On Being an Uncle: A Charlie Guest Post

On Being an Uncle:  A Charlie Guest Post.

As many of you may recall, I became an uncle about nine months ago.

I gotta tell you, this job just gets better and better every week.

“We” are now eating some “solid” foods by “our self” sitting in the “high” chair.

It is very important for me to stay close by during mealtime to catch anything that hits the floor…  or happens to be shared by a swinging hand.  (And I must say, blueberry puffs with purple sweet potato are quite scrumptious.)

“We” are also now getting much more mobile, and “somebody” likes my squeaky toys, my ears, my tongue, my paws, and my nose.  “She” even takes my bones right out of my mouth.

But that’s okay.  It’s all in a day’s work of being an uncle.  And as long as she tosses me a blueberry puff or two, I’m totally fine with the rest of the havoc!

Mom says I am a really good uncle.  I like when she tells me that.  It is usually accompanied by a chin scratch or an ear rub or possibly a treat!  She really, really likes being a grandma, so I guess its a good thing I like being an uncle…

Woofs & Wags,
Charlie

Charlie is an adopted dog with brown eyes and a white-tipped tail who brings joy and laughter to his family and friends.  Charlie is a gifted writer, raving food critic, cat, chipmunk, and donut lover, and exceptionally photogenic model.  Some of his best friends are Mike the UPS Man, Cliff the Mailman, Jaeger the neighbor dog, and ANYONE who delivers pizza to the house.   If you would like to read more guest posts by Charlie, simply type “Charlie” into the Search box at the top right hand corner of this link: thecreativelifeinbetween.com.   If you would enjoy a companion like Charlie, please consider pet adoption.

In Case You Forgot


In case you forgot to remind yourself this morning…

It’s a new day ready for fresh beginnings.

Your smile can light up a room.

Your beauty is way more than just your appearance.

You alone are more than enough.

You are doing a pretty awesome job at this thing called life.

Cheers & Hugs,
Jodi

PS – I also need to remind myself of this, and these maple tree seedpods I fondly remember as “helicopters” from my childhood spring days at Grandma’s remind me of the hope each day brings and the beauty and potential we all have within just waiting to be shared.  

Cherish the Moments!

New Lighter Chicken Parmesan

new-lighter-chicken-parmesan

Our little garden is just bursting with tomatoes this time of year, and the little cherry tomatoes are so juicy and sweet and delicious and plentiful that I wanted to use them creatively in a recipe instead of the usual simple throwing of them into our dinner salad.

I also have a really healthy crop of fresh basil.

new-lighter-chicken-parmesan-5

Anyone that’s been around thecreativelifeinbetween.com for more than a minute likely knows I LOVE chicken for dinner and am always looking for new, creative ways to prepare it.

So last night, I decided to try a newer, lightened-up version of the classic chicken parmesan recipe that is typically dipped in milk and egg wash, rolled in bread crumbs and fried in oil before topping it with cheese and baking it.

For this recipe, I marinaded the chicken in buttermilk – a great tip for making baked (or fried) chicken moist and tender – and then simply topped it with freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano instead of rolling it in bread crumbs.

I’ve said it before, and many of you know this well, but there really is no substitute for the real Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.  Powdered cheese in a green plastic container will not do.   Other cheeses called “Parmesan” will not do.  The real deal –  Parmigiano-Reggiano is worth the spend (even if you have to skimp somewhere else – like that Starbucks latte or the pricey bottle of red wine).  Nothing can compare to the sharp, complex, fruity/nutty, strong savory flavor and slightly gritty texture of Parmigiano-Reggiano.  Inferior versions can impart a bitter taste, so if you think you do not like “Parmesan” cheese, because you ate the powdered stuff from the green plastic container as a kid, please give the real “parmesan” a try!  You won’t regret it.

new-lighter-chicken-parmesan-4

I then roasted it along with lots of sweet, juicy marinated tomatoes with tons of fresh garlic and basil and healthy extra virgin olive oil.

new-lighter-chicken-parmesan-3

We ate ours over whole grain thin spaghetti and a tossed fresh green salad.  It was divine!

Don’t expect it to taste like the familiar fried version soaked in sauce (which is quite yummy in moderation!), but allow yourself to enjoy the fresh, lighter flavors of this wonderful winner, winner of a chicken dinner!  (You knew I had to say it – right?!)

new-lighter-chicken-parmesan-2

Here is my recipe, which is adapted from one I found on Epicurious.  Hope you’ll give it a try and let me know how you like it.

New Lighter Chicken Parmesan

Ingredients:new-lighter-chicken-parmesan

  • 3 lbs boneless chicken breasts and thighs
  • 1 cup buttermilk (you can easily make by adding 1 Tbsp vinegar to 1 cup milk)
  • 3 cups cherry tomatoes
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup finely minced fresh garlic
  • 1/4 cup finely minced fresh basil
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 1/2 cups freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
  • 8 oz. fresh Mozzarella cheese, sliced

Directions:

Wash and prepare chicken.  If chicken breasts are thick, cut them in half horizontally so they will cook faster and more evenly.  Marinade chicken in buttermilk for a minimum of 2 hours or up to overnight in an airtight container or large Ziploc bag.

Whisk together olive oil, garlic, basil, oregano, and salt.  Pour over tomatoes and stir.  Let marinade a couple hours if time allows.

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.  Remove chicken from buttermilk marinade and place on a baking stone or dish with sides that will fit all pieces evenly without overlapping.  Top with grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and pat to press into chicken.  Spoon marinated tomatoes in between chicken pieces pouring remaining oil marinade over top.

Bake for approximately 15 minutes until chicken is cooked, cheese begins to brown, and tomatoes begin to bubble and brown.  Add a slice of Mozzarella cheese on top of each piece of chicken, and return to oven for approximately 5 minutes until the Mozzarella is browned and bubbly.

Serve over whole wheat or regular pasta or by itself with a fresh green salad.

Enjoy!

Cheers & Hugs,
Jodi

Lemon Poppy Seed Biscotti

lemon poppy seed biscotti cover

Yesterday was the first day of Spring…

lemon poppy seed biscotti

and it snowed here in Mars!

lemon poppy seed biscotti 3

So I decided to make something bright and sunny and lemony…

lemon poppy seed biscotti 2

to dunk in my steaming cup of coffee by the warmth of a fire.

I’ve never made biscotti before, so decided it would be fun to try.  I love poppy seed, and it is so wonderful with lemon.

I found and slightly adapted a recipe from Lynn at FreshAprilFlowers, and I really enjoyed it.

This would make a wonderful Easter or hostess gift for coffee and tea lovers.

Lemon Poppy Seed Biscotti

Ingredients:lemon poppy seed biscotti cover
  • ½ cup granulated sugar
  • zest of one lemon
  • 1 Tablespoon butter, melted
  • 3 Tablespoons vegetable or canola oil
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • juice of one lemon, divided
  • 1 and ¾ cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 2 Tablespoons poppy seeds
  • Egg Wash: 1 large egg, beaten with remaining lemon juice
Directions:

Preheat oven to 350ºF. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.

Place sugar in a medium bowl and add the lemon zest. Using your fingers, rub the zest into the sugar until all of the zest has been incorporated and most of the sugar is pale yellow. Whisk in the butter, oil, egg, vanilla extract, and 2 teaspoons of the lemon juice.

In a large bowl, toss together flour, baking powder, salt, and poppy seeds. Add the wet ingredients to the dry, and mix until combined.

Turn dough out onto baking sheet and pat dough into a rectangle about ½” thick ( approximately 6″ x 7 ½”.   The dough will be a bit dry and crumbly, but can be pressed together.

Brush egg wash on top and on sides of the dough.  Bake for 20 minutes or until the top and sides are lightly browned. Remove from the oven, but do not turn off the heat.

Place baking sheet on a wire rack and allow to cool for 10 minutes. Once the dough is cool enough to touch, cut into 1″ thick slices using a sharp knife. Cut these 1″ slices in half, making a horizontal slice down the center. Set slices cut sides up on the baking sheet. Return to the oven to bake for 6 minutes. Remove from oven, turn biscotti over, and bake the other side for 6 more minutes.

Remove from the oven and allow to cool for 3 minutes on the baking sheet (cookies will become crunchy as they cool). Transfer biscotti to a wire rack to cool completely.

Store biscotti in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks or in freezer for up to 3 months.

Enjoy dunking this delicious treat in a cup of your favorite coffee, tea, or hot cocoa!

Cheers & Hugs,
Jodi

A Carnival Baby Shower for Jackie & Matt

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Oh what fun we had planning, preparing, and celebrating the soon-to-arrive Baby Ben with our McHendy daughter and son-in-law, Jackie & Matt.

I was designated the “official” photographer, so get ready for lots of photos.  I was so busy worrying about capturing it and so busy just enjoying it, that it is just now hitting me, after I shared the photos with Jackie (and she posted on her Facebook page), how close I am to being an “almost” grandma!

When Jackie shared the photos, she wrote:

Matt and I have always hoped we could welcome our baby boy into a community of people who will love, encourage, and support him. On Saturday, we were shown a million times over that we without a doubt have that for our baby boy, Ben. Thank you to everyone who braved the snowstorm and made it out to the shower. We are so blessed for all of you (and for all the people who couldn’t make it)! A special thanks to my mom,Jill Henderson, my mother-in-law, Carol Kallis, my future sister-in-law, Becca Cura, and my second mom, Jodi McKinney for throwing us one creative, awesome shower!!

So for the past half hour ( I am drafting this Sunday evening), I’ve been bawling happy tears and cherishing these very special moments.

I hope you enjoy viewing these photos as much as we had in creating and being a part of them.

(If you click on the first – or any one of the pics – you can scroll through the photos in full size.)

Cheers & Hugs,

Jodi

Spicy Dr. Pepper Pulled Pork

Spicy Dr Pepper Pulled Pork

Are you ready for a party in your mouth?

Looking for a versatile recipe that can be a main course, a sandwich, serve a crowd, be made into a great nacho platter?

Look no further!

I present:

Spicy Dr. Pepper Pulled Pork

ENJOY!  (We sure did)

Spicy Dr. Pepper Pulled Pork

Ingredients:Spicy Dr Pepper Pulled Pork

  • 5 lb boneless pork loin (or your favorite pork roast)
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • Half of a 16-oz. jar sliced banana peppers rings with juice
  • 1 10-oz. can Rotel Diced Tomatoes with Green Chilis
  • 2 12-oz cans Dr. Pepper soda
  • 2 Tbsp. brown sugar

Place all in crockpot and cook on High for 6 hours.  Remove pork and shred with fork.  Place back in juices and let set at least a half hour.  Even better the next day when the juices and meat all mix and mingle even more!

Serve on Hard Rolls, over mashed or fried potatoes, with rice, in a tortilla wrap with your favorite fillings or over tortilla chips with queso and shredded cheese and pickled jalapenos for the most amazing Pulled Pork Nachos!

Wouldn’t you be the hit of the party serving these nachos for the Super Bowl or a Playoff party this weekend?

Spicy Dr Pepper Pulled Pork nachos

Want to see a little closer?!

Spicy Dr Pepper Pulled Pork nachos 2

This recipe might be fun to try with beef or chicken too.

Have some fun in the kitchen.  Creativity is everywhere!

Cheers & Hugs,

Jodi

*Inspired by The Pioneer Woman’s recipe.

Grandma’s Old-Fashioned Apricot Nut Bread

apricot nut bread

It’s not officially Christmas baking time until I make Grandma’s Old-Fashioned Apricot Nut Bread.

apricot nut bread mini

And that is exactly what I did this past Sunday.

Unlike most of the things I bake, this recipe is for me.

Measuring the flour with my favorite antique tin measuring cup from Grandma,

snipping the apricots just like she did with kitchen shears,

mixing with old-time Christmas music playing like we did when I helped her as a child…

Remembering how she smelled, remembering how her hands looked and felt, remembering her voice, remembering her love.

Baking this bread every year at this time just takes me back – makes me smile – allows me to remember – fills me with love.

apricot nut bread slice

The smell of this bread baking is one of my very favorite smells in the entire universe.  (In fact, sometimes I go outside for a couple of minutes, so that I can come back in and be HIT by the smell!)

The taste of this bread…

not too sweet – a bit dry – densely filled with bursts of tart apricot chunks and crunchy walnuts….

For me – this bread is love – it is memories of childhood – memories of a grandma’s heart.

Do you have a recipe that does this to you?

I wonder if Grandma is why I often express my love for people by baking?

Thanks for the memories, Grandma.  Thanks for the love.  You are my Stella Star!

You can  find the recipe for my all-time favorite thing to bake here – Grandma’s Old-Fashioned Apricot Nut Bread where I shared it last year.

Hope you are enjoying the season.  I’m going to go have a slice and a cuppa!

Cheers & Hugs,

Jodi

My Happy Place

Nick Winston CJ Zach

Nick, Winston, CJ, Zach

Look at these handsome guys!

Could I be any happier than to have the opportunity to have them over and cook for them?

Does that make me a little strange?… unusual?…. old-fashioned….?

I was really looking forward to – and totally enjoyed – the opportunity to cook and bake for my youngest son, Nick (far left in the photo above) and a group of his old college buddies (Winston, Zach, and CJ – two of whom are married already!), who decided to get together for a Saturday afternoon of basketball and an evening of pool and poker, with a short break in between to be nourished by Momma ME!

In talking with my friend, Tracy, on our Sunday morning walk yesterday, I remarked upon reflection that it is good to be 52 and not so worried about what is the right or wrong way to be a woman today.

For a while, I tried to be a “modern” business woman – one who enjoys working as much as the rest of “the guys” and has no time for such silliness as cooking and baking….

But I can’t help it….

It is my happy place.

It is in my DNA.

When I was a young girl, if asked what I wanted to be when I grow up, I most often would say, “A Mom.”

Being a mom is a job that should be as equally admired as those that serve as doctors and lawyers and teachers and executives.

It really is a tough job.  Little training is provided.  Little recognition is provided.  The monetary rewards are quite minimal.  The days are long.  Then nights are short.  The worries are many.

But the rewards…..

especially when looking back and knowing you raised your kids to become amazing adults….

well – there really is nothing greater.

So the chance to cherish moments with my “kids” (who aren’t really kids anymore)…

is pretty darn great.

I am most happy when I am cooking or baking or having guests in my home.

I TRULY love my work too.  Don’t get me wrong.

I am extremely fortunate to have a work-life balance that allows me to work as passionately at my job in corporate communications for home health and hospice and enjoy it as much as I do my “life in between” activities.

I also truly and equally admire women who don’t choose to be mothers, but dedicate their lives to noble careers because that is their passion.

But put me behind the kitchen counter with pots steaming and cookies cooling and bread kneading…..

kitchen

with Charlie by my side napping as the Autumn sunshine streams in the window…

charlie sleeping in the sun

and life is perfect.

I baked some classic chocolate chips cookies,

chocolate chip cookie

and made Zach’s favorite – good old-fashioned peasant food – Haluski.

halushki cabbage

I made some yummy rosemary roasted butternut squash that they all surprisingly LOVED, some freshly baked rustic crusty bread, and some dry rubbed pork tenderloin (recipe in tomorrow’s blog!), as well as some mini pumpkin pies….

mini pumpkin pies

served up with a side of dreamy, creamy whipped cream.

single mini pumpkin pie bite

In the midst of it all, with dishes piled high in the sink…

flour all over the counter….

dough in my hair…

Nick asked,

“Do you REALLY ENJOY doing this?”

“Oh YES!,” I didn’t even hesitate when I replied…

“This is my happy place.”

Thanks, guys, for the wine!
Thanks, girls, for the surprise visit!
Thanks, Merv, for being the grill master and my “partner in crime” through it all.
Thanks for allowing me to nourish your bellies as much as you nourish my heart! ❤

Cheers & Hugs,
Jodi