Sunday was a BEAUTIFUL day here in Central Texas, with a high in the high 70’s!  Hubby and I couldn’t wait to hit one of the hiking trails out at BLORA, but when we told the kids were going hiking, you would have thought we had just cut one of their limbs off.  Seriously, you should have heard the moans and groans around this place!  Boy 1 even said to me "Why can't we do something that NORMAL families do, like go bowling".  Now, this makes me chuckle because I've heard stories of when my sister-in-law was a teenager and they HAD to go bowling as a family....for her that was the WORST THING EVER.   Anyway, even with all the moaning and crying, we took the children out for a little FORCED family fun!

Initially I was annoyed because Hubby always likes to do things 'differently' sometimes him doing things 'differently' doesn't end up great for the family.  Like the time we were in Colorado and he made us hike to some crazy area for a picnic and we thought a wild animal was going to have us for a picnic.  This time he made us hike on the bike trail.  I thought for sure we were going to be plowed down by some crazy mountain biker.  But in the end everything turned out great, this time.
When Girl and I saw this 'paw' print we were a little freaked out - we had just read on the bulletin board that there are cougars in this area. We (Girl and I)looked over our shoulders for the first half of this hike looking for a cougar.  Upon further investigation (since we have been home) we have discovered this is NOT a cougar print.  Do you know what it is?
 A beautiful view of the lake. Notice all that green?  CEDAR!  AUGHHH!!  Have I mentioned how much I dislike cedar?
I didn't check my children as thoroughly as  I normally do, I mean they have all gone hiking numerous times before and they know how to dress themselves....Boy 2's shoes....maybe I should do a once over before we get in the car the next time.
Check out what we found hiding under a rock...
Hubby was trying to bring a branch down low enough for the kids to swing on.  I guess he is stronger than he thinks.  ;o)
Is Boy 1 really SMILING?!?!  Sure it took his dad falling on his arse but hey, whatever works!
Boy 2 having a great time flying through the air!
Boy 3 freaked out a bit!  Is this really the same kid that flew through the jungle in Thailand on a zipline by himself?!?!
Another little critter we found....
This picture made me kind of sad when I looked at it.  It made me realize I don't have that much time left with Boy 1.  He will be gone in 4 years.  F-O-U-R years, to some that might seem like a lifetime, but to me, 4 years doesn't seem long at all.
Happy kids sinking in the mud!
If any of you followed our hiking journeys in Korea, you know we have a little game we play; everyone collects something small enough to fit in their pocket.  At the end of the hike we show our items and vote on which one was the coolest.

It is time for you to vote, in order, clockwise starting with the shells:
1. lots of cool tiny shells collected during the entire hike
2. a awesome fossil of a shell
3. a piece of a cedar tree (that wreaks havoc on my sinuses)
4. a super cool rock with orange in it
5. a groovy piece of a bee hive
(Boy 1 didn't play - he is too cool for this game)

Just click on comment and tell us which item you are voting on to win the coolness award!
At the end of the day, even though they will never admit it, everyone had a good time!  I have to give it up to Hubby, we didn't get ran over by a biker, in fact we didn't even see one.  I did sprain my ankle, but it was my own fault - I tackled Boy 1 and we both went down.  He is fine, I am old and brittle.  The kids seemed to enjoy this hike better than they thought they would.  Boy 2 told me "Mom, this really wasn't a hike, this was more like a walk through the woods", and he was right compared to what he is used to hiking. 
Date night....ahhh, two of my favorite words when combined together.  Hubby and I haven't had nearly enough date nights since moving to Texas.  People looking in from the outside might dispute what I just said BUT I didn't say we don't go out.  I said we don't have 'date nights'.  There is a BIG difference.  Even though we go out together A LOT, what we have been doing is not dating.  We go to functions and events, places that are somewhat 'required', where if we don't go it doesn't look good.  Sometimes these functions are lots of fun, but again, they are not 'dates'.  It is business.

So, when this past Saturday rolled around and I realized we didn't have anything on the calendar I suggested we go out on a date, and NOT to a movie (I don't consider movies date nights either). We both knew where we wanted to go ~ The Range in Salado, Texas.   The last time we ate at The Range was back in September of 2006 where we celebrated our 12th Anniversary and right before Hubby deployed to Iraq for 15 months.  Now after 4 years and 2 moves  I can't believe it took us 9 months (the amount of time we have been back in TX) to go back to The Range.  What were we thinking?  I know we won’t wait that long before our next visit to The Range.  I LOVED this place then and I LOVE this place now. So my suggestion for you is this: If you find yourself looking for a good place to take your honey here in Central Texas, don't hesitate to make that drive to Salado.  You will not be disappointed!  It is "Elegant dining with a quaint country flair!"  With that being said, elegant dining equals a bit on the pricy side (but worth every penny), so make sure you check out their menu (here) before you go.  Oh, and it doesn’t hurt to have a reservation.  Now, here is a peak at my drink and our entrees:
Lemon-Ginger Martini
Sea bass cooked to perfection - crispy on the edges and as soft as butter in the middle. Absolutely perfect. And that sauce....oh baby!
Quail - so moist and tender.
OMGoodness.  Can you say caffeine overload?  I'm having this ice cream for breakfast today.  I made this a couple of nights ago for a small dinner party.  This ice cream is so delicious and so melt in your mouth creamy that I couldn't stop eating it and in return I was awake all night.  This is the only drawback to this ice cream - just don't eat it at night.    I had enough espresso in me to last an entire day.  That's why I am having it for breakfast.  Plus it has calcium & protein as well as espresso in it, so it is good for me.   (That is my story and I am sticking to it.)
 This recipe comes from the Barefoot Contessa, Family Style Cookbook.

3 cups half-and-half
6 extra large egg yolks
2/3 cup sugar
Pinch of salt
2 ½ TBL ground espresso coffee beans (you can use decaffeinated if you would like)
1 TBL Kahlua liqueur
1 TSP pure vanilla extract
4 ounces (1/2 cup) chocolate covered espresso beans

Heat the half-and-half until it forms bubbles around the edge of the pan and steam starts to rise.

Meanwhile beat egg yolks, sugar and salt till mixed.  SLOWLY add the hot half-and-half until combined. Do this slowly as you do not want scrambled eggs.  (That would be bad, nasty, yucky ice cream!)

Wipe out the pan and pour the mixture back into the pan – cook over med-low heat for 5-10 minutes stirring constantly with a wooden spoon until it starts to thicken & the cream coats the back of the wooden spoon. 

Pour the cream into a bowl, add the ground espresso, Kahlua and vanilla and refrigerate (this is very, very important!!)  until COMPLETELY chilled!

Pour the espresso cream into your ice cream freezer bowl and follow the directions according to your machine. 

Once the ice cream is done mix in chocolate covered espresso beans.

Try not to eat all in one sitting.
So you all know I am on a decluttering kick.  I want it to be mind, body and house.  I'm not sure how to achieve the mind part, but I am working on it.  The body, well I have a secret to tell you all, I haven't been to the gym ALL YEAR!  Aughh! My excuse has been that my doctor had restricted me from the gym as it was a big pain in my ass (literally) when I ran or did body pump or combat.  Well, the gym restriction has been lifted, I am free to go back, however my doc did advise me not to run or do any exercise that with impact….in other words all the things I like to do.  I now have to do yoga, which I like (but the time is just not convenient) and I guess yoga can help me with mind as well as body – right?  I’m free to use the elliptical, (which I dislike) or to take spinning classes….spinning?!?  I dislike spinning more than the freaking elliptical!!  And I am always welcome to hang with the old ladies in the pool classes. (Shoot me now!) I guess I need a trainer to motivate me – any volunteers? 

OK, back to what I meant to write about….since being on this decluttering venture I am also paying more attention to waste.  One thing that I have noticed is how much food we waste .  I am now going to TRY to stop wasting as much food in our house.  Each Friday I am going to clean out our fridge and write down what we wasted.  Maybe if I see it in writing I will be more prone to stop the waste. I will also write about how I kept from wasting things.

On Friday I cleaned out the fridge and this is what I threw out:

4 kiwis (way too soggy)
½ head of cauliflower (OH GOD, the smell)
½ green bell pepper (soggy)
2 slices prosciutto (slimy)
5 ready to cook flour tortillas (mold spots)
4 taco shells
¼ avocado (all brown – yuck!)
1 piece leftover chicken saltimbocca
2 servings of chili

Next week I will try to do better.  I am also going to make it to the gym this week.  Wish me luck!

I LOVE onion rings.  I always order them when we go out - that is IF the place has good ones. Now, if you are getting any ideas and are considering delivering onion rings to my house to make my day, hold that thought.  I don't like O-rings from fast food restaurants. They suck.  I haven't found a fast food restaurant O-ring that I like yet.  People say, "oh try the ones from Sonic" - I say "Peshaw - they are NASTY".  Oh no, I'm not dising Sonic, I'll take a diet cherry limeade any day of the week & the kids love their greasy food, but when it comes to O-rings, Sonic ranks right there towards the bottom of my list.  Now I do LOVE the onion straws from Texas Land and Cattle ~ they ROCK!  Hooters has some pretty good O-rings as well as Buffalo Wild Wings.  However I love making my own and here's how I do it:
(This recipe comes from a cookbook titled "Burgers" by David Morgam.)

Slice up a few white onions (2 or 3) like this:
Let them soak in buttermilk for at least 30 minutes.

Mix together:
1 cup flour
2 tsp sweet paprika
1 tsp cayenne pepper
1 TBL Kosher salt

While your onions are soaking in buttermilk, fill a frying pan (I like to use cast iron) 1/4 of the way full with vegetable oil & heat the oil to 350 degrees F. (Or until a small piece of bread will brown in 30 seconds)

Dip a few onions at time in the flour mixture:

Fry for 2-3 minutes or until golden brown.
OK maybe not flambé, but you will get the joke once read the rest.....

It’s winter and even though it is a “Texas” winter, it is still winter and winter is soup season in our house (if you haven’t already noticed).  I love French Onion Soup & thought I would try a new recipe, well I didn’t find one recipe I liked, so I combined a few recipes together to get this – I was a little worried about the chick/beef broth combo, but thought I would give it a whirl anyway.   This turned out to be a ‘light’ tasting French Onion Soup.  Hubby loved it, but I’m thinking he would have loved just about anything at this point since dinner was close to 2 hours late!  I thought it was GOOD.  I think it would have been better if I had left out the chicken broth and just used beef broth.  Next time I will.  OK, so let’s get cookin’!


1 stick butter
6 yellow onions sliced about ¼ of inch thick
1 ¼ cup white wine, I used a Saviong Blanc, but a chardonnay would work great as well
4 cups chicken broth
4 cups beef broth
4 minced garlic cloves
1 TBL Worcestershire sauce
Sourdough bread, sliced
Thick sliced Swiss cheese (I use Tillamook)

Melt butter in dutch oven over med heat. Add onions and cook for 20 minutes, stirring to make sure they are all getting nice and soggy. 
After 20 minutes put the lid on slightly ajar & cook for another 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Add wine & cook for about 5 minutes.  Add broths, Worcestershire & garlic and reduce to heat to low.  Simmer for another 30-45 minutes.

While soup is simmering prepare your bread - place them on a cookie sheet  and broil on low heat, allowing bread to brown and become crispy. 

I put the bread in for 2 minutes, checked it, it wasn’t ready, put it back in for another 2 minutes.  While I was waiting those 2 minutes I had 5 kids come in the house to play.  Another one came in and asks if he could go to the shoppette & if he could have money.   The timer went off and the doorbell rang- another kid here to play.  I took the toasted sourdough bread out of the oven.  I got money.   My Skype rang; it was a friend in California call to have a celebratory glass of wine with me after receiving some super good news.  We toast – all is good.  I’m still cooking (cutting veggies for steak sandwiches now) and talking.  My house is getting loud.  The doorbell rings, I get off Skype, my neighbors is picking up her son.  We chat.  She leaves, I chop.  I notice smoke in the house and I think it is odd – I mean I’m just cooking soup.   I turn on the vent.  Kids are hungry.  I toss some popcorn shrimp in the toaster oven for a small snack.  Another kid comes over.  JZ starts playing on the radio, I CRANK it.  I’m singing & cooking – the smoke alarms start SCREAMING. The kids start SCREAMING.  Smoke is EVERYWHERE!  I open doors , kids are running outside. I’m looking all over for a fire.  I can’t find one.  All doors are open, JZ is playing, kids and fire alarm are both screaming, SKYPE RINGS again.  I have a gang of about 15 kids outside my house making sure we are ok (no adult neighbors came to our rescue, but all the kids that were outside playing were there….) I take one last look around…and I notice my toasted bread is NOT on top of my stove.  I open the stove to find bread – not burnt, but ON FIRE!!  What do I do?  Grab the cookie sheet, put it on the sink and grab my camera:


Don't toast your bread under a broiler for 30 minutes (or more) or this will happen. On the upside, that cookie sheet is toast   (HAHA - there no pun intended!) and I had to throw it more item for my decluttering list!! Yeah me!

Have a glass of wine. Relax, recoup, try again with toast, this time only cook for 4 minutes.

When soup is ready, ladle it into bowl or ramekin. Place crispy bread on top,  and then top with a slice of cheese. Broil until cheese is melted and bubbly.

I used two different size ramekins, larger ones for big people and smaller ones for little people - I'm not sure why I bother with the little people, I mean this is French Onion Soup.....I haven't met many kids that actually like this stuff.  My kids did eat the cheese off the top but that is about it....
Previously in the Potato Soup post that I wrote a while back I stated that Potato Soup was Boy 1’s favorite.  I misspoke.  His favorite soup is Chicken Tortilla.  Boy 1 likes to eat (he is 14 years old, 5’10”, size 11 shoe and still growing – God help me).  He has lots of favorites, but I think he would choose Chicken Tortilla over Potato Soup, although it would be a close call. 

With that being said, Chicken Tortilla Soup is a household favorite & it is on my menu for this week so I thought I would share it a little early with you guys.  I’ve made it many times before and I’ve even posted it before (in Six in Seoul) but since posting it there I have tweaked it even more.   Each time I make this for people it gets RAVE reviews! So don't be scared, dive in, it is super easy to make especially if you buy a rotisserie chicken from the supermaket and you buy store bought chips.  

This recipe comes from my friend Lara at Feed Your Kids.  I have changed it a bit to accommodate our family & so we can have a little left over for lunch the next day!  The original recipe is

1 whole chicken – about 3 pounds (sometimes when I am in a crunch for time I use a rotisserie chicken from the grocery store)
9 cups chicken broth
about 1 Tbsp oil (canola or olive)
6 cloves garlic, peeled and run through a garlic press
3/4 cup finely chopped white onion
4 Tbsp. chili powder
½ tsp of ground cumin
2 tsp dried oregano leaves
½ tsp of pimenton (smoked paprika)
2 cups tomato sauce
1 (15oz) can corn
1 (15oz) canned black beans, drained and rinsed
½  cup masa harina flour (check the Hispanic foods aisle at your supermarket)
½ bunch of finely chopped cilantro
one small can of chopped green chiles (unless you have access to fresh – then use those!  I have some my MIL sent to me from Colorado!  I’m so excited!)

For garnish:

Corn tortilla chips  (I make my own, but you can buy the bag if you would like) 
Grated cheese (a blend of jack and cheddar, or whatever you have on hand)
sour cream

Find a pot big enough to fit your chicken then fill pot with broth.  Bring chicken to a boil on high heat, once you have a good boil going reduce heat to a gentle boil, cover and cook for about 75-90 – check the chicken, if the meat is falling off the bone the chicken is done, if not boil a little longer.

Remove chicken from water, reserving chicken broth.  When chicken is cool enough debone and cut into bite size pieces.

Heat the oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add the onions and garlic and sauté until softened and translucent. Add 8 cups of the chicken stock, tomato sauce and spices and bring to a gentle boil. Lower heat and simmer while adding chopped chicken. Let simmer for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove about 1 cup of the broth and place in a bowl with the masa, whisking or stirring to blend completely (this will be thick). Pour masa-broth mixture back into the simmering soup and allow to simmer for a few more minutes stirring occasionally, until soup is beginning to reach desired (slightly thickened) consistency. Add more broth, if necessary. Add beans, corn, chiles and cilantro. Stir gently until beans & corn are warmed and all ingredients are well incorporated and then serve!

When serving the soup, top with some grated cheese, cilantro, tortilla strips (or chips) and a dollop of guacamole and or sour cream.
So, my husband think this decluttering venture makes us sound like hoarders, we are not.  Especially him.  He keeps NOTHING.  Really. Girl, well I'm a little concerned about her ~ we got rid of 177 items from her room alone and this number does NOT include clothes that were too small.  I do keep way more than hubby, but by no means am I a hoarder either. I admit that I do have issues with dishes and papers ~ I'm working on the paper issue, but don't touch my dishes.  If you do I just might be forced to break your hand and never cook for you again.  

ALSO, we do have 4 kids and with 4 kids comes STUFF, lots and lots of stuff.  Sometimes I save things because I think the next kid might want it, or we might need it for a rainy day (like the 42 board games we have - hey, give me a break, I just got rid of 12!), but then that rainy day comes and goes and I did not need that item.  I am going to tape all the game boxes shut and at the end of the year any game that is still taped shut is GONE!  Several years ago I stopped 'saving' Boy 1's clothes for Boy 2.  I mean there is 7 years between them and I realized that by the time Boy 2 can wear the clothes, they are hideous.   OK, maybe not hideous, but definitely out of style.  Plus, that is a lot of crap to move from house to house to house.....  Yes, I do save clothes from Boy 2 to give to Boy 3.

Since December 3rd, 2010 I have gotten rid of 584 items that we do not use.  I've decided to add a new rule to my decluttering venture, something I have been thinking about, but wasn't committed to, but now I am.  Hold on to your seat, here it comes rule #12 ~ if I buy something new, it counts against my number.  Like the Wok I just bought, and the book shelf and the 4 organizers for boy's room.  So I guess I am down to only 578 items gone.  It's OK.  I'm good with it.  This will keep my purchases in tact as well.

Make sure you guys let me know how you are doing – I’m off to tackle the boy’s room.
Growing up one of my favorite meals was chicken and dumplings.  My mom made the BEST chicken and dumplings, WITHOUT a recipe.   This is as close as I can get to my mom's Chicken and Dumpling:

Old-Fashioned Chicken and Dumplings

1 3-pound chicken
2 quarts of water 
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
3 TBL shortening
3/4 cup buttermilk
Salt and pepper to taste

Boil chicken in 2 quarts of water.  Once boiling reduce heat and simmer for about 1 hour, our till tender and chicken is easily coming off the bone. Remove chicken from broth to cool, de-bone chicken and cut or shred into bite size pieces. Put chicken back in the broth, and bring broth to a boil. 

While waiting for broth to boil, combine flour, baking soda & salt.  Cut in the shortening.  Add buttermilk and stir with a fork until moistened.  Knead the dough 4 or 5 times then flatten till about 1/2 inch thick.  Pinch off dough into 1 1/2-inch pieces and drop into boiling broth.  Reduce to medium heat and cook for about 8-10 minutes.  Stir occasionally.  Add salt and pepper to taste.

***On a side note, my sister said my mom always adds milk to her broth once everything is ready to go...I haven't done this yet, but I am willing to give it a try next time. I'll let you all know how it turns out.  Oh, and sometimes I add a little chicken base to my soup, just to give the broth a little boost.
While eating at my favorite little Pho restaurant here in Killeen, Pho Saigon, I almost felt like I was back in Korea (yes, I know Pho comes from Vietnam, not Korea) - check out the menu...
In my opinion this place has the best & most authentic Pho in Killeen – and their spring rolls are my favorite!   If you find yourself in Killeen and you are looking for a good Pho, don't hesitate to give Pho Saigon a try, even if they don't have someone as English as their first language as their editor - that just adds to the charm!

You can visit them at:  (They don't have a website)
701 W Rancier Plaza
Killeen, TX 76541
(254) 501-3940