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Poblano-Cheddar Twice-Baked Sweet Potatoes What do you think of when you read the following words: belly, chop block, chuck, crab, cut back, dash, hash, rub, scoop, scramble, spread, turnover, and wishbone? I think about cooking and eating, but my husband thinks about football. Oddly enough, these words exist in both kitchen and football terminology. With Super Bowl Sunday quickly approaching, you’ll want to get that tight end of yours into the kitchen and try this fabulous recipe that puts a fresh and flavorful new spin on twice-baked potatoes. One taste of a Poblano-Cheddar Twice-Baked Sweet Potato and you’ll request an instant replay!

Poblano-Cheddar Twice-Baked Sweet Potatoes
Food Network Magazine, December 2014

INGREDIENTS
4 medium sweet potatoes (10 to 12 ounces each)
2 poblano chile peppers
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus melted butter for brushing
6 tablespoons Mexican crema (or crème fraîche)
Grated zest and juice of 1 lime
2 teaspoons adobo sauce (from a can of chipotles in adobo)
1/4 cup chopped scallions
Freshly ground pepper
1 cup grated mild cheddar cheese (about 4 ounces)
Chopped fresh cilantro, for topping

DIRECTIONS
1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Scrub the sweet potatoes and dry well; transfer to a baking sheet. Bake until easily pierced with a knife, about 40 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool 5 minutes.

2. Roast the poblanos over the flame of a gas burner (or under the broiler), turning, until charred all over, 4 to 5 minutes. Transfer to a bowl, cover with plastic wrap and let cool. Peel off the charred skins and remove the stems and seeds. Finely chop the peppers and set aside.

3. One at a time, hold each sweet potato with a kitchen towel and halve lengthwise. Scoop the flesh into a large bowl, leaving a 1/4-inch-thick shell. Mash the flesh with the butter, 3 tablespoons crema, the lime zest and adobo sauce until smooth. Stir in the poblanos and scallions; season with salt and pepper. Brush the potato skins with melted butter and season the insides with salt and pepper. Return to the baking sheet.

4. Mound the filling into the sweet potato skins and sprinkle the tops with the cheese. Return to the oven and bake until the filling starts browning and the skins are crisp, 16 to 18 minutes. Season with salt.

5. Stir the remaining 3 tablespoons crema in a small bowl with enough lime juice until thin enough to drizzle. Season with salt. Drizzle the lime crema over the sweet potatoes and top with cilantro.

Yields: 8 servings

LINNELL’S NOTES
1. Instead of buying packaged shredded cheese, I always grate my own cheese. Sure, packaged cheese is more convenient, but it also contains ingredients to keep the cheese from caking; ingredients that I don’t particularly want in my body. I’ve noticed that packaged shredded cheese doesn’t melt as well as the cheese that I grate on my own.

2. When making twice-baked potatoes of any kind, always bake one or two additional ones, so that you have enough potato mixture to mound into the potato shells. Otherwise, your stuffed potatoes will appear rather flat.

3. Definitely make the lime crema! It adds a bright and tangy counterpoint to the sweetness of the sweet potatoes.

4. This is not a hard recipe to make, but it does take some time to roast the poblano peppers and prep the other ingredients. To make this recipe more efficient, it helps to have all the ingredients prepped ahead of time. The sweet potatoes must be hot in order to melt the butter and absorb the crema. So if you are baking the potatoes ahead of time, you must stir in the other ingredients in step 3 while the potatoes are still hot. These potatoes can be assembled and refrigerated until it’s time to pop them into the oven.

Enjoy!

Dandelion Waiting patiently in the gentle breeze, the white hair-like tufts of salsify plants sway to and fro. Suddenly, a perfect gust of wind releases them from their mother plant and they float effortlessly in the air, promising to fulfill their destinies. We are each blown to the “wind” to discover and create our own destinies.

#1 – Award-Winning Photos
Astonishing Award-Winning Photographs of 2014 To be in the right place at the right time and to be able to capture something extraordinarily special with a camera is what many photographers live for. I have an appreciation for photographers who travel, because through them the rest of us can see the world. Here are The Most Astonishing Photos That Won Awards in 2014.

#2 – One Piece of Advice
Advice That Changed Experts Lives Getting advice from fitness, nutrition, and health pros is interesting, but learning about what specific advice helped them the most is even more interesting. Check out We Asked 25 Experts for the One Piece of Advice That’s Changed Their Life the Most.

#3 – Another Tile Game
2048 Tile Game Take a break from what you are doing and play a game. Stand up, stretch, and be ready to sharpen your brain. A little while back, I linked to the K Tile Game. Now, I have discovered its numeral soul mate in the form of the 2048 Tile Game. Click on the link to play. Using the arrow keys on your keypad, manipulate the numbers in the grid so that similar numbers can touch and then merge. The goal is to get to the 2048 tile. Warning: this game is more challenging than the K Tile Game.

#4 – Mixing Reality With Fantasy
Realistic and Fantastical Art by Rob Gonsales When a realistic painting style collides with fantasy elements, you get the intriguing artwork of Rob Gonsales, a Canadian artist.

#5 – Let It Be
“There’s nowhere you can be that isn’t where you’re meant to be . . . .”
John Lennon

Now go and spread joy!

Homemade Granola Bars

Hokmemade Granola Bars Dressed in my “Gram-glam,” which consists of fitted sweatpants with pockets, a soft t-shirt worn under a flannel shirt, and sheepskin boots, I grab a homemade granola bar in one hand while carrying my granddaughter in the other. Life is grab-and-go for me these days, but with a little planning I can still eat wholesome and tasty foods.

Homemade Granola Bars
Recipe courtesy of Ina Garten

INGREDIENTS
2 cups old-fashioned oatmeal
1 cup sliced almonds
1 cup shredded coconut, loosely packed
1/2 cup toasted wheat germ
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
2/3 cup honey
1/4 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
1 ½ teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup chopped pitted dates
1/2 cup chopped dried apricots
1/2 cup dried cranberries

DIRECTIONS
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter an 8 by 12-inch baking dish and line it with parchment paper.

2. Toss the oatmeal, almonds, and coconut together on a sheet pan and bake for 10 to 12 minutes, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned. Transfer the mixture to a large mixing bowl and stir in the wheat germ.

3. Reduce the oven temperature to 300 degrees F.

4. Place the butter, honey, brown sugar, vanilla, and salt in a small saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat. Cook and stir for a minute, then pour over the toasted oatmeal mixture. Add the dates, apricots, and cranberries and stir well.

5. Pour the mixture into the prepared pan. Wet your fingers and lightly press the mixture evenly into the pan. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until light golden brown. Cool for at least 2 to 3 hours before cutting into squares. Serve at room temperature.

YIELD: 12 to 16 bars

LINNELL’S NOTES
1. Ingredients in this recipe can be easily substituted. For example, I substituted ground flax seed for the wheat germ and figs for the dates, because that is what I had on hand.

2. Despite packing the granola into the pan, these bars tend to fall apart. I recommend cutting them into smaller squares. Save any crumbs to sprinkle on yogurt.

3. I like how the edges are crunchy, so next time I will bake the whole pan a little bit longer.

4. I imagine if you didn’t press the granola into a pan and baked it as is, it would make a fabulous granola cereal.

Enjoy!

IMG_0275 Book Stack -T What do the books laying around your home reveal about you? Plenty. Are you a romantic, a gardener, a do-it-yourself-type of person? Looking at this short stack of my books, can you tell that I read books about history, like to cook, love dogs, collect books just for their titles and don’t like to clean my house, worship well-written classics, pretend that I can read French, and search for nuggets of wisdom?

#1 – Characteristics of Book Lovers
19 Things Only Book Lovers Will Understand This week a friend and I found we shared similar tendencies when we are around books, such as in libraries and book stores. Both of us lovingly run fingers down book spines and both of us enjoy feeling the heft of books in our hands. Odd you say? I think you would be surprised how many other book lovers do the same things. Check out the 19 Things Only Book Lovers Will Understand and see if you recognize any of the traits in yourself or in someone you know.

#2 – Searching For A Book?
Searching For Old Books If there’s an old book or a book out of print that you really want to get your hands on, consider searching for it on AddALL. I searched for several books on the site and within 20 seconds pages of sources appeared. You can also search AddALL for other things such as books in print and ebooks.

#3 – Ikea Versus Apple
While on the subjects of books, this Ikea ad is just too tongue-in-cheek for me not to share it:

#4 – DIY Creative Chandeliers
29 Magnificent Chandeliers Made Out of Crazy things To all the people who think, “What if . . . ,” please don’t ever stop thinking that way. The world needs your creative and outside-the-box way of looking at things. To that point here are 29 Magnificent Chandeliers Made Out of Crazy Things. Some are made from pages of books, plastic bottles, waxed paper, zip ties, etc. These projects would be even better, if they are fashioned out of re-purposed goods.

#5 – Reading Outside the Box
“If you only read the books that everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking.”
Haruki Murakami

Now go and spread joy!

Beanie Cap Made From a Sweater The model napped during the construction and fitting of the garment, so a giraffe graciously stepped in to help. What? After using a sweater to make a Christmas stocking last month, I wanted to learn additional ways to reuse old sweaters. I searched for ideas online and found the site Make It and Love It, which had some cute examples. Making a “sweater” cap is easy. By the time my granddaughter woke up from her nap, I’d fashioned a beanie cap for her. It’s a little large for her right now, but it looks great on the giraffe. I’m going to make an argyle cap tomorrow. Hopefully the model will be awake!

How to Transform a Sweater into a Beanie Cap

MATERIALS
Old sweater with ribbing at the bottom
Paper and pen for pattern
Thread
Pins
Scissors
Sewing machine

INSTRUCTIONS
1. Using an existing hat that fits, flatten it out and place it on a piece of paper. Trace around the perimeter of the hat with a pencil or pen. Draw a 1/4″ seam allowance alongside the first outline. Cut out the pattern.

2. Lay the sweater on a flat surface and place the pattern on top of it. The bottom edge of the pattern should be flush with the bottom edge of the sweater hem/ribbing. Pin pattern in place. Cut around the pattern making sure to cut through both layers of the sweater. Note: In this photo, I used the half of a sweater leftover from the Christmas stocking project. That’s why the sweater looks so narrow. Using an old sweter to make a hat

3. To make the bow feature, cut an additional piece of sweater at least 1.5 inches longer than the width of the base of the beanie and about 3 to 4 inches tall.

4. Cut a smaller piece for the center of the bow.

5. Fold each bow piece in half lengthwise with right sides touching. Sew 1/8″ seams. Turn both pieces right side out. Place the small piece around the center of the long piece, making sure all seams are facing towards the back. Pin together and stitch the small piece as close to long piece as possible. Cut off excess length on the short piece. Turning an Old Sweater Into a Beanie Cap

6. Lay one of the cap pieces right side up on a flat surface. Place the constructed bow on top of it, making sure it is centered and the seam side is down. Pin it in place. Place the other cap piece right side down on top of the bow and pin all three layers together. Sew all layers together using a 1/4″ seam allowance. Trim excess bow fabric that sticks out beyond the seam. Making a beanie cap from an old sweater

7. Turn beanie cap right side out. Embellish with button, if desired.

LINNELL’S NOTES
1. I don’t have a serger, so I used a stretch stitch on my sewing machine. Working with a cable knit was more difficult for a first-time attempt. I recommend experimenting with a smooth knit first.

2. If you don’t want to include the bow feature, just omit the steps related to bow construction and placement.

Enjoy!

January 9, 2015 Edition In the stillness of a winter garden, where many plants rest to conserve their energy, songbirds flit here and there while singing their songs. When skies are more grey than blue and when landscapes are more drab than vivid, these birds spread joy by serenading us all day long. When was the last time you went outside just to listen to the birds sing?

#1 – Feed the Birds
Winter Feeding Birds In North America During the winter, don’t forget to keep your bird feeders full and provide a source of fresh water for our faithful little troubadours. If you are wondering what type of food to feed birds in North America, Bird Watcher’s Digest has a list of Top 10 Foods For Winter Bird Feeding.

#2 – Winter in Japan
Winter in Japan When it’s cold, space heaters and sweaters are my best friends. I rarely heat my entire house, because it seems like a waste of energy when I know I’m going to be in only one room for a significant period of time. After reading the interesting article How to Cut Out Home Heating Oil—Japanese Style, I have greater appreciation for my cozy warm house and a newfound appreciation for what families can gain by not having central heat.

#3 – Free As A Bird
Vandog Traveller Could you quit your job, convert an old rusty van into your new home, travel, and be free as a bird? That’s what Mike Hudson did. In 2013, he quit his job and began the painstaking task of converting an aging van. With the conversion complete, Mike is out and about discovering the world. Check out his blog called Vandog Traveller for details on the conversion and for tales of his travels. I love his list of wants: Vanddog's list of dreams

#4 – More Awesome Kitchen Hacks
16 Awesome Kitchen Hacks If you’re like me, you’ve probably tried many kitchen hacks and discovered that some of them worked and some of them didn’t work. Don’t get discouraged by the past failures, because there are always more hacks to try! Here are 16 Useful Kitchen Hacks You Need In Your Life. Let me know which ones you like the best.

#5 – Break Your Shell
“The bird dares to break the shell, then the shell breaks open and the bird can fly openly. This is the simplest principle of success. You dream, you dare and and you fly.”
― Israelmore Ayivor

Now go and spread joy!

Charlotte While watching my infant granddaughter suck on her little jacket, I think about all of the fun we will share in the coming days and years. I dream of blowing giant bubbles with her, of making pies out of Play-Doh together, and of sharing favorite books. Very, very soon it will be the Charlotte and “Yin Yin” Show, as that is what it will be when I take on full days of caring for her. With much excitement and a little trepidation, I consider all that I need to have on hand and all that I need to do to prepare for her visits.

As far as equipment goes, I am well-prepared. Thanks to my thoughtful son and daughter-in-law, I have a Pack n’ Play, a space-saving highchair, a baby bathtub, a super-duper baby monitor, and an array of other helpful items. I purchased a car seat and a stroller on my own, because I wanted specific features. If you are a first-time grandparent planning to care for an infant or young grandchild in your home, here is a list of items to consider having on hand and some additional helpful information:

Equipment
I am fortunate to have been given many of these costly items. Many grandparents look for used items. There is nothing wrong with that, but before you look for second-hand items, I urge you to use caution. Because safety standards in the baby industry change constantly, you need to do some product-safety homework prior to buying or borrowing certain used items. Be smart and research current safety regulations and check out product recalls.

Crib and mattress, portable crib and mattress, or Pack n’ Play
Car seat
Stroller
Highchair of some sort
Baby carrier for hands-free movement
Baby monitor, optional
Baby bathtub, optional

Basics
Keep in mind that babies are messy little things. You’ll want to have more than one set of bedding and a couple of sets of baby’s clothing on hand.

Crib sheets, minimum of 2
Waterproof mattress pads
Waterproof multi-use pads (I use these for change pads at home and on the go)
Free and clear laundry detergent
Diapers
Wipes
Extra changes of clothes
Changing pad, optional
Baby bath towels and washcloths, optional (I like using baby wash cloths, because they are thinner and can more easily get into baby’s nooks and crannies)

Health Care, Safety, And Emergency
Safety measures have changed since my children were young. Infants now sleep on their backs in cribs with no bumpers or blankets. Syrup of Ipecac is no longer recommended for your home emergency kit.

Pediatrician’s contact information
Health insurance information
Copy of child’s health history, including allergies, immunizations, and significant health conditions
Poison Control contact number 1-800-222-1222 on or near every phone
Consent for treatment signed by parents
Digital thermometer and extra batteries for it
Baby acetaminophen and Acetaminophen Dosage Chart
Diaper rash ointment
Safety gates
Cabinet and drawer latches
Door knob covers
Outlet covers
Toilet latches
Swimming pool fence, alarm or pool cover
Corner guards
Take a CPR class that includes infant resuscitation and CPR. At the very least, watch an instructional video, such as the one below:

Feeding
Ask baby’s parents what supplies and brands you need to have on hand.

Baby bottles, nipples, and rings of the type the parents use at home
Breast milk or baby formula
Bottle brush
Infant-safe spoons, cups and bowls
For an older baby: baby food that baby’s parents recommend
Two types of bibs: some for catching food and some for absorbing drool

Entertainment
I’ve been known to entertain my granddaughter with just about anything: soda bottles, empty mylar candy bags, metal tins, and red party cups. All things can create sounds and movement. However, never leave a baby unattended with any of these things! Charlotte loves music, so I downloaded lullabies and other baby songs onto my smart phone. I can play music for her wherever we are and especially when she is in her crib trying to fall asleep.

Chunky board books
Age appropriate toys
Music
Infant stimulation cards (I downloaded these for free and printed them up)

Note: This list is a work in progress. As I learn and adjust to caring for Charlotte, I’m sure this list will grow too. And of course, the needs of each grandparent and grandchild are different. Let me know if you have any suggestions of items that should be included and please share with me your child-caring experiences with your grandchildren.

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