Three Years…and counting

Today marks two years since I started this blog with the post linked HERE.  I wrote that blog as a reflection of the time since my house flooded…documented HERE.  I’ve been MIA for the last twelve plus months.  Click HERE, HEREHEREHERE, and HERE if you want to see why.  Life is busy.  I know this.  You know this.  Your house floods.  Your mom dies.  You have a baby.  Somehow, the world keeps spinning.  But some things don’t change.

THREE years ago today, my home flooded.  We lost everything.  It was an epic Noah’s Arc type flood that destroyed our lives and set us on a path we never could have expected.  Three years later, we are still at a standstill.  The governmental help that was promised has yet to be executed.  WHAT?  How can that be?  I’m still unsure.  We were promised a buy out.  We have been shifted list-to-list between the Village and the County.  No one is in any hurry except those of us who are homeless.  What can you do but wait?

Well, you can plan for the future that WILL come.  Come hell or high water (pun intended), we will come out the other side.  We have purchased a new home for those wondering.  It needs a WHOLE LOTTA LOVE.  I want to start documenting the process of renovating our new home here on this blog.  When it is complete, it will be a reveal worthy of any HGTV show.

We are proud that through all of this, we have kept our heads above water with the generosity of family and friends.  We are moving forward while the little Lisle house stands still.  Stay tuned for pictures and updates as we move long on our new journey.

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Memory….Wednesday?

So, I haven’t done a Memory Monday in a very long time.  I haven’t actually blogged in a long time.  I guess being pregnant keeps you just a busy as the actual baby.  What have I been doing?  Nesting.  Nesting at work and nesting at home.  My classroom is officially set up for my maternity leave.  Lessons are planned, worksheets are copied, IEPs are written.  Very little left to do and if it didn’t all get done…no one would know but me.  Nesting at home…eh.  Laundry is done.  We had two BEAUTIFUL showers hosted by our families.  So many generous gifts…so much to organize.

My mom had 6 babies in 5 pregnancies.  I remember a little about my brother Ds pregnancy but I remember a LOT about her pregnancy with the twins.  I don’t remember her being nearly as neurotic as I am.  Maybe it was because these boys were her FIFTH and SIXTH children.  Maybe it was because she had pretty much everything she ever needed so prepping wasn’t necessary.  Maybe I just don’t remember as well as I thought.  What I do remember from then and years after, were a lot of easy to prep, budget friendly meals that could be put together with a toddler attached to you legs while you fed a couple of babies.  One of our favorites..one of my sister L’s favorites…was chicken and rice.  Everything gets prepped and baked in one dish making it the ultimate meal of ease.  A few pantry staples and a package of chicken and you had dinner!  So…tonight, in honor of my mom and the upcoming arrival of Baby Boss…I give you Chicken and Rice!

Chicken and Rice

  • 1 lb chicken trimmed and cut to preference–I cut into long strips (more or less as necessary)
  • 1 can cream of chicken soup (I use LF soups)
  • 1 can cream of mushroom (sub with another chicken or even celery if allergies or preferences)
  • 1 can white rice
  • 2-3 cans water or broth
  • onion soup packet
  1. Mix together the rice, water/broth, and soups.  Top with chicken.  Top that with soup packet.
  2. Bake tightly covered with foil for 90 minutes on 350* to 375*
  3. Bake last 10 minutes uncovered.
  4. Serve with fresh bread.

Memory Monday: Taking Comfort

It’s been along time since I wrote for Memory Monday.  Of course, being Tuesday, I am still a bit late.

There are just those things I find most comforting.  I’m sure it is the same for everyone.  Some of my favorites include

  • the delicious scent of a pot of soup on the stovetop on a cool afternoon
  • cozy PJs in a bed with clean sheets–bonus if it was made by Marcella the super cleaning lady
  • the buttery decadence of family recipe known as Susie’s Favorite
  • and thunderstorms…

Well, it used to be thunderstorms.  As you can imagine, I lost my love of thunderstorms shortly after the flood.  I slept so soundly the night that the house flooded that I often wonder if I had woken earlier would anything have been different?  You cannot live with the shoulda, coulda, woulda‘s.  It’ll drive you batty.  Since the flood, I have been less than comforted by raindrops against my windows.  A storm now brings anxiety and stress…

…that is, until last night.  For some reason, snuggled up with the hubby, I was once again comforted by the sounds of the rain.  Maybe it was because I was just that exhausted.  Maybe it was because I finally have put it all behind me.  Who knows.  But when we went to bed at 8:00 last night…yes–8:00…I drifted off into a peaceful sleep waking only to lulled back again by nature’s lullaby.  I would like to imagine I had a lazy little smile on my face but that would be silly.  I was probably mouth breathing and drooling a bit.  Regardless, last night, I was comforted once again.

This weekend I indulged in another comfort, the infamous Susie’s Favorite.  I am sure that it was designed to feed a lot of hungry mouths for not a lot of money.  Most people are a little boggled by this bizarre family pasta that brings me back to the house on Ridgeway with the tiny kitchen.  I remember having it most often on Friday’s during lent or Saturday afternoons at Grandma’s house.  It could be made without milk–which I am sure we were always out of with 6 kids gulping it down at every meal.  I would guess that it has more bang for your buck over a few boxes of mac and cheese.  Nevertheless, it is the taste of my childhood.  Having introduced some childhood and college friends to this yummy dish, I am sure we were the craziest family out there to pass this off as some sort of normal meal.  I put it up there with those tomatoes with bread: an acquired taste that just reminds you of home.  Although I never asked {damn}, I am sure that the one-pot-wonder was named after my Aunt Sue.  I imagine that us 6 McKenna kids turned our noses up at this orange colored, mac and cheese wannabe.  Then I am guessing that my mom called it Aunt Susie’s Favorite.  Who could argue with that review?

Susie’s Favorite

1-8 oz. box of small pasta (my mom always used elbows while grandma’s house usually had shells–I like the shells better but will settle for whatever is in the pantry)
1 can tomato soup
1/2 stick butter or margarine

Make the noodles according the the directions on the box.
Drain and return to the pot.
Add the can of tomato soup and the butter–NO WATER…trust me!
Stir until the butter is melted and serve immediately.

MEMORY MONDAY: surprise

I know. I know.  It’s not Monday.  But the week was a busy one and it pretty much feels like Monday.

My mom was a sucker for a casserole.  It stretched a buck and hid a variety of veggies even the pickiest of eaters could enjoy.  Better yet, it was easy to add rice or pasta so that even if one of the neighbor kids stayed for dinner, there would be plenty to go around.  A family favorite was Chicken Surprise given to my mom by her BFF, D.  It was a tasty little concoction with chicken…duh…broccoli, and a killer sauce that had a base of the cream soup pantry staple.  We LOVED it.  Really.  It was a meal that pretty much everyone in the family would gobble up with out complaint.  Imagine MY surprise when a friend of mine gave me a recipe called chicken divan that was pretty much the same recipe.  Paula Deen had stolen D’s recipe…

Regardless, that recipe, both D’s and Paula’s, will pretty much add 5 pounds to the scale and more than a few inches to your waistline.  After many years of WW, I am pretty good at lightening up a recipe.  I was certain I could work wonders with this one and I did!!  Check out the changes I made below.  I made some common sense swaps, lessoned the amount of pasta (who needs THAT much), and tweaked the sauce a bit.  Even WITH the addition of pasta, the way my mom always made it, I was able to get the points plus value down to 11PP from 19PP.  With my mom’s pasta addition, the full fat version was a whopping TWENTY FOUR points plus.  WOW!

Enjoy this as an all inclusive meal: protein, starch, and veggie.  You can round it out with a fruit dessert or add a light green salad.

LOW FAT Chicken Surprise–11PP

20 oz cooked frozen chopped broccoli
20 oz cooked skinless boneless chicken breast, about 2 lbs raw–trimmed
2 cans low fat cream of chicken soup
1/2 cup light mayo
1/2 cup fat-free plain Greek yogurt
8 oz uncooked pasta (elbows or shells)
3/4 cup 2% shredded cheddar
3 Tbsp l Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter–LIGHT
1 Tbsp lemon juice
3/4 cup whole grain/wheat bread crumbs

  1. Trim and poach the chicken until cooked through.
  2. Dice or shred.
  3. Mix together the yogurt, soup, mayo, and lemon juice.
  4. Cook the pasta until mostly cooked through.
  5. Mix 1/4 of the sauce with the hot pasta.
  6. Mix the additional sauce with the broccoli and the chicken.
  7. Layer the pasta then chicken in a sprayed pan.
  8. Melt margarine and mix with bread crumbs.
  9. Top the casserole with cheese then buttered bread crumbs.
  10. Bake for 30 minutes at 350*

FULL FAT Chicken Surprise–24PP (19PP without pasta)

20 oz cooked frozen chopped broccoli
8 cooked skinless boneless chicken breasts
2 cans cream of chicken soup
1 cup mayo
16 oz uncooked pasta (elbows or shells)
1 cup shredded cheddar
1/4 cup butter
1 Tbsp lemon juice
1 cup bread crumbs

  1. Trim and poach the chicken until cooked through.
  2. Dice or shred.
  3. Mix together the soup, mayo, and lemon juice.
  4. Cook the pasta until mostly cooked through.
  5. Mix 1/4 of the sauce with the hot pasta.
  6. Mix the additional sauce with the broccoli and the chicken.
  7. Layer the pasta then chicken in a sprayed pan.
  8. Melt margarine and mix with bread crumbs.
  9. Top the casserole with cheese then buttered bread crumbs.
  10. Bake for 30 minutes at 350*

MONDAY MEMORY: gobbledy…what?

Remember those meals your mom used to make when you were a kid that you absolutely hated? Liver and onions anyone? Yuck. For me, that meal was pot roast. As a matter of fact–once when she made it when I was in 7th or 8th grade–I announced that I had given up eating red meat and therefore could not partake in the wretched pot roast. Imagine my surprise when that backfired on me the next night since my mom was serving grilled cheeseburgers. How disappointing. Goodbye pepperoni and sausage pizza. Goodbye BBQ ribs. Goodbye steak. What was I thinking? I held my ground, though. I remained a chicken and turkey only eater for about 8 years. Then, with just one tentative nibble of a juicy cheeseburger, I was back to carnivore-land. Since then, I realized my palate has changed…matured over time. When my mom made pot roast post college, not only did I like it–I LOVED it!! My mom made her pot roast the same way I assume many other moms made theirs: giant chunk-o-beef, dry onion soup packet, water. Fairly simple and straight forward. However, I assume that most moms did NOT serve some bizarre warm stewed tomatoes with bread concoction alongside their pot roast…at least I don’t think they did. No one I know has ever even heard of this. So today, when I was making my own Pinterest version of pot roast, I did a little investigating about this tomato dish. Apparently it’s really a thing. I always thought my mom or grandma had made it up out of necessity: too many cans of tomatoes + too much stale bread = world’s most peculiar side dish.   Nope! It’s called Gobbledygook. Really. I found a recipe for it here. It’s a southern dish so I am not really sure how this Chicago based family got their hands on this strange recipe.  We make ours just a wee bit different but the idea is the same. Now, I have to say, this stuff is pretty damn good. It’s as simple as can be and just reminds me of my mom. Growing up, though, my mom was the only one who would eat it. I remember my sister eventually enjoying it but that was about it. The first time I made it for my husband he was more than a bit suspicious of this stuff. Last night, though, I could hardly get a second scoop before he polished it off.  An OJO tradition now a Bossenga tradition. So, to accompany my Pinterest Pot Roast (recipe found here), I give you the Ojo Stewed Tomatoes with Bread–apparently otherwise known as gobbledygook. Keep in mind, I’ve been trying to eliminate packets from the pantry entirely. That being said, I have created my own version of a ranch dressing packet and italian dressing packet using herbs and spices for the roast (I’ll have more about that soon). Although I did use a gravy packet, next time I will use some beef broth thickened with a little roux instead. Stewed Tomatoes with Bread 1-15 oz can diced tomatoes (can also use stewed or whole but will have to break them down while simmering) 3 tablespoons butter or margarine 3 tablespoons butter 2 slices white bread torn into pieces salt and pepper to taste Add all ingredients to a small sauce pan including the liquid from the tomatoes. Allow to simmer on low for 30-45 minutes. It will thicken while simmering. Be sure to break up the larger tomatoes while hearing through. This serves best with pot roast or roast beef

MONDAY MEMORY: Mother’s Day

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Yesterday was Mother’s Day. I thought that the day would see me curled up in a ball unable to speak or see through my tears. I was wrong. I was overjoyed at seeing all people at the 15th Annual Beverly Breast Cancer Walk in support of those surviving, battling, or taken by breast cancer. We had never walked as a family before. The day my mom had her second surgery, my brother mentioned that maybe we should walk this year. Then, just two weeks ago, my dad brought it up again. We got working to put together a team and logo. Yesterday, in a sea of pink, 19 crisp white t-shirts with a beautiful butterfly and the words FIGHT STRONG stood out from the rest. Those were the people walking in honor, memory, and celebration of my mom, Debra McKenna…Grandma to some, GramCrackers to a special little one.  My mom’s familiar signature saying Love, Mom took my breath away when I first saw it.  I just felt her with me.

We gathered together in the early sun hugging and saying I love you.  We told stories that made us laugh until we teared up.  Yesterday, I didn’t let one sad tear drop.  Perhaps I had cried them all in the days prior to Mother’s Day.  Many tears fell  when thinking about my mom and all the things that were left unsaid, unseen, and unknown.  Then my sister gave me a lovely necklace Saturday afternoon.  It is a set of guardian angel wings.  There is a little story with the necklace that says to make a wish before putting it on.  It is a reminder that you are never alone.  So yesterday when I was walking and saying hello to all the people I knew walking with me, I felt my mom all around.  She was walking, too.  Although on her walk, I am sure it was snowing and she was wearing her Uggs.  She was beautiful and healthy and without pain.  She was smiling upon us all, amazed to see so many of her family and friends together in her honor.  She was getting ready to plant her summer flowers and count freckles on her grand babies.  She was happy and so was I.

 

 

MONDAY MEMORY: I Rolled ‘Em Myself

It was our fourth date, the first meal I ever made for my new beau.  I slaved all day Thursday making my mom’s spaghetti and meatballs.  Everyone loved her sauce and I was certain that by making it, he was going to fall in love with me!  The night before, as I was finishing up cooling the big pot, I casually asked him while chatting on the phone what he had for dinner.  Imagine my heart sinking when he told me spaghetti.  I was devastated.  It was one of the few dishes in my repertoire that I was confident I could get right.  I had to go to plan B–lemon chicken.  It turned out delicious but didn’t have the impact I’m sure the spaghetti would have had.

Flash forward several months when I made spaghetti and meatballs again.  It was a HIT.  My guy declared it better than his grandma’s–SORRY GRAM!  He asked me if the meatballs were homemade because they were really, rEALLY good. I looked him dead in the eye and said, “I rolled ’em myself!”  See…this was my mom’s secret recipe.  I’m not sure if it was passed down over generations, but I can tell you my sisters and I all make the meatballs the exact same way.  And now, I’ll share that secret with you:  2 pounds of S&T meatball mix…then roll ’em yourself and toss into the sauce.  The cat’s out of the bag.  We don’t actually MIX the meatballs–we just roll them.  The premixed, spiced and seasoned meat makes the perfect addition to your red sauce.  This stuff is seriously amazing.  My sister and I have even talked about forming into burgers and serving it on garlic toast.  They are really THAT good.

It wasn’t until about 4 or 5 months ago that I finally came clean to my now hubby.  I’m sure he always wondered why I could ONLY buy my meat for meatballs at S&T. I could never make the recipe without planning WAY ahead to go to the old neighborhood to grab the beloved meatball mix.  I told him it was just something about the way they ground the beef/pork mixture.  I didn’t exactly lie…but I did omit the part where they did all the hard work!

After mom passed away, spaghetti and meatballs would be the first meal we ate together as a family.  My sister prepared the sauce and rolled the meatballs herself.  It was just as we had all remembered.  Mom never wrote the recipe down.  And as I’ve talked to my sisters, she may have made it a tiny bit differently each time…so I’m sure our recipes differ just a little. But Mom and I made it together many times over the almost year my husband and I lived there.  This is the recipe I remember.  The taste is perfection.  It’s a sweeter sauce, thinner than some others you may have had.  It takes only about 10-15 minutes to toss together.  The longer it simmers the more delicious it gets.  I’ve been known to make it the day before then add the raw meatballs and sauce to the crockpot the morning of.  It’s an extremely cost effective meal to serve to a large family–which is why I’m sure we had it so often.

It will forever be the first family recipe I remember learning.  It’s the taste of my childhood.  Just the smell of onions and garlic bring me back to the house on Ridgeway–walking in after school to discover our favorite meal was being served: homemade spaghetti and meatballs–where the McKenna women roll ’em themselves.

 

Mom’s Spaghetti Sauce

 

2 medium or 3 small onions finely chopped

3-4 cloves garlic pressed or chopped

2-3 tablespoons olive oil

1-15 ounce can tomato puree

1-29 ounce can tomato paste

¾ paste can of water

1-29 ounce puree can of water

1 tablespoon salt

¼ cup sugar

2 tablespoons dried basil

2-3 dry bay leaf

2 pounds S&T meatball mix

 

  1. Heat oil on medium-high heat.

  2. Add onion and garlic.

  3. Sauté until onion is translucent but not burned (if garlic has burned you must start over).

  4. Add the tomato paste and mix it into the onions and garlic until fragrant (about a minute or so).

  5. Add ¾ of the paste can filled with water and stir until well combined.

  6. Add tomato puree and a tomato puree can of full of water.

  7. Add sugar, salt, basil, and bay.

  8. Allow to simmer as long as possible on LOW stirring to avoid burning.

  9. Adjust seasonings (salt, sugar, and basil).

  10. Serve over pasta.

  11. If you want to add meatballs, roll 2 pounds of S&T Meatball Mix and add to the sauce raw.

  12. Allow to simmer until cooked through—at least an hour.