Thursday, April 3, 2014

healthy•schmealthy homemade ranch dressing

i really like ranch dressing.
my kids really, REALLY like ranch dressing.

but ranch dressing from the store is just scary.
it has all sorts of un-pronouce-able ingredients...
that alone is enough to scare me...
much less the fat and calorie count.

a while back, my best friend gave me a recipe for a dry ranch dressing mix.
this week, i used that mix, along with some raw milk and homemade yogurt to whip up a batch of fabulous ranch dressing.

now, i'll give you a little disclaimer.
it's not going to taste like store-bought ranch.
in my ever-so-humble opinion, it tastes even better.
but still, if you taste test them side-by-side, you're going to taste the slightly-sour yogurt-y taste in this recipe.
however, if you've been on a ranch dressing sabbatical (like me) because of the frightening ingredients in manufactured dressing, this will probably be heavenly nectar to you, satiating that ranch-dressing-crave.

{{all your ingredients are pictured here...nothing scary}}

Homemade Yogurt Ranch Dressing
2 cups homemade plain yogurt; thick, Greek style
½ cup raw milk
2 teaspoons dried parsley
1½ teaspoons fresh ground pepper
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon garlic powder
½ teaspoon onion powder
¼ teaspoon thyme

Dump all ingredients into medium-size mixing bowl and whisk together.  Pour copious amounts onto your salad and enjoy!

a few notes:
☛i use this method for making my homemade yogurt.  i also strain the yogurt (she also gives directions for this) for several hours to drain much of the whey off.  this gives me a very thick, Greek-yogurt-style consistency.
☛this recipe makes a rather thick salad dressing.  i like mine more of a dipping consistency...if you like yours more thin, add a bit more milk.
☛the recipe posted above actually uses *half* of the amount of salt called for in the original recipe.  i cut the salt back because, frankly, i don't miss it at all......and i retain water from just looking at salt.  so there's also that.  feel free to add more salt if you think it's needed.
☛i personally have not done so, but you could experiment with homemade mayo to give this dressing a bit more of a creamy flavor.......maybe half mayo/half yogurt? just a thought.
☛if you don't have access to raw milk, you could always make this with store-bought milk and plain yogurt.  it would still be healthier than the pre-bottled options...but really, the star in this show is the homemade yogurt.

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Thursday, February 6, 2014

offering the ordinary

these words, from a friend this week, came to me as a much-needed challenge...

              "so here's what i want you to do, God helping you:  Take your everyday, ordinary life--your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life--and place it before God as an offering.  embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him.  don't become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking.  instead, fix your attention on God.  you'll be changed from the inside out.  readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it.  unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you...
because life isn't always sunshine and roses, but it's the times when it's not and we offer it anyway that are beautiful in God's sight."

she's so right, you know?
so often we see our grand acts of service, our "big" sacrifices as our gifts to God.
we see large bonus checks and generous holiday gifts and lucrative promotions as His gifts to us.

we fail to offer our ordinary as gifts to Him.
we fail to recognize our ordinary as gifts from Him.

i want to become more conscious in my daily life...more God-conscious...
recognizing His gifts...all His gifts...
offering my gifts...all my gifts...the magnificent...and the mundane.
because really and truly, it is all for Him...and it is all from Him.

{my friend that i mention above is Joye Dicharry...her challenging words can be found under her IG name @joyefuljourney and on her blog The Joyeful Journey.  the first part of her quote is from The Message.}

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Wednesday, February 5, 2014

i'm hooked!

i love to learn.

i love to learn new things.

i love to read books {mostly historical fiction} set in different time periods, in different countries, in different cultures.  there's much to be learned from recreational reading, even if the story line is primarily fictional.

right now, my favorite "new thing" to learn is various crafts.
although i've had a pinterest account for ages, i had virtually never used it.  it all overwhelmed me and i was convinced that i'd sit for hours pinning ideas, never really implementing them.
toward the very end of last year, my friend turned me on to the true benefits and practical uses of pinterest...
and i've been pinning ever since.
no, i don't spend hours on there daily.  actually, there are often days that i don't even look at a pin.
but if i'm in need of ideas or inspiration or just a bit of know-how on a certain little project, pinterest is pretty much my new go-to.

that was a bit of a rabbit trail, because this post isn't at all about pinterest.
it's about crochet.
i've wanted to learn to crochet for-just-about-ever.
i taught myself {through rudimentary printed-out directions} the most basic of basics of knitting several years ago, but i'd never attempted crochet on my own.
a year ago, i went through a brief stint of trying to learn crochet...begging my best friend to teach me how to make granny squares and hearts and flowers and all sorts of fun things...sitting down with her to crochet, only to tear out my stitches in frustration because my hook kept getting stuck, or the yarn kept splitting, or something just didn't look right, or...or...or...
you get the picture.
it didn't go well.
to say the least.

i'm a very visual learner, a very tactile learner.
i learn facts very quickly from reading, and grasp concepts easily in a classroom setting, but i learn skills best in a one-on-one setting.
and although our crochet "lessons" should have been ideal considering those parameters, my "it must be perfect the first time" outlook, was less than ideal for my yarn-wrangling progress.

last month, my husband insisted on keeping the kids for a long weekend and sent my girlfriend and me away for a few days of rest, relaxation, and kid-free quiet. {insert unabashed hubby praises here...he's a keeper, for shore!}
as soon as we had our weekend planned, i begged her to attempt, once again, to teach me over-the-weekend crochet boot camp, of sorts.
she agreed...but with a stipulation.
that she would teach me her way...from the beginning.
not just, "let's jump in and make a granny square"...but let's learn how to let's learn single do five rows of single let's learn double crochet...and so on...and so on...

i likened it to this...
if my daughter asked me to teach her to bake, i wouldn't start her out making every kind of pie imaginable.  no.  we'd first learn how to read a recipe...what the ingredients actually are...where they're kept in the to preheat the to grease the pans...
and then we'd bake.  and we'd bake pies and breads and cakes and muffins and cookies and all sorts of goodies. {unless i was on the whole 30 like i am now...because baking all that stuff and not being able to eat it would just be cruel.}
you get the picture, though.
i didn't need to learn how to crochet hearts and granny squares and flowers.  i needed to learn how to crochet.  period.

well, her plan worked.
over the course of the weekend, she taught me several different crochet stitches and how to read/decipher a crochet pattern.  by the end of the weekend, i had finished a washcloth...a "sampler" of sorts of various crochet stitches.  {no pattern, we just winged it.}
i finished the wagon wheel shortly after returning from our weekend away.  {wagon wheel pattern from this book--worth its weight in gold, by the way, and required reading according to my} 

i finished the three hearts at the top of this post a week or two ago.
and last week when we did crafternoon together {at my house this time}, i finished this mason jar cozy

and what's really making me chuckle {to keep from crying} is that i started this whole long story so i could post the pattern links here...i've had several people on IG asking what pattern i used for the hearts and the cozy...and i thought it'd just be easiest to direct them to this post...
and now i can't find the heart pattern for the life of me!
i took a screen shot of it on my phone {it wasn't on my pinterest} and that's how i've been working off of the pattern.
and now that i want to find the actual site and link up to it, of course i can't even find it!
oh well...i'll do a bit of searching and post it here as soon as i find it.

in the meanwhile, go learn something interesting.  
it might not be crochet, for you...but muster up a bit of courage and try learning something new.
i've a few other little "learning" projects i'm working on right now...even taking an online class for one of them.
an old dog can learn new tricks!
try it and see.

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Monday, February 3, 2014

whole 30 update

I didn't fall off the Whole 30 wagon.

Well, not really.
Well, kind of.

But not really.

I started out the year doing the Whole 30...having already made it very clear that I was going to be taking a bit of a "break" for my birthday weekend (which was actually going to be a week or so after my birthday).
As it turns out, one of my close friends also has a January birthday, and invited me out with a group of girlfriends for dinner on 11th.  I'd been doing well on the W30 up until then, but after that dinner out, everything kind of crumbled apart--especially with my knowing that my birthday weekend was just ahead.

last Monday (1/27), my best friend and another close friend (actually the same one that invited me out for dinner in January) started the Whole 30.  So, I started again, all fresh and new, with them.
Let me tell ya, it's an entirely different ball game, doing something like this with friends!  I feel so accountable to if I "cheat," I'm letting down the whole group.

I've been great.  No cheats.  Not even a bite.

Part of what has made this Whole 30 experience so different from the past times that I've done it (an entire W30 last year and the brief W30 bits at the beginning of this year) is that I've been diligent about planning out our meals and doing the appropriate grocery shopping.  
In the past week or two, I've made some of the best W30 meals I've ever tasted...meals that I would eat, that I would crave, even if I wasn't doing the W30.

My all-time favorite (thus far) is this recipe for Comfort Noodles.  After I raved on and on about these on Instagram, someone had the grace to let me know that Melissa Joulwan, who wrote this recipe, also wrote the popular paleo cookbook, Well Fed {{insert smacking forehead}}.  

These "noodles" are to.die.for.
Really and truly.
And they taste just about the furthest thing from a big pile of zucchini that you can imagine.
Make them.  Just make them and taste and see.
Yes.  They're that good.

Pointers on the noodles:
☛let them "sweat" for a while...she says 20 minutes...I say longer.  I let mine sweat for well over an hour.  The way I figure, the less moisture, the better.  Mine turned out perfectly, so I'll always sweat them for the longer amount of time.
☛trust her...and do need a julienne peeler for these babies.  Don't try to teeny-tiny slice them on your own.  It'll take waaaaaaayyy too long.  Amazon has this one for $10 (and plenty of other choices around that price range)'s SO worth every penny.
☛if you feel like you need something more substantial than zucchini and eggs, in a separate deep skillet, sauté some chicken breast along with your favorite W30-compliant sausage.  Toss in a bit of minced garlic, along with whatever other seasonings might float your boat.  Oh my, the deliciousness.  This is what I did the first time I made these.  I'm making them again tomorrow night (my second time), and I think I might throw some fresh grape tomatoes in with the chicken breast and sausage, and maybe even a bit of green onion.
☛most importantly, don't skip the almond flour topping.  Trust me.  It sounds like such a little thing.  Don't skip it.  It is SO yummy and well-worth the extra bit of effort to throw it together.  I will say, though, I had a hard time getting mine to crunch up as much as I wanted it to.  When I make these tomorrow night, I'm going to try to use my homemade almond meal rather than almond flour...I'm hoping that the coarser texture of the meal will yield a crunchier end result in the topping.

I'll be back in the next day or two to share another fabulous meal I made...
In the meantime, run out and grab some zucchi-nucchi (zookey-nookey...that's how we say it in this house) and whip up a batch of these.
You won't regret it.

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Wednesday, January 22, 2014

still tender...

still tender after this morning's dream...
tears pressing at the backs of my eyes all day long.
not sad tears.
not tears of mourning.
just tears...tears of missing.
and tears...tears of having been touched right where and right when i needed it most.
what a gift.

for whatever reason,
this is the song that ran through my mind all day long.
i found myself humming it, 
singing it,
mulling over the last verse, especially.
if videos aren't your thing,
turn it on and close your eyes.
just listen to it.

i think you'll be blessed.

and then tonight at church,
this is the hymn we sang, 
right before the message.
i found myself in my pew,
tears streaming down my face,
unable to do more than mouth the final verse.

look at those words!
look at them!
...perfect rest to me is promised in my Father's house above;
when my spirit, clothed immortal, wings its flight to realms of day,
this my song thro' endless ages, Jesus led me all the way.

it may sound like i'm sad...
like i'm grieving.
i'm not.  i'm really not.

actually, i'm savoring these tender moments...
it seems, as you get farther and farther from the passing of a loved one,
that there are fewer and fewer sacred moments set aside just for remembering...
just for dwelling on them...
and what they were--and still are--in your life.

that's where i am right now...
not physically, of course...
physically, i'm making meals and teaching lessons and folding laundry and wiping noses.

but my spirit...
my deep insides...
they're treasuring these tender moments...
when memories are flooding back with vivid clarity
and the past seems an arm's-reach away.

and yes,
it hurts a little.
i'd be lying if i said it didn't.
but it hurts so good.
and i know, deep down,
that deep hurt
is only because there is such
deep love.

thank YOU...yes, YOU.  thank you for so graciously allowing me to bare my heart to you.  my blog is me...all the different parts of me.  the food-loving parts...the thrift-loving parts...the pretty parts...the ugly parts...the happy parts...and the hurting parts.  these posts are kind of a cross between those last two--happy...and...hurting.  sadly, losing loved ones is a part of life...a very natural part of life.  and call me crazy, but i think we should talk about it.  i think it helps.  i really do.  i think it helps to know that there are others out there, going through what you're going through, feeling what you're feeling.  so that's what this is.  it's honesty.  raw, open, vulnerable honesty.  thanks for allowing me to be honest and authentic. xo

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this morning's dream

I had the most vivid dream about her this morning.

We were standing on the sand...
I want to think it was Lake Geneva; 
but in reality, it looked more like the ocean...
even though we had never been to the ocean together.

I was hugging her from behind,
my arms wrapping around her shoulders,
across her collarbone.

Even now, hours later, I can remember how her shoulders
And I can distinctly recall exactly how she
She smelled like she always had.
She smelled like Mom.

In my dream, I buried my face in the crook of her neck...
and I cried, "I don't think I can do this."
As dreams often go, I don't know what conversation or events led up to my saying that to her, but in the dream it was just understood that I was referring to her passing.

We stood there on the beach,
my arms wrapped around her shoulders,
and I sobbed into her neck.

And I remember,
she tilted her head so that it was touching mine,
and she said, "Can you just trust me?"

And again, in typical dream-fashion,
I just understood that she was referring to a conversation we had actually real life...
a conversation when we talked about her going Home...
a conversation when I really did cry...
and when she told me it would be okay...
and that she was at peace about the whole thing.

And then,
just as suddenly,
I woke up.
And my cheeks were wet with tears,
tears shed during our conversation.

Yet somehow, I treasure that dream.
I love it when I dream about her.
Because in my dreams, I can see her.
I can feel her.
I can smell her.
I can hear her. 
It's like, for those moments, however brief and fleeting,
she's still with me.

And I know she's in a better place,
and I know she's no longer suffering,
and I know she wouldn't come back even if she could...

But every so often,
more often than I care to admit,
that's all I want.
I want her still with me.

So, I'll fold up the memory of this morning's dream
and tuck it in my heart, and carry it around with me until I've worn the ink from its pages,
 and it fades beyond recollection.

And then I'll wait...
longing and anticipating and hoping...
for the next time she appears in my dream.

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Thursday, January 9, 2014

Whole 30 Day 8 & 9...and "Aye, Aye, Me Hearty!" Spaghetti Sauce recipe

Day 8...which, coincidentally, happened to be my birthday...
menu was SUPER-boring...because I "took the day off" and was SUPER-lazy!

smoothie (same as those other days)

leftover sprouts 'n sausage from dinner on Day 7

hubby fried up two slices of uncured bacon and three eggs for me...nothin' fancy, but I didn't have to cook it, so I was happy!


Day 9

smoothie (same old, same old...but I do love my morning smoothies!)

our furnace went out...
and my phone died. and decided not to take a charge. at all. like d.e.a.d. dead. kaput...
and I really needed a shower...
and school took hours longer than it usually does...
and I skipped lunch.
yep.  oops.

baked spaghetti squash topped with "Aye, Aye, Me Hearty!" Spaghetti Sauce...a hefty portion of sauce, I might add...since I really could just eat the sauce on its own.

I came up with this sauce when my hubs and I did our first Whole 30 back in March/April of 2013.  Then we fell of the wagon, so to speak (read all about that here).  Yet, even last summer as I was cooking up the goodies from our CSA box, something told me my time with Whole 30/clean eating/paleo/healthy eating wasn't done.

One time in particular, our box provided us with an over-abundance of eggplant and tomatoes...and one of my IG friends mentioned a spaghetti sauce recipe that she had--a cook-from-fresh-right-from-scratch sauce recipe.

The resulting sauce was fabulous.  Very smooth, very basic, meatless, but still very substantial.  I do not like pasta sauces that leave you with naked noodles and a puddle of tomato water in the bottom of your dish.  I want thick, hearty goodness that clings to my spaghetti.  This from-scratch sauce fit the bill.  I made several large batches of this basic sauce and froze it to use as the "base" for my meaty, plaeo-friendly, stick-to-your-ribs sauce.

For your "starter," feel free to use whatever canned/jarred sauce you can find that's W30/paleo-friendly.  I know Trader Joe's Marinara Sauce (pictured below in the big, green, 28oz. can) is compliant to both of those diets.  That's what I used last spring, but since I had homemade on hand today, that's what I used this time.  This recipe is open to tweaking of all sorts...consider it a guideline and have fun playing around with different spices, herbs, meats, and veggies.  It turns out different almost every time I make it, depending on what I have on hand.
Also, you should probably note that this makes a VERY large batch.  I like to have plenty for a dinner (for our family of 6), plus for several breakfast/lunch left-over meals.  If you have a smaller family, you may want to freeze some of it, or simply cut the recipe down.

☛"Aye, Me Hearty!" Spaghetti Sauce
120-140 ounces jarred/canned marinara sauce
8 small zucchini, washed, halved lengthwise, and sliced
2 large bell peppers, chopped (today I used one green, one orange)
2 large onions, chopped
2 14oz cans diced tomatoes, drained
2 cans mushroom stems & pieces, drained (I usually use three cans, but only had two on hand today.  Fresh mushrooms would be good, too!...whatever you have on hand!)
1-2 pounds Italian sausage (not in casings, to be browned with veggies and broken apart in the sauce)
1 pound pre-cooked Italian sausage, sliced
2-3 Tbsp. minced garlic
black pepper, salt, Italian seasoning, all to taste

Drizzle a bit of evoo in the bottom of a large stock pot or Dutch oven.  Sauté sausage, onions, and peppers until sausage is no longer pink.  Add zucchini and cook until slightly tender.  
This photo is what my pot looked like at this stage↓↓↓
Add all other ingredients.  Bring to a boil and immediately reduce to a simmer.  Simmer at medium-low for a couple hours.  Taste occasionally, and adjust spices to suit your preferences.

Leftovers tip: for the best breakfast you've ever had, scoop a small ladle of this sauce into your favorite skillet.  Once heated through, toss in several handfuls of baby spinach.  Allow to cook until wilted.  Make small "holes" in this mixture and crack fresh eggs into those spots.  Sprinkle with a bit of salt and pepper and cover skillet. Cook until eggs are done, flipping only if necessary.  So delicious!

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