Thursday, June 5, 2014

Mexican Casserole

This recipe comes from Stephen's mom and it is one of our favorites. He would rave about it so one day, when we were dating, I asked him to get me the recipe so I could make it for him. It is so full of flavor, filling and the best part is it so easy!!! It's a dump and bake kind of recipe, which is my favorite kind on days like today.

We usually shop on the weekends together but sometimes we miss things or are too busy and I have to venture out on my own during the week. It is hot. Like really hot here and it's barely June. The heat and humidity are probably the biggest adjustment for me here and I am sure being pregnant doesn't help. Plus Reece hasn't been feeling well but we still needed to get out of the house and pick up some things. While at the store, for the first time ever, I had a lady comment on how pregnant I am and look. She said I barely looked like I was making it and that I must be due any day now, nope lady I've still got a month and a half left but THANKS, way to make a girl feel good. Anyway, after that outing, the heat, recovering from a comment that basically meant I looked like crap, and three trips from the car to our basement apt to unload all of the groceries, I dreaded seeing 4 pm on the clock and knowing I had to throw something together for dinner. This casserole was for sure the trick I needed and Stephen was ecstatic when he got home and found out what was cooking.

Here is the quick way to deliciousness:

1 lb ground beef
1 onion, chopped
1 can Rotel Stewed Tomatoes
1 can Corn
1 can Red Kidney Beans
1 cup Grated Cheese
1 1/2 pkg Cornbread (I use Jiffy but other kinds work just as well - some people who have tried this think it's too much cornbread / too sweet so feel free to reduce to one pkg if you like less)

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Brown the ground beef and onions. Meanwhile, open the cans and drain them all. Once the beef is done, remove from heat, drain and then pour the cans and cheese right into the pan and mix. Pour the beef mixture into a deep casserole dish. 

In a bowl, mix the cornbread according to the pkg in a bowl. Spoon the cornbread mixture evenly on top. It will start spilling down into them mixture like this.

Bake for 25-35 minutes. If you do more than one cornbread mix, as we do, you will need to go closer to the higher end for sure. Poke the cornbread with a tooth pick in the middle, if it comes out clean then you are good to go.

This stuff is hearty, sweet and super tasty! The leftovers are great as well. Enjoy!

Monday, June 2, 2014

Fruit Salad

This recipe is from Stephen, it's one of his favorites. When he told me about some of the ingredients, I was hesitant, very hesitant. Miracle Whip and fruit? Well I gave it a shot and it really works and you can't taste that it is Miracle Whip. It is super fluffy, creamy, light and just very delicious. It's almost like a dessert. I make it sometimes but usually this is a specialty of Stephen's so I thought I better let him drive the work for this post while I documented. He had a bit of fun pouring things in and letting me take pictures, he keeps me laughing all the time!

Here's what you need:

6 T Miracle Whip
3 T Milk
3 T Sugar
3 Apples
4 Bananas
2 C Mini Marshmallows
1 C Pecans - optional

Start by making your sauce. Combine the Miracle Whip, milk and sugar.

Whisk until well blended. 

Chop up your fruit in bite sized chunks and add to the sauce. 

If you're like Stephen, add a little juggling in to make it a fun process.

Mix as you go to keep everything evenly coated. Mix in the marshmallows and then pecans. *When we make this for a large group we usually leave out the pecans to avoid any allergy issues but they really make the dish so much better, so keep them in when you can. 

Mix again to be sure it's all well covered.

Refrigerate and serve within an hour or so or serve immediately, although it is best cold so I'll stick it in the freezer for a few minutes if we want to eat it right away. This won't keep well so be sure to plan for that! 

That's it. Super easy and quick. It's perfect for a BBQ or potluck. I have never had anything like it and it is always a hit. If we are making this just for our little family, we will do 1/2 recipe.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Caprese Chicken

With my first pregnancy, and now with this one, I really don't like chicken or any white meat for that matter. The texture seems off and I just have a hard time with it. However, I don't think it is that healthy to have just red meat when I do have meat so I try to eat white meat. I have been feeling in a rut and since we moved across the country and sold our grill before leaving, I haven't liked our regular white meat meals. I remembered this from my high school days working for a group home and some of the meals we would help the residents make. It is super juicy, moist and full of flavor. I have only ever made it from memory and I am sure it has been tweaked from what my supervisor at the group home taught me but this is the way I like it. 

Here are the details:

4 Chicken Breasts
4 Fresh Tomatoes
1 TBSP Basil
4-8 Slices of Mozzarella Cheese

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Cover a cookie sheet in foil and spray with cooking spray. Pound out the chicken breasts so they are pretty even in thickness and layout them out on the sheets. Sprinkle with a little salt. Once the oven is heated, bake the chicken for 10 minutes. 

While that is cooking, slice the tomatoes, plan on about 3 slices for each breast. Reserve a 1/2 tomato. After the timer goes off, take out the sheet and flip the chicken. Take the reserved 1/2 tomato and squeeze the juice over the top of the breasts. Place the sliced tomatoes over the breasts. 

Sprinkle the basil over the tomatoes and then lay the sliced mozzarella, one or two slices per breast depending on your taste. Return the pan to the oven and cook another 10 minutes or until the internal temperature is at 165 degrees. 

You'll have a moist juicy chicken breast, full of flavor. It's perfect with a side salad or even the pine nut pasta salad I posted the other day. Enjoy.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Pine Nut Pasta Salad

This pasta salad is so yummy, delicious and perfect for your next BBQ or dinner. My mom text me the other day and said she was making this for dinner. I haven't stopped thinking about it since then. As I started to make it, I thought "why don't we have this more often? Who doesn't like pasta salad?" Then I realized, oh wait, my husband doesn't like pasta salad. I began wondering if it was a good idea for me to make it but I wanted it and he will try anything I make so I kept with it and I am so glad I did because it was better than I remember. Plus it is so easy and fast, you'll have a pile of pasta salad in no time. 

Here are the details: 

1 lb fusilli pasta
1/2 cup pine nuts
1/2 red pepper chopped
1/2 cup sliced olives
1 (6 oz) package crumbled feta cheese
3-4 tomatoes, chopped
1/2 cup olive oil
Juice of 1 lemon
2-3 garlic cloves, minced
Pepper to taste

Cook pasta according to package directions. While that's cooking, start chopping your veggies and set aside. Get a bowl to mix the olive oil, lemon, garlic and pepper to make dressing. Once pasta is finished, rinse with cold water and drain. Pour pasta in serving bowl and mix in veggies. Drizzle dressing over pasta and mix again. Pour on feta cheese and pine nuts and mix one last time. Refrigerate or serve immediately. This makes a large batch perfect for a main dish or side dish. 

For the record, Stephen took 2 bites and did not like it but I ate every last bite and the leftovers later. 

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Don't Hide the Coffee Pot

When I was younger and someone would stop by from the neighborhood, depending on who it was, we would hide the coffee pot out of sight. I knew that we did this to avoid any judgement for our choice that was not socially acceptable in the area we lived. I grew up in Utah, predominately a Mormon area, where drinking coffee is not in line with their beliefs. While I have no judgement against anyone in that religion there is bound to be judgement from some members of any large group, who share similar beliefs, against those who don't live in those same beliefs. I don't blame my mother for wanting to hide the coffee pot. I understand why we did it and looking back, it makes me realize how we, as humans, naturally want to do things to avoid judgement for our choices.

We all have been judged or have judged someone at some point in our lives. No one likes it. I have noticed, especially since becoming a parent myself, how much judgement there is for choices one makes in their own family. You can get it in person, behind your back, online, amongst friends, anywhere. Whether you have a family, work, stay at home, have a nanny or use daycare, decide not to have kids, wait to have kids, don't get married, haven't graduated college, etc. It's quite exhausting and affects me more than I realize at times.

I have been struggling lately with admitting I am now a stay at home mom. When someone asks me what I do or if I work, I stumble and think I need to justify myself to someone. I do stay home but I also do freelance work, somehow hiding behind the freelance part makes me feel a little better, like I am okay in most people's eyes or something. It so strange because, this is the life I have idolized for years and have wanted to be able to have for my family and now I have it and I somehow am not comfortable with it.

I read an article today from the perspective of a stay at home dad who was apologizing to women for thinking being a SAHP was going to be a breeze but now that he is one, he sees the error of his judgement. He then went on to outline an example of how his days go. It was an interesting perspective to see someone appreciate something in a way he didn't expect to. That's all great and then you move onto the comments and people were nit picking how he runs his day and if he were more structured his day wouldn't be as bad, his kids would be better behaved, and ya da ya da ya da. What's up with all the judgement?

I have been working since I was 14 years old and had many various jobs and responsibilities in that time and now I don't have a steady job in an office. I am not going to go into details of which job was hardest and why and how other people have it so easy or don't understand. What I will say is that I am proud I have always done what is best for my family and the situation we were in at that time. There is value in any way that you choose to spend your time. I think the judgement of how others live, parent, think, etc. is possibly a reflection of our own insecurities or struggles with choices or desires to live differently than we are currently able. Frankly, I have let these thing get in my head and have developed insecurities I didn't even know I had until I am now living the life I have dreamed of and can't full take pride in it. Sure it's an adjustment, it's different but in a few years I might choose to do something different that fits my family better at that time.

I am just sick of all of the judgement. It is so easy to sit behind a computer and think how someone's choices are wrong. I am certain none of us are perfect, I know I am not. So what's up with all the judgement? I am who I am and I love my life as much now as I did when I was a working mother. Neither is better than the other and my choice is my choice, made by me and my family. I am lucky to have a spouse who supports me and doesn't wonder what I do all day, working or not, but rather encourages me to be happy and supports us being the best family we can be in whatever situation we are in.

So in reflecting on all of this, I am vowing to you that I will no longer hide the coffee pot and be ashamed of my choices, and I will also not judge others for having their coffee pot out. I hope others will join me. We are all doing the best we can. We all have good days and bad. There are pros and cons to every side and some things are just better fits for others. Wouldn't the world be better if we could all just get over comparing who is better and why, and instead we just focus on what is best for our own lives and living with conviction and pride in our decisions? Let's choose support and love instead of judgement and comparison.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Reece is 18 months

I had been taking more posed / professional pictures of Reece every month until he turned a year when I decided to do it at least every 6 months. It was time, plus I have been itching to get out and take some pictures lately. 

When we first arrived in our new town, we drove past some botanical gardens. I knew I would want to check it out as a future photography location for clients. We loaded up this morning and headed to check it out. The weather is gorgeous and Reece seemed in good spirits. That all changed pretty quickly though. Reece has small tantrums here and there, I mean he is so well behaved but he has his moments. This was totally different, this was a full on melt down. He was not having any of our plan. All he wanted to do was push his stroller around but the trails were not very stroller friendly so he was frustrated with the resistance. 

This kid loves his sunglasses, I think he knows how cool he looks in them. 

Here is one shot at the beginning of the melt down. He was kicking and squirming like crazy. Isn't that just the saddest face?

We put the stroller in the car and gave him a snack and his pacifier and sat down on a bench to calm down. We then started walking around the gardens again and he was doing alright until he saw someone pulling a red wagon to pick up some plants at their plant sale. He chased that wagon very excitedly only to melt down again when we picked him up before he could jump in. The calming process started again. We were hoping the walking around would get some of it worked out of his system but it wasn't working that great so we thought it best just to head home.

Of course right by the exit he started being cute and happy again so we let him play around while I snapped a few pictures. At first he would not give up the pacifier. He only has it when he is really upset or sleeping and this was one of those situations where he had to have it.

Look at that mischievous little bugger.

Who also melts my heart at times. 

This was the best shot of the day for sure. He is so handsome and I love his little flip flops.

That was about the end of the good shots. We walked around a bit more and he was enjoying picking up the sand/dirt and throwing it then wiping off his hands.

He get's quite into the wiping action.

We headed home and he went straight to bed and is still napping now, thankfully! We hope to get out to see the rest of the town. Today is our town's annual celebration day so once the little guy is up we might try to venture out there to see what it is all about. Wish us luck! 

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Alabama travel: Day 2 and 3

Here we are in day 3 of the trek to Alabama. Yesterday was our longest driving day with over 10 hours on the road. We got into the hotel very late and went straight to bed. We spent the day driving through Colorado and Kansas, ending the evening in Salina, Kansas. We were able to stop in Denver for lunch with my Aunt Maren. It was a great visit and I am so glad the timing worked out.

The thing I noticed most yesterday is how quickly the landscape changes. One minute we were driving through winding mountains with snow, the next we are in east Colorado and it looks more like the flat plains of Kansas. 

The drive was long and pretty uneventful but we were all ready to stop for the night and get some rest.

This morning we got up bright and early for an 8.5 hour driving day. Finishing up Kansas, into Oklahoma and ending in Arkansas. Stephen had some real southern food for lunch that got him even more excited to be close to home again. I am sure all that fried goodness would make for a bad driving combination so I opted for something lighter, knowing I'll have plenty of time to try the good stuff when we get settled. 

One funny thing about today, I was very tired and thought about giving Reece a container of gold fish crackers to feed himself. Stephen warned  against it, thinking he would spill all over the car. I kept giving him small handfuls as needed and rested the container on by knee inbetween. Well I guess I fell asleep because in woke to the crashing of the container and gold fish all over the front of our car. It probably would have been less of a mess to give them to Reece in the first place. It made us both laugh very hard though so it was worth it! 

We went into Cabot, Arlansas to meet up with my old friend Shasta at her house. She has two young girls and we haven't seen each other in a while. Reece loved playing with the girls and it was such a good time. I am so exited to be close to her again! 

We then met up with Stephen's cousin, his wife and their two kids for dinner. They had not seen one another in 12 years so of course I hadn't met them. Their son's middle name is Reid and daughter's middle name is Reese so we hit it off right away. It was good hearing about younger times hanging out with Stephen. Their kids were so cute.

We headed to the hotel next and got settled. Reece has done so well today but he was wore out and needs some rest. The dogs are doing well but not eating well, I think they are too anxious with everything going on.

We are looking forward to the relaxed drive tomorrow and only 6 hours on the road. I can't wait to see our new place, I hope it is livable at least through our lease - it is crazy planning a life in a place you haven't seen or visited before!