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I was going through my recipes recently and stumbled upon one I’d near forgotten about. This was a dinner I’d made fairly frequently and the whole family enjoyed. I dusted it off, made it for dinner, and it was so good I had to make it again a week later. Simple, nutritious, gluten-free, and vegetarian… what’s not to love? It’s one of those quick dinners that comes together in a flash; in fact, you could even mix the ingredients together in advance for an even faster meal.

Quesadilla

Black bean and zucchini Quesadillas

2 zucchini or yellow squash, shredded
1 can of black beans, drained and rinsed
2 tomatoes, diced; or a can of diced tomatoes, spiced such as Rotel if desired
optional- 1/2 cup orange pureed vegetable (pumpkin, butternut squash, sweet potato)
shredded cheese (cheddar or Mexican)
avocado
sour cream
8 brown rice or whole wheat tortilla wraps

In a large bowl, mix black beans, shredded zucchini, tomatoes, and orange puree if using. Put tortilla on sprayed griddle or in frying pan, sprinkle with cheese, spoon on black bean mixture. Top with a little more cheese and fold in half. Cook until tortilla browns and cheese starts to melt; flip and brown other side. Top with sour cream and avocado, if desired.

To find out what’s new in our kitchen, stop by, or become a fan on Facebook.

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Living in the Hudson Valley has many perks including our access to farm fresh produce.  I love the concept of buying and eating locally, and our area provides an abundance of choices. I also believe it’s important to expose my girls to the concept of knowing where our food comes from.   But, when the season is over and winter settles in, local produce is hard to come by. ( There are local CSA’s available but with two picky eaters and my lack of cooking skills, I fear too much would be wasted.) All summer we shopped at our favorite farm stand, Sycamore Farms, and our local farmer’s market right up until the leaves began to fall.  Then, it was back to the grocery store to buy my produce; food shopping became a chore once again.  So, when my mom invited me to accompany her to Bialis Farms Winter Market, I grabbed my bags and headed over.

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Bialis Farms is located in New Hampton and hosts a winter market on select days  November through February.  It is a rustic shopping experience that exudes all the charm of a traditional outdoor market except it’s  held in a large barn with crates of onions piled high to the ceiling.  The produce is set up farmer’s market style and is colorful, fresh and abundant.  I was able to purchase all the produce needed for Thanksgiving dinner, which I host every year.  In addition to the vegetables, Soons Orchard was there as well selling apples, pies and pastries for the holiday.

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The market was not limited to produce.  There was a children’s table set up with crafts and free refreshments.  There was  Eli, the Goat from Edgewick, for the kids to meet and pet.  There were additional vendors peddling their homemade wares: baskets, crafts, hot sauces, jams, cheeses, and soaps.   While there, I received a lesson on how to pop popcorn right off the cob; I will never go back to store bought popcorn again.  I went for the vegetables, but the market wasn’t just a place to buy your vegetables, it was an experience to be taken in and enjoyed.

It isn’t always possible or available to shop locally and get the freshest produce, so when a local farm makes it this easy, it’s worth the trip.  Happy Thanksgiving Weekend!

The other day Luke said something to one of the para’s at school that had me thinking about Thanksgiving in a different way. It made me very happy and proud, but it was unexpected. I’ll get back to that in a minute.

If there was ever a person who should have an “It’s A Wonderful Life” experience it would be me. Not that I am this ungrateful human being, but the fact that I do not and have not always taken the time to sit back and realize how truly blessed I am and appreciate what I had can put me in the running.

Luke gets all the limelight in this blog, but I do have two other sons and a wife that I love very much. In a world where many people are using marriage as a test drive, I think we are chugging along just fine.  I love being around the kids and frankly, I feel very lost when I am not.

This Thanksgiving, I am going to do something different. We always imply that we are grateful for certain things, but we don’t officially proclaim it. 3 years ago, I was able to transfer to a work location closer to home. I get so caught up with not being 100% happy at work, that I did not recognize how thankful I am to provide for my family without losing the time I was with my previous commute. Usually, it takes a tragedy (i.e. Tsunami, Earthquake, Super storm etc.) for me to bring to my kid’s attention just how lucky they are and how thankful they should be. Sometimes when things are quiet and all of us are in the same room, one son would let out an” I love you”. It will trickle around the room to all 5 of us. At that time I know just how thankful my children are for what they have.

What I am thankful for

So what is Luke thankful for? When asked at school what he is thankful for, his response was “I am thankful for my dad”. When asked why? He said “because he loves me very much”. How awesome is that?

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

In church this week, we agreed to make a pledge to have a debt-free Christmas this year and I thought this was a great idea. I had already made a silent pledge of this sort to myself, but it definitely keeps you honest when you declare something publicly. I wonder how many more people would make a similar commitment if they did it with the support of friends and family.

The Credit Culture

It seems so culturally sanctioned to overspend and use credit cards during the holidays that it feels almost un-American not to.  I think we can all agree that it sucks to still be paying off presents when Christmas comes knocking again next year. This pledge can be made for all holidays or occassions. So here are some tips I’m using to keep costs down and the credit cards away.

Piggy Bank

1. Set Clear Limits on Gift Giving – For the past several years my immediate family has instituted a Kid’s Only presents policy. Adding up $60 per couple for brothers and sisters and brother and sister-in-laws, not to mention aunts, uncles, etc. decidedly takes a huge financial toll on a family. Even with all the kids in our family it can still get pretty expensive. You could set price limits for kids gifts or do a Secret Santa to keep costs under control. You could let each kid draw a name and let them help make or pick out the recipient’s gift to get them excited about it. White Elephant is also a really fun gift-exchange game. If you know of others share them here.

2. Have a Budget – So this goes hand and hand with number 1. Know what you can truly afford  to pay for presents (in cash) and don’t go over it. If you do, chances are you’ll end up packing on the debt or struggling to pay your other bills in December. Let your friends and family know that you have a budget. Chances are good that your family won’t care if you don’t shell out big bucks on gifts. It’s really us who put the pressure on ourselves to buy expensive gifts that will (in our minds) adequately convey how much we love the recipient. But a gift is just a gift and can in no way quantify our feelings, so let’s all agree to stop trying to make this round peg fit into a square hole.

presents

3. Gifts of Self – If you’re crafty and even if you’re not, you can find thousands of presents you can make yourself for relatively little money. A simple google search can yield tons of possible DIY gift ideas. If you can’t make something, offer something. You can create simple cards with coupons or offers to house sit, dog walk, babysit, clean, cook a meal, mow a lawn, shovel snow or a hundred other things that cost you only some time and maybe a little sweat equity. I myself would love some babysitting since I only leave my kids with family or really close friends and don’t get out without the kids very often.

Stay tuned for more tips on how to have a debt free holiday this year. Follow me on Facebook.

Thanksgiving is a time of family tradition. For the past few years, we’ve adapted our family’s recipes to our gluten-free lifestyle. Potatoes, cornbread, lots of veggies, and turkey all lend well to gluten-free cooking. A few recipes had to be tweaked, but most everything converted beautifully. Whether your family is gluten-free, free of some other allergen, or none at all, take a peak at our most recent Thanksgiving for some meal ideas and recipes.

For the two day before Thanksgiving, my kitchen is in cooking mode. I roast all the vegetables that will be used within recipes, and we make the pies, cornbread for the stuffing, the potato and sweet potato dishes, and fry the sausage and vegetables that will go into the stuffing. I find it makes Thanksgiving morning a little bit quieter and less messy- which is not to say that when it comes time to eat, we’re not still scurrying and getting thing just right.

Pumpkins

Pumpkins: Before. These went into a pie, bread, and some went into the freezer for future use. I was fortunate to receive a giant box of pumpkins and squash from my Uncle and Aunt who have a farm in Iowa. This was only the second time I’d ever cooked w/fresh pumpkin. Definitely worth it!!

Sweet potatoes

Roasted sweet potatoes, which go into a casserole.

Roasted pumpkins

Pumpkins: After

Turkey

First, the turkey. As it is, I leave the raw-turkey-prep to my husband, since I’m bothered my handling the raw bird. Did it have to come with a feature still attached? This grossed me out.


Smoothie

A morning smoothie. This was a peanut butter-banana-flax seed, to keep us going with protein for a while.

Soup

Pumpkin soup. My mom makes and brings this along. Yum. I don’t have her recipe, but I’m sure you can find one online.

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The turkey. Post-roasting, post feather-removal.

Biscuits

Carrot-basil-cornmeal biscuits. These are a family tradition- my mom has been making them since the beginning of Thanksgiving time. This is the first year they were made gluten-free. (Next year I’ll add more milk, tablespoon by tablespoon, until the dough is more moist).

Potatoes

Mashed potatoes. The sour creamy kind. I sometimes use red potatoes instead of Yukon Gold, and then leave the skins on before boiling (steakhouse style).

Green beans

Green beans with shallots. Another contribution from my mom.

Stuffing

Cornbread apple-sausage stuffing. This was the crunchy in-the-oven kind, and there was also an in-the-bird version. For the cornbread, I make my own using a recipe by Sneaky Chef. It has pureed corn in the bread and it is *so* moist.

Indian pudding

Indian cornbread pudding. My mom made this one was well, and she said it was easy to make gluten-free.

Stuffing II

The moist cooked-in-the-bird version of the stuffing.

Turkey II

The turkey, carved. Thank goodness my dad worked in a deli when he was younger– he’s a pro at carving. Interesting Dad-carving-tip he picked up: He can carve the entire turkey, then reassemble it as if it was never touched.

Sweet potatoes

Sweet potatoes with crunchy roasted marshmallows. Cook the sweet potatoes first, then put the marshmallows on and put the dish under the broiler to get that crunch. ‘Nuff said.

Dinner

Thanksgiving dinner: Turkey, gravy, cornbread apple-sausage stuffing, biscuits, sweet potatoes, butternut squash, smashed potatoes, and Indian cornbread pudding. Whew.

Pumpkin pie

Pumpkin pie. I made this using my grandma’s recipe, but made a gluten-free crust. There’s even a video online for how to make your own, perfect pastry crust- check it out, it changed how I make pies!

Apple pie

Apple pie. My grandma made this with her secret recipe, and used a gluten-free baking mix for the crust.

To find out what’s new in our kitchen, stop by, or become a fan on Facebook. Happy Turkey Day!

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I say that with an exclamation mark because that’s how Madison says it everytime: LEGOLand!  The anticipation nearly got to her, but we finally made it there a few weeks ago, and it did not disappoint.  It may have though if we had been to one of their theme parks, because this is a scaled back, indoor version of that.

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My girls love to play with blocks, and Duplos are their favorite.  They make towers, bridges, trains and zoos.  They play with them endlessly, so LEGOLand seemed like a pretty obvious destination for us even though I was not thrilled to go.  The crowds and the cost were enough to deter me for a while, but then I checked out their website.  The things you can do with LEGOs!  I had no idea.   Bonus: since school is in session, there was only one other family there.

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LEGOLand is not that big with about eight different attractions and took us about two hours to complete the park without a crowd.  Sophie loved the Duplo village where she could climb, slide, tumble and build with large, soft blocks.  Madison gravitated toward the LEGO Racers: Build and Test where she constructed little cars out of LEGO’s and raced them down the track.  On a side note, LEGO Friends aka girl LEGO town was pretty lame with a basic living room not made out of legos and a box of pastel LEGOs to play with at the “coffee table.”  My girls were not fooled.  My favorite was the LEGO Miniland: New York City is recreated with 1.5 million LEGOs, every landmark, busy city street, and even the subway runs underneath.  Press the buttons, and it becomes nighttime in the city complete with fireworks over the Statue of Liberty.  Pretty impressive.

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On the way out, you walk through the store with more LEGO options than I ever thought was possible.  I rarely fall for the souvenir trap, but my girls truly love to build, and Madison convinced me she was ready to move from DUPLOs to her first set of LEGOs.  I have dreaded this day.  Tripping over a DUPLO is annoying but stepping on a LEGO is downright painful.  Also, sister likes to put everything in her mouth, so I’m sure it’s just a matter of time before she eats a LEGO.  But, if you had seen Madison painstakingly going back and forth, weighing her options of LEGO kits, you would have let her have it too.  She finally picked out the tractor trailer and race car kit, thanked me profusely, and held the big box the.whole.way.home.

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LEGOLand was a great time but expensive.  The tickets for two adults and one child (under 2 is free) came to $62.  Go on Tot Tuesday and save $4 a ticket.  And walking past all those toys? Almost impossible not to buy something especially since my girls enjoy them so much, and I think they are educational. In addition, driving to Ridge Hill incurs some tolls plus the $3.25 to park for the day. Outside food is not allowed, but there is a cute, themed cafeteria style cafe in LEGOLand with some healthy options and several restaurants to choose from right outside as well.  After our trip Madison laboriously followed the 57 pages of Lego instructions for two days, so I’d say the trip was worth it.

025 It is getting to the busiest time of year. For my family, lots of preparation goes into the two big days of Thanksgiving and Christmas. Our special needs adult daughter Sara loves all the holidays, so each year we try to develop a plan which propels her holiday spirit, boosts her confidence, and makes her a contributing member of the community.

When Sara was four years old she contracted a deadly virus called encephalitis. This left her with a seizure disorder—which has proven to be difficult to control—and a cognitive impairment. That being said, regular calendar days can often be confusing to her, so our family works to make Holidays come with a theme. Often we repeat the theme each year to make Sara more comfortable & confident in what the holidays have in store for her; she feels like she knows what she is doing. Sara has been fortunate enough to receive a lot of assistance during her developing years, so I try and teach her that part of becoming a true member of the adult community is learning how to give back and help others.

Sara works at our local gym, Santer Fitness.  They are great community members and do a food drive for Thanksgiving , followed by a Toys for Tots drive for the holiday season.  Sara has enjoyed participating in both of these events. Each year she enthusiastically takes part of her paycheck to buy food for the Country Kids Food Pantry in Washingtonville. It is a great way for her to remember there are many families that less fortunate in our community. Sara can be a part of the caring we can show for those who have struggled managing the financial demands of current times.

I believe Sara enjoys the Toys for Tots program the most. She is a very talented artist and uses the opportunity to buy things intended to motivate the recipients into becoming future artists. This week Sara cashed her paycheck and filled her shopping cart with great art supplies, craft kits, and jewelry kits. The next day at work, she asked her boss when they would be collecting toys for the Toys for Tots program. Kristen, her boss, said the toy drive would start AFTER the food drive.121

Here is good advice to staying on track for the holidays with your special needs children: Do one thing at a time. Find some quiet time in your day to remember how fortunate you are to have these special children in our lives. Try to give back to those who could really use a hand up.

For a 3 letter word, the word “but” sure has a lot of power. I recently heard it in the following context:

  • “You interviewed well and we were impressed with your knowledge, BUT”. (disappointing)
  • “Everything is great with your muffler, BUT” (expensive)
  • “I know someone who can get Knicks tickets, BUT” (disappointed again)

The past week and a half, we have been waiting for Luke’s EEG results. Every time we go through this process and Luke has this test, we do it with hopes of hearing the words he is seizure free. I could be way off, but I blame Luke’s learning disability on his seizures and being on medication at such a young age. Like I said, I could be wrong, but we have to blame something or someone right? Nobody wants to hear, “that’s just the way it is”. Hearing those words would start the process of getting him up to speed.  That process will begin with freeing him of the medication he is on and getting him to some sort of normalcy.

My wife called me with the EEG results that were given to her and it was good news. She was told that the test showed no seizure activity and we should begin the process of weaning Luke off his current medication. The message is then relayed to me. I am told that the test showed everything looked good, there were was no seizure activity, but there were small spikes.  When I didn’t show the excitement that was expected, my wife asked what was wrong? I said I would feel more relieved if he didn’t say the word “but”. This then started her thinking, “Did the doctor say but or did I”? Either way, it was out there.

So, about that little word “but”. (besides me using it nine times to make a point)  You could have the greatest news to share and if you choose to enhance the low in your voice with that word, it will always keep the other person thinking. Because of that little word, the return of seizures and their effects will always linger. It will always make your stomach turn. It will always try and prepare you for the worst, BUT…

There is just something about cleaning the house. I don’t really like it, but at the same time I feel my blood pressure start to drop as I clear floors and can actually see beyond the stuff in my house to well, my house. As I clean I start to look around and see all that we actually have. While I feel an intense appreciation for my house after I’m done cleaning, I also feel an overwhelming sense of disgust at just how much stuff we have.

Anyone with kids knows how easy it is to accumulate stuff faster than you can get rid of it.  It starts to feel like it’s taking over your house. As the child of a hoarder, I know firsthand how quickly stuff starts to take over your entire life. I cringe at the thought of all the new stuff that the holidays are going to bring into my house. I almost want to cry when I look at all the toys and things that barely got used since last Christmas. I wonder if all the stuff in our lives clouds our vision.  We are living in a “buy more” society. Commercials would have us believe that we don’t have anything of worth if we don’t have their product. Meanwhile all that stuff we had to have last year lays in boxes and bins everywhere.

Toy Box

Unless it’s a birthday or Christmas I don’t buy my kids toys. I had hoped this approach would make them grateful for those special occasions when they got new things. But things only stay shiny and new for so long. Any parent who has tried in vain to keep crayon from reappearing on walls, stains from forming on carpets, and new furniture from the impending wear and tear of children jumping and climbing on them knows it’s all futile.

I wonder at how many times I’ve absent-mindedly looked at my closet full of clothes and said in frustration “I have nothing to wear” or a fridge full of food and said, “well, there’s nothing to eat.” I guess if I want my kids to find their gratitude, I had better watch what I say in front of them. I hope to teach my kids that it’s ok to want things, but it’s better to be satisfied with what they have. I imagine that our household is not unique in forgetting to be grateful for what we have until the piles start to trip us and demand to be acknowledged. Every time I start to daydream about that new thing I want, I remember that appreciation and gratitude lies in the cleaning out of our houses, our toy bins, and our denial.

Wanting less photo

In our home, November wouldn’t be, well, November, without some kind of pumpkin-spiced goodie baking in the oven. We cook with pumpkin as an accent year round, but at some point it takes center stage. This recipe popped up on my Pinterest board last weekend, and after one look, I knew it would be Saturday morning’s breakfast.

One caveat, though… we’re gluten-free. Would the recipe hold up? Some recipes translate well with a straight gluten-free flour substitution, whereas others do not. The recipe looked pretty straight-forward, so I gave it a try. The only change I found necessary was to add an extra two tablespoons of liquid (I used almond milk instead of half-and-half), as the dough was too dry without it. Also, if you try this recipe, I’d recommend halving the glaze recipes. Especially with two glazes, the quantity was excessive, and we had too much left over.

Pumpkin scones

Paired with some turkey bacon and strawberries, we were full until early afternoon. These scones are a little sugary for every day, but worth it for a special weekend meal. In fact, my little one liked the meal so much, she paid me 80 cents for my troubles.

To find out what’s new in our kitchen, stop by, or become a fan on Facebook. Happy holiday cooking!

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