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Christmas in New York with Kids!

*2020 Disclaimer: These photos were popping up in my memories, so I thought it’d be fun to recap this trip from 2016. So, don’t be alarmed by these photos with the crowds and no masks in sight! They are from years ago! Carry on…*

There is truly nothing like New York at Christmas! My first trip to New York City was during December and it will forever be one of my favorite trips! Thanks to about ten million viewings of the movie ELF, our kids were also enamored with New York…or as my oldest son called it at the time…”Yew Nork”. (swoon)

When we had kids and started traveling with them, we intended to make sure we took them to the “big” places when they could remember them. But, there’s something magical about taking your kids places when they are small – seeing it through their eyes and watching their reactions is a gift for you as a parent that is truly unmatched!

So, in 2016, we decided to take the boys to New York for a quick, 4 day dose of Christmas magic. For reference, my boys were 5 and 3 at the time of this trip. Since I had been to New York at Christmas before, I made a quick list of things I wanted to do with them.

Generally, when planning a trip, here’s my basic planning method. (I’ll dig into this further in a future post, so consider this a preview!)

  1. Make a list of “must-dos” for your trip.
  2. Map the things you want to do, then group activities by location.
  3. Search for restaurants near the attractions and save in your map.
  4. Schedule tickets or reservations as needed. Days on your trip with ticketed events will have more firm schedules, then you can fill in those days with activities near the ticketed locations based on the weather or how you’re feeling during the trip.
  5. Make a loose schedule of the grouped activities and restaurants by day.

Here was my list of “Must Dos” in New York with Kids:

Day 1

After landing in New York, we rode a taxi (check!) into the city and got settled at our hotel. It was around lunch time when we arrived, so we started with a meal at Ellen’s Stardust Diner. This restaurant is the home of the world-famous singing waitstaff. While you’re served diner-style food, Broadway hopefuls sing to you! It’s such a fun experience for the kids and a diner is ALWAYS a good choice when eating with kids in a city.

Since it was raining on this day, we chose to explore the indoor American Museum of Natural History (think: Night at the Museum). At this point, our kids hadn’t seen the movies yet – they were too young to enjoy them. But, it was still a fun, indoor activity to enjoy on a rainy day. We rode the subway (check!) from the diner to the 81st street stop for the Museum. The boys loved the dinosaur skeletons and solar system exhibit most. With littles, the museum trip doesn’t last long! We saw the big exhibits then headed back to the Times Square area near our hotel. It REALLY started raining then, so we ducked into M&M World and The Disney Store to let the boys look around. The Times Square stores, while VERY touristy and typically over-crowded are SO much fun for little kids. It was good timing to explore the stores – as it was a week day in the pouring rain, so it wasn’t crowded at all. We ended the first day with a slice of New York cheesecake and went to bed!

Day 2:

We stayed at the Row Hotel, mostly for it’s convenient location to Times Square. As an added bonus, it had a modern food court inside with decent food options. When traveling with kids, its SO important to have some close food options to your hotel. We started the second day with breakfast at the hotel food court, then headed toward mid-town to the Empire State Building and Macy’s. We didn’t go to the top of the Empire State Building – mostly because the boys didn’t really care to go. But, they enjoyed seeing it from the outside and seeing the fancy lobby where “Buddy’s Dad works!”

Then, we went to THE Macy’s on 34th street to see Santa! Man – what an operation! We reserved a time to see Santa and it was a REALLY wonderful (and FREE) experience! The costumes of the elves and the decorations were really well done and the reservation option made the wait time really short. After the boys told Santa ALL their wishes, we snagged a snack then went outside Macy’s to enjoy their interactive window displays.

The weather was perfect, so it was a great time to enjoy some play time in Central Park! My boys STILL talk about climbing rocks in Central Park. They had so much fun! On a family vacation, especially one in a big city, it is IMPERATIVE to let your kids have some free play time outside. If you keep them too scheduled and drag them from one activity to another, they will turn quickly into monsters. So, don’t over do it! Let them enjoy and explore the nature around them! I promise – it will provide some of your best memories as a family! Climbing rocks, seeing some memorable Home Alone 2 sites, hot dog cart lunch and enjoying the beautiful Manhattan skyline, made for a great afternoon!

We had a big evening planned, so we went back to the hotel to take a nap. Listen, when you’re in a big city, you can feel tempted to squeeze as much as you can into your day. But, when traveling with little kids, just like making time for play, you MUST allow time for rest. Otherwise, your kids will do what they do at home when they are over-tired – throw an absolute fit and then everyone will be miserable. So, don’t over do it!

After our rest, we headed to Rockefeller Center for The Radio City Rockettes Christmas Spectacular! This was my first time seeing the show and I am SO GLAD I saw it with my kids! It was such a fun, kid-friendly, family Broadway-type experience. It was so well done and the kids were engaged the entire time! Live theater is a must in New York and this is a MUST-DO at Christmas time. They do a great job at making the experience great – no matter your seat!

After the show, we grabbed dinner then went to see the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree! Obviously, the tree is a must see in New York and the boys enjoyed watching the ice skaters and look at all the beautiful lights and displays in the the 30 Rock area too. A great way to end a wonderful day!

Day 3

We decided it was time for a New York bagel on Day 3. The boys loved reading New York, Baby! – a book I had gotten for them on a previous business trip to New York. The character gets a bagel and cream cheese, so the boys had to follow suit.

The weather was great on this day, so it was a perfect time to do some more activities in Central Park. As we made our way into the park, the boys were intrigued by the horse drawn carriages offering rides around the park. So, we decided to go for it and take a ride. They loved feeding the horses and clip-clopping around Central Park and along the busy streets in Manhattan. The boys waved at everyone they saw like they were in a parade! So cute!

After the carriage ride, we went ice skating at the Wollman Rink. While ice skating at Rockefeller Center is certainly iconic…you’ll spend most of your day waiting in line for it! With a 5 year old and 3 year old…it’s just not worth it. And, honestly, I like the views in Central Park better! My oldest did NOT enjoy ice skating. He had a complete melt down. I think he was a bit overwhelmed by trying something new in a big crowd. But, my youngest LOVED it!

After ice skating, we snagged some New York Cheesecake at Juniors then went back to the hotel to rest.

Since the weather was nice, we decided it’d be a perfect night to see Times Square. So, after a fun meal of soup dumplings and hand-pulled noodles at Kung Fu Kitchen, we headed to see the lights in Times Square.

There is really nothing like watching your kids see something as BIG as Times Square when they are young. It was mesmerizing for them! We made note of where the “ball” would drop on New Year’s Eve and enjoyed seeing ads of movies and things they recognized. There was a singing group singing Christmas carols – so beautiful and a great Christmasy evening.

Day 4 – Last Day in the City

Our last day in the City – we decided to go get a closer look at Lady Liberty…but when we arrived, it was SO blisteringly cold, we decided to just look at her from the dock. I regret not braving the cold to see her up close, but oh well. We have something to do next time we visit! While in Lower Manhattan, we took a peek at Freedom Tower, got coffee and hot cocoa in The East Village and found the setting of my favorite sitcom – Friends. The East Village is SO pretty, y’all. We really enjoyed walking around that part of the city. The next time we visit the city, I’d like to stay in this area for a different take on Manhattan.

We have some family that lives in New York, so we spent the afternoon visiting them to end our trip! We had an evening flight out and I think these photos sum it up nicely! They were exhausted!

Real Talk

Listen – this trip was really great and full of fun memories. BUT. Our youngest was 3 years old and while we took taxis and subways a lot, his little legs got tired really quickly. So, my husband spent a lot of this trip with Andy on his shoulders. It was pretty exhausting. So, those breaks we took during the day were partly for my husband too! Just keep that in mind when visiting a big city with littles. I’ve heard of people getting strollers – which seems odd for a 3 year old – but might have been worth it. Hard to say!

But I have no regrets about this trip! It was such fun to experience these things with the kids at the ages they were. And honestly, for me…travel is always worth it.

-Cheers!

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Holiday Joy! – Neighbor Treat Recipe Round Up

I LOVE sharing treats with my neighbors around the holidays! If you haven’t met your neighbors, bringing a treat is a great reason to ring the bell. And for the neighbors you know and love, its a great time of year to say thanks for being awesome/sorry my kids broke that window.

Let’s all just take a moment to thank the Internets for ALL the recipes for ALL the things. I mean. We can find any recipe for anything! But, there’s something about getting a trusted “thumbs up” from someone who has made it before. So, I thought I’d share recipes I’ve found online that have become favorites.

I’ve made the recipes below them over and over and they are real winners! So, take a look, take your pick, and share some holiday joy with your people! I’ve split them into Thanksgiving and Christmas, but let’s be honest, they’re yummy for any holiday!

Thanksgiving

Pumpkin Bread: My standby for Thanksgiving is to make mini loaves of my mom’s pumpkin bread! It’s super simple, yet delicious and using mini loaf pans makes the recipe go farther! (This year, I plan to try Mom’s Pumpkin Bread recently shared by my friend over at East 9th!)

Pumpkin Ginger Snaps: These cookies have all the fall flavors wrapped into a super soft cookie!

Oatmeal Cream Pies: Like Little Debbie…but better! These are fairly simple to make, yet look really impressive.

Christmas

Carmel Churro Chex Mix – My mom found this recipe a few Christmases ago and it has been one of our FAVORITES the past couple of years! I made it for our neighbors last Christmas and it was a big hit! Beware – this stuff is addicting!

Gingerbread Cookie Bars – These just taste like Christmas! I opted for a powdered sugar topping to keep it a bit simpler when making multiple batches.

Gingerdoodles or Snickersnaps – Fair warning – these are pretty involved because you make two cookie recipes and then roll them together. But, if you have older kids who really like baking, this is a great one to do together.

Pretty much every recipe here can be packaged easily and inexpensively by using plastic treat bags you can find in the party aisle of the grocery store. You can typically find festive printed ones or just use clear bags and add a ribbon and gift tag that matches your style.

Enjoy!

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Nana’s Pumpkin Bread

My mom’s pumpkin bread is simple, moist, and forever the star of my Thanksgiving Day brunch! There’s really nothing that makes me happier than curling up on the couch with a cup of coffee, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, and THIS BREAD.

My mom likes to make mini loaves of and freeze it so that she has it ready to give away or serve to her grand kids whenever she’d like. The recipe makes 1 large loaf or about 5 mini loaves. This is also a GREAT gift for neighbors or friends. In fact, this week, I’m making a few batches to share. So, bake some today to treat your family or your neighbors and bonus – you’ll have the best smelling kitchen on the block. Enjoy!

Nana’s Pumpkin Bread

Ingredients

  • 1 1/3 cups sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 (14 oz.) can pumpkin puree
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. soda
  • 1 tsp. pumpkin pie spice (store bought or see below for recipe)
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • Cinnamon Sugar mixture for topping (store bought or see below for recipe)
  1. Pre-heat your oven to 350 degrees. Spray loaf pan or mini loaf pans with non-stick cooking spray or better yet, baking spray. (This magic will grease and flour your pans – quick and easy.)
  2. Whisk together wet ingredients (eggs, oil, pumpkin, vanilla) with the sugar and spices until well blended.
  3. Add dry ingredients (flour, salt, and soda) to the bowl and mix until JUST combined. DO NOT OVER MIX.
  4. Pour batter into prepared pans, filling just halfway. Sprinkle the cinnamon sugar mixture on top of the unbaked batter.
  5. Bake until a toothpick inserted comes out clean, about 25 minutes for mini-loaves or about 50 minutes for a standard loaf pan. (With bread, I like to use bamboo skewers instead of toothpicks.)
  6. Allow bread to cool in pan for a few minutes then carefully dump bread from the pan and allow to cool the rest of the way on a cooling rack.
  7. Enjoy! I think this bread is best at room temperature or (strangely) refrigerated. Serve it to your family or take to your neighbors!

Pumpkin Pie Spice

  • 2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp ginger
  • 1/4 tsp cloves
  • 1/4 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp all spice

Mix spices together. Makes about 1 Tbs. pumpkin pie spice.

Cinnamon Sugar

  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 Tbs. cinnamon

Mix until well combined.

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Halloween Candy Cookies

I’m always at a loss for what to do with the left over Halloween candy. Of course, I let the kids snack on it – I’m not a monster. But, I don’t need that big bowl of candy sitting around the house for weeks. So, to use up some of the candy, but still enjoy a treat, I chop it up and roll it into cookies!

I used one of my most favorite cookie recipes to start – Southern Living’s Ultimate Chocolate Chip Cookies – with my notes and substitutions, of course.

Halloween Candy Cookies – modified from Southern Living

  • ¾ cup butter, softened
  • ¾ cup granulated sugar
  • ¾ cup firmly packed light brown sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 ¼ cups plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • ¾ teaspoon salt
  • About 24 pieces of your favorite leftover Halloween candy, roughly chopped.
  1. Mix together butter and sugars until well blended in the bowl of a stand mixer.
  2. Add eggs and vanilla extract to the butter and sugar mixture and mix until well combined.
  3. Add dry ingredients into wet mixture and mix on lowest speed until JUST combined. DO NOT OVER MIX.
  4. Refrigerate the cookie dough while you prepare the candy mix-ins.
  5. Unwrap candies you’d like to mix-in, and roughly chop.
  6. Fold the chopped candy into the refrigerated dough.
  7. Drop by tablespoonfuls onto a cookie sheet*. Refrigerate the cookie dough drops for about 15 minutes (or longer if you can) before baking.
  8. Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.
  9. Bake cookies for about 8 minutes, or until very slightly golden on the edges.
  10. Allow cookies to cool for about a minute on the cookie sheet, then transfer to a cooling rack. Enjoy!

I asked my husband Dave and my 2 boys to pick what candies they wanted in their cookies. I found myself making custom cookies for each person, which was absolute craziness. But, it WAS fun to taste test the different combos and pick our favorites. The boys wanted all their favorites rolled in, while Dave and I wanted just one candy per cookie. With this recipe – everyone can win! We liked Twix and Rolo cookies surprisingly best! I enjoyed a white chocolate Reese’s as well.

While I am VERY impatient when it comes to cookie baking, chilling the dough really makes this one turn out well. So, don’t skip that step. You can short-cut chilling times by keeping your flour in the freezer! Or, if you have your life together, you could make these the night before you plan to make them so the batter has plenty of time to chill.

So, enjoy turning your trick-or-treating stash into a yummy dessert! Let me know your favorite candy combo!

*My favorite cookie sheets are Air Bake. My go-to for cookies!

Heath Bar, M&M’s, Reeses and White Chocolate Kit Kat! Yummm.
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Shredded Mexican Chicken (Instant Pot)

I developed this recipe to solve a problem you see with a lot of shredded chicken recipes…they’re dry and lacking in flavor. The Instant Pot does some crazy magic with meat, and chicken thighs are a favorite of mine! They are inexpensive and provide much more flavor and moisture compared to chicken breasts.

This recipe is a favorite for weeknight dinners, but is also great for entertaining. Bonus – it’s a clean eating recipe! Enjoy!

Shredded Mexican Chicken

  • 8 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons chili powder
  • 3 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp cumin
  • 2 tsp garlic powder
  • 2 tsp onion powder
  • 1 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1 tsp pepper
  • 1 10 oz. can Rotel
  • 1 cup chicken broth

Instructions:

  • Stir chicken, oil and spices together in the bowl of your Instant Pot until the chicken is well coated with the spices. Arrange the chicken thighs to cover the bottom of the Instant Pot bowl.
  • Pour in the can of Rotel onto the chicken thighs. DO NOT STIR.
  • Gently pour the broth into the Instant Pot.
  • Secure the lid onto the Instant Pot and ensure it is set to “sealing.”
  • Cook on High Pressure for 10 minutes. (Ensure the pot is set to “Keep Warm” so that it will keep the chicken warm after the cooking cycle is complete.)
  • Allow the pressure to naturally release from the Instant Pot. This can take about 20 minutes. (If you get impatient, you can quick release the pressure after 15 minutes.)
  • Drain off some of the excess liquid. (Don’t completely drain as a lot of the spices will be in the liquid. So, for storing leftovers, you’ll want to keep some of the juices with the chicken.)
  • Shred and serve!
  • Makes 8-10 servings.

This chicken is so versatile! We typically eat them as chicken tacos first, but there are so many options for the leftovers! You can make a quick chicken taco soup; throw it on top of a salad with an avocado for lunch; stuff it in a pita pocket as a sandwich; or make chicken quesadillas! Leftovers also freeze really well.

I haven’t tested it yet, but I assume it would work well in a slow cooker as well. If you try it, let me know how it goes! Enjoy!

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Anytime Apple Muffins

These muffins are LITERALLY great anytime of the day. They are great for breakfast alongside some scrambled eggs; an awesome after school snack; and sweet enough to be dessert. The apple cinnamon flavor is so great during the fall season, but honestly, you’ll want to have these in your regular rotation! These muffins are slightly modified from my mom’s muffin recipe. I added some oats for more texture and applesauce to make them extra moist. So, make some coffee and enjoy my Anytime Apple Muffins!

Be sure to follow me on Instagram @freckledhomestead for more tips and videos in my stories.

Anytime Apple Muffins

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 cup oats (I like to use 1/2 cup quick and 1/2 cup old fashioned for the best texture.)
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 1/3 cups granulated sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 unsweetened apple sauce snack size cup (scant 1/2 cup)
  • 2-3 peeled and chopped apples (I like Gala, but use what you have!)
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract (optional)
  1. Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Mix together all ingredients in a bowl until just blended.
  3. Measure batter into greased muffin tins. (with a cookie scoop if you have one!)
  4. Bake at 350 degrees until a toothpick inserted comes out clean – about 20 minutes. Allow to cool for about 5 minutes before eating…if you can wait that long!

Makes about 18 muffins.

Paradoxical Parenting

Oh, we are in the throws of it.

The “terrible” whatevers.

The boy is 2 years and almost 6 months old. And since the Texas sun decided to declare that summer was here to stay, this boy has kept me and his Daddy on our toes.

We feel like crazy people. We look at the clock and try to will it to move faster and get to that magical hour that is bedtime. Then, as soon as he is asleep, we miss him. We want to go wake him up and hold him and have hilarious conversations with him.

But, that is the problem with being in love with a crazy person. They make you crazy too.

Don’t try to tell me that 2 year olds aren’t crazy. There is so much going on in his brain right now that he doesn’t know how to handle. He is learning, and boy, testing boundaries. He is discovering new things that his body can do. New words his mouth can say. And, most notably, a new will he can exert.

He is testing us.

“Will they react the same way this time as they did last time?”

“What will he do if I put my hands around his throat, or what will she do if I spit in her face?”

And, most importantly…

“Why won’t they let me sleep in their bed?”

I am told, “Just you wait! Age three is worse!” First of all, let me just say that telling me that, “It gets worse!” is NOT encouragement. It does not make me feel better. It does not give me the will to go on.

It makes me want to throw my hands in the air… and take up drinking.

But, here is the amazing thing about parenting. In the midst of the craziness. Intertwined with the shrieking and the whining and the roller coaster emotions spewing out of this little person, are the best experiences of my life.

A fit. A time out. Then he sings every single word to “It Is Well With My Soul.”

It takes twenty minutes and an unfortunate spanking to get the toys in the toy box. Then he hugs my neck and calls my freckles “sprinkles.”

So.

Here we are in the throws of the terrible “whatevers”. And somehow, its still awesome. Its actually more awesome than it was last week. And last year. It gets better and better as time goes on.

So if the “terribles” bring on so much blessing and joy in this paradoxical ride we call parenting…

Bring it on age three.

Bring. It. On.

Ode to Steve

I have been sitting here writing and rewriting a Father’s day post about my Dad. Should I be completely sappy and tell you how sweet he is? Or make it funny and tell you all the ridiculous memories I have of him? Well, this issue with my blog writing today is a perfect picture of my Dad. He is equally loving and tough; sweet and sarcastic; hilarious and serious; sensitive and strong; relaxed and supportive. He certainly does not fit anyone’s mold and is impossibly unique. So, just forgive the formatting of this blog post and let me just tell you a few of my favorite things about him today, on Father’s Day.

My Cheerleader

Through all my insecurities, my Dad has been a constant cheerleader in my life. He has always thought I was just the best. I know that I did things that disappointed him and made decisions that he wasn’t crazy about, but I have always known and will always know that I am his most favorite middle daughter and that he thinks the world of me.

Me and my Dad on my wedding day.
Me and my Dad on my wedding day.

Even now, in my adulthood, my Dad has continued his support of me by supporting my new family. Even before we had kids, my Dad always preached to me and Dave that when you get married, you have created a new family- and that family is the most important one. When he walked me down the aisle to Dave, he really did entrust me to Dave’s care. He has supported Dave and welcomed him into our family like his own son. Dave loves going to visit my parents, (my Mom spoiling him with biscuits and gravy probably has something to do with it.) and that is so relieving to me. My Dad encourages us to take time with each other and make memories with our kids. With holidays and family functions, he willingly takes the back seat so that we can build memories and experiences with our children. Of course, he wants to spend time with us as much as possible, but he allows Dave and I to make those decisions with no guilt and with the utmost support. When I was VERY pregnant with my first baby, he and my mom came to us to celebrate Christmas so that I wouldn’t have to travel. He loves our traditions, but is flexible with the details, focusing on what is most important.

Papa

One of my greatest joys over the past couple of years has been watching my Dad become a Papa and enjoy my children. I feel like I am catching a glimpse of how he was with my sisters and I when we were babies. So far, the man who raised three daughters, has three grandSONS. And let me tell you, he is having a blast. He built them a fort at his house that is just awesome. The boys LOVE going to visit Papa to play on the fort, ride on the four wheeler, and go swimming with him. I love seeing him love on them and really enjoy seeing how they love him back.

Seriously...look at that fort.
Seriously…look at that fort.

Papa and Levi. Levi is holding the brand that Papa made for him.
Papa and Levi. Levi is holding the brand that Papa made for him.

My Daddy holding my second born, his namesake, Andrew Steven
My Daddy holding my second born, his namesake, Andrew Steven.

Obedience to the Lord

There are hard days in ministry. Hard. Days. My Dad has experienced those days, and during those seasons I remember asking him, “Why don’t you just do something else? He would say, “Because God hasn’t told me to move yet. He told me to come here, and I’m not leaving until He tells me where to go next.” He has an unwavering dependence on the Lord in ministry, and the Lord has blessed Him for it. He has joked that he hopes to be the oldest youth minister ever. So far, he’s got a pretty good shot at that title. While his current job title is not, “youth minister” he still considers himself one to each summer staff that spends their summer at Pineywoods.

Humor and Fun

If you were in my Dad’s youth group or have gone on a mission trip with him or anything like that, you know that he is a blast. Now, he expects a lot out of you and can be scary if you are say, whining….(If you have ever whined around my Dad, I’m sorry he called you an idiot…but you probably deserved it.), but he is still a lot of fun. He loves dumb movies and stand-up comedy and sitcoms. He created my sister’s fear of birds by feeding Cheetos to seagulls causing them to swarm us on family vacation…just because he thought it was funny to see her get worked up. He dances with my Mom while she is trying to cook. He wrestled a kid in another youth group at camp because he was talking smack. He dressed as a woman in a comedy play for a youth fundraiser. He is wonderfully fun and always made our home growing up a place I liked to be.

So, Daddy…because I know you are reading this. Not just because your name was in the title…but because you are always interested in what’s going on with me…

HAPPY FATHER’S DAY!

You really are the best.

“Tobblah”…also known as “Cobbler”

Blackberry "Tobblah"
Blackberry “Tobblah”

I love recipes that have been passed down for generations.

With each generation, the recipe evolves. A slight alteration to make it unique to the cook making it or to cater the people eating it.

Even if it doesn’t evolve, even if the recipe is followed to the letter for generations, through the years, it gains experiences; the meaning gets deeper. It becomes someone’s favorite. Becomes someone’s “I’m famous for…” Someone burns it. Adds salt instead of sugar. Memories are made. Laughs had. Waistlines softened.

This here is one of those recipes.

It is my husband’s favorite dessert and the first time I ate it, it became one of my favorites too. It is perfection. It’s hearty, and flaky, and buttery, and wonderfully simple.

I requested the recipe from my mother-in-law, partly to be able to make it for my husband…but mostly to be able to have this wonderful dessert any time I wanted.

She said, “Well…there’s not one. Well, there’s sort of one. We’ll just have to make it and I’ll show you”

Oh people. THAT is how you know it’s going to be good. When it’s not even written down.

She pulled out her old Betty Crocker and showed me how her mom had pieced together parts of Betty’s “Pastry Pie Crust” and “Fresh Fruit Cobbler”. Then, because the best part of cobbler is the crust, of course, my mother-in-law, in all her wisdom, added extra layers. I told y’all it was good.

So, we made it together, and I wrote it down.

Stop right now and make a vow to cook your favorite unwritten family recipe with whoever cooks it best and write that thing down! Cook it often. Call your mom/grandma/aunt when you mess it up and ask questions. Before it’s lost.

I plan to do this with my Grandma Shirley’s enchiladas and my Grandma Claudie’s dinner rolls. Partly because I want to learn those recipes…but mostly because I want to be in the kitchen with them. So, be prepared, Grandmas! And don’t worry, dear Reader…I’ll share.

Back to the point. Since that wonderful day when my mother-in-law shared her recipe with me, I have made it dozens of times. Over time I’ve gotten better at it. Tweaked it a little bit to make it mine. It has become one of my favorite desserts to make and to serve.

But the best part of this cobbler is that my oldest son, Levi likes to cook the “tobblah” with me. He helps me roll out the crust and, his favorite part, cobble it together. It is always messy and sometimes ends in time outs. But, the look on his face when I suggest that we make it together brings me such joy. He squeals, “Tobblah! Let’s make tobblah with blackbewwies, Mom!” Anytime, son. Anytime.

And of course, my dear husband isn’t complaining.

IMG_0532

Because she is the best, my mother-in-law has graciously allowed me to share the recipe with you. So here goes. My tweaked version of her blackberry cobbler.

First, pre-heat your oven to 400 degrees. You could pre-heat it to 350. But don’t. The cobbler will be ok. But, the crust will be more soggy than you’d like.

Trust me.

Now, get your fruit filling cooking on the stove. First, mix together 1 cup of hot water and two tablespoons of cornstarch. Mix it well. Once you add other ingredients, the cornstarch won’t incorporate as easily. The corn starch helps to thicken the fruit mixture which is important for its overall goodness.

Like I said…trust me.

Next, in a large, preferably non-stick, definitely heavy-bottomed pot, mix the hot water corn starch mixture with (2) 16 oz packages of frozen blackberries, and 1 cup of sugar. Heat on medium heat until boiling then remove from heat. The blackberries will start to break down a bit and a nice juice will form as everything heats up.

Frozen blackberries in my super fun enamel ware pot that I don't use nearly enough.
Frozen blackberries in my super fun enamel ware pot that I don’t use nearly enough.

While that is cooking, butter a 13×9″ Pyrex dish. If you don’t have one…go buy one. Everyone needs Pyrex. The first marital argument that Dave and I had was regarding Pyrex…but more on that later.

Don't even think about spraying this pan...butter it. Come on. Your grandma would do it.
Don’t even think about spraying this pan…butter it. Come on. Your grandma would do it.

When the filling has cooked and formed a nice gooey consistency, turn off the heat and let it rest. On to the crust.

Before you move on to the crust, be sure to keep your boy out of the sugar.

The question is...did he dip the banana in the sugar? Oh, his mother's child.
The question is…did he dip the banana in the sugar? Oh, his mother’s child.

Now on to the crust. This is the best part, y’all. In your very favorite pie crust making bowl, measure out 3 cups of flour and 1 1/2 teaspoons of salt and mix them together.

Measure out 1 cup of shortening and cut it into the flour mixture until well combined.

Lots of recipes will tell you that you can “cut in” butter or shortening with two forks. Have you ever tried to do that? Well, I have and I looked like a fool…and the recipe didn’t turn out. I highly recommend a pastry blender.

Buy a pastry blender. You deserve it.
Buy a pastry blender. You deserve it.

After you cut in the shortening, add 7 tablespoons of water. Then mix together well until a dry dough forms. You may think while you are mixing that the dough is too dry. It isn’t. Just keep mixing. Betty’s recipe calls for 6 tablespoons, but I have found that 7 makes the perfect consistency every time.

Now, time for the “tobblah” rolling. I don’t like using a floured surface for rolling out pie crusts. First, it makes a mess, and I have enough messes to deal with. Second, I think it adds too much flour to the crust and changes the texture and taste. So, I like to roll out my pie crusts between two sheets of waxed paper. Easy peasy.

Such a good little helper, this boy.
Such a good little helper, this boy.

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Getting caught eating the dough…as always.

Bring your filling and your buttered dish to the table and get ready to cobble this thing together. Layer like this:

Fruit, Crust, Fruit, Crust, Fruit, Crust.

Don’t get all hung up on rolling out the perfect shape of pie crust to cover the pan. Puzzle it together. Just throw it in there. It turns out so nice.

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Everyone say, “Hi!” to Sister, our fish, checking out the cobbler.

Rustic.

That’s what you call things when they aren’t perfect, but you’re country, so you aren’t worried about it.

Now, before you pop that beauty in the oven, take the stick of butter that you used to butter your pan and cut some slices and put them on top of the crust pieces.

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Do not skip this step because you are trying to be healthy.You are making “tobblah.” Make it good!

Now that you’ve added butter, sprinkle the top evenly with sugar. Then, let your boy sprinkle a little sugar on top too. Just be aware that he doesn’t know how to sprinkle, so don’t give him much.

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Bake for 30 minutes at 400 degrees.

The result is positively divine. Serve it alone. Serve it with some vanilla bean ice cream. Serve it with whipped cream. Serve it with a smile and a vow to workout…tomorrow.

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I’ll figure out how to make you guys a printable recipe card later on. For now, be old school and write it down on a recipe card. Enjoy!

Don’t Judge

Let me just tell you where I am.

I had my second child about two months ago. He is absolutely precious.

But, this here blog post is not about how precious he is. (And seriously, he is incredible…but more on that later.)

Guys…the baby weight. It’s not the number on the scale that bothers me really. Mainly because no one will EVER see that number.

Its the lumpy, frumpy, disporportionate, soft, doesn’t-fit-well-into-anything body that is left behind after 9 months of growing another human being. I’m a logical person. I understand that pregnancy takes a toll on your body. Boy, do I know that. Everything stretches and moves to accomodate the growing fetus. The process is really amazing. That God forms these little babies in our wombs and each week they grow and develop and then come out and are able to function as a human. Wow.

But when they come out, our bodies are left in kind of a mess. I had c-sections with both my sons, so that’s my perspective.

Oh those first few weeks. Bleeding, aching, rolling in and out of bed because you can’t sit up. Feeling like your guts will spill out when you laugh or cough. Swelling of the feet and hands.

Disposable underwear.

And the funny thing is that ALL of that, every last pain, is in the background of those first few weeks. In the foreground is taking care of this new creature who has entered your home. Your recovery is important, but not what is most important.

Then, after the “new” wears off, and you get settled into the new routine of having a baby (or another baby), start getting a little more sleep, you also start to look in the mirror again.

That is exactly where I am.

And boy…it’s an uphill battle. The working out is hard. I am a Pilates and running kind of person. That part isn’t easy. But, it’s certainly not the hardest part for me.

The hardest part for me is being ok with the process. Being patient as I get back into shape. And ignoring the self deprecating thoughts that flood my head every day. And that I then project onto strangers. Seriously. Strangers.

I will see someone glance at me and I want to tell them, “I see that you are looking at my belly. (They probably weren’t) I just want you to know that I have a newborn. (They don’t care.) I’m normally not like this. (No, not normally flabby, but yes, normally crazy.)”

After my first baby, my friend and I took a Pilates class with college students. Good grief. Have you seen college students lately? Like, the ones who wake up at 6:00 am to do Pilates?

Y’all, they are so toned, and check this…when they stand up…with their feet together…their thighs don’t touch, y’all. It’s amazing.

AAAANNNNDDD not really what you want to look at when you are trying to sculpt a lumpy body back into something that resembles the human form.

I just feel like I need a shirt that says, “Don’t Judge Me…I just had a baby.”

That way, everyone is informed. They have a reason to pin to the softness of my form and the dark circles under my eyes.

But, really. I wonder if you have felt the same way. That is, if you have ever been in this place I am in while writing this here blog. Whatever your story, I wonder if you have crazy thoughts that you fight against every day. These thoughts that are, while funny to talk about, very real. Very heavy. And can potentially wreck you and your family.

I am praying fervently against these thoughts. I am praying earnestly for a new prospective. As I recognize that my son was fearfully and wonderfully made, I am trying to remember that I was too.

So, as I run, as I stretch, as I wait, I will be thankful for the body that God just used for a miracle. I will remember that I am His creation and that’s a pretty awesome, humbling, thing. When I am flooded with insecurity and inadequacy, I will trust. I will be thankful. Because, boy…I have so much for which to be thankful.

And you do too. I promise.