Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Friends for dinner

I'm trying to think of other descriptors for some of my favorite recipes besides "yummy"...but it's hard : ).  It's the first word that comes to mind when I think of some things I made the other night when we had friends over for dinner.  I'm glad that we're trying to do this more.  It's good fellowship for Joe and I, it's a chance for the kids to learn how to act around guests (I really think that my kids don't have a clue about what "personal space" is), and we also work together to get the house straightened up.  Here are some recipes for a couple of things I made.  I may have posted these recipes before, but I was too lazy to try and scroll through past posts to find out (it's been that kind of day).  I hope you enjoy.  I know that these are not necessarily diet friendly.  Does taco seasoning have bad stuff in it?  I'm not sure.  I think there are recipes for homemade taco seasoning, though.  I guess I need to do more research : ).  Like I's been that kind of day...and really that kind of week.  I'm exhausted.  But I still wanted to post these and you can adapt them as you see fit.

Caramel Fruit Dip
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla
8 oz cream cheese, softened

1. Mix ingredients together in a food processor, blender, or with a mixer (I did a mixer and it works great)
2. Make sure to blend the cream cheese.
3. Refridgerate until needed.

Easy, right?!  And it is delicious!  I served it with lots of fruit...strawberries, apples, and oranges.  It's also great with grapes and bananas.

(This is the official recipe, but I adapted it to make it a taco wonton.  I'll put my adaptations in parentheses.)
1 pkg of wonton wrappers (I found some round ones and they worked great!  I also got them in the organic section and there was no soy listed on the ingredients.)
1 lb mild sausage (I used ground beef cooked with chopped onion and a chopped garlic clove)
16 oz sour cream (I lowered it to about 8 oz)
1 pkg dry ranch mix (I used a little less than 1 pkg of taco seasoning)
12 oz cheddar cheese, shredded (I used about 1 cup)
12 oz mozzarella cheese, shredded (I didn't use any mozzarella)
black olives, diced (I didn't use these, either)

Cook and drain sausage (for me, beef, onions, and garlic in olive oil).  Mix sour cream and ranch mix (taco mix).  Add cheese.  Add olives.  Add meat.  Mix well.  Place wonton wrappers in muffin pan (I used a mini muffin pan), dip spoonful of mixture into each.  Bake at 375 for 7-8 min.

I love how these come out.  The wonton hardens and you can just pick them right up.  Perfect for a party or finger foods.  I did the taco ones, so I served it with lots of lettuce, cilatro, and salad fixings.  You could basically do a deconstructed taco thing.  They are addictive!  : )  You could really do all kinds of fillers of your choice.

Now I will hopefully head to bed soon!  On Friday I will be posted a review of the new Veggietales movie...and will be giving away a free copy!  Just come by and post a comment on that blog post and you'll be put in the drawing. 

Happy munching! : )

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Easy, fast and yummy tomato soup

If you didn't notice....I have a new blog design.  I love it!  When I was trying to think of some graphic that would represent our family, the thing that made so much sense to me was a roller coaster.  There are ups and downs, exciting parts, slow parts, new beginnings, closure and scary parts...but when I think of a roller coaster I always have fun memories.  I love roller coasters.  I love the life God has given me....the good, the gross, the bad, and the amazing.  That's the story....and I hope you enjoy the ride! : )

Now for a new recipe I tried tonight.  We had a church soup fellowship tonight and I didn't realize until it was the last always.  How do I always manage to miss stuff like that?!  Part of the adventure, I guess!  I jumped on the internet, searching for something good, easy, and soy free.  I ended up on ...a site I've never visited before.  But I decided to use this recipe and it tasted so good!  I think I added a little to much salt, though.  It doesn't taste salty when I'm eating it, but my lips have that too much salt feeling...and I think I need a drink of water.  So don't add too much salt ; ).  I don't think this has soy...there was none listed on the ingredients on the packages I used (the broth, tomatoes, and cream).  I'm new to this, so if I made a mistake, please let me know!

Creamy Tomato Soup Recipe
1 Tablespoon olive oil
1 Tablespoon unsalted butter
1 medium sweet onion, coarsely chopped
1 (28 oz) can of whole peeled tomatoes in their juices
1 1/2 cups low-sodium chicken broth or water
2 bay leaves
1/3 cup heavy cream

1. Heat oil and butter in a medum saucepan over medium heat.  Once butter foams, add onion and a big pinch of salt.  Season with freshly ground black pepper.  Cook, stirring occasionaly until onion is completely soft and just beginning to brown, about 15 min.
2. Add tomatoes and juices to the pan and stir to crush up tomatoes.  Add broth or water and bay leaves and bring to a simmer.  Simmer until tomatoes begin to fall apart, about 10 min.
3. Remove from heat, discard bay leaves, and allow soup to cool slightly.  Carefully puree soup in a blender until smooth (you may have to do this in batches).  Return soup to the stove over low heat and stir in cream.  Taste and adjust seasoning as desired.

Yields: 4 servings (I doubled the recipe for tonight's church get-together...and I think it was definitely more than 8 servings!  We have A LOT left over!)

Hope you enjoy!

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Baby steps to healthy eating

I honestly can't believe that I'm getting serious about being healthy.  You'd think that after having children, thyroid cancer, and being overweight for many years I would've gotten serious a long time ago.  And I have done diets...oh so many diets.  I've lost weight...I can't even begin to calculate my weight loss totals.  It's great that I know I'm capable of losing weight, since I have so much that I need to lose...AGAIN.  But that was really all I was going for in the past.  Yes, I wanted to be healthy, but the most urgent thing in my mind was to lose the weight.  This time is different, though.  Maybe the cancer has changed me.  Maybe it's just God who is changing me and doing a work in my heart and mind that I haven't experienced before.  All a part of the baby step process.  In my own life I've found that God gives me what I need when I need it...and often when I'm most able to handle it.  I have to contribute this journey to Him and trust in His guidance because there is no way I can do it myself.  I honestly don't believe in coincidence, either.  God has done too many amazing things in my life at just the right time for me not to credit Him. 

A few weeks ago I was scanning my facebook home page, just reading what everyone was up to.  I ran across a friend's post about soy.  I didn't know much about soy or really anything that had soy in it..except soy sauce : ).  I knew I had heard of people having soy allergies, but since no one in my immediate family had an allergy to it, I didn't bother with learning about it.  One thing she said caught my eye, though.  She mentioned that her doctor told her that if you have thyroid issues, cancer, or a family history of cancer, he recommended that you not eat foods with soy.  My red flags flew high at that moment.  Me=thyroid cancer, family history of cancer, and family history of thyroid problems.  I jumped right in on the conversation and got some info.  I also read other comments that affirmed what my friend said.  In my opinion, this was from the Lord.  I don't think I could've handled a big lifestyle change last year...or the beginning of this year.  I believe God has prepared me and has helped me to feel less overwhelmed physically so that I could take this information and start making baby step at a time.

Where to start.  I had no clue.  So I started looking at food labels.  Soy was in almost every processed, pre-packaged food item I looked at.  Yikes!  Because let's be real...I like making easy stuff for us to eat.  I pretty much depended on it in past months.  I couldn't see myself spending hours in the kitchen making my own bread and homemade this and thats.  But...I could see myself taking some small steps to START making some things myself.  I like to cook, so that's good.  The kids are starting to be able to entertain themselves even more...even the little that gives me a little more free time.  I put out a plea on facebook for some recommendations.  That led me to this blog: 100 Days of Real Food.  This is a REAL mom...making REAL food.  One night I was up until almost 2 am reading all I could.  One thing I LOVE about her blog is that she is realistic about eating healthy and has two little kids, so her recipes are kid and mom friendly.  Here are a few of her recipes that I plan to try out...

Picture from 100 Days of Real Food blog...
whole wheat pot tarts

These are all things that my family likes...and the ingredients are doable!  Yay!  After printing some of these off I looked over at my hubby and said, "I think I could really do this."  And I really want to. 
Other blogs that I want to check out are:
Beyond Diet
Pinterest has also been a good source of recipes and ideas.
I also decided to try and read some articles/info on this whole soy thing and also get some ideas about healthy living.  I found this article when I googled "soy lecithin", which is found in so many products.  There are lots of differing opinions on it, so I would suggest getting all the info...not just from this article.  But my first baby step is to cut soy.  I just believe it's the right place for us to start given my medical history. 
I also found a collection of articles that my friend Amy (the friend who helped me get going on this journey with her soy facebook post) has been doing on the Southern Savers blog called Organic Living Journey.  I read through some of her articles yesterday before I went grocery shopping.  It was extremely helpful and practical.  I would definitely recommend them.

As we were riding home from the grocery store last night, I was encouraged...and happy.  My hubby and I were both getting excited about these changes in our eating and we even started getting ideas about having our own garden this year.  Us?  A garden?  Yes, God is definitely doing something!  Today I was printing out some of the recipes I mentioned and I started talking with the hubby again about my desire to lose weight.  It's weird how your perspective can just flip around.  All these years I would get almost desperate to lose weight..and that was my sole focus.  Lose the weight.  I also added "get healthy" in there, too, but I would still find ways to eat something unhealthy and lose the weight.  Now my focus healthy.  I'm not as focused on the weight loss, just on the eating.  But I know that when I'm eating right, I'll lose the weight.  It's one of those "duh" kind of things, but for me this is a real epiphany.  I know I might slip up sometimes, and I also know that I'm not going to throw out everything that's bad in my pantry and fridge.  We're just going to start where we are right now and each time I buy food it's going to get better and better.  God has even provided a way for me to get fresh eggs and possibly fresh bread with no soy.  Baby steps.  Filled with grace. 

Monday, February 11, 2013

Reviewer's bookshelf: The Tutor's Daughter by Julie Klassen

I decided to label my book reviews in the title of my posts.  When you see "Reviewer's bookshelf" you'll know that you're about to read a book review : ).  I really enjoy reading and reviewing books for Bethany House.  I was excited to be able to review Julie Klassen's newest book, "The Tutor's Daughter."
*This book was given to me for free from Bethany House to give an unbiased book review*

This story is set in 1812 England, primarily on the Cornwall coast, which was known for its shipwrecks and superstitions .  The beautiful mansion you see in the picture is the home of the Westons, a prominant family in Cornwall and the home of four Weston brothers.  The two youngest brothers are in need of a tutor, and Emma Smallwood's widowed father is offered the position...after Emma applies for it on his behalf.  Emma can tell her father is unhappy at their Longstaple home, the place where memories of her mother linger, and hopes a change will help him out of his depression.  For many years Mr. Smallwood has run a school for boys, housing and preparing them academically for a future at a prestigious college.  This is where a young Emma first meets the two older Weston brothers, Henry and Phillip.  One was merciless in his pranks and teasing, the other kind and thoughtful.  Emma is older now and unattached, so she accompanies her father to Cornwall to help with the tutoring.  Mysteries abound at the large home...strange sounds, someone sneaking in to Emma's room at night, missing possessions, and Emma feels confident that several members of the family are hiding something.  Emma must also face feelings of fear and embarrassement from her past as well as growing affection in her present.  "The Tutor's Daughter" is a definite page-turner.

I have to say that a book cover is the first step to capturing my attention.  When I see a cover like this, I really want to know what's inside.  It's beautiful, isn't it?!  As a big Jane Austen fan, I love books set in the same time period (Regency) and also look forward to any book by Julie Klassen.  This book did not disappoint!  I haven't read all of Julie's books, but I felt like the mystery aspect of this book was much stronger than some of her others.  Especially when Emma and her father arrived at the Weston home.  There was an immediate feel that when the Smallwoods were not welcomed when they arrived in town, the decision to move to Cornwall was not going to be an easy one.  When Emma sensed there was someone in her room while she was trying to sleep, I could feel my pulse rising.  It was quite suspenseful.  As she would find evidence of someone tampering with her things, I was curious to know who was doing all of this...because there were several potential suspects.  At the same time, though, I was reminded of a slightly similar plot line in Jane Eyre, one of my favorite novels.  I was hoping that Emma's experience wouldn't be the same as Jane's because that would honestly disappoint me.  I really hoped this would be an original storyline.  I can say, without giving anything away, that the plot and outcome in "The Tutor's Daughter" was original and complex.  I really appreciated the layers of storyline that Julie Klassen offered in this novel and it made it especially satisfying!  There were little giveaways throughout the story that could help draw some conclusions as to the ending, but my personal way of pleasure reading is to not spoil it for myself by trying to figure out too much...I like to just enjoy the process.  If you're like me, you'll be satisfied with the ending/resolution. 

I would definitely recommend Julie Klassen's other novels as well.  Happy reading!

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Our busy life

 Right after Christmas I start going into birthday mode.  My two big kiddos have birthdays just 4 days apart in we always do a Daniel family birthday bash for both.  I try to come up with some fun ideas and a theme that will go well for both girl and boy.  This year we had a camping theme...and it was so fun!  We had tents set up, blankets outside for the kids to sit and eat, a fire pit with a nice fire going, cooked hot dogs and some to roast, and a smores bar set up.  I had a little camping scene on the cake and I put some cupcakes in a plastic fluted glass with smores mix in the bottom.  Fun had by all!
 Homeschooling is going well, too.  I feel like after Christmas things have picked up a little.  I decided to revamp our schedule to accomodate both Sophie and Isaac better..and it really helped.  This week and last week we've been learning about volcanos.  We printed a paper model of a volcano that we could fold (above) and we made our own little volcano with clay and a small vase.  We followed a "recipe" on a blog I like.  It kind of worked, but I think it would've worked better if my vase was bigger.  We ran out of room for our ingredients.  But it was still fun : ).  Here are some blogs that I have been referring to a LOT for help.  I LOVE the free things and great ideas these amazing homeschooling moms are putting together.
And Here We Go : She gives great lesson plans for Classical Conversations, links to all kinds of resources, etc.  I go straight to her blog every week when I'm planning.
Suzanne Shares: All sorts of great ideas across the board...for homeschooling, family, etc.  I especially love her printables.  I have printed off her Latin declension cards and I think they're great! 
Mom to 2 Posh Lil Divas: I haven't used this site in a while, but this is a great resource.  She has so many fun ideas, links, etc.  I used it a lot when we were doing activities with some children's books. 
Half-a-Hundred Acre Wood: another great resource for Classical Conversations and classical education.  I'm still trying to familiarize myself with how to navigate this site, but there is no doubt a wealth of information and ideas. 
New Bee Homeschooler: I just discovered this site last week, but it's goal is to help the new homeschooling parent navigate their way.  They also have tons of free printables for all kinds of topics!  I really appreciate blogs that have fun, free printables!
These are just a few sites that are out there...I'm realizing that there are SO many homeschooling, parent, family blogs.  I feel pretty small in the big blogger world, but I still enjoy putting my thoughts and ideas out there : ).
 And last, but not least, our little man is 10 mos old.  He's been 10 months for a while.  In fact, he's almost 11 months!  The time is flying by.  He loves Puffs and banana cookies right now and is showing a lot of interest in solid foods.  He is also crawling all over the place and is starting to pull up a little!  I can't believe it!  His 6th and 7th teeth are coming in.  And he's got the sweetest little personality.  What a joy and blessing he is.
So that's us in a nutshell.  Life is good.  We are blessed.
Blessings to you~Stacey

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Yummy loaded baked potato soup

This is a bean pot.  I had honestly never heard of one before a few years ago.  Then a few months ago a sweet friend of mine got one for me...and I have been using it quite often ever since!  The great thing about them is that it basically acts like a crockpot, but cooks your food faster.  It'll also keep it hot for a few hours and you can put it in the microwave or dishwasher.  If you put something cold in it, like some kind of salad or dessert, it'll keep it cool for a few hours after taking it out of the fridge.  Pretty nifty!  I copied down a few of my friend's bean pot recipes and tonight I had the opportunity to try a new one.  I just had to share it because it turned out so good!  Now, I know that many of you may not have a bean pot, but I would think that it could easily be adapted to a crock pot or stove top.  I'm going to keep it in the bean pot format, so you will have to adjust it accordingly.

Baked Potato Soup
6 potatoes, cut in 1/2 in cubes (I peeled mine, but if you like skin you could keep it on)
1 large onion, chopped
3 14oz cans chicken broth with roasted garlic (honestly, I couldn't find any with roasted garlic, so I got the plain kind and chopped up one large clove of garlic and put it worked fine)
1/4 cup butter (1/2 stick)
2 1/2 tsp salt
1 1/4 tsp pepper
1 cup whipping cream or half and half
1 cup sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
3 Tbsp fresh chives, chopped
1 8oz container of sour cream

Combine first 6 ingredients in bean pot.  Cover and bake @ 325 degrees for 2 hours, or until potatoes are tender.  Mash mixture until coarsly chopped and soup is slightly thickened.  Stir in cream, cheese, and chives.  Before serving, top with sour cream, cheddar cheese, and bacon.

Yum!  I hope you enjoy it.  I've been trying to take soy out of my diet...and I don't think this is soy free.  But, I feel like I've made some good changes so far!  More on that another time, but until then I hope this keeps you warm and full!