Thursday, April 26

What's for Dinner?: Mac 'N Cheese

When I was growing up, my mom's homemade macaroni and cheese was very close to the top on my list of favorite meals. Mom rotated it through on a semi-regular basis, but I also requested it for birthday dinners and other special occasions. Like most other families in the 80s, regular 'ole Kraft macaroni and cheese was also in our pantry, but it doesn't hold a candle to Mom's mac 'n cheese. A mix of creamy, melty, and stringy cheese perfectly melted in a white sauce and topped with a brown, crusty top = pure cheesy perfection.

I've carried the tradition on into my own family, only now I make it with gluten-free pasta and gluten-free flour. It's my go-to meal for comfort food, celebration food, and even hospitality food -- I often make this when I provide meals for new moms at our church. Nothing says "happy baby, don't start your diet yet" like homemade mac 'n cheese. :-) Most people feel very pampered when I tell them what I'm bringing, and that makes me happy!

Fast forward to last week. My husband is into culinary creativity, and he's always coming up with tasty combinations and delicious sauces. He's been wanting to try roasting peppers, and when I mentioned I wanted to make some macaroni and cheese, he suggested we try adding roasted peppers to the tried and true recipe. Wow! I'm so glad we did! I love the old recipe, and I'm sure we'll make it plain again...but those peppers took this old mac 'n cheese to a whole new level!

Here's the recipe, adapted from an old Betty Crocker cookbook (they don't even print it anymore!)...

GF Old-Fashioned Mac 'N Cheese
3 cups gluten-free pasta
1/2 c. chopped onions (Saute these separately if you don't want a crunch in your dish.)
3 c. cheese (1 each of mozzarella, cheddar, and velveeta)
3 cups thin white sauce (see below)

White Sauce
3 T. butter
3 T. gluten-free flour
3/4 tsp. salt
3/8 tsp. pepper
3 c. milk

Melt butter in saucepan, and then stir in flour, salt, and pepper. Keep cooking over medium heat and stir constantly until it's smooth and bubbly. Gradually stir in milk. Heat to boiling, stirring constantly. Boil for one minute and continue stirring. If you like your mac 'n cheese really thick, increase the butter and flour proportionally, not going above 6 tablespoons of each.

Spray non-stick spray in 2-quart casserole. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Cook pasta to al dente or less (it will cook a little more in the oven). Make two layers of 1.) pasta, 2.) onions, 3.) cheese (mix all three on each layer), and 4.) sauce.

Bake for a 1/2 hour covered and then another 15 minutes uncovered (or broil for a few minutes) until the top browns. If you want to go full fat, add little pats of butter to the top to help it brown.

Now for the roasted peppers ... we used our gas grill and placed the peppers on the grates until the skins were all charred. After the peppers are charred, place them in a ziploc bag to let the skins soften. Then just peel the skins off, and underneath will be tasty, sweet, roasted peppers! We did a rough chop and added them right into the mac 'n cheese.

I highly recommend trying this recipe on the next rainy spring day. You won't be disappointed!

Monday, April 23

Quick Update

Hello everyone! Sorry I've been so quiet this last week. My parents came into town a week from yesterday, and I started getting really sick the day before they got here. I kept getting worse and worse until we finally decided I needed to go to the dr. on Tuesday. Turns out I had strep throat! No wonder my throat was so sore! :-) I have no idea where it came from -- neither of the kids had it, and I don't know of anyone else who had it. After one course of steroids for swelling and partially through my antibiotics, I am a new woman. Praise God!

On top of having company, I am working feverishly on a project for Nelson, proofreading a dramatized New Testament script. For the first time, I sub-contracted out some of my work, and it's been fun managing other editors and getting the chance to spread some work around to a few of my friends.

In addition to that, my parents helped us plant our first-ever veggie garden. I will post pics as soon as I can. It's about 15X20...and filled with corn, peppers, squash, carrots, broccoli, brussel sprouts, lettuce, onions, peas, and turnips. We really have no clue what we're doing, but with a little water, sunshine, and God's grace, we should have veggies this summer/fall. We're pretty pumped.

Here's a quick funny story from Kaden. It illustrates how thoroughly the Cars movie has infiltrated our life. Today around lunchtime, Kaden asked me if he could go outside, and I told him no because we were getting ready to eat. He asked me a few more times, as is his custom, but I persisted. He finally gave up and said, "I am SO not taking you to dinner, [Mom]." It's a line from the movie, and it cracked me up b/c that's the first time he's done something like that...taking a line from a movie and correctly applying it in context. Pretty cute.

Friday, April 13

The Federal Gov't. = My New Best Friend

You know you're about to get good news when your accountant -- at tax time -- says, "Jenn, you're going to be very happy with the federal government!"

To the tune of a $3000 refund! Whoa! Something about an earned income credit and the child allowances. All I know is that having a baby in 2006 was our best financial decision of the whole year! :-)

Now before you get too envious, just know that you have to have had a pretty lousy financial year for the government to feel sorry enough for you to willingly give up $3000. I wouldn't wish our 2006 finances on anyone, but boy, I'm feeling pretty good today! :-)

Just wanted to share that blessing. It's a huge one! Thank you, God!

Wednesday, April 11

The 3-year-old Art Critic

Funny story. Kaden and I were drawing this morning, and he asked me to draw a playground. I crafted a beautiful swingset, complete with giant slide -- Kaden's favorite. I was proud, but my drawings are elementary at best! :-) A few minutes later, he asked me to draw a baby. I started drawing my impression of a baby swaddled in a blanket, but Kaden was decidedly unimpressed.

He exclaimed, "No, Mom! Not a snowman! I said a baby!!!"

I started laughing and said, "Oh, okay, buddy. Let me try again. I guess Mommy's just not a very good artist."

He quicky reassured me: "No, really are. You're a great artist."

I love the truth-telling (because my baby really did look like a snowman!), but I also love how eager he is to encourage everyone around him. It's something that Josh and I have always tried to do with him, and it's exciting to see that encouraging spirit coming out in him already.

Now we're off to our next project -- "cooking" with water, soap, and pepper. I know what's on the lunch menu!

Life is never dull with a 3-year-old. I highly recommend it.

Saturday, April 7


On Delaney's birthday, we were surprised with a free dinner at The Cheesecake Factory. Ya! Very tasty. Before our food came, I whisked Kaden off for a little adventure to keep him occupied for a while. Our Cheesecake Factory is attached to a mall, and we ended up strolling in there for a minute. I spotted a store that caught my eye called Teavana. Josh and I love tea, especially loose tea, so the store caught my eye. So much so that my interest outweighed my common sense of not taking Kaden into a store with intricate teapots on every surface.

But the risk paid off: he was a perfectly behaved boy, and I scored some really tasty tea. Doesn't this tea look like a trail mix or something? It's amazing! This is a blend of Caribbean Breeze and Apple Pomegranate. Sounds kind of crazy, but it is so good -- fruity, sweet, and it tastes like juice! They're all about blending teas, which I think is pretty neat.

I love drinking tea. It's relaxing and such a special treat. I just enjoyed two cups of this tonight, and I had to post a pic. I know summer is coming, but you can also use these for iced teas.

Happy tea drinking!

P.S. I also recommend Upton Tea Company -- we've ordered from them several times, and I think their prices are more affordable.

Thursday, April 5

Thankful Thursday (er...Friday!)

So here are some things I'm thankful for this week...

1. My herbs. Looking out my back door and seeing those cute little plants growing in their new planter boxes has been a real mood-lifter. Try it!
2. I'm proofreading a book on leadership for a client, and it's very interesting. I see my hubby on every page! :-)
3. Celebrating Laney's birthday has been a real joy. It seems she instantly became a toddler the day she turned one. She's not walking yet, but she's close!
4. I have been so busy with freelancing! Even though I told Josh I feel too busy at the moment, he reminded me that it's better to have the problem of trying to figure out how to get everything done than the problem of not knowing how you're going to pay your bills. True.

I'm looking forward to celebrating Easter this Sunday, and I hope you all have a great weekend, too!

Tuesday, April 3

Happy First Birthday, Delaney!

Believe it or not, our children were born exactly 2 years and 5 days apart ... which means that today we are celebrating one whole year with our sweet baby girl, Delaney Rhys. Miss Delaney was in a hurry to enter the world, arriving just 45 minutes after I arrived safely in my hospital bed. [Phew!] But then, a day after her birth, things slowed waaaaaaay down when she was admitted to the NICU for severe jaundice, which lasted for about 5 days. At the time, it was challenging because we weren't prepared to spend so many days in the hospital, but our small group friends pulled together for us to watch Kaden and provide meals. Josh's mom also flew down about 2 days after Laney was born to help out for a week.

Despite an "exciting" start to life (for our next baby, I will be camping out at the hospital!)...and a longer than average hospital stay, her first year has been relatively uneventful. When I think about her being one whole year old, it's just hard to believe. She seems more baby-ish than Kaden did at her age. I'm not sure if it's the second child thing, or that she's more low-key, or that she's a girl...or maybe just her personality. She is less busy than Kaden [Hooray for small favors!], but much more melodramatic. She's a fan of throwing her head back, looking up to the sky, and bellowing out big wailing cries if something rubs her the wrong way. She's happy 99% of the time, but if she gets going, watch out!

Laney's favorite thing in this world is a tasty banana. She eats some at almost every meal because it's a fail-safe choice for me! She also loves her brother -- and he loves her. They play together pretty well. Kaden tends to be a little too "loving" with her, but she lets me know if she needs my help (see above for melodramatic tendencies). :-)

Laney had a great birthday today. She had birthday pancakes - complete with one candle - for breakfast, a nice bath to de-gunk from the syrup, a relaxing massage, her very first haircut, mac 'n cheese for lunch, 2 nice naps, and as a special treat (for mommy and daddy), we were all treated to a wonderful dinner at the Cheesecake Factory tonight. Yummy! Not bad for a first birthday, right?

Our first year with Delaney has been such a delight, and Josh and I are looking forward to many more years of birthday pancakes with our little girl. Happy Birthday, Delaney. I love you very much!