Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Best Ever Old-Fashioned Turkey Soup

My mom always used to make huge pots of soup. When I say huge, I do mean HUGE. Her soup pot held 20 quarts. During the winter she would regularly fill that baby. We'd eat Vegetable Soup and Turkey soup for days and days. (and days and days...)

I'm not even kidding.

But, what else do you do when you are feeding 10 people every.single.night.? It was economical, and hearty, filling, and (generally) delicious.

Since I've been married, I've could probably count on two fingers the number of times I've made soup from a turkey carcass. But, this past Thanksgiving week I had two factors that caused me to pursue the soup option.

#1- Brian gave me a gorgeous, blue, 11 quart Le Creuset pot for my birthday. What better use of it than making soup?

#2-We got tons of meat from my turkey on Thanksgiving, but a lot of the meat just wasn't wanting to release it's grip on the bones. I figured a good boiling would pry it loose. With way less frustration from me.

So, very last thing before I fell into bed on Thanksgiving, I put that carcass in the pot, and covered it with water. I put the lid on, and placed the pot on the stove on the lowest burner setting. And I let it do it's magic while I slept the night away.

Next morning, Brian strained the broth for me, and sorted through the meat and bones. Then Monday I made this pot of soup.

I must admit, I was a bit leery about tomatoes and spinach in my turkey soup. But, those worries were completely unfounded. This is hands down the best turkey soup I have ever tasted!

It is turkey time, so if you are cooking one, and wondering if you should toss the carcass, or exert the energy to make soup, I'd encourage you to go this soup route. You will not be sorry!

Best Ever Old Fashioned Turkey Soup
Hands on time: 30 minutes, Cook time: 12+ hours, Total time: 12 hours
1 meaty carcass (from a 15+ pound turkey)
5 quarts water
1 (28 oz) can stewed tomatoes
1 large onion
4 large carrots
3 stalks celery
9 ounces fresh spinach
1 cup uncooked long grain rice
4 chicken bullion cubes
2 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
1 tsp dried marjoram
1 tsp dried thyme

-Place the turkey carcass and water in a large pot. Cover. Turn burn on to low. Cook overnight or 12 hours.
-Strain broth. Discard bones, save return meat to broth.
-Peel and chop onion and carrot. Chop celery. Add to broth with tomatoes, spinach, rice, bullion, salt, pepper, marjoram, and thyme.
-Bring broth to boil over medium high heat. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 30 minutes, or until rice and vegetables are tender.


You're welcome...

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

A She Plans Dinner Christmas Gift Guide

I'm done with my Christmas shopping (I know, I know. Don't be jealous.), I'm betting a whole lot of the rest of the world is not. (Which is not to say that I'm done wrapping. You all know me and my proclivities too well to assume that.)

Everyone and their neighbor are making gift guides to help shoppers shop. I thought I'd jump on that band wagon and share my SPD gift guide.

I'm going kitchen themed. Included are a variety of tools, appliances and random fun items, all of which are regularly used if you have a She Plans Dinner subscription. But these ideas are also perfect for the cook, or aspiring cook, in your life.

(All are linked to sites where products can be purchased. None are affiliate links.)



  1. Cuisinart Immersion Blender. At less than $35, this is a steal of a deal. I use my immersion blender mostly during soup season. (but it can also be used for smoothie season) It is a no fuss-no muss way to make cream soups. Be it Creamy Tomato, or Cream of Broccoli, or Cheesy Broccoli.
  2. 7 Quart Crockpot. This manual crockpot has 4 settings-off, low, high, and warm. I love that. It is simple, and quite fool proof. The current price for this is $19. Really, that is a worthy investment, that doesn't even hurt the wallet. Many SPD recipes use a crockpot. I use my crockpot weekly, for Black Beans, Chicken Mole, Latin Chicken, Pulled Pork, and many other recipes. I love the convenience of a crockpot. I do the preparations for dinner when it works for my schedule, and then all I have to do is pop it on the table at dinner time.
  3. Rice Cooker & Steamer. I always include the directions (on the SPD menus) for cooking rice on the stovetop, but personally, I never cook rice on the stove. Because I use my rice cooker.  Perfect rice every time. And all I have to do is add the rice and water, and turn it on. Love it! This 6 cup cooker is $22.99.
  4. Hand Mixer. I own a Kitchen Aid stand mixer, but I've had to replace/repair it a couple times in the 15 years I've owned it. Not so this work horse of a hand mixer. 5 speeds, plenty of power. I use it far more than the stand mixer. It is handy for potatoes, and cookies, and cakes. It comes in an array of gorgeous colors, and is priced between $32 and $50. Not bad.
  5. Wustof Knives. These knives are an investment. And they are one of the most expensive items in this gift guide. But they are worth the money. Anyone who cooks at all needs decent knives. These are really good knives for a decent price. ($129.95, Amazon Prime)
  6. Le Creuset. No words. Every skillet is a dream. Every pot is a dream. I love their versatility that takes them from stove top to oven to tabletop. The colors insure each one is gorgeous. And they are guaranteed to last forever. (These skillets would also come in handy if you need to "off" someone, but don't own a gun.)
  7. Apothecary Matchstick Bottle. This is just fun. A whimsical gift that is very useful. Who doesn't need matches, or a cute bottle to contain them.
  8. Apron. I never cook without wearing an apron. It's tempting fate. I love World Market's entire apron line, but this is the one I'm wishing for. ($19.99)
  9. Mrs. Meyer's Dish Soap. Because every good cook cleans up her mess, or gets someone else to. I myself (and my 9 year old daughter who does most of our dishes) love how Mrs. Meyer's dish soap smells. And, I know it is a bit pricey (nearly $4 a bottle), but I love that it is an eco-friendly product. Consider this a stocking stuffer idea.
  10. She Plans Dinner Subscription. At just $5 per month, this is a great deal. Always 24 (Fit & Healthy) or 30 (Variety and Classic Comfort) recipes each month, divided into two 2-week menus and grocery lists. It is convenient, and time saving, and money saving. 


Happy Shopping!

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Want Strong Faith?

I love how the KJV puts the first phrase of Romans 4:20, he staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief.... What a word picture!

In my mind's eye I see a man with a huge burden on his back labelled unbelief. He is bowed down with the weight. Staggering under the pressure. Barely able to stand, let alone move forward.

Very Christian in Pilgrim's Progress.

Yesterday I was sitting in the play room of our local children's hospital with my daughter who was diagnosed with retinoblastoma this summer. We were waiting the results of her mid chemo cycle blood work. She was playing. I was plugging my ears and reading my devotions on my iPad, when this verse jumped out at me.

...but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God. (Romans 4:20 ESV)

It took reading that familiar verse in a different version for its truth to resonate in my heart.

Our family has been through a lot this year. But, what amazes me over and over again is the many, many people all over the world who are praying on our behalf. They are praying for us as a family. They are praying for our daughter.

People here in the United States. People in Canada. People in Spain. People in Ireland and Scotland and England. People in Germany and people in Japan. People in Indonesia and people in France.

From young and old, prayers are ascending on our behalf.

I know this, because people have contacted us over and over again, and said they are praying.

But, the even more amazing thing, is that as God has answered our prayers, for big things and small things, praises have also ascended to God on our behalf. Praises for surgeries and good diagnoses, and praises for miracles. Praises for mercies that are new every morning, and grace to keep going, and faith that God is good, and hope that all things work for our good and God's glory.

And, make no mistake. God is glorified as He people pray to Him, and rely on Him. God is glorified as we tell others what great things God has done on our behalf.

Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongues with shouts of joy; then said they among the nations, "the Lord has done great things for them." The Lord has done great things for us, we are glad. (Psalm 126:2, 3)

This giving glory to God is wonderful, in and of itself. It is such a positive, life giving exercise. In addition, the retelling of God's goodness and grace, has strengthened our faith. We've lived this. And others have seen it, even when it may be a bit murky to us as we're walking this path.

Every time I put a prayer request on FB, and people say they are praying. Every time I put an answer to prayer on FB, and people say "praise the Lord." Faith is being cultivated, stretched and grown.

...but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God. (Romans 4:20 ESV)



How is that for a formula?

Giving glory to God=Strong faith

Giving glory to God-thankfulness to God and praising Him for who He is and what He has done-strengthens faith.

Conscientiously focusing on how God has worked, builds faith. It gives substance to what we hope for, and evidence for what we cannot see. (Hebrews 11:1)

Acknowledging repeated evidence of past faithfulness lays a strong foundation of hope and faith that there will be continued faithfulness.

God has done great things for us in the past. We know He will do great things for us in the future.

Want strong faith? Give glory to God!

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Autumn



Colorful. Reds, yellows, gold, greens, purples.

Leaves. Raking. Piles.

September through December.

Donuts. Cider. Pumpkin. Soups. Spice cake.

Friends. Laughter.

Hayrides. Bonfires. Smokey. Heavenly. Best scent in the world.

Sunshine. Rain.

Full, colorful, fruit laden trees.

Barren, leafless branches against steel grey skies.

Glorious. Warm days.

Rainy, bone-chilling days.

Crispy, frosting mornings.

Full moons.

Shortening days. Elongating nights.

Harvest. Abundance. Thanksgiving.

Elections.

Scarves. Tall brown boots. Knit mittens and hats.

School. Schedules. Routine.

Halloween.

Wine tours. Grape harvest. Wine tastings. Wine shipments.

Steaming hot cider. Chilled hard cider. Hot cocoa.

Apples. Apple picking. Bins. Fruitful branches.

Pumpkins. Orange. Huge. Thankful.

Cornstalks.

Candy Corn. Braches candy pumpkins.

Candles. Lanterns.

Yeast. Bread making.

Birthdays. Holidays.

Traditions.

Change.

Life. Dormancy.

Favorites.

Memories.

Seasons.

Faithfulness.

Autumn.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

When I Might Be Drowning


What a person publishes a post entitled, "What's Saving My Life Currently," you might correctly infer that said person feels their life needs saving.

Last week was a really hard week for me.

I had a cold. I had women's issues. I had a kid going in for her second round of chemo.

And, for some reason, facing this second round of chemo was much harder for me than facing up the first round.

I think it is because chemo side effects was no longer a vague idea. It was pretty concrete as far as Meres goes. I knew we would be facing days of nausea and jaw pain. And, who wants their kid to go through that.

Meres first chemo day was LONG. The staff had said it would be long, but in all of our combined figurings, we were 3-4 hours off. One of Meres' chemo drugs requires her to be well hydrated before they start it. Hydration at this level does not consist of drinking a few glasses of water. It involves hours being hooked up to a saline I.V. drip. Two hours before chemo, two hours after.

Thankfully, some other things are happening simultaneously with those 4 hours, or this would be an extra 5 hours or so, on top of chemo.

So, the long day ended up being twice as long as I thought. Even though everything went off without a hitch. Blood counts were fantastic. Everything went very well.

I was a weepy mess on and off that first day. I think it was a perfect storm of events. The long day. The anticipation of side effects. (which thankfully, were much more mild than last time. Nausea for several days, but still good eating. And the jaw pain was manageable with Tylenol. And she still was able to eat.)

The sight of my baby getting chemo. Which is crazy, by the way. The nurses suit up in special bibs and gloves when they are handling the chemo. There is the skull and crossbones motif on the bags. It is toxic. And I am allowing those toxic substances to go into my child. It really puts things in to perspective and kind of freaks me out. But, I also have peace that we have made the right decision.

But, here is the other thing. My support group at Gilda's Club kind of freaked me out, and put me in a not good place. We attend a family and friends' group. We are supporters of someone in our life who has cancer. A parent, spouse, child, friend. Well, three of the members in our group are facing almost imminent death with their person. They are getting ready to transition from the cancer support group to the grief support group.

And, things are ticking along quite well here. But, then I get scared. We have a good prognosis. Enucleation and chemo for retinoblastoma has a 95% cure rate. But, what if Meres falls in the 5%? What if I am clinging to this hope, and this doesn't end up being the finish to her cancer journey? What if she has to have more surgery and more chemo to fight cancer in other parts of her body? Do all those people in the support group look at us and think they were in our optimistic shoes once? Poor, deluded us?

The what-ifs are a horrible black pit.

I cried with the social worker when she asked how I was handling this. I cried on my own. I cried with Mr. Hippie on our date last night, when I articulated exactly where I was at. I'm crying as I'm typing this. And, I'm betting I will cry in the support group tonight.

I know God is gracious, and merciful, and good. I know He will be with us step by step, no matter what each step holds. I do know that. I'm not doubting it.

I'm just hoping, hoping, hoping, that the six chemo treatments are the end. That I don't have to take my child for anymore chemo treatments or surgeries. Radiation or labs. That I don't have to watch her vomit or cry as she is trying to eat. That I don't have to sit passively while the nurse hooks my daughter up to toxins that are supposed to kill the worse cells-the ones that could actually kill her.

Hope that the chemo is doing its job.

Resting in the fact that the MRI showed no cancer or metastasizing in her brain or other eye.

Grace to face today.

Vulnerability to say, I'm not strong in myself. This is a really hard path to walk. Maybe I'm good enough, but not necessarily good. Fine, but not exactly okay.

In case you were wondering.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

What's Saving My Life Currently and A Recipe

Let me tell you, life with a kid doing chemo can be described as an upheaval. Add to that scenario, the chief cook and bottle washer (aka-me) still recovering from knee injury and surgery, well, life is not at all normal.

I'm looking for things that simplify our routine, things that make life doable, and enjoyable. Here's what I've found to be making all the difference in the past few weeks...

Campfires. Campfire smell rates right up there with fresh baked bread and coffee as my all time favorite scents. Which, in and of itself, makes them a life saver. But, campfires are also great because they are tailored for pausing and reflecting. It takes time to build a campfire and get it burning nicely. The logs take time to burn completely away. And it forces one to slow down, sit down, and just enjoy the warmth and pace. Someone gave my husband their still nice campfire pit last fall. We've used it many times throughout this spring, summer and (now) fall.

Meres with her new eye...you can't even tell...Amazing!

Foil pans (and the dinners that fill them) and paper plates. Having had many, many dinners brought to us over the course of the summer, I've become a convert to foil pans. Especially when bringing a dinner to someone. It saves one from having to remember whose dishes belong to whom, besides the fact of remembering to actually return them. Love, love, love foil pans. Easy clean up. (ask LC-she's a convert too.) Same clean up principle belongs to paper plates. Sometimes it is just easier. Not nicer, but easier. And easy is good.

Getting dressed nice-with jewelry and make up. Dresses and leggings. Skinny jeans and tunics. No graphic t-shirts. I've always been a dresser, but this summer was all about what was comfortable. This fall is about comfort too, but I've been paying attention to what I'm wearing even at home. Making an effort makes all the difference. And it takes little additional time.

Just saying "no". It used to be that the more I had to do, the more I'd get done. I was inspired, and I'd whip that to-do list into submission. Sad to say, this is not as true anymore. Not in this life season. Because life is borderline overwhelming, adding a brimming to-do/to-go list to that overwhelming, tips me over to a not good place. My to-do list these days is usually 3-4 items-tops. That's all I can handle. And, if our evenings start filling up, I start cutting things out. The breathing room in our schedule is making life able to be walked, one day at a time. Step by step.

iCalendar. Everything that comes across my radar, every activity and appointment that I say yes to, goes on my iCalendar. Immediately. With multiple notifications. This way, I can keep track of who needs to be where, when. So far I've not missed any appointments, but I've been early to one. =) Knock on wood. And put it in the calendar.

Making applesauce & bread, cleaning my bedroom & the bathrooms, mornings at the table doing school...in other words, ordinary day-to-day life. These normal activities make life seem normal, or at least as normal as it is going to be.


I should just share this recipe right here...

My brother brought over a bunch of these peppers from his garden. The light green ones were sweet-not hot. The dark green ones were mildly spicy. Nothing to burn all the taste buds off your tongue or anything...

They were a snap to whip up. Particularly because I had the pulled pork and black beans already cooked and in the freezer. All I had to do the night we ate them was seed the peppers, heat the beans and pork, stuff the peppers, top with shredded cheese, chop cilantro and red onion, and sprinkle them on. 

It's a gluten free option when considering how to use up that big batch of pulled pork.

Pulled Pork Stuffed Poblano Peppers
(about) 6 cups pulled pork 
2 cups black beans or 1 (15.5 oz) can
12 large poblano peppers
8 ounces cheddar cheese
1 small red onion
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
barbecue sauce (opt)

-Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
-Place the pork and black beans into a microwave safe container, and microwave on medium-high until heated through.
-Cut tops off peppers, and seed. Cut through one side of pepper, leaving the pepper whole, not two halves.
-Chop cilantro and red onion.
-Shred or slice cheese.
-Fill peppers with heated pork and black beans and arrange in a greased 9x13" dish. Cover with foil, and bake at 450 degrees for 15-20 minutes, or until starting to soften. Remove from oven, top with cheese, onions, and cilantro. Return to oven, baking uncovered for an additional 5-10 minutes, until the cheese is melted and the peppers are tender.
-Can serve with barbecue sauce if desired.



Easy dinners, those are saving my life too...

Happy Fall!

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Home Schooling: The Biggest Mistake of My Life?



I love home schooling. No ifs, ands or buts.

I love teaching. I love math, and I love reading. I love writing. I love history. I love that history is stories upon stories, colorful and real. It doesn't require work to make it interesting. It does require a lot of effort to make it boring

My kids love science, and I love it on their behalf. Apologia is the curriculum we use and they are the best. It is a creation based curriculum with lots of hands on experiments. The experiments are fun, and are also thoroughly explained. Why did this happen? What does this experiment teach or explain or show? The students have journals to fill out which keeps everything in one place.

I love home schooling.

Have I said that before?

I love watching my kids get hooked on a subject. I love watching them blossom and grow as they learn. I’ve loved watching my oldest progress from pre-K all the way up into high school. And, frankly, I’m pretty impressed that I’ve worked with him from pre-K all the way up into high school. We are in our 11th year! Cray-zay!

But, let’s be honest.

Even though I love teaching and love home schooling and love my kids, I actually don’t love every minute of home schooling.

Actually, within the first week of each year, I wonder if I’m making the biggest mistake of my life.

Every.single.year.

And what I have to remind myself of in these moments is that this does happen every year.

Because each year there is the same rough learning curve as we get back into the swing of things. As we readjust to our school schedule (rather rigid and heavy) and opposed to summer schedule (all loosey-goosey).

Students haven’t realized yet that just because mom works on Tuesdays and corrects Tuesday’s assignments on Wednesdays does not mean that he/she is going to get away with not doing the school work well. Sub parr is not going to make the grade. Sub parr will be re-done on Wednesday.

Students haven’t realized yet that when mom says reading is a huge part of your school year, she means it. When she says notes will be taken as you go, she does not mean one word for 25 pages. Also, she does know that you can read far more than 10 pages in two hours. She knows your reading pace. And she will start cracking the proverbial whip when the month is half done, and you’re only 125 pages into your 600 page book.

Students haven’t realized yet that spending an hour on 5 easy math problems, and still getting them wrong is not okay. It is frustrating to the teacher, and it only produces more math solving for you.

Teacher has realized that every child clammers for attention at the exact.same.time. Because…Murphy’s Law.

Teacher is ready to pull her hair out, and any hair left is turning grey by the home-school minute.

Hmmm…

So, we take a deep breathe and realize that some things aren’t working (obviously). Is it the technique? The scope of work expected? Stubbornness? Stupidity?

(Just being honest here. I have wondered that about my kids. I know. Bad mom! I didn’t wonder aloud. Good mom!)

I evaluate….

What needs tweaked for things to run smoothly this year?

Where do we need to persist because it just takes time to get used to the school routine, new books, new responsibilities, new methods? 


Evaluation is necessary.

Before school starts, everything is theory. Subjects, schedule and timing, logistics. Sometimes you actually need to live it for a bit to realize if it is or isn’t going to work in the long run.

I take a deep breathe, and I pray. For wisdom and patience and flexibility. I let God know that I am overwhelmed.

Then…

I buy large-square graph paper for the child struggling with math. Little boxes help keep equations neat and organized. (thanking a friend from Germany for this great tip)

I clearly set expectations for what I want done. Be it how many pages I want read, or how many typing lessons completed. These can be revisited as needed, but they are no longer vague concepts. There are goals to meet.

I remind each child that they need to try to problem solve on their own if I am working with someone else. If they can’t figure it out, then they need to go on to some other task, until I am able to work with them.

I change one of our Friday fun school lectures to a different series. I change one of our activities to a slight different method of studying and accomplishing, to make some free time on Friday afternoons.

I remind myself that I am tethered to the table for a couple hours every day. School is my job for that segment. Not cooking or cleaning or laundry or phone calls or emails or social media. School. It’s good and it’s enough.

I remind myself that having students in Kindergarten, and 4th grade, 7th grade and 9th grade, is having students in quite the skill range. I need to give myself grace for this.

I teach my kids the principle of hard now versus hard. I focus on skills learned and progress made, not on perfection. In both my kids and myself.

Yes, I do love home schooling. No, it isn’t sunshine and roses every single moment of every single day. Yes, I do believe home schooling is what we are supposed to be doing again this year. Yes, my kids are pretty good kids, and pretty smart and responsible too. And, yes, I am still a sinner in need of grace, and so are they.

Hopefully this post encourages you. From me, a person who often seems to have her junk all in order. From me, a person who loves to teach and loves to home school. From me, an 11 year home school veteran. I still have to adjust and readjust yearly, and monthly, and weekly, and sometimes even daily. Hopefully this encourages you to keep on keeping on.

I’m so thankful for small graces and new mercies…even in home schooling.