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Saturday, July 26, 2014

Reunion Time! Picture It

Much more to follow, but we are slightly busy visiting Jules and the whole family in New Hampshire! Here are some pics of the fun so far!

Hotel fun!

Lake fun!

Mountain fun!

Easy Rule #2351: Getting away on a family vacation is worth any packing or travelling stress when you see the smiles on kids faces!

Monday, July 21, 2014

Cooking Contest Part 6-- All tied up

Jules here-

After the French Toast and the Burger Round-Up-- I thought that I had this contest in the bag... well, I was wrong.  Don took top honors during our Kid's Fun Snack category.  The kids cast the deciding votes in this competition, so we had to truly cater to the younger set.  Don created a tasty beach scene for the kids to indulge in pudding, teddy grahams, and even a gummy life savor:

Beach Pudding

2 packs of pudding mix (he used chocolate & butterscotch)
Blue icing (for the water)
Crushed graham(crackers for the beach)
Teddy Grahams
Gummy life-savers
Cocktail umbrellas
I chose a slightly healthier route which did not serve me well in the competition as kids naturally will choose chocolate over anything else.  I used the recipe for "sparkly grapes" to create little caterpillars with frozen yogurt blueberry "flowers":
Sparkly Grapes
1 box watermelon jello powder
1 box lemon jello powder. 

After washing grapes, dry them until they are damp dry. Sprinkle or toss with a blend of both watermelon & lemon jello powder.  The grapes will be lightly dusted creating a a "sparkly" look.  They taste a bit like sour patch kid.  

Yogurt Flower
Yogurt (any flavor)

Coat each blueberry in yogurt and shape into little clusters of "flowers".  Freeze on wax paper for 45 minutes. 

As for the caterpillar eyes-- I simple stuck a mini chocolate chip to the bottom of a white chocolate chip-- YUM!  Add some pretzel stick legs-- and you've got a creature!

The kids were obviously thrilled with this contest, and though I lost- I got to eat some yummy, silly snacks. Plus, Don made it up to me by cooking my FAVORITE Don-dinner later that night.  The one reason we will never have a "pizza" contest is that I know he would crush me with this recipe:

Roasted Garlic and Baby Shrimp Pizza
Roasting garlic
Take the number of garlic cloves you want to roast and place them in aluminum foil.
You can buy garlic that is already pealed at the store. This saves time.
Coat the garlic with Olive Oil and then add Sea Salt.
Close up the foil and place it in the oven for 1 hour at 425 degrees.
Once the garlic has finished roasting, remove it from the oven and let cool.

For the pizza
Roll out the dough (store-bought or homemade)  to your desired size and place it on a pizza tray or baking tray.
Strategically place the shrimp on the dough.
Roughly chop the roasted garlic and place it on the dough.
Chop fresh basil then spread it on the dough with the shrimp and garlic.
Use the olive oil from the aluminum (that was used to roast the garlic) and drizzle it over the pizza.
Add more olive oil if needed.
Lastly, top with shredded pizza cheese (not too much though).
Place in oven for 10-15 minutes at 450 degrees.

So super delicious-- I could eat the whole thing.  Seriously.

For those of you keeping score:
Don has won: Appetizer, Main-dish Chicken, Kid's Snack. (Total: 3 wins)
Jules has won: Soup, Breakfast: French Toast, and Burgers (Total: 3 wins)

Easy Rule #5342- With cooking contests, everybody wins-- because you get to eat.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Top Ten Ground Meat Dinners

Jules here-

Now that we are all done celebrating Em's FANTASTIC news.... let's get back to what's really important: food.  One of my friends, who will not be mentioned, may be a tad challenged in the "every day meals" department.  She called asking if I could shoot her an email with my favorite, easy, and delicious meals for my family.  Instead, I plan on writing a blog post series on different categories of my favorite go-to meals.

When I head to the grocery store, my meal planning is based on the meat (or fish) that is on sale that week.  If it is less than $1.99 a pound... we're pretty much eating it.  Some of the meals I shall mention are quite obvious, but it's always good to have a quick reference list of things you can do with a certain cut/style of meat.  So this post will focus on: The top ten GROUND meat meals (most recipes can use ground beef, turkey or pork depending on how picky your family is...):

10.  Chili
Typically I don't make Chili in the summer, but it is a fantastic fall & winter dish that is easily freezable and the leftovers last days.  I like to eat chili dogs and even make some yummy corn bread on the side.  I make mine with ground turkey typically and I have also made it on the stove as well as the crockpot.  Here's my go-to recipe:

Julia's Healthful Turkey Chili

  • 1 1/2# (about) ground turkey
  • 2 cans red kidney beans, drained
  • 1 can black beans, drained
  • 1 chopped onion
  • 2 chopped green/red pepper
  • 2 cans ro-tel tomatoes with chili peppers (mild) undrained
  • 1 can diced tomatoes, plain, undrained
  • 2 TBS chili powder
  • 1 tsp each: oregano, garlic salt, and basil
  • Cheddar Cheese/Hot dogs: optional


1. Brown ground turkey with 1/2 cup of chopped onion. Drain.
2. Place all ingredients into crock pot, stirring initially.
3. Cook on low for 5-6 hours or high for 2-3 hours.
4. Serve in crocks with melted cheddar on top

9. Enchiladas
 I love Mexican food, and anything that can use ground meat AND leftover rice works for me too.  This recipe is easy to double and freeze. Great to give away as a "new baby" dinner for family too!

Cheddar *Turkey* Enchiladas
 Cheddar *Turkey* Enchiladas photo
  • 1 pound ground turkey (or beef, but I prefer turkey)
  • 1 (1.25 ounce) package taco seasoning
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 cups cooked rice (I use brown)
  • 1 (16 ounce) can refried beans
  • 2 cups shredded Cheddar cheese, divided
  • 10 (8 inch) (whole wheat works great) flour tortillas
  • 1 (16 ounce) jar salsa
  • 1 (10.75 ounce) can condensed cream of chicken soup, undiluted
1. In a large skillet, cook turkey over medium heat until no longer pink; drain. Stir in taco seasoning and water. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat; simmer, uncovered, for 5 minutes. Stir in rice. Cook and stir until liquid is evaporated. Spread about 2 tablespoons of refried beans, 1/4 cup beef mixture and 1 tablespoon cheese down the center of each tortilla; roll up. Place seam side down in two greased 13-in. x 9-in. x 2-in. baking dishes.
2. Combine salsa and soup; pour down the center of enchiladas. Sprinkle with remaining cheese. Bake one casserole, uncovered, at 350 degrees F for 20-25 minutes or until heated through and cheese is melted. Cover and freeze remaining casserole for up to 3 months.

For Frozen Dish:
Thaw in the refrigerator overnight. Cover and bake at 350 degrees F for 30 minutes. Uncover; bake 5-10 minutes longer or until heated through and cheese is melted.

8. Baked Spaghetti
Having company? Need a meal to make for a friend? This is your recipe. Ems gave me this recipe a few years ago and it is so much heartier and yummier than you think.  Seriously, it's fantastic.

 Em's Baked Spaghetti
 Baked Spaghetti photo
  • 1 package (16 oz) spaghetti
  • 1 lb ground beef
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 jar (26 oz) meatless spaghetti sauce
  • 1/2 tsp seasoned salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 5 T. butter, melted
  • 2 cups (16 oz) small-curd cottage cheese
  • 4 cups (16 oz) mozzarella cheese
1. Cook spaghetti according to package directions. Meanwhile, in a large skillet, cook beef and onion over medium heat until meat is no longer pink; drain. Stir in the spaghetti sauce and seasoned salt; set aside.
2. In a large bowl, whisk the eggs., Parmesan cheese and butter. Drain spaghetti; add to egg mixture and toss to coat.
3. Place half of the spaghetti mixture in a greased 13x9 in baking dish. Top with half of the cottage cheese, meat sauce, and mozzarella cheese. Repeat layers. Cover and bake at 350 for 40 minutes. Uncover; bake 20-25 minutes longer or until cheese is melted.  Can freeze as well.

7.  Crescent Beef Stroganoff
 This dish does taste better with beef, but I have made it with turkey before.  You need a can of crescent rolls and it is YUMMY!!

Crescent Beef Stroganoff

  • 1 package (8 oz) refrigerator crescent rolls
  • 1 lb ground beef, lean
  • 1/2 cup chopped onion
  • 8 oz sliced mushrooms
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/2 tsp paprika
  • 8 oz sour cream
  • 1/2 to 1 cup mild cheddar
Unroll crescent roll dough; press into the bottom of an ungreased 13x9 inch baking pan to form a thin crust. In a skillet, brown beef with onion and mushrooms; season with salt and pepper and paprika. Stir in sour cream; spoon into the baking pan. Sprinkle evenly with the shredded cheese. Bake at 375 for 25 to 30 minutes, or until crust is baked. Cut into squares.

6. Cheeseburger Pie
I have mentioned how I love bisquick "impossibly easy" recipes before; this one is a simple, under 30-minute recipe that is scrumptious for the whole family.  Recipe courtesy of
Recipe Link Click Here

5. Spaghetti & Meatballs (or meat sauce)
I know this is a simple one-- but kids love it, it can be healthful, and it's super quick.  If you don't have time to shape/cook meatballs, just add the ground beef/turkey/pork in a pan and add sauce for a speedy meal over pasta.

 No Frills Meatballs
1# Ground meat
1/2 to 3/4 Cup Italian Seasoned Bread crumbs
1 large egg

1. Mix all ingredients together until well-blended.
2. Shape into 1" diameter meatballs.
3. Either pan fry them or bake in oven at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.

4. Hamburgers
As you may know, I am a BURGER CHAMPION now! Even if you don't have fantastic ingredients on hand, buy a couple of extras: bacon, avocado, tomato, etc. They can make an ordinary burger extraordinarily delicious. 

3.  Lasagna
This is the classic ground-meat dish that has sooo many variations. From homemade sauce to a can of Ragu, you can make this as simple or complex as you want.  Freezes well, tastes even better the next day, and great for company.  Here's my healthful version:

 Julia's Healthful Lasagna

Julia’s Healthful Meat Lasagna photo
  • 12-15 Whole Wheat lasagna noodles
  • 1 large jar of tomato sauce (I like chunky ones)
  • 1# Italian seasoned ground turkey (you can add 1 TBS of each basil and oregano if you do not have seasoned)
  • 1 egg
  • 2 Cups part-skim mozzarella cheese
  • 8 oz part-skim ricotta cheese
1. In large skillet, brown ground turkey, drain excess fat and then return to stove. Add 3/4 jar of tomato sauce and turn off heat.
2. In small bowl, combine 1 1/2 cups mozzarella, 8 oz of ricotta, and one egg.
3. In 9 x 13 pan, cover bottom with noodles. Spread with spatula the cheese mixture over the noodles. Pour sauce/meat mixture on top to coat. Continue until meat mixture is gone.
4. Put remaining noodles on top, add remaining 1/4 jar of sauce to coat. Sprinkle with remaining mozzarella cheese.
5. Bake uncovered for 30 minutes in 350° oven. You can freeze it too!
Add chopped Italian sausage to the ground turkey for a zippy alternative. For even healthier sauce, puree fresh peppers, tomatoes, and yellow squash and add them to the mix--no one will know!

2. Beef Fried Rice
Ems taught me this one a few years ago and it a delicious, Asian-inspired meal that is heartier than you'd expect. 
Em's Beef Fried Rice

  • 1 lb ground beef
  • 3 eggs
  • Dash pepper
  • 3 T vegetable oil, divided
  • 2 cups cold cooked long grain rice
  • 2 small onions, chopped
  • 3 T soy sauce
  • 1 tsp sugar
1. In a skillet, cook beef over medium heat until no longer pink; drain. In a large bowl, beat eggs and pepper. In skillet, heat 1 T oil over medium-high heat. Pour eggs into skillet. As eggs set, lift edges, letting uncooked portion flow underneath.
2. When eggs are completely cooked, remove from the skillet; cut into strips. Return to pan. Stir in the remaining ingredients. Cook and stir over medium low heat in remaining oil for 5 minutes or until heated through.

1. Tacos
This is my go-to Mexican meal that everyone loves.  Hard shell, soft shell, taco salad-- all delicious, easy... and you can follow the directions on the packet of seasoning (or make your own).  Dinner is ready in less than 15 minutes and kids are happy!!

 Hope you enjoy some yummy ground-meat dinners!  Next up-- probably chicken dishes.....

Easy Rule #579- Dinner doesn't have to be expensive and time-consuming to fill up your family!

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Here we go again!

Ems here:

Simona is 18 months. I'm sleeping comfortably through the night because she does. She can tell me "cup" or "up" or "all done" so that simplifies communication. Looks like life is getting a little too easy around here!

Must be time for me to have another baby.

Yep. Baby number 8 is coming! February 25th is the due date, so I'm about 7 weeks along.

Is this perfect timing? Nope. I will be an assistant lacrosse coach for the local university this season and the baby is arriving right at the season's beginning. We are headed on vacation in two weeks and I will doubtless be fatigued and nauseous for the duration.

Being open to life doesn't mean that we have to be thrilled every second. Having babies is a tough business, and I know exactly what I'm in for. It would be naive and false to declare unadulterated joy at every moment. However, because I do know exactly what I'm in for, I also know that in a few months a new and special person will become an integral part of my family. A new person that I could not imagine my family without.

Plus, I get to become obsessed with baby names again! Yay!

I'm sure I will have much more to say on this, but I wanted to get the announcement out there so if I have future posts about my lack of patience, my need for daily naps, and my craving for s'mores for breakfast, you would have a frame of reference.

Easy Rule #3: God's plan trumps human plan every time. And it always turns out better.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

An Old-Fashioned Fourth

Jules here-
Good Old Uncle Sam (on stilts)

 Growing up in Delaware, the Fourth of July included a "Community Days" type fair at our local park and fire works at the local college field.  Plus sweltering, oppressive heat.  Though I enjoyed the events, I never felt truly patriotic until I arrived in New Hampshire.  Maybe because the colonies started in New England or because the small-town ambiance creates a perfect parade setting, but I have never felt so American until I moved here.
2013 Bike Parade Participants

We attend the annual parade in Amherst, New Hampshire, the town over from mine, and have been delighted with the family-friendly atmosphere.  From the reading of the Declaration of Independence to face-painting flags, you become enveloped in an American scene straight out of a movie.  Children decorate their bikes to start out the parade, and then the floats, marching bands, and political powerhouses march through the streets.  Being the first primaries state, I have seen presidential candidates, governors, senators, even Mitt Romney came a couple of years ago.  Watching our electoral system and freedom of speech also strengthens that patriotic environment.

photo credit:

My children get free balloons, popcorn, and even popsicles from local businesses and churches--everyone is friendly, welcoming, and celebratory during the event.  The 1700-era, brick colonials line the parade route with American flags draped throughout making a fantastic backdrop to the homemade floats.

2011 Amherst Parade-- Lissie was a tad younger...
My children look forward to the bagpipers, firetrucks, free political stickers (only some I let them wear), and yummy food.  The parade lasts for over an hour, and you can saunter through the midway events (such as a petting zoo, colonial re-enactors, and balloon animal making) before and after the parade.  Usually the parade is HOT, but we can cool off with and Italian ice and sitting in the shady, old oaks on the town green.

James & Mommy enjoying the parade

Besides the patriotic parade, we also enjoyed yummy Fourth of July French Toast, flag fruit kabobs (courtesy of my neighbor Lisa) and even flag pudding pops for dessert (also courtesy of Lisa-- I may have introduced her to pinterest).  We shared a fabulous barbecue dinner with our neighbors and even had some fancy holiday-inspired drinks.  Though our fireworks were delayed due to rain, we experienced the true "meaning" of the holiday: pride and appreciation for our fantastic free country!!

Easy Rule #70476- Don't forget our founding fathers on the Fourth!

Easy Rule #7890- Find the right locale for your celebration- sometimes it will rejuvenate your holiday spirit!

And parades wear out little ones--

Friday, July 4, 2014

Girls vs. Boys

Ems here:

As you probably know by now, I have 5 boys and 2 girls; you may think that qualifies me in some small way to share parental wisdom in the raising of the different genders, but I assure you, I have so much more to learn! Perhaps that is wisdom in itself though, right? We always have more to learn. Kids are always growing and changing, their personalities and temperaments often so different that parenting one child is the polar opposite of parenting another.

I had my three boys first, in a row, before daughter Josephine made her appearance.  My life was all about jumping on couches, obstacle courses, books on trucks, books on dinosaurs, books on soldiers, messes, tantrums, transformers, fighting, etc. Somehow I thought that having a girl would be a major shifting of gears, but honestly, not too much changed. Granted, she dresses up in princess clothes and plays Barbie sometimes, but she is just as likely to climb furniture, to argue with siblings, or to read a book about tarantulas.  Although she is darn good Mom's helper when in the mood and we do have very sweet mother-daughter moments, overall I haven't been floored with the grand gender differences that I expected. Two more boys, then another daughter, and I still feel like I parent children not necessarily genders.

This past week, I offered to babysit the children of a friend while she left for a wedding anniversary day trip. Her son is 9, and is friends with Matt and Theo, playing on the same soccer team. Her daughter, Claire, is tall and lovely and I assumed at least 14. She was mature and friendly and super helpful! She offered to cook, to clean, to watch kids outside--I felt like I had hired her! Then she floored me. She said she was 11.


Um, my eldest, Nate, is 11. I love Nate, and he can cook a mean breakfast (for himself), and get (himself) dressed, and is a pretty mature kid (when he is in a good mood), etc. but he is not NEARLY at the capability level of this gal.  Marveling at this, I talked to her mom later--who also is the blessed mother of two other girls ages 15 and 19--and she revealed the wonderful secret of teenage girls: they are simply amazing.

Girls get bad press sometimes. Whenever folks hear of my girl v. boy child ratio, a typical response is "Boys are harder when they are young, but LOOKOUT! Girls are nightmares when teens!" Well, that is not the feeling of large family moms, let me tell you! They know that teen (and pre-teen) girls are capable, mature, responsible, and detail-oriented. Now, I'm not saying that they are perfect, or drama-free, but these mothers assure me that if you ask your daughter to clean her room or clean the refrigerator, the job will be done well.
None of this shoving under the bed stuff that my boys consistently pull.  And this is why large family moms always told me, "Oh, it's too bad you didn't have girls first!" Now I get it!

I guess the signs are there. Jo is the only child to put her shoes in the bin when she comes through the door. She enjoys getting Simona dressed for the day.  I look forward to seeing the young woman she will become!

Easy Rule #2556: Ignore the haters and nay-sayers and enjoy your kids as they grow, no matter the gender.

Easy Rule #45632: Boys have more interests and passions than a mom could imagine; nurture their active minds and bodies! Someday, they will mow your lawn and carry all sorts of heavy things too! But leave the babysitting to the girls.