Friday, February 26, 2010

Grams Made Tortilla Soup

This quick and easy recipe is from my daughter Katy. It's the best tortilla soup recipe I've ever tasted.

2 large boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 can chicken broth
1 can beef broth
1 medium onion, chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
1 jalapeno, seeded and minced
2 garlic cloves, minced or pressed
1 Tablespoon olive oil
1 large can diced tomatoes
1 can Rotel tomatoes and green chiles, diced
1 can whole kernel corn (optional)
1 small can tomato paste
1 can tomato soup
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon lemon-pepper seasoning
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce

Crushed tortilla chips
Grated cheddar cheese
Sour cream
Fresh squeezed lime juice
Diced avocado

Poach chicken breasts in chicken broth and beef broth for 20 minutes or until firm. Remove breasts from broth. Reserve broth.

Remove meat from bones and shred or chop. Set aside.

Sauté onion, peppers, and garlic in oil until tender. Add chicken breasts and remaining ingredients, including broth.

When ready to serve, ladle soup into individual serving bowls and add lime juice, grated cheese, avocado, and tortilla chips to taste.

Friday, February 19, 2010

The Princess is One

On Saturday, February 20, Our Little Princess will be one year old. I can't believe a year has gone by already. Here is the story of her first amazing year as she might tell it.
My name is Ezra Allison White. I arrived in the world in San Antonio, Texas around 5 in the afternoon on February 20, 2009. The doctor was very surprised that I weighed a healthy 9 pounds 3 ounces. As you can see, I looked gorgeous as soon as they cleaned me up and let me cuddle up with Mama.

Mama and Daddy were very happy to see me. Okay, I don't know why Mama seemed so tired, I think she must have had a hard day. They were delighted that I was a beautiful, healthy baby girl.

All my grandparents were happy to meet me. Grams and Grandad were over the moon with happiness because I am their first grandchild.

Auntie Marie and Uncle Nick came to see me as fast as they could get from Houston to San Antonio. I had lots of visitors at the hospital. Some of my new cousins brought me this handmade hat that Uncle Nick is modeling. I have to say that my Uncle Nick is hilarious. He always makes me laugh.

A couple of days later, when I went home for the first time, Daddy took my first portrait and I met Minnie. Minnie watches over me and as soon as I learn to throw the ball, I think she'll really like me. Minnie makes me laugh at least as much as Uncle Nick.

Compared to my former living quarters, my new home seems so big and bright. By the time I was one month old, I was bright-eyed and interested in everything that was going on around me. Mom and Dad made sure my room is beautiful. It's painted a pretty blue color and there are birds that hang right over my bed. I love to sit in my great-grandmother's rocking chair that Daddy painted just for my room.

Mama and Daddy take me lots of places, almost everywhere. There is so much to do and see and they're really good at showing me new things. I know I can depend on them to show me how things work.

In the summer my big sister Mady came to stay. She was very handy to have around and helped Mama and Daddy take care of me. She's a great big sister and I can't wait to see her again. Mady and Daddy let me play video games with them. I'm pretty sure I'll be able to beat them by next summer.

I found my toes but wasn't quite sure what they were for. So I tried out a few different things. For a while I used them to hold my bottle. They also were a pretty good pacifier and kind of tasty. Now that I'm walking I know exactly what they're for. Last Sunday, I got to squish them in the sandbox for the first time. I really liked that!

Grams introduced me to two of her favorite things ... Starbucks and shopping. She loves to take me shopping and make dresses for me, but for some reason she won't let me have any coffee. It sure smells good though.

I must admit, I've had a few issues with my hair, but I think they're finally under control. Aunt B says I need some product. I'm sure she'll help me with it as soon as I get a little bit more hair.

My Mom dresses me quite fashionably. Some days I feel like a Barbie doll. Here are a few samples of my wardrobe. No matter what I wear, Grams thinks I look fabulous! By the way, I chose the tutu myself. I would wear it every day if Mom would let me.

Late in the summer, Mom and Dad took Mady to see Phantom of the Opera in Houston. Noni came too and we stayed with Uncle Nick. Uncle Nick babysat for the first time and it was so much fun. I made a dirty diaper just for him to change. You might notice in the picture that Uncle Nick wore rubber gloves when he changed my diaper. I told you he was hilarious!

My Aunt Catherine and Uncle Chad had a beautiful wedding last fall and I got to go. Grams and Grandad took care of me while Mama, Dad and Mady participated in the wedding. Grams made me this fabulous dress to wear. I think Mom and I looked beautiful.

There was so much to do and so many people to meet. I've already been to Gruene Hall with Uncle Mack, Aunt B and my cousin Eric and his son Jonathan. Uncle Charlie and Aunt Sandy were there too. I met some of my cousins and my great-great aunts and uncles at the Valenta Family Reunion in Corn Hill. My Great-Grandma Ruthie was there too. It was so much fun. But it wasn't all sunshine and roses this year; shortly after the reunion I got sick and had to be hospitalized; but I'm all better now.

On Christmas Eve we went to Great-Grandma Ruthie's house. All of Mom's aunts and uncles and cousins were there. We opened presents with Grams and Grandad on Christmas morning and then we went back to San Antonio and had Christmas Day with Dad's family. Christmas was so much fun. I hope we do it again next year.

Mama and Daddy love music and so do I. When Dad plays his guitar, I accompany him on the hand drum. And I really like singing Itsy-Bitsy Spider with Mama.

As you can see, my first year has been very busy. Mom and Dad had a little birthday party for me last weekend. My Noni came all the way from Louisiana and Grams and Grandad came from Corpus Christi. Of course, Uncle Nicky and Auntie Marie came from Houston. They gave me my first pair of cowboy boots. I ate my first piece of chocolate cake, which I shared with Uncle Nick and Grandad. I got so many new toys and clothes. I especially liked the shredded green paper that was in one of the bags.

So my first year has been fun. I don't know if I'm a "baby genius" or not, but I'm learning a lot and everyone is expecting great things from me. I know whatever happens in my life ... I'm going to be great ... because so many people love and support me, especially Mom and Dad.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Grams Made Coconut Chess Pie

This is one of my "go-to" recipes. It's delicious and travels well. It's the pie I take to family reunions and covered-dish dinners.

4 large eggs
2 teaspoons all-purpose flour
2 cups granulated sugar
1 stick margarine, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup milk
1 package (7 ounces) sweetened flaked coconut
2 pie shells (I use Pillsbury All-Ready Pie Crusts)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a large bowl, beat the eggs. Whisk in the flour and sugar. Whisk in the margarine, vanilla and milk. Whisk in the coconut. Pour filling into unbaked pie shells.

Bake until golden and the filling is set - 40 to 45 minutes.

Thanks to Rachel Ray for this recipe.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

So You Want To Be A Superstar

Grams has been working two or three days a week at our local middle school as a substitute teacher. I really enjoy spending time with the students who are 6th, 7th and 8th graders. (Okay, not so much enjoyment with the 6th graders; they should be caged!) The daily lesson plans keep them and me very busy and, as a sub, it's my job to keep them on task, but now and then there is a little time to just talk with them.

I love the opportunity to talk about what they like to do and their plans for the future. I've noticed that at this age the girls seem to have a much more realistic idea of what they may want to do in the future. (Although I actually had a girl tell me that she didn't need to learn science because she was going to marry a rich doctor. Grams responded that rich doctors marry smart girls.) The boys, almost to a person, want to be athletes. I have talked to a few who want to be engineers or doctors, but far and away the answers I get are NFL football player, NASCAR driver, NBA basketball player, professional skateboarder, etc. I always respond with what I hope is an encouraging word but I always follow up with advice that perhaps they should have a "plan b" in case that doesn't work out.

Grams would never want to dash anyone's dreams and I'm a big believer that, within reasonable limits, you can be anything you want to be if you are willing to put in the work. But that's the rub ... kid's don't get the "work" part. It's mystifying to me that in a society where kids idolize professional and Olympic athletes, they don't have a clue how hard those athletes work. This has been on my mind this week because Grandad and I have been spending our evenings watching the Olympic Games from Vancouver.

It's true that many of the top athletes lead a very glamorous lifestyle, but the amount of work they do to get there is amazing. Grams spent a little bit of time researching the diet and workout regimes of Olympic athletes. Here's what I've discovered. A typical workout day is something like this ... thirty minutes of stretching and conditioning ... three hours of running ... three hours of weight training or body weight training (like push ups and pull ups) ... stretching again and spending time in hot or cold tubs. Note that the typical Olympic athlete spends seven to eight hours a day just on workouts and conditioning. At this point they haven't even worked on their particular sport. All this time is just preparing their body for their sport. After this they spend an additional three to four hours on their specific event, whether it's gymnastics or snowboarding. Being an Olympic-caliber athlete is a full-time job. And, I think it's important to note that most of these athletes start training at a very young age. This truly is their life's work.

And, in addition to all that working out, their diets are not enviable. They eat high protein, low-carb diets to maintain extremely low body fat levels. A typical breakfast might be eight egg whites with vegetables, then a lunch of salad with chicken or tuna, an afternoon snack of fruit, then high-protein low-carb dinner. (Very similar to my post-weight-loss-surgery diet, except they eat a much higher volume of food.) You won't find them noshing on nachos, burgers, or Oreos on a regular basis.

Grams is definitely in favor of encouraging the younger generation to dream big. But let's also temper those dreams with a dose of reality. Teach our kids that they must prepare for the future they dream of and for their far more likely future as another kind of hard-working American.

I'm all in favor of encouraging our children to be Olympic athletes. Shoni Davis, Shaun White, Lindsey Vonn, Apolo Ohno have certainly achieved their goals and may be great role models as far as their sports achievement go. And I can't imagine anything better than walking into opening ceremonies as a member of Team USA. You can follow the Vancover Olympics at their official web site.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Grams Made Baked Ziti

Everybody loves this easy Italian dinner. Just add a salad and you've got a delicious dinner. This recipe easily serves 6-8 people.

Coarse salt and ground pepper
8 ouces ziti rigate (or other short pasta)
1 cup part-skim ricotta
1 large egg, lightly beaten
3/4 cup finely grated Parmesan
1 cup shredded part-skim Mozzarella
1 can (24-26 ounces) crushed tomatoes

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Bring large pot of water to a boil and cook pasta until al dente, according to package instructions, drain and reserve.

In a small bowl, combine ricotta, egg, 1/4 cup Parmesan, and half of the Mozzarella; season with salt and pepper.

In the bottom of a shallow 2-quart casserole dish, spread half the tomatoes. Top with ziti, then ricotta mixture and remaining tomatoes. Sprinkle with remaining 1/2 cup Parmesan and remaining Mozzarella. Place casserole on a rimmed baking sheet and bake until top is browned and sauce is bubbling, 20-25 minutes.

Monday, February 8, 2010

I'm Not a Real Teacher

Grams has a new part-time job as a substitute teacher. First of all, let me just admit that I've always known I would love teaching...and so far I do.

I started last week with two days as a substitute for a "special ed inclusion" teacher at the intermediate school. Basically, that meant that I didn't have a class to handle. I went from class to class helping students who need a little extra attention, but always under the direction of another teacher. This was probably the perfect way for me to start out. I wasn't overwhelmed and I had lots of direction. And, if I had done it a few more days, eventually I might be able to do 5th grade math.

Today, I substituted for a middle school coach. Again, I wasn't alone most of the day, there was another coach handy who provided direction, advice and support. I had two classes of tennis players, one seventh grade and one eighth grade; I had four PE classes, mostly sixth graders. I enjoyed it a lot.

But I just can't resist the urge to share some of the excuses and comments I heard during the day. Some of these were so off the wall that it was hard not to laugh out loud. They're not direct quotes, they're just approximations as closely as I recall. I've also included my responses.
  1. Miss, I can't run this morning 'cause I stayed up 'til 2 a.m. This is not my problem; run anyway.
  2. I don't think I should have had a brownie for breakfast. I don't think so either, but you've still got to run.
  3. Miss, your name is too hard to say. Is it okay if we just call you Mrs. Valentine? Seriously, you can say Valentine, but you can't say Valenta?
  4. I can't run because I started my period and my mom said not to run. Did you bring a note? No, but Coach already knows. Coach is not here today. Get your PE clothes on.
  5. I can't run because I hurt my hand. Really, you run on your hands? Unless you have a note, get running.
  6. Coach always lets us sit in the bleachers while we dribble. First of all, I don't believe that and second, I'm not Coach. Get up and play basketball.
  7. Miss, I need to pee! (Shouted from the back of the crowd of 45 or so students.) Thank you for sharing with the class, you may go to the rest room.
  8. Miss, I forgot my clothes (from at least 2 students in each of the 4 PE classes.) These resulted in an explanation from me that failure to participate results in a 10-point deduction off of their six-week grade. Then they argued that if I were a "cool" substitute, I would not leave a note for their coach noting said failures. I'm so not a cool substitute.
Then there was a very lengthy explanation of something from one girl. I can not tell you what she was trying to explain in such great detail and with so much fervor or why she was explaining it to me, a lowly substitute. Seriously, I have no idea what she was trying to say or why she was trying to say it. It was actually after class was over and served no purpose whatsoever. I'm pretty sure my eyes glazed over at some point before I just sent her on to her next class.

I also overheard a student from the other class that shared the gym who, though she did dress out, did not participate in any of the team basketball games. When class was over she went up to the other coach and said "Miss, I don't know what team I'm on."

I would also like to point out that this school has a very strict dress code. Among other rules, all students are required to tuck in their shirts. This required me to stand at the locker room exit and remind them to tuck in their shirts. The response to this was, in most cases, a shoving in of only the front of the shirt right behind the belt buckle and that was it. Really, does that constitute tucking in a shirt?

Tomorrow, I will be teaching 7th grade science. Please God, no dissections.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Grams Made Reduced Sugar Forgotten Cookies

I have always loved meringue cookies. When I had to reduce the amount of sugar I eat, I was delighted to find this recipe. It's one of my personal favorites, because it doesn't taste like I'm giving up anything!

1/2 cup chopped walnuts
2 egg whites
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup SPLENDA® Sugar Blend for Baking
1/2 cup semisweet chocolate morsels

Preheat oven to 200 degrees.

Bake walnuts in a shallow pan, stirring occasionally, 5 minutes or until toasted. Set aside.

Beat egg whites and vanilla a high speed with an electric mixer until foamy.

Add Splenda Sugar Blend, 1 tablespoon at a time, beating until stiff peaks form; stir in walnuts and chocolate morsels.

Spoon rounded teaspoons of mixture on baking sheets lines with parchment paper.

Bake 2 hours. Cool slightly on cookie sheets. Remove to wire racks to cool completely. Store in an airtight tin.

(Be sure you use SPLENDA® Sugar Blend for Baking. It's a blend of pure sugar and SPLENDA® Brand Sweetener, which reduces the amount of sugar by one half but still gives you the qualities of sugar which are important for baking.)