Monday, November 25, 2013

Wordy weekend

I was terrible at taking pictures this weekend so I'll bore you with some descriptions instead:

Working from home
Afternoon coffee
Christmas shopping
Waking up early
Cinnamon rolls
Missing ministry
Wrapping gifts
3 hr overdue phone call
Share service
Weeping worship
Five guys at Qdoba
Lovely long lunch conversation
Pouring out
Mani and pedi
Thanksgiving feast
People key
Cream cheese pumpkin pie
Gift cards
Too much texting 
Monday morning

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Souper Saturday

so, for 2 weeks I've been wanting homemade soup.  I was all ready last weekend and the lazy bug kicked in so it didn't happen.  But the almost blizzard conditions (remember I'm from TX) that blew in on Friday left me freezing to my bones and fully committed to my Saturday adventure of multi-tasking - cleaning and cooking simultaneously. 
I'll admit, it was just about throwing a bunch of junk together and crossing my fingers that it worked.  I'd love to be cool like Mix n Match Mama, Dining with Debbie or Heather's Dish and actually make up a recipe that you could duplicate.  But, my style is more to tell you what I did and why I did it and let you figure out if its something you want to repeat.  You see I'm all about knowing tastes and learning what makes a great food marriage (at least a good party in your mouth) and then making that magic happen over and over.
At my house growing up, we ate lots of soup.  Dad liked to eat it, mama liked to make it and we didn't know any different.  So, along the way my mom (who is one heck of a cook!) taught us a lot about food flavors and when in doubt just experiment to see if it would work.  I can only remember 3 or 4 "we should probably not make this again" moments. 
A couple months ago, I made Green Chile Chicken Chili and I've been begging my mom to use this as a left over turkey recipe.  I guess I'll find out Friday if my pleading worked (it doesn't usually bc she has her own agenda...but its worth the try!)  Apparently my dad doesn't like white beans and since its just the two of them at home now, he gets his way!  WHATEVER!!!
But, as I was gathering the ingredients to make up that recipe, I noticed that Swanson had some new flavored chicken broths.  I was super curious and had been wanting to try one of them.  So, last weekend as I gathered ingredients for this soup of mine, I decided to make this the day to try the new broth.  Which, turned out to be a great idea since I forgot to get any seasoning packet.
So, what did I get and why?
Mexican Chicken and Roasted Tomato Soup
1 can Canellini Beans
1 can Great Northern Beans
1 can fire roasted diced tomatoes
1 can chopped green chilies
1 c World Table verde salsa
1 box Swanson Mexican Tortilla chicken broth
1 pkg Tyson trimmed and ready chicken strips
seasoning for chicken
1 C finely chopped bell pepper (1/4th in)
frozen edamamme
fresh leafy spinach

Basically you cook the chicken cut it in pieces and then dump everything together in the crockpot except for the spinach which you chop and add 20-30 minutes before you each it.

I went with the combination of great northern beans and cannellini beans.  To me, the cannellini beans (basically white kidney beans) tend to be too tough so the great northern beans which are much softer (think white pork n beans) are a good balance to get the same proteins.  Also, to cut back on the spice, I went with fire roasted tomatoes instead of Rotel and because I like the tang of green chilies, I added a can of that. 
When I moved up here, I discovered the World Table Walmart brand (even made the Cooking Light's favorite store brands list) at a potluck I attended and have been loving their salsa ever since (I'm also a My Brothers Salsa fan!).  The verde salsa is roasted and has a yummy smoky flavor that brings the perfect punch.
I learned my lesson on the frozen chicken last time and went back to the Tyson brand (have you noticed moving to NWA has made me a local brand snob....eeeek!) this time cooking my own.  No picture, but I cooked it in the iron skillet with taco seasoning, garlic and some Lawry's Jambalaya seasoning.  I know all the flavors will come off once they hit the soup liquid, but I wanted what I could, cooked into the meat.

I had some extra chopped red bell pepper from my salad last weekend so I chopped it a little more finely and threw in 1 cup of that.

To round things off, I like to play mind games with myself and sneak in veggies and super foods any time I can.  Soup is always the perfect place to do that.  I don't have kids, but I'm fully expecting to be "that mom".  We are eating veggies....yes you can pull this up later!

So, I threw in some frozen edamamme and added spinach just 20 minutes or so before I ate it.  Spinach gets a little slimy like strings when it cooks down so I chopped it up to make it smaller and still get the same nutritional punch.  I know green is the thing that throws everyone off, but I'm good with all the color!
First flavor impression? - kinda smoky, little spicy I'm guessing from the roasted tomatoes, needed salt and something else....hmmmm
Additions - 1 T minced garlic, several shakes of ground salt, 3 tsp lime juice.
I'm loving it.  The lime juice cut some of the smoke and heat.  Garlic and salt were just needed flavors and the crunch of the edmamme is perfection! 

I think I'm gonna be happy with this one.  Of course homemade tortilla strips, cilantro and grated cheese would be the icing on top!

Variation - I do think you could go with stewed tomatoes to get the punch of flavor and less spice.  Chopped carrots and zucchini would be a good addition.  Heck even a slew of roasted veggies would be great.  Many people, my mom included, would probably add a can of corn.  I'm kind a on a no corn thing right now...I think its a waste since your body doesn't process it, but for the "usual types, corn and black beans would round it all out. 
Even better serve it with my friend Ree's corn and avocado salsa!  You didn't know we're friends?  We hung out last Saturday!
Let me know if you try it and what you think?  Anything you would add?
No worries, I still had leftovers of these for dessert...soup and cinnamon rolls....anybody?

Saturday, November 23, 2013

cinnamon roll kinda mornin

I went to bed early last night (because I wore myself out Christmas shopping yesterday evening, but the list is almost done...seriously).  Which means, now that I'm an old lady, I wake up early.  Since a blizzard blew in yesterday I knew soup was on the menu today and frankly the hardest thing to get up and cook is a bunch of cans in the crockpot!
Somewhere along the way I've heard a holiday tradition of soup and cinnamon rolls.  I tried to Google it and get a little background, but apparently I really am one has record of this tradition anywhere.  Oh well, making soup made me want to have cinnamon rolls. 
So, I slaved over unrolling the wrapper of the cinnamon rolls that were sitting in the bottom of my fridge.
I will admit I've been on somewhat of a experimental journey trying to discover which are my favorite canned cinnamon rolls.  This morning I might have found my resolution!

I've always been a fan of the orange flavored rolls.  I think that's some old southern tradition.  But, my sister got sick one time on them so it was always a treat when we were at the store and I got to pick the flavor.  When I was in my "fat girl stage", I love the cream cheese icing ones.  Not that cream cheese icing makes you a fat girl, but I loved all things sweet and the more the merrier (and could probably take out a can of rolls by myself).  Now, that icing just seems too much and the Cinnabon ones just don't taste the same as the ones at the mall (or in the airport when I'm running and that's usually when the craving hits!)

On a recent trip to my local Neighborhood Market, I snagged a roll of the Pillsbury Giant cinnamon rolls with caramel icing (you know for the morning I got a hankering for cinnamon rolls while I was making soup in the crockpot).  I have recently discovered that I do like the giant size, hard decision made. Helps with portion control and me not being a single gal with 12 cinnamon rolls sitting here starring at me!
After this morning, I'm a converted caramel roll lover! 

To make it even better, I had some Pampered Chef apple pie sprinkles in my cabinet and after I sprayed the Pam on the pan I dusted the bottom with those little gems and sprinkled the top of the rolls with a few more before I put them in the oven.  The caramel and apple were the perfect combination and I loved the extra crunch. 

Not sure Sandra Lee would approve of that "semi-homemade", but instant gratification was the greater accomplishment!

Yes, there are 4 left if you want to come get one!

(oh and I'm not sure what kind of oven they use in their test kitchen but its always about 5 minutes too many!)

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

packing up

One of my favorite things that happens this time of year is Operation Christmas Child!  I don't know if its the thought of kids across the world not getting to experience the elation that comes from getting something new.  Or, my sheer love of giving gifts, but I love the partnership of Operation Christmas Child.

This morning at church was the final Sunday to turn in boxes and it was amazing watch all the elves work their magic.  As quickly as you could set your box on the table, they were making sure it was labeled and marked to head off to the workshop. 

I noticed that several boxes had one thing that none of my boxes had - a barcode.  Curious what it was, I did a little research when I got home.  For a special $7 donation, you can track where in the world your box(es) go. What an amazing journey to celebrate with your family to see where in the world you boxes go...kinda like Waldo - but totally different!

So, what if you've never packed a box and want to get involved?  I know, look at these sweet faces! 

I love preparing for Operation Christmas Child.  I actually prepare all year long...seem kinda crazy?  Well, here are some of my tips and things I do throughout the year to prepare for my boxes.
  • Since I collect all year, my rule is that is has to be $1 or less.  Preferably less!
  • I like to walk through the bargain/clearance aisle at Target, Walmart and Walgreens all year long.
  • I hit the stocking stuffer aisle the day after Christmas.  My mom, sister and I usually spend Dec 26 getting all kinds of bargains and my favorite items are the ones for my OCC boxes.  I usually find the items that are multiple things for one price. 
  • Walgreens is another great spot, especially after Valentine's Day! 
  • Easter basket items are usually just the right size.  This year I found some super cute little rabbit and chick friends that were 75% off
  • Back to school sales are great too - pens, pencils, notepads, markers and crayons.  My mom and sister are both teachers and get lots of freebies at different stores.  Both of them are great about saving items I can use and they don't need.
  • Since its so close to the time I pack the boxes, I usually get a couple bags of hard candy off the Halloween candy sale.  Suckers are the best!  Safe for kids of all ages, don't melt in the transportation and usually make the trip over the big pond!
  • I keep the extra soap from hotel rooms when I'm traveling.
  • My favorite is when I can use a coupon for a travel size deodorant and get it for FREE.
  • This year, I also saw posted on a freebie blog some ideas for home school moms to get community helper coloring and activity books.  So, I reached out and snagged a few of those for my boxes this year.
So, how do you pack a shoe box?  Here are some things I included in mine this year:
-coin purses
-hello kitty chap stick
-polka dot pencils, paper mate pens, some random pens from a doctor's office that my mom got at a teacher's fair
-rings and bracelets
-snowflake note pads
-little heart boxes
-random crayons
-sonic wacky pack toys
-random hotel bars of soap
-hair clips and Tinkerbelle hair ties
-fireman, nurse and police officer coloring books
-mickey mouse sucker and mummy Mike and Ike
-tooth brushes I picked up at a health fair 2 weeks ago

You can see.  We take a lot of things for granted that many would consider a "gift".  So many things make the perfect item.  (here are some other ideas)

Whatever you do, pray for the children who receive these boxes and that they know someone that packed that little box loves this and had the best time packing up their little gift!

This week is national collection week and you can still participate - check out your closest drop off spot and make a kids day!


Thursday, November 14, 2013

famous gratitude

So, yesterday I got to be a little famous...well, a small version of famous in a little land that among people I love.

Check out my Wordless Wednesday from yesterday over at Arkansas Women Bloggers.

Topic: gratitude.

Story behind the photo: So, every day I drive past a large cemetery on my way to work. It has the most amazing trees. Last fall, I remember noticing their fall beauty everyday on my way to and from work, but never taking the time to stop. I beat myself up through winter mad that I never captured the moment; mad that I had missed the opportunity. I just wasn’t going to let that happen this year. So, a couple weeks ago on a beautiful Sunday afternoon, I made a little trip over to the graveyard. And, the trees were amazing. Their jewel tones glistened in the noon time sun and while in such a sacred place, I felt the essence and majesty of their foliage. At one point, I looked down and saw the flag. I thought what an amazing view it would be to have the oranges of the fall season in the background of our star spangled banner. So, I did what all good photographers do. I laid down on my belly in my Sunday sweater to get the perfect shot....with my cell phone. I've heard it said that the best camera we may ever own is now the one we carry in our pocket. And, you know what...I might just agree. While capturing this image and the symbolism of the moment, I remembered my little assignment and thought so many layers of my soul related to gratitude were captured in that screenshot. I didn’t even think ahead as I submitted my assignment what might be going on in the world the week it finally posted (one of the fun things about planning posts ahead of time). Monday as I drove through a town with streets lined with tall, full-size flags, I remembered that my photo would pop up this week. And, with the devastating tragedies around our globe this week, gratitude means even more.

I'm thankful for freedom

I'm thankful for the opportunity to walk and stroll in such a public place

I'm thankful for the sacrifice

I'm thankful for the changes fall brings and the reminders that ensue

I'm thankful for life

I'm thankful for safety

I'm thankful for technology that allows us to capture, reflect, explore and express


Sunday, November 3, 2013

Day 14 - blissful

So, today's topic for Day 14 is "describe the last moment you felt truly blissful".

I'll admit it took me some time to think through this one.  Which made me wonder about "bliss".  Is it something we can experience all the time or only occasionally.  If "bliss" happens often does that alleviate the definition of bliss?  I don't know...I'm still going to work on that one and share my answer in instead.

So, its been a long time since we took a real family vacation, all 4 of us, on a plane and on a full week long trip together off somewhere.  My sister and I went on an awesome week long trip to Italy...that was bliss.  My mom and sister and I took a week long trip to Philadelphia.  But, Larry, he never made the trip...I'm thinking he likes the week with less estrogen in his world.

But, this summer, we took two back to back trips and picked up a little brother along the way.  After a week in Washington DC, we surprised my sister and showed up in San Diego...she had no idea we were was bliss and a little measure of perfection.

Back over memorial day weekend when I was home, my sister's boyfriend asked me to meet him for lunch because he wanted to talk to me.  Well, that pit that kicks in for the dad when he hears the same statement happened to me.  I met him and during our convo, he told me how much my sister means to him and that he wanted to marry her and wanted to ask my permission.  Score a point for Zak!  He had already met with my mom and dad and had a plan, but it wouldn't work if I couldn't be involved.

So, the week after we were to go to Washington DC, she was supposed to fly to San Diego with his family for a week in their favorite family vacation spot.  And, while they were there he wanted to "pop the question".  But, he wanted the 3 of us to be there to see it all and celebrate together.  So, we devised a plan.

It was a great.  We spent a whole week together and no one let it slip.  I was super impressed that there were no awkward moments and nothing slipped.  Event flying in and out of the same cities on the same days, we stayed away from each other. 

What I loved in that time together were the moments I shared with mom and dad, just the 3 of us.  Its been a long time...well, 26 years, since its been just the 3 of us and it was fun to just spend some one-on-one time with my mom and dad.  All the while knowing we were there to celebrate a moment my sister and I have waited for all her life. 

And, as we waited in hiding by the beach while his family all got in place and called us down.  I'll never forget her face when he turned her around to see us and she said "my family" and then frantically searched the rail line until she found me (I had a camera in my face so I was standing away from my family) and said "my sister" and then he got on his knee with the water crashing on the rocks around him and asked her to marry him. 

It was a beautiful moment.  And bliss came from remembering what's most important in life.  I wanted to hit pause and just take all those moments in for ever...the smell of the beach...the lighting of sunset, the tears on my cheeks, the smiles on all our faces and the beginning of her dreams coming true. 

As a big sister, your job is to live as an example for your little sister and then to do everything you can to help create the perfect life for her.  The life you talk about in sheet tents on Friday nights and over cartoons on Saturday morning.  In between the fights when I was "babysitting" her.  In the journals you sneak and read from each other and in our Saturday night slumber parties where I always fell asleep before we finished talking.  I love that girl and I'm stoked that in just a few days I get to stand beside her....but between now and then I'm expecting some not so blissful last minute planning!

Friday, November 1, 2013

halloween observations

So, I decided a couple things last night:
-parents are a little too competitive when it comes to child costume contests
-I will probably fall into the lazy mom category when it comes to costumes
-sonic should have $.50 corn dogs more than one day a year
-you can make a "zombie" or "fairy out of any other costume
-there is a lot of pressure to be the house with good candy in the neighborhood. It would be awful to have your neighbors kids judge you!
-apparently little kids dressing up as grandparents and peacocks were the popular costumes this year. 

At the end of the night I was glad to have these little superheroes around to protect me! 

Some of my favorite costumes of the evening

(little Abe Lincoln)

(grandpa from up....the other grandpa had a walker and  "candy drip")

(you cant tell in this photo, but the robot in the middle was glowing!  his sleeves and legs were made out of dryer vent and he had all kinds of "around the house" gadgets glued on the front to look like movable parts...mad props to this mom)