Make Ahead Meals-Batch One

For the next few posts I’ll be sharing some meal prep I’ve got going on this fall.  Before school starts, I always like to stock away some freezer meals and some easy, bulk breakfasts and snacks.  During Christmas break, I do the same thing before heading back for second semester.  It is just one of those little things that ends up making a BIG difference.

This year, more than most, I feel the pressure to get ahead.  With baby number two on the way, my nesting mode already switched to ‘on’ long ago, and meal prep just seems so important right now!

I have carefully chosen meals and other bulk recipes to make, and I have divided everything up over several non-consecutive weekends (yes, I even marked everything out on the calendar). This way, I don’t have to do a meal-prepping marathon-which is fun (when you’re not seven months pregnant)-and I can make more in the end than I’d have the time and freezer space for if I did it all at once.

Batch one is simple: two freezer Crock Pot recipes that will be perfect for the fall, along with one healthy breakfast cookie recipe that has already been ‘kid-approved’ at my house.

For each freezer meal, I made two batches which ends up being four meals total.  Each meal will contain about 4-8 servings.  You can do singles, double, or triple the recipe-whatever works for you and your freezer space.  First, I pile all ingredients on the counter so that I can prep as quick as possible.

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Next I prepare my freezer bags.  On the label I write the name of the meal, the cook time and temp, and any extra ingredients or instructions.  Some people also jot down an expiration date or write the date the meal was made; but in our house, we eat these so quickly that I haven’t found that type of labeling to be necessary! 😀

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After everything is set, I begin filling bags!  At the end of it all, I lay the bags flat and even them out so they stack neatly in the freezer. Some people choose to double-bag each meal just in case the seal should pop open and spill.  I have never had an issue with that, so currently I just use one bag per meal.

And now for the recipes….

Meal One: Crock-Pot Cheesy Tortellini Soup

16 oz frozen tortellini
1 small bag fresh spinach
2 cans (15 oz) Italian style diced tomatoes
1 box or 4 cups vegetable broth
1 block (8oz) cream cheese
salt & pepper to taste

Toss all but the vegetable broth in a gallon-sized freezer bag, and freeze for up to 3 months.  When ready to eat, throw the contents of the bag into your Crock-Pot along with the vegetable broth, and cook on LOW for 4-6 hours.  This pairs well with garlic bread, or a simple, grilled sandwich.

I always buy all ingredients at the same time (unless they will spoil), for example: I bought the broth and it’s waiting in my pantry for when I want to cook this meal.  That way I don’t have to remember to buy extra ingredients later.  Instead, I’m always ready for any meal craving that comes my way!

Here is the source where I found this delicious meal.

 

Meal Two: Crock-Pot Chicken Alfredo

4-6 boneless, skinless chicken breasts

2 small cans of cream of chicken soup (I used cream of mushroom, you can also make your own)

1 block (8 oz.) of cream cheese

1 packet of Italian dressing mix

Place all into a freezer bag and freeze for up to three months.  When you are ready to cook, drop everything into the Crock-Pot for 6-8 hours on LOW.  You can serve this hearty sauce over the pasta of your choice. Pair it with a side of veggies and *poof* you’ve got a delicious dinner for the fam!

 

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Last but not least: Carrot Cake Breakfast Cookies!  These can be made ahead for a simple breakfast-on-the-go, or even frozen for up to two months.  I made a couple of changes to the original recipe, so my version is below:

2 ¼ cups old-fashioned oats
1 cup oat flour or whole-wheat flour (I used whole wheat)
½ cup white flour
2 tsp. cinnamon
½ tsp. nutmeg
½ tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. salt
1 cup cinnamon applesauce
½ cup honey
1 large egg
2 tsp. vanilla extract
¼ cup (4 tbsp.) unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
1 cup grated carrot
1 apple, grated, peel left on

For the carrot and apple, I just chopped both in my food processor for ease.  Then, I dumped everything into my mixer, combined until it looked gooey–kind of like a chunky cake batter consistency.  Next, make patties about the size of your palm and press them onto a parchment-lined baking sheet.  Bake in the oven for 14 minutes at 350 degrees.  Let the breakfast cookies cool on the pan a few minutes before transferring them to a wire cooling rack.

 

Follow me on Pinterest to get a sneak peek of other meals I might be prepping along with family activities for the fall!

Summer Book Reviews

This post contains affiliate links for your convenience.

When summer break began, I had a couple books in mind at that I wanted to read, but seeing as I don’t really like to read (I know, I’m an English teacher, it’s weird.), I wasn’t too sure how far I’d get.

Well, I amazed myself and read a couple more than I had originally intended.

I really want to dedicate more time to reading, but my motivation is low.  Even with the most exciting of books, I seem to end up falling asleep!  I can’t help it!  Really, I can’t, I totally blame my astigmatism.

Though, since I’m coming off of the high of surpassing the goals of my summer reading list, I have high hopes that I’ll keep up this pace for the school year.

Anyway,  here’s a compilation of what I’ve read and my mini-review on each selection. All books are linked to Amazon, so if you’re intrigued by a title and want to see what other people think about the book too, click and follow the link to the Amazon reviews!

1. The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom and John and Elizabeth Sherrill

 I set out to make this my first read of the summer because 1. I had a few copies laying around at school and 2. several of my students had read it during the past school year and they really seemed to enjoy and be inspired by it.  I knew I would like The Hiding Place because it falls into the non-fiction category, which I can’t seem to get enough of lately, but I really was uplifted by the story and all of the “coincidences” that happened throughout.  Corrie’s faith pulls her through the Holocaust, and her complete reliance on God provoked me to consider how I would think and act if I were in her situation.  I have read various stories on this topic, but Corrie’s view was different for me because it began as a comfortable story about her family and slowly spiraled into chaotic, war-torn scenarios.  The way the novel unfolded was relatable and made it seem like a situation in which anyone could find himself.

 

2.  This is a Book by Demetri Martin

 

This little gem caught my eye at the library, so I just had to snatch it up.  Demetri has been a favorite comedian of mine for a long time, so I will pretty much read anything he writes.  This is a book; however, it is written as if you are at a comedy show…kind of?  That’s the best way I can describe it.  Jokes, scripts, charts, and drawings fill the pages and they will keep you laughing, chuckling, smirking, and wondering.  One reason I have always been drawn to Demetri is because of his quirky, WAY-outside-the-box thinking.  That being said, this book probably isn’t for everyone, but if I’ve ever made you laugh, then it’s possible that you might laugh at this book too.

 

 

 

 

3.  Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand

This is another book that I put on my list because of my students.  I heard great things about this true story over the year so I had to check it out myself.  Unbroken is the story of Louis Zamperini and his incredible life.  This guy was an Olympic distance runner, survived a plane crash as well as being stranded in the ocean for 47 days, and he endured ridiculous levels of torture at various Japanese POW camps.  I couldn’t believe the events that Louis lived to talk about, and I found it really cool that he also realized that he couldn’t have gotten through any of them without the help of the Lord.  I haven’t decided if I want to see the film version of his story or not… I’m betting (like usual) the book tells it best!

 

4.  I Want My Epidural Back by Karen Alpert

Eeeek!  Mrs. Alpert has quite the potty mouth!  But, if you can get past that, this book is pretty entertaining.  Karen definitely “goes there” and writes about the things that moms try to keep to themselves because they are too taboo.  As much as I love reading about the “right” way to parent, and researched procedures about how to deal with your child in every situation possible, and the optimal diet for your little one at every age and stage—-sometimes my brain needs a break.  I Want My Epidural Back gave me that breathing room I so needed and helped ensure that there is no right way in the momming world; we’re all just doing the best we can.  Might as well laugh about it along the way!

 

5.  Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer

This was my favorite read this summer.  The story is about Chris McCandless, a young man who attempted to journey into Alaskan wilderness but is found dead just a short while later.  Jon Krakauer puts the pieces of this real-life scenario together by talking to friends and acquaintances of Chris, and adding his own investigation and research to provide the answers to all the questions surrounding Chris’ death.  I found the story line intriguing right off the bat, and once I got into the book, I couldn’t get enough.  Just. Read. It.

 

6.  Frida Kahlo by Gerry Souter

If you like a lot of pictures, and not a lot of words, this book is for you! 😉 Frida’s paintings are displayed across from a paragraph or two of text on each page spread.  Initially when I got this book I had hoped that the text would give background information on the corresponding painting, but it does not.  The text tells an abbreviated biography of Frida Kahlo and occasionally refers to the images included in the book.  This was a quick read, and I learned a couple details about her life that I did not previously know.

 

7.  The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson

This is my current read, I’m about 1/3 of the way through, and so far, so good.  This is another true story (see a pattern here?) about the construction of the World’s Fair held in Chicago in 1893.  The book is split between the story of the fair’s production including architectural design and details, but then switches to a story line about serial killer who was also working quite tirelessly during the fair’s construction.  I look forward to reading the rest.

 

 

I’ve got a few books lined up for the fall, but I’m open to suggestions!  Drop any you have in a comment below!

Self-Care Sundays

This post contains affiliate links as well as sponsored content.  Thanks for your support.

Through the craziness of the work week and time spent with family and friends, it is easy to just rush into the next week without batting an eye.

The older I get, the more I realize how crucial it is for me to carve out time to myself.  Self-care used to be plentiful.  But now, as a wife and a mom, my me time isn’t always mine anymore.  There’s not much I would change about that, though! 😉 But, in order to do my best in all of the roles I play in life, I make an effort to relax and recharge over the weekend.

Whether it is all rolled into one, beautiful Self-Care Sunday session, or it is taken as a few 10 minute increments throughout the week, make it a habit to recharge.

Here are a few ways to start:

Skin

Normally I wash my face with hand soap.  I have been doing so ever since I can remember and I have been fortunate that my skin is not problematic.  It kinda puts up with whatever I put it through.  (I’ll wait while you roll your eyes.)  A few times a week, though, I like to treat my face with something special.  After I do, I always feel like my face is more fresh and bright.  Here are some of my favorite pampering products:

Visanti Brighten Up!vasanti

A little bit of this stuff goes a long way!  It has a very sandy, gritty texture and I just can’t get enough of it.  Exfoliation!  Yaaaas! I squirt a bit out onto my fingertip and dot it around my face, then I take a little water and lather it up all over my face and jawline until my little heart’s content.  After rinsing it off, my face feels amazingly soft and I can almost see my pores exhaling little sighs of joy and contentment. Almost.

Deep Sea mask

mask
There’s something about the thick, clay texture that makes me feel like I’m lounging at a luxurious spa when I’m only really bent over the bathroom sink.

I love the balancing effect this mask has.  Whether my skin is seeming a little oily (summer time) or extremely dry and flaky (middle of winter), wearing this clay mask for 10-15 minutes a week seems to even out my complexion.

 

Derma Roller  
rollerI’m new to the Derma Rolling world, but after my first treatment, I was already hooked.  If you’ve never heard of a Derma Roller, no worries, let me fill you in.  The rolling device is full of tiny needles that help with a variety of skin issues when used regularly.  I use a 1.0mm needle which helps for most conditions, but there are many varying lengths that you can check out here.  Generally you’ll want to stick to .5mm or 1.0mm, go any higher and you should to consult a professional first.

I first tried the Derma Roller on my face.  Yes.  Needles.  On my face.  Think of it like acupuncture..sort of.. 😛  I won’t lie to you here: it is not comfortable.  However, I don’t think it is uncomfortable either.  It feels just like you think it would: tiny little pin-pricks rolling across the surface of your face.  But, because of the rolling motion, it also gives a tingly sensation that takes away from any discomfort the needles bring on.

After rolling the device in all directions across my face, I put on an Aloe mask that came face.jpgwith my Derma Roller kit.  I had never tried a mask like this, but like the Derma Roller, I. Am. Hooked.  The mask is so silky and cooling, and after taking it off my face just radiated.  What?  Did she really just say her face radiated?  Yes, I know, it isn’t like me to be this giddy about skincare.  Honestly though, after one Derma Roller treatment, I saw a noticeable difference.  Be cautioned, though: the Derma Roller should be used lightly, and never turned on side to side on your skin or you risk tiny tears in your skin’s surface.  Additionally, do not wear any makeup, lotion, or sunscreen for the following 24 hours after using the Derma Roller.

Because of the effects the Derma Roller had on my face, I decided to give it a try on my stomach.  The Derma Roller claims to help the appearance of stretchmarks, so I thought: well, it can’t make my stretchmarks worse!!  I took a before picture (which I will keep to myself for now), and I’m only a two treatments in, so I don’t have final results to mesmerize you with, but I will say that, similar to my face, the skin on my stomach seems a lot softer, so I have high hopes that things in that region will smooth out even more!
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I got my Derma Roller from http://www.dermarollersystem.com/  so head there to read more about the product if you are new to it, or ask me any questions in the comments section here.

 

Hair

My skin treats me pretty well, but my hair, I’m convinced is out to get me.  I used to love it’s texture before I had my daughter, but post pregnancy, I just seem to get more and more frustrated by it.  And, pregnancy was almost four years ago, so you can imagine my grief!  Aside from just chopping it off a couple times over the past several years, I have decided to make a commitment to my hair by giving it some extra love on the weekends.

Dry Shampoo

I feel so gross if I don’t wash my hair.  For whatever reason, I just get so nervous about greasy hair.  Any expert would tell you, however; washing your hair just a couple times a week is plenty.  Say whaaaat?

Marie Claire and many other women’s magazines explain that washing too often can strip hair of its natural oils and moisture. And, maybe that is my problem.  Though I frequently wash my hair because I worry that it is too oily, what it really becomes is dry, frizzy, and full of tangles.

I decided to relax on all the washing in the past couple of years, and it has proven that my hair can, indeed, last longer than a day without getting too greasy.  In order to reassure myself though, I always use “dry shampoo.”  When I say “dry shampoo” I really mean baby powder!  Seriously, this stuff is great.  I put a little on my palm and rub all around my hairline, and then a little more on the top of my scalp where I part my hair.  It’s important to really scrub and rub it in so that your hair doesn’t look powdery.  What I love even more than the de-greasing effect is the added volume.  Adding powder to my hair is one of the only surefire ways I’ve found to pump up my hair’s volume and make it last all day.

Some people purchase dry shampoo, but you really don’t need to.  Baby powder is an easy option, but if you want to step it up slightly without overspending on actual dry shampoo, try my sister’s recipe and make your own:

recipe

Leave-in Conditioner

Just before a shower on Sunday night, I try my best to remember to apply leave-in conditioner.  I load the stuff on my hair, kneading it around until every strand is saturated, and then I clip it up in a bun and forget about it for a half hour or so.

I shower as usual and then after my hair is dry and styled, I just smile and nod to myself as I gaze at my majestic hair in the mirror.  Just kidding.  But after a leave-in conditioner application, my hair-game is really amped-up for the next week or two.  The ends are soft instead of dry and brittle; no static in sight–even in the dead of winter; and my hair is so much more voluminous.

Pictured here are my two favorites-but, I admit, I haven’t tried a wide variety of brands of leave-in conditioners, so if you have a favorite other than these two-leave me a note in the comments!

Body

Most times I feel like sleep and rest are the things my body needs most, but if I really think about it, that isn’t really the case.  If I’m being honest, my body feels the best when I put it to work!  Getting in an intense workout leaves me feeling fabulous.  Instead of just resting my body and forgetting about it when I do slow down, there are a couple of self-care techniques I use to

Nail Care

This school year has been pretty dull in terms of my fingernails.  I think I’ve done them twice… (maybe?) since August.  The easiest route for me is always Jamberry.  Nail wraps just last so much longer than anything else.  If I paint my fingernails, my polish chips by the end of the day-no joke- I’ve tried all types of brands and finishes, and that statement still stands.  I think I wash my hands too much or something.  Not that I’m OCD about anything… really.. 🙂 augustnail

However, a 10 minute Jamberry application leads me to not think about my nails’ appearance for at least 10 days.  There’s also no dry time like there is for regular polish, which is something that every mama will appreciate.

Toenails are a whole different story.  I’ve done many Jamberry applications on them as well-which is great because those applications last for 4+ weeks-but, there is nothing like a good salon pedicure.  I try and treat myself to a couple pedicures a year, but if I had the extra cash, I’d go every week.  They. Are. Heavenly.

Not only does polish usually last longer on your toes, (and when done at a salon it could last up to 3 months if you let it-not that I have of course 😉 ) but you also get an hour or so away from all the stresses in your life, a fabulous foot and calf massage, and just a generally more optimistic view of life when you leave a salon after a pedicure.  Being the start of sandal season, Mother’s Day is a perfect time for a gift certificate to a nail salon – so start dropping hints to your hubby now!

Muscles
 During the workweek I try to get in several sweat sessions.  A lengthy neighborhood walk, a little Zumba, or weight training in the basement are all great ways to make me feel better physically and mentally.  After a workout, I stretch for a few minutes, but when crunched for time I always fit in more heart-pumping moves as opposed to a lengthy bout of deep stretches.

I know better.  Stretching your muscles is so, super important!  I’m working on allotting more time to stretch during the week, but on weekends I always leave my ‘crunched for time’ excuse at the door.   Fitness Magazine notes that each static stretch should be held for about 30 seconds.  Much less than that, and you won’t be
lengthening your muscle fibers.  After a workout during the week I pick a stretch or two for each muscle group I worked and I leave it at that.  During the weekends, though, I try and pick several stretches for all parts of my body and I really focus in on relaxing and breathing through each stretch.

Another great way to help muscle performance is by incorporating dynamic stretching into your fitness routine.  Dynamic stretches are typically done before a workout whereas static stretches (the kind mentioned in the previous two paragraphs) are performed after a workout as a cool-down.   Focused on warming up the muscles, dynamic stretching uses a rhythmic movement that you perform several times until your body starts to loosen up. Runner’s World outlines a great dynamic stretching routine, and if you’re not a runner-have no fear- dynamic stretching can work for anyone.

No matter which type of stretching you go for, the even better part of building in some extra time to give your muscles attention comes with the foam roller.  After a heart-pounding, sweat-inducing workout, rolling out my muscles is the most indulgent treatment I can give them at home.

There are several varieties of foam rollers; softer, firmer, ridged, etc.  Once your muscles loosen up, and you no longer feel any discomfort from rolling, you can advance to a firmer roller. But, at the beginning, just go for something average, like the one pictured above.

Whoa. Back up.  Did she say “when you no longer feel any discomfort?” Foam rolling will bring discomfort?

Yes.  It might even be pretty painful at first.  Do your best to just roll with it. (See what I did there? 😛 )  The pain comes from muscle tightness, to put it simply.  And, with more rolling, that tightness slowly goes away.  foam-roller-exercises1

Check out the images on the right for guidance.  Hit one of these poses on your foam roller, and start rolling side to side until you span the entire length of the muscle you’re trying to target.  You can also rotate the joints in play to hit your muscles at all angles.  Another great reason to have a foam roller around the house is that it helps rehabilitate strained or injured muscles as well.  After a Sunday night foam rolling session, I feel totally relaxed and ready to face another workweek.

Mind

If I address no other area of self-care during the weekend, I always make sure that I cleanse my mind so that I can begin the upcoming week organized and relaxed.  I’ve found that getting my mind right is the most important when it comes to self-care.  When crunched for time, other areas may slip away, but I always always always make sure to do something for my mind.

Organize

Nothing makes me feel more accomplished around the house than organization.  It could be straightening out my pantry, going through old clothes and forming a ‘donation pile,’ creating new boards on Pinterest, or meal-prepping for the week.  I love it all!

Last week I was in a teensy bit of denial that the weekend was coming to a close, and I didn’t organize myself at all for the week.  Let me just say: Never again!  I felt lost each day scrambling to make lunches and staring at piles of dirty laundry.

Two of my favorite ways to organize the food in our house are making freezer meals, and portioning out fruits, veggies, and breakfasts.  Most of my freezer meal recipes come from this website.  With so much variety and printable recipes and shopping lists, it makes freezer meal prep so simple.

I make a batch of freezer meals about every three months.  After shopping early on a Saturday morning, I fill my counter with all ingredients, and I just gooooo!  I prep 10-20 meals at a time depending on the amount of space in my freezer, and it usually takes me about two hours.  Then, during the week, I pull out a meal that I want to use the next day and place it in the fridge.  In the morning, I put it in the Crock Pot and don’t think about it again until it’s dinner time that night.  We usually eat 1-3 freezer meals a week, and if we didn’t, we probably wouldn’t eat!  Just kidding of course, but they are just so easy, why would I do anything else?

Something I do every Sunday is portion out fruits, veggies, and breakfasts.  I find that if all the healthy stuff is washed, and ready to go in containers there is really no excuse not to eat it.  We also don’t eat breakfast at home most of the time, so if that is taken care of before the morning of, it also saves a ton of hassle.  Whatever the type of organization you are into, completing it over the weekend is ideal.

Unwind

Did someone say adult coloring book?  Why, no, I didn’t.  But this is close.

I bought a planner like this one at the beginning of the school year, and I can’t get enough.  It combines my need for organization (like I mentioned above) with my need to unwind.  Every week there is a new page to color and I indulge in this relaxing pastime after a long day at work, or when I’m crabby and need to just zone out, or as a way of spending time with my daughter when she wants to color in her own coloring books.

Another unwinding activity I’ve gotten into recently is Sudoku puzzle books.  I feel kind of like a granny admitting to this hobby of mine, but I really enjoy the challenge that puzzle books bring.  A lot of times I feel stuck on my phone or the computer because, let’s face it, everything is tied to technology these days.  Even my Bible reading is accompanied by an app.  (Okay, it doesn’t have to be that way, but it helps me feel organized….)

For Christmas I asked for a puzzle book because I just wanted to get away from technology a bit and have a paper and pencil kind of thing to do.  Turns out, I really enjoy it.  I feel like I’m ‘keeping my mind young’ as those grannys probably claim as well, and I also find my puzzle book relaxing after a busy week.

Rest

The best for last.  Rest is the easiest and probably most important self-care routine.

The advice you are given after having a baby: Nap when the baby naps.  I don’t know about you, but I barely could give into this.  I always felt guilty; how would the dishes get washed if I was napping? But, I’m telling you now, just nap. Go to bed early.  Turn on a 1/2 hour cartoon for the kiddos, and shut your eyes for those 30 minutes.

For whatever reason, on Saturday night I get wild.  Around 10 p.m. I get this burst of energy and I just want to clean, and organize, and write, and dance, and eat, etc., etc., etc.!  And, as tempting as it is to stay up late and get everything accomplished, instead I make myself a list of all that is spinning around in my head and tell myself, “But first, sleep.”

There has never been a Sunday morning that I have regretted going to bed instead of staying up and giving in to my wild streak. 😉


I hope after reading through my ramblings, you find some inspiration to take with you and create your own self-care routine.

If you’re unsure of how to begin, I have created a free printable with an easy way to start a self-care routine that fits your life.  You can devote one weekend a month to each area of self-care and then start again the next month, tweaking activities as needed.

Get the free printable here — selfcareblue

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Black-Eyed Peas and Other Resolutions

No. No recipe here for black-eyed peas.

More of a recipe for the new year…

 

I get giddy about January.  I love the thought of a fresh start, goals to strive for, and opportunities that await.

I’ll admit, some years I am discouraged.  Only human, I hope to achieve this or that and end up in a complete opposite space by January 3rd.

This year I was a little bit slow to make my list of resolutions.  I was {and still am (and probably always will be)} a bit unsure of where life is going.  As December slid out of my hands, I was lackluster when I considered the future.

It has always been in these times of waiting and drifting that I learn and grow the most.  But even as unconcerned as I tell myself that I am, because I know something golden will come out of this season of life, the planner and dreamer parts of me are running haywire.

I once heard the perfect analogy for my life.  Coincidentally, this piece of enlightenment came to me in one of my life’s many waiting and drifting periods.

“Be like a duck.” — Staying calm on the surface but paddling frantically underneath.

beaduck

This can mean many things to different people, but it always seems to cycle through my mind when I’m more or less “stuck.” Trying to keep my demeanor in check when really my questioning and anxiety are out of control on the inside.  The duck idea comes up other places in my life too.  I tend to want a lot of projects on my plate at once, making me, again, strive to appear cool and collected when really I bit off more than I could chew.

January 1st knocked on my door, and I still didn’t have any resolutions to hand over. What is wrong with me this year? I wondered.

I sat down on the couch with a notebook, a computer, and a pen and tried to plan.  Tried to dream up some vision or goal or hope or intention for 2017.  I visited some websites with lists of ideas for the new year, you know the kind: “Get Organized in 60 Days” and “A Workout Plan That Won’t Feel Like Work.”  Normally these would be super appealing to me, but instead, I just kept scrolling.

Suddenly, on the screen in front of me I saw it– black-eyed peas.  

Gross.  If I search my mind, I cannot uncover a memory of tasting black-eyed peas ever in my life, but I have..right?  And they’re gross..right?  I mean some people like them, sure, if they have just always grown up eating them.  If you’ve had something since childhood, then yeah, you’d have to just like it.  But otherwise? Gross.

2017 just clicked.  I DON’T KNOW WHAT BLACK-EYED PEAS TASTE LIKE!!  Why don’t I know?  What else of life am I missing?  And why am I not out there?  Doing and trying and tasting and knowing?

The stars are aligning as I write this, so-to-speak.  As 2016 dwindled down, I had been praying for God to make me bolder.  Not only in my faith, but also in life.  And with this black-eyed-pea-epiphany (or, e-pea-phany if you will 😛 ), 2017 has been given direction.

I don’t know what opportunities will arise, but I will take them.

I don’t know what surprises are around the corner, but I will happily greet them.

I don’t know what foods will present themselves in front of me, but I will taste them.

I don’t know what sorrows I will face, but I will accept them.

I don’t know what lessons will be taught, but I will be sure to apply them.

I don’t know where God will lead, but I will follow Him.

I don’t know where life is going, but I will stay calm as I paddle like hell to keep up.

 

 

Italian Meatball Risotto

I don’t know how to make risotto.  I just tried it once, and it tasted good to me, so I go with it.  If I invited a food critic over for dinner, my risotto might be heavily critiqued-who knows….but again, it’s good enough for me!

Looking to clean out the pantry and fridge of a few items, and with a relentless craving for (my version of) risotto, I decided to really challenge myself and come up with my own, original risotto recipe.  Now, knowing that I don’t know how to make risotto, you might want to call this “Italian Meatball Rice,” but I’m going to continue pretending to be fancy, so the word Risotto will remain in the title 😉

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I wrote down a couple of items I had that I wanted/needed to get rid of: Rice, marinara, spinach, and ground beef.  Next I added the base for risotto: Arborio rice, broth, and wine (okay, maybe you don’t haaaave to have wine..).  And finally, I threw in some spices and cheeses to round everything out.

I made sure to make the recipe one that I could easily halve or double.  If you make it with the quantities I list here, it will serve about 8 people. 

Per serving:        Calories:  370
              Fat: 18.6         Carbs: 25.8           Protein: 24.4
Find this recipe on the MyFitnessPal  app under “Meatball Marinara Risotto.”

 

Italian Meatball Risotto:

Ingredients:

  • 1 T. butter
  • 2 cups Arborio Rice
  • 4 cups low sodium chicken broth
  • 1/2 cup white wine  (you can trade this for water if you wish)
  • 2-4 cups water
  • 1, 10 oz. box of spinach, drained
  • 1 T. basil
  • 1 T. parsley
  • 2 t. oregano
  • 20 oz. of your favorite marinara sauce
  • 8 oz. fresh mozzarella cheese diced
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Meatballs– you can purchase frozen meatballs, or follow the recipe below to make your own.

  • 1 lb. of ground beef
  • 1 egg white (3 T. of liquid egg white)
  • 1/4 cup Italian breadcrumbs
  • Pinch each of salt and pepper

 

Procedure:

For the meatballs, combine thawed beef with beaten egg white, breadcrumbs, and seasonings.  Fold everything together until well combined.  Form 1/2 inch- inch meatballs. and bake at 350 for 10 minutes on a foil-lined tray.

For the risotto, melt the butter over medium heat in a large and wide saucepan (I use a wok for risotto).  Once melted, add the Arborio rice and stir around for about 2 minutes until golden.  Add the wine (or water, if you please) and let it simmer down until almost no liquid.  Continue stirring.  Note: If you do use wine, it is fun because it makes a lot of noise and steam upon pouring it in so you’ll totally feel like a top chef 😉

When liquid is visibly reduced, add one cup of broth and simmer and stir until you almost see no extra liquid. This will take three-four minutes.  Repeat this process with the other three cups of broth.  If the rice looks plump and soft, stop there, if not, repeat the simmering process with a couple cups of water.  I think I used one cup of water when I made this.

When your last cup of liquid is nearly dissolved, add the marinara sauce, spinach, and seasonings.  Give that a couple minutes to heat up and then throw in the cheeses and the (now cooked) meatballs.  Turn off the heat, and stir so that everything is combined, and cheeses are just starting to melt.  Serve, and enjoy!

 

What other ingredients would you like to see in a risotto? Leave me some feedback below!

Snowman Button Counting

This post contains affiliate links.  Thanks for your support.

 

This lovely counting activity is not new to the internet, but I wanted to share it because I think that it’s so cute!  I’ve included a free printable in this post too-scroll on down so that you don’t miss it!

Simple enough: Match the numbered hat with the correct amount of buttons.

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This counting activity works well for any little kiddo aged 1-3, or for others who may need reinforcement.  My three-year-old knows her numbers well, but still enjoyed this activity.  Besides the benefits of counting, children are also enhancing fine motor skills, and can practice concepts such as sorting and classifying when choosing which buttons to place on the snowman.  You can help that along by asking “can you find three large buttons” or “try finding five orange buttons,” etc.

If you don’t have a collection of buttons in the family, I highly suggest getting some because they come in handy for all sorts of projects and activities. Here are some really inexpensive ones that will do the trick Blumenthal Lansing Favorite Findings Basic Buttons Assorted Sizes, 130/Pkg, Citrus

 

If you want a little more variety at a slightly higher cost, I would personally go with these:
Bag of (100) Very Assorted Buttons. Assorted Colors. Sizes Range From 3/8″ to 1-1/2″ Whatever you choose, they will get used time and time again!

 

 

I came up with a couple variations to this snowman activity in order to stretch it a bit for kids who may need a challenge.  

  1. An easy switch: Try counting in a different language.  You can Google the pronunciation for almost anything these days, so even if you don’t speak another language, you can always let Google help you out.  You and your child can learn how to count in a different language together!
  2. You can also work with prepositions and ask your child to place the buttons under, on top of, next to, around, or beside the snowman.
  3. A third idea is to do simple addition or subtraction with the hats and buttons.  Place two hats on the snowman (as pictured below) and have your child place the total number of buttons as you say something like, “One button plus two more makes three.”  Flip it into subtraction by taking a hat away as your child takes the appropriate number of buttons away.  You can talk through what is happening, “When you have three buttons and you take away two, only one button is left.”

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I fashioned this cute little snowman out of some shiny photo paper we had lying around, and I cut the colorful hats from some thin foam-like paper. (Is there a name for that stuff?)  But, if you want something quick and easy, I have a quick download for you below. It includes a snowman template, numbered hats, as well as blank hats that you can number yourself if you choose.  Enjoy!

Here is the link to your free snowman-printable 🙂

snowmancouting

Want more fun activities and printables like this straight to your email?  Enter your info below!

 

Must-Make Gingerbread Cookies

Something about gingerbread just says Christmastime to me.  If you like gingerbread-or even if you don’t- these cookies are PERFECTION.  They are full of spice, and very soft. I have made these multiple times over the last few years and they sure do please a crowd!  Enjoy.

Must-Make Gingerbread Cookies

Ingredients

  •  4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup packed dark-brown sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 cup molasses
  • 3 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 3 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoons ground cloves
  • 1 teaspoon salt

 

Instructions

  1. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment; mix butter and brown sugar on medium speed until fluffy.
  2. Mix in eggs, one at a time, and then molasses. Reduce speed to low.
  3. Sift together flour, baking powder, spices, and salt and add to bowl; mix on low until just combined. Add more flour if needed.  Dough should not be overly sticky.
  4. Roll dough out between parchment or the Dough E-Z mat, and let it rest by refrigerating until cold, about 1 hour.
  5. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cut out cookie shapes and place on baking sheet lined with parchment paper, approximately 2 inches apart, and re-roll out dough and cut shapes as needed. Refrigerate until firm; at least 15 minutes to 1 hour.
  6. Bake cookies until lightly golden; 10 to 14 minutes, depending on the size and thickness of the cookie. Let cool on wire racks and serve as is or decorate with icing.

gingerman

This recipe has been adapted from sweetopia.net

My Notes

The only issue I ever have with these is the sticky-ness of the dough.  If it still seems sticky after the initial hour in the fridge, add flour!  The dough should look and feel like normal sugar cookie dough.

I like to frost these with a simple, white icing.  I tried a ‘dipped’ technique this year that worked really well. (And of course didn’t take a picture! Ugh.)  Just mix powdered sugar with a little water until you get an icing mixture with a slightly runny consistency.  Dip half of the cookie in the icing mixture and then let it drip off until only a thin layer is left clinging to the cookie.  Dry on wax paper and then muse over the uber-elegant look 😉

 

5-Step Fruit and Veggie Smoothies

I do loooove smoothies!  What I like most is that every time I make them they turn out slightly different.  I know there are a lot of people out there that use actual recipes and measurements for smoothies, but that is not how I roll when it comes to most things in the kitchen.  Even when I use a recipe for something, I rarely bust out the measuring spoons and cups to get things going.  I like to pretend I’m on the Food Network and just “eyeball” all of the amounts.  What?  You don’t do that?  😀

5-step Fruit and Veggie Smoothie:

  1. Add something that will bind your ingredients together like a banana, an avocado, or 1/2 cup of egg whites.

2. Add a chunk of  frozen spinach- maybe a half cup size if you like to measure things.

3. Add frozen fruit.  I try and buy organic berries, and for me, peaches are a must almost every time I make a smoothie.

When you’re finished adding fruit, your blender should be about this full:img_5562

I decided that I wanted to add some kale on top of this.  So, I did-maybe a cup full?  Next come the liquids….

4. I typically go with orange juice and skim milk, but you can add any combo of two liquids that you prefer.  Some people like almond milk or coconut milk or whatever.  Try a few different types to see what you most enjoy.  Halfway up with one liquid and then cover the top of the fruit and veggies with the other. (Note: Kale seems to float, so you will never get it all covered with liquid!)

5.  Sweeteners and extras come next.  For this type of smoothie I go with two scoops of Chia seeds and a tablespoon or two of honey.  Chia seeds will remain a bit crunchy (unless you have a super awesome blender that liquefies them) so if the crunch will bother you, then just opt for something else.  You can use Flaxseed and/or a teaspoon of vanilla extract as other options.  If you prefer to make this a protein shake, add a scoop or two now before sweetening.  Blend up and then decide if you need an additional sweetener.

Blend up until you get something that resembles a gorgeous gray-green oatmeal color.  It tastes way better than it looks, and it’s packed with all that healthy goodness.  A blender-full usually yields 5-6 servings.  They will last about 2-3 days in the fridge.  Enjoy!

 

What other smoothie flavor profiles would you like to see?  Drop me an idea in the comments!

Crock Pot Breakfast Casserole

This post contains affiliate links to my favorite place ever: Amazon.com

 

Waking up to the smell of breakfast cooking makes for the sweetest of mornings.  And, with the help of the Crock Pot, this food fantasy can become real!

I have a couple of Crock Pot breakfast recipes on rotation, but this one stands out as a crowd-pleaser.  This can also double as a dinner recipe–leave everything in the crock pot all day while you’re at work, and come home to a warm, comforting meal.  Breakfast or dinner, it doesn’t really matter when you try it; just try it!

Crock Pot Breakfast Casserole

Ingredients

1/2 lb ground sausage, cooked

1/2 onion, minced

16 oz. frozen hash browns

1 c. shredded cheddar

6 eggs (or 18 T. egg whites)

1/2 c. light sour cream

1/2 c. skim milk

1/2 t. dry mustard

1/2 t. garlic powder

Preparation

Brown the sausage in a skillet and add onions in for a few minutes to soften.  (*Tip: I loathe the crunch of an onion! So, I always puree onions before adding them to a recipe.) When they become translucent, drain any grease that has accumulated and set the skillet aside.

In your crock pot, layer half of the hash browns, meat, and cheese.  Then repeat the layers.

In a separate bowl, mix together the milk, sour cream, eggs, and seasonings.  (*Tip: If you don’t have dry mustard, use Dijon.  Mustard in a cheese sauce really helps the flavors pop!) Pour the egg mixture over top of the contents of your crock pot and cook on Low for 5-8 hours.

 

Click on the pictures to access my must-haves for this recipe:

These Slow Cooker liners are perfect for a no-fuss clean up.  With an egg dish like this, the liners will really come in handy.

 

 

The Crock Pot on the right is very similar to the one I own.  The nice part about this model is that you can clamp the top on for easy travel.

 

 

This Crock Pot, pictured left, will be my next purchase whenever my current one decides to bite the dust.  It is programmable! Oooh so fancy!  I’ve seen it on sale for under $40, too!

 

 
These silicone utensils are everything.  I love them for Crock Pot recipes because they don’t scratch the pot.  

And, last but not least, a liquid measuring cup.  I actually just received my first one for Christmas this year and I don’t know how I ever cooked without it!  Game changer, for sure.  I have used it at least a dozen times and it hasn’t even been a month!

 

 

What are your favorite Crock Pot meals?  Leave ideas in the comments section below!

Gift Guide 2016: 20 Toys and Books Under $20

If you are giving gifts to the children in your life this holiday season, I have a few recommendations for you.  Some of the books and toys we use at home are complete flops and only get a few minutes of attention, and then there are those that get used over and over again for hours on end.  I decided to pass along a list of some books and toys that we have enjoyed this year.  I will also toss in a few ideas that we don’t have yet but that I have read about or plan to purchase soon.

This listing is divided by age and ranges from 0 to about 8 years old.  Enjoy, and make sure to leave a comment about what books and toys your family loves.  This post contains affiliate links from Amazon.com



Ages 0-2

Toys

Baby B. Glow Zzzs Whale

My love for the B. brand is endless; here is a find for a younger crowd.  I spotted this whale in Target and I was instantly drawn to it.  The whale attaches to the crib, and plays soothing music along with putting on a light show that your sweet baby can dose off to.  Similar devices I’ve seen can have really strong, bright lights; but, after trying out this whale soother in the store, the lights seem nice and soft.  A timer is built in and can be set to 23 or 45 minutes. This adorable sleep-inducer is for babies ages 0-24 months.

 


The First Years Stacking Up Cups

My daughter still plays with these colorful stacking cups.  This gift is truly one that keeps on giving!   From pouring water at bath time, to scooping sand at the park, to giving dolls each their own cup to drink out of, to sorting buttons
and other goodies, these cups encourage imaginative play while also fostering math and science principles.  I have also found a version for older kids (or adults!) pictured left.  These plastic beakers are for measuring baking ingredients, but they could easily be used for the young scientist in your life.

 

 


Books


Time for Bed

If there ever was a perfect bedtime book, I think this would be a close contender for first place.  The words are simple-sweet, and repetitive: It’s time for bed.  The repetition of these words coupled with the soft, sleepy animal illustrations shape this book into a lulling rhythm that is sure to get your little bambino eased into a bedtime routine.  I gift this book to newborns any chance I get.  As my daughter grew with this book, she also enjoyed naming each different animal in the book as well as trying out all of the animal sounds.

 

Quiet Loud (Leslie Patricelli board books)

Leslie Patricelli creates such bright, fun books that also promote language development.  These books have simple yet distinct illustrations that sure can capture a wiggly toddler’s attention.  In books like Yummy Yucky or Quiet Loud, the words are repeated on each page along with a corresponding illustration.  After a few readings, my daughter was able to speak these words, and now at three years old, she can read these books to herself.

 

The Pout-Pout Fish

Hands down this book was THE favorite in our house the first year of my daughter’s life.  We read it every night for MONTHS!  The key with this one is use funny voices for all of the characters that the Pout-Pout Fish meets. 😀 There are many variations of this book now that document Pout-Pout’s other adventures, and we have checked out a few from the library, but the original one, pictured here, is still our favorite.

 


First 100 Words Bilingual (Spanish Edition)

I’m all about language development, and that means books in other languages are a must.  This book find is also printed in English, but why not pick up the Spanish version?  The visual layout of these 100 Words books makes object labeling very clear for your toddler.  Just like the cover, each colored box contains an object and its word.  Even a parent with no Spanish experience can catch on.  (And learn something, too!) Later on, a book like this can be used as a spelling reference for an older child.



Ages 3-8

Toys


Kangaroo’s Original Super Cool Slime (3-Pack)

These jars of slime are a slight upgrade from the Silly Putty that I used to play with as a kid.  Not only does the slime look cool, it also feels cool.  My daughter received a similar slime variety from a birthday party treat bag not long ago and played with the stuff for about three days straight after that.  The slime for ages 5 and up (I think younger kids can also enjoy this with supervision) is super fun with minimal clean-up.  Another tactile toy is Kinetic Sand.  More messy than the slime though, so I’d recommend playing with it inside of a plastic tub, or place a towel on the ground to help minimize clean-up time.  Kids can build with the sand in a similar way to Playdoh, but the feel is a powdery, sandy texture.


B. Toys Pop-arty 300 Pieces13628266_632024916975570_1163432795_n

We absolutely can’t get enough of these snap together beads made by B.
While my daughter thinks that she is just freely playing with
the abundant variety of colorful shapes, I secretly am smiling inside knowing that she’s improving her fine motor skills, as well as developing math skills by sorting, classifying, and building.  These are recommended for ages 4-10, but my 3 year old does perfectly fine with supervision.  Price ranges depending on the package you choose, and I believe there are some smaller, add-on packs for around ten bucks, too.

 


WolVol Take-A-Part Toy Dinosaur with Lights and Sounds, Equipped with two Screwdrivers for Assembly

Isn’t this cool?  I came across these take apart toys this summer and purchased the dinosaur version for my nephew’s birthday.  There are other versions including the WolVol Take-A-Part Toy Motorcycle with Lights and Sound, Equipped with Two Screwdrivers for Assembly.  These kits are a step up from the basic toolkit because after assembly, your child can watch their creation in action as it lights up.  This toy is best for ages 3-6.

 


Click N’ Play Pretend Play Cosmetic and Makeup Set

My daughter watches me intently every morning as I apply my makeup before going to work.  She has a little set of brushes that she uses to pretend with, but I have been hesitant to get her a play-makeup set because those that I have seen have actual makeup inside.  When I discovered this one, I liked it for two reasons.  One: there is no actual makeup inside which means no mess!  Two: the look of these pieces is very authentic.  My daughter will love the similarity between her makeup set and the products that I use in my morning makeup routine when she opens this one for Christmas.

 


MECO Figure Spelling Game Platter Puzzle Spell Words Children’s Early Learning Toys

Around three years old, children are ready for games!  This spelling game is for children three and up which makes it a perfect selection for your child’s first game.  And while is is a lot of fun, learning will also commence.  The bottom of each picture card has a corresponding word spelled out.  Each player works to correctly spell the word using the white letter tiles.  The word can be covered up to add a challenge for more advanced players.

 


SainSmart Jr. HeaUp Wooden Tetris Puzzle, Wood Burr Tangram Jigsaw Toy, Educational Game (40 Pieces)

I’ve been drooling over this toy for months now.  Looking at it’s colorful tiles brings me straight back to the long days and nights I played Tetris on my family’s desktop computer in the 90s.  There are so many variations to this puzzle (they truly may be endless) that kids and adults could be occupied for hours.


Melissa & Doug My First Daily Magnetic Calendar

Okay.  This.

Night after night my daughter and I do “Tell Yous.”  I don’t remember how long ago we began this, but every night at bedtime I tell her what we are doing the next day.  We also talk about what day it is and what day it will be when she wakes up.   Depending on the next day’s plans, we also discuss seasons and weather, etc.  It has been a wonderful, recurring, teachable moment.  When I came across this magnetic calendar, I was so excited for her to finally have an age-appropriate visual for all of the months, seasons, and days we have been talking about for so long.  Since my little girl is not yet in preschool I think she will greatly benefit from having such an interactive calendar like this at home.  If the little one in your life already has calendar experience or is a bit older, Melissa & Doug Deluxe Wooden Magnetic Calendar With 134 Magnets is another great option.


Books


One

This book teaches about bullying by using numbers as characters.  I loved the message weaved through the simple story, and though it is recommended for ages 4 and up, I think slightly older children would get even more out of it.  I read this to my daughter when she was almost three, and obviously didn’t connect the story to bullying, but she still felt empathetic toward the characters.  Kathryn Otoshi also has penned the books Zero and Two that are equally as impactful.  We have read Two which I would also recommend, and have yet to check Zero.

 


Some Monsters Are Different
My then 2 year old was beginning to realize that people are different.  She started to point out that people have different noses or different voices, and often it got embarrassing for me because she usually brought these observances to light in earshot of the individual she was talking about.  I tried to explain to her that God made everyone different and special, and she was beginning to understand, but this book really helped push the conversation further.  I wasn’t looking for it, but I just happened to notice Some Monsters Are Different on our way out of the library one day so I grabbed it hoping that it would be the book I thought it would.  It is.  It goes through different types of monsters and never qualifies how they act or look as good or bad; the book just states what they are.  It is a great book to get the conversation started about everyone’s uniqueness and the acceptance and tolerance that goes along with that.  Perfect for preschool through early elementary.

 


The Beginner’s Bible: Timeless Children’s Stories

On my first day back to work last summer, I found this book on my desk.  I still do not know who put it there, but I am forever thankful for their thoughtfulness.  The Beginner’s Bible is excellent for ages 3-8.  My daughter will sit and flip through this rather thick book retelling all of the stories to herself as she goes.  A toddler version is also available from this publisher, but I think this version could be used for toddlers as well as extend through early elementary.  The toddler version has very few words per page which limits it to just being used with very young children. The Beginner’s Bible Kid-Sized Devotions is a devotional that goes hand-in-hand with The Beginner’s Bible pictured above.  The devotional relates stories of the Bible with what they tell us about who God is and about His love for us.

 

Jesus Calling for Little Ones

This is another devotional for little ones of the preschool age.  There are many Jesus Calling daily devotionals, and they come highly recommended.  Two of the more popular ones are: Jesus Calling: Enjoying Peace in His Presence and Jesus Calling: 365 Devotions For Kids.

 

 

 


Ed Emberley’s Drawing Book: Make a World

I can’t remember where I saw this book recommended, but after checking it out for myself, it does not disappoint.  In books like this by Ed Emberley, children can follow along step-by-step and learn how to draw almost anything imaginable.  Each book revolves around a theme such as Make A World which explores things like planes, people, boats, and buildings, or this other one about animals: Ed Emberley’s Drawing Book of Animals.  Books like these are recommended for ages 7-8, but I think the could be used easily by someone as young as 4.  It all depends on their interest in drawing and pen-control.

 

 

Look Inside Your Body

One of the most important areas of reading is non-fiction.  Think of it, as an adult, most of what we read is non-fiction.  Articles, cook books, direction pamphlets, blogs like this one, etc.  We can’t forget to introduce children to non-fiction since it will make up a lot of what they read for the rest of their lives.  At our house, Look Inside Your Body is a favorite for several reasons.  The illustrations are well done and basic enough for a preschooler to understand, yet the tidbits of information can keep an early elementary kid in awe.  We also like the lift-up flaps as well as the lift-up flaps INSIDE the lift-up flaps.  That’s right, there are LAYERS of information here–literally!  The link for this book will take you to the Usborne Books website and you can search for non-fiction books on an abundance of topics for ages 3-8+ .

Bonus:


Pinkalicious

I know Pinkalicious has been around for a while, but we just delved into the books at our house, and I have to say: They are so cute!  I adore the illustrations and the books have plots that can open conversations about hard to deal with topics such as bullying.  There are tons of Pinkalicious books other than the three pictured here.  These are great for kids 3-8. 

 

 


gift-guide1There you have it!  Leave a comment about your favorite toys and books below.