Thursday, February 20, 2014

{No Bake} Nut Butter Chocolate Chip Granola Bars (or Balls)

As I've mentioned before, we are in constant need of snacks over here.  With 3 growing boys, one of whom is a teenager and has grown about 3 inches in the past couple of months, someone is always hungry.  I like that these granola bars are super easy to put together with items I almost always have in the house.  They're packed with nutrition, have no preservatives (if you use natural nut butter) or fillers, and are totally portable.  The icing on the cake?  They taste incredible.
This recipe is beautifully versatile in that you can modify it to meet your needs.  Substitute another nut butter for the peanut butter to make this peanut free.  Add more rice krispies if you don't have flax seed or chia.  And, of course, change up your mix-ins to suit your tastes.  You can even make these into balls instead of bars.
No Bake Nut Butter Chocolate Chip Granola Bars
Adapted from here

  • 2 c. Quick Oats
  • 1 c. Rice Krispies
  • 1/4 c. Ground Flax Seed
  • 1/4 c. Chia Seed
  • 3/4 c. Creamy Peanut Butter or other nut butter
  • 1/2 c. Honey
  • 1/4 c. Brown Sugar
  • 1/2 t. Vanilla Extract
  • 1/2 c. Mini Chocolate Chips
  1. Line an 8x8" baking dish with aluminum foil and set aside (this is to make it easier to get the bars out of the pan)
  2. In a large bowl, mix together oats, rice krispies, flax seed, and chia seed.  If you don't have flax seed or chia seed, just add more rice krispies.
  3. In a microwave safe bowl, combine creamy peanut butter, honey, brown sugar, and vanilla.  Microwave at 30 second intervals, stirring in between until the mixture is smooth.  If you don't have a microwave, or yours is stubbornly refusing to heat things, you can gently heat the mixture in a saucepan on the stove, stirring constantly until smooth.
  4. Combine the peanut butter mixture with the oatmeal mixture, and add chocolate chips.
  5. Press the mixture into prepared 8x8" pan, packing tightly.  Alternately, form the mixture into balls.  Refrigerate for an hour or until firm.
  6. Remove from baking dish and cut into bars. 
Once you've tried the basic recipe, make it your own.  Feel free to add chopped roasted almonds, flaked coconut, peanut butter chips, dried fruit--whatever you like.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Complaining About Winter

This winter has been extraordinary, that's for sure.  There has been record breaking cold and snow fall in much of the country. 

It has been so cold in our area that it has become totally passé to throw boiling water into the air to be vaporized or blow bubbles that freeze instantly, because we have had so many opportunities in the past 2 months. 

It has been so cold in our area that when the temperature reaches 0 F (with no wind chill), people start using words like "balmy" and "warm". 

It has been so cold in our area that when the temperature reaches 15 F, people are saying things like, "it's so nice out today."  And when the temperature reaches 40, like it did yesterday, we're putting aside our coats and getting out the shorts and swim suits.  Seriously.  I saw people in shorts and T-shirts yesterday.

It's no wonder that pretty much everyone I know is complaining about winter this year.

But I'm not, and I'll tell you why.

I love snow.  I really, really do.  Sledding, skiing, snowshoeing, making snowmen, shoveling...all of these things I love to do require snow.  And it's pretty.  I can't imagine living in an area that just gets dingy and brown in the winter--that fresh sparkly cold stuff really spruces up the place, ya know?

And I don't mind the cold.  I really don't.  It's all about dressing for the weather--if you have the right equipment, you can be out in any cold and still be comfortable.  I do not say this idly, my friends.  We have had daily high temperatures in the negative 15 degree F range, along with 40 to 50 degrees below zero wind chills.  We've had over 40 days this winter when the temperature has been below 0 F.  Not below freezing, below 0.  It's cold.  And I don't mind.

But here's the real reason I am not now, nor will I ever, complain about winter:

I am reserving my right to complain about summer.

That's right.  You heard me.  I would soooo much rather be cold than hot, and I will complain up and down and sideways, all day long, when those hot, humid days hit, but I feel it would be somewhat disingenuous to complain about summer and winter.  So I choose summer.

In the meantime, I am loving this winter. 

But if you're not, take heart, my friends.  Spring is coming.  It always does.

Countdown Clocks

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Overnight Oatmeal

Our over-the-range microwave is making strange noises.  And making strange smells.  And--and this is key--not heating things. This is a problem, because my daily routine depends on the microwave.  I have oatmeal for breakfast every day.  Made in the microwave.  I have leftovers for lunch almost every day.  Heated in the microwave.  I forget to thaw meat for supper a few times a week, and I rely on that machine to help my forgetful self out with some gentle-but-fast thawing so I can feed my family.
Product Image
So what's an oatmeal-for-breakfast-every-day, set-in-her-ways-so-much-so-that-she-brings-oatmeal-with-her-on-vacation girl like me supposed to do with no microwave?

Make my oatmeal on the stove?  Ridiculous!

Bring the extra microwave that does (to the best of our knowledge) work upstairs to use?  Preposterous!  (even if I could carry it up by myself, I don't think I can handle it taking up all that counter space--think I could get away with putting it on top of the fridge?)

So what's a girl like me to do? 

This girl chooses to view this problem as an opportunity: an opportunity to finally try out overnight (or refrigerator) oatmeal.  Our not-heating, strange-noise-making, horrible-smell-emitting microwave is a blessing, because I like my morning oatmeal so much I couldn't ever bring myself to try something else that I might like just as much, and now I can.

The concept is simple: mix up oatmeal with some sort of liquid (and in this case some people define yogurt as a "liquid").  Then add mix-ins to make it taste good.  Or not.  Whatever.  Put it in a jar, and refrigerate overnight.  Eat it (cold) in the morning.

This stuff is ideal for folks who want to eat a healthy breakfast but don't have a lot of time for morning prep work--just grab it and go.  It's also great for folks who want to eat oatmeal for its health benefits, but don't want to eat a hot breakfast.  And it's perfect for folks who eat oatmeal every day whose microwaves don't heat food anymore.

There are tons of different variations and recipes out there.  Don't believe me?  I suggest Pinterest for your search, because then you'll get to see all the delicious pictures along with the links to recipes.

As for me?  I'm going with this one (with a few tweaks) for my first attempt.

Apple Crisp Refrigerator Oatmeal
Wish me luck!

Not sure what I'm going to do about lunch or supper, but at least I've got breakfast covered...

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Runaway Saint: A Novel by Lisa Samson

Runaway Saint is the newest novel by author Lisa Samson, the writer Publishers Weekly calls one of the "most powerful voices in Christian fiction."

Sara Drexel, to all outward appearances, has it all together--a supportive husband, her own successful business, and a beautiful home, all in a hip, urban neighborhood, but in spite of everything, happiness proves elusive--she's lost her faith.  When Sara's Aunt Bel shows up on her doorstep, back from 20 years as a missionary in Kazakhstan, Sara is less than thrilled at the prospect of housing this eccentric and unapproachable woman she barely knows, and Aunt Bel seems to share Sara's reservations about the arrangement.  But with Sara's mother, Bel's sister, living in a tent on the back 40 of a friend's farm, Bel has nowhere else to go.

As Sara and Aunt Bel become reacquainted, Sara's precariously balanced life is turned upside down.  Secrets are revealed about Bel's mysterious past, and about Sara's past as well, and through it all relationships are healed and faith restored.

I really enjoyed this book.  It's not my typical read, but it is well written and thought provoking.  It started slow, but I soon found myself invested in the character's lives and drawn in to this irresistible story.  The author paints a beautiful and authentic picture of trust, healing, and redemption.  In the end, Sara realizes that "happiness isn't a matter of getting what you want.  It's knowing what you need, realizing you have it, and being thankful."  I look forward to reading more from Lisa Samson.

I received this book for free from BookLook Bloggers in exchange for my honest review.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Make your own: Ranch Dressing Mix

While menu planning this week, I selected three recipes in a row that call for dry ranch dressing mix.  What can I say?  I love me some ranch.  Luckily, I had come across a recipe for homemade ranch dressing mix a few weeks ago, so instead of forking out $1.79 per packet, I forked out around $2 for the ingredients to make around 15 packets-worth.  Added bonus?  I actually know what's in my ranch dressing mix.

My obsessive saving of empty peanut butter jars comes in handy sometimes...

There are a ton of variations out there, ranging from just a few ingredients to...just a few more ingredients.  Here's the one I decided on, mostly because I had all of the herbs and spices in my cupboard, but also because it has dry buttermilk in it, which seems more authentic to me, and also also because it makes a lot. 

Ranch Dressing Mix

1 c. dry buttermilk (find this in the baking aisle by the dry milk/evaporated milk/condensed milk/coconut milk)
6 T. dry parsley (you can pick up a jar at Aldi or the Dollar Store for $1)
2 T. dill weed
2 T. onion powder (also at Aldi or the Dollar Store)
2 T. salt (leave this out if you want sodium free ranch mix)
1 T. garlic powder (you know the drill: Aldi or Dollar Store)
1.5 t. ground black pepper.

Place all ingredients into a pint size jar and shake. That's it!  Substitute 2 T for one packet in recipes, or mix 2 T with 1-2 c. sour cream for dip.

My dry buttermilk says it should be stored in the fridge, so that's where I keep my ranch mix.

Now.  Those recipes?
Crock Pot Pesto Ranch Chicken--yummy.  We made sandwiches using 30 minute rolls, but you could also serve this over pasta, rice or mashed potatoes.
Taco Bean Soup -- Mmmm!  My favorite.  I make a large batch and freeze the leftovers in meal-sized portions for easy lunches.
Cracked-out Chicken Noodle Casserole--this was really good, and makes a lot.  Divide into 2 or 3 casseroles, bake one and freeze the rest for future meals.

Enjoy, my friends.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

{Completely Customizable} Breakfast Cookies

Don't let the name fool you--these cookies are more like a bowl of oatmeal you can hold in your hand, perfect for mornings when you're rushing out the door.  These delicious morsels are filled with fiber and nutrients, with no added fat, and only natural sweeteners.  Breakfast cookies are totally customizable and the perfect way to start your day. 

Feel free to let the name fool your kids, though :)  Cookies for breakfast?  Your kids will love you forever.

I've seen variations of this recipe all over the internet, so feel free to make it your own.  Here's the basic recipe--when making substitutions, just try to keep the ratio of wet to dry ingredients about the same, and you'll be fine

Breakfast Cookies
~ 2 c. quick cooking oatmeal (more if needed.  Or whirl some rolled oats in the blender for a few seconds--the powdery texture helps hold the cookies together)
3/4 t. salt (you can totally leave this out)
1 t. ground cinnamon (more or less to taste)
1 c. nut butter (peanut, almond, cashew, sunflower--whatever you have)
1/4 c. honey (more or less to taste)
~ 1 c. unsweetened fruit puree (mashed bananas or applesauce work and are easy)
1 to 1 1/2 c. add-ins like sunflower seeds, chopped nuts like almonds or walnuts, dried fruit like raisins, cranberries or apples, chocolate chips, shredded coconut, chia seed--whatever you have, and whatever you like
  • Mix ingredients together.  Scoop by 1/4 c. or 1/3 c. measure onto a greased cookie sheet and flatten into a cookie shape (since these cookies don't have any leavening, they won't spread out as they bake).
  • Bake at 325* F for 12-16 minutes or until edges are set and tops are slightly browned.  Cool completely and store in an airtight container.  For longer storage, wrap individually and freeze.
I used half peanut butter and half homemade almond butter, 1 mashed banana plus 1/2 c. applesauce, 1/2 c. mini chocolate chips, 1/2 c. finely chopped walnuts (finely chopped because I have a child who doesn't like nuts--the silly boy), and 2 T. chia seeds.  The recipe made nine 1/3 c. cookies.  I store mine in the freezer and eat them without even thawing them (although I'm sure heating them up in the microwave for 30 seconds or so would be yummy, too).  These are so delicious, and a filling meal or anytime snack for when I'm too busy to put something together.  These are so much better to reach for than Oreos!

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Tuesday's Tip: Keep the Sheets Tucked

It is a pain in the patooty to change my kids' sheets. 

Number one, because all three of them have loft beds, which means that one has to actually be on the bed in order to change the sheets.  Have you ever tried changing the sheets on a bed which you are currently occupying?  It's not easy.  Try it.  You'll see.  Your body weight pushes down on the mattress making it very difficult to tuck anything under, not to mention the impossibility of getting wrinkles out.  It is quite the ordeal.

And number two, well, you don't need a number two, because number one is reason enough. 

Is it any wonder I try to avoid changing sheets on those beds as much as possible?

The trouble is, the beds don't stay made.  The sheets and blankets end up in a tangled mess after just a few days.  All that effort...wasted.

I noticed an interesting thing, though, and that is, the farther under the mattress you tuck those sheets and blankets, the more likely they are to stay tucked.

I noticed something else.  If you place twin-sized blankets perpendicular to a twin size bed, they cover nearly the whole bed, from head to foot.

Let's put those two facts together to see if we can solve that problem, shall we?

Here's what to do.

Over the fitted sheet, place the flat sheet the regular way, which leaves an overhang of 8-12" per side.

Place the blankets perpendicular to the bed, leaving an overhang of about 3 feet on the long sides of the bed.  See how they stretch nearly the whole length of the bed, head to foot?  If your kids are taller than mine, you can even alternate the way you place the blankets so you get full coverage lengthwise.

Fold down the sheet at the head of the bed, sandwiching the blankets and keeping them together.

Tuck everything in.  That means there are around 2.5 feet of blanket tucked under the mattress on each side--the two ends of the blankets meet under the mattress.  (If your bed is up in the air, stand on a stepstool or chair and lift the mattress up to get the sheets under.  If your bed is on the floor, you can just lift the mattress up).  That's not coming untucked very easily.

Cover the whole thing with a bedspread and you should be good to go for a couple of weeks.

Oh, and the number two reason it's a pain in the patooty to make my kids' beds?  The twenty gazillion stuffed animals, books, legos, socks and other miscellaneous items that find their way into the kids' beds that need to be removed and then replaced... Oy!
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