Sunday, December 1, 2013

Holiday Hassle?-How to make your holiday more enjoyable.

Holiday Hassle ?!??!?!

    It is the final night of a four day "vacation" for a lot of us.  Are you laughing like a movie character in an insane asylum, in the running for an Oscar???  Are you dreading the final dash to New Years Day, thinking "Oh, dear Lord, how will I ever make it???..."How will I ever get it all done???" ..."When am I going to sleep, eat, & heaven forbid; take care of ME???"?  Well let me help you out with that!
   Notice the common pronoun in all of those questions in the paragraph above? Yep, "I"!  Well "I"; I am about to rock your world.  YOU do NOT have to do it all!!!!!!! I am not sure when the "to do" list got put mostly on "I's" plate, but it is time to change.  Holidays are meant to be SHARED! Not just the fun par,t but ALL of it. 
   Make a list of the things that need to be done (tree, cleaning, decorating, presents, cookies, cooking, holiday parties...etc.)  Call the family together and ask what everyone wants to do to help.  No seriously stop laughing.  Oh, they don't want to help.  NO PROBLEM.  Cross it off your list.  If they don't want to help, then it is not that important to them.  Of course this does not apply to very small children, but if they are in grade school they can follow simple directions and they can help!  Oh it won't be "perfect", you pout.  Well you have two choices; you can do it yourself, have it "perfect" and be too tired and stressed to enjoy it, or you can let them do it, which gives them life skills, a sense of accomplishment, and you a few extra minutes to breath, sleep, or do something for "I".
   If you are thinking I am out of my ever loving mind, I am not, but I was at the end of my rope and stressed to the point I was....well let's just say, less than pleasant.  One of my boys said to me, "If it makes you this unhappy and stressed then why do you do it???"  Well out of the mouths of babes!  And I had no answer for my child.  I just kept thinking "Why do "I" do it?"  It was tradition, I needed to be a good mom and provide the "perfect" experiences for my children.  But what I realized was that I was not doing what was right for me or my family.  I was stressed, cranky, unhappy, snapping at everyone, and in a nut shell ruining those "perfect" experiences I was striving so hard to make. It was time for things to change!
   So we sat down with the "to do" list as a family and took a long hard look at it.  Fully decorating the house, I live with all males, not important.  However, the tree was.  Holiday parties, again all guys, they confessed there were some they dreaded attending.  This one was especially hard but a simple "I am so sorry, we love you very much, but will not be able to attend." was given.  Cookies, I used to bake tons of different kinds, starting often in October.  My family only really cared for a few, so now everyone gets to pick 2 varieties and I am done.  Yes, there are lots of people that no longer get cookies from the Withrow's for Christmas, as sad as that is, the reward is more family time and ultimately a happier mom.  The list goes on but you get the idea.  I am not saying it was easy and it was definitely a process.  However, the entire family is so much happier and content during the holiday season and no longer look at it as a list of things we really do not want to do. 
   Please remember just because you have always done it, does not mean you must continue.  If you all/most want to do it and they are willing to pitch in, by all means continue.  You may find that after not doing some things, they may miss them, and then be willing to help out.  My experience was the less we crammed in, the less we felt we needed to do.  This has led to lots of time for pajama days, family movies and games, and putting the focus back where it needs to be on family and most importantly Christ!  Holidays were meant to be shared and enjoyed.  By sharing ALL of the holiday, you give your family the freedom to actually grow together, learn to support each other, and most importantly you will teach your children how to truly have happy holidays when they grown and become the "I".   We now have the time and energy to open our home, hearts, and wallets and really make a difference, not only in our lives but in the lives of others as well.  After all Jesus is the reason for season, and how can you do Him justice if you are miserable and ugly?
   Wishing you a carefree and Merry Christmas!
    Crystal K. Withrow

Monday, November 18, 2013


Asiago Pesto Chicken Panini

(makes 2 sandwiches)


1 boneless skinless chicken breast (seasoned with salt & pepper)

1 teaspoon olive oil

2 tablespoons  pesto  [Basil Pesto Recipe]

4  Asiago cheese, divided

4 slices hearty bread (I used Udi’s Gluten-Free whole grain bread)

Cooking spray
Season chicken breast with salt & pepper

 In a small frying pan sauté chicken in olive oil until just done, and golden in color on both sides. 

 Remove pan from heat and remove chicken. 

Slice chicken and return to pan with pesto and toss until warm and chicken is coated being sure to scrape all the browned bits out of the bottom of the skillet. 
Place a clean skillet over medium high heat.   Spray one side of a slice of bread with cooking spray. {I generally lean toward all natural but my oil mister bought the farm and I have yet to get another}  Personally I prefer to mist my bread in lieu of using butter because it browns more evenly and is less greasy. 

Place bread in skillet, add 2 tablespoons of the cheese,

 ½ of the chicken mixture, and top with another slice of bread with the outside misted with cooking spray.  

Press down on sandwich with a spatula.  When it is a nice golden brown flip the sandwich and repeat.  If you have a Panini press just assemble the sandwich and pop in the press.

 See that tomato garnish on the plate?  I am going to pop that in my Panini and as I like a little acid to cut through the oil in the pesto.  YUM!

Basil Pesto

Basil Pesto

I found this recipe on Pinterest and fell in L.O.V.E with it.  It is from Natasha’s Kitchen and here is the link    I am going to check out her site and try some more of her recipes and so should you!



·         1 cup fresh basil leaves, packed

·         1/4 cup shredded Parmesan cheese

·         1/4 cup olive oil (extra virgin is best)

·         1/4 cup pine nuts or walnuts

·         1 large or 2 small garlic cloves

·         1/8 cup lemon juice or juice of 1 lemon

·         1/4 tsp salt

·         1/8 tsp pepper


1.    Wash and dry the basil leaves.

2.    Place basil into a food processor, add cheese, nuts, garlic cloves, lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper.

3.    Process until smooth.


HINTS:  from Crystal.  I make a quadruple batch at a time, all summer long when I have copious amounts of gorgeous basil in my humble little container garden.  What we don’t use right away I freeze in silicone ice cube trays that hold one tablespoon per cube.  I double wrap it super tight in plastic wrap and pop it in the freezer.  Make sure it is completely wrapped you do not want everything in your freezer tasting of pesto ;).  When it is frozen I pop it in labeled zip top heavy duty bags.  Now I can pop out exactly what I need when I need it and no waste!  NOTE:  I have read that you should not add the cheese before freezing but to date I have not had any issues at all. 

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Homemade Stuffing

 If you like the convenience of pre-boxed/bagged stuffing but don’t like all the extra chemicals, or you need something with less calories or more fiber and protein because of dietary restrictions then this recipe is your answer. You can even prepare through step 3 and still have the added ease of purchased box/bagged mixes. If you need a gluten free recipe go here Homemade Gluten-Free Stuffing.


10 slices 35 calorie wheat bread
10 slices 35 calorie white bread
10 slices of high fiber bread with extra protein added
butter flavor cooking spray

1 teaspoon savory
1 teaspoon poultry season
1 teaspoon ground sage
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1 medium onion, diced (about 1 cup)
2 stalks celery, diced (about 3/4 cup)
1/2 carrot, diced (about 1/2 cup)
1/4 cup of white wine (or substitute turkey or chicken broth)
2 1/2 - 3 cups de-fatted or fat free turkey or chicken broth


1. Heat oven to 250 degrees

2. Stack bread and cut into 1" cubes with serrated knife.
Spread on a jelly roll pan, lightly spray with butter flavor cooking spray and bake at 250 degrees stirring occasionally until toasted.
 Remove from oven and place in a large bowl.
3. Sprinkle with savory, poultry seasoning, ground sage, salt (if desired), and pepper. Mix well and set aside.
4. While bread is toasting; sauté onion, celery, and carrot in butter flavor spray until tender adding a little water if necessary to prevent browning. Add white wine and cook until alcohol is evaporated. Add 2 1/2 cup of broth and bring to a boil. Remove from heat and add bread mixture. Stirring until combined. Add additional broth if need, remember you will lose some moisture during baking so moister is better, just make sure it is not soupy.
5. Transfer to an 8" square baking pan and bake uncovered at 350 degrees until brown on top about 45 minutes


HINT: Make recipe through step 3; making sure all moisture is removed from bread. Cool completely. And place it a zip top bag for use later. As long as you are making one batch it only takes a few minutes more to double the ingredients, saving you valuable time later.



Monday, November 11, 2013

How to manage a grand Thanksgiving Dinner without getting stressed out!

How to manage a grand Thanksgiving Dinner without getting stressed out!
 Ladies and Gentlemen it is ALL in the prep!
I started my prep work this past weekend but don't despair there is still plenty of time. 
First things first you need to know about how many people you are going to be feeding.  My rule: there is always  room for one more at Mama Withrow's table.  I manage this by buying a huge turkey and if the list increases I just add more sides.  See simple!
Set the menu.  It is OK to think outside the box.  If your family does not like turkey then make a dinner you all will enjoy.  Once you have your menu, pull all recipes and put them in one folder in one place.  Go over each dish and make sure you have all the ingredients you will need and if not get them on your list!  Here is our menu:  Turkey, stuffing, gluten-free stuffing (recipe to follow), mashed potatoes, gravy, gluten-free gravy, sweet potato casserole (recipe to follow), green beans, corn, cranberry relish (which I will I purchase from Bob Evans because I love their relish), rolls, gluten-free rolls, and pumpkin pie in a gluten-free crust.  My family LOVES this menu and it is super easy for me as I can pre-shop.  I did my shopping last week, as the menu does not require any last minute fresh ingredients.  As much as I adore holidays, I equally dislike last minute shopping.  People are stressed, the stores are crowded, and sadly when people should be thankful and happy, they are mean and less than courteous.  So I shop early, prep, prep, prep, and ENJOY my holidays :D !!!!!!
Next I make homemade turkey broth (recipe to follow).  If this is not your thing then add it or a good quality chicken broth to your shopping list. While my broth was simmering away, I made croutons for my gluten-free stuffing (recipe also to follow).  Not gluten-free or you like the stuff in the box, then on to the next step for you.  I will fully admit that my guys like the stuffing you make on the "stove top" that I fancy up.  Remember to keep it as simple as possible.  Why in world should we spend hours in the kitchen making things from scratch if everyone is going to miss their "favorite"?  Back to those gluten-free croutons for my stuffing.  I go ahead, measure them out, add the dry seasoning to them, and store them in an air-tight container. 
Tomorrow or the next day I will have a "chop-athon".  I will get my handy-dandy folder out and slice and dice up all my veggies for my stuffings and green beans, measure them out, put them in heavy duty freezer style bags, label them, and pop them in the freezer.  I will also chop my pecans for my sweet potato casserole and do the same with them.  I usually make my casserole the day before but this year I think I am going to make it ahead of time and freeze it, making a separate packet for the topping, take it out the night before to defrost and just bake it the day of or the day before. 
The day before or even several days before (my recommendation) if you don't use your dining room table daily, get out the good dishes and silverware, wash them and go ahead and set the table.  If it will be more than a day, just turn the dishes upside down, and place the napkins over the silverware.  Decide which serving dishes you will use, place them one the table, with appropriate serving utensils, and label them with a sticky note.  So when you ask someone to bring the bowl for the green beans, it is a no brainer.
The day before I make my stuffings, gravies (remember that homemade turkey stock???), green beans and perhaps that casserole.  No more waiting for the turkey to come out of the oven to make the gravy, and the stuffing will taste just like it was cooked in the bird, without the hassle.  No more over cooked turkey to make sure the stuffing is cooked through.  One year, long ago, my turkey tested done but when putting the remaining turkey away after dinner the stuffing was bloody.....HORROR!!!! Thankfully no one was sickened but I have made my broth and cooked my stuffing separate ever since! I will also make my casserole, green beans, and put my corn in the bowl with the butter and seasoning, a quick zap in the microwave and it will be ready to rock.  About an hour and a half before the turkey should be done I will remove my stuffings, casserole, green beans, corn, and gravies from the fridge and place them on the counter.  Do NOT let them set at room temperature more than an hour and a half!  When the turkey is done pop them all in the oven.  MAKE SURE YOU HAVE THEM IN OVEN SAFE CONTAINERS.  Put the cranberry relish and butter on the table. When I take the pre-cooked food out of the fridge I peel my potatoes and place in the pot they will be cooked in, covered in cold water, if the kitchen is really warm I will add some ice.  When you put your stuff in the oven, put your potatoes on to boil over MEDIUM heat.  When your potatoes start to boil put your rolls in the oven. By the time the stuffing and casserole is warmed through, your potatoes should be ready to mash, and in the mean time your corn and gravy has either been heated on the stove or in the microwave.  You can either move your turkey to a serving platter and tent with foil to keep warm or do like we do, and go ahead and have the hubby slice it, and put it on a platter (drizzled with a little pan of the juices out of the pan) while you are finishing the potatoes.  BAM everything done at once, with minimal stress!!!! 
Now you are probably thinking, "You said stress free?????  What about my crazy relatives????"  Well they do not come much crazier than my family.  So here is my advice.  When I would call to invite my family, I set the rules.  "I would love for you to join us for Thanksgiving dinner, please remember it is a time to be THANKFUL.  Yes that person you don't like will be here, I did not exclude you, nor will I exclude them.  However, there will be NO snippy-ness, no snide remarks, no dirty looks, and no crap!  A drink with or after dinner if fine.  There will be children, absolutely no drunkenness or drugs allowed.  Be nice or you will be told to leave (yes I said told and not asked...asked means you have a choice).  If you are far more kindhearted than myself, and could never tell someone to leave, or dinner will not be at your house, you still have a couple of options.  When you accept the invitation, tell the host how much you love them, and how excited you are to be included, but make it perfectly clear as much as you love them, you will have to leave immediately if things get testy or out of hand.  Now put the web to use and make sure you will have someplace near by to go and eat your dinner in peace, or start a new tradition and go out with those you really love for buffet, in the first place!
Much love, peace, and happiness,


Sunday, October 20, 2013

Pumpkin Spice Coffee Syrup

Pumpkin Spice Coffee Syrup


2   cups water
3/4 cup brown sugar (preferably organic)
1   cup pumpkin puree (preferably organic)
2   teaspoons pure vanilla extract
3   teaspoons pumpkin spice
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, ground
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg, ground
1/4 teaspoon salt (optional)


In a medium saucepan over medium heat combine water and brown sugar stirring until sugar melts.  Add the remaining ingredients stirring to combine and making sure to remove the spices clinging to the side of the pan.  Continue stirring until mixture is thoroughly combined and close to the boiling point. Remove the pan from the heat and allow to cool.  

Once mixture is cook strain it through a sieve into a bowl with a tight fitting lid.  Keep refrigerated up to two weeks.   

NOTE: Because these are real ingredients and not a chemical crap bomb you may have a little grittiness at the bottom of you cup. Personally I think it is well worth it not be consuming a cup full of chemicals.

Add as little or as much as you would like to your coffee. Please refrain from drinking it straight from the bottle ;)  I think it would also be great in hot chocolate...mmmmm.


You can cut the recipe in half if you think you may not use it all but I say make the full recipe and share with a friend! 

Hey All,

I know I have been MIA for a LONG time, and I am sorry.  Life has been a bit of a roller coaster lately.  I found out that I have a gluten allergy and well my whole world, especially my food world has been turned upside down.  I think I finally have learned not only how to be gluten free but also how to cook quality food that still tastes fantastic.  Please don't worry not all my post will be gluten free.  I still have to feed the non allergic masses.

I have also started canning and hope to bring you some of those recipes as well.  Mostly I am canning so that I KNOW what is in my food, as opposed to putting a garden or stocking up for the winter.

Another main reason I have been MIA is because of Pinterest, I have stumbled across numerous cooking blogs with gorgeous pictures and postings.  I have to admit to being intimidated as I am camera challenged.  However I have decided that I will do my best and share what abilities I do have with you.  Please do not feel the need to critique my pix.  They will be there to help you out and allow you to "pin" your favorite recipes.  I am going to try and go back and at least add a finished pic of each recipe.  This may take some time so please be patient.  I have been taking pictures with my phone and have some stocked up to work on as the days get colder and shorter.

Looking forward to adding food & fun to your days,