Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Sixth Annual Fall Feast

This Saturday I am hosting our sixth annual fall feast. It is a special dinner I like to give for my closest friends and family where they can come and eat a nice meal without having to worry about cooking it or paying for it. It’s a small thing, but it’s something tangible I can do to express love to them.

This year, I am making braised beef short ribs, mashed potatoes, polenta, acorn squash, roasted asparagus, and pumpkin cheesecake.

Interestingly, when I called Cub to see about the short ribs, the butcher told me they haven’t sold beef short ribs since sometime last year, and he also said most Twin Cities grocery stores don’t carry them. That got me nervous. But after calling around to a couple other places, I found that the “nicer” or more specialty stores do carry them. Lunds/Byerly’s does, but they cost quite a bit more (almost double) than where I have ultimately decided to buy them: Widmer’s in St. Paul. The butcher I talked to was very knowledgeable and the price was right at $4.99/lb. He said he’d cut them how I wanted when I go and pick them up. Great service.

Here is the recipe I’m planning to use (scroll down for the recipe): I’m making the ribs gluten free by using rice flour for dredging the meat so my dear friend Jamie can eat a gluten free meal.

All of the recipes I’m using seem to be fairly simple, and that’s on purpose. I am 18 weeks pregnant and still not feeling the greatest, so I’m trying to make the meal a little simpler than usual. I am also using paper plates this year. They are nice looking and heavy duty, and I think they’ll hold up just fine. But that is 16 less plates to wash! I’ll probably do the same for dessert plates and save myself another 16 plates worth of dishes.

Here are links to the other recipes I’m using.

I’ve never made polenta before, and I may decide not to make it for the feast. I’ll see how the day goes.

Acorn Squash
I am trying to decide whether to make this recipe as is or modify it to make a squash puree instead.

Roasted Asparagus
Simple but, I’m sure, delicious. I love asparagus.

Pumpkin Cheesecake
I made this cheesecake one other time and it was very good. I will make a Maple Pecan drizzle to go over the top using the top commenter’s recipe. Yum.

I'll be posting details about the party next week, including a cost breakdown and how each recipe turned out!

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Joy: Are you Filling it or Killing it?

I definitely struggle with being joyful sometimes. Check out this post on "Joy: are you filling it or killing it?" from my church's blog. I love the fun story Tahni shares at the beginning. That's the kind of mom I want to be! She also includes some practical tips for how to increase your joy. Check it out!

Monday, June 7, 2010

Taking the plunge: Part I

When I started this blog, one of the biggest desires of my heart was to live life in a simpler way -- a life that is more focused on what matters and less focused on what doesn't. We were recently put to the test and made life changing decisions with this end in mind. This will take a couple posts to tell. I hope you enjoy reading about our journey.

One of the largest areas contributing to stress and complication in our life -- and most people's lives, I think -- was money. Particularly, not having enough of it to pay our bills each month. When we had our son and we decided it was important for me to stay home part time with him, my income was cut in half. We had somewhat planned for that, but what we didn't plan on was that Matt's income would also be cut unexpectedly. He was cut back to 32 hours indefinitely, which ended up being for about 8 months, and that was a blow. At the time, we didn't have a very good handle on what we were spending versus what we were making each month. We had saved up some money before our son was born and had some padding in our checking account, but each month we saw it go down, and down, and down. It even continued to go down after Matt was back up to 40 hours per week. Through it all, though, we tithed, and God was faithful. Somehow we made it through, but not without a lot of stress and worry.

During this whole time, actually for a couple years, we had been trying to sell our house. At first it was just because I missed having a yard and garden, and we just wanted to have more space. Then it was because I hated how much we were paying for what we had -- we were spending more for our 2 BR 1.5 BA townhome than we could have for a 4 BR 2 BA single family home with a yard. And that really bothered me. During the first 2 years or so of looking at houses online, my price point was higher than it should have been. I was looking to pay as much as -- or slightly more -- than we were currently, but getting more house/land for the money. Not necessarily bad logic. However, God knew the big picture and I didn't, and I am so glad that we didn't end up going that route! If we had, I would not have had the flexibility to stay home part time, and our money situation would have been even more stressful than it already has been.

It has only been in the last year or so that my perspective has really started to change regarding housing and living expenses. Even though it was so hard and frustrating at the time, I am so thankful that our house did not sell in my time frame but in God's! It took about 2 1/2 years, but our house finally sold on April 30, 2010.

To be continued...

Tuesday, June 1, 2010


I haven't been blogging much the past few months. Things have been so hectic with moving and getting settled that blogging has not been a top priority. I have, however, blogged the past two days in a row...just not on this blog! If you don't know, I have a second blog where I write specifically about kitchen-related things, mostly about homemade cooking. Check it out, if you like:

I will be blogging more here soon, as I start a new project of converting my cloth diapers from velcro to snaps! I just got my snaps and press in the mail today, so stay tuned.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Arizona the Beautiful

Well, we're back from Arizona. What an awesome trip! I didn't expect Arizona to be so mountainous and beautiful. I thought the Arizona desert would be dry, flat and sandy. I was pleasantly surprised!

We flew in Thursday morning (the 4th) to Phoenix and took a cab to my cousins' place just 5 miles south of the airport. We spent the afternoon lounging in the sun reading books on their patio and enjoyed some homemade Mac and Cheese and iced tea for lunch while we waited for Charity and Rick to get home from work.

Friday, Rick drove us up South Mountain overlooking Phoenix on one side and then up and around to the other side, which overlooks Ahwatukee. What a contrast! Then Charity took us to Papago Park, which had these really cool hills. We climbed one and enjoyed the view.

Saturday, Charity took us kayaking on Canyon Lake in the Tonto National Forest. That was really enjoyable. We found this little inlet and parked the kayak while we ate our lunch and hiked around. There was a rushing stream that we followed back quite a ways, and we were the only ones there. It was like we were discovering something no one else knew about (even though we knew that wasn't true). It was so nice to breathe in the crisp air and enjoy God's beautiful creation. Driving there and back was enjoyable as well -- the Tonto National Forest is gorgeous, especially the Superstition Mountains. That evening, we went out to eat at Rustler's Rooste, a cool cowboy style restaurant.We didn't leave hungry, that's for sure.

Sunday, we went to church with Charity -- Palm Valley Church -- and heard a great sermon about the End Times. Planning to listen to the full series online. Then Charity and I went shopping while Matt hung out at their place. We had Super Bowl apps for dinner and played some Uno. Good day.

Monday morning, we got up and left for Sedona in our rental car. We stopped for breakfast at Einstein Bros, one of Matt and my favorite things to do. Delicious, as usual. From there, we went to Cottonwood. Matt had agreed to stop and help a gift shop with some computer issues they were having, so we hung out there for a couple hours and then they took us out for lunch at a yummy Mexican restaurant. Great food. The shop owner also gave me a Woodwick candle. :)

From there, we took the scenic route to Sedona and drove along Oak Creek Canyon.. The red rocks of Sedona contrasted with the blue sky was so beautiful. We got out and parked and some nice women gave us their parking pass, good for the duration of our time there. What a blessing! We walked around the Oak Creek Canyon area and enjoyed the beautiful views and some moderate off-trail hiking. Glad I remembered to bring our tripod so we could get some nice pics of the two of us. After an hour or two in the Oak Creek Canyon area, we headed to our hotel. It was decent -- can't complain for $79. We went for dinner at a family-owned Italian Place just south of our hotel. We both had antipasto salad and meat & cheese ravioli with red sauce. Very good! At dinner, we were talking about our plans for the next day and decided to get up before sunrise (on vacation?!?) to hike up Cathedral Rock. What an experience. We both loved it -- this was the absolute highlight of our trip. It was the hardest hike I've ever done, with not much of a "trail" and a lot of hard spots to navigate. We were racing the sun to get to the top, so the first part of the hike was pretty exhausting. My heart was just pounding in my chest and I was out of breath. The first leg was the hardest terrain. It took about an hour to reach the top, and we made it in time to see the sun come over the top of the red rock in the distance. It was the most rewarding physical activity I've ever done -- simply amazing. The view was incredible, it was so serene, and we were completely alone. It was like we owned it. A memory I will cherish forever. The hike down was less intense from an aerobic perspective, but a little scarier because it was harder to grip the rocks going down. We made it though, with no injuries and a camera full of great memories.

We checked out of our hotel and headed toward the Grand Canyon. We were planning to go to Lava River Cave on the way up, but when we got to where the road was supposed to be, there was only a 3 foot tall snow bank! I guess they hadn't gotten around to plowing it, or maybe it's closed in the we continued on to the Grand Canyon. What an amazing sight! It was breathtaking. I teared up a bit when I first saw it. There are no words to describe its beauty. We spent about 2 1/2 hours there and toward the end, it got really hazy and actually began hailing! Thank goodness we got there when we did so we had a chance to see it before visibility became so low!

On the way back down to Phoenix, just southeast of the Grand Canyon about 10 miles, we stopped at a "scenic overlook" and saw another canyon. We don't know what the name of it is, but it was amazing too. It had a 1,000 ft sheer drop with only a guardrail. And we were along looking at it. To me, there is just something extra special about seeing something that isn't a typical "touristy" thing, but rather something you stumble upon yourself and experience alone. I love that!

We got back to Phoenix Tuesday evening in time for dinner with Charity and Rick, and we packed our things and headed to bed fairly early. Our flight was originally going to be at 4:30 in the afternoon the next day, but we were missing Evan so much we decided to try flying standby. It worked! We got home around 3:30 p.m. and Evan was waiting for us with my mom when we arrived. It was so good to see him -- it's crazy how much we missed him.

Matt and I had such a great time on this trip. The hike up Cathedral Rock inspired us to take up hiking as a regular hobby, so we'll be looking to do some hikes this year locally. If you have any suggestions, let me know!

Here is a link to the photos Matt uploaded to Facebook:

Not sure if you have to be friends with Matt to see it...


Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Goodbye winter, hello sunshine!

Matt and I are headed to Phoenix early tomorrow morning for a long-overdue vacation. Evan will be staying with my parents for the week while Matt and I enjoy some hiking, kayaking, movie going, southwest eating, Grand Canyon gazing and cave exploring in Phoenix and the surrounding area.

We are going from 20 degree weather to 60-70 degree weather, and I cannot wait! See you next week...

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Pantry challenge: what I learned

Well, I am true to form and did not write down everything we ate this month like I had planned. Life gets in the way and good intentions aren't good enough. But, I did pretty well with not buying much food this month, and we also didn't go out to eat very often at all. We had one dinner out as a family at Chipotle (Matt's favorite), but that was the only meal out this month that came from our main joint account. Not too shabby! :)

As for the grocery bill, I know I spent well under $100 this month on food, and I definitely had a focus on making good meals from what we had for my family. The cupboards are a bit more bare, the freezer is a little less full, and the refrigerator is definitely on the empty side -- just in time for us to be gone for a week on vacation of Phoenix!

This challenge has turned into something else for me, too -- I have become more committed to cooking more from scratch and buying less prepared foods. I don't buy very many prepared foods in the general sense of what people would normally think -- you know the stuff: all-in-one box dinners, Lean Cuisines, etc. I do have some boxes of Mac n Cheese, frozen pizzas, stuff like that. But what I didn't think of as prepared foods previously, I now see as a culprit for added sodium, preservatives, and other stuff our bodies simply don't need. I'm taking about (some) canned veggies, condensed soups like cream of mushroom, tomato, etc, canned beans, store-bought bread -- the kind of stuff we cook "from scratch" with, without actually having to make everything from scratch. You follow me? So, I am now challenging myself to use freshly prepared foods, fresh or frozen produce, fresh bread, etc whenever I can. Fresh, fresh, fresh. That's my new mantra. That doesn't mean I'll never cook with or eat prepared foods, nor do I think it's wrong or bad if you do. I am just choosing to make a commitment to thinking about fresh foods wherever I can and incorporating them more and more into our diets. We will still eat the occasional frozen pizza and box of Mac n Cheese. I'm sure some of Matt's and my lunches we bring to work will be Marie Callender or other frozen dinner. But I have seen the value in knowing everything that is in my food. And enjoying it that much more because of it.

I have started a new blog to chronicle my adventures in cooking from scratch: I'll be using this site to archive my recipes and modifications to existing ones, give tips and ideas on how to transition to cooking more foods from scratch in your own kitchen, some basic to advanced cooking techniques, and more.

This is not a site that will emphasize low-fat or low-carb recipes, but rather will focus on non-artificial eating and savoring good, fresh and wholesome foods. I hope you'll join me on my journey to more healthful eating.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

EFTPC: January 9-14

Okay, I might not remember every day here, but I'll try.

January 9
Bought some groceries today in order to prepare an appetizer for our cousins get together at my parents house. Had to buy artichoke hearts and green onions to make my artichoke dip. Yum!

  • Cereal

  • Turkey sandwiches
  • Clementines 

At my parents' house
  • Shepherd's pie
  • Sweet potatoes

January 10
This was a bad, bad eating day. I was so stressed out with trying to get the house ready to go on the market, I barely ate. And paid for it later with lightheadedness.

  • Granola bar

Lunch/Dinner at 3:30 p.m.
  • Frozen blueberry waffles
  • Bacon

At small group
  • Angel food cake with fruit and whipped cream

Not my proudest food day.

January 11


  • Toast with peanut butter

Don't remember...

  • Pizza party at Jasmine's -- Jet's Pizza. Delicious!

January 12

  • Cereal

  • Punch Pizza with some lovely ladies

Panera with Becky
  • 1/2 Bacon Turkey Bravo sandwich

January 13

  • Mini quiche

  • Other 1/2 Bacon Turkey Bravo sandwich
  • 2 clementines

  • Chicken enchiladas from the freezer
  • Ice cream

Phew! I can't believe I remembered as much as I did.

Now for today.

January 14

  • Cereal

  • TBD

Amanda & Rachel Christmas get together at my house
  • Lasagna
  • Homemade bread

Friday, January 8, 2010

EFTPC: January 7 & 8

January 7

  • Homemade bread with peanut butter
  • 1 clementine
  • Frozen chicken pot pie
  • 1 clementine
  • Chicken ala King on biscuits
  • Biscuit with crab apple jelly
January 8

  • Wheaties with milk
  • Lunch at Michele's: Chili and hummus with multigrain chips (delicious!)
  • Pork roast sandwich
  • Frozen veggies

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

EFTPC: January 5 & 6

You all may or may not care what I eat, but I thought it would be fun to look back on what we ate this month. So, I'm going to try to document what I make. I might also use this space to try to meal plan for the week starting next week.

January 5

  • Home-canned peaches
  • Homemade bread with peanut butter
  • Some more of that delicious Ham and Bean soup
  • Some more homemade bread
  • I actually went out for dinner for a business networking event and had some yummy pizza from Angeno's. Matt and his mom made Mac & Cheese with chicken and peas at home.
January 6

  • Oatmeal
  • Leftover soup
  • Leftover Mac & Cheese
  • Pork roast sandwich (pork from freezer, homemade bread)

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Eat from the pantry challenge

One of the blogs I read regularly is hosting a challenge for the month of January -- to eat from your pantry and buy very few, if any, groceries. So, I decided to give it a try. I am still going to buy some groceries, like milk and fruit, and if I need one or two ingredients to make a meal made up of mostly pantry items, I will do that. The idea of this is to use up and eat what you already have on hand -- in the cupboards, fridge, and freezer. I have a lot in the freezer right now -- we shared a 1/2 pig with some family so we have a lot of pork, plus several freezer meals I had made, including enchiladas, chicken ala king, turkey pot pie, soups, breads, pancakes, and more. I also have some things in my cupboards to use.

Last night, I heated some frozen Ham and Bean Soup and homemade bread from the freezer.

It's a good month to do this for us, since we are going on a trip to Arizona the beginning of February. The money I save on groceries will help balance out the remaining cost of the trip.

Speaking of our trip, I am so excited to be able to go to Arizona! We are going February 4-10 and are staying with my cousin and her husband for most of the trip, with a one-night hotel stay in Sedona as we head up to the Grand Canyon. We will explore the Sedona area Monday, and then Tuesday morning we will get up early and continue on up to the Grand Canyon for the rest of the day. Our out of pocket cost for the trip (for airfare, one night hotel, and three day car rental) is $269, thanks to our Cash Back Bonus with Discover and being able to stay with my cousin for the majority of the trip. Evan will be staying with my parents, so this vacation will be a special time for Matt and me to relax and enjoy our time together without constantly chasing after our sweet and very active little boy! I know we will miss him terribly, but he will have fun with Grandma and Grandpa!

Monday, January 4, 2010

Financial Goals

Over the past few years, I have come to desire a simpler way of life (hence the name of this blog). One of the biggest ways to live more simply is to have financial freedom. I think financial freedom is something almost everyone wants, but not many people want to take the necessary steps to get there. It's taken me awhile to get past the American way of instant gratification, and I'm sure it will always be a little bit of a struggle, but I am ready to take the plunge.

Our pastor said a phrase during one of the sermon series that has stuck with me, and I really think it's true: you can live life/do finances two ways -- Easy Hard, or Hard Easy. In other words, you can have all the things that you want now -- a nice house, a boat, a fancy car, etc -- and pay for it later by way of lessened retirement funds, paying more than twice what you would if you hadn't charged up your credit card, etc. OR, you can save and pay for the things you can afford -- a more modest home, saving up to buy your dream car, building up your savings account before you take your dream vacation -- and reap the rewards of not paying high amounts of interest, having a savings account, and not being a slave to your lending institutions.

Matt and I have worked hard and have come a long way from where we were 6 years ago. Over time, we have completely paid off our credit cards and have no student loans. We have $1000 in an emergency savings account and are two payments away from paying off Matt's car. Once we do that, we will start applying that monthly payment amount to my car loan. By August this year, we should have both of our vehicles fully paid for. After that, the cumulative amount of both car payments will be going into a savings account so that we will be able to pay cash for our next cars and never have a car payment again.

We are putting our home on the market next week. Our next home will be a modest single family home and our goal is to be able to get a 15 year mortgage and still pay less per month than what we are currently paying for our townhome. Based on what I've seen, it is possible. The difference between what we currently pay and what we will pay will be put into a savings account. We will apply this money toward principal on our home after we have saved 3-6 months worth of income to keep in a savings account.

Attaining financial freedom takes a lot of sacrifice, but it is well worth the payoff. If we meet our goals, we can be completely debt free in 13 years. By the time I am 40, we will completely own our house, our cars, and everything else we have. We will not be enslaved by any debt. How amazing!

Living this way gives us the freedom to spend the money we do have and wish to spend without guilt or worry, give generously, save for college for our children and for our own retirement. It is also a great model to set for our kids.

I know there will be bumps in the road, and things may not happen as I've laid them out here. But this is our goal, and we are going to work hard to meet it!