Valentine’s Day – Why Do We Celebrate?

I know people that do and do not celebrate Valentine’s Day, and to me, it’s a personal preference type of holiday.  I absolutely adore this holiday and our kids do too.  My husband used to disagree and call it a Hallmark holiday, which there is some merit to that statement.  However, I must politely disagree with those that call it this, and here is why.

This holiday is not just hearts, roses, candies and flowers that I throw together just to remind them that I love them.  And it’s also not about this history behind the holiday.  Though, if you have taken the time to read about St. Valentine, well, you are in for a real treat (or two.)  Both of these things are not the reflection of the holiday that I’m talking about.

I use this time to rebalance our relationship within our home.  We have decorations throughout, from January 14th-February 15th, to remind us that the holiday is coming up.  And the last two weeks, for both my husband and I, we have found ourselves buried under a heap of work.  This is a great example of how critical it is for both of us to be reminded of what is important.  Without solid foundation within the home, we cannot give outwardly to others in need of love as well.  Our home is rooted in God, His love.

His love.  That is what Valentine’s Day is about – a reflection of Jesus, and the great sacrifice He has made – His love for us.  Did we not just think about this during Christmas? Absolutely! Do we rejoice during Easter?  Yes!  So, why do we not reflect on His love during Valentine’s Day?  I think this is a perfect time to do so. What better timing than in the middle of a cold season, where we “hunker down” during the cold months, perhaps spending many hours working, sending our kids to activities, and then use too much time by the TV or on our tech devices, during the evenings.  It’s a great break in the cold season to stop – reflect on His love – and give it outwardly to our loved ones and friends, and perhaps beyond to those in need.  His love.

I keep saying His love because that what we all need, and that’s all He wants to give.

Me with Flowers
Photo Credit: Joy Fisk

Light Banana Almond Smoothie

Happy New Year!  I hope that 2016 is starting off well and that you have a very fruitful year.  And speaking of fruit, I wanted to talk about bananas – which is a main ingredient in this quick and easy recipe.  They constantly get the bum rap on whether they are good for us or not.  I too fell into the trap a while back to ditch the bananas due to high carb load.  Well, that’s ridiculous, because there are too many other beneficial nutritional values that they offer, and I’m here to stand up for this fruit once again.  This smoothie is incredibly simple to make, and will do a nice job filling up the tummy all the while, giving heavy benefits on nutrients.  If you find it’s not sweet enough, you can always add a hit almond butter or peanut butter to give it more depth.  I left it out, as my husband prefers this variety of recipe!  Happy 2016!

 

For what it’s worth – BitStrips did not note that I created this cartoon.  I am the original creator of this strip. Thank you!

Banana Almond Smoothie

 

For those that like written recipes rather than the cartoon:

  • 2 frozen bananas
  • 1/3 cup of raw almonds
  • 1 cup unsweetened vanilla almond milk

Blend!! (I used a food processor but a good blender will work fine.)  If you like more depth or sweetness, hit it up with a little peanut butter or almond butter!

Christmas Wreath Tutorial

Christmas Wreath Tutorial

Good morning my friends!  I’ve been meaning to post this article for quite some time now on how to make a Christmas wreath, and though this may be a week before Christmas, you can still take part in this fun project.  Better yet, this is a simple enough of a project for you to teach your children.  I had the wonderful privilege of spending each Christmas season binding a wreath with my Dad, and I thank him today for this gift he has taught to me.  My kids have also learned, and I pray they teach their children one day as well.

Some of you have seen me hashtag #oldfashionedChristmas, and maybe you have picked up on why I have been doing this.  Each Christmas our family makes a point of picking out a live Christmas tree, stringing lights on the tree (VERY time consuming – and an art if you ask me.) We take time to decorate the tree.  We make several wreaths that go out to family members as a gift. We string lights on the outside of the house (family time.)  We decorate the inside of the house as a family.  We go see the tree lighting downtown Waxhaw – and also watched our daughter perform on stage with her dance group she is a part of.  We hit antique stores and see old Santa statues of years past.  It’s very nostalgic and wonderful, but more importantly, the common theme is TIME.  Our society runs fast and the season can truly get away from us if we’re not careful.  Even if you are thinking right now, oh.my.gosh. , I have let Christmas get away.  No you have not.  It’s a week away and you can make it a glorious week to remember – and the week after!  Today, have some fun, get your supplies for this project, and work together joyfully (as you get sap all over your hands) as a family learning a new craft.  Merry Christmas!

Christmas Wreath Making (craft gifted to me from Donald Gill – my father)

  • 18″ wire wreath ring (Michaels sells 3 different sizes)
  • green wire wrap
  • leftover greens cut from bottoms of Christmas trees (and you can add other types of greens too)
  • ribbon (or a pre-made bow)
  • pinecones
  • decorations to add to wreath (optional)
  • wire cutters
  • cutting plier to cut greens

Directions:

Step 1 –  Cut sections of green (with cutting pliers), making them 7-10 inch long.  Try to get both thick branches and small thin branch sections for variety. This is a messy job, “lotta sap in here!” I work in the garage or the back yard if nice outside to keep messes outside.

Cut Greens for wreath

 

Step 2- Set up work area to have sections of green that look nice together, ready to go so it’s faster to string.

Christmas Wreath Tutorial Sections

Step 3- Set wire ring out, and take green wire – wrap end of wire 3-4 times to secure the start of making a wreath

Wire ring

Step 4- Taking a section of greens (4-5 pieces), place bundle with base of the bundle on top of ring where the wire is wrapped and ready.  Wrap TIGHTLY 3-4 times around base of bundle. (But not so tight that you damage the wire ring.)

Wrap GreensStep 5- Grab another bundle and place halfway on top of the base of the previous bundle.  Wrap wire to secure new bundle down – again 3-4 times will you wrap each bundle down.

Green Wreath

Step 6- Continue the whole way around the ring.  The final bundle is the hardest part, as you have to work underneath the very first bundle you have secured, and this is where a tight wrap makes all the difference.

Last Section of Wreath

Step 7- Cut wire off a few inches extra, and secure underneath wreath on the wire ring.  I secure with a few loops.

Secure wire on wreath

Step 8- Decorate your wreath by attaching bow in the weakest looking spot of the wreath. This spot is usually the connection point of the start and finish part of the wreath.  Attach all other pretty ornaments or cranberry and pinecones to dress up the wreath.  Pinecones can be strung on using that green wire and wrapping it inside the cone.

Christmas Wreath Tutorial

 

Step 9- Hang that wreath and show a spotlight on it to show it off!  Merry Christmas!

Zesty Shrimp and Orzo

shrimp and orzo

Last week we had the wonderful time visiting with family in Pittsburgh for Thanksgiving.  I give great thanks for this, even if the drive is 8+ hours to get there.  It is wonderful to be able to see our family and share meals and good conversation – catching up on events that we have missed because of our location vs. theirs, seeing our niece and nephew now as adults and growing in their careers.  (Course, that can make me feel old as well, but I love seeing them grown up and to see where God is taking them!)

Have you ever been to Pittsburgh?  Well, if not, then you should plan a trip sometime to see it, but I would suggest the summer more than the winter, as you may find it enjoyable to walk many places!  The city has such a feel to it that is unique to itself.  Like most big cities, they have their “pockets of awesomeness”, and I’m not just talking about ethnicity, like a little Italy, etc.  I’m talking about locations such as the Strip District, North/Southside (ahem, pronounced NorSide – all one word, ha!), Oakland, Shadyside, and then outer suburb areas where our family lives which is all tied into this amazing city. Pittsburgh is partially home to me not just because of my husband’s family that resides there, but it is home to where my husband and I met at the University of Pittsburgh. (Go Pitt!)

When we journey to Pittsburgh with the kids,we try to make each experience a little bit different by visiting different museums.  All things we couldn’t take advantage of as a poor college student!  This trip, we made it to The National Aviary, and it was definitely worth it!  If you love birds, this will be right up your alley of places to see.  It is mostly indoors, so it’s a fine place to see especially when the temperatures are not favorable outside.  My favorite room to visit, and my family agrees with me on, is the Finch Room.  It’s a place of peace, and you can hang out right with the birds as they zoom around the same room you share with them.  I wanted to grab a cup of coffee and sit on their park bench and rest there for hours.

The other favorite of ours is the Strip District, aka “foodie heaven.”  It is a place that is packed full of wonderful shops and eateries.  We always stop at Wholey fish market (known as Wholey’s) to look at the hundreds of fish, and see the train on the tracks above our heads that has probably been running for.ev.er.  The kids love this place and it’s energy, as well as they awesome lunch that feeds our hungry stomachs when we go there.  Afterward, we shop the Steeler’s clothing at the vendors outside, and drool over all of the dessert vendors options as well.  What a feast of choices the vendors offer!!  Lastly,  we hit up Penzey’s Spices and restock on items we have run out of each year.  Which leads me to my food post, Zesty Shrimp and Orzo.

I didn’t know what to call this hot mess of a meal, but it’s good.  And my hubby makes this one, so it’s flavors change each time.  We have two spice companies that I want to mention because they are my favorite choices.  First, you just heard of Penzey’s.  They have a wide variety of great spices from all over the world, but we went with the Forward blend to add salt to our dish.  Also, I’d like to thank Chef Troy (located here in Charlotte, NC) for his wonderful spice blend which he has labeled Back Rub which is full of a few spices including, coffee, cocoa and chili!  This meal was paired with a lemon orzo salad that I had picked up at Fresh Market.  The fragrance of the lemons balanced the zest of the shrimp and it was a beautiful combination of flavors.

Zesty Shrimp and Orzo 

  • 1 lb. shrimp, uncooked and cleaned
  • 1 lb. of Fresh Market Lemon Orzo Salad (or make it yourself with lemon, oil, spinach, tomatoes and pine nuts)
  • Chef Troys Back Rub blend
  • Penzey’s Forward Spice
  • Butter
  • Garlic (A LOT of it, chopped)

So what’s the deal? No measurements you say?  Nope, this one you can play with, as my husband doesn’t cook by measuring.  It’s a shake or two here, a few more, and boom! You got yourself a meal.  Basically, melt the butter, add the chopped garlic, cook up the shrimp with the seasonings, and prepare the orzo salad on a plate.  If you need to make the orzo salad, do it ahead of time to allow the lemon to infuse throughout the pasta.  Plate your food, and it couldn’t be simpler.  If you don’t like all of those spices, just make a scampi and it changes the meal entirely.

Carrot Cake Cookies

Carrot Cake Cookies Last night, I actually took time to bake! Whoa. Take a picture.  Oh wait, I did – many, and you get to see just two of them.

I have full respect for full-time working parents who still find time to cook dinner, clean up the house, help kids with homework, drive kids to dance classes (or whatever extracurricular class they go to) and find time to do what they love!  For me, the end of the day is not my finest hour.  I am a morning bird, so my nights tend to drag for me, and my comfortable pillow top mattress calls my name – right around 9:30pm.  Which is not exactly convenient when married to a night owl husband (or having a night owl child!)  Either way, I press on some nights like I did last night and finally got around to baking.

I must share my funny story with making these cookies…

I take a box of Duncan Hines Decadent Classic Carrot Cake mix, and was amused that they had a cookie recipe on the box.  I was amused because I was thinking, just before I saw the recipe, that it would be interesting to make cookies with that box mix, and lo and behold, I was not the first to think of this.  What a surprise.  I’m mixing up the batter as it calls for, only to realize that I’m using STEEL-CUT oats, rather than those instant oats with the old man on the package.  No big deal, right? Well, not so much. I also found that their package of carrots, fruits, etc that needs to absorb water, took in only so much water but not most of it.  The recipe (as I followed dutifully) called for me to put the carrot mix AND water into the batter.  I didn’t want to listen, I thought the dough was looking beautiful… WHY DO I LISTEN?  I am not a rebel… So I followed against instinct.  Mix up the batter and have a weird watery dough mess on my hands.  Well, what to do now?

NOW came the baker in me.  I was excited about this problem because it meant I could actually be creative and figure out a solution.  And I did, successfully!  Little measurements of added almond meal, and a hit of AllSpice and bam!  Good to go… Oh, and the kids had no idea.  They were chowing down!! Little did they know that their Mom stuck in some healthy cut oats and a good deal of almond meal.  Heh Heh… That’s our jobs as mom, isn’t it?  Want to try?

Ingredients:

  • One Box of Duncan Hines Decadent Classic Carrot Cake Mix
  • 1/2 cup salted butter, softened (they called for unsalted, but I used regular and didn’t taste the salt)
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 cup of steel cut oats
  • 1 1/4 cup of hot water (add carrot mix to this)
  • 1 cup of almond meal
  • 1 tsp. AllSpice

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Soak carrot mix in hot water for 5 minutes.  In a large bowl, beat butter until fluffy.  Add cake mix, eggs, oats, and soaked carrot mix (WITH unabsorbed water.)  Beat until combined.  Add 1/4 cup at a time of almond meal.  If dough is standing up, don’t add more!  But if it was a gooey mess like mine, add up to 1 cup of the almond meal.  Add in Allspice.

Place in heaps on greased baking sheet leaving 2 inches apart from each other.  Bake 12 minutes or until golden brown.  Let cool slightly and transfer to cooling rack.  Cookies are somewhat flat when done. And they taste just fine! 🙂

Carrot Cake Cookies

 

 

My wreath making season

Just a quick look at what my projects are at home soon!

The Chocolate Bottle

Living wreathsTraditions run strong in our family, and wreath making has never left my side.  I was a little girl when I learned how to make homemade living wreaths.  My Dad taught me, using Hemlock tree material (very forgiving on the hands – just sappy), how to wrap the greens tightly onto the wire frame.  While it’s not difficult to do, it’s painstakingly a long process, per wreath.  I have narrowed it down to about 1 hour per wreath, start to finish, including adding the decorations.  Wrapping the green boughs onto the frame, easy!  Cutting the boughs, on the other hand takes a bit of time and thought.  None of this bothers me while I’m in process of doing the job, just my back complains.  Thankfully this year, I have a chiropractor which has helped alleviate the upper back pain from too much leaning. Yay! (Yes, that was a plug, but I can’t stress…

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Whole Wheat Panko Crusted Coconut Shrimp

Whole-Wheat Panko Crusted Coconut Shrimp

This weekend I had time to reflect on a few things.  Quiet moments are so critical for the introvert in me; if I don’t have those times, stress builds and I am not at my best, nor can I be creative.  For instance, I haven’t been cooking or baking in a long time, and was reminded of that from a wonderful friend.  For that I’m grateful.  We foodies tend to worry if we’re taking too many photos of our food verses our family or friends or, ourselves (yikes, I don’t like selfies.)  Truth is, I do take a lot of pictures of my food when I start cooking up a storm. I can’t help it!  But, I don’t use the photos to boast, but rather as a journal and a reminder of something good I had cooked. It’s a journey for me when I adventure into the kitchen, just as a person takes a vacation, or a traveler showcases their experiences.  It serves as a wonderful memory of something I have tried but possibly may never make again.  Or maybe I will, it just depends on the level of ease of the recipe, or the how well the family approved of it.  I’m sure that is something you Moms and Dads can relate to.

Last night I had created a batch of coconut shrimp, a dish I have experimented with several times (sometimes gluten-free, and other times using traditional ingredients.)  I have only baked coconut shrimp verses to pan fry them just for the sake of health.  Truth is, the best way to cook this dish is to pan fry, as the flavor is fully enhanced, and there is just no comparison.  Scared?  Throw on an apron, and just do it!  It’s easy, but do use safety please – ain’t nobody got time for a grease fire.

Results?  Perfection.  I used whole-wheat flour, and whole-wheat panko in this recipe, and nobody noticed!  So if you want to make the traditional recipe a tiny (ever so tiny) bit healthier, switch to the whole-wheat. You won’t be disappointed!

Whole-Wheat Panko Crusted Coconut Shrimp (slightly adapted from Sally’s Baking Addiction)

Ingredients:

  • 1/3 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne powder
  • 2 large eggs, beaten
  • 3/4 cup Whole Wheat Panko bread crumbs
  • 1 cup sweetened shredded coconut
  • 1 pound raw large shrimp, peeled and deveined with tails attached
  • Coconut oil

Directions

  1. Take 3 medium bowls. Combine flour, salt, pepper and cayenne pepper into one bowl. Beat the eggs in the second bowl.  Combine the whole-wheat panko and coconut into the third bowl.
  2. Dip the shrimp into the flour, then dredge into the eggs, and finally press the shrimp into the coconut mix to adhere. Set the coated shrimp aside on a plate as you prepare the remaining shrimp.
  3. Add enough oil to cover the bottom of a large skillet on medium heat. I chose a pan with higher edges to ensure safety. Fry the coconut shrimp in batches to avoid crowding and thorough cooking. Flip the shrimp after 2 minutes and fry the other side for 2 minutes or until golden brown.
  4. Place the finished coconut shrimp on a plate lined with a paper towel as you fry the rest. Serve with your favorite sweet chili sauce or pineapple jelly.

Cubanos: Cooking with Kids

Cubanos

This summer, I have finally been able to get back into the kitchen and cook with new recipes.  It’s been a long time, but with good reason!  Last year I started working at the school full time, and it has been very fulfilling.  The school schedule, along with shuttling my kids to dance rehearsals, etc., made the kitchen look more like my foe rather than friend.  Eating well had become tricky and new recipes had taken a back seat for the time being.

Just recently, my family and I watched Chef, and my daughter was inspired to cook.  Admittedly, I was too, and we promptly found ourselves at the grocery store the very next day, picking up supplies to make Cubanos.  After watching so many awwwwmazing dishes that they prepared in the movie, our mouths were watering, and we were super motivated to try that meat and cheesy loaded sandwich.  Out of all the dishes made on that movie, I figured it would be wise to try something more simple that my 11 year old could handle.  My kitchen was smiling again.  If kitchens could talk.

When we got online and pulled up their recipe used from the movie we found that we weren’t the only people that were curious about the ingredients used.  I saw many other recipes for the sandwich online, but I wanted to go straight to the source: found here.

Since I had a hungry family, I modified this recipe – and “kidified” it as well.  The idea of pickles or mustard in their sandwiches did not appeal to them. Nor did the idea of mint leaves used in the seasoning sound very good to anyone (except myself.)  So I was overruled on some things.  (I did however, put mustard on MY sandwich! How can you not?!)  Some additional tweaks that we made with this recipe was to use a pork tenderloin rather than a whole pork shoulder.

Results?  Not a bite leftover.  Oh my gosh, delightful, and everyone was satisfied with their semi-custom dressed up sandwich.  Best part for me?  I watched my daughter take over my kitchen.  For the most part.

Cubanos (adapted from Roy Choi

  • 6 oz. thinly sliced boiled ham
  • Softened butter, for brushing
  • 6 six-inch-long soft baguettes or sub/hoagie rolls, split lengthwise
  • Yellow mustard, for brushing *optional
  • ¾ lb. thinly sliced seasoned pork tenderloin (see recipe for this below), or store-bought roast pork
  • ½ lb. thinly sliced Swiss cheese
  • 3 half-sour dill pickles, thinly sliced lengthwise *optional

Seasoned Pork Tenderloin:

  •  extra-virgin olive oil
  • ¾ cup fresh orange juice
  • ½ cup fresh lime juice
  • 8 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tbsp. minced oregano
  • 2 tsp. ground cumin
  • Salt and Pepper
  • One Whole Pork Tenderloin

Directions

In a large Le Creuset type of dish, place oil down in pan and heat on medium. In a large baggie, place the pork with all pork recipe ingredients and shake.  If you want to let it marinade for a 1/2 hour – all the better. Place all items in the baggie (except the bag of course!) into the pan and sear the pork tenderloin on the cooktop.  Once seared, place in the oven (400 degrees) for 30-40 minutes.  While the pork is cooking, prep the sandwich rolls slicing them lenghwise in half, and heat up the panini press.  If you are like us and don’t have one, use a griddle (or a hot pan) and get out a really heavy pan to set on top of the bread to press the sandwich when it’s time.  (Is this proper technique?  No, but who’s watching??)  Daughter cooking slices

Take pork out of oven, and slice into “thin-ish” pieces.  It is tenderloin, so it won’t be perfectly thin cut.  This is ok.  Place ham slices onto hot griddle to heat.  Butter the outsides of the baguettes.  Layer meats and cheese inside the sandwich.  If you like, add mustard and pickles as well.  Place sandwiches in press and close (or place on griddle, and put a heavy pan on top to press the sandwich while cooking.  If done this way – make sure you flip the sandwich! (About 3 minutes a side.)  Serve while hot.

Stuffing sandwichesHeavy pan Panini Press

Fast of the Slow

Fasting

This season of Lent, I have been focusing on a couple of personal challenges as I “fast” through the season.  I’m not a crazy food fasting person… I like to actually EAT my food.  Plus, I get really grouchy and mean if I don’t eat.  So, let’s just say, it’s to your benefit rather than mine that I fast on other things than food.

What have I been fasting on at this point? Last week, I had taken away Facebook from myself.  Was it a challenge?  Are you kidding??  That site is crazy addicting.  Everyone’s business is on there!  Kids are being born, questions are being asked of me, work is connected here, happy engagements were happening, sad news was posted on there – and then there is the the infamous dress question.  (Personally?  I saw the dress in white and gold – with the color varying under horrible lighting by the photographer.)  The day of the dress was the day I allowed myself to surf back onto Facebook as the week of fasting for this was over.  Relieved?  Well, sort of.  Except for the dress question – that, I could have done without.  I do like the discipline that came of it. (I only allowed myself to get on for work at the school.)  I do like that I found my creative side again as well as time.  Distractions of what person was doing what for the day was eliminated.  It made me realize my time management was FLAWED.  I have some personal discipline issues that I will clearly be addressing!

What is my fast this week?  I like this one because it is a serious challenge for me.  Not sure how it’s going to go, but I’ll report in next week with the update.  I call it the Fast of the Slow.  What can I do to slow down my fast paced lifestyle?  I’m not talking about driving slower – I tend to follow the rules in that department already.  I’m talking about in my kitchen first and foremost, but also in my home.  Slow.  We move too fast.  We get around doing so much near each other that we forget to take time for each other.  I hustle in the kitchen, getting breakfast out to the kids as fast as possible so that I can, what? Shove my stomach full faster?  Get on the internet and surf again?  Where am I going?  The Facebook fast made me see how much of my time was dedicated to the computer rather than my family, or friends!  So the “slow fast” is going to be a challenge in more ways that I think I’m prepared for.  Like I said, I’m excited about it!

This morning, I pulled out my old coffee maker.  My Keurig is dying anyway, so the timing is perfect.  (Plus I read up on some gross details about how clean it is – or lack thereof.)  I also found my old tea kettle.  The kind you sit on the stove – old school.  It made me smile thinking of my Grandmother and how she would pull out the teapot and it would sing a beautiful tune a few minutes later when the water was ready.  Slow.

To slow down like this will force my family to do the same as they wait patiently for breakfast, or coffee, or tea.  It’s still convenience, but in this day in age of fast, we miss things.  I watched my daughter study the 18 birds outside this morning as they fed, while I waited for a pot of grits to cook s-l-o-w-l-y on the stovetop.  I wouldn’t have noticed the joy on her face if I was busy looking at my computer – because my coffee would have already been brewed in 5 seconds and her grits would have been cooked in the microwave and she would be eating them.

Microwave – the ultimate time saver. This is my biggest challenge.  This is my real “fast” for the week.  I, like many, depend on the use of a microwave.  I’m curious to see how much of a snob I might become going old school and using a cooktop.  My food probably will taste a lot better!  Soup at work?  Guess I’m investing in a Thermos.  That or not eat a hot meal.  Going slow is going to affect every area of my life!  Am I freaked out? No.  I’m ready.  And for the days that I am not ready – there is God. I’m sure I will be asking for patience to build up stronger within from Him. This fast reminds me of God and his grace during this special season.  Seems funny that I need to go slow to gain more time.  Truly, by going so fast, I feel I miss the mark.  Beauty is missed.  God is missed.  Time is actually lost.

This is why I am fasting by going slow.  How are you fasting this season?