Sunday, August 31, 2014

"Practically Perfect" Smoothies

       I hate breakfast. Well, I probably shouldn't put it exactly that way. I just have this weird thing about not wanting to chew that early in the morning. I am fine at about 9:30-10:00 am, but honestly, it just doesn't work to wait that long to eat. If I have pancakes, or waffles, or an omelet, I want them for lunch or dinner. I basically just want to drink my breakfast. I used to always have a Carnation Instant Breakfast drink, but I have been slowly trying to clean up my eating, and while that is fine occasionally, I have decided that having a smoothie in the morning is really ideal. Unfortunately, it took me a really long time to hone my smoothie making technique, mostly because everyone has a different opinion on what a smoothie should be.I had to play around with fresh and frozen fruit, amounts of liquids, and blending times and techniques. So, this isn't so much a recipe, as a how-to fine tune your smoothie to make it perfect for you!

First, the proportions that I use are almost always the same. I add:
-1 c. frozen fruit
-1/2  a fresh banana
-1/2 c. non-fat plain Greek yogurt
-1/2 c. 1% milk
-1/2 c. loosely packed spinach (basically a handful of spinach leaves, baby or regular)
-1 tbsp. chia seeds or ground flax
Serves 1.

   I wanted a smoothie that was really cold, but I hated adding ice, which a lot of smoothie recipes recommend. It takes me a while to drink the whole thing, and I didn't like that it would get watered down. I also didn't like the little ice chunks. So that is why you need to use frozen fruit. You can freeze any type of berry, cherry or melon that you want! I love to buy the triple berry blend from Costco, and also frozen pineapple. You can use any combination that you like.

   Using frozen fruit makes for a really thick smoothie. I don't have a high-powered blender (Someday, I would love to!) but the Oster I have works just fine, as long as I am careful with it. I add my fresh banana first, then the fruit. After that, milk, yogurt, spinach. I turn it on high liquefy. I watch to see if it is mixing-if not, lift the frozen fruit up-*away* from the blades. This allows the machine to draw the fruit in from a different angle. It sounds kind of technical, but I was just wished that someone had told me that it doesn't work as well to try to shove the fruit onto the blades! I let it blend for about 30 seconds, re-arrange with a spatula, and then blend again. When everything is evenly colored, there are no visible chunks and it is pulling down in the center it is done.

   One of the most important things to know is: if you want a thinner smoothie that isn't as cold, use more fresh fruit (say, 1/2 c. fresh berries, 1/2 c frozen berries). If you want a thinner, cold smoothie add more liquid. You can swap out the milk for anything, occasionally I will add half milk and half orange juice, but you could use all juice.

   I don't like my smoothies to be super sweet, either. However, sometimes I will use Tillamook Vanilla Bean Greek yogurt-that stuff is amazing! You can use regular yogurt instead of Greek, but you will be sacrificing a lot of protein. And honestly, you won't be able to tell the difference! Once it is all blended together, it is liquid anyway.

   If you are having problems with your spinach not being completely blended in, try blending it with just the milk before you add anything else. Once your milk is smooth and green you are good to go! If you are tasting the spinach, just decrease the amount initially. I have never really had a problem with it. I have never tried adding kale, I have heard that is a little stronger. I just figure that if I don't notice the spinach it is a great way to get some veggies first thing in the morning!

   I also love that it is easy to freeze berries that are past their prime for eating, and they still taste great in smoothies. Strawberries, raspberries, blackberries-they are so delicate! Once they are headed downhill, I just wash them, lay them out on a tray, freeze them for 30 minutes to an hour and then put them in labeled ziplocs. Don't skip this "flash-freezing" step, or you will end up with a giant lump of berries that you can't measure. And it will be beastly to blend!

    I have seen where you can freeze your ingredients in individual baggies so that you just have to dump it all in, but I haven't found that to be especially time saving for me, and it also prevents me from being spontaneous with my fruit combinations. I usually have a least two or three different types and I like to mix up the quantities.

   You can also use frozen bananas in place of fresh, I usually cut mine into 1 inch chunks before freezing. That will make your smoothie really thick! I love to use a fat smoothie straw, my sister gave me these great reusable ones. Be warned though: freezing your bananas seems to intensify the banana flavor, and if your banana is overripe it will taste even more that way. Just use those bananas for baking!

    You can also switch things up by adding peanut butter, or protein powder. I also find that smoothies are a great way to use up leftover fruit salad-that usually isn't appetizing to look at, but throw it in a smoothie and you won't even know!

   So, hopefully this will help you to avoid some of the mistakes that I made. Smoothies are really one of the best breakfast foods ever-protein, fruit, some veggies, and all those omegas, minerals and vitamins for around 300 calories? Yes, please!

    If you have any great smoothie tips-especially for those of us without $200 blenders, please share!


Linked up:
"Motivation Monday" at A Life in Balance
    

Friday, August 1, 2014

So Easy Bleu Buffalo Mac and Cheese

     


I made homemade macaroni and cheese. I used this recipe. It was definitely easy, and it was definitely quick (I skipped the microwaving portion and simply melted everything on the stovetop in the same pan I made the noodles.) However, it was also definitely...plain. We like flavorful food, and while Josie loved it the way it turned out, I decided it needed a little jazzing up. 


   Joel and I have recently discovered that we like bleu cheese. I also love anything involving buffalo sauce. I love Frank's Red Hot (a friend turned me on to the wonder that is buffalo chicken dip), and also I am obsessed with Wishbone's Buffalo Ranch dressing. So, I started poking around the pantry and came up with this easy Bleu Buffalo Mac & Cheese "recipe".


"Bleu Buffalo Mac & Cheese"
You will need:
-seasoned breadcrumbs (I used Garlic and Herb)
-blue cheese crumbles
-Buffalo Tabasco (or your favorite buffalo sauce)
-grated cheddar
-one recipe of your favorite homemade mac & cheese.

The base macaroni and cheese recipe I used is here and is perfect because it isn't too salty. The other ingredients are so salty that you will not want to use any extra salt!

I didn't take exact measurements, but this isn't a recipe that requires perfection. The key is to not go overboard with the bread crumbs. You will also want your mac & cheese to be hot, because you won't be heating it, just browning the top.


      Place about half of the mac & cheese in an oven proof dish. If I had to guess, it was probably about 2 1/2 c. Sprinkle 1/4 c. of grated cheddar over the top. Sprinkle 1-2 tbsp. of breadcrumbs over that. (You literally want to sprinkle, not cover. Start with a small amount and add more if you like). Sprinkle 1-2 tbsp. of blue cheese crumbles over that. Then liberally shake Tabasco over if you like it spicy, it basically looked like I had garnished mine when I was finished. Then place under broiler and broil under bubbly and golden brown. Make sure to get it nicely browned to take the raw flavor out of the breadcrumbs.  Serves two generously.
     I reheated the remainder of the macaroni today and fixed this again, and had it for lunch with a green salad. It was such a nice twist on regular mac. And I didn't even miss the meat! Although you could easily add grilled chicken to it if you don't do vegetarian. You can also up the heat level by adding more buffalo sauce. Halving the recipe is perfect for families, too, since we had plenty of plain mac for the kids. This Bleu Buffalo Mac is definitely a grown-up version!

Linked up:
"Thrifty Thursday" at Living Well, Spending Less 
"Pinterest Foodie Linky" at A Life in Balance

Monday, July 21, 2014

"You are My Sunshine" Sip & See Baby Shower

            I am betting that you totally forgot that I promised you a full reveal of the "You are My Sunshine" shower I helped plan. But I didn't! And what could be a more perfect theme for these hot summer days? I loved working on this shower (It didn't hurt that I teamed up with my incredibly talented family for this one-my mom is the original "hostess with the mostess" and my aunt has thrown many a fab party herself!).My youngest sister was also invaluable.

     This theme was so fun-I decided on suns for my motif and the color scheme was orange, yellow and gray with liberal doses of white. It was definitely "sunny" and so cheerful! This shower was a little different than a traditional shower. "Sip & See" is a great southern term for a shower that you throw *after* the baby is born. This particular sip & see was for four moms. Definitely four times the fun!

  The lighting in the church basement is less than ideal for photos, but I think you can still appreciate the cuteness. The largest element was one of the cheapest: the giant sun backdrop is white wrapping paper (from the Dollar Tree) and then I traced a giant circle on yellow poster board and made the "rays" from streamers in yellow and orange.

The giant jar full of lemons and tangerines was another great inexpensive element. The church owned most of the glassware that I used which significantly reduced the cost. I whipped up the pom-poms from cheap yarn, and wasn't sure what I wanted to do with them. In the end I put them around the jar on a white cake plate and it turned out to be one of my favorite things. A sweet church member carefully re-created the fruit stacks from a pin I sent her. She had never made melon balls before-but didn't they turn out great?

My sister, Kelly, made these great Oreo Cloud Cheesecakes. I will try to get her to post the recipe. We liberally sprinkled them with orange sugar and topped them with a Sixlet pearl. The "cake stand" is just a white plate balanced on an overturned orange planting pot. Use what you have, I say! My mom already owned the fantastic chalkboard table signs, they added such a great touch. The table runner was flannel cloth from Joann's- it was a great price, and I thought it was reminiscent of baby blankets. And *chevron*-need I say more?

 One of the biggest challenges was making this enormous institutional space feel homey. I brought in a white book shelf and styled it with a variety of orange and yellow items collected from my mom's and aunt's houses. The vintage blocks are one of my favorite things! My daughter drew the chalkboard sun for a touch of childlike whimsy. My aunt put together the pennant out of scrapbook paper from Hobby Lobby. The majority of these things are mostly unimpressive on their own, but when you group them together by color they create a vignette that feels casually intentional. The sun in the frame was created by Kelly.

  I balanced the bookshelf with this little "reading area" on the other side. The Beatles quote was a fun little last minute choice. My mom owns so many fabulous chalkboards, and this window pane one is probably my favorite. And overturned bucket served as a little table for a basket of vintage Little Golden books. The printable is a freebie from here.

   The grouping of pom-poms and lanterns anchored the seating area. They are mostly from Hobby Lobby. I know how to make giant tissue poms, but it was basically the same cost-wise (and a lot easier effort-wise) to buy them. It is a lot harder to make things look "effortless" and not planned than you would think! Basically my strategy is hang a few, re-arrange, hang some more, look for bare spots, leave, come back and continue to re-arrange until the last possible moment...easy, right? ;)

  Balancing the food table on the opposite side of the center seating area was the gift table.  I added balloons (use a marble to get them to stay down). This was where the fabric garland ended up-it added wonderful texture. It was so easy, I would make another in a heart beat.


My mom asked the guests to bring $5 and under small unwrapped gifts for each mom. She arranged the gifts in these great metal baskets she found at Fred Meyer. She tied ribbons on and attached tags with each honoree's name. They were a huge hit. So much more thoughtful than a gift bag!


   Can I just say how much I love this window frame? I used it at my sister's wedding. Go forth and buy an old window frame-you will be shocked at how often you can use it! My mom has such a great eye for this kind of thing. I made the sun on the back side with paper from Hobby Lobby. My aunt added the garland. The adorable print is from here-I added the chevron paper strip to tie it in a little better.

   Each guest received a unique Scripture verse as part of their gift. I typed them up in Word and embellished with various ribbons, papers and jewels that my mom had. Since there were four, each major area of the room had one. I choose verses that focused on the sun or light. Oh, how I love Scripture! It is always so appropriate. I wrapped the tea lights in washi tape.

   This mini candy buffet centered the coffee area. Peach rings, lemon drops and orange slices were too perfect for the color scheme. And anything you put in a glass jar is just going to look cuter. A simple sheet of scrapbook paper and some mini scoops completed the display.
   Another scripture and some more lemons made a cute display with a vase of the most perfect orange Gerbera daisies I've ever seen. Everyone thought they were fake!


  More flowers on the beverage table- along with another chalkboard, more tea lights, another scripture, a cute metal bucket for the straws and cups and a perfectly matched bottles of Martinelli's cider (from Costco). The statement piece here? A handcrafted stained glass piece, my sister's senior art project. Is that not *too* perfect?! You can't pay for that kind of matching. I love how this shows that you can repeat elements but switching them up around the room keeps it from feeling too matchy-matchy. I propped the chalkboard up on an overturned bucket to give it some height. Lemonade filled the glass beverage dispenser.


   I don't advocate procrastination, but I truly make some of my best decisions last minute. My mom purchased these yellow mini legal pads for a game she planned. We quickly ran washi tape across the top and stamped the top page and poof! Instant favor! We filled a bucket of them and they looked so cute. The stamp is from Hobby Lobby.

   I was thrilled with how it turned out! Every time I am asked to plan something like this I completely freak out. What if the inspiration well has run dry? What if I abysmally fail?  What if the guests make fun of it? What if I forget something really important? And then I remember the real reason for these things: to bless someone by showing love.

"Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people." Ephesians 6:7 NIV

And honestly, as cheesy as it sounds, you can't really go wrong. No one really has expectations, and usually any effort you make is met with gratitude. This one was definitely a success!


Interested in seeing more of my inspiration? Follow me on Pinterest!

Linked up:
"Motivation Monday" at A Life in Balance


Sunday, July 13, 2014

31 Day Bible Reading Guide to Jude

  So, here it is! Finally finished, of course, at the last minute! But did you expect anything else? The beauty of this particular guide is, that if you haven't started it yet, it isn't too late to catch up. You can double up on the days for the remainder of the month, or you can use it for August, which also has 31 days! You would simply switch the dates to match up to the Saturday/Sunday review and reflect days.

    I ended up needing a few "extra" days, so to solve that I added in one Saturday reading day, and also combined two of the Jude verses. I really got carried away at the end of the month with verse selections, but don't be overwhelmed. If you are really crunched for time and can't page through your whole Bible, simply choose one or two of the passages. Or just read the Jude and 2 Peter verses! However you choose to use it, you will be blessed for your commitment to spending any amount of time in the Word.

 Just to make it easier, I am putting both printable pages in this post, but if this is your first visit, be sure to look up the original "Jude in July" post for some great background into the book and more on why I chose it! Finishing this reading plan only increased my love for Jude and the incredible harmony of the Bible. I still can't get over how closely it compares to 2 Peter.

   I am praying that you find this drawing you closer to the Lord and increasing your love for His Word!


Right click on each image (each page is separate) to save. Click print from saved location.



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Friday, July 11, 2014

Easy Strawberry Watermelon Slush


It has been *hot* here. Adjusting to our new little apartment has meant figuring out how to make life work without central air. So thankful that we have a little unit in our bedroom-but still it isn't quite as cool as our last house! All I want lately is cold drinks. 

  My need for icy beverages converged delightfully with some leftover watermelon and my lack of ingredients to make any of the recipes for watermelon slushes on Pinterest! I made up my own, and with only three simple ingredients, it will be easy for you to whip one up, too.

Here's all you need:
3 cups frozen watermelon cubes (I chopped mine into inch cubes and spread it on a plate and popped it in the freezer for about an hour)
1 and 1/2 c. frozen strawberries (I freeze mine after roughly quartering them.)
1 chilled can Mountain Dew (the secret ingredient!)

Start by blending the fruit and about 1/2 the soda. If you don't have a very powerful blender you will need to let the fruit work down before you add the remainder of the Dew. Finish blending to desired smoothness and serve immediately. Makes about 4 cup servings.

Not the absolute healthiest thing, but definitely better than drinking a straight can of soda! And so much more refreshing. Especially perfect if you missed out on the free Slurpees at 7-11 like we did-and I don't think those can be considered a serving of fruit! 

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