7.14.2014

A Few of My Favorite Things

Normally, when I go shopping--especially when I go grocery shopping--I'm all about looking for the best price. How much does each item cost per ounce? Of course, I know better than to just buy the cheapest white bread or spaghetti sauce I can find (plus, I find myself making my own more often than not!). But there are times when you really do have to pull out a few extra pennies to get the higher quality items. Here are a few of my more recent favorites:

Raw and Unfiltered Honey


You can find this at Walmart or even on Amazon. Now, I am not a huge health nut, but I also don't like that honey is marketed as "good for you", but then we are sold a version of it that has many of the benefits removed. Moreover, I truly think that the taste is far better. It is nowhere near as cheap as the generic brands; however, at least this way you are actually getting what you payed for.

Cottage Cheese with Sea Salt


This stuff is AMAZING. I only let myself buy it every other trip to the grocery store because I am afraid that I will become addicted to it. If you don't have AE in your area, I am most sympathetic to your plight. Now, just so you don't think I'm biased, I used to buy the generic kinds and found that I liked our local grocery store's version. I also tried the Simply Kraft cottage cheese, and I thought it was just terrible. I may have been justified, since over a million containers were recently recalled. Not only does my pick taste better, but it has fewer ingredients. Oh, and the best part? "Each 1/2 c. serving is packed with 12 grams of protein, low in fat, calories and carbohydrates and gluten-free."

Mom's Best Natural Cereals


I know people who say that cereal is bad and overprocessed and over-sugared and have completely cut it out of their diets. And, while there are some that are more like milk-drenched candy (sorry, Reese's Puffs), I have completely fallen in love with this brand ever since I found their oatmeal flavors back when I would work early mornings (They have an oatmeal raisin cookie, people!). I only wish that my grocery store sold even more of their varieties--the blueberry pomegranate is my absolute favorite, and it has been sold out the last three times I have gone. Le sigh. They really are an amazing company. "Free of artificial flavors or preservatives. No hydrogenated oils. No high fructose corn syrup." Plus, they are very environmentally conscious and super affordable (Who can afford name-brand Cheerios these days?).

Pure Cane Sugar (minimally processed)


It seems like right now so many people I know are cutting out sugar from their diets and replacing it with sweeteners such as pure maple syrup, honey, and agave nectar. I was really excited when I stumbled upon Zulka Morena pure cane sugar--and super excited to find that it is only fractionally more expensive than most refined sugars. For me, this is a happy medium, as this is not an issue in our household, but, as with the honey, I would like the product to be closer to how it was meant to be.

All of this talk probably makes us sound like a super "crunchy" family--far from it! I am, however, trying to be smarter in my choices and find us products that help our family to eat delicious foods and provide the fuel our bodies need. 

Do you have any favorite finds you've stumbled upon recently?

7.06.2014

Recipe Ready: All-American Berry Pie


How lucky are you that you get another food post?

This weekend we celebrated Independence Day with family, a parade, and lots of food. I had found this no-bake sour cream berry pie on the Country Cleaver blog, and, after trying it once, I thought that all it needed were some tasty blueberries to make this the perfect red-white-and-blue addition to our Fourth!



This recipe is completely not my own (except the blueberries and the crust), but it is completely delicious; therefore, I would be a terrible, terrible person if I did not share this with you.

Ingredients

For the graham cracker crust:
1 sleeve of Graham Crackers (equal to about 1 1/2 cups, crushed)
6 tbsp Butter, melted
1/4 -1/3 cup Sugar (depending on taste)
1/2 tsp Cinnamon
For the filling:
3 cups Strawberries, hulled and quartered
1 cup Raspberries, rinsed and dried
1 cup Blueberries, rinsed and dried
1 cup Sour Cream
1 8oz. package Cream Cheese, softened
1/2 tsp Vanilla
1/4 cup Sugar
1 tsp Orange Zest
1/4 cup Orange Marmalade, warmed

Directions

Combine graham crackers, sugar, cinnamon, and melted butter in a food processor and pulse until well combined. Alternatively, using a rolling pin, crush crackers in a Ziploc bag. In a small bowl, combine cracker crumbs, sugar, and cinnamon. Add melted butter and mix until well combined. Press the graham cracker mixture into a pie pan, making sure the bottom and sides are evenly covered. Chill in the refrigerator for at least one hour.
With a mixer, whisk together sour cream and cream cheese until smooth. Add in sugar, vanilla and orange zest. Pour into the pie crust. Top the mixture with the berries. Place pie in the fridge until ready to eat, at least two hours, or, better yet, overnight.
When ready to serve, warm marmalade in a small dish in the microwave and brush or drizzle over the top of the berries for a tart kick. Slice and serve.
What a wonderfully patriotic dish (And if you still need a little chocolate in your weekend, why not round it out with these gooey Skillet S'mores?). I hope you all had a wonderful weekend celebrating our hard-fought freedoms in this amazing, albeit a little crazy, country that we live in!

The youngest and oldest members of our family gathering this weekend. Heart-melter. :)
So thankful for our own veteran!

P.S. Notice the uncle-and-nephew photobomb combination in the back there? ;)

6.30.2014

Recipe Ready: Lasagna Roll-Ups

I thought I'd take a break from all the mom-oriented posts I've had and let you in on what was for dinner tonight. I have been loving trying some new recipes lately, like these ultimate double chocolate brownies, this chicken pot pie crumble, and these amazing shredded beef enchiladas. On Mondays, we have gotten into a habit of having pasta because the weekend (which should be relaxing) with all its craziness has hampered my brain way too much to be able to really think about making dinner.

Tonight, I thought I would switch it up by trying out these little guys:


Originally entitled "Pepperoni Pizza Lasagna Rolls," I thought I could improve on them a little bit. As written, the recipe is supposed to make the tomatoes and the cheese stand out and be more reminiscent of a pizza. But I love meals that have everything I need right in them--and I love traditional lasagna--so I wanted to get some vegetables in there and really make the sauce shine.

Because I have small children, there was no way I was going to be able to take pictures of the process (because I was running back and forth from room to room) or of the finished product (because when they are hungry, they get hangry). But that's okay because it's straightforward, if not a little time consuming. The ingredients in italics are my additions or substitutions.

Lasagna Roll-ups

INGREDIENTS:

For the Sauce:

  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 of a medium yellow onion, finely diced 
  • 1/2 of a large red bell pepper, diced
  • 2 small zucchini, chopped
  • 28 ounce can diced tomatoes
  • 8 ounces tomato sauce, Italian style
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar
  • pinch of red pepper flakes
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/2 lb. ground beef, browned and crumbled

For the Lasagna Rolls

  • 10 traditional lasagna noodles, cooked, drained and rinsed with cold water
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 15 ounces part-skim ricotta cheese
  • 8 ounce block of mozzarella cheese, shredded
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 3 ounces sliced pepperoni (50-60 slices)

DIRECTIONS:

For the Sauce:

  1. In a large pan over medium-low heat, heat the butter and olive oil until the butter is melted. Add the onion and red bell pepper and saute until tender, about five minutes. Add in the zucchini and garlic and saute until zucchini is browned. Stir in tomatoes, tomato sauce, basil, oregano, sugar, and red pepper flakes. Bring the sauce to a boil and then reduce heat to low. Place a cover on the pan, tilted slightly to let some steam out.
  2. Simmer for 15 minutes. Cool slightly. With an immersion blender, CAREFULLY blend until sauce has desired texture. If you like it really smooth you can also throw it in a blender or food processor. Add the ground beef and set aside (store in fridge unless using immediately). 
For the Lasagna Rolls:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Cook noodles according to directions on package -- once cooked, drain and rinse with cold water and lay out on sheets of wax paper so they don’t stick together.
  2. Spray a baking dish with nonstick cooking spray and spread 1/2 - 1 cup of sauce into the bottom of the pan. Set aside.
  3. Meanwhile, prepare filling in a large bowl by mixing beaten egg, ricotta cheese, 1 cup mozzarella,  Parmesan cheese, parsley and pepper until well combined.
  4. To prepare lasagna rolls, lay out one lasagna noodle and spread it with about 2 tablespoons of cheese filling. Lay out 5-6 pepperoni on top of cheese filling. Roll up each noodle starting at one of the short ends. Place in prepared baking dish, seam side down. Repeat until all noodles have been filed and rolled. If you have any filling leftover, spoon it out onto each lasagna roll. Pour remaining sauce over the rolls and top with the remaining shredded cheese.
  5. Cover baking dish with foil and bake for 45-50 minutes (remove foil for last 10-15 minutes) or until hot and cheese is melted. Let stand about 10 minutes prior to serving.
Note: May be prepared in advance and baked the next day.
We served ours with crusty garlic bread, and it was, as my two-year-old would say, "de-WISH-us!" The zucchini really brightened up the dish and became the star of the show. *Side Note* I don't know what it is about sauces, but my toddler just eats around the chunks, and I really can't blame him--I didn't eat salsa for years because of that very same thing. Pureeing the sauce allowed him to eat all his veggies without even knowing it. ;)

So, if you're looking for something new for pasta night, this might be right up your alley. 
YUM.

6.13.2014

We're Both Mothers


It's been exactly one month since I blogged. I get stuck sometimes when I have a post in my head but my 
mind is just all over the place and I can't get any cohesive thoughts down. Yesterday, I stumbled across this blogger's post, "A Letter from a Working Mother to a Stay-At-Home Mother, and vice versa," and it really resonated with what I have been thinking about.

I have been a "SAHM" for over six months. One of my friends told me that it took her about six months to adjust to having two kids; well, I think it has taken me seven months to adjust to having two kids and being home with them all of the time. At around two months, we started venturing out into the world on our own (sans hubby) and we fell into a rhythm around that time, too. But it is only recently that I was able to stop focusing on just taking care of everyone else and start taking care of me. I am slowly learning that I cannot be the mom that I need to be if I am not spiritually, mentally, and physically prepared to lead them and guide them as challenges arise.
[Stay-At-Home-Mom], I know that you are misunderstood by so many who do not appreciate the difficulties of caring for small children on your own, all day, and refer to you as joining the “latte set”. They imagine you spend your day sipping coffee while your children play quietly. I know you miss your financial independence. I know you feel amused and sometimes annoyed when others proclaim “TGIF!” because to you every day is the same – there is no Friday, no break from your job. I know that many people do not understand that you work – you simply work an unpaid job at home.

But before I became a stay-at-home mom, I had the experience of leaving my baby behind as I went to work at my full-time job. We were blessed to not have to put Kieran in day care, but for about a year and a half, we took turns watching him and shuttling him between family and friends.
[Working Mom], I know you weigh up every job to see if it will suit your family. I know you wake up an hour before everyone else does, just so you can get some exercise done or some quiet time. I know that you have attended meetings after being up all night with your toddler. I know that when you come home in the evening, your “second shift” begins. The nay-sayers don’t understand that you run a household AND hold a job. You come home, cook dinner, bathe your children and read them stories. You tuck them in and kiss them goodnight. You pay the bills, do the grocery shopping, the laundry, the dishes, just like every other mother does. 
These choices are rarely easy. I am so glad that I have lived at both ends of this spectrum because I respect both of these groups of women immensely. I used to be jealous of my SAHM friends, and now I sometimes find myself envious of my working mom friends. Yes, the grass is always greener on the other side, isn't it? Rather than focusing on the one "right way" moms should be raising children, we should be supporting each other and helping moms to make the decisions that are best for their families.

Before venturing into this unknown territory, I had no idea that being a stay-at-home parent oftentimes means being a single parent. I make so many moment-by-moment decisions concerning the discipline, safety, and education of my children without my husband. And even though I know we are a team, it can sometimes feel more like a battle where I am catching all the heavy fire. ...Yet, I also get the most hugs, the most kisses, and the most grins and belly laughs. I often hear the first new word, see the first new skill, and see the expressions of joy at trying something for the first time.

Being a stay-at-home mom isn't always easy.
SAHM, I don’t know how you do it. I admire your infinite patience, your ability to face each day cheerfully and bring joy into your children’s lives even when they wear you down. I admire your dedication to being a constant presence in your children’s lives even if it isn’t always easy. I admire the way you work without expecting any reward – no promotions, no fame, no salary. I know you want your children to feel important and loved, and SAHM, you do this the best. 
Being a working mom isn't always easy.
[Working Mom], I know that sometimes you feel guilty about not being there all the time. But WM, I know this. You are setting a wonderful example to your children. You are showing them that a woman can have a career, contribute in some way outside the home, and still be a loving mother. You are showing your daughters that they can do anything they want to do in life. You are displaying strength, endurance, dedication, tenacity, and you do it with so much joy and love.
But we're both mothers.

Direct your children onto the right path, and when they are older, they will not leave it.

5.12.2014

Not Quite Picture Perfect


Sometimes all you want is for a day to go how you had planned it. This picture is from Easter, when we were trying to get one good family photo. As you can see, Kieran is always so hyped up after church.

We actually had a really good Easter. Mother's Day, however, did not go how I had planned. Saturday, I started letting Elias cry it out at nap times and when he wakes in the middle of the night (he had a really bad cold for awhile, so he had gotten used to being held or rocked to sleep). So, I've been a little tired and stressed. Sunday morning found me getting myself and two kids ready for church after we had all "slept in" because we were out late the night before and, you know, the whole crying-it-out thing--all this by myself because Jordan was sick. At family dinner, I dropped Kieran's whole plate of food onto the carpet and he decided that he wasn't hungry and wouldn't eat lunch.

Let's just say that the day went downhill from there.

Now, I'm not saying that the entire day was a bust because there were definitely some good moments. But it just wasn't the day I was hoping for. ...And what I am realizing is that picture perfect days are few and far between. 

And I need to let go of them.

Life never goes as planned, and that's the beauty of it, I think--to relax and let go and be in the moment instead of planning the moment. To accept that husbands will get sick, messes will be made, children will cry, and patience will be tested. But to know that, at the end of the day, when the beds in your home are full of the people you hold most dear, your heart will be overflowing with love for them and with gratitude for the grace and mercy God gives for each new day. So, you will pick up the toys and books and pray for your children. You will scrub the pots and pans and pray for your husband. You will remember that God has made you for this mess and for them and for all of these moments. 

Because that's what they are:  moments. In the blink of an eye, we will be planning graduations and weddings and the baby showers of our grandchildren. And so we should soak in every minute.

There will be moments of pure sweetness.



And there will be moments of not-so-sweetness.


There will be moments of silliness...

Kieran wearing a Bumbo on his head
...and moments of undeniable cuteness.


Eventually, we were able to get a decent photo of our family. It wasn't perfect. There weren't four smiling faces looking into the camera. No one is going to ask to put our family picture into their magazine. But it is our family. And we are living those days out moment by moment, learning to love and to make the most of the not-so-picture-perfect life we have.