Friday, January 27, 2012

This Mama's Shakin' Things Up...

I really wanted to title this post, "I'm Taking Hostages," but somehow that seemed completely inappropriate and I was afraid some well-meaning friends would become concerned and I would find a S.W.A.T. team on my doorstep.  I'll clarify.  

We've had sort of a clutter issue at the Jackson house.  Lately, I've found myself tripping over dolls and the accompanying accessories, legos, books, shoes, slinkys and more.  I also found myself having to remind the kiddos multiple times to put things away, only to find them a few minutes later, in the middle of the chaos playing and *gasp* getting out even more items!

We had two problems:  1) they were not following directions and 
2) I had created a pattern where they expected me to run around reminding them of what they should be doing until I became frustrated and picked things up myself.

The other day during rest time, I was wasting time relaxing and looking on Pinterest when I noticed a friend's pin.  It was an idea for getting your children to pick up their own things.  This mom created a 'ransom' box.  If her children did not pick up their things when asked, she simply put them in the ransom box.  If they wanted to have those items back, they had to complete a task in order to redeem those items.

That was a huge light bulb moment for me.  So, yesterday I  asked my children to pick up their toys.  Unfortunately, they didn't pick up everything.  I got them both ready for rest time, and once they were asleep, I set about taking hostages:

And wrote the kiddos a ransom note:

When my wee ones got up, I gently explained the situation and what they would have to do to redeem their beloved toys.  When I got to the task of putting away all of the shoes that had collected near the backdoor, the little Mr. exclaimed, "But, mooooooooooom! Those aren't my shoes!  Why do I have to put them away?  That's not fair!" 
I simply smiled and said, "You're right buddy.  You know, I was thinking the exact same thing as I was picking up your toys today."

The rest of the time, they did their assigned tasks with kindness and zero complaining, then the three of us worked together to put away the redeemed toys.

When we were all done we talked about what it meant to be redeemed.  I shared with them how we should have to pay the price for our own sin, but instead God sent Jesus as our Redeemer.  Jesus paid the price for our sin so we wouldn't have to.  I explained that we are sort of like hostages to our own sin, and the only person who can free us is Jesus.  The little Mr. really liked the idea of Jesus in the role of hero.  But that's what HE is right?

So, back to the's sitting in plain view at the moment and so far there are no hostages.  A success?  Maybe.  A good friend laughed as I shared this idea with her and said, "You know it's a good possibility this could backfire right?"  I wasn't following how this could go awry until she said, "One of these days you are going to find your favorite shoes in that box, and who knows what your kids are going to make you do in order to get them back."

Monday, January 23, 2012

Meatless Monday...Let's Talk Gnocchi

Before moving to Iowa in 2003, I had never heard of gnocchi.  In fact,  I was not food adventurous at all.  

My first Spring in Iowa, I decided to do some networking and volunteer for Wine Fest (hosted by Meredith Corporation...aka the HQ of Better Homes and Garden Mag).  It was the first year of the annual event, and I was selfishly hoping to get some face time with a few Meredith Corporation big wigs and hopefully land a sweet writing job.  Neither of which happened.

I was assigned the task of welcoming the guest chefs and fetching their needs.  Had I been a true foodie, I would have known who each of them were and been salivating at the chance for them to sign my cookbook...but, alas, I was clueless except for Oprah's chef Art Smith, and unfortunately I wasn't assigned to him.   

Anyway, as I watched the first chef expertly make a batch of her famous cioppino, (which, by the way stunk up the joint), and talking of her time spent in northern Italy, I looked down at my syllabus to see that the next chef was making 'gnocchi'.  What the heck?  Never heard of it, and all I cared was that it smelled nothing like the fishy cioppino that was already making my hair reek.   

As cioppino lady cleared out, a young man stepped in, air kissed both of her cheeks and gave her some sort of Italian greeting before displaying is array of cooking gadgets.  As he began his demonstration, I soon discovered, gnocchi are a little potato dumpling regarded as a pasta in Italy.  He peeled, diced, and boiled potatoes for the gnocchi, all the while talking of his tutelage under Lidia Bastianich, and totally losing me when he pulled out his little wooden gnocchi board and began rolling the little dumplings one by one down the board and into the boiling water.  Delicious as these little dumplings were, it was so much work!  I resigned myself to enjoying gnocchi only at various restaurants (which, if you haven't tried it, do!  So delicious and worth the calorie splurge!).   

Recently, I found a recipe for gnocchi on Pinterest, and decided to give it a try.  The recipe called for pumpkin as the non-traditional star ingredient instead of potatoes, which cut out a majority of the work of peeling, chopping, boiling and ricing potatoes.  I was a bit skeptical at first, but the result was a light, savory dumpling equally as good as it's sister potato gnocchi with far less time and work involved.  It was so easy that a little helper even got in on the fun...   

Believe me, making this gnocchi is just as easy as she makes it look...let's get started!

Pumpkin Gnocchi 
1/2 C. skim milk ricotta
1/2 C. canned pumpkin
1/2 C. shredded parmesan cheese (I used kraft parmesan/asiago blend)
1 large egg yolk
1 tsp. lemon zest (plus extra for garnish)
1 tsp. kosher salt
1 C. sifted flour (I used white whole wheat--but regular flour is fine)
4 Tbsp. butter divided
2 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
2 Tbsp. thinly sliced fresh sage

Preheat oven to 200F
1)Combine ricotta, pumpkin, parmesan, yolk, zest and salt in a large bowl.  Mix well.  Sprinkle in half of the flour and gently turn with a spatula a few times.  Add in remaining flour, and knead until just combined.  Too much kneading will make the gnocchi tough.

2)Dust a clean, dry surface with a generous sprinkling of flour.  Divide dough into four parts.  Taking each dough ball, roll it into a long 1" in diameter log.  Cut gnocchi into 1" pieces.  Repeat with remaining dough.

3) Using 1 tablespoon of butter for each batch, heat the butter in a large saute pan.  When melted, add a fourth of the gnocchi to the pan and saute a couple of minutes, tossing the gnocchi in the pan until all sides begin to brown.  Remove gnocchi and place in a large pan and keep warm in the oven.  Repeat with the rest of the gnocchi.

4) When all gnocchi is cooked, wipe the pan clean with a paper towel and heat 2 Tbsp of butter (over medium heat).  When melted, add the fresh sage and cook a couple of minutes until browned a bit (but not burnt!).  Add 2 tbsp of balsamic vinegar to the butter/sage and whisk until combined.  I added another tablespoon of butter to top this off.  Toss the gnocchi with the sauce and serve.  This does not make a lot of sauce, it's just meant too lightly coat the gnocchi so it does not over power the flavor of the gnocchi.

5) Serve with additional chopped sage and shaved parmesan cheese.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Thrifted Thursday...A Promised DIY

Two weeks ago I blogged about this blazer promising a tutorial on how I tailored it to better fit my body.  Well, I've never considered myself a particularly prompt person, but better late than never right?

Brief history: bought the blazer at a thrift store last year ($4!), but it hit me about six inches below my hips, which I wasn't crazy about.  I'm 5'4, so it really wasn't doing me any favors at that length. Unfortunately, for the last year it has been sitting in my closet.  

I really hated to have the blazer just sitting there, but I couldn't part with it either.  I decided that it would have to be tailored...and preferably by me to save some dollars.   

 I found some photos on Pinterest, which renewed my hope that I could make the blazer work for me with a bit of tweaking:


Using a blazer I already owned that was a length I liked, I turned my navy blazer inside out, and laid the 'pattern' blazer on top:   

Using the top blazer as a template, I pinned the bottom blazer to the length I wanted.  I did not make any cuts, so I could be sure everything was right where I wanted it before making any permanent decisions.  

Next, I sewed the new hemline right along the line of pins, removing the pins as I went along (I wish I had taken a picture of this, but I'm not one who can work and photograph at the same time...ya know?).  

I'm not going to took me twice before I got the hemline right, which made me happy I hadn't made any cuts yet.  I just simply used my seam ripper to remove the stitches and then started again.    

After I got the hemline where I wanted it, I trimmed off the excess fabric and ironed everything down so it laid nice and flat.
I did not need to take in the sides or sleeves as the blazer fit great in those areas, but had I needed to, I would have followed the same guideline: 
1)sew the new seams first
2) use a seam ripper to remove the old seams
3)cut off the excess fabric.  
4) Iron down new seams to lie flat

It's probably not the way a true seamstress would do it, but it made it more error proof for me.

Here is the before and after:

Blazer: thrifted/DIY
Brown Boots:  thrifted Plato's closet    

I am so happy with the way this project turned out, and now I wear the blazer all the time!  It's probably my favorite and most versatile clothing item!  

Happy Thursday!

Monday, January 16, 2012

Meatless Monday: Sneaky, Sneaky...

I can be very sneaky when it comes to slipping the kiddos veggies...but not nearly as sneaky as this guy:

Sorry for the 'A' word and the friendly finger.  I try to keep things G-rated around here but that guy on Mr. Deeds just cracks me up...sneaky, sneaky, sir.   

Anyway, this mama has to be sneaky with the veggies or else I can't guarantee they will make it passed the kiddos little lips.  I've been making a lot of smoothies for them lately with a few tricks up my sleeve in the forms of Mr. Iron and Mr. Beta Carotene aka spinach and carrots.  For weeks I hovered over the blender so they wouldn't see what I was slipping into their yummy smoothies, but I soon realized they loved the smoothies so much they could care less what was in it, and now they like to help add in the veggies!

I had a great blender shot for ya'll, but somehow I deleted it, sorry! But the above picture looks exactly like our finished product!  With the addition of blueberries, strawberries and banana, you'd never know there was spinach and carrot hiding out too!  

A little tip, as my bananas start to become over-ripe, I peel them and throw them in a freezer bag then throw the frozen banana in the smoothie.  Using the frozen fruit means I don't need to add ice!

Hope you enjoy the sneaky, sneaky smoothie!

Sneaky Smoothie

1 whole carrot, sliced
1 cup raw spinach (I use more like two cups, but you can work your way up to that)
1 tbsp ground flax
1 tbsp wheat germ, optional
1/2 cup frozen blueberries
1/2 cup frozen strawberries
1 frozen banana
6 oz. vanilla Greek yogurt 
splash of milk to thin it a bit if necessary  

Throw everything in the blender and blend until smooth.  Divide between four glasses and serve!  You can freeze individual servings for later as well.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Still Learning...

If there was a superlative that I thought would have fit me a year ago, it would be, "Most Likely To NOT Homeschool Her Children."  But, here we are nearly five months into our school year, and loving every minute of it.  I'm so thankful that God guides our paths and takes us down roads we never would travel on our own.

It's helpful that the little Mr. and little Miss are easy to teach and love to learn.  I have no idea what the future holds for our family as far as homeschooling goes, but for now it is a good fit for us.  I am so grateful I can teach them and be with them to see them grow and learn.  Mommy is learning too.

Each day we start with a Bible devotion, and a character trait we are studying for the week.  This week I introduced the fruit of the spirit (Galations 5:22-23), discussed what they are and how they relate to us and God's desire to see these qualities exhibited in us.  We are breaking it down to study one fruit a week with a goal for the kids to memorize the fruits of the spirit, and then find opportunities each day to exhibit these traits.  Youtube didn't disappoint, and we found this little diddy to help us remember the fruit of the spirit...

Not going to sugarcoat it...the song kind of drives me crazy and gets stuck in your head, but it drives home the point, and the kiddos love it.  

Learning the fruit of the spirit has been a great reminder for me as well, not only as a mom, but as a wife and in all other relationships in my life.

But, I have a confession.  This morning I wasn't really exhibiting the fruit of the particular patience.  I was being impatient with the kids, and frankly I wasn't gentle either.  I was sort of lost in myself, but was so humbled when the little Mr. walked over to me, mustered up his most respectful voice and said, "Excuse me mama...but you're not showing the fruit of the spirit.  We're supposed to be patient and gentle. Remember?" At that moment I didn't really know what to say.  So, I just nodded.

We piled ourselves in the car, and I felt so pressed to thank him for reminding me of God's truth.  I said, "Hey buddy, thank you so much for reminding mommy to be patient and gentle.  Sometimes mommies forget these things and need to be reminded too.  Please forgive me for not being patient."  

He could have remarked on how I totally blew it.  Or he could have laughed at my foolishness for not being a good example.  But, in his grace he said, "It's okay mommy!  I still love you and I know you have another chance to make it right!"  Then, he prayed for our short drive to Tae Kwon Do.  This was his sweet prayer:

"Dear Jesus, thank you for our car and keep us safe on the road.  And thank you for the fruit of the spirit and help me and Eva and mommy and daddy to remember them every day. And thank you that you help us when we forget. Amen."


Monday, January 9, 2012

Meatless Monday...No Soup For You

This week I sort of struggled over what to make for meatless Monday, and then I remembered a soup recipe my friend Nicole shared with me.  Is it just me, or at the mention of soup do you automatically conjure up episodes of Seinfeld and hear the soup Nazi's gruff voice shouting, "No soup for you!" 

Just me?  Anywho, back to Nicole's recipe.  It's packed full of veggies and a good amount of beans to balance things out.  Nicole said her family loved it, which was good enough reason for me to give it a go.
I made a few adjustments, per our family's taste, and we absolutely loved it!  The leftovers are even better!  We topped ours with shaved parmesan cheese and served it with fresh ciabatta bread and salad.  By the way, I had no idea what to call this soup...'Lots-o Veggie and Bean Soup'?  'Soup-There It Is'? 'Yum-Yum Soup'? 'Campbells Eat Your Heart Out'?  I decided to title it...wait for it...'The Soup'.  Any way you call it, I hope you enjoy it.

 The Soup

2 16-oz. cans diced tomatoes with juice
1 15-oz. can red kidney beans (drained and rinsed)
1 15-oz. can great northern beans (drained and rinsed)
1 15-oz. can garbanzo beans (drained and rinsed)
4 C. water + 4 chicken bouillon cubes (vegetable works too if you are vegetarian)
1 C. chopped red onion
1 green pepper, chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped
1 medium zucchini, chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2 tsp dried basil
2 bay leaves

Combine tomatoes, beans, water, vegetables and seasonings in a large stockpot.  Bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer covered for one hour or until vegetables are tender.  Remove bay leaves and serve topped with shaved parmesan.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Thrifted Thursday...60 Degrees in January

Oh my it's 60 degrees in Iowa.  This must be some kind of record, because usually this time of year, B would be shoveling with all of his might and we would have a huge snow mound on our back patio because we've run out of places to put the stuff.  Not so.  It's sunny, gorgeous and no snow to speak of.

So, this girl ran around town with the kiddos and enjoyed the weather.  This is what I wore:  

navy blazer:  thrifted/DIY (Talbots)
sweater: super old 
jeans: target
flats: target

So this week I came across a few tips on the EmersonMade blog regarding changing up your clothes, and she had this really great tip to do an inside roll on skinny jeans to make them ankle length.  This was sort of a slap the head moment for me, and I wished I had thought to do this long ago (my guess is I'm the last one on the planet to figure this style tip out...).  

Anyway, with the temps so nice, I figured today was as good as any to see if it worked, and it did!  So far the roll has stayed in place, and given me just enough of a change to keep things fresh.

Oh, and about the blazer...I tweaked it a bit so it would fit my body better...but I'll post about it next week with some close-ups!  

Happy Thursday everyone!

Monday, January 2, 2012

Meatless Monday: Iraqi Soup

Happy New Year Friends!  This year, our family is continuing our journey in meatless meals.  I am feeling challenged to be creative and expand our meal repertoire.  

A couple of weeks ago, B sent me a recipe for an Iraqi soup called Hasa Tamata Ma' Hummus.  I wasn't particularly excited about it, but decided to give it a try since it really interested B.  The verdict?  It's so delicious!  It's a very light soup, yet incredibly filling at the same time.  I felt so good after eating this food coma feeling which was nice.

I paired the soup with some homemade garlic naan (a flat bread commonly served in India and the Middle East) and a salad.  I was shocked that my kiddos loved it and even asked for seconds!  Next time I make it, I will probably throw in some shredded carrot and maybe even some chopped cauliflower to bump up the veggies. A couple of things that surprised me about the recipe was the addition of allspice (don't skip makes the soup taste incredible!) and cooking the cilantro in the sauteing process.  Most recipes add cilantro at the end, but cooking it in the beginning, really enhanced the flavor of the soup.
I hope you enjoy it as much as we did!

Tomato and Chickpea Soup (Hasa Tamata Ma' Hummus). Photo by AmandaInOz

Hasa Tamata Ma' Hummus (Tomato and Chickpea soup)

2 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 red onion, chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 C. fresh cilantro, chopped
2 tsp. ground cumin
1/2 tsp. ground allspice
1 (15 oz.) can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
3 C. tomato juice
2 C. water
2 C. chicken broth or vegetable broth
1/2 C. brown rice

1.  In a stockpot, saute the onions in the olive oil until softened.
2.  Add garlic, cilantro, cumin and allspice and saute about a minute more.
3.  Stir in remaining ingredients and bring to a boil.  Cook over medium heat until rice is tender (about 20 minutes).

Garlic Naan
1/2 C. warm water
2 tsp. active dry yeast
1 tsp. sugar
2 1/2 C. flour (I used white whole wheat)
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 olive oil
1/3 C. plain yogurt
1 egg
a little butter for frying (just a little for flavor and to prevent each naan from sticking to the pan)
minced garlic (about 4 cloves)

1.  In a large bowl, stir together water, sugar and yeast.  Let stand 5 minutes until foamy.
2.  Stir in the flour, salt, oil, yogurt and egg.
3.  Knead on a lightly floured surface until dough is soft and pliable. Cover and let rise 1 hour until doubled in size.
4.  Divide dough into about 6-8 pieces, and on a floured surface roll each piece into a circle or long oval.
5.  Cook each naan in a hot skillet in butter until blistered and cooked (flipping as necessary)
6.  Sprinkle each naan with garlic and serve immediately, or keep warm in oven between sheets of aluminum foil until ready to serve.  Store leftovers in airtight containers for no more than 2 days.