5 on 5 november

November was full of wonderful moments.  
I shot my first wedding.  I love these two love birds being totally themselves.  
This little dude was too cool. 
I started watching this little guy.  He is so freaking adorable I can’t handle it.  

We have been super busy this month with family shoots. I love shooting families… especially when they have characters like this guy.

I took this just for me.  I haven’t picked up my digital just for myself in so long, it was kind of fun. I want to do it more.

I am honored to be a part of this project with some amazing photographers.  Start with Second Spring and then roll through the rest of the circle.

sammy’s peanut butter and chocolate chip cookies

These cookies are so easy, they could be in a “your mama” joke.   They are the first cookies I usually teach the children to make.  They only have four ingredients, three if you leave out the chocolate chips. My youngest daughter, Sammy, loves them… and so do I.

You will only need

1 egg
1 cup of peanut butter (We use crunchy, but you can use creamy. Sammy says that extra crunchy doesn’t work as well… and I would believe her. She is the expert at these.)
1 cup of sugar
1/2 cup of chocolate chips

Set oven at 350.

Mix all ingredients well.

We use a cookie scoop to dish them out.  If you don’t have a cookie scoop, place 1 tablespoon balls onto the cookie sheet.  It makes 12-14 cookies.  Cook at 350 for 15-20 minutes.

Let the cookies set for about five minutes.

Enjoy with a glass of milk.

Even clean up is easy with these.

Joy’s Super Easy Chili

Joy, my bonus mom, makes the best darn chili.  About twenty years ago, she gave the recipe to me and now among my friends, it is my chili.  It is so super easy, I wondered if I should even post it here. But after a very scientific facebook poll, I thought otherwise.   
So, here we go. 
1-1.5 pounds of ground meat.  (I used turkey today, but you could use beef.  I have made it with out meat and it is still pretty good.)
5 garlic cloves 
1 large yellow onion (I usually use any onion I have in the fridge.)
1 teaspoon smoked paprika 
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper (more or less depending how spicy you like it.)
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
2  15.5 oz cans of diced tomatoes
2 15.5 oz cans chili beans
1 15.5 oz can black beans
1 15.5 oz can pinto beans
1 15.5 oz can garbanzo beans
1 15.5 oz can kidney beans 
Most of the players.  I left out the meat.  I just couldn’t find his good side. 

Chop the onion and crush the garlic.  Put the garlic, onion, meat and seasonings in the pot.  Put the lid on the pot.  Let it cook on a medium heat. You will need to stir every so often to get the meat properly cooked.  Just remember to put the lid back on.  All that onion, garlic, and seasonings will really blend together nicely. 
Meat, onions, garlic and seasonings. 
While you are cooking up the meat and onions, you can now begin the most difficult part of this recipe… opening all the cans.  Open all the cans and do NOT drain the juices.  Every thing, even the juices are going to go into the pot.  When your meat is all cooked, go ahead and add all the cans.  Give everything a big stir.  Now let simmer. 

 Everything added and simmering. 
Ok… that is it.  This chili tastes best if you let it simmer for a few hours.  However, there have been times when I only let it simmer for an hour.  Read- I forgot to make dinner and I had all the cans of beans and an onion. 
I have learned that as long as you have four types of beans, you are good.  So if you don’t like garbanzo beans, don’t use them.  If you like something else, use that instead.  Also, this makes a huge amount of chili.  With this batch I am going to feed my family of five and two guests.  It does freeze really well. You can make a batch and freeze half of it.  

Cristin’s Birthday Cake

My girlfriends and I celebrated Cristin’s birthday in July. We had so much fun planning each part of the day. We all wanted her to feel special and loved. The one thing that was a little terrifying to take on was the cake. You see, my friend Cristin isn’t a normal baker. She is one of the best bakers I know. Now, I have a strong belief that food tastes like the heart of it’s baker, and I believe this is one reason Cristin’s sweets are so darn delicious. She loves to bake… and all the while, she loves the person she is baking for. She doesn’t just add a dash of nutmeg; she adds a dash of nutmeg and a little prayer. She doesn’t count the cups of flour; she counts the way she loves the person she is baking for. It is a beautiful thing. So when we started thinking about who would make the cake, we all were a little nervous. Finally, taking a deep breath and a great leap of faith, I said I would try. First, step… what is Cristin’s favorite type of cake? Luckily for me, our daughters are all friends. So after a few slumber parties, I found out it was carrot cake.

Carrot cake and I have a long history and many things in common. We are both filled with spice, people either love us or hate us, and we are either very yummy or we just leave a dry taste in your mouth. And now I know one more- we are both loved by Cristin.

Two years ago I invented a carrot cake. It was invented because I was angry and hurt, so I knew I needed to tweak Cristin’s cake so that it would be made out of love. Three carrot cakes later… and a few pounds later… I was ready to make it for my dear friend.

Last week I had her over so that we could make it again, this time together. I am naming the cake after my sweet friend. So here you are… every nutty, sweet, spicy and perfectly creamy step to make Cristin’s Birthday Cake.

First, you need to gather what will be the Spicy Seven. (Really, you should preheat your oven to 375. I always forget to do that.)

Back to the Spicy Seven:

7 cups of carrots
1 1/2 cups of dark brown sugar
5 teaspoons of cinnamon
1 teaspoon cardamon
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

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First, grate the carrots.  I have found that 7 medium carrots are usually enough.
Loosely place the grated carrots in the cup.  You will need 7 cups.
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Now mix all of the spices with the carrots and dark brown sugar. This is going to become what Cristin calls “the goodness.”
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Now set that aside and get out everything you will need for the batter.

You will need:

4 eggs
1 cup of sugar
1 cup of vegetable oil
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 cups of flour
1/2 cup of pecan pieces

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Beat the eggs with the sugar and oil. Then add the salt, baking soda, and flower. Mix well until the batter is creamy.
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By now your carrots and spices will be “the goodness” that you have been waiting for. They should be juicy. Add the carrots and all its goodness to the batter and mix well. You should also add the pecans at this time. I seem to forget that step a lot. (If you do forget, you can always use them to top the cake with.)
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Evenly distribute the cake mix into two 9 inch round pans.  Bake at 375 for 45 minutes.  All ovens are different, so be sure to check on it a little early and be willing to let it cook a little longer.  I just stick a knife in it and see if it is ready. You can also use a toothpick. Don’t look for a clean knife or toothpick, just not wet. Once the pans are cool enough to touch, I take the cakes out of the pans and let cool on the cutting board.
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OK, now we can make the frosting. I like a simple cream cheese frosting. I make a double batch of frosting because it is so yummy and you will want some for the middle of the cake.

I am giving you the measurements for a double batch. For one batch of this frosting, say for cupcakes or something, split this in half.

6 cups of powdered sugar
2 8 oz. blocks of cream cheese (left out for a few minutes to soften)
1 cup of butter (left out for a few minutes to soften)
vanilla coffee creamer- about two tablespoons

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Mix everything together until creamy.  This will take several minutes. I add one tablespoon of the creamer in the beginning and then slowly add more if needed.
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OK, now we are ready to cut the top off one of the cakes.  I usually pick the one I tested with my knife or toothpick.
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***This is very important. Do not waste that little sliver. This is when you get to taste the cake.
Take the little sliver and cut it in pizza shapes and dollop some of the frosting on top.
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Now to frost. I am not a baker. I am not very good at frosting a cake… but I don’t know many who are. So this isn’t how to do it, this is how I do it. And if I can do it, so can you.

First, put a nice thick layer of frosting on the decapitated cake.

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Now put the other cake on top. Then slather with the frosting. I usually start with the top and move onto the sides. I have noticed that if I get most of the frosting on the cake, I can smooth everything out and try to make it look presentable.
As you can see, mine is sloppy…. but it is good
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Jambalaya

I almost didn’t post my chili recipe because it is so simple to make.  However, I did get a large response about how easy it was… so I thought I would give you another simple and very cheap recipe.  This is my jambalaya recipe.  I am sure it isn’t close to anything made in New Orleans, but it is a snap to make and a winter go-to recipe for my family.  In fact, it is one of the first dinners my daughters learn to cook.  Sammy has been making it since she was 10.
You will need
2 small onions (or one large onion- I just didn’t have one in my fridge)
6 cloves of minced garlic
1/3 cup of vegetable oil
5-6 sausages
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon curry
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper (or more if you like it spicy!)
2 teaspoons chili powder
1 large (29oz) can of kidney beans
2 regular (14.5oz) cans of diced tomatoes
3 cups of vegetable broth
1 1/2 cups of rice
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In a large pot that has a lid, put in the oil, chopped onion, minced garlic and all the seasoning.  Turn it up on medium and get everything nice and yummy like this.
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Layer the sausage on the bottom of the pot and put the lid on it.  I have ten in here because my daughter is having her boyfriend over for dinner.  I always thought my girls were good eaters, but now that two of them have boyfriends, I see that boys can really put it away.  You can just layer the pot with the 5-6 sausages.  Unless, of corse, you have boys.

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After about 5-10 minutes you flip the sausage.  Put the lid back on the pot.

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While the sausage is cooking I get my liquids ready.  Mix the three cups of vegetable broth and two cans of tomatoes- with the juice.

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Now we will start layering the rest of the ingredients.  Don’t worry if the sausage isn’t cooked through. It will be cooking for another hour or so.  Add the can of kidney beans. Do not drain them, just pour them in, juices and all.

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Now add the rice.

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And now your broth and tomatoes.

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Put a lid on the pot and cook until everything is simmering.  Once it starts to simmer, reduce the temperature your lowest temperature.  Cook for at least 40 minutes.  This dish is very flexible.  You can let it simmer for up to 2 hours, but much longer turns the rice to mush.

I serve this on its own, and I sometimes offer a nice slice of bread with it.  You can make this dish with chicken as well.  I use boneless, skinless chicken thighs.  You cook them up the same way as the sausage.  My girls prefer the sausage, and it is usually cheaper.

tears in my meatballs

I was all set to do a blog post on how to make my Grandmother’s meatballs.  I had asked her if I could share the recipe on my blog, something that she didn’t completely understand, and she said, “Oh ya, sure.”  Really, I have been working on it for some time.  You see, when she taught me how to make them, she didn’t use measurements or any real directions.  She cooks like me.  Or, I should say, I cook like her.  We feel and smell and taste our way to a good meal.

After her passing away, however,  I wanted to go a different direction. I had decided to try and just take pictures and document the process without using any really measuring in her honor.  I went to the store and bought everything I needed.  Came home and in a quiet kitchen, I began to cook.  As I started the sauce, her voice rang in my mind.  “Not too much. Ya, ya, ya… more of that.  Basil? No, no basil in the sauce.”  I began to quietly cry.  There she was, cooking along side with me.  Right there in my kitchen.

So pictures were not taken.  I knew that it was to be my moment. All mine.  I mixed the meat.  I soaked the bread.  I beat the eggs.  All the while, hearing her sit in my kitchen and give me direction.  When everything was mixed and ready to be made into little meatballs, I paused.  I cried.  I told her I missed her.  I made secret promises to her.

For now, all I can share are the clean dishes.