May 9, 2012

About Donna

I am a working outside the home wife and mom who loves to cook and create in the kitchen. I am a mostly self-taught home cook who would love to be professionally trained some day. (One can always dream, right?) And just in case you were wondering… the hair is natural. You can stop by to see more of the goings on in my home and kitchen.

the kite

The Kite

My 10 year old daughter, Sarah, recently brought this creative writing assignment home from school:

“I am a kite.  The kite dances, flutters, dips and crashes.  I now know what it is like for God to keep me on track.  God is me when I fly a kite and I am the kite.  In my relationship with Him, I am flying all over.  When I crash He pushes me back up.  He fixes me when I need it.  I slack and pull.  He pulls me down and pushes me back up.  I am the kite and He holds the spool.”

Some neat insight, there, right?

Well, since that time we took a trip to the beach where we did a lot of things, including guess what… flying kites.

I got to thinking as I stood there and held that spool:

What if I stopped pulling against the Lord the way this kite is pulling against me holding this spool?

What if I stopped allowing the wind of the world blowing around me to pull me away from the Lord I love?

What if I responded to the Lord’s directions and pulls the way this kite is responding to me

What if…

I can’t even imagine what would happen if those things were true of me.  If I could truly trust the Lord and his full control over my life.  I can’t image the blessings that would come.  But I want it.

What about you?

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When a Family Pet and Friend Dies


My little family began the day that my husband and I got married in January 1996.  By June of that year we had purchased our first home.  And then on August 29th, our family grew when Mike brought home our first puppy in celebration of my birthday that year.

The ultimate mutt of a pound dog, she was the runt of her litter and all of her litter mates had chewed on her tail to the point that it had very little to no fur left on it.  Mike had great compassion on her and she became our Daisy.

Our family grew again on September 24th of that year when I brought home a tiny little dachshund puppy.  A red smooth miniature dachshund to be exact with the softest coat of fur, biggest puppy eyes and cutest floppy ears this side of the Rio Grande.  Her name was somewhat of a compromise as Mike really wanted to call her something along the lines of “Frankfurter” or “Oscar Mayer.”  As neither of those names were acceptable to me, we finally settled on Frankie.

Frankie, Daisy and I the night I brought Frankie home.

Fast forward 12 years, another puppy (Gus, a Welsh Corgi) and two kids later we had a full house.  Our two children have never known life without Daisy, Frankie and Gus.  They had not known what life would be like without any of these precious little creatures until May 6, 2008.

On that day, at just shy of 12 years old, Daisy finally succumbed to a several month ordeal which we are fairly certain was a cancer in her gastrointestinal tract which had metastasized and spread to her lungs.  Normally a 55-60 pound dog, she had lost so much weight that it was painful for us to see her like that.  There came a day when we just knew her fight was over.  As her owners we had to make a decision that day that we never wanted to make.  We had to end her fight for her.  Peacefully, quietly; she suffered no more.


Nathan was young enough at the time, not quite 3 yet, that he just took it in stride that Daisy had died.  But Sarah was 7 and really took it hard.  I simply told her when she got home from school that day that Daisy had died at the vet’s office.  We sat on the couch in the living room and cried on each other’s shoulders for quite a while.  To this day she still keeps a picture of Daisy in her locker at school and we all talk about her often.

Then on Saturday September 10th, just a few short days ago, at the age of 15, our little dachshund, Frankie, died.  She had battled and taken medication for congestive heart failure since January.  We knew she wasn’t well on Saturday morning but then she just got progressively worse throughout the day until she had what we believe to have been a massive heart attack Saturday evening.  We all gathered around her as she lay in my husband’s lap and petted and loved on her.  Then, after I had left with the kids because of previous plans, she breathed her last there in his lap.  Yet again, peacefully, quietly; she suffered no more.


I know that talking about a pet’s death doesn’t seem like an overly spiritual thing to talk about, but I believe there are lessons to learn if we allow ourselves to be open to them.

We have never been ones to shelter our children from death.  Dying is a part of living on this fallen planet.  While Sarah’s first experience with death was my grandmother (on my mom’s side), she was young and had not had the opportunity to be very close to my Nana.  Daisy’s death in 2008 was her first real experience with death hitting very close to home.  And this, with Frankie on Saturday was Nathan’s first real experience with death when he could process it and fully feel the emotion of it.

I have to tell you, I have never seen a 6 year old boy as sad in my life as Nathan was on Saturday.  We’d had a baseball game on the television and as we sat there and petted her he said, “I don’t want to watch TV right now.”  I asked him if he wanted me to turn it off and he said that he did.  It was like he felt the reverence of a life slipping away and knew that having a baseball game on in the midst of it was just not right.  He sat in my lap for a while and cried and then so did Sarah.

As hard as it is to lose a pet, I am so thankful that my kids have begun to learn how to grieve and to process the idea of death in the sheltered atmosphere of our little home in this way.  Because, you see, we have a loved one who is ill.  A loved one who is very close to us.  We have no idea how much longer he will be with us here on earth, but we do know that our time with him is so much shorter than we would have ever anticipated.  However, I know that when he does pass away that it won’t be my kids’ first encounter with death.  And as hard as it will be on our whole family, it will be just a little easier to know that my own children, even though they don’t know the full extent of the illness to this point, will have just a little bit more understanding of what is going on and will have a past experience to draw from.

It’s true that having pets while your children are young is such a training ground.  It teaches them how to care for another living being who is totally dependent on them.  It teaches them responsibility.  Having pets can help teach them kindness and gentleness.  But, unfortunately, and as much as it hurts, having that little furry creature in your home that wiggles its way into the fabric of your family and heart can also teach them about death.

Lord, I hope it’s true that all dogs go to heaven.  Please take care of my Daisy and my Frankie until I get there.  I know that Daisy can wake you up barking at night and Frankie seems like she’s always underfoot while you’re cooking dinner, but they really are good dogs.  And by the way, Lord, they both like their bellies to be rubbed.  Often.

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King Ranch Chicken


King Ranch Chicken is a quentisentially Texan dish.  It’s kind of like a stacked enchilada… but not.  However, one thing that always bothered me about this dish is the use of cans of pre-processed “cream of (fill in the blank) soup”.  This recipe is just as easy in my opinion and yields a dish that is so much better and full of fresh flavor.

This is a perfect dish to split into two smaller casserole dishes to freeze one for later.


King Ranch Chicken
(from Cooks Country magazine)

Ingredients :

12 (6 inch) corn tortillas
1 tbsp unsalted butter
2 med onions, chopped fine
1 – 2 jalapenos, minced (to taste)
2 tsp ground cumin
2 (10 ounce) cans Ro-Tel tomatoes
5 tblsp all-purpose flour
1 cup heavy cream
3 cups chicken broth
1-1/2 lbs chicken
2 tblsp minced fresh cilantro
4 cups shredded Cojack (Colby-Jack) cheese
Salt and pepper
2-1/4 cups Fritos crushed


Heat oven to 450. Spray tortillas on both sides with cooking spray and place on cookie sheet. Crisp in oven (about 12 minutes) and break into pieces.

Heat butter in Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Cook onions, chiles, and cumin until lightly browned (about 8 minutes). Add tomatoes and cook until most of the liquid has evaporated (about 10 min). Stir in flour and cook 1 minute. Add cream and broth, bring to simmer, and cook until thickened (2-3 minutes). Stir in chicken and cook until no longer pink (about 4 minutes). Off heat, add cilantro and cheese and stir until cheese is melted. Season with salt and pepper.

Spray 13×9 inch baking dish with cooking spray and scatter half of tortilla pieces inside. Cover with half of the filling, rest of tortilla pieces, and then rest of filling.

Bake until filling is bubbling (about 15 minutes). Sprinkle crushed Fritos evenly over top and bake until Fritos are lightly browned (about 10 minutes). Cool and serve.

I love to serve this with a caesar salad using a southwestern caesar dressing.

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Family Reunion Mac and Cheese

Family Removing Husks from Corn

Summer is here and one of the things I think of about summer is family reunions and gatherings of friends around the swimming pool or with sparklers at the 4th of July.

You always need to take a dish to these types of events, so I thought I’d share with you my macaroni and cheese recipe that I’ve worked on over the years to get it to where my kids love it.  It makes enough to feed an army so it’s perfect to take to that pot luck party or split into several small freezer safe dishes and freeze for later use.

Shells & Cheese


1 pound medium shell whole grain macaroni
5 tablespoons unsalted butter
6 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 ½ teaspoons powdered mustard
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
5 cups milk
8 ounces Monterey Jack cheese, shredded
16 ounces extra sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
Kosher salt to taste

Optional bread crumb topping:

6 ounces bread, torn into pieces
3 tablespoons unsalted butter (cold)

You will also need:

Food processor (if doing bread crumb topping)
Large pot or dutch oven
Broiler safe 9×13 dish


In a large pot with plenty of salted water boil shell macaroni until just past “al dente.”  Drain and set aside.

Set same pot back over medium heat.  Melt butter until foaming then add flour to make a roux.  Cook for just a minute or so and add mustard and cayenne and whisk to combine well.

While continuing to whisk, gradually add milk; bring to a boil while whisking constantly.  (It must reach a full boil to thicken, but you must keep whisking to keep it from scorching on the bottom or boiling over.)  Reduce to a simmer, whisking occasionally, until thickened to a heavy cream consistency (about 5 minutes).

Remove from heat and whisk in cheeses and salt to taste.  Add shells and stir to completely combine and thoroughly coat shells with cheese sauce.

If using the bread crumb topping:

Process bread and butter in food processor for 10-15 1 second pulses.  Transfer shells and cheese to a broiler safe baking dish and evenly top with bread crumb topping.  Broil until crumbs are deep golden brown, 3-5 minutes, rotating pan if necessary for even browning.

Allow to cool for about 5 minutes and enjoy.

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A Letter To My Future Self


A lot of people have written letters to their past selves here on A Martha Heart.  I’m taking a different angle and wrote a letter to my future self.

Dear 42 year old Donna,

So, now you’re over the hill.  How’s the hair?  Are you completely grey yet?  I’ll bet you just have a small streak of brown on your left side instead of the streak of grey on your right side.

Right about now you have a 15 year old daughter and an 11 year old son.  It’s possible that between puberty and teen-hood that you all may not be getting along so well.  So, it is important right now that you remember a few things and bits of advice you received from moms that you trust.  Things that you always have said you would do, especially where your daughter is concerned.

Keep talking.  Don’t allow the lines of communication to close down just because she rolls her eyes at you and finds being around you to be the most repulsive thought ever.

Don’t make anything off limits.  Believe it or not, you do want her to tell you and ask you things.  You may think, “I’d rather not know this” but you really do.  Really.

Be the parent.  You don’t have to give her a choice as to whether she is going to spend time with you.  Be the parent and spend time with her.  Force the issue if you must.

Remember what each of them were like just a few years ago.  Remember how Sarah used to just impress you so with her knowledge of the Bible and things of God.  Remember how she used to love to play outside, climb trees and hated the thought of shaving.  Remember how Nathan could always make you melt like buttah with those blue eyes and eyelashes of death.  Remember how he used to love to cuddle and snuggle in your lap first thing in the morning and last thing at night.

And most of all, remember how badly you have wanted grandchildren for the longest time.  If you kill your kids now, there’s no chance.

Hang on, dear one.  These teen years will be a wild ride, but the reward is coming!

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