Thursday, January 15, 2015

Quilt for Reddy

My second creative project was very similar to my first.  I decided that if my first nephew got a quilt, my second nephew should get one too!  So I decided to stick with the same pattern but to use different colors.  For my nephew Reddy (Brian and Lakshmi's son), I used navy and gray to match his bedroom.  I was really excited to find fabrics that went with kind of a nautical theme, since they live in Santa Monica near the beach.  I'm using matching gray fabric to back both Mason and Reddy's quilts, so between the patterns and the backing, they kind of "match" (or at least coordinate) even though the colors and fabrics aren't the same--kind of special for the cousins, I thought.

We weren't able to see B&L's family for Christmas this year, but we FaceTimed with them and I was able to show them the quilt that way.  As soon as I get the longarming done, I'll be shipping it off to California!


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Quilt for Mason

For my first "creative project," I decided to make a quilt for my nephew Mason.  I had actually intended to make him a quilt before he was born last March.... but, you know, the best of intentions don't always work out.  I decided to make it nice and big, so that he can use it for playing on the floor as a baby, but then he'll still be able to use it to sleep under or on the couch or whatever as he gets bigger.  I did it in all grays and yellows, since those are the colors of his room.  I took pictures of the materials as I picked them out and texted them to my sister Kristin for approval.  I got about 75% done with the project at home in November and then finished it up at Quilt Camp the first weekend in December.  The only thing that's NOT done is the longarm quilting for the back of it, but I have to send it away to a friend for that part (which is one of the many reasons that another one of my goals is to learn to longarm quilt), so from my end, at least, it's done.  While I can't officially send Mason home with it until it's longarmed, we showed it to him for Christmas and he seemed to approve.  :)


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Tenth Avenue North

Over Christmas break, we traveled to visit my family in Peoria.  And while we were there, Tenth Avenue North played a free show at my parents' church.  Yes, FREE.  And we were lucky enough to attend.  It was AWESOME.  Shay went with us and loved it.  Although Shay and I did need earplugs to handle the awesome noise a mere 10 rows or less from the stage.  Soooooo cool and definitely worthy of the first of my four live musical performances.

Here's Dad, Shay, and me right before the concert started.  Ben took the picture.

This was my view of the stage, with no zoom.

Here's a zoomed view of the stage.

The lead singer came out into the crowd to talk and sing.  He was right across the aisle from us.  Here's a zoomed-in view.

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Further Weeding

I went back to the elementary school media center and continued weeding the shelves today.  I made it from E through M, so I'm definitely getting speedier.  :)  I also had a great conversation with the librarian about collection development, which is the focus of one of the courses I'm taking this semester for my MLS.  Aiden spent the entire time playing on my Kindle, which I only break out for special occasions, and it's debatable whether he actually noticed that we were in a library at all. :)

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PTO

On Tuesday night, I went to my first PTO meeting in this school district.  I was a regular member of the PTO in our old district, but for whatever reason, the meetings here first semester fell on nights that I couldn't attend.  There were only a couple of familiar faces in the room, but the meeting felt familiar enough.  It was very similar to what I experienced in Delphi: some really good ideas and a small group of very overworked and dedicated parents.  It sounds like there are going to be some really great activities come up this semester, so I'm looking forward to getting involved with those and hopefully getting to know some of the other parents better.

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Prepare to Shine


One of my goals is to run a 5K.  With this in mind, I have officially signed up for this year's Color Run.  It's going to take place on June 6 here in Indianapolis, and the theme this year in Shine--which I fear might mean that it's going to involve glitter or something.  I am particularly worried because I am NOT a runner.  By which I mean, I can runner at a tortoise's pace for about 60 seconds, and then I'm done.  But I have signed up to do the race with my friends Andrea, Rob, Chris, Derek, and Carrie, all of whom are fully capable of running a 5K, like, TODAY.  Whereas I need some SERIOUS training.  So I've started the Couch to 5K training program, and while it just drives home the fact that I am a total weakling, I will hopefully not be a weakling by June.  I'll keep you posted.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Clarity

This past Sunday, I volunteered for the first time at Clarity, which is my church's Sunday night youth group for high school students.  While there are quite a few adult sponsors (adults that volunteer with the students), the only ones who happened to be present on this particular Sunday night were Mitch (the youth group leader employed by the church) and Kristen (his wife).... so I was in good hands for training purposes!

We started out by playing a fun game (El Presidente) that involved dividing into two teams and throwing balled up socks at each other, kind of like Dodgeball, except that your team wins when you hit the other team's Presidente, and of course your team must go to all extremes to defend  your Presidente, including throwing yourself in front of that individual.  Talk about an ice breaker!

Then we all settled onto a wide array of sagging couches and listened to a talk by Mitch.  This week's topic was drug addiction..... and judging by the kids' silence during the discussion portion that followed, I gather that maybe this was a bit heavier (or a bit closer to home) than some other topics have been.  But as an adult, and particularly an adult who has worked in high schools and seen the things that kids struggle with, I will say that every word out of Mitch's mouth was spot-on.  His talk was beautifully done, and the Scripture he used illustrated his points beautifully.

While I don't know any of the kids terribly well yet, I really like all of them that I've talked to so far, and I'm looking forward to getting to know them all better as I continue to attend events.

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Weeding

Ever since we moved here, I've been meaning to volunteer at my daughters' elementary school library.  There have been a couple impediments to this, namely: time and boys.  Of the first, I have too little.  Of the second, I have too many.  :)

Really, it's just hard to find a time to go in and volunteer at the school when I don't have both Liam and Aiden in tow.  I've gone into Shay's classroom with both of them a few times, and it's Not Pretty.  Frankly, I'm not sure that I'd want me to volunteer.

But I am determined.  For one, I really miss working in a library and want to get back among the books.  For two, I want to be involved in my kids' school.  For three, I really like the woman who runs the media center (Mrs. True) and enjoy spending the time talking with and learning from her.  Fourth (to be totally selfish), I know that Mrs. True is retiring next year and I think it would be about perfect if I could get hired for that job.

So I think I have finally hit upon a way to make it work.  After much emailing back and forth with Mrs. True, we have determined that Mondays and Thursdays are the most helpful days for me to come in. Which is ideal, because Liam is in school those days.  So I can drop Liam at preschool and then head to the elementary school with Aiden in tow.  I was actually planning to get a sitter for Aiden, but Mrs. True said it was silly to spend money to volunteer, and since I don't have a lot of disposable income right now, I was happy to yield to that wisdom.

So the week before Christmas break, I tried this plan.  After dropping Liam at 9:00, we were able to get to the school, get checked in, and get to the library by about 9:30.  I set up Aiden with my "secret tablet" (meaning that I only break it out for very special occasions for the kids) and let him play til his heart's content.  I started in on the sizable project of weeding the collection of the books that had been handed down several years previously from the intermediate school which had closed.  Some of these books are still in decent condition and can be kept in the collection, but all need to be re-cataloged, which Mrs. True wants to do before she leaves.  In the two hours that I worked before lunch, I made it from A to E alphabetically.  (I also weeded books that were in bad condition and needed to be repaired.)

The whole thing worked successfully, and aside from an awkward moment when a fifth grade girl commented on how good Aiden was at playing Temple Run (um, he's 2), I'm not sure Aiden even noticed that there were people around him.  :)  So I think we've now got a working prototype and I'll hopefully be going in once a week!

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Christian Book: Unglued


Unglued: Making Wise Choices in the Midst of Raw Emotions

For the first of my 48 Christian books, I read Unglued: Making Wise Choices in the Midst of Raw Emotions by Lysa TerKeurst.  Sadly, I have to report that I was not really a fan.  There was nothing actually wrong with it; I think it was just the wrong season of my life to read it.  For a full review, you can check out my book blog here.  So this one counts as the 8th of my 200 books and the first of my 48 Christian books.  Yep, that's double-dipping, and totally legal on the 40 x 40 challenge!

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Book 7: Five Days Left


Five Days Left

I read Five Days Left by Julie Lawson Timmer for a book club that I belong to.  This is Timmer's first novel, and I found it to be exceptional.  I will definitely look forward to more from her in the future.  The book is really two stories.  The first centers around Mara Nichols: formerly a successful lawyer, now a patient with Huntington's Disease.  The second story focuses on Scott Coffman, who has spent the past year fostering an 8-year-old boy who will now be returned to his mother, who has just been released from prison.  Both stories focus on the power of nontraditional families.  For a more complete review, check out my book blog here.

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Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Book 6: Point of Retreat


Point of Retreat (Slammed, #2)

I'm really behind on posting about the books I've read.... I actually finished Point of Retreat by Colleen Hoover back in November.  It's the second book I've read by her, the sequel to her first novel, Slammed.  And this book definitely did not disappoint.  For my full review, check out my book blog here.


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Recipe: Grilled Salmon with Horseradish Sauce

Here's another recipe that I got from Wheat Belly Cookbook by William Davis, MD.  He suggests pairing it with a salad or a steamed green vegetable.  I think it would be particularly good with a caesar salad or grilled asparagus.

The sauce for this recipe is totally delicious!!

With full credit to Dr. Davis, here's the recipe:

Ingredients:
4 salmon fillets (5 ounces each)
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 tablespoon prepared horseradish
1 tablespoon stone-ground mustard
1 teaspoon grated lemon peel
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

Directions:
Coat a nonstick grill pan or large nonstick skillet with cooking spray and heat over medium-high heat.  Sprinkle the salmon with the salt.  Cook the salmon for 8 minutes, turning once, or until lightly browned and just opaque.

Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, whisk the mayonnaise, horseradish, mustard, lemon peel, and pepper until blended.

Top the salmon evenly with the sauce.

Nutrition information, per serving (recipe yields 4 servings):
404 calories
28 g protein
1 g carbohydrates
31 g total fat
4 g saturated fat
0 g fiber
383 mg sodium

As a note, I didn't have a lemon to peel, so I threw in a bit of lemon juice as a substitute, and it was still delicious.

Recipe: GF Banana Bread


Gluten-Free Banana Bread RecipeI used to have a banana bread recipe that I loved, but after going gluten-free, I learned pretty quickly that simply substituting gluten-free flour wasn't going to get the job done.  So I had to embark on a search for a gluten-free banana bread recipe that actually tasted good.

My problem with gluten-free breads in general is that they tend to be kind of dry and mealy.  This GF banana bread from Taste of Home, however, is nothing of the sort.  I suspect that the applesauce might be the key.

My bread didn't actually turn out looking like the picture above, because I didn't add the chopped walnuts.  Maybe next time.

My previous banana bread recipe was excellent with some chocolate chips added, so I may try that next time as well.  Yum.

I did feed this recipe to non-GF friends at a brunch, and they enjoyed it just as much as I did.  Score!  My kids also gobble it.  Double score!

So here's the link, and here's the recipe transcribed for my family's cookbook, with full credit to Taste of Home.

Ingredients

  •  2 cups gluten-free all-purpose baking flour
  •  1 teaspoon baking soda
  •  1/4 teaspoon salt
  •  2 cups mashed ripe bananas (4-5 medium)
  •  1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
  •  1/3 cup canola oil
  •  1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  •  1/2 cup chopped walnuts


Directions

  1. In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking soda and salt. In a small bowl, whisk the eggs, bananas, sugar, applesauce, oil and vanilla. Stir into dry ingredients just until moistened.
  2. Transfer to two 8-in. x 4-in. loaf pans coated with cooking spray. Sprinkle with walnuts. Bake at 350° for 45-55 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. Cool for 10 minutes before removing from pans to wire racks. Yield: 2 loaves (12 slices each).

Recipe: Hot Spinach Dip

I got this recipe for hot spinach dip from my mom.  She served it as an appetizer at Christmas, and I gobbled it up on gluten-free crackers.  I think I'm going to make it this week, either to serve on the side of chicken breasts or to eat as a dip with Beanito chips.  Enjoy!  :)

Ingredients:
2 Tbsp oil
1 small onion, chopped
10-oz pkg frozen chopped spinach, thawed or microwaved and squeezed or drained dry
2 cups shredded Colby Jack cheese
8-oz pkg cream cheese, cut into ½ inch pieces
½ cup milk
1 Tbsp red wine vinegar

salt and garlic powder to taste

Directions:
Saute onions in oil for about 4 minutes in a large saucepan.
Add in and mix remaining ingredients.
Spoon into 8x8 baking dish.
Bake at 375 degrees for 20-30 minutes or until hot and bubbly.
Add more shredded cheese on top for the last few minutes.

Recipe: Chocolate Cream Cheese Icing

But as much as I love cream cheese icing, I do need chocolate in my life sometimes.  So here's an adaption for chocolate icing.  Soooooo good.  Compliments of Allrecipes.

Ingredients:
8 oz cream cheese, softened
4 tablespoons milk
4 cups confectioners sugar
1/2 cup butter, softened
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon powder

Directions:
In a bowl, beat together the cream cheese, 3 tablespoons milk, confectioners sugar, butter, vanilla, cocoa, and cinnamon to a spreadable consistency.  Beat in additional milk if necessary.  For a darker frosting add more cocoa or up to 4 ounces melted chocolate.  Spread onto cooled cake.

Recipe: Cream Cheese Icing

I got this recipe for cream cheese icing from my friend Jennie years ago.  We used to make it only for special occasions, but now that I can't eat store-bought icing due to all the corn-based sweeteners in it, this is my go-to for every cake-based occasion.  And since our family celebrates three birthdays in the month of November, I've had a lot of it this winter.  And let me tell you, it's totally delicious.  I've discovered that if I buy a Betty Crocker Gluten-Free cake mix and top with with this cream cheese icing, I am a totally happy lady.  Like, eat-the-entire-cake happy.  Yum.

Ingredients:
8 oz cream cheese, softened
½ cup butter, softened
2 tsp vanilla

4-6 cups powdered sugar

Directions:
Beat cream cheese, butter, and vanilla until light and fluffy.
Add half sugar and beat.
Beat in remaining sugar until spreading consistency.
Store iced cake, covered, in refrigerator.

Recipe: Cheesy Volcano Meatballs

In addition to searching out new recipes, I've been playing with some old recipes that our family used to enjoy, back before this whole gluten-free, corn-free thing rocked our worlds.  Sadly, I'm finding that most cannot be resurrected.  But one that I have had success with is our Cheesy Volcano Meatballs.

The original recipe called for crushed-up Ritz crackers.  Obviously those are off-limits to me now.  But this past week I experimented with the recipe, substituting a tablespoon of flax seeds instead, and it turned out just fine.  Ben said he couldn't even tell it had flax seeds in it, so next time I'll try two tablespoons instead to stretch the recipe just a little bit further.

The original recipe calls for the meatballs to be served on hot dog buns, kind of like a meatball sandwich.  That's still totally fine for Ben and the kids to do, but I can eat them plain or with marinara sauce.  This time around, the kids gobbled them bunless as well, kind of like sliders.  This was one recipe that was actually a hit with the entire family--hallelujah!!

I cooked the meatballs in our muffin tin--they fit beautifully in there.  The only downside was that they came out a little greasy and there wasn't a great way to cook a second batch... and as much as our kids liked these, there was definitely a need to cook a second batch.  I'm thinking that adding the second tablespoon of flax seeds will cut down a bit on the grease.  So I may need to double the recipe next time; they would definitely reheat well.

Not sure where we got this recipe in the first place; I typed it up years ago.

Here's our family's version.  If you'd like to go with the non-GF version, it's 6 crushed-up Ritz crackers instead of flax seeds.

Ingredients:
1 lb lean ground beef
1-2 tablespoons flax seeds
¼ cup grated parmesan cheese
¾ cup spaghetti sauce, divided
12 cheddar cheese cubes
4 hot dog buns, split

Directions:
Preheat oven to 400ºF. 
Mix meat, cracker crumbs, parmesan cheese, and 1/4 cup of the spaghetti sauce in bowl. 
Shape into 12 meatballs, using about 2 Tbsp meat mixture for each.
Place meatballs about 2 inches apart in shallow baking pan sprayed with cooking spray.
 Press 1 cheese cube deeply into center of each meatball.
Bake 14 min. or until meatballs are cooked through (160ºF).  

Recipe: Twice-Baked Potatoes


Twice-Baked Potatoes

The other night, Ben said, "I'd really like to have some twice-baked potatoes for dinner.  Can you look up a recipe?"  Well, I remember really not liking twice-baked potatoes as a kid.  I think maybe we bought them pre-made a couple of times or something, but I seem to remember them being really dry.  But Ben seemed really enthusiastic, so I dutifully looked up the recipe.  And the recipe I found from the Pioneer Woman (who I'm pretty sure has never made a bad recipe in her life) was a far cry from what I remembered.  It was actually quite tasty and definitely good enough to be included in our ever-growing family recipe book.

So here's the recipe for Twice-Baked Potatoes from Ree Drummond (the Pioneer Woman) via the Food Network.  With full credit to her, here's my copy for our family recipe book:

Ingredients
8 baking potatoes, washed
3 tablespoons canola oil
2 sticks salted butter
1 cup bacon bits ( fry your own!)
1 cup sour cream
1 cup Cheddar or Jack cheese (or a mix of both), plus more for topping
1/2 cup whole milk
2 teaspoons seasoned salt
3 green onions, sliced
Freshly ground black pepper
Directions
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Place the potatoes on a baking sheet. Rub them with the canola oil and bake for 1 hour, making sure they're sufficiently cooked through.

Slice the butter into pats. Place in a large mixing bowl and add the bacon bits and sour cream. Remove the potatoes from the oven. Lower the heat to 350 degrees F.

With a sharp knife, cut each potato in half lengthwise. Scrape out the insides into the mixing bowl, being careful not to tear the shell. Leave a small rim of potato intact for support. Lay the hollowed out potato shells on a baking sheet.

Smash the potatoes into the butter, bacon and sour cream. Add the cheese, milk, seasoned salt, green onions and black pepper to taste and mix together well. (IMPORTANT: If you plan to freeze the twice-baked potatoes, do NOT add the green onions.)

Fill the potato shells with the filling. I like to fill the shells so they look abundant and heaping. Top each potato with a little more grated cheese and pop 'em in the oven until the potato is warmed through, 15 to 20 minutes.

Recipe: Cheeseburger Soup

Believe it or not, here's one recipe that I got from an actual cookbook instead of Pinterest.  This recipe for Cheeseburger Soup comes from Wheat Belly Cookbook: 150 Recipes to Lose the Wheat, Lose the Weight, and Find Your Path Back to Health by William Davis, MD, the renowned author of Wheat Belly.  I've cooked this one three times now, and it's quite good.

Dr. Davis claims that the recipe has a "10 minute prep time" and 50 minute cook time and yields 4 servings, but I would argue with that.  It generally takes me about an hour to make from start to finish, and at our house, it yields about 3 servings.  Last night I doubled the recipe, which I didn't really feel added any significant time.  He also claims that it's a "kid-friendly" recipe, but my kids don't actually like soup of any kind--they think it's "too hot."  Last night Bryn helped me cook the soup, and she had a bowl of all the chunky stuff without the broth and liked that quite well, but the rest have now refused it three times.  Sigh.  Ben really likes to take soup to work for lunch though, and it makes a great lunch for me.

So with full credit to Dr. Davis, here's the recipe:

Ingredients:
4 cups chicken broth, divided
1/2 head cauliflower, cut into florets
1 tablespoon butter or coconut oil
1 small onion, chopped
1/2 pound ground beef
1 tablespoon minced fresh parsley
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon paprika
1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 tablespoon coconut flour
1/2 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese

Directions:
In a large saucepan, combine 3 3/4 cups of the broth and the cauliflower.  Cover and bring to a boil over high heat.  Reduce the heat to medium-low.  Cook for 15-20 minutes, or until the cauliflower is tender when pierced with a fork.

Meanwhile, in a medium skillet over medium-high heat, heat the butter or oil.  Cook the onion, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes, or until golden.  Crumble in the beef.  Cook, stirring occasionally, for 8 minutes, or until no longer pink.  Stir in the parsley, salt, paprika, and pepper.  Remove from the heat and set aside.

Transfer the cauliflower mixture to a food processor or blender and puree until smooth.  Return to the saucepan.  In a small bowl, whisk the coconut flour with the remaining 1/4 cup broth until smooth.  Gradually add to the cauliflower mixture and cook,  whisking constantly, over medium heat for 3 minutes, or until slightly thickened.  Whisk in the cheese just until it melts.  Remove the pan from the heat.  Stir in the reserved beef mixture.

Nutrition information, per serving:
292 calories
19 g protein
9 g carbohydrates
21 g total fat
10 g saturated fat
2 g fiber
533 mg sodium

Amy's notes:
As with the baked potato soup, I think I could save myself a lot of time here by not being so vigilant with my chopping.  I always chop my cauliflower really, really tiny.... but then after boiling, I stick it in the blender (which I find works better than the food processor, because there's so much of it that I overflowed my food processor) and it all dissolves anyway.  Remember this for next time.

And seriously, who knew?  Cauliflower and just a teensy tiny bit of coconut flour make this delightfully creamy base.  Yum.

I think I used too much coconut oil last night too cook the onion (because I doubled the onion, so I doubled the coconut oil), so things ended up a bit greasy in the soup.  If I double the recipe again, remember that doubling the oil isn't necessary.

I've wondered a couple times if bacon would be good in this... you know, like a bacon-cheeseburger soup.  So last night I did just two slices of bacon in the microwave as a field test, then crumbled them and tossed them in.  The flavor was, in fact, delightful.  Ben said they could have been crispier, though, so next time do them in the oven.  And, of course, you can never have too much bacon, so adding more would be good.

And I generally add a little more cheese than the recipe calls for.  But not too much, because I sometimes add some on top of the soup when I heat it up as leftovers.