Sunday, December 30, 2012

Chili for a Cold and Windy Winter Day

So here in Virginia, it is VERY cold and VERY windy right now.   We have a high wind warning and it is blowing and whistling and neighborhood stuff is blowing into the yard and against the outside walls.  Not an awesome day outside, but a PERFECT day for a big crock pot of chili and curling up on the couch to watch some football!

Here is how I make it - I eyeball my chili measurements and taste things often.   If it needs more of something, I add it.  :)   Since I don't eat beans, I add lots of veggies to "beef" up the chili.  Yum!  I can't wait till it finishes!

First, cut up bell peppers.  I had great big peppers, so I used 2 green, 1 red, 1 orange and 1 yellow cut into 1 inch strips and then into 1 inch chunks.   It's important to not cut them too small because they will cook down a lot and I like some size to my veggies.

Next, I cut up yellow squash and zucchini.  I had medium to small squash and zucchini, so I used two of each.  I scrub them, cut them into about 1/2 inch slices.   For the fatter slices, I quarter them - everything else is just cut in half.

For the meat, I used 1.5 lb of ground venison that my cousin killed a few weeks ago.  I love having healthy meat in the freezer!   Brown it on the stove top.  And then add the seasoning - 2 Tbsp of chili powder, 2 tsp of oregano, 2 tsp of cayenne pepper, about a tsp of fresh ground salt and pepper.   (Usually I add a tsp of cumin too, but I seem to be out!)  Add the seasoned meat to the crockpot.

Finally, tomatoes.   Usually I use the tomatoes I canned back in August, but this year I have used most of them up!  I used two large cans of whole peeled tomatoes - use your shears and cut the whole tomatoes in half.    And add one pint of fresh canned tomato juice (our tomatoes were red and yellow this year, so we have orange tomato juice!). I don't even stir this up for now, leaving it layered for the first bit of cooking.  Cover and let this cook on high for about 25 minutes, then stir and reduce to low for about an hour.   The veggies will soften and release some more liquid, and the volume of chili will reduce.  It is so yummy!  Taste it to see if you need more cayenne or chili powder.  Most likely I will add some more fresh ground pepper and salt at the end.

And to wrap up, just a few notes.   We don't eat onions or garlic, so I leave that stuff out.  A lot of recipes call for adding the onions in the bottom of the crock pot first, letting them soften in there, and including some garlic if you want.  It adds a whole new flavor level if that is something you enjoy!

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Merry Christmas

I hope you and your families have had a peaceful, calm and creative Christmas Day!

We had a fun time with the niece and nephews, creating a few crafty inspirations:
First up is this awesome Gingerbread Cookie Tree.  My mom found a kit with star shaped cookie cutters, but it sure could be done with the cookie cutters you have around the house.  AND we used a box of Krusteaz Gingerbread Cookie mix!   Couldn't be easier.  We made 3 of each size of cookie.  Also, mix up a small batch of "ornamental frosting" - this is what we call "cement icing" in our house.  
Delicious sugary goodness.  

(Note:  I stayed Paleo through this whole thing! 
 I didn't taste a single bite or a lick during the whole process!)

Give each of the cute kids in your life a butter knife or icing spreader and explain that a lump of frosting on the middle of each cookie and a gentle press down (with fingertips only!  Not whole hand smashes!) is what needs to be done.  Lots of concentration and cuteness is needed!
Continue to stack up the cookies from largest (remember to stick that one to the center of the plate!) to the smallest.  The very smallest cookie gets to stand up vertically on the top. Don't forget to take lots of pictures of the cuteness!

Then use the rest of the icing in a plastic bag and snip off the end of it to dab frosting on the "leaves" or "needles" or tips of the stars.   Let your cutie pies decorate with sprinkles and jimmies and little non-pareils and whatever else you like! 
And whatever you do - be sure to keep an eye out for a super cute little sister who can sweet talk her momma into letting her "bite!??" the tree! 

Another delicious treat we enjoyed was inspired by Farm Fresh and Active - chocolate dipped mandarin wedges.  YUM!  I peeled and separated the wedges of the mandarins - we used the Cutie brand.   Then I dipped them in melted Enjoy Life Mini Chips - these are gluten, dairy and soy free chocolate chips - and placed them on waxed paper.  Then I popped them in freezer for about 30 minutes (or as long as you can stand to wait!)   These were SOOOO yummy and so much healthier than those crazy chocolate oranges we used to always get in our stockings!

And as you can see by the top picture, of course I played around with  my camera and the bokeh that I could capture with my Mom's colorful Christmas Tree!  Totally different from the images that I captured of my twinkling white lights!   I found the easiest way ever to do it here - from It's Always Autumn.

What did you do that was crafty this winter break?

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Want to Make Your House Smell AMAZING?

So, I don't want everyone thinking all the recipes and crafts come out perfect EVERY time.   There are times when life gets in the way or something goes awry and it turns out awful.
Yesterday as I was cleaning out my fridge and kitchen I found a partial bag of clementines.  I had forgotten about these...oops!  They are hard as rocks and some are brownish on the outside...  What a waste!  I think the bag just got hidden and of course, out-of-sight and out-of-mind!

I also had 4 cinnamon sticks I got from MamaOrganics premium at a race I ran back in the fall.   They were packaged in a box with organic soap, oils, and clay.   I felt like the soap smell got on the cinnamon sticks so I was nervous about cooking with them....

So, I didn't want to pitch them so I decided to make a potpourri simmer pot on the stove this morning.

I cut those 8 little rock hard clementines in half (they were nice and juicy on the inside still, maybe a little shriveled) and added the 4 cinnamon sticks to a medium sized pot.  I covered them with water and turned them on medium high to come to a boil.  Then I reduced the heat and let them simmer at a low boil.

It is seriously delicious smelling in here!   The orange, cinnamon, YUM!   If I had some Vanilla beans I would throw them in there, and maybe some whole cloves too!

I think this is a nice way to make your house smell wonderful without all kinds of leftover "stuff" in your pantry/fridge.   What would you simmer?

Saturday, December 15, 2012

I needed to do something - Random Acts of Kindness

My heart is breaking for the victims, the classmates, the teachers and staff, and the whole community of Newtown, CT.   As a teacher, the fear and the sadness seems so close.   I am a learner, a questioner, a person who needs to know why - and that means I watch too much "news" coverage.  

Today I needed to turn it off and do something positive out of this tragedy.  

A teacher on an online community I visit often posted the suggestion to do Random Acts of Kindness and this perfect quote:
The world is dark and light is precious - Kate DiCamillo
This relates so well to my very favorite quote:
There are two ways of spreading light: to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it - Edith Wharton  
I went out today to spread the light!
28 purposeful Random Acts of Kindness.  
One for each life that was lost in Newtown, CT on Friday 12/14/12.   Small, kind things to do for others for no other reason then to be kind.

1 and 2. Gave the two baristas at Starbucks each coupons for a free order of chips and salsa at Applebees (love their faces!  They were so excited, teenage boys).

3. I gave a coupon for 40% off one item to a lady and her husband at Michael's.

4.  I paid for my purchases at Bed Bath and Beyond with a giftcard.  It had nearly $5 left on it afterwards, and I gave it to the woman behind me in line.  She didn't believe I was doing this and asked three times if I was really sure!?   The man at the register was smiling so wide!

5, 6, 7, 8, 9, and 10.  I let people out of driveways/store parking lots merge out into traffic in front of me.   It was great to see it spread - I let one person out and watched her let three others out.

11, 12 and 13.  At 3 stores I went to I found carts in the lots (not in the corrals) so I returned them to the front doors so they wouldn't damage anyone's car and workers wouldn't have to track them down before they leave tonight.

14.  I hung clothes back up at the clearance rack at Old Navy - there were so many lying on the ground where people had just shuffled through and knocked them off the hangers.

15 and 16.  I donated 2 large bags of clothes to Goodwill.

17.  I bought a bag of Ghiradelli chocolate for the men at Goodwill that work in receiving.  They are outside in the cold and lifting anything and everything out of folks' cars.  The two men were soo excited!

18.  I walked into one of my favorite women's clothing stores and gave a woman looking at the sale rack a rewards coupon for $15.

19, 20, 21, 22, 23, and 24.  I parked far away (near the very end of the lots) at each of 6 stores/plazas I visited to leave close spots for the folks who need them!

25, 26, 27, 28.   I held the doors at four of the stores I shopped at today.    I held for several groups of people with bags full of purchases as they were leaving the store.   It was pretty awesome to see how thankful they were for such a small act!   And they were all surprised that I still stood there to wait till they got all the way through.

Also, through my day today I made a point to smile and say hello to people.  I live in a busy suburb, near a major city and people are busy and there is a lot going on.   Most people smiled back, a few spoke and several just watched me.  Smiling and saying hello to people helped me hold back the tears that had been falling all morning as I watched the coverage.

What can you do to spread the light in our world?  

Friday, December 14, 2012

Sweet Potato Hash! YUM!

Ok, last night I had a big workout planned and I needed an easy to prepare, yummy breakfast for dinner.  :)   THat's what I was in the mood for!

So...sweet potato hash it was!   AND Ohhhhh was it delicious!

6 pieces of Nitrate Free Bacon
1-2 Sweet Potatoes depending on how big they are
2 eggs
salt and pepper
1 avocado
lime juice

First, slice the bacon and drop the little pieces into a hot skillet.  My bacon was about 1/2 in strips.  I won't lie to you - separating all those little pieces of bacon was annoying!

Cook until it is crispy, drain on a paper towel.   Set aside about half the bacon grease.   I just found that it created too much grease for me.  :)

Add chopped and peeled sweet potatoes to the hot grease, stir to coat them.  Try to chop these uniformly into little cubes - they will cook faster and will be more even this way.  Let them start to heat up, caramelize a little bit, get a little color.  
Add the bacon, cover and cook for about 10 minutes until sweet potatoes are soft.
Scoop out one avocado into a bowl, add a few squeezes of lime juice and mash together with a fork.   If you would like it smoother, use a food processor, but I really like chunky avocado!  My avocado was a little past ripe so I only had about half an avocado!
Fry two eggs - use some extra bacon grease if you like.  Divide the hash into two dishes, top with the fried egg and avocado mash!

SOOOOo goood!!  

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Just an ornament?

Tomorrow I have another 5k - this is race number 14 this year! This one is Run with Santa and as the race goodie I got a long sleeve tshirt and an ornament. That ornament got me thinking - I can think of no better reminder of this amazing year than putting that ornament on my tree.

  • I have lost nearly 90 lbs (since Presidents day - 6 months on medifast and then changed eating habits, I eat Paleo now).
  • I cook now - many of my meals are at home, not as many out and definitely not on the go in a drive thru!
  • I am a runner.
  • I am a yogi- doing yoga at least three days a week.
  • I run at least two days a week, usually more.
  • I Zumba at least one night.
  • I joined a gym and actually go often - more than just a few times. I can't tell you how many gym memberships I've wasted!
  • I finished my goal of 12 5ks in the year between March and October - I started off walking them with the goal of not feeling like I would die at the end. And now I'm running them and improving my time (still slow, but improving). Sometimes I walk a little more, sometimes I run but I keep moving!
  • I am signed up for a Warrior Dash (obstacle course 5k) and the Nike Women's Half Marathon in the spring!
  • I went from barely fitting in my size 24s and 3x clothes to a size 12 (mostly- we all know how sizes run!)
  • I think about what I eat and make good choices with very few moments of temptation to the things that used to comfort me because I know what it took to do this and how much better I feel!  
  • I've found healthy ways to deal with my stress other than eating!
  • I've learned to shop for what flatters me and not buy something only because it fits! Lots of things fit now.
  • I've learned to shop in regular, not just plus size stores!
  • I am off preventative meds for migraines and fibromyalgia. I feel like a new person!
I think this ornament for this race commemorates more than just this race. For means a whole lot more. And every year when I unwrap and unpack all my ornaments and hang them one by one on the tree...this one will have a very special place!

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Rolled Paper Christmas Tree Wall Hanging

Again, Pinterest is my inspiration!  I found this pin - and found that the page it referred to was no longer available.  I wasn't having luck searching the blog either - so I decided to broaden my search.  I found this blog and some directions.

I gathered materials - I had a few pages left in a holiday themed pad of cardstock from a craft last year (another tree project!! I think I have a problem!), an extra canvas and of course I have a glue gun and glue sticks.  I pulled out my cutting mat and my paper cutter, a pen and some scotch tape.

First I sorted papers into red, blues, green and multi colored piles.  I wanted to be sure to mix up all the papers and colors.  I cut them into 6" strips.
I started at the bottom, cutting them into 12", 11", 10" etc.  I was following the directions from the blog, and getting them started.
I rolled the paper strip (12x6) around a marker.  The cardstock, especially with the glitter, was hard to roll.
I used a small piece of scotch tape at both ends, and on the longer strips in the center.  I kept rolling until they were all finished.  I realized that the canvas I had in the closet was much larger than the one the blogger originally used - so I cut more paper in 1/2 inch increments (11.5, 10.5, 9.5, etc).   
Next it was time to figure out placement.  This canvas is 18x24, so 9" across was the middle and I marked it at the top and bottom.   The rolled paper tree was 18" tall, so that left 6" not used in the I started 3" from the top and 3" from the bottom.  
I glued the bottom roll on first, and then using plenty of hot glue I added each one on above the others.  Looking back, these were a little crooked...I probably would mark them before gluing them on next time!
Lots and lots of glue, make sure they are secure!
Keep gluing!!  Almost there!  I wish I had a heavy-duty glue gun!
The last thing I did was to cut two pieces of brown cardstock and roll it.  I glued these onto the bottom of the tree for the stump!
I've already found the PERFECT place to hang this - right behind my small WVU Christmas tree above my crafting buffet (in a normal dining room, this would be a beautiful buffet to hold my world, this is my craft space!)   

Magazine Christmas Tree

I found a ton of Christmas tree ideas on Pinterest this weekend.  With the air cooling off, Thanksgiving coming quickly, it is time to start Christmas crafting!

One idea stuck in my mind - this pin and the blog it links to refer to a young lady creating this for a school project!  This is definitely something that the kids can do and a great way to reuse those old magazines.

First, get an old magazine - after I tear out (or scan) the workouts and recipes I want to keep.   Start at page one and first fold over RIGHT to the crease, the neater these folds are, the better and more even the tree will look.  Fold the crease down firmly.

Next, fold over again to the binding.   Fold the crease down firmly again.  Be cautious with this fold - it is easy to tear at the top (this is thin paper!) and if it tears it will cause a portion to stick out of the top of the tree.  I tore more than a few!   
 Finally, fold up the bottom. 
That is one page done.  Keep folding EVERY page like this.   I folded the thicker ad pages, the perfume pages and everything in between.  This was a Glamour magazine and had about 150 pages!   But it made for a nice full tree.  I don't think my Sports Illustrateds would look the same!
Here is a few folded!  Lots to go!
Getting closer!
Whew!  All folded!  Now it is time to tear off the covers gently.   I suppose you can cut these, but I just tore.  Be careful to not tear off the actual part that is holding the binding together.  
See how the actual "spine" is still left on the binding?   
Make sure not to tear it off like this.  
Oops!   The pages will start to come apart if you take the spine off. 
Finally, I used some scrapbook adhesive to attach the front few pages to the back few pages.   This made a nice round, full Christmas Tree!  

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Nut Butter Bread

So I have not had grain in my regular diet since February. I eat following the Paleo diet and enjoy it most of the time. Lately I had been craving the comforts of some of the foods I used to eat a lot - mostly bread!

There is something about fall, apple butter and pumpkin butter on fresh bread. A slice of pumpkin spiced French toast. And toasted or grilled sandwiches.

I know that grain doesn't agree with my system and I know that over processed foods like some of the "gluten free" varieties have so many chemicals and overly processed ingredients that I didn't want to try those even.

So I started my search. The paleo community is torn on bread substitutes...most feel that it is a slippery slope of finding ways to cheat that technically meet the nutritional values of Paleo.

I think for me, finding something that is the Paleo unprocessed substitute for something I know isn't good for me is a better alternative than "cheating" and eating the traditional SAD (Standard American Diet) version.

So here it is.
I made this nut bread this afternoon. It turned out fairly flat and un-risen for me, I think this is because my baking soda was pretty old. It tastes good and holds together well.

I wish I could take credit for the recipe. But I made it just as Cooking Caveman suggested. I can't wait to make the next loaf with macadamia nut butter! Maybe add some coconut too!