Saturday, January 29, 2011

Sick Days and Chicken Noodle Soup

Inevitably the fever and sore throat that is being passed around at school has been shared with one of my kids. When she woke up with a sore throat, she was not thrilled about missing school. She insisted that she was just fine. Telling her that she was staying home for a day of pampering and special attention helped a bit. We started off with breakfast in bed...sort of. We made a nice little nest for her on the love seat in the family room.

As a child, I loved sick days at home. LOVED them. My kids feel that being sick is a punishment that comes with the stiff consequence of massive amounts of make up homework. They have to be really sick to take a day off and even then they still will work on homework so they are not too far behind.

So while they stay home worrying about the load of homework waiting for them, sneezing and napping, I try to make them feel a little special with some TLC. For Alyssa pampering means a bowl of poached eggs and toast.

I always set them up in the family room. I drape the love seat or couch with a clean cotton sheet. Then I add pillows and blankets so they can snuggle in and get as comfortable as possible. Then I start gathering up lots of goodies like stacks of books, lots of liquids, the remote control, crayons and a coloring book, tissues, a few games, a puzzle and anything else I can think of to keep them happy.

There are also a few other things that the kids have automatically come to expect when the get sick. Alyssa must have poached eggs and toast every time she gets sick. It is her comfort food. She also likes a hot mug of chicken soup when she is feeling a bit low.

There are few things as satisfying as a thick, rich mug of soup. These are the humble ingredients that turn into one of our favorite comfort foods.

Start with a large hot pan and add a bit of olive oil.

Add your chopped veggies to the pan.

Add salt, pepper, and dried thyme to the veggies.

Stir everything together.

Put the cover on the pan and let the veggies cook down. Stirring them up occasionally.

Add the wine. I am using a rose. A white wine would also work well.

Then add the chicken breast to the pan.

Add just enough water to cover the chicken breasts. Cover the pan. Bring everything to a boil. When the liquids have reached the boiling point, turn the burner down to a simmer. Simmer the chicken breasts for 25 minutes.

When the breasts are finished cooking, remove the chicken from the pan. Let the chicken rest and cool on a cutting board for a few minutes.

Skim as much fat off the top of the soup as possible. This is what you should have left.

I am adding fancy noodles to my soup. My daughter happened to pick these out when we had been grocery shopping so this is what I am using today. This pasta shape is called fusilli lunghi, but you can use any shape you would like.

Add the noodles to the soup pan. Stir the noodles every few minutes as they cook so they do not stick. This also releases the starch from the noodles which helps to thicken the soup.

As the noodles cook, we need to take the chicken off the bone.

Step one, peel the skin off the chicken.

Step two, starting at the edge, peel the chicken meat off the bones. Check for little bones along the edges.

When the bones are all peeled off, you have a beautifully poached piece of meat left. I am going to put three breasts in to a container for another meal. The other three are going back into the soup.

Chop the chicken into bite size pieces. My family loves BIG bites. I prefer tiny bites. You can do what ever you want. I promise to back you up whether you go with big bites or little.

When the noodles are cooked, you are starting to get very close to eating time.

Add the chicken.

Stir everything together. So yummy. Enjoy!

Chicken Noodle Soup


2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
1 1/2 Cups Diced Carrots
1 1/2 Cups Diced Celery
1 1/2 Cups Diced Onion
3 Leeks, Cleaned and Diced
1 Tablespoon Dried Thyme
1 Teaspoon Salt
1 Teaspoon Pepper
1 Cup Wine - Any Wine That You Enjoy Drinking
6 Split Breast Halves with Rib Meat
1/2 Pound Pasta


1. In a large pan over medium high heat add olive oil, carrots, celery, onions, leek, salt, pepper and thyme. Stir and cover. Cook until vegetables are soft and tender stirring occasionally.

2. Add red wine. Turn heat up to high.

3. Add chicken breasts to pot. Cover chicken with water and cover. Bring everything to a boil. Turn heat down to a simmer and cook for 25 minutes.

4. Remove chicken from pan. Add pasta to the soup. Stir occasionally as pasta cooks. Cook pasta for the length of time recommended on package.

5. Remove chicken from the bones and dice. Add three halves to the soup. Reserve the other three halves for another use.

6. When pasta is cooked, add chicken to the soup and stir. Garnish soup with fresh parsley if desired. Enjoy.

Serves 8 as an entree.

For a printer friendly version of this recipe click here.

I am linking this to CSI Project's Soup and Comfort Foods Project.


Tuesday, January 25, 2011

A Puzzling Situation

We spend a lot of time gathered around a table working on a puzzle or two or three. We have over the course of time developed a system for how we build our rather complicated puzzles. I thought I would share a few of our family tips with you so you can make building a puzzle a fun thing to do. There is nothing worse than finally getting time with your family doing a fun activity only to have the fun activity turn into a major disappointment. I realize that there is not a lot of contrast between the table and the puzzle pieces. I apologize for that, but the pictures still clear enough to see well.

Step 1

Turn over all the pieces and separate the straight edge pieces from the inside pieces.

Step 2

Build the border.

Step 3

Isolated color patches. Grab ALL the pieces that have the small patches of color that is a small part of the puzzle. This is usually a color that stands out so it is rather easy to cherry pick the the puzzle pieces out of the seemingly endless sea of puzzle pieces. For this puzzle it is the the sky. See how Alyssa has the pieces lined up? Her system makes it a lot easier to find the piece she needs.

Step 4

After the mini patches of color have been put together, then start organizing the puzzle pieces. This will help a lot in the next step. Group pieces together that have the same shape.

Step 5

'Innies' and 'Outties'

I have names for the parts of a puzzle piece. They are real imaginative names that help me look for the piece I need. Now lets just say that the puzzle piece we need is not sitting right next to the puzzle. We would have to search through all sorts of pieces to find the piece to fit into that green hole. The piece we need will be mostly green and have at least three 'innies'. Since we have already grouped all the pieces together all we have to do is go to the groups that have three or four innies and find our piece. :-)

Step 6

  • Chat, laugh and don't take it too seriously.
  • Grab a cup of something warm and settle in. Puzzles can take days to build. There's not a time limit.
  • When you get really stuck, try changing seats and looking at the puzzle from a different point of view. We do a Chinese fire drill sort of thing and every so often, everyone moves one seat to the right.
  • You might not want to start with a 1000 piece puzzle on your first time out, but find a picture that you really like. Some 1000 piece puzzles are easier than 500 piece puzzles. I think photographs are easier to put together than heavily textured painting style puzzles.
  • Make sure you have plenty of space. I like to build the frame and keep all the un-worked pieces outside of the frame so that way when you start getting chunks put together you can put them into the approximate place they will be in the frame. If it is full of puzzle pieces you have no where to go with it.
  • Use the picture on the box as a reference. It will help a lot
  • If you cannot tell if two pieces go together, flip them over and look at the back. The seam between the two pieces should be completely flush with no gaps at all.
  • If you cannot find the piece you are looking for...check the floor. Pieces are so light and they easily stick to your sleeves so check the floor often. (This is also a tip in case you have young ones that put everything they find into their mouth. Puzzle pieces are choking hazards.)

Saturday, January 22, 2011

A Lazy, Snowy Weekend and Grilled Cheese

We are so busy during the week that when the weekends come along we simply crash. We make sure to get our favorite football game in, we try to cook a few meals together and most importantly we spend time catching up.

This weekend we pulled out a bunch of puzzles and made a date in front of the fireplace to spend a few lazy hours talking, laughing, teasing, listening to some soft music and puzzle building. These hours together are priceless. Check out this post for our puzzle tips.

Since we spend a lot of time around a table of puzzle pieces so when I found this adorable cookie cutter, I knew that i had to have it. I love putting a fun touch on an everyday staple like grilled cheese. And for us, grilled cheese sandwiches with tomato soup is a winter staple so it is fun to give it a tiny make over every once in a while. I just happen to have a puzzle piece cookie cutter to use. This technique is only limited by your imagination. Here is another look at a grilled cheese I served at my son's birthday party.

The board of ingredients for our lunch is so refreshingly simple. I am adding a touch of fresh parsley to our soup because I happen to have some on hand, but it is not necessary at all.

Start with two slices of bread.

Center your cookie cutter in the middle of your bread and press.

Leave the bread cut out in the slice of bread.

Add a drizzle of olive oil to your non stick pan or griddle. I am using a griddle. You can also butter each slice of bread if you wish, but this method is much faster.

Place your bread on the skillet right over the olive oil and let the bread get toasty. Do no do anything until your bread has toasted completely.

When the bread is ready to flip, add two sliced of cheese and top with the second slice of bread.

This is what you wind up with. Make sure you are toasting the bread on a low heat so the cheese has plenty of time to melt before the bread and oil start burning.


Cookie Cutter Grilled Cheese Sandwiches


2 Slices of Bread
2 Slices of Cheese
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Cookie Cutter
Griddle or Non-Stick Pan


1. Cut Bread with cookie cutter.

2. Add a drizzle of oil to a non stick skillet over medium low heat.

3. Place cut bread in pan.

4. When bread is toasted add two slices of cheese and top with the second slice of bread. Flip the sandwich over and toast the second piece of bread.

5. Enjoy.

For a printer friendly version of this recipe click here.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

It's Snowing!

We love snow. We were almost starting to feel sorry for ourselves because OUR snow seemed to take a wrong turn somewhere and head south. We were so happy to wake up to some fresh snow this morning. We shoveled the driveway, warmed up with some yummy pumpkin oatmeal and off we went.

I was feeling super inspired by the beautiful snow. So as soon as the kids had been delivered to school, I headed down to the basement to dig out a few of my favorite winter items. Our bench had been decorated for Christmas and last weekend I had brought all the Christmas items in. I left the evergreen, grapevines and the string of lights on the bench. Today I tucked an old pair of ice skates between the greens and the back of the bench.

I added some silver jingle bells to the side of the bench. I love jingle bells. They always make me think of a horse drawn sleigh ride Joel and I had years ago. It is such a fun memory for me.

I also added some 3D plastic light up snowflakes for fun. The kids love these.

And this is what I wound up with. I am so happy with my snow inspired bench.

Here is my favorite item of all. I love this sled. Isn't it a fun piece?

Bear with me for a minute. Do you see this birdhouse? In the summer it lives on my patio with a cute little fern growing inside. When we started decorating for fall, I used some of the grapevine we had trimmed up and an urn that I had emptied.

Then I swapped the pumpkin for some glittered balls from the dollar store. My daughter and her friend tucked some white pine sprigs and some Douglas fir sprigs into the grapevine to create a greener look.

Then I gave it another thirty-second make-over for winter.

I added three more 3D snowflakes tucked into the birdcage.

I am keeping my eye out for an old pair of skis to prop up here. Wouldn't that be great?

And finally, our beautiful willow tree all dressed up for winter.