chocolate + paper + scissors


In love with paper + change is a-comin'

To my dear and patient readers...

In case you haven’t noticed, I haven’t written a new post since May of this year.

My sweet mother informed me last week that she is tired of “The Perfect Pancake, Edited.” She keeps asking when I will have a new post published. (Her question reminds me of one of my favorite parts of the movie “Julie and Julia” when her mother tells her “I think I’m your only reader.”)

Mom, thank you for always supporting me and being a faithful reader.

I also want to thank my lovely friend Kirsten, who lives in Atlanta, Georgia. She is always so generous in her compliments about my blog thoughts – and deserves a royal shout-out.

When school let out for the summer, the little personal time I had was spent on a few freelance projects. And, since July, I’ve been taking some time off from social media altogether. (Gasp – I know! This is especially ironic since I took an amazing social media marketing course from Media Bistro this summer.)

We vacationed in Oregon for two weeks in July – and this trip was the perfect excuse to completely unplug. Only I haven't full-heartedly plugged back in yet.

The strange thing about unplugging from Twitter (my favorite social media tool), reading blogs around the clock and frequently listening to podcasts is that my mind has rested a bit. I’ve also rekindled my romance – or obsession – with paper. I’ve been able to slow down, enjoy much more presence with my family, gain some clarity. And, I have decided to refocus my content on Chocolate, Paper and Scissors for you, my readers.

Re-launch plans coming soon.

Thank you for all of your support!


The Simple-but-Perfect Pancake, Edited.

For the last week, I have been under the weather. And when I have a cold, the only thing I want to eat is breakfast foods all the time. They represent comfort. And as for anything with eggs, the spiciest salsas can be added to help me, well, breathe! (Bless you, cayenne pepper and Tabasco.) Last night, at a dinner for my daughter's end-of-season t-ball party, I ordered migas and hashbrowns for dinner. And they hit the spot! Sure wish I had those right now.

Lately, my daughter has been on a pancake jag, too - and requests them every day. Although I try to save pancakes and homemade chocolate milk for our Saturday morning ritual, I have been known to make some extra flapjacks and freeze them, since she loves them. This morning, unfortunately, I came up short. So, a bread and butter sandwich was our less-than-fun substitute.

I'd like to share an old post about "The Simple but Perfect Pancake," based on a recipe from King Arthur Flour. And, this past Saturday, I noticed that I've changed my version up a bit, so I think I'll share this, too.

Our Recent Saturday Morning Simple-but-Perfect Pancake:
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 1/4 cups 2% milk
  • 3 tablespoons Canola oil
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 cups King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon ground flaxseed
  • 1 tablespoon wheat germ
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 cup malted milk powder
  • Frozen blueberries or chocolate chips to drop onto the poured pancakes (while on griddle)
Feel free to review the cooking directions if you need a refresher on making good pancakes. Mixing all of the wet and dry ingredients separately, then combining them at the end, is an easy way to start things.

King Arthur always teaches me a thing or two on how to be a better baker. In my opinion, they are the masters at baking! (I have a real crush on that King Arthur...)

As for making "homemade" chocolate milk, here's what makes a good, rich cup of chocolate milk at our house:

8 ounces of cold milk
2 tablespoons of cocoa powder
2 tablespoons of organic cane sugar

Blend in a blender until thick and creamy. Guaranteed to make little ones and daddies smile.

May be a good night for pancakes + chocolate milk for dinner!


The Royal Laundry

One of those things that doesn't go away, laundry has been on my mind this week. So, I thought it appropriate to bring up an old post on laundry and the peace it can bring us. I figure I can either dread laundry every week or come to terms with this recurring part of life.

I'm trying not to fall behind like I did a couple of weeks ago, which led to doing massive amounts last week. But - one of my favorite things about doing loads of laundry is that I get to have quiet, put-order-back-in-our-family's-world time while doing so. While my little ones are sleeping, I fold their tiny shorts and colorful leggings while catching up on my favorite recorded television shows. (I usually do this when my husband is busy so I'm not leaving him out of the picture!)

Last week, I recorded and watched virtually every biography I could find on the Royal Wedding.

And, last week, despite a busy schedule for our family, I accidentally became obsessed with the Royal Wedding. But - I got a heck of a lot of laundry done while learning about Catherine Middleton's high school. And the potential designers for her dress. And how her parents run their own business. And how Kate and Will lived together before getting married.

My favorite part about watching the actual wedding was my children's commentating on the event, with comments such as:

"Mommy, she is looking at me. She is looking at me!! Me!!" (my daughter) and "Mommy, that pincess es boot-i-ful!" (my son).

We ran the highlights for Daddy on Saturday. And on Sunday, I had to finish watching a documentary on the Biography channel, "Will and Kate: A Love Story."

As I told my husband, "I have questions - and these shows give me the answers I need. Now I have closure." Now I can close this fun, beautiful chapter and move on. (And for this, I'm sure my husband is a tiny bit relieved.)

So, a lovely congratulations to the new Duke and Duchess of Cambridge!

(And congratulations to me for coming close to finishing our laundry.)


Shaping their world

I am the mother of a girl and a boy; a kindergartener and a toddler; an intense, always-in-charge big sister and an easy-going, just-happy-to-be-here-with-my-sister baby brother (unless she takes one of his toy cars – then everything breaks loose).

And when I’m having a day when I’m not quite feeling like myself, when I’ve had a late night, or when I feel more drained than usual, it’s not just me who is affected. It’s my babies. My sweet, impressionable sponge-like babies, five and two, who absorb every word and bit of energy I exude, be it negative or positive.

This is the part of parenthood I was not prepared for.

When my children were tiny babies, and I was a bit tired, I could shuffle it away for a while. But, now are they are a little older and are more aware of the world. My sweet, fair-skinned girl is a wise, independent force to be reckoned with who has a calendar busier than mine, and my little boy is a gentle soul who is exploring the world of demanding, bossy toddlers. Some days, as much as I love spending time with them, I’ve found myself more drained than ever. When my energy is low, I feel like I can’t be the mother I need to be.

I'm reminded that I need to take care of myself and refill my cup - which takes discipline sometimes!

For me, refilling my cup can only come through prayer and self-care. I have to love myself - take care of myself - so that I can love these children with my words, actions and my listening. So I can be truly present with them. So I can show them what it means to be a good listener and an unconditionally loving mommy. And an encourager in a sometimes critical, hurried world.

I’ve also found it’s important to take time as a parent to reflect on our children and their beautiful qualities, all unique to each child. Otherwise, I find I tend to focus only on what my challenges were for the day, be it discipline issues, manners (or lack thereof), messiness, nap protesting, screaming in the house (or in my ear), pestering a sibling, etc.

A few things I like to do:

Marvel at their photos and wonder - who are these sweet souls?

Wonder who will they become as adults...

Think about what about them I adore or admire...

Recall how they made me smile or laugh...

Or, find something I learned from them.

On days when I feel distant, I try to pull myself back into their world by looking at the world with their precious, new eyes. The bus my daughter rides to school seems like any other bus I’ve seen, but this morning, when I knelt down to kiss her goodbye, I noticed how giant the yellow bus really is. And how huge the towering tree above the bus stop is.

When you’re only five and two, this world is giant – and I feel like it’s my job to lead them through this busy world with rose-colored glasses – to see the beauty and magic and mystery we are given – and not the negative, the tired, the hurried, or the grumpy.

We're not perfect - we're parents. And this journey is a work in progress!

How do you like to bring color to your child's world?


Half-birthdays + whole chocolate cakes

Last week we had an extra-special day: Wednesday was our son’s official half-birthday! He is officially on his way to turning three in October, which is hard for me to digest, given I still think of him as our tiny baby boy. I told someone the other day that I think I will still be carrying him on my hip when he’s fourteen.

I hope I will never forget the constant plea of “Mama, ho me up! Ho me up!"

My daughter, who is five and a half (who may have a future in event planning), said upon returning from school that afternoon, “Mommy! We need to bake him a cake. Let’s do chocolate!” And, we fixed the kid’s favorite dinner – meatballs + mashed potatoes. Total comfort food. Yum.

After we got the cake in the oven, sweet girl agreed to help clean up the playroom (also our den) while I cooked dinner. And before I knew it, the playroom was spotless, there were name tags on placemats, fun plates at the table and bubbles at each place setting. It was a perfect way to celebrate our Bubby.

Following dinner: “Cake! Cake!”

I give King Arthur full credit for this Devil’s Food Cake recipe. I’ve made this several times already – but this time I baked it in a 9x13 pan and didn’t use icing to keep things simple.

This is such an easy recipe – there is no need for a box cake when you can put this together so quickly! We had some canned icing in the fridge, so everyone got a schmear of icing on their slice – but I liked that we could control the portion of the icing (since my husband and daughter would really prefer to eat a can of icing, sans cake). Although I prefer homemade icing, personally, convenience wins some days.

It works well as a snack cake, too, without the icing, and even – yes, a breakfast bread. Adding chocolate chips before warming up a slice adds a nice dimension, too.

I made this for my birthday last year and for our son’s second birthday this year. I suppose this is becoming a family staple recipe, which I love.

"Does a half birthday mean a half slice of cake?," Sister asked.



Spring Art at the Park:

A perfect Saturday afternoon: sunshine, precious little hands crafting creations, beautiful artists, people-watching, art and life imitating each other like old friends.


Simple + healthy breakfast ideas

One of my favorite things about the morning is that it brings us a fresh, new beginning, nutritionally. If we don’t feel we put enough good things in our body today, we can always begin again tomorrow. And that starts with breakfast.

I am a breakfast nut! I’m pretty thoughtful about the nutrition balance I create for my family. Since I am in charge of our meals each day, my goal is for each of us to have a balance of grain + protein + fruit + dairy at breakfast.

A girlfriend of mine asked me last week what I feed our little ones for breakfast, which reminded me that I need a go-to list to choose from so I don't have to reinvent the wheel each week.

Here are some simple things that work for our family, including my (sometimes particularly choosy yet precious-with-sleepy-morning-eyed) babies, 5 and 2.

Smoothie – blueberries/yogurt (our daughter called it "yogie" as a toddler, so it stuck!), juice, flax (this recipe is a favorite - simple and delicious.)

Biscuits or English muffin +turkey or veggie sausage sandwich, fruit (berries are quick and easy) + milk

Fruity yogie + toast

Toast/butter/jelly + turkey bacon/turkey sausage/egg

Granola bars + yogie + fruit

Instant oatmeal (I add flaxseed, wheat germ, milk and applesauce – no one knows this.)

Turkey bacon cooked in the microwave

Edamame (shelled/salted)

Frozen soy breakfast patties – Morningstar Farms

Pancakes/waffles (Sometimes I'll make a large batch on the weekend). My new favorite pancake is the Banana Brownie Waffle batter from the Meal Makeover Moms. Indulgent and healthy!

Muffins, fruit + milk

Whole-grain cinnamon bread with cream cheese + fruit

Frozen waffles + berries + milk

Egg/cheese/salsa breakfast tacos

Breakfast casserole (made on a weekend)

Quick scrambled eggs in a coffee mug in the microwave: my new favorite thing for quick weekday eggs! (I often use these to make fast breakfast tacos.)

1. Grease a large coffee mug (I use canola oil).

2. In a small bowl, scramble 2-3 eggs, a splash of milk, a big pinch of cheese.

3. Place into the mug and heat on high for 2-3 minutes (try one minute per egg).

4. Enjoy!

Sweet bread baked during the weekend or Monday: zucchini bread, gingerbread, pumpkin bread or banana bread.

Mmm...makes me wish it was breakfast again! I suppose it will be here soon enough.

What are your favorites easy breakfast staples?


Babies, Love and Fruit.

Hi everyone! I’m happy to let you know that I’m sharing a recipe with you today, as it feels like it’s been a while since I’ve talked about food. (And posted something new.)

Lately, I feel like I’ve been up to my elbows in food, which I love. I’ve been trying lots of new recipes for our family – some hits, some misses. I cooked for some parties hosted at our home, leaning on a local French bakery for their amazing and scrumptious baked goods (and learned that it feels good to celebrate and serve local pastries). And, as I write this, I am finishing off a box of artisan dark chocolates from Valentine’s Day from my mother, known more these days as “Gran” to my children, who still makes me feel like the most special girl in the world. As I tell my children:

I love my mommy very much!

And, speaking of mommies, shall we talk about baby shower food?

On Saturday, February 19, after a fun week of hugs, kisses, paper valentines and chocolate, myself and two girlfriends (who are both remarkable ladies) from church honored and celebrated our sweet friend Elizabeth and her expectant son #2, due on April 1. Elizabeth and Baby Charlie had a lovely time at the brunch, relaxing, chatting and eating (as Charlie was wiggling and kicking!).

My favorite part was talking with amazing, wise, beautiful women, all very different, who are inspiring in many ways. It was a perfect way to spend a Saturday morning, celebrating a special friend and new life.

Everyone enjoyed munching on these giant elephant sugar cookies with a cup of coffee.

Along with some traditional breakfast casseroles and some beautiful goat cheese and leek quiche, prepared by fellow hostess Jennifer, I decided to try an Ina Garten recipe that I’ve had in my notebook for years for oven-roasted fruit. It was a hit – and was very tart, sweet, comforting and filling. It’s the perfect way to end a savory brunch menu (along with the cookies, of course).

Oven-Roasted Fruit by Ina Garten

(Below recipe from the Food Network)nocoupons

  • 6 peaches, pitted and cut into quarters or eighths
  • 6 plums or Italian prune plums, pitted and quartered or halved
  • 1/2 cup sugar (although you could reduce this or use a natural sweetener)
  • 2 cups fresh raspberries (thawed frozen cherries also work well)
  • 2 tablespoons orange juice

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.

Place the peaches and plums snugly in a single layer, cut side up, in 2 glass or porcelain oven-proof baking dishes. Sprinkle with the sugar, and then top with the raspberries. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until tender.

Heat the broiler and place the fruit about 5 inches below the heat and broil for 5 to 8 minutes, until the berries release some of their juices.

Remove from the broiler and sprinkle with orange juice. Serve warm, at room temperature, or chilled.

I hope you're enjoying the early days of March. Spring and brunch always feel like a good pair.

What is your favorite brunch dish?


Love is:

I wish you a lovely week!


Thoughts for this week: Unplugging

I just shut down my browser windows – and now it’s just me and a word-processing document, staring at each other. Hmm.

It’s awfully lonely here on my computer. Maybe I’ll just read one more blog. Doh! (Distracted again!)

Some days I find that I’m either listening to podcasts on my iPod, on the phone with a friend, talking to my children, checking my phone for e-mail, tweets and texts, browsing my favorite blogs, commenting and tweeting…and when I start feeling really fragmented, I realize that I need to stop.

Stop for just one minute.

These are all good things – but I’m trying to do too much.

Have you been there before?

Multi-tasking and being connected via technology are important – vital, even. As a mom who works at home and has two young children, I am thankful for being connected to some amazing online communities. But am I managing my connectedness – or is it managing me?

When I’m working, writing, I try to disconnect from everything distracting and keep things quiet, both literally and mentally. If I listen to music, I try only to listen to instrumental music – something soft and calm to help me streamline my thoughts. (I have a very wise friend named Kim who only writes to instrumental music – her favorite is jazz.) Classical music, and feeling centered, makes me a very happy writer.

How do you reach a state of happy focus?

I also try (try) to close down every program on my computer except for the document on which I am working. This means: no browsers (no blogs and no Twitter), no e-mail, no spreadsheets, no photo galleries, for too many of these good things lead me down what I call the “path of distraction.” This practice takes discipline.

But do you ever have days when quiet – or disconnecting - feels uncomfortable? I do. And when I do, it’s a wake-up call for me that I’ve been filling my ears with too many sounds, voices, chatter, and even tweets – and that I need to unplug completely. It’s as if being connected all the time becomes an addiction.

When I unplug, I’m able to hear my own voice. I’m able to remember my own thoughts. And feelings. My dislikes. What I agree with. What I think is amazing. And what I believe is lovely. I am returned to peace – because it’s quiet.

Unplugging becomes a spiritual experience that refills my cup – and places me where I need to be.

How do you unplug?


Recipe: Erin Erle's Gingerbread

Hello on this cozy, cold, rainy Thursday in Texas. Things aren't as cold as last week, but there’s still a good chill in the air. Days like today make me think of only one dessert that’s just as cozy: gingerbread.

I’ve always loved gingerbread and other “spicy” baked goods – they taste like comfort to me. My mom used to make gingerbread on special occasions when I was a little girl – so it was extra special! In my adult years, though, I gravitated toward cookies because I thought they would be easier and more festive. In 2003, I came across a Martha Stewart recipe for Chewy Chocolate- Gingerbread cookies – and they were delicious, spicy and decadent. This recipe always helped me cure my gingerbread fix. I've also found a recipe for gingerbread pancakes by King Arthur that is equally yummy and a quick way to make gingerbread.

A few years ago, after my husband’s aunt Mary Frank (who was like his grandmother) passed away, a few of her recipes were shared with his large family as a way to celebrate her the first Thanksgiving we were without her. When we saw her recipes, we were all touched - and felt she was with us! It gives me great pleasure to share a gingerbread recipe from her collection with you today, as it’s a tribute to this special steel magnolia. A matriarch of a family with deep roots in a small Texas town, Mary Frank was known for miles for her southern cooking and her giving spirit. My husband still believes that no one can make sweet tea like Mary Frank!

Taken from one of her many church cookbooks, this gingerbread recipe I’d like to share originally came from her good friend Erin Erle, whom I don’t know, but I’m certain she was a special lady if she was close friends with Mary Frank.

I’ve changed a few things to make the recipe a bit healthier, but these tweaks don't change the taste. My apologies on not featuring a photo – I suppose we eat it before I can get it on camera! (I did include a photo of a finished pan of gingerbread and a special ingredient I like to eat with the pan scrapings, however.)

Erin Erle’s Gingerbread

2 eggs

1 cup Grandma’s Molasses

1 cup sugar (or sucanat, organic unrefined sugar)

1 cup canola oil

1 cup buttermilk (or 1 cup milk + 1 tablespoon vinegar; let sit for 10 minutes)

2 cups whole wheat flour (white flour works fine, too)

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon ginger

4 teaspoons cinnamon

½ teaspoon salt

1 cup of chocolate chips (optional but delicious)

Mix all ingredients well - I like to mix the wet ingredients and dry ingredients separately, then combine at the end. Pour into a greased pan…bake at 350 degrees for:

13x9 = 35 minutes

Bundt pan = 45 minutes

Muffins = 15 minute

After cooling, sprinkle with powdered sugar if desired.

It’s lovely as a breakfast bread, a snack, a dessert; with tea, coffee, milk, peanut butter, whipped cream, and even Nutella. But it’s best when it’s right out of the oven.

When my daughter comes home to the smell of freshly baked gingerbread, her big, beautiful smile stretches from ear to ear. That smile, along with my little man’s chant, “Ginga-bed! Ginga-bed!” are my favorite comforting things about this recipe!

Happy baking!


Intentional Nutrition

This past holiday season, my neighbor and I were chatting about cooking, nutrition and the types of food we feed our families. She was excited about her new blender and about giving her twin boys smoothies for breakfast. What a great idea!

She also mentioned that she would love my guidance on her family’s nutrition and some help on improving things – via recipes, menus or other resources.

I was flattered! Nutrition and the idea of teaching others about making better choices is very inspiring - like a giant puzzle! I'm looking forward to helping her - and I bet she'll find she knows more than she thinks.

In the meantime, I must say that I am no nutrition professional. I am not a registered dietitian. And, as I often say, I’m not a purist! But, I am a mother of two growing, hungry little ones - and I usually cook three meals a day. And good nutrition + a good grocery bill are two key priorities in our family.

There are tons of amazing individuals like the Meal Makeover Moms, Lindsay at Passionate Homemaking and Tsh at Simple Mom/Simple Bites who inspire me each day – and for whom I am so grateful. Many days, I crave inspiration - and these ladies always provide it. They are just a few individuals in the giant online world of those who celebrate food and nutrition.

Last New Year’s Eve, when having dinner with some friends, I had a chat with a friend about his nutrition. He shared that he eats terribly – and eats out a lot. My reply was simple: if you want your car to run at peak performance, what would you put into it? I tried reminding him that we are in charge of what we put into our bodies – no one else is.

I shared with him my personal feeling that eating well means putting good things in – not just removing the bad. Regarding diets – and this is my own personal opinion – they don’t work! I also shared with him my passion of thinking of eating as a proactive means of nurturing our bodies – and not punishing ourselves by doing without certain foods. You can enjoy many different foods every day by eating in moderation with a diverse menu. Let us celebrate good food!

One of the main reasons I enjoy cooking at home so much is that it gives me much peace to know that my family is consuming good food, and I am intentional with our nutrition. When we go out to dinner, or when my daughter sometimes buys her lunch at school, I have no idea what we’re eating. As a control freak in the kitchen, I find this completely unsettling.

For our family, for both financial and nutritional reasons, we’ve chosen to eat out only on the weekends, which usually consists of Saturday evening and possibly Sunday lunch.

I love this routine because I try to roughly plan our meals for the week. And I know almost exactly what we’re consuming because I cooked the meals. This process works best for us.

Let's cut to the chase. Here are five random questions to spark some intention:

  1. Do you read the ingredients of any packaged foods you purchased this week?
  2. Do you have a menu plan for this week?
  3. Did you buy your lunch today, or did you make it yourself?
  4. How many fruits and veggies have you eaten today?
  5. How many healthy beverages have you consumed today?

What is one step you could take next week to be more intentional with your nutrition?

Looking forward to hearing your thoughts.

Have a lovely weekend!


Getting things down on paper

Happy New Year! Welcome to your clean slate, your blank canvas: 2011.

It feels really good to say that after packing away our Christmas decorations. I’ll admit that putting everything away is always bittersweet; my daughter was disappointed to come home from school on Tuesday to find a tree-less home (me, too – I miss the smell, especially!). But – she does seem to be excited about the new year and being back with her friends at school. And that is a great thing.

Last year was a special year – and despite the few health issues that came up in our family, I am happy and blessed to say that we are all healthy. We mourned with dear friends who suffered loss – but were inspired by their strength. We were able to visit with precious friends from afar and make new friends nearby. We helped welcome new babies to the world! We also started a new journey as a family with our daughter's beginning kindergarten. Her two year-old brother has also begun to find his voice and his place in this great big world. Thank you, 2010, for so many experiences and lessons. (And, thanks to the lovely Katie Brown for reminding me to thank 2010!)

Alas, let us turn our eyes to a new energy for the new year!

Isn’t a new start a fresh, comforting feeling? Each time I’ve thought of the new year this week, I keep visualizing a beautiful vase of bright yellow daisies – even though we’re in the heart of winter. Fun, creative energy, renewal, new dreams and goals (and hot chocolate) – all special things for this time of year.

On the morning of New Year’s Day, while the kids watched their morning program, I took a few minutes while standing at the kitchen counter with a cup of hot tea and my two notebooks. So many thoughts came rushing to my mind that I could barely capture them in time! I didn’t realize I had so many thoughts that needed a safe place to land.

I always keep two small notebooks with me at all times – one is my to-do list, and the other is a small journal where I keep my ideas, thoughts, wishes, dreams – which may eventually get to my to-do list! This week, they’ve been drawing lots of thoughts and ideas from me, and for this, I’m grateful.

These ideas on paper have revealed to me that I definitely have a few concrete, key personal priorities to focus on, including:

  • Improving time management/my relationship with time
  • Making more time for creative projects
  • Maintaining a good (yet realistic) health regime to have more energy for my myself (and thus our family)
  • Intentionally surrounding myself (and family) with more visual beauty in our home

It’s really amazing how a blank sheet of paper can literally pull thoughts from your mind.

Have you tried this lately?

When you have a free moment, try keeping a small pad of paper or index card nearby (or in your pocket) to record your thoughts. If you don’t have a free moment (understandable), when you think of something while you’re working, cooking, playing with your children – write it down.

You’ll be very glad you did! I bet you’ll be surprised at everything that comes to mind.

On a housekeeping note, in the spirit of being more honest with myself and my abilities, I’ve decided to post once a week. I’m hoping to sprinkle in some recipes and nutrition tips, too, as I have many I’d like to share.

Looking forward to more of 2011 with you!