Tuesday, October 27, 2015

From a mix

AKD complimented my cake.  Like, the taste of the cake, rather than the design.

And I said, as is my practice when someone complements the taste of one of my from-a-box baked goods (full disclosure and all that), "thanks.  It's from a mix."

To which he queried, "when's the last time you made a cake from scratch?"

I had to think about that one for a bit.  As you might guess, I prefer to expend more of my energy in the decoration of the cake rather than in making the cake itself.  Cake mix is just so convenient.  And cheap.  I told him it's possible that the last time I made a cake from scratch was when I was in high school (after I thought about it more, I realized that isn't true, because I remember making a black forest cake with my clients back when I was working full time, but still, that was more than 16 years ago).

AKD was shocked, and I understand why.  I make (practically) everything else from scratch--why not cake?  Well, like I said, cake mix is just so convenient.  And cheap.  Why not use cake mix?

His question sent me to my cupboard to investigate what kind of disgusting things manufacturers are putting in cake mix these days.  You know how some folks say you should never eat anything that has ingredients you can't pronounce?  Well, organic chemistry took care of that one for me--I can pronounce just about anything they can throw in there--but I can pronounce plenty of things that I don't want to put in my body.

Like propylene glycol.  Which is used to produce plastics, to de-ice airplanes, and as a preservative in cake mix (don't believe me?  Go look).

Yeah.  Don't think I'm going to be able to eat cake mix again anytime soon.  I'm feeling a little sick right now just thinking about it.

So here's what you do.  You find a good cake recipe.  You mix up all the dry ingredients and you put it in a glass jar in your pantry.  When you need to make cake, you add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and bake according to the recipe.  Convenient.  And cheap.

If you need an even easier (easier in that you don't have to find a recipe first) method, check out these homemade cake mixes from A Few Shortcuts.

And, just for Beaver-ly (and me) ... here's a German chocolate cake mix recipe.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Menu plan for the week of October 25

I made pizza on Friday last week.  But then, you knew that.  At least you knew that was the plan.  'Cause I told y'all it was.  Weeks ago.  Or maybe you thought we were having take-out pizza each week.  Nah.  For one thing, we've got cheese-haters in our midst.  For another, who knows what goes into take-out pizza?  I know one thing that doesn't, and that's whole grains.

AKD happened to be in the kitchen while I was spreading the crust and making the sauce, and I commented to him that it seemed like a lot of work, making pizza.

First I proofed the yeast, and then I mixed in the rest of the crust ingredients, kneaded it, and let it rise, then I made the sauce.  Then I had to spread the crust in the pans and let it rise again.  Next I had to cut the veggies and assemble the pizzas, made easier by the pre-cooked sausage in the freezer, which is now gone, which means next time it's going to be that much more work.

For the first time ever, I found myself wondering if it was really all worth it.  I mean, I love pizza.  There was a time in my life when, if pressed to pick one and only one food to eat for the rest of my life, I would have picked pizza.  It's the obvious choice, really.  All the food groups in one yummy package, not to mention the endless variety possible in the pizza realm.  (Now I would choose salad, because ditto on all the food groups packed into one yummy package and endless variety).

It's just...  A lot...  Of work...

You know, compared to how much work I was putting in to cooking last week.  Which was minimal.

This is the last week of the October plan-one-week-and-repeat menu plan.  I'm still loving it--I love having default meals to fall back on--but I'm aware that it needs tweaks.  I'm just not sure what kind of tweaks.  I'll let you know when if I figure it out.

Here's what's on the menu this week:



Friday, October 23, 2015

Trim Healthy Mama Cookbook: A Review

I've been hearing a bit about the Trim Healthy Mama lifestyle, and what I'm hearing intrigues me, so I jumped at the chance to read and review Trim Healthy Mama CookbookEat Up and Slim Down with More Than 350 Healthy Recipes written by sisters Pearl Barrett and Serene Allison .

The book begins with an introduction explaining a bit about the book and touching on tools and special ingredients, then continues with the recipes, followed by a meal recap and a full index.

The recipes are divided into one pot meals, hearty mains and sides, sunrise eats, sweet treats, beverages, and all things smooth and crunchy.  Each food category is further divided.  For instance, one pot meals is divided into crockpot meals, family skillet meals, quick single skillet meals, family soups, and quick single soups.  The pages are thick and glossy, and about a quarter of the recipes are accompanied by gorgeous photos.  Recipes are labeled according to meal type; S, FP, or E, and some recipes contain variations to make it more than one meal type.

What I liked:
  • I love the wide variety of recipes in this book, and felt like I would like to try at least 1/3 of them.  It is rare for me to find a cookbook with so many recipes that I want to try.
  • These recipes are good, clean, and healthy.
  • I thought it was helpful that the recipes were labeled by meal type on the recipe itself and on the contents page in each section.

What I didn't like:
  • Pearl and Serene say that you don't really need special ingredients to make their recipes or to live the THM lifestyle.  They even tell you how to make some of the ingredients, like THM baking blend or their on-plan sweeteners.  However, time after time, I simply flipped past recipes that looked interesting because I didn't want to have to find and buy ingredients such as gluccie or whole-husk psyllium flakes.
  • I honestly thought the cookbook would contain at least an overview of the THM plan--something that would make the cookbook useful without having to buy the sisters' first book, Trim Healthy Mama Plan.  It didn't.

Bottom line:
I think the sisters said it best themselves: "the recipes in this book will only be truly understood and work in your trimming favor if you understand the concepts behind Trim Healthy Mama."

If you understand THM, and are following its principles, this book will be an invaluable resource for you.  You can eat very well using the recipes in this book and know that you're staying on plan.  If you are not following THM, you will find this cookbook frustrating and confusing.  If you are not yet, but would like to start, following THM principles, start with Trim Healthy Mama Plan, then get Trim Healthy Mama Cookbook.

I received this book at no cost from the publisher through Blogging for Books in exchange for my honest review.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Half & half

Last week I made a recipe that called for half & half.  Some of the folks who had prepared this particular recipe commented that they had used fat free half & half, which reminded me of the time I discovered the existence of fat free half & half.

I was walking through the grocery store with a young Bubby in my cart, keeping up a running commentary of our progress, as parents of young children often do. ...and now we need to get half & half.  Oh, look at that.  Fat free half & half.  What is that?  What is the point of fat free half & half?  How is that even possible? ...

Before we go any farther, perhaps I should explain.  Half & half, at least the dairy half & half, consists of half milk, half cream.  And cream is, basically, milk fat.  So half & half is milk with extra milk fat in it.  It cannot, by definition, be fat free.

One of the manager dudes overheard my commentary and obviously did not understand my objection to the fat free half & half.  He commented that some people like to use fat free things.  They're healthier.

Whatever.  I bought regular half & half and went on my merry way, still wondering how a fat free version was even possible.

So last week I set off to the grocery store in search of half & half for my recipe. Actually, I went in search of cream, figuring I have more potential uses for cream than half & half (like these yummy things or this thing that I can use to make the other thing), and I can make my own.  But I made a point of reading the ingredients on the regular and fat free half & half cartons.

Here's what I found.

Regular half & half: Milk, Cream, Contains less than 0.5% of the following: Sodium Citrate and Disodium Phosphate 

Fat free half & half: Skim Milk, Corn Syrup, Cream*, Contains less than 0.5% of the following: Carrageenan, Sodium Citrate, Dipotassium Phosphate, Mono and Diglycerides*, Vitamin A Palmitate, Color Added
* Adds a trivial amount of fat

Seriously?  Corn syrup?  Yuck.  And how many Americans blindly buy the "fat free" version, mistakenly believing it's better for them?

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Another Minecraft Cake

This has got to be some kind of record.  Usually, I post my boys' birthday cakes weeks or even months after their birthdays.  This time, I'm posting before the actual birthday.

Bubby had his first ever birthday party the other day, and he chose a Minecraft cake.

I think it's safe to say I won't be making this one again.  Although, I suppose I didn't think I'd be making waterfall cakes every year, either...  Let's just say that all future Minecraft cakes will take some other form.

Happy birthday, Bubby! 

Monday, October 19, 2015

Menu plan for the week of October 19

Are you feeling like this is getting a little repetitive?  Like you're seeing the same things showing up on our menu each week?  Why yes, yes it is repetitive, and I love it.  Life is crazy right now (will it ever be "normal" again?), and not having to think about what to feed my family is a welcome respite from all of the choices that need to be made in the course of a day.  I'm not even sure why I feel so busy and out of control, because when I actually sit down and figure out what needs to happen it doesn't seem like that much.  Sure feels like it, though.  It feels like I'm standing still and everyone and everything else is swirling around me.

This week, we have Scouts x 2, biking x 2, book fair x 3, teacher dinner x 2 ... you get the idea.  It's a lot.

Here's what's on the menu this week (surprise!):

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Menu plan for (the rest of) the week of October 12

Guess what happened, friends!

Life.  That's what happened.  We had a house-full this weekend, and my menu, along with my blogging schedule (such as it is) got all blown to bits.

So we didn't quite follow last week's menu plan, but I was strangely OK with that.  Here's why.  My menu plan, whereby I am preparing a week's worth of suppers that I know my family likes and then repeating it over and over again for the duration of October, has become the default.  I don't have to think about what to make.  I just know that Monday is burgers, Tuesday is chicken in the crock pot, Wednesday is tacos or nachos, etc.  There's a default, a fall-back.  I always know what's for supper.  However, if I come across something else that I want to try, I can just replace one of the default meals.

Most of my menu-planning angst comes from the necessity of coming up with ideas on a deadline week after week.  Well, that, and the fact that the people I'm feeding have such varied and peculiar tastes (exhibit 1: the kid who doesn't like cheese.  Exhibit 2: the kid claims to not like cheese, but who eats cheese like ... well, like he likes cheese.  Exhibit 3: the kid who prefers cauliflower to pears and won't eat potatoes)...

With my default menu in place, I don't have to come up with ideas, but if I do come up with ideas, I can easily plug them in.

So when we had guests almost doubling the population of our household over the weekend, it was super easy to plan meals (well, supper, anyway).  I think I kind of love this method of menu planning.  I just hope there's enough variety to keep the natives happy long term.

In other news, all of our guests brought bananas with them.  And, failing to eat them, left them with us.  In addition, knowing that a lot of our guests like bananas, I bought bananas in preparation for their visit.  So now we have many more bananas than we really want to have or can use in various stages of ripeness and over ripeness decorating our countertops.  To our guests, I say: thank you for sharing your banana bounty with us.  So generous.  As they say, sharing is caring.  The fruit flies thank you, too.

Here's what's on the menu this week (cut & paste from last week...Love):

Next Monday:
  • Hamburgers
What's on your menu this week?

Monday, October 5, 2015

Menu plan for the week of October 5

Hey everyone.  So, my month of planned meals is over.  Remember when I said I had another menu planning idea that I thought might work for me?

Well, this isn't it.

But I think this will work better for me.  Then again, this is the girl who could (and sometimes does) have the same thing for breakfast, lunch, and supper.  And the girl who had oatmeal for breakfast every day for well over a year 4 years.  Whether or not it will work better for my family remains to be seen.

So there's this guy.  He may or may not be the same guy I talked about here.  I dunno.  But in any case, I'm pretty sure this guy is an expert or a professional.  At something.  And he definitely seems to be a productive person, just like the other guy.  Anyway, this guy says that we waste too much time making decisions, that to be more productive, we need to minimize the number of decisions we make.  So this guy wears the same thing to work every day, has the same thing for breakfast every day, always goes to the same restaurant for lunch, and orders the same thing.  He does this so he doesn't have to waste time making decisions that don't really matter.

I'm all for not wasting brain-power, because, truth be told, I don't have much brain-power to spare right now.  So, I planned one week of meals, and we are going to repeat that one week 4 times to cover the month of October.  These meals are all things that my family likes (I'm personally a little iffy on a couple of them, but I'm willing to sacrifice for the sake of simplicity.  And no whining), and they're all things that I would still be willing to make even if Hubby has to go out of town.  So, I'm hoping for no changes this month.  We'll see.

Not only will I not have to think about planning the menu each week, I will not have to think (too much) about creating a grocery shopping list.  I've made a list for this week, and since we're having the same thing each week in October, I just have to multiply it by 4.  Sort of.  You'll see what I mean.  I will be doing a big shopping trip this week, and then in the following weeks, hopefully I'll only have to pick up perishables.

Are you ready to see what's on the list?  Well, here you go (I bolded this weeks' choices):

There will also be veggies and fruits and salads and breads as side dishes.  

I don't have to tell you what we're having next Monday, because you already know!

Additionally, I will be making apple pie this week, and canning black beans and tomatoes.  I will probably make other things, too, but I used up all my brain-power deciding on the menu...

If you planned meals this way, what would be on your menu?

Friday, October 2, 2015


The other day, a friend of mine, who happens to be a pastor, posed this fill in the blank query:

I wish I had more _________.  I wish I was more _________.  

Within less than 24 hours, she had 20 responses, including mine.  My favorite (from a mutual friend): "Memory!  I'd let you know the second word, but I can't remember it!"

Some of the things we wished for were patience, energy, time, confidence, wisdom, money, focus.  The responses were honest and sincere, and I honor that.  We humans yearn for more.  It's just how we are.

The next day, there was another fill in the blank question waiting for us:

I have enough __________.  I am __________ enough.

This time, only 3 responses.  Why is that?  Why are we so quick to point out our shortcomings, but not to celebrate the fact that we are so abundantly blessed?  I don't think it's because we're humble; I don't think it's because we don't want to brag.  I really think it's because we don't believe that we have enough, that we are enough.


God, the Creator of all things, including you, including me, thinks knows we are enough.  God, the Sustainer of all things, including you, including me, provides for all of our needs.  How can we not know that we have enough, that we are enough?

Here's how I answered:

 I refuse to answer on the grounds that I am holding firm to the belief that I am enough.



I'm not saying that I don't struggle with feeling not enough.  I do.  Every single day.  If you've been reading for any length of time, you know that.  But honestly, my friends, the only way I can keep going, the only way I can keep moving forward in this life, is to cling to the truth.  I have enough.  I am enough.

“You are enough- you are so enough. It’s unbelievable how enough you are.”

Thursday, October 1, 2015

A beautiful place

St croix usvi.jpg
"St croix usvi". Licensed under Public Domain via Wikipedia 
Last March I was talking to a friend about her spring break trip to some beautiful island location.  She was saying that she had heard it was beautiful, and believed it was beautiful, but until she got there, she didn't realize how incredibly beautiful it was.  It surprised her.  She just couldn't fathom it, having never been there before, and of course, she couldn't really put it into words.  It's just something one has to experience for oneself.

She also said she can't wait to go back.

As I sat there listening to her, I couldn't help but think about heaven.  I have heard that heaven is beautiful, and I believe that heaven is beautiful.  But I really think, that until I get there, I just can't even imagine what it's like--it is incredibly beautiful, more than any of us can fathom, and we are all just going to have to experience it for ourselves to know how beautiful.

I have another friend who a few times has told me that she's really looking forward to heaven.  She's not quite envious or jealous of people who get to go there before her, but she is waiting with impatient, joyful anticipation of that day (my words, not hers, but I do think they sum up her feelings on the matter--if not, she can let me know).  She can't wait to be there.

I have to tell you the truth.  The first time my friend said this, I was worried for her.  She was as much as saying that she couldn't wait to die, which is a huge red flag.  But it doesn't worry me anymore, and here's why.

I agree with her.  I can't wait.  I mean, I can wait, because I have to, but I am really looking forward to that day.

16 Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one.   
Hebrews 11:16a

God created us with a hole in us, a longing to be in relationship with God, and here on earth, this fallen and broken place, it is not possible to be in perfect communion with God.  What we have here on earth is not what God intended for us--here on earth we are incomplete.

But in heaven.  In heaven we will enter into perfect relationship with God, with no ugly brokenness to get in the way.  No death or sickness or mourning or crying or pain.  We will be made whole.

It will be beautiful.

This weekend, I worshiped with Building 429.  I love this song.  We don't belong here.  Heaven is our home.

All I know is I'm not home yet.
This is not where I belong.
Take this world and give me Jesus.
This is not where I belong.

(if you are reading this post via email, you might have to click through to the blog post 
to view the video)

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’[b] or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” 

Revelation 21:3-4

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