Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Let's Catch Up a Little: 5 Things

Wowsers... my last post was on Miss E's birthday! Too long folks, it's been too long... Lots has been happening though! I'm trying to figure out how to process it all, keep up with life, and blog about it too! But when I started blogging again a few months again, I decided that I was going to keep it up as long as I enjoyed it and felt I had the time to put into it... not because I had to keep up with other bloggers or to keep the blog stats up! That's something I have to regularly remind myself of when I feel "guilty" for not writing. So while this post is not an apology, I thought I would just write a catch-up post and list a few of the things that have been keeping me busy recently!
  1. The past two months have been filled with family! My parents moved to the area (woohoo!) from Paraguay, so we've been enjoying time with them. Elsie is getting to know her "Beebee" and "Gempa" in person after just knowing them via a FaceTime relationship. (But, we thank God for FaceTime!) Also two sets of great-grandparents were in town visiting. It was a joy for Elsie to get to know them. "So many gempas!" she says. 
  2. The garden is planted beginning to pop! I downsized this year (uh ya, I'm gonna be pretty pregnant when it's time to harvest!) but I still love love love watching things grow and having all of that fresh produce at my finger tips! I've planted tomatoes, peppers, onions, carrots, lettuce, spinach, green beans, and some herbs, zinneas and sunflowers, and this year I've added peas and cauliflower as well. Weeding and watering is the name of the game!
  3. No more diapers... Potty training commenced today! Our world now contains a whole lot of pink panties and princess pull-ups. There may be a "Potty Training Diaries" series coming soon... Not because I have or will have figured out any super awesome method, but rather because I think parents of potty trainers need a support group. Ha! 
  4. A little blog news... my hubby designed me a slick new blog and I'm super excited about moving over to it, BUT... I'm going to be changing my name. Actually deciding on one has been a challenge! As soon as I get that figured out, I'll be able to make the move.
  5. Oh, and there's this other little thing that came up in the last few months and has affected EVERYTHING: 
Yeppers, Elsie Grace is going to be a big sister come December! That puts me in the last week of my first trimester. Other than being really tired and feeling icky at random times, I've been feeling good this pregnancy! It's been a lot easier this time around; I'm thankful. I was working when pregnant with Elsie and I was quite sick for several months; I couldn't even imagine being pregnant with a toddler! But there are a lot of perks now being home with her, like I am able to nap when she naps, or just curl up and read books together, eat when I need to (aka all.the.time), etc... While it's hard to really imagine the reality of being a family of four, we are so excited to meet this little one. A couple nights ago as we were reading on the couch before bed, Elsie leaned over and said "I alova you, baby!" and then kissed my tummy. Does it get any more precious than that?! 

So that's been life in a nutshell. Stay tuned in the coming days for some yummy recipes (my Carrot Cake Recipe is coming soon, as requested!), fun DIY projects, real food fun as I purge my cabinets, a great homemade play-dough recipe Elsie's been enjoying, and, of course, the new blog!

Saturday, April 26, 2014

A Purple Butterfly Birthday {Elsie Grace turns 2!}

Happy Birthday, Elsie Grace!

Our sweet little Elsie turns 2 today! She is an absolute sweetheart with huge dimples, lots of snuggles, and an independent streak. She loves books, black olives, cats, and singing (and asking me to sing) “The Wheels on the Bus” with endless additional verses. She loves people, playgrounds, and pretzels. And she has brought more joy to our lives in her two years than I could have ever imagined. 
 
So often I feel my heart swell and my eyes fill with tears as I thank God for the gift she is to us. Her birthday is a true celebration.
We decided to hold her birthday party a week ago on Easter so that her Auntie Juls and Uncle Brian could celebrate with us while they were in town visiting! 

Party Decor

I decided on a butterfly theme with purple, lime, and turquoise - inspired by some adorable napkins. That’s right, I planned her party around napkins. But hey, you have to start somewhere!
I could go crazy with decorating... especially when I have a color and a theme to run with! But I was determined to keep things simple this year, and to focus on what Elsie would enjoy (and not on being Pinterest-perfect).  An example of this is the dessert plates... I had found some cute square, turquoise plates for cake, but while at the dollar store we came across some froggy party plates. Elsie freaked out (in a good way), squealing and hugging them. That was all the convincing I needed! Froggy plates it was. It also helped that they were lime green with a little hint of purple! ;)
Another way of including Elsie (in her own party!) this year was with her invitations, which she decorated herself!
We found sparkly foam butterfly stickers (does it get any better than that?!) which she meticulously placed on blank cards. I then wrote the party details around the butterflies wherever there was space. Each invite was unique and made with a lot of love!
I reigned myself in when it came to a birthday banner. There are a billion adorable pennant banner ideas out there, but they take time and energy that I just didn't have this year. I found the Happy Birthday banner below for $1, complete with butterflies. Elsie loves it. The paper polka dots were another cheap and easy decoration. I purchased five sheets of scrapbook paper, used various bowls and cups to trace circles on them, cut them out and taped them up!
Tissue butterflies hang in the doorway between the kitchen and living room. I simply accordion-folded a sheet of tissue, cut it to the desired width, and tied it in the middle with fishing line.
I found paper lanterns in the perfect colors for $1-2 each, so I couldn't pass them up! I hung five (various sizes) above the dining room table. They'll also look cute hanging in our room... and I always love decorations that can be used again! Hanging decor from the ceiling adds so much dimension. When Elsie first saw them she exclaimed, "oh! Soo beuuuuuful!" Mission accomplished.

Butterfly Food

Themed food is always a blast, but with my new-found determination to avoid artificial colors, I found it challenged my creativity! Butterfly shaped crackers (found at Target) were a no-brainer. Adorable! And tasty paired with a cheeseball. I don't even know how many of these crackers Elsie ate... she kept sneaking back for more!! :)
The fruit platter... it wasn't until I was literally assembling it that I realized two clementine wedges back-to-back look like a butterfly! Eeek!!  So cute. And healthy. 
The cake... oh the cake. It had to be special. It had to be chocolate. And purple. And have butterflies! The cake was my little labor of love. And here it is: a Purple Chocolate Butterfly Cake (with no artificial colors!).
I would love to show you how I colored the frosting and made the chocolate butterflies, but that will have to wait for a post of its own!

 We sure do love those smoochable cheeks and the precious girl the belong to!
Happy Birthday, Elsie Grace! 

Monday, April 14, 2014

Making a House a Home (for everyone who lives in it!)

Guest Post!

This week I had the opportunity to write a guest post for Lovely Does It, my friend Amy's blog. When one of the topics suggested was "Making a House a Home," I jumped at it! Making our house a home with each move and change in our family has been both a challenge and a joy that takes continual effort and ideas and love! I really appreciated having the opportunity to think through and write down some ways that I try to make our house a home (and illustrate them with photos from around our house, with a little help from an almost 2-year-old!)

Meet Amy

Several years ago, I had the privilege working with Amy at Allô! Chocolat, a gourmet chocolate shop (a delicious job, as I’m sure you can imagine). Being scheduled to work a shift with Amy was always a joy, because she is one of the most positive, cheerful people I know. She has a contagious laugh and a beautiful walk with the Lord.

We recently reconnected in the blogging realm and she has been a great encouragement and inspiration to me! Please take some time to check out her blog Lovely Does It. She shares great insights, practical tips, yummy recipes, and stunning photos of her back yard... Alaska!

Making a House a Home

I married my childhood friend Jonathan in 2008; and in 2012, our little sunshine Elsie Grace was born. We’ve moved several times since getting married. Each move has meant setting up home in a new place — from a tiny little one bedroom apartment (where the kitchen was the dining room was the living room was the office) to the cozy house on a farm where we now reside.

When making our house a home, needs change (from just two of us to baby growing into a toddler). Financial means change. (Eating our first meal in our first apartment, we literally sat on the floor… then used an empty vacuum box as a table… then bought a $100 put-it-together-yourself table… We now own a dining room table made out of -wait for it- real wood! We’re movin’ up in the world, folks.) Taste in colors and style and décor change. Each move and each change has taught me a little more about homemaking. So here are a few of my thoughts on making a house a home… for everyone who lives in it!  

Read the full post HERE>>
Making a House a Home

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Homemade Fast Food: Fried Rice

Today was a beauuuuuutiful Spring day in Wisconsin, and I'm happy to say we were able to get out and enjoy it! However... that meant I got home at 5:30 and and had no plan for supper. Uh oh. 

 Being busy, hungry, and unprepared is usually when my resolve dissolves and I cave, to the demise of both my budget and/or diet. I was this close (you can't see my hand's but I'm making a little pinch-y motion with my thumb and pointer finger) to picking up a pizza on my way home but fortunately or unfortunately I had forgotten my $3 off coupon at home, and that was enough to deter me. 

I've been trying to be better about having some fast, healthy supper options that I can throw together at the last minute... and I'm getting better! During our early years of marriage when I was working until at least 6 many nights, we grabbed fast food out at least once a week. I thought Subway was a healthy, cheap option. I've since changed my mind. Fast food at home now includes things like taco salad, breakfast for dinner, BLT's, spaghetti, and... tonight I went with a really simple Fried Rice that came together in just 20 minutes with rice and veggies I already had on hand. Tonight I used scallions, and frozen peas, as well as some cooked chicken that I had on hand. (Yay for freezer prep!) Other favorite add-ins are onions, mushrooms, carrots, peppers, cabbage, and broccoli. It was a quick, easy, and healthy meal that didn't cost an extra dime! Now that's some good fast food! So the next time you're in bind for time, give this a try!
 

Fried Rice

1-1/2 cups Rice (uncooked) or 3 cups cooked 
2 Eggs, scrambled
Chopped Veggies/Meat
Soy Sauce
Salt & Pepper
  1. Get your rice cooking. (I use Jasmine, 1-1/2 cups rice and 2-1/2 cups water. Bring it to a boil, then turn it down to low for 15 minutes.)
  2. While the rice cooks, scramble and cook a couple eggs. Set them aside. 
  3. Chop up your veggies, and saute them in a little olive oil. Add chopped chicken, beef, or pork to the skillet and heat through. 
  4. When the rice is cooked, add it to sauteed meat and veggies along with the eggs. Stir together add soy sauce, salt, and pepper to taste.
Serves 2-4
Enjoy!

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

4 Barriers to Clean Eating

My Journey toward Clean Eating

I've shared this with you recently, but I have been on a journey toward clean eating. Basically what that means is that I'm working toward a lifestyle that includes cooking and eating as many whole, fresh, all natural ingredients as possible and excludes as many processed, artificial, and unnatural products as I can.

This whole change in mentality takes a lot of effort, and when thinking about why I do eat what I do, or don't eat what I don't, or how what I do now compares to what I did just years or even months ago, I boiled it all down to 4 barriers to clean eating that I personally have faced (and am facing!).

1. Don't know how

There is SO much to learn! I'm not a nutritionist, farmer, or doctor, and yet I feel the need to take personal responsibility for what I put in my body. I want to learn all I can about how food, medicine, and method all work together in what we eat, what our bodies need, and how everything affects everything else! I am just recently becoming a student in this area, and what I find is fascinating and awe-inspiring (do you realize how intricate and complex, delicate yet strong God has created our bodies?!). What I am learning is also frustrating (They add what to our food?! And that is altered why?! These artificial ingredients are banned in how many countries yet not in the US?!) and confusing... There seem to be conflicting reports on what we should and shouldn't eat, how much, how often, affects and adverse affects, etc etc. So one of my biggest barriers to eating clean is just a lack of knowledge.

2. Don't have the money

Ok, so I've done my reading and would love to buy all organic products, pastured meat, farm fresh eggs, etc etc etc. But can I afford to? I know the question that some will counter with is, but can you afford not to? I don't know. I don't know if eating all organic now will save us thousands in medical bills later, or will allow us to live longer healthier lives. What I do know that we're a family on a budget, and I can't just buy an "organic" version of everything I would have purchased otherwise.  This means I have to prioritize and decide what is most important to me, and then choose where to start. Grocery shopping can be exhausting. At this point I'm still reading every ingredient label and studying every price tag. Money is a very real consideration and can be a barrier to clean eating.

3. Don't have the time

Time follows money in this list because the solution to a lot of the money probs take time. You can grow vegetables in your garden, and then can or freeze them for use throughout the year. You can make a point to buy local produce, eggs, meat, and cheeses from your local farmers' market. You can bake your own bread from scratch; hey you can even grind your own wheat for your homemade bread. Make homemade broths and stocks, roll out some fresh pasta, make your own yogurt. Some of these I've done, others I'd still like to try. They can be fun as a hobby or an experiment, but to make it a lifestyle take a lot of time! I know many of you are only home for a very few waking hours during the day. I work at home and from home, so I have more time than many, and yet I also don't feel that my entire life should revolve around food. I certainly appreciate food (and increasingly so!), and I sure enjoy it. Even preparing it can be a hobby for me. But preparing nourishing food at the expense of nourishing relationships is not worth it to me. I also have other responsibilities such as work, ministries at church, and various ways of seeking to serve friends and family around me. (Plus, there's always blogging to be done!) So how do I use the precious time I have been given each day? I think that's a question we each have to ask ourselves, and the answer will be different for each of us. We need to be gracious with each other. Lack of time can be a barrier to clean eating.

4. Don't want to 

Um... what else is there to say about this one? I can know all the facts about something, but some things are just hard to give up. Some days I just want a Coke, a Little Ceasar's pizza, and a whole bag of Doritos all to myself. But I'll be honest, that's happening less and less. The more I eat "real" food, the less I have a taste for... that other stuff. There are good substitutes for some of those cravings. I love a LaCroix or an Izze for a carbonated treat. Homemade pizza is the best. And there are plenty of good chip options that have recognizable ingredients and don't add artificial colors. When I'm out or eating at someone else's house, I eat what's before me and certainly don't ask for ingredient labels :) But the clean eating journey I'm on is one of creating good habits for a healthy lifestyle. To overcome this barrier of desire, I've got to decide that clean eating is important and then make the necessary choices in order to do it.

I hope this hasn't been discouraging. That isn't the point. The point isn't to focus on the barriers, but rather to acknowledge what we're up against, and then figure out how to get over those barriers! That's what most of my food posts on this blog are about.... the journey of learning about what to eat and why, eating on a budget, preparing good food in the midst of our busy lives, and then enjoying and appreciating this nourishing, clean way of eating!

What is the biggest barrier YOU face to eating how you would like to? What tips do you have for overcoming any of these 4 barriers?

Monday, April 7, 2014

Homemade Beef Stock

When is last time you made a pot of beef stock? Well, I for one, never had... until now! When a recipe calls for "broth" or "stock" I've always just grabbed a couple of bouillon cubes, or a can or box of broth if I splurged and happened to have some on hand! After all, broth is just for flavor... right?! Apparently not, my friends. (By the way, "broth" and "stock" are very similar and are often used interchangeably, but stock apparently is made with bones and trim, while broth is made primarily with meat.)
My friend Eryn at From Famine to Foodie has done the hard work on researching the amazing benefits of homemade bone broth, so I'm going to quote her here.  

In her article How a Bowl of Soup Can Heal Your Joints, Bones, Scars, and Stretch Marks!, she speaks of what our society's switch from homemade bone broth to laboratory created meat flavor has cost us:
With this trade we forfeited a whole line of defense against chronic pain, weak joints, brittle bones, scarring, and wrinkles. This set the stage for pharmaceutical companies, skin care companies, and the ever-growing trend of supplement lines we are seeing pop up all over. And to think that all these expensive pain killers, supplements, and skin creams could be avoided if we would only reincorporate bone broth into our diets!
She also lists many of the amazing benefits of incorporating bone broth into our everyday eating. Check it out:  
  • Minerals such as calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, silicon, and sulphur. Broth presents these minerals in a way that is easy for our bodies to absorb. (Broth is a good source of calcium for those who are lactose intolerant and don’t drink milk)
  • Biomolecules which build, protect, and can even repair your joints
  • Builds strong, healthy bones
  • Can help prevent or improve arthritis
  • The collagen from bone broth heals our own collagen, which means it helps prevent and improve stiff joints, stretch marks, scars, and wrinkles.
  • The gelatin in homemade broth aids our bodies in digestion of other foods
Basically, bone broth is extraordinarily beneficial for your bones, joints, ligaments, and skin! (Read more>>>)
So here are the facts, folks:
Homemade bone broth is delicious, healthy and healing, and (you will be pleased to hear) simple and straightforward to make in your kitchen!

Confession: I have a quarter cow in my freezer.  Ok, well, true confession: we bought the beef several months ago, so much a whole lot less than a quarter cow is left in my freezer. Yay beef! I had never bought soup bones before, but when I was talking the butcher about what cuts I wanted for my quarter and she asked "You want any soup bones?" and I thought to myself, What the hay, I live on a farm. And thus confidently responded, "Please." (If you don't have a quarter cow in your freezer, you can get soup bones from your butcher. Don't have a butcher? Ask at the meat counter of your local grocery.)
I've made chicken stock before, and from what I read beef stock is pretty similar. So this is how it went down...

I put those meaty beef bones in a baking pan along with chopped onions, celery, carrots, garlic, and some ground black pepper. Add herbs and salt if you'd like.
Roast the bones and veggies for 45-55 mins at 425 or until they look, uh, roasted. Don't burn 'em though.
Then just transfer it all from your roasting pan to a large crock pot. Pour in water until the bones are completely covered. (You'll want to pour a little water into that roasting pan to take advantage of that goodness and add it to you the crock pot as well.)
Please note that you could put the bones and veggies directly into the crock and still make a hearty broth, but the flavor you get by roasting them first is fantastic! Well worth the effort, I'd say.
Let that stock simmer on low for a good 8 hours. Your house will smell fantastic all day.
Let the crock come to room temperature and remove all of the bones and veggies. (My bones were meaty so I saved all of the meat for a stew!) You pour the stock through a colander to remove all of the little particles. I opted not to this time.. I just used a slotted spoon to remove what I could. A little beefy sediment in my stock was alright with me.

Chill the stock in the fridge overnight. Once it's completely chilled, you'll be able to easily remove the fat from the top.
 Your stock might be will be thick... I used to think that anything with that texture was fatty. No, my dears, that is not necessarily the case. What you're seeing is natural gelatin. I've heard of some mamas making a thick stock into molds and serving it to their children as beef jello. That's a little intense for me at this point. I'm starting with using it in soup and stew, sauce and stir fry. I'll have to work up to beef jello. (Mine wasn't as thick as I anticipated... maybe I used too much water?)
I freeze my stock in mason jars. (Ziploc bags will also do the trick. To save freezer space, freeze them flat and then stand or stack them.) You can even freeze stock in cubes - pour it into an ice cube tray, freeze, and then store in freezer bags.


I couldn't freeze all that stock without trying it though! So I cooked up some potatoes and sweet potatoes, carrots and onions, threw in the meat I had removed from the bones, and added my homemade stock for a hearty beef soup. *slurrrp* Ahh.

Oh, horrors. I was just about to post this when I decided to go look at the bouillon I currently have in my cabinet. It's only been in the last few months that I've become an avid ingredient label reader, and apparently I bought this before I started actually caring about what was in my food. This beef bouillon contains primarily salt and some unrecognizable ingredients like "monosodium glutamate" and "hydrolyzed soy protein" and less than 2% of dehydrated beef stock! They also threw in some Red 40 for good measure. No thanks. The container has now been sealed and donated to the culinary endeavors of Elsie G's Play Kitchen. 
 In the spectrum of bouillon cubes to beef jello, where do you land?

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Freezer Prep

I had a profitable day of freezer prep this week after grocery shopping. This is an area I've realized that I have had to put effort into in order to eat whole foods on a frugal budget! I made a couple good finds grocery shopping last week, and decided to take advantage of them for future meals.
I will admit that I haven't had a good track record in this area. Here's what tends to happen: I buy, grow, or am given a lot of something and I think, perfect! I'll freeze this. So I put it in the fridge and... forget.about.it. So then it starts to go bad, or I wonder if it has started to go bad, so it gets thrown away. Isn't that horrible?! Not this time, baby.

Well last week was a busy one for me with a list a mile long of things that all needed to get done yesterday, but I decided that this food was NOT going to go to waste. So I freezer prepped it up! This is a great way to be nice to your wallet (find things on sale in season) and to your schedule (take a little time to do all the prep now, and it's ready to pull out of the freezer and use later when you want it, need it, gotta have it.)

Peppers

Peppers, oh beautiful mini sweet peppers, how I love you. Seriously, Elsie and I eat these things like, uh... sweet peppers? Great for snacks and fantastic cooked in almost anything. Regularly, it seems that a bag of these little guys run about $3.50, but I found them for $.69/each at Woodman's, our amazing local grocery. So I picked up 4 bags. (Only 4? What was I thinking...) I'm keeping one in the fridge to use fresh, and sliced the rest to freeze.
After being frozen, peppers get a little soft so I don't use them for veggies sticks or salads, but they're perfect for sauteing and cooking. I use pepper strips for stir fries (frys? fry's?) and fajitas, or chop them and throw them into soups, stews, sauces, skillets, quiches, etc etc etc. 
These peppers are packed with vitamins, and add fantastic flavor to whatever they're added to.

Strawberries

I also found strawberries at a good price (and they actually looked ripe). I snatched up a couple pounds. Of course we've enjoyed some fresh, but I decided to slice and freeze the rest. (They sure aren't June-fresh-from-the-garden good, but they brightened the dreary, rainy-snowy days we had last week.) I can easily pull out a bag of them and top pancakes or waffles for a yummy breakfast, or serve with icecream or cheesecake for a perfect dessert.
 

Chicken

I picked up a couple of 3lb rotisserie chickens at Costco ($4.99/each). When I take the time to debone them, each chicken has enough meat for several meals for us, and it's one of the simplest and easiest quicky meal options I can have in the freezer for busy days. The chicken is delicious and already cooked, and I can add it to rice or pasta, throw it in a soup, roll it up in a tortilla, or chop it into a salad.

And these chickens are like a gift that keeps on giving... once all of that delicious meat is removed, I'm left with a whole pile of bones that I can throw into the crockpot and create a healthy stock to be frozen and used in more future meals.
 
Taking the time and energy up front to prep food for the freezer is totally worth it, saving both money and time in the coming days!

What kinds of foods do you like to have prepped and ready in your freezer?