Spaghetti and Meatballs

I only have so many funny or weird kid stories to tell and since we pretty much stay at home every day, there’s not much to tell on this blog.  But I cook every day so I’m going to start sharing my recipes.

We eat at home every night of the week.  It is a true treat to grab take out or eat out.  Buggy eats with us (yes, we all eat at 5:30) and one day Baby Girl will too.  I cook ONE meal for all of us.  It is possible folks – but it ain’t easy.  Whether working or staying at home, cooking a delicious, healthy meal takes time, energy, and a little planning.  With my experience in both worlds, I’m hoping to share some tips on how to be able to enjoy such meals even with a hectic schedule.

If you asked me what my favorite meal is, I probably wouldn’t say spaghetti.  However I have realized spaghetti tends to be something I can eat for 2 dinners and a lunch and still not be sick of it.  We all love it and it’s not that hard to prepare.  So here’s my recipe for Spaghetti & Meatballs.  It’s a semi-scratch sauce (canned tomatoes rather than fresh).  I’ve adapted it from a “Big-Batch Spaghetti” recipe from Better Homes & Gardens.  (The smaller version is listed before the Big-Batch on their website.)

I like garlic, onions, green pepper, and mushrooms (I use Baby Bella) in my sauce.  Use a few tablespoons of oil in a large pot (I LOVE my dutch oven) to saute the veggies for just a few minutes.

Then comes EVERYTHING else.  Yep, add in the crushed tomatoes (I use crushed because I think it makes a smoother sauce), tomato sauce, tomato paste, sugar, spices, and anything else you like to add.  I like a bit of olive oil in my sauce as well.  I’ve tried balsamic vinegar as well.  Not my preference but still good. (Tip: Adding the spices to the veggies first, then everything else seems to help keep them from sticking to the sides at the top of the pot.)

Now, just let this simmer away on the stove.  The original recipe says it only needs to cook for 30 minutes.  I’ve done that.  These days, I cook it for at least 2-3 hours on low heat.  It tastes great either way.  You could also put it in the crock pot for a few hours.  That allows you to leave the house while it simmers.  Here is a good and easy crock pot sauce recipe from Budget Bytes that I originally found on Pinterest and have enjoyed.

If you are making meatballs and cooking the sauce for only 30 minutes, add the cooked meatballs in when you start the sauce.  If you are cooking for longer, you can add them in at any time.  The longer the better – they soak up some of the sauce and are just as tender and delicious as can be.

To make the meatballs, use a pound of ground beef, salt, pepper, onion powder, garlic powder and just a sprinkle of bread crumbs (less than 1/4 cup).  I know people have their preference for fat to meat ratio but I always use 96% lean for Hubby’s cholesterol.

Mix together well.  Form into balls around the same size.  Place on a foil lined baking sheet and bake at 350 for 15-20 minutes.  I use our toaster oven.  You could use yours, the regular oven, or even brown in a saute pan on the stove.  I like mine to be cooked through so there is no question they are done no matter when I throw them in the sauce.  I also like them to be browned on the outside to add that bit of crunch and flavor.

Another option for the meatballs would be to use a half and half mix of italian sausage (the pack that isn’t in cases) and ground beef.  Delicious flavor.  Plus it makes 2x as much so you can freeze a batch for the next time you make spaghetti.

Cook your noodles according to the package directions.  Plate your pasta.  Enjoy!

My tips and tricks:

  • Cut the vegetables early or the night before. (Some people cut all of their veggies for the week on one day to save time.  I don’t need to do this, but I could certainly see how it would save a ton of time.)
  • Prepare and cook the meatballs the night before.
  • If making this big batch, freeze some of the sauce for another meal.
  • If making this big batch and eating it for several meals, cook all noodles needed for all meals.  Combine the noodles with the sauce and meatballs and store together.  All you have to do is reheat for the next meal.  And let’s face it, pasta is always better after it has a night to sit.
  • Double the meatball recipe and freeze half for the next time you make spaghetti.

Recipe

Anne’s Spaghetti & Meatballs

Meatballs

  • 1 pound lean ground beef
  • 1/4 tsp each salt, ground black pepper, onion powder, garlic powder
  • less than 1/4 cup Italian seasoned bread crumbs

Mix ingredients together well with clean hands.  Divide and roll into balls the same size (12-16).  Place on foil lined baking sheet.  Bake in oven at 350 degrees for 15-20 minutes or until desired doneness (is that a word?).

Spaghetti Sauce

  • 1 medium onion, choppied
  • 1 green pepper, chopped
  • 1 small package Baby Bella mushrooms, chopped
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2-3 TBS olive oil
  • Two 28-ounce cans peeled, crushed tomatoes
  • One 6-ounce can tomato paste
  • One 15-ounce can tomato sauce
  • 2 TBS dried parsley flakes
  • 2 tsp dried basil (or 2 TBS fresh basil)
  • 2 tsp dried oregano (or 2 TBS fresh oregano)
  • 1 tsp dried marjoram (or 1 TBS fresh marjoram)
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
  • 2 TBS olive oil (optional)
  • 2 TBS balsamic vinegar (optional)

In Dutch Oven or large sauce pot, cook vegetables in hot oil until just tender.  Add remaining ingredients and stir to combine well.  Bring to boiling.  Cover and simmer on low heat for 30 minutes to 3 hours.  Add cooked meatballs immediately if simmering for 30 minutes.  Add cooked meatballs with at least 30 minutes or more time remaining if simmering longer.  (Stir every once in a while while simmering.)  Cook pasta according to package directions.  Serve sauce and meatballs over hot pasta.  Enjoy!

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What I’ve Learned In Preschool

Buggy has started his first year of preschool.  Real preschool.  Few days a week, few hours a day, nice soft spoken ladies and tiny people everywhere preschool.

And already, from his first day, I have learned a few things.

1. Baby Girl still hates being in the car, even for the less than 20 minute round trip.  (Well really, it’s her tummy and reflux that hate it – but that’s another story, I may never tell.)

2. Your children will often surprise you.  Not that I doubted there would be no tears from Buggy, just wasn’t sure how well he’d do getting taken from the car by a woman he doesn’t know.  He was great.

3. It may be impossible to leave the parking lot without a few tears.  None from Buggy of course.  Mostly lots from Baby Girl, though I doubt they were from being sad to see big brother go.  My eyes might have gotten a tad watery.  It was the view in my side mirror of Buggy holding the aid’s hand walking up the steps.  Got me right in the heart!

4. Speaking of the parking lot, the whole parents-don’t-listen-to-instructions-during-orientation-or-read-the-handbook-carefully starts very early in the schooling years.  Yeah, I’m talking about you Dad that made a LEFT out of the parking lot this morning when you know they told you only make a RIGHT during carpool.  Geez!

5. Baby Girl sleeps through the vacuuming of the family room and kitchen floor.  Yes I vacuum my kitchen floor.  Get a Dyson, you will understand.

6. It’s amazing how productive I can be in 2 hours.  Friends told me to take a nap, read a book, watch TV.  I’d prefer the dishes done and the house clean.  It’s been 5 months of chaos and terror (the suitcase from the hospital is STILL on my bedroom floor).  I need clean calm.

7. It’s amazing how little can be done in 2 hours.  Every room of my house needs help.  I have a long list.

I did complete everything on this list. Yay for me!

8. Three fun-and-friend-filled hours does not ensure that your child will immediately crash the second his or her head hits the pillow for an afternoon nap.  Nor did the parent handbook promise children would nap after each school day – darn.  Threats of no hot-wheels, TV, or blanky can help.

9. Recess as a child’s favorite part of the school day starts early.  When asked, “What did you do today, Buggy?” his reply was, “I play in the sandbox.”  That’s the only thing he told me on his own.  Everything else was a “yes” to a question I asked, and concerning 3-year-olds a “yes” doesn’t mean it happened, is true, or actually means “yes”.

10. It’s going to be a great school year!

What a cutie!

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I’d Kill For Chocolate And Cheese

Baby Girl’s tummy is not happy with something.  It has been going on since birth but has slowly been building up more and more as she grows.

Due to these tummy troubles, and wanting to continue breastfeeding, I am following her doctor’s recommendations and trying a no dairy no soy diet.

Sure, no problem.  I’ve already cut out the outright dairy, I can add all of it and soy.  That was my thinking on day one.

Day two after research and a visit to the grocery store – seriously, this is going to be horrible.  There may have been some tears.  From me.

No cheese people.  No freaking cheese!  No chocolate.  No freaking chocolate!  I practically drool over and into the cup of milk I pour for my son 3 times a day – I love milk.  And do you know what soy is in?  EVERYTHING!  And by everything, I mean EVERYTHING!  I have been reading every ingredient list on every item in the grocery store for the past few weeks and there are about all of 3 things I can eat.

When you go on a no dairy no soy diet, you pretty much stick with meat, fruit, vegetables, and baked goods you make yourself with milk and butter substitutes (which I have yet to locate and is why this post is being written).  I’m still learning the ropes here and haven’t had 5 hours of free time to read all the labels at Whole Foods.

The hardest thing – satisfying my sweet tooth.  I’m not even close to the word satisfy.  I’m in the needs improvement, failing miserably part of satisfying my sweet tooth.  I LOVE to eat dessert – cookies, cake, candy, pie.  Cheesecake is my most favorite of all.  If it’s sugary and sweet, I pretty much love it and don’t hesitate to eat it.  And everything sweet either has milk or butter in it.  And everything made in a manufacturing plant and sold in the grocery store has soy in it.  So I haven’t had a decent dessert in a long while.

I’m dying.  Tonight, my body and mind could only do one thing – try to find dessert in my house.  Guess what I ended up with.  Trader Joe’s version of cream of wheat to which I added brown sugar and raisins.  Is that the most pathetic dessert you’ve ever heard of?  Maybe a piece of bark or chunk of wax could be worse.

So while the rest of the world is celebrating our country’s birthday with hot dogs and fireworks, Baby Girl will be following me to the 4 grocery stores in our 5-mile radius to find SOMETHING remotely sweet that I can eat.  Even if it ends up being packets of Splenda.  I’ll take what I can get.  I’m desperate.

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I Want The Dirty One

Lovies.  Lots of kids have them.  Heck, lots of adults have them.  My cabbage patch kid slept with me through college – though I could survive a night without him, unlike most kids.  To some children its the pacifier, a doll or stuffed animal, a blanket, a toy.  For Buggy – it is a blanket.

Early days of the beloved blanky.

I can’t remember exactly when he became so attached, but it was early.  It’s a thick, fuzzy, blue blanket.  A gift from a former student.  I’m sure I started using it over his first winter to keep him warm.  He found that it served a much higher purpose.  A much smellier and more disgusting purpose.

Buggy doesn’t just rub the soft fuzziness of his “bwanky”, he sucks the heck out of that fuzziness.  Yes, sucks.  He wads up a big piece, shoves it in his mouth, and gnaws, sucks, or something similar that produces lots of saliva.  When that part of the blanket no longer pleases him, he discards, finds a new patch, and goes to town.  The blanket is soaked early on in the night, often remaining in his mouth throughout his entire 11-12 hours of sleep.  He can not or will not sleep without it.

I don’t know if you have ever smelled a blanket drenched in saliva, but I don’t advise that you run out and do so for the sake of understanding.  Trust me when I say, it is nasty.  In the beginning, there was one blanket.  One horrible smelling blanket that soaked in the saliva for a week straight before getting a good rinse.

After a few times of forgetting to throw the wash in the dryer (with the beloved blanket a part of the laundry batch) before nap or bedtime, I got smart and found 2 more blankets vastly similar to the original.  The 3 blankets rotate throughout the week and laundry.  If I could bring myself to spend the money (they are $15-$20 each) I’d have one for each day of the week.  But alas, there are just 3.

They are well worn and a bit off color.  Not a big deal – expected of any textile that gets a lot of wear, tear, and washing.  However the smell is unbearable.  After washing, slightly bearable.

Now that the blankets have gone through almost 3 good years of use, things have changed.  One night of love, the entire room wreaks of the stench.  And the stench is very close to old poop in a diaper (if you have yet to experience that smell, please don’t try, you will know it one day – or have experienced it in Kindergarten with the kid that pooped his pants and it took a few hours to discover who did it).

Something new has developed though.  On the day I rotate “Old Smeller” for a freshly laundered clone, I get a bit of a protest.

Buggy smells the newer blanket.

Buggy: I don’t want this one.

Me: Why not?  It’s your blanky.

Buggy: I want the dirty one.

Me: (with a look of disgust on my face – because I can’t believe he just said that) It’s the same as the dirty one, just clean.

Buggy: I want the dirty one!  I DON’T WANT THIS ONE!
(Throws blanket on the floor)

Me: Goodnight!  (Quickly exit room)

Why, oh why, does my son prefer the bacteria infested stink of a saliva soaked blanket?  And how long will this love last?

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How Did You Know?

The Master Bedroom... inviting, relaxing, romantic (in someone else's house).

Why yes, I do have a newborn.  How did you know?  Is it the cleanliness and organization of the bedroom?  How about the giant bags under my eyes?  Is it my sudden DD breasts I hold with a grimacing face of pain?  Or perhaps you were awoken this morning by our simultaneous crying of a 1-week-old and an almost 3-year-old?  Did the milk, spit-up, pee, and poop stains on my shirt I’ve been wearing every day since coming home give it away?  Was it the parade of family and friends bringing covered dishes that we ravenously tear into and devour before they can even say “Congrats!”?

We don’t have a sign in the yard or wreath on the door, however did you guess?

Our beautiful baby girl joined us last week and despite the long list of “signs of a newborn” we are surviving and surviving well!

This is my pure bliss!

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Let the Countdown Begin – But Start At 5, Not 10

Child #2 is due to arrive in less than a week.  And by “due” I do not mean the natural clock within my maternal awesomeness that decides when she is ready to make her appearance (which would probably keep her in forever without medical intervention because that’s what it did with Buggy and wouldn’t it be the same for this one too – broken).  By “due” I mean my doctor has taken it upon herself to do all of the hard work and deliver my second child in the same O.R. where the first was born.

Public school Spring Break is in 2 weeks, which happens to also be when my natural due date fell.  But with some scheduling issues and recalculating of due dates I am a tad farther along than first suspected.  At my weekly appointment on Monday it was decided that my scheduled c-section would be bumped up an entire 6 days.

Hence, “start the countdown at 5, not 10″.  Even though it’s only a week sooner, it feels like it jumped up a month.  The reality of how soon we will be parents to two children came and smacked us in the face.

We are ready.  We have been ready.  Aside from last week’s laundry still unfolded in baskets, upstairs carpet that hasn’t been vacuumed in 3 weeks, and pine cones still up on my mantle (the first day of Spring was last week and as far as Virginia weather is concerned it’s been Spring since Christmas, the pine cones should never have been out), we are ready.

I am not a hormonal person by nature.  I do not go crazy during my monthly cycle.  I did not go crazy during this or the first pregnancy (thank goodness for me and especially for Hubby).  But I find myself a tad more emotional than usual these past weeks.

I feel excitement to meet my daughter, to feel those first tugs on heartstrings when I finally hold her in my arms, the wonder of who she will be throughout her life.  To see Buggy become a big brother and care for his little sister in a way that only a brother can (I am really hoping for the care part but expecting a good portion of the “I hate her take her back” part).

I feel relief that my body will soon no longer be pregnant.  I know it is a blessing and a privilege to be able to grow my own child, rather effortlessly, but it’s still taxing and tolling.  I hear all the time “women’s bodies are amazingly built to be pregnant” but really I don’t think they are or I wouldn’t have aches, pains, sleepless nights, and have to wear support socks in 80 degree weather.

I also feel sadness.  Sadness for Buggy.  Sadness that for a large amount of time, if not forever, he will lose a lot of the attention I dote on him constantly.  He will have to share his parents, share his grandparents, share his home, share our hearts.  I know it will all work out – I’ve seen it happen a dozen times with friends and family.  But you still wonder how you’ll balance all the love and attention so they both feel it 100%.

I’m a little scared.  I know what a c-section is like.  I know what the recovery is like.  It wasn’t horrible for me but it also wasn’t easy.  While I’m an optimistic person, I know the risks and occasionally they creep up to remind me to count my blessings and thank and ask God for strength, health, and life.  I’m also a bit scared about learning to manage 2 children – one being a newborn.  That fear is for another post!

Mostly I’m happy and ready.  And if happy is the feeling that overwhelms me the most then I think I’m in the right boat.

Ready and waiting...

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Party of the Year

They are awesome people.  They are kind.  They are generous.  They are intelligent.  They are caring.  They are playful.  They are serious.  They are loving.  They are the parents that raised three kids to love and cherish family, friends, America, and God.  They are my parents.

In October of last year, I realized my parents would be celebrating some pretty momentous occasions in 2012 and we would need to celebrate.  Celebrate more than the funny cards and homemade dessert at Sunday dinner; how we normally do things.  I rallied the troops (my sister and brother) and we started plotting February 25, 2012.

In March 2012 my father will celebrate his 70th birthday.  It’s crazy to me that he is 70.  He doesn’t act or look 70.  But he has the wisdom and insight as if he’s lived 1,000 years.

In May 2012 my mother and father will celebrate their 40th wedding anniversary.  That is something most certainly to be honored.  And I know my sister, brother, and I strive to achieve that same anniversary for our marriages one day.

My mother made her own dress (stunning). My father picked his own tux (interesting).

To top it all off, my mother FINALLY decided to retire from Occupational Therapy in the public schools (this has been an ongoing persuasion conversation in our family for the past 3 years).  I’m ashamed to say I don’t know how long she has worked.  I know she got her Masters in Occupational Therapy the day she married my father (“I got my M.S. and my Mrs. on the same day” she always jokes)- so technically she’s retiring from 40 years of being an OT.  This week will be her last of work.  She has helped so many children in her years of work.

My mother in her college days.

Yes, this party needed to be BIG!

Months of planning and preparation, a crazy week of cleaning, cooking, rearranging, and decorating all culminated in one of the best nights in our family’s life.

60 of our parents’ family (near and far) and friends (church, work, gym – silver and gold) gathered at my house half an hour before the impending arrival.  I used the ruse of celebrating Cambodian New Year early (due to Baby #2’s arrival preventing us from celebrating in April) to lure them to our house for dinner at 7.  In order to keep them from coming early to play with Buggy, my brother “rode” with them and happened to show up late enough that they wouldn’t get to my house until 7.  We are geniuses I tell you.

They had absolutely, positively, NO IDEA!  They opened the door and all 60 of us yelled “SURPRISE!”  They certainly were.

SURPRISE!!!

There were numerous ways we honored them that night – not just the number of guests and the surprise aspect.

My brother and I carried out a recon mission a few weeks prior to the party where we scoured our parents’ house while they were away.  All 3 of us collected from ourselves and borrowed from our friends and coworkers.  We collected photos and mementos from their lives to display on “celebration tables”, as we called them.  My father’s sister sent pictures and an album she made.  We showcased each celebrated event with a table full of memories and honor.

40th Anniversary

Pictures, their wedding album, the ring pillow Mom made for my wedding out of her own wedding dress, their wedding announcement from the newspaper, and other mementos.

Mom's Retirement

Pictures of my mother, OT handbooks and textbooks, lots of OT “toys”, my mother’s Masters thesis.

Dad's 70th Birthday

Pictures of my father over the years, his report card and high school diploma, Texas Tech calendar, cowboy boots, Lions Club award, family photos.

My dad's yearly Christmas party pants from the past 25+ years.

The pants just had to come with us.  Aren’t they awesome?

Along with LOTS of food (as in more than we needed), there was a gorgeous and delicious cake made by a talented friend, Cakes by Amy.

We gave a champagne toast.  My brother did a wonderful job!  My sister and I blanked so we just smiled and cut the cake.

Great toast brother!

Way to stand there and smile Me and Sister!

The happy couple!

Most important were the “gifts”.  We asked guests to gift a moment, memory, or congratulatory thought to my parents in a card.  A basket in the foyer almost filled to the brim with well wishes, blessings, and memories for my parents.  Friends and family unable to join us are mailing their cards as we speak.  I know they will cherish these cards for years to come.

My super talented brother put together an amazing slideshow of scanned and digital photos that was set to music.  It played all night for everyone to view and enjoy.  He also made our own gifts to our parents (other than the party itself).  A picture map of their beginnings (Pennsylvania and Texas) and where they have called home for more than 40 years (Virginia) – which I shamefully do not have a picture of.  But greatest of all, he put together a beautiful collage for their 40th anniversary of wedding and family photo album pictures.  It is stunning.

The AMAZING "40" collage.

I couldn’t have imagined this party going any better than it actually did.  Our parents were stunned and amazed, the guests were stunned and amazed, the party planners were stunned and amazed.  It was a magical night and I can’t think of any better way to honor two of the most important people in my life.  I love you mom and dad.

For those that couldn’t join us, I hope this gives you a glimpse into the night.  Thanks to everyone who has played a part in helping to honor Mom and Dad.  Special thanks to Hubby for being such an excellent photographer to capture the night.

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