Friday, March 29, 2013

Hot Artichoke Spinach Dip

Another friend, Mariah Routley, is helping me fill in today while I'm out of the country. She's got a recipe I bet my granddaughter (22 months) would love as she's into "dipping"!

This easy and fast appetizer is a delicious side for any pasta themed meal. The Routley Family is a big fan of Italian restaurants and frequently visit the Olive Garden here in Dubuque. Special occasions deserve appetizers and the night we were to be engaged (although I didn’t know it at the time) we went to Olive Garden with the whole family and this was on the table. 


1 cup spinach (frozen)
1 can artichoke hearts (only in water- not marinated)
8 oz cream cheese (or Neufchâtel cheese)
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp garlic powder
dash pepper

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. 
  2. Boil spinach and artichokes in 1 cup water on medium heat for 10 minutes. Drain well in a colander. 
  3. Meanwhile, in a microwave-safe bowl, microwave the cream cheese for one minute or enough to soften. Add all remaining ingredients together in a 1 quart casserole dish. Add the strained spinach and artichokes. Using a hand mixer/blender, blend the mixture to a desired consistency (the artichokes should be bite sized at largest).
  4. Bake at 350 for 20 minutes or until the top of the dip has some brown spots.
  5. Garnish with fresh chopped tomato, basil leaves, celery, or chopped red pepper. Serve with toasted French bread or fresh baguette. 

Tips: May be kept in a slow cooker to keep warm. Recipe may be doubled.

For printable version click here.

Mariah Routley is super organized and loads of fun to be around. She is a public school substitute but spends most of her days at home taking care of her two, soon to be three, children. She loves running facebook pages for an online garage sale in her town and for her church. Her husband is my son's business partner at Routley-Fleming Motors.

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Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Singing At The Table

One day I was talking to the second grade teacher at our children’s school in Bogota, Colombia, and she told me that in social studies they were studying social norms. In order to teach the children what norms were, she thought she would ask them about the mealtime rules in their home, assuming she would bring to light many norms that they all knew. So she was surprised to find out that among her dozen or so students the only rule they all had in common was: No Singing at the Table.

Im not even sure why that’s so often a rule, or at least something mothers say when children start singing at the table. I looked it up and couldn’t find an answer. My only guess is that it interrupts conversation or annoys parents.

But at our table we do sing. We dont sing at every meal (nor while we're eating!), but we always sing during devotions near Christmas and Easter and on other holidays like Thanksgiving and even the Fourth of July. We didn't sing during the meal, but after.

In the summer we purposely chose hymns to memorize. My husband and I picked out about half a dozen hymns we wanted our children to know and I typed or photocopied them and glued the sheets into a notebook. Since the hymns often had words that weren't in our childrens everyday vocabularies, I put those words in bold type and I made a glossary for them to use to learn the meanings. 

When we sang each hymn--everyday for a week while learning it and then once in a while after that to keep it fresh--we talked about what it meant and how it encouraged us.

The year when my husbands brother was dying of cancer, God led us to several songs that had verses speaking of the end of our journey, Gods faithfulness, and our hope for the future. We sang some of those songs when we had our own private memorial for Pete after he passed away.

During that difficult season, hymns were a special comfort to my husband, his parents, and Pete's widow.

When we have singing planned as part of the after dinner activities we provide the words to the hymns we'll be singing. In that way our Chinese foreign exchange student and our German future son-in-law have been able to join us. Besides, our singing always sounds much better when others add their voices to ours--especially if those voices are the melodious ones of my parents-in-law and sister-in-law! 

My father's memory is failing, but he too learned many of these hymns as a child and when we sing, he may not remember what holiday it is, but he knows the songs and he knows the One to and of Whom we are singing.

That's my prayer for my children, too. I believe these songs will play on their mental playlists all their lives and I pray the Lord brings them to mind when they need them, when they want them, and maybe, most especially when they don’t want them.

Connect with your family through singing. Choose songs that are easy to sing without music, or if you are blessed enough to have a musical family, bring the instruments along! 

Just don't sing with your mouth full.

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Friday, March 22, 2013

I'm-So-Glad-It's-Finally-Spring Cookies

Since I'm out of the country, my lovely daughter-in-law and adorable granddaughter provided a recipe post for me today! Hope you enjoy the pictures, story, and the cookies with your favorite little baker!

There is sugar all over my floor.
There is milk soaking into my sock.
There is flour all over her dress.
And there is a huge, proud grin on her face.

When my daughter is a mess by the end of the day, I like to think that I have done my job well. I'm a big believer that kids learn best when they are given the room to make a little mess. And my daughter's current favorite mess-making project is baking!

I love baking with my daughter. My teacher side gets all excited as I see her learning to scoop and dump and be exposed to words like “half a teaspoon” and “3 cups”. She gets to use her senses to explore things like flour, water, and oil. (Speaking of which, I need to buy this kid an apron!) My mommy side loves this special time set aside for just us to work together on something we both enjoy. This may be naïve, but I have hopes that if I start doing this now, maybe 30 years from now will find us still enjoying time together in the kitchen.

Today, we are making Christmas cookies! Christmas cookies? Yes, Christmas cookies. I'll be honest: I don't have a lot of confidence in my cooking/baking skills. So, when I really need something to turn out well, I almost always fall back on my mom's sugar cookies. They are amazing and, even better, pretty hard to mess up.

Mom said: It is actually the recipe for candy cane cookies. (Betty Crocker) I got so frustrated with the dough because it wouldn't twist into pretty candy cookies, so I smashed it all together and cut it into cookies...and loved the taste.”

This is great because now they can be used for any time of year. Cut them into pumpkins, and they're Thanksgiving cookies. Cut them into hearts, and they're Valentines cookies. Cut them into flowers and bunnies, and they're “I'm So Glad It's Finally Spring” cookies!

So, here it is:

Cream together ½ cup of butter and ½ cup of shortening. Really, as long as there is a total of 1 cup of anything in the butter/oil/shortening family, it'll work. Lean towards more butter if you want them to taste amazing but not look as great, lean towards the shortening it's more important for them to look pretty.  

Hold on tight, Kitchen Aids apparently make scary noises!

Add ½ cup of sugar and ½ cup of confectioner sugar. Yes, she completely missed the bowl, and we've been finding sugar on the bottom of our feet ever since.

She was pretty thrilled to have piles of sugar all over. 

Add 1 teaspoon of vanilla and 1 ½ teaspoons of almond extract. And if your hand accidentally slips and more almond extract comes out than planned, you'll just have to suffer with extra delicious cookies. Its funny how mine always happens to do that...

Take this opportunity to taste the batter before adding one egg. (Tasty, eh?)
Mix thoroughly.

Next, dump in 2 ½ cups of flour. If you are doing this step with a toddler... I'm sorry about your kitchen.                                                              

Okay, now STOP. Pause. Take a deep breath, because this is the critical step coming up. This is the one ingredient that is easy to mess up. Are you ready? Here we go...

One Teaspoon of Salt.
Not one almost full teaspoon of salt... I've tried it. They just lack flavor.
Not one heaping teaspoon of salt. They end up salty, and who wants salty cookies?
No... exactly, precisely One Teaspoon of Salt.

After blending the flour and salt, preheat your oven to 375ºIf your kids haven't been helping you thus far, now is the time to call them in! 

 Roll out the dough and get our your cookie cutters. I like my cookies thick, so I usually roll my dough about a quarter inch. If you are like my in-laws and like your cookies crunchy, you can roll them out thinner.

Bake on ungreased cookie sheets for about 9 minutes or until set and very light brown.

You can frost them once they are cooled, but personally I like them unfrosted just as much.


Sugar Cookies
Recipe by Betty Crocker, Tweaked by Joyce Hardisty

1/2 cup butter, softened                       
1/2 cup shortening                              
1/2 cup sugar                                      
1/2 cup confectioner sugar                           
1 egg                                                    
1 1/2 tsp almond extract                            
1 tsp vanilla extract                              
2 1/2 cups flour                                                          
1 tsp salt (exactly!) 

Heat oven to 375.  Cream together butter, shortening, sugars, egg, and flavorings.  Blend in flour and salt.  Roll out and cut with favorite cookie cutters. Bake on ungreased cookie sheets about 9 minutes or until set and very light brown.  Cool and frost if desired.

For printable click here.


Abby Fleming graduated from Emmaus Bible College with a Bachelor's Degree in Elementary Education and Biblical Studies. Also at Emmaus, she met and married Daniel Fleming. They have been married almost 7 years now and have a beautiful 22 month old daughter, Anna, and a 4 month old son, Kenneth. After the birth of their daughter, Abby and Daniel decided she would quit her job in education and work instead as a full time Mommy. Currently, Abby and her husband are living in the Chicago area as he pursues further education.

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Tuesday, March 19, 2013

How Easter Can Draw Your Family Near To God

When I was in first grade our teacher assigned us to write about Christmas. I wrote that Christmas was when Jesus was born. That was probably the whole "essay"--it was first grade, remember? 

The comments my public school teacher made on that paper led us to find out that she was a Christian. 

Spring came and she asked us to write about Easter. I wrote that it was about dyeing eggs, bunnies, flowers, and candy. Oops!

My teacher and my mom were friends by then and Miss Cleaveland mentioned it to my mother who set about finding ways to help me understand the true meaning of Easter.

As a result, when my oldest son was 3 I decided to create an 8 day Easter devotional to do together. Twenty-four years later, we still use it with our kids and soon our grandchildren will be joining in.

My Easter devotion is pretty easy to copy and I have instructions in my book, "Around the Table".

Here are some other ideas to allow Easter to draw you and your family closer to the Lord.

  • Start a family Easter week tradition. How about having any member of the family say something and the rest respond. Some possibilities:
    • Caller: "Attitude check!" Response: "Praise the Lord!"
    • Caller: "Resurrection Practice!" Response: Everyone jumps in the air. (Warning, do not try this at the table or in a car!)
    • Caller: "He is Risen!" Response: "He is Risen Indeed!"
  • Pick a person, any person involved in the first Easter and learn all you can about them. One year I took a deeper look at Mary Magdalene and then I spoke in character and costume at our ladies' meeting telling her testimony from from former life through conversion to the empty tomb. I found it incredibly moving. Wouldn't your kids love getting into the act?
Photo Credit

  • Memorize a hymn (or several hymns) that have to do with Christ's resurrection. Sing them with your family, even if you don't have the best voices. We certainly don't, but our kids really belted them out when they were small! Some of our favorites:
    • He Lives
    • Christ Arose
    • Christ the Lord is Risen Today
    • Because He Lives
    • I Know that My Redeemer Lives

  • Read 1 Corinthians 15:1-20 together. Ask some discussion questions like:
    • Of what three things did Paul want the Corinthians to be convinced?
    • What proof did he give of the resurrection?
    • How many people would have to tell you they saw something amazing before you would believe it was true?
    • How many eyewitnesses does Paul say there were to Jesus' resurrection?
    • In what ways do you depend on Jesus' resurrection being true?
    • How would your life be different if it weren't true?
  • Make "Empty Tomb Cookies" with your children on the Saturday night before Easter.
  • Visit The Garden Tomb website and read some of the articles under the link "About". Look at the photos in the "Galleries" link. Whether this is the true site of Jesus' tomb or not, the thing that is true is the tomb is empty!

That's what our tour guide told us when we had the opportunity to visit on a ministry trip to Israel. "Now you will discover that you have come all this way to see...nothing. Because the tomb is empty!" The Tongans whose group we had joined erupted in a chorus of "Amen! Amen! Praise the Lord! Amen!" 

And that's the reason for Easter. Talk about it around your table the next couple of weeks.

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Friday, March 15, 2013

Quick Tex-Mex Corn Bacon Chowder

Last week we had a snow day.

I love snow. The only thing I love more than snow is everything bursting into life in the spring--all those flowers that were somewhere down in the ground suddenly showing up! The only thing I love more than spring is summer when everything is green, green, green and the goldfinches and bluebirds come eat out of my feeders. The only thing I love more than green trees in summer is orange and red and yellow trees in autumn. Wow! A sunny day in autumn when the colors are at their peek on the ridges above the river has to be the best. Unless it's snow--giant flakes falling down thickly outside my window while my fireplace keeps me cozy.

The best thing to bring to the table on a snow day is soup. I just knew when I saw a recipe for corn chowder I was going to love it--except...except I thought I'd add black beans...and some chili powder...and salsa, because I just can't leave a recipe alone.

And it turned out great!

Tex-Mex Corn Bacon Chowder
Printable Recipe Here

2 slices bacon
3 cups chopped celery, onion, and sweet pepper mix (you can buy it already chopped, but I use what I have on hand.)
2 15 oz. cans cream style corn
1 15 oz. can black beans, drained and rinsed
2 cups 1% milk (you can use 2% or whole, but it has more calories)
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1/2 to 1 tsp chili powder (depending on how spicy you like it)
1/4 - 1/2 cup salsa (mild, medium, or hot--to taste)
1/2 cup shredded extra sharp cheddar cheese

In a non-stick large wok or medium pot cook bacon until crisp. Pat with paper towels and crumble; set aside. Drain off excess fat without scraping pot. 

In remaining drippings saute peppers, onions, and celery over medium heat about 7 or 8 minutes until tender and edges begin to brown. Add corn, drained beans, milk, salt, pepper, chili powder, and salsa. Stir together and heat through.

Serve in bowls. Top with tablespoon of shredded cheese and some crumbled bacon.

I had bread bowls from the day-old shelf and it was wonderful in those. 

For a printable version of this recipe click here.

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Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Dinner for Just Mom and Dad

When our first child was born life changed for us. (That's an understatement!) I'd never been around newborns, so the change was quite a shock for someone who had always wanted to be a mother.

I'd had an emergency C-section and stayed in the hospital five days. At that time, in that hospital in South America, I only had my baby with me for one hour out of every four, so when I brought him home, I was ambushed by how much he needed me. My mom arrived shortly after for a six week visit. I didn't know when I'd get to see her next so I wanted to spend every minute I could with her. 

At the end of her visit, Jim took her to the airport to fly home and when he returned, I was in the nursery feeding our son, so he went to his desk to work. After I put the sleeping baby down, I walked into his study and he held out his arms to me and said, "Who are you?"

I learned a big lesson that day: No matter who else needs my time, I need to make time for my husband (and he for me). 

As you know, I'm all about family mealtimes, but if those occur regularly, then Mom and Dad are entitled to--yes, even need--meals alone together sometimes. Maybe even once a week.

We love our kids to bits and laugh at their antics, but it's rather hard to carry on a cohesive conversation when they're around!

Over the years we've had to be creative about how we got that time alone together to talk, really talk, to each other.

At first, it was fairly easy to put the little ones to bed early and have dinner or dessert together. (It's fun to be the grown ups who can have dessert every night if they want it!)

There was a period of time when our Sundays were full--I mean ministering to others in one way or another from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. So after we sat with the kids while they ate and we got the younger two in bed and the oldest reading in bed, we ordered a cheese pizza ($10 delivered at that time and it provided enough for our children's lunches the next day!) and we locked ourselves in our bedroom to talk and unwind by watching a TV show my mom had recorded and sent down to us--usually Murder She Wrote--very sanctified, I know.

But the kids grew, 
      started staying up later, 
               wanted their pizza hot.
                    So we had to find new plans.

Our twelfth anniversary came two months after our fourth child was born and five months after we had bought our first house. There simply was no money to go out to eat, so we had them play and read in their rooms while we had homemade beef stroganoff by candlelight. I dressed up, did my hair and make up special, and, you know what? We remember that anniversary better than most!

By the time the kids were all in school all day, we usually had our "alone together" meal at noon, often combining errands with a lunch out for maximum efficiency and time together.

When we moved to the states, we only had one at home. Oh, but we added a foreign exchange student. And then one college student moved home and then out and then another moved home, out, and back. Our new plan was going out for coffee on Tuesday evenings after dinner. We had one of those bookstore coffee shops nearby where we felt free to linger over coffee and talk, maybe look at some books with ideas for the house, or play a table game.

Now that we are mostly "empty-nesters" we no longer have to sneak around to get our alone together time, but we are glad we took time for it over the years. Because we were able to spend so much time talking, dreaming, worrying, praying, and just enjoying each other's company, we really know each other and we're loving this new stage of life.

And, I believe that having taken that "just two around the table" time, made us better at the family mealtimes, too.

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Friday, March 8, 2013

Yummy Chopped Lettuce-Cran-Apple Salad

Do you ever go to a potluck meal and discover that the food you brought wasn't all eaten? How about: was hardly touched?

I've had that happen. Probably because I brought roasted vegetables which went up against cheese sauce laden broccoli, mayonaise smothered potato salad, and Snickers/marshmallow/whipped cream "salad." Who's going to go for good-for-you when you can have rich, creamy, and sweet?

Wednesday night we had a loaded potato bar dinner at our local church. The committee in charge provided that (and it was a great idea!) and my half of the alphabet was to bring salads. I'm proud to say, my salad bowl was scraped clean!

One friend told me, "Sharon, that salad was delicious...I commented on it several times as I ate it! Yum!"

"That salad was yummy, Sharon," another friend said, "I tried to get seconds but it was all gone!"

Does a cook's heart proud.

My salad is a variation of one I found on Pinterest. Here is the original.

This is the one of the newest in my repertoire of salads. Here's the recipe.

Chopped Lettuce-Cranberry-Apple-Salad
Serves 8-10 (obviously you can reduce quantities for less people)
Click here for printable version

8-10 cups chopped artisan (or romaine) lettuce
2 medium apples, chopped
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1 cup chopped toasted walnuts
4 slices bacon, crisp-cooked and crumbled
3/4 cup Poppy Seed Salad Dressing 
1/4 cup Balsamic Vinaigrette 

To keep the apples from turning brown, I dunk them in lemon juice before placing them in the salad.
Reserve 1 Tablespoon cranberries, 1 Tablespoon walnuts, and 1/4 of the bacon bits; set aside. In a large bowl, combine the lettuce, apples, cranberries, walnuts, and bacon. Mix together dressings. Drizzle over salad and toss. Sprinkle reserved cranberries, walnuts and bacon over top. 

Connect with your family over delicious and nutritious food!

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Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Tell Me Again, Why Do We Make Them Do Chores?

Why should we have our kids help with chores around the house?

A. I need the help, I can’t do it all myself.
B. They aren’t doing anything worthwhile, they might as well help.
C. They should know how to make a bed, set a table, do their laundry, etc.
D. To help them grow up to be responsible adults.

kids doing chores

If you answered A or B, I think you might need to spend some time thinking about your motivations in raising your children. I’ll accept C as a partial answer. But D is what I’m looking for, something I wish I’d thought out more clearly when I was parenting young children. 

Some day I am going to put together a list of important things to tape to bathroom mirrors to read daily. One will say:

kids chores

As I said, I wish I’d “gotten” this earlier. 

When my kids were in school (as opposed to college) I remember sitting at parent teacher conferences listening to the teacher say, “They need to learn this to get ready for second grade...for middle school...for high school...for college.” 

You know what my mental response was? Just let him be a first grader...let her be a 10 year old...let him enjoy high school. 

I didn’t get it. 

kids doing chores

Back to chores: When we ask a toddler to help pick up his toys or teach a pre-schooler to pull the blankets up on her bed, or tutor a high schooler in how to separate laundry, we aren’t just saving ourselves work and giving them something constructive to do. We are teaching them how to live life.

I remember teaching my children to set the table. I remember my kids tossing placemats on the table, practically throwing plates and silverware on top, and running back to their play as fast as they could. I remember calling them back to straighten the silverware and put the napkins on and pour the milk and then help carry the food to the table. And I remember wondering if they would ever learn to do the whole job on their own.

kids doing chores

Fast forward a dozen years. When Daniel went to visit the people who he hoped would one day be his inlaws (and now are) his future mother-in-law wrote to me, “He was such a help and even took the sheets off his bed when he left and pulled the bedspread back up.” I’ve had others tell me about how my children are such polite guests, always offer to help, keep their things so neat at their homes.

Yes, at times I’ve wanted to answer, “Excuse me, are we talking about my children?”

My kids have shown me that they are growing up into responsible adults when I to talk to their boss and she says, “She’s a conscientious worker.” And when I hear them talk about a project they’ve taken on to make their home better. And when they say, they can’t ask for time off to go visit a niece or nephew because they are needed at work.

They are getting it. Life is made up of work and responsible adults work.

I'm not always an Ann Landers Fan, but she got it right, this time. The Bible says, "Train up a child in the way he should go, even when he is old he will not depart from it." Proverbs 22:6

This is another way family meals are important: they provide an opportunity to help our children become responsible adults. The food needs to be bought and prepared. The table needs to be set. The dishes need to be cleared and washed and the kitchen needs to be cleaned.

How will you help your child grow up tonight?

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Thanks to those who took a minute to click on the "Vote for Us" button on the right (and up a little). This blog went from 900-something to 338 in the rankings in two weeks! Please keep it up and tell others about this blog if you think it is helpful and worthwhile. After all, there's no point in writing if no one's reading!

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Coming Up in This Blog:
Be sure to be back to read these topics coming up!
March 8 -- Restaurant Style Chopped Salad
March 12 -- Couples Around the Table--Time Out for Mom and Dad


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