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Before I started seeing lots of posts regarding reading challenges for the new year, I read this post from my friend Lauren.  She had read 27 books in 2015 and wrote a detailed review of each!  #thingstoaspireto

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I had already identified reading as one of the things I had let slide in 2015 that I wanted to get back on my plate.  I’m far too ENFP-ish to commit to just one plan or strategy, but with a new Kindle Fire and gift card in hand, I got started!

Today, I thought I’d take a page out of Lauren’s book (#punintended) and answer some basic questions.

When do you find time to read?

I certainly haven’t found an uninterrupted hour of concentration and reflection.  So good news, that’s not a prerequisite for trying this out!

I try to keep my Kindle charged and close by.

Sometimes, we got ready a little earlier than I thought we would in the morning so I squeeze a few pages in.

Yesterday, I had an unexpected 20 minutes waiting in the car.

And most nights, I try to take 15-30 minutes before bed.  Though I do recommend reading with caution if you’re using your Kindle.  I thought I might have chipped a tooth when I fell asleep holding it and it cracked me in the face.  Yeah.  Finishing that chapter was not worth it.

How do you choose the books you read?

Friends social media recommendations.

Goodreads.

Whatever is on Kindle Daily Deals.

If the cover looks fun.

You should know that I feel no compulsion to finish a book if I’m not enjoying it.  I feel like this helps me to be willing to start a lot more books.  Less pressure, you know?

Have you always been a reader?

Yes.  Books are friends.

As a kid, I wasn’t allowed to open presents that were books until everything else was opened and people were going home because as soon as I had my hands on a book that I wanted, I was done.

Reading with Leo

Hoping my boys will be readers some day too.

But after being in school forever (and not being able to free read) and then having kiddos, I just got out of the habit.  It takes way more concentration to read a chapter of a memoir at night than to watch another episode on Netflix.  Here’s hoping 2016 gets me back to my reading self.

So, my challenge doesn’t have a number to it.  Or a specific genre.  Or really any guidelines other than giving myself over to reading more intentionally this year.

I’d love to hear what you’re reading!

And how to prevent future Kindle facial injuries.

It all started with an attempt to help out a fellow grad student unload a moving van.

Thankfully the timing to start an amazing, encouraging friendship was a lot better than our timing to help (they already had the van unloaded).

Ashley and her family have been a blessing to our lives in countless ways, but why not a top ten list?!

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10. She’s an amazing listener.

9. She’s always down for El Azteca.

8. She’s been my Zumba buddy since before Zumba was even a thing.

7. She’s an awesome mom and I was able to watch her for years before I was a mom myself.

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How was E ever so small?!

6. She snorts when she laughs.

5. She’s equally down for watching a musical, science fiction flick, or the latest chick flick.

4. She may not drink coffee, but is always down for a long afternoon or late night of catching up (see #10).

3. She’s the ideal balance of following instructions/being logical to my “eh, looks about right!” when it comes to crafternoons.

2. She’s got all sorts of mad skills when it comes to growing green things.  Which is important considering this next fact.

This girl always has SOLID baking recipes.  And cause she comes from such generous stock (turns out this recipe comes from her mom), I get to share her Killer Brownie recipe with you all!

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As my co-worker says, there’s food for the stomach and there’s food for the soul.

These brownies are definitely yoga-pants-wearing (you’re going to want elastic), girlfriend-inviting-over, soul food.

Killer Brownies (recipe from Carol Spencer & Ashley Buller)

1/2 C melted margarine or butter
2 T cocoa
2 eggs
1 C sugar
3/4 C flour
1 tsp vanilla
1/4 tsp salt
1 C  broken nuts (optional)
Mix all together and bake in a greased 9×9 pan at 350 for 25-30 minutes (don’t overbake). When done, remove from oven and cover with a single layer of small marshmallows.
Let sit while making frosting.
Frosting:
Boil together 1/4 C margarine or butter and 1/2 C brown sugar for 2 minutes.
Remove from heat and add 2 T milk. Stir.
Add 1 C sifted powdered sugar.
While still warm, drizzle over the brownies.
Let sit until cool and frosting will harden.
There you have it!
You know why they are called killer brownies?
Okay, I don’t know the real reason.
But my reason is that they will end, destroy, dare I say–annihilate–any intentions you had of giving up sweets in 2016.:)
Enjoy!

 

I’m quirky.

If we’re going to be friends, you should probably know that right off the bat.

Particularly when it comes to food.

For starters, I’m pretty anti-condiment.  No judgment if you enjoy your meals slathered in sauces and relishes and vinegar-based accouterments.  I just can’t do it.

Same goes for almost all dips, dressings, and the like.

I’m claiming it’s because I’m a redheaded super taster.

Okay, what do this have to do with end of the month groceries?

Well, most people probably doctor up their last bits of this and that with all the condiments and sauces they’ve acquired over the past few months.  With the exception of sriracha, some salad dressing for the husband, and some jelly for the kiddos, there’s not a lot of things like that to work with at our house.

Thankfully, the answer to our dinnertime woes is usually no further away than a well-worded Google or Pinterest search.

When I looked in my fridge the other night, I saw two basics: turkey bacon and chicken breasts.  I generally don’t like bacon wrapped meat (unless you’re searing it first) because it never gets crispy enough.  But I wondered if it might work if I used bite-sized pieces and if I used my cold oven trick (start bacon in a cold oven rather than pre-heated).

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I’d say it worked!

Most people would probably use these for Super Bowl food, rather than dinner, but whatever you use them for, they will be delicious!

Okay, so here’s the other problem with food blogging: I’m not always a measure-er.

Here’s the gist of what I used/did:

Chicken Bacon Bites

1 large chicken breast, cut into bite sized pieces (we got 13 pieces out of 1 breast)

Onion Powder

Garlic Powder

Pepper/Salt

Turkey Bacon, 4-5 strips

Brown Sugar

Chili Powder

  1. DO NOT turn on your oven.
  2. Sprinkle your chicken breast bites with onion powder, garlic powder, pepper/salt.
  3. Cut your turkey bacon into thirds.
  4. Wrap each piece of chicken with a piece of bacon and secure with toothpick.
  5. In a small bowl, mix a couple of tablespoons of brown sugar with a sprinkling of chili powder (maybe half a teaspoon?  depends on the kick you want!)
  6. Roll chicken wrapped bacon bite in brown sugar/chili mixture.
  7. Place all pieces on a lined cookie sheet (this will make for easier clean-up as the brown sugar is going to caramelize).  You can sprinkle a little more brown sugar on each bite if you’d like.
  8. Put in oven.  NOW, turn on your oven to 400 degrees.
  9. Bake for 25-30 minutes or until as crispy as you’d like (the chicken should be safely done at 25 minutes)

The great news for your condiment-lovers is that these are really versatile!  You could dunk them in BBQ sauce, whip up something with honey mustard, or some jalapeno craziness.

Oh!  I almost forgot!

You can see there’s arroz con gandules in the background of the picture.

We almost always have sofrito on hand.

That stuff’s the best.

Like I said…

I’m quirky!

Before we get to this cookie business, as the blog title suggests, I love groceries.

And I actually really enjoy grocery shopping.

But what I really love is scoring a great deal at the grocery store.

I’ve been trying monthly meal planning and although it’s great on many counts, less trips to the store means less opportunities to scout out bargains.

I had a fairly justified trip for basics today and couldn’t resist these deals.

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Our family will have no problem taking a day or two to polish this off!  We all love pineapple.

Bananas are really hard to pace at our house. Sometimes, we are flying through them like nobody’s business.  Other weeks, banana bread it is!

As you can see from this group (all for $0.99!), there are still some with green tops.  I’ll leave those out for snacks, but the banged up ones with get peeled, chopped, and put in the freezer for future banana bread, muffins, or smoothies.

Back to these cookies

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We love dessert around here.  And are often baking.

I’m sure that your family has lots of favorite recipes that are easy to whip up during or after dinner so this post isn’t as much about the cookie itself, but about flash freezing cookie dough.

This seems to be the only way we have any success in not devouring the whole batch in a couple days.

A few simple supplies will help make this an easy, quick process with relatively little clean-up:

  • Cookie scoop
  • Parchment paper
  • Quart freezer bags
  • Gallon freezer bags

First, clear out enough space in your freezer (this just took some rearranging) so that your biggest cookie sheet can fit.

Next, line that cookie sheet with a piece of parchment paper (a little tip from my sister–you can reuse parchment paper more than once in the oven!).  And start scooping!

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I ended up scooping three dozen for the freezer and a dozen got popped into the oven for us!

You’ll want to leave them in the freezer for at least an hour (uncovered).

Afterwards, I chose to put a dozen in each quart freezer bag.  I’m planning to use one dozen for us (some future day when chocolate is the only cure) and two as desserts for delivered meals.  I think it adds a nice treat and gives the receiving family control over how many and when they eat the cookies.

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Don’t forget to put the temperature and time on the bag!

By the way… does anyone know how to enter “I licked the bowl” into MyFitnessPal?:)

This video summarizes life at the dinner table these days.

Okay, it’s not every day.

But on the challenging ones, I’d say there’s probably about five reminders of table manners for every bite that’s taken.

It’s a hard parenting issue for me, actually.

I’m a picky eater who wasn’t forced to eat things I didn’t like as a kid (unless we were at someone’s house and their kids were forced to).  It has definitely presented challenges in my life (i.e. teaching myself to like vegetables as an adult) but I really don’t have a reference point for “you will eat or else!”

When we find something that the kiddos willingly eat, you better believe we’re going to try serving it again!  This week, it was a really simple dish: meatball bubble-up.

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I feel pretty silly even calling it a recipe, but here goes!

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Chop up a package of jumbo biscuits.  I was feeling too lazy to wash my smaller pan (this one is larger than a 9 x 13) but typically, one package of biscuits would cover the bottom of the dish.

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Cover your biscuits with whatever amount of sauce your family prefers.  I went a little heavy as some gets absorbed in the baking.

After that, just cover with your meatballs.  We really love Aldi’s Fit & Active Turkey Meatballs.

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If you’re not Type A, totally a great step to let your kiddos help with.  At our house, “mama, can I help you make?” is a daily request:)

After that, just a sprinkle of cheese, into the oven (45 minutes or until brown and bubbly) and on to your table!

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May your tummies be full and your kids’ complaints be minimal!:)

I love events.

Moms’ nights out.

Crafternoons.

Group naps.

Okay, that last one happened a lot more often in undergrad.

But you get the point.  If it’s about great conversation, even better company, and there might be snacks–I’m in.

Although I love an event that takes the whole evening, you might be relieved to find out that a freezer meal swap really isn’t that.  You could definitely fold it into a bigger event if you wanted, but for our first swap, it only took a half hour!

Do you have a half hour to meet up with some friends and leave with a cooler full of delicious meals?

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Red Lentil Soup with Corn Muffins, Chicken Taquitos, Beef Stew, and Breakfast Burritos.

Then a freezer swap might be the right thing for you!

You could certainly start yours with more ground rules or themes, but here’s how we’re getting started with ours.

Swap Size.  A large group was invited but four people were able to participate in this swap.  You’re going to have to make a meal for each participant, so think about what size will make it so you get a variety of meals but that it’s not cost- or time-prohibitive.  I think about 4-6 might be a good starting point.  If you wanted to invite a bigger group to make sure you can get 4-6, perhaps make a rule that the first six people to sign up can participate that month.

Meeting Time.  Since we have a mixed group (work-outside-the-home, work-from-home, stay-at-home), we decided to meet in the late afternoon.  Since it’s only once a month, it was possible for working moms to leave a little early, swing by and swap, and then go get kids from daycare.  It was also late enough to not cause nap time issues for other families.  Another friend swaps right after church (everyone brings a cooler in their trunk).

Meals.  You’ll want to determine some basic guidelines.  How many people should each meal feed (we decided on 4-6 people)?  Should it just be an entree?  Can it be crockpot or only freezer-to-oven?  Any expectations on packaging?

For our first swap, it was a free-for-all (which still turned out delicious) but we briefly discussed future themes.  Next month will be vegetarian, another month will be all muffins–the ideas are endless!

When you’re thinking about what to make for your own contribution, I’d recommend staying in your wheelhouse.  Use Pinterest to get inspired, but pick a recipe where you feel comfortable with the ingredients, the preparation, and that fits your budget.

Advertise.  Our founder created a Facebook event and gave people the opportunity to invite new people.  Would this be the right form of social media for you?  It made it so we could comment with questions, what we were thinking about making, and made it easy to invite new friends.  You may want to put your first call out for participants 3-4 weeks before the swap so people can budget, buy supplies, pick a day to cook, and then of course, plan for the actual day!

My Swap Preparation

So, for this month’s swap, I decided to make breakfast burritos.  It’s perhaps a little out of the ordinary (but I kind of like that) but our family loves brinner!  Even if they weren’t eaten at dinner, really, the spirit of the swap is to help make families’ lives easier and I thought breakfast burritos would still fit the bill.

I wanted to make a variety of sizes or fillings without it getting too complicated.  I settled on a sausage/sweet potato and a bacon/pepper/black bean as my main two.  I purchased wheat/white tortillas, shredded cheese, and a lot of eggs.

Did you know that you can get really crispy bacon by baking it from a cold oven?  Just cover your cookie sheet with some foil, lay out your bacon, put in your oven, and then set your temperature.  I have no idea why this works, but it does!

While your bacon is bakin’, you can get your sweet potatoes peeled and diced.  I tossed them in a little olive oil and cinnamon.  When the bacon was done, put your potatoes in (I roasted at 400 degrees) and let them roast!

I sort of had multiple things going on at once.  When the potatoes were done, I baked up the sausages.  I have a major fear of grease (not from a health perspective, I just don’t want to get burned!) so baking works for me.  Just to stay inconsistent, I am okay with using a little bit of oil to saute veggies.  While the sausages were cooking, I got the peppers, some onions and garlic ready.

I read online that to keep your burritos from getting watery, it’s important to make sure all your ingredients are room temperature.

You don’t have to tell me twice to go re-watch an episode of Downton.

After all, it’s in the name of helping feed friends.

Once everything was cooled, time to assemble!  I wrapped everything in Press-and-Seal, then bagged in freezer bags with written instructions (and codes for what each burrito contained).

And that’s it!  One evening of effort and the reward of a freezer full of delicious meals!

A former student of mine asked me on Instagram if I had a blog about food.  I used to.  Last entry: four years ago.  Seriously?

Four moves, two kids, and lots of life changes later–why not give it another go?  I’m in the midst of a monthly meal planning adventure (still trying to cut down that grocery bill) and trying to uncover God’s plan for my health and wellness (it’s different for everyone) in this season of life.

I think one thing that has kept me from certain public aspects of this journey is the perpetual question of sufficiency.

Am I enough?

A question that seems to plague all moms, women, really, all people.

Though I really do believe my sufficiency is grace (2 Corinthians 12:9), it doesn’t keep doubts from creeping in.

Even in to the issue of sustenance (food).

If I share my recipes and meal plans…

…will they be enough?

…healthy enough?

…fun enough?

…detailed enough?

Just being honest.

All these fears–of not being enough–have kept me from offering what I have.

Not cool.

So here I am, with my two coins (Mark 12:41-43).

If you don’t mind me asking, what are you holding back from the world because it might not be enough?

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