Friday, August 21, 2015

Blueberry Vanilla Ice Cream (Ice cream maker optional)

     When I was a little girl, there was an older couple who lived nearby. Their children were all grown, but I never forgot their kindness to the neighborhood kids. Sometimes they would get out their ice cream maker and invite everyone to bring a spoon for an ice cream party. The wife provided bowls. The sweet creamy texture of simple homemade vanilla ice cream on a warm day was unbeatable.

      While not a blueberry fan myself, I knew the men around here would enjoy this variation on the theme. It was so easy to make and kept really well in the freezer beyond just a few days. I used my ice cream maker, but if you can also use a stand mixer if you don't have an ice cream maker. I'll post two methods.


     Also, this was easier as an overnight project. If using an ice cream maker, you can do the blueberries the night before and make the ice cream the next day.

Start with: 2 cups coarsely chopped blueberries

Bring blueberries, 2 tablespoons of sugar, and 2 tablespoons of water to a boil over medium heat. Reduce heat to low and simmer for ten minutes, stirring often. Cool for 30 minutes, and then cover and chill for two hours. I did this step the night before.

For ice cream maker: 
Whisk together:
1 (14 ounce can) condensed milk
1 (5 ounce can) evaporated milk
2 cups whole milk
2 Tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
A pinch of salt

Cover and chill for two hours.
Pour milk mixture into 1 quart freezer container and churn for about 20 minutes. Remove container with ice cream and freeze in the container for 30 minutes.
Stir blueberries into the mixture and transfer to a loaf pan and cover with aluminum foil. Freeze for 3-4 hours.

Using a stand mixer:
1 Pint (2 cups) heavy cream
1 (14 ounce can) sweetened condensed milk
1 Tablespoon vanilla extract

In a small bowl, combine the vanilla extract and sweetened condensed milk. Pour heavy cream into a mixing bowl and whip on a high speed until stiff peaks form. Reduce mixer speed to low, and slowly add the vanilla mixture to the mixing bowl. Once combined, stir in blueberries and pour into a loaf pan covered tightly with aluminum foil. Freeze for 6 hours or overnight. 


This was a hit, but you don't have to take my word for it.  

Thursday, August 20, 2015

The Best Intentions

     Does anyone else have a constantly messy house this time of year? No need for a public confession, everyone put you head down and discreetly raise your hand if you do. I'll look around and feel a solidarity with those of you brave front line mamas with a hand up.

Sunflower shadows dance on my wall.
 Thankfully, it's summer, when nothing can rattle me for long. There's little that a fresh tomato sandwich can't cure. I decided to intentionally enjoy every minute of these hottest months and let a few things fall by the wayside this year. I'm just getting by until school starts, making due with the minimal, and finding it a source of joy. It's been a lesson on one aspect of simplicity:  Simplicity isn't the austerity of a perfectly picked up home or perfectly organized life. It is prioritization, and the freedom of making unique choices that work for you and your family. 

School's still out. Amish school playground, Lancaster.

When our lack of a garden this year cut me short on canning and freezing our usual vegetables, I cherished our bramble berries even more. I decided to do what I could, without pressure, and have enjoyed filling the jam shelf in our pantry, making pie fillings, and have had more than enough to keep me busy. It's been peaceful to made do with what I have and to indulge in canning little extras. Projects I've always wanted to put away but never had the time for in the face of endless beans.

     There have been times when I've had to remind myself that I am choosing to focus on the joy of this season, and not let the small stuff distract from the beauty of the green fields and sunshine. For instance, the five mile trip to pick up my canning peaches which turned into a seemingly endless journey when traffic cut off a direct route. A back road was the scene of an auction that just ended. Cars, buggies, scooters, things you never knew were street legal were pouring out of a driveway. Under a clear sky with a windmill glistening in the sun, I dodged a wagon full of tourists on a buggy ride and took a deep breath as I hoped that some other side road would lead me closer to the fruit farm. Puttering behind a line of traffic for the last two miles, I finally reached my destination at exactly the time I had told my husband to expect my return. I need to savor this moment, I reminded myself. There will not be another moment like it for a year. There will not be another perfectly gorgeous summer day where I will be picking up peaches against a scenic back drop and the anticipated satisfaction of filling jars.

No, really, there were a lot more cars than this on the road.


The Little Mister & Ruthie



Back at home, my back hurts as I lay on the wood floor with Little Mister. We're playing with his farm set, which I brought out because I wanted to see if he really still plays with it. It turns out he does. We're making the goat do silly things like stand on the roof of the barn and drive the tractor.

I need to savor this moment, because there will not be another moment like it, ever.  It is truly the day that the Lord hath made.


Monday, July 20, 2015

Summer Love

This post is just a few of my favorite things about summer. 

As I drive by green fields and ponder roadside wild flowers, I think "What a gift!" This is my favorite time of year and these are things that bring me much joy. I want to live in the present with them as much as possible, soaking in their goodness and preserving them in my heart so I can summon these recollections when the year is dark and cold. 

 Fireflies, or as we called them when I was a kid, Lightnin' bugs. 


 Shelter from the sun under a covered bridge.


 I've expounded on my love of corn fields before, so I'll let this speak for itself.


Wild flowers by a stream.


 Is there anything more cheerful than a sunflower?


 I bought an ice cream maker on sale a few years ago and didn't even take it out of the box until now. Usually, the store deals are so good that I can buy ice cream cheaper than I can make it. However, announcing that we're making ice cream is so much fun. You can't put a price on that.
 It's especially good with fresh cherry cobbler. I really enjoy sweet cherries and prefer them for baking over the sour cherries.

If you haven't fallen in love with summer yet, it's not too late.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

What I Learned When I Lost

Since March, I've been working on a special project which I'm now ready to reveal in greater detail.

I lost 30 pounds in two months, and am still losing.

No, I am not selling anything, nor do I have a special pill, formula, recipe, or bean. If it turns you off that I don't have a magical answer, then please move on, this post is not for you. I simply want to share a bit about my no-nonsense weight loss journey in hopes that it will inspire others to take control and find a nutrition plan that works for them.

I think diets need to be individually designed so that they are effective, affordable, and sustainable for long term weight loss and management. While I have seen many a friend gravitate from the tired-hungry mama plan over to weight loss drink du jour, what I've witnessed is a lot of initial optimism in the face of a one-size-must-fit-all plan that cannot work for everybody. It doesn't work that way. We're all different. I think that is why it's so hard to lose weight. We try to fit ourselves into a sharply defined box. One size fitting all is a myth in the world of dieting as much as it is in anything else.

Here are three things I did that moved me toward a successful diet:

1) I had blood work done to make sure I was in good, working order. Without going into great detail about my health, my doctor was very supportive of me starting a diet. He's a direct man who doesn't care which diet I did, "Just do something," he said. He also suggested a FitBit, but being someone who is already on their feet for 14 hours a day, I couldn't see where the extra steps were going to come from and I wasn't excited about spending a hundred dollars on something that told me that I take the same amount of steps every day. As it turned out, my instincts were right and it didn't matter. Most importantly, once I was able to see my blood work and check that my thyroid is working correctly, I had no excuses. If I failed, it would be my fault.

2) I created a calorie deficit. I already knew that 3,500 calories = one pound. I also knew that if you multiplied the number you want to see on the scale by ten, and you eat that many calories, that is the number you will weigh. For instance, If you want to weigh 150 pounds, you need to more or less, eat 1,500 calories per day. I used these two formulas in creating a daily meal schedule that fit my lifestyle without feeling like a tremendous sacrifice. For myself, I found that eating a lower calorie breakfast and lunch allowed me to have a normal supper featuring our usual favorites with my family. That has worked well.

3)  I gave myself one day a week to eat whatever I want, and this was important. There's always one day out of the week where it's a party and someone is handing you a cupcake, or you really really REALLY want pizza. So, I put aside one day where that is okay. It's not always the same day, and believe it or not, sometimes I skip it and forget about it! Not to mention, I can't eat nearly as much as I could thirty pounds ago, so that one day is a day of freedom, but not a free for all. 

The last picture I could find of myself pre-diet was from last Thanksgiving. Not a full length shot, but you can see I'm carrying some upper body weight, and my face looks fuller.


 





Here I am today. Excuse the blur, I never take selfies and my hand shakes. Plus, I'm having fit issues with all of my clothing. No surprise there. My old stuff will be coming to a ReUzit shop near you.  

 I'm celebrating summer in my usual way, with my favorite quick and easy Tomato Bruschetta topping. It's been posted before with an inferior picture that doesn't do it justice.

Chop:
 2 cups of tomatoes (cherry tomatoes 
cut into quarters work best!)
1/2 of a medium red onion
2 T Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 T Balsamic Vinaigrette
1/2 tsp. minced garlic
chopped fresh basil
Season with slat, pepper and 
tarragon. 
Don't skip the seasoning!

We eat this as a dip for bread, pita chips, and even as a topping 
on hamburgers. It's very versatile 
and healthy. 
 

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Praise Report: A Glimpse of Grace

Ideally, I like to post twice a month but it looks like May got away from me. It was a very demanding month in both good and not so good ways, so my thoughts were disorganized. One thing that was on my mind was to give an update on the progress Little Mister has made in the past six months, because it has been big. Bigger even, than a realization I had about how God has been working on this moment before our son was even born. 


When Little Mister turned three, he entered into a preschool program at a local school where he could continue to receive therapy. It's been amazing on two counts. Six months ago he was almost completely non-verbal, and his Apraxia was considered so significant that we had no idea what the future might look like for his ability to communicate. Once entering this school, the changes were so rapid that he now speaks in complete sentences and never stops talking. Although understanding his words are a big challenge because there are many sounds he cannot yet pronounce, we can actually have simple conversations. It's amazing. I remember when I thought he would never say the word "mom." Now I want to change my name.

The second reason this is so profound is because I believe God planned for this opportunity a long time ago. When we were planning our wedding and looking for a house, we were looking everywhere but here. We wanted one closer to my family farther north, but couldn't close a deal on the house we found there. We talked about moving out of state. It was only after we exhausted all other options that we found and purchased our little fixer upper. To be honest, I wasn't always thankful for it. It's been a huge project that siphoned off time and money. I sometimes despised living in a small outreach community where it feels far from the action. I could do a whole post on that one, alone. Finally, I didn't care about what schools were nearby because we would probably home school anyway. 



Now, eight years later, I can stand at our back property line and look across a field where I can actually see the wonderful school that has helped my son so much. A school with a program so coveted by other  parents that they tell me how badly they want to move to our town so their child can be guaranteed a placement in the program. I could have never imagined this. I could have never planned this. I deserve no glory for this. Aren't you glad we don't always get what we deserve?

White mulberries







At times when I'm feeling surly and unthankful, (-Yes, those moments still happen! What is wrong with me? If you know, write me and tell me.) I think of the school. I think of how for years it sat there across the field like a latent blessing I never knew we would need, to be revealed at the right time.

Long before we meet our own children, the One who calls each star by name knew the name by which we would call them.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

On Survival and Sunsets: Mom-couragement

Moon Rise?
I asked for the same thing for Mother's day for the past three years.

I wanted to take a shower without any surprises. One where I don't come out and find something broken, or the house torn apart, or one where someone doesn't pry open the bathroom door and yell "SURPRISE!" because that happens, too. Also, the shower should be long enough to wash everything, not just the important stuff.

It would be nice if I could sleep in, too, but that's unrealistic. I didn't actually expect any of these things, because Mother's day is not about me. I'm not even sure it's about mothers in the way we think of them, so much as it is a celebration of nurturing, caring, and sacrifice. Not to diminish the special experience of motherhood, but these attributes can be found in other places.It's just that they are really special in the hands of a mother.

I often think of being a parent as getting this job you really want. You've watched others do the job, you know what you would do, or what you would do differently. You aren't sure what your strengths would be on the job, or what will be your weaknesses. You only know that you've seen some people who are great at it, some who are not, and you can do better than the worst and aspire to be the best.

When you are hired, everyone asks how you like your new job. You answer, "I love it!" because you do, and you've only been there a week.

A couple years go by, things start getting intense. You have a bad week, and no one asks how you like your new job anymore. They just tell you how lucky you are to have it.

Little by little you figure out your strengths, and the things you just never seem to get right. Yet, you can't delegate your weaknesses, and you can never resign. There is no Human Resources office. Trust me, I would have called for back up by now.

Sunburst through the window of an old farm building.
You go and talk to the boss, and He listens, and often refers you back to the Employee Handbook, and reminds you that He has an open door policy. Sometimes, it doesn't feel like enough. You want to say, "You really put me in charge of this person? Me? I'm useless before ten in the morning. I can't be the best candidate."

He says, "Yes, you, and only you."

At no other time will you ever be told that you are the only person who can do a certain job. It's a position divinely appointed.

Recently, at a neurology appointment for Little Mister, I was expressing some concerns about his erratic sleep schedule and how we've found only one method of getting him to go to sleep at night. My child cannot just lay down, close his eyes, and go to sleep.

"You do what you have to do to survive", she told me. One day this will stop and go away but for right now, it works and you do it. Then, this wonderful neurologist who is herself a young mother, went on to share about her son who will not eat a bite unless a certain cartoon plays and a live puppet show is conducted at the same time. "I tell people for a living not to let their children watch television while they eat."


She really does get this, I thought.

Then I thought about the puppet that I carry in my pocketbook. I thought of how our frustrations as parents only last for so long, and then it's something else. I thought about how I won't have to do a crazy bedtime ritual forever.

 Oh, and that shower? Don't worry, I'll get it on my birthday.


Sunset at the lake.

Friday, April 24, 2015

When the Best Part of the Trip is the Return Home

We took a brief overnight trip recently in order to run a few errands up north, and also price some new bedroom furniture. When we were married almost eight years ago, we started out with a card table, two chairs, and a bedroom set that was an old hand-me-down from The Mister's side of the family. Gradually, we accumulated more furniture, a few nice pieces from my grandparent's sale, and a sofa from my parent's house circa 1985. I like to joke that if you attended the family reunion we hosted during the Reagan administration, then you have already sat on my couch. That old thing needs replacing too, but first things first. 

Our trip out of town did not go as smoothly as we had hoped.

We got a later start than planned. When we did get moving, we drove fifteen minutes down the highway when I suddenly remembered that I left a scent warmer on in the kitchen. I knew that would happen the minute I turned the darn thing on. Much to my dismay, our only option was to turn around and head back home to unplug it. I got a head ache from being in the car. Finally, as the sun was beginning to set over the beautiful hills of eastern Pennsylvania, I reached for my camera bag and made a sour discovery: I left my camera battery in its charger, at home.

There was even more nonsense the next day. 

There were some positives, some shopping done, and we were thankful that we didn't have any major catastrophes. No foul weather, injuries, or that most dreaded of all travel nightmares, car trouble. We were even able to take The Little Mister to a restaurant without incident, something we have been unable to do since he was a newborn. A lengthy performance with a finger puppet helped a lot, and elicited many smiles.

When we arrived home, I exhaled so hard that a nearby tree was uprooted. 

We never did find any affordable bedroom furniture, either. I came home and dealt with the same tiny over-stuffed bureau drawers and miniature nightstands that I've been contending with for years. Furniture built for a different time, when people owned two dresses and one pair of shoes.

Two days later I went out to the garden to check on my small spring garden, and saw buds on all the berry bushes, new growth in the strawberries, and bunches of rhubarb poking through the winter weeds. It had all happened so suddenly. When I went to tear out the ornamental hydrangea that I killed last summer, I found it wasn't dead at all. 


Renewal is among the greatest gifts bestowed on us, whether we're worthy of it or not. I can't think of anything better than second chances, new beginnings, and a fresh sunrise each day. 

Perhaps some decent and affordable bedroom furniture could compete with that, but I guess it wasn't meant for right now. Today I'll settle for the reminder growing around me that everything is beautiful in its time. 

Crunchy Pepper Jack Salad with Smooth Avocado Dressing

We've been eating this salad all week, it is so delicious, healthy, and satisfying. I adapted it from several similar recipes to make a salad that is inexpensive but packs a lot of flavor. You can buy every ingredient at a discount grocery store. Just don't skimp on the tasty avocado dressing.

Salad:

1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 cup frozen corn, thawed
1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
1 diced red pepper
1 cup shredded pepper jack cheese
1 small head chopped lettuce- romaine or butter crunch works well
A sprinkling of crushed tortilla chips

Dressing:
1 small avocado, peeled and sliced
1 tsp. diced hot peppers
1/2 tsp. minced garlic or 1 garlic clove
1/4 cup sour cream
1/4 cup salsa
1/4 cup milk
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1/2 tsp. sugar
juice of one lime
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. cumin
1/8 tsp. pepper
1/8 tsp. smoked paprika (optional)

Blend all ingredients for dressing in a blender until smooth. This made enough dressing for two big bowls of salad, which was fine since two bowls lasted for four meals.


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