Sunday, October 19, 2014

"Nod to Cincinnati Chili"

When I was growing up, one of my favorite dinners was "Three-Way Chili" otherwise known as "Cincinnati Chili."

Did you know that Cincinnati Ohio has their OWN chili? They even have restaurants dedicated to this chili, called "Skyline Chili." I wish I could recommend that you go eat at one of these little diners the next time you are in Ohio but...from my experience, nothing beats homemade "Three-Way/ Cincinnati/ Skyline" Chili.

The reason is is called "Three-Way" is that you eat this chili on top of spaghetti and topped with cheese (Three components). There is also Four-Way (add beans) and Five-Way (add raw, diced onions). But the Arpke family always loved "Three-Way" the best. 

My dad makes the best Three-Way ever. In fact, I used to say that I wanted to eat this chili at my wedding. Considering my nick-name was "Slop-Slop" while growing up, it is a good thing that I chose NOT to eat this in my wedding dress when I got married.

The thing is, my current Meng family doesn't LIKE "Three-Way." It was too spicy for them and the spaghetti was just weird to my husband (Psh, husband!).  

 So this recipe is a "Nod"to Cincinnati Chili. There are a few secret spices that make me think of my dad's chili but otherwise, it is just an absolutely delicious (non-spicy!) meat, beans, and tomato chili.

Or, as I have been told at a potluck I took this chili to: "This is the best chili I have ever eaten!"


 So here it is: My "Nod to Cincinnati Chili"

1 large or 2 medium onions, diced
1 lb ground beef
1 lb sausage (breakfast? Sage? spicy Italian? your choice!)
3-4 cloves of garlic (minced) (or a heaping tablespoon from a jar of minced garlic) 
3 cans kidney beans, drained and rinsed
2 cans petite diced tomatoes, not drained
2 (8 oz) cans of tomato sauce
1 (6 oz) can tomato paste
5 cups water

Spices: (here's where it gets special)
Magic Spices (not pictured: Brown Sugar).

3 TB Chili powder
3 TB brown sugar
2 tsp unsweetened cocoa power*
1 tsp cinnamon*
1 tsp ground cumin 
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp seasoning salt
1-2 bay leaves

See those stars above? It's the cinnamon and cocoa powder that give this chili the Cincinnati kick! If you want to make this chili with a packet of Chili seasoning from the store, go ahead! But don't forget the cinnamon and cocoa powder (and a bit of brown sugar!)

Make it! (start early in the afternoon so your chili can simmer away for a few hours)

Brown meat and onions in a large skillet over medium/high heat (or you can use your soup pot. I just find that it is easier to cook the meat in skillet). Drain fat and dump into a large soup pot. Key word: large.

Over medium heat, add the garlic and cook until fragrant. Add beans, tomato products, and water. Stir.

Add spices in a small bowl and mix until combined. Or just dump them in the pot. I just like the step of stirring all the spices together and then pouring such a delightful mixture into the pot.

This is where the magic happens. Your chili will turn from a tomato-red to a deep, dark, delicious, chili red. The cocoa powder is the key here to such a rich, dark color.

Bring your chili to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. Cock a lid over the chili, allowing a vent and simmer that baby for 2-4 hours, stirring occasionally. Your chili should get nice and thick. Before serving taste and adjust salt if needed.
My chili is simmering away on the stove. See that deep color? Mmm!
(I have made this in a crock pot too (cook meat and onions first, then dump everything in) but it doesn't get as thick as simmering it on the stove. Still yummy though!).

Enjoy the way your house smells all afternoon as you breathe in the heavenly scents.

Serve your chili plain or, the way I like it:  topped with sour cream, shredded cheddar-jack cheese, and a handful of fritos.


Sunday, October 5, 2014

Meng Menu: Recipe for Chicken, Broccoli, and Rice casserole

Sunday: Homemade pizza night, salad,
Monday: Chili, rolls
Tuesday: Sausage and Kale pasta
Wednesday: Egg muffins, hashbrowns, fruit salad
Thursday: Helman’s chicken, Parmesan rice, green beans
Friday: Out to eat
Saturday: Chicken, rice and broccoli casserole (See recipe below!)

Sunday: Potato soup
Monday: London Broil, baked potatoes, green beans
Tuesday: Pork loin, stuffing, peas
Wednesday: Spaghetti, salad
Thursday: Sausage, kale and potato soup, rolls
Friday: Out to eat
Saturday: Fried rice w/ peas, carrots, and pork

Chicken, Broccoli, and Rice Casserole is a real crowd-pleaser. My family loves it; I've made it for company (very comfort-food-esque), and it is my go-to for taking a meal to friends who have had surgery, are going through sickness, had a new baby, etc.

I hope you try it and enjoy!

Chicken, Broccoli, and Rice Casserole

2-3 cups of cooked chicken, cubed or shredded (depending on how many people you are serving)
2-3 cups cooked rice (2 cups, serves 6-8. 3 cups 8-10)
1 can cream of chicken soup
1/3-1/2 cup sour cream
onion power
garlic powder
Smoked paprika (if you have it!)
Two cups lightly steamed broccoli florets (I used a bag of frozen, steamed in the microwave, or cut up a head of broccoli and steam it in the microwave for about 3-4 min).
1-2 cups favorite shredded cheese (cheddar, Colby jack, etc).

In a greased 9x13 casserole dish, layer rice, chicken, and broccoli.
Mix soup, 1 and ½ cans of milk, sour cream, and seasonings to taste. Whisk until combined and pour over rice/chicken/broccoli.
Using a spatula, make “pockets” in the rice mixture all over to let the soup mix get down to the bottom. Top with cheese.
Bake at 400 for 20-30 min until bubbly and cheese starts to brown.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Meng Menu: Two week plan!

Monday: Pulled pork (crock pot) sandwiches, chips, apple slices
Wednesday: Fish (?), parmesan rice, peas
Friday (Aaron's b-day): Sloppy joes, roasted red potatoes, green bean casserole
Saturday: Out to eat

Sunday: Homemade pizza night, salad (Company)
Monday: Broiled Asian chicken thighs, rice, green beans
Tuesday: Hot dogs, chips, carrot and celery sticks
Wednesday: Pulled pork sliders for pot luck
Thursday: Chicken Parmesan w/ pasta and salad
Friday: Out to eat
Saturday: Biscuits and Gravy, fruit smoothies

YEA! Grocery shopping is done for another two weeks! And darn it! I forgot the kale so I'm going to have to go back on Thursday. I also need to buy fish for Wednesday; I am going to try a new fish market that I have been wanting to shop at for months. I hope I can find a good deal on salmon! 

But overall, a good week, budget wise: Total = $254 which included diapers, conditioner, body wash, foil, plastic wrap, and disposable bowls, plates, and cups for our Sunday Supper nights. 

Nope, not bad at all! 

Thursday, September 18, 2014

The Lost Art of the RSVP: Why is it so hard to click "not attending"?

I kinda chewed out some of my former students on Facebook today.

Ok, maybe "chewed out" is a little harsh. But I gave them a short life lesson about the need for RSVPing to an invitation. I felt kind of guilty afterwards but this is an issue that has been bothering me for a a few years or so...

This is what I wrote after I sent a Facebook invitation for our weekly Sunday Supper meal:

Ok, ya'll. I'm going to go a little "teacher-mode" on you here. If you are coming, please click, "coming."  If you are not coming, click "Decline." It is NOT rude to say you are NOT coming. It is polite.

Any personal invitation you receive should get a response from you! Don't be a flaky "millennial"! (yes, I just went there. Sorry...)

Ok, I am done. :) I hope to see many of you on Sunday night. We have been having a great time in the past weeks.

The "flaky millennial" was probably a low blow. I am cringing a little bit now. BUT! But...

Seriously, RSVPing for events is a lost art in our culture, be it a problem of the millennial generation or not. 

Almost 100 years ago, Emily Post, Miss Manners herself, wrote that anyone who received an invitation with RSVP (French for Répondez s'il vous plaît, literally "Reply if it pleases you") was obligated to respond (thank you, wikipedia). 

Today, we invite 4 times as many people than can actually fit in our dining rooms because we know that 3/4 of them won't even respond. 

I host a lot of events: weekly dinner parties, a book club this past summer, play dates, the occasional product party...and the lack of RSVPing is seen in every age group. 

Why is this? I try to think of my own motives for not responding to invitations because I know I am guilty of this too. 

Like most people, invitations flood my inbox and pop up on my Facebook newsfeed all the time: baby showers, Pampered Chef parties, Arbonne parties, birthday parties, JamBerry nail events, City block parties, etc. 

Sometimes I know the person has invited every single person on his or her friend list. I usually ignore these, especially if, say, the Pampered Chef party held in Kansas. 

But other times, when the invitation is from a personal friend, the decision to RSVP is a bit more complicated: 

What day is the 4th?
Will I even have the car that day? (We only have one car)
What time is the event? Ug. I'm so tired in the evenings.
Not another mom entrepreneur party!

When my thoughts lean toward the negative or "that's not my thing," it feels like the easiest thing to do is ignore the invitation. After all, they won't miss me! They invited 65 people to that party!

But...then the old truism of "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you" starts pricking my conscience. I want people to respond to my events "yes" or "no" (I really despise the "maybe" option in Facebook but it is better than nothing!) so I needed to start practicing what I preach and actually RSVP "no," even if it feels uncomfortable. 

And, when I look at the event from my vantage point as the hostess, I realized a few things about the dreaded "no."

A "no" is not rude or mean, nor does it tell the hostess that you don't like her! It just means that you aren't coming to the shower...or dinner...or play date. 

A "no" is just a firm commitment not to attend, instead of the vague "none of the above" option which leaves the hostess wondering if people actually got the invitation in the first place (they did).
A "no" is actually polite because it allows the hostess to plan the event, food, and other guests accordingly. 

So, I've really tried to make an effort to RSVP "no" when I can't or don't want to attend an event (no one has to know the reason! A cheerful "Thanks for the invite! I hope you all have a great time" is a nice way to decline). 

Ultimately, I've come to realize that actively responding to personal invitations, be it paper (wedding invitations, anyone?) email, or Facebook, is one way that I can love my neighbor as myself. 

If the person hosting the event is taking the time to plan the party, dinner, girls-night-out, play date, or wedding, and invite me to be a part of it, then the most loving thing to do is to RSVP instead of ignore the invitation, even if the response is the uncomfortable "no." 

What do you think
Why don't we RSVP anymore? 
Is this a new issue? 
A generational problem? 
A "we are too busy" problem? 
A "waiting to see if I get a better invitaiton on that day" problem?
I am genuinely perplexed by this issue! 

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Meng Menu: Two weeks plan!

Sunday: Chicken, broccoli, and rice casserole, salad, chocolate cake
Tuesday: Pork chop casserole, peas
Wednesday: Fish (going to shop Wed at a local fish market!), parmesan rice, green beans
Thursday: Chicken broccoli alfredo
Friday: Out to eat
Saturday: Sliders, chips, fruit 

Sunday: Spaghetti and meatballs, bread, salad
Monday: Flat iron steak, baked potatoes, green beans
Tuesday: Turkey meatballs, rice w/ gravy, corn
Wednesday: Pan fried pork chops, mashed potatoes, green beans
Thursday: Bacon, eggs, toast, fruit
Friday: Out to eat
Saturday: Sloppy joes, chips, peas

I always hold my breath a little bit when I hand my Kroger card to the attendant to be swiped at check out. Today, before the swipe, my total was around $360. Yikes!  But after that magical little swipe, $76 rolled off the final tally, bringing the final total to around $280ish (or 140/week). Whew. I bought a lot of groceries today but my total also included: 
Head and shoulders shampoo
Freezer bags
Drier sheets
Toilet paper
Disposable baking dishes (making dinner for a friend later this week)
Plastic forks (hosting dinner tonight)
Diapers for Silas

I was glad to take advantage of Kroger's "buy 5 save $5" deal on 26 items; plus, I saved on other Kroger deals and coupons.

So overall...not bad. Not bad at all.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Remembering Izzy: "Pledged to God"

 August 24 would have been my due date.
I have been holding off writing this post. It was in my heart...I wanted to write it...but I kept pushing it away, kind of like I've been pushing the reality of my miscarriage away lately.

Because sometimes, I just want to forget, because it is still painful. Even though we lost the baby so early. Even though my belly is now swelled with new life, eagerly awaiting his birth day in December. Even though...

But there is no forgetting the memory of a child-that-would-have-been. And when I connect my miscarriage to the memory of the baby I lost (why do I try to mentally separate it? Does it make it easier somehow?), I don't ever want to forget, despite the pain.

So, August 24 came...and went. By now, even if I was over a week "late," like I was with Silas, I would have given birth to the baby by now, the baby Micah named "Izzy."

In the first few weeks after my miscarriage ended, I read Heaven is for Real. A chapter that really stuck out to me was when the little boy (who, for those of you who don't know the premise of the book, went to heaven when he was in surgery and nearly died) met his little sister who was lost to miscarriage. The parents hadn't even told the little boy that they were expecting a baby. Imagine their surprise when he told his mom and dad that he "met his sister!"

In wonder they asked him, "What was her name?"
"She didn't have one," he told them. "No one has named her yet."

For some reason, after reading this section, a sudden urgency came over me. I threw aside the book and rushed to my computer, hastily googling "meaning of names + Izzy."

I am a big believer in the meanings of names. For our children, we carefully chose one or both of their names with the meaning in mind.

I didn't chose the name "Izzy" for the baby we lost; my 6 year old son did, named after one of his favorite characters from the show "Jake and the Neverland Pirates." But the name stuck.

And unlike the baby in Heaven is For Real, our baby did have a name, a name that made her (girl or boy, who knows?) even more real to us.

A host of baby naming websites popped up on my screen. I click on one and typed in "Izzy," my heart nervously pounding as the information loaded.

"Izzy, diminutive of Isabella: Pledged to God"

I stared at the screen, slowly breathing in and out, feeling the wonder of the moment.
I felt peaceful, like I had known this all along. 
I felt humble, I had just been given a rare gift. 

I would have never chosen this name for my baby, but somehow, by God's grace (and by Micah's love for a pink-clad pirate-girl), my son did.

Pledged to God. 

I believe that my little one, the baby due just over a week ago, is in heaven with God, her Father. 

And it hurts because right now, this very minute, I want to be holding this baby in my arms, kissing soft downy hair, tracing perfect, tiny features, and breathing in that wonderful newborn scent. I want to be thanking God that my baby is here, with me, safe, healthy, and whole. 

But instead, I must thank Him for other things:

For the gift of new life in my still-growing baby, Eli, 23 weeks strong
For the gift of each of my children, present with me or with Him
For the gift of a name that I would not have chosen, but somehow comforts me on this side of heaven. 

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Meng Menu: Two weeks of dinners

Sunday: Roasted pork loin, roasted red potatoes, salad, apple pie
Monday: Cheeseburger soup, rolls
Tuesday: Hot dogs, chips, apples
Wednesday: Spaghetti, salad
Thursday: Helman’s chicken, rice, green beans
Friday: Out to eat
Saturday: Breakfast burritos, fruit 

Sunday: Lasagna, bread, salad
Monday: Sloppy joes, potato wedges, carrot sticks
Tuesday: Chicken parm, angel hair pasta w/ sauce, salad
Wednesday: Church potluck
Thursday: Turkey burgers sliders, chips, fruit
Friday: Out to eat
Saturday: Pork loin, rice, peas

Whew! School started last week for me and this week for my kids so menu planning is more important than ever for keeping our evenings running smoothly. I spent $268 this week, which is a bit more than normal but I am also hosting dinner at my house each Sunday for college students, so I am preparing meals for about 10 people each week (including my family).
Our yummy Sunday dinner!
Planning delicious, budget conscious meals for company can be challenging but this past Sunday went really well and I think the dinner turned out great! 

I was able to get a 5+ pound pork loin on sale + coupon for $10. In total for the whole meal, I was able to feed 10 people a company dinner for around $20. Not bad! 

I am looking forward to lasagna next Sunday night--my mom's recipe. A classic indeed!

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The question that annoys me the most as a twin mom

When I was in high school, I was a leader for a preschool church group. One year, we had adorable, blond-headed, mischievous twin boys join the group. They usually dressed alike so it was really hard to tell them apart.

Their mom even told me a story once about how a babysitter had deliberately changed them into non-matching clothes so she could tell them apart. Those little hooligans when to the bathroom (they were 4 years old!) and switched shirts! haha! Classic.

I could never tell those boys apart either.

I tell this story because I know what it is like to see a pair of twins, scratch my head, and wonder, "Which one is which?"

However, now that I have identical twins myself, this question drives me crazy.

When my boys were babies, toddlers, and even preschoolers, I didn't mind being asked "Which one is which?" My boys couldn't answer this question for themselves and I was happy to set people straight in the identical twin confusion.
Yeah…this one even stumps me. One of the rare times I dressed them alike as babies. 
My twins are almost 7 years old. They still look alike. So, why does this question bother me so much?

Because people ask me "Which one is which?" right in front of my boys.

My go-to answer has become "Ask them. They would be happy to tell you their names" as I sigh inwardly.
Micah likes to wear his hair long. Benji? The shorter the better!
You are probably clucking your tongue right now thinking, "Brittany, they are TWINS! You shouldn't get irritated."

And I really try not to. But if you think about it, most people would not approach a mother of two boys,  who were typical siblings who were playing two feet from her, and ask "Which one is which?" This question always just pinches me a little bit because, in some way, it strips my boys of their personal identity.

I want each of my sons to be known and recognized for being himself, not for being one half of a whole. After all, Micah and Benji have different interests, likes, dislikes, personalities…even their voices are different. They aren't even the same height or weight! (Micah is taller and heavier).

As identical twins, this is a battle that my boys will have to engage in their whole lives. It doesn't really bother them a whole lot now so I guess I am "fighting" for them at the moment. But I know the time will come when they will realize that people constantly can't remember their names…maybe perhaps because they see Micah and Benji as two parts of a whole, not as individuals.

So, what's the solution? For me, I need to continue practicing patience and graciousness and teach these virtues to my children as well.

For others, what do you do when you really cannot tell a pair of twins apart, like those two little boys in my preschool church group?

I would love it if people, children or adults, came up to Micah or Benji and said, "I can't remember your name. Could you please remind me?"

This question is personal and sensitive. And it would make the heart of this twin mom glow, because you would be recognizing my son for the unique person that he is.

PS. For those of you know my boys, another tip for telling them apart is that Micah has a cowlick and Benji doesn't. In fact, Micah will even point it out to you himself! :)
See that swirl of hair on Micah's forehead? That's his special feature!

Thursday, August 14, 2014

I'm going to have FOUR sons OR How I fought against gender disappointment

I'm not gonna lie, folks. I had a major freak-out the morning of my 20 week ultrasound. You see, I have three sons. Three adorable boys. Three very energetic boys. I have THREE boys. 
I mean, seriously. How cute are these boys?
And everyone in my family was convinced that I was pregnant with a girl. My 6 year old son named the baby "Frederica." Cute, right? (terrible, terrible name. But what can you do?)

Up until that morning, I was peaceful and serene. 
Peaceful me at 20 weeks.
Whatever will be, will be. Que Sera, Sera or whatever. 

Of course, I had taken all the online quizzes: Boy or girl? FIND OUT NOW! (Results = girl, every time).
The Chinese Gender Predictor Chart? GIRL. 

And seriously, I already have three boys. The odds had to be in our favor, right? 

So, back to my freak-out. Peaceful and serene until the morning of. Cue my toddler losing my wedding ring and then 2 hours of frantic cleaning. We didn't find it. And cleaning is the never-fail-to-put-mommy-in-a-bad-mood solution.  I yelled at all the boys, fed them lunch, and SENT THEM TO BED. 

Then I sat down on the couch to think (never a good idea, right?)

I just know the baby is a boy. Another boy. What am I going to do with FOUR wild boys? 

What if Micah and Benji are beyond upset that the baby isn't a girl?     

My family has 7 grandsons and one granddaughter. They want a girl so badly! How can I carry their disappointment...not to mention my own? 

Because the truth is, I really did want a girl. But I did NOT want to experience the intense "gender disappointment" I did when I found out Silas was a boy. It was not pretty, friends. There was crying, and lots of feeling sorry for myself. SORRY for myself that I was having a healthy baby BOY. I cringe at my immaturity. However, my feelings of dissappointment were real. 

And I didn't WANT to feel disappointed this time.

The clock was ticking down. It was an hour till we had to leave for the ultrasound. I got in the shower and started to pray. I don't even know what I prayed. Only God knew. 

Then a question entered my mind: Why do you want a 4th child? 
Because this baby was planned, longed for...especially after our miscarriage. 
And the answer came to my heart: I want to give Silas a sibling that is close to his age. 

Silas is five years younger than his twin brothers. I didn't want him to feel lonely growing up. So, we planned for a fouth, wanted a fourth.

And as the water streamed down over my face, I realized that I wanted a brother for Silas.  
A daughter? I wanted a daughter for me.  
But if the baby was a boy...what utter joy that would be for my little Silas. 
A little brother. 
A wrestling buddy.
A tag-a-long. 
A bunk-bed partner.
A best friend. 

And then I was ok. I knew this wisdom was from God, who gave this baby to our family, who chose this baby to be Silas' younger sibling. 

And I just knew. I knew even before I saw that little wiggle-waggle on the screen. 
Baby Boy Meng
So, here's how the boys reacted. 

Ultrasound tech: "It's a boy!"
Micah: "Oh, nuts!!!!"
Tech: (aside to me, laughing) "Literally!"
Benji: "But....I thought it was a GIRL!!!"

Both boys admitted later that they were a little sad that we were not going to have a baby sister. I told them I was a little sad too. But is ok to be sad. We can be excited too. 

So I am going to have FOUR SONS. And honestly, at times this truth strikes fear and trepidation into my poor little female heart.  And then I just laugh and laugh. Four sons.    
Elijah (Eli) Jefferson Meng
Our little Elijah Jefferson is going to join our family in December. I can't wait to meet my son. I can't wait for his brothers to meet him.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Meng Menu

Sunday: Grilled skirt steak, baked potatoes, green beans
Tuesday: Roast beef sandwiches, chips, fruit
Thursday: Potstickers, fried rice w/ veggies
Friday: Out to eat

Saturday: Out to eat (softball tournament)

Sunday: Asian marinated chicken thighs, rice, green beans
Monday: Sloppy joes, potato wedges, carrot sticks
Tuesday: Chicken, rice and broccoli casserole
Thursday: Chicken meatballs, mashed potatoes, broccoli
Friday: Out to eat
Saturday: Waffles, sausage, fruit

Whew. I am glad to have grocery shopping over with. Sometimes it seems like such a mental and physical hurdle. But I am prepped and planned for two weeks, which will take us up to the start of school for the twins, August 25. Total today was $247 or $123 per week. Not bad. 

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