Monday, January 15, 2018

Our Little Theologian, and the Interesting Football Game

Sunday is my favorite day of the week. I love getting together with our church family and intentionally taking a day of rest. I did not used to view it as a day of rest, necessarily. I used to view it as another day to get stuff done; another day for laundry, cleaning, finishing up what didn't get done the previous week. However, I was in conversation with a strong Christian friend who once said that he did the same thing, but then learned that it was best to take the day of rest as directed by God in the Bible, good for his family and himself. God designed a day of rest for a very good reason. If we don't, or won't, take it, we are going to get burned out.

This doesn't mean I do nothing on Sundays. Sundays are still days where we do work, it is impossible not to. But, it is a day where I intentionally allow for greater rest for myself and the girls. I may do some loads of laundry, but I don't make it a goal to finish it in a day. I make effort to read more, rest more, play with the girls more. We start out Sundays without TV (always), having a later breakfast, getting to church, and enjoying time with our church family. Then, almost every week, we get bagels from Einstein bagels. Sophia changes her mind on the type, often cinnamon sugar or chocolate chip, yesterday she wanted asiago cheese, and Heidi always gets cinnamon sugar.

I digress.

Yesterday morning was Sunday. We gathered with our church body; I enjoyed Chris' teaching during Sunday School (currently he is teaching a class on discipleship). After Sunday School I went to collect Heidi from her class and Sophia from hers. Brenda, who teaches Sophia's class, told me that Sophia was a little theologian. How so? Well, Brenda asked the class (I believe it is k-3) how we can be reminded of God when we see the snow. She was expecting someone to say "well, God made the snow" which would be accurate, but she was going to expand on it. Sophia said, "when Jesus died on the cross, his blood washed us as white as the snow." When she told me that story I was choking back tears. Sophia's understanding of the gospel surpasses that of many adults, and she has the beautiful, innocent faith of a child. It warms my heart. I pray that she will never lose the faith and understanding, and will only grow in knowledge and wisdom. I pray that Chris and I can lead her well in God's truths. She truly is a tender spirit and a joy to be around.

Yesterday was also a big day for pretty much all of Minnesota. I haven't watched a Vikings football game (or, any football game outside of the Superbowl) for the past couple of years/seasons. We've just been so involved with watching Arsenal and I really can't keep track of two sports and leagues. Just too much to do for that. So, football has taken a back-burner for me as far as importance. I still like the game and will watch it, but it hasn't been a priority.

I decided that I wanted to watch this particular playoff game because it is exciting to watch the Vikings go this far, especially with the Superbowl hosted in the new stadium in Minnesota this year. At half-time, the game was 17-0 with the Vikings in the lead, so I sat and read my book and watched the game in the background.

As the second half started, the Saints suddenly decided to answer the Vikings and before we could say "hot dish" the Saints were suddenly in the lead, and all we had managed to wrangle up was a field goal with a score of 20-21, Vikings losing. My "Debbie Downer" self said, "Yes. This is Minnesota sports. Only the Vikings could mess up that lead." But I continued to watch the game, perhaps a glutton for punishment. We got a field goal, making it 23-21...but then gave the Saints free reign of the field to come back with their own field goal, 23-24, winning by one point with 25 seconds left in the game and the Vikings had only one timeout. Nothing short of a miracle could save the game (and, per an ESPN analyst, there was only a 2.6% chance of the Vikings winning when they went into the last play, with 10 seconds left in the game, no timeouts, 3rd down with 10 yards to go).

A miracle is what they got. Case Keenum, QB, threw a beautiful pass, caught on the tips of Stefon Diggs' fingers, and he ran it all the way in for a touchdown, crossing the line as the clock went down to 0 seconds. I cheered so much my throat was sore. Truly, a miracle of a game. Even more fun was the end of the game; when interviewing Case Keenum he said, "It's probably going to go down as the third best moment of my life. The moment I gave my life to Jesus Christ, the moment I married my wife, and this one..." That was cool. I do not remember seeing a game moment quite that exciting before. I do have some good memories of games, but I am glad we turned that one on. Now, hopefully two more Vikings games this season: NFC championship game against the Eagles and then the Superbowl in Minnesota!
This girl. Loves taking her shirt off her arm...just one arm though. And is learning to eat a Popsicle. 

Katie and the No Good Very Bad Day

Do you ever empathize with Alexander?

That is not one of my favorite children's books to read. I know it's a classic and you will probably tell me all about how I am crazy and should love it and it's great children's literature. It's just not my favorite. But, sometimes you can really relate to him.

This morning was one of those rough start mornings. I was probably seeing through some dark-colored glasses anyway because we got some bad news about our house the day before (more on that much later; not something appropriate to blog about right now). Then, in the morning on my way out of the driveway, I knocked down a trashcan and had to pick it up. Once I got completely out of the driveway and picked up the trashcan, Sophia reminded me that I left their snow pants inside (and since it snowed 3-4 inches yesterday, they'll want those for after school). I trudged back into the house to get the snow pants, and while inside I fell all the way down the stairs to the bottom, injuring what felt like my whole body but now that I've recovered just my neck and a finger on my left hand seem to have been affected. Once I made it back up the stairs, got the snow pants, and into the car, we took off. However, the streets had not been taken care of on our block, and since it was a -25 windchill outside the roads were very icy and I lost complete control, spinning my vehicle completely around. Praise God there was not anybody else coming and I didn't not put my kids in danger. Then, a little bit more salt in the wound, I was late to work.

The biggest challenge for me in these situations is to not take it out on people who do not deserve it. I feel myself irritated that I was asked to go get snow pants, because "it made me fall down the stairs." No, wet boots and trying to go fast made me fall down the stairs. And I chose to go get their snow pants. I have no right to be angry. The girls were in a great mood (laughing, etc.) after I lost control of the car because they though tit was great fun, and I just sat and silently prayed to myself, then prayed out loud (something we do every morning when I am driving them to Sherri's house) and worked really hard to keep some self-control. God blessed me this morning with a patience outside of myself, but I was definitely finding myself in Alexander's shoes.

 The next day, I have sore arms, bruises, and general all-over achiness from falling down the stairs. You know you are getting old when... ;)



Saturday, January 13, 2018

Veganuary Dessert Edition Part III - Coconut Bars

This is one of my favorite dessert recipes, vegan or not. I adore it. How can you go wrong when 3 out of the 5 ingredients are coconut???

I got this recipe from this blog. Make it. Eat it. You won't regret it.

Ingredients:
3/4 c (plus 2 TBSP) coconut oil
1/4 c coconut butter (this can usually be found at Whole Foods, or a large organic store; it is not common. I bought mine on Amazon)
2 tsp. vanilla extract
2 c finely shredded coconut (I use sweetened coconut, and don’t add additional sweeteners)
1/2 c dark chocolate chips (Ghirardelli brand often has a dairy-free option)
1 TBSP maple syrup (or sugar, honey) if you desire additional sweetness (I find that I don't need to add this) 

Directions:

Line an 8x8 baking dish with parchment paper (or, you can spray with a nonstick spray). In a saucepan, combine coconut oil and coconut butter over medium heat until melted. Remove from heat, and stir in vanilla. Once combined, stir in coconut and combine.  Press the coconut into the 8x8 pan and refrigerate to cool (at least one hour).

When ready to top the coconut, melt the chocolate in a double boiler with the 2 TBSP coconut oil. (Or you can slowly microwave and stir at 15 second intervals until melted together). Remove the bowl from heat once melted together and pour over the coconut, tipping the pan to evenly spread the chocolate.

Refrigerate for several hours again before cutting with a sharp knife. Enjoy!

Veganuary Dessert Edition Part II - Mug Cakes

I have a sweet tooth that at times seems insatiable. Ok, insatiable is a strong word, because eating these desserts does satisfy it. But it's nice to have easy desserts, that are simple to make, and very delicious.

First, the easy, one person dessert. Vegan mug cake. I found that I much preferred the vegan version, actually, because mug cake often has egg in it and it is way too much egg for the size of the mug and it gets a weird flavor when you microwave it. I recently heard a good idea from a friend who will open a box cake, take out a couple tablespoons, mix in some water and microwave it. That's the easy version. (Not vegan-friendly though, probably).

So, here is your vegan mug cake alternative. Adapted from here.

Ingredients:

3 TBSP flour
2 TBSP peanut butter
2-3 TBSP non-dairy milk of your choice (soy, almond, coconut)
1 TBSP pure maple syrup (depending on your thoughts and opinions on sweeteners, you could also use beet sugar, regular granulated sugar, or honey; though I know honey and granulated sugar are not always considered vegan)
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp vanilla extract
If desired, chocolate chips or peanuts for topping (Ghirardelli has a semi-sweet chocolate chip without dairy that is often easy to find at a local grocery store)

Directions:

Mix all ingredients except for chocolate chips/peanuts in a microwave-safe mug. The cake will rise, so leave a little room for that. Combine until it is the texture of a cake batter. Microwave on high for 60 seconds, and then in 15 second intervals after that, checking after each interval to see if it is done. When it is done, it has the spongy consistency of cake. Top with chocolate chips or peanuts, and enjoy!



Thursday, January 11, 2018

Week 3: Slow Cooker Butter Chickpeas

Another completely and entirely new recipe, the third one for this week. Also another crockpot one, but slightly more work than a traditional crockpot recipe. This is adapted from Delish Knowledge.

Ingredients:
  1. 1 package extra firm tofu, drained and pressed
  2. 1 TBSP olive oil
  3. 1 medium onion, diced
  4. 4 cloves garlic, minced
  5. 1 can coconut milk
  6. 1 8 oz can tomato sauce
  7. 1 TBSP plus 1 tsp garam masala
  8. 1 TBSP plus 1 tsp curry powder
  9. 2 tsp chili powder
  10. Pinch salt
  11. Pinch pepper
  12. 1-2 tsp fresh grated ginger
  13. 1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  14. Small handful cilantro, chopped
  15. 1 c basmati rice, cooked in 2 c water (for serving)
  16. Naan (for serving)
 Directions:

Heat olive oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Add onion, and cook until onion is translucent. Add garlic and stir to combine. Whisk in coconut milk, tomato sauce, spices, and ginger. Cook until slightly thick, about 5 minutes.

While the sauce is cooking, cube the tofu. Place tofu and chickpeas in the bottom of a slow cooker. Pour sauce over. Cook high 2-3 hours or low 5-6 hours. Stir in cilantro right before serving.

Serve with rice and naan.

Week 3: Black Bean Burgers

This is a recipe that I have taken and combined from other recipes. Historically when I have made black bean burgers I have used an egg; I do not know how well these will hold together without an egg in them, so it's a bit of a new thing for me. However, I love the flavor of black bean burgers and am excited about these. If you are doing store bought ones, you can skip this recipe entirely, just cook them according to the packaging and add what you like for toppings. I am going to try something different and do sweet potato chips with these, the recipes for those will be below as well.

Ingredients:
  1. 1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
  2. 1/2 onion, diced small
  3. 2 garlic cloves, minced
  4. 1 tsp cumin
  5. 1 tsp paprika 
  6. 1/2 tsp salt
  7. 1/4 tsp pepper
  8. 1/4 c breadcrumbs
  9. 1 TBSP cornstarch, dissolved in 1-2 TBSP water
  10. 1-2 TBSP olive oil
Toppings:
  1. Sliced tomato
  2. Lettuce
  3. Sliced onion
  4. Sliced avocado
  5. Sweet potato chips (recipe below)
Directions: 

Mash black beans in a bowl, or using a food processor. Add onion, garlic, and spices. Combine together. Add breadcrumbs and combine. Add cornstarch and mix thoroughly. Shape into about 4 burgers; place them on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and refrigerate for 20 minutes.

Heat a pan with olive oil over medium heat. Cook burgers 3-5 minutes on each side, serve with toppings.


Baked BBQ Sweet Potato Chips (from She Likes Food)

Ingredients: 

2 long skinny sweet potatoes, sliced thin (1/8 inch)
1-2 TBSP olive oil

Seasoning:
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp onion powder
1 tsp salt
1 tsp chili powder
1 tsp brown sugar
1/2 tsp smoked paprika
1/4 tsp black pepper

Directions: 

Preheat oven to 325. Combine all seasoning ingredients in a bowl. Drizzle sweet potatoes with olive oil and coat with seasoning, tossing to coat evenly.

On a large baking sheet lined with parchment paper, bake for 20-30 minutes, flipping once, until crispy.

Week 3: Potato Curry

Another completely and entirely new recipe to me, taken from here.

Ingredients:
  1. 4 large potatoes, peeled and cubed
  2. 2 TBSP olive oil
  3. 1 onion, diced
  4. 3 cloves garlic, minced
  5. 2 tsp ground cumin
  6. 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper (or to taste)
  7. 4 tsp curry powder
  8. 4 tsp garam masala
  9. 1 tsp grated fresh ginger
  10. 2 tsp salt
  11. 1 can diced tomatoes
  12. 1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  13. 1 1/4 c frozen peas
  14. 1 can coconut milk
  15. 1/2 c chopped cashews
  16. 1 c basmati rice, cooked in 2 c water, for serving
  17. Naan, for serving
Directions:

Put rice and water in a pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer 15-20 minutes, until liquid is absorbed.

Meanwhile, put potatoes in a pot of water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until tender, about 15 minutes. Drain the potatoes and let them rest in a colander for a few minutes.

While potatoes are cooking, heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onion and garlic and saute until onion is translucent, about 5 minutes. Add spices and ginger, cook for two more minutes. Add tomatoes, chickpeas, potatoes, peas, coconut milk, and cashews. Simmer together for 5-10 minutes.

Serve over rice, and with naan.

Week 3: Stuffed Peppers

I love making stuffed peppers. They seem so complicated and fancy, but are perhaps one of the easiest and most flexible meals to make. You can easily change the flavor, make them Mexican or Italian or whatever you are in the mood for.

I am going to stuff these with rice, beans, and corn. But you can do as you like with them!

Ingredients:
1 TBSP oil
1 c white rice
1 oz can tomato sauce
1 onion, diced
2 c water
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp oregano
1/2 tsp chili powder
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 can (or 1 1/2 c) frozen corn
4 bell peppers, tops cut off and seeds removed
Salsa, for topping

Directions:

For the rice:

Heat oil in a pan over medium-high heat. Add rice to pan, and saute for 5 minutes or so. Add onions, saute until translucent. Add tomato, water, herbs and spices (alternately, you can throw in a packet of taco seasoning). Bring to a boil, then reduce to simmer until water is absorbed.

While rice is cooking, take bell peppers and place them in a large saucepan and cover with water. Bring to a boil and simmer 3-5 minutes until peppers are slightly soft. Remove from pan and drain upside down while rice continues to cook. 

Preheat oven to 350. 
Combine rice with corn and black beans. Stuff peppers with mixture, and bake at 350 for 30-35 minutes. Serve warm, topped with salsa.

Week 3: Butternut Squash Soup

This has become a favorite of mine. I've been making it for a couple of years now. A friend of mine found it on Pinterest and gave me some to take to work one morning; I don't think I would have tried it otherwise because TBH squash soup does not sound appealing to me. But, this recipe really is fantastic and so easy to make.

Adapted from here

Ingredients:

1 butternut squash, peeled, seeds removed, cubed
1 apple, cored, cubed (leave skin on)
1-2 carrots, chopped
1 white onion, chopped
2 cloves minced garlic
2-3 c vegetable broth
1 tsp sage (or 1 sprig fresh sage)
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
1/8 tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1 can coconut milk

Directions:

Combine all ingredients except for coconut milk in a slow cooker. Cook on high 3-4 hours, or low 6-7 hours.

Once cooking is completed, If you used fresh sage, remove the sprig. Add the coconut milk. Using an immersion blender (or you can transfer in batches to a regular blender), puree the soup until it is smooth. Add extra cayenne if you want more of a kick. Serve with bread.

Week 3: Avocado Black Bean Quesadillas

Ok, there are a lot of different options here for making this vegan. I'll list them all out below and you can do what you wish. Because there is no cheese, the options are using different substances to hold all the insides together.

Option 1 (easiest):
Use a can of refried beans or guacamole

Option 2 (less easy):
Buy vegan cheese (less easy because this can be harder to find)

Option 3 (hardest):
Make your own vegan cheese-like ingredient. For this, take:
  1. 1 can northern beans, drained and rinsed
  2. 3/4 c diced tomatoes
  3. 1 garlic clove
  4. 1/3 c nutritional yeast (cheesy, nutty flavor to it)
  5. 1 tsp cumin
  6. 1/4 tsp chili powder
  7. 1/2 tsp salt
  8. Dash red pepper flakes
...and combine in a food processor until smooth and creamy. So, you are on your own here for the level of challenge that you want. 

I'll pick up the next part after you choose your bonding agent.

Ingredients:
  1. 8 soft flour tortillas (or however many for your family)
  2. One of the above options
  3. 1 diced tomato
  4. 1 sliced avocado
  5. 1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
  6. 1 can corn, drained and rinsed (or use frozen corn)
  7. Sliced bell pepper
  8. Sliced onion
  9. Sliced jalapeno (optional) 
  10. Salsa (for serving)
  11. Guacamole (for serving)
  12. Lime wedges (for serving)
Directions:

If you have a press you can make it that way, otherwise warm 1 tsp of oil in a skillet over medium heat and place in a tortilla. Add filling and toppings as desired, place another tortilla on top. Flip after 3-5 minutes, cook an additional 3-5 minutes, and cut into wedges and serve.

Week 3: Moroccan Chickpea Stew

This is a completely and entirely new recipe to me. In fact, I think this week, three of the recipes are completely different and new. So, I apologize if it is not great and you end up hating it. Remember that I did not sample it first. Borrowed from here.

It's another slow cooker one! Yay for easy, slow cooker options!

Ingredients:
  1. 1 onion, diced
  2. 3 garlic cloves, minced
  3. 1 butternut squash, peeled, seeds removed, cubed
  4. 1 bell pepper, chopped
  5. 3/4 c red (or not red) lentils
  6. 1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  7. 1 can toamto sauce
  8. 1 tsp grated ginger
  9. 1 tsp turmeric
  10. 1 tsp cumin
  11. 1 tsp smoked paprika
  12. 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  13. 3 c vegetable broth
  14. salt and pepper to taste
Other, for serving:
1 c quinoa, cooked in two cups water prior to serving (or rice if you prefer). (Actually, I ended up serving this over Basmati rice; very good that way).

Directions:

Add all ingredients except for quinoa to slow cooker. Stir to combine. Cook on high 3-4 hours, or low 6-7 hours. Serve over quinoa (rice).

Veganuary, Week 3

How is it going so far? Are you enjoying the recipes?

Here is the list of recipes for Week 3.
  1. January 14: Moroccan chickpea stew
  2. January 15: Avocado black bean quesadillas
  3. January 16: Butternut squash soup
  4. January 17: Stuffed peppers
  5. January 18: Potato curry
  6. January 19: Black bean burgers
  7. January 20: Slow cooker butter chickpeas
This week gets a little more adventurous. There are going to be dishes with different spices, so I may lose you on some of these. If you are still interested in staying vegan, repeat some of the earlier dishes you may have liked, or take the easy route of spaghetti (also, PB&J is vegan).

For the black bean burgers: you can be pre-made black bean burger patties in store, if you want to make it much much easier on yourself. I will provide a recipe as well; I will mark items below as "burger" if they are for the burger recipe so you can avoid them if desired. 

Shopping List:
  1. 7 onions (white or sweet yellow); literally every recipe this week needs these, so just buy a large bag.
  2. 1-2 garlic bulbs
  3. 2 Butternut squash
  4. 6 bell peppers
  5. Fresh ginger
  6. 2 avocados
  7. Guacamole (or, packets, or ingredients to make guacamole) 
  8. Cilantro
  9. Lime
  10. 3 tomatoes
  11. 1 carrot
  12. 1 apple 
  13. 1 jalapeno (optional) 
  14. 4 large potatoes
  15. 1-2 sweet potatoes (optional)
  16. 1 package extra firm tofu
  17. Salsa (or ingredients to make your own)
  18. 16 oz package red lentils (if you have other lentils left over, you don't have to get "red" ones)
  19. 3 15 oz cans chickpeas
  20. 1 15 oz can tomato sauce
  21. 2 8 oz cans tomato sauce 
  22. 1 15 oz can diced tomatoes
  23. Vegetable soup base (or broth)
  24. 16 oz package quinoa 
  25. 1 can refried beans (optional, see quesadilla recipe)
  26. 3 cans black beans
  27. 1 can northern beans (optional, see quesadilla recipe)
  28. Vegan cheese (optional, see quesadilla recipe) 
  29. Nutritional yeast (optional, see quesadilla recipe)
  30. 3 cans coconut milk
  31. 16 oz. package white rice
  32. 1 package burrito-size (large) tortillas 
  33. 1 package frozen corn
  34. 1 package frozen peas
  35. Cashews, optional
  36. Bread crumbs
  37. Tumeric
  38. Cumin
  39. Chili powder
  40. Cayenne pepper
  41. Smoked paprika
  42. Cinnamon 
  43. Nutmeg 
  44. Curry powder
    Garam masala
  45. Taco seasoning 
  46. Red pepper flakes
  47. Sage
  48. 1 package hamburger buns, or, lettuce for lettuce wraps/tortillas for wraps if you prefer (for black bean burgers).
  49. Naan

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Spring Semester Begins

School is back on! 

Sophia and Heidi had their first day back at Classical Conversations yesterday. I missed the group; I wasn't ready for school last week, and in fact, felt as though I was dreading it, but that extra week of rest did wonders. 

I do think some structure was necessary again as well. As nice as it is to have breaks from the routine, the routine also provides a familiar and comforting structure that has its place. 

We are no longer doing our series on the tin whistle; it is time for an artist series, and this week they learned about Grandma Moses. They also did a science experiment discussing molecules (perhaps a little over their head at this time, but we are building those foundations and creating interest). 

Over the weekend the girls had a sleepover with Oma on Friday night, except for Bethany. Bethany  is still in this sleep regression phase. I think it is finally improving, but I also think a big part of the problem is these molars that she is just nursing into place. Finally, one popped through, but the other three first molars have just big swollen, tender red areas in her mouth and are taking a while to get through. I need to have Bethany have a chat with Jane (her cousin) because Jane popped out three in one night. She is starting to get back to sleep through the night again, though. It is not perfect, and she will often stir at some point in the middle of the night, but she does get herself back to sleep most of the time. Yesterday morning she did wake up at 5:00 a.m. and it sounded like there was no end in sight (but you can just tell when they need more sleep and when they can get up). I went into her room and rocked her, and she slept until I had to wake her up to leave for school at 8:30 in the morning. 

Heidi seemed excited to get back to school. Bless her little learning heart, but she was the one who was grabbing her school book over the break and asking to do work from it. I think she missed the routine. And, she has been doing really well at matching letters to sounds and pictures, so that's been fun to see the progress.

Sophia, though, was struggling a bit more from the lack of routine. She has been having some trouble with authority, and has been going through a period of whining and complaining when given instruction. Yesterday it came to a head. First day back at school, weather warm enough (low 40s!) to play outside, first day back doing regular school work, and I think part of it was that she was tired and the other part was that she has been getting away with not having routine. As sinners, we all like our own desires, we all want our own way, and given the choice I think many of us would prefer to just sit and watch TV rather than sit at a table and work on grammar. So, yesterday, she did end up getting disciplined but her attitude was a 180 turn around. She was ready to go, and had changed into the girl that I typically see. Structure can be such a blessing. And so can appropriate discipline (because if we are all speaking honestly, disciplining is hard and parents don't want to do it! Part of the problem was definitely lack of willingness to discipline on my part when I saw problems arising). 

One of her assignments yesterday for math was to observe weather. We are learning about structure in general, like seasons, months, days, weeks, time, etc. So, every day we talk about the day it is on the calendar, and day during the week, and month, and year. Now we are doing more discussion about seasons. There is a spot for her to draw and write an essay, and throughout the year we picked a tree in our yard and we are watching it, writing about it, and taking a picture of her with it to watch the change from season to season. Her first essay and drawing are down below. Here is what her writing says: "i Luv my Tree Bcuz it iz Good to cLiim. It hAs No leevz." Or, "I love my tree because it is good to climb. It has no leaves." I did not provide spelling help for her but I wanted her to think through the spelling on her own. I must say I was impressed.  She has recently learned about long vowels, and that when a vowel has a long sound there is usually a second vowel that is silent (e.g. bait, came, mine). So, with the word climb, she wrote "cliim" because it is a long 'i' sound. I just loved her logic. I was also impressed that, even though there was a variety of uppercase and lowercase letters spread throughout, she intentionally started her second sentence with an uppercase letter. Well done, Sophia!  I am excited to watch how the essays change and improve over the year. 

Sherri captured this picture of Bethany's beautiful eyelashes
Finally they are friends
Dinner (Dessert!) with Oma
Yum!
and also pizza!
and mac and cheese!
"Hello?"
Help! Get me off!!!
Elli's 8th Birthday
Cupcake pajamas...
...that match each other!
Indoor park time!
Love these beauties
Precious smile
More precious smiles
Getting away with Sarah's purse
Our winter tree!
Sophia's first essay

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Veganuary - Dessert Edition

So, in part because I have a massive sweet tooth and perhaps in part to show that being vegan does not mean chewing on lettuce all day, I made a couple of desserts as well. I am not going to post the entire recipes here but I'll add the links.

The banana bread recipe is from Oh She Glows and can be found here. I (as you can tell) added pecans on top (I did not have walnuts). I did need to add more flour, and bake for closer to just over an hour, but otherwise I followed the recipe.

The vegan donuts are from The Feed Feed and can be found here. They were delicious. The effect is not hard to achieve but don't over-mix the frosting. It is hard to tell from the picture but the blue swirl really was quite lovely. Not as lovely as their pictures, but, you know, I'll take it.

Enjoy your vegan-ing!

Friday, January 5, 2018

Baby, It's Cold Outside

Normally we get out severe cold somewhere around mid-January. This year, though, it hit early. And I know it's always cold in Minnesota, and I know I've gone through this every year for almost a decade now, but for some reason the cold just seems to get worse and worse.
 
Yesterday, my heated blanket arrived and I wanted to do nothing more than sit wrapped up in it all day long. I did for about an hour or so, but it was a pleasant and warm hour.
 
The girls are a bit stir-crazy from being stuck inside. It is just too cold to play outside for much longer than half an hour. This morning when I dropped the girls off it was -22 windchill! And as of my writing this statement it's -23 windchill! It's getting colder as the morning goes on!
 
Makes you wonder why people would bother homesteading here way back when. After a winter like this, if I survived without gas and electricity in the first place, I would head south until I ran into people who didn't know what snow was.
 
Bethany is still going through a sleep regression phase. I thought we were over it because she had several nights of nice long sleeps in a row, but the last two nights have proven that wrong. She woke up around 11 p.m. last night. I gave in and rocked her back to sleep, but she woke up again and wouldn't sleep until Chris took her downstairs and let her sleep on his chest on the couch. For whatever reason, she won't sleep if she is on our bed - she feels like it's playtime or something and gets antsy.
 
I'm exhausted.
 
It is amazing how quickly you forget what it is like to be up in the night all the time; and how much you miss a full night of sleep.
 
The lack of sleep does not deter Bethany from her usual activity, though. We have the three giant teddy bears downstairs in the basement and she loves to dive into them and play hide-and-seek - you can see her hiding in the bears in the pictures below.
 
Bethany asked for her toes to be painted, for the first time, and actually held still for it to happen. While I was painting Bethany's toes, Heidi was painting her own fingers. She didn't do half bad; there were some fingers with nail polish all over the place but she also did do pretty well.
 
We are doing a vegan menu this month (if you haven't seen the grocery lists and tons of recipes posted) and so far it has gone pretty well with the girls. Last night we had the "Winter Bliss Bowls," with spinach, roasted veggies, cabbage, and falafel. The girls loved most of it; Sophia wouldn't eat the cauliflower ("I don't like cauliflower when it has black stuff on it. Or when it doesn't." ...which I think means she just doesn't like cauliflower) but they otherwise ate everything else. Heidi and Bethany are probably having the easiest time with it, since they both seem to be more veggie-lovers anyway. As an aside, shallow pan-friend falafel? Delicious. Even if you aren't vegan or eating vegan, make some and try it.
 
Last night at dinner I was really impressed with Sophia's storytelling capabilities. The other day, Chris had a movie on the TV called "The Gospel of John." The movie is from 2003 and it uses a Bible translation for the entire script, put together with acting. Sophia was absolutely enthralled by it, watching it so intently (in Chris' words, she was watching it more closely than she watches "Spirit: Riding Free"). (She told us, "I was watching it because I wanted to learn more about Jesus.") What was really amazing is she was recounting the story of Jesus from that film at dinner last night. She was giving very specific details, talking about Christ's miracles and his death and resurrection; it was incredible the amount of detail should could recall and relate to us. Children can be so under-estimated; what they are capable of from such a young age is truly amazing. Sophia has a wonderful capacity to learn people and events, her memory is amazing. And she is drawn to the life of Jesus, which just about brings me to tears.
 
We are supposed to get weather almost up to 30 degrees this week, which is 40 degrees (actual temp! 50 degrees if you count windchill) warmer than it is right now. I find myself excited for temperatures that are still below freezing. Give me a home in Tucson, where Christmas d├ęcor is a Santa hat on a saguaro.
 
I am going to buy lots of firewood this weekend, an entire cord. It'll be the first time we've bought such a large amount, and I am so looking forward to warm, toasty fires.
 
 

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Week 2: Teriyaki Tofu and Broccoli

This is adopted from here, so feel free to check out the original. One thing she does discuss is the importance of draining/pressing the tofu so that it doesn't have a soggy or spongy taste to it. An easy way to do this is cube the tofu, place it on a cutting board lined with paper towels on bottom and top, and place a cast iron skillet on top of it, for 30 minutes or so, to make sure it's really pressed out. If you don't have time for this, just recognize that your tofu may be less crispy.

This is the first meal that Chris did on his own as I was driving home from work. It turned out great! 

Ingredients:
  1. 1 block tofu, pressed, cubed
  2. 2 tsp olive oil
  3. 2 tsp soy sauce
  4. 2 tsp cornstarch
  5. 3 c broccoli florets
  6. 2 tsp olive oil 
  7. salt and pepper to taste
Teriyaki Sauce:
  1. 1/3 c soy sauce
  2. 3 TBSP water
  3. 2 TBSP maple syrup
  4. 2 TBSP rice vinegar (apple cider vinegar works as well)
  5. 1 clove garlic, minced
  6. 1 tsp fresh grated ginger
  7. 1 TBSP cornstarch dissolved in 1-2 TBSP water. 
and, Jasmine rice, for serving. (1 c jasmine rice, 2 c water).

Directions:

Preheat oven to 400.

Toss pressed tofu in olive oil, soy sauce, and cornstarch until you do not see any powdery patches or cornstarch left. Arrange in a single layer on rimmed baking sheet, sprayed with cooking spray.
Toss broccoli in olive oil, salt, and pepper until coated. Arrange in single layer on same baking sheet. Bake 20-25 minutes, stirring halfway through, until tofu is crisp and golden.

While the tofu and broccoli are baking, cook rice (bring 1 c rice to a boil in 2 c water, and then simmer until liquid dissolves, stirring occasionally). And, in a small saucepan combine all ingredients for the sauce except for the cornstarch. Whisk together and bring to a boil, then add the combined cornstarch/water. Reduce head to a medium and continue to stir as sauce thickens.

Once the tofu and broccoli are done, put them into a mixing bowl and add the teriyaki sauce. Serve over jasmine rice.



Week 2: Hummus Wraps

This is the easiest, most flexible recipe this week. Do what you want with it!

Ingredients:

  1. Pitas
  2. Hummus
  3. Lettuce, chopped
  4. Tomato, sliced
  5. Avocado, sliced
  6. Cucumber, sliced
  7. Bell pepper, sliced
  8. Olives
  9. Mushrooms, sliced
  10. Onion, sliced
  11. Lemon juice, red wine vinegar, olive oil (for drizzling)

Directions:

Spread a layer of hummus on a pita wrap. Add vegetables desired, drizzle lemon juice, vinegar, and/or olive oil if desired. Enjoy!

Week 2: Slow Cooker Mexican Quinoa

Another fabulously easy crockpot recipe.
Apparently when I planned out the menu for this month I wasn't paying too close of attention to what I was doing when. Hopefully you bought some crockpot liners. I finally wised up and use them for this recipe - yay! This is one of my favorite recipes, and in part it is because of how beautiful it looks when it comes together.

Ingredients:
  1. 1 butternut squash, peeled, seeds removed, cut into cubes
  2. 1 cup frozen corn
  3. 1 can black beans drained, rinsed
  4. 1-2 cloves minced garlic
  5. 1 can diced tomatoes
  6. 1 diced jalapeno (optional)
  7. 1 can red enchilada sauce (or two, if you like a kick) (I used one 28 oz can of mild sauce)
  8. 2 cups vegetable broth
  9. 1 cup uncooked quinoa (I found some lovely tricolor quinoa at Trader Joe's)
  10. 1 package taco seasoning
  11. Optional toppings: lime, vegan sour cream, cilantro
Directions:

Spray crockpot with a nonstick spray (or, use a crockpot liner). Place all ingredients into a crockpot, except the toppings. Cook on low 6-7 hours, or high 3-4 hours. Serve with tortilla chips or optional toppings.

Week 2: Tofu Stir Fry

This is a recipe that I make probably weekly, maybe every other week. It is one of the few recipes that my entire family likes and will eat; even Sophia will eat all of the vegetables. Again, it is a recipe that I kind of eyeball so I have no idea of actual measurements (and, it's probably slightly different each time). Which means it is a flexible recipe; add more or less of what you want in it, and enjoy!

Note: it is recommended to press tofu. There are tofu presses; you can get creative and put the tofu in some cheese cloth or paper towels and put a cutting board or book on it, or, firmly press the block between paper towels in your hands a few times to remove liquid. As noted in the Teriyaki Tofu and Broccoli recipe, you can cube the tofu, and place it on a large plate or cutting board with paper towels above and below it, and place a cast iron skillet on top.

Ingredients:

Sauce:
3/4 c soy sauce
1/2 to 1 c vegetable broth
2-3 TBSP white or apple cider vinegar
2-3 cloves minced garlic
1/4 c packed brown sugar
1/2 to 1 TBSP fresh ginger, ground/minced (I usually use a cheese grater)
2-3 TBSP cornstarch

Other:
1 16-20 oz package frozen stir fry vegetables
1 14 oz package extra firm tofu, drained, pressed, and cubed
1 c jasmine rice
2 c water

Directions:

Combine all ingredients for sauce, mix well. For this step, I usually put everything in a blender bottle and have the kids help me shake it up.

Add jasmine rice and water to a sauce pan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer until water is absorbed.

At the same time, heat 1 TBSP oil in a large pan and add tofu. Saute tofu until sides are browned, and add vegetables to the pan. Cover and cook until vegetables are heated through, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking. Once heated through, add sauce to pan and cook. It will thicken after a few minutes.

Serve over rice. 




Week 2: Vegan Jambalaya

This recipe is adopted from this blog. Feel free to check out and use the original. I was really impressed with the flavor of this dish. I did add a 1-2 tsp salt, probably 1 tsp pepper, and and maybe 1/2 tsp celery salt as well.

Ingredients:

1 onion, diced
2 celery stalks, chopped
4 cloves minced garlic
1 green pepper, diced
1 can crushed tomatoes (14 oz)
4 c vegetable stock
1 tsp oregano
1 tsp thyme
1 tsp smoked paprika
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper (more or less for spicy preferences)
2 bay leaves
2 TBSP Tobasco (more or less to taste)
2 TBSP soy sauce
2 c uncooked brown rice
2 cans beans, drained and rinsed (or, 3 cups of your own variety; I will use chickpeas and kidney beans)
Salt and pepper to taste
Handful fresh parsley (optional garnish)
1 green onion, chopped (optional garnish)

Directions:

Heat 1 TBSP oil in a large pan over medium high heat. Saute onion and garlic together until onions are translucent. Add green pepper and celery; saute another few minutes.

Add tomatoes, vegetable stock, herbs, spices, sauces, and rice to the pan. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat to low. Cover and simmer 30-40 minutes, until liquid is absorbed. Stir in the beans, allow to heat for 5-10 minutes. Add salt and pepper if desired. Serve, adding parsley and green onion on top.

Week 2: Lentil Stew (Fakes) SOAK LENTILS THE NIGHT BEFORE

I am making a variation of a Greek recipe of Fakes. I do not generally follow a recipe when I make this, so I will be estimating what I usually add to make this stew.

It is important that you start soaking the lentils the night before. Add them in a bowl with a couple of inches water covering, and soak overnight.

Ingredients:
  1. 16 ounce package lentils, soaked
  2. 2 TSBP tomato paste
  3. 2-3 bay leaves
  4. 2 carrots, diced
  5. 1 onion, diced
  6. 1 tsp oregano
  7. 1/4 c olive oil
  8. 2 TBSP red wine vinegar
  9. 2-3 garlic cloves, minced
  10. 3-4 c vegetable broth

Directions:
In a crockpot, add all ingredients. Allow to cook on low 6-7 hours, or high 3-4 hours.

Optionally, you can serve with an unsweetened soy yogurt on top, mixed with lemon juice, or a vegan feta cheese. I usually serve with french baguette.

The picture is a picture of it first going into the crockpot. It looks significantly different when finished but we ate it all before I took a picture. Oops.

Week 2: Meatless Chili

I make a nice, lazy, easy chili in a crockpot. I break a lot of rules, too. I know black beans and corn "do not belong" in chili, but I add them anyway because I like the color and flavor. I've added carrots to chili before, too.

So, knowing that, you may prefer to make your own chili, your own way, and completely disregard this post. That would be fair. I'll just provide this as a general guide if you feel you want it for making chili.

In a crockpot, add:
  1. 28 ounce can crushed tomatoes
  2. 1 can diced tomatoes (or diced fresh tomato)
  3. 1 cup frozen corn (or 1 can if you don't have frozen; or no corn if you are a stickler for original chili)
  4. 1 can black beans, rinsed (again, optional; or pinto beans)
  5. 1 can dark red kidney beans, rinsed
  6. 1 can light red kidney beans, rinsed
  7. 1 jalapeno or anaheim pepper, minced
  8. 1 onion, diced
  9. 2-3 garlic cloves, minced
  10. 2-3 TBSP apple cider vinegar
  11. 1/4-1/3 c brown sugar
  12. 3-4 TBSP chili powder (more or less to taste)
If you want a meat substitute, some ideas are to add tofu (pressed, and shredded with your hands into blue-cheese type crumbles) or you can break up vegan sausage (Trader Joe's apparently has a great version of this). 
Cook on low for 5-6 hours, high for 3-4 hours. Serve with tortilla chips, or vegan cheese or sour cream (or if you can find a vegan cornbread recipe, you go for that).

If you are following me this whole week, tomorrow is lentil stew. IT IS IMPORTANT THAT YOU START SOAKING THE LENTILS OVERNIGHT. Put them in a bowl of water now. 

Veganuary, Week 2

Alright. One week down; here are the meals for this week.

January 7: Meatless Chili
January 8: Lentil Stew (Fakes - Greek recipe)
January 9: Vegan Jambalaya
January 10: Tofu Stir Fry
January 11: Slow Cooker Mexican Quinoa
January 12: Hummus Wraps
January 13: Teriyaki Tofu and Broccoli

As with last week, I will make individual posts for each of the meals. The shopping list for this week is posted below. The significant variation will be with the Meatless Chili. I know everyone will have their own chili recipes and preferences... You can make it easy and just leave out the ground turkey/ground beef that you normally use, or you can add tofu as a meat substitute. I personally prefer to just add a few more beans/veggies to the chili. So, add your own chili recipe ingredients to this list. I will have mine in there. You will notice all of the things I am using for chili are marked "chili," that way you can add/change/etc. to your chili recipe preferences.

I think there will be a lot of repeats; likely there is a lot of stuff that you will have in your cupboards already. I am just trying to include everything on the list!

Shopping List:
  1. 3 sweet onions
  2. 1 red onion
  3. Garlic (1-2 bulbs, or pre-minced stuff)
  4. 1 lb. carrots
  5. 1-2 jalapeno, or anaheim pepper (for chili)
  6. 1 celery stalk
  7. 1 green pepper
  8. Green onion
  9. Fresh parsley 
  10. 1 head broccoli
  11. 2 14-oz packages extra firm tofu
  12. Fresh ginger
  13. Lime (optional, topping)
  14. Fresh cilantro (optional, topping)
  15. Tomatoes (1-2)
  16. Cucumber
  17. Avocado 
  18. Mushrooms (if you're into those. I'm not)
  19. Olives (same as above)
  20. Lettuce/Spinach
  21. Butternut squash
  22. 1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes (chili)
  23. 1 14-ounch can crushed tomatoes
  24. 1 small can tomato paste 
  25. 2 can black beans (one is for chili)
  26. 1 can dark red kidney beans (chili)
  27. 1 can light red kidney beans (chili)
  28. 2 can diced tomatoes (one is for chili)
  29. 1 can chickpeas
  30. Chili powder (chili)
  31. 1 16 ounce bag frozen corn
  32. 1 16 ounce bag frozen stir fry vegetables 
  33. Quinoa
  34. 1 can red enchilada sauce (or two, if you prefer spicier dishes)
  35. 1 packet taco seasoning
  36.  Vegetable stock (I use the "better-than-bouillon" seasoning base instead of buying liquid broth, see picture below)
  37. Red wine vinegar
  38. Rice vinegar
  39. Maple syrup
  40. 1 16-ounce package dry lentils
  41. Brown rice (1 lb. bag should be plenty)
  42. Jasmine rice (1 lb. bag should be plenty)
  43. Soy sauce 
  44. Pitas
  45. Hummus (or, ingredients to make your own)
  46. Bay leaves
  47. Oregano
  48. Basil 
  49. Thyme
  50. Paprika
  51. Cayenne pepper 
  52. Cornstarch
  53. Tortilla chips (optional; for chili and for mexican quinoa

I love this stuff. Great for making soups, and it goes a long way

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Goodbye, 2017

The year of our Lord 2017, a year that saw growth and change for our family. My oldest daughter turned 5, started Kindergarten, and is ending the year with a loose tooth (though none lost, yet!). Heidi turned 3, is doing school alongside of Sophia at Classical Conversations, and had dental work done in what was the hardest moment of my parenting to date. Bethany hit multiple major milestones; crawling, walking, talking, signing; and her red hair is starting to get a little bit of length to it. Chris had some active duty time in New Mexico, where he was challenged, encouraged, and enriched as he spent time as a practicing chaplain in the Air Force. He also graduated with his M.Div. from Bethel Seminary, a degree 9 years in the making. I couldn't be more proud of my husband. I finished a book and sent it to literary agents and publishers; we are waiting to break any news on that front; I also added a more formal hat: "teacher," as I have been homeschooling. What a year it has been. 

Chris and I are sitting in our warm, newly remodeled basement. God had plans that were not the same as mine; and after completing a laundry/exercise room and other projects this summer, we started work to fix a flooded basement. I am glad it is complete, and that it was mostly financed because of the flood damage. Our first entire year in our new house. The heater is working well, the fireplace is burning, and there is a pleasant, smoky smell of a wood-burning fireplace, combined with the smell of hot (decaf) coffee and chocolate chip cookies, making for a peaceful and pleasant evening. 

How great the blessings of God are to myself and my family. 

I have been reading in my new Bible this evening, closing out the year with some minor prophets. I have read the book of Haggai probably a dozen times, and have never paid much attention to it. It is usually part of a reading plan, and since it is only two chapters I probably pass right through it on my way to another book. 

Tonight, however, it struck me, and I have spent some time meditating on Haggai 1:2-11, which I will post here for your benefit.  

“Thus says the Lord of hosts: These people say the time has not yet come to rebuild the house of the Lord.” Then the word of the Lord came by the hand of Haggai the prophet, “Is it a time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses, while this house lies in ruins? Now, therefore, thus says the Lord of hosts: Consider your ways. You have sown much, and harvested little. You eat, but you never have enough; you drink, but you never have your fill. You clothe yourselves, but no one is warm. And he who earns wages does so to put them into a bag with holes.
“Thus says the Lord of hosts: Consider your ways. Go up to the hills and bring wood and build the house, that I may take pleasure in it and that I may be glorified, says the Lord. You looked for much, and behold, it came to little. And when you brought it home, I blew it away. Why? declares the Lord of hosts. Because of my house that lies in ruins, while each of you busies himself with his own house. 10 Therefore the heavens above you have withheld the dew, and the earth has withheld its produce. 11 And I have called for a drought on the land and the hills, on the grain, the new wine, the oil, on what the ground brings forth, on man and beast, and on all their labors.”

To paraphrase, you do not have, and you are not satisfied, because you spend all your time focusing on yourself and your selfish desires. What have you done to bring glory to God? How have you honored God? 

There are a lot of things I have forgotten over the years, but there is one thing I know I will not forget from our premarital counseling. We were meeting with Pastor Rob and his wife, Renee, and he told us a story about tithing. He said that one year they were married, they made more than they had ever made. They had almost double what they made some years, but they have never had so much struggle over money as they did in that year, because they failed to tithe. That vignette has rooted itself so deeply in my mind, I think of it often. Whenever I feel like I can't give of myself, my time, my money, or other resources, I think of that story. Whenever I feel tired or drained, or I snap at my kids because I've tired myself out, I think to that story. When I am short, when we are financially strained, when we are "out of time," what of myself have I given? What of our resources have we given? It seems counter-intuitive, to be sure, but God loves a cheerful giver. 

I guess that would be my "goal," my resolution for 2018. I want myself, my family, to give of ourselves to God in a way that we haven't before. I want to connect with those in my church more deeply, and get to know people that I don't know well. I want to spend time with my neighbors, and get to know the people that are living around me. I don't want to keep for myself when I have extra to give. I want to go without so that others can have. 


Thank you for being a reader of my blog and an encourager to myself and my family. I look forward to spending the new year with you (and, perhaps, more time with my parents as they leave Utah and move to Arizona, as my Dad officially retired from the U.S. Forest Service today)! 


Love from, The Pitts Family



Bethany is ...cooking... herself?
Proud of herself as she figured out it was delicious to dip her banana in applesauce
My Illuminated Bible
Hammock fun

They actually sit together in there nicely!

Heidi's photography skills
New Year's Weather (Dec. 30)
Hammock hair
Princess lessons
Walking with a book on her head
Love the book in action here, falling off of her head
My reading list for early 2018
"Mystical Fire" - little packets that make the fire colorful

Heidi loves the blue colors
My sweet baby, still likes to snuggle to nap
Having fun riding "horses"