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the haas machine: June 2013

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Tomato, Avocado, & Mozzarella Salad

When it comes to summer cookin', there's no messing around with the oven at our house. We don't have central air or any kind of air conditioning on our main level, so turning on the oven literally makes our house sauna-like. I was painfully reminded of this the other night as I preheated my oven to 375 to pop in a pan of frozen alfredo lasagna that I had made a few weeks earlier & froze for future use. When I had made it originally I thought, "won't it be so nice to have a scrumptious meal that just has to be warmed?" I didn't really think through the fact that it would eventually get hot this summer & by cooking this lasagna, it would heat up our entire house while it baked for 45 minutes, thus making me a crabby, sweaty mess.

So that sort of kicked me in the pants & motivated me to dig deep into my "anti-oven" cooking collection.  I don't know how many times I've literally said out loud that I want to make a list of all our favorite non-oven meals so that we can eat in comfort & peace this summer, but now I'm finally getting to it. Over the next couple of weeks, I'll be posting mostly "anti-oven" meals & then I'll make one big list that you (& I) can refer to often, especially once we get into the really thick weather of July & August.
So today, I share with you one of our favorite side dishes- Tomato, Avocado, & Mozzarella Salad. It's a total crowd pleaser, full of flavor, & best of all, extremely nourishing. This salad works best when you make it & then immediately scarf it down because of the avocados (the lemon juice does help them keep their color, but it's still best if eaten sooner rather than later). Left-overs are not encouraged.

What I'm really going to love about this recipe this summer is that I'll get to use some of my fresh cherry tomatoes, basil, & parsley all from my own garden! Everything is growing so intensely right now, so I'm hoping to have a nice bounty of plump veggies & herbs to cook with this summer. I'm still dreaming of a lemon & avocado trees...maybe next year?

This salad can be quite adaptable, too. You can eat it simply as a side, or you can get all crazy & wrap it up with a tortilla or make it into a panini-type sandwich. You could even toss the ingredients into an omelette or with some pasta, but that would involve a bit of stovetop use. My favorite way to eat it is with a toasty baguette, maybe with a little meat somethin' somethin' on the grill. Mmmm....

It's simple, refreshing, & satisfying, my friends. So stay cool & eat your hearts out.

Tomato, Avocado, & Mozzarella Salad
1 container cherry tomatoes, cut in half
1 carton fresh mozzarella cheese pearls, drained
1 avocado, peeled & diced
1/3 cup basil, julienned
2 tablespoons fresh parsley
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/4 cup olive oil

In a large bowl, combine the tomatoes, mozzarella, basil & parsley & then set aside. In a small bowl, whisk the lemon juice, oil, salt & pepper & drizzle over the tomato mixture. Cover & refrigerate for 1 hour before serving. Just before serving the salad, mix in the chopped avocados, making sure everything is evenly coated.

Recipe adapted from Everything Fabulous

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Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Wednesday's "What We Ate June 17-23, 2013"

Lately I've been thinking a lot about why I write this blog. Why do I spend the hours thinking about, preparing, planning, writing, & editing these words? Why do I take so.much.time arranging the food or projects I make, to take thirty pictures of them & then use one? Why am I compelled to use sacred free time pouring out into this blog?

My whole life, I've been passionate about collaboration. I so appreciate when I post a simple recipe for homemade canned spaghetti sauce & a reader suggests an even smarter way to do it. I get excited when I learn a little bit more about you when you add stories from your life in the comments below. I love sharing ideas, failures, recipes, & those special moments that just need to be shared. I love being honest about hard things & celebrating the joys of sugary treats. And I don't think that I would get to experience this kind of collaboration if I didn't write consistently & you didn't respond. So thank you (& please keep it up!)

I also love how blogging has challenged me to grow. When I first started blogging, it was a way to stay in touch with family & friends & share some of the crazy projects that we embark on (i.e. bathroom remodeling). I've had some terrible posts with some horrible pictures & lots of type-os. Thank you for still reading past them all! (honesty note: sometimes I get a little bit of satisfaction when I see a type-o on a big blogger's site because I am reminded that they too, are in fact human!) Now I see this blog more as a tool to help me grow & improve some of the things I've always wanted to accomplish.

I believe that blogging has helped me become more intentional, more focused, more thoughtful, & more aware of how much I still would like to grow! I so desire to get better at cooking, baking, & overall project making. Over the next couple of weeks (months?), I plan to get a whole lot more specific about some of my goals so that they might become reality instead of just swimming thoughts around my brain (for example, I'd love to spend more time re-doing furniture to sell or take a french pastry class!) I want to share my goals with you so you can help keep me accountable & maybe it will inspire you a little to do the same.

Blogging about food specifically has helped me stay accountable to some of the values that we are trying to live out (eating mostly whole foods, as well as mostly organic meat & produce all while sticking to our budget). There's nothing like a weekly post on what we ate to motivate me to choose healthy, wholesome dinner options for our family. And you know what? Sometimes hotdogs are still served because, well, that's life. But other times it has really encouraged me to try a bit harder to not just give in to my feelings & wants, but what's best for our family in the long run.

I also love how blogging is my special little time where I can work at something important to me. I don't know many stay-at-home-parents who are sain without some kind of hobby. I honestly consider blogging my little piece of work & Ruby is sometimes respectful of that work time. I do my best to spend time on my blog when she's napping or in bed for the night so that I can really savor those times with her & not feel guilty for putting on Fantastic Mr. Fox because I would rather work on the blog than entertain her (not like I've ever done that before...) But I also really want writing on this blog to continue to be something that I enjoy. Even though it is work, I want to make sure that it is usually something that leaves me refreshed, energized, & motivated to keep going (not an obligation).

I'll admit that it's sometimes hard not to get my identity wrapped up into who's-reading-what & how-many-people-liked-whatever. It's always a huge bummer when I get a rejection email from Tastespotting or foodgawker, & alternately, it's hard to not get sucked into the idea that I should be getting my worth out of this blog when a recipe is accepted. I have to constantly remind myself that this blog is not what I should be getting my worth from & it shouldn't be something that meets my needs for validation.

It's strange & amusing to me that some of the posts that I thought would be a smashing success, didn't seem to be interesting to many people, but others that I wasn't particularly excited about (with the least creative pictures ever) become some of my most viewed recipes. I'm definitely still learning what people like to read & share, but I also selfishly post a lot of things that we like so that I will have an online recipe book of sorts. Finally! The truth comes out!

In the next few weeks & months, I plan to get more specific about my goals. I want to write them down where I can see them every day so that they will challenge & inspire me. You'll definitely see some changes in the blog, but just bare with me. There will still be posts about what we ate & recipes for practical things like homemade bug spray & lists of summer foods to cook that don't involve the oven. And there will be a bit more intentionality. At least, that's what I'm hoping for.

If you're a blogger, what has helped you grow your blog? If you're an avid blog reader, what do you really appreciate about your favorite blogs? Please comment below!
Thursday's dinner: mushroom pizza with a cauliflower basil crust

What We Ate June 17-23, 2013
Monday: BLT's on whole wheat toast with strawberries & carrots
Tuesday: Brats with crispy edamame & a handful of other sides (we were at a BBQ)
Wednesday: Smoked salmon salads (mixed greens, smoked salmon, cherry tomatoes, goat cheese, & balsamic vinaigrette) with toasted baguette
Thursday: Mushroom pizza with a cauliflower basil crust, which was OK, nothing spectacular
Friday: Breaded pork chops with cheesy broccoli quinoa
Saturday: Tofu stir fry with a mix of brown & white rice
Sunday: Homemade steak & red pepper pizza

I also made a batch of whole wheat bread, crockpot yogurt, & whole wheat carrot walnut muffins this week.


Monday, June 24, 2013

Wind Chimes (Two Ways)

Wind chimes! Yes, we made a pair of wind chimes that I'm preeeetty excited about. Wind chimes are so becoming my thing (what am I, like 80?). Just on Sunday we were driving to buy some groceries & we had our windows down because it was so freaking hot. While we were at a stop sign, I heard someone's chimes a blowin' in the wind. Although I couldn't see them, I could hear them. All the deep, rich, blowy tones (what are "blowy tones" you ask? I think you know... don't you?). I just love the sound of something so calming when the wind blows. It's a nice change from the usual raucous of our neighborhood. Oh our neighborhood...

The bottom line is, I love wind chimes, so here we go.
The wind chimes pictured above were super easy to make. When John, Ruby & I went to Florida in March, we collected a ton of shells. You know, it's what you doooo when you go to Florida. I didn't know what I wanted to do with them, but they were too special to leave just sitting there alongside of the ocean, helplessly waiting for the next tourist to scoop them up. So I happily picked out about a sandwich-size baggie full of them & plopped them on my craft table in the basement when we got home & kinda forgot about them (like I do with way too many treasures I find). A few weekends ago, I had a bit of inspiration to finally do something with them.

These shell chimes are so delicate & tranquil. Yep. Tranquil. I have since hung them right above my kitchen sink so that when even a slight breeze comes in, they bump into each other & make such a sweet, peaceful sound (or when we have a more violent wind/rain storm like we've been having the last couple nights, they sound quite concerning, which takes away the tranquilness, so I'm forced to shut the window a bit).

And the best part is, they were a cinch to make. All of the shells already had existing holes in them (I specifically picked most shells with holes) so all I did was use a bit of fishing line & tied them all together & then onto a piece of drift wood. It was kind of a cheater creation because it was so easy peasy.
The other chimes I want to share with you, were a  b e a s t  to make. First of all, you have to spend like a year drinking beer & pop from bottles. Talk about torture. Then you have to take the tiniest drill bit ever & attempt to drill two holes on opposite ends of the bottle caps & shreek every time you do because you think you're going to drill straight through your thumb. Then you sheepishly hand over the drill & thousands of bottle caps over to your husband so he can do it for you.
I don't mean to be sexist or anything. Maybe you are a woman & are super handy with power tools. That's fantastic & I am super jealous of you. I am boarder line terrified of them. I've never been in an accident with one or seen anyone's hand cut off or anything, but my mind always goes there. My imagination+tools=almost always a mistake.
So yes, John mostly did these chimes. He dutifully drilled holes in each cap & then I strung them onto fishing line. For the first cap on the string, I strung the line through both holes & then tied a knot by wrapping the line around the bottom hole twice, if that makes sense. If that doesn't make sense, comment below & I can post a clear picture of what I mean.
I made strings of all different sizes & then strung them onto some driftwood too. They have a very unique sound to them... it kinds makes me thirsty, but I think they look pretty cool. Maybe a little college dorm-ish, but still pretty cool. 
Don't judge us. Sometimes we drink cheap beer (& sometimes our friends bring over cheap beer & we're forced to suffer through it). What projects have you been creating lately?


Friday, June 21, 2013

Dill Pesto Fettuccine

Last year I had the most massive basil plant known to humanity. I was literally making pesto every week, furiously pulsing oil, garlic, & basil leaves & freezing them into little ice cube trays. All of my effort paid off though, since I had fresh pesto all winter long. That stuff is pricey & it always tastes better when you make your own, especially since you can adjust it to your liking (extra nuts! more cheese! double, no, triple the garlic!)

Me? I like a good garlicy herby oily spread whenever I can get away with it (I am so in love with pesto grilled cheese sandwiches, it's almost embarrassing). And I've also enjoyed dill in the past on other things, especially on salmon, but I wasn't too sure how this dill pesto was going to turn out. I figured it would either be really good or a terrible mistake (& waste of olive oil!)
One distinct memory between me+dill is sneaking dill chunks out of the pickle jar as a child & secretly eating them. Yes, mouthfuls of pickle juice-soaked dill. I was just drawn to the intense herbiness of it I guess or I was quite possibly severely lacking sodium in my diet & this was my childish way of getting it? I'm not so sure.

All that to say, I'm really thankful that I planted not one, but four dill plants in my garden this year because this pesto rocks my world. No, I guess I planted two more inside... I guess I was just worried that they wouldn't survive or that I would need bushels of dill come August. You need quite a bit of dill for this recipe, but I think I'll be covered this summer & it looks like I'll be scouring the depths of the internet for more dill recipes.

Although pesto is traditionally made with basil, this might be the new best thing. Make sure that you use fresh dill because the dried stuff loses its flavor very quickly.

Do you like using fresh herbs in your cooking? Have any amazing dill recipes to send my way?

Dill Pesto Fettuccine
2 cups chopped dill, tightly packed
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
3 tbsp pine nuts or chopped walnuts
2 large garlic cloves
3/4 cup freshly grated Romano
2 tbps unsalted butter, softened
8 ounces fettuccine noodles

Bring a pot of water to a bowl & cook the noodles according the the package. In a food processor, pulse the garlic cloves until minced. Add the dill, olive oil, & nuts & process until the mixture reaches a creamy texture. Add the cheese & butter & process for about 10 seconds more. Mix the pesto with the drained noodles & add additional cheese if desired.

Recipe taken from Vegetable Gardener

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Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Wednesday's "What We Ate June 10-16, 2013"

Are you ready for some more real-talk on this day? I'm sort of freaking out for two reasons.

#1: Bats.
Ever since we have lived in our house, we've had a couple of bats grace us with their presence every summer. One of the most terrifying ways to ever wake up in the middle of the night is to the sound of your husband saying, "honey don't move" because there's a bat chilling on our headboard. There has been much screaming, much hiding under the covers, & much rescuing by John (what would I do without that man??) So we've had a couple of bats here & there... but then last spring we had a local company weatherize our house (insulating the attic was one of the main jobs) & we just sort of figured that would help take care of our bat issues.

Last week, as I was pulling back the curtains in our room, something caught my eye. At first, I literally thought that it was a dead leaf in between the screen & the window, but at a closer look, I saw a foot... & then a wing... & then it breathing. A bat! Noooooooo!! I furiously started taking pictures & texting John, asking him what to do. He encouraged me to grab a towel & open the screen on another window & try to wrap it up & throw it outside. So I mustered up all the courage I could find & started to open the window. But then the thing screetch/hissed at me & that was over. I screamed, scared the daylights out of my daughter & slammed the window shut.
At first glance, it sort of looks like a leaf, right?
 Wishful thinking.

More texting to John, more encouraging texts back...I re-gained what little bit of courage I had left & made another go at it. But then I noticed that the bat wasn't breathing anymore. It looked like I may have killed it when I slammed the window shut. At that point, I was so overwhelmed by the situation/grossed out that I decided to (foolishly) leave the window where it was & leave the bat for John to clean up (he was coming home for lunch in a few hours).

Sor Ruby & I went about our day. We went for a nice long walked & played at a nearby park. When we came back home, we immediately went upstairs to change her diaper. She ran into our room & said the creepiest words she's ever said to me, "mama where bat go?" Yes, the bat was gone. GONE!

Insert hysterical Gillian (picture me opening every cupboard/door/closet, etc. with extreme caution). I think I crouched around the rest of the day, just expecting it to come flying through the house. I tried to calm myself down with logic-" It is more afraid of me that I am of it." Really though? I'm not so sure. "Bats eat nearly their body weight in mosquitos every night." Thank you for that fact, but who cares right now? Mosquitoes seem kind of OK at the moment. "They aren't that creepy." No one even says that. They are terrifying. Logic wasn't much of a comfort to me.
Some might call it torture, others might call it education.

It was amazing how creeped out I felt in our own house. It just felt yucky. Every sound made me jump. Every shadow made me look. That night, we had a surprise visit from some dear friends from Duluth, MN- Michael & Brenda Gatlin. I had the pleasure of working on staff with them at the Duluth Vineyard for nearly 3 years, so when I got a call from Brenda saying they were cruising through La Crosse, we jumped on the opportunity to eat with them. Plus, it would get me out of the bat house.

We had a lovely time catching up at dinner. Ruby absolutely loved both of them. We got home sort of late (about 10:00), so as John carried up a sleepying Ruby from the car, I was trying to get ready for bed myself. We walked into our bedroom & guess who greeted us? The bat! It was flying around like crazy in our bedroom! So I instantly fell to the floor & screamed, which of course woke Ruby up. I snatched her from John's arms & scoot/crawled out into the hall to leave John vs. the bat (John won).

So John got the little critter out of our house that night & we were able to sleep semi-peacefully. The next morning I called the Wisconsin Bat Specialists to see what they could do & they arranged for a guy to come out the very next day to give me a quote. Insert freak-out story #2.

#2: Bat removal.
So we have a small colony of bats living in our attic. Before you vow to never come to my house again, the guy said that by "small colony" he meant like 10-15 bats. Still, why ever use the word "colony?" It's just too much. He said that they can get into holes literally the size of quarters & that our house had many available spots for them to sneak in (he may have used the words "bat highway"). He said that it would be a lot of work, but that the problem could be remedied. But not without a hefty fee of course.

So here I am, the day after getting most of the work done. I cut the guy a check yesterday, but I had such a hard time giving it to him. I absolutely appreciate his work & know that it's something that we need to do, but I've always really struggled during "financial emergency" periods in our life. It's just really hard for me to not find security or satisfaction in knowing we have a little lump some growing in the bank.

The bat removal nearly emptied our small savings, but like John keeps reminding me, God has taken care of us our whole lives & he's not going to stop now. Although I completely agree with him, I'm really struggling with living that out right now. Instantly my mind goes to thoughts like "what can we sell?" or "maybe I should look for a job?" or "what happens if we have another emergency before we can beef up our emergency fund?" They are all yucky feelings & I know that in the end, more money won't bring me more comfort or joy. Heck, we just paid off my student loans a few months ago & I thought that would make us feel rich, but it didn't.

Although I know that we need to be responsible with our money, I am choosing on this day, to not freak out any more. I am choosing to trust that God has our back & that he will take care of us. I am choosing to believe that we made the right decision to remove these little bats from our home. I am choosing to let God be our security. No amount of baking, eating, writing, sleeping, cleaning, walking, or planning can give me as much comfort as he can (those are the things I usually try to find comfort in when I'm stressed out). Ooh, these things are touuuuugh.

So day one of bat removal has been completed. All but two openings have been sealed & they will be back to seal those holes the first week of August (they can't seal all of the holes right now in case there are babies up there who can't fly to get out until August-ish). Then hopefully we will be a little less batty around here.

On to lighter things. Have you liked our fancy, shmancy new facebook page yet? I am trying to grow my readership up a tad & would love it for you to like my new page & share it with others that might enjoy it as well. Also make sure you check out my pinterest page, follow us on twitter & check out blog lovin' so you can stay in touch!
 Sunday's dinner: smoked salmon, boursin cheese spread, red peppers, carrots, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, apples, & a toasted french baguette

What We Ate June 10-16, 2013
Monday: Shredded chicken nachos in mini bell peppers
Tuesday: Chicken brats on the grill with a cherry tomato, avocado, & fresh mozzarella salad
Wednesday: We had a surprise visit from some out of town friends who took us to Manny's
Thursday: Roasted beet garden salads with Italian bread & a balsamic/olive oil dipping sauce
Friday: Dill pesto on fettuccine noodles with a fresh green salad (mixed greens, mushrooms, cucumbers, avocado, soy nuts, & balsamic vinaigrette)
Saturday: Grilled steak with mushrooms & onions & sweet potatoes
Sunday: One of my ultimate favorite summer meals-- smoked salmon, boursin cheese spread, red peppers, carrots, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, apples, & a toasted french baguette

This week I also made a batch of graham crackers, nutty chocolate chip granola bars, & for Father's day, some cinnamon rolls using this pesto roll recipe for the dough.


Monday, June 17, 2013

Broccoli & White Cheddar Mac 'n' Cheese

Some days just call for mac 'n' cheese. You know, the days when you just want your kid to eat something... anything. The days when you don't remember the last time you sat down apart from your 2-minute bathroom break. The days when it seems like you just need a little comfort in a bowl. These frustrating, busy, & weary days call for mac 'n' cheese & lots of it.

Contrary to popular belief, the boxed stuff isn't really any more convenient that this homemade luxury. Once I learned/remembered that you can use your food processor to shred the cheese, the time spent on making this meal was significantly lessened (basically my life was altered through this simple kitchen tool). It hardly takes any more time than the prized box stuff, but tastes SO much better & of course, is way better for you (don't get me started on the creepy ingredients in a certain blue box).
When I'm not making this crockpot mac 'n' cheese (which is even lazier than this recipe), I like to make this meal from scratch. We use whole wheat macaroni, whole milk, & high quality Wisconsin cheese. I've even started buying unsalted butter after reading a convincing blog post about why that's important. We're not about to skimp on something so sacred.

The white cheddar is the classy addition so that you don't feel like a toddler while you've scarfing it down, but feel free to sub with any other cheese if you're not in a super sophisticated mood. And of course, the broccoli addition is just my way of feeling better about eating loads of noodles & cheese. You can get all crazy & add whatever veggie additions you choose. I still need to try out this confetti mac 'n' cheese recipe soon (gouda+sharp cheddar+noodles+veggies? yes please!)
And speaking of "yes, please!" would you please head over to my fancy, shmancy new facebook page & give it a little likin'? If you like my page, I will buy you a pony. Not interested in ponies? Then I will send you a latte in the mail. Um, you're right, that would be messy. How about this-- you like my page & it will help you stay even more connected to my pics/recipes of more delish things, crazy projects we try to tackle, & sometimes adorbs pictures of my kid? OK, cool. Also make sure you check out my pinterest page, follow us on twitter & check out blog lovin' while you're at it, you savvy social media addict, you!

Broccoli & White Cheddar Mac 'n' Cheese
3 cups frozen baby broccoli florets
1/2 pound elbow macaroni
1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons flour
1 1/3 cups milk
8 ounces sharp white cheddar cheese, grated
salt to taste

Fill a large pot with water & bring to a boil. Add elbow macaroni & frozen broccoli. Boil according to directions until al dente. Drain.

Meanwhile, melt butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the flour & whisk to form a paste. Cook 1-2 minutes. Slowly pour in milk, constantly whisking briskly to remove lumps. Continue cooking over medium heat, whisking constantly, until milk mixture thickens. Remove from heat & whisk in shredded cheese. Add salt to taste.

Add drained macaroni & broccoli back to pot. Pour cheese sauce over macaroni, & stir to combine. 

Recipe adapted from The Craving Chronicles

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Saturday, June 15, 2013

Nutty Chocolate Chip Granola Bars

Summer is a time for lengthy afternoon swimming & lazy BBQ-ing & ice cold sun tea-ing & long after-dinner walking. It's a time for late nights out on the patio because it's still light outside. It's a time to play in your yard with your kid(s) & enjoy all of the mysteries of childhood ("mama! a bee!!!") Summer is hardly a time to be slaving away in the kitchen.

I'm not a big heat person. I know you're surprised since I grew up in northern Minnesota, but I'm more comfortable with cold. I know how to dress in layers & I guess I'm just used to packing with extra jackets "just in case." My mom always baked something (or at the very least, would turn on the oven to warm the house) on exceptionally chilly mornings, so I think I've just followed that routine. I know how to tolerate long, cold winters because it's in my blood.

What I don't know how to live through is the heat. In fact, since moving to La Crosse almost 4 years ago, this was the first house that I've lived in that has air conditioning & it's not even central air... it's one window unit in our bedroom. 

So in the summer, when things get incredibly hot/humid/moist (yep, I said it), I want to be anywhere but in the kitchen. I'm actually compiling a list of my favorite non-cooking dinners to rotate through in the summer so that this summer can be spent where we belong-- outside! 

(Please comment below with any of your favorite summer meals!)

Although these granola bars may not exactly be dinner worthy, they most definitely are snack worthy. We are big snackers & I'm fine with that as long as we are filling our tummies with healthy, wholesome foods. For some time I've been making our own granola bars because I am picky, cheap, & don't like the majority of ingredients in the majority of granola bars we can afford. Plus, I hate individually wrapped things (what a waste!)

All that said, this is the recipe that I've been using for the past couple of years. It's incredible, BUT it was still way too sweet. I mean it's delicious, don't get me wrong, but the line between snack & dessert was being breached a little too much for me. Plus, I still wasn't a fan of all the ingredients even after I swapped the brown sugar for demerara & the karo syrup for honey (rice krispies have high fructose corn syrup in them... whaaaat?!)

So when my friend Lindsay over at The Live-In Kitchen posted this recipe, I knew I had found a winner. I love that there are only 7 ingredients in the recipe, that it is so simple & quick to make & that it is entirely satisfying. All of the nuts make for some serious satisfaction & the small amount of chocolate chips helps me ride the wave of chocolate bliss without coming down crashing into a crabby mess. 

And am I the last person on earth to make things with dates & like them?! I feel like I've avoided all things with dates in them because I thought I hated them. I guess I may have to revisit some other recipes I've poo-pooed in the past, but don't think I'll be trying those nasty date-filled cookies anytime soon. That's just a little too fast too soon.

Nutty Chocolate Chip Granola Bars
1 1/2 cups old fashioned oats
1/2 cup raw almonds
1/2 cup raw cashews
1 cup packed dates, pitted
1/4 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup crunchy natural peanut butter
1/4 cup  chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Spread the oats evenly on a baking sheet & toast in the oven for about 15 minutes or until they are slightly golden brown. When they are golden, transfer them to a medium bowl.

Place the almonds & cashews in a food processor & pulse a few times until roughly chopped. Add nuts to the bowl with the oats.

Place the dates in the food processor & process until well-chopped & dough-like (about 1 minute). Add the dates to the bowl with the nuts & oats.

In a small saucepan over low heat, warm the maple syrup & peanut butter. Once it's well combined & warm, pour it over the oat mixture. Mix thoroughly, breaking up the dates until thoroughly combined. Let the mixture cool for a few minutes before you add the chocolate chips (unless you like them to be melty). Line an 8x8 baking dish (or 9x13 if you don't want them to be so massively thick) with parchment paper & transfer the mix to the dish. Sprinkle a few more chocolate chips on top & press down with another piece of parchment until flattened. Transfer to the freezer for 10 minute to harden. Use the parchment to lift the bars out of the pan, then cut into 10 (more like 16 if using a 9x13) even bars.

Recipe taken from The Live-In Kitchen

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Friday, June 14, 2013

Shredded Chicken Nachos in Mini Bell Peppers

Do you find it basically impossible to make a batch of nachos without using up an entire bag of tortilla chips, or is that just one of our problems? No matter how many people we are serving, it's like all of our common sense/attempts at portion control goes straight out the door. Speaking of portion control, on the bag of our favorite tortilla chips,  it says the serving size is 9 chips. NINE. And there are apparently 11 servings in a bag. Riiiight.

So we may have a tortilla chip addiction, I get that. And while I would happily eat chips more than just about any other junk food, let's try a little harder to be sensible here. Nachos don't have to be total gut bombs & they most definitely can be a legitimately tasty, even boarder line healthy meal if you just use a little creativity.
Lucky for me, I found that creativity on the world wide web. Looks like someone else has a chip obsession that they're trying to slowly creep away from too. Now's the time to be real-- when I first shared this recipe idea with John, his initial comment was, "that sounds like a mistake." Point taken. It seems like something I would make & then consequently have a bag of chips on standby so when we didn't like the first bite, that we could slide the contents off the peppers onto the chips & then just eat our nachos in peace. But stay with me now.

John approved! He loved them & so did I! They were super nacho-y, still crunchy & filling & they totally satisfied that salty craving that I was having for nachos. I might have over-compensated for the lack of chips by adding more cheese... but cheese is probably more healthy than chips anyway, right?

One more bit of honesty here. I still served some chips along side of our chip-less nachos. Buuuut, I put 2 servings in a bowl & then we enjoyed them as a compliment to the nachos, not as the main event. Baby steps, baby steps!
Shredded Chicken Nachos in Mini Bell Peppers
1 teaspoon olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
6 green onions, sliced, white parts & green parts separated
1 1/2 cups shredded cooked chicken
1 cup cooked black beans, rinsed
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 cup salsa
salt & pepper to taste
1 pound mini bell peppers (these are usually sold by the bag in the produce section near the full-sized bell peppers)
1 1/2 cups shredded cheddar/Monterey jack cheese
1/4 cup cilantro
Additional salsa for topping if desired
Greek yogurt for topping if desired

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Heat the oil in a 12 inch non-stick skillet over medium heat. Add garlic & the white parts of the green onions & cook & stir for about 1 minute. Mix in shredded chicken, black beans, & chili powder. Toss until all the ingredients are well-coated with chili powder & the chicken is warm, about 1-2 minutes. 

Remove from heat & stir in the salsa. Season to taste with salt & pepper. Slice the ends off each mini bell pepper & slice in half lengthwise. Remove seeds & ribs & press each half open so the peppers are as flat as possible. Arrange close together in a single layer on a large baking sheet.

Spoon chicken mixture evenly over pepper halves. Top with cheese. Bake nachos for 10 minutes, or until cheese has melted. Remove from oven, top with cilantro, remaining green onions & if desired, additional salsa & Greek yogurt.

Recipe adapted from Heat Oven to 350


Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Wednesday's "What We Ate June 3-9, 2013"

It's been a soggy spring/summer (what is this?) I've resorted to covering some of my vegetable plants (in raised beds) with big pieces of plywood when it's raining so that they won't literally float away. So far, I think that's been working well (at least it gives me some peace mentally). Most of my veggie plants are still mighty small, but I'm hoping that they are just working really hard at getting their roots down deep & that once we get some sun they will shoot up! How are your veggie plants looking?

With the damp weather, both Ruby & I have been a little stir-crazy to get outside. I think she's been able to use her new pool twice since we got it because, really who wants to sit outside in the rain & swim? Maybe she would, but I'm not that self-sacrificing/crazy of a mother to let her do that. Instead, we kicked it up a notch & went hiking the other day in our rain gear. With our hoods up. With an umbrella. The umbrella only lasted about 5 minutes, but it was worth a try. Ruby's hood kept falling off & it was nearly impossible for me to put it back up with her on my back ("mama! my hood! down! help!"), so I scooted her around to my front & then we cuddle hiked in the rain. Yet another win for the Ergo. Seriously, I love this carrier. It may have been one of our more special moments together (after we got situated).
Another highlight of our week was, of course, our local farmers' market again. This week, Ruby & I joined in on the free yoga that they offer. There's one for the kids at 3:45 a few times this summer & one for the adults at 4:30 every other week. I have to admit that it was a little awkward to do something so physical in front of a lot of people & I definitely overdid it ("hey! she's doing it! I can too!") but besides all that, I still found it to be really enjoyable. I love yoga, & when it's paired with being outside in the sunshine (yes, it came out for awhile!) & the overall atmosphere of the market, it's just about near heaven status for me.

We ate dinner at the market on Friday & man oh man... this might be an expensive summer! This year there are more food carts that are selling hot, ready-to-eat food (besides all of the fruits, veggies, meats & cheeses). There's a local brat cart from our fav coffee joint, the Root Note, that is pretty much the best thing ever. You can get all kinds of crazy good toppings (like sauteed morrels, pico de gallo, curried caramelized onions, pickled celery, rhubarb ketchup, & walnut pesto) & they have different options for brats, too, like vegetarian smoked apple sage brats, buffalo hills bison brats, & meadowfed meats alpaca brats. Oh my goodness yes.
We also had a nice lazy Saturday, but still managed to get a few things done. We put up some white lights both on our patio & porch (something we've wanted to do, oh since we bought the house in '09), I fixed a bunch of cloth diaper covers (I took off the velcro & replaced them with snaps), & we also made a few wind chimes (one out of bottle caps & the other from shells from our Florida trip). I'll post a couple of pictures just as soon as I get around to taking some pictures of them. We did all this while watching a couple of movies & enjoying each other's company. It felt good to just be at home with one another & putz around. It's my favorite.

How do you like to spend time together with your family?
Friday's dinner: we each had an egg roll & split a bison brat covered in walnut pesto & a deli sandwich from the co-op

What We Ate June 3-9, 2013
Monday: Fried eggs, bacon & avocado on whole wheat toasts with grapes
Tuesday: Caprese-stuffed hamburgers (basil, fresh mozzarella, cherry tomatoes) with Korean grilled asparagus
Wednesday: Tilapia with brown & white rice, rolled in seaweed & slathered in sriracha
Thursday: Veggie Alfredo lasagna with green salad (spring mix, carrots, cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, sunflowers & balsamic vinaigrette)
Friday: We ate at our lovely farmers' market: we each had an egg roll & split a bison brat covered in walnut pesto & a deli sandwich from the co-op
Saturday: Blackened tilapia sandwiches with sweet potato fries
Sunday: Homemade white cheddar macaroni & cheese with broccoli & grapes

I also made a batch of whole wheat bread & a new granola bar recipe (will post soon!) this week (update: here is the recipe for nutty chocolate chip granola bars).


Friday, June 7, 2013

Roasted Beet Garden Salad

You've heard it said before that certain foods provoke certain memories. Every single time I even see a jello salad, I am transported back to childhood (jello+cottage cheese+whip cream does not equal salad people!) The same can be said for country time lemonaid in an orange cooler (a Lutheran church staple), hamburger helper (a seemingly hearty meal that usually ends up in a gut bomb), & cottage cheese (I can literally count the meals where we did not eat this with our meal on one hand). Food is powerful like that.

This salad was inspired by past memories that I want to re-live. These are moments when we (John+me) stayed up laaaate because we couldn't get enough of each other (compared to now going to bed moments after our toddler because we're dog tired). Moments where we could enjoy & afford a two-hour+ long luxurious dinner. Moments where we had much more exciting things to talk about than day-to-day life happenings. Yes, I am talking about the dating/engaged/newly married phase in life.

When John & I started dating, he made me feel awkward all the time (in a "good" awkward kind of way he would say). He did things like talked about his feelings for me, asked hard questions of me, & most awkwardly, he always, always, always paid the bill. I'm still not sure why this was so hard for me (looking back at it, I so should have taken advantage of this!) but it was. He had literally no struggle with taking me out to a fancy restaurant, ordering whatever he wanted (not looking at the price) & encouraging me to do the same. We always got wine. We always got dessert. Those were basically non-negotiable. He wasn't wealthy or anything, he just really valued good food & that is what he chose to spend his money on (you should have seen the place he lived...)

One of our favorite places to dine locally was/is Kates On State. That's where I drew inspiration for this salad. It's fresh, earthy, & edgy. It's hearty, wholesome, & healthy. And it's timeless, unique, & down-right romantic, if a salad could be so. This salad takes me back.

Even though it's so easy to say "things were better before" or however you want to put it, that's definitely NOT what I'm saying (I know it seems like I am, doesn't it?) What I am saying is that we have had some incredible moments, but also ones that were such a challenge to get through that we wondered how it was all going to work out. We've been through a lot together in our short nearly 4 years of marriage. We just met with a couple last night who just had their first baby to encourage them a little & we were surprised at the moments of struggle that we've had that we were able to share with them with ease because we've had a lot of struggle. We've been through a lot. Don't let my facebook pictures & instagram shots fool you. Life has been hard.

But of course, we've also had many rich times in our marriage. We've had special times of being able to eat at sexy places like Kates, & now our lives are different & that's ok. That's more than ok. I absolutely love the phase of life that we're in. I love having a crazy little person who is learning to become herself more & more every day. I love that we can sing with her to sleep. I love that she needs cuddling every now & again. I love that she actually requests to listen to the Beatles or Bob Dylan on vinyl. I love that she asks me literally every day, "mama, who's coming over? new friends?"

I love that John & I are confident in our marriage. I love that we know each other through & through, but still find things that we are learning about each other. I love watching us learn how to parent & sometimes laugh, but other times cry at the frustration of the whole thing.

Our lives are at a unique place in time & I love it. I want to savor it, but I also love reflecting on where we've been, & of course where we are going. This salad brings me back & now that we make it at home & share it with our daughter, it helps me especially appreciate the moments we are in- not every moment of course because that's impossible, but the moments that are the most meaningful. Plus, I've discovered that when you make your favorite meals at home you can customize them so you can get as much salami on your salads as you would like, which makes for a very happy husband.

Do you have any foods/meals that are especially meaningful or significant to you?
Roasted Beet Garden Salad
Roasted beets, sliced
Hard boiled egg, sliced
Mixed greens
Fresh mozzarella balls
Red onions, sliced
Soy nuts
Tomatoes, cut into wedges

Slice, boil, roast, cut, & place on a plate! Serve with some homemade balsamic vinaigrette!

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Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Wednesday's "What We Ate May 27-June 2, 2013"

Let me tell you a little bit about our weekend. First of all, grilling has been happening at least once or twice a week lately. We have a charcoal grill, so grilling really is kind of a bigger event than if we had a gas grill. Sure, using gas would be quicker, but I kind of enjoy the fact that charcoal grilling causes us to enjoy the more lengthy process of cooking more. It encourages us to do things like have serious conversations while we cook (instead of rushing to get food on the table with a choppy, "so how was your day?") & it usually means we eat later on in the evening, but then we feel sort of posh about that, so it's all good (& when I mean later, it's like 7, so we're really not even on the brink of cool). Of course, the time it takes limits how much we can do it, but that way it stays a novelty & not a frustration.
Plus, while we are waiting for our grill to heat up, that means we get to enjoy a cool beverage & our luxurious patio furniture while Ruby sorts through rocks (one of her favorite activities... is she my kid or what?) We might even devour a half a block of cheese & crackers while waiting because we're so used to eating earlier, but that's not the worst thing that could happen...

We tried to be even more weekend-y on Saturday by going out to brunch, which is something that rarely happens since John has rehearsal every Saturday morning & needs to be at church by 9am on Sundays. It was quite a treat for us. So much, that we even enjoyed a bloddy. Oh Fayze's, you are so good to us.
We did a little bit of yard work (it was severely limited by our weed wacker running out of whatever it is that cuts the weeds & me having zero motivation for going to Menards) & John ran some electricity back to our patio, so it will be even more pleasant (fun lights here we come!) We helped some friends with wedding crafts in the afternoon & John had practice, but we were still able to enjoy some spaghetti & probably the best homemade garlic bread I've ever eaten (made with fresh mozz people!) 

On Sunday we went to church & ate with some friends afterward. For some reason, I thought it would be a good idea to go to the mall (ugh, the mall!) after Ruby's nap. We were looking for wedding outfits for the wedding we are officiating at the end of the month (we had zero luck, by the way, surprise, surprise). Do you get depressed by the mall like I do? All I want to do is eat popcorn & donuts & drink lattes & buy over-priced books. It's weird & unsettling. So much that I may have ate popcorn & a gin & tonic for dinner on Sunday, but that has yet to be confirmed.

How do you enjoy your weekends?
 Friday's date night dinner: grilled pork chops & butter bean & spinach salad

What We Ate May 27-June 2, 2013
Monday: We grilled with friends (we brought our co-op's own brats & watermelon)
Tuesday: Vegetable nachos (tortilla chips, black beans, red bell pepper, green bell pepper, red onion, shredded cheese, cumin, & chili powder, after cooking topped with greek yogurt cilantro, avocado, & salsa)
Wednesday: My grandpa & grandma paid us a visit, so we went out to a Mexican seafood joint
Thursday: Homemade fish sticks & sweet potato fries
Friday: Grilled pork chops & butter bean & spinach salad
Saturday: Whole wheat spaghetti with homemade sauce, cheesy garlic bread & mixed green salad
Sunday: I might be guilty of having popcorn & a gin & tonic for dinner. John was much more sensible & ate a feta & spinach omelette.

I also made a batch of whole wheat bread & whole wheat coconut chocolate chip cookies this week.