Aunties M & Em

Thoughts on Faith, Family, Food, & Fun!


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Where, oh where, did winter go?

I like winter.
I like snow.
I like for winter months to be, well…wintery.
I don’t like winter months to be, well…springy…or even summery.
That is all.

P.S. Our header picture above is from a past winter. Isn’t it beautiful?  🙂  *sigh*

Remember that home is where the heart is, and there’s no place like home!
Auntie M


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Spring has sprung! The weather is warmer! The races are roaring!

Don’t you just love alliteration?  I do!  I thought of this title last night and thought it was blog worthy.  🙂

Let’s take the last one first…

The races… We were watching some shows we had on the DVR after having enjoyed some lovely evening fresh air, and what do we hear in the background?  Yes, the race track!  The roar!!  I don’t mind it though.  Really, I don’t.  The races are a fun sport for many, many people.  They also serve to bring people to our town…along with their spending dollars.  That’s a good thing.Lady n Cassie 4-12-14 cropped

The weather… It certainly is warmer and this is a very good thing after the long hard winter we had here in central Illinois.  Even the girls, our dogs Lady and Cassie, are happier when the weather is nice and they can spend more time outside.  For me, as long as it’s not too hot, I’m liking the warmer temps too.

Spring… What comes with Spring this year is a new and improved way of eating.  I believe it will be a very good thing.

Wait…  Again? Yes, again.  Read on…

I was at a visit with our primary care physician and we were talking about healthy eating and he said something profound. He held up his hand and said there are five kinds of carbohydrates I should avoid – Bread. Potatoes. Pasta. Rice. Fruit.

Really?  Yikes.  Well, let’s see…

Bread… I’ve already mostly eliminated wheat from my diet.  Don’t get me wrong…I love bread.  I love making it.  I love eating it.  I love to eat it in all its many forms and flavors.  I love it fresh out of the oven.  I love it rolled over with some peanut butter and jelly.  I love it cradling a fried egg.  I love it soaked in egg for French Toast.  I love it morphed into a waffle or tortilla or pancake or…cake!!!  But bread – or more accurately, wheat –  doesn’t like me in more ways than one. So, OK…. avoid bread.

Potatoes… potatoes?  Ok, I get it.  They’re a high glycemic food and wreck havoc with blood sugar levels. *sigh* Potatoes are a staple food in our home.   But, OK… avoid potatoes.

Rice… I usually just eat rice with Asian food which we only have occasionally so… avoid rice.

Pasta… refer back to wheat.  I know I’m weird, but I’ve never been a huge pasta lover so… avoid pasta.

Fruit… Now, I do eat a banana almost every day which I will miss but I’m going to give this a good effort so… avoid fruit.

Why am I telling you about this?  Well, I’ve decided not to keep it a secret.  If anyone has any encouragement as John and I start this journey, please do share.  We would appreciate it.  🙂

We did try a new low-carb recipe this morning – Cream Cheese Pancakes (Low Carb and Gluten Free).  We forgot to take a photo so you’ll either have to use your imagination or, better yet, visit I Breathe… I’m Hungry for the recipe and much more!

The recipe takes very few ingredients – cream cheese, eggs, sweetener, and cinnamon.  That’s it!  Mix it all together and cook!  Yum!  Since I’ve mostly given up wheat since last summer, we’ve tried several gluten free pancake recipes.  This one, however, is the best!!  I thought they were a lot like crepes and very similar to our beloved Egg Pancakes (next time we’ll use almond extract instead of the cinnamon for that wonderful Egg Pancake flavor).

Well, that’s it for today.  Ooops!  I just remembered that I promised more photos of our backyard remodel project. They’ll keep for another day!

Always remember that home is where your heart is…and there’s no place like home!
Auntie M


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Minion! Cake! Happy Birthday!

IMAG2026 croppedIf you’re like me and if someone texted you a photo of a Minion cake and asked you to make one for sweet little two year old Anley Jane’s birthday you would say, “Sure I can make that!” — and then you’d have to go online to see what in the world you signed up for!!!

Even though my cakes have that “home-made” look, I do enjoy making them.  But since our children and nieces and nephews have all grown up, I just haven’t had a reason to do it much anymore.

In the last few years though, daughter Emily and her hubby Steven have been there to help when we did have a cake to make.  Emily is an excellent baker and buttercream frosting maker and Steven can pretty much model anything out of fondant.  Between the three of us, we make quite a team!

Ok, back to the Minion cake!  Anley Jane loves chocolate so I used our favorite white wedding cake recipe and made it chocolate by substituting chocolate cake mix for the white and using all vanilla extract.  It turned out great!  In fact, my brother thought it was better than our all-time-family-favorite, Crazy Cake.  I don’t know what’s wrong with him…

IMAG2021 croppedEmily made batch after batch of buttercream frosting so we’d have plenty for the cake and both standard and mini cupcakes.  She makes the best buttercream…so smooth and creamy and easy to spread on a cake!

Now, for the decorations.  After researching different DIY decorating tips and techniques for making a Minion cake, I came up with some ideas I thought we could pull off.  I thought using chewy chocolate candies for the smile and hair would be cute.  I was told it looked like poo …. so much for that idea!  Then I ordered some black string candy that was cherry flavored thinking that would work better.  The problem was the strings were all squiggly and wouldn’t lay straight.

IMAG2027 b croppedIt’s really hard to make black frosting black, so we bought some in a can but the applicator was hard to control.  Then Emily said maybe we could squirt all the black frosting into a decorator bag with the size tip we want and apply it that way.  Tada!!  That worked beautifully!  Add an eye that Steven made from a chocolate covered peppermint patty and sculptable buttercream with a chocolate kiss in the middle… and you’re almost done!

IMAG2023 croppedTo bring in the blue that Minions wear, the cake and mini cupcakes were trimmed with blue stars and … we didn’t forget … bananas!!!  Of course, we had to work the bananas into the design!

We hope Anley Jane enjoyed her cake and had a wonderful birthday!  We sure had fun with our part.  🙂

Next time I’ll continue with the Backyard Project photos!  Always remember that home is where your heart is, and there’s no place like home!  ♥
Auntie M


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To All the Ladies…

Happy Mother’s Day! Moms come in all forms, too. Not all moms have had babies, but have a motherly influence on the loved ones in their lives.

So no matter if you have kids of your own or if you have people who look up to you as a mom, I hope you have a wonderful day today. Happy Mother’s Day to you!!


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Paying Taxes

tax time

I have a home hobby business which I really enjoy.  I’m never going to get rich doing it.  Goodness, it doesn’t even turn a profit!  What it does do is generate enough sales so that I have to pay state sales tax.  Not enough though to have to pay the state more than once a year.  So, every year in the first two weeks of January, I’m trying to remember how to navigate the online sales tax reporting and payment system.

Now, don’tcha know that when you only do something once a year it’s hard to remember just how to do it?  Wouldn’t it make sense for me to write down some important information like my online account username and password?  Apparently, that would be just too easy because today I could not, for the life of me, remember how to get into my account.  Oh my word.  I had it on my schedule to do it today and by cracky, I was going to do it today.  You see, I really do worry about missing deadlines and the possibility of having to pay a penalty.  May as well flush money down the…well, you know what I mean.

So here I am trying every possible username I could think of.  I’m looking in every possible computer file and hard copy file.  If I could get the username right I could reset the password.  But noooo!  Not gonna happen.  So I went to the “Help” page.  The online help didn’t have anything about this.  The phone help wasn’t open today.

I wasted, er… worked about two hours trying everything I could think of.  Then it hit me.  See if it will let me log in as a new user.  Of course, that could make a bigger mess, but I was determined.

Long story short…it worked!  I got into my account and, in less time than it took me to think of a new password, I had the return submitted and the payment sent.  Yay!  I’m good for another year!

Lesson learned?  Of course, it’s to write this stuff down, keep it in a safe place, and for heaven’s sake don’t rely on my older-than-dirt memory!  Oh, and thank the Lord that my hubby John does our personal taxes! 

I hope when you pay your taxes – and we all do – it goes smoothly and is not too painful!
Auntie M


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Turkey & Potatoes…Success & Failure

Well, Thanksgiving Day has come and gone.  I love everything about Thanksgiving…time spent with family, being grateful for what God has blessed us with, and, last but certainly not least, the food.  A couple of weeks ago, Diane at White on Rice Couple (one of my favorite blogs), posted about Thanksgiving recipes, both old favorites and new interpretations.  She got me to thinking about the most memorable dishes from throughout the years…both good and, well, not so good.

Several years ago, we decided that since we had all traditional Turkey Day dinners, we would try some twists on traditional dishes.  We were inspired by recipes we found on FoodNetwork.com, like Giada’s Turkey with Herbes de Provence and Citrus and Sweet Potato Gnocchi.  Dad followed the recipe for the turkey pretty much to the letter, except he opted to grill the turkey on his trusty Weber kettle grill.  It looked and smelled delicious!  Right on schedule, Dad pulled the turkey in the roasting pan from the grill, and set it on his grill-side table.  Now, I still don’t know how it exactly happened, but the next thing I know, the turkey and pan are on the driveway…breast side down.  A few irritated words and stunned moments later, Dad picked up the turkey, brushed off the teensy bits of gravel and brought it inside.  That was one of the tastiest birds I’ve ever had!  It earned the moniker “Driveway Turkey”, which we still use to this day when referring to any turkey Dad grills.  I’d say this is a dish that succeeded when it nearly failed!

That same year, I made the sweet potato gnocchi with maple cinnamon sage brown butter.  I had never made gnocchi before, and was pleasantly surprised at how easy they were to make.  The brown butter sauce, on the other hand, was a little trickier, and I’m still not sure I got it quite right.  We couldn’t find fresh sage at the grocery store, so we substituted basil…and boy, did it pop and sizzle when I added it the brown butter!  It kind of caught me off guard, but it was really cool.  Normally, we have leftovers of all the dishes we make, but the sweet potato gnocchi were gobbled up by everyone at dinner!  Success!  Hmmm…I think I need to make it again soon…

Before the Driveway Turkey and Sweet Potato Gnocchi, though, was the first dish we made that is not traditional for our family…the “fail” in this case.  It has become the stuff of legend…Dad’s brother, Jerry, was joining us for Thanksgiving that year…and not a year goes by that he doesn’t mention this dish in some way.  Let me turn this post over to Mom for more information…’cause I try not to think about it if I don’t have to…

Mmmmm…. Emily, we do need for you to make some more Sweet Potato Gnocchi!  It was truly one of the tastiest dishes I’ve ever had!

But now, for the stuff of legend.  Back in the 1990s…and I mean the entire decade… I worked for our local Head Start program.  I made some good friends there and learned to appreciate diversity and family cultures different from my own.

One year we were all talking about our favorite foods for the holidays.  My African-American friends said there are two soul foods that are must-haves for Thanksgiving: sweet potato pie and chitlins.

Now, I’d made sweet potato pie and it is delicious, but I didn’t even know what chitlins were.  My friends went on and on about how good they are and how it wouldn’t be the holidays without them.  So I thought maybe our family should also experience this ultimate soul food fare.

I got the recipe complete with extensive instructions about how to properly clean the chitlins before beginning the cooking process which, by the way, takes several hours. Yes, several hours of steamy goodness filling our home with chitlin anticipation.

According to Wikipedia.org, here’s what we’re talking about:  “Chitterlings (sometimes spelled as pronounced: chitlins or chittlins) are the intestines of a pig, although cattle and other animals’ intestines are similarly used, that have been prepared as food. In various countries across the world, such food is prepared and eaten either as part of a daily diet, or at special events, holidays or religious festivities.”

Let me remind you, I didn’t know what chitlins were even when I was cleaning them.  They were a little weird and slippery, but I kept thinking about how my friends’ eyes sparkled when they were talking about how good they are and so I moved on to the cooking stage.  I followed the recipe exactly with every ingredient my friends used and turned on the stove.  Soon this very, shall we say, “interesting” aroma filled the kitchen.  I thought that maybe it had to cook out of the chitlins…surely it would taste better.

Well, long story short, my brother-in-law Jerry was with us that year for Thanksgiving, we did have chitlins on the dinner table and, in the spirit of friends, family and cultural diversity, we all did take a taste.  Oh my word!  Let’s just say, we decided chitlins must be an acquired taste that we really didn’t want to acquire!

Every Thanksgiving the legendary chitlins get talked about and remembered.  I’m pretty sure they’ll be talking about them at my funeral and, who knows…maybe at the heavenly banquet table!

Even though chitlins may not be one of our cultural specialties, they are treasured and appreciated by many around the world!  I encourage you and your family to try something new for the holidays or any day.  You never know…it may become the stuff of legend!


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Crazy…Wacky…Tomato…Tomahto…

I’ve been on and off a diet to lose weight since I was 11 years old.  Back then my Mother counted calories for me, as well as for my Dad and herself.  She made it easy for us and we always had tasty meals.  In the 40+ years since then I’ve been on countless diet plans or programs.

A few years ago though a new wrinkle emerged in my dietary needs.  I became lactose intolerant.  It has been a challenge to navigate the world of American food where cow’s milk is a staple ingredient.

In the whole scheme of life though, being lactose intolerant is small potatoes compared to what other folks I know have to deal with.  Gluten intolerance, diabetes, nut allergies, and on and on…these dietary needs make life much more of a challenge and I must give credit to families for all they go through to provide healthy and tasty meals for themselves and their children.

My daughter-in-law, Jessi, was diagnosed with thyroid cancer in the spring of 2011. She had two surgeries, had to go on a low-iodine diet, and then endure a radioactive iodine treatment (complete with days of isolation) to get rid of the cancer. When she was pronounced cancer-free, it was a high-five-supercalifragilisticexpialidocious kind of day!!  Now just over a year later, she is back on the low-iodine diet again to prepare for a low-dose radioactive iodine scan to confirm her cancer-free-ness.  We are confident for a good report, but once again we are exploring the world of low-iodine cooking. 

It’s pretty obvious that on a low-iodine diet she can’t have iodized salt.  But I’ll bet you didn’t know that all sea salt and sea food from the ocean, as well as all dairy products and most soy products are also not permitted on this diet.  She can have the insides of a potato, but not the skin; an egg white, but not the yolk.  It’s very interesting and challenging to say the least.  The use of salt in pre-packaged foods is universal and since we don’t know if the manufacturer uses iodized salt or not, none of them are permitted. 

So Jessi and Greg are making everything from peanut butter to tomato sauce to chicken stock from scratch.  They are making some wonderful recipes, but it’s a lot of work.  I give them lots and lots of credit for all that work!  They are good cooks, but like most of us, they’re not used to making everything from scratch.  Yet, here they are doing it and doing it well.

We were happily surprised when, in the Low-Iodine Cookbook from ThyCa: Thyroid Cancer Survivors’ Association, what should we find but our family’s absolute favorite made from scratch cake recipe!!!  It’s the very first recipe my Mother taught me to make and I taught it to Emily and Greg when they were kids learning to bake.  We call it Crazy Cake.  The Low-Iodine Cookbook calls it Wacky Cake.  Either way, it’s so delicious and so easy to make.  And it’s low-iodine!!!  Woo-hoo!!!  Here’s the recipe:

Crazy Cake

3 cups flour                 2 tablespoons vinegar
2 cups sugar               2 tsp vanilla
6 tablespoons cocoa   3/4 cup oil
1 tsp salt                      2 cups water*
2 tsp baking soda

Sift the cocoa to get rid of any lumps.  Combine all ingredients by hand using a large whisk. Don’t over mix.  Spray 9 x 13 pan with non-stick spray or grease & flour pan.  Bake at 350º for 30-40 minutes or until toothpick inserted in the middle comes out almost clean.  Don’t over-bake.

*To enhance the chocolate flavor, I use one cup water and one cup strong brewed coffee. This is a recently added option.

If you want to turn this cake out of the pan, be sure to use parchment paper on the pan bottom in addition to the non-stick spray.

This cake is delicious dusted with powdered sugar.  Almond flavored buttercream icing is also really good!

If you or a family member struggles with dietary issues, I wish you well.  If the Crazy Cake above is something you can eat, give it a try!  It’s really, really good and will put a smile on your face!