Potato-Broccoli Soup

I asked for help with vegetarian recipes for Lent (we’re not going vegetarian all the way, but I’m trying to learn more meatless recipes that our whole family can enjoy) and got a bunch of great recipes from friends on Facebook. I wanted to share one of our favorite vegetarian recipes, and it seemed easier to type it up here and then post the link than to put the whole recipe in Facebook. The recipe is originally from the Baltimore Sun (and originally called for chicken bouillon cubes and water instead of veggie broth–I’ll use either chicken broth or vegetable broth if I don’t care that the soup is vegetarian). As you’ll see below, you can do a lot of fudging on amounts.

Ingredients:

  • 1-2 Tablespoons butter (or you could use olive oil)
  • ~1 cup chopped onions (Since my kids aren’t big onion fans, I put in just enough for flavor–usually about half of a medium onion.)
  • ~2 pounds diced potatoes (I don’t peel them, but you can. You can also adjust the amount of potatoes pretty easily to make a little more soup.)
  • 3-4 cups vegetable broth (enough that all the potatoes will be covered easily)
  • 12 oz. frozen broccoli or about 2 big heads fresh broccoli (more or less as desired)
  • 1 1/2 to 2 cups shredded Cheddar cheese
  • Salt and pepper to taste (grocery store broths are usually pretty salty, and there’s the cheese, but the potatoes do suck up a lot of salt, so taste before serving.)

Instructions:

  1. If the broccoli is not frozen, cut it up and cook it in the microwave or in a steamer until just done. It will get cooked a little more in the soup at the end, but you want it to be not crunchy before you put it in the soup.
  2. Melt the butter in a soup pot (non-stick is what I prefer, especially with the potatoes and cheese) over medium heat. Add onion and sauté about 5 minutes or until the onion is translucent.
  3. Add the potatoes and broth, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover, and cook until potatoes are just tender, 15-20 minutes.
  4. Remove 1 to 1 1/2 cups potato cubes with a slotted spoon and set aside. Blend the rest of the soup together until smooth with an immersion blender. (You can also transfer to a regular blender or food processor, but this would not be one of my favorite soups if I had to do that regularly.)
  5. Mix in reserved potatoes and broccoli, reheat over medium-low to medium.
  6. Add cheese in and stir until cheese is completely melted. Season with salt and pepper.
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Back, for one night only…

I hope it won’t actually be one night only, but it probably will be one night for a good while.

Recent life events (since March):

  • Took a family summer road trip to St. Louis, Chicago, and Holland, MI.
  • Got a job (this is kind of the main one) as a school library media specialist in Harford County
  • Learned how to return to being a two-working-parent family.

Blogging has gone by the wayside, and that’s actually been a conscious decision that I’m pretty happy with. But I don’t want to completely slam the door on it (not least because I want to find a way to incorporate more online communication tools at work), and I’ve wanted to add a post for a few days.

Here are some thoughts that have occupied me recently:

  • Discerning which tasks at work and at home are actually the most important and starting with those.
    • As an aside, I’m really happy with my laundry management system, adapted from one I heard about from Holly Dvorak at controlmyspin.com. She suggests doing one load of laundry each day from start to finish (instead of having “laundry day”). Given our schedule, I try to do a load from middle to middle (I have the kids put away clothes, fold clothes from the dryer, start another load, and get that load in the dryer before bed), and that has worked very well.
  • Worrying about violence and injustice in our state and around the world. And what a Christian response might look like.
  • Trying to keep reading (not easy).
  • Trying to keep having fun with my kids.
  • Trying to keep everyone fed.

It’s been a pretty narrow focus, but good overall. Before I go, here are some books I’ve enjoyed this summer and fall (you’ll notice fewer picture books this time around):

The MartianThe Martian by Andy Weir

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I LOVED this one. It was so fast-paced, and yet Weir explained enough of the science (or at least, the possible science) to make it believable and understandable. Mark Watney is a great character; I found myself laughing out loud even while he was trying to solve life-and-death problems. And I’m excited that they are making a movie!
Last Stop on Market StreetLast Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Pena

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I really liked this one. The illustration style reminds me of The Snowy Day, and it was just a nice story about a boy riding the bus with his Grandmother, and learning about why they do things the way they do…and learning to enjoy them. Plus, knitting!
Stolen Magic (Kat, Incorrigible, #3)Stolen Magic by Stephanie Burgis

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Loved, loved, loved this last book of the Kat, Incorrigible trilogy. I did get a little tired with Kat always thinking she has everything figured out and acting before thinking, but I finally realized I couldn’t always trust her judgments and, after all, she’s only 13. Still lots of fun to see the manners-driven Regency period with magic overlaid. And I always love Kat’s interactions with her family.
Mars EvacueesMars Evacuees by Sophia McDougall

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If you like sci-fi at all, this book is absolutely fabulous. In many ways, it’s pure space opera for kids, complete with explosions and interplanetary travel. But it’s definitely got parts that touch on deeper subjects, including the nature of war, understanding “others,” and what makes people into friends. I also love the many funny parts (the robot Goldfish teacher who will not be deterred from its mission is a particular favorite) and that the kids are so obviously kids, not miniature adults. I loved it.

P.S. There is a good amount of cursing (mild, in the grand scheme, but not stuff I’d want my kids saying), so I’d keep this for 4th or 5th grade and up.
Skulduggery Pleasant (Skulduggery Pleasant, #1)Skulduggery Pleasant by Derek Landy

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

HILARIOUS. Also quite scary in some parts, at least for those like me who aren’t up for very scary stories. Skulduggery Pleasant is a walking skeleton (he wasn’t always like that) detective, who teams up with Irish twelve-year-old Stephanie Edgeley to prevent the end of the world. He’s got a dry sense of humor, an overinflated ego, and a strong sense of duty. Stephanie is stubborn, troublesome, and insightful. They make a cracker-jack team. The audiobook was pure pleasure to listen to.
Greenglass HouseGreenglass House by Kate Milford

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I think this is my favorite (so far) of this year’s Black-Eyed Susan crop. It has a cozy atmosphere, but there’s plenty of intrigue to keep the plot moving, and gamers will enjoy the large role that a role-playing game plays. Milo and his parents run an inn in a town known for smugglers (they have regular “runners” who stay there), but a whole host of strangers show up just as the Pine family is preparing for their usual Christmas lull. Milo and a new friend, Meddy, decide to figure out what everyone’s up to, aided by their newly created gaming personas. There’s a twist I certainly didn’t seem coming, but I’m sure many other readers will.
The Boy on the Wooden BoxThe Boy on the Wooden Box by Leon Leyson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Listened to this as one of our Black Eyed Susans for the year. What I felt set this particular Holocaust memoir apart was the large amount of reflection that Leyson incorporated at every step of his story. He would tell us what he felt but also what was causing that feeling, or why it might seem strange to today’s readers. He also gave a helpful accounting of why more Jews didn’t flee Europe (they were basing their actions on recollections from WWI; many of them had no resources with which to leave).
The Princess in Black and the Perfect Princess Party (The Princess in Black, #2)The Princess in Black and the Perfect Princess Party by Shannon Hale

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This arrived just in time for our Halloween Princess in Black to grab it off the library shelf. We all loved it. The kids especially loved that, with more monsters to fight (poor Princess Magnolia’s monster alarm keeps going off during her birthday party), there were more princess-y fight scenes to read at the top of their lungs. I think they also liked the other princesses’ names. For those interested, Ms. Hale posted an epilogue that had to get cut from the final edit on her blog: http://oinks.squeetus.com/2015/10/bon….

View all my reviews

Well, that’s all for now, folks.

 

Advent 2014

I have obviously not kept up very well with blogging this fall. While we as a family seem to be getting acclimated to our new home and life, I have found myself still feeling very much in transition. That’s why I am so happy that it is now Advent. I have known that Advent starts the new church year for quite awhile, but this year, I am especially eager to start a new year. I need the chance to refocus my thoughts away from the transition of the last year and on to what good things are yet to come.

One of the challenges I keep facing over and over is “not getting enough done” as a stay at home mom. The days fly by, and it seems like my to-do list at best stays the same length and at worst gets longer. I also find myself focusing too much on the to-do list and not enough on time with the kids, or even concentrating on whatever task I am currently working at. So to get ready for this Advent, I went ahead and made a huge, multi-page to-do list for the next year or so. I divided up the things I wanted to get done into categories (for example, crafts I wanted to make, household chores that needed to get done) and then I tried to choose just a few of the major things to focus on right now: celebrating Advent/getting ready for Christmas, and trying to complete “moving into” our new house. These are two fairly large items, and there are of course other small things that have cropped up and will continue to do so, but I’m hopeful that by focusing on a few things, I can feel less adrift and frenzied. I’m also hoping that this approach will help me to look at the different seasons in the year and in life, and recognize what tasks are appropriate to focus on in this season–and which ones to drop for now.

I do hope to get back into blogging, but right now, that’s not one of my top priorities, so I’m going to limit it to book posts for now. In the meantime, I will be trying to enjoy and do the work of this Advent season.

And now it’s August

We have moved.

I knew blogging would get short-changed during the move, but I didn’t quite anticipate how long it would take to feel settled enough to pick it up again. One post that I still must write is my official good-bye to Durham. There is so much that I love about that city, from living there 8 years (not long in the grand scheme, but a quarter of my life so far, and more than half of my adult life), plus having all of our kids born there, and I want to sum up some of that. But in the meantime, I want to share some of the good things we’ve found in our new home: Forest Hill, Maryland.

So, without further ado, and in no particular order, 10 great things about Forest Hill, MD:

1. Centre United Methodist Church.

Ok, I kind of have to put that (it’s why we are here, after all), but it’s also true. We’ve been very warmly welcomed into the congregation here and are starting to find our way in our new church home.

2. About the best blend of rural and urban that suburbia could hope for.

We can see horses from the back of the church, there is a big farm field on the way to church, and a beautiful state park is just a few miles up the road. It only takes a few minutes of driving to feel very much out in the country. But drive a few minutes the other way, and we’re in downtown Bel Air, with both a charming main street and big box suburban strip right around the corner. We haven’t actually gone into Baltimore yet, but we could get to most parts of the city in under an hour. It’s a pretty nice combination of worlds.

3. The post office.

Seriously, the Forest Hill post office is one of the friendliest and easily THE most efficient post office I’ve ever been in.

4. Multiple ice cream options.

We’ve got Wilson’s Corner down the street (the kids’ favorite for the small merry-go-round that is also there…and at 50 cents, it’s the best value ride I’ve come across recently), Broom’s Bloom over in Bel Air (local creamery that also has some lunch options we want to try out sometime), and the Ice Cream Hut next to our grocery store…and those are just the ones we’ve gotten around to trying.

5. The parks

We have a great park with a playground right down the street, and Rocks State Park just a little bit further. We’ve also played at several larger playgrounds nearby, despite some misadventures (a wasp sting at one, and the sheer size of the other one). We are still finding our footing here, but there is no doubt that there are great parks around.

Rocks State Park. There is a better view if you go further out, but it's a pretty steep drop, and I had all three kids along. Nope.

Rocks State Park. There is a better view if you go further out, but it’s a pretty steep drop, and I had all three kids along. Nope.

Another view at Rocks.

Another view at Rocks.

6. Produce options.

As with ice cream, and because of the near-rural location, we have lots of farm options for produce. We haven’t signed up for any CSA’s yet (and I think at this point, we will probably hold off until next spring), but there are several produce stands and farms that sell their produce a short drive from our neighborhood. Additionally, the Bel Air Farmer’s Market is great–we just have to stop forgetting that it closes at 11 AM, not noon!

7. Fun day trips.

We’ve just barely scratched the surface on this so far, but we are in a good location for some nice day trips. We spent one Friday going up to Lancaster County and riding on the Strasburg Railroad. There are lots of places in Baltimore I’d like to check out, and even DC isn’t too far if we plan correctly. We’ve also had friends tells us that we can do day trips to the beach, which we’ll have to try out at some point.

8. Seeing old friends.

Speaking of friends, we’ve gotten to see several friends from college, and I got to have dinner with a childhood family friend and her husband (hosted graciously by my sister!) before they head out to Utah for a postdoc opportunity. We’ve also had several NC friends visit, which reminds me that it’s good to have friends all over!

9. Proximity to the water.

We don’t have a boat and I’m not a big seafood eater. But it’s still fun to be back in a part of the country where you are never very far from the water. The kids and I have gone down to the Anita C. Leight Estuary Center, and Mark and I spent our anniversary going out to Havre de Grace. We’ve all goggled at the Conowingo Dam when driving up to Cecil County. I’m sure the longer we are here, the more we’ll find to enjoy about living so close to the Chesapeake Bay again.

At the estuary center.

At the estuary center.

The lighthouse at Havre de Grace.

The lighthouse at Havre de Grace.

10. Proximity to family.

We knew when we moved that this was going to be one of the high points of coming back to Maryland, and it is. We’ve already benefitted from several day trips down to visit family and several instances of family visiting us. All of our parents came to church for our first Sunday, we’ve gone to a Nationals’ game with my sister, the guys took both grandpas to an Ironbirds’ game, and our three-year-old’s birthday party was as packed as any we’ve had–all family members. Having our families nearby definitely helps make it feel like we’ve come “home.”

Now that we are starting to put down new roots, I hope to get back to blogging more regularly, so stay tuned…

P.S. I’ve reached 100 posts!

Spring Cleaning

My generally feeling about spring cleaning is that it’s a good idea, in theory. I mean, Laura Ingalls Wilder’s family did spring and fall cleaning every year, and they always lived in “little houses,” so if their houses needed it, mine probably do, too.

I have, however, yet to actually complete spring cleaning of an entire house. We are kind of close this year…the main part of the house is uncluttered and about as clean as it’s ever been, but we’ve kind of cheated by shoving lots of stuff out to the garage and getting new carpet and paint to help the house sell. I’m enjoying the feeling of a clean house in the meantime, knowing it will not last and is unlikely to be duplicated in the near future.

But today, I did a different kind of spring cleaning: cleaning out the freezer to prepare for the return of the CSA box next week!! Since we never eat all of our produce on a given week, I tend to cook and freeze lots of it, and I wanted to start off with a (relatively) clean freezer, plus a better knowledge of what food we already had.

Here’s what I threw out (and I am quite proud that this list is not longer):

  • lots of ends of bread loaves (both good bread from the bakery and not so good from the grocery store) that never made it into bread pudding or breadcrumbs
  • lasagna sauce from June 2013
  • pizza sauce from September 2013
  • grease from the grease pot, which was already slated to be thrown out but just hadn’t gotten there yet
  • shredded zucchini from August 2013
  • 1 quart bag of cooked kale from May 2013
  • a can of orange juice that said “best before May 2012”

On my “need to use soon” list:

  • 2 kinds of chorizo
  • 1 quart bag of collards from November 2013 (I’m giving myself a 6 month grace period on food in the freezer, and the collards and chorizo is all going into Mexican beans and greens this week)
  • Cheese and pasta casserole, also from November  (we ate it tonight, and so far everyone seems healthy)
  • 2 pie crusts from December 2013
  • Ham and green bean casserole from January 2014
  • Navy beans from February 2014
  • Frozen raspberries from who-knows-when, but they still look ok
  • Frozen cookie dough that my mom brought down in February, so I assume they still have some good freezer life in them

And finally, on my “need to use, but less urgently” list:

  • Duck stock from January 2014 (at least 5 or 6 cups, but it’s easy to use a lot of stock in a few dishes)
  • Pancake mix leftover from March’s pancake supper at church
  • Frozen green beans (from the store, not the farm share)
  • Frozen broccoli (ditto)
  • Pork chops
  • Pork roast
  • Bread bought in the last week and put in the freezer to last longer
  • Girl Scout cookies bought in February
  • Frozen macaroni and cheese (also from my mom)
  • Ice cream bought in the last month
  • Granola made last week
  • Ground beef bought last week

We’ve got some eating ahead of us, but I think we are ready to start the next growing season…next up to tackle is the random ingredients in the fridge and pantry that I don’t want to move to Maryland with us!

Do you have tips for saving/using up food?

Mind Games with the Clutterbug

We have a good bit of clutter in our house. A lot of it is semi-controlled: We have a box in the front hall where most of the shoes land as we come in the door, and another for corralling scarves, mittens, hats, etc. (actually being used this winter!). Almost all of the kids’ clothes that are in their dressers fit them at this time, even if they are shoved into the drawers haphazardly.

There’s lots of clutter that’s not really controlled at all: The toys spend a good deal of time strewn around the floor no matter how many different ways I try to organize them in easy-to-put-away systems. Our art supplies (especially the coloring books) are threatening to take over the house and need to be weeded. And don’t even get me started on our bookshelves.

All of this, though, I manage to live with without too much stress. I organize a little when I have time, inclination, and a reasonable idea about how to proceed. Otherwise, I live with the clutter. Toys are just going to be out because they are there to be played with, not to sit in their bins. My husband and I can usually find the books we want if we look carefully enough. Life creates clutter, and that’s that.

The clutter that I seem to have the most trouble with, though, is clutter I don’t even see on a regular basis. It’s the things that I’ve saved for one reason or another, they build up, and I only notice them when I need to add to their ranks…birthday cards, music programs, car maintenance paperwork, etc. There’s no reason why this stuff should bug me as much as it does. Life creates clutter. I go through it when I can. It clutters up more. The cycle continues.

I think I feel like it’s hanging over me because some of it has been around for so long…I have at least a few letters from elementary school and all my dance recital programs starting from 1st grade. Another contributor to the stress may be the impending possibility of moving this summer…we still won’t know for a while yet, but we are slowly starting to get things ready to move, and that brings the clutter to the forefront. I’m sure another reason is because I like to organize, but I don’t seem to have the knack for it that others do…just like my Pinterest board (that I don’t remember how to log into) will never have more than about 10 pins, I’m never going to have my house perfectly organized.

Whatever the reason, I’m trying to stop stressing out about it now. Life creates clutter. Yes, it sometimes needs to be pruned, corralled, and kept in line. But it’s not worth spending my mental energy on worrying about the clutter instead of the things that make life life. Playing and reading with my kids. Hanging out with my husband. Reading and writing and knitting. Doing the daily chores that make the household work. Baking a special dessert. Writing letters to friends.

Yes, the file cabinet and the boxes of cards will stay on my “to-do” radar. But I’m saying no to trying to have or keep everything in perfect order. There’s too much other life to live.

SAH Sanity Tip #7: Mr. Clean Magic Eraser

Our new year (well, the real new year, when we all returned to real life on Monday morning) got off to a rocky start two weeks ago when I walked into the girls’ room and found they had colored all over their wall.

With magnets.

Who knew you could color with magnets? I certainly didn’t, although I should have suspected that anything can be a writing implement when my older daughter used a barrette to color on the same wall about a year ago.

Oh yes, and this was the wall my dad came down and painted this fall because of aforementioned barrette coloring incident. So I was not too happy. I’m actually very proud that the first thing I did was walk away.

Anyway, I luckily remembered that we had some Mr. Clean Magic Erasers (and I’m not trying to sell a product, I promise–when I went to the store to replace our used erasers, I found a Food Lion brand version, so I’ve bought both and will in the future see if there’s any difference) that I mostly used when spiffing up our old house for sale/rental. I got one out and, with the girls’ “help,” cleaned up the wall.

It seems to have worked just like it should (no paint fading in this case, although I had already decided I didn’t care–we were going to have to repaint the wall if the eraser didn’t work, anyway), and I got a good story to tell all the grandparents over the next week.

I also know that if my daughters are caught without the usual lines of communication open, they will somehow get a message through.