Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Applesauce Time and Sweet Potato Enchiladas

The wind blew and the rain misted lightly on the day we planned to go to the harvest festival at the farmer's market. I could just imagine the bounce castle sailing off into the sky, if they were bothering to inflate one at all. All those country kids in camo and rain gear, a couple suspendered Amish boys, and a few hearty parents filming it all with their phones as the giant red marshmallow would sail off like a tornado. At least, that's how I pictured it would play out. No thanks. 

     After days of stormy skies I was heading to the apple farm on a hunch that apples had probably been sitting around unsold all week and would be at rock bottom prices that Saturday morning. My instincts were right! Baskets that normally went for twenty were now ten dollars. While I made the buy, Little Mister held court with the apple pickers. Young women in full coveralls and jackets who were on break snacking on, what else? 

"We're going to put him to work picking apples in the rain," one told me. Some threat. He would love that. 

     Back home, little hands sliced alongside mine and watched the stock pots boil until that magic moment when we could work the strainer. It was a productive afternoon as we held our own festival. I owe a lot to applesauce. I make it without sugar, instead preferring a blend of sweet apples. It's been extremely useful for my diet. You don't get as much sauce as you would with added sugar, but I'll trade the calories for a healthier sauce.

     After one recent sauce session I made these delicious black bean and sweet potato enchiladas for supper. I had tried several recipes, but all were a little too involved for my busy days. Sometimes I don't have time for chopping and frying AND making sauce. After trying a few recipes, I came up with this easy method where the sauce is up to you, and the filling is simple but tasty. I love the combination of flavors, and also have to add that eating a lot of healthy plant-based meals has also been helpful for my diet. This dish is also kid-friendly. See review at the end.

Sweet Potato and Black Bean Enchiladas

Serving Size: Use a 9x11 casserole dish, but be prepared for extra. 

Fresh veggies and cheese. If this doesn't look good then I can't help you.

3 sweet potatoes
1 can black beans, rinsed
1 cup frozen corn
 2 cups fresh chopped spinach
1/2 tsp. cumin
1/4 tsp. garlic powder
2 cups shredded cheese 
8-10 flour (or corn) tortillas

Enchilada sauce (Use your own, or canned)

Thinly sliced green onions (garnish) and sour cream.

Peel and dice the sweet potatoes into cubes and boil for 15-20 minutes, until tender. Add frozen corn during the last three minutes. Drain water and leave in pot until ready to use. I like to do this step in the morning during or after breakfast.

Preheat oven to 400.

In a large bowl combine the sweet potatoes, corn, spinach, cumin and garlic powder. Add in black beans and lightly mash with a fork. Stir in one cup of the shredded cheese. 
Divide the filling between the tortillas and fold burrito style. Pour a thin layer of enchilada sauce into your baking dish to cover the bottom. Place your rolled tortillas in the dish and over with sauce. Bake for 20 minute, add sauce, and bake for another five minutes. Top with remaining cheese and scallions. 

Serve with sour cream, or as is.

Review from Little Mister: What's that smell? Is that pizza? It smells like pizza! I want to eat it now. Cheese! (Nom nom nom) Yummm-YUM! 

Well, that worked out.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

The Fly Away Home

     Summer is hanging her weary head.

     September has so far been a time of recovery. Can you believe that once, back when I was pregnant, I actually had a discussion with a friend on what I would do with all of my time once I stopped working outside the home? What was I thinking?

     While I soaked in every ounce of a season rife with homemade root beer and bare feet, the to-do list grew fast as the days grow short. If I actually accomplished everything on it right now, my productivity would burn a whole straight through the core of the earth into China. In fact, if you count the things I did on the fly that never made it to a paper list, it might be the cause of some tectonic shifting.

      This year is different. There is a now a soundtrack. A child learning to speak at the same time he is entering that why phase, where every sentence is a question, an endless song. A novelty song. It's rarely boring.

"Maybe you can buy more money at the money machine."

"I am a grown up. I am a LITTLE BOY grown up."

     Sometimes it can be a little embarrassing. For instance, the declaration made aloud when a man stopped by with papers for us to sign and stayed a little too long.
"Is the stranger going to be here all day?"

Because Little Mister is not easily understood when he speaks, I'm still hoping that I was the only person in the room who comprehended that one. 

There was also the pie bird. You know, that little ceramic bird you place in the middle of your double crust pie to let out steam? I'll tell you, few car salesmen have the persistence of a small child who discovers something as fascinating as the pie bird. What is this? What will it do? If you bake it in a pie, will it sing? Four and twenty blackbirds!
"Let's make a pie right now! Come on, I want to hear it sing!"

      I had just made some ridiculous quantity of baked goods for a church sale, and someone had a growth spurt over the summer and needs all new clothes. A pie was no where on the radar. 

     After days of this I agreed to make a strawberry pie if Little Mister would help me make the crust. I wanted him to see that pies are not just something you throw together in under a minute. Like a quesadilla.

"Thank you for making me a strawberry pie."

Well, I guess that was worth something after all.

     The squeak of newspaper as I clean the windows has nothing on what I hear these days. Fantastic stories involving ice fishing and a wild moose, super powers and pirates. The tall tales are punctuated at the end with "...and that is the end of my story."

     I buzz about on busy bee wings, making the bed, cleaning the sink, wondering what that smell is and whether I left something in the oven. He swoops in gracefully, landing on the big step ladder next to the pantry. "Can I see the brownies to make sure there are no more brownies?"

There's back talk now, too.  Asserting himself, making himself heard.

      Early one morning I see the certain "V" of birds in south-bound flight. They honk noisily, and back inside my own nest I absorb our own cacophony of sounds. It's quite a lot to get used to after years of a home where the only noise was the quiet hum of daily life. If I had to describe what it sounds like now I would tell you to extend your arms, flap and squawk about the letter you forgot to mail, laugh at the nude child eating garlic bread in the dryer, scream about something, and run around the house like pigeons in a park. It's the sound of wings as domestic and family life takes off in flight, never in the same direction.

Building a birdhouse at our church community day.

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.

 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 
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.


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