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 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"

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Black Bean Sweet Potato Bowls

I will make an effort not to add a lot of commentary to food posts, because very few things drive me crazy like a food blog with recipes that are impossible to find. With that said, here's some additional commentary about this dish. I discovered it last year when we were doing some vegan cooking, and I really enjoyed it. I've made it multiple times over the past year, and it is nice for the family too because you can kind of do it Costa Vida style and add what you do or don't want.

2 large sweet potatoes, peeled and diced
2 TBSP olive oil
1 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp smoked paprika
1/2 tsp salt
2 c water
1 c quinoa
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 can corn (or frozen), drained and rinsed
2 sliced peppers (roasted if desired)
1/4 red onion, thinly sliced
jalapeno, sliced (optional)
2 avocado, sliced (one if your kids won't eat it, like mine won't)

Cilantro Dressing:
1/2 c fresh cilantro
1/3 c plain unsweetened soy yogurt (do not use coconut; it overpowers). Alternately you could perhaps use a vegan sour cream or pureed medium-firm tofu.
3 TBSP red wine vinegar
2 TBSP olive oil
1 TBSP honey
1 tsp dijon mustard
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
1/4 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp smoked paprika
1 garlic clove
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 400*. Combine olive oil, cumin, paprika, garlic powder, and salt. Toss sweet potatoes in olive oil seasoning to coat, spread in a single layer on a baking sheet, and bake for 20 minutes.
While baking, add the water to a saucepan and once it is boiling, add quinoa. Cover and boil, then reduce heat and simmer until water is evaporated. Fluff quinoa with a fork.
In a food processor, add ingredients for cilantro dressing and blend until smooth and cilantro is finely chopped.
Assemble bowls as desired, with quinoa, sweet potatoes, beans, pepper, onion, avocado, corn, and drizzle with dressing (and add jalapeno if you aren't from Minnesota).

You'll notice from the picture below I added purple cabbage. I just threw it through the food processor to slice it and put on some fresh lime with salt and pepper. I love the way it looks and tastes, so it was added for fun.

Roasted Chickpea Gyros

1 can chickpeas (15 oz)
1 TBSP olive oil
1 TBSP paprika
1 tsp pepper
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper (or less/more to taste)
1/4 tsp salt
1 c tzatziki sauce (vegan tzatziki recipe below)
1/4 red onion, in strips
Spinach or chopped lettuce
1 tomato, sliced
1 cucumber, sliced

Vegan Tzatziki:
1/2 block medium-firm tofu, drained
2 TBSP olive oil
2 cloves minced garlic
1 TBSP lemon juice
1 tsp apple cider vinegar
1 tsp dried dill (can use fresh)
1/4 tsp salt
1/8 tsp black pepper
1/2 English cucumber, sliced in half, seeds removed

Add all ingredients, except cucumber, into a blender and pulse together. Take the cucumber and grate it into a colander; allow it to drain for 10 minutes before putting it into the blender and pulsing again.

Roasted Chickpea Gyros:

Drain and pat dry chickpeas. Toss them with oil, paprika, black pepper, cayenne pepper, and salt. Spread onto a greased baking sheet, roast at 400* for about 20 minutes until browned (but not hard).

Spread tzatziki onto the pitas, and add chickpeas and veggies per your preferences.

Note: this was our favorite so far (not saying much out of three days). I was pleasantly surprised at the taste of the tzatziki sauce; I was skeptical about using tofu as a base. 

Winter Bliss Bowls

Sorry. Not overly creative here; falafel twice in a week.

You can choose to use a separate lentil falafel recipe (it is linked in the original recipe found below), or the same once form earlier. I'll repost it here. 

This Winter Bliss Bowl is adapted from Pinch of Yum and can be found here

Oven to 480 (if baking)
2 cans chickpeas (drained; or if using not canned, soak the night before in plenty of water)
1/2 chopped red onion
Handful fresh parsley
Handful fresh cilantro
4 garlic cloves
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper (or, to taste)
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 c flour
1 TBSP oil, plus extra oil for frying (if frying) or brushing on (if baking)
Blend all ingredients in a food processor until chopped, except for the flour and oil. Blend until the texture is smooth, but not pureed. Add flour and olive oil and blend once more. Make into patties (maybe half-palm sized) and put on wax or parchment paper for baking. Brush with olive oil before putting in the oven for 15 to 20 minutes, or until brown and crispy on top (not burned!). If frying, heat oil in a skillet over medium-high heat, enough to cover the bottom of the pan. Cook on medium heat for 3-5 minutes on eat side. I did end up shallow-pan frying the falafel this time around, and it turned out (IMHO, and, naturally...) much better than baked.

Roasted Veggies:

5-7 carrots, cut into thin strips
1 head cauliflower, cut into florets
2 TBSP olive oil
2 tsp cumin
salt/pepper to taste  

May be easier to fry the falafel this time around. The oven should be at 425 for the veggies. Place veggies on a pan and sprinkle cumin, salt and pepper, and drizzle olive oil. Stir to coat, and bake for 25-30 minutes (stirring maybe once or twice throughout that time period). When veggies are done (browned), remove and cool.


1-2 c chopped red cabbage (I add some lime juice and salt and pepper to the cabbage for a twist)
Roasted veggies 
1 sliced jalapeno (optional)
1/4 c crushed pistachios or cashews
lemon juice combined with olive oil (salt, pepper as desired) for drizzling. 

Assembly: Assemble spinach, red cabbage, falafel, carrots, and cauliflower in the bowls. Top with jalapeno (if desired) and sprinkle with pistachio/cashews. Drizzle with lemon or olive oil.

Gnocchi, with a side salad

This is almost too easy to make a recipe for. But here it goes. Traditionally it calls for eggs, which would act as a good bonder, but they can be made without.

4-5 large (or 6-7 small) potatoes, skinned and diced
1 c flour
1/2 c vegan sour cream (if desired)
Pasta sauce (I am using a jar. No shame here.)
Lettuce, and favorite salad toppings and dressings

Boil the potatoes until tender and then mash very smooth until there are no lumps. Slowly work in flour until it is the consistency of a soft dough. Separate the dough into four pieces and roll into four long sausage-shaped rolls about 1/2 inch in diameter. Cut into 1 inch chunks.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add gnocchi in small batches; when they float to the top they are ready to eat. Remove, boil more. Add to pasta sauce as they finish to keep them from sticking.

Prepare a salad to serve with gnocchi. Enjoy!

Update 1/3/17
I debated whether or not to add a picture to this post. My darling 3 year old, Heidi, helped me roll out the gnocchi. As a result, they look rather deformed and not entirely blog worthy, but they weren't too bad tasting!

Note: DO NOT BE AFRAID TO ADD MORE FLOUR. I was afraid I was adding too much flour but should have added a little bit more for a slightly firmer texture.

I added the vegan sour cream for a richer taste to the potato. I did like the flavor of the gnocchi.

Quinoa Falafel Bowl

Oven to 480 (if baking)
2 cans chickpeas (drained)
1/2 chopped red onion
Handful fresh parsley
Handful fresh cilantro
4 garlic cloves
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cayenne (or, to taste)
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp baking powder
Salt to taste
1/2 c flour
1 TBSP oil (plus extra, either for frying or brushing on before baking)

Blend all ingredients in a food processor until chopped, except for the flour and oil. Blend until the texture is smooth, but not pureed. Add flour and olive oil and blend once more. Make into patties (maybe half-palm sized) and put on wax or parchment paper for baking. Brush with olive oil before putting in the oven for 15 to 20 minutes, or until brown and crispy on top (not burned!). If frying, heat oil in a skillet over medium-high heat, enough to cover the bottom of the pan. Cook on medium heat for 3-5 minutes on eat side. 

1.5 c. quinoa
2 1/2 to 3 c. water
2 tsp. coriander 
1 tsp salt
Handful fresh cilantro
1 English cucumber
1 large, or 2 medium, tomatoes 

Add quinoa and water, coriander, and salt to a pot. Bring to a boil and once boiling reduce to low, cover and let simmer until water is absorbed. 

While cooking quinoa, dice tomatoes and cucumber. 

Once falafel and quinoa are completed, assemble bowls as desired with quinoa, falafel, hummus, and diced cucumber and tomatoes; garnish with cilantro. 
Update 1/1/18

So tonight we made this meal, and while I was cooking Sophia said, "Mom! It smells like a restaurant in here. Restaurants smell good." The smell, at least, was welcome. 

Sticky Sesame Cauliflower

1 head cauliflower, chopped
1/3 c soy sauce (note: I recommend a low sodium soy sauce)
1/4 c pure maple syrup (or agave)
1/4 c rice vinegar (or apple cider vinegar)
1 TBSP minced garlic
1 1/2 tsp roasted sesame seed oil
1/2 tsp ginger (powdered or fresh; I prefer fresh grated)
1 1/2 TBSP cornstarch
1/4 c water
Sesame seeds and scallions for garnish
1 1/2 c jasmine rice

Rinse rice, and place in a saucepan with 3 cups of water. Bring to a boil, then continue to cook over low heat until water is absorbed.

Preheat oven to 450*. Line a baking pan with parchment paper. Bake cauliflower florets in a single layer for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, combine remaining ingredients from soy sauce through ginger in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Combine water and cornstarch until cornstarch is dissolved, then whisk this into the saucepan once the ingredients are boiling. Turn to a medium heat and stir as it returns to a boil, and cook until thickened.

Flip cauliflower, bake an additional 10 minutes.

Remove cauliflower and place into a bowl. Pour the sauce over the florets, sprinkled with sesame seeds and scallions, and serve over jasmine rice.

Veganuary, Week 1

Chris and I are participating in Veganuary again next month (last year, though, it was more of a "Vegetarian-uary...").

It can be a massive hassle to think of completely changing your diet over; how does one come up with a recipe without meat outside of noodles with meatless pasta sauce? I really struggled last year and found myself frustrated (and often making probably the same 4-5 meals, though really I don't remember).

So, if you would like to participate in Veganuary with us, I will be posting my weekly menu and grocery list for dinners (sorry; you are on your own for breakfast and lunches). I will post my shopping list for the following week every Thursday or Friday.

Try something different, expand your horizons, join us on our meat-free month! You can find most of these recipes on my "Veganuary" board on Pinterest (click here for my Pinterest page), but I will be posting them with any modifications I made here.

I will try to write out a complete grocery list, but there will be some assumptions made. For example, I am going to assume you have olive oil, and some ground spices like cumin and paprika. Hopefully there will be nothing major left out. This is the first time I've put something together like this.

Meal Plan for January 1-6
  1. Falafel bowl
  2. Gnocchi
  3. Roasted Chickpea Gyros
  4. Winter Bliss Bowl
  5. Sesame Cauliflower
  6. Sweet Potato Quinoa Bowls 
Shopping list for January 1-6
  1. 2-3 sweet/yellow onions
  2. 2 red onions
  3. Bunch of parsley
  4. Bunch of cilantro
  5. Fresh dill
  6. Garlic (I buy the already minced garlic and cheat; you may be a purist, in which case buy 1-2 garlic bulbs)
  7. 2 english cucumbers (regular if you prefer)
  8. 4-5 large tomatoes
  9. 1 head of lettuce (I prefer romaine; alternately you can get a small head of lettuce and a bag of pre-made salad mix) 
    1. (salad dressing, toppings for salads)
  10. Carrots (whole, uncut), 1 lb.
  11. 2 Heads of cauliflower
  12. 1 Head red cabbage 
  13. 1-2 bell peppers
  14. Scallions
  15. Spinach
  16. 2 jalapenos (optional for meals; leave out if you do not like spices)
  17. 3-4 sweet potatoes
  18. 6-7 potatoes (russet, etc.)
  19. Ginger (fresh and powdered)
  20. Lemon juice (or fresh lemons)
  21. 2 avocados
  22. Quinoa (16 ounce bag is probably adequate, white or red)
  23. Jasmine rice
  24. Cashews or pistachios (used as a garnish, pick your favorite)
  25. 1 can black beans
  26. 1 can corn (or bag of frozen corn)
  27. Dried chickpeas about 4 cups worth (or, canned; this is easier and does not require soaking)
  28. Hummus
    1. Extra chickpeas, plus tahini and lemon juice if you plan to make your own hummus
  29. Pita bread
  30. Soy sauce
  31. Pure maple syrup or honey
  32. Rice vinegar (can use apple cider)
  33. Sesame oil (olive is ok!)
  34. Cornstarch
  35. Favorite pasta sauce
  36. Sesame seeds
  37. Vegan sour cream
  38. Unsweetened plain coconut or soy yogurt
  39. Medium-firm tofu (12-14 ounce package)
I'll post recipes in a couple of days, or, alternately, you can see my Pinterest page. I will not be frying falafel; instead, I will be baking it so there will be some changes to the recipes on the Pinterest page.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Christmas Day

Christmas Day started the earliest for Chris. He put a brisket on the smoker around 4:00 a.m. I was thinking it would probably take much longer than usual because the high temperature was somewhere around 0 degrees yesterday (and windchill most of the day was -15 or colder).

The girls were very excited about their stick horses. They played with them most of the day, and the older two slept with them in their beds. They woke me up this morning prancing away on their horses. Sophia loved her hot chocolate set from Nana and Papa for her Wellie Wishers and spent a good amount of time in her bedroom setting it up and playing with it. Their other exciting thing was clear rain boots with fun colorful socks. Heidi wore them pretty much all day, and got dressed in clothes just so she would wear ladybug socks. Oma and Papa got Sophia a toy sewing machine, which she has been so diligently sewing on. She loves it. She is absolutely my arts and crafts kid. You can see below that Uncle Dan was probably as excited about it as Sophia was.

My fiestaware collection continues to expand. I just love the Christmas fiesta stuff. I pretty much want to host Christmas dinners all month so that I can use my dishes. (Thanks, Oma and Papa!) There was even a Christmas Fiesta serving bowl - those are so hard to find. I got Chris an "autobiography" by Jean Luc Picard (which sounds just awesome). I'll be his vacation reading on the cruise in just over a month (!).

When we went on a date to the Minneapolis Institute of Art a while ago we bought the girls "Goodnight Loon." I have some pictures posted below; they redid the classic story really well. It has great references to everything classically Minnesota, with ticks hidden on each page instead of mice, and references to raccoons, hot dish, Paul Bunyan and his Ox, loons, walleye... but my favorite is the Bemidji page (also pictured below). Classic.

Not pictured (I don't think) is the new silverware my parents sent to me. We were in need of new silverware, and I can't wait to use it. I. Can't. Wait. It came at perfect timing to, because this month I was looking at my slowly disappearing spoons and thinking to myself that I needed to look at new silverware, or somehow replenish my spoons. The problem is I couldn't remember what brand my silverware was, and ultimately I decided to wait until I had like no spoons left to replace it. Mom's got my back!

The picture of me pointing at the door is to show how cold it is. The bottom of our front door is caked with ice ON THE INSIDE. All day today it has been -16 to -25 with the windchill. Brr. I have not walked outside since Sunday since we went to the Christmas Eve service.

Also pictured, my favorite surprise from Chris: The ESV Illuminated Bible. It has such beautiful illustrations in it. I am so excited to start daily reading from this Bible!

Perhaps one of the greatest gifts is also pictured below, it is a picture of cactus wrapping paper. And it isn't necessarily the wrapping paper that makes a great gift (though I do love it), it is who gave me the wrapping paper. Christmas is a great time to reflect on all of the abundant and wonderful gifts that God has given. It doesn't mean that there were no difficult times this year, but through those difficult times I have learned greater dependence on God and my church family. The wrapping paper below was used to wrap a gift from the Carpenter family to mine, and from Erica to me. I have been blessed so abundantly with such great friends that there are people who went out of their way to wrap presents in paper with cactus on it. It is hard to really express how much it means to me, that I am surrounded by people who care enough to pick out special wrapping paper.

I may hate the cold, and complain about Minnesota weather, and ask God why He keeps us here, but I really know the answer. Chris and I are in a church family that has actually changed our lives. It has enriched our lives. It has taught us a deeper understanding of the Gospel and God's love for us.

The upcoming year will undoubtedly have some bright and dark spots, some opportunities to deepen my understanding of God's love for me, opportunity and challenge to spread God's love for me beyond myself to neighbors and friends. God willing, we anticipate a family cruise soon for a special retirement, an ordination council shortly after that, with an endorsing council again after that. My oldest child will be finishing kindergarten, and will perhaps have actually lost that loose tooth that is teasing her. Perhaps my book will find a publisher. Bethany may finally have those molars in place (one finally poked through last night, which is why I think she didn't sleep any more than about 3 hours, and why she only slept when I was holding her so I have been basically binge-drinking coffee today).

I look forward to all God has in store for us, but mostly I pray that all I do can be used to God's glory, with our family working together to show God's unfailing love. I hope to memorize more scripture and put my illuminated Bible to good use.

Merry Christmas to all, and have a Happy New Year.