Cooking 101 - Italian Country Soup

…or my version of Zuppa Toscana

Call me a nerd, but I love food and I love learning about the originations of the classic dishes we eat today.  (seriously, though, what is nerdy about food?!  It's anything but nerdy…I guess I'm not a nerd after all...)  Some fun facts I found:

Soup comes from the word "sop", in which you soak a piece of bread in broth or thick stew.  (sounds squishy)

The existence of soup dates back to about 20,000 B.C.  (truly an ancient food)

The earliest restaurant, meaning "restorning", {I love that.} started out in the 1600's as street vendors in France sold inexpensive, highly concentrated soup that served as a remedy for exhaustion.

Cool, huh?!  Soup has been, and always will be, one of mankind's finest comfort foods.

This particular soup must have been close to what might have been a staple for Italian, and even many other European countries.  These ingredients were/are basic staples in an Italian home.  This dish is basic, versatile, adaptable, and so very good!  It's easy to see how this could be considered a "restorative" meal.

Italian Country Soup

2 qts. (8 c.) chicken or vegetable broth
1 lb. Italian sausage (or any ground sausage works fine)
1 large 26 oz. can diced tomatoes, drained
1 onion, fine diced
3 garlic cloves, fine minced
6 c. diced red potatoes (I dice them smallish for my kids)
½ c. white wine  (can be omitted)
1 ½ tsp. salt
1 t. Italian seasoning
½ t. fresh ground black pepper
1 large, or 2 small zucchinis, diced
1-2 c. shredded & chopped kale, spinach, or both
½ c. heavy cream or half & half
1 T. olive oil

In a large stockpot, or your crockpot, add broth and tomatoes, and cook on low.

In a skillet, add olive oil and heat to medium.  Add onion and garlic, cook until beginning to soften.  Add ground sausage and cook until barely enough pink is left.  Add white wine and allow to simmer about 1 minute. Pour into stockpot.  

Add potatoes, Italian seasoning, and salt; cover and simmer on low for about 1 hour.  

Then, add the zucchini, cover and cook another 15 minutes.  You don't want the zucchini to be mushy, yet not crunchy, either.  Then, add the chopped kale or spinach (or both).  Cover and let the greens wilt for a few minutes.  Add heavy cream or half & half; season with salt & pepper.

Serve with your favorite rustic crusty bread, Parmesean cheese, and enjoy this ancient, restorative, delicious meal!  

I  always make my BFF Kadie's No-Fail French Bread to go with all of our soups - it's seriously delicious!! {I love you, Kadie…xoxoxo}  And it doesn't hurt that I make a double-batch & freeze it for later, take it over to a neighbor, or make Strawberry Stuffed French Toast. {GASP!} (and I promise to re-photograph those French toast pictures…OY!…sorry you had to see that...)
 It's really a win-win when you make this bread.

 You just can't go wrong here!

Have a Happy Day!


Busy, Happy, and did I mention busy?!

Kids, school, homework, music lessons, orthodontist appointments, drama rehersals, music practice, more homework, cleaning, laundry, cooking, cleaning, did I mention cleaning?, school parties, two birthdays, son broke a wrist, husband tore his knee to shreds, family nurse, pain management, chauffeur, exercise, and not enough sleep.  

Feeling SO blessed and so very happy!  :)

I know I could feel overwhelmed, this winter has been super eventful, but I just feel blessed.  I know someday that the chaos will slow down as the house gradually empties, so I try to enjoy and embrace all of the craziness.  Sometimes I shut myself in my room and take a breather, sometimes I take the time to read a good book.  I'm grateful for the help, seen and unseen, that I have been given.  

In the meantine….my sweet daughter is learning the art of embroidery.  {gasp!!!}  
She's so amazing and will make beautiful things of her own!!  I love nothing more than passing down these rare arts - our young girls need to learn hand sewing, crochet, knitting, and such.  We need to keep these beautiful traditions alive!

Baby Girl turned 4.  {sniff……hold me……}
Like every little girl all over the world, she's obsessed with Frozen, particularly Elsa.  She loves the frozeny-type and I think it's because she was born in the middle of winter in Michigan!!  haha.  She also likes characters with white-blonde hair and blue eyes like her.  :)  
Remember last year's Periwinkle birthday?  

Puh-recious.  Goodness, I love this crazy, fun, adorable little girl!
My heart is breaking because she is growing way too fast - faster than most kids, I think.

And….just because it was so stunning to me the other day….every evening, the sunlight comes through my living room window, creating a drippy, sunny glow.  I lived in the gray darkness for so long that it's still a novelty to have buttery-golden sunshine flood my home. It's something I look forward to every day!!  I am hoping that I never grow tired of it.  

Whelp…kids coming home soon, so I better get some more chores done!!  
Have a happy day, everyone!  I hope to post some fun projects soon!!!


Little Jars & Blossoms

Sometimes it's the little things that make life sweet.  And sometimes it's all we need.

Little pretties.  I rarely have fresh flowers in the house because I have a crazy little girl who does terrible things to fresh flowers.  However, I made an exception today.  These were just way too lovely not to bring them home with me.

 Would you believe that I got the jars and flowers at Safeway?!  Yep - who knew a spontaneous trip to the grocery store could yield such treasures?  I always love to look at the flowers there, but the jars just called to me....they literally called me over to them, made me touch them, and then they found their way into my cart.  What the?  That's crazy.  And wonderful!

It really was love at first sight. 

As always, I'm so thankful for the little things.

Have a happy day!!


Projects coming along

Although winter is SO much easier for me than ever before, living in Southern Arizona, I'm a little bit giddy that January is half over.  I don't really know why, either - I don't want time to hurry past me, but it seems like Spring and Summer have so much in store and I'm looking forward to it.

In the meantime, I saved some beautiful summer floral photos from last August and finally decided to edit a few of them and  make some photo art.  We were camping along the New Mexico/Arizona border with some family and I saw these teeny, tiny coral blooms.  They are probably weeds, but I thought they were gorgeous so I started zooming in and snapping.  You can't see how tiny the coral buds are since I blew up the photo so big, but the full bloom is smaller than a dime. 

I absolutely LOVE this print and someday, when I have larger walls to work with, I'll frame it.  In the meantime, I had it printed on foam core and used some Command adhesive to stick it up and it makes me SO happy!!  Beauty is all around us.

**  If you want a copy of this file, email me and let me know and I'll send it to you.  I can also send a blank photo and you can add your own text.  :)  **

 And....is there anything better than a sandwich on homemade bread?!  Well, probably so, but since I try not to eat bread very often, this was a rare moment that needed to be captured.  My kids LOVE it when I make homemade bread - I really should do it more often.

My newest venture - oil painting.  {what???!!!}   I've ALWAYS wanted to learn how to do it, so I signed up for a class here at our local community college.  I LOVE the instructor, she's so incredibly talented and fun to work with, and I'm having such a good time learning how to work with this type of painting style.  

If there's ever something you want to learn how to do, chances are that there is someone who can teach you.  You just have to make it happen.  It's hard to do when life gets so busy, but learning how to do something new is a skill that you'll have forever.

Also....I didn't buy the best paints out there, but these are working just fine for a beginner.

 And the good news....I finally found the outlining color for my sunburst squares.  {GASP!!!}  Do you know how long I've been huting for this color?!  I found it at Hobby Lobby - and it's the perfect color I had envisioned for this project.  I love you, Hobby Lobby!!!  I wanted something ultramarine - not blue, not turquoise, not seafoam - do you know how hard that is to find?!  Well, for me it's hard because I'm 2-3 hours away from civilization.  But there it was....patiently waiting for me.  It was meant to be.

I'm at my half-way mark, I have a LOT to go, but it's happening slowly but surely.  It's my treat if I get my work done at the end of the day!  What a nerd.  I can't wait to show you this blanket when it's finished.  It will be one of few projects that I will have actually finished.

Maybe I have gotten myself in a mess here, but I can't help myself.  I love to create.  
Happy Creating to all of you!!


Brewed Cocoa

Okay, so my BFF Kadie lives in Texas and I live in Arizona.  Uh....PROBLEM.  I don't know how we're going to figure this out....either I have to move to Texas or they have to move to Arizona because we just can't keep going on like this.  It's been since last June that I saw her.  If we don't do something about it, I'm going to keep making images like the one above and hang them ALL OVER my house....maybe my husband will go crazy & eventually start job-hunting in Houston.  ???!!!  One can only hope.  But then again, I can't leave Arizona.  
Do you see how bad this is?!

Anyhoo---my Bestie mailed the coolest Christmas gift....EVER...the gift that keeps on giving because now I'm addicted!!!  Thanks, Kadie!!!  {heart...heart....heart}

Brewed cocoa.  It's NOT coffee, but you brew it like ground coffee beans.

It.  Smells.  AMAZING.  
Like rich, chocolatey cocoa times a hundred.  

You just measure your amount into a French Press, pour in almost boiling water...

...and let the magic happen.  
All of that goodness and flavor brews and quietly awaits to make you so very happy.

I may OR may not have known how to do this....someone might have had to tell me how to use it....
but once the cocoa has sat for a few minutes, you press the little pressy button down and the granules get pushed to the bottom so you can pour out the liquid.  WHO KNEW?!  Well, maybe I did know.  Maybe I didn't.  

For me, I add a little Truvia sweetener and a splash of cream.  This kind of cocoa is a little different than your hot cocoa mixes full of hydrogenated fats - it's pure, raw cocoa beans and water.  You have to add sweetness to it, but I actually prefer this over hot cocoa mix.  
It's WAY, way better!  (and packed full of health benefits)

Thanks, Kadie - and thanks Amazon for my shipment on the way...I've already gone through a 1.5 pounder-bag of this stuff!!!  

Just look at how good it is for you, though!!  Who KNEW?!  It's okay for kids, has ZERO caffeine, it's full of antioxidants, and helps curb appetite.  WHAT?!!  Sign me up.  

So far, so good - I'm a huge, huge fan.  Something new to try!!

Have a happy day!!!!


Breakfast ???!!! help.

Image courtesy of The Captain's Manor Inn

What do you feed your family for breakfast on a daily basis?  I mean, not those days you're feeling all uppity and ambitious, but those days when you can't peel yourself from your amazingly comfortable, warm, delicious bed? And you have kids who need to be nourished before they head off to various degrees of greatness?

HELP!!!  I really need some help on this, because cold cereal isn't working and my kids don't love my Coach's Steel Cut Oatmeal....THAT I LOVE!!  Because....let's be honest here...I'm not making pancakes, eggs, and sausage every day.  Maybe Saturdays, if we all get good rest.

Any ideas?!  Let me know what you fix for your family when you're really, really tired & just want to lay in bed...

GREAT stories.

My name is Abby and I'm a WWII history nerd.  And I love to read.   Hence, my love affair with WWII books.  This stuff fascinates me!  Every single story makes me wonder, think, reflect, and appreciate.  I like books that make me think, as well as feel gratitude.  Every year I try to squeeze in a few WWII books into my "to-do" list - and I never get bored of it!  My grandfather fought in France, so the European front has special significance for me, as well.

Currently reading this book, "Crossing the Borders of Time" and loving every second of it.  I'm learning so much about the ways France was affected by the war.  Can't wait to see how it ends. GREAT writing and historical background!

A couple of other must-reads:

"Women Heroes of WWII" is a variety of short stories, most of which are derived from other, more detailed books.  Utterly fascinating.  You can pick this up and put it down since it's full of short stories.

And my favorite so far...."Unbroken."  If you haven't read this book, you need to. I can't even begin to explain all of the incredible lessons I learned from this story.  It takes place in the Pacific theater of the war and my eyes were opened to new horrors I never knew existed during the fighting with Japan.  WOW.

I hope you get to enjoy diving into a good book - what a great gift to yourself!!

Have a happy day!!


Making Me Happy

Totally tickling my heart!
It's the little things that entertain and excite me.


I love these.  Santa brought them.  And the fact that they're called "lollypops" makes them even better than a standard "sucker".  Suckers are so lame after you've had one of these. Back in the olden days, when I was young, we had a See's Candies in our shopping mall.  Mom would buy me a Happy Meal from McDonald's because I was always collecting a toy of some kind....(Muppet Babies and those cute little Stompers trucks) and then we'd happen to mozey over to See's for the daily sample.  Never have I ever had chocolates this good.  EVER.

If you're feeling like an early Valentine treat, go on over to See's and getcha some.  (and if See's sees this....I like the milk chocolate coconut truffles.)  Too bad I don't get endorsement kickbacks....this would be one place I would be first in line to sign up with!!!  haaaahahaha!   But seriously...  

The other thing making me happy...
the Sunburst Granny Square
Well, these are going to be square eventually.

When I get a little time to myself, I stitch a few here and there.  Long car rides, lazy Sunday afternoons - it's the perfect activity.

Aren't these darling?!  I love this pattern, I love the colors, and I'm thinking of stitching the whole thing together using a light aquamarine color.  I haven't found the right yarn, but I'm looking.  It's for my daughter's birthday {don't tell her!!!} and the colors are perfect.  (Vanna's Choice by Lion Brand yarn)

I found the original idea on Pinterest....crazy, I know!....and fell in love immediately.  Head-over-heels in love.  Jenny from Nittybits posted the perfect instructions (and gorgeous photos) so it was super easy for me to learn how to do these.  I LOVE her colors, too!  I want to make a bright, colorful one next!

Super exciting - I'll post more photos as I go along.  I can't wait to see this all finished up!  It's so rewarding to create something beautiful, to watch the progress, and see the finished product.  

Have a happy day!!


Cooking 101 - Lemon Cheesecake Morning Rolls

First:  I can't tell you how great it is to hear from you!!  Really.  It's AWESOME!!  Thanks for your posts!!  I love you all!!!  

To help kick off your New Year...you know...goals, fitness, healthy living, blah-blah-blah...I'm just going to help END the goals early and post this amazing recipe!!!  If loving these are wrong, I don't wanna be right.  Or skinny.  Okay, maybe I want to lose some weight...and these won't help...but don't deprive yourself, people.  Just end the guilt trip now and enjoy these morsels straight from heaven. You can work it off later.  They're worth it.

(don't hate me....and.....YOU'RE WELCOME!!)

Doesn't the title just make you feel giddy inside?  "Lemon Cheesecake Morning Rolls"...bright, lemony, cheesecakey, morning goodness?  Does life get any better when lemons and mornings are involved?!  No.  No, it doesn't.  Especially in winter - for me, anyway.  It all just sounds happy, which means that it can't help but kick off a brand new day with a great vibe, right?!  Nevermind the "roll" part... you don't need negativity in your life.  And because these are so evil & sinful, you don't have to feel self-conscious about being happy in the morning.  It's really a win-win.



2 1/4 tsp. active dry yeast (or 1/4 oz. pkg)
1/2 c. warm water
1/2 c. scalded milk
1/4 c. + 1/2 c. sugar
1/3 c. butter, melted
1 tsp. salt
1 egg
3 1/2 - 4 c. all purpose flour
16 oz. cream cheese, softened (2 of the 8oz. pkgs)
zest of 1 lemon, reserve a little for topping (or zest some more lemon if you like more flavor)
2 T. + 1 T. lemon juice
1 egg
1 stick salted butter, melted
2 c. powdered sugar
1/2 tsp. vanilla
about 1/4 c. canned milk

In a small bowl, combine yeast and warm water, let it dissolve, set aside.  In a large electric mixing bowl, combine milk, 1/4 c. sugar, melted butter, salt, and egg.  Add 2 c. flour amd mix until smooth.  Add yeast mixture.  Mix in remaining flour until dough is easy to handle.  Allow electric mixer to knead, or hand-knead on a floured surface for 5-10 minutes.  Place in a well-greased bowl, cover, and let rise until doubled in size, about 1 - 1 1/2 hours.

(make this just before the dough is done rising)
Cream softened cream cheese in a medium bowl until fluffy before adding lemon zest, 1/2 c. sugar, 2 T. lemon juice, and egg.  Mix together until well combined.

When dough is doubled in size, punch down and roll out onto a flat surface into a 15 x 9" rectangle. (doesn't have to be perfect.)  Brush melted butter all over surface.  Dollop the filling all over, spread evenly.  Gently roll the dough into a spiral, using a scraper if you need.  Slice into 2" rounds and place close together in greased baking dish.  Brush 2 T. melted butter on top.
**at this point, you could wrap and freeze for later**
Cover and let dough rise for about 20-30 minutes, or overnight in the fridge.  Bake at 400 degrees for 25-30 minutes or until lightly browned and cooked in the middle.  Let cool for about 10-15 minutes before adding the glaze.

Whisk together 1 stick melted butter, powdered sugar, vanilla, remaining 1 T. lemon juice, and canned milk.  Add the milk gradually to prevent making the glaze too runny.  Drizzle evenly over warm rolls.  Sprinkle with remaining lemon zest.

These taste the best when they've sat & cooled for a little bit, but they're incredibly delicious warm, as well.  You just can't go wrong here!!!   Enjoy!!


Renewing my blogging ambitions...

HELLO??!!  HELLO??!!.... HELLO??!!...  Anybody out there? ... there?...  there?

Are you there, really?!  Please, please comment & let me know if you're out there!  I miss you!!!

I hope you all had a WONDERFUL Chriatmas!!!  It's so weird re-entering the blogging world after not participating for a while.  I'm so sorry - I  have no excuses.  My blog just hasn't been a priority and I'm not one to beat myself up over things that I'm not keeping up with.  (Plus, beating myself up looks kinda weird.)  It's hard enough keeping up with my household!!  If it makes anybody feel better, I haven't even had any time or desire to tackle any projects for this entire year... {GASP!}....but don't worry....I'm feeling that desire start to slowly, slowly seep back into my life...like a misty vapor of goodness and wonderment.  (Is wonderment a word?  Because I like it.)

Because we've been apart for so long, and because I know you're dying to know....here's a dozen highlights that I WOULD have posted here, but didn't because, well, I've been blazy.  As in, blog-lazy.  blazy.  It's a new word I created.

1.)  My baby grew a mullett.  
Since we're getting back to our small-town, redneck lifestyle, we gave her the go-ahead.  I think it looks adorable on her.  Think of the kind of boyfriends she'll attract someday!!

2.)  Cotton Candy Cupcakes
My older girl  had a birthday and we couldn't make just any kind of cupcake.  
We had to make cotton-candy cupcakes and this was actually quite fun & easy.  I don't do the whole "cake decorating" thing, so I found a lazy/adorable alternative.  Plus, my neighbor had the cotton candy machine - all I had to do was pop Jolly Ranchers inside and swirl my sucker sticks around in it.  Insanely easy.  You should try it.  

3.)  Like, totally, an 80's party.  
There's this amazing group of ladies here, most of them I went to high school with, who have invited me to some seriously fun gatherings!  One of our friends had a birthday, so we surprised her with an 80's party.  Although I was tempted to cut my bangs in order to achieve "The Claw" hairdo, I went with the Farrah Fawcett/Prell shampoo hairstyle (yellow shirt in the middle).   It's a work in progess - I need some more practice.

4.)  Redneck surfing
This is how it's done in the desert.  You go to the junkyard, buy a car hood, and strap it to a truck.  The kids LOVE this and we go nice & slow so nobody gets hurt.  So far, so good.

Eat  your heart out, beach bums!  haha.  In all honesty, I think we'd all much rather be on the beach...

5.)  Kids first trip to Disneyland  
(they've been to Disney World...don't go thinking we're the world's most lame parents...just kinda lame...)

 Dinner at Blue Bayou - probably our favorite part about the trip!!

 Balboa Beach with my Love Nugget.  

6.)  Jeeping all over Arizona
It's how we de-stress & live life!  I love getting any kind of picture of desert foliage - I'm starving for it after living away from home for so long!  

found a young little friend

Beauty within the thorns.  I LOVE desert blossoms.  The colors are gorgeous.

...for whatever reason, this gnarled tree was so fascinating to me.  The light was coming through the branches just right and I loved all of the shapes created with the branches.

...What the???  More cactus!!!  Did I mention that I saw some this summer?

#7.)  Wasatch Back Ragnar with my besties
(phone picture...a little blurry...but  you get the idea)

My BFF Kadie - it was more fun than I can possibly explain getting to see her and sit in a van for hours with her.  I don't think I ever stopped laughing.  (and I know you're jealous of my muffin top....just sayin'...)

My longest leg was 13 miles starting at midnight and I loved/hated it.  I got so sick afterwards!!! eww.....  As a tender gift of mercy, another girl switched me on our last legs because my next one was straight uphill and hers was shorter and didn't seem so hilly.  WRONG.  Don't let this picture fool you - I was totally miserable, in pain, and forgot to bring a machete to hack down the bushes and scruff I had to run through.  I thought I was going to die!!!   And just when I thought I was through the wilderness, I had to run through a hilly neighborhood.  NOT COOL!!!  Let's just say that I may or may NOT have acted inappropriately when I was through with this leg.  Some words were said....I don't know....I can't remember because my PTSD has permanently blocked those things out of my memory.....but it could have been ugly.  Not sure.  Let's just say that I'm done with Ragnars for a while!!  haha.

awww....after the pain and suffering...one last photo with my bestie.  It was hard to let go of her and hop back on a plane to Arizona.  
(I miss youuuuuuu....!!!!!)

#8.)  Jeeping in Ouray, Colorado

...love this place.  

made friends with this adorable creature, Maggie.  She is seriously the sweetest, most kind and gentle dog I've ever seen.  She's got her "lovie" in her mouth, which she carries everywhere.  

And, interestingly enough, one of our favorite places to eat in Ouray is Maggie's Kitchen!  Oh, Maggie.    This place makes the BEST BURGERS in town!!!

If you're ever in Ouray, come by Maggie's and see if you can find us!!  We had to leave our mark....

...and correct some bad information...

 and....what the???!!!  SO cool!!!  

 #9.)  ummm.....knee surgery
Between CrossFit and running, my right knee got torn up.  Now that everything is all healed up, I still run occasionally, but CrossFit is out.  Look how swollen my leg was!!!  ahhh....fond memories...

#10.)  Our Mountain
We are a quick 30 minute drive from the hot desert into this blissful splendorama.  (splendorama should be a word, too.  I like it.)  All year long, it offers beauty, fun, and great memory making opportunities!!

 ...seriously...who knew the desert looked like this?!

#11.)  The Passing of Grandpa
My grandfather was my stand-in father for the first 14 years of my life.  He was always a strong pillar in my life - always working hard on something, and always glad to see me.  Out of all of my various grandparents, he is the one I've always been the closest with - and I miss him dearly.  I'm not sad, though - it's great to know that he is SO much happier where he's at - and I have no doubt that he'll keep very busy!

As a WWII veteran, he was buried with Military Honors, and had all of his military family members in uniform to serve as his casket bearers.  My brother, 3 cousins, 1 cousin's spouse, and an uncle were all present in their dress uniforms as Grandpa requested.  Such a beautiful sight to see!!  

#12.) Christmasy Winter Fun
and prepping for a New Year!!
Naturally, we'll find anywhere our Jeep can go, as it is our family's greatest source of entertainment and adventure!  Just before Christmas we headed up to our mountain for some fun in the snow.  It's great that we have access to snow just 30 minutes from our warm valley.

And here we are.  Another great Christmas has passed, and a new year awaits us.  I'm excited for all of the things that 2014 will bring!  Wishing you and yours a VERY happy New Year !!!

Stay tuned....one of my goals is to be more artsy/fartsy & productive!  I hope to share as much as I can with you here - and I'd LOVE to hear from you!!!

-Love & Warm Wishes,