Sunday, March 6, 2011

World Vision

Logo courtesy of

If you can read this, you are blessed. 

Seriously, you are. 

It's amazing how many people take basic things like water, food, and clothing - even reading and writing for granted.

When I was 20, I had the opportunity to travel to Peru for the Thanksgiving holiday to spend time with my aunt and uncle, who were missionaries there. My uncle was director of a bible school 500 miles north of the country’s capital in a town called Chiclayo. I had been so excited, collecting clothing, shoes, and the like to take with me on my journey, not thinking of too much else.

When I arrived, I was not prepared for what I was about to see. The country itself is absolutely breathtaking; the living conditions were anything but. I almost felt deflated. This is not what I had it built up in my mind. The poverty-like conditions were almost too unbearable. The hardest hit for me was little children living in filth, begging on the street, asking for food.

It was the first time I truly realized just how lucky and blessed I was. I also knew my life would never be the same.

6 months later, I was extremely fortunate to have the opportunity to go back, this time taking my Mom. It was so nice to see the same friendly faces I had gotten to know the first time I was there, but the nagging heartache soon returned. It seemed so unfair that I lived in a place with such abundance while these lovely people lived with just the clothing on their backs and a few scraps.

However, one thing remained etched in the back of my mind: Their outlook on life. MANY had nothing, but were happy to be alive. My heart went out to that country...and a piece still remains there.

In 2006, just before our daughter was born, my husband and I sponsored a child through World Vision. A three-year-old little Peruvian boy named Kevin. His information card had stated he lived in one of the poorest parts of the country. I had seen some shocking places while I visited, so I could only imagine his surroundings.

I collapsed into a pool of tears when we received a letter from little Kevin’s Mother, praising God and thanking us that we had chosen him. They were in dire straits and just didn’t know to do. She said that her prayers were heard and answered. Wow. How does one get over a statement that powerful? To know that we helped even just a little is a feeling I will never forget.

That was almost 5 years ago and Kevin and his family are doing very well. We get cards, letters, photos and a progress/health report from him and about him. He is now in first grade and loves math.

In 2008, we decided to sponsor another child, this time a little girl. We sifted through the children that needed the most help. Julissa, a gorgeous 9-year-old (almost 10) from El Salvador chose us. Sponsoring a girl was important to me because I wanted the chance to help educate her about her body and the changes she would inevitably go through. With HIV, Aids, and widespread disease, knowledge is power.

Julissa will be 13 in July and is doing incredibly well. She personally writes to us and sends drawings, and like Kevin, we get progress and health reports. She is such a lovely little girl, doing well in school and her family is very grateful for everything we have done.

We wanted to do more.

In 2009, my husband decided to throw his first annual charity soccer game. He recruited 40 people, rented a soccer pitch, and charged a small fee to play. All monies he earned went directly to World Vision. It was a huge success. Once word got out, he had so many people asking to be put on the list for the following year. Local companies soon got wind of it and donated amazing prizes. Umbro has donated all the shirts, balls and whistles for them to play in since the first tournament. It has gotten bigger every year with more involvement and amazing prizes. Twitter and facebook are a wonderful thing to spread the word!

He just completed his third annual charity soccer game, earning over $2,100 for World Vision. I am so proud of what he has accomplished for them thus far - and I know it will only get better. 

If you have $35 a month, I implore you to think about sponsoring a child. You will change the life a precious child forever.

It will also change you in ways you never thought possible.  

share this on »
Add a comment »

Monday, February 28, 2011

Chocolate Covered Pretzel Cookies

Once a month, it's imperative that I go through my pantry. You see, I am an impulsive food shopper. I follow my shopping list to a tee, but when it comes to sale items, especially baking supplies or candy, all bets are off. I will buy them, throw them into the cupboard when I get home and forget all about it until I start the process all over again the following month. Ultimately what happens is the need to become creative and use up the items before they start growing worms or become a science experiment. It's not a sale if it ends up in the trash.

This month, I found a delicious bag of chocolate covered pretzels stashed in the dark corner of the pantry. I was surprised they were up there only because they are usually gone on the ride home from the grocery store. As I was debating whether to toss them or just eat them, I compromised and decided to use make cookies with them.

To make a long story short...putting them into the cookie batter was the best decision I made. From this moment on, these are my new go-to cookie when I'm hankering for something sweet, something salty, something crunchy or just craving a damn good cookie.

Chocolate Covered Pretzel Cookies.

A damn good cookie.


2¼ cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon cocoa
1 cup butter
½ cup peanut butter
1 egg
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 cups coarsely chopped chocolate covered pretzels
1 cup chocolate chunks or chips

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Combine flour, baking soda, salt and cocoa in small bowl; set aside.

Beat butter, brown sugar until creamy. Add peanut butter and vanilla extract in until incorporated. Add egg and mix well.

Gradually beat in flour mixture and mix until everything had been well blended. With a spoon, stir in pretzels and chunks/chips.

Try not to eat the batter! 

Drop by rounded tablespoon onto baking sheets. Using an ice cream scoop is super helpful!

Bake 10-12 minutes or until golden brown. Cool on baking sheets for 2 minutes; remove and cool completely.

Yield: 3½ dozen cookies.

Happy Baking!

share this on »

Friday, February 25, 2011

Cheesecake Cookie Cups

My BFF is going away on a much needed romantical getaway with her boyfriend this weekend. It's been a long time coming for the two, so naturally, I am super excited for them.

Since my last blog, I'm on a mission to find creative ways to use the 10,436 Chips Ahoy cookies I now have hanging around. In essence, I also wanted to make a nice treat they can take with them to enjoy while snugging by a crackling fire.

Then it hits me. Beth LOVES cheesecake.

One minute later, I get hit with another epiphany. I remembered ripping something out of a magazine when I was visiting Mom over the summer. It was a recipe for Cheesecake Cookie Cups.

The gears in my mind started to turn and, suddenly, it hits me. Since the base of a cheesecake is essentially finely crumbled cookies, the chocolate chip cookies would be a very nice substitute to the usual graham cracker crust - or in this recipe's case, raw chocolate chip cookie dough. Bonus for me since it will give me the same end result - a chocolate chip cookie base!

Yes! Sweet victory! Looks like my BFF and I will both score - just in different ways.

Yeah, get your head out of the gutter. They'll be ice fishing and playing scrabble all weekend. 


12 chocolate chip cookies - I used Chips Ahoy - of course.
1 block cream cheese, room temperature
½ cup sweetened condensed milk
1 large egg
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ can cherry pie filling

Preheat oven to 325ºF.

Paper line 12 muffin cups. Place one chocolate chip cookie in the bottom of the liner.

Beat cream cheese, sweetened condensed milk, eggs, lemon juice and vanilla extract in medium bowl until smooth.

Pour about 3 tablespoons cream cheese mixture over each cookie in cup.

Bake for 15 to 18 minutes or until set. Cool completely in pan on wire rack. 

Top each with level tablespoon (or more if you prefer!) of pie filling. Refrigerate for 1 hour.

Yield: 12 cheesecake cups

Happy Baking!

share this on »

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Blueberry Buckle

I adore blueberries. One of my favorite ways to use them are in a Buckle. Not on a belt silly.

Blueberry Buckle has always a staple dessert at our family's Fourth of July picnics, accompanied with a nice, big blob of vanilla ice cream on the side. Although this recipe has been passed around a gazillion times between family and friends, tweaked this way and that, each individual swearing that theirs is the best, we always stuck to the original, so I'll stick to what I know.

It's a great alternative to muffins and a delicious way to use up those 6 extra pints of blueberries that you may or may not have bought when they were on sale at the supermarket for the great price of 3 pints for $5 before supermarket management decided to poach wallets and raise the price to $3.99 a pint a week later.

So very uncool.


½ cup butter, room temperature
2 cups flour
1½ teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
¾ cup sugar
1 large egg
2 teaspoons vanilla
½ cup sour cream
1 teaspoon lemon peel
2 cups blueberries, preferably fresh, but frozen works fine.

Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Grease a 9x9-inch baking dish or pan.

In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt; set aside. In another bowl, whisk sour cream, vanilla, and lemon peel together; set aside.

A trick my Home Ec teacher taught me is to coat blueberries in a little flour to avoid sinking to the bottom of the pan.

Beat butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add egg and beat until well incorporated.

Add 1/3 of the flour mixture and beat on low speed just until incorporated and then add 1/3 of the sour cream mixture and beat until incorporated. Alternate between the two until everything has combined.

Gently stir in the blueberries. 

Pour mixture into prepared baking pan.

Now for the delicious topping. If I'm honest, this is my favorite part of the cake.


⅓ cup butter, room temperture
¼ cup packed brown sugar
1 cup flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ cup rolled oats

Mix all ingredients into a bowl. Using a pastry blender or forks, blend until mixture resembles crumbs. You can also rub the mixture between your very clean hands to get the same effect. It's a lot easier and your hands are amazing tools!

Sprinkle on top of cake.

Bake for 45 minutes. Serve with vanilla ice cream for the ultimate experience.

Happy Baking!

share this on »

Friday, February 18, 2011

Homemade Oatmeal Cream Pies

The mind is a funny thing.

I can't remember what I did two weeks ago, but I remember being eight years old like it only happened yesterday.

Growing up, Mom never let us have too much sugar. Sugar cereal in the cupboard was unheard of and soda was definitely out of the question. She loved to bake, so we always had homemade treats on hand. However, Mom's idea of a treat were rhubarb teacakes or cheddar muffins. Not very appetizing to a child.

My best childhood friend, Charlene, invited me over to her house to play after school quite often. I loved going there because her Mom bought every sugar laden treats the supermarket had offered. To a kid, it was literally like being in a candy store. Little Debbie Oatmeal Creme Pies - those beautiful little processed snack cakes wrapped in all its cellophane splendor were a staple in her home.

As I got older, I was thankful for Mom's diligence when it came to healthy eating habits and making us eat pounds of fruit and vegetables, because as an adult, I lost all willpower and discovered the love of baking.

When I saw there was a copycat version of these beauties I could make at home, I was super happy!

It's a good thing when one finds a recipe that claims to deliver the likeness of a much loved snack food; it's a bad thing when it actually delivers on its promise and one eats the entire batch. Seriously folks, they are amazing, if not better than the real deal.

Don't say you haven't been warned, but you WILL thank me.


1 cup butter
¾ cup brown sugar
½ cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 eggs
1½ cups flour
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
1½ cups quick oats


½ cup shortening
1½ cups marshmallow cream
2 cups powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
2-3 tablespoons milk

In the large bowl, cream together butter, sugar, and brown sugar. Add eggs one at a time and beat until well combined; add vanilla.

Whisk together flour, salt, baking soda, cinnamon and oats. Add to the creamed mixture. Refrigerate for 15 minutes.

Drop by tablespoons of dough on cookie sheet, 1 inch apart.

Bake at 350ºF for about 9 minutes, or until they are just starting to brown around the edges.

Place cookie sheet on wire rack to cool for 2 minutes, transfer to wire rack.

To fill cookies:

Drop a generous tablespoon of filling onto the flat side of the cookie. Sandwich with another cookie, pressing down slightly so that the filling spreads to the edges of the cookie.

Place oatmeal creme pies into the refrigerator for 30 minutes to firm up before serving.

Yield: About 12-18 good sized cookies.

Happy Baking!

share this on »

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Muddy Buddies

What do you do with an active 4-year-old, her 2 just-as-active playdates, a few opened boxes of cereal that no one wants to eat anymore, half eaten chocolate from past holidays (yes, leftover chocolate. It does happen), 5 day old tuna noodle casserole, and a too-cold-to-go-outside kind of day?

You make Muddy Buddies. And throw the tuna noodle casserole away. Ick.

This recipe is both amazing and super simple - and if you have read my past blogs, you know how much I like simple. I found this recipe on the back of a Rice Chex cereal box a couple of years ago. It's one of those recipes that, because of it's simplicity to make, can get overused, but if you can’t find the cereal brand where you live, you crave incessantly. 

I have tweaked this recipe a few times, mainly adding things to it, only to come back to the original everytime. Like the saying goes, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it". This delightful creation falls under that category. It's sweet, salty, and crunchy goodness all in one. 

There is nothing like sugaring up your child's friends, sending them home, and seeing their Mom the next day at school with an extra large coffee and under eye bags to her chin, wondering why her children were up until 11pm.


Adapted from the back of the Chex Cereal box.

9 cups Rice or Corn Chex Cereal -  If you can't find Chex, Crispix Cereal is the next best thing.
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips**
½ cup peanut butter
¼ cup butter or margarine
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 ½ cups powdered sugar

In large bowl, measure cereal; set aside. I used both Rice & Corn Chex.

**This is where my little spin on the recipe comes in. Rather than using chocolate chips, this is a great recipe to use up any solid chocolate bars you may have lying around.

Substitute one cup chocolate chips for one cup chopped chocolate bars and follow recipe accordingly. If you are using all 100% milk chocolate, I recommend throwing some dark chocolate in to counterbalance the sweetness. White chocolate works well, but I wouldn't suggest using only white as it will yield a very sweet mixture.

Just be sure to chop coarsely so it melts evenly. 

In microwavable bowl, microwave chocolate, peanut butter and butter for 1 minute; stir. Microwave about 30 seconds longer or until mixture can be stirred smooth. Stir in vanilla.

Pour chocolate mixture over cereal.  

Stir until evenly coated.

Pour into resealable food-storage plastic bag. Add powdered sugar.

Seal bag; shake until well coated. Spread on waxed paper to cool. Store in airtight container in refrigerator.

Yield: 18 servings (½ cup each)

Happy Baking!

share this on »

Friday, February 11, 2011

French Toast Casserole

Today is my birthday!

As much as I love it, and I do love it, I have never been one to go up to people, draw attention to myself and say, "Hey, today's my birthday!" It's just not my style.

Unless you know me or you're privy to the fact that you know it's my birthday, I'm more of a party-in-silence kind of gal.

I adore breakfast food. One of my favorite breakfast foods is french toast. There are so many ways to make and enjoy it that I have lost count. I've had it stuffed, grilled, candy coated, you name it. Then I had it in casserole form and let me tell you, it's like dessert in a baking dish.

One of the best perks about this casserole is that it's one of those make-the-night-before jobbers. Not having to rush around making breakfast on my birthday - or any morning for that matter, enjoying a nice cup of tea with my husband and getting cuddles from my 2 most favorite little people in the world is the best gift I could ever ask for!

That and a new kitchen appliance never hurts.


1 loaf challah or egg bread - about 8-10 cups. Slightly stale bread works fine.
7 eggs
3 cups whole milk
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
2 teaspoons cinnamon
2 tablespoons butter
Maple syrup 

Generously grease a 13x9 baking dish.

Tear bread into bite size pieces and spread out evenly into prepared baking dish.

In a medium bowl, whisk together eggs, brown sugar, milk, vanilla, and cinnamon.

Pour over bread and pat down lightly so bread absorbs egg mixture. Dot with butter, cover with foil and refrigerate overnight.

Next morning, place foil-covered dish into a cold oven, then crank oven to 350ºF. Bake covered for 40 minutes. I like the casserole to have a soft and fluffy consistency inside while the crust has a slight crunchy top.

Serve immediately, drizzled with maple syrup and a nice cup of tea.

Yields: 8-12 servings - or one big serving. Don't worry, we won't judge.

Happy Baking!

share this on »