It’s October 1st and we are freezing!

Wait. What? It’s a beautiful, sunshiny, warm-ish (for October in the Pacific Northwest) day! But alas, my household is freezing. Our spending, that is.

Ruth over at Living Well Spending Less has put out the challenge, and I am up for it! The challenge: 31 Days of Living Well and Spending ZERO! Yes, ZERO! I’m a little nervous, but my nearly non-existent budget for the last…well, as long as I can remember…has prepared me for this day and this challenge.

My long-time blog readers and followers may recall me going on assorted different spending freezes, clean out the fridge/freezer/pantry challenges, and just plain being broke over the years, but this will be the first time I take on the challenge of actually committing to spending NO MONEY (aside from necessities and bills, of course.)

$10 Menu and Shopping List (Yes, I used coupons. No, I don't always spend so little at the store.)

$10 Menu and Shopping List (Yes, I used coupons. No, I don’t always spend so little at the store.)

All of this means that I am going to be brewing my stock-piled coffee stash (my beloved Starbucks Tribute will find its way into my coffee cup this month), will not be drinking wine (this isn’t a necessity, and I did NOT stock up before taking this challenge, because, well, that kind of defeats the purpose, right?) but may pull some long-forgotten vodka from the back of my freezer as I dig around in hopes of locating an also long-forgotten yummy treat to enjoy, and our menus will be fun and maybe a bit quirky as we use what is floating around our pantry, fridge, and freezers. This also means that my lunch-time visits to Starbucks are on hold for the month, as well as my more-frequent-than-I-care-to-admit trips through the McDonald’s drive thru for lunch (good-bye cheeseburger and small fries. I don’t think I’ll actually miss you, and I will be happy to keep my $2.62 per visit all to myself!)

What would you have the most difficulty giving up for a month, or even indefinitely? For me, it’s coffee (I know, shocking, right!? :)). And chocolate. My chocolate stash will surely run out this month…good thing I have plenty of chocolate chips. Yes, I know they are meant for baking into yummy treats, but I see no harm in popping a handful of that semi-sweet chocolatey goodness in my mouth while I give myself a pep talk convincing myself I do NOT need to go buy more Godiva chocolate (at the mall, where of course I will want to stop in at all my other favorite stores as well…). Don’t worry, Godiva, I WILL be back again. I won’t leave you forever, I love you too much and you make my stress melt away. xo

Now that you know what I *won’t* be buying, let’s talk about what I *will* spend money on. Bills. Gas (so I can get to and from work so I can get paid so I can pay those bills). Required school fees for my teens.

Perishable foods including produce (if needed. But we have an awesome neighbor who likes to share his garden goodies with us, so those may not be needed. Plus, I already spent the money on a Bountiful Baskets contribution that I get to pick up on Saturday, which should hold us over for a couple of weeks at least.), dairy, perhaps bread (I may decide we should just get back to making our own like we used to…) Our grocery budget is generally low anyway, in about the $200/month range, but we are cutting way back to just the basics and I anticipate spending around $40 this month.

Stick with me this month and see how much fun we can have without spending any money! It CAN be done, even with two teenagers roaming the house with me. They’re on board for the challenge too. I think. I hope. Well, if they’re not, I guess it’s time for them to get jobs. 🙂

I may not post all my random ramblings about this challenge here on my blog, so pop on over to my Instagram account and join the fun there. ThatCookGirl on Instagram


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Sunday Waffles

Back when I was 16, I lived in Tacoma for a few months with my Dad. There was a little dive cafe (Dive cases always have the best food!) down the street from our apartment called Lu Lu’s. Every Sunday, we would walk down there and have breakfast. And every Sunday I would have Strawberry Waffles. Even on the Sunday when we showed up late, they turned the waffle iron back on and I still got my Strawberry Waffles. I have many fond memories of those months, many of them centered in that cafe. There is another cafe that brings fond memories of childhood as well…but that will be stories for another day…

Now I have teenagers of my own. We don’t eat out much, but we have our own dive kitchen where we cook some pretty awesome food ourselves. My oldest has taken a liking to waffles recently and is perfecting the craft of fluffy Belgian waffles. And with any luck, this will become our new Sunday tradition. If not a weekly tradition, at least I’ve been served waffles homemade with love by my teen, and I know we’re making memories that I hope my teens will look back on as fondly as I do my memories of those Sunday Waffles…

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Cheesy Goodness

Cheesy Goodness | | Homemade Macaroni and Cheese

Cheesy Goodness | | Homemade Macaroni and Cheese

 Years ago I had a pretty amazing boss and work “family”. Our boss’s wife was really amazing too. And a pretty darn amazing cook! When we were having a potluck lunch she would almost always bring macaroni and cheese. I wanted to make it and I decided I had to have the recipe! So during a lunch celebration at our boss’s home in which his wife again served up the cheesy goodness, several of us were swooning over the amazing flavor and I declared “I’m going to ask her for the recipe.” Everyone looked at me in shock. They had for years wanted the recipe but none of them dared to ask. Here I was, fairly new to the office, and unafraid to ask! As I always say, “If you don’t ask, it’s already a no”.

I stood up from the table, found our gracious hostess and gushed to her about how much I love her macaroni and cheese and what a wonderful cook she is. Then I asked. I simply looked at her and asked: “Would you perhaps be willing to share your recipe?” She was so happy to pull out her cookbook and share the recipe with me, and all the girls were looking at me, completely astonished at my immense bravery. Ha! Us Cooks have no fear about asking for a recipe. Really, the worst that could have happened is she could have said “I’m sorry, it’s an old family secret” (which I have heard more than once) or she could have provided me with a different recipe than what she actually uses. Either way, no harm done. And I got an awesome recipe!

I have now made this, many years later, only a handful of times. And I usually use different cheeses than what the recipe calls for. I really like adding in some smoked cheese, sometimes even a creamier cheese like brie. Once even a small handful of bleu cheese crumbles got added in. The important thing is to use cheese that you like. And to make plenty for everyone. Oh and if by some chance you happen to have leftovers, please do yourself a favor in reheating them and do so in the oven. I promise you, the flavor of reheating in the oven vs microwave is well worth the time you wait!
Today I am making this most amazing cheesy goodness for a friend’s family. Her children have declared “what’s wrong with Kraft Mac and Cheese”. Well, nothing, I suppose, unless you want actual cheese in your macaroni and cheese. I have the blue boxes sitting here too, just in case I am unable to sway their tastes on this one. But really, it’s cheese, butter, and pasta! How can they not like it? Love it, even? These children are for sure my toughest critics. Since I have known them, I have cooked many meals for them. Most a hit, some are eaten, but I’m not sure enjoyed as much, and when they don’t like something, they speak up about it. (I don’t think I’ll ever be allowed to forget the caramelized carrots fiasco… apparently “caramelized” means something entirely different to a 9-year-old girl than to a 30-something woman who has an immense love of food!)

To make this cheesy goodness for yourself and your faves, you’ll need about 2# of cheese a pound of pasta, plus some butter, flour, milk, spices…oh, and maybe a recipe… please don’t be intimidated. Read through the whole recipe before you start and then just relax and let the process work.

The reviews from my critics have come back and here’s what my toughest critics have to say:
1. I was so stoked to eat it! (14 yr old)
2. So stoked on this macaroni, it’s so dialed! (15 yr old)
3. It was very scrumptious, but very hot (like heat hot) (11 yr old)
4. I thought that it was awesome. (13 yr old)
5. It tasted good. I mean, I ate all of it… (17 yr old…who seemed a little confused that I was asking)
6. It’s ****ing amazing (17 yr old [yes, there was swearing…very excited swearing…] )

Next time I make this, hopefully some adults will be around to enjoy it. Until then, I am pleased that I was able to share this cheesy goodness with a houseful of teens and tweens. 🙂

The Great American Macaroni and Cheese
This recipe is from the Pasta & Co. Cookbook

They say not to substitute a smooth tube dried pasta but to always use rigatoni for the best results. They also make a note that it is not a fiery dish, even though it calls for Tabasco and chili powder. The spiciness of the sauce and powder enhance the cheddar flavor.


1 lb sharp cheddar cheese, grated
1 lb mozzarella cheese, grated
3 cups milk
7 tablespoons unsalted butter
1⁄2 cup flour
1⁄2 cup parmesan cheese, grated
1⁄4 cup romano cheese, grated
2 teaspoons Tabasco sauce
1⁄3 teaspoon white pepper
1 lb rigatoni pasta
3⁄4 teaspoon chili powder
3⁄4 cup milk


Combine grated Cheddar and mozzarella and set aside.
In a small saucepan, heat milk until near boiling. Turn off heat. Melt butter in a heavy pan large enough to hold the pasta after it is cooked. (It will take at least a 14-inch saute pan or a large casserole that can take direct heat.) When foam from butter recedes, remove from heat, add flour, and mix well. Return to medium-low heat, and, stirring occasionally, simmer for 2 to 3 minutes to cook, but not brown, the flour. Gradually stir in hot milk. Raise heat to medium-high and continue stirring until mixture is smooth and thick (about 5 minutes). Add Parmesan and Romano cheeses. Whisk until smooth. Add Tabasco and white pepper and blend.
Cook rigatoni in boiling salted water about 4 minutes. (It will be underdone, but will finish cooking later.) Thoroughly drain rigatoni and fold it into the cheese mixture.
If cooking immediately, preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Layer one-half the rigatoni mixture into a 9×13 pan. Top with one-half of the Cheddar and mozzarella. Repeat layers. Top with chili powder, sprinkled evenly over top.
If not baking immediately, cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate or freeze. When ready to bake, drizzle the 3/4 cup milk over the dish. Bake for approximately one hour. If frozen, add at least 20 minutes to baking time. The dish should be rusty brown on top. Should it appear to be browning too fast, cover with foil for part of cooking time. Be sure to check for doneness in the very center of the dish.


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Filed under Cooking With Love, Pasta, Recipes

Go For Green

Leprechaun Visit |

You’re never too old for Lucky Charms or a Leprechaun visit!
Go For Green!

 I see all these moms running around making elaborate Leprechaun traps, fancy treats, costumes…well, you name it, and I’ve seen the over-the-top, make-the-average-mom-look-bad crafts and projects and parties. This may very well come as a shock to some of you, but I am NOT a crafty mom. I used to think I wanted to be a crafty mom…but it looks like it takes a lot of time and energy and I would just rather put forth that time and energy hanging out than crafting. So far, I don’t think my kids have been scarred too much by my lack of craftiness. Now, I may not be crafty, but I still sure know how to have fun and most Holidays around here are memorable. (Let’s not talk about Valentine’s Day this year, please… I failed miserably by forgetting to leave a silly card for my kids to find when they wake up…Hey, I never said I was perfect! I think I redeemed myself by bringing home chocolate strawberries, though.)

How does a non-crafty mom make Holidays totally awesome you ask? The answer is simple! I have a private line to all the well-known Holiday spokespeople. The Easter Bunny, Santa…yes, even the Leprechauns. Having this “in” with these people really helps when you aren’t crafty! It just takes a quick call, email, or text message to confirm that my kids still get a thrill out of the little details of the Holiday, and I’m off the hook for crafting! A special treat will be dropped off by morning and I can get some much-needed sleep!

Such as it was for St Patrick’s Day! A quick “Go for Green” text message and I was off to bed at an early hour. The Leprechauns paid a visit, performed a bit of mischief with chairs on tables, stools turned upside down, milk turned green, even the fruit bowl turned upside down and the fruit stacked on top…and left a treat for the trouble of having to clean up after them. We all get a good giggle at their silliness every year, and this year was no exception.

Of course, this doesn’t let me off the hook for cooking dinner. We will still have our traditional Corned Beef and Cabbage. It is in the slow cooker now and will be ready when I get home from work. Another mealtime saved by the slow cooker!

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Shots and Ice Cream

Shots and Ice Cream For Dinner | | Some days just require a shot (of espresso)...and ice cream for dinner

Some days just require a shot (of espresso)…

Some days just require (espresso) shots and ice cream for dinner. Today was just such a day. I wouldn’t say I had a bad day, it just wasn’t particularly good. It began with receiving some sad news that didn’t quite allow itself to settle in. And then the day just went on as any usual day at the office would, people dropping in for different things throughout the day, appointments and meetings, coffee breaks (of course…I mean…it is MY office. There IS coffee!), just the usual goings on of the day. And then just before the day at the office ended, more sad news. And this time it took a good 15 or 20 minutes to settle into my heart and soul, and when it finally did, both bits of news settled into me all at once and it took all my strength to finish my day and get myself home to my babies.

Shots and Ice Cream for Dinner | | Some days just require a shot (of espresso) and ice cream for dinner

…and Ice Cream for Dinner

Life is precious and short and sweet. Celebrate the smallest moments. They are the biggest. Hug someone you love a little tighter today and every day.  Call someone. Take a chance you’ve been scared to take. Don’t wait another second to tell someone you love them, even if you think they already know. Have ice cream for dinner. Have a shot (of espresso).  Go for it! Live while you’re still living!  As my daughter wisely said once “Live; You Might Like It

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Garlic, Ginger, and Raw Honey

Everyone around me is getting sick these days. Cold, flu, nasty flu, bronchitis, pneumonia… It seems nobody, even my healthiest friends with the strongest immune systems, can fight off the illnesses that abound. And yet, I am trying… I am throwing together every natural remedy I can think of or find, in pure stubbornness and refusal of getting sick. I have been able to dodge the symptoms so far. A tiny sniffly nose here and there, but an extra dose of the next natural remedy I have discovered has been able to scare those germs away before they take a full hold on me. I am hoping to keep that up as I am starting to feel a little twinge of something coming on this evening. Some extra garlic pieces with dinner, a few shots of my home remedy concoctions and early to bed tonight will hopefully knock it out of my system! I figure if I eat enough garlic and ginger, the germs won’t want anything to do with me. (This may also contribute to my single status…perhaps I should re-think my healing strategy?)

My wish for you today is that you are healthy and happy. My wish to all my friends, family, and blog-readers who are ill or fighting off illness is for fast healing. To help nurse you back to health, I share with you some remedies that I hope will help in your healing. They have certainly helped me in fighting off the germs, and I hope they keep doing their job.

Honey Tea: 3 Ingredients to relief from cold and sore throat symptoms Fresh Lemon Slices Fresh Ginger Local Raw Honey

Honey Tea:
3 Ingredients to relief from cold and sore throat symptoms
Fresh Lemon Slices
Fresh Ginger
Local Raw Honey

In the last 3 weeks or so I have boiled fresh ginger and added raw honey for a ginger tea. I tracked down a supplier of dried elderberries to make elderberry syrup. My local bee keeper and his family have seen me in their shop multiple times, picking up more raw honey for my next concoction. Today I finally chose a larger container (3#, it fills a glass quart jar) that is refillable, so I can save a little money on my next trip. I considered getting the 6# half-gallon jar, but thought that may be overkill. I would have been wrong. I already used over half the jar I did purchase, and that was just a few hours ago! I also picked up some buckwheat honey at the bee keeper’s recommendation. It is a much darker honey, sweet and rich like molasses with extra benefits to help fight off the cold and flu.

I made my first round of Honey Tea, using local raw honey from Bees in the ‘Burbs a couple of years ago. I still use their honey and have gotten to know the family that runs the local business and I like giving them my business, even as seldom as it may be. I made 3 jars of Honey Tea today, so I can bless some friends with this treat. Among the most simple remedies, this “tea” requires only 3 ingredients (raw honey, ginger, and lemon) and takes about 5 minutes to put together. Store it in the fridge and when you need a boost or want to add flavor to your tea, mix it up and add a spoonful or two to your hot water.

A search last month for natural cold and flu remedies brought me to many, many links for elderberry syrup. It quickly became my new favorite remedy and I have started calling it my Feel Better Juice! I found a place near-ish my office to buy dried elderberries, but if you don’t have any luck with that, there are several retailers selling them. The remaining ingredients were already in my arsenal at home.

Feel Better Juice | Elderberry Syrup | Cold and Flu Remedy | |To make your own Feel Better Juice, you'll need whole sticks of cinnamon, whole cloves, fresh ginger, dried elderberries, water, and raw honey. Simmer all except the honey for about 20 minutes. Drain, discarding the solids and reserving the liquid. Allow to cool slightly. You don't want the honey to cook, just melt. You lose the benefits of raw honey if you let the good stuff cook out. Pour your Feel Better Juice into jars and take a shot or two every day, sick or not.

To make your own Feel Better Juice, you’ll need whole sticks of cinnamon, whole cloves, fresh ginger, dried elderberries, water, and raw honey. Simmer all except the honey for about 20 minutes. Drain, discarding the solids and reserving the liquid. Allow to cool slightly. You don’t want the honey to cook, just melt. You lose the benefits of raw honey if you let the good stuff cook out. Pour your Feel Better Juice into jars and take a shot or two every day, sick or not.

You will find many more natural remedies on the web, or better yet, Pinterest! That way you can save all the great things you find into one place, like I’ve done on my Pinterest page. Of course, you’ll want to create different boards to keep yourself organized. My Natural Remedies board has a pretty good collection of remedies with everything from headache relief to cold and flu symptoms, and everything beyond and in between! I hope you find some remedies that work for you! And as I find new ways to make my family healthy without putting drugs into our bodies, I will share them with you.

Now go get yourself some garlic, ginger, and raw honey and feel better soon!!!


Filed under Journey to Real Food

Celebrate With That Cook Girl

National Kahlua Day | Happy Birthday That Cook Girl |

Raise a glass with me! Cheers to another year of awesomeness!

Is it a coincidence that National Kahlua Day and That Cook Girl’s Birthday fall on the same day? I think not. Every year on February 27th the world rejoices. I share this day of rejoice for the awesomeness of Kahlua and for surviving another year of this crazy ride we call life.

I spend the month celebrating my birthday. I spoil myself because I deserve it, and I learned years ago that people will treat you only as well as you treat yourself.

This year I will end my birthday month celebrations enjoying a glass filled with this yummy homemade coffee liqueur I made using my favorite coffee.   Raise a glass with me! Cheers to another year of awesomeness!

I know, I know…you all want to know why I’m not sharing the recipe for this awesome, yummy, sweetness. Well, because I haven’t decided this will be my “go-to” recipe. It’s the first time I’ve made coffee liqueur. I did not use the recipe my Mom uses (ssshhh don’t tell her). And since making this recipe, I have come across many other methods I want to try. Some methods require an instant coffee, others use a cold brewed method, while still others use whole coffee beans (!!!). And then there’s the different choices of alcohol. My Mom’s recipe would use Everclear, and her liqueur is quite tasty. I used a mixture of Rum and Brandy for mine, giving it a bit more depth of flavor. Several of my friends have received gifts of the yumminess I made back in December, and I hope they are enjoying it.

:::CHEERS::: Much love to you, and wishes for another fabulous year!

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Kitchen Tree

I’m sure it won’t surprise you to know that I love Christmas. I love, love, love decorating our tree. I always try to convince my kids that I should leave it up year-round. Last year I even planned on seeing just how long I’d last with it up. I probably could have kept it all the way into summer if not longer. But, we moved and it had to come down. But out of pure stubbornness, on moving day, it was the last thing standing. And we moved in mid-February! Everything else was packed and loaded into cars and there stood my tree, still as beautiful as the day it went up.
Kitchen Tree
What? Doesn’t everyone put a Christmas Tree in their kitchen?

But I digress… This year we are in a beautiful house with a big kitchen. And so I got to put up a (small) Kitchen Tree! What? Doesn’t everyone put a Christmas tree in their kitchen?  I added my coffee ornaments, my cooking-themed ornaments, and some favorite childhood ornaments and I found a home for it on my kitchen counter. I will enjoy this tree every morning as I pour my coffee, every evening as I cook dinner (or watch the kids cook dinner, whatever the case may be), and I will enjoy it every time I walk into or through the kitchen.

Who knows. Maybe it will find a permanent home atop my stack of favorite cookbooks in the corner. One just never knows.

What are some of your favorite holiday traditions? Do you do anything unique?

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A Thankful Life

Hello my loyal blog-readers. Are any of you still out there, waiting for me to get my act together and start posting again? I hope so.

Well, today seems as good a day as any to see what I can do about getting back to blogging. You may be thinking “How does she have time to post on her blog when she should be busily preparing Thanksgiving dinner for a crowd?” Easy. I’m not hosting dinner this year. Nor have I for several years. You see (and I’m about to get really real with you here), I stopped hosting the big Thanksgiving dinner when my life turned upside down a few years ago. I tried desperately to turn it right side up, to no avail. Life has had me upside down, inside out, backwards, right side up,right side out,and forward again more times than I can count. So I just started rolling with the punches. And boy were there a lot of punches thrown my way in the last 5+ years. All the while I dodged a few, threw a few back, and found myself left breathless and disoriented by even more. In the last 2 years I have held 5 different jobs and had 4 different addresses to call home. Somehow I managed to keep my head held high, if only barely at times. So, I hope you will forgive my immense absence from the blogging world, and just welcome my attempts to return. I make no promises for how often I will blog. I only promise to try to be entertaining when I do.

This morning as I prepare to have Thanksgiving dinner with some much-loved people in my life, it hit me just how very thankful I am. Not only today, but every day. I saw this saying recently that sums up my feelings pretty well:

It is not happy people who are thankful. It is thankful people who are happy.

I am thankful for more reasons than seems reasonable at times. But I am thankful nonetheless. For the love I have been surrounded by, the opportunities life has presented to me, the friends who have become family, the friends and family who have stood by my side as I made choices that they may or may not have agreed with but supported me no matter what. More than anything, I am thankful to have my 2 pretty darn amazing teenagers who keep me going when all I want to do is give up. I will show them and the whole world that life doesn’t have to be perfect or even go your way to live it happily.

Now, I am being summoned by a cup of coffee that needs my attention and my world famous artichoke dip that isn’t going to make itself.(It’s famous in my world, that counts, right?)

My wish for you is to be thankful for the small things and the big things, the good things and the bad things, and for every choice you make, the good ones and the poor ones. Each of these things will make for a happy life if only you can find a way to be thankful for them.

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Confessions of a Childhood Cook

I grew out of a lot of things I liked to do as a child, as most people do. One thing I never outgrew was liking food and cooking. One of my confessions from my days as a young cook involves multiple confessions. So I might as well just get right to it. Mom? Dad? I’m sorry. I was not the angelic child you believed me t….sorry, I can’t finish that sentence with a straight face, even typing it instead of speaking it. Angelic? Middle child of 6 girls? Not likely. I’m sure these confessions won’t even raise an eyebrow from my folks.

Confession #1: The recipe I’m about to share has always been my guilty pleasure. From the moment I discovered it… I would sneak out of bed many nights to make it after everyone else was long asleep (or at least I assumed they were asleep)

Confession #2: After making the recipe, I plopped down in front of the TV to watch late night Nick at Nite shows like Donna Reed and Mr.Ed (such a rebel)

Confession #3: I ate the recipe straight out of the pan and drank 2 big glasses of milk along with it.

So, what is this glorious recipe? I’m sure you’ve heard of it. I’m sure you’ve even made it many times yourself. And I’m sure you even have eaten it straight from the pan. Perhaps not the entire pan of it like I did, though (please, do confess if you did, though! I’d love to not be alone on this one….)

NO BAKE CHOCOLATE MOUNDS (a.k.a No Bake Cookies)

Your Ingredients:

1/4 lb butter, 2 c sugar, 1/2 c milk, 1/4 c peanut butter, 6 Tbl cocoa powder, 3 c quick oats, 1 tsp vanilla


In a large saucepan, mix together butter, sugar, and milk. Bring to a boil and allow to boil for 2 minutes. Imagine a child waiting for 2 minutes for sugar to boil. I think that kind of torture should be enough that no punishment for the crime of sneaking out of bed to make this yummy treat is necessary. Wouldn’t you agree?


Add the remaining ingredients to the pan.


Stir until well combined. And then, if you’re like a normal person, you’ll want to work fast to drop the mix onto wax paper before it begins to harden. (The cooler it is in your house, the faster they will harden.) [Note, mine are on foil instead of wax paper…because I don’t have wax paper. This is the only recipe I have that needs it, and well, I usually eat the dang things right out of the pan and never make it to this step!]


Oh, don’t worry. I saved some for myself. I have it sitting right here next to me while I type. So, Mom and Dad? Now I guess you know why you seemed to always run out of oatmeal (and sugar, and cocoa powder, oh and milk….) quicker than expected. Loves! xx


As I was remembering my late-night snacking adventures this morning on the way to work, it reminded me of other recipes from my childhood that I am now officially on the hunt for! Children’s books with recipes in them! There is one out there somewhere with cranberry cookies and I am determined to find it, along with many others I remember from my childhood. I will keep you updated on what I find. What are your favorite childhood food memories?


Filed under Cooking With Love, Dessert, Recipes