplash.  This would take longer to dry- 2 hours to the touch, 48 hours for light use and a full week until we could roll full steam.  I opted to leave the plastic up to keep the cat and children from doing damage, but I was unable to protect it from myself.  I decided that 2 hours was a long enough wait before replacing the stove without risk of scratches.  It wasn’t.

I touched up the area around the stove, the paint on the cabinets, caulked around the sink, picked up some clearance fabric Andrew chose and whipped together curtains, then finally was able to stand back to view the finished product.  I’ll be darned if it didn’t exceed my expectations.  Jamie was shocked and really loves it.  My friend Sandy, who is also my realtor and tough to please (TOTALLY, KIDDING, SANDY!  You’re are amazing and you know it), was very happy with the results as well, even trying to get me to do her counters.  It’s still a small kitchen, but it’s a heck of a lot nicer than the old, gross laminate!  Would I do it again?  Um, I’ll get back to you on that.

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Before
1005 Charles Dr, Broussard, LA 70518
After

 Oh, and I should tell you guy that this whole project was around $200!