I will admit that this particular blog has been difficult to write. I have struggled for over a week to find the right words to share this experience with you so that you could see it the way I did. There were many false starts that ended with me hitting the delete button on the keyboard. But then today as I sat in the studio the words finally came.
A little over a week ago I had the opportunity to go down to Memphis for Country Cares weekend at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. As I toured the hospital I had what the St. Jude staff calls my “St. Jude moment,” that moment when everything that I have been talking about for the past three years on Froggy became real.
I’ve always known about the work that they do in that hospital, and how the research they are doing is saving children all over the world. But to step inside and see the hospital for myself . . . it was breathtaking and awe-inspiring. It is so colorful and bright. I could feel the hope in the air. It is not a place to go to be sick. St. Jude is a place to go to live!
That moment made me so thankful to each and every one of you that is there with us every year during our St. Jude radiothon and helps support the miracles that St. Jude is making everyday.
The True Heart of Memphis
A gleaming white statue
Stand firm and tall
protecting the miracles
inside the walls
In a sanctuary built
on a promise and dream
An army of hope
takes on a foe best never seen
In a world of color and life
the battle wages everyday
Where our children bow their heads
and, for another tomorrow, pray
Where doctors help the sick
and nurses bring the smiles
Where an A-B-C wall spells hope and fear
and the researchers never tire
Where the bust of Danny sits
with his shiny good-luck nose
In a shrine to the hopeless cases
that, till every child is saved, will never close
The sun shines down eternally
in the haven of hopes and dreams
as children look to the day
of their No-Mo-Chemo bead
The walls give hope to the hopeless
They give another day, a month, a life
In the true heart of Memphis
St. Jude stands with hope and light
It has been months and months since I have taken the time to sit down and write and blog post, but it hasn’t been for lack of anything to tell you about. I have been crazy busy lately.
I hope your summer was frogtastic! Mine was awesome! I grew sunflowers and made pickles. I realize that neither of those things sound like gigantical feats of accomplishment, but trust me when I say they are.
When I was a kid my grandma always had the best gardens. Flowers of all different varieties. It was like walking through a scented rainbow. And her veggie garden . . . AMAZING! Tomatoes, cucumbers, rhubarb, strawberries . . . she never needed to go the grocery for produce because she grew everything in her back yard. And I don’t need to tell you that homemade cooking from grandma’s house was even more delicious because she grew everything herself.
Despite the hours that I spent helping my grandma with her gardens I did not inherit that green thumb gene. I am really good at killing plants. I forget to water them for weeks on end, and then when I do finally water them I drown them. So back in the spring it was a shock to everybody, especially my husband, when I said I wanted to plant sunflowers. He agreed to help me but I knew that he was thinking that it was a matter of time before those poor, pretty sunflowers would bite the dust.
On Derby weekend back in May I got 12 cinder blocks and painted them bright yellow. I made a nice garden box out of them and filled them with bags of potting soil. Then I planted the seeds. Over the next days and weeks I checked my little flower box daily for the progression of seeds to gigantic, gorgeous, happy sunflowers.
They got huge! I named them. The biggest one was named George. There was also one named Fred. My son named a few . . . Happy Feet, Teeth, and Dead. My son is weird, and yes, named one of my sunflowers “Dead.” We thought that particular sunflower was not going to make it. It was looking sickly and blah. We watered it and talked to it but resigned ourselves to the fact that I had killed a sunflower. That is when Nathan named it “Dead.” Then lo and behold one day it had perked back up. It grew and grew and grew! When “Dead” was obviously no longer dying I asked Nathan if we could change its name. He adamantly said no. So, Dead became our zombie sunflower. It was dying and then it decided to live, but Dead it remained all the rest of the season.
My sunflowers got gigantic! I am only 4-foot-10, but my husband is 6-foot-4 and some of those sunflowers were twice as tall as he was. I loved to see them waving in the breeze. So pretty!
I managed to successfully grow flowers without killing them. Maybe I got a little bit of the green thumb gene after all.
While waiting for my sunflowers to grow I also decided that I wanted to try to make real actual homemade pickles. I am a kosher dill pickle addict! I can eat those things by the jar. My grandma used to make her own pickles when I was a little girl, and her pickles still stand out as way more yummy than any store-bought pickle. I wanted to try to recreate that. I bought little pickling cucumbers from the farmer’s market, Ball jars, vinegar and proceeded to spend and afternoon making my kitchen really, REALLY stinky! Vinegar can sure stink up a kitchen fast. It was worth it though. A few weeks later I had homemade, crunchy, garlicky, sour, kosher dill pickles that I made myself. Now they were not near as yummy as my grandma’s pickles, but is anything ever as good as when grandma made it? A few weeks later I bought more jars and made more pickles, and then a few weeks after that I made lots more pickles. I had to make sure I’ve got enough to get me through winter.
So, now that I have conquered the basics of growing sunflowers and making pickles I have decided that next spring I want to get a plot in the community garden in Paducah. the plots are 12x8 and it’s an organic garden. I could grow my own cucumbers, tomatoes, bell peppers . . . all of the veggies I love to cook with. I will admit that I am a little intimidated by the prospect of all that dirt and those seeds, but I grew sunflowers so surely I can grow tomatoes.
I can’t wait to see what my garden brings forth next year.
I can’t wait to dig in the dirt with my bare hands and plant all those seeds.
I can’t wait to sit in the middle of my garden with a salt shaker and eat tomatoes straight off the vine under the hot summer sun.
Do you have any favorite memories of your grandma’s garden, or advice you want to share with this novice gardener? I would love to hear it. You can send me an email at email@example.com.
By now you have figured out that I love to cook, especially for my friends. If something I make for a friend makes them smile then that makes me feel absolutely wonderful! So I was recently baking cookies for some friends. Sheet after sheet of raw cookie dough made their way into the oven and exited 12 minutes later as delicious-looking, yummy-smelling strawberry-chocolate-chip cookies. So good! These cookies are a favourite of Nathan’s. As a matter of fact he is the reason why they are always strawberry-chocolate-chip and no other flavor.
As the warm, gooeyness exited the oven and made their way to parchment paper to cool Nathan was right behind me like a little leechy shadow. He wanted a cookie soooooo bad. I told him that I was baking them for some friends, but the smell was driving him insane. You would have thought that I was baking Happy Meals in my oven. Sheesh! He was doing everything he could to try to get a cookie. He gave me the sweet “I-Love-You” eyes, he gave me hugs, he offered to do dishes . . . and then he brought out the Ukulele.
What can I say about Nathan and his Ukulele? He wants to be able to play like Eric Clapton or Jimi Hendrix. He even rocks the Pete-Townshend-windmill when he plays his Ukulele. It’s pretty epic! He hasn’t quite figured out how to play yet, but he has fun with it and he is ready and willing to give a concert at the drop of a hat. Which is what he did while I was baking cookies. He knows that one of the ways to his mommy’s heart is through music, so he regaled me with a performance in the hopes of earning a freshly baked cookie. It worked. He got two cookies. I may have to change the name of the recipe to “Ukulele Cookies.”
STRAWBERRY-CHOCOLATE-CHIP CAKE COOKIES
1 box cake mix (any flavor)
2 tbsp brown sugar
1/3 cup oil
2 tbsp water
1 bag chocolate chips
Preheat oven to 350
Mix together cake mix, brown sugar, eggs, oil and water until a sticky dough forms. It will a little bit gooier than cookie dough, but thicker than cake mix.
Fold in chocolate chips.
Place spoonfuls of dough onto an ungreased cookie sheet about 2-inches apart
Bake 9-12 minutes or until they are just starting to set in the middle.
My tips for this recipe:
Be forewarned that the dough will be super sticky. I have to use two spoons to get the dough on the cookie sheet. One spoon to scoop the dough and the other spoon to scrape the dough onto the sheet from the first spoon.
I usually have to leave the cookies in the over for about 12 minutes but your oven my differ.
When you pull the cookie sheets out of the oven let them sit for a few minutes before you try to take the cookies off. The cookies will be super soft, so if you let them start to cool and firm up a bit they will be much easier to take off the cookie sheet.
Feel free to try any flavor of cake mix with these cookies. I keep wanting to make them with red velvet cake mix or chocolate cake mix. Try substituting white chocolate chips or add crush walnuts . . . YUM ! This is a great recipe because it paves the way to creativity.
I hope your friends and family enjoy this recipe as much as mine do. If you have any recipes or kitchen tips feel free to share them. I love swapping recipes with friends. You can send them to me via Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/heather.mcribbits, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I look forward to hearing from you and, with your permission, sharing your favorite recipes with Froggyland.
I will be the first to admit that I am still a big kid. I think you heard me mention that before. I like playing in the rain, watching cartoons, coloring, and messing with all the toys in the toy store. With my childlike tendencies in mind that also means that I am still a huge fan of sloppy joe’s. As a matter of fact they sloppier they are the better. My husband makes fun of me whenever I eat because inevitably my food lands on my shirt . . . every time! I need to wear a bib. At least with sloppy joe’s I have an excuse for my food to land on my shirt . . . because it’s sloppy.
My husband, whose food never lands on his shirt, loves Philly Cheesesteak sandwiches. They are something I have never attempted to make because they are such an iconic sandwich that I didn’t want to mess it up. But then I found a recipe that melded his favorite sandwich with one of my favorite sandwiches. The results . . . ASTOUNDING!
Ladies and gentlemen, allow me to introduce the Philly Cheesesteak Sloppy Joe! (http://www.food.com/recipe/philly-cheesesteak-sloppy-joes-507569)
I had seen this recipe floating around Facebook for several days and so I gave it a go. I was easy and super yummy! As a matter of fact, when I tried to ask my husband if he liked it I got no response from him. He wasn’t ignoring me or being completely grossed out by my latest culinary adventure. He was stuffing his face with Philly Cheesesteak Sloppy Joe’s.
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 lb ground beef
1 large onion, chopped
1 green pepper, chopped
3 tablespoons steak sauce, I like A-1
1/2 cup beef broth
Salt and black pepper, to taste
1 dash Worcestershire sauce (optional)
4 large hamburger buns
1 tablespoon butter, for toasting buns
cheese sauce (recipe below) or provolone cheese (sliced) or Cheez Whiz
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon flour
1 cup milk
1 cup provolone cheese (shredded)
Add the oil to a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the ground beef and cook 5-6 minutes or until no longer pink.
Add the onion and bell pepper and continue to cook 2-3 minutes or until crisp tender. Drain off any fat.
Stir in the steak sauce and beef broth (and Worcestershire, if using). Season with salt and pepper. Cook until liquid is gone.
Butter the cut sides of the buns. Toast the buttered sides in a hot skillet on medium-high heat. Set aside.
To make the cheese sauce:
Melt the butter in a 1-quart saucepan over medium-high heat. Whisk in the flour and cook about 1 minute.
Whisk in milk, bring up to a bubble and cook until thickened.
Remove from heat and stir in the cheese.
Season with salt and pepper, if desired.
To serve, place a scoop of the meat mixture onto the bottom half of the buns. Top with cheese sauce (or cheese) and cover with the top half of the bun.
Next time I make this I will add a bit more steak sauce (perhaps another table spoon) for the extra flavor.
Also next time I make this I won’t use hamburger buns. I will either use hot dog buns, or get a loaf of yummy, crusty Italian bread from the bakery and split that open.
I had to go the grocery store deli to buy the provolone. I couldn’t find any in the dairy section. (On a side note, grating the cheese would be a great job for your kids to do while you are browning up the meat.)
My cheese sauce was a bit “grainy.” I don’t know if I just didn’t let the butter and flour cook long enough before adding the milk, or if it was because the liquid was only milk. I’ve never made a sauce base with just milk as the liquid. I think that next time I make this (and there WILL be a next time!) I will substitute half of the milk for chicken stock.
I served steak fries and a dill pickle spear on the side.
I hope your family enjoys this recipe as much as my husband and I did. I was told that I would be making it again, and soon.
So, in case you haven’t noticed, Froggyland is in the grips of a miserable artic blast. Everyone is bundled up and hunkered down with visions of hot summer days to keep them going. Hot cocoa is the go-to beverage for warming up chilly hands and bodies. The crackle of a comforting fireplace takes the chill from the air, and a slow-cooker full of homemade chilli gives us hearty promises of full bellies. It is wintertime in Froggyland. I am all for winter if there is snow on the ground to build snowmen and have snowball fights. But when it is cold and drab and miserable outside . . . yuck! That’s when I start dreaming of warmer and more exotic locantions. I have a cousin that lives in Sedona, Arizona that I think may need a visit from me if things don’t start to warm up soon.
One thing I do enjoy about being stuck inside during the winter though is that I have plenty of time to try out new recipes. A friend posted a recipe on Facebook a couple of months ago with a plea to have somebody make it for him. Challenge accepted! I will be making it for his birthday soon. I love to do what I can to make my friends happy, and I love to cook. If I can do both at the same time then BONUS!
Banana Pudding Poke Cake . . . if you haven’t tried this recipe before then I don’t know what you are waiting for. It is so yummy! I brought a piece to the station for Jumpin’ Jack and I am not exaggerating when I say that I started a station war by not bringing any cake for anyone else. Everybody wanted a bite of the sweet, gooey, banana-rific tastiness that was the Banana Pudding Poke Cake. I have learned my lesson. When you work with a bunch of people that have a crazy-bad sweet tooth like I do then make two cakes one for home and one for work and everyone will be happy . . . not just Jumpin’ Jack.
1 box yellow cake mix (& ingredients to make cake)
2 boxes (small) instant banana pudding
4 c milk
8 oz whipped topping
20 vanilla wafers, crushed
Follow the direction on the cake mix box to prepare the actual cake. Prepare it in a 9 x 13" pan. When golden, remove from over and let cool for a few minutes.
When just slightly cooled, use the end of a wooden spoon (the handle end) to poke holes into the baked cake. Don't be shy; make the holes big enough for the pudding to seep into and go deep enough with the spoon that you hit the bottom of the pan.
Next, prepare your pudding mixture. Combine your 4 cups of milk and the instant pudding mix; whisk until fully combined and there are no lumps.
Now it's time to fill those holes! Pour the pudding mixture over the entire cake, taking care to get it into all your holes. Use the spoon to help really get it into the cake and spread evenly.
Refrigerate for at least two hours... or until set. Top with whipped topping, crushed vanilla wafers and sliced banana!
My son helped me make this cake a couple of weeks ago, and I don’t mean that he helped clean the beater by licking them, although, he did get them pretty sparkly. But isn’t licking the beaters the best part of baking? Nathan help make the pudding, spread the whipped topping, cut the bananas (with lots of supervision) and he crushed the Vanilla Wafers. You know that I am all about getting our kids into the kitchen and Nathan loves to help me cook. Not to mention, Nathan loves to eat and he adored this cake. I hope you, your family and friends love this cake also.
If you have any favorite recipes that you would like to share feel free to send them my way. I love trying new recipes especially ones that are shared from friends. You can email me your recipes and any story that goes along with them to email@example.com or you can send them to me on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/heather.mcribbits. I look forward to hearing from you.