Friday, March 18, 2016

Ants in the Pantry... And why I'm thankful for them

Wednesday night, I opened my pantry, and I saw one.  An ant.  A little, tiny sugar ant.  But where there is one, there is bound to be more. I followed it, knowing it would lead me to its friends.  They were crawling all over a forgotten bottle of maple syrup in the back of the pantry.  And so, I began the arduous task of inspecting every box and bottle of food in the pantry for an ant invasion.  With food spread out all over the floor and kitchen table, I looked back in the pantry and noted that the only foods I had skipped checking- the ones I didn't even bother with- were my mother-in-law's canned goods.

Over the summer, my in-laws canned jellies and peppers and salsas and other fruits and veggies.  Preserving foods by canning makes them last just about forever because they don't go bad and nothing- not even a little sugar ant- can get inside. I knew I didn't need to check them for ants because there was no way they could have gotten inside.

Instantly, I was struck by a Bible verse from my women's Bible study from the night before:

Psalm 119:107
...Preserve my life, Lord, according to Your Word.

The fruits and vegetables from my mother-in-law's garden have lasted much longer preserved than they would have had they been left sitting out alone.  They have been kept from going bad, from spoiling, and from rotting. They have been kept from growing mold and needing to be thrown out. They have been protected from the ants that have invaded their surroundings.

Isn't that just what God does for us? He preserves us so we can withstand anything that comes our way.  Without being preserved, those fruits and vegetables would be long gone by now, having succumbed to their environment, just as we would have without God's preservation of our lives. The "good" is kept pure and safe and the "bad" is kept from invading- simply through the preservation that comes when we open our Bibles and receive His Word.

We all have "ants" that set out with the intent to invade: negativity, stress, distractions, anger, unhappiness, sadness... The list goes on.  But isn't it a blessing to know that if we are preserved by God, those ants have nowhere to go?  We are protected.  I'm not saying they won't try to get in; I'm saying they won't be able to.  If we are rooted in God's Word, we have the protection we need to withstand the enemy's invasion. That protection comes from being immersed in the Bible- turning to God for strength to endure.

It's a strange feeling- to be thankful for ants- but I am grateful for the reminder of God's love for me that they provided.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Goat cheese stuffed chicken breasts

Welcome back to my blog! I have been seriously neglectful of it, but in my defense, I've had a lot going on. How about GRAD SCHOOL!!! I applied last fall and I am currently taking my first two classes! Woo hoo! And also... *yawn*

I'm always tired. Which is why I haven't been blogging recently. But this recipe was so good, I wanted to write it down quickly so I didn't forget it. 

It was inspired by one my husband found online, but as always, I changed a few things. 

Ingredients (for two servings)
2 chicken breasts
2 oz goat cheese
1.5 tbs butter
Juice from 1/2 lemon
Garlic powder, onion powder, parsley, salt, and pepper (to taste)
Flour (coconut or almond if you're going low carb)

Preheat oven to 350. 
Combine seasonings, cheese, lemon juice, and butter. 
Cut a slit into each chicken breast, starting on the thickest end (like you're making a pocket... Because that's exactly what you're doing. 
Stuff half of the cheese mixture into each chicken breast. 
Coat the chicken in flour, then egg, then flour again. 
Brown the chicken in oil over medium-high heat for three minutes on each side. 
Place chicken in the oven to finish cooking (around 8-10 minutes). 

I also made a lemon pepper cream sauce to top the chicken. It was the perfect addition! I don't have a real recipe for this. I just mixed it until I liked the taste, but I will try my best to write one out. 

First, I made a roux with butter and flour. Next, I added some whole milk and the juice of one lemon. It got a little too thick, so I added some more milk. Then I added garlic powder, salt, black pepper, and a dash of red pepper. I kept adding seasoning until I liked the taste. That's the beauty of cooking. It's personal. 

We ate dinner together at the kitchen table, which is one of my New Years resolutions. It's so important to eat together as a family. 

So here's hoping I keep up with the blog! I really do enjoy it, and I need something that's just for me amidst everything else I'm doing. And if other's enjoy it as well? The more the merrier :)

Sunday, November 15, 2015

A hobby turns a profit

Last year, I started painting some pieces of reclaimed wood I came across. I sold a few pieces, but really got out of it fairly quickly. Until a couple months ago. 

On a whim, I shared a photo of a painting I had done last fall. 

I'm getting ready to start grad school in January. Did you realize how expensive it is to even apply?? Between ordering transcripts, paying for tests, and paying for the application itself, my already tight budget was feeling the squeeze. I shared this photo as a "feeler"... "Would anyone be interested in ordering some paintings to help me cover the application costs?"

Yes. Yes, they would. 

What started as one order turned into a few more... And then a few more... And then even more. 

Since September, I have been blessed with a steady stream of painting orders. They have helped cover all of my application costs, unexpected bills, doctor visits, and more. 

I am thrilled with how busy I've been and so thankful for the opportunity to use my gifts. 

Today, the mother of one of my husband's former students called me to say that she'd come across SEVERAL discarded kitchen cabinet doors. For free. And she was giving them to me!

Look at that pile of treasure just waiting to be discovered! I have some great ideas for these. Chalkboards, coat or key rack, etc. I was so excited to get started!

They'd been kept in a shed for a while, so they had some dry mold growing on them. 

I sprayed them with a bleach mixture to kill and remove the mold. It already looked better just from the wash, and I loved the chippy texture, so I didn't do anything else to the cabinet itself. 

This piece was perfect for one word, two at the most. I knew what word I wanted for my kitchen: "gather."

I free handed the word in pencil to make sure I had the size right. Then I went over it in black acrylic. 

It's the perfect statement for my kitchen. The kitchen is truly the heart of my home where my family gathers together. We cook, we eat, we clean, we talk. 

We gather. 

I have several more doors available, but this one is all mine!

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Honey Lime Fish Tacos with Mexican Cream

Who doesn't love Taco Tuesday? Personally, I look forward to it every week.  It doesn't have to be the same taco every time.  That's the beauty of it.  Pretty much, if you can put it in a tortilla, it can be a taco.

My favorites are fish tacos, especially for summer.  They are lighter than regular tacos, and on a hot, summer day, they can be quite refreshing.  Especially when paired with a cool, creamy sauce.

For these tacos, I used tilapia, lime, and honey.  It was really simple and really tasty.

Four tilapia fillets
One lime
1-2 tbsp honey
salt and pepper

Set your oven to broil.  While the oven is heating, salt and pepper both sides of the fish.  Place on a baking sheet and top with half the lime juice and half the honey.  Broil for 5 minutes.  Flip the fish over, and top with the remaining lime juice and honey.  Broil for 5 more minutes until the fish is white and opaque.

For the sauce, I mixed one tbsp cilantro paste with 1/2 c sour cream. It was paired perfectly with the lime in the fish.  I chopped some cucumbers, put them in the taco with the fish, and topped the whole thing with the Mexican cream.  To add some extra spice, I sprinkled on some red pepper flakes.

To make this meal low carb, I used a low carb tortilla.  However, the only ones I could find were soft.  To make them crunchy, I baked them in a 350 degree oven like this...

That way, they baked into the perfect shell shape. Just check on them periodically to make sure they are starting to crisp.  I haven't timed it myself; I just go by feel.

I hope you enjoy making these for your next Taco Tuesday!

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Nine Tips for Nine Months

There is was... The "plus sign" we'd been praying for.  I can't believe it has been three years since we first found out about our Sweet P.

With that plus sign came a whole new slew of questions... What can I eat? What positions can I sleep in safely? ... Do you mean to tell me I can't have coffee AT ALL???

And with those questions came the advice. Oh, you know what I'm talking about.  It's like now that you're pregnant, you have lost all ability to think for yourself.  Friends, family, even strangers in the grocery store parking lot feel like they need to tell you the whats, whens, whys, and hows of being pregnant.  And the "stranger in the grocery store parking lot?" That actually happened.  "You know you shouldn't eat deli meat, right?" yelled Stranger-Danger from across the aisle as I was loading my groceries into my car.  Thanks for your concern, ma'am.

But with each passing month, you become more and more aware.  You're going to be a mom. Those motherly instincts kick in way before the due date, let me tell you.  Trust your gut.  You will be fine.

But if you're like me, you're still going to scour the internet for all things pregnancy. Amid all the uncertainty, all the "new," it can be difficult to simply rest and enjoy those 40 weeks.  They may seem to be dragging by, but soon, your own little sweet one will be out in the big world.

For me, each month brought with it a new challenge. Here are my tips and tricks for staying healthy and sane for the next nine months.

Month one: Confirming the Plus Sign

Yay! We're pregnant!... Now what? First things first: call your doctor.  Actually, call your mom.  Then call your doctor.  My doctor waited to do the ultrasound until I was eight weeks along.  A friend's doctor did her ultrasound at five-six weeks along.  It's really up to the discretion of your doctor.  Be sure you love your doctor, by the way.  The two of you are about to get really close. In the few weeks before my ultrasound, I started a prenatal vitamin, watched what I ate, and counted down the minutes until I would see that tiny jellybean of a baby growing inside me. Any questions, call your nurse.  That's what she's there for!

Month two: The Reveal

This was the picture my husband and I posted to social media to announce that Sweet P was on the way.  My tip for this? Make it fun. Make it special.  You only get to announce your first pregnancy once, so go all out.  Feel like shouting it from the roof tops the second you find out? Do it! Want to wait until the first ultrasound (like me)? That's fine, too.  Or even after the first trimester.  It's whatever you choose.  I just probably wouldn't wait until delivery.  That could be a little too late ;)

Month three: Morning Sickness

Week 8
Myth: Morning sickness only happens in the morning.  Fact: Morning sickness happens in the morning... and the afternoon... and the evening... and the middle of the night.  For me, it was a constant feeling of nausea that never really went away until I was thirteen weeks along.  You know the feeling you get when you get off a really crazy roller coaster right after eating a bucket of hot wings? No? Well, imagine it.  Now imagine it lasting for three months. Boom. That's morning sickness for you. I never took an anti-nausea medication.  I didn't want to take any medication that wasn't absolutely necessary. In fact, concerns are currently being raised by American Recall Center about the drug Zofran, which is being used off-label in a way the FDA has not approved. Zofran side effects include birth defects such as cleft palate and heart defects! I was not about to take something that could harm my Sweet P. Instead, I found out what worked for me.  If I ate a few crackers and drank some water when I first woke up, I could head it off.  Also, listen to your body.  Food cravings and aversions are not just funny old-wives tales.  I couldn't stand ice cream.  Even the smell.  If I ate it, terrible things happened to me.  Just take my word for it.

Month four: Maternity Clothes

Week 15
Week 18
You know all of the gorgeous celebrity moms prancing around in their perfectly-fitting maternity dresses and four-inch heels? You are not going to look nothing like that.  Sorry to burst your bubble. Don't get me wrong; you're going to look beautiful! It's just that maternity clothes are expensive! And you're only going to be wearing them for five months. My advice? Consignment stores.  Seriously.  I never paid full-price for any of my maternity clothes. You can find some awesome brands at discounted prices by browsing through the racks.  I found GAP, Motherhood, Target maternity... all for a fraction of what I would have paid in stores. Another trick? Borrow them from a friend! Trust me, she'll be happy to have those clothes out of her closet and being put to good use.

Month five: The Gender Reveal!!!!

Week 21
Finally! The month you've been waiting for! At least, if you plan on finding out the gender of your baby.  For me, that was the only thing I could think of.  I HAD to know.  If there had been a pregnancy test available to buy that said "You're pregnant. It's a girl," right away, I would have paid I don't even know how much money to buy that stick. The waiting drove me insane.  And just like the pregnancy announcement, the gender announcement should be as special as you want.  If you want it to be just you and your spouse in the doctor's office, that is just as good as a color-coordinate cake or a box of balloons, which by the way is what we did.  Our ultrasound tech wrote the gender on a slip of paper in an envelope.  We gave the envelope to a friend who met us at our house with a box of either blue or pink balloons. We counted to three and opened the box...

Finally knowing that our Sweet P was a girl was the best part.  We got to call her by her name and pick out tiny dresses.  For me, that made it even more real. My DAUGHTER was growing week by week.

Another thing that starts to happen this month... sleeping becomes a real issue.  I couldn't get comfortable.  If I laid on my back, I felt like I was suffocating. Laying on my stomach was not an option anymore.  So, side-sleeping it was.  My recommendation: get a BODY PILLOW!! Seriously, it was my best friend.  It gave my growing stomach the support it needed so I could be as comfortable as possible. 

Month six: Pregnancy Brain

Oh, its real, folks. Very real.

Week 24
Week 27

You always hear pregnant women blaming things on "pregnancy brain." Yeah, like that's even a thing. IT IS. One night, I had made a giant pot of broccoli soup (remember those cravings I was telling you about?).  I was so excited.  I was going to put it in individual containers to carry to work for lunch the rest of the week.  Did you catch that? I was going to. Instead, I left the whole darn thing sitting on the kitchen counter all night, ruining it. Combine that fact with the crazy-pregnant-lady hormones, and you have all the necessary ingredients for a meltdown that would rival 2007 Britney Spears. Advice for dealing with pregnancy brain: make lists, get organized, and learn to say "no." There are things you have to do; write those down on a list.  Meal-prepping should have gone on my list.  It did not, and there I was, soup-less.  But you do not have to do everything! Say no to the unnecessary things.  Use that time to relax.  Goodness knows, you won't get to for much longer.

Month seven: Maternity Photos

Week 30
 As a photographer and former pregnant lady, I highly recommend getting maternity photos done around the seven month mark.  Any earlier, you're likely not showing as much.  Any later, you are going to be miserably large.  Month seven is the perfect in-between stage.  Definitely, visibly pregnant; still able to move around with some sort of ease.  Also, make sure you get maternity photos.  It breaks my heart to hear clients turn down our maternity package because they "feel fat." You are not fat; you are beautiful, doing the most beautiful thing in the world.  Treasure it.  Show it off.  I felt like a supermodel at my pregnancy shoot, swollen ankles and all. If you are really concerned about it, talk with your doctor and develop a pregnancy fitness routine.  I adored prenatal yoga.  The stretches really eased my back pain and helped me feel more relaxed.  It's also great for breathing techniques to use during childbirth.

PS- I got this entire outfit at a consignment store!

Month eight: Packing the hospital bag

33 weeks

36 weeks

As if you couldn't tell from my pictures, by the eighth month, I was ready to pop.  Literally.  My doctor had said baby could come at any time, so for the next few weeks we waited for "any time" to come. We made sure hospital bags were packed and ready to go.  Looking back, there are so many things I should not have bothered packing and so many other things I wish I had. The adorable set of pajamas I bought to wear in the hospital? The magazines? They stayed in the bag.  Some things I highly recommend bringing? Two big, fluffy, dark brown towels. The white hospital towels were awful for postpartum. Not to mention scratchy and small.  Another item is toilet paper.  That one-ply nonsense the hospital supplied was not gonna cut it.

At month eight, I was so uncomfortable.  My back hurt 24/7; my ankles were a thing of the past. To help with the back pain, I would stand under the shower and let the hot water hit directly on my lower back.  It felt amazing.  For my swollen feet, I propped them up on pillows.  Not only did it make me feel like a princess, but it helped alleviate some of the swelling.  That was also the month I went for a pre-delivery pedicure.  If my feet were going to be hoisted up for all to see, I wanted my toes to at least look cute.  I got pink polish in honor of baby girl.  And the pedicurist doing it was so sweet.  She gave me an extra long leg and foot massage before painting my tootsies.  She was an angel! I highly recommend this little treat. You've earned it!

Month nine: Make Room for BABY!

Week 39
 With my daughter, I ended up needing to be induced. She was out of growing room. But that was fine with me.  My doctor and I had a plan.  I know most pregnant ladies have an idea of what they want to have done in the delivery room.  I cannot express enough how important it is to talk to your doctor about it before hand.  Waiting until you are contracting every minute and trying to squeeze out a tiny human is not going to provide you with enough time to have that conversation.  I wanted an epidural; some women do not.  I wanted just my husband to be with me; some women want more people.  It's up to you, but make sure the plan is made ahead of time.  While you are in labor, you cannot eat or drink anything, but you can have ice chips.  And you'd better eat those ice chips. With my daughter, I could not get cool enough.  They cranked the A/C down and fanned me with clip boards.  I had cool cloths on my neck and chest.  But I was so hot.  Giving birth is exhausting, and you will need the water those ice chips provide to help stay hydrated and cool. But you can do it, and you will be rewarded with the greatest gift...

 A tiny, perfect, eight-pound, 20-inch-long bundle of joy.

I hope my tips and tricks work for you and your pregnancy.  If not, you will find what does.  Trust your "mama-instincts," and enjoy every moment of those beautiful 40 weeks! Time will fly by! And, trust me, it will never slow down again...

Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Chipotle Orange Pork Chops with an Apple Raisin Chutney

Today was a perfect summer day.  It was the stuff that dreams are made of.  My Sweet P went to school this morning and gave me a big hug "bye" before heading off to play.  I spent the morning with my husband.  Sweet P actually took a nap in her big girl bed, which is HUGE for her.  She's never been a napper.  Granted, my husband took a nap with her, but it's a step in the right direction.  At least she slept this time.  And, boy, did she sleep!

I went outside and laid in the sun in her little pool, just the right size to keep me cool.  I read a book. I finished my book. I went to the library and got a library card! I checked out more books.  All the while, my family was napping, and I got some "me time." It was much needed, and I enjoyed every second.

I enjoyed some "me time" last week with a friend. We went to Whole Foods and Sprouts and At Home... I enjoyed adult conversation and grocery shopping without having to rush.  At Whole Foods, I picked up a new seasoning to try: Chipotle Orange salt.  It has a strong chipotle flavor with just a touch of orange.  The chipotle has a good bit of heat, so be mindful of that when you use it.  A little goes a long way.

I knew it would go well on pork chops, so I simply seasoned both sides of the chop and seared them on my grill pan to give them those pretty lines.  I finished them off in the oven for 20 minutes at 375.  

The zucchini I also did on the grill pan.  I used a touch of the chipotle orange salt, some black pepper, and olive oil. The zucchini cooked quickly and turned out beautiful.

Keeping with my fruit theme, I decided to go with an apple chutney.  Typically, apple chutney calls for green apples, but since I knew I was going to use the chipotle orange seasoning, I decided to go with red apples so their natural sweetness would combat some of that heat.  I cubed the apples and combined the apple pieces with some olive oil, a tbs of apple cider vinegar, some of the chipotle orange salt, a tbs (ish) of honey, and just a splash of orange juice to bring out the citrus in the salt.  I also added in some raisins.  I cooked the apples over medium high heat until the liquid was gone and used them to top the pork chops.  The sweet apples, spicy seasoning, and savory pork chops combined perfectly!

This just looks like summer to me.  So many colors and fruits and veggies; the grill marks... all signs of summer in my book.

Of course, my Sweet P was closely monitoring my work... Silly, sweet girl. 

Do you have a favorite summer recipe! Let me know in the comments!

Friday, June 12, 2015

Cheesy Cauliflower "Grits"

I have come to love cauliflower. 

There, I said it. 

I. Love. Cauliflower. 

But... I don't love it as cauliflower. I love it because it can be disguised as nearly anything else. Like grits :)

Start by "ricing" a head of cauliflower. I use a cheese grater to do this, but you could also use a food processor or cut it fine with a butcher knife. 

Next, you'll combine the cauliflower with a little milk in a pan to heat it through and make it soft. Just check it periodically until it reaches a texture you like. I like it to have a little bit more crunch to it. 

Once the cauliflower is cooked, add whatever cheese you like. I added Parmesan and a bit of Colby Jack. I also added salt and pepper and a touch of garlic powder. 

These are great as a side dish for breakfast. I used to not like grits. I know, what southern girl doesn't like grits?? But then I realized the error of my ways. And now in a low carb lifestyle, I can't have them. Since I made these, I actually like them more. Knowing that I'm getting a full serving of veggies makes it even better! 

I made these again using frozen cauliflower. 

Can't even tell!!  I put a serving of the frozen cauliflower in a microwave-safe bowl with two tablespoons of water. Microwave for three minutes, drain the water, and they are ready to be used just like the fresh cauliflower. Either put them in a food processor or chop them with a butcher knife. Easy as pie... Low carb pie, of course!

Hope you enjoy!