Archive for November, 2011

Tucked away in a cabinet are holiday beverage napkins that read, “We Like To Give Homemade Gifts For Christmas. Would You Like One Of Our Kids?”  Whatever prompted me to purchase those particular napkins is a mystery to me. It’s true, I like to give homemade gifts. But even on my worst parenting days, I’ve never considered giving away any of my kids! I can only guess that a combination of the “HOLIDAZE” that normally takes over me at this time of year and too many “Calgon-take-me-away” moments of motherhood had something to do with it! This upcoming holiday season, my kids can rest assured that my homemade gifts will be in the forms of food mixes and baked goods. Food mixes, such as this one for corn bread, are gifts of time-saving convenience and are much appreciated by busy hostesses. Make this corn bread mix, put it in a cute airtight container, type and print up the instructions, and tie them on with a festive holiday ribbon. A voucher for some of your favorite homemade chili would make a great accompanying gift!

California Corn Bread Mix
Adapted from a recipe by Diane Phillips

2 cups Bisquick baking mix
1/2 cup cornmeal
1/2 cup sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder

In a large bowl, stir all the ingredients together. Store the mix in an airtight container.

Instructions to be included with the mix:

California Corn Bread
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Place the corn bread mix in a large mixing bowl, and add the eggs, milk, and butter. Blend until the mixture is smooth. Pour into a well-greased 8-inch baking pan and bake for 30 minutes. Serves 4 to 6.


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Fists would bang on the table! Endless whining would begin! And a cacophony of complaints would strike my ears! All those reactions would occur, well maybe not the fist banging, if I deviated too much from my family’s traditional Thanksgiving menu. Whining would definitely begin if I were to roast a turkey any way other than my dad’s way and complaints would be nonstop if I did not make my family’s ultimate favorite side dish – a Chinese form of “stuffing” made with rice, Chinese sausage, mushrooms and dried shrimp. I am granted a little bit more leeway, though, with the rest of the Thanksgiving menu. Because I like to try out new recipes, our Turkey Day menu varies a little bit from year to year. Being more health conscious now, I have replaced recipes that are loaded with fat and sugar and opted to prepare more healthy ones. Gone is the sweet potato casserole with its butter, eggs and brown sugar. This year’s replacement for that is Roasted Butternut Squash With Lime Juice and I think my family will enjoy this dish with its combination of sweet, savory and tangy flavors. No additional sugar is necessary in this recipe, because the natural sugar in the squash is brought out when it is roasted. Fresh chopped rosemary lends the dish a certain earthiness and the little bit of lime juice adds an interesting layer of depth. Top all of that with the fact that this dish can be made ahead earlier in the day and reheated just before serving!

Roasted Butternut Squash With Lime Juice
Adapted from a Epicurious recipe by Sara Foster

3½-pound butternut squash
3 tablesppons olive oil
2 tablespoons butter, melted
4 teaspoons fresh lime juice, plus 1 lime cut into wedges for garnish
2 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
2. Cover two rimmed baking sheets with foil.
3. Peel butternut squash and cut crosswise into 1/2-inch-thick slices and then cut the large rounds into quarters. Set aside.
4. Mix together in a large bowl the olive oil, butter, and the lime juice. Place squash into this mixture and toss thoroughly to coat all sides. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Toss again.
5. Divide squash evenly between the baking sheets, arranging them in a single layer.
6. Roast for 20 minutes. Turn squash pieces over and roast until soft and golden brown, about 20 minutes longer.
7. Season with additional salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle with chopped fresh rosemary. Serve warm with lime wedges.
8. Do Ahead: Can be made 4 hours ahead. Let it stand at room temperature. Rewarm in 400 degree oven until hot, about 10 minutes.

Serves 6.

Linnell’s Notes:
1. For easier peeling, stick the whole butternut squash in the microwave oven on high for about two minutes, then proceed with peeling.
2. When cutting the squash try to cut the pieces the same width and approximate size. This will promote even baking and enhance overall appearance.
3. I like to chop the rosemary just before serving, so that it keeps its fresh color.


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Autumn leaves turn color and drop not because the weather is cooler, but because the nights are longer. If the nights are longer, then the days are shorter. And with shorter days we have less time to enjoy the beauty of autumn. So don’t waste time! Get out there and revel in all that autumn affords us – clear blue skies, colorful foliage, leaves crunching under our feet, fresh apple cider, pumpkin pie and longer nights to enjoy our families!

#1 – Movember
One of my sons started to grow a mustache at the beginning of the month, but not to look older or more debonair. He’s doing it to support a good cause – the Movember campaign. As a “Mo Bro,” he and other men across the world are growing mustaches during the month of November to increase awareness of men’s health issues, particularly prostate cancer, and to raise money to fund research. According to the Movember website, “Mo Bros effectively become walking, talking billboards for the 30 days of November. Through their actions and words they raise awareness by prompting private and public conversation around the often ignored issue of men’s health.” To learn more about Movember or to make a donation to this inspiring men-helping-men effort, click here or to donate directly to my son’s team, click here. It all goes to a good cause! Although Tom Selleck he’s not (despite his “enhanced” photo), I’m still proud of my son!

#2 – Calcium in Food
Bone health or heart health? I can’t win. My ob-gyn wants me take calcium supplements, but my cardiologist wants me to stop taking them. I’m on a six-month trial period of eliminating daily calcium supplements and receiving calcium only from my diet. Why? I guess calcium can irritate the heart. Since going off calcium supplements, upping my ingestion of calcium-rich foods, and changing my magnesium supplement, the number of atrial fibrillation episodes I’ve had has diminished. Always check with your doctor before making any drastic changes in your diet or your supplements.

Calcium can be obtained from these high-calcium foods:

Dried herbs
Sesame seeds
Flax seeds
Yogurt, milk, and other dairy products
Green leafy vegetables (turnip, mustard, dandelion green, collards, kale)
Brazil nuts

Links to articles regarding high calcium foods:
Dietary Supplement Fact Sheet on Calcium
Calcium Foods Summary
Top 10 Foods Highest in Calcium

#3 – Grab Your Smartphone and Shape Up!
Here’s a review of smartphone apps that can help you get in shape! For example, download Fooducate to let your phone’s camera scan barcodes of foods and find out how healthy they are based on ingredients and nutrients or download Tempo Magic Pro to “adjust a song’s tempo to match your workout speed without making it sound at all weird.” Who would have thought that a phone could help you get in shape?!

#4 – Daily Dose
I love looking at interesting and well-taken photos from around the world and was happy to get my daily dose of photos from One Big Photo, which has 400 gorgeous high quality photos uploaded. Enjoy browsing through the categories of photos or submit one of your own!

#5 – Your Autumn Colors
“You can’t hide your true colors as you approach the autumn of your life.” Unknown

Enjoy these beautiful autumn days!

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Throwing a football party at your house? Got kids coming home for the holidays? Going to a potluck dinner soon? If you answered yes to any of these questions, you will want to make this colorful, flavorful, and healthy salad. It’s the type of salad you can make for two and have leftovers, but it more easily feeds a crowd! There are few hard and fast rules in this great recipe; it is a salad after all! Like avocados? Put them in! Don’t like jicama? Leave it out! Want to serve it as a main dish? No problem, just add some protein in the form of diced chicken breast, bacon, shrimp, taco meat or hard-boiled eggs. Want to make it ahead of time? Prepare the ingredients the night before and store them in airtight containers. Assemble it right before serving. This salad travels well, too. Put the prepared ingredients in separate zip-type plastic bags or small plastic containers and then arrange them over the bed of greens when you arrive at your destination. Other than for the spicy southwestern-inspired salad dressing, there are no specific measurements for this salad. Adjust the amounts of the salad add-ins proportionally to the amount of greens you use. For the sake of giving you some parameters, I am giving you rough estimates of what I would serve as a side salad for six to eight people.

Southwestern Chopped Salad

Southwestern Ranch Salad Dressing (Adapted from a recipe found on Food.com):
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup sour cream
1-2 tablespoons milk
2 tablespoons minced tomatoes
1 tablespoon white vinegar
2 teaspoons canned diced jalapeno peppers
1 tablespoon finely minced onion
1/2 teaspoon dried parsley
1/4 teaspoon hot sauce
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon dried dill weed
1/8-1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4-1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon honey or real maple syrup

Directions to Make Salad Dressing:
1. Note: The flavors in this salad dressing need time to meld, so it should be made three to four hours ahead of serving time.
2. Whisk all ingredients together in a bowl, except for the milk.
3. Add milk to thin, as needed.
4. Cover and chill.

Salad Ingredients:
3 heads of romaine hearts or 1 head of iceberg lettuce
1/2 red onion, diced
2 cups frozen corn
1 (15 ounce) can of black beans
1 medium can sliced black olives
1 red or orange bell pepper, diced
1/2 medium-sized jicama, diced
1 bunch cilantro
1-2 cucumbers, diced
Shredded cheddar cheese
Corn chips or toasted pepitas (pumpkin seeds)
2 avocados, peeled and cubed (optional)
1-2 fresh tomatoes, diced (optional)

Directions to Make the Salad:
1. Wash lettuce leaves and spin or blot dry. Stack three or four leaves at a time and cut into 3/4-inch-wide ribbons. The large leaves should be stacked and cut in half down the spine before slicing into ribbons.
2. Finely dice half of the red onion.
3. Place frozen corn in a strainer and run cool water over it until the kernels are thawed. Drain thoroughly.
4. Pour the can of beans into a sieve and rinse with cold water. Let drain.
5. Drain olives.
6. Dice the red pepper.
7. Peel and dice the jicama.
8. Wash and spin or blot dry the cilantro, pick leaves off and put into a small bowl.
9. Dice the cucumbers.
10. Break corn chips into coin-sized pieces, reserving whole pieces for garnish along the edge of your bowl.
11. When ready to assemble, place lettuce ribbons into a large, shallow bowl.
12. Except for the red onion, cilantro leaves, cheese, and corn chips, arrange each ingredient in concentric rings on top of the greens, beginning with the ingredient you have the least of and ending with the ingredient you have the most of. Try to balance the colors.
13. Sprinkle the onions, cilantro leaves, cheese, and corn chips decoratively on top of the salad.
14. Place whole corn chips on edge of salad bowl.
15. Serve with dressing on the side.

Linnell’s Notes:
1. Romaine lettuce is more nutritious than iceberg, so it is always my fist choice.
2. All diced items should be diced approximately the same size for a uniform appearance.
3. Taco-flavored Doritos are really good in this salad!
4. Diced fresh tomatoes can be added or substituted for the red bell pepper. I leave out the tomatoes if the salad is to be made in advance or if I’m traveling with it. The red bell peppers provide enough color with out getting juicy like the tomatoes.
5. The salad dressing recipe only makes one cup, so if you’re serving a crowd, multiply the salad dressing recipe as needed.
6. The spicy-heat of the salad dressing can be adjusted by adding fewer jalapenos and less cayenne pepper. Remember to let the dressing sit for a couple of hours before you decide to adjust any of the flavors!
7. The salad dressing makes a great dip for vegetables, too – just don’t thin it out with the milk.


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The sun was low in the sky on a crisp and breezy autumn day. It was the kind of day that beckoned for a stroll in the park. As the black lab puppy strained against his leash to see more, smell more, and play more, my husband and I walked and chatted. As we rounded a path leading down to the bay, I suddenly yelled out to him, “Stop! Don’t step on someone’s hope!” There at his feet, scrawled in the decomposed granite path, were large letters spelling out the word “hope.” As we continued our walk, my mind filled with questions. Who wrote that? And why? Does that person have hope or need hope? Or was it just someone’s name? I’ll never know the answers to my questions, but I do know that hope can be found everywhere.

#1 – Convoy of Hope
Recently in my small area of the world a Convoy of Hope came to town. Over 13,000 people attended this outreach to receive assistance ranging from “health and dental screenings, family portraits, groceries, clothing, shoes and employment – all of which were free of charge.” Convoy of Hope has ambitious plans for 2012; their plans include outreach events in every state. To read more about this charity that has won the Charity Navigator Four Star Award for seven years in a row and to learn about ways in which you can help, click here.

#2 – Flowers of Hope
My husband called me from work the other day and asked, “Do you have any use for a box of assorted flower vases, because if not, they are going to be thrown away?” He knows me too well. Since it is not in my nature to throw things away, I replied, “Bring them home. I will fill them with flowers and take them over to a senior care home.” Although vases are not required in order to give a bouquet of flowers to someone in a senior center or home, they certainly make it easier for the staff to distribute the flowers. I mentioned in a previous post, that glass jars work great for this purpose, too. So before you get rid of those inexpensive vases you get from the florist, fill them with lovely flowers from your yard or from a store and give a home-bound senior hope that someone still cares about them.

#3 – Is There Hope For Mom and Dad?
The text I sent my daughter read something like this, “@ emerg room. Dad mayb hd gdasu buvacj!” I admit that sometimes when I text, I inadvertently send jibberish instead –  thanks to clumsy fingers or that darn spell check program that keeps changing what I write! I’m sure I’m not the only one with texting issues. Read these amusing texts that appeared on the Huffington Post Parents page or read many more funny texts by going to When Parents Text. I hope my kids haven’t submitted any of my bloopers!

#4 – Hope For Creativity
This four minute TED video presented by Gever Tulley shows hope exists when creativity is fostered in children. His Tinkering School allows children to design, create, succeed and fail. Life skills are learned when they have to figure things out. I love this idea!

#5 – Words of Hope
“Men and women are limited not by the place of their birth, not by the color of their skin, but by the size of their hope.” John Johnson

Give thanks this weekend to the many people who gave hope to our country by serving in the military! Have a safe Veterans Day weekend!

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It’s not too early to plan your menu for the Thanksgiving holidays, especially if you are having overnight guests. These pumpkin muffins have a lot going for them: a moist, subtle-pumpkin-flavored cake with a little cream cheese surprise tucked in the center and topped with a nutty, crunchy streusel. All that deliciousness, plus you can do the preparations the night before and quickly throw them together the next morning. Your guests will wake up to the smell of freshly-baked muffins! A word of caution, though, with food coming out of the kitchen like this, your guests may never want to go home!

Pumpkin Streusel Muffins
Adapted from a recipe found on Pumpkin Nook

1/2 cup pumpkin purée
1/2 cup milk
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 egg, beaten
1¾ cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 ounces cream cheese, cut into 12 cubes

Streusel Topping Ingredients:
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1-2 tablespoons butter or margarine
1/3 cup chopped walnuts

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F and put paper liners into a 12-cup muffin pan.
2. In a bowl, combine egg, milk, pumpkin, oil and mix well.
3. In a another bowl mix together flour, baking powder, sugar, and spices.
4. Stir dry ingredients into wet ingredients just enough to moisten the dry ingredients. The batter will be lumpy.
5. Fill each muffin cup about 1/2 full of batter.
6. Place one cube of cream cheese on top of each muffin cup of batter.
7. Add remaining batter on top of the cream cheese, distributing the batter evenly.
8. Combine streusel topping ingredients, mixing well. Sprinkle over the muffins.
9. Bake for 18-22 minutes until golden brown.
10. Serve warm.

Makes 12 muffins.

Linnell’s Notes:
1. Do not over mix the batter when incorporating dry into wet ingredients. Too much stirring overdevelops the gluten in the flour, resulting in rubbery and dense muffins.

2. If you like nice, crusty muffins (tops and sides), forgo the paper liners and grease the muffin tins thoroughly, even the top surface.

3. For the best flavor, use butter instead of margarine when making the streusel topping and use freshly ground nutmeg if you can!

4. To do ahead for Thanksgiving morning: prepare the wet, dry, and streusel ingredients in separate bowls. Cover and refrigerate. Cut the cream cheese into cubes and place in airtight container and refrigerate. As soon as you get up the next morning, heat the oven and then proceed with the recipe directions.

5. Watch the muffins towards the end of the baking time. Muffins are baked in a hot oven to get “crunchy” tops, but muffins topped with streusel can also burn easily.


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The ever-increasing tales of the world’s woes often overshadow the good in the world. The good in life isn’t always monumental and can be easily ignored compared to the attention-grabbing bad. Is it a matter of the “squeaky wheel gets the grease”? The good in life is often the sum total of everyday small joys, so don’t let it go by unnoticed.

#1 – Spread Kindness
Performing acts of kindness provides joy for both the giver and the recipient. To read stories of kindness, to learn additional ways to be kind, and to print up smile cards that can be passed around in a pay-it-forward style, go to the inspirational site Help Others.

#2 – Wake-up Your Brain!
Need help jump-starting your brain cells in the morning? Try playing one of the many challenging games at Sporcle. For example, the Road Game allows you only six minutes to answer thirty questions about “things and phrases containing the word ‘road.'” On your mark! Get set! Go!

#3 – Spot the Fake
A smile is a thing of joy, but not all smiles are created equal. Based on the physiological differences between real and fake smiles, Professor Paul Ekman of the University of California and Dr. Wallace V. Friesen of the University of Kentucky devised the Facial Action Coding System. How good are you at spotting a fake smile from a real one? Take the Spot the Fake Smile test and find out. No pressure, but I got 16 out of 20 correct!

#4 – Kitchen Tip

Here’s a kitchen tip that will make you smile. Earlier this week I posted a recipe for Wild Mushroom and Prosciutto Lasagne on this blog. In this recipe the porcini mushrooms must be soaked before cooking them. When soaking dried mushrooms, put them in a bowl with warm water and place a smaller bowl or plate over them to keep them immersed in the water and to prevent them from floating to the top.

#5 – Choose Joy
“Joy does not simply happen to us. We have to choose joy and keep choosing it every day.” — Henri Nouwen

Choose to be joyful this weekend!

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Tempting layers of sautéed wild mushrooms, thin slices of Italian prosciutto, and wide ribbons of pasta smothered with a béchamel sauce beckon you. Can you resist? From the cookbook Good Friends, Great Dinners by Susan Costner comes this flavor-packed lasagne recipe. Although it does contain Italian tomatoes, prosciutto, and grated Parmesan cheese, it’s a refreshing change from the run-of-the-mill tomato sauce, beef, and ricotta cheese lasagne we so often have. Invite some friends over and pair this lasagne with a fresh autumn salad and a good bottle of wine – enjoy a great dinner with great friends!

Wild Mushroom and Prosciutto Lasagne
Adapted from a recipe by Susan Costner

Basic Ingredients:
1 ounce dried porcini mushrooms
2 pounds fresh mushrooms
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) plus 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided use
1 medium-size onion, finely chopped
14.5 ounce can Italian plum tomatoes, drained and coarsely chopped
1/4 cup fresh Italian parsley, chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 pound box lasagne noodles
6 ounces prosciutto, thinly sliced
1/4 pound Parmesan cheese, freshly grated

Béchamel Sauce Ingredients:
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
4 cups milk
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt

1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.

2. Bring 4 quarts of water to a rapid boil with 1 tablespoon of salt. Add the pasta strips one at a time, until all are in the pot. Bring to a boil again and cook for 5 to 7 minutes. Drain and immediately rinse each pasta strip under cold running water to prevent sticking. Lay them out on paper towels to drain.

3. Soak the dried porcini mushrooms for at least 30 minutes in 2 cups of warm water. With a slotted spoon, carefully remove the reconstituted mushrooms from the water. Reserve the water. Rinse the mushrooms thoroughly and chop them coarsely. Set aside. Pour the mushroom-soaking liquid through a small sieve lined with paper towels into a bowl and set aside.

4. Coarsely chop the fresh mushrooms by hand (the food processor extracts too much liquid).

5. In a large skillet, heat the oil and 1/4 cup butter; then add the fresh mushrooms and cook over medium-high heat until all the liquid has been released and has evaporated.

6. Add the porcini, onion, tomatoes, and parsley to the skillet. Pour in the mushroom-soaking liquid. Partially cover the pan and cook until the liquid has evaporated. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

7. To make the béchamel sauce, melt the butter in a small saucepan. Add the flour gradually and stir for 3 to 5 minutes over low heat. Slowly stir in the milk. Cook and stir over medium heat until thickened and smooth, about 8 to 10 minutes. Season with nutmeg and salt.

8. Liberally butter an 8½ X 10½-inch lasagne pan. Line the bottom of the pan with a slightly overlapping layer of pasta strips. Spread a third of the mushroom mixture over the pasta, top with one quarter of the béchamel sauce and a sprinkling of the Parmesan cheese. Cover with slices of the proscuitto and repeat the sequence two more times. Cover with one last layer of pasta, top with the remaining béchamel sauce and Parmesan, and dot with the 2 tablespoons of butter, cut into small pieces.

9. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until the cheese is melted and golden brown on top. Allow to stand for 10 minutes before serving.

Serves 6*

Linnell’s Notes:
1. I purchase thinly sliced prosciutto at Costco. Each piece is separated by a piece of paper so that the thin slices of meat do not stick together. This is a time-saver when you are assembling the lasagne!

2. When I’m feeling lazy, I purchase bags of prewashed and presliced baby bella mushrooms and coarse chop them.

3. I lay out the cooked and rinsed noodles on a paper towel-lined baking pan. Each layer of noodles is separated by paper towels. To keep the top layer from drying out, it is covered with a damp towel.

4. *I use a 9-inch by 13-inch Pyrex pan every time I make this and it is always filled to the brim. It makes a lot more than the 6 servings stated in the recipe!


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