Friday, December 30, 2016

The Evolution of New Year's Eve (and New Years in General)

With 2016 somehow coming to a close (seriously; how is that even possible?!), now is a great time to reflect on the last 365 days and begin making goals and plans for the next...

When I began thinking of things I would like to do and see happen in 2017, I realized that our family still needed to find a fun way to ring in this brand new year full of endless possibilities... but just how does one do this? According to society, we should be singing Auld Lang Syne among dear friends, sparkling wine, and lots of expensive black-tie apparel... but -- according to 3-year-old Jackson "I Run This Show" Sandmeier -- we do this at home because if we leave him with a babysitter, there will be hell to pay all throughout the upcoming year.

So just what do we do? I wanted this to be a special evening for all 3 of my boys, so I began thinking back to NYE's past to brain storm.

Here is how our last 4 New Year's Eves have played out:

2012

With less than a week to go until we said our "I do's," Brandon and I met friends at a local microbrewery and restaurant for dinner and drinks, which we followed up with games, more drinks, lots of laughing, and a champagne toast at midnight. Between having an awesome fiancé and a great job as a reporter at our local news station, I was on cloud nine and decided right then that this was the way I wanted life to go and how I wanted to spend every NYE from here on out.

2013

After a sleepless night with a 1-week old, a busy cousin photo shoot, and lack of naps on both Brandon's and my part, we were all out cold by 10 pm.

Sleep. This is how I wanted to spend every NYE from here on out.

2014

Since Brandon was filling in for a manager at work the next morning (and needed to be across town by 5 am), we had a very low-key NYE. After eating a Mexican feast I had whipped up and watching some ABC News year in review special, we retreated to bed, where I proceeded to do marketing work from my tablet and then binge read magazines until 11 pm.

Relaxing in bed with digital home decor magazines. This is how I wanted to spend every NYE from here on out.

2015
2015

After making a full recovery from some 24-hour bug, I was ready to break free from the confines of our house and take full advantage of an Olive Garden gift card that we received for Christmas. Once we arrived home, it was time for pajamas, bed, and then fireworks out our bedroom window come midnight.

Wearing warm and cozy pajamas, watching the ball drop on TV, and then watching fireworks out the window with a wide-eyed toddler. This is how I wanted to spend every NYE from here on out.

2016
Needless to say, our New Year's Eves -- and life in general -- have made a complete 180° since 2012. Not only have I sworn off the news industry for good (which I will write about another time), but I am now working from home as a writer, part-time marketing director, and full-time mommy to not one, but TWO sweet little boys. 

On the NYE front, the current plan to is to pick up party favors from Dollar Tree, go to mass on Saturday evening, get Chinese takeout, and probably binge watch another home improvement show on Netflix (Jackson's and my current guilty pleasure). 

It may not involve champagne toasts, getting all dolled up, and staying up late with friends, but do you know what? 

This is how I want to spend every NYE from here on out.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Christmas Eve Reflections

Today is my most favorite day of the year.

Even as a child, I think Christmas Eve was my favorite...

Why? 

For starters, I love it for our family traditions. For as long as I can remember, we (my parents and brother) have spent Christmas with my aunt and uncle and spend the day going to mass, having a nice dinner with drinks and LOTS of after-meal snacks, opening stockings, popping European Christmas crackers, wearing the paper crowns out of them, and jut visiting and enjoying each others company. 

However, the older I get and the more I think about it, I have realized that what it is I really love about Christmas Eve is the anticipation of the next day.

Our time with family has just begun... we will all wake up tomorrow, still be together, and spend a majority of the day with one another. 

I can finally give the ones I love the gifts that I have had stashed away for the last 6 months (I am one of those crazy people who Christmas shops all year and stores everything in a designated gift box so I don't lose track/forget about it). 

My family will sit down and share a wonderful meal together, as well as stories of Christmases past. 

Now that I am an adult, I realize that what I am anticipating the most is the birth of our Savior. God sent His Son to be born of the Virgin Mary and save us all from our sins... how amazing is that? The birth of any child is exciting (the memory of holding both of my sons for the first time is one of my most cherished memories), but the birth of Christ is truly remarkable. It is hard to relate to someone who is (literally) perfect like Mary, but I can imagine her excitement and all of the love she felt for Jesus the first time cradled, nursed, and comforted her child the only way a mother can.

It is for all these reasons and more that Christmas Eve is my favorite day of the year.

To you and your family: Merry Christmas! May your days be blessed and your hearts be full from this truly joyous season.

(My Nikon skills aren't the greatest -- and I had the brilliant idea of taking these when it was dark -- but here is a peek at our Christmas home.)

I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,

and wild and sweet
The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!
And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom

Had rolled along
The unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!
Till ringing, singing on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,

A voice, a chime,
A chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!
Then from each black, accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,

And with the sound
The carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!
It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearth-stones of a continent,

And made forlorn
The households born
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!
And in despair I bowed my head;
"There is no peace on earth," I said;

"For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!"
Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
"God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;

The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men."
~Henry Wadsworth Longfellow 

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Simply Delicious Fruit Pizza

If you have been a Living Like Martha reader since the beginning, you know that I am all about simple recipes that quickly get you out of the kitchen and into the action. After all, why would you want to slave away on something so minute when the important things (Jesus, family, and fellowship) are what really deserve your attention?

All of this being said, today's dessert is both pretty and simple, and is guaranteed to wow your guests at not only Christmas parties, but any time of the year.

Friend; meet the fruit pizza!
Sorry for the less-than-impressive picture... I actually made this for a potluck at a friend's house last weekend and ended up not being able to go because my car broke down, leading me to quickly snap this photo before sending it along with another friend to take. 
Ingredients:
  • 1/2 package of refrigerated sugar cookie dough.
  • 8 oz. of fat free cream cheese.
  • 1/3 cup sugar.
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla.
  • Sliced up fruit(s) of your choosing
  1. Spread sugar cookie dough over a 14-inch pizza pan. Bake in a 375 degree oven for 10 minutes or until lightly golden brown. Cool in the pan. 
  2. Let cookie dough cool for an hour.
  3. Blend the cream cheese with the sugar and vanilla until completely mixed. Spread in a thin layer over the cooled crust.  
  4. Add sliced fruit to top. Slice into desired amount of piece and serve. 
Totally doable, right?! I love this recipe not only because of its decadence, but also because it is colorful and pretty darn pleasing on the eyes. Do yourself a favor and whip this together before your next party for a crowd-pleasing dessert that is guaranteed to be the hit of the gathering!

Monday, December 5, 2016

Gabriel's Newborn Pictures

We just received our son's newborn pictures on Friday and I cannot stop looking at them... there is nothing quite like a cuddly little baby (with rolls for days) to make you appreciate the beauty of life!

Something that I have worked hard on doing this year is intentionally thanking God for everyday moments. Too often, we get too caught up in the world around us to really stop and think about all the good in our lives, which -- I have found -- can easily be changed by just remaining still, taking deep breaths, and saying a quick prayer of thanks whenever we feel grateful for something.

Since Gabe's arrival, I have been finding myself doing this all the more during those fleeting moments that I wish could last forever (cuddling with both boys in the rocker, the sweet scent of Gabe, seeing how protective Jackson already is of his little brother) and I can't help but do it every time I look at these beautiful pictures:


Photos by the fabulous Brandy Caruso 

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Hot Chocolate and Marshmallow Cookies

Happy Advent, All! I just love this time of year; don't you?

At mass this weekend, Fr. Mason discussed how we all seem to overlook the Advent season and go straight for Christmas without giving it a second thought... but Advent is an equally beautiful season that needs to be celebrated as well! While I am very much looking forward to the Christmas season and everything that comes with it, I will be making more of an effort to enjoy this peaceful and "sobering" (as Father said) time of the year. Don't get me wrong -- I will still be planning for Christmas and all of the giving and quality family time that comes with it, but I will also be taking more time to take in and reflect on the gospel readings!

Speaking of giving, there is absolutely no reason for going broke during Christmas. Contrary to what society believes, the celebration of Christ's birth isn't about expensive electronics and material gifts; in fact, the best gift you could possibly give -- or receive -- is one that comes straight from the heart. One of my favorite ways to show my love for someone is through food. Whether I am taking a meal to a new mom, cooking for family, or surprising my husband by preparing his favorite dish, there is something so satisfying about feeding someone.

That being said, why not consider giving a homemade gift to someone special this year? Take for example these delicious Hot Chocolate and Marshmallow Cookies, which would make a perfect gift for a neighbor, family member, or secret sister.


Ingredients:

  • 2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 1 cup cocoa
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract 
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 10 marshmallows
  1. In a large bowl, mix sugar and softened butter until fluffy in texture. Beat in vanilla and eggs.
  2. In separate bowl, mix remaining dry ingredients (minus marshmallows). Slowly mix to creamed mixture. Stir in chocolate chips. 
  3. Drop teaspoon full of mixture onto cookie sheet. Bake for 10 minutes in a 350 degree oven. 
  4. While baking, cut marshmallows into halves. 
  5. Remove cookies from oven and immediately add halved marshmallows to top. Let cool and enjoy. 
To complete this gift, place cookies into a festive container with packets of hot chocolate and colorful straws! 

Monday, November 21, 2016

Mass Must Haves (AKA How to Survive Mass with a Toddler)

Have you seen the gif going around Facebook that jokes about a parent's reaction when somebody says 'When I have kids, they will never act like that'? I did -- and it got me thinking about those naive moments when I was in high school thinking the same thing about unruly kids in church.

Well, judge and ye shall be judged, Annie... no parent is perfect!

Since my husband works on Sundays, I usually take the boys to church solo, which can be a major challenge at times. For the most part, my nearly 3-year-old is pretty well behaved during mass (minus this week, when I looked up and saw him kissing the little girl in the next pew... oy!), but I still like to have a little backup just in case things take a turn for the worse. To do this, I pack nearly the same things each week that have proven time and again to keep him occupied.

Here is a look at my "Mass Must Haves" that I store away in the diaper bag each and every week:

1.) The Easter Bunny put these little plastic gears in Jackson's basket this year and they are SO cool! You basically just connect and build with them, but I like them because they are quiet and keep the toddler occupied for hours minutes at a time. (Hey, I'll take whatever I can get!)

2.) I was gifted this children's mass book when I was pregnant with Jackson and he loves looking through it and "reading" it to me.

3.) As every parent knows, quiet and (relatively) no-mess snacks are a saving grace... our favorites are Mott's Fruit Snacks and these Go-Go Squeeze yogurts (both found at Costco).

4.) St. Nicholas left this beside Jackson's shoes last year and it is so cute! It's a little activity book that not only tells the story of Christmas, but includes a bunch of correlating stickers and coloring pages. Despite it being a Christmas book, we use it year round.

5.) Crayons and paper... so simple, yet so effective!

6.) I try to keep our book selection at mass religious, so I will usually grab one of our smaller board books, like The Story of Easter.

Now it's your turn to share: What are your mass must haves? Help a mamma out! 

Thursday, November 17, 2016

10 Minute Homemade Cobbler

Whenever I have company (whether it be a play date, family, or the Pope), I like to have something on hand to offer because -- in my mind -- there is nothing more hospitable than walking into a friend's home and being offered coffee, a warm treat, and heartfelt conversation. My go-to used to always be warm french bread (store bought -- I have yet to venture into baking my own bread!) with homemade jelly, Nutella, or other toppings, but now it is this SUPER EASY cobbler that I adapted from Jenny Cookies.

When it comes to dessert, fruit cobbler seems to be a universal favorite. (And what's not to love about a dessert that's chock full of fruit and topped with a crumbly, buttery topping?) Try this foolproof treat for yourself!

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 3 tbsp. finely chopped pecans
  • 2 tbsp. packed brown sugar
  • 4 tbsp. melted butter
  • 4 tbsp. sugar
  • 1/4 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1 can pie filling (cherry, apple, blueberry, etc.)
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Mix together flour, sugar, pecans, brown sugar, and cinnamon. Pour butter over mixed ingredients and break apart any chunks with fork. Set aside.
  2. Place pie filling in greased 8 x 8 pan and top evenly with mixture. 
  3. Bake in preheated oven for 35 minutes or until topping is browned. 
  4. Serve warm with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. 



Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Let's Go Public, Shall We?

It's November 15, 2016 and I am finally sharing the blog that I have been praying about and planning for for more than a year now.

So, welcome to this little corner of the internet!

For those of you who do not know me in real life, I am not an apologist, theologian, or strong evangelist (though I am working on it); I am simply a Cradle Catholic, wife, and mother who felt a strong calling one day to start this blog.

After months of pushing it aside (which was easy to do since I'm not only a mom, but a writer who works from home), the calling became stronger and stronger -- to the point where the story of Mary and Martha kept popping into my head at the most random of times.

Okay God; I'm listening! But what exactly am I supposed to do with this? And who will I really be helping?

To answer that question, I really have no idea... but I appreciate you joining me on this journey as I figure it out!

As you may notice, I started writing recipe posts back in February (around the same time I bought the domain name and shopped for pretty templates) and didn't do much with it again until now because -- well, I got pregnant with our second son and ended up sleeping whenever I should have been up and working. However, even when I wasn't working on getting the site together, I was thinking about it.

A lot.

As you may also notice, my menu bar is currently small, but will grow with time. (In addition to recipes, I plan to write about Catholic reflections, book reviews, simple decor, entertaining tips, and so much more.) My ultimate goal for Living Like Martha is to create a place for Catholic moms, daughters, sisters, and friends to come together to share about their faith, favorite podcasts, new recipes, wine recommendations, etc.

Stick around, friends! In the meantime, I would love to hear any suggestions or general feedback you may have -- let me know in the comments, on FB, text, or whichever means you prefer.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Slow Cooker Turkey, Kale, and Tortellini Soup

I don't know about you, but anytime we experience winter weather, I crave soup. It's warm, it's comforting... it's the perfect meal to eat whenever the weather outside is frightful! If you are looking for a simple, delicious, and HEALTHY soup to serve your family, look no further than this Slow Cooker Turkey, Kale, and Tortellini Soup.

Another plus to this recipe? It comes out looking so pretty (are you seeing all these vibrant colors?!), making it perfect to serve guests! Pair with a nice red and crunchy baguette and you have yourself a fabulous, no-fuss meal.


Ingredients:

  • 1 lb. ground turkey
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 (28 oz.) can crushed tomatoes 
  • 32 oz. chicken broth
  • 1 cup water
  • ½ cup white vine vinegar 
  • 8 oz frozen cheese tortellini
  • 1 cup fresh kale


  1. Cook turkey and garlic over medium heat in a large saucepan
  2. Place inside slow cooker, add remaining ingredients, and stir to combine
  3. Cook on low for 4 hours

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Slow Cooker Green Bean and Dumpling Soup

If the weather outside is frightful, there is nothing more comforting than a hot bowl of soup!

But it's Friday and you're fasting from meat... what is a person to do?!

Make this super simple, cost-effective slow cooker green bean and dumpling soup, of course! Your family will love the taste and you will love just how easy it is to make.

Please note: This recipe contains both chicken broth and cream of chicken soup, which the United States Conference of Bishops states is not forbidden during Lent.


Ingredients:
  • 3 (10.5oz) cans Condensed Cream of Chicken Soup 
  • 1 (32oz) box Chicken Broth
  • 10 Large Flaky Refrigerator Biscuits
  • 1 (16 oz.) bag of frozen green beans
  • Salt and pepper (to taste)
  1.  Add cream of chicken soup and chicken broth to crock pot. Cook on high for 1 hour (2 hours on low).
  2. Cut each uncooked biscuit into 8 small pieces and stir into the soup mixture. Add frozen green beans and cook on high for 1 hour, stirring occasionally. 
  3. Serve hot and enjoy!

Brandon's Famous Crab Mac-and-Cheese

As the mother of a busy toddler, one of my go-to lunches is mac and cheese. Sure, the stuff from the blue box isn't the healthiest, but after I sprinkle on a spoonful of Chia seeds (my son has come to expect Chia seeds on anything I serve him -- that's a sneaky health tip for you all!) we're good to go.

If you prefer to avoid the blue box, powdered cheese stuff (which is probably wise) and like a better, more grown-up version of this childhood favorite, you will want to make my husband's incredible baked crab mac-and-cheese.

Please note: This recipe has been adapted from Ina Garter.


Ingredients:
  • Kosher salt
  • Vegetable oil
  • 1 pound elbow macaroni
  • 1 quart milk
  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, divided
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 12 ounces Swiss cheese, grated (4 cups)
  • 8 ounces extra-sharp Cheddar, grated (2 cups)
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1 1/2 pounds cooked crab meat
  • 1 1/2 cups fresh white bread crumbs (5 slices, crusts removed)
  1.  Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
  2. Drizzle oil into a large pot of boiling salted water. Add the pasta and cook according to the directions on the package, 6 to 8 minutes. Drain well.
  3. Meanwhile, heat the milk in a small saucepan, but don't boil it. In a large pot, melt 6 tablespoons of butter and add the flour. Cook over low heat for 2 minutes, stirring with a whisk. Still whisking, add the hot milk and cook for a minute or two more, until thickened and smooth. Off the heat, add the Swiss, Cheddar, 1 tablespoon salt, the pepper, and nutmeg. Add the cooked macaroni and crab and stir well. Place the mixture in 11 x 7 baking dish.
  4. Melt the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter, combine them with the fresh bread crumbs, and sprinkle on the top. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until the sauce is bubbly and the macaroni is browned on the top. 

Mamma's Fruity Shrimp

I know what you're thinking: AGAIN with the shrimp, Annie?

You better believe it!

Today's recipe is one that I made up on the spot and my mom LOVED it (hence the name). If you have a busy day ahead, throw these simple ingredients into your slow cooker and stand by for a little dinner magic.


Ingredients:
  • 1 lb. tail less, deveined shrimp
  • 1 can pineapple rings
  • 2 strawberries (sliced)
  • 10 blueberries
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 cup soy sauce
  1. Add soy sauce, water and juice from pineapple can to slow cooker.
  2. Add 10 blueberries, sliced strawberries and 4 pineapple rings to cooker.
  3. Cook on low for 5-7 hours.
  4. Add shrimp.
  5. Cook on low for one hour. Stir Occasionally.
  6. Serve over rice or bed of lettuce.

Shrimp and Artichoke Pasta

This probably goes without saying (considering a majority of my recipes include it), but I REALLY love shrimp! Those little crustaceans are healthy, filling, and relatively inexpensive -- what's not to love?!

If you are planning a special Lenten meal, or just want to impress your dinner guests, this wonderful Shrimp and Artichoke Pasta is a slam-dunk meal that is sure to become a staple in your home.


Ingredients:
  • 1/4 cup Olive Oil
  • 12 oz. angel hair pasta or linguini 
  • 4 tsp. Minced Garlic
  • 1 lb. Shrimp (raw, peeled and deveined)
  • 1 ½ cups drained artichoke hearts
  • 1 ½ cups feta cheese (crumbled) 
  • 1 cup chopped tomato 
  • 3 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
  • 3 tbsp. chopped parsley
  • 2 tbsp. fresh oregano chopped or 1 ½ tbsp. dried 

    1. Heat oil, sauté garlic 30 seconds.  
    2. Add shrimp, sauté for 2 minutes.   
    3. Add remaining ingredients except cheese and heat.  Add feta at last.    
    4. Grate asiago or parmesan on top.

Spicy Shrimp and Rice

I know this picture doesn't look the most appetizing, so I am going to come clean with you all: I actually took/edited it when I started my first blog back in 2012. Fortunately, my photog (and editing) skills have greatly improved since then, but the excellent taste of this spicy and savory dish remains the same.

If you are looking to "spice up" your meatless meals this Lent, this Spicy Shrimp and Rice Casserole is sure to satisfy! 

Ingredients:
  • 1 (8 ounce) package wild rice
  • 1 lb. medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 1 can Rotel (choose your temperature)
  • 1 (10 3/4-ounce can) condensed cream of mushroom soup 
  • 2 cups grated sharp Cheddar  
  1.  Cook the rice according to package directions minus 1/4 cup water. Drain and cool. 
  2. Bring 2 cups water and 1/2 tablespoon salt to a boil in a medium saucepan and cook the shrimp for 1 minute. Drain immediately and set aside.
  3. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. 
  4. In a large bowl, combine the rice, soup, 1 1/2 cups of cheese, shrimp and Rotel. Mix well. Spray a 9-inch square aluminum cake pan or an 11 by 7-inch glass casserole dish with vegetable spray. Place the mixture in the pan and top with remaining 1/2 cup cheese. Bake for 30 minutes, until bubbly.  

Protein(y) Linguine

I know that plain, buttered noodles aren't everyone's favorite, but... I could seriously eat them everyday! Not only does the staple taste great to me, it also gives me a sense of nostalgia. (When my best friend and I lived together our sophomore year of college, we had no money and would eat plain noodles, Totino's Pizza, and instant mashed potatoes almost weekly.)

Anyway, if you are like me and enjoy some good, old fashioned noodles, you will love this recipe.

If you are like my husband, who likes something with a lot of taste, you will love this recipe.

Take your Lenten taste buds for a spin this Friday night with my easy-to-make Protein(y) Linguine!

Ingredients:
  • 1 pound uncooked spaghetti.
  • 2 eggs.
  • 1 stick of butter or margarine.
  • 1 Tbsp. minced garlic.
  • 1/2 grated Parmesan cheese.
  1. Cook 1 pound pasta in boiling water. Once pasta is cooked, promptly strain. 
  2. Once water is strained,  immediately add two eggs (you want to make sure to add the eggs as soon as you strain the water to ensure they cook thoroughly). Stir egg and noodles for 2 minutes. You should notice bits of scrambled egg on the pasta.
  3. Add butter and garlic to microwave-safe bowl. Cook until completely melted. Stir thoroughly.
  4. Add garlic and butter mixture to top of noodles. Stir. Top with Parmesan cheese.
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