Monthly Archives: November 2012

Oh, and P.S.

Sometimes you need a smile. Or a squint.

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5 Ways to Get Dinner on the Table Faster

I’ve been thinking about this post a lot. A whole lot. It seems the crunch for time is universal. I’m certainly no expert, in fact I feel like I’m just beginning the journey myself, but I’m ready to share [and hoping you’ll share your own tips in the comments section].

1. When in doubt, prep it out. This one is near and dear to my heart. It’s no hyperbole when I say meal planning has completely changed our family. Perhaps it seems counter-intuitive that spending time making a meal plan would save you time, but I promise it does. It’s just like picking out your outfit the night before: if you already know what you’re making for dinner that night there’s no last minute shuffle and hustle. You can take a few minutes in the morning and gather all your ingredients, have your recipe ready, and do any early prep that you can. I strongly advise these three steps. I say to gather your ingredients because there’s nothing worse than going to grab that can of black beans or diced tomatoes and realizing you’re out. Have your recipe ready so that you’re not searching for it with a hungry tummy. And lastly, check out the recipe to see if there’s anything you can do before-hand. Having all your veggies chopped is a huge time saver and remembering to soak your beans is a must.

2. Mix it up. Grab a mix and know how to use it. I love this Bob’s Red Mill Veggie Soup Mix like I used tonight or maybe it’s an organic aseptic packaged soup. Pick something packaged [double check the ingredients list, just to be safe] and add some fresh or frozen vegetables to it.

3. Beat the clock, use a crock [or a pressure cooker]. There are tons of real food crock pot recipes that just say no to the condensed soups. Here’s a list that looks yummy. It may be a little bit of a learning curve to figure out what can go in and how long to cook it, but there’s nothing better than opening the front door to the sweet aroma of a hot dinner waiting for you [almost as good as someone else making it for you].

4. Double team ’em. So maybe this is super obvious to everyone else, but to get dinner on the table faster recruit some kitchen helpers. Husbands and children are hungry too, so put them to work! Kids are great at setting tables and doing light prep [taking grapes off the stems or washing produce]. Husbands love to have tasks [maybe?]. They just want you to give them some clear direction. Chuck is always willing to help, but sometimes I forget to ask.

5. Look out for the easy tip in. After I list out the six meals we’re going to have for the week I check to see if any of them have overlapping ingredients. Are there two rice dishes? Do two of the dinners have similar veggies so that I could do all the prep at once? If so I usually try to schedule those meals so that they’re within two days of each other so that I can cut down on my weeknight prep time.

So I thought I’d share a recipe that utilizes 4 of these 5 tips. I’d use all five but I didn’t even need any helpers.

Crockpot Vegetable Soup
Serves 6-8

1 1/2 cups Bob’s Red Mill Veggie Soup
6 cups water
3 bouillon cubes
spices you like [I did 1 1/2 teaspoons of salt, some pepper, 2 bay leaves, garlic powder, and cumin.]

From a previous dinner I had a cabbage veggie mix. To get it you just make this recipe without the quinoa.

Put the soup mix, water, bouillon cubes, and spices in your crockpot. Set to low for 4 hours or high for 2. Stir occasionally.

[This particular soup mix has Green Split Peas, Yellow Split Peas, Barley, Lentils and Vegetable Pasta (Containing Whole Wheat Flour, Dehydrated Spinach, Tomato, Celery, Onion, Beets and Garlic) in the ingredients.]

About 30 minutes [if your veggies are coming from the fridge] or before serving [if you’re sauteing them that night] throw your veggies in and give it another stir.

Serve.

Quick and yummy. Nutritious and delicious.

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This Week’s Meal Plan & The Food Effect

Hello Holiday Season! It doesn’t make for the most interesting meal plan but it does make for a delighted belly!

Sunday: I’m keeping strong with the leftovers on Sunday theme. I did not realize what a pleasant respite it would be to take one day off of cooking. Silly.
Monday: Butternut Squash with Pistachio Pesto. I’ve decided I like this heavy on the lemon and pistachio. Like maybe next time I make it I’ll double the pesto.
Tuesday: Cabbage Quinoa Salad. Very quick throw together meal.
Wednesday: So we had plans fall through Wednesday and that meant we got to add a pre-Thanksgiving feast to our week. It was delightful. I made chai-spiced butternut squash [no recipe, just added cardamom, nutmeg, cinnamon, allspice with the salt, pepper, and olive oil I usually use]. I made Martha’s Asparagus Gruyere Tart and in a pinch switched mozzarella for the gruyere. It was good but I missed the gruyere flavor for sure.
Thursday: Lovely family time. I made some mini gf/vegan pumpkin pies so Lu got here first taste of pumpkin pie. Actually it was her first time ever having pie. I based them off this recipe. We used the pecan crust and I was a big, big fan.
Friday: Pizza on the day after Thanksgiving is kind of a family tradition. We made our own and added pineapple as the topping.
Saturday: We’re still keeping dinner simple tonight with these Roasted Veggie and Black Bean Burritos. They are delicious. We top them with black bean & corn salsa and greek yogurt.

I thought I’d share some links from around the internet this week speaking to the impact food has on your body. I feel like when I’m having conversations with people about our diets they think I’m exaggerating the powerful effects; what you put into your body makes a huge difference.

The Food and Mood Connection
How Does Food Impact Your Health? Nutrients give your body instructions about how to function.
How Does Diet Affect Body Odor? Lots of meat makes your pits stink. Yep.
Fatty Foods Affect Memory and Exercise Performance
Another article on Food & Mood.

Oh, I’m such a nerd. A nutritional food nerd. Zoiks.

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Love The Place You Live

The holidays always remind me that I live half a country away from my family. And I miss them. I totally miss them until it hurts. But somehow, miraculously, that makes me thankful. Thankful that I have a family so incredibly, wonderfully, amazing that I miss them so much.

And it makes me thankful for the family I have here. I married into a winning family. Seven Thanksgivings ago when I had issues with my flight home for Thanksgiving, I tagged along with my getting-kind-of-serious boyfriend and his family welcomed me immediately. I love that. I love that my kids have great aunts and second cousins that they’re excited to see. I love that I get to have two sisters instead of just the one I was born with [and that they’re both so great].

I’m also thankful for my church family. If I hadn’t experienced it myself, I wouldn’t believe selfless love could exist in such a large group. But I’m daily thankful for the way they’ve supported, loved, and even fed us the last five years. It really is like being surrounded by a huge family: so I can breathe.

And I can love where I live. Which is kind of saying a lot. I grew up on the shores of Florida. With fresh water in my backyard and salt water a short drive away. I finished high school on the Virginia peninsula. Still a short drive to the beach and surrounded by beauty and history. I spent a year of college in the Appalachians. I explored the Blue Ridge Mountains. I spent a couple more years in Upstate New York. And even through the 200 inches of snow and hours of shoveling it, I loved exploring places like Ithaca and the Adirondacks. Driving to “The City” just because.

But when I moved to Missouri it wasn’t because of the scenery [insert my MO-lifer husband scoffing]. Well, it’s true. In fact when I got here the scenery kind of surprised me [hello, bluffs]. I came because for the first time in my life I told God I’d go anywhere and he pointed here. And I’m so glad I came. Glad I met a certain blue-eyed boy my first night here. And I’m so glad my family supported my decision to come. Now that I’m a parent I understand what a loving, selfless act that was. And my heart swells with thankfulness.

So here I am. Happy to be here. Thankful. Enjoying life, in this moment.

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This Week’s Meal Plan & A Recipe

Sunday: We had some leftover sausage and penne from last Saturday. I cannot get enough of this stuff.
Monday: Cauliflower Fried Rice. I’ve never heard a single person try this recipe and not love it. It is so good. I used coconut oil instead of grapeseed.
Tuesday: We had roasted brussels sprouts, corn, and sweet potatoes. To prepare I removed the brussels sprouts from the stalk and gave them a little olive oil drizzle with salt and pepper. For the corn I remove the husks [and set aside], throw out the silks, rinse the corn, and wrap it back in the husks. I tie a wet [to keep it from burning] string around it. For the sweet potatoes I chopped them into half wedges, drizzled with olive oil, chipotle chili powder, salt, and pepper. I had a cookie sheet for brussels sprouts, one for sweet potatoes, and the corn was on it’s own [right on the oven rack]. I preheated the oven to 425 and put the sweet potatoes in first. I let them go for about 10 minutes and then turned them and added the corn and brussels sprouts to the oven. I left everything else in for about 15 minutes until the corn smells good and the other veggies are fork tender. [Your cooking times might vary quite a bit from this. My oven usually cooks slow but when I do a cookie sheet on each rack the air doesn’t circulate as well and it cooks everything faster. Keep the light on and check on them often.]

People always wonder what a veggie dinner looks like. That was way too much butter on the corn, btdubs.

Wednesday: Broccoli & Rice. I doubled the rice in the pressure cooker when I made cauliflower fried rice and put some in the fridge for later, making this a 5 minute meal. I steamed the broccoli in my dutch oven with salt and pepper. After a few minutes I added the rice in and left it on the heat for a couple more minutes. That’s it! Who says real food can’t be fast food?! It was really great.
Thursday: Chuck got home really late on Thursday so we had some toasted pita bread with salads. He put his salad in the pita but I kept mine separate.
Friday: Stuffed acorn squash. I used quinoa instead of wild rice to save myself some time but I didn’t like it as much. Lesson learned. I also made Joy the Baker’s Broiled Grapefruit for dessert. It apparently smelled quite good because Lucy tried to swipe it from the cookie sheet fresh out of the oven and gave herself three look-like-they-hurt-a-lot blisters. After a three hour urgent care visit I still haven’t had my grapefruit. Poor kid. I asked her if she knew why she got hurt and she said, “Because I touched Mommy’s dinner.” Well. Sort of.
Saturday: Sausage & Kale Penne. Let me tell you how I make this, starting with a disclaimer: Not the healthiest meal I’ll ever share- but I don’t think you’ll mind.


Sausage & Kale Penne
Serves 6

1 package Chicken Sausage
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large yellow onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 jar artichoke hearts
1/2 bunch kale, chopped with stems removed
1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
16 oz whole wheat penne
1 package neufchatel cheese
1/4 cup sun dried tomato salad dressing
1/2 cup white wine
1 can chicken broth
1/4 cup fresh basil or 1 teaspoon dried
1/4 cup fresh parsley or 1 teaspoon dried
1/2 cup shredded parmesan

In a dutch oven heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil. When it’s hot add the sausages and turn to brown each side. Meanwhile chop your onion, garlic, artichokes, kale, and tomatoes. When the sausages are browned set them aside, reduce the heat, and add your onion to the pan. As it begins to turn translucent add the garlic.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and add the pasta. Cook as the package suggests.

Add the artichokes to the onions and cook for a couple more minutes. Next add the white wine and use a spoon to loosen any browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Simmer this until the white wine is reduced by half. When that happens add the chicken broth and bring the sauce back to a simmer.

When it begins to simmer add the kale and stir it in*. Cook it until it begins to wilt. Then add in the package of neufchatel cheese [for a healthier option sub this for a ball of mozzarella]. Break up the cheese and stir until it is melted in. Add the sun dried tomato dressing and the basil and parsley. Taste the sauce to see if it needs more salt or pepper. Add in the cherry tomatoes [I used sweet golden because it’s what I had]. Grate in the parmesan now or over each individual serving.

*I tried to add my kale in earlier and it cooked a little more than I would like. You want to hold off on it so that when you serve this dish the kale is a nice bright green. Also, to bump up the nutrients I added in about 1 cup of chopped button mushrooms when I added the artichokes. Not necessary for the dish [you can hardly taste them] but I love mushrooms and they’re good for you.

This is a crowd pleaser every time. It’s not Lucy friendly so she gets a side of brown rice pasta with her own sausage.

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Handmade Christmas: Advent Calendar

Every year I feast on all the goodness Thanksgiving has to offer and I smile as I think of the coming Christmas season. When kids came into the picture the idea of setting up holiday tradition gained importance and I dreamed of ways to make their holidays both meaningful and mindful. I wanted to make sure they had memories to look back on fondly, that their little hearts burst with joy from gifts given and received, and that [most importantly] they understood why we were celebrating.

So, every year as I did this thinking with my belly fully of turkey I’d think, “Oh, we should do an advent calendar.” But, you know, it’s Thanksgiving: there are dishes to be washed, gift shopping to brave, and halls to deck. I always think of it too late. So this year I committed: We’re going to do an advent calendar. And I’m going to make it. And I’m going to tell my sister what I’m doing so she can hold me accountable [isn’t that what older sisters are for!?].

With just enough pride and excitement for the impending season, here’s what I came up with.

I started with a neutral backdrop because I wanted this calendar to match the decor of our house [we’ve got a blue, tan, brown thing going]. The tan is actually a piece of a painter’s drop cloth that I removed the plastic backing from. So I serged the edges of my tan guy. I didn’t measure, I actually just cut the biggest piece I could from the drop cloth, left over from another project. The final project ended up being about 13 inches wide by 33 inches long.

I also serged a piece of blue lightweight upholstery fabric 9 1/2 inches wide by 28 1/2 inches long. I took my blue fabric and had my lovely husband with dreamy handwriting [I know!] write out the numbers one through twenty-five in lower-case cursive. I put that into an embroidery hoop and went to town. I’m no hand embroidery whiz [I like to do a lot of things marginally well. Insert a winky faced emoticon here.] but my goal was to not spend all of my time embroidering the words. I tried to meet at the intersection of cute enough and quick enough. After the embroidery was done [it took about four nights of post-bedtime tv watching] I sewed the blue fabric to the tan. I did so by using a zigzag stitch over the serged edge in the same color thread. I didn’t want to distract from the serged edges.

I used the red thread to sew a couple evergreens on top. I was inspired by this tutorial for hanging a map to come up with the dowel situation.

So I went back and forth for how to “point” to the days. I considered sewing lines between each of the words before I attached the blue to the tan to create pockets on the right side. I also considered sewing a button beside each word and having something that attached to it [still considering that]. But for now, because projects looming more than a week make me twitch and project making time is slim, I made a felt star and attached a magnet to the back. To make it I first cut out two stars from grey felt. I used those as a guide to cut out two smaller stars from quilt batting and then I used a whip stitch [here’s an example] to sew it up.

[I just noticed, looking at this picture, that somebody knocked the frame off the blue books and gave ’em a shake. Landon, I’m looking at you, kid.]

Here’s the calendar hanging out underneath our acorn display and next to the bookcase. It’s going to be a lot of fun to move the star down each day. To engage the kids we’re going to try out the Truth in Tinsel e-book with a cousin [maybe some skype crafting playdates!].

I also like The Activity Mom’s Advent Activity Links. So I think we’ll be adding some of those in, too.

Anyone else feeling the joy, yet? I’m ready to get that tree up. Let’s celebrate!

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Handmade Christmas: Ladybug Beanbags

Christmas around here is kind of a big deal. I love Christmas! The decor, the food, the tradition… the Reason for the Season. It’s such a happy holiday.

It didn’t take me too long after having kids to realize that I didn’t just want to buy them toys, I wanted them to be meaningful. So I started mixing handmade gifts in with the store-bought ones. It’s kind of amazing. I mean, you know them better than anyone, so you can create toys you know they’ll love. [I realize the idea of spending a big chunk of time to create toys may not hold allure for all]. But if you want to make a little Christmas cheer this year I thought we’d start small.

Ladybug Beanbags

We had a red corduroy dress that had a hole in it so these are upcycled from that. I started with two red cord circles, cut a half-circle with black felt, and then cut black dots with the felt. I originally [these are from last Christmas] sewed these with the right sides facing each other and turned them out, but after a few months of toddler play I had to sew around the outsides to keep the dried beans from flying out with each toss.

I love these because the story is about counting backwards from five as all the ladybugs leave the little leaf they’re on together so the beanbags totally bring the story to life. And what kid doesn’t like throwing things…

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Nikki’s Chocolate Conviction

If I were to make a Beth Baker pro/con list I think ‘constant internal dialogue’ would be in both columns. When I read something that makes me stop and think I tend to mull it over [and over] until I settle on an attitude I’m comfortable with. I seek out a balance between what I can practically accomplish in my way with the idealism my new thoughts are driving.

So when my friend Nikki wrote about switching her family to fair-trade chocolate it made me stop. Chocolate is one of my favorite foods. I loved the way Nikki talked about shopping with integrity. We want our food to be cheap, but that comes with a cost of its own. I had never thought of how the chocolate I devoured was created.

Today I sat down with Nikki and she shared a little about how her chocolate convictions began. Nikki is an amazing photographer [check out her work] who volunteered her time to take photographs for Partners for Just Trade. Through that partnership, Nikki began to learn of the cocoa harvesting practices on Africa’s Ivory Coast. Many of the area’s cocoa farmers buy children from their impoverished parents and force them to work without pay. This article entiled, “Is There Slavery In Your Chocolate” by John Robbins might make you feel a little sick to your stomach.

The idea of children being forced to work on cocoa farms pressed hard against Nikki’s heart. Their family had already begun to investigate the adoption process and now she could only think of her future children. Of how the food choices she made here could impact their lives, on another continent. I think that’s the hardest thing for me, being willing to open my world up beyond my sights.

It seems like something so easy: taking a stand against companies who are purchasing cocoa from farmers using child-slave labor. But it won’t be an issue if we don’t make it one, if we don’t commit to shopping with integrity.

So that’s how I was inspired by Nikki’s chocolate convictions. I think it’s our responsibility to know where our food comes from. I know, for our family, it feels like a tall mountain to climb. But what if we started small? With just fair-trade chocolate?

Thanks for letting me share my [once] internal dialogue. I feel blessed to have so many friends who inspire me to have beautiful spaces and beautiful hearts. Thanks Nikki, you’ve totally earned the ‘Most Likely to Inspire a Chocolate Change’ superlative!

p.s. Check out this awesome infographic from Fair Trade USA. When you click on it you’ll go to their site where you can hover over each category to get more information!

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This Week’s Meal Plan

Sunday: I’ve been doing a pretty good job of making a little more on Friday or Saturday so that we have leftovers on Sunday. This week I doubled this recipe, but I maybe should have only made the recipe at 150%. It was a lot of broccoli soup.
Monday: Green Beans with Chicken Sausage. This was so good! So good we ate it up before I snapped a picture; so look forward to this recipe coming this week. I know one husband who’s thrilled with that news.
Tuesday: Winter Millet Salad didn’t actually happen but it sounds so good we’ll just scoot it to next week’s plan, too.
Wednesday: Fire Roasted Corn Chowder I love any way I can switch out white potatoes for something more nutritious. And I love cauliflower. So this was a win for me.
Thursday: Veggie Burgers with Sweet Potato Fries. I tried blue cheese instead of the feta and I think I’ve decided I just don’t love blue cheese. Sigh. I tried.
Friday: Vietnamese Chicken Pho from here. I’m not sure if it was caused by a late lunch or what but I didn’t not have a dinner-time appetite so we snacked on guacamole and broccoli instead. I mean not together. There were tortilla chips.
Saturday: Roasted Butternut Farro based on this recipe. I think I’m most excited about the pistachio pesto.

What a crazy, busy week! I’m appreciating the fullness of it while simultaneously looking forward to next week’s relaxed schedule.

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Itty Bitty Teeny Happys

This week I’ve been thinking a lot of celebrating small victories. Appreciating little moments. When I really stop and think of all the richness and blessings in my life [’tis the season] it’s impossible to stand unchanged.

These kids. These lovelies I have been so blessed to care for. They’re cute even when they’re crazy. I love them even when they won’t stop screaming. They say and do the most awesomely, entertainingly wonderful things. Itty bitty teeny happys that make a girl feel great big waves of thankfulness.

Thankful for 15 months of the sweetest little boy. For his wake-up snuggles. For his teethy grins. For his gentle spirit. For his hearty appetite.

I think he is thankful for fingers to chew on and puppy [lovey] to snuggle.

[“Hey Lulu, there’s something on your face.” “Where? Here? Did I get it?” “Um, yep.”] So thankful for this girl. Of course I love her, but as she’s developing her crazy, energetic personality it’s easy to gush over how much I genuinely like her. I like who she is and what she’s about. I love her creativity and silliness. I love her dance moves. I love the privledge of being here every day.

Thankful for this guy. Thankful for the hard work he puts in for our fam. His sweet encouragement. For taking out the trash and dealing with the cable company.

Flannel just makes me really happy.

Music makes Landon really happy.

This season. The weather. The food. The coffee. Friendship. Love. Scarves, sweaters, and boots.

This house. Perfectly small. Lovely and charming. Exactly what we need. Celebrating six years of calling this place home. Finally figuring out what I wanted to fit in the space that sat empty for too long. Blessed to live here.

I am thankful for life. Jesus came that we might have life, and live it abundantly [John 10:10].

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