Reason #8,364 Why my Husband is the Best!

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Once you become parents, you pretty much lose all expectations of big birthday celebrations or gifts. The vast majority of that party-throwing and gifting energy (and money!) just automatically gets re-routed to the kiddo. It’s like a law of nature. I don’t really mind, though. Most of the time, I’d rather shop for my little man anyway!

But, if you follow me on Pinterest, you know that I have a wish/project list that will likely never be completed. Well, one of the things I pinned happened to be an inspiration piece for a new tv console.  Ours was small and since we got it right after we got married, it no longer fit in with the style of our home. Plus it was somewhat lacking in storage, so we had a cheap Target bookcase on one side of it, and a VERY light metal table on the other. Both were clear hazards if Liam somehow managed to pull them over. Obviously I felt we needed something different, but have you seen how much a nice, wood tv console costs lately?! Yeah, that wasn’t going to be an option. I pretty much resigned myself to the fact that I’d probably have to manage with what we had. So imagine my surprise when my normally non-handy husband agreed to build me a new one as my birthday gift!!! He and his dad worked on it for two and a half days and it turned out PERFECT! Honestly, I couldn’t be more proud! This is not something Ryan really enjoys doing, but he did it to make me happy, and he did an amazing job! I don’t really have anything else to say, so I’m just going to let the pictures speak for themselves! (If you want to make something similar for yourself, here are the plans we used: Ana White Rustic X Console )

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(Please excuse the random DVD on the floor!)

Bringing Healthy Back

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Healthy food gets a bad rap. I know what you’re thinking, “If it’s good for me, it can’t possibly taste good!” I know. I get it. I’ve had those same thoughts many times, particularly on about day 3 of trying to diet. But, friend, you and I were oh so very wrong! Sure, butter makes a lot of things better (except your cholesterol levels), but making the choice to eat healthily doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice flavor!

Per my resolutions for 2013 to cook more and get healthy, I have been on the near constant prowl for new recipes to try. (If you follow me on Pinterest, I’m sorry.) When I came across this recipe for Slow cooker Quinoa Chicken Chili, I knew I had to make it. And soon! It combines two of my recent and most ardent culinary obsessions, quinoa and the crockpot. I told you in a previous post how the crockpot has become the most used appliance in my kitchen since having my son, but what you may not know is how crazy I have become for quinoa!

Quinoa is a grain (well, technically it’s a seed, but you use it like a grain) that is similar to couscous and can be used in both savory and sweet dishes. Liam and I have it a LOT for breakfast cooked in vanilla almond milk and topped with fresh berries and nuts. It’s delicious. It’s also a superfood and a complete protein, so it will fill you up and keep you full!

Suffice it to say, this recipe got moved WAY up my ever growing to-be-cooked list and it definitely did not disappoint! I made a few adjustments to the original recipe and I think they helped round out the dish! If you’re trying to eat healthier, and even if you’re not, make this soon!

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Slow cooker Quinoa Chicken Chili
adapted from Queen Bee Coupons

 

1 cup quinoa, rinsed

1 28 oz can diced tomatoes

1 14 oz can diced tomatoes with green chilies

2 16 oz cans black beans, rinsed and drained

2 11 oz cans southwestern corn (has black beans and peppers in it)

3 Cups chicken stock

3 large chicken breasts, frozen or thawed (cook longer if frozen)

1 tsp garlic powder

2 tsp cumin

2 tsp chili powder

 

1. Put all of the ingredients into the crockpot and cook for 6-8 hours on low or 4-7 hours on high. I cooked mine on high for 4 hours, but if your chicken is frozen, you will probably need to cook it for 6 or 7.

2. When the chicken is cooked through, remove it from the crockpot and shred it. If you have a Kitchenaid stand mixer with a paddle attachment, this will make your life so much easier! Just throw it in the bowl and beat on low speed until the chicken is shredded. If you don’t have a KA mixer, you can shred it with a fork.

3. Put the shredded chicken back into the slowcooker, stir it up, and serve with whatever toppings you like. We used colby jack cheese and chopped avocado. Enjoy!

The Best Thing I’ve Ever Eaten (so far!)

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I’ve been meaning to make this blueberry baked oatmeal for a while now, but I just kept putting it off, and putting it off…as I am wont to do sometimes. And now I want to kick myself for waiting so long! This stuff is absolutely incredible, especially when it’s hot out of the oven. I decided to make it last night to have for breakfast this morning, but I just couldn’t wait until this morning to eat some! And I may or may not have had several servings since then…Hey, at least it’s a healthy indulgence, right? Even if you’re not a huge fan of oatmeal, I can pretty much guarantee you’ll like this. If you don’t, well, then there’s just no helping you!

If it wasn’t for some uncooperative butter, this would’ve been super quick, but every time I tried to add the “slightly cooled” butter to the wet ingredients, it seized up and made my custard look like it was pulpy! I ended up just eliminating the butter from the recipe and it turned out perfectly, but if you are somehow better at preventing butter pulp than I, go right ahead and use it!

I really hope you make this soon! Don’t be dumb and wait like I did because you will surely regret it!

 

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Blueberry Pecan Baked Oatmeal

adapted from So, How’s it Taste

ingredients:

1 1/2 cups quick oats
3/4 cup chopped pecans, divided
3/4 tsp. baking powder
1 1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
Pinch of salt
1/3 cup maple syrup
1 1/2 cups milk
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
2 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly (I omitted after the butter pulp debacle)
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
3-4 ripe bananas, peeled and sliced
2 cup blueberries, fresh or frozen, divided

directions:

1. Preheat the oven to 375F.

2. Lightly grease a 9 x 13″ baking dish. In a medium bowl, mix the oats, half of the pecans, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt. Stir to combine. In a liquid measuring cup, combine the syrup, milk, egg, butter (or omit, like me!), and vanilla.

3. Spread the sliced bananas in a single layer over the bottom of the baking dish. Top with half of the berries. Sprinkle the dry oat mixture over the fruit in an even layer. Pour the liquid ingredients evenly over the oats.

4. Sprinkle the remaining nuts and berries over the top. Bake for 35-40 minutes, until the top is browned and the oats have set. Let cool 10 minutes before serving. Or, do like me and wait 2 minutes, and dig in because it smells so good that you just can’t wait any longer! Enjoy!

The Crockpot, or How I Manage to Cook Most Days

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I honestly love to cook, but my husband’s schedule and my son have made doing so pretty difficult most days! For the first six months or so after Liam was born, he HATED to be put down and he would scream if I attempted to be away from him for more than a minute. Not exactly conducive to cooking a good meal! Add in the fact that Ryan works nights and we ended up eating way too much fast food and pizza because it was just easier.

However, it certainly hasn’t been easy on our wallets or our health, so I decided to make more of an effort to cook. But even though Liam is somewhat more willing to play independently now, he has become mobile, so I am constantly chasing him around. Again, not very good for cooking! Since I don’t have Ryan around most nights to help me wrangle him, the humble CrockPot has become my new best friend. It really is the only way I can manage to cook on Ryan’s work nights if I want to eat before 10pm!

So in my search for more Crockpot recipes, I ran across a recipe on Pinterest for this Cajun stew. I love Cajun food, and I can’t ever get enough shrimp, so this was definitely something I had to try. And the fact that it’s a healthy recipe makes it even better (especially considering how many crockpot recipes are full of preservatives in the form of cream of crap soup)!

It turned out much better than I expected! I was a little nervous about the Cayenne, and it was definitely spicy, but not overly so. If you’re sensitive to spicy food, you can always decrease the amount you put in.

Make this sometime soon! You will love how easy it is to get a great tasting meal on the table!

Crockpot Cajun Stew

Adapted from MarthaStewart.com

3/4 lb andouille or kielbasa, sliced into 1/2-inch-thick rounds (I used Slovacek pork and beef sausage)
1 red onion, sliced into wedges
1 large shallot, sliced
6 garlic cloves, minced
2 celery stalks, coarsely chopped
1 green bell pepper, coarsely chopped
2 Tbsp. all purpose flour
1 28 oz can diced tomatoes
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
Kosher salt, to taste
1/2 lb. large shrimp, peeled and deveined
2 cups frozen cut okra, thawed

In a 5 to 6 quart slow cooker, place sausage, onion, shallot, garlic, celery, and bell pepper. Sprinkle with flour and toss to coat. Add tomatoes and their liquid, 1/2 cup water, and cayenne; season with salt. Cover and cook until vegetables are tender, 3 1/2 hours on high (or 7 hours on low). Add shrimp and okra, cover, and cook until shrimp are opaque throughout, 30 minutes (or 1 hour on low). Serve over rice and enjoy!

2013, you have some big shoes to fill!

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Yes, I’m aware that this is a few days late, but I’m a little bit in denial that it really is 2013. Despite all the predictions that the world would end in 2012, we’re still here and, as much as I would like it to stop sometimes, time keeps moving forward.

As I look back on 2012, I realize that I have a LOT to be thankful for! My amazing, wonderful, perfect, (insert grand motherly adjective of your choice here) son has been the greatest gift of 2012. No, more like the greatest gift of my life! Sorry Ryan, but you’re up there too! Despite the fact that Ryan still hasn’t been able to find a new job, I consider my life blessed to have my two men in my life now. 2013 is going to have to work pretty hard to live up to 2012. But I am looking forward to seeing what this year brings us!

So here are my resolutions for 2013:

1.  Be the best mother and wife that I can be!

– This one’s pretty self explanatory. I want to work harder to give Ryan more of my attention and make sure that we have date nights. I also want to continue to engage Liam, teach him, and give him fun experiences!  I love my boy!

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2. Save more money.

– Again, pretty self explanatory. Ryan is still searching for a full-time salaried position and I am a stay at home mom, so there’s always more money to be saved!

3. Read more.

– I have always loved reading, but since I had Liam, my reading time has pretty much vanished. In the three months of 2012 before he was born, I read 18 books. Then I read absolutely nothing for 6 months after he was born! I finished out the year with 22 books. My goal for 2013 is 35. Now that he is on a more predictable schedule, I’m hoping I will be able to reach that goal!

4. Get healthy!

– I have lost all of my baby weight, plus a little, but I only gained 10 pounds and I didn’t start out at a healthy weight. Unfortunately, breastfeeding has not been helpful in losing weight. My goal is to get down to 130 lbs. That’s going to take a LOT of work and I may not get there this year, but if I can start making reasonable changes now, it’ll be easier for me to keep it up! This also goes along with my goal to cook more!

5. Organize my house!

– We have a lot of stuff that needs to go and stuff that I need to find better places for.

6. Write down one good thing that happens every day and put it in a jar to be opened on New Year’s Eve 2013.

– Sometimes it’s hard to remember the good things that have happened over the year. Our minds are programmed to look for the bad. This is a way for me to attempt to look back and count my blessings!

So, in the spirit of Resolution #4, I wanted to share a great muffin recipe that I made yesterday because they are very healthy, but they taste so amazing that you won’t even notice! I’m a big fan of stealthy healthy food! These are great for breakfast, and because they are packed with protein from the quinoa, they will keep you full all morning. Unless you get up and eat breakfast god-awfully early! But they’ll still keep you full for several hours!

Whole Wheat Strawberry Banana Quinoa Muffins

adapted from Poor Girl Eats Well

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Ingredients
1 1/3 c whole wheat flour (the original recipe calls for quinoa flour, but I didn’t have any. Using the quinoa flour would make these gluten free)
1 t baking powder
1/2 t salt
1/2 c firmly packed brown sugar
2 eggs, lightly beaten
2 T melted butter
1 t vanilla extract
2 medium overripe bananas, mashed
1 c cooked quinoa
1 c chopped strawberries (I used a little more than one cup. It doesn’t have to be exact!)

Directions
1.  Preheat the oven to 375°.  Prepare a muffin or cupcake tin with cooking spray or muffin liners.  In a small bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder and salt, and set aside.  In a separate, larger bowl, combine the brown sugar, butter, eggs & vanilla and whisk until smooth.  Mix in the dry flour mixture a couple tablespoons at a time, stirring together until completely incorporated.

2.  When all the flour has been mixed in, add the mashed bananas and the quinoa, and mix well.  Add the chopped strawberries and fold into the muffin batter.  Divide the batter among the prepared muffin cups. Bake for about 25-30 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center of one of the muffins comes out clean.

3.  Remove from oven and cool for a couple of minutes before removing muffins from pan.  Cool on a rack for about 10 minutes, or until ready to serve. Enjoy!

Book Review: The Weight of Silence

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I recently realized how far behind I am on my yearly reading goal, so when I saw that this book was available from my local library, I checked it out on Goodreads and thought it sounded interesting, so I decided to pick it up on my Nook. Gudenkauf’s debut novel certainly did not disappoint!

The story follows two families in Iowa, as their daughters, Calli and Petra, disappear from their homes in the early morning hours, and the subsequent search for the girls and their abductors. Calli, who witnessed a horrible tragedy as a young girl, is a selective mute. Petra is her best friend and her voice, speaking for Calli and understanding her in a way that no one else has since she stopped speaking three years before the story begins.

The story is told from the alternating points of view of Calli, her brother Ben, her mother Antonia (Toni), Petra’s father Martin, and the local Deputy Sheriff, Louis. All of these are told using first-person point of view, with the exception of Calli’s chapters, which are in third person. When I first noticed the difference, the change was slightly jarring, but it quickly became a very interesting device to underscore the fact that Calli does not speak.

The subject of this story is a tough one, but it reads easily and keeps you riveted waiting to find out what happened to the two girls, why Calli doesn’t speak, and if she will ever speak again. The villain did almost come out of nowhere, but that’s a relatively minor complaint, especially if you like mysteries. Personally, I like to be able to speculate about who did it, and I wasn’t really expecting this character. That could have been an oversight on my part, though.

Overall, I highly recommend this book! It is a quick, interesting, and thought-provoking read (I had never heard of selective mutism before reading this book), and I look forward to seeing more from this author!

June Cleaver, I am not!

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I think most expecting mothers with plans to stay at home have delusions of grandeur when it comes to all that they expect to be able to accomplish on a daily basis as a homemaker/stay-at-home mom. I know I sure did! I had this image in my head of a perfectly clean and well-organized house, clean laundry, delicious and satisfying meals cooked from scratch three times a day, fresh baked goods, and a happy, well-cared for, enriched child. In short, I expected to be June freaking Cleaver. 

Yeah…my life is a far cry from that image I was so sure I could achieve as a first time mom! I’m not sure why I expected all of that of myself, as I have never been very domestically inclined. Sure, I’m a pretty good cook, but the rest of it, not so much. And even though I love to cook, I rarely have both the time and the energy to do so. At the end of the day, I’m lucky if I have managed to eat three times period! 

I may not be winning any homemaker awards any time soon, but I have to say that, if I’ve gotten any of my “ideal” right, it’s my happy, well-cared for child! I’m ok with putting other things off to spend time with Liam. Sure, I’d love to be able to do everything, to be Supermom! Who wouldn’t? But if I have to choose between a clean house and seeing my son light up when we roll a ball back and forth to each other or listen to the intoxicating sound of his laugh when I lay him down for a tickle attack, I’m going to choose him every.single.time. Maybe I’ll come closer to my June Cleaver ideal one of these days, but if not, I’m happy just being Liam’s momma!