Thursday, November 28, 2013

We Gather Together: Thankful for OTHERS

I am a fairly extroverted person. I do enjoy my nights in and time alone, but on the whole, I love being around people...and I am pretty blessed that God gave me such good people to have in my life.

God told Adam that it was not good to be alone, so He created Eve.  I know that this passage is used a lot to discuss marriage and the goodness of not being alone (and rightfully so, since this is the first marriage!) But, in general, I think God was saying something about humans, in general. Adam was alone because he didn't have a companion, friend, family, spouse. And ironically enough, Adam went from being the only human - to being married - to having family and community.

I am thankful God recognizes our need for relationsips and places people into our lives to help encourage, discipline and grow us. Life could be lived completely alone, I suppose -- with little interaction with others, but it is so much better with companionship.

I am thankful for Dave. I am thankful for the JOY he brings my life -- not only as my husband, but also as my closest companion and room mate.

I am thankful for sisters that I talk to almost daily and a brother who always has our back. I am thankful for supportive parents.  I am thankful for great in laws. I have wonderful aunts and uncles, even the ones that yell "go dawgs" as you cut your wedding cake :) I have amazing giving grandparents who really invested in our lives growing up.

I am thankful for friendship and the little family of friends I have formed over the years.

I am thankful for church community. I loved my home church in Jackson. I loved having friends of all ages there.

And, I am thankful for the community we are developing here in DC and prayerful that God will develop sweet friendships where we can encourage and lift eachother up.

I am thankful that today when we could be stuck alone for the Holiday, we are able to open up our tiny home for friends and family (my sister, brother in law and nephew are coming) to come for a potluck thanksgiving. Work friends, friends from Bible study, friends of friends, friends from home.  Just a good mix of people, gathering together in community to be thankful and celebrate together.

...because we were meant to be in community. Every day life and more importantly, holidays, should be enjoyed and celebrated with others.

We gather together today -- in community and thankfulness, and I am very grateful for all that the Lord has given us -- marriage, friendship, family, material blessings, His daily presence and eternal hope. AND, I realize that today isn't easy for all -- those who are alone, have lost loved ones, are single or going through a divorce, etc.  My prayer is that those who are hurting find community, one of God's good gifts to us.  Life is better when lived with others.

Time to finish cooking, but I promise a post with pictures soon -- say a prayer that Marley and I pull this off! :) Happy thanksgiving to all, what a wonderful and good Lord we serve!!

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Thankful for the Giver

Today, I am thankful for the GIVER of good gifts. I’ve spent the past couple posts discussing the many many blessings in my life – and it is SO important to remind ourselves of how HE provides many good gifts, especially when circumstances are difficult and we need to remember.

But, it is EVEN MORE IMPORTANT to remember that He is good. This article by one of my favorite bloggers state that fact excellently, so I won’t add too much to the discussion....

“The grounds of our thanksgiving is that God is good; not that He gives good gifts”

I’ve got a lot to be thankful for this year – a job, a roof over my head, family, friends, health, Dave, a coat, food, the ability to travel home for the holidays, ordinary everyday blessings and some extras.

But, most importantly, I have a God that loves me, that is good, faithful, kind, perfect. If my thankfulness for my many blessings doesn’t make me thankful for the giver, then I am missing the point. I have a God who has held my hand through trials and who stands by me even though I don’t deserve His faithfulness.

Trials make it difficult to be thankful, but in the end, I think the person undergoing hardships generally finds it easier to develop a gratitude for the giver, not His gifts. Gratitude while suffering may be hard fought for, but it's root is in a belief that God is good! In times filled with gifts and blessings, it may be even more important to remind our hearts of the giver, not the gifts.

Praise God from whom all blessings flow, but mostly, just praise God. Even if blessings don’t come – but especially if they do, “He is reason enough for gratitude this season and every season.”

Monday, November 25, 2013

Thankful for Extras

I am thankful for the unnecessary "extras" in life. How boring life would be without these blessings!!

There is so much that makes me smile that isn't needed, that's purely pleasurable. I need food and shelter and enough warmth to live. I need water and medication when I am sick. I need enough money to pay my bills and put food on my table.

But, there is so much more that makes my life joyful.

I am grateful for good books, music and art that makes you think. I am thankful that words can be used in an encouraging, passionate and entertaining way, not just to get facts across.

I am grateful that we all don't look, dress or act the same, that God made people different and different personalities bring different blessings to my life as well as different skills and advancements to the world.

I am thankful for tasty food - the kind of food that is so yummy, you have to force yourself to put your fork down so you don't eat too much. I am thankful for seafood, hearty soups, rich desserts, warm pastries, ice cream and of course, juicy watermelon.

I am grateful for good wine and good conversations, often had at the same time.

I am thankful for curling up on the couch with a blanket and cocoa, particularly when it involves a good movie, good book or cute husband!

I am thankful for cold fountain drinks on hot Mississippi days. I am thankful for beaches and sunsets and pools and drinks with little umbrellas.

I am thankful for laughter and humor -- a child's first joke, told with a giggle before the punchline; inside jokes with friends and sisters; and clever comments from my husband which make me snicker.

I am thankful that all the parts of our world look different. It would be completely boring if traveling to Paris felt no differently than going to Montana.

I am thankful for female friendships. I sure love my husband, but life is better when I have the laughter, conversation and company of women.

I am thankful for college football, for football season, for football memories. I am thankful for other people's sports and hobbies and activities as well. I'm grateful life has aspects of it that are completely for entertainment value, nothing else.

I am thankful for travel, for the ability to live in one place and easily visit friends or family in another place- with only one day's travel.

I am thankful for color, texture and style and the ability to use those differently in how you dress yourselves and decorate your home.

I am thankful for Love. I assume God could have our species procreate and continue in a way that doesn't include marriage, family and feelings, but I am sure glad He blessed us with the ability to love each other and be loved in return.

I am grateful for holidays and celebrations and birthday parties and twinkle lights and wrapping paper and Christmas trees and wedding cakes and champagne. I am grateful we get to celebrate and enjoy life, rather than just live it.

God is so good to give us more than we need to live. He gives us all sorts of extras that just make life good!! I always laugh at that silly quote "Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy." But, as funny as that quote is, there is some truth to it. We don't deserve the basics, much less the extras in life -- how much must our God love us if He is willing to give us these little blessings that we don't deserve?

What "extras" are you thankful for?

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Thankful for Ordinary

I am so very thankful for ordinary.

We, as a culture, love adventure and excitement. We love exotic travel and extreme sports and strange foods.  We love new technology and up and coming restaurants.  We love overcoming challenges and reading articles about those who do. We love heroes, action movies and being scared.

And adventure is not bad.  Challenging our perspectives, taste buds, cultural beliefs and bodies can be good for us. But every day can’t be an adventure or new experience.   Some days are typical and normal…and still good.... :)

In some ways, life has been quite exciting recently – a wedding, a honeymoon to san fran/napa, being newlyweds, a big move, a new city. This was thrilling and scary all at once. So, it's nice to slow down. I am thankful for the boring typical moments, for establishing “our ordinary”.…watching tv, doing laundry, morning devotionals, goodbye kisses in the morning, making lunches, bible study, chasing my nephew around, texts from my sisters, happy hour with friends, Saturday morning pancakes, trips to the grocery store, gym time, girl nights.

I grew up with an "ordinary" childhood. School plays, weeknight meals, soccer games, sunday school. Our life was happy, but not exciting. We went on vacations, but we didn't live or travel abroad. We had challenges like any other family, but not the type of obstacles that make for good college admission essays.  We had what we needed and much of what we wanted, but we weren't given everything.  I was involved in academic clubs and sports, but I wasn't homecoming queen, valedictorian, star athlete.  We lived in suburbia - and then in small town Mississippi...not a busy exciting city full of tons to do.

My life growing up was ordinary, maybe even "boring" at times - but for the most part, fairly happy. I had 2 parents who were happy together and supported their kids,  siblings that I fought with but fiercely loved, a nice safe home, a good school, sweet friends, etc. Yes, ordinary was pretty good and I am grateful for my ordinary all-american childhood.  

Adventure and challenges aren't always fun and good. So many people aren’t currently living ordinary lives. They are sitting in hospitals receiving chemo. They are trying to make do while a spouse is at war. They are surviving on little in small villages in Africa. They are living in war torn countries. Many have awful family situations or are struggling to find employment. How many people would love to being living an ordinary boring life right now!!

So, ordinary may not be adventurous or exciting, but its good.  I've had some non-ordinary moments in life -- challenges and heartache, adventures and travel! While I love (most of) my moments of adventure, I am so grateful for my ordinary typical days....days like today where I went Christmas shopping with a friend, cooked enchiladas for dinner and am now curled up on the couch watching football. I've had more exciting Saturday evenings, but few that were happier.

There are many many blessings in my day to day life.  I am so thankful for the ordinary!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Thankfulness: A Year of Joy

I didn’t get my act together in time to do a month worth of thankfulness, although I have been reflecting daily on my many blessings, big and small. 

The fact that we designate November to thankfulness is both sad and wonderful. SAD because we should be counting our blessings daily, but it often takes a designated month of thanksgiving to remind us to focus on God’s goodness and provision!  Yet, WONDERFUL, because we, as humans, tend to like traditions, memorials, celebrations – and we have a month that serves as a memorial to remind us of God’s many blessings throughout the past year. So, although, I am personally challenged to be thankful on a weekly, if not daily, basis, I do love having a month to remember, express gratitude and savor God’s goodness to me!

So, over the next week, I plan on discussing thankfulness and sharing a few of the many things I am grateful for, although the list is much longer and probably should be even longer than what I have even acknowledged.

I am thankful for a year of good circumstances!! The other day, I wrote about being thankful in all circumstances, even hard ones…and sometimes that has been my lot in life, and I am sure there will again be times when gratefulness comes with more tears and pain than smiles. But, I am glad that this year has been so joyful and filled with answered prayers (and clearly, I most specifically mean, the answered prayer of Dave)

I’m thankful that disappointment and heartache makes room for grace and hope, that God heals really rough circumstances to bring about better circumstances for us and most importantly, for his GLORY. I’m grateful that although life is full of horrible situations, it’s also full of joyful wonderful situations too.

It’s a broken world full of sin and heartbreak and temptation. We should expect pain and hurt, but I am glad our God is so good to give us rest and hope along the way. We don’t deserve happy moments and joyful years, but the Lord is so gracious to give these things to us.  There will be pain in the life, but there will be JOY too.  He gives us unbelievable blessings that we do not deserve.

And, that’s what this year has been – a year of rest, hope and so much JOY.  Despite the craziness of a new marriage, moving and job searching, this year has been overwhelmingly happy, in so many ways.

It’s been the year I married my sweet guy, a year of other engagements and weddings for those I love, a year of healing for my family, a year of watching God provide as Dave and I moved and found jobs.

Indeed, new trials will come my way, probably sooner than I would like, but God was good to give me this happy good year (as well as good to sustain me and provide good moments even in rough years!) God is always blessing us, but sometimes His blessings are so much easier to recognize. So, I am grateful that in most areas of life, it is indeed, very easy, this year to be grateful. I pray my heart still strives for gratitude on the years that are more difficult.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Confessions of a Newlywed Cook Part III: 10 warm easy NO RECIPE meals

As promised a few days ago, today’s post in my “Newlywed Cook” series focuses on easy meals that don’t require recipes.
I think that the BEST meals probably take a lot of work and prep, but many good meals are easy and not difficult at all. When it comes to weeknight cooking, I am all for good, not best J And sometimes these good meals don’t even require recipes!!
The best thing about the meals I am about to list is that you can cook them in 30 minutes or less, there’s no recipe to follow and very little prep work and many ingredients are ones you can easily keep on hand and may already have in your kitchen.
There’s no reason to pick up subs or eat frozen pizza when you can easily make these hot meals….and frankly, some of these meals are my favorites (yay, breakfast for dinner!) So, here are some of my FAVORITE quick dinners -- keep a few of these options on hand for nights when you know you aren’t going to want to be in the kitchen long (HELLO Mondays!) or when you forgot to plan or prepare a meal!

(1)  Mexican Fiesta!

It takes just a few ingredients to make tacos, taco salad, quesadillas, etc. I almost always keep taco seasoning and tortillas at home so I can throw together some type of tacos or quesadillas in a hurry! The step that requires the most work in this dinner is cooking and seasoning the meat. Occasionally, we have not had meat, so I have been creative – mozzarella and black bean quesadillas, yum! So pull out your frozen beef or chicken, grab some cheese and veggies and claim the night as taco night!

(2)  “No Brainer” chicken seasonings.

There are several seasoning packets (ranging from spices to actual bread crumb mixes) that you can literally, just add to chicken and have an easy dinner!

Our favorite is Shapley’s seasoning (from a famous Jackson restaurant) – we marinate the chicken in a little oil and seasoning, occasionally some lemon – not hard at all! You can also use Sautee Express by Land o’ lakes…it’s butter and seasoning mixed together. You place the seasoned butter in the skillet and then can cook your chicken on the skillet. So simple and tasty.

Finally, a little more than just seasoning: Kraft fresh takes is seasoning, bread crumbs and cheese that you toss the chicken tenders in, then bake!

These premade seasoning mixes and packets take the guess work out of seasoning. No measuring out different spices or panko and cheese, just add chicken and you’ve got a main dish!

(3)  Spaghetti. (No need to explain this one!)

(4)  Breakfast for dinner.

Are you ever too old for breakfast for dinner? Really? Few things make people happier than a good weekend brunch of pancakes, French toast or eggs. Dave and I both LOVE breakfast food, so I am thinking about doing this more often. In fact, I must admit that while thinking about this blog post last Thursday, I decided I had to have Dave’s amazing fried eggs for dinner (he makes them way better than I can!). At first I told myself that I could wait until Saturday morning, but I couldn’t. I had chicken defrosting to make chicken and quinoa, but that idea got scratched and we had toasted cinnamon bread, fried eggs and bacon instead!

As I said, people LOVE breakfast, so serving breakfast for dinner rarely gets complaints AND we usually feel like it’s a treat because it’s out of the norm!

(5)  Soup Mixes

You can get fancy soup mixes at nice stores where you just add water, milk or meat – and cook. The noodles, potatoes, veggies, seasoning, etc are already in the bag!

But, my mom taught me about Bear Creek Soups a few years ago – you can buy this at the grocery store for a cheap price and its so good. These soups and stews give off the homemade (not canned) appearance (probably because you add some fresh products - like ground beef or veggies) and are so simple to put together!

In fact, bear creek minestrone beef soup is sitting in my fridge right now for tonight’s dinner. I have a meeting and will be home late, and it was easy to just cook this soup ahead of time  so Dave could eat when he got home (just add ground beef and diced tomatoes)

(6)  Brown Rice in a bag
Clearly, brown rice is not a meal, but it is a quick side that you can throw together. I often buy the bagged rice (which some people hate) because the serving size is usually enough for just Dave and me. Having a box of brown rice in the pantry helps me if I cook chicken and forget that I needed a side or something to pour the meat on top of!

(7)  Frozen or premade entrees

Let me clarify, by frozen or precooked entrees, I don’t just mean frozen lasagna…there is so much variety these days. Trader Joes and Whole Foods both have precooked or frozen meals – like shrimp dishes, pumpkin or lobster ravioli (my sister loves Trader Joes Ravioli!), barbeque (we did this the other day!), etc. Honestly, I find that the nights we do the precooked meals is often Sunday evenings after I went grocery shopping and spent the afternoon making freezer meals, etc. At that point, I want to pop something in the oven and reheat.

(8)  Premade pizza dough from Trader Joes or Whole Foods

We love pizza—which is a great thing to love in DC because there are so many gourmet pizzerias so we have tried  many places. We also like to make pizza sometimes which is so simple! I suppose we could make homemade dough --- but we choose to let Trader Joes do it for us! We buy dough for 3 dollars, spread it out and then put whatever toppings we want on it, so easy and much better than a frozen pizza - and its possible to pick healthier toppings and make healthy pizza....

(9)  Stir Fry
Cook some meat and veggies in a skillet with whatever toppings and seasoning you want! You can also cook some rice to serve the stir fry over.  We don’t do this easy dish ever – because well, Dave is picky about veggies, but at one time (law school), this was my week night staple!

(10)         Grilled cheese (and soup!)
We do grilled cheese and canned/boxed soup every few weeks….usually for lunch on the weekend or on a busy weeknight. You can make grilled sandwiches  with meat and fancy cheeses – or go for the good ole fashioned American cheese! And it’s good comfort food, so if you have had a long day, it might cheer you up a bit!

So, there you go – 10 easy warm “no recipe” dinners you could cook tonight. Not every night can be a feast – in fact if you work or are busy raising babies, most nights can’t be – but it’s possible to have dinners prepared for a majority of the nights!  It’s easy to make a few warm quick “no recipe” meals .  Every time you go shopping, plan ahead and have ingredients for a couple "easy" dinners– for evenings when you are out late at a meeting, work or happy  hour – or just for evenings when you don’t want to cook!

 The other Newlywed Cook posts:


Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Confessions of a Newlywed Cook Part II: Using Simple Recipes

Yesterday I wrote about meal planning for busy working women and I confessed that sometimes we eat completely processed easy dinners like hot dogs!! I promised that I would follow up with a list of my favorite SIMPLE recipes. The only way we can cook most of your weeknight meals (as opposed to sandwiches, frozen pizza or takeout)  is to avoid weeknight recipes that are too complicated and too time consuming. As I said in my last blog post, try that complicated multi ingredient recipe from Southern Living on the weekend or when you have time to prep ahead, but 6:30 pm on Tuesday is likely not going to work. Your stomach will be growling and you will either fill up on snacks while you take too long to cook dinner, you’ll rush through important steps and ruin the meal or you’ll give up due to exhaustion and hunger and just make a sandwich!!  PLUS, no one who has worked an 8-10 hour day wants to come home and work 2 more hours in the kitchen!

I generally try to make 1-2 new recipes a week and keep the rest of our meals to simple "go-to" recipes that we have made before, I know we will both eat and that are easy!! If I make a recipe that has a lot of ingredients or several different steps (like enchiladas or casseroles), I usually make ahead and freeze.

So here are our favorite EASY meals:

Breakfast Wraps

  • Tortilla wraps
  • Scrambled Eggs
  • Cooked Bacon, turkey sausage, etc
  • Shredded cheddar cheese
  • Veggies
  • Saran wrap
Sometimes on Sunday, I will cook a bunch of eggs and turkey sausage and make 10 or so “premade” breakfast wraps for us (this will last us a couple weeks!) You literally put cooked eggs, meat, cheese and any veggies you like in a tortilla, wrap with saran wrap and FREEZE. You can then pull a wrap out in the morning, remove the saran wrap and heat up for a couple minutes in the microwave. I use turkey sausage and low cal wraps so it keeps the wraps between 200-250 calories. Plus Dave likes "real" breakfast instead of cereal. Although he doesn't demand I cook daily warm breakfasts, I like being able to give that to him when I can. Premade wraps makes it easy for me to do that, especially since he can heat one up while I am in the shower!

Chocolate Chip Pumpkin Muffins

  • 1 box of spice cake mix
  • 1 can of pumpkin
  • 1 cup of semi sweet morsels
  • muffin/cupcake holders
Mix all three ingredients together and fill into a lined muffin tin. Each holder should be 2/3 full. Bake on 350 for 15 minutes.

This is not as fabulous as your mamma's homemade, from scratch, pumpkin bread, but for what it is - a 3 ingredient recipe- it’s delicious and simple. AND with no oil, eggs, better, etc, it’s fairly healthy!  I suggest keeping all the ingredients in your cupboard in case you need to bring a last minute snack to a meeting or want to make a fall breakfast! It definitely tops slice and bake cookies! ALSO, I recently learned that you can store muffins in a zip lock bag and pull them out, pup them back in the muffin tin to reheat in the oven. This is great news as Dave and I cannot eat all the muffins before they are gone! I have a bunch of pumpkin muffins from this weekend to try this "reheating" method...I'll let you know if it’s a success!

Cheese it chicken

  • Cheese its
  • Sour cream
  • red pepper
  • pepper
  • chicken
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cut chicken in to strips. Mix some sour cream, red pepper and pepper in a bowl and set aside. Then put 2-3 cups of cheese-its in the blender or food processor until it’s a powder. Pour the powder into a separate bowl. Dip the chicken strip into the sour cream mixture and then into the cheese-it powder and place on a baking sheet. Bake at 350 for 20-25 minutes. VOILA, a healthier version to chicken tenders! Serve with veggies or slice some potatoes and make fries!

Easy Chili

A friend gave me this recipe years ago....It's the easiest chili I have ever made, and although I have made better recipes that take a bit more time and preparation, this is my "go to" for a quick meal because it doesn't take long and I can even tell Dave to start browning the meat before I get home. It also makes a big batch and I freeze the rest so that we can eat it the next week.

  • Large jar of tomato sauce
  • 1- 1.5 pounds of ground turkey or lean beef
  • 1 can of diced tomatoes
  • 1-2 cans of black beans
  • 1 packet of taco seasoning
  • Possibly add other veggies like peppers, etc if you want

Brown the meat. At the same time, heat up the tomato sauce and stir in the diced tomatoes, seasoning and black beans. Once the mixture is boiling, add the cooked (drained) meat. Let it simmer on low for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Serve with cheese, sour cream and maybe corn chips!

*Bonus: if you use ground turkey (or even very lean beef), this is not a very fattening meal! Also, picky eaters will love this recipe because its not full of too many veggies.

Italian Chicken

  • 2-3 cans of green beans
  • 4-6 chicken breasts (I usually cut them in strips)
  • Several new potatoes, cut into pieces
  • 1  stick of butter, melted
  • 1 packet of Italian seasoning
Preheat oven to 350. Cut up your potatoes. Place the green beans on one side of a greased baking dish (9X13) and the potatoes on the other side, with the chicken strips in the middle. Pour the melted butter and Italian seasoning on top. Cover the dish with aluminum foil and bake for 60 minutes at 350 degrees.
For 2 people, just cut this recipe in half, I do that and we have enough for dinner and one person gets leftovers for lunch.

Parmesan Zucchini

  • 3 Zucchini, cut in long thin slices like fries
  • ½ c Parmesan cheese
  • 1-2 eggs
  • ½ c bread crumbs
  • ½ tsp garlic powder
  • 1 tsp oregano

Preheat oven to 425. Spray a cookie sheet with cooking spray. Cut your zucchini into pieces.  Fix two different bowls – one bowl with 2 whisked eggs and one bowl with shredded parmesan and bread crumbs, garlic powder and oregano – or if you don’t want the carbs, just the cheese, garlic and oregano!!  Dip the individual zucchini pieces in the eggs, then place in the cheese mixture.  Set the cheese topped zucchini on the cookie tray and bake for 10-15 minutes at 425 degrees.

Dave doesn’t like zucchini, but I have been making this recipe for years.  Zucchini is one of my favorite veggies and I love parmesan cheese. During my 2 months as a SAHW, I would cook this for myself at lunch most days because I knew Dave wouldn’t eat it at dinner. Delish and easy - the perfect side dish!

Coconut Chicken

*This is Dave's favorite because he LOVES coconut!

  • unsweetened coconut
  • bread crumbs
  • chicken breasts, cut in strips
  • flour
  • 2 eggs
  • milk
  • salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 400. Spray a cooking sheet with spray. You need 3 bowls: one bowl with equal parts bread crumbs and coconut with a dash of salt and paper, one bowl with whisked eggs and splash of milk and one bowl with flour. Dredge the chicken strips in the flour, then the egg mixture and finally, in the coconut mixture. Place the strips on the cookie sheet. Bake 10-12 minutes and flip halfway through the baking!

At first I felt guilty about "easy" recipes -- surely I should be working on my cooking skills, but the truth is, some of my favorite meals growing up weren't complicated at all (YAY tacos and spaghetti!).  I'll keep trying to make some facier dishes -- but not every night can be a feast, life is busy and sometimes tasty meals are spending less time in the kitchen leaves more time in the evenings for us to curl up on the couch and watch tv or a movie!!

 TUNE IN tomorrow and I will share about the essentials we keep in our kitchen for weeknight meals!