A Year of Love

January 4, 2012

I love this time of year! I’ve always enjoyed making plans for improving myself in the coming year and reviewing how I did with my goals for the year past. I realize, though, this is a slippery time of year for some.

Over the holidays I happened to be around a television and I noticed there were a lot of dieting and dating commercials. I think there must have been a survey showing that people feel fat and lonely this time of year, and their goals for the new year are directed at making themselves more desirable and available. I know a little bit about that, but I’ve come a long way by making one major change in my life: I retuned my radio.

The Wrong Message: The world has a message for you and it’s repeated over and over on every channel: “You are not good enough, you are not trying hard enough, and you don’t have the right tools to be the best you can be BUT that’s okay because I have all the answers. Just do what I say and it will all work out for you. Call now and have your credit card ready.” It’s no wonder so many people have self-esteem issues. “You may be the best in your field, but those unsightly wrinkles are making you look old and tired! Those bags under your eyes could be treated with expensive laser surgery or you could buy this miracle cream (and if you don’t buy it, you will just have to suffer with makeup)!” Even a good nights sleep, a glass of water, a well balanced meal, and someone to talk to are marketable items that could not possibly be attained properly without some investment, according to the world. Most of us know a thing or two about taking care of ourselves and don’t always buy the hype, but there are scare tactics for intelligent consumers too. “THAT water has babaphyl* in it, a known carcinogen! THIS water has cupaflor* in it, a hazardous vapor! OUR water has nothing in it and only cost as much as your sofa! Think of your family! BUY our filter!” [*these are made up chemicals representing the latest discussions in the real food community].

Now some people might expect me to say that getting rid of your television is the way out of this mess, but really that’s the tip of the iceburg. I don’t watch tv and I’m still surrounded by the message that I am not good enough. I see it in town, in magazines, on the internet, and even repeated by well-meaning people.

The only answer for this world is love. You can’t buy it. You can’t sign up for it. It’s not for sale. It’s a free gift from above. Some people would say it comes from within. Whatever you believe…love does not care how you find it. Love is patient. Love is kind. It does not envy. It does not brag. It is not proud. It disrespects no one. Is never selfish. Is not easily angered. It keeps no tally of faults. Love rejoices in the truth. It is a shield. It is trusting. It is hopeful. It withstands everything. It will never fail.

How to find love: The world would have you believe that in order to find love you have to meet that special someone. In the process you must kiss a few frogs, play a few games, and frequent the swimming ponds of potential mates or hope for a miraculous coincidence called destiny. The world even has it’s own definition of love. It’s sometimes jealous, insatiable, and unforgiving. It keeps a tally of faults, and shares them for sympathy or a good laugh. It must be pleased. It is up for question. It can be dull and lasting, or as intense and fleeting as the weather. It is a feeling of complete joy when you are together, and utter sadness when apart. It is “perfect”, rare, and fails most of the time. Hmm…that sounds nothing like the kind of love mentioned above.

Real love is all around us. You just have to know what to look for. Go back to the definition. Did you know that someone already loves you just as completely as all of that? I know it’s hard to imagine, but how would you live your life differently if you really believed you were loved so completely just the way you are? How would you live if you imagined that everyone is loved like this, just as they are right now, no strings attached? Imagine that!

What goals would you make for your life in 2012 if you were covered in unconditional love? How would you live this year differently if you treated yourself with unconditional love? Go back to the definition. Imagine a year of patience, kindness, no envy, respect, humility, selflessness, quietude, forgiveness, honesty, fortitude, faith, hopefulness, and perseverance. Maybe it’s time to stop asking the world to intercede for your future, and turn to the one who calls you wonderful. It is my hope for all of you, dear readers, that this will be a year of love.

My Favorite Christmas Gift

December 23, 2011

Christmas gift giving traditions in our families range from going all out to no exchange at all. I love them all but my favorite tradition is the one Seth and I started when we were married. Every year we pick a cause that’s important to the other person and gift a donation in their name. We agree on the amount before hand and then write each other a card describing how their gift will benefit others and why it was chosen for them. Our Christmas cards to each other are best described as love letters that bring great warmth and treasure to our lives. We lift each other up in these cards, fondly remembering the qualities that brought us so close to begin with and our compassion for this broken world. It is the best gift any of us can give or receive.

Now, you may be thinking that sounds wonderful but you feel more like a charity case yourself. The great thing about giving to God is that he can use any contribution and multiply it for his purpose. The point is not how much money we can give, but how much faith, for with God nothing shall be impossible!

If you are interested in looking into organizations that use “More with Less” principles, the following are our favorites: Mennonite Central Committee, Mennonite Economic Development, and Mennonite Disaster Service.

From our family to yours, Merry Christmas and Blessings in the New Year!

This is the blanket I'm working on!

About this time every year I dig out my dusty crochet hooks and knitting needles. Something about the holidays and cold winter renew my interest in these hobbies. Now, with a baby on the way, I’m not really interested in knitting holiday gifts. I’m brushing up on my stitching skills to make all those cute baby goods!

Many years ago, I taught myself how to knit and crochet with a little help from the internet. I’m not naturally gifted at learning crafts, and this wasn’t my first attempt, so I thought I would share what worked and what didn’t. First of all, forget the books until later. They can be very overwhelming and frustrating if you have a problem. The best site, hands down, for learning how to knit is knittinghelp.com. The short videos are easy to follow and review. In less than 10 minutes you could begin knitting your own scarf or hat! You can also ask for help if you get stuck ;) After I learned how to knit, I wanted to learn crocheting, because I read that it was faster for some people. To learn how to crochet, the first three videos on knitwitch.com will get you started! Some people may not learn as well with videos and prefer a teacher to guide them. Ask around and see if anyone is willing to show you!

Now, you may be wondering which craft is better. It really depends on your project, and what type of crafter you are. Knitting generally makes a lighter, more pliable fabric if the same yarn is used. Knitting the English way can also be done while watching a movie. It’s also harder to lose your place or forget what size needle was being used because the project stays on the needles until finished. That being said, it is my opinion that it takes longer and mistakes, almost always take more work to fix. I think crocheting is easier but remember that we are comparing two very simple hobbies. If you don’t believe me, watch the videos! Asking which craft is easier or faster is like asking about cursive or print writing. It really depends on you, and how difficult you want to make it!

If you are ready to get started on a project, I would still hold off on spending any money. There are many free patterns online. A pattern is a good place to start before building up a collection of needles and hooks you may never use. Begin with a simple project and buy the items required for it. The start up cost should be less than $10. Once you get started you will be able to discern which novelties are practical and which are unnecessary.  A general rule I follow is that it should cost less to make my own, than to buy a similar item of similar quality. Ready to hunt for a pattern? Crochet Pattern Central and Knitting Pattern Central should keep you busy!

Menu Plan for 2 Weeks

December 5, 2011

As I mentioned before, I recently started using Plan to Eat for meal planning, and I’m in love with it! This week I decided to take it a step further and plan for two weeks! I also got the grocery shopping out of the way and was greatly relieved to see our average weekly cost plummet just by planning ahead! Here is our meal plan for the next two weeks:

Monday: Pinto Bean Soup (recipe coming soon) with kale and corn bread

Tuesday: Beef Pot Pie made with venison and homemade pie crust

Wednesday: Homemade Tomato and Spinach Pizza

Thursday: Friendship Soup Mix in a Jar (to try it out before making gifts)

Friday: All Day Beef Stew made with canned venison

Saturday: Crock Pot No-Fuss Potato Soup (made with milk)

Sunday: Leftovers

Monday: Dal Saag (Indian Lentils with Spinach) recipe coming soon!

Tuesday: Easy Bean Cassoulet with cooked dry beans

Wednesday: Mini Shepherd’s Pie with broccoli

Thursday: Layered Mexican Dip and chips

Friday: Homemade Pepperoni and Mushroom Pizza

Saturday: Make Ahead Vegetarian Moroccan Stew

Sunday: Leftovers

It’s your turn to share! Join the Linky at Orgjunkie.com

Have a delicious week!

 

One of my favorite Thanksgiving dishes is the traditional Green Bean Casserole. This year I decided to make it a little extra special with some homemade goodness! After playing around in the kitchen for awhile, I ended up creating my own recipe for Cream of Mushroom Soup. Now I’m sharing it with you to distract myself from “taste testing!”

Condensed Cream of Mushroom Soup

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups cream
  • 1 cup milk
  • 2 Tbsp. cornstarch
  • 4 Tbsp. butter
  • Oil
  • 1 package (10oz) fresh mushrooms finely chopped
  • 12 onion finely chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic minced
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • cayenne pepper optional

Directions

  1. Saute mushroom and onion in half the butter called for, with enough oil to avoid sticking to pan after the water from the mushrooms evaporates. Set aside.
  2. Stir cornstarch into milk and add to skillet with cream and butter. Cook on medium, stirring constantly, until thickens. Salt and pepper to taste. Add mushroom mixture.
  3. Add to casserole or serve as sauce over noodles. Makes 2 cans worth.

View recipe at plantoeat.com

 

 

How to Can Venison

November 22, 2011

Most people have things they associate with Thanksgiving, be it football, a trip to see the in-laws, or black Friday sales. Around here Thanksgiving coincides with hunting season. Our holiday is planned for it and around it. My in-laws have a  ranch in the mountains so luckily I don’t have to lose my husband to a hunting camp. He goes stalking up the mountain and I hang out with his mom. If he gets lucky, we have the whole family there to help make light(er) work of the processing!

The manly part (as in, leave me out, thanks) of the event involves hanging the deer and field dressing it. The meat is then soaked in brine, rinsed and soaked again for at least one night. This gets the gamey taste out and helps tenderize the meat. The next day everyone gets involved in the work. At this point the meat looks like something you would buy in an open air market (leg of lamb, anyone?).  We butcher as much as we possibly can. We cut off most of the sinew and fat, and portion the meat up for freezing, canning, grinding, or jerky. We prefer the frozen cuts and canned meat for it’s simplicity.

The awesome thing about canning the meat is that it comes out so tender, you don’t have to worry about the “silver” or gristle. This greatly cuts down on butchering time and uses up all the scraps. It’s also a homemaker’s dream when it comes time to prepare a meal in a hurry. Throw a jar into any recipe that traditionally calls for chunks of beef or lamb and dinner is done, no stewing required!

Canned Venison

Cook Time: 1 Hr 30 Min

Ingredients:

  • Lean Venison
  • Salt

Directions

  1. Soak game in brine overnight, refrigerated. Rinse and cut up venison into approximately 1 1/2 inch cubes. Be sure to remove as much fat as possible for safety. Any gristle will tenderize in the canning process.
  2. Pack each quart sized jar 3/4 full with raw meat (approx. 2lbs of meat per quart). Add 1 teaspoon salt. Cover with hot water leaving 1-inch of headspace. Wipe rims.
  3. Lid jars and process in a pressure canner for 90 minutes (according to manual). Be sure to vent pressure cooker at steam for required minutes (see manual, all pressure canners are different) before closing petcock or putting on weight.
  4. Place jars in an area to cool where they will not be disturbed for at least 8 hours. Check seals after 8 hours. Refrigerate any jars that did not seal.

View recipe at plantoeat.com

Prayer for Processing Game Meat:

Dear Lord,
Thank you for this life that was shed for me.
Help me to show it respect.
Please forgive my discomfort.
Give me the wisdom to be a good steward of this blessing.
Amen.

About a month ago I signed up with Plan to Eat, just to give it a try. I was hoping it would help cut down on my trips to the grocery store and our ever increasing grocery bill (I blame the pregnancy cravings!). Now that it has surpassed my expectations and greatly improved our meals, I want to share it with everyone I know! My favorite part? It allows me to collect recipes from all over the internet and my home and keep them in one location!

Why do I need a meal plan?

I was never really into meal planning before this. The past seasons of our lives have allowed for more flexibility in the kitchen. Then we bought a house and things got a little stressful, too stressful to keep track of what was in the crisper. We also joined a CSA this year. We’ve always been huge veggies lovers, so we signed up for the family share of produce. Needless to say, it was more than the two of us could handle. Meal planning has helped me use more of our crop, but it has also helped me foresee what we will not use up so I can share it with friends and family, or preserve it.

The Shopping List:

My trips to the grocery store have become more efficient and economical too! I love how Plan to Eat divides up my grocery list into sections like: produce, meat, diary, canned goods, and baking supplies. I can add staples to the list as well, and there is a handy list to remind me of anything I may have forgotten. Everything I need for the meal plan is on the list so there are no evening runs to the store for that one forgotten item. I can also see the list and realize if I have gone over budget with my meal plan. Sometimes I get carried away with all the recipes I want to try and this reminds me to spread them out more and use more budget friendly recipes. Which reminds me of another awesome feature! You can make a list of what pantry items you would like to use up and Plan to Eat will help you find recipes using what you already have!

How much is it worth?

It costs about $3.25 a month but I feel the price is justified with use. There are recipe sites that can help with meal planning and grocery shopping for free, but I like Plan to Eat because it isn’t a recipe site, it’s a meal planning site. It’s main goal is to make it easy to add recipes from anywhere to aid in meal planning. I realized half way through the free trial that I had already gotten more use out of the site than I usually get out of a cookbook, because it made all those internet recipes more readily available for planning. Now I get more use out of my cookbooks too because I have added recipe ingredients from them and referenced the page numbers. I have always loved collecting recipes, now I can actually get some mileage out of them!

Sharing Recipes:

Plan to Eat also makes it easy to share recipes with friends and family. Sometimes with a recipe website you don’t really know what you will end up with. A recipe could be highly rated only to have extreme variations in the comments section that made the meal palatable. With Plan to Eat you choose who you want to share recipes with, and what recipes are not for sharing. You can also join the discussion forums to seek out like-minded people to share recipes with. This is especially helpful for those with dietary concerns, or families that are trying a new health-kick and are short on ideas.

Would this work for you?

Plan to Eat is not for everyone. I spend a lot of time on the computer so this website works for me. It’s my evening entertainment and I find great joy in adding to my recipe collection. If you prefer pen and paper, no worries. I will keep sharing my favorite recipes and more meal planning ideas in other posts.

Want a recipe now? This was a new one I tried this week. A great alternative to beans and rice!

Quinoa and Black Beans

Course: Main Course
Prep Time: 5 Min
Cook Time: 30 Min
Total Time: 35 Min
Serves: 6

Ingredients:

  • 1 teaspoon coconut oil
  • 1 onion chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic peeled and chopped
  • 34 cup uncooked quinoa
  • 1 12 cups vegetable broth = one can
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 14 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 cup frozen corn
  • 2 (15 ounce) cans black beans or 3 1/2 cups rinsed and drained
  • 12 cup fresh cilantro optional
  • 12 cup salsa optional

Directions:

  1. Heat the oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Stir in the onion and garlic, and saute until lightly browned.
  2. Mix quinoa into the saucepan and cover with vegetable broth. Season with cumin, cayenne pepper, salt, and pepper. Bring the mixture to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 20 minutes,
  3. Stir frozen corn into the saucepan, and continue to simmer about 5 minutes until heated through. Mix in the black beans, salsa and cilantro. Cook until beans are hot.

Have you tried meal planning before? Do you think this site would be helpful? 

P.S. I am not affiliated with Plan to Eat and can not be bribed into giving good reviews! I will always let you know if I will be reimbursed for your interest in something I’ve shared.

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