Blackberry Jelly

There is a segment on PBS Kids where Ms. Rosa take the kids to a grocery store, they ask “where does all this food come from?”  The segment continues with the stocker showing them that it “comes from the back room”.  That makes me sad…maybe in a small sense it does..but food comes from a farm, a plant in the ground, or an animal, from God’s resources.  Food isn’t a complex out of reach item you have to go buy from a big concrete store.  I am a afraid we are raising a generation of kid who have no idea where food comes from!  As parents, grandparents, caretakers we need to teach kids…I dont think we all have to have a huge garden and can everything…but visit a farmers market, go to a pick your own orchard, grow a tomato or squash plant.    Learn, have fun….

This week we picked blackberries from our own patch and Isaac was big enough to help make jelly.  I did the super hot parts (filling jars and water bathing them).  Look for his very own jars at the fair!

My boys know that blackberries start out as white blooms on the thorny bushes, then grow into green, then pink, then black berries.  They then learned you wash ’em, cook ’em, mush ’em, strain ’em, and add a lot of sugar…and you get jelly.  Its really quite simple…and not much  beats a toast with still warm jelly from berries that had dew on them a few hours before.  Only thing better would have been homemade bread and homemade butter…but thats a post for another day..I AM a mom of 3 boys afterall… 🙂

 

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Dutch Oven Spaghetti and Chocolate Chip Cookie

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This past year we decided to join a Dutch Oven cooking club.  Which means once a month we meet and cook meals in our ovens and eat way too much good food.  Its a great family event for us and we (and the boys) learn a useful skill…knowing how to cook using cast iron ovens over a fire/coals.  I’m going to start blogging about our creations and our recipes.

This past weekend Klay had his quarterly Search and Rescue field training.  And since we try to incorporate our whole family into our activities me and boys cooked in the Dutch Oven for the team.  Well…I cooked and boys roasted marshmellows, played in the dirt, and took rides in the wagon.

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On the menu for the day was spaghetti and chocolate chip cookie.

This one pot method for spaghetti has become my very favorite.  For indoors and out!  It is also very verstaile.  Ive made it with lots of seasonal veggies as well as the more traditional meat and sauce version.

To make it I cooked a pound of italian sausage along with some minced garlic in my 14 inch dutch oven.  Nothing technical about the heat here, just browning up the meat.

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Once the meat was cooked I added a big can of crushed tomatoes, a big can of tomato sauce, and my spaghetti seasonings.  I wish I could tell you a teaspoon of this and that but I cant.  I just added a bunch of Italian Seasoning, Oregano, and some salt.  Then tasted it…then added some more.  Just use your best recipe.  Or even jarred sauce.  I then added a box of beef broth.  Just make it really soupy, you can add more along if needed.

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Then I bring it to a simmer.  Once its good and hot add angel hair spaghetti.  Or any noodle, but a good fine noodle cooks good without becoming gummy and starchy.  I break them in half as I add them.  I used one box.  Give it a good stir.  Put the lid on with a few coals on the lid.  Again, nothing super technical with the heat, just want it simmering enough to cook the noodles.  If it starts looking too dry before noodles get done add some more broth or water.

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I think this dish was a hit.  They scraped the pot clean!

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I have a family of chocaholics.  There are so many yummy fruit cobblers out there for the Dutch Oven, my family doesnt like them much.  So I needed a chocolate option.  What could be better than a big, hot, gooey chocolate chip cookie?  Not much…just some ice cream on top!

There is no fancy Dutch Oven recipe for this.  I just took my favorite cookie recipe and put it in my smaller 10 inch Dutch Oven.  The 12 inch works good too, I like to keep it thin so a regular cookie recipe will make two.  Rather than cook two separate cookings I did one in my 10 and one in my 12.  I tried doubling and cooking in the bigger oven for a big crowd and it just didnt work well at all.  It burnt, I was embarrassed because it worked SO well every other time I tried it.  It might work well in one big pan but I suggest just doing two small ones.

I mixed up my favorite basic cookie recipe.  Then I spread it in the pan.  I highly suggest lining your oven for this recipe.  Either use the liners or aluminum foil.  Otherwise, the cookie will just be too hard to get out. I topped mine with chocolate chips because it makes the kids smile!

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I’m sure there is a special formula for number of coals to temp etc.  I just do a few on bottom, a few on top, and watch it closely to see if its burning or cooking unevenly.  If I see one spot cooking faster I just try to rotate it frequently.  Take it off as cooking is just starting to brown.

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And this is why you need to line this.  Just lift cookie out straight to a plate and cut and serve!  You will not be disappointed.

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I think they really enjoyed coming in from training to a hot meal.  And it gave me and boys a way to be involved.  They have already put in their requests f0r next quarter’s training….dumplings has been requested…might have to give that a go.

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End of our first “Summer Break”

 

So schools been back in for a few weeks now.  We’re starting to fall into routine.  Days are getting shorter, that breeze is a little cooler, the leaves are starting to rustle…school is back in, summer is over, I’m starting to want to make all things pumpkin.

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Summer break went well, it wasnt the scrapbook-esque vision I had in mind in May, but we had some lovely moments.  We had some not so lovely moments too, but lets not blog about all those.  We only want the highlights reel online right?  

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We did summer reading program, we happily turned in our reading log with our 15 books, which paled in comparison to the kids with hundreds of books..but we enjoyed ourselves, enjoyed the programs.  Had a good time, read a few books, saw a few great presentations.  Magic show, mad scientist, Kindermusic, made straw rockets and launched them, saw some cool science experiments.

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We did some gardening…we picked beans, we canned beans.  We picked and shucked a LOT of corn.  We did tomatoes.  We picked and put up blackberries.  We fried and froze okra.  We ate and pickled squash.  We shelled and canned beans and peas.  We let the laundry and toys pile up while we worked on the garden stuff.  We got stressed over the mess, but we got through.

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We had VBS at church.  We learned about some weird animals.  We’re still singing the songs.  Right after VBS we went right into birthday parties…all 3 of them, not including the mini parties to make their days special.  Right after birthday parties, while still amid the mess of wrapping paper and rearranged furniture we went right into getting ready for school. 

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Now, schools in.  Its September.  We’re having math tests and spelling words and reading homework.  We’re starting preschool at home with James.  

All in all summer was good.  I wish we would have worked on more “stay in practice” work.  I wish we would have had less stare at the TV days.  I wish we would have played outside more.  But life is life, schedules and plans are made to be broken.  Now we’ll focus on doing our best in first grade and enjoying the fall…I forsee apple picking, pumpkin patch, hiking trips, Dutch Oven cooking, and days that Im not going to blog about thrown in there too.  😉 

Little Monster First Birthday Party

 Sorry a little late on this post, things have been crazy the past couple months as we wrapped up summer, birthdays, and started back to school.

Littlest boy turned one on July 22.  With the help of Pinterest for a few ideas we threw him a Little Monster first birthday party.  We do first birthdays with a family meal so we had a cookout.

For invitations I printed the information on a half of a piece of green cardstock.  I suppose any color could be used.  Our tag line was “our little monster is turning one come have some cake and join the fun”.  I then folded in half and glue different size and combo of googly eyes on the front, then drew  a simple mouth.  Each invitation was a little different.  Sorry I neglected to get a good pic.  But I think the concept is pretty simple.  

For decorations I carried out the googly eye theme.  I did a monster banner with different colors of card stock, googly eyes, and glued triangles onto a strip of ribbon.

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We also picked up a package of balloon animals and thanks to instructions and YouTube Daddy made a few creations, including a one eyed monsters, pretty much like the guy from Monsters Inc.

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Cake was “contracted out” because I didnt want the mess or hassle.  We have a great cake lady who is very very reasonable so I just tell her what I need.  VERY worth it for me.  I do enjoy dabbling in some cake decorating but  I also enjoy removing any stressor and mess from my kitchen!  I sent her an inspiration idea for cupcakes and then picked up our two dozen monsters.  Very pleased.

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Food was simple.  And made as much “ahead” as I could manage.  We had burgers, potato salad, and baked beans (in crockpot) which took a lot of the stress off of me and I could focus on cleaning, decorating, and enjoying his special day.  I didnt go too overboard with cute food, even though I saw some neat ideas.  I did give potato salad a face…

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Of course, can’t forget the birthday boy.  I made him a super cute first birthday shirt to go with his special day.  Not much of a tutorial or explanation for it.  Just cut out a number one, had my mother in law embroider his name on it for me.  Then I never found the right mouth to embroider and ironing on didnt work so we just painted it.  It worked surprisingly well.   Added some button eyes.  And appliqued them on.  MUCH easier than the Lego people from my earlier post.  (I’m not an applique fan!)

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All in all I think the party was pretty successful.  He had cake, got gifts, and was celebrated.  Now he is one.  Next year, I think I’m doing one big party for all three boys.  Theme still to be decided but I figure I have time right?

Lego Party

We recently had the boys birthday party in a Lego theme.  After months of browsing Pinterest, here is how we put ours together.

First of all, I wanted the boys to have custom shirts.  Being a DIYer…I made them.   I found a pattern online for the pieces and appliquéd them on.  I had my mother in law embroidery the features, number on the lego man, and their names.  It was a relatively easy project, just a bit “fussy” and Im not an appliqué fan but I was pleased with the results.   Boys loved them.

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For invitations,  I printed info on cardstock and drew 6 circles on outside.   Im sure you could be fancier but it worked and kids got the idea. (Thought I took a pic…oh well…)

For decorations….
I used Lego colors for all the tablecovers.   I found a “lego bump” template online which I printed on various colors and then cut to various sizes, I placed them in clusters on tables and wall. 

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I used clear jelly jars filled with Duplos to weigh down balloons.(see later pic)   I printed a Lego man outline on yellow paper for signs for gift table labels.

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For games…
We played Guess How Many Legos in the jar.

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We had color a lego person (which was a flop, no one cared lol)

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And we had Legos and Duplos for free play.

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For food….
I had mini sandwiches made on rolls.  Chips.  Veggie tray.  And water and juice boxes,  I found a juice box template online I just printed and wrapped around boxes.  For water I printed a face on yellow and cut to fit.

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And cake….I sent our beloved cake lady some ideas and a box of Legos and we got this amazing creation.

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For part favors, which I forgot to photograph,  we bought a bulk bag of mixed Legos online and sent each kid home with a little baggie. 

We had a great party.  It was done pretty frugally,  Legos were biggest expense,  but we considered it part of their gifts.  I had fun planning…next year….maybe superheroes…

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Dear James

Dear James,
 Today you are three!  I forget sometimes that you are still just a little boy, you are so independent and grown up sometimes.  You’ve always been one to make your mark and make yourself known.  You even tried to steal Isaac’s birthday!  However, when that didnt work you made your own excitement, you were supposed to stay put and I was supposed to enjoy my leisurely 12 week hospital stay, instead on day three you caused all kinds of excitement and sent mommy into emergency surgery.

I was strangely not all that scared to welcome you at 25 weeks and 2lb2oz.  I had done this “NICU thing” before, we could handle it, you’d be okay.  We knew God was holding your hand.  And He truly was.  You still amaze everyone that you had ZERO issues, just a few “normal” things.  You needed NO therapy at all.  And you are SO smart.  But I’m not surprised, I knew all along what a miracle you were.  You see, we’re used to miracles in this family.  You were conceived after two miscarriages, even though I miss those babies I never knew, they were watching over you and sent me you.

Sometimes as the middle child you get forgotten.  But you are such vivacious child you could never be truly forgotten.  You had to become a big brother before you were two, but you can handle it. The phrase “thats just James” is spoken often in our house.  You are the one with the bumps, the bruises, the “troublemaker” as Isaac says.

You are my farm boy.  You’d drive the tractor and feed the cows all day long.  Your older brother would just rather design the automation to do it for him.  I’m so proud of you, I cant wait to see what you become.  As you turn three, please remember you are still mama’s little boy and give me a few snuggles here and there OK?

Happy Birthday My Jamesy Boy, my James David, mama loves you bunches and bunches.

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Dear Isaac…

Dear Isaac,
Today you turn 6!  I need two hands to show your age now.  When did you get so big on me?!

You are our oldest.  Our first miracle.  You taught us so much. You’ve always had your own plans in life.  And as exasperating as that is sometimes I hope you continue marching to your own drum. Your traits that frustrate me most sometimes will one day be your greatest strength.

You came into this world defying odds.  Babies your size dont always come out screaming and as full of life as you did.  All 2lb 14oz of you.  I didnt know then how scared I should have been, all I knew was that I was finally a mama.  I spent your first day of life missing you terribly.  You were two weeks old before I held you. But I loved you from the first moment.  You were so handsome and tiny.  I didnt care about the tubes and wires, just that you looked a little like me, but were tall like your Daddy.   We were a family of three.

They day you came home was an amazing day!  63 days you were away from us.  I was so happy to have you home with us.  It was a little scary but we got by.  You made me and your Daddy grow up.  We had to be the adults.  You taught us that.

Today you are about to start first grade.  You are so smart, way smarter than you show people even.  You are so full of life.  And a whole lot stubborn, but I figure stubborn is what got you through the NICU and through a lot of life’s trials.

Being the oldest sometimes you have to share a lot of things. Sometimes you get “forgotten” when your brothers cause trouble.  But know you are never forgotten, and you are loved just as much.  You are special.  You are the oldest which has a big role, you have to set an example.  Its tough, I know, I’m the oldest, but you can handle it.  You can handle anything.

Happy Birthday, Isaac Terry, my big boy, my first baby.  Mama loves you a whole lot.

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