Monday, November 24, 2014

Happy 60th Birthday!

My FIL turned 60!  My MIL wanted to throw him a surprise party but the frequently asked question arose, where?  Oh yes, that would be me with my hand in the air.  Thankfully my husband quickly agreed that the party should be at our house.  We had such a great night celebrating my FIL with family and friends.  This party was the motivation behind our Living Room Project and inspired several little projects along the way, which you will see below!

We ordered food from Oregano's, one of our favorite restaurants!

Dessert was an array of my FIL (and MIL's, because, who are we kidding?) favorite desserts.  Chocolate Peanut Butter Parfait and a Lemon Berry Cheesecake Parfait along with my coconut cupcakes.

We wanted the desserts displayed at different levels  so we put chargers on top of cake plates.  You can see in the pictures that we put chargers on top of an upside down charger to help with the effect we were aiming for.

The chocolate peanut butter parfaits were the hit of the party!  SO SO SO good!

Since my FIL was born in 1954, my MIL found all sorts of events associated with that year and I designed a chalkboard poster to display.  This is a 16x20 that we had printed at Wal-Mart and she mounted onto canvas.  Wal-Mart does an awesome job at mounting photos, which we learned later when I made my Christmas Subway and Chalkboard Art.  But for these, my MIL did them herself the same way I did them in my son's Vintage Farm Nursery.  They looked great!

Have you heard of Wordle? It's a fun website that lets you create word collages.  We attempted to use the website but we couldn't download it and save it to print in this large of a format so we made it ourselves.  Wal-Mart photo lab to the rescue. 

I used the same fonts from the 1954 print to make drink and food labels.  It's all in the details!

On the tree in our living room, we hung black and white photos of him as a child.  I made these adorable Light Bulb Vases to hang on the tree too.   I love the pops of yellow against the gray wall.  It turned out so cute, don't you think?

What a great reason to express our creative side!  Happy Birthday Papa!  We are so blessed by you!

Friday, November 21, 2014

Sweet Potato and Black Bean Chili

I love chili!  It's delicious and inexpensive, which is a popular combination in my house!  It's easy to create a healthy version without feeling like you're robbing yourself of flavor.  I typically use lean ground turkey for my chili.  There's just something about ground beef that sends a chill up my spine.  Don't ask me how I can eat ground turkey and not ground beef.  I'm sure it stems from childhood trauma in which my mother put a healthy meal in front of me that I refused to eat.  The nerve.

I've talked about my mom's chili before when I posted this recipe for Chicken and Quinoa Chili (which actually tastes better than it looks in the picture). My sister and I would only it eat my mom's chili on top of saltines.  We would layer chili, sour cream and cheese of top of little crunchy, salty squares and eat until our bellies were bursting.  Mmm...remember that Sis?

Last month we had a Pumpkin Patch Birthday Party for my toddler.  We painted pumpkins, served up chili and ate pumpkin cupcakes.  The kids had almost as good of a time as the adults did ;)  When I planned the food for the party, I had our a few of our guests in mind.  One family has severe food allergies and intolerances so I wanted to serve something that would be easy to fix and would be safe for them to eat.  Chili to the rescue!  I made two different kinds, turkey chili and sweet potato with black beans.  The sweet potato and black bean chili was a hit!  It was loved by everyone!


2 small sweet potatoes, diced
1 small onion, diced
1 8 ounce can of tomato sauce
1 14.5 ounce can of chili tomatoes
3 14.5 cans of water
2 cans of black beans  (drained and rinsed)
1/2 cup of uncooked quinoa
1 box of Carol Shelby's Chili Mix

Clean eating variation: eliminate cheese and sour cream


1.  In a dutch oven, saute onions until translucent.  Add sweet potatoes and cook on low for 1-2 minutes.
2.  Add tomatoes, water and seasonings, reserve the masa for later.  Stir and bring to a simmer.
3.  Stir in quinoa, cover and cook for 12-15 minutes.
4.  About 5 minutes before serving, add black beans.
5.  (optional) Mix the masa with 1/3 cup of water and add to the chili to thicken.  (Add a little at a time until you reach desired thickness)

Note: I cooked this chili the night before the party and reheated it just before the guests arrived.  I've also made this in a slow cooker.

What's chili without the toppings?  I love them all!  There's nothing like a spicy chili with the coolness of the sour cream and the sweetness of the cornbread!  Mmm...cornbread!  For our guests at the party, I made gluten free corn bread and made sure I had toppings I knew they could enjoy.

Now that's a bowl of chili! 

Next time you find yourself wondering what to do for dinner, give this a try! 

Homemade Baby Food in 5 Easy Steps!

 The thought of making baby food may be overwhelming for some of you.  For the rest of you (myself included) buying baby food may be overwhelming.  You can easily spend $60 if not more a month on baby food.  Gulp.  Diapers, wipes, baby food, formula, clothes, shoes...when does it end? (I hear it never ends!)  When I said I wanted to make baby food before I had my first child I got the response, "yeah well, when you're taking care of a baby we'll see how much time you actually have to make baby food."  *cricket cricket*  Guess what?  I now have two kids (toddler and baby) and  I STILL have time to make baby food.  I just wrapped up another baby food making session and I thought, you know, I really need to blog this.  More people need to talk about how easy it is!  I'm showing you how I make my baby food and the materials I use to make it SO DARN EASY.   

Before I begin I should tell you that this is not a battle of who is the better mom.  You don't get a gold medal or Nobel Peace Prize if you make baby food, buy organic baby food, or buy pre-made baby food.  Nope, sorry, but you don't. We find the easiest ways to compare ourselves to other moms and this is a reminder, DON'T.  It's about what works for you and your family and this is what works for ours.

If I have any questions about how to prepare certain foods or what foods are okay to eat, I reference Momtastic's Wholesome Baby Food.

Prepare Food: Apples, bananas, blueberries, carrots, butternut squash, sweet potatoes, peas, green beans, chicken, turkey, pears, apricots...these are the usuals but Wholesome Baby Food has some great ideas if you need any.  Just peel, chop, steam and blend.  There are certain foods that can be eaten raw (depending on age) but most need to be cooked.  For peas and green beans, I usually head over to the frozen food section and buy frozen bags.

Steam: We were pretty excited when we found out our microwave came with a steam basket!  Some of you may already have one but if you don't, this one is the one we have.  If you don't have one, then use a steam basket for the stove top.  Before I had one I filled my large stock pot up with water, put my colander inside of it and set the lid to the stock pot inside the colander.  Yes, very ghetto, but it works!


Blend: A good blender is an investment.  We are so thankful that we get to use my in-law's Vitamix.  They are so expensive but it is SUCH a good blender.  It blends everything perfectly smooth.  We had one from Hamilton Beach that broke.  The blade managed to get down the garbage disposal and took a beating.  Kind of ironic, huh?  But even before it died a very ironic death it still didn't work very well.  I've also used a food processor to blend the food but found the blender made much smoother food.  Add the food to the blender and pour in enough water to cover the food.  If it's a fruit that has a lot of water in it already, add less.  Always go for less, then add more if needed.  If I'm pureeing banana and avocado, I add formula or breast milk instead of water.


Freeze:  These ice cube trays are another reason why I love the Dollar Tree! Of course you can find these at Wal-Mart and Target as well.  Once the food is blended, pour the pureed food in the ice try, cover it with plastic wrap and freeze it.  There are baby brands that sell these but hold half as much and are 3 times more expensive.  I freeze most of what I puree but also reserve some to put in the refrigerator.  The only thing I don't freeze is banana and avocado purees.  I make those fresh and make only enough for one meal since they turn so quickly.

Store: Once the food is frozen, I pop the cubes out of the trays and put in freezer bags.  I label each bag with the kind of food and the date I made it.  Every few days, I will pull out the cubes and put some in storage containers so I have thawed food on hand.  Each container holds 2 cubes.  If I don't have any thawed, I put them in a microwave safe bowl and microwave on high for 25 seconds or until it's thawed  (ALWAYS TEST FOOD TEMPERATURE BEFORE YOU GIVE IT TO A BABY!) 
If you go to the baby isle you will pay quite a bit of money for not a whole lot of storage containers.  I hate spending more money just because something has a fancy label.  I was going through Wal-Mart not too long ago and found these containers in the paper plate aisle.  8-4oz containers for less than $3.  These are microwaveable, freezeable, dishwasher safe and of course reusable.  PERFECT!  I have never been so excited about storage containers in my life!

Okay how easy is that?  5 easy steps and you have saved yourself a ton of moola!  Plus there's the added bonus of you know what you're feeding your child :)

 So don't be overwhelmed.  You can do it. 

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Toddler Snack Attack: Chocolate "Milkshake"

I've been making healthy and delicious oatmeal for my toddler this week.  And he eats it.  Well he did up until today.  It's a glorious bowl of oatmeal, peanut butter, banana and a few sprinkles of chocolate chips.  Only today I forgot to mix in the chocolate chips and left them sitting on top so of course he picked through the oatmeal and ate only the chocolate.  Meal time exhausts me.  Do you make them sit there until they eat something?  Do you just let them go?  I don't know the answer, but I'm searching!

So after our "breakfast" we walked down to the park to play, which didn't last long because SOMEONE was hungry and just couldn't handle life.  So we loaded up and went back home for a snack.  I thought, fine if he wants chocolate, I'll give him chocolate!  And I'll give him banana and avocado too!

Your toddler (or you for that matter) won't be able to resist this rich, velvety chocolate milkshake.  The secret to making this nice and thick is frozen bananas.  I always buy two bunches of bananas;  one to eat and one to freeze.  I break them up into 2 inch pieces and put them into Tupperware and freeze for treats like this.


1 frozen banana
1/2 avocado
3/4 milk (rice, almond, or coconut will do if you don't want to use dairy)
1 T cocoa powder
1 T honey


Put all ingredients in your blender and blender until smooth! If you need to add more milk, go for it, just don't add too much. 

I felt slightly victorious as he sipped away at this in his high chair thinking mom had finally caved and gave him what he wanted.  Don't worry, he didn't drink his out of a mason jar but out of a plastic toddler proof cup.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Homemade Meatballs and Marinara

Homemade Meatballs and Marinara is probably one of my all time favorite meals.  In fact I'm very picky about my meatballs.  I haven't found a restaurant that makes them like I do.  :)  So if you come across one that makes good meatballs, let me know!  These are great with spaghetti (obviously) but I like to mix up the left overs a bit.  I like to make meatball pizza, meatball subs or I serve them by themselves.  There is so much flavor, not much else is needed anyway.

I have been making this recipe for for 7 years now and I think I've got it down pretty good.  I've made marinara sauce with fresh tomatoes, like in my Spicy Red Pepper Marinara but in this recipe I use canned tomatoes.  The flavors are more consistent when you used canned tomatoes, not to mention it's a heck of a lot cheaper (unless you grow your own tomatoes).

This sauce must be paired with my foccacia breadsticks.  They are so incredibly delicious.  It is possible to make restaurant quality food at home!

So, I know you're ready to dig in and eat so let's talk recipe.



1 lb ground lean turkey
2 links spicy Italian turkey sausage
2 T olive oil
2 T Italian seasonings
3/4 c bread crumbs
2 T red wine


1 onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 t garlic powder
1 t onion powder
1/3 c red cooking wine
1 pinch red pepper flakes (optional)
2 large cans of crushed tomatoes
1 large can of tomato sauce
1 large can of diced tomatoes
1  can of tomato paste
2 T sugar
4 T Italian seasonings


For the meatballs:
Put all ingredients in a bowl.  Using clean hands, work the mixture until thoroughly combined.  Set aside.

For the sauce:
1.  In a dutch oven over medium heat, saute diced onion for 1-2 minutes, then add chopped garlic
2.  Cook onions and garlic together for 1-2 minutes (careful not to let garlic burn).  Then add garlic powder and onion powder.
3.  Pour in cooking wine and turn the heat to medium low and slowly add all of the tomatoes, except the paste.
4.  Bring sauce to a simmer then add tomato paste.  Stir until the paste has combined with the sauce.
5.  Sprinkle with sugar and Italian seasonings.  Simmer on medium-low for 10-15 minutes.  (taste test before adding meatballs)
6.  Roll the meatballs into 1 1/2 inch balls and carefully drop into the sauce.
7.  With a spatula, press all of the meatballs down into the sauce and allow to cook for 1-1 1/2 hours.    After the first 15 minutes, stir occasionally so the sauce doesn't burn.  (Do not stir for the first 15 minutes to keep from breaking up the meatballs.)

Trip back "Home"

I can't tell you the emotions that have swelled within me as I have gone through picture after picture of my grandparent's farm.  The memories are countless and there are times that my heart just aches to have my boys grow up knowing the ins and the outs of this place like my cousins and I do.  So much of this place is who I am.  We spent so many winters sledding the hills (when it snowed) and exploring the woods during the summer, galloping around on horseback (when I wasn't scared) and catching lightning bugs in jars.  We picked blackberries so Mim could make blackberry cobbler and ate ham, friend chicken, cornbread and chili until we were so full we could burst. I'll never get enough of this place. 

Here are a few of my favorites from the trip.  Thank you for letting me share them. 

Doesn't look real does it?


Mim calls this her "yacht".  Fitting, don't you think?  ;)

There have been so many people walk across this bridge.  My grandparents have hosted many missionaries, pastors, family and friends over the many years they have lived here.  And now, the footprints of little great grandchildren can be added to the many who have been blessed by my grandparents. 

What's a trip to the farm without overalls?  Or a ride on the tractor?

Thank you Mim and Papa for your prayers, your patience, unconditional love, mixed peanut butter and jellies, fishing lessons, horserides, stories, back scratches, dresses that you made us (and our dolls), and your faith.