Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Recipe: Crock Pot Loaded Baked Potato Soup


Crock Pot - Style Loaded Baked Potato Soup. Photo by Tish

I have always loved Loaded Baked Potato Soup and frequently ordered it at restaurants.  Since going corn-free, though, most restaurant versions and grocery store versions are off-limits to me because of the presence of corn starch.  So when my friend Carrie shared on Facebook that she had discovered an amazing crockpot version that was better than any restaurant, I gazed at her pictures longingly and then clicked over to the recipe.  And--wonder of all wonders!--the ingredients were all things that I could have and it was totally simple to make.  And, as Carrie had promised, it is totally delicious.  I am totally hooked.

The recipe is published by the people at Food.com and you can find it in its entirety here.  Here's my cookbook version, with full credit given to the original authors.

Total Time: 5 hours 15 minutes
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 5 hours

Serves: 6-8

Ingredients:
6-8 large baking potatoes, peeled, cut in 1/2 inch cubes
1 large onion, chopped
1 quart chicken broth
3 garlic cloves, minced or pressed
1/4 cup butter
2 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon pepper
1 cup cream or 1 cup half-and-half
1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
3 tablespoons chopped fresh chives
1 cup sour cream
8 slices bacon, sliced and crumbled
cheese, for sprinkling

Directions:
Combine the first seven ingredients in a large crock pot.  Cover and cook on HIGH for 4 hours or LOW for 8 hours (potato should be tender).
Mash mixture until potatoes are coarsely chopped and soup is slightly thickened.
Stir in cream, cheese, and chives.
Top with sour cream (if used), sprinkle with bacon and more cheese.


A couple of notes from my experience:
Carrie very wisely added about a half a cup extra of sour cream and an entire extra cup of cheese to her mixture, so I followed her lead and found it to be perfection.

Also, I went a little crazy with my potato chopping.  I complained to Carrie about how long it took to cut up all those potatoes.  She kind of shrugged and said, "Oh, I left mine a little on the big size, I didn't really notice."  And when it came time to "mash my mixture," I discovered that she was definitely right.  Because I had cut mine so small that I really couldn't mash them much smaller.  So that was doubly frustrating.  I will know better for next time.

And while this recipe says that it serves 6-8, I felt like we got more than that out of it.  Maybe that's just because our kids' portions were so minuscule.  But I felt like I ate this soup for days and days (it reheats beautifully).  Maybe that's because I used all 8 potatoes.  But it's definitely on the large side.  Happy eating!

Recipe: Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Bars


vegan pumpkin chocolate chip bars   

This one is another awesome fall dessert.  I think I made it three times this fall.  The last time it turned out far gooier than the other times, but Ben baked it that time, so maybe he didn't keep it in for quite long enough.  It was still delicious though, and had kind of the consistency of warm yet raw cookie dough.  I gobbled it up, but was kind of regretful because we took it to a party and no one else wanted it.  To be fair, that may have also been because of the presence of this incredible-looking Reeses-gluten-filled competitor.  Ah well, more for me.

I first found this deliciousness on Pinterest, then traced it back to Vegan Mother Hubbard.  I'm always a little surprised when I find something awesome on vegan sites, as I tend to associate my diet this days more with paleo than vegan, because you know.... grain bad, meat good.  But I've found some of my favorites on vegetarian and vegan sites, and should probably remember to look there more often.

You can find this entire recipe here.  While it looks absolutely incredible, I have not yet tried the accompanying recipe for Pumpkin Spice Buttercream.... so no, my Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Bars did not have the gorgeous presentation of the ones pictured above, with the amazing perfect dollops of cream and swirls of chocolate.  But man, were they yummy.  So, with all credit given to Vegan Mother Hubbard, here's my reproduction of the recipe for my family's cookbook:

Ingredients
  1. 1/2 cup vegan butter
  2. 3/4 cups granulated sugar
  3. 1/4 cup + 2 tbsp packed brown sugar
  4. 1/2 cup + 2 tbsp pumpkin puree
  5. 1 tsp vanilla extract
  6. 1 cup flour
  7. 1 tbsp flax meal
  8. 1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  9. 1/2 tsp ground ginger
  10. 1/4 tsp cloves
  11. 1/2 tsp baking soda
  12. 1/2 tsp baking powder
  13. 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  14. 1 cups vegan, semi-sweet chocolate chips
Instructions
  1. 1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees and grease an 8x8 inch cake pan.
  2. 2. In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugars, until smooth.
  3. 3. Add the pumpkin and vanilla. Beat until well combined (the mixture will look grainy).
  4. 4. In a separate, medium sized bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients, including the chocolate chips.
  5. 5. Add the dry ingredients to the wet, and bet until well combined.
  6. 6. Spread the batter into the cake pan and bake for about 22 minutes. The bars are done when firm in the center and the edges are pulling away from the sides of the pan.
  7. 7. Cool completely in the pan, before cutting, frosting with pumpkin spice buttercream, and serving.
Notes
  1. For the chocolate drizzle, microwave 1/2 cup chocolate chips and 1 tsp coconut oil on low, for 1 1/2-2 minutes. Stir with a fork, to make sure it is completely melted. I used a plastic sandwich bag with a tiny bit of the corner cut off, as a piping bag to drizzle the chocolate over the bars.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Recipe: Apple Crack Cake


Gluten Free Apple Crack Cake

One day when I was feeling sorry for myself for not being able to eat any of the delicious fall goodies that my kids were feasting on, I came across this recipe for Apple Crack Cake.  The poor sweet lady that created the recipe received some scathing comments for the name of the recipe, but after making it, I can see where she was coming from--it really was kind of addictive.

Furthermore, her website, Gluten Free on a Shoestring, is one that I need to sit down and read extensively when I have more time.  From all that I've seen of it, it's probably, like, my Mecca.

A note on this cake.  The author says that it's "almost pudding-like inside."  And that's true.  I cooked it rather longer than the prescribed time, and it was still basically goo in the center.  And while I ate the whole thing, I'm still not sure if I liked it or not. I definitely liked the edges.  Those were really good.  But I felt a little weird serving the mostly-uncooked middle to people.  "It's supposed to be like that," I said.  And it was, but I still felt like I was making excuses somehow.  So I'm not sure if there's a way to get it to solid up without burning the edges?  Because the flavor of the whole thing is awesome, but the goopiness of the middle kind of bothered me.  So I guess I'll just have to make it again to experiment. :)

Here's the recipe, with full credit to awesome Nicole over at Gluten Free on a Shoestring.

Prep time: 10 minutes       Cook time: 35 minutes       Yield: 1 9-inch square or round cake
Ingredients
8 ounces applesauce (homemade or chunky store-bought), plus more for drizzling
7 ounces sweetened condensed milk (for a dairy-free version, click here and follow through the first two steps)
2 eggs (120 g out of shell) at room temperature, beaten
1/2 cup (100 g) sugar
2 1/2 teaspoons apple pie spice(plus more for sprinkling)
1 box gluten-free yellow cake mix (15 to 16 ounces) (I used the Make Your Own Vanilla Cake Mix from page 193 of Quick & Easy)
8 tablespoons (112 g) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
*To make your own apple pie spice, combine 4 teaspoons ground cinnamon + 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom + 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg + 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger + 1/8 teaspoon ground allspice.
Directions

  • Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease a 9-inch square or round baking pan, line it with crisscrossed sheets of unbleached parchment paper, greasing in between the papers, and set it aside.
  • In a medium-sized bowl, place the 8 ounces applesauce, condensed milk, eggs, sugar and apple pie spice, and beat until well-combined. Add about ⅓ of the dry cake mix to the mixture, and mix to combine. Pour the mixture into the prepared pan. Sprinkle the rest of the dry cake mix on top, and smooth carefully until the cake mix covers the applesauce layer evenly. Pour the melted butter evenly on top of the cake. Next, sprinkle on a bit more apple pie spice and scatter a few dollops of applesauce on top of the cake. Cover the top of the pan with foil.
  • Place the cake in the center of the preheated oven, and bake for 20 minutes. Uncover, and bake until the cake has begun to pull away slightly from the side of the pan and is set on top (another 10 to 12 minutes). Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely before slicing into squares or wedges and serving.

Recipe: Cranberry Jalapeno Sauce


Stuffing Poppers with Cranberry Jalapeno Dipping Sauce

For Thanksgiving this year, Ben and I tried to make some gluten free Stuffing Poppers.  While they smelled great, they were wildly unsuccessful and looked nothing like the picture you see here.  I would call them a "huge disaster," except that they were accompanied by a recipe for Cranberry Jalapeno Dipping Sauce that turned out perfectly and was absolutely delicious.  Of course, we didn't actually have the poppers to dip in it.... but it ended up being perfect to spread across our leftover turkey for day-after-Thanksgiving (and week-after-Thanksgiving) turkey sandwiches.

In fact, it was SO good that I have several times contemplated going out and buying another turkey breast for the express purpose of cooking it just so that I can make more turkey sandwiches with this Cranberry Jalapeno Sauce.  Of course, that would require having bread to eat them on.  And since I haven't yet found a bread recipe that I'm a fan of, alas, the sandwiches will have to wait.  But as soon I find a bread recipe that I like, I will celebrate with many turkey and cranberry/jalapeno sandwiches....

But I digress.  I found the sauce recipe through the gluten-free Stuffing Popper recipe, so it would be tricky to find again.  You can all find it here.  It was created by the good people at Beard and Bonnet, who have all kinds of GF goodies.  With full credit to B&B, here's the recipe for just the Cranberry Jalapeno Sauce.  As a note, we left out the liquor and it turned out just fine.  I would imagine that it could also be made without the jalapeno, if you wanted just a cranberry sauce without the kick.


Cranberry Jalapeno Dipping Sauce (Gluten Free and Vegan)
 
Author: 
Ingredients
  • 1 8 ounce bag of fresh cranberries
  • ¾ cup orange juice
  • 1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and minced
  • ½ cup brown sugar
  • ¼ cup Snap liquor or Grand Marnier
Instructions
  1. Place all of the ingredients into a large heavy bottomed saucepan and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until the sugar dissolves and the cranberries are soft, about 10 minutes. Increase the heat to medium and cook until the cranberries burst, about 12 minutes.
  2. Allow the cranberry sauce to cool then blend with an immersion blender until smooth. This recipe makes almost 2 cups of cranberry sauce.

Recipe: Slow Cooker Mashed Potatoes


Slow Cooker Mashed Potatoes

The intro to the article on this website reads "These mashed potatoes will change your life.  Creamy, tons of flavor, and seriously the easiest mashed potatoes you will ever make--you'll never go back to boiling and smashing!"  After trying the recipe this Thanksgiving, I can't argue with a single part of that statement.

I first found the recipe on Pinterest (where, apparently, I find all of my recipes) and then traced it back to Creme de la Crumb.  This recipe was incredibly easy and, as mashed potatoes go, delicious.  To be honest, I've always thought that mashed potatoes were kind of bland, but these actually had a nice bit of flavor to them (probably due to the sour cream and garlic).  The recipe also suggests topping them with cheese and bacon or other yummy things, which I would definitely be willing to do in the future (but didn't do at Thanksgiving, because hello, my table was already overflowing).

My only complaint was that the recipe yielded WAY too many potatoes for Ben and I to eat by ourselves, and while the kids did eat tiny helpings, they didn't even make a dent in the massive Mountain of Crock Pot Mashed Potatoes, so in the future, I'd either cut down the recipe or make sure to make this at a time when we were sharing dinner with friends.  They did reheat okay for the first couple of days but got kind of dry after that (or maybe that was just in my mind, because I simply couldn't stomach any more potato).

Here is a link to the original recipe, complete with tantalizing pictures.  Here's my copy for my recipe book, with full credit given to Creme de la Crumb:

SLOW COOKER MASHED POTATOES
 
PREP TIME
COOK TIME
TOTAL TIME
 
These mashed potatoes will change your life. Creamy, tons of flavor, and seriously the easiest mashed potatoes you will ever make - you'll never go back to boiling and smashing!
Author: 
Recipe type: Side Dish
Cuisine: American
Serves: 6
INGREDIENTS
  • 2 pounds red potatoes, cut into 2 inch pieces (you can peel them but I never do - I love red potato skins in my mashed potatoes!)
  • ½ cup sour cream (or plain greek yogurt)
  • ¼ cup milk
  • 2 teaspoons minced garlic
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
Try Swanson® Chicken Broth in this Recipe.
 
INSTRUCTIONS
  1. Spray the inside of a slow cooker with cooking spray. Add chopped potatoes. Cover and cook 2-3 hours on high or 5-6 hours on low.
  2. Add sour cream, milk, garlic, salt, and pepper to potatoes. Use a hand mixer to blend together all ingredients. (Please see note below recipe!) Give them a taste and add more salt if desired. Serve plain, or with any favorite toppings such as gravy, or cheese and bacon. OR - check out my brand new variation - Slow Cooker Buttery Garlic Herb Mashed Potatoes!
NOTES
*This recipe can easily be doubled for large groups - just increase the cooking time by 1-2 hours. 
**You can also smash the potatoes if you prefer, I like to use the hand mixer because it is so FAST and easy and I can make them as smooth or as textured as I want to be mixing them for a longer or shorter time!

Recipe: Potato, Avocado, and Mustard Cream


Potato, Avocado and Mustard Cream

This is the absolute perfect accompaniment to the Beef Kabob I described in my previous post.  The mustard cream in this recipe compliments the mustard glaze on kabob perfectly.  The meal in its entirety is so good that I have been known to chortle with glee as I eat it.  And that's not just me--we have served this meal to friends with no dietary restriction, and they have had very similar reactions.

So in this recipe, a heavenly mustard cream sauce is poured over a mashed potato, or a grilled avocado, or if you're feeling really decadent, both.

I originally found this recipe on Pinterest.  The Pinterest link took me to FoodGawker, which took me to the original source of the recipe, The Everyday Chef and Wife.  A note on this site: I totally want to read every post and gobble up every picture.  I love the writing, and the photography is both delicious and gorgeous.  However, since the recipes are not specifically gluten-free or corn-free, I'm a little afraid to let myself go down this rabbit hole until I have a firmly established cookbook of my own to drawn from.  But then.... then I will let myself play with and adapt some of these amazing recipes!!

Anyway.  You can find the original recipe (listed as Baked "Smashed" Potato & Grilled Avocado with Mustard Cream Sauce) here.  I LOVE the writing on this blog, so I recommend that you go read it instead of my cut-and-dried version.  But if you're looking for just the facts, here's my cookbook version (with all credit given to The Everyday Chef and Wife):

Bake potatoes in the oven (35-40 minutes at 350).

For avocado - heat grill pan on medium high heat with the ridges rubbed down with oil.  Once it's sizzling, place the cut and seeded avocado on the pan.  Let it grill for 3-5 minutes.

Mustard Cream Sauce:
* 1/2 cup cream
* 1 1/2 tsp dijon mustard
* 3 drops Frank's hot sauce
* salt and pepper to taste

A few notes from Amy:
Once, we were making this recipe at a friend's house, and she mistakenly put in sour cream instead of regular cream.  When we discovered the mistake, we decided to double the recipe and put in a half a cup of milk for the second half of the recipe.  It worked beautifully and tasted delicious.  So if you don't have cream on hand, this works as a substitution.  And trust me, you won't regret having double the cream sauce.

And that's the other thing I wanted to mention.  Once you make this sauce, you will not be able to stop eating it.  You will start dream up things to put it on.  Mustard cream sauce over plain rice?  Sure, sounds like a meal to me!  So chef beware.  :)

Recipe: Beef Kabobs


Beef kebabs in a honey mustard glaze

Another one for the family recipe book.  My kids have yet to eat this recipe, but that's only because they don't know what's good.  Ben and I have made this recipe multiple times for ourselves, and we've fed it to friends several times, and it has been met with the highest approval every time.

This recipe is for Beef Kabobs in a honey mustard glaze.  As far as I'm concerned, though, the real key to the recipe is that the kabobs also contain.... wait for it.... bacon.  Who knew?  Bacon on kabobs?  Bacon on the grill?  It's delicious and amazing.  The only problem is that we have yet to perfect how to get the bacon cooked quite right.  Various experiments have led to burned bacon and raw bacon, but never have we gotten more than half the bacon on the kabob the exact right consistency.  Our latest theory involves the possibility of starting the bacon in the microwave before adding it to the skewers.  I'll let you know how that turns out.  Once we figure out the bacon, though, this will be upgraded to The Perfect Recipe.

I found it on Pinterest (source of all good things).  It was originally published on Bord Bia (the Irish Food Board).  If you'd like to see the complete link, click here.

With full understanding that all credit is given to Bord Bia for this amazing recipe, here is my transcribed copy for my family's cookbook.  The recipe serves 4.

Ingredients

  • 750g sirloin or fillet steak
  • 4 rashers unsmoked streaky bacon, halved
  • 8 small fresh bay leaves
  • 1 small red onion, cut into wedges through the root
  • Thyme sprigs, to garnish

For the glaze: 

  • 4 tablesp. clear honey
  • ¼ teasp. cayenne pepper
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1 tablesp. wholegrain mustard
  • 2 teasp. lemon juice
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper

To Cook


Trim any fat from the steak and cut the meat into 4cm chunks. Roll up each piece of bacon.
Mix the ingredients for the glaze together in a bowl with ½ teaspoon each of salt and black pepper. Stir in the steak and leave to marinate for 30 minutes. Meanwhile light your barbecue if using a charcoal one. Light your gas barbecue or grill 10 minutes before cooking.
Thread 4 cubes of beef, 2 bacon rolls, 2 bay leaves and 2 onion wedges onto each 25cm metal skewer. Place them on the barbecue or the rack of the grill pan and cook for 5-6 minutes, turning once or twice until the steak is nicely browned on the outside and medium-rare in the centre.

Recipe: Gluten-Free Pizza Crust


The Best Gluten Free Pizza Ever | Minimalist Baker. ☀CQ #glutenfree #appetizers 

One of my goals is to "create a family cookbook full of tried-and-true recipes that I'm not allergic to and the kids will actually eat."  I'm collecting recipes on scraps of paper at my house (and am now gathering them together in a cool recipe keeper that my sister-in-law Jill got my for Christmas), but I figured that I should post them here for good measure (and extra insurance against losing them) as well.

The first recipe that I'm going to share is one that I found via Pinterest.  It was shared via the Minimalist Baker, which looks like a really interesting site (so hey Amy, remember to go back and look at that site further).

You can find the entire article about the creation of the GF pizza crust here.  It contains many tantalizing pictures and even a reference to Shauna Niequist, who is an author that I love.  Many bonus points for both.

For the purposes of assembling my "most delicious recipes" cookbook, here is just the recipe.  To be clear, this is a recipe developed completely by Minimalist Baker.  I just cooked it and enjoyed it.  All credit is given to them.

THE BEST GLUTEN FREE PIZZA CRUST + SAUCE

PREP TIME: 15 minutes
COOK TIME: 50 minutes
TOTAL TIME; 1 hour 5 minutes

A 7-ingredient gluten-free pizza crust that requires 1 hour from start to finish and rivals any pizzeria style pizza crust.

AUTHOR: Minimalist Baker
RECIPE TYPE: Bread
CUISINE: Gluten Free Pizza
SERVES: 1.5 pizzas

INGREDIENTS:
* 3 cups gluten free flour blend (1 cup white rice flour + 1 cup brown rice flour + 1 cup tapioca flour + 3/4 tsp xanthan gum)
* 1 tsp salt
* 1/2 tsp baking powder
* 3 Tbsp sugar, divided
* 1 Tbsp yeast
* 1 1/4 cup warm water, divided
* 1 Tbsp olive oil

INSTRUCTIONS
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. In a small bowl, combine yeast and 3/4 cup warm water--about 110 degrees.  Too hot and it will kill the yeast!  Let set for 5 minutes to activate.  Sprinkle in 1 Tbsp of the sugar a few minutes in.
3. In a separate bowl, combine gluten free flour blend, salt, baking powder, and remaining 2 Tbsp sugar.  Whisk until well combined.
4. Make a well in the dry mixture and add the yeast mixture.  Add the olive oil and additional 1/2 cup warm water before stirring.  Then stir it all together until well combined, using a wooden spoon.
5. Lightly coat a baking sheet or pizza stone with non-stick spray and plop your dough down.  Using your hands and a little brown rice flour if it gets too sticky, work from the middle and push to spread/flatten the dough out to the edge.  You want it to be pretty thin--less than 1/4 inch.
6. Put the pizza in the oven to pre-bake for roughly 25-30 minutes, or until it begins to look dry.  Cracks may appear, but that's normal and totally OK.
7. Remove from oven and spread generously with your favorite pizza sauce, cheese, and desired toppings.  Pop back in oven for another 20-25 minutes, or until the crust edge looks golden brown and the toppings are warm and bubbly.j
8. Cut immediately and serve.  Reheats well the next day in the oven or microwave.

NOTES
* Nutrition information is a rough estimate for 1 slice without toppings.
* Recipe yields 1.5 crusts, enough for 2 small-medium pizzas, or 1 large and 1 personal pan.
* The gluten free flour blend is a suggestion, but a strong one.  However, try your own blend if you prefer, or sub all purpose if not gluten free.
* You can make this recipe ahead of time, up to 1-2 days in advance stored covered in the refrigerator until time of use.  However, it is best when made fresh.
* If the dough is finicky or sticky when spreading out, simply sprinkle on a little more brown rice flour to keep it from sticking.

SAUCE RECIPE
* 1 small can tomato paste
* 1/2 cup water
* equal pinches salt, pepper, dried basil, oregano, thyme, and garlic powder

NUTRITION INFORMATION
Serving size: 1 slice
Calories: 104
Fat: 1 g
Carbohydrates: 21 g
Sugar: 3 gj
Sodium: 194 mg
Fiber: 1 g
Protein: 1 g


Amy here again.  We've only made this recipe once, but when we did, we found that it yielded two pizzas.  We hadn't quite planned for that, so we were caught a little short on sauce and toppings--so we need to plan for that better next time.  I loved the pizza--I thought it was every bit as good as what  I get when I order gluten-free at restaurants.  Ben liked it okay; he thought it would have been better with more toppings, which I already mentioned would have been handled better if we had realized how much the recipe would yield.  The kids were not crazy about it, but we had some Tombstone pizza in the freezer for them, so it all worked out fine.  Again, I think with more toppings (ie, more cheese), they would have liked it better.  So this one is a definite keep for me and a "maybe" for the kids.

Book 6: My True Love Gave To Me



Last week I finished reading My True Love Gave To Me: Twelve Holiday Stories edited by Stephanie Perkins.  This delightful anthology contains Christmas-themed stories from some of the best voices in today's young adult literature.  My very favorite story was "Midnights" by Rainbow Rowell (an author I deeply admire).  Other standouts included "Angels in the Snow" by Matt de la Pena, "It's A Christmas Miracle, Charlie Brown" by Stephanie Perkins, and "What in the Hell Have You Done, Sophie Roth?" by Gayle Forman.  I also particularly enjoyed stories by three authors I had not read before: "Beer Buckets and Baby Jesus" by Myra McEntire, "Welcome to Christmas, CA" by Kiersten White, and "Star of Bethlehem" by Ally Carter.  Click here to see my full review.

6 / 200

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Homebody

This morning while Aiden and I were out on errands, he saw an airplane in the sky. He pointed at it with childish delight and said, "Look! An airplane!" I asked him if he would like to fly in an airplane some day, and after giving it careful consideration, he said, "Yes. I fly in an airplane with you, Mommy. "

This led me to think about exactly how long it has been since I have flown in an airplane. And the answer I came up with was frankly kind of shocking to me. It has been 10 years. 10 whole years, 10 this month.

Ben and I were married in the summer of 2004, and that November we got the crazy itch to travel. We were aided by some amazingly low priced last-minute plane tickets, and we hopped a flight to Ireland for the entire week of Thanksgiving break. I had studied in Ireland for a semester in college, and I was anxious to show my new husband all of the places that meant so much to me. We flew into Dublin, rented a car, and drove to Cork, where I had studied. Over the next few days we also explored some of my favorites: Blarney Castle, the Dingle Penninsula, and the Cliffs of Moher. From there we branched out to things I hadn't had a chance to see, like Newgrange and Giant's Ladder (which is in Northern Ireland, another new place for me). We flew home exhausted but happy.

Just after Christmas that year, we flew out to Utah on a ski trip with Ben's family. I had only been skiing twice before in my life, but they were regulars and managed to outfit me with everything I needed. I don't think I was *too* terrible at it, and I even did some good hills before our trip was over. Ben and I flew home on New Year's Day, and with the end of 2004, apparently also came the end of my jetsetting ways.

In February of 2005, I learned that I was pregnant with Bryn. Obviously we were thrilled, but it definitely slowed me down a lot. I remember that I had to miss a good friend's wedding because I couldn't fly, but I figured there would be plenty of time for visits later.

Except that there hasn't been. As I think about totaling up my state count for my 40 x 40 goals, I realize that a solid 90% of the states that I've visited were checked off more than a decade ago.

In the last 10 years, I have been to:
* Indiana - because I live here
* Illinois - because my parents live there.  And also because we've visited friends in Chicago a few times.
* Michigan - because my in-laws live there.  And also because we took a couple real vacations there with my dad and stepmom when the girls were little.
* Kentucky - one visit there, to meet my nephew Mason when he was born (my sister and brother-in-law have since moved back to Indiana)
* Ohio - two visits, one for my friend Krysten's wedding (2006) and another which involved tagging along with Ben to a gaming convention (and visiting my friend Krysten in the process) (2007 or 2008)
* Florida - (and whatever states I drove through to get there) in 2009, when my very nice father took us on vacation
* Missouri - when I took my kids to visit some of my high school friends in St. Louis two summers ago (2013)

So if I was to start over on my 40 state count, I'd be in serious trouble.  Good thing I didn't put an expiration date on how long ago my visits could have been.  I don't know; it just seems kind of counter-intuitive to me that the whole point of 40 x 40 is getting out and DOING things, and yet in order to meet this goal, I'm recounting things that happened 11 years ago.... you know, back in the glory days of when I actually DID things.  ;)  Now don't get me wrong, I'm really enjoying going back over memories of that old summer trip.  It's reminding me of a really good time that Ben and I shared, and it's reminding me of so many of my favorite places that I'd love to revisit someday, with kids in tow.  The catch to all of this, of course, is that I actually DO those things again someday.

I watched "Julie & Julia" a couple of weeks ago with my book club and had a good laugh at the part where Julie Powell puts up a link to PayPal on her blog so readers can send in donations so she can "buy more lobster" and other ingredients for her recipes.  What do you think, guys?  Should I put up a PayPayl link so you can all send in donations so I can.... I don't know.... buy an RV and take my kids on a cross-country roadtrip reminiscent of the one Ben and I took in the summer of 2003?  Would that be a good investment?  Or maybe y'all could just PayPal-fund our family trip to DisneyWorld.  To show your support of my 40 x 40 dreams and get me out of my homebody state, I mean.  If Julie Powell can do it, why can't I?  Just a thought.  ;)

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Book 5: To All The Boys I've Loved Before


  
This week I read Jenny Han's To All The Boys I've Loved Before.  It was my fifth book since starting my "200 books" challenge and my 49th book of 2014.  To see my full review, check out my book blog here.

5 / 200

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Last Week

Last week was full to the brim with friends.

At the beginning of the week, I got to exchange some wonderful texts with my dear lifelong friend Jolyne.  It was her birthday, and I got to catch up on what's going on in her life.  So good to "chat" with her.

On Tuesday, I had a playdate with Kathleen, Cathy, and Jill (and Aiden got to play with John, Jacob, and Josie).  It was great to catch up with these ladies over banana bread and coffee... AND to celebrate in Jill's big news of expecting baby #2 (which I can safely post here, because you know, it's Facebook official).

On Thursday, my friend Elizabeth came over for a playdate (and brought Gabriel to play with Aiden).  This is THE friend Elizabeth who initially inspired me to take on a 40 x 40 list.  :)  Back when I lived in Brownsburg, we used to see each other at least a week for various MOPS functions, but we hadn't managed to get together since I had moved back to Indy, so this visit was long overdue and we had tons to catch up on.  Great time with a great friend.

Then on Thursday night, I headed out to Brownsburg myself for my monthly Book Club.  This month we were discussing Julia Child's My Life in France, which naturally called for a viewing of "Julie and Julia"--which we had all seen before, so talking through the movie wasn't a problem.  It was so nice to just kick back and relax with such a wonderful group of ladies--Amy, Cathy, Kathleen, Angela, Kristin, and Shannon.

Then bright and early Friday morning, the girls and I set off for Quilt Camp.  (I'm THAT mom and pulled them out of school on Friday for the occasion.)  In addition to sewing the weekend away, we got to reconnect with so many amazing friends.  My quilting mentors--Gayle, Jill, and Michelle.  Friends that we only see once a year at the December Quilt Camp--Susan, Cathi, Lindsey, Lauren, and the entire Schiesser family.  The little girls that Bryn and Shay ran around with all weekend--Sophie, Bunny, and Mia.  And of course, the wonderful camp people--Christine, Neal, Mel, Mike, Jamie, Katrina, Beth, Sarah, Grace, Alicia, T-Byrd, Robby, Ian, Noah DeMoss, Noah Martel (hereafter known as Christopher Columbus by my daughters), and several others who dropped by to say hello.

It was a busy week.  A full week.  A good week.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Colorado: June 18, 2003

A continuation of the cross-country adventure I shared with Ben in the summer of 2003....

Day 11 - Wednesday, June 18, 2003

I awoke way too early to the sound of two men at the campsite next to us chatting over their morning coffee and couldn't fall back asleep.  Still, we decided to have a lazy start to the morning and stayed in our tent until nearly 8:00, reading books and our map of the park, and then had a leisurely breakfast.  We were impressed by the beauty of our campsite in the mountains, which we had not been able to fully appreciate the night before.  The day was sunny with tons of white puffy clouds, and we were excited to explore the Rocky Mountain National Park.

After we got packed up, we returned to Estes Park to take showers at a Dad's Laundromat.  We then found a little local place that could give us our long-overdue oil change, so we pulled up some plastic chairs to the side of the road and ate our lunch of bread and cheese while admiring the view and making a plan of attack for the day.

It was after noon by the time we arrived at the Visitors' Center to get a stamp for Ben's book.  We had hoped to take a scenic drive up to the snowy heights, but they told us that it was raining up there and there was basically zero visibility.  Our second choice had been a trail that ran near our campsite from the night before, but they also nixed that, telling us that it ran past one of the highest points on the mountain and we would be seriously in danger of being hit by lightening.

Extremely disappointed, we decided to go off the beaten path.  We went down Mary's Lake Road to a separate and far less frequented section of the park.  There was another small visitors' center and a mountain on each side.  We selected the shorter hike and started our climb of Lily Mountain.


The volunteer at the Visitors' Center told us the hike was just over a mile, but it certainly felt longer than that.  We got out of breath easily because of the uphill slope and the high altitudes, so we had to stop and rest several times.  The view was beautiful, and we took plenty of pictures as we explored.




Ben also took plenty of time out to look for more rocks for his growing collection, and he found a walking stick for each of us in the woods.  We also off-roaded it for a bit to get better views.


 


However, we did not make it all the way to the top, because the sky got very dark and the thunder sounded very scary and we were afraid of getting stuck out there in the rain.  Apparently these fears were unfounded, however, because it was bright and sunny again by the time we reached the bottom and took off for Denver.


I must shamefully admit that I slept almost the whole way there, waking just in time to take a phone call from Damon before entering the Cherry Creek State Park in Aurora, a suburb of Denver.  We were assigned to site number 10, which we quickly learned was the worst one in the whole place.  There wasn't a bit of level ground in it, and worse, all possible areas for a tent were at the bottom of small hills, which made me especially nervous in light of the ominous thunder.  We made camp as quickly as we could and cooked our pot pies over a smoking fire in record time, but the weather cleared off as we did the dishes and we were able to sit outside during the evening.

A guy named Austin camped at the site next to ours.  He was about our age and having a week-long adventure of his own while driving from his home in Arkansas to Colorado, where he planned to work with YWAM (Youth With A Mission) and begin missionary training.  We spent most of the evening talking with him, trading travel stories, and laughing about the disapproving looks we got from all the middle-aged people with their RVs.  Ben and I went to bed satisfied but tired, happy that we had been able to talk with another young traveler.


3 / 40

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Sarah Makes the List

I few days ago, I shared my opening thoughts on my list of authors that I wish I could meet.  In that post, I explained that I was a little wishy-washy about putting Sarah Dessen on my list.  On the one hand, her novels can be a bit formulaic.  On the other hand, I love how all her novels interlace, and I love everything I have read on her blog and her Twitter, and I basically want to hang out with her.

Then yesterday, she posted this amazing chain of tweets that sent my admiration for her through the roof.  I'm copying and pasting them here, in the order in which she posted them.









Wow.  Just wow.  I cannot imagine writing an entire novel and then having the strength to look at it and admit to myself, "This is no good."  And just put it aside.  Add to that the pressure that she is an established writer and probably has tons of fans saying, "When's your next novel coming out?" and an editor going, "Where's the next chapter?" and all kinds of internal pressure to perform.  I so admire the strength to decide that she'd rather not create anything at all than to put something out there that's not up to her personal standards.  Especially when she feared that this might mean that she was done, that she might not write again.... and then, eventually, finding the personal strength to start over again in spite of the fear she must have felt.

So yes, I most definitely admire Sarah Dessen.  She is 100% on my list.