January & February's New Recipes

As part of our effort to clean up our diets and eliminate most processed foods, I am making an effort to try at least a couple of new recipes each month.  I have never been much of a cook, but I have finally taken more of a liking to it over the last couple of years.  And Jeremy is finally becoming a (slightly) more adventurous eater.  Hooray for adulthood, huh?

Although my cooking skills have improved quite a bit, my available time has not increased by much.  So my favorite go-to recipes are quick, easy, and often involve the crockpot or leftover rice.  (Lest you think I'm joking, I eat leftover rice at least 5-6 times a week.  I don't even care for freshly cooked rice; it needs to be refrigerated at least a day or so before it's any good.)

All that said, here are a few recipes I have tried in January and February (Food blogger I am not, obviously.):

---One of the unanimous favorite new dishes was a Chicken Stew from Christy Jordan's Southern Plate blog.  It was simple, filling, and delicious served over rice (ha!  But I'm serious.).  The recipe makes a lot of stew, so it's perfect for leftovers or sharing.  I used all the listed ingredients, but I made mine in the crockpot and added lima beans about an hour before it was ready to eat.  The second time I made this recipe, I reduced the potatoes and onions just a bit.  Verdict:  delicious!

---I made my first baked oatmeal (this may have even been in December...I honestly can't remember), using this Blueberry Banana version from Budget Bytes (one of my favorite food blogs!).  It turned out quite well, and it was nice to have breakfast waiting in the refrigerator for the week.  I want to try the same recipe with strawberries next.

---We have been eating a lot more fish lately, but we are still struggling for a perfect method of cooking it.  A trigger fish grilled on cedar planks was delicious, but we haven't been able to find trigger fish in awhile.  J and I both love tilapia, but each time we have made it we felt pretty ambivalent about it.  I came across a simple salmon recipe from Pioneer Woman and finally tried it one weekend when it was too rainy to grill as planned.  It was okay and something I will likely play around with again in the future.  It really was a very easy method, so that's a win.

---Inspired by strongblonde, I made Koren Beef a few weeks ago.  It was a bit of a branch out for Jeremy, but he was a trooper.  Actually, he ended up liking it quite a bit and declared the leftovers delicious as well (with rice, of course!).  I was nearly out of soy sauce when I made this so it wasn't nearly as saucy as it should have been.  I have a new bottle and can't wait to try again.

---Of all the beans I cook in the crock pot, I had not made white beans until Mandy shared her recipe for White Bean Chowder.  I put a batch in the crockpot on a cold day and dreamed about warm beans and cornbread all day long.  They were quite good, even with the meager ham bits I had on hand.  Only one problem...I forget how much I dislike thyme until I put it on something!  My enthusiasm was dimmed, but only slightly.  I took a big bowl to my mom's to go with salmon patties and they were a hit.  Next time, I will remember to leave out the thyme and experiment with a few different seasonings.  : )

---Huntsville got a Chipotle restaurant not too long ago, and I fell in love with their burrito bowls.  Since my chances to eat there will be rare, I played around and created a somewhat satisfactory replacement at home.  My favorite combo so far is leftover brown rice (you're shocked, I know!) sprinkled with a bit of taco seasoningblack beans, tomatoes, sour cream, and shredded cheese.  So, so good.  I eat this several times a week for lunch when I have a batch of beans.  (Canned beans work as well, but keep some of the liquid; it helps blend everything together.)  This is also good with taco meat or Mexican-seasoned chicken

---Finally, a creation that was a bit more fun.  A friend at work shared the Pioneer Woman's Cinnamon Toast with me and I knew immediately that I would be trying it.  I didn't measure anything, just combined a couple of spoonfuls of softened butter with sugar, cinnamon, and a drop of vanilla.  Verdict:  Absolutely delicious!  It was a hit with all four of us.  I have cut back on bread drastically, so on a whim, I tried the same spread on a whole wheat pita (I split it in half, then tore the pocket in half, leaving four very thin pieces of pita).  YUM!  I cook it at 350 for a few minutes, then turn over to broil.  The pita gets crispy on the edges and retains a little bit of chewy texture in the middle, all covered in buttery cinnamon goodness.  This is a new favorite treat for me and at about 150 calories per serving (half the full pita), it fits in my breakfast plan when I eat it with two boiled egg whites.  I totally recommend that you try it.

Whew...that certainly felt long; maybe I am cooking more than I thought? 

Any recommendations for my new recipes in March?  (Come on, April, I know you have something for me!)


Dreaming of Spring

Though the weather doesn't always cooperate, we have been doing our best to remember that spring is most definitely on its way.  A couple of weekends ago, we surprised the girls with an afternoon trip to the park.  They played their little hearts out, and Jeremy and I enjoyed watching them conquer playground equipment they wouldn't even attempt last fall.  I was surprised to see that Mackenzie has turned into quite the climber.  We even continued to play outside once we got home, since the weather that day was too beautiful to pass up.

I didn't think about grabbing my camera before we went to the park (it was a very impromptu trip), but I did get to take a few photos once we were home...one of the first times I've had the chance to play with my new camera outside in decent light.

I know the focus is off in this picture, but I love it.  They were concentrating and were deep in conversation.

 Sweet Addison

Again, not technically any good, but this picture makes me smile.

I was off work last Monday and we were able to spend more time outside.  I dressed the girls in sweats, thinking it was cool, but I quickly had to take off my jacket and was perfectly comfortable in short sleeves (so nice!).  I felt a little bad when Addison whined that she was hot...I'm sure she was! 

 The girls are forever bringing me 'presents'...dandelions, acorns, rocks...anything goes!  And yes, it still makes me smile every time.

 Mackenzie--one of my favorite recent pictures.

One of our favorite things to do during the warm months is to have our Sunday lunch from the grill here at home.  It's always a crazy afternoon, with kids running in and out and everyone doing a little something to get lunch ready.  This past Sunday was predicted to be fairly nice, so Jeremy and I decided to go for it and start the grilling season early.  

It did turn out to be a lovely afternoon, and we even had the typical "summery" meal of burgers, beans, grilled vegetables, and potato salad.  Yep, we are definitely pretending it is spring...and I'm loving it!

The wild crew, minus one.

 Me too, Mackenzie!  : )

And the best thing about these wild and crazy Sunday dinners?  This crew is usually completely worn out, making for a very restful afternoon!  

Have you seen any glimpses of spring yet?  What are you most looking forward to with the warmer weather?


Making Changes

I have been meaning to update the look and feel of my blog for quite some time.  After months of dithering, I think I am finally ready to make some changes to reflect the direction I want my blog to take. 

I am aiming to put all my changes into effect over the weekend, including a redesign and change in blog name.  I am finally forking over the $10 to purchase my own domain, so hopefully everything will be redirected smoothly.  We'll see.

Here we go....


A Valentine craft {that didn't make me crazy}

I wanted to do something a little different for the girls' Valentines this year.  With 17 kids in their class at MDO, the candy can get overwhelming pretty quickly.  I end up throwing quite a bit away or eating it myself...and I hate to waste valuable calories on so-so Valentine candy.  (A delicious homemade cupcake, on the other hand, is totally worth it.)

After a lot of thought-and Pinterest searching-I decided on something I already knew how to do.  Inspired by Marcia's mini-book projects, I decided to let the girls make Valentine notepads for their classmates.  It went quite well, especially since I glued the first sheet onto the cover myself the night before.

Then, I dumped out a $5 box of foam heart stickers and let the girls go to town.  I offered to help remove the paper backing, but they quickly informed me that they had "already used these stickers at school" and knew exactly how to do it...and they did!  

A & M had a blast covering the notebooks (and themselves), and I pretty much kept myself under control and let them do it they way they wanted.  I only suggested limiting the hearts to 3-4 per book.  (You know I couldn't stay out of it completely!)

We were all happy with the finished product.  From the other child (I honestly can't remember who gave out which Valentines, and I mixed it up from the way we had agreed on anyway.  Thankfully, A & M got over it quickly.), we went with a simple Rice Krispie treat cut into a heart shaped and tied up in a Valentine bag.

Valentine's Day 2013=success!


Wednesday Quick Takes

1.  Since I already basically gave up soft drinks, I decided not to do another sacrifice challenge for Lent this year.  Instead, I am committing to read Scripture each of the forty days during the Lenten season.  I was planning to do this plan to read the Gospels in forty days.  Then, last night, I came across a book I ordered back around Christmas that I haven't started yet.  The book is called 40 Treasured Bible Verses and has a short devotional expounding on the meaning of each selected verse.  Now I think maybe that was meant for me to read during this time?  I will decide for sure when I sit down to start tonight!

2.  As I mentioned, I didn't really make any grandiose resolutions for 2013, and I also never decided on a word for the year.  I did, however, somewhat inadvertently choose a Bible verse for myself:

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.  (Ephesians 4:29)

This verse has been on my mind so much in the last few months, and I generally find I am a much kinder and more gentle person when I consciously remember it.  So here is my public declaration that my goal for the year is to live by Ephesians 4:29.  : )

3.  Related, I guess I can finally also say that my word for the year seems to be intentional.  As my verse indicates, I need to be more intentional in my words and actions toward others.  I also want to be more intentional with my food habits (am I eating healthful, nutritious food or wasting my calories on junk?) and also with my time in general (i.e. reading a book or spending a few minutes straightening the living room rather than wasting an hour and a half on mindless tv).

4.  Mid-February is not too late for what basically amounts to New Year resolutions, right?  Hey, at least we know I didn't break them by the second week of January like usual!

5.  Following Marcia's lead, I am attempting to try at least 2-3 new recipes each month.  (I do plan to do a post and share my thoughts on these, maybe every other month or so).  It wasn't totally new (I've made it once before), but I made cajun-style red beans in the crockpot yesterday, in honor of Mardi Gras.  I basically used this recipe, and added a little more cajun seasoning this time, and they were delicious!  I am so glad to have leftovers for the next week or so.  

Red beans and rice... #mardigras at home!


The State of Affairs: January 2013

Trips/Outings:  NONE, and that was absolutely fine by me.  After the whirlwind holiday season, the quiet weekends at home have been fantastic.

Oh, wait...I did go on a youth retreat with the kids from church.  This was my second time on this trip, and it is my most favorite kind--quiet, relaxing, and no phone service.  We don't have to lead anything or be anywhere; we just make sure the kids are doing what they're supposed to be doing.  It was like vacation for me!

 Books read:  5
The Duck Commander Family:  How Faith, Family, and Ducks Built a Dynasty--Jeremy and I really got into the show Duck Dynasty late last fall, so I ordered this book for him for Christmas.  It was fun to learn a few new things about the family, and their unabashed sharing of their faith is refreshing.  (It seems like nearly everyone around here is watching that show...is it just a southern thing?)

The Willpower Instinct--I had doubts about how much I would enjoy this book, but I am so glad I read it.  Excellent book for starting a new year.  Reviewed here.

These Things Happen--This was okay.  I could have liked it quite a bit, but the writing and the dialogue felt very pretentious and ended up being a little confusing at times.

Here I Go Again--Fun, fun, fun book.  Perfect light weekend or vacation reading.  Reviewed here

Into the Darkest Corner--Creepy, suspenseful, and chilling.  I'd definitely read more from this author.  Review here.

The girls received a copy of The Jesus Storybook Bible for Christmas, and they (especially Mackenzie) are absolutely loving it.  We read 2-3 stories from it most nights, and it's the only book M has chosen to read in bed for the last month.  Though I'm sure I will be tired of reading it aloud before too long, it thrills me to see how much they are learning from the stories.

I had a couple of iTunes gift cards from Christmas, so I uncharacteristically bought two albums this month:  Fun. and The Lumineers.  I'm liking The Lumineers, but I haven't listened to it all that much yet because I am completely in LOVE with the Fun. album.  Seriously, I want to listen to it all the time.

(It may sound a little cheesy, but parts of this month were very, very difficult and the words to this song ("Carry On") became something of a mantra for me.  I can't get enough of it.)

"Hey Mom, take a picture of this!"

I didn't start out this year with grand plans to make big changes in our lives.  I didn't want to get caught up in the January resolution-making, particularly the kind of dramatic resolutions that disappear by February 1.

Still, the changes seem to be creeping in on us, most noticeably for me in the area of food.  I am making big efforts to change my diet (and Jeremy's too, as a result) to a whole-food, plant based way of eating.  I am far from an all-or-nothing type of person when it comes to things like this, so I make no sweeping declarations in this area.  I'm okay with an 80-90% non-processed diet on a daily basis, and I won't feel bad for indulging or having a lazy moment here and there.  It happens, and it will continue to happen.

In the month of January in particular, I probably ate out fewer times than ever before in my adult life.  There were a couple of weeks when our Sunday dinner was my only restaurant meal of the week.  I feel good about that, and hope to keep that up and continue the new habits we're creating for our family.  I have been consistently eating less meat over the last few months, something I want to keep up as well.  I tried to keep track of my meatless meals during the month, and I think it was around 11-12 (that's lunches and dinners...my breakfasts almost never include meat anyway).

Finally, I can't really talk the "whole foods" talk with a Diet Coke in my hand, so that's something I'm working on too.  Again, no sweeping declarations, but I drank the last Diet Coke in my house a couple of weeks ago, and I don't intend to replace them.  I am quite sure I haven't had my last soft drink ever, but it's a start.  My water intake increased at least 100% this month, without a doubt.

This wasn't the greatest January on record, mainly due to the tragic events involving our family friends, but it was otherwise a good month.  I am still struggling with that situation, and I imagine many of us will be for a long, long time to come.  But we are "carrying on"  (see? mantra.), and keeping strong in our faith.

How was your January?