Candy Experiments

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Last year in What's the Deal with Halloween?  I posted about my frustrations regarding Halloween.  Such a simple holiday.. and after years of fear and over commercialization we have turned it into something that stresses people out!  And because we were so afraid of letting our kids Trick or Treat door to door, we started providing so many 'other options' to get candy that our kids have too much candy!

The same people who days before Halloween were stressed out are now now complaining their kids have too much candy and are talking about throwing it all out!?!  Over commercialism/consumerism and The Wal-Mart Effect at it's best!

So what do we do now that each of our kids have a punch bowl full of candy?  Here are some ideas:
Awsumb's class is sending leftover candy to the troops. Save some for Christmas (I have been known to do this).  Ship it to your brother in Africa (done this one too!)  Or there is always.....

Candy Experiments! is a fun blog by a local mom.  I have met her before, but ran into her again this weekend at the church Trunk or Treat.  She wrote an article found in Parent Map regarding this new dilemna.

Try these with your kids and tell me which Candy Experiments they like best!  What do you do with all your extra Halloween candy?

Baby Soda Bottles

Saturday, October 30, 2010

What is a baby soda bottle?  They are the preforms used to make 2-liter bottles.  The tubes are placed in a vacuum mold and heated to become the shape that we are used to seeing filled with soda pop!

Steven Spangler (you have probably seen his You Tube videos with mentos and coke) suggested the idea of using them as test tubes for kids. They are indestructible, you can seal them with their lid and they are super fun!  You can buy them at  We used these for our Harry Potter Pop Rocks Potion at my son's birthday party.
Other Baby Soda Bottle Activity ideas
1-A Discovery Tube – Collect treasures on your next nature walk. Use the test tube to collect dirt samples, leaves, good old bugs or samples of water from ponds and streams. Study with a magnifying glass or microscope.

2 - Roots with a View – Grow simple green plants in the tube and watch the sprouting process. Learn about growth and plants needs by placing loosely packed soil or growing medium in the tube along with a few radish, pea or bean seeds. Over the course of a few days, watch how the plants grow and how the roots spread out for water and nutrients.

3 – Wave Bottle – Fill test tube ¾ full with vegetable oil. Fill the rest of the bottle with water. Add a few drops of food coloring and seal with the cap. Notice how the dye colors the water and not the oil. Tip bottle back and forth to create wave.

4 – Time Capsule – Use the test tube to hide and protect a secret message to be opened in the future.

5 – Color Shake Up – This activity requires a small amount of colored lamp oil. Be careful not to get the lamp oil around any open flames. Fill the test tube with equal parts of lamp oil and water. Food coloring can be used to color the water. If you are using yellow lamp oil, color the water with a few drops of blue food coloring. Seal the test tube with a cap and shake up the liquids. Yellow & blue makes green.

6- Dancing Beads – Fill the bottle half full with small Styrofoam beads (like those found in beanbag chairs). Add water until the beads begin to overflow the bottle. Seal with a cap and watch the Styrofoam beads jockey for position in the bottle. This is an easy sway to help young scientists get a better grip on the notion of density.

7- Magnifying Glass – Fill the test tube to the very top with water and seal it with a cap. Hold the test tube up against newspaper print to magnify the letters. The water magnifies the message.

8- The Erupting, Bubbling Blob – Fill the test tube ¾ full with cooking oil (ordinary vegetable oil works well). Add one cap full of water to the oil in the test tube. Notice how the oil and water to not mix. Drop one or two drops of food coloring into the test tube, but do not seal the tube with a cap just yet. Notice how the dye colors only the water and not the oil. Divide in and Alka-Seltzer tablet into quarters and drops one section into the tube. Watch what happens to the bubbling water on the bottoms of the tube. After the lava blobs have stopped bubbling fill the rest of the tube with oil until it’s almost overflowing. Cap the tube tightly. Tip the test tube back and forth and watch what happens. The tiny droplets of liquid join together to make one big lava-like blob.

9- Glitter Wand – Fill the test tube ¾ with cooking oil , add heavy colored beads, glitter and mylar confetti. Top the tube off with cooking oil, seal with a cap. Tip the tub back and forth to make your concoction move and sparkle.

10- Color Mixing with your eyes – Fill three test tubes almost to the top with water. Add drops of blue food coloring to one test tube and seal it with a cap. Do the same thing with the other two using yellow &red food coloring. Hold each test tube up to your eyes near light to observe the color. Now, cross the yellow & blue tubes in front of your eyes, looking through both of them at the same time. What color do you see? Green! Cross the red & blue tubes in similar fashion to make purple. What color does red & yellow make

11 – Test Tube Twist – Stretch a rubber band around all three test tubes you make in the previous experiment. Hold the tube trio up to your eyes and look at the light. What colors do you see? Now, slowly twist the test tube and a watch the colors changes before your eyes. Cool!

12 – Make Your Own Twister – fill the test tube ¾ full with water and add a few drops of liquid soap. Seal the bottle with a cap and start twisting. The swirling motion of the soap and water will make a twisting turning vortex. It’s your very own pet tornado!

13 – Pop Goes the Weasel – Find a cork that fits snugly into the open test tube. Fill the bottle half full with water. Divide and Alka-Seltzer tablet into quarters and drop one section into the tube. Quickly seal the test tube with the cork and point the corked and way form anything living. Pow! The cork goes sailing.

What fun things can you think of to do with baby soda bottles?

Harry Potter Pop Rocks Potion

Thursday, October 28, 2010

1.  Fill Test Tube half way with H2O
2.  Pour in the Pop Rocks and you will hear the popping sounds as it releases the essence of euphoria,(CO2 or Carbon Dioxide).
"Pop Rocks, let me hear, the future is near!"
3.  Pour in a teaspoon of the crystalline powder (NaHCO3).Bakers use this chemical compound to make their bread spirits raise.
"Give me a notion of the Pop Rocks potion!"
4.  Add a few drops of food coloring.
"The professors are strange, let the color change!"
5.  Squeeze Lemon (Citric Acid, C6H8O7) into the concoction,watch the potion bubble up and fizz out of control.
"Lemon so tart, make me magically smart!”
6.  Add sugar.   As you add this last ingredient, make up your own phrase to activate the Potion.Ex: 
 "I drink this potion to make me fast in motion!"
7. Drink if you dare!

Awsumb was so excited to do this little experiment at his birthday party.  We used baby soda bottles which can be found on Steve Spangler's Website.  You have probably seen him on You Tube - Coke and Mentos explosion guy?!  We did this experiment at Awsumb's Birthday Party and the kids loved it!   Then all the kids were sent home with their sticky test tubes!
And what Halloween would be complete without Awsumb's Halloween by Jerry Seinfeld!

Check back later this weekend for the most Totally Awsumb Harry Potter Birthday Ideas Ever!

Totally Awsumb Harry Potter 9th Birthday Party

We are pleased to inform you that you have been accepted to
Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry
For Awsumb Kenneth Hardy’s 9th Birthday Party
We look forward to seeing you on Saturday, October 23rd
Hogwarts Express leaves Platform 9 3/4
at precisely Ten O’Clock AM and will return at Noon
Please RSVP by way of Owl to
Wendy Headmistress, Frolic and Feasts
or use the Floo Network (phone)
Students should come dressed in their
wizarding robes
or favorite Halloween costumes
But not your dress robes
 as the journey may entail physical activity
as well as working with messy potion ingredients!

I printed the invites on scroll paper.
To decorate the envelopes I printed some Hogwart’s stamps and logos to make them look official.

Awsumb had a great time driving around delivering
invites while dressed up in his Harry Potter costume. 
As I usually do for Awsumb’s parties I invited all the kids
to come dressed in costume. 
October Birthdays are fun like that!
For decorations I printed off
and a few other things such as:
Hoggwart's Crest, Gryffindor banner, a Platform 9 ¾ sign
and the class schedule onto leftover scroll paper.
Add some colorful balloons and crepe paper and it’s a party!
  As the kids arrived I handed out
Wizard Party Hats and Harry Potter glasses.
Kenneth played Professor Wiggles in his black bathrobe and ran the party games:

Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans Game
 A simple spin the arrow game with four categories:
Sweet, Sour, Your Pick, Blind Pick
I made this game out of a Bertie Bott's Beans Candy Box

"Professor Wiggles" used his Wand & Magic 8 Ball to answer silly questions. 
(The kids loved this and kept the fun going longer than we expected)

Spirit Light Magic Trick
 performed by Awsumb

Potions –
Pop Rocks test tube experiment
 with baby soda bottles
(see Pop Rocks Potion)

Planting gummy worms in
crushed cookies and chocolate pudding!
(served in lieu of cake)

Defense of the Dark Arts
I don't know who sends their kid to a party with a big stick...
but it worked well for the Pinata!

We sang Happy Birthday and served Caramel Apple Ciders
(warm spiced cider, a squirt of and whip cream)
Next thing we knew it was time to open the gifts
and send the kids home with Goodie Bags labeled
“Honey Dukes Sweet Shoppe” 
Filled with:
Bertie Botts Beans, Chocolate Frogs,
Drooble’s Gum, and Pop Rocks.
I also sent the kids home with their Harry Potter Glasses
and Test Tubes with the potion recipe and other experiment ideas.
 Special Thanks to
my brother Brian and his girlfriend Kate
who really know how to Party Hardy!
There are so many fun ideas out there such as:
A treasure hunt to ‘Search for the Sorcerer’s Stone’,
plant beans in that gooey clear stuff,
decorate wands, etc.
If you need more ideas or would like some clip art, etc.
so you can have your own
Totally Awesome Harry Potter Birthday
I would be happy to share my files!

Totally Awsumb Harry Potter

It's party time around here!  Awsumb is so excited for his upcoming Totally Awsumb Harry Potter Birthday Party.  Awsumb's friends all received invites to attend a special session of Hogwarts School of Wizardry.  I have wizard hats and Harry Potter glasses for all the kids. Plus I bought the candy store out of Bertie Botts Beans, Chocolate Frogs and Poprocks!  Be sure to check back to see pictures of the fun games and experiments we have planned!

Although I never read the Harry Potter series I am glad Awsumb is enjoying them so much. I know that these books can be a great escape. I saw an interview recently with the author.  She said writing them helped sort through her feelings about her mother's death and how she felt about death and life after death.

Betie Botts Beans Anyone?  These are absolutely revolting.  And the afternoon Awsumb decided to break into his bag I felt obligated to share in the fun with him.  After all, if your going to puke, you might as well do it with a friend!  Seriously with flavors like onion, sausage, vomit and booger just the smell of them make me sick!

Get the kids and click to watch

Mommy Blogs

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Sure I have posted pictures of my kid on the internet. We live far away from family and pre-blogging days this was my way to let them see my child grow. Interestingly enough my own child got the most out of it and looked at his pages regularly.

I was mocked by some college kids in Australia who just couldn't get over the fact that someone names their child Awsumb and posted all these happy smiling pictures.  "Are they really happy all of the time?  Is their life really that perfect?  And just look at those extravagant meals out and their big SUV.  Doesn't this family ever have any sorrow or problems?"  Sure, as we all know I have my share of pain, but we don't take pictures of it, do we?  We take pictures of  the good times, the funny times, the things we want to remember.  It was just a family photo album after all!

And now everyone is doing it.  Mommy Blogging... But back then it still took few emails with one of these young girls from Australia  for her to understand that this was simply our online photo album set up to share pictures with our family.  And that although we might look extravagant my husband walked to work every day, we had overcome much family pain and were just doing the best we could to improve the world around us.  We also found out that we had much in common and would love to have them over and enjoy a big pot on minestrone soup or maybe just go out for sushi!

After a few years I realized I needed to protect the site... But the 'cobbler's kids never have any shoes' and although I am married to a computer nerd, he never had time to set this up for me. When my son began school I decided it was not safe post specific information and stopped updating the site as completely as I would have liked, awaiting my husband to do this simple task for me.  And I never posted embarrassing pictures or stories.  Even after you delete them, it's amazing what can surface!

The last thing our kids need during their awkward years is their friends finding their Mommy's Blogs with all the gory details about them potty training and puking in the living room.  (and who wants to read about that anyway - gross!  I do not want to know when your kids or pets poop on the living room carpet!)

This is a little irreverent, so you have been warned.. but here is how one child fights back..  or should I say her mother cashes in on the idea of anti-mommy blogs...

Bedtimes Are For Suckers! A preschooler fed up with being exploited her mom's "mommy blog" tells her side of the story.

PS I am not anti mommy blogging.. this  is after all a mommy blog ... and I still have an online photo scrapbook, which I am still waiting for my husband to secure to I can share with only those I wish!

In the spirit of mommy blogging here are two embarrassing photos of Awsumb - modeling his first little swim suit and the day he emptied out and entire box of Kleenex!  I did not take pictures of the time he threw an entire bowl of macaroni and cheese and peas on the floor while I was on the phone!  I was too upset to even do anything more than freak out! LOL!

How do you decide what's appropriate to share about your family/children?

Reality TV - Real or Not - Those poor kids!

Relating to The Hunger Games (click to read previous post) and Reality TV Rant Part 2-

I have recently heard and read a few comments from people regarding a new reality show. The situation this family is living in is a type that could, and probably does create drama. Interestingly enough the family beliefs about living such a life are just what help them keep the drama in check and stay commited to improving their family.

The people who complain about the show mostly talk about how boring it was and that it lacked drama.  All because the circumstances promised to deliver catfights and family drama.

I think Kate Gosselin has really pushed this type of thing over the edge. TLC might not have meant for it to happen but sure played that theme to it's death and even forced the D word on The Little People.

Is nothing entertaining anymore unless it's watching a family be torn apart? Why are we so HUNGRY for disaster on Reality TV?  I've been there, done that and wouldn't wish it on anyone, so why is it so great to watch on TV?  I guess because of the "told ya so" or "I just knew they weren't perfect."

Really, who wants to watch someone's hopes and dreams die?  And I haven't even mentioned the children...  The children who have no choice but to be paraded all over TV on a reality show. The worst is those babysitting or nanny shows.  Sure it's fun to watch an overwhelmed parent and say, "they shouldn't have even had kids!" But is it going to be fair to those totally rotten kids to have for their friends watch the replay on You Tube when they are 12.... All about how they were a total brat and lived in a messy house when they were preschoolers.  Most of these families and children have severe emotional issues and need long term counseling.

How much will it take for people to decide that reality tv has gone to far?

Half Way There!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Last night as I was playing the Birthday Fairy, ya know blowing up a few balloons and putting together the traditional treasure hunt for Awsumb to find his birthday gift… I started to panic thinking, “We’re halfway there!  It can’t be over so fast?”  But halfway to what?  To eighteen?  To adulthood?   At 18 years old he will be just beginning his senior year in high school.  Although we are already on the private school track I am sure college will cost us even more than we can ever imagine!  And then what?  Am I done being his mother?  No way, he’s mine for life.

Even on his worst day, even on MY worst day I would never joke about selling him, or call him a monster.  I can't help but feel sad when I hear these things, even in fun come from other mothers.  I love teaching him and guiding him.  I love spending time with him. I truly love being his mother.  We hoped and prayed to have a baby for so many years. He is mine and I am so blessed to have him.
Sadly, I know he really isn’t mine and someday my goal is to return him to his sender, Our Father In Heaven.  I was blessed to be chosen to lead him and guide him and I pray that I might show him the way!

Awsumb is lucky to go to a school that offers a continuing Montessori education that focuses on educating the whole child. We often joke about the ‘cosmic education’ our child is receiving (yes the school boasts about this in its philosophy!)  But seriously that’s part of the reason we picked this type of education for him.  Educating him emotionally and spiritually is important to us.   As I have blogged about before the Montessori classroom has a special birthday celebration each year. 

(You can read Awsumb 8th Bday here - Updated with photos!)

This year his teacher chose to begin a new celebration.  After reading a story about the beginning of time which ended on October 19, 2001 when Awsumb was born Ms. B began to talk about all the many things our family must have wished and dreamed for him.   His teacher then invited the class to close their eyes and think of a dream or wish they might have for Awsumb.  In the middle of the circle she placed a tray with two beautiful wood bowls.  One filled with rice and the other with beans. “Rice and beans are important because they feed the world and can also represent our dreams.”  Then she invited the class to place a spoonful on beans or rice in a beaded bag while they tell Awsumb their dream or wish for him.  Ms. B went first and told Awsumb that she hopes he will make a wonderful discovery and use his power of communication to share it with the world.  The children all had beautiful and fun dreams and wishes for Awsumb. Afterwards the bag was tied up and presented to Awsumb.

My dream for Awsumb is that he will learn all he can, to grow up to be strong, to be a leader and to be a kind man.

What are your dreams for your children or yourself?

Picture Books

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

I recently found myself in a panic as I realized my son was no longer carrying his picture books around the house.  Lately  he seemed to only have "super exciting" chapter books tucked under his arm.  I wasn't ready  to mourn the loss of our favorite picture books and decided I needed to revive his interest.  I pulled  a few of our favorites from the shelf as well as some seasonal picks. I have so many favorites.  But two staple books for us are:
Where the Wild Things by Maurice Sendack - After an afternoon of mischief Max travels to live with the wild things... after a while he realizes he just wants to go home.  Back in his bedroom, Max finds his dinner waiting for him, "and it was still hot."  I love this book and read it to Awsumb on days he has had a difficult time obeying.  I like to remind him that whatever trouble he gets in, I will always be here and will still love him.

That's When I'm Happy by Beth Shoshan - I think this author wrote this book just for our family. The illustrations by Jacqueline East are soft and tender.  The story is about a little bear telling about all the things that make him happy, including working in the yard with Daddy, snuggling and picking out books with Mommy and at the end of the day... "When it's dark everywhere and I cuddle up to my Mommy and Daddy (even though they're asleep), still telling stories to myself, watching stars in the sky, bathed in all their kisses and dreaming of the deep red leaves... That's when we're happy!"  Oh, it's just so adorable and Awsumb LOVES this book because it really is the story of our family. 

According to a recent New York Times Article - Picture Books by Julie Boseman  Picture books are being left behind as parents push kindergartners to read chapter books.  I remember choosing library books when I was young and selecting the small interesting hardback picture books. I just wanted to feel their pages and loved they way they smelled.  My mother argued with me and told me "they were baby books and to put them back and get 'bookmark' books."  I rebelled against her control and the use of the phrase 'bookmark books' and to this day will NOT use a bookmark, but instead memorize the page I am on!

I admit that the words "grab a chapter book, not a comic book" have come out of my mouth more than once in the last year. I think I will change that to, "grab a chapter book in addition to the picture or comic book!  Awsumb is a good reader and it's silly for us to worry about him if he seems to be on a comic book kick.  One of his favorite picture books that I often catch him carrying around is The Adventures of Polo by Regis Faller   Although the book has no words, I imagine the adventures of this little dog get more complex as Awsumb grows and imprints his personal experience onto Polo.  No wonder he loves reading this over and over again.

I am happy to be out of the often boring and drab, "I can read books."  But I am determined to keep the Picture Book door open at our house and have committed to continue to add to our collection and passion for great stories and art.

What are your favorite picture books?


I have always been a hotel snob and prefer to stay at The Marriott. We were once stuck in a snow storm and on the way home from Utah.  Snoqualmie Pass was closed and because there wasn't a hotel suitable for me in Ellensburg we drove back to Yakima to find a Marriott. There was no Marriott and I cried all night as we were forced to stay at the Red Lion.  I have major hotel issues, related to my OCD I'm sure.. but that's for another blog. Ooooooooooooooo I abslutely love The Marriott.

A couple years ago we had hardwood floors installed and checked into the Marriott just a mile or so from our house. After all the work was complete on our big kitchen remodel, we found ourselves there again.  Awsumb regularly asks when we can stay at that particular Marriott again!

Recently after a long trip to California and a week at our favorite Disney's Grand Californian Hotel, Awsumb has been asking if we can live there.  Then I remembered ELOISE!  Eloise is a classic picture book from the 50's.  Eloise lives at the Plaza Hotel in New York City and is six years old.  She is adorable  and precocious.  Her imagination keeps her out of trouble and causes trouble at the same time. The black, white and pink illlustrations aresimple and fresh.

So I put Eloise on hold at the library and read it to Awsumb a few days ago. He laughed so hard he nearly peed his pants.  Kenneth overheard our fun and just had to join in.  Our favorite lines in the book quickly became family catch phrases.
If you haven't introduced your kids to Eloise get Eloise: The Absolutely Essential 50th Anniversary Edition.  Both boys and girls will love this classic!

The Hunger Games

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

I just finished reading The Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins.  Katniss is forced to participate in a televised - to the death "game show."  The author said Katniss is a cross between a modern Theseus and Sparticus in the Gladiator games.  Suzanne's inspiration for this story came after channel surfing between the war in Iraq and a reality show where young people were fighting for money.  The characters in the book who created the hunger games, their attitudes and absorption with the show they were creating, came from her experience with people she's worked with in her television career.

What would the author like for us to take away from the book?  How do you feel about the fact that some people take their next meal for granted when so many other people are starving in the world?  What do you think about choices your government, past or present or other governments around the world make?  What's your relationship to Reality TV compared to your relationship with The News?  Did anything in this book disturb you because it reflected and aspect of your own life?  And what can you do about it?

While the first book really drew me in and was sure a page turner, by book three I was a little bored and even tempted to just skip parts to get to the end of the story.  I didn't end up skipping and read through.  But by the end, I didn't really care who died, who Katniss ended up with, etc... and just maybe, that's just the point.

By the end of book three I was numb to the killings that were so shocking in book one... too numb to have any real feelings for the characters... And the thought of characters even suggesting holding 'one last hunger games to end them all'... well, I just lost interest. Obviously these were just characters in a book... but to think about how quickly I was numb to their feelings, their loss...  This is the reason it's so important we don't let ourselves become decensitized to the world around us.  Because media of all forms is so easily accessible today, I think this can happen quite easily.  And if we all become indifferent to what's going on around the world, because it doesn't seem to directly effect us, it will eventually be us who suffer.

Recently our family watched The Adams Family movie with our son. I remember thinking this was a fun movie when I was younger and seeing the old television reruns as a child.  We had popcorn and he seemed to enjoy movie night.  But afterwards he told us that this really disturbed him and he wouldn't want to watch it again. I felt bad for having subjected him to something I thought of as harmless.  He is so young, innocent and sensitive. I think allowing him to stay that way as long as possible will make him a kinder person in the long run. 

I am glad we have made choices for him about avoiding many popular video games, movies, and television shows that he just doesn't need to worry about right now.  And this leaves room for him to devour all the other good books, music, movies, art there is out there.  "If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things." (LDS Article of Faith 13) 

Kenneth and Awsumb are reading Suzanne Collins The Underland Chronicles about a boy named Gregor and his adventures into the underground of New York City.  That series is aimed a younger audience and it sounds like they are enjoying it.  But since reading about bugs would freak me out, I think I will skip that one!  Because, as we all know, if you want to think about bugs, just grab a snickers!  (click to see previous post regarding spiders in candy bars...)

These books reminded me of my views on reality tv and mommy blogs...

Family of Silhoettes

I have previously posted about my love of Silhoette Art.  Why we have never taken time to have our silhoettes made at Disneyland, I don't know.  These were cut by Bonnie, who is a favorite. 

But I must say, the one Awsumb had cut at his school is a much better likeness of him. (click to view)  And Kenneth's... well, I guess it could be a 50's version of him? 

Either way these are an inexpensive souvineer at Disneyland!

Wendy's Everyday Dinners

Sunday, October 3, 2010

I was married at nineteen and among all the millions of things I didn't know at that age, I didn't know how to cook!  I could make canned soups and a few side dishes and that was about it. My little brother had to show me how to make a grilled cheese sandwich.  Kenneth and I worked opposite schedules and developed a habit of making reservations for dinner.  This was actually my first step to learn to cook.  I began to pay attention to what I liked and what flavors went together.

I grew up in a modest home with a mother who didn't know very much about cooking.  There was  never an herb in our house and the only spices were salt, pepper, seasoning salt, celery salt and cinnamon (which is a story for another day!)  There was also the occasional packet to make spaghetti.. which I thought was the worst thing on the face of the earth.  I am pretty sure the recipe my mother used went something like this....
brown hamburger, add a jar of tomatoes, spaghetti seasoning packet, serve over spaghetti noodles, garnish with powered parmesan cheese from a can.  Just thining about this make my stomach turn.  This was the one dinner I was given a free pass to skip and remember eating a slice of bread with peanut butter on nights this was served.

The funny thing is that italian food and pasta dishes with tomatoes are my favorite food as an adult.  In fact I think God made tomatoes and basil as a gift just for me!  One of our family comfort foods is  my Special Pasta.   What makes it so special?  Nothing at all!  Which is why it's so special.  Special Pasta can easily be jazzed up to be special of course, but it's really just a simple pantry meal.

Wendy’s Special Pasta

4 oz. linguine

1 can tomatoes, diced (do not drain) or 2 cups fresh roma or cherry tomatoes

1 tbs. olive oil (1 or 2 times around the pan)

1 tsp. basil (I prefer fresh, but often sub dried basil)

1/8 tsp. red pepper flakes

Parmesan cheese, freshly grated

Boil water for pasta.

In large frying pan add olive oil, tomatoes, basil and red pepper flakes. Cook on medium, breaking up tomatoes with wooden spoon. Cook pasta until just before al dente. Add pasta to tomato mixture along with a spoonful or two of the starchy pasta water to finish cooking. Stir until liquid is absorbed. Garnish with torn fresh basil and parmesan cheese.  Serves 2, can be doubled.

Serve with anything; chicken, steamed squash, etc. The best thing about this pasta is that it is totally yummy and there is nothing really special about it!  But it's good because it's made with fresh, simple ingredients and flavors that go together.

Also to note is that I use linguine instead of spaghetti. I like the way it holds sauce better.  I also add the pasta TO the sauce to finish the last minute or two of cooking. This is a more traditional way to bring together a pasta and sauce. Also, the starch in the cooking water helps to create the sauce.

Now back to how I learned to cook...

Like all american woman, after a few years I found myself with binders and files or recipes torn from magazines and printed from the internet and cooking shows.  Of course many of these were complicated and never attempted. I thinkk it all started with The Frugal Gourmet, then Martha Stewart, David Rosengarten, Emeril (the early days), The Two Hot Tamales, Ina Garten, and then there was Rachael Ray.

Rachael Ray changed my life.  Though I was finally learning the basics, hold to hold a knife properly, etc.  I wasn't putting what this new found knowledge into practice because I was so overwhelmed.  One day while watching Rachal Ray I realized that the meals I make every day were the quick 30-minute style meals.  She also gave me the freedom to not feel guilty about using prepackaged salad, canned beans rather than dried, etc. 

Rachael Ray grew up in the kitchen. She grew up cooking traditional dishes with her parents and even her grandfather.  Rachael found herself working as a buyer for a grocery store. She began to appear on the noon news broadcast to promote cooking quick meals with conveniences easily found in the grocery store.  She was fun and was eventually offered a cooking show of her own.

I began to assemble all of the quick meals we regularly cooked on weeknights and found ways to make my favorite complicated meals easier. I also included many of Rachael Ray's recipes.  I put them together in a book titled Wendy's Everyday Dinners.  I have also  tried to include the simple meals like my "special pasta" that we make often... you know the one's you don't need a recipe for.  This has now become our quick go to book.  When we try a new recipe, if we like it - it goes in the book!   And because they are all in once place, it's easy for Kenneth to make a meal (OK, so he's still better at making reservations).  If something ever happened to me and we needed help this would be a quick way to comfort my family, by having someone prepare meals they are used to eating.

What are YOUR Family's Everday Dinners?

Easy Chicken Cacciatore

About 15 year ago Kenneth's mother used a Prego prepared jar of cacciatore. It was a hit and I remember keeping this in my pantry as a new wife.  After a while my grocer stopped carrying the sauce and I forgot about it.  Years later when I was teaching myself to cook I learned that Chicken Cacciatore is a classic Italian dish.  It was traditionally made with the dark meat of rabbit or chicken.  Stewed with mushrooms until it was very tender and creating a beef like gravy.  Today people make it with tomatoes and often serve over pasta.  Although the long stewed recipes looked good I never bothered to try them until one day Rachael Ray talked about enjoying this rustic dish in Italy.  She came up with a quick version to add to her 30-minute meal collections.  Rachael used portabello mushrooms and some beef stock to give the sauce a meaty, stewed all day taste.  Easy made with ingredients I always have on hand (besides to portabello's) it's a entry in our Family Everday Dinners book! 

I will share Rachaels quick version, but you can do a search for her 'stoup' and vegetarian version if you are interested.  I think next time I will add some onion and celery.  Enjoy!  Let me know if your family enjoys this one!

1 1/4 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breast (3 pieces) or, 1 package boneless, skinless chicken thighs, if you prefer dark meat

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 tablespoons (2 turns around the pan) extra-virgin olive oil

1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

2 portobello mushroom caps, halved crosswise and thinly sliced

4 cloves garlic, crushed and minced

1/2 cup beef broth or stock

1 (28-ounces) can crushed tomatoes

A handful flat-leaf parsley, chopped

1 pound egg ribbons or egg fettuccini, cooked to al dente

Crusty bread and grated Parmigiano or Romano
Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium high heat. Add half of the extra-virgin olive oil and brown chicken breasts or thighs for 3 or 4 minutes on each side. Remove chicken from pan and season with salt and pepper.

Return pan to stove, reduce heat to medium and add the remaining. Add crushed pepper, sliced mushrooms, and garlic. Season with salt (salt is a magnet for drawing out liquid). Cover and cook mushrooms 5 minutes or until mushrooms are dark, tender and have given off their juices. Add about 1/2 cup of beef broth to intensify the wild mushroom flavor, then stir in the tomatoes and parsley. Cut the chicken into bite-size chunks or slices and add to sauce. Simmer sauce 5 minutes to finish cooking chicken pieces and to allow the flavors to combine. Toss pasta with cacciatore and serve with crusty bread and grated cheese.