Monday, May 6, 2013

Chewy Granola Bars

I grew up with a Mom who baked everything from scratch.  This is one of the recipes that sticks out most prominently in my childhood.  Chewy granola bars!  They are not a replacement for the kind of granola bars you get from the store.  At least, I've never viewed them that way.  They are thick and chewy and delicious!!  I will show the recipe as written and put my current changes in parenthesis:

Chewy Granola Bars:

Mix together:
1c. brown sugar
2/3c. peanutbutter
1/2c. light Karo syrup (brown rice syrup)
1/2c. melted butter (coconut oil)
2t. vanilla

Then add:
3c. old fashioned oats
1/2 c. unsweetened coconut
1/2 c. sunflower seeds
1/2 c. raisins
1/3 c. wheat germ
2 T. sesame seeds
1 c. chocolate chips

Bake in greased 9x13 pan for 15-20 min until edges are lightly browned.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013


While we are just ushering out the snow here in Cleveland, I am knee deep in planting for my summer harvest.  I have to say, though, that last year I was not in this same place mentally.  I planted a handful of things in my garden, and most of these plants were a gift from a friend.  While I knew my garden would not be my source for summer produce, I had heard that a CSA could be.  CSA stands for community supported agriculture.  Here in the Northeastern Ohio area, we have a great one called Fresh Fork Market.  I loved it because it works with over 75 local growers, creameries, butchers, granaries and pasta makers.  Because of this, we were able to receive local meat, milk, butter, pasta, grains, cheese and produce.  The owner is passionate about chemical free produce, grass fed beef/milk/butter, pastured chicken and pork and the freshest, healthiest local ingredients.

The thing that has changed my palate and that of my family more than anything else has been joining a CSA.  Prior to this year, even if I was shopping at a local farmer's market, I would choose things I recognize.  The surprise and challenge of a CSA is that you get whatever they give you!  I had never worked with garlic scapes, fennel, pea tendrils, beets, collard greens, or half of the greens I saw each week in my bag.  Because of that, I would never have chosen them at the market.  The challenge each week was to take what I didn't know, or rarely used, and find delicious ways to use them before I picked up my bag the following week.  Pinterest got a huge workout, as I searched by "beet greens" or "kohlrabi" to find recipes that my family would enjoy.  Joining a CSA has to be entered into with a spirit of adventure in order to get the most out of the experience.  I love this quote from True Food.   Dr. Andrew Weil says,

"For Americans used to choosing from predictable (and uniformly mediocre) produce in supermarkets, the surprise element requires adjustment.  If you open your CSA box with dread, hoping it has this and not that, you have some distance to go.  If you attack it with roughly the same enthusiasm as a child opening presents on Christmas and are delighted by whatever you find, you are on the right track."

Another thing I didn't bargain for was the fact that meat would lose the spotlight that we, as a regular American family, placed on it.  It started to happen out of sheer necessity.  In order to cook through the amount of produce we received on a weekly basis, many of our dinners consisted of vast quantities of vegetables with a tiny amount of meat added.  It was a startling discovery that we could be full and happy with less and less meat each day.  While I am by no means a vegetarian, I love the idea of taking an ingredient that is hugely overused and making it take a back burner.

This is our CSA.  The pickups take place in parking lots and we pick up our bags from the back of a truck.  They sell products in addition to what is in your bag.  There are some yummy options!

That's my take on CSAs.  I think my life is enriched because of it and I would heartily recommend it to anyone looking to eat locally within a budget, all while supporting the economy of your area.

The CSA we use is and they have a ton of pickup locations on different days of the week throughout NE Ohio.  They are already doing sign ups for their spring and summer season!  If you are looking into community supported agriculture in your area, sign up early.  I have heard that many CSAs fill up fast.  You can find a comprehensive, nationwide list at

If a CSA is too much of an undertaking for you, I encourage you to do your weekly spring, summer and fall produce shopping at a local farmer's market.  Leave your meal planning behind until you see what is in season and in abundance in your area that week.  Challenge yourself and buy things you've never seen before. Then roll up your sleeves and get to work finding great new recipes that I'm sure will surprise you!

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The Accuser

Yesterday I was speaking with a friend who said " I can't believe we're already behind on day 3 of Advent!"  It got me thinking about the pressure we put on ourselves to do this Mom thing perfectly -- I feel like if I don't get all 24 days of Advent in, make Christmas cookies, volunteer places, and create a truly magical time of traditions for my family, I'm a failure. After all, I scoured Pinterest for hours on end, created projects in lunchbags so they would be ready in advance, made lists of traditions for my kids to look back on with fondness, had big plans to be the most amazing mom ever. But I constantly fight the feeling that I'm a failure -

I had great plans and didn't follow through.

I'm impatient instead of staring in wonderment with my kids at some magical Christmas thing.

I yelled at them when we were trying to make a perfect family memory.

I missed days in my Advent bible reading plan...

...and the list goes on and on.  Sometimes it's enough to make me want to throw in the towel!  But then I remembered that the Bible calls Satan The Accuser. That's a name for our adversary that I should probably learn this Advent season. The devil not only comes to steal, kill, and destroy, but to accuse. Rev 12:10 says:  Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say: "Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Christ. For the accuser of our brothers, who accuses them before our God day and night, has been hurled down."

So I think that these feelings of inadequacy aren't God's disappointment in me -- it's the accuser telling me I'm not good enough.  I think it also has to do with what my expectations are.  When I don't meet them, I am disappointed in all I didn't do, instead of celebrating the memories we made and the things we did get done!  So I decided to change my expectations. This is what I decided.  During the Christmas season, an amazing mom:

Proactively works at keeping the Christmas season focused on preparing her family's hearts for the coming King.

Tries diligently to stare in wonderment with her kids whenever she can.

Apologizes and shows her children how God desires us to reconcile relationships when she sins in anger by yelling at them.

Misses days of her Advent Bible readings, but models to her children what it looks like to pick back up and not allow a setback to keep her on the sidelines permanently.

...because my little girl is going to be a Mom someday and I want her to know that every time she refocuses her family's hearts on the King who reigns within them, it's a victory.

So if I don't cover all 24 names of Jesus, do every amazing tradition on my gigantic list, make all 24 ornaments for the Truth in Tinsel--if I don't even do half of that, the ones I DID still make my God proud!

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Garage Sales Begin!!!

I can't tell you how much I look forward to garage sale season! Part of it is the hunter in me. Ryan enjoys hunting deer, I adore hunting bargains! The other part is that I grew up in a very frugal family and can't seem to kick the habit!

I love to dress my kids in name brand things and still be able to afford my food and housing! One way I do this is to shop a year ahead. It is a little tough when they are small and you're not sure how they are going to grow. However, I usually am pretty on target for the most part. I figure that even if I miss some things because I guessed wrong, I still am spending less than retail overall. Plus, I do a lot of clearance shopping, especially for bigger boy clothes, which are very hard to find. I keep the tags on them and if I'm wrong, the resale shop will ALWAYS buy them from me with tags. I can't tell you what a rush it is to open up my Rubbermaid bin for the next size up and see it stocked with clothes for my kids. I do fill in the gaps with things on sale in the current season. However, I don't feel bad spending more on matching Christmas or Easter outfits when I've been so careful on the rest of their wardrobe.

I love to decorate my home with Pottery Barn-ish type things, but can't afford it! So I look at the catalogs to get ideas and then I garage sale to find adorable things that I can refinish, recover, paint, or just use how they are. I was inspired by my college friend, Angela, who has the most beautiful home and half of it is decorated from her resale shopping. She once told me that she garage sales so that her family can have a higher standard of living than they could normally have on one income. That really stuck with me and inspired me to search for treasures! I watch blogs, too, and get ideas on how to make things beautiful for not a lot of money. They have so many tutorials on these unbelievably easy projects that look like a million bucks!

I used to stay away from the Mom-to-Mom type sales because I like to barter. At those, they usually have everyone give their stuff and they group it all together by size and such. I feel like they can be really overpriced. I found out they have the same types of consignment sales, but each person has their own table and you can barter! What an exciting find! It's like a massive kiddie subdivision garage sale, but it's indoors and has a bathroom! I went to two of these today with my friend, Sarah. We got all the way through the 80 tables at the first and through a portion of the second one before it closed down.

I was a little shocked when I added up what I had spent. I thought Ryan would kill me for sure when he found out I spent $189!! So I had to come home and really catalog my finds to see if it really was as great of a deal as I thought. This is what I bought:

1 Leapster Game
21 books
2 sets of flashcards
2 games
1 brand new pair of ballet slippers
1 pair shin guards
4 coats
18 pair pajamas
2 pair flip flops
1 swimsuit
1 swim shirt
13 pair shorts
3 pair socks
13 pair pants
14 dresses
8 skirts
1 sweatshirt
5 sweaters
40 shirts
2 baby one piece outfits

I felt so much better when I realized that I had purchased 150 items for $189!!!! I hope that, as my friends have inspired me, I can inspire you! Garage Sale shopping is not only great for your bank account, but it's great for the environment, too. Reduce, reuse, recycle, right?! Now go hunt for your bargains!! Happy shopping!

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Spring is in the air!

Maybe it's because it sort of feels like Spring, but there are no flowers out, but I cannot stop making flowers. Crafting is one of those things that you don't do forever and then when you get on a roll, you just cant quit! There are such amazing tutorials online and I followed those to make these flowers. So fun and relaxing and inexpensive! Here's the link to the tutorial I used to make it: Here's another one I put together this morning. I was supervising the kids while they were doing schoolwork and multitasking! I thought it would be so pretty on a simple Easter dress or on a bag or even a headband for spring! I may have to plan our Easter outfits around it! The directions call for 1.5" ribbon, but I really think you could size it down and use some cute 1" grosgrain for a little girl...or even for a big girl who wanted a smaller flower :)

I bet there are lots of people that could pull this off on a headband like I photographed above, but I'm certainly not one of them!! Maybe if it was smaller! It's so fun to try it all different ways. Here's the link to the tutorial:

Happy crafting!

Friday, March 11, 2011

Yummy easy soups!

I made this first recipe for lunch today and remembered how much I love it so I just have to share! I adore fast soups so much. My friends Amy and Liz gave these recipes to me and I have loved using them. I've modified them to make them my own. Hope you try them and enjoy!

Cream of Wild Rice Soup:

1 large onion, finely chopped
3 ribs of celery, finely chopped
3-4 carrots, finely chopped

After they are soft, add 1/4c. butter and 1/4c. flour. Cook for about 1 minute then add:
8c. chicken stock*

Bring to a boil to thicken and add:
3c. cooked brown rice (you can use 2 packages of Uncle Ben's brown/wild rice combo and it's so good)
1c. leftover cubed chicken or turkey
1 can fat free evaporated milk
Salt and pepper to taste

Chicken Pot Pie Soup:

1 large onion, finely chopped
2 chicken breasts in small cubes

Add 1/4c. butter and 1/4c. flour and cook 1 minute.

1 quart chicken stock *

Let boil to thicken and then add:
1 can fat free evaporated milk
1/2 bag hash brown square potatoes (frozen) OR diced potatoes
1 bag frozen mixed vegetables

Cook until veggies are tender.
Salt and pepper to taste.

Top each bowl with:
Puff pastry sheet cut into 1 inch squares and cooked according to package instructions until puffy and golden brown
Pie crust cut into 1 inch squares and cooked until golden brown.

Tortellini Soup:

1 large onion
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped or grated
(optional) mushrooms or artichoke hearts

2 quarts chicken stock *

Bring to a boil and then add:
1 bag frozen tortellini
2 small cans diced tomatoes WITH the juice
Salt and pepper to taste

Cook until tortellini is done. Can you believe it's that easy?!

*I really prefer homemade stock for soup. I usually use bones from roasted chicken or turkey, or a ham bone and add big chunks of onion with skin, celery tops - the leafy part, and whole unpeeled carrots and cook it for a few hours. I strain it and throw the stock in the freezer in the Ziplock circular 4c. containers labeled for when I need a quick soup. You could totally use it from a box or a can, though and it would be fine!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Steel Cut Oats

Ok, so we all know that oatmeal is great for us. However, no matter how yummy and convenient those little packets are, I don't think they are the healthiest option! Because quick cooking oats are already so broken down, your body doesn't have to do much work to digest them. Steel cut oats are all the rage because they are so unprocessed that your body has to work hard to break them down. I decided that would be a great thing to try. So I bought some and after I made them once, they stayed in my freezer for almost a year! For those of you who have never used them, they take about 30 min to cook. Who has that kind of time in the morning?! Plus, my kids rebelled a little because they were kind of chewy. But then I was reading a blog and it mentioned alternative cooking options for them. I have tried quite a few and not only is it so much more convenient, but they aren't chewy!! These are my favorite options:

1. bring to boil the night before, cover and then cook only 5min the next morning. Sometimes, though, even that is too much work for me. So here's my favorite:

2. crockpot!!

Here are some of the recipes that my family has tried and approved. They have been gathered and adapted from many sources that I won't reference. Also, many of these recipes make enough for a family of 4-5 for one morning. I ended up buying a $10 2-quart crockpot to make it in because my regular crockpot was too big and ended up burning the oatmeal. The greatest thing about these recipes are that they only take 5 minutes or so to put together the night before and then breakfast is ready when you wake up! Also, if everone in your family is on a slightly different schedule, it stays warm and fresh in the crockpot. We always add a little brown sugar or raw sugar and a little milk to our bowls in the morning to make it nice and creamy. Try them and enjoy!!!

The very easiest and my favorite (pictured above).

Applesauce Oatmeal:

1 1/2 c. steel cut oats
3 c. water
2 c. applesauce
1/2 t. pumpkin pie spice (if you don't have it, just use cinnamon)
1/2 c. chopped nuts - I always have raw almonds on hand so I use those, coarsely chopped

Cook in crockpot on low for 8 hours

This one is pretty much the same as above, but a slight variation.

Apple Oatmeal:
1 1/2 c. steel cut oats
3 c. water
2 c. peeled, chopped apples
1/4 c. sliced almonds
1/2 t. ground cinnamon

Cook in crockpot on low for 8 hours

Pumpkin Oatmeal:

1 (14oz) can pumpkin puree (NOT pumpkin pie mix)
2 c. water
2 c. unsweetened almond milk
2 T. raisins
1/4 t. salt
3/4 t. pumpkin pie spice OR 1/2 t. cinnamon, plus 1/4 t. cardamom, plus 1/4 t. cloves
2 c. steel cut oats

Same as above! Mix it up the night before and let cook overnight on low. They recommend toasting pepitas and serving on top. I tried it and it was so good!