Friday, October 30, 2009

HOT Soup Helps Us Cope with the Cold!

Can we talk about winter (or more specifically, the COLD)? While I am a 4-season gal and love the changing of the seasons and everything that goes with that, the older I get, the tougher time I have with the cold. But it's not just the cold outside I'm dealing with, it's the cold INSIDE as well. Yup, I'm married to one of those--the guys that watch their heating bills like hawks. SO, my darling husband Rich (he really is a darling), keeps the thermostat set at 56 during the day--it automatically comes on shortly before we're due home from work (so the house is a toasty 66 by the time we walk in the door).

This is a 2nd marriage for me, and naturally I want it to work, so I choose my battles carefully--this issue is annoying but not terminal, so I look for ways to cope. (I'm dying to know if anyone can relate to any of this--please talk to me!) And this is what today's blog is referencing (along with the usual speedy meal idea)--dealing with the cold, via SOUP! Other than a hot cup of coffee or creamy hot cocoa, what warms us up quicker? AND, soups work so well in the crock pot, so when we walk in the door, dinner really is ready.

This said, I offer below a tried-and-true hamburger soup recipe from my wonderful sister-in-law, Marcia. (I hit pay dirt when I married into Rich's family!) Also included is a quick recipe for an amazing dessert (remember, dessert can be a big draw in getting folks to the table)--Turtle Pumpkin Pie, courtesy of one of my favorite websites, www.preparedpantry.com. Give these a try and let me know what you think. Meanwhile, have a great weekend, and here's to making family dinner hour possible! (While I wait for your comments, I'm gonna go put on a couple sweaters!)

BEST HAMBURGER SOUP EVER (Courtesy, Marcia Osborne)

Brown 1 lb of hamburger
Add one can of chopped tomatos
Add one can of beef bouillion
Add 1/2 chopped onion
Add 2 stalks of celery
Add one Chopped carrot
Add one can of corn
Add one can of green beans
Add one handful of frozen peas
Add 2 chopped up potatoes
Add salt & pepper to taste
Cook until all the the soup is nice and hot
Sit down and enjoy a great boul of hot soup on a cold day

NO-BAKE TURTLE PUMPKIN PIE (Courtesy, Prepared Pantry)

1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup butter, melted
1/4 cup caramel ice cream topping
1/2 cup pecan pieces
2 packages (3.4 oz each) vanilla flavor instant pudding
1 cup cold milk
1 cup canned pumpkin
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice or nutmeg
1 1/2 cups Cool Whip® topping, thawed and divided

For the crust: In a medium bowl, mix the graham cracker crumbs and sugar together. Add the melted butter and stir. Heat the ice cream topping and add to the crumb mixture. Press the crumb mixture across the bottom of a nine-inch pie pan and up the sides to form the crust. Sprinkle with the pecans and press them into the crust. Set aside.

For the filling: Whisk the dry pudding mixes, milk, pumpkin, and spices until well blended. Stir in the Cool Whip. Spoon the filling into crust. Refrigerate for at least an hour. Top with remaining Cool Whip®, caramel topping and pecans just before serving.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Create a User-Friendly Fridg: 10 Steps to Fridg Organization


I'm a big believer in making sure my spaces, my tools, my equipment, etc., is all user-friendly. This saves time and energy--two things we need more of, especially when attempting to get a family dinner on the table. This said, I wondered what information was online re: organizing the refrigerator. Whew--there's tons. The American Dairy Association site, http://www.3aday.org/, has some good ideas (shared by Karli Bertochhi) on the subject. See if these tips don't help make your fridg more user-friendly:

1) Don't store milk on the door. Fridg doors don't get cold enough to keep your milk as chilled as you need it to be for good taste. Doors are best for steak sauce, the salsa jug, etc.

2) Inventory fridg when making weekly meal menu. You'll be able to incorporate existing items you already have on hand (before they spoil), which will save you money.

3) Purge contents once a week. Go through all shelves, drawers, and door spaces looking for everything past their expiration dates. Toss stuff out. Then wipe down all surfaces with hot soapy water.

4) Group and store like items together (breakfast items, lunch fixings, kids' snacks, etc.). Keep taller items towards the back of each group of items so that you
can see them behind the smaller ones in front. And consider using
plate-size plastic turntables for grouping categories of items together
(one for yogurts, one for condiments,one for jams and jellies, for
instance).

5) Store it right. In reusable, see-through, airtight containers. Square- or rectangular-shaped left-over keepers use space more efficiently than round-shaped containers. I've researched plastic for articles I've written for a cooking software company's newsletter (see http://www.dvo.com/ for their free Cook'n newsletter), so I KNOW glass is best. Consider phasing out your plastic stuff and investing (even if it's just a little at a time) in tempered glass storage keepers--they look nice, they last forever, they're efficient, and they're microwave safe (no pcb's leeching into zapped food!).

6) Label containers. Date each container (with a water-based marker--keep it near the fridg). This helps with food rotation--older foods get eaten first. This little habit really cuts waste!

7) Use the coldest areas wisely. The back and bottom of the fridg are the coldest areas, so keep perishables and hardy veggies (broccoli, cauliflower) there. Crisper drawers have higher humidity to keep celery, lettuces, and peppers crisp.

8) Don't overstuff. Overstuffing makes the fridg work harder and costs more in electricity. Avoid this by keeping potatoes, onion, tomatoes, apples, and citrus outside the fridg. Store spuds and onions in a net bag in the pantry; put tomatoes, apples, and citrus in a fruit bowl or on a large platter. They make a nice display for the table or on the end of a counter top.

9) Keep items clean. Who likes setting out or using condiment bottles with sticky gunk on the lids and along the mouths of the containers? Get in the habit of always wiping out the lids and the grooves (where the lid screws on) so they're nice to use for next time. Keep milk jugs wiped clean--they can easily get a crusty film on the bottoms that then gets on the shelves. You get the idea--if we keep stuff clean, we enjoy the work more.

10) Keep an inventory list on the fridg door. When you run out of something, don't worry about remembering it for the next shopping trip--write it down instead.

The bottom line? When you open the fridge door, you want to be able to see at a glance what you have on hand, and you want to be able to find what you're looking for quickly and easily. Also, I think what you're looking at should be pleasing to the eye--the inside of the fridg should sparkle with cleanliness and organization. It's inviting.

Do YOU have fridg organization tips? We'd love to pass them on, so please share! Meanwhile, here's to creating a user-friendly fridg and making the family dinner hour possible!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

10 Ways With Canned Biscuits

Do you ever buy canned biscuits? Doesn't seem to matter what brand you choose, they deliver--there are a ton of uses for this clever product. One thing is for sure, they come in very handy when the day is crazy, you're swamped, but you still want to have a family dinner. Let's look at how canned biscuits can make it possible.

1) Biscuits and gravy: While the biscuits are baking, assemble your gravy, made from "gravel" (remember the earlier post on "gravels"?) Either ground beef or sausage--just toss a cup or two into a can of Cream of Mushroom Soup, add some sour cream maybe, and voila! Dinner in 10 minutes.

2) Pigs in Blankets: Say what you will, kids love 'em. And kids can make 'em. Cut regular hot dogs in half, roll the canned biscuits just large enough to fit around the dog. Place seam side down on greased baking sheet or shallow pan. Brush with melted butter. Bake at 475 'til browned. Serve with mustard, ketchup, relish and perhaps baked beans and a salad. Can't beat the fun this meal invites.

3) Filled Biscuits Italiano: Again, pull out some ground beef or sausage "gravel" (depending on how many mouths you need to feed), and add some tomato sauce, Italian seasoning to taste, and some shredded cheese. Roll a biscuit round fairly thin, place a tablespoon or two of filling in center of biscuit. Moisten biscuit edge, top with another thinly rolled biscuit round. Crimp edges together with a fork and place on greased baking sheet. Bake at 475 'til browned. I serve these with salad and a fruit platter. They're great the next day in sack lunches, as well. You could apply this idea to a variety of fillings: what about barbecued pulled pork, tuna, etc?

4) Biscuit-topped Stew or Baked Beans: Self-explanatory. Spoon your stew or beans into a micowave-safe casserole. I speed prep time by zapping it in the microwave for 3 or 4 minutes. I roll a few biscuits fairly thin to top the dish and bake the rest as they are, to serve with the entree.

5) Mini Pizzas: Roll biscuit rounds thin. Place on greased baking sheet. Cover each with a little pizza sauce, shredded cheeses, and other favorite pizza toppers ("gravels" work well here also). Bake at 475 for maybe 10 minutes. Watch closely so things don't burn.

6) Quick Buttery Onion Rolls: Melt 1/2 C butter. Stir in 1/4 to 1/3 C dry onion soup mix. Let stand 5 minutes to allow butter to somewhat absorb the mix. Spoon half the mixture into an 8 inch ungreased round pan, taking care to spread onion mixture evenly. Arrange one can separated biscuits on top. Spoon remaining mixture over all. Bake in 400 oven 10-12 min or 'til nicely browned. Serve immediately.

7) Honey-Raisin-Pecan Upside Downs: Mix 1/2 C honey with 1/2 tsp cinnamon. In each of 10 muffin cups place 1/2 tsp melted butter. Sprinkle with broken nut meats and some raisins. Divide honey mixture equally into cups. Top each cup with a biscuit. Bake about 12 minutes at 475. Remove from oven and let stand about two minutes to set. Invert pan quickly onto waxed paper. Let stand five minutes, lifet off pan, serve at once (cold ones seldom go begging, though).

8) Sunshine Citrus Bread: Grease well a bundt or angel food cake pan. Separate 3 cans of biscuit rounds. Dip each round in a thawed 12 oz. can of orange juice concentrate mixed with 1/2 C melted butter. Then dip in sugar. Set each round on edge, around the pan. The biscuits start to raise, so work quickly. This is messy, but who cares--the result is so worth it. After all rounds are squeezed next to each other in the pan, pour remaining orange juice/butter mixture over top. A nice touch is to sprinkle grated orange rind over this, but that's optional. Bake in 350 oven for about 25 minutes. Watch this closely though. Remove and invert pan quickly onto a large serving platter. Let sit for about 10 minutes. This is good enough to be a dessert, makes an incredible breakfast, or a wonderful accompaniment to any dinner. I make this the night before and refrigerate, so I can bake it while I'm fixing dinner the next night.

9) Fast Caramel Coffee Cake: Grease a 9 inch round cake pan. Sprinkle with 3 Tbsp sugar. Cover with 1/2 C chopped or broken nuts. Pour on 3/4 C caramel sauce (half an 11 or 12 oz jar). Dip rounds of two cans of biscuits in melted butter (about 1/2 C) and arrange 15 biscuits in slightly overlapping circkles around the edge of the pan. Fill in the inner circle with remaining biscuits. Bake at 425 for about 20 minutes. Invert onto a serving plate. YUM!

10) Strawberry Shortcakes: Knead the rounds of one can of biscuits into vanilla-flavored sugar. To flavor sugar: place 1-2 C sugar in plastic zip lock bag. Add 2 tsp vanilla. Close bag and smush vanilla into sugar. Open bag, slit one side and bottom of bag so you have a plastic work surface on which to knead biscuit rounds. After sugar is thoroughly kneaded into dough, shape back into a round biscuit shape and place all kneaded buiscuits into an 8 inch round greased pan. Bake at 425 for about 10-12 minutes. After cooled, slit and serve with sliced strawberries (or peaches, or apple pie filling, or blueberries, or...) and lots of whipped cream. Oh yeah--so good.

Yesterday I said I'd talk about 20 ways with a can of biscuits, but
now I realize this blog would go on too long. You can see how
your imagination is your only limit with this idea. In fact, there's
a book available on Amazon.com, 101 Things to Do With Canned Biscuits that supports my point. Canned biscuits are definitely something we want to have on hand. What ideas do YOU have for biscuits? Please share--remember, we're all in this together. And until next time, here's to making family dinner hour possible!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

4 Tricks For Getting Family to the Table

I recognize life is hectic for most of us and habits can be hard to break—the non-dinner hour habit more specifically. So I thought today it would be helpful to share some tricks my friends and I have used over the years that might help you in making the family dinner hour possible.

1: Get in the habit of making a morning announcement to everyone leaving for the day what the evening menu is (this means you need to have planned ahead—you actually need to KNOW what’s for dinner). “We’re having Chicken & Rice Casserole, and cherry pie with ice cream tonight! See you for dinner!” Another common approach to this routine is to assign days of the week to specific meals: “Don’t forget this is crock-pot chili and homemade cornbread smothered in butter and honey night! See you for dinner!”

This reminds me of a heart-warming experience I had the other day driving through our neighborhood after work. I came up on a couple 10-year-old neighbor boys pedaling like crazy towards home. I slowed up, rolled down my window, and called to them, “Hey guys, where you headed so fast?” Josh answered, “Hi Mrs. Osborne. It’s Sloppy Joe night. We gotta get home for dinner!” “And I’ve been invited!” Josh’s pal, Kevin shouted out. THAT’S what I’m talkin’ about!

Some moms use a chalk, bulletin, or white board to post the day’s meal—kind of like a restaurant: TODAY’S FAMILY SPECIAL: Crock-pot Spare Ribs, Baked Potatoes, Angel Food Cake with Strawberries and Cream. Everyone leaves for their appointed destinations feeling all is right in the world—mom’s on the job!

2: Set the table. It sends a quiet message that dinner hour is important and those coming to the table are special and deserve this extra effort. And it can be a lot of fun as well—it lends itself nicely to holiday themes, birthdays, and other special days. Let your creativity run with this part of the family dinner hour.

We never had much money as the kids were growing up, so meals were generally very basic—nothing fancy, gourmet-ish, or worth accolades. BUT, the table was always set, even if it was with paper plates. There were usually candles lit, paper napkins neatly folded underneath the forks, and glass-glasses (as opposed to plastic) at each setting. And place settings were always sitting on inexpensive plastic or vinyl placemats (ala K-Mart or Walmart). When I worked outside the home, I would set the dinner table before I left for work in the morning. As the kids got older, they shared the table-setting responsibility.

Also, a set table signals to the family as they pass by the kitchen or dining area that you’re serious about the family dinner goal (and they should be as well), and is a visual reminder of where they need to be at the appointed hour.

3: As you begin your meal preparations, start with frying some onions (even if you’re not using them in the meal—they can always be frozen for another time). Food aromas say “Hang in there…dinner’s coming!” and this calms anyone in the family that doesn’t deal well with hunger pangs. My son Philip, for instance, always the sweetest and most pleasant child, did a Dr. Jekyl/Mr. Hyde turn when he was hungry. I found if he could smell something cooking, and see visual evidence that dinner was pending, his crankiness calmed right down. And of course, food aromas create an anticipation of what’s to come—always a good thing when you want folks to “buy in” to what you’re attempting.

4: Introduce fun traditions and the element of surprise on a regular basis. One mom I know hides an almond in her tapioca or cream pudding desserts, or a quarter in the cake, for the Monday dinner every week. The person finding the almond or quarter is the week’s “lucky kid” and they can choose one chore to remove from their weekly chore list. You can bet they show up to dinner! Another mom likes to write little notes to her kids and tuck them under their dinner plate. And another friend likes to give goofy names to the elements of her dinners (Head-hunter Stew, Chocka-Rocka-Docka Chocolate Cake, Razza-Ma-Tazz Ravioli, etc.). Kids love this stuff and the ambiance it creates.

Do you have tricks you use or know about that help entice the family to the table? Please share! Tomorrow I want to tell you about 20 things you can do with a can of biscuits--until then, here’s to making family dinner hour possible!



Monday, October 26, 2009

Work Smarter NOT Harder

How are your dinner hour plans for the week going? Do you have a menu (even if it's a loose one) decided? Have a few things prepared ahead? These two habits were my secret to making family dinner hour possible. But I also learned to work smarter, rather than harder in the kitchen. Over the years I've collected ideas from readers, friends, and family on how to do things quicker and easier that I want to share today.

First a tip from moi: If you don't already have one, get yourself a flexible cutting board. You can see from the picture what a cool tool this is--a real time saver! And unlike wooden cutting surfaces, I can put this one in the dishwasher. They can range from $3.00 to $12.00 dollars, depending on where you shop. Now some ideas from savvy cooks out there:


When frosting a two- or three-layer cake, I find it's quicker and easier to frost the top and sides of each layer as you build the cake. When you add the top layer and frost it, you're finished.
-- Ila Jane D., Hopewell, PA

For perfectly round and uniform meatballs, use the larger end of a melon baller to scoop the meat mixture. Rather than fry them, I bake them in a 375° oven for
15-20 minutes. If you have extras, freeze them to use later when you're
in a hurry.
-- Laura H., Sandusky, OH

One of the handiest tools in my kitchen drawer is a roll of masking tape. When putting away leftovers from a meal, I tear off some tape, write the name of the food and the date, then place the tape on the lid of the storage container. This makes it easy to see at a glance what's in the fridge and how fresh it is. We waste less food this way.
-- Barb L., Hornell, NY

I store brown sugar in the freezer. I never have to worry about it getting hard. I just take it out of the freezer a half hour before using it, then return the unused portion until I need it again.
-- Jillaine H., Ellsworth, ME

I used this quick fix when I didn't have prepared frosting on hand for a 13 x 9-inch chocolate cake. When I took the cake out of the oven, I immediately sprinkled it with 4 cups of miniature marshmallows and 1/4 cup of flaked coconut. The melted marshmallow and coconut topping reminded me of the snowball cakes my dad would pack in our school lunches. -- Jennifer M., Washington, IL

One of my favorite kitchen utensils is a grapefruit spoon. It's the best strawberry huller invented! I also use it to clean the seeds out of squash, pumpkins and melons. -- Katie M., Meadowlands, MN




Finally, an quick and easy, and healthy snack or dessert your family will love:

EASY BLUEBERRY PUDDING


2 C low-fat cottage cheese

2 C blueberries (fresh are best, but frozen works well also)

1 C non-fat plain or vanilla yogurt

3 Tbsp fresh lemon juice (bottled juice is fine)

2 Tbsp raw honey (any honey you have is fine)


In food processor, blend cottage cheese until smooth, about 3 min. Add blueberries and blend again until smooth. Transfer to a large bowl. Whisk in yogurt, lemon juice, and honey. Divide mixture into 6 small dessert bowls. Chill before serving. Serves 6. (I could eat the entire bowl by myself--actually, I have!)


I hope these time-saving tips and this yummy dessert idea will help make your kitchen life easier this week. And please take a minute and share some of your time-saving ideas--we're all in this together, remember. Until next time, here's to making family dinner hour possible!

Friday, October 23, 2009

Two Tips to Save You TIME!

One thing I really hope to do is help you manage easier in the kitchen--if it's easier to get the meal made and served, we'll be more inclined to institute the family dinner hour (that's my hypothesis anyway). So here are two time-saving tips I found on http://www.lifehacking.com/ that make a lot of sense:




1) Blanch ingredients with a tea kettle! Don't you groan a little whenever you see a recipe that calls for "blanching"? Who has the time to wait for an entire pot of water to boil just to dunk something in it for a few seconds (and don't forget the clean-up that goes with it)? Instead, with recipes that call for blanching a small amount of anything, put a good amount of water in a whistling tea kettle and set it on high, then place whatever needs blanching in a colander. (You know where I'm going with this, don't you?) When the water is ready, you can slowly pour the water over the ingredient--this will give it just the right quick cook (aka blanching). All the cleanup that's needed is to quickly rinse out the colander. Isn't this brilliant?

2) Keep often-used ingredients ready to use via ice cube trays. If you have the freezer space, you can save a lot of money AND time with the humble ice cube tray. Remember an earlier post that suggested making large batches of anything and freezing ("gravels" for instance?)? Same principle holds for soups, stocks, and sauces (anything without dairy ingredients is perfect for this application). Pour them into ice cube trays and freeze. When solid, pop them into labeled freezer bags, and then when doing meal prep, just grab the amount you need, melt them down, and use. No muss, no fuss.



Also, unused fresh herbs can be locked away with just enough water to lock flavor and freshness in. This tip makes my day--I'm always wasting a lot of the fresh basil I get at the grocers--I can't use it up fast enough.

Each regular sized cube measures basically two tablespoons of liquid. This means that 2 cubes equals 1/4 C, 4 cubes equals 1/2 C, etc. A gallon freezer bag of cubes lasts a relatively long time, depending on how often you use the product. Considering all you need to do is ladle the lquid into the trays and freeze, this is worth the effort--a "once-a-month-meal-prep" project.

I am sure you have ways you save time in the kitchen as well. Please share them--we're all in this together remember!

And one final thought--the weekend is upon us, so let's say we devote some of it to getting a menu planned, any grocery shopping done, and ourselves organized so come next week, we are ready to make the family dinner hour possible. Here's to this worthy goal!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

7 Cool Things to Do with an APPLE!






Apples are in season, relatively inexpensive now, and are so versatile. Here are some easy, tasty, and FUN things to do with an apple that are sure to bring the family to the dinner table:

1) Baked Apples: Cut a horizontal slit around the top and bottom of each apple and remove the core. STuff the cavities with dried fruit and chopped nuts.
Drizzle a little honey over the top, add a knob of butter and bake at
400 degrees F for about 40 min. or until soft. This healthy dessert
could be baking while the family is eating the main course.

2) Apple Muesli: Add a grated apple, a large dollop of yogurt and a drizzle of honey to your favorite muesli, then leave to soak for 5 min. Add cold milk or yogurt for a quick and delicious, "out-of-the-ordinary" evening meal.

3) Apples on Toast: Fry slices of apple in butter until golden, add a sprinkle of brown sugar and heat until caramelized. Beat 2 eggs with a splash of milk, dip slices of bread until the eggs are soaked in, then fry in butter until golden and cooked. Top with apples and serve hot. This is another quick and delicious alternative to a traditional "dinner". The muesli and this toast are nice when you're just to tired to cook.


4) Apple and Blackberry Crumble: Cook 3 peeled and chopped apples with 3-4 C blackberries, 2 Tbsp sugar and a pinch of cinnamon in a saucepan with 2 Tbsp water (or do this in the microwave in a microwave-safe dish for maybe 2 min). Place in a baking dish. Cut 1/2 C butter into 2 1/2 C flour and stir in 1/2 C sugar. Spread onto the apple mixture and at 350 degrees F for 30 min. Another great dessert that could be baking while you're eating dinner. Then, serve right out of the oven with either whipped cream of vanilla ice cream (or what the heck, with both!).

5) Healthier Waldorf Salad: In a bowl, put 1 peeled and chopped apple, 2 thinnly sliced sticks of celery, a handful of toasted walnuts (untoasted worked fine for me--who has time to toast nuts?), and some torn lettuce leaves. Add a little plain, non-fat yogurt, toss together and season well. Darn good.

6) Apple Candle-Holders: Not to be outdone by mini pumpkins (discussed yesterday), these are just cute! Wash, polish, then core as many apples as you want candle-holders. They should sit flat. Insert candles (short or long, or even votives--doesn't matter--depends on the look you want) and set in a line down the length of the table. VERY Martha-Stewartish and a neat way to send your family the message "I'm makin' it special because dinner with you is important!"
7) Apple Place Card Holders: Same deal--super cute--and the kids will LOVE to see their names at their places at the table. Wash and polish as many apples as you need place card holders. Remove stems. Cut 1/4 inch slit across the top of the apple, from one side to the other, to fit your place cards. A touch of color (repeating the color in the apples) is a nice addition to the name added to the card. Tres cool!

As mentioned when I first started this blog, my goal is to make it easier for us to gather our families to the dinner table, so I'm always on the hunt for EASY. But I also want to share things that make meals fun and special--any extra reasons to entice those we love to the table will serve us well. SO, if you have ideas along these lines, please do share. And until next time, here's to making family dinner hour possible!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

There's More to Pumpkin Than Pie!



Yesterday we talked about dinner time chat and how to build a conversation, as well as a meal, around a theme. This got me to thinking--we haven't talked about fall meals or anything pumpkin yet. Fall is my favorite season and pumpkin is one of my favorite things to cook and bake with.

There really is so much more to pumpkin than pie. Because of its bland flavor deck (a little food industry lingo there), it can be used in so many applications. And what's ultra cool, pumpkin not only shines in recipes, it is highly utilitarian. For instance, did you know you can use a cleaned-out pumpkin as a casserole dish? And did you also know that once cleaned out, it can be a terrific punch bowl? And little bitty pumpkins make neat candle holders!

This said, can't you just see what a FUN dinner you could have using pumpkin? Here's the menu:
Hamburger Rice Casserole (baked in a cleaned out pumpkin)
1 lb ground beef (cooked and fat drained off)
3 C cooked rice (brown provides the most nutrition, but use whatever you have)
1 med. onion, chopped
1 stalk celery, chopped
1 pkg Onion Soup Mix
1 C chicken broth
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix all ingredients together and spoon into a hollowed out medium-sized pumpkin. Put pumpkin lid over opening and bake for maybe 40 min. or until casserole mixture is heated through. Serves 6. Just place this pumpkin "dish" on the table and enjoy the ooohs and aaahs from family. (NOTE: If baked too long, the pumpkin will lose its ability to retain its shape, so watch it closely.)

Cranberry Spritzer (served in a pumpkin "punchbowl" with dry ice for effect)
1 2 liter bottle Ginger Ale, Sprite, or 7-Up
1/2 gal cranberry juice
Pour soda and juice into a well-cleaned largish-size pumpkin. Bring to table; drop in chunks of dry ice. The ice creates a foggy layer of mist that rises out of the pumpkin and will absolutely delight your diners.

Table Decor: Let's get all Martha Stewartish on the kids and set out some candles. Core out candle-sized holes in 3 or 5 mini pumpkins, place candles in the openings, light them and watch what an eerie effect is created by the candle light shimmering on the mist floating out of the pumpkin "punch bowl". You might complete the look with some well-placed autumn leaves amongst the candle holders.

And then back to the aforementioned idea of table conversation: Since this is such a FUN approach to family dinner hour, jokes would easily fit in. I used to get a children's joke book from the library once in awhile and read jokes to everyone while we were eating. The dopier the better--they got us laughing and sparked the comic bone in some of the kids--made up jokes were even funnier than the ones in the book!

Can't you just see what an amazing time you could have with these ideas? You'll never look at pumpkin the same again--and what a way to start a family tradition and build some memories. I'll close with a question: what are YOUR favorite pumpkin recipes? Please share, and until next time, here's to making family dinner hour possible!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

50 Holidays and Causes You Can Build a Family Dinner Around

Besides eating together, the family dinner is the perfect place and time to catch up on the happenings of the day, find out what's on deck for the next day, and simply connect hearts. So while you're enjoying a good meal and good company, be sure you enjoy some good conversation.

To help our conversation along, I went to www.infoplease.com/spot/holidays.html to gather ideas for conversation starters. Not only did I find a boatload we could chat about while eating, I found oodles of ideas or themes, for building a family dinner around. There are the obvious holidays and the not-so-obvious special days. For instance, wouldn't it be fun to build a dinner around April Fool's Day? (I can see the fun table settings and see the crazy pranks now.) Discussion could center on the day's origin, some April Fool's tricks you pulled as a kid, and so on.

This is a country of causes--some very meaningful and some just goofy. But what super fodder for table talk. For instance: October is National Apple month, National Popcorn month, and Family History month. Desserts could center around apples (crisps, cobbler, pie, caramel, etc.), or perhaps popcorn balls. Table talk could center on trivia about Johnny Appleseed, or the history of popcorn. You could share stories about ancestors, memories with grandparents, and so on. You could ask your children what memories they have of grandparents, etc.

November is National Peanut Butter Lovers month, Model Railroad month, and National Aviation month. Besides the obvious, Christmas, December is also the month for Hi Neighbor, Read Books, and Write a Friend. All would be really great conversation starters at the table.

Here's a list of 50 Holidays and Causes, found on the above-mentioned site, that you might want to use as you gather your family to dinner:
1. Jan: Eye Care, Hobby, Soup, Thank You month
2. Feb: Heart, American History, Cherry, Pet Owner's month
3. Mar: Red Cross, Music in Schools, Craft, Art month
4. Apr: Guitar, Keep America Beautiful, Humor month
5. May: Bike, Flower, Older Americans, Strawberry month
6. Jun: Dairy, Fruit & Veggies, Zoo/Aquarium, Safety month
7. Jul: Blueberry, Hot Dog, Ice Cream, Picnic month
8. Aug: Foot Health, Golf, Inventors, Artist Appreciation month
9. Sep: Courtesy, Better Breakfast, School Success month
10. Oct: Family History, Apple, Popcorn month
11. Nov: Peanut Butter Lovers, Aviation, Model Railroad month
12. Dec: Hi Neighbor, Read Books, Write a Friend month
13. Nov: Buy Nothing Day
14. Sep: Car-Free Day
15. Apr: Turn OFF TV Week
16. Mar: Casimir Pulaski Day (in Illinois)
17. Apr: Patriots Day (
Maine & Massachusetts)
18. Apr: San Jacinto Day (Texas)
19. Jun: King Kamehameha Day (Hawaii)
20. Jul: Pioneer Day (Utah)
21. Vermont: Bennington Battle Day
22. Alaska: Seward Day
23. Colorado: Cesar Chavez Day
24. Mississippi, Alabama, South Carolina: Confederate Memorial Day
25. Various months by state: Arbor Day
26. Feb: Ground Hog Day
27. May: May Day
28. Any month you want: I Just Love You! day (and this makes 50)

And here are some other ideas for a family dinner that would spark amazing conversation (I just made these up...):
Jan: "New Year, New Me" party
Feb: "Love is In the Air" party
May: "Spring Has Sprung!" party
Jun: "School is OUT" party
Aug: "School is Starting!" party
Sep: "We Appreciate Our Teachers" party (and invite your kids' teachers to the dinner)
Oct: "Leaves Are Falling" or "Hooray for Autumn" party
You get the idea...have fun with the opportunity to be together at the table. Let your imagination take over.

It's said that the Kennedy family was noted for its stimulating dinner time conversation--the children were expected to contribute to it and came to dinner prepared to do so. Building meals around special days could be one way to get the habit in place. I think the ability to listen to one another as well as express themselves will be one happy side note of family table talk. But most especially, the bonding and memories that can be made really make this idea one we want to pursue.

What do you think of this idea? And do you have memories you can share about YOUR family table talk? Please share. And until next time, here's to making family dinner hour possible!


Monday, October 19, 2009

Paper Bag Mixing and Muffins!

Hope your weekend was pleasant? We were in Newport Beach, CA for our daughter's wedding. Lots of fun, but as a result, I missed posting for Saturday. So today I want to share a muffin idea and offer a time-saving tip:

First, the time-saving tip: Get yourself a large paper grocery bag and use it from now on for mixing anything prone to splattering. Open the bag, sit it in your sink. Place your mixing bowl containing contents to be mixed, in the bottom of the bag. Then with your electric hand-mixer, reach in and whip away. All splatters go onto the sides of the bag and not onto your back splash, counter appliances, onto you, or onto the underside of your upper cupboards. The time-savings is in the cleanup--there is none! My kind of work. Try this and let us know what you think.

Now to the muffin idea. I love muffins as much as my friend Becky, loves cupcakes! They're portable, yummy, and so versatile. And did you know just about any cookie recipe can be turned into a muffin recipe? All you need to do is add an extra egg (the binder), a little more water or milk, and a dash more of flavoring (vanilla, for instance). This takes a little experimenting, but give it a try. My grandma's scrumptious oatmeal raisin cookie recipe makes the most incredible oatmeal raisin muffins, for instance. I haven't tried making a chocolate chip cookie muffin yet, but probably will. I'll let you know how it works.

And lastly, another muffin--a ham and egg muffin: So simple, so good, so brilliant! Depending on how many "muffins" you want to make, grease the appropriate number of cups in your muffin pan. Place a slice of thin-cut deli ham atop your greased muffin cups. Gently ease each piece of ham down into its cup. Then pour in a little beaten egg into each ham-lined cup. Sprinkle with a little pepper, maybe a little shredded cheese. Bake in a 350 degree oven for about 7-8 min., or until the egg is set (an inserted toothpick will come out clean). Just watch closely--not real sure on the time. Scrape around the edges with a knife, lift out with a spoon.
These are one of my husband's favorite "grab and go" breakfasts. Try this and let us know what you think!

If you have any favorite muffin suggestions, please share. And also, what do you do for easy and good meals on the weekends? Please share your tips here--remember, we're all in this together. And until next time, here's to making family dinner hour possible!

Friday, October 16, 2009

Holy Guacamole! Soup's On!


I lived on soup when I was in college--it was fast, easy, inexpensive, and a pretty healthy choice too. (It would be fun to know what YOU survived on when going to school, or when you were first married, or starting that first job.) Things haven't changed that much. Don't we still need fast, easy, inexpensive, and healthy food choices? And really, find five people that don't just like a good bowl of soup--especially as we're getting closer and closer to winter.

So SOUP is the subject today. Remember the earlier post on "Gravels?" (Your ground beef or sausage is already cooked, fat drained off, and in the freezer waiting to do your bidding.) Well now it's time to put one to use: ground beef gravel goes into this fast, easy, and delicious soup suggestion from our friend and very busy OBGYN nurse, Kristin Klein. Like you, she's interested in making life easier in the kitchen, and here's a recipe that does just that. There are lots of taco soup recipes out there, but this could be one of the best due to its ease, fiber content, and overall incredible taste:
TACO SOUP
3 C ground beef "gravel"
1 pkg taco seasoning mix

1 (29 oz) can tomatoes 1 (15 oz) can tomato sauce
1 can corn
1 can green beans (drained)
2 cans kidney beans (or substitute pinto, black, rec, white, etc.)
Tortilla chips
Grated cheese
Cilantro
Lime
Sour Cream
Add "gravel" and all other ingredients to large pot and simmer 30 min. Serve with tortilla chips, shredded cheese, cilantro, lime wedges, and sour cream for garnishment

While we're at it, let's expand the repertoire to STEWS. Easy to do if you serve a dinner of crockpot pot roast, potatoes, and carrots. (My mom did this, I did this, and I hope one day MY daughters will do this.) The next morning,
just toss whatever
leftovers from the dinner the day before that you have,
into the crockpot (there should be a shrine to crock pots--
how'd we live without 'em?), add a couple cans of cream
of mushroom soup, 4 cups of water and a package of onion
soup mix. Set the dream machine on LOW for the day, and
off you go! As you're getting the table set for dinner, you
might add a little seasoning to taste (garlic powder, pepper, etc.) to the stew, but essentially dinner is done. Complete things with some nice crunchy dinner rolls, call the family to the table, and pat yourself on the back!

Can't you just smell the aromas of fragrant soups and stews wafting from your kitchen now? Me too. And don't forget, it's YOUR turn--what wonderful recipes will you share with us? In the meantime, here's to making family dinner hour possible!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Main Dish (or Entree si vous plait!)

I'm a day behind, but who cares. Tuesday was supposed to be Dessert Day, Wednesday is designated Entree Day, and Thursday is assigned to Casseroles. So how about this? You get two for the price of one today: an entree idea AND a casserole idea! (This is a little quirk of mine: I like sticking to the plan if at all possible.)

But first, here's a report on our first blog poll. We asked "What is your biggest challenge to doing family dinner hour?" "Survey SAYS!" (remember Family Feud?),
and there's no surprises here: no time. Just another validation for the
purpose of this blog. Stick with us--we're going to tackle this issue
head on!


OK, now for an entree suggestion that's as quick and easy as it is good. This comes from my friend, neighbor, and grand poo-bah of all things frugal and tasty, Tammy Hogan. She calls it
FOUR CAN CHILI.
1 (16 oz) can tomatoes (undrained, diced, stewed, whole, etc.--just be sure they're cut into small pieces)
1 (15 oz) can chili (no beans)
1 (15 oz) can pinto (or pinto beans--or whatever bean is in your cupboard)
1 (15 oz) can kidney bean (same deal--or whatever bean is in your cupboard)
1/4 C BBQ sauce
1/2 tsp chili powder
Dash liquid smoke (I didn't have this, so went without--results were still fabulous)
In slow cooker, combine all ingredients; mix well. Cook on HIGH 3-4 hrs or cook 1 hour on HIGH, reduce to LOW, and cook 8-9 hrs. (This is the approach I use when I have to leave for work.)
OR, make it on the stove top: Drain only kidney beans. Combine ingredients and stir to mix. Heat about 15 min. or until thoroughly heated. You can see this makes a lot of chili.
Serve with favorite toppings: Shredded cheese, chopped onion, sour cream, sliced black olives, diced tomatoes, etc. Put it all atop a bed of corn chips and shredded lettuce and you have what we call FRITOS BANDITOS--a husband favorite.

NOW, the casserole. And this is a jewel, from another friend, neighbor, and very busy OBGYN nurse, Kristin Klein. It's her
EASY CHICKEN POT PIE.
1 Pillsbury pie crust box (not frozen)
Large bag frozen vegetables, your choice
1 large can white chicken
1 can cream of chicken soup
1 C milk
1 tsp garlic salt
Salt and pepper to taste
Line bottom of pie plate with Pillsbury pie crust. Top with frozen veggies. Mix soup and milk to make gravy and pour over veggies. Sprinkle with garlic salt and salt and pepper. Top with another crust. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 min. If top browns too quickly, cover loosely with foil.

Your turn...what's one of YOUR favorite entrees or casseroles? I can hardly wait for the chow bell! Until next time, here's to making family dinner hour possible!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Getting REAL, and Just Desserts!

The Getting REAL Part: I'm discouraged. Had a sad and painful experience with a daughter last night. After reading the first two posts of this blog she told me I wasn't being honest--I painted myself as June Cleaver and our family as the Leave It to Beaver Happy Model-Family. My defense turned the conversation to a nasty argument and left us both hurt and frustrated. But the upshot is, in case she's right, I want to set the record straight and put us all on the same page, because I never meant to paint such a picture.

So here's the deal: We were a HIGHLY dysfunctional family. There was never enough money, my marriage was bad (it ended after 28 years), I was depressed most of the time, and the kids got the brunt of it all. Come to find out, some of the kids despised mealtime (contention at the table would ruin the best prepared food). Bottom line: I was a crappy mother and I have some scarred children who aren't impressed with this blog. BUT, I was a pretty good cook, who true to the purpose of this blog, had family dinner almost every night.

All this said, it's no surprise then, that I'm writing about how to make family dinner possible, and not how to make a family happy. I don't know much about that. But truth is truth, even if the bearer of it is less than stellar. And I believe in the message of this blog and that I have some valuable help to offer moms who really want to bring their family back to the dinner table. I also believe this blog could be an amazing forum--creating a community helping one another in this quest, so I'm gonna keep writing. There you have it...if I've lost some readers with this information, I understand. If you keep reading, I'm grateful, and will do my best to not disappoint you. (And in the interim, I'm working on being a better mom--the kids are grown and gone, but I believe it's never too late.)

Now the Just Desserts Part: One of my favorite treats as a kid was (this is SO simple) a
warm glaze donut with vanilla ice cream on top. My dad and mom owned a Spudnut Shop (anyone remember those?) and there were always plenty of donuts. The next best was a chocolate cake donut (with thick chocolate icing) also warmed with vanilla ice cream on top. As I mentioned in an earlier post, dessert can sometimes be the big draw for family to cooperate in terms of a dinner hour. And while you're getting into the routine, maybe SIMPLE is the way to go, so this fast and easy treat might be a good start.

Your turn? What are YOUR favorite (and easy, if possible) desserts? And until next time, here's to keepin' it real, and making family dinner hour possible!


Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Your Favorite Quick Meal

I'll start off with a big "Ooops." You can see I'm new at this. Last week I said on Mondays I would announce the theme for the week. I forgot to do that yesterday. So here goes now: Let's talk this week about our FAVORITE QUICK MEALS. Do you have one you like to fix (that the family likes) or do you remember one your mom fixed when you were a kid? Please share...

I have one for you, but I hesitate to tell you about it because it's not the healthiest. Healthy probably should be part of our criteria, but favorites aren't favorites by accident. My family would die and go to heaven over this one: mashed potato-stuffed hotdogs. Whether it was leftover mashed potatoes from Sunday dinner or instant, didn't matter.

I'd slit the dogs lengthwise, load in a healthy scoop of spuds, sprinkle the top with shredded cheese, and place on a cookie sheet. I'd bake them for about 10 min. at 400 degrees then broil for about 2 minutes. All told, assembling, baking/broiling, took about 20 minutes to produce. I'd round it out with a salad and steamed veggie. I remember well: I NEVER made enough of these.

Speaking of never making enough of what the family loved: The kids were always bartering their food to get out of dish duty. (We didn't have a dishwasher.) When they knew the meal was a winner, they'd offer to turn over some of their portion if the eager receiver would do their dishes for them. This little ploy worked every time.

Now let's hear from you. What were some of the favorite quick meals you fixed, currently serve, or remember from your youth (healthy or otherwise)? And until next time, here's to making family dinner hour possible!

Monday, October 12, 2009

"Gravels" Make Dinner Hour Possible

Hot Tip: Get in the habit of incorporating "gravels" into your dinner hour preparations--this will make getting the meal on the table so simple and easy.

Gravels are hamburger and sausage that's been cooked, fat drained off, crumbled onto cookie sheets, and frozen for two or three hours. (If you forget and leave it in the freezer for longer, no biggie, it's just fine.) Then measure the amounts your favorite recipes call for, into freezer bags or containers, and place it back into the freezer.

So when it's time to make sloppy joes, or tacos, or hamburger soup, or hamburger stroganoff, etc. etc., just pull some pre-cooked ground beef or sausage out of the freezer, add it to the other ingredients and cook it while you're setting the table and tossing salad. This is so easy, your kids can do it.

I also pre-cook boneless, skinless chicken breasts in a large greased pan with a little water added. I do this on shopping day--I set the groceries on the counter and quickly get the chicken cooking. By the time I have all the groceries put away, the chicken is done. I then dice some, shred some, slice some, and leave a couple whole. Then I bag each variety and place it in the freezer as well.


You might want to consider buying the family packs of ground beef, sausage, and chicken (usually less expensive) and splitting the cost and product with a friend. In fact, having a weekly "make-ahead day" with a friend can save time and money and be a lot of fun.

The more you can do ahead, on a Saturday, for instance, the easier the mid-week meal prep is going to be. Now it's your turn. What are your favorite easy meals, recipes, kitchen management tips and family meal-memories? We can hardly wait to hear from you. Until next time, here's to making family dinner hour possible!

Friday, October 9, 2009

Can We Talk? My Reasons For Recommending Certain Blogs and Sites

Are you like me--when you read a blogger's blog or site recommendation, do you wonder what the blog or site is all about (if the reason isn't obvious in the title)? In case we share this tendancy, here's a brief description of what can be found on them. And going forward, when you share a blog or site you really like, would you do the same--give a quick description of its focus and why you like it? Websites first:

Shirley J: Shirley J is a line of just-add-water food products that have been tested in commercial kitchens by master chefs for over 30 years, and now they're available to the public. A friend introduced me to them in April and I've been hooked ever since. They save me a ton of time. I made my husband some muffins to eat on his drive to work this morning while I was packing his lunch. All I did was add water to this mix--they knocked his socks off!

Mary Jane's Farm: Her site, magazine, blog, products, classes, etc. all promote farmgirl sisterhood. Her motto is, "It's not where you live, but how you live." If you don't love this site as much as I do, I owe you a root beer!

Provident Parent: Square foot gardening, how to conquer clutter, time-saving tips, parenting ideas, money-saving ideas...the list goes on. All things parenting/family are found here.

Movie Picks: A very dependable source of good movie/DVD recommendations.

The Frugal Girls: Great source of money-saving tips, ideas, resources. Terrific!

Cook'n: The #1 cooking/baking software in the world is sold here. But what's especially cool is their very well-written newsletters--one is free, another is subscription-based. And they feature monthly product offers that are just wonderful.

Care2: If you're concerned about the environment and want to be more green, this is the site to tell you how to do it. Great recipes, how-tos, health information, home tips, etc.

Grass Stain Guru: Find the best inspiration and ideas for getting the family outside and into nature again! Fun reading and so informative.

Green Hour: Part of the Nat'l Wildlife Federation and overseer of Ranger Rick and other kids' nature magazines, this is a great place to find the impetus to get outside again!

Now the blogs:

Like Mother, Like Daughter: Chock full of homemaking information, simplification ideas, recipes, and inspiration.

50's Housewife: Same thing--great photos--REALLY inspiring--the author knows what matters most.
Project Domestication: My friend, Becky, is crazy in love with cupcakes (and baking in general). She shares her expertise, ideas, inspiration, and creativity. FUN!

Well, happy reading and exploring. And until next time, here's to making family dinner hour possible!




Thursday, October 8, 2009

Embellishing the Tried and True

I was thinking about what I said yesterday on how there's a lot more going on at the dinner table besides eating. I was reminded of the conversations our family used to have: reports on the day at school, homework for the night, how ball practice went, who's got a crush on who, what we wanted for Christmas, etc. And of course there was the usual "He's lookin' at me! Make him stop." "She's touching me. Make her move over!" "Why do I always have to clear the table?" and so on and so forth. It all makes me smile and yearn to have the kids little again (well, for awhile anyway).

But when I look deeper into those family dinner hour experiences, I see that we not only gathered for a meal, we gathered for support. There was someone to listen, to applaud, to sympathize, to offer counsel, and always someone to just laugh with. And I think this is likely why kids that have a consistent dinner hour with family, weather life's storms better--along with physical nourishment, they're getting some heart and soul nourishment. Instinct still tells me going to the work of providing a consistent family dinner hour is not just worth the effort, it's crucial!

I was also remembering some of the meals I served and thought I'd share a simple, fast and easy, and popular dinner hour idea: THE TOMATO SOUP BAR. It's along the same lines as a baked potato bar, just as filling, and a great embellishment on a tried and true meal (and the kids can help with the prep work). While a pot of your favorite brand of tomato soup is heating through, assemble an assortment of add-ins: grated Parmesan cheese, oyster crackers, shredded cheddar or American cheese, leftover veggies (OK, so maybe this is for the adults in the group), cooked rice, chopped ham, left-over taco meat, pork & beans, even sour cream. This is by no means a definitive list--let your imagination run wild here. Kids love adding a little dib of this, a little dab of that.


And of course, what goes better with tomato soup than toasted cheese sandwiches. These could be embellished as well, but I'm inclined to decline here--I'm a toasted cheese purist. Your kids might just like the idea, however.

Thanks for joining us and thanks in advance for the memories, ideas and tips, and recipes you plan to share. Let's get the table set, and until next time, here's to making family dinner hour possible!


Wednesday, October 7, 2009

How We're Going to Do This: Our Content Calendar


Now let's move from noble intentions to effective action. So we can organize and mobilize, here are our blog's content calendar--a plan that should make for a fun, super helpful, and favored resource for all of us who really want to make the family dinner hour possible. Since this is essentially "launch week" for our blog, let's start the plan (below) next week:

Monday: I'll announce the weekly theme and share some related ideas and tips plus a great recipe or two. Themes will be fun and easy to work with. For instance, obvious themes for October could be recipes involving pumpkin, or apple recipes, or Halloween-oriented meals, or etc. Themes will revolve around holidays, seasons, grandma's favorites, family favorites, memories, and etc. And please don't hesitate to share your suggestions for themes. We're all in this together!

Tuesday: Would you share DESSERT-related ideas and tips, recipes, etc? Why dessert first? Two reasons: 1) dessert is a big draw, so if there are any neigh-sayers in the family, dessert might just be they way to get them to the table, and 2) kids like to make desserts, so this is a good way to get them involved in the process of helping you make dinner hour happen.

Wednesday: ENTREES--with emphasis on easy, remember. Maybe start with a family favorite.

Thursday: CASSEROLES--and don't forget to tie into our theme, if possible. Do you have a recipe you can't live without?

Friday: SOUPS AND STEWS--crockpot recipes make it all so easy, and freezing ideas would be good as well. The sky's the limit!

Saturday: BREADS AND MUFFINS--I have a boatload of ideas for you on this, and I bet you do too. "What says lovin' better than somethin' from the oven?" to quote Betty Crocker!

Sunday: Let's take a break and get ready for the new week. We'll show up loaded for bear!

And of course, amidst it all, please be sure to share memories--dinner hour and otherwise. Well, my mouth is watering already, and I can hardly wait to see what you have to contribute. So until next time, here's to making family dinner hour possible!

Welcome: My Purpose and My Passion!

Hello and welcome to Making Family Dinner Hour Possible. I am Alice Osborne and I am a woman on a mission! In a nutshell: I believe families should eat at least one meal together daily and I intend to help us all do just that, by sharing tips, ideas, recipes, resources, and encouragement. If there's anything I can do to make eating together possible and easier, that's my aim.

I've always believed in the importance of families eating together--I raised my seven children and assorted friends and neighbors around our dinner table every night for over twenty years. We had a large iron bell I inherited from my Grandpa Jacobson that hung from a massive beam attached to our deck outside the kitchen door. Most nights at 4:45pm I would ring the bell (it could be heard for miles) to let the kids (who were playing up and down the neighborhood) know that dinner was on. The neighbors called my kids "the 5 o'clock gang."

As the kids got older and life got more and more hectic, it became harder and harder to maintain the routine, but I was determined to keep the dinner hour alive. There was just something instinctual (is that a word?) that told me "there's a lot more going on here than just eating...this is important so press on."

Our family wasn't unusual. Most of my kids' friends had dinner-hour obligations as well. But today things have changed. Research shows families don't eat together anymore. Oh they'll gather at the local fast-food joint (pretty regularly) to snarf down something loosely defined as food, but what the research is referring to is the home-cooked meal around the family dinner table. This is a tradition of the past and its absence hasn't done our children any good.

We could talk about the national obesity epidemic for starters, but what has really concerned researchers at Columbia University is the high rate of substance abuse amongst today's kids, and its direct link to the presence or lack of
a
family dinner hour in their lives. (Ah ha!
My
mommy instincts were right!) In response
to their findings, Columbia initiated National
Family Day--the last Monday of September.
It's promoted
in schools and the media to
encourage families to
eat together on this
day, and hopefully on a regular basis going forward.


When I heard about this sad state of affairs and Columbia's campaign to counter it, I felt more could be done--hence this blog. Just the fact that you're reading this tells me you agree and would like to see families eating together again as well. SO, let's join forces! This will be a community effort--share your meal-time memories, tips and ideas, recipes, and encouragement. Instead of "United we stand!" let's go for "United we eat together as friends and families!" And since we're all spread thinner than a drink of water (life's not called the "rat-race" for nothin'), let's avoid the gourmet side and aim more for "easy".

Doesn't this sound fun? I can hardly wait to hear from you. So until next time, here's to making the family dinner hour possible!