Monday, October 5, 2015

My Happy Saints Office

I am happy to say that I am starting off a new school year in a newly cleaned and organized home office! Last year I didn't clean it once all year and it was, to say the least, a disaster area. I made it through, but I'm hoping that keeping my office organized and clean will make me a more productive and effective teacher this year. As those of you who read my blog regularly may know, I am a 6th grade teacher for a virtual public charter school. I teach and monitor my students from my computer at home, and the students work from their homes with a parent or other adult who is designated their "learning coach." You have many of the benefits of public school, and many of the benefits of homeschooling all rolled into one.

My Wall O' Saints. It was hard to get a good picture with the glare from the light. Sorry!

 One of my favorite features in my newly organized office wouldn't be possible without working from home, and that is my wall of saints! In a brick and mortar public school, I of course wouldn't be allowed to plaster images of saints all over my classroom walls, (maybe some small things on my desk, but not all over the walls!). Since I am working from my own home, I can put as many saints as I want all around my office to provide me daily inspiration! Yay!

I chose to use images from Happy Saints for my wall o' saints to help give my office that elementary classroom vibe. They really go with my purple walls and fun, colorful, education themed accents and artwork.

The top row are my education/work saints. They help to remind me of the value and impact of education and the teaching profession, as well as remind me to make God present in all my daily tasks.

St. Francis de Sales - Patron of teachers and writers. Also a great saint to remind you not to worry and stress when things get crazy!
St. Josemaria Escriva - Founder of Opus Dei which means "Work of God." Opus Dei is dedicated to teaching that everyone is called to holiness, even in every day work and ordinary life.
St. John Bosco - Started a school for wayward boys. Patron of youth and school children (and magicians!) My favorite quote from him, "Run, jump, play but do not sin!" Many of the students who come to us could fall into the category of "wayward."
St. Elizabeth Ann Seton - Started the first Catholic School in the United States and was a mother of 5. She was a working Catholic mom in the field of education just like me!

The second row are my more personal patron saints that have been with me as I've grown and changed through life.

St. Cecelia - My childhood saint. Patron saint of musicians and early martyr of the church. I chose her as my patron saint for my confirmation back when I was eight years old. I still love to sing and play the piano!
St. Joan of Arc - My teen/young adulthood saint. I started falling in love St. Joan in middle school when I read the book Young Joan by Barbara Dana, and I continued to fall in love with her even more in high school when I read Joan of Arc by Mark Twain. Our lives are very different, but I greatly admire her strength and confidence in all the dangers she faced, even when on the inside she still felt like a simple, vulnerable, young girl.
St. Gianna Molla - My adulthood saint. It is hard being a working mother, and it can seem even harder than normal sometimes when so many of your friends are amazing stay at home moms. St. Gianna is my reminder than even a working mom can become a saint!

If your job or career isn't inherently faith based, how do you incorporate faith into your work life? I'd love to hear!

* note - in case you were wondering, Catholics do not worship saints. We hold them up as excellent examples of  living the faith and we ask them to pray for us. Just like one might look up to their parents or other inspiring person as a good example for how to live life, and asking those people to pray for us! Saints are our friends in heaven. They are close to God and their prayers are powerful!  We use images of saints just like one might keep pictures of their friends and family in their home or workplace. Remember that we are called to be saints!

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Broccoli Cheddar Biscuits

I love broccoli. That's right, I said it. I love broccoli! I always have since I was a little kid. My brothers and sisters felt the same way. When mom made broccoli with cheese sauce for dinner it was a huge treat and we gobbled it up. My youngest sister even requested broccoli with cheese sauce for her third birthday. Imagine my surprise to grow up and learn that other people don't feel this way about this lovely little tree-shaped vegetable. I was shocked! And now I am raising one of broccoli's most vehement opponents, my son Sam. When we had him try "just one bite," he literally threw up. Literally. Threw. Up. What's a broccoli loving mama to do to get her children to eat their vegetables?

Put it in a baked good of course! If you bake it, my son will eat it. (See my whole wheat pumpkin pancakes and whole wheat spinach parsnip muffins!)

Now, this isn't a hidden vegetable recipe. The biscuits do have a distinct broccoli flavor. But with the soft texture of the biscuit and the flavor boosters of cheddar and garlic, even my Sam said he liked them!

Broccoli Cheddar Biscuits

1 crown of broccoli
Biscuit mix (I usually use Jiffy)
1 cup of shredded sharp cheddar cheese
1 tsp garlic powder

1. Chop the broccoli crown into pieces and pulse in your food processor until it has a crumb like texture.  (see picture)

2. Make one recipe of drop biscuits according to the biscuit  mix directions.

3. Mix in the broccoli, cheese, and garlic powder.

4. Bake biscuits according to biscuit mix directions.


Sunday, September 20, 2015

Girly Dance Cake

Just another dance cake I did recently for a birthday party at the local dance studio I work at! The selected dance style was hip hop, but I've been finding it difficult to come up with a variety of hip hop designs with my current skill set and available decorating time. So this one was more of a generic dance cake. I found a clip art image of the word "dance" in a swirly heart and I thought it was so cute and perfect for a dance party cake! The colors were supposed to be pink and purple, but the purple seemed to turn a slightly baby blue after I took the cake out of the freezer. The birthday girl and her friends didn't seem to mind. They loved the design and thought it was delicious too!

Click the links for more dance cake inspiration!

I know that its been a while since I've posted anything, (I think this party was back in August!), but hey, sometimes that's life. I do have some great posts coming up soon though, so keep your eye out!

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

California Roll Pasta Salad

Ahh, pasta salad. Its the perfect thing to have in your fridge during these hot summer days. Make it ahead of time, (in the evening when its cooler), and it will be ready to go when you're hungry but don't want to cook because of the heat. I love throwing some into a small container to take with me for lunch at the park.

My go-to pasta salad has been a summer seafood pasta salad; noodles mixed with cherry tomatoes, tri-color bell peppers, imitation crab, and Italian dressing. Say what you want, but I love imitation crab in pasta salad! One day when I was thinking about this my thoughts wandered over to California rolls. When I was pregnant it was some of the only sushi I could eat since most places use imitation crab which is not raw. I wondered, could I put the flavors of a California roll into a pasta salad? It turned out I could, and it was delicious! Creamy avocado dressing, crunchy vegetables, and soft imitation crab all rounded out with the flavors of sesame and soy, it was a pasta salad like none I had ever tried before.  I think this cool and refreshing take could be my new go-to pasta salad!

California Roll Pasta Salad
This is the type of recipe I don't really measure for, so amounts are approximations. Do whatever you think will taste good! I used a store bought avacado ranch dressing, but the soy sauce really helps to mellow any ranch flavor out. 

1 box short noodles like penne or rotini ( I used a veggie infused pasta made with zucchini and spinach)
Avacado ranch dressing (or other avacado based dressing.)
1 large cucumber
2 handfuls baby carrots, or one large carrot
1 -2 packages flake style imitation crab
soy sauce
sesame seeds

1. Cook the pasta, drain, and let chill in the fridge.
2. Seed and dice the cucumber and dice the carrots.
3. Add the vegetables, imitation crab, and approximately 1/2 bottle of the avocado dressing to the cold pasta. Add a few splashes of soy sauce and a sprinkle of sesame seeds and mix.
4. Return to the fridge to let it chill and have the flavors meld more, or enjoy it right away! You could even chop and sprinkle some nori on top if you felt so inclined.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Gooseberry Bars

Move over lemon bars, there's a new kind of fruit bar in town! (Don't worry lemon bars, I still love you too.)

Let me introduce you to flavorful, tart and sweet gooseberry bars! Until last year the only thing I knew about gooseberries was that my Uncle Matt got one stuck in his nose when he was a kid at his grandmother's house.

Matt: Grandma, I think I have a gooseberry up my nose.
Grandma: What do you mean you think you have a a gooseberry up your nose!? You know darn well you have a gooseberry up your nose!

Well, several years back I got my dad a gooseberry bush for his abundant backyard garden. It didn't really produce anything. He bought a few more to go with it. Some berries grew, but a deer ate them. The gooseberry bushes became quite the ordeal over years! Sorry Dad! Well, finally last year it became all worth it as the bushes have now been covered in delicious gooseberries for the past two summers. They are excellent for jam, pie, and of course the bars.

Gooseberry Curd
I'm not sure how I would describe the flavor of a gooseberry, it's kind of like describing how beef tastes to someone who has never had it before. Beef tastes like beef, gooseberries taste like gooseberries. They are quite tart, but also have a great flavor. If you like sweets made with lemons or rhubarb, I think you would also be a big gooseberry fan.

In fact, I based this recipe off of one I found for rhubarb bars, which, by the way, are also quite excellent.

The first step in making the bars is making one of my favorite things, curd. Yummy, creamy, luscious fruit curd. Yes, making desserts with fruit curd is amazing, but I'm often tempted to just eat it all with a spoon before I get around to doing anything else with it. If you use your gooseberries right away, you should have a light greenish-yellow colored curd. I waited a while after I picked them and some of my gooseberries started to ripen, so I ended up with an orangey-peachy color. They do get a little sweeter as they ripen, but they have a better flavor green. Then all you need to do is pour the curd onto a shortbread crust, bake, and cool.

 You will notice that  gooseberries have a little brown "stem" on each of them. I think it is what is leftover of the flower. These need to be taken off before you cook with them, which can be kind of a pain and take a while, but if you have some good company to have a conversation with or a good movie to watch it's not so bad. I just used a pair of nail scissors to snip each one off.

Gooseberry Bars

To prepare the gooseberries:

Combine 2 cups of cleaned gooseberries in a saucepan with 1/3 cup of water and 1/4 cup of sugar. Let it cook down until berries are soft and given off a lot of liquid. (Think of the first stage of making jam.)

For the curd:

6 egg yolks
3/4 cup of sugar
a pinch of salt
3 1/2  Tbsp butter, cut into small chunks
2 cups prepared gooseberries

In a double boiler whisk together the egg yolks, sugar and salt.
Add in the gooseberries and continue whisking.
Remove from heat, and the butter pieces one at a time, whisking as you go.

You can stop here and use the curd on cake, scones, biscuits, or just a spoon. Continue with the crust if you want to make bars.

For the crust: 

1 stick of butter - room temperature
1 cup of flour
1/4 cup of sugar
a pinch of salt

Mix ingredients in a bowl until it resembles course crumbs. Press into an 8 x 8 baking dish and let rest for 15 minutes.

Putting it all together

Bake the crust at 350 degrees for 20 minutes.
Remove the crust and pour on your gooseberry curd. Bake for another 10 minutes. Remove the bars from the oven and let them cool before serving.

Make sure you have some sort of party or gathering to bring them to so you don't eat them all yourself! (Or if you want them all to yourself, make sure you hide them!)

Bonus - bars are much harder to stick up your nose than just a gooseberry itself. (Though I wouldn't put it past some kids to give it a try!)

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Three Recipes for the Feast of St. Kateri

 The feast of St. Kateri Tekakwitha, the first Native American to be named a saint, was on July 14th. She lost her parents to small pox when she was child, and her face ended up scarred from the disease herself. When she was older, she learned about Christianity from visiting missionaries and converted. Persecuted by her tribe for becoming a Christian, she made the 200 mile journey to a village where she would be safe. She liked to make crosses out of branches and leave them in the woods to remind her to stop and pray. She was very devoted to the Eucharist. She fell ill and died when she was only 24. When she died, all the scars disappeared from her face. She is the patron of the environment and people persecuted for their faith. Learn more about St. Kateri here.

For her feast day this year I tried making a couple more authentic Native American dishes, and also a a sweet treat. Sharing a meal together is a great time to talk and learn more about St. Kateri and how we can follow her example to lead a holy life. For the authentic dishes I started with something as simple as, "St. Kateri might have eaten something like this for lunch after mass!"

The two more authentic dishes are a summer three sisters soup, and fry bread. Kateri was a Mohawk. While there was some hunting and gathering, they were largely agricultural. The bulk of their diet was made up of the three main crops they grew; corn, squash, and beans. These crops were so important to their livelihood they referred to them as "the three sisters."  They planted them strategically in the same field so each crop helped the others grow better. There is probably a great analogy in there somewhere if I took the time to think of it. There is at least a great science and history lesson in there for those of you who homeschool! (or even if you don't!)

All the Mohawk corn soup recipes I came across were very hearty, using hominy and winter squash. I just felt that it was too heavy for the middle of the summer, so I put together a version using summer vegetables, replacing the hominy with sweet corn, and  the winter squash with summer squash and zucchini. It was also the first time I made anything with my own homemade vegetable stock, yum!

The other authentic recipe I tried was fry bread. A couple years ago I experimented with a corn version, since cornbread was a big part of the native american diet. This year I followed a recipe I found to the letter. Not only was it simple, but it was delicious. I think it is a great way to make bread for a meal quickly, and without having to turn on the oven, which is nice in the summer! I just wish that I could try some fry bread made be someone who really knows what they're doing so I could know if I'm getting it right. But even if mine wasn't perfect, it sure was tasty!

For the sweet treat I knew I wanted to make turtles, as Kateri was part of the turtle tribe. At the famous Cross in the Woods here in Michigan, there is a statue of St. Kateri with turtles all around the base. The only issue with turtles was I knew my son wouldn't eat pecans or any other nut I used to make them, so I went a little crazy and used my recipe for peanut butter playdough as the base instead. Now that was a good idea! I basically ended up making a homemade caramel Reese's cup, No could tell me that there is anything wrong with that sentence! I had never thought of pairing peanut butter playdough with chocolate like that before, now I think I'll be doing it every chance I get!

Summer Three Sisters Soup
Very simple to put together - nutritious too! Use vegetable stock to make it a vegetarian dish.

Vegetable or chicken stock
Fresh, frozen, or canned sweet corn
1 can kidney beans
1 zucchini, diced
1 summer squash, diced
salt and pepper

Combine ingredients in a pot and simmer until hot. I told you it was simple!

Indian Fry Bread (recipe from
Simple and fast, fry bread was essential for Native American peoples being forced to move from place to place. Though delicious on its own, today many people top it with things like honey or cinnamon sugar, and even use it to make pizza and tacos!

1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon baking powder
3 cups flour
1 cup warm water

 Combine all of the dry ingredients in a large bowl. 
Add warm water in small amounts and knead until soft but not sticky. 
Adjust the flour or water as needed, Cover aand let stand 15 to 20 minutes. 
Pull of large egg sized balls of dough, turn out into fairly thin rounds. 
Fryrounds in hot oil until bubbles appear on the dough, turn over and fry on the other side until golden brown. 

Peanut Butter Turtles
Your own homemade Reese's candy, with a little caramel added. I used dark chocolate. After melting the caramel I was worried it would  be impossible to clean the bowl I used, but a simple soak in hot soapy water did the trick beautifully!

Peanut Butter Playdough  - mix a little honey into some peanut butter and add dry milk powder until it reached a playdough consistency.
Chocolate chips

Grab balls of peanut butter playdough and mold into turtle like shapes.

In separate bowls, melt the caramel and chocolate chips in the microwave. Drizzle a little caramel over each turtle, followed by the chocolate. Put in the refridgerator or freezer to allow the caramel and chocolate to set up.

I recommend serving them at room temperature due the stickiness of the caramel. Serving them too cold may make the caramel too hard to eat.

"Who can tell me what is most pleasing to God that I may do it?" - St. Kateri Tekakwitha

St. Kateri, pray for us!

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Mediterranean Tuna Salad

A few days ago when I got lucky enough to have the house to myself for a little while, I whipped up this different take on tuna salad for lunch. It has a lot of things in it that I love that no one else in the house loves; tomatoes, olives, onions, even the tuna! A nice little me-time treat that is a refreshing change from your typical tuna salad. Using olive oil instead of mayo and mustard and adding lots of veggies make it lighter and fresher. Very appropriate for summer time. If I get a tuna sub from Subway or something, I usually order it this way because I like it so much. Make it in a big batch for the whole family, or use one small can of tuna and keep it just to yourself like I do!

Mediterranean Tuna Salad

Sorry, no measurements on this one! Mix all ingredients to taste. 

Canned tuna
Chopped black olives
Chopped tomatoes
Chopped red onions
Olive oil
Dried or fresh basil
garlic powder

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Why I Won't Teach My Children To Pray for Their Future Spouse

   At least not before they've met them anyway.

   I've seen and heard many things over the years about praying for the person you will marry someday.  As beautiful of a thought that praying for your future spouse is, as well intentioned as this practice is, as important as it is to look for good, holy qualities in a potential spouse, when I've seen these things it has always worried me. Teaching and promoting that we should pray about who we are going to marry can go down a dangerous road, because the truth is that God does not call everyone to marriage.

   There are many beautiful vocations in life; priesthood, religious life, serving God in some way as a single person, and yes, marriage. If a person has it in their head that it is inevitable that they will get married, that their future husband or wife is out there somewhere waiting for them, they may miss out on the special thing that God is calling them to. If they find themselves at a certain point in their life still unmarried with no serious contenders for a spouse, this could lead to anger, depression, and a questioning if God is really there for them. "I've been praying for my future spouse my whole life God, why aren't I married yet!?" Perhaps the answer is that you are meant to be a bride of Christ, but you just haven't been listening. 

 So rather than praying for future husbands and wives who we may or may not meet, I submit that we should pray to have open hearts and minds ready to listen to God's will, and to have the strength to be willing to do whatever it is that God asks of us. For many, that may be marriage. For others, God may take us down a different path. Each vocation has a special and unique gift to offer to the world and to God. If all people were open to what God was calling them to, just imagine what a wonderful place this world would be!

Prayer to Know One's Vocation (Carmelite Sisters of the Divine Heart of Jesus)

Lord, my God and my loving Father
You have made me to know you, to love you, and to serve you,
and thereby to find and fulfill myself.
I know that you are in all things,
and that every path can lead me to you
But of them all, there is one especially
By which you want me to come to you. 
Since I will do what you want of me,
I pray you, send your holy spirit to me: into my mind,
to show me what you want of me; into my heart,
to give me the determination to do it,
 and do it with all my love, with all my mind,
 and with all my strength right to the end. Amen.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Girly Hip Hop Cake 2

When we started doing birthday parties at the dance studio, all the girls wanted ballet cakes. Check out girly ballet cakes one, two, and three! With the second hip hop cake in a row, is this the start of a new trend? Coming up with the designs for a hip hop cake can be a little more challenging as you can't fall back on ballet slippers and tutus if you don't want to make a whole dancer, but so far they are turning out great! The simple boom box I added this time really popped and was super cute! I also did a more simplified dancer's silhouette than last time. Outlining all the little details of hair, clothes, and shoes in life like silhouette can be a bit tedious. As I wasn't sure of the birthday girl's color scheme when I made this one, I repeated my neon colors on a chocolate background from the last hip hop cake since it went over so well. See the first girly hip hop cake here.

Though I've mentioned them in past cake decorating posts before, here are a few tips: 1. Freeze the cake before frosting. This will reduce crumbs.  2. Draw your design in the frosting with a toothpick (I actually used an unbent paper clip this time) before you draw it in frosting. You can get a feel of how everything is supposed to fit, and if you make a mistake, you can just smooth it out with your frosting spatula and start again. 3. For a fun cake board, cover with wrapping paper, and then wax paper. 

For my border I just used my largest star tip and did fat stars in alternating colors. Due to only having one of each decorating tip that I needed, I decorated with one color at time, so you just kind of have to eyeball how much space to leave for the other colors on the border. On the last color you just make the star as big or as small as it needs to be to fill the remaining space, and it usually works out!

Happy Birthday Makenzi! I hope your birthday was dance-tastic!

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Saint Gianna Molla: A Working Catholic Mom

The feast day of St. Gianna Molla was yesterday, April 28th, so I'm slightly late in posting. I feel I've been missing a lot of things lately. State testing at school and the dance studio's annual recital are all happening around the same time, so things are crazy. Waking up early for testing, staying up late for rehearsals; when I get home all I want to do is sleep! But of course I've got a husband and two kids at home to take care of and spend time with. This challenging situation does tie into today's post though!

St. Gianna lived from 1922 to 1965 in Italy and was a wife, mother, and pediatrician. She is best known for sacrificing her life so her baby could live when medical complications arose during her pregnancy with her 4th child. Her beautiful, selfless, and loving act has made her a patron for the pro-life movement in a world that often promotes death and selfishness. However, there is another reason that St. Gianna is a wonderful saint for our times. St. Gianna was a working mother.

In U.S. society in general, stay-at home parents often feel misunderstood and judged. People can treat them like the life they chose is somehow less important, oppressive; a waste of talents and intellect. Of course being a stay at home parent is none of these things. (I say "parent" instead of "mom" because my husband is currently a proud stay at home dad!) It is a beautiful vocation and a choice that should be celebrated, not maligned. However, I think it is important to realize that there is another side of the coin.

As a working mom who runs in a more conservative Catholic circle, I am often the one who feels out of place, like I'm not good enough, like I've chosen the lesser path. While I am blessed that none of my friends have done anything to make me feel this way, the comparisons and jealousy that sometimes come from myself can often make the mommy guilt run high. And trust me, the people who go out of their way to make working mothers feel inadequate are out there. While I haven't personally met one face to face, I have met them online. A while back I joined a facebook group of Catholic women who were supposed to  be sharing cooking and housekeeping tips. While most of the women were fine, I did run into someone who felt that it was her duty as a Christian to ask working mothers how they could be so selfish to abandon their families to work, and asserted that the only acceptable to reason for a mother to work was if her husband passed away. Needless to say, that was not a group I felt I could stay in.

Due to situations like this, working mothers who run in more conservative circles often feel they need to justify their decision by explaining that they need to work due to their family's financial situation. While there are many families that are in this situation, it is not necessary to be in this situation to make it okay for a mother work. God does call some women to a career outside the house. And is it really fair to make a woman reveal her family's personal financial information to justify herself? Trust me, working Catholic mothers, all working mothers, struggle with the guilt that comes from trying to balance family and work life enough on our own, we don't need anyone else's help in that area!

So a word of encouragement working Catholic moms - being a working mother is not a sin, you do not need to take it to the confessional!  Remember that godly women come in all shapes and sizes, including working mothers like St. Gianna. And St. Gianna didn't have just any job, she had a demanding career as a physician! You can serve God both at home and in your career. When things get tough, when the work/home balance is out of whack, when the mommy guilt runs high, ask for her intercession. I plan on putting her picture up in my home office along with other saints, like St. Josemaria Escriva, who taught about serving God through our daily work. I also recommend that among the many wonderful Catholic family blogs out there written by stay at home and/or homeschooling moms, to add blogs like The Working Catholic Mom and 8 Kids and a Business to your list of blogs to follow.  And to those stay at home moms, please, instead of tearing these women down, lift them up. Befriend them, welcome them, plan some get togethers and play dates at times when they can join you, help them when work gets crazy by offering to babysit, pick kids up, or even to help with housework and meals. Reassure them that working in and of itself does not make them a bad mother. Give them prayers and words of love and encouragement, trust me, we need it! 

A couple other saints that were working Catholic moms:

St. Elizabeth Ann Seton - Mother of 5, teacher, and founder of the first Catholic school in the United States.  (Also going in my office, I am a teacher after all!)

Bl. Zelie Martin - Mother of 9, (including St. Therese of Liseux), had a successful lacemaking business.

If you know any other saints who were working Catholic moms, or have any advice about how to balance work and motherhood, please put it in the comments!

St. Gianna, St. Elizabeth, and Bl. Zelie, pray for us!