The new school year has begun and things are in full swing at the Vanni house! Paper, pencils, binders, crayons, boxes of kleenex for the classroom, I feel like I went to Staples and bought three of everything in the place!

With this new school year comes a few new changes. For starters our two older boys are not yet in high school, but I have noticed they have developed all of the sass and opinons of teenage dudes over the summer. For example I felt like picking out their school shoes carried the same weight as picking out a college to attend in the fall. Vans, Converse, Nikes, lets pick out a pair and move on with life! I’m not even going to tell you how many stores we had to go to until everybody was happy with their choice. Seems a bit unfair that they will only end up growing out of them within three months time anyway.

The biggest change for me is our youngest has officially begun his school career and you already know what I’m going to say, where did the time go? Seriously though where did the time go?! I can still remember the exact moment when Ryan and I decided to have a fourth baby like it was yesterday. Now he’s off to pre-school, backpack and all and so proud to finally be like his big brothers, in school and learning.

Last but not least we are all about soccer this fall! All three older boys are on a team, three separate teams of course (oy vey) and their crazy kid appetite has hit a new level of scary. Sometimes it looks like I am grocery shopping for an army of 20! Bannas,apples, peanuts, string cheese, and our favorite snack granola bars. We go through them quicker than I can keep up and just like their shoes they are super picky about which ones they like. “This granola bar is too crunchy”, “This one is too soft”, “Ewwww this one has peanut butter on it!”, and my personal fav “Mmmm this one is good but it’s kinda small. Can I eat two more?”

I decided to factor in all of their request and concoct the perfect granola bar for my boys. I can cut them into the size they like, and along with the crushed up cookie I can sneak in all kinds of healthy stuff. The guys loved them and thought they were cookies for a moment! They went through more than half of them in a day, but I am totally ok with that. They were super easy to make, I knew exactly what was in them, and for a moment they were full.

I don’t know how it happened but some how all of our schedules were opened, the stars were aligned perfectly  and our husbands, 12 collective children and 5 dogs were able to let go of my three girlfriends and I for a very rare and wonderful girls only weekend.

Needless to say we had a blast. The four of us have know each other since high school and after this weekend I realized what a privilege it is to know someone that long. We watched each other grow up, fall in love for the first time, move out of our parents homes, and transform into the women we are now.

We have done a good deal since high school, graduated college, getting married, becoming mothers, starting businesses and even beating breast cancer. We still laugh at the kind of teenagers we were and it seemed we all had a special place in our hearts for the silly young ladies we used to be. To forget who we were would be to deny who we’ve become today. Without those crazy moments we might not have figured out so quickly what we wanted out of life and more importantly what we didn’t want.

My girlfriends have blossomed into beautiful, loving, courageous women and I am so proud to call them friends.

One particularly savvy friend knew we would be up late (11:00 pm is very late for a mother with small children) laughing and drinking wine, so she decided it would be best if she put together our breakfast the day before. It was a french toast casserole complete with heavy cream and loads of cinnamon. It was absolutely perfect and we were so thankful for it that morning.

I loved it so much I decided to copy her, but I switched it up to a savory version made with italian sausage, asparagus and two kinds of cheese. It turned out to be a easy yummy dinner that I was able to assemble in the morning and then pop into the oven that night after swim practice. Seems like what we all had in common was the want to feed our families good home cooked meals, but with our crazy schedules it can be hard to find the time.

I hope this easy meal works when you just can’t stomach yet another dinner at the snack shack.

Sometimes you just need to jump right into things head first. Who cares if you have no idea what you’re doing. You’ll figure it out as you go right? Right.

This was my logic when I decided to run my first full marathon. I had absolutely no business running a marathon and was humbled to the ground when it was all over. Did I learn a lot in those 26.2 miles? Yes. Did I almost kill myself in the process? You bet.

Let me give you the back story on how I got myself into that mess. The year prior a few girlfriends asked me to be on a relay team and run a 7 mile leg of the CIM. That was my first experience with marathons (and running outside in general) and I thought it was amazing. I loved the cheers from the crowd, the energy from the other runners, and that wonderful feeling of accomplishment when it was all over. I figured if running 7 miles felt good, running the whole thing must be amazing!

My husband on the other hand knew very well what we were getting into (he’s done a few triathlons) and he kept asking me if I was sure I wanted to do this. “Yes!” I would reply. “We are going to have so much fun out there together, just you wait!”

That morning I woke up excited and chatty, while he was silent and reverent. I was busy snapping pictures of us on the bus, updating my facebook status, and admiring my new running shoes when I should have been praying for my life. The fist part of the race went great. We were running at a strong pace, keeping a good time and I was loving all the music on my playlist. We even high-fived and the 13 mile mark and I felt like we had it in the bag.

At the 15 mile mark I hit a wall. Everything hurt. I found no comfort in walking (or standing) and I just wanted to quit. My sweet husband even told me it was ok if I stopped, but I knew I would never forgive myself if I didn’t finish this. My saving grace was my girlfriend who finished before I did was waiting for us at the 25 mile mark to cheer us on. She saw the look on my face, grabbed my hand and ran the last mile with me. I was in tears when I crossed the finish line and was so thankful it was all over.

How I felt about the marathon before I ran it is exactly how I felt about baking with yeast for the first time. A little intimidated, but how hard could it be right? I’m so glad I jumped right into it by making these yummy, gooey, pecan filled cinnamon rolls! Buttery, sticky, homemade goodness in a pan.

I learned a lot in the process of making these, and much like running another marathon I am excited and will be more prepared for the next time around.

Look out mile 15, I’m coming for you.

Can I just take a minute to brag about my oldest son? I promise it wont take long and there’s a really good smoothie recipe in it for you!

I’m pretty sure every parent thinks their child/children are the most brilliant, wonderful people to have ever graced this planet. Despite my boys inability to pick up their socks and constant bickering with each other, my husband and I think they are pretty amazing kids and last week was an especially awesome week for Gaven.

Now Gaven is not the biggest fan of change. He strikes me as the kind of guy who will have the same best friend for the rest of his life, fall in love and marry his high school sweetheart, and raise his family in a home close to ours so we can always be together. Hey a mom can dream right?!

Last week was the first week of practice for his new swim team and he’s done swim before, but it was nothing like this team. The coaches treat the swimmers like tiny navy seals making them swim laps and do drills for a full hour only stoping for a moment to listen to the coaches talk about technique. Also the kids are super competitive, and the parents are the in-it-to-win-it-my-kid-is-going-to-be-the-next-michael-phelps types.

This kind of pressure would be enough to shake even the most confident adult, but not Gaven. He recognized it all, jumped right in to the pool and showed his team and coaches that he also meant business. He has proven to be one of the stronger swimmers and his love for the sport grows more with each practice. It is an absolute joy to watch him swim his heart out everyday. To watch somebody discover and nurture a talent is a gift within itself.

You can only imagine from all of this hard work his appetite has tripled. He wakes up hungry for breakfast, comes home from school starving, and is famished after practice. His favorite after school snack is a smoothie and my blender has been working overtime lately to keep up with the demand. That’s fine with me because smoothies are one of those magical things that can can be crazy heathy and crazy good all at the same time.

Don’t worry you don’t need a fancy, expensive blender for this yummy smoothie. Your $20.00 Walmart one will work just fine, mine did!

Hey daddies (and daddies to be), did you remember mothers day is this Sunday?

You did?

Good for you!

Have you figured out what you’re going to make for breakfast that morning? That’s right you’re going to spoil that wonderful woman your kiddos call “Mom” with a fabulous breakfast in bed.

Sure you could take her out to some overcrowded, stress the kids out, just wish you stayed home breakfast. Or you could let her enjoy the morning in bed while she compliments you over and over again on the breakfast you made her. I think your choice is obvious & honestly there is nothing more heart warming than enjoying a meal that someone prepared for you out of love and appreciation. Being able to eat that meal while still in your p.j’s is pretty stinkin awesome too.

So are you one of those dads that cooks and is super creative in the kitchen? Great! Let us know what you’re going to make!

For the rest of you don’t worry I totally have you covered. This egg dish is super simple to make, but looks and taste restaurant-fancy. Also there wont be a pile of dishes to wash up afterwards, tons of steps to follow, and you’ll be able to find all of the ingredients at your local supermarket.

If you’re not up to making this, a toasted bagel on a tray with fresh flowers and a cup of coffee the way she likes it will mean just as much to her, I promise!

So you’re going to your in-law’s house for Easter brunch & your mother-in-law has asked you to bring something.

You feel scared and honored all at the same time. Scared because she is an amazing cook and takes Easter brunch very, VERY seriously. Have you ever seen those butter sculptures of Easter bunnies in the dairy section? Ya, she’s the person that buys those. Honored because she is finally, FINALLY taking you seriously as a cook in your own right & is trusting you to bring something awesome to the table.

What to bring, what to bring…

I know! A fruit salad would be nice. No, your 12 year old could make a fruit salad. It’s gotta be something with a little more pizzazz. Hmmmm…

What about a big fancy cake in the shape of a Easter bunny?! First you’re going to need to find the proper shape cake pans. Then you’ll need to find some fondant, and don’t forget the food coloring, and…. Oh my goodness that sounds like too much pizzazz.

I got!! Coffee cake. What is so special about coffee cake you ask? Well, the cake in this one is perfectly light and buttery. The streusel topping has bacon in it.

Yes…

Bacon.

I’m not one to show off, but this seemingly ordinary, yet extraordinary coffee cake just might steal the show…

Don’t you love it when your friends and family think that you’re smarter and fancier than you really are?

I do!

Because I am surrounded by such talented, creative folks the opportunity rarely presents it’s self. For example some of my friend’s can compose amazing music, some of them can sew lovely baby items, and I have a girlfriend whose brownies are famous in at least five different zip codes. Get this, I have a sister-in-law who owns a cow, milks that cow, and then from the milk she makes all kinds of delicious cheeses. My only response to that is “Wow”. It’s a tough crowd to impress,  but when it does happen I like to bask in that feeling for as long as possible.

For some reason making a frittata for breakfast tends to trick people into thinking you really know what you’re doing in the kitchen. I suppose the word “frittata” sounds fancy, and it does look pretty cool when you are pulling a skillet full of beautiful food out of the oven. Did I mention how yummy they are?! Ok, I guess I get why they can be a little show stopping.

The greatest thing about this dish is that it’s incredibly easy to make & as far as what you want to put in it almost anything goes! I’m not too sure if chocolate and garlic goes, but hey I’m not one to get in the way of anyones creative process.

The combination of veggies, cheeses, and meats are endless for this baked egg breakfast. All you need is a oven proof pan, a few eggs, a little imagination, and a crowd of loved ones to “oooh” and “ahhh” your creation doesn’t hurt.

Growing up my family ate “real” food before it was a trendy idea.

Meaning my mom made sure the fruits and veggies we ate were fresh and in season, pasta sauce NEVER came out of a jar, and soda did not exist in our home. Even when we ate out it was at a local restaurant and my mom knew everyone in the joint! I was well into high school the first time I ever ate at a Fridays and I was not impressed.

Does this make me a food snob? No way! It just means I like the real thing. If I’m going to eat a cookie it better have real butter in it, and if I’m going to eat a burger it better have real cheese on it. I’m super thankful for this outlook on food my mom raised us with & I try my hardest to feed my family the same way. A Costco pot pie does slip in every now and then (they are so stinkin good), but at the end of the day I’m happy with what my boys consider to be real food.

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of working in the kitchen with my mom. If you are going to cook with my mom you keep your mouth closed and your eyes and ears open. She works fast and takes feeding people good food seriously. Cooking together is not all work and no play, if you’re good she’ll reward you with a mimosa (or three). Every time I cook with my mom I learn so much, and on that day we made breakfast burritos that had people singing her praises.

These slightly spicy, kinda crunchy breakfast burritos were inspired by my mom, but I added a few little twist of my own. Being the kind of daughter I am (the bratty, awesome kind) if she says black of course I’m going to say white. Love ya mom!

Breakfast Potatoes

So we don’t exactly live in the country, but we don’t exactly live in the suburbs either.

We do however have cows in our backyard….

They are not ours, and I am totally cool with that. We also have lots of big trees around our home which I love. We moved into our home during the summer and completely fell in love with all the huge mature trees. Leaves and all. During the summer season my husband would happily and quickly do the yard work in under an hour & sometimes wish he had more to do. Be careful for what you wish for…..

Fall came, and down came the leaves. Down, and down, and down, and down. My husband finally enlisted the help of our four boys to help him rake leaves, blow leaves, and bag leaves. When the yard was leaf free (for the moment) I would whip my hungry (and handsome) dudes up another breakfast we dubbed “cowboy breakfast”. You know, because blowing leaves is a lot like herding cattle.

These potatoes would be great wrapped in a tortilla, in a omelette, or right out of the skillet and onto your plate.