Wordless Wednesday

Apparently the holiday season is already taking a toll on this happy fellow.  I guess my kidlets have been more naughty than nice that our Elf on the Shelf has resorted to having his own bottle of wine!

Talk About A Bun in the Oven…Or Maybe a Loaf! An Adventure in Baking.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve loved being in the kitchen-not just to eat, but to actually cook! When I was a toddler, I could spend hours sitting on the floor with the pots and pans cabinet doors open, playing happily with a wooden spoon and stirring up my own creations. As I got older, I would help my mom out on Sundays as she cooked our big Italian family meal. It wasn’t too long before she handed the reins over to me to do the whole Sunday shebang myself. Over time, I perfected my Sunday sauce (I like to use both pancetta & anchovies), meatballs and pasta dishes. As I developed my culinary skills, I was soon cooking all of our holiday meals, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, Flag Day…you get the idea. I guess I turned out to be a decent cook! After I got married, I enjoyed treating the hubs to a romantic meal…and after our two kidlets came along, cooking became even more challenging! I still love to find new and exciting recipes and discover new foods to try as well as incorporate into tried-and-true recipes.

What I love about cooking is that it is not an exact science. For me, it’s about taste, adding a dash of something here, a dab of this there. I think that attitude helped my cooking ability-but unfortunately; it’s also made me a truly HORRIBLE baker. I’ve found baking is so precise: too much baking powder, not enough sugar, or not enough water and you’ve made a disaster. Whether it is made from scratch or from a box, if I’m baking it, it’s nearly guaranteed to be a total food fail! Pound cakes that could be used as doorstops, pre-made cookie dough in my hands made cookies that were either burnt or raw…usually on the same cookie sheet! Breads and baked desserts in our house are almost always from someone else’s kitchen! Needless to say, I was more than a little skeptical when I got a box of Bountiful Beer Bread Mix from my friend and fellow mommy Joan Flores, who recently became an independent consultant for Tastefully Simple. Joan told me that there was no way that I could mess this up, that making and baking it would be so simple, even a two year old could make it. With my track record of baking I was sure it would be another epic fail, so I took Joan’s advice to heart and I had my 2-year-old daughter make the beer bread for us!

Okay, so I had to help out just a little a bit with making the bread. We all know that 2-year-olds are resourceful, but where could she get a 12 oz bottle of beer without having to show some REALLY good fake ID? How would she know how to turn the oven on to 375 degrees, or set the timer to 50 minutes??? So I helped, but in all the ways that wouldn’t really impact the “making” or mixing of ingredients of this bread.

As you’ll see from the photos, my little girl is a baking whiz. Now when they say the Tastefully Simple recipes are simple, they aren’t joking. Open package, pour in 12 oz of beer, place in greased bread pan, pour a little melted butter on top (totally optional, but come on, it’s butter on bread, who would pass that up) and pop it in the oven. There was no kneading or rising time, and it literally took about 5 minutes from opening the box to the oven.

My daughter’s favorite part was adding the beer and seeing the batter all foam up. We wound up using a dark lager, one of the Irish kind, so it kinda looked like a sandcastle was erupting. Her eyes lit up and she let out a little chuckle. For a first timer, her mixing and spatula skills were excellent and she poured the butter — mmmm, butter! – on like a culinary pro.

After 50 minutes of baking, my daughter & I checked on the bread – it was a lovely golden brown and gave off a nice, homemade aroma. The real test would be at dinnertime – when I served it up to the family alongside the turkey noodle soup I made (see, good cook here – I used Turkey Day leftovers to make a totally different delish- dish). I am happy to report that the bread was a HUGE success. It was so tasty and as of this morning there was only one slice left, which I scarfed up walking out the door to work with my hubs (sorry, honey!). The box suggests all the yummy things you can add to the mix like fresh herbs or Parmesan cheese, or maybe use the finished bread to make grilled cheese sandwiches or cut up into cubes and dip into spinach artichoke dip. I think it might be time heat up the oven again.

I’m buying a few more boxes of the Bountiful Beer Bread, along with the Absolutely Almond Pound Cake & Ugly Chocolate Cake mixes. Some are for me and some are perfect as stocking stuffer gifts for some of my family & friends.

Starting today and running thru Wednesday, December 7, my mommy-preneur friend Joan Flores of Tastefully Simple is running a Holiday Giveaway especially for The Harried Mom Facebook friends and Twitter followers. Ordering by Dec 7th guarantees that you will have your tasty items delivered in advance of the holidays for proper gift distribution! Why not help out a fellow mom who is making a go of her own business!

All you have to do is log onto either: http://www.tastefullysimple.com/web/jflores4 or www.tastefullysimple.com and check out the catalog and make your Tastefully Simple selections.

When it’s time for you to checkout, make sure to attach your order to Host – me, Debra Fazio-Rutt AKA The Harried Mom (there, now I’m fully revealed, so much for mystique!). Every time orders, now we’re talking all combined sales reach $200, one random order-er from The Harried Mom from will receive a free gift! FYI – if you order the Classy Chocolate Pound Cake Mix Tastefully Simple donates $1 to the Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry campaign – so that’s an added bonus! HAPPY SHOPPING.

For full disclosure here, this is not a sponsored post from Tastefully Simple. I am not being paid in any way here and the only compensation I received was one box of the yummy Bountiful Beer Bread Mix from Joan that my family made and ate at dinner this past Sunday night!

What’s the best meal you cook?  What can you whip up on a second’s notice or without a recipe?

Teaching Kids How To Give Back During The Holidays – Children’s Hospital of NJ

This past weekend we went as a family to go grocery shopping.   Normally, grocery shopping falls to me, by my own choice.  I’m one of those crazy couponers – I look at it as a game to get the groceries we need and eat, but for the lowest price possible.  Seeing a savings at the bottom of my receipt gets me giddy.  I also usually take one of the kidlets along to “help” me, and feel involved with helping the family.  However, this was not a routine grocery run or to trip stock up for our Thanksgiving meal.  This was a special grocery visit – to buy and donate food to our local food pantry.

I don’t think it is ever to early to teach children about being thankful for what they have and to consider those that are not as fortunate.   The hubs & I always try to make our kidlets aware that there are children, families and people out there who do not have a warm bed to go home to, food stocked in the fridge or toys to play with.   Talking about it always seems so abstract to me – and I’m sure it does to the kidlets too.  I hope that involving them in getting food to help out at our local pantry will give them a better idea of what is going on.   Above all, the hubs and I want our children to grow up to be compassionate towards others and think about those not as fortunate as we are.

With Black Friday and Cyber Monday coming up, we’re already starting to figure out what holiday gift drives we’ll participate in.   We usually buy toys for our local police department’s toy drive.   We like to give back to our local community, and hopefully make a direct impact.

If you’re a NJ resident like me and looking for a local cause to donate to, please consider the Children’s Hospital of New Jersey.  Children’s Hospital treats ill and injured children with specialized care from newborn to adolescence as well as preventive programs that promote wellness in the community.  Children’s Hospital of New Jersey is an affiliate of Barnabas Health and helps nearly 50,000 children each year.   They also recognize that the special needs of children and their families extend far beyond clinical interventions.

This week the Children’s Hospital of New Jersey kicked off its annual holiday Wish List drive.   Supplies and toys are constantly in need for the children that are cared for at the hospital.  Some of the items on their list include developmental items that help premature babies feel like they are still in their mother’s womb, sensory equipment to treat children with learning or behavioral challenges, and playthings to distract a child from the tedium and fear that can accompany a trip to the hospital.   A trip to the hospital is a stressful situation for anyone, but imagine what it must be like for a child.

They’ve made it very easy for people who are looking to get involved and donate this holiday season.  By clicking on  http://www.givetochildrennj.org you can see the list of items they are looking to have donated and if you don’t to do the shopping yourself, you can also make a general donation to the hospital, and they’ll take care of buying the items for you!   And keep in mind that all gifts, whether it is an actual item or a monetary donation are also tax deductible.

Do you have a favorite charity or cause that you like to help out during the holidays?  If you do, post it here – and tell me why!

The Parent DuJour – The Harried Mom!

The Harried Mom is honored to be one of the many wonderful moms & dads profiled on The Parent DuJour.

The Parent du Jour is the brainchild of entrepreneurial, work-from-home mom, Lisa Duggan, and freelance journalist and stay-at-home-father of three, Steve Berger.

The Parent du Jour is a living book that documents the stories of today’s families—one day, and one parent, at a time. So it’s 365 moms and dads, served fresh daily! Each day they serve up a different parent telling , in their own words, how they combine work, family, and life. Dads are featured in the “A Dad a Day” series, moms in “Once Upon a Mom”.

So click on the link below to check out my entry – you’ll learn a bit more about me, the hubs & the kidlets!

Thanks to Lisa & Steve for including me.  You can also find out how you can be included in this amazing project by visiting their page!

DEBRA RUTT The Harried Mom

What I’m Thankful For, But Not In A Traditional Sense…..

With Thanksgiving just a little more than a week away it seems appropriate to reflect upon what one is most thankful and grateful for.   I’ve been seeing and reading lots of lists and figured I should give it a go too.  But this isn’t going to be your conventional “thankful” list.  Of course,  I am plenty thankful for my family & friends.  I’m grateful that I have a loving place to come home to every night and a job and co-workers that I enjoy seeing on a daily basis.  But what about the other things I’m thankful for… the ones that don’t get remembered on lists like this?  Those things that are taken for granted and not given their due.

So here’s my shout out to some other things I am thankful for this year (in no particular order):

My flat iron – On many a morning this handy hair straightening aid has transformed my locks from looking like the Bride of Frankenstein to that smooth, sleek – just come from the salon do, making me presentable to the outside world.

Spanx – The inventor of Spanx should get a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, an Oscar, a Congressional Medal of Honor they’re just that good!  I couldn’t wear half of my wardrobe without mine.  My Spanx have literally helped me in a pinch…like when my suit pants are pinching my waist from an overindulgence of cupcakes, cake & chips.

Drive thru restaurants – On those nights where I am totally worn out and run down, making a quick pit stop to pick up a meal without having to decamp the kidlets is a life saver.  Honorable mention goes out to the toys in those kid meals I get at the drive-thru.  They have helped to occupy the kids on a night when I’ve totally needed a break!

Handi Wipes – When I’m out with the kidlets and one of them touches, say, bird poop (like my son did this past weekend), I can just whip out one of these little packets and clean their hands lickety-spilt. Totally convenient when you’re finished at the local playground and your kid is covered in dirt or when you’re out at a restaurant and they’ve managed to put more on themselves than in their mouths.

iPad – I have a love/hate relationship with the digital age, but this is one of those gadgets that I just love.  I can of course carry around dozens of books to read, and I’ll admit to playing a bit of “Peggle” as well, on the train, subway, sitting on a park bench or waiting in the doctor’s office.

AAA Membership – In addition to bailing you out in an emergency – i.e. fixing flat tires, towing and jump-starting your car, a yearly membership to this auto club also gets you great hotel rates, and member discounts for Broadway shows, amusement parks, museums, shopping and the like.  Best of all they also offer a trip planning service – where they’ll plan your driving route for you, complete with maps and useful local area information.

If this was your list what would you add? And why?

I Just Don’t Understand Vampires…..

All my life, I’ve enjoyed reading.  I mostly like to read biographies.  It really doesn’t matter who it is, I just like learning about interesting people and the events that shaped their lives, what they achieved, even if they had a huge downfall or tragic ending.  I also really love books about post-WWII America, a huge period of growth and discovery that fascinates me.  And in the digital age, I’ve been able to lose my Quasimodo hump since I no longer have to lug around these massive tomes.  I just tuck my Kindle and iPad into my purse to read on the go.  Now don’t get me wrong, I enjoy chick-lit or a good trashy every now and then.  You’ll find plenty of Jackie Collins, Helen Fielding and Sophie Kinsella on my bookshelves, virtual or otherwise

But for the life of me, I don’t understand the obsession with the “Twilight” books.  Seriously, I just don’t get the appeal. Maybe I’m just a late adopter, because sometimes it takes me a while to warm up to something before I become obsessed. Every time a new movie based on the saga comes out, I try to see what all the fuss is about, but I feel like I’m being left out of a major conversation.  The women here at work and the moms of my kidlets friends all seem to know whether they are on ‘Team Edward’ or ‘Team Jacob.’  So I have once again gamely picked up the first installment, aptly named “Twilight,” but I still can’t get past the first 50 pages or so.

You might be saying to yourself, “Well, you clearly have no sense of whimsy.” Or maybe you think I am a pop culture snob. Neither is true, I promise!

For example, I voraciously devoured Stieg Larsson’s “Girl With The Dragon Tattoo” novels, even watching the foreign film adaptations on Netflix.  I can’t wait for the Hollywood version, either.  I also read Suzanne Collins’ “The Hunger Games” trilogy in one week, staying up late each night just to find out what Katniss would do, if she’d survive and save her district. I hope those upcoming movies are good too!

I’m not trying to sound judgmental here, if you enjoy them, well, it’s great that you’ve found something you like to read.  I guess I just don’t “get” the whole vampire thing.  I have never found ashen, bloodsucking neck-biters romantic or sexy — gee, I can’t imagine why! Maybe it’s because I have a horrible vision of George Hamilton dancing around as Dracula in “Love At First Bite.”   Or Bela Lugosi creeped me out whenever he showed up on “Creature Features” or something.  Who knows, maybe I just need to “close the book” on the idea that I might ever get into sexy vampire books, is that a such a bad thing? 😉

What kind of books do you like to read?  Do you read to your kids?

What A Week It’s Been!

Me & the pooch taking a day shift to run generator at very cold house!

This past week has been nothing I could have ever expected.

In a previous post I talked about my 85 year old father, who has now been in rehab for six weeks following colon cancer surgery. He still cannot get up, stand or walk even with the aid of a walker or cane.  He has not regained his strength or coordination. Though my father had been trying during his therapy sessions, there has been no significant improvement in his condition.  So last week his medical team at the rehab hit our family with a sad conclusion: his physical and occupational therapy should be discontinued. They have suggested that we place him in a nursing home where he can receive 24-hour care.   My dad’s not totally aware of what is going on, but you can clearly tell he’s tired, frustrated and scared.  However, before we even had the chance to look at potential nursing homes to move him to, we received a call that he needed to go back to the hospital.  He had developed an abscess and would need an operation to resolve it.   He had the procedure yesterday, Thursday, and is now comfortably recovering.  The next step for him is still to be determined, but we are fortunate to have him here for another day.

In the midst of all this was Peanut’s second birthday.  She’s still very young and oblivious to what is going on with her Pop-Pop, though she does know something is not right, but I still wanted her to have a birthday celebration.  So we invited my mom, sister and brother-in-law to come over for dinner and mini-party, complete with a Hello Kitty birthday cake.  That was this past Saturday.

Now, we live in NJ, and as I’m sure you’ve seen on the news over the past week, we had a freak October snowstorm aka “Snowtober” on… SATURDAY!  Yes, the very day of Peanut’s birthday celebration.  The wet snow combined with leaves still being on the trees resulted in lots of downed limbs which also meant lots of downed power lines.   Just as my mom and sister arrived, the electricity went out and wouldn’t return for four very long and cold days.

We made the best of the situation and used our ingenuity to make sure that Peanut still had a celebration. My husband was able to rig our gas line grill up to our generator so he could cook the roast and grill the veggies.  I was able to light the stove with a good old-fashioned match and cook some couscous.  Mom helped make a salad with what was soon to spoil in our rapidly defrosting fridge and we wound up having a pretty nice feast lit by candlelight and flashlight.  A couple of glasses of Pinot didn’t hurt, either!

Waking up in my house on Sunday morning was like walking through a frat house the morning after a rush party.  My house was a mess, dirty dishes and glasses in the sink, empty bottles on the counter and sleeping bodies everywhere.  With the power company telling us it would be days before electricity and heat would return, the kidlets and I decamped to my mother’s house. She always manages to escape these disasters, so we stayed with her for the next two nights.  The poor hubs spent those two nights with our dog at our igloo, I mean, house, with the generator cranking away to make sure our basement wouldn’t get flooded from the melting snow.

I was thankful that my mom took us in.  Though I grew up in that house, it’s been a long time since I’ve lived there and with my dad not there, it certainly felt strange.  I felt bad for my mom and sister, they are not used to the chaos of two little kidlets.  They can sure wear you out.  My mom said she enjoyed it all, that having the kidlets around took her mind off of things.  I also felt bad for the kidlets, though they dressed up in the costumes, they didn’t really get to celebrate Halloween since it wasn’t really safe to be trick-or-treating with downed power lines all over.  However, Nana saved the day with some well placed candy snacks in the kidlets jack o’ lantern buckets.

When the power went back on at 4:50 pm on Tuesday,  I screamed and jumped with joy.  We were able to return home – as a family unit.

It was not the week that I expected, but right now I’m just grateful that I still have my family….

What are you grateful for?