Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Pantry staples, Johnson-style

A friend recently asked me about how I make quick and delicious meals on a budget, so I decided to share some secrets here.

Disclaimer: the following foods do not follow a particular diet and are generally healthy. Sometimes, convenience overrules dietary ideals. We're okay with that over here. The list is also not comprehensive since I forget things on a regular basis and everyone eats a little differently.

Quick and delicious meals are all about ingredients you have on hand, so here are ingredients that are almost always in my pantry, fridge, or freezer. Today's post: the pantry.

PANTRY STAPLES (in no particular order)

  • Ritz crackers (any kind). Great for any kind of breading (sub for breadcrumbs), a quick lunch (top with lunch meat and cheese or cream cheese), or easy appetizers (for example, in the over or microwave, melt a square of cheese and a piece of pepperoni on each cracker--delicious!)
  • Brownie or cake mix. I keep these on hand for the unexpected house guest/college student who comes over. Always good to feed the guests! Sometime I'll post my super-easy cake mix cookie recipe (3 ingredients and less than 20 minutes to make).
  • Rice. Easy side with fish or chicken, and easy to throw in add-ins like peas, fresh herbs, cheese, etc. My favorite is brown Minute Rice, which takes  total of 10 minutes. Gotta love fast. Oh, and it's cheap, too.
  • Cereal and/or oatmeal. If you're like us, these aren't just breakfast foods; they also make great late night snacks or additions to brinner (breakfast for dinner). I also use oatmeal in cookie, bread, and muffin recipes along with homemade granola and parfaits (layer plain yogurt, fresh fruit, and oatmeal for a quick breakfast or snack). Oatmeal is also budget-friendly.
  • Multiple kinds of pasta. Pasta is versatile, working both as a side or a main dish. Plus, it's a great absorber of leftovers. Add that spinach and tomatoes that are going bad and throw in some chicken, pesto, and parmesan and you have yourself a meal! Pasta is also cheap and goes on sale often. My latest favorite is a brand (sold at Walmart--can't remember it right now) that is veggie noodles. Tastes like regular noodles, but each serving of noodles is also a serving of veggies--double plus! If those aren't available, I always try to go for whole wheat. I also keep pasta sauce on hand for a quick weeknight spaghetti if I don't have time for something more involved.
  • Nuts. Not only are these a great source of protein to snack on, but they're also perfect to add to salads, desserts, breading for meat, or ground up in smoothies
  • Dried fruit. Another easy add-in for green salads, chicken salad, or as a snack by themselves.
  • Chocolate chips. I try not to have too many desserts in the house on a regular basis because I have so little self-control if it's around, BUT I always have dark chocolate chocolate chips (I like Hershey's brand best). A small handful satisfies my sweet tooth, and they're also perfect to add into a homemade granola (nuts, dried fruit, and chocolate chips), or if you get the hankering to make some chocolate chip cookies or banana chocolate chip muffins or chocolate chip scones...you get the idea. :)
  • Peanut butter. This goes way beyond the PB&J. I also pair peanut butter with apples or celery to entice me to eat more fruits and veggies and add more protein to my snack, add it to a chocolate-peanut butter-bananan smoothie, or use it in homemade Asian marinades for chicken.
  • Onions. Onions make the world go round, people. Or at least they make food taste better. I add onion to soups, spaghetti sauce, homemade pizza, and saute them with peppers for all kinds of Mexican food. If you like them raw (I don't), you can throw them on a salad or sandwich. Many, many recipes call for onions, so it's good to have a couple on hand. 
  • Canned goods that you use on a regular basis. For me, this means cream of chicken/mushroom, corn, diced tomatoes, tomato paste, and black beans.
  • Cooking spray
  • Olive oil
  • Flour
  • Sugar
  • Vanilla
  • Salt/pepper
  • Baking soda
  • Baking powder
  • Italian seasoning, basil, oregano, chili powder, cumin, parsley, rosemary, cinnamon
What would you add to this list and why?

If you want recipes for anything referenced above, wonder what I make with the ingredients listed, or just want to say hello, leave a comment!

Saturday, April 27, 2013

I have to say something.

When I see political rants on Facebook or even other blogs, I have to be honest: I give them a good eye roll and move on. Not that I don't care about politics; I just don't care for everyone's too-often opinions on them via social media. 

That being said, I have to say something about the Dr. Kermit Gosnell trial

Haven't heard of it? Neither had I until a friend linked to an article on Facebook. Gosnell's abortion practices were uncovered by the FBI over three years ago and I'm just now hearing about it. Fair warning: the article linked above is graphic and horrific, and absolutely needs to be read. This isn't about the abortion debate anymore; no one really argues about the status of a full-term child. This is about a man brutally killing babies and endangering women and those in power turning a blind eye. It's wrong, it's appalling and it's not and never will be okay. 

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Three Things Thursday

Thing food
I did something etiquette books tell you never to do: I tried two new recipes and then invited four friends over to join us for dinner. Thankfully, they were the I-can-screw-up-a-meal-and-you'll-still-like-me-if-we-have-to-order-pizza kind of friends, but still. The result: total success! I made Baked Spinach and Mushroom Rigatoni and Herb and Cheese Quick Bread. The rigatoni recipe isn't online yet because it's from the May issue of Real Simple, but I'll post it as soon as it is. The big surprise: it's a slow cooker recipe--gotta love that. The bread, some of you will like to know, is yeast-free, so you don't have to deal with dry-active yeast or waiting for the dough to rise AND it tastes (and smells) delicious. Win-win.

Thing media
I'm not a huge media consumer, but I've found a few shows this year that I like to watch that are pretty great (in no particular order): The Mindy Project, Community, Parks and Rec, Parenthood, Grey's Anatomy (don't judge), Go On. If you haven't seen them, they could be fun summer catch-up shows while all the reality junk is on primetime.

Thing honest
I maybe possibly kind of volunteered to be the preschool storyteller for our church's VBS this summer. We're talking 3-5 year olds. My specialty is teaching 15-year-olds. We'll see how this goes. My guess is I'm going to have to suck up my pride and do some downright silly things like dress up, talk in weird voices, and give out stickers like it's my job. Looking forward to the challenge! I think.

Coming up!
Thing political
Thing books

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Since you asked...

Reader suggestion: take the verses you're reading and show how God is meeting you where you're at in life.

I started reading through the Bible again about two and a half years ago.

I'm in Joshua. The beginning of Joshua, actually.

As in the 6th book of the 66 books in the Bible.

I've taken lots of breaks to meditate on other passages, listen to sermons, or read devotional books. But mostly I just have a hard time reading scripture quickly. The English major in me can't help dissecting a sentence and thinking about the implications of a passage. I often find myself stuck on one verse for days and days before I'm ready to move on. There's a great good that comes from reading through the Bible more quickly (I did it once), which is to zoom out from the individual verses and see the intricate and overarching web of God's redemption throughout history.

But this is not that time. This time, I'm reading deliberately, and here's what God is teaching me and where He's meeting me in the truth of His Word:

In Joshua 1 (told you I was at the beginning), Joshua is appointed the new leader of Israel, and after 40 years of wandering in the desert, God is about to lead His people into Canaan--a promise He made to them 40 years earlier and one He kept by providing for them in the dessert over and over again. But here's the thing: God already promised Canaan to them, promised that they would have victory over the people who lived in the land, but the Israelites still had to fight. In fact, over 40, 000 men "fully armed" for battle went ahead of the Israelites (Joshua 4:13). The potential for conflict, war, fighting, and possibly even death must have been palpable because God tells Joshua--the leader--five times in four verses to "be strong and courageous" (Joshua 1:6-9), implying a great fear in the Israelites about what they would encounter on the other side. The victory was theirs, but they still had to fight.

So why does this matter?

For some reason, I often think that if God promises something to me then the path will be easy and obvious. Ha. I imagine that He will pluck me out of my current circumstances and place me gently and cleanly into green pastures where I'm supposed to be and I'll just enjoy the ride. Double ha. Both in my experience and in the Bible, it doesn't work that way. He does promise Canaan to us (ultimately in the promise of eternal life with Him and temporally in the thousand ways He's making us more like Him), but He doesn't promise ease or even perfect clarity.

Exhibit A: A dear friend died of cancer recently and I really, really just want (expect?) God to pluck me out of the grief, to make everything okay again, to bring her back. But. He's not doing that. Instead, He's walking WITH me through the ebb and flow of grief and teaching me to trust Him even when He doesn't make sense. And that has to be enough. And it's hard.

I want God's will to be easy. I want Him to do all the work and just let me enjoy the fruits, but I'm learning that the work, suffering, endurance, and patience that God asks of us in this world actually ushers in the fruit. Life from death. Light from darkness. Redemption from despair. The way of Jesus.

God alone does part the waters--the impossible somethings in our lives--but we still have to walk through the seabed trusting that He will keep His promise to get us to the other side. And He does. He always does.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

SOS, readers.

Some days weeks, I don't feel like I have much to write about. Like the most interesting thing that happens in a day is that I don't have to change a diaper in a bathroom.

So I had this thought: what if you guys gave me suggestions of what I should write about? You tell me what you want to hear and I'll do my best to put it into writing. Deal? Deal.

If you've been a faithful reader but just aren't a blog commenter (no judging; I do the same), please consider leaving a comment just this once. Feel free to be creative, funny, deep, or probing in your requests. I'll leave no stone unturned. Unless I want to, of course. :)

So what'll it be? You tell me.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

My midwest debut, hospitality at its finest, and some of the best friends I could ask for

Oklahoma, y'all. It's the place to be. Especially when some of your best friends live there and they have two precious daughters whom you've never met and one of them came all the way from China and you haven't seen any of them in over four years. So, when we realized Phil had an extra week of vacation, we thought: it's time for a road trip to see the Riherds, friends we've known since college. And that's just what we did.

Moo captures how excited we were to see the Riherds!
We broke up the 10-hour trip by stopping overnight halfway--a brilliant move considering we had our 17-month munchkin in tow. (Side note: a 10-hour trip without kids sounds almost wonderful: uninterrupted conversations, the ability to take a nap, read a book, listen to a book or music of your choice--all sound luxurious) Thanks to Advil for a molar that decided to cut through the day we left, lots of Baby Einstein DVDs, new books from the library, and a few new toys from the Dollar Store, the trip wasn't bad. And I loved getting to see a different part of our country.

But let's get to the good stuff. When we arrived, Ashley was on her way back from picking up her daughter at preschool, so the house was empty. But it wasn't empty. It was full of thoughtful touches like a plate of grapes, tangerines, and homemade brownies with a welcome note on the kitchen counter. When we walked in the guest room, we found pictures on our pillows that their four-year-old had drawn us and little glasses of candy on our dresser along with some water bottles. Bed and breakfast material, people. When our hosts arrived, Moo was pretty immediately smitten with their two girls. It's not hard to see why.

Despite some finicky weather, our visit was delightful in every way. The kiddos got along well, and the youngest two (Moo and their daughter, both a year and a half old) especially hit it off. I'd be lying if I said we weren't trying to arrange a marriage in their futures. :) Clearly they understand how perfect they'd be for each other. Just look at these pictures:

(side note: perfect day for Moo to wear his "Chick Magnet t-shirt. It may be a bit too big on him, but it's oh-so-appropriate!)

Our friends outdid themselves. They took us to the Oklahoma City Bombing Memorial, the Oklahoma City Zoo, a nature park, and to one of their favorite Mexican restaurants. In addition to showing us all around town, Ashley also did some seriously delicious cooking. Spaghetti. Hash brown casserole. Breakfast casserole. Homemade pulled pork BBQ. Homemade banana pudding (the I-must-have-that-recipe kind). Chicken salad. Spinach dip. Brownies. It was wonderfully overwhelming. In fact, the day we left, she sent us on our way with packed lunches and a tin of fresh-from-the oven oatmeal chocolate chip cookies (my favorite). I was taking notes on how to be more hospitable because if anyone has that gift, it's the Riherds.

We left feeling rested, encouraged, and loved, and now we're experiencing some serious Riherd withdrawal. It's rare to have other families who feel like family, but the Riherds are like that for us, and we're so, so grateful.

I've Been Everywhere, Man

(title to be sung in your best Johnny Cash voice)

We've been doing some road trippin' over here. First to Orange Beach with my family (just Moo and I were able to join them), then to Chattanooga for Easter, and finally to Edmond, Oklahoma (yes, OKLAHOMA) so see some dear friends. So I've been gone for two weeks with less than a day in between trips to do laundry. It's been fun, different, exhausting, exciting, and all kinds of wonderful. 

The beach.
Let's just say the weather did not cooperate. With the exception of one day, it was so cold (highs in the upper 50s with 20mph winds) that we were only able to go to the beach twice and one of those times I had pants and a sweatshirt on. Still, it was great to be away together as a family, swim in the indoor pool, play Dominos, and eat yummy seafood. Moo was especially excited because not only were his grandparents and aunts and uncle there, but his cousin was there too and those two are big buddies. I hadn't vacationed with my family since high school, so it was fun to have so much time with them, and, of course, to be the kid again and not have to pay for my gas or food. :) Best of all, it was a change from my regular routine, which was beginning to feel like it was on repeat, so a new environment with other adults was wonderful.

Lovely weekend spent with family and friends, good food, and most significantly, worship at my home church, Lookout Mountain Presbyterian.  

This trip was so great that it's getting its own post. :)

In the queue: 
  • Our Oklahoma adventure
  • Books I'm reading
  • Adjusting the agenda
  • A contest of sorts!

Monday, April 1, 2013

No time for words

Lots of blog posts in my head but no time to write now (no time to use subjects or verbs in my sentences, apparently). So, here's our month in pictures to hold you over for another week. Enjoy!

Love that face.

Workin' the sunglasses.

Eating his favorite snack: crackers and cream cheese

Pre-church play time

Such a little man.

My two favorite boys.

We DO love a good smoothie at our house!

Using his "dig-dig" with Daddy.

Scored this classic vacuum at a consignment sale!

Ready for the beach with two of his favorite people!

Can't get enough of this boy.

The best Easter pic we could get. He wasn't happy that we wouldn't let him play on the wet swing set, and no, my hair isn't that short; it's just sitting funny. But I kind of like it. Thoughts?