South Dakota Cisterns

In the midst of homeschooling, cooking, loving, laundering (clothes!), and pining for spring my heart grew distant from my Savior. Life began feeling like a cycle again and I found myself looking to my broken cisterns to fill me . . . an intriguing show, a bowl of popcorn, mental escape . . . In my heart I knew that circumstances and comforts would not bring the joy and pleasure that so deeply stirred in my soul.

On my knees again, “Jesus, return me to the joy of your salvation! Draw my heart back to you and remind me that you alone can fill me with springs of living water. Forgive me again for running to my broken dirty cisterns.”

I was reminded of the vivid parallel of the water crisis on our farm where I grew up. Our ancient wind mill continually creaked in the wind insufficient to pump the water we needed to use on a daily basis. Instead an electric pump needed to be installed to draw enough water from the ground to satisfy the daily demand for water needed for showering, dishes and cooking. For all the work it did, the water was still undrinkable. A rural water system was being developped, but would take a while to reach our farm. We lived in a small, rural area so we couldn’t hire a professional service like Culligan to deliver water. My mom’s ingenious method was to save milk jugs that we brought to town regularly to fill with potable water from the city well. Often times I would grab the six-pack box of empty jugs and fill them at my grandparents house on the way home from school. Surprise came when we realized we had forgotten to rinse a milk jug and the water tasted of spoiled milk.

We still used the cistern water for showering, cooking, dishes and washing. The cistern was a huge concrete cube underground with a sizable hole covered by a slab of wood and a heavy rock. One summer day my dad lifted the lid to see how much water it held. I jumped back as I saw a snake swim through the water. Future showers brough flashbacks of the images of the murky water and snake and left me wondering what else might be dropping on my head as I showered in the contaminated water.

“for my people have committed two evils:
they have forsaken me,
the fountain of living waters,
and hewed out cisterns for themselves,
broken cisterns that can hold no water.” Jeremiah 2:13

When the rural water system finally reached our house what joy it brought! We could drink from the tap, shower in peace, and rest from the battle with rust. We had tapped into a source of endless water pumped from the mighty Missouri to rural areas all over South Dakota.

Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst again. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” John 4:13

The water crisis in my own spiritual life is so similar. I try to survive by relying on my cisterns. I try all sorts of different cisterns to see if maybe the next one will hold better.  But not one allows me to tap out of the endless resources that I need for life. It seems so completely stupid to expect our cisterns to come through for us. Small, finite caverns that accumulate stagnant pools of water.

So Jesus has again directed me to The Source of Living Water . . . Himself. The waters are so sweet to this thirsty soul. Mercy, Grace, Love, Acceptance, Freedom.

Our cisterns are a great danger to us. My mom always warned us never to play on the lid of the cistern in case it were to fall through. We would be wise to heed the same motherly advice about our own cisterns. They lead to sin, addiction and numbness to God.

God is persistent and jealous. He will do what it takes to help us leave our cisterns in favor of His deep, satisfying presence. Most often the times when he brings heartache, trial and suffering, I am better at remembering how damaging these cisterns are to my relationship with Him.

Chris Tomlin has a song entitled Waterfall that reminds me of how refreshing it is to go to Him for satisfaction and life. Each one of us lives in a dry, desert land, and it is essential we go to Him lest we fall into our cisterns. Beware, the snake is in there!

Waterfall :: Chris Tomlin

Oh God, my God I seek You
I wanna move when You move
You’re more than I could long for
I thirst for You

You’re an ocean to my soul
To my soul

Your love is like a waterfall, waterfall
Running wild and free
You hear my heart when I call, when I call
Deep calls, too deep
Your love is like a waterfall, waterfall
Raining down on me

Oh God, my God I seek You
In this dry and desert land
You lead me to streams of mercy
Once again

You’re an ocean to my soul
To my soul

It’s coming like a flood
I’m dancing in the rain
Everything I’ve done
Is covered in rivers of grace, amazing

It’s coming like a flood
I’m dancing in the rain
I lift up my hands
Your love never changes, amazing

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A Quiet Legacy

                 The youngest of three, I grew up on an acreage outside a small town in South Dakota. I had a lovely childhood where my siblings and I discovered Egyptian treasures hidden among corn fields and narrowly escaped the tomb raider enemies by pedaling our bikes through a shelter belt of trees. With nothing to fear and a world to discover, I felt a craving for adventure at a young age. In high school, I nailed down my aspirations to be a photojournalist for National Geographic. Naturally I majored in journalism my first year of college. I was soon searching for a new major after I interned for a news service at our state capital during the legislative session. During this same year, I had given my heart to the Lord and was passionately seeking to serve him through my life.  It was my dad who helped me identify that at heart, I was truly a helper.

My new major of Human Development and Family Studies could easily have led into a master’s in counseling. I loved the curriculum and my passion for family was ignited. My college career taught me I had endless opportunities for my future. I knew I would eventually get married and have kids, and I felt that leaving my career to be at home with my children was important. But motherhood stood far away, safely padded by years that I would spend realizing goals. My childhood craving for adventure was now spilling over into realistic goals. Graduate school, writing, learning new languages and living overseas were to be tackled first. After college, I lived in Brazil for three months caring for orphans and teaching low-income teens at an after-school program. I returned to the States and interned two years for a nonprofit group called the Navigators where I shared that mentors college students. I found I loved helping people more than ever. Shortly after beginning the internship, I fell in love with one of my co-workers and married him a year later. We welcomed our first daughter, Isabelle, shortly before our two-year anniversary.

                I easily slipped myself into the role of stay-at-home mom knowing that’s what I’d wanted. What I didn’t know then, was my decision would prove to be the most challenging road of my life. At the time I easily relinquished my unmet goals for our wriggling bundle of joy. Joy mixed with fear overwhelmed me as I held Isabelle in my arms.  My life would never be the same. I remember a desperate feeling as the nurse wheeled me out of the hospital. “You are just going to let me take her home?” I asked. The nurse flashed me a funny look and then laughed at what she thought was my attempt at a joke.  “I wasn’t joking!” I thought. I had no one to tell me what to do the next time she cried. No call button for help! I didn’t even have to sign a waiver of liability to take Isabelle home. The full responsibility of a human life fell into my lap that easily.

Although I had ample experience caring for babies, stepping into the reality of motherhood left me feeling scared and unprepared. There’s no retreat, and I couldn’t just hand her over to my mom and walk away. I wanted this journey and wouldn’t relinquish my responsibility to fear. The fierce love I had for my baby girl would be the motivation to do what was the bravest thing I’ve ever done, but bravery felt so far away. Never before had I felt so young, so scared. I lay on the carpet in our tiny apartment living room and wept. I prayed for God’s help, got up, and started my job as a mom.

I now have three kids aged one, three and five. My round the clock job has forced me to become a multi-tasking, energetic, and entertaining teacher. My daily goals are small, but time-consuming: feed the kids, love the kids, teach the kids, bathe the kids. My larger goals are somewhat loftier: teach them to become responsible citizens in a godless society, instill in them a strong moral belief system, ensure they feel safe and secure in my relationship with them, show them the true God and His character.

Throughout my young adult years, I felt like I needed an exciting career and great adventures to experience a satisfying life. Now as a mom with no outside career I am learning the loveliest and most fulfilling times in life are often the small things. Exploring the world through my children, spontaneous hugs, and my kids’ elated joy in little accomplishments are small but powerful experiences. I’m content to be at home and fully available to my kids. I’m leaving a quiet legacy of love and wisdom for future generations. The Lord considers motherhood a sacred role and we as believers should treat it no less. God’s command to parents is richly described in Deuteronomy 6, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts.  Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.” This is a lifelong tasks that demands my reliance upon Christ and His strength.

My life has turned out to be quite adventurous. Our family braved a major league baseball game that started an hour before bedtime with all three kids. Not only did we make it through the whole game, we also helped our oldest overcome her fear of fireworks. My kids love adventure, too. All it takes from me is a little imagination and ingenuity to make a mundane experience exciting. Our latest adventure was an enchanted princess world made from sheets draped over chairs. Even without my masters in counseling I’m daily using my ability to help. I find great satisfaction in helping my children learn to live. What’s more is I’ve grown and matured in ways I’d never imagined. The wide-eyed, fearful mom I was has become a stronger, less selfless woman who can tackle the unexpected with God’s help. It’s a special gift to find new adventure in motherhood.

Be Transformed . . .

Our society is eons away from Old Testament Bible times, but our hearts I fear may still be learning the same lessons that the Israelites did so many years ago when they entered the promised land. God paved the way for his beloved people to live in an abundant land. He asked them to honor him and follow his ways. He commanded them numerous times to never worship other gods. He made his point clear by telling them that each person’s sin will affect his family for generations, but if they chose to love and honor him that they would be blessed for exponential generations because He loved them with a covenant love! He did this to preserve them and create safe boundaries so that they would remain close to their Creator. But you may already know, that God’s beloved Israelites fell prey to Satan’s schemes. They heard their enemy whisper that what God says isn’t everything. “Take your life into your own hands,” he hissed. One by one they exchanged the truth of God for a lie. They began doing things that the people who didn’t know God did. Detestable things that would cause outrage in America today! One of the most horrid acts was throwing their children into a fire to appease a man-made idol with no will and no power.

How could their beliefs have become so distorted that they believed killing their beloved children was a holy sacrifice? What lies had penetrated their souls, that allowed a loving mother to inflict agonizing death upon her firstborn? Romans 1:25,  says “they exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator…just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done.”

One truth I believe our society exchanged for a lie is the blessedness of children. In Genesis one of the first things God asked us to do was have babies and make families and generations of people to know God! What a beautiful intention God had in his original command. He wanted to bring more people onto this earth to love! Not only that, but a united man and woman were the means to which God brought life onto this earth. What I was pregnant with Lydia, I had an amazing realization about how precious her life was to God. In Ephesians 1:4 it says “even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes.” That means that God has us in mind, even before he made the world. He’s known about Lydia for thousands of years, but He wouldn’t be able to meet her until 2013! The anticipation for a mother over a 9-month pregnancy brings immense joy when the baby arrives. Imagine that over thousands of years! Truly our God is abounding in divine joy when one of his created enters this world.

I often times wonder at how often God looks upon us just as a mother stares at her small infant. A mother and father find joy in just watching their little one. Think of how much joy God feels at watching this little one! It’s his intentioned creation that looks, acts, smells, moves and functions just as He decided. And think of the delight God has as this little human chooses and thinks on their own!

Such a vibrant picture of life! Somehow this beautiful truth has been squashed to conform to a selfish, tainted society where children are no longer the fulfillment of God’s command and a treasure, but rather they are a burden, time-consuming, and something that should be delayed so we can make more money. Yes, in small ways we still celebrate new life, but it’s lost most of it’s luster under the burden of lies that topple over us. Children are secondary to jobs, success, time and personal pursuits.

Just as God warned the Israelites, let me blow the shofar. “Do not conform to the patterns of this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will.” Romans 12:2. In my quest to hear God’s will for children/parenting and to not conform to our society’s beliefs, I have learned a few key things.

The first is in regards to the question of birth prevention. As Christians, we know that abortion is wrong. But let’s dig deeper into the entire realm of prevention of birth through contraceptives. God honors parenting as a sacred role, so I think we should start by asking him what he wants for our life. Then, we need to get the facts straight about types of birth control. An incredible resource that every person should read is “Does the Birth Control Pill Cause Abortion?” by Randy Alcorn. He tackles this controversial question with unbiased facts and clearly concludes that synthetic hormones can cause abortions. Alcorn did extensive research into multiple types of birth control and sought out pharmaceutical companies, research studies and physicians for appropriate evidence. Alcorn states that, “These birth control methods (birth control pills, NuvaRing, IUD and others) are often referred to as “contraceptives,” but they are not exclusively contraceptives. That is, they do not always prevent conception. Either sometimes or often they result in the death of already-conceived human beings.” Check out this video and Alcorn’s website as well. I know this information is heavy, but the burden of truth can feel heavy at first, but over time will bring joy and freedom! I heard a few times that birth control may cause abortion, but many people also dismissed that it does not. Not until I read Alcorn’s book did I feel like I had the proper evidence to draw my personal conclusion that birth control is outside of God’s intention for us. Aren’t you ready for a straight answer on the subject?

The second is that our minds need to be transformed to carry out the Biblical call of parenting and valuing of  our children. Our culture carries an unspoken belief the children are burdensome. An article in Life magazine this past summer entitled “The Childless Life: When Having it All Means Not Having Kids,” describes a growing belief that choosing not to have children means having more from life. The truth is that children do change everything, but God never intended us to live selfish lives. Jesus walked this earth to show us we were intended to give and love. Life is better and more fulfilling when we give our lives for another. A lovely book on the topic of the sacredness of parenting is “Beyond Bath Time” by Erin Davis (www.beyondbathtime.com).

Third, parenting is not easy. Sometimes I feel like throwing the towel in! I wonder if I have what it takes to raise kids who love and honor God and are responsible. But parenting is not about me finding fulfillment through my children, rather parenting is a self-sacrificing journey of loving, training and discipling someone from birth. It’s a perfect opportunity to trust Jesus every moment! It has also been one of the best vehicles of spiritual transformation that God has used in my life. I grow as my children grow.

I pray God transforms your mind in the area of children and parenting. For those of you who are already parents, I pray you have a source of encouragement and mentoring as you carry out this sacred role. For those who are yet to be, this truth is no less valuable for you to know.

No recipes today, just some food for thought, prayer and action. Will you join me in spreading God’s truth about the things you learned today?

Yearning for Selflessness

Of late, I’ve caught myself too often dreaming of lying on a secluded beach soaking up the rays. In an effort to transport myself to that place, I’ll listen “Caribbean Blue” by Enya in the van with noisy kids in tow. It’s an escape for me. I find myself anticipating bedtime a little to eagerly. Then there’s this sneaky feeling that causes me to carry a sense of entitlement – “I deserve a medal for all I’ve done today” it tells me. Then when my kids or husband don’t give me thankfulness due, this sense of entitlement transforms into bitterness and anger.

The message I clung to was “you are a busy mom, you deserve a break.” “You sacrifice so much for your family that it’s okay to take time for yourself.” You may be thinking, that’s true, but I fear this deadly cocktail of feelings, tiredness, lack of time in the Word and my selfishness have me drunk on . . . well me.

I resent my tasks in motherhood, and have moved away from seeing my role as sacred to seeing it as dutiful and dreary. My gentle Jesus has heard my cry for help!! Leave it to Vegie Tales to nudge my heart towards truth! There’s a Christmas special the kids watched recently on Netflix that emphasizes how giving is more joyful than receiving. Motherhood is a lot of giving, and I’ve considered some of that giving painful and joyless. Our Enemy tricks us into thinking that what we want is best for us. “If you just had less demands on your time and more margin to do what you wanted, you’d be happy,” he hisses. And our society says motherhood is second-rate to social and career-success. Sure, there’s fun diaper commercials that show how lovely mothering can be, but overall the world tells us we have better ways to spend our time. I’ve even felt this subtle message creep into the fellowship of believers. I feel the need to let people know I am not just a stay-at-home mom, but that I have “greater” goals, too. When inside, I yearn to hear that my role as mother in itself is a worthwhile way to spend my time.

Oh, Jesus, how I yearn to be selfless! To give my husband, my children, my friends more of me and focus less on me. Living with God as our center is the only place to find fulfillment. Focus on self leads to discontentment and living outside of God’s will. “By the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgement, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.” (Romans 12:3) It’s not about me! In the book “Beyond Bath Time,” author Erin Davis says “to reject what the world values and embrace biblical motherhood – to pour yourself out for another – is truly kingdom work.”

Discipling my children is sacred to God and it deserves my best efforts and BEST attitude. In my heart I’ve always known motherhood is a worthy calling, but the demand and my own selfishness has cause me to question if this is a worthy calling.Thank you Jesus for intercepting my heart and ministering your truth!

“Rejoice always, pray continuously, give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18). So today as you my witness, I commit to change my thoughts away from selfishness and negativity to thankfulness and praise. Also, the next time I take my troop to the grocery store, instead of being impatient when they stop to inspect every canned good, I will praise God for the privilege to be the scout leader of such curious little treasures! For they truly are my treasure.

And as always here’s a recipe::

“Oven Treasures” aka Indoor Smore

  • Graham crackers
  • Reese’s Peanut butter cups (or peanut butter and Hershey’s chocolate)
  • Marshmallows

Set oven to broil. On a baking sheet assemble smore. Place 1/2 graham topped with pb cup. Flatten cup with your fingers of back of spoon. Cut marshmallow in half and both halves atop chocolate. If using peanut butter, smear on top of graham then top with chocolate and halved marshmallow pieces. Place directly under broiler until perfection occurs in your expert opinion, happens way faster than a campfire so stick close! I love mine golden brown:) Remove from oven, top with 1/2 graham and enjoy these treasures with your treasures!

“Dee – wicious” as Caleb, our two-year old would say.

Grace for Moms

My Belle-aroo

My Belle-aroo

One thing that is vital to motherhood is living in God’s grace. Mistakes we make as a parent directly affect our children. Ever cringed as your child repeats something you said? My Caleb picks up every -ism he hears. The other day he said in response to a shiny red car, “Dad, that’s sick!” (By the way – if something is sick, it’s actually awesome). He’s maybe heard that once in his life. That’s cute, but when I see my kids picking up the bad, it feels horrible. I work so hard to protect them, and yet it’s inevitable that they will pick up my sinful habits.

Praise God there is redeeming grace (and therapy) available to my children. My mistakes are not etched in stone. Rather they are able to be molded to bring God’s glory forth. The hurts I cause in my children can be used by their Creator to draw them closer to Him. Now that’s grace to live in.

In Isaiah 40:11 it says “He tends His flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in His arms and carries them close to His heart, He gently leads those that have young.” Oh, that’s grace to bask in as a young mom. He gently leads me, as in He leads me differently because I have young children. I need His grace and tenderness to surround me. Some evenings after the house grows quiet and dark, I remember things that I did or said that I regret. I feel frustrated that I got angry with Caleb, or that I was too hard on Isabelle. Soon my day is peppered with all my failings. I feel defeated and inadequate. It’s then when I need to receive the grace extended to me. It’s available to me anytime, but I must embrace it for it to run through my veins. We named our new baby Lydia Grace. I pray that she lives in the grace she’s named for.

Every week grace comes in the form of a popcorn/smoothie night. That’s right, no cooking for this mama. Whip out the Whirley Pop and freestyle a yummy fruit smoothie. Complete it with a movie and we’ve got instant meal, happy kids and easy clean up. And may I repeat that we do this EVERY week! I got the idea from my lovely friend who did it every Friday night. Her kids expected it and loved it.

My Caleb-bubby

My Caleb-bubby

For the smoothies I buy a big package of frozen fruit (strawberry, peach, mango, pineapple) and a smaller bag of frozen blueberries or raspberries. We almost always have have bananas, milk and yogurt on hand. You could probably sneak something else in there to get some added nutrients . . . 1 cup spinach, flax seed, wheat germ or fresh-grated ginger. Just don’t tell anyone you did it!

For the popcorn we have a stove-top popper called the Whirley Pop. Love it! Found it at a garage sale for a few bucks, but I have seen them at most stores for around $15. Two tablespoons of oil and 1/2 cup of kernels and whirl away! I even get my kids to do the “work” of making popcorn my letting them turn the handle as it heats and pops. I add an ample sprinkling of salt to the finished product. My nephew Ethan remarked that my popcorn “tastes like there’s nothing on it.” His solution was adding butter! So if you’re not a fan of stove-top popcorn, buy microwave popcorn. Oh the buttery goodness of microwave popcorn! And even less mess!

Tara’s Freestyle Smoothie

(once you’ve created your own, insert your name!)

Supplies:

 2 handfuls mixed frozen fruit
1 small handful frozen raspberries or blueberries
1 banana
1 small container yogurt (stick to a complementary flavor such as strawberry or peach)
milk
(sneaky health food option – see above)
blender

Directions:

Place the frozen fruit in blender. Peel banana, break in half and throw in. Dump the yogurt in. Pour milk in – start off with around 3/4 cup. Or two big glugs. Sneak the health food in, too. Blend and boogie. Add more milk if you like it smoother.

Lydia Grace, born April 13

Lydia Grace, born April 13

Using the words of one of my favorite chefs, Ina Garten, “How easy is that?” So mommy, give yourself a grace night and don’t make a meal. Work yourself out of a job, too. Maybe one of your older kids could learn to make the smoothies and another one is the official popcorn maker. Then you could just sit back and receive the grace of a popcorn/smoothie night. Bon appetit dear one.

Stocking your Freezer for Simpler Days of Cooking

ImageWith our new baby girl coming soon (April 14) I have been thinking more about how nice it would be to store up freezer meals and foods to have available for those busy/tired days. By preparing meals two months or less in advance, you can assure a good-tasting, non-freezer burned dish.

So before we begin, might I share a few encouraging thoughts? At times I can find myself experiencing discouragement in the routine of life. With pregnancy, two little ones and dreary winter days, I’m feel tired and can’t keep up with my to do list. I feel a sense of despair when I haven’t accomplished what I should’ve in a day. At night, my mind runs like a film strip with the regrets of what I could’ve done better or should’ve done and never did. But I am so glad that my God is so unlike me. When I tune into His thoughts about me, I find that he doesn’t have the expectations I put on myself. He values me for who I am, not for what I accomplish.

Jesus gently chided Mary not to be worried or troubled by her to-do list. Oh, how I relate to Mary. I often struggle with being upset that I have so much to do in a day. I go to Jesus whining that my life isn’t satisfying and I need more help and I, I, I ….. Jesus’ gentle reply is similar to what He implied to Mary centuries ago. “Tara, Tara, you have your priorities mixed up. Seek me first…” My to-do list fades, and I realize the reward is not found in mastering my to-do list. The most important, lasting things in life – God, His Word and people should be my priority.

God is so gentle with me, the Biblical author Isaiah writes that God “gently leads those that have young.” (Isaiah 40:11) Thank you God for knowing me and understanding my season of life!

Back to cooking…. You may want to compile a few recipes and their ingredients and work on several meals in one day. You may also prefer to double a recipe here and there (feed one, freeze one) to accumulate your freezer stock.

My hope is to make your life a bit less crazy at meal time! Thanks to many blogs, I have provided a list of meals that seemed easiest and yummiest of all! Enjoy browsing and I hope you find something that works for you.

Freezer meals:

  1. Breakfast Burritos 
  2. 4 Casseroles + Soup
  3. 8 Slow Cooker Freezer Meals – very practical and includes helpful hints!
  4. Lasagna – Freeze your favorite lasagna recipe in disposable container. Be sure to seal the top tightly with layers of plastic wrap and aluminum foil.
  5. Chicken Pot Pies – freeze before baking

Foods to freeze to jump start meals:

1) Shredded chicken for any recipe calling for cooked chicken: a) store-bought rotisserie chicken – simply shred and freeze in 2-cup portions, b) raw whole chicken – place in stock pot, cover with water, throw in halved carrots, celery, onion, peppercorns, garlic and a few sprigs of fresh parsley and thyme if available. Simmer 1 hour and 15 minutes. Discard veggies, shred chicken, strain the broth. Freeze broth and chicken separately, or c) cook chicken breasts – 4-6 hours on high in crock pot with 2 cups broth. Throw cooked chicken breasts in your kitchen-aid with the paddle attachment, turn it on and instant shred! Love this trick!

2) Homemade pizza dough – prepare your favorite dough recipe, put unrisen dough ball into gallon freezer bag sprayed with cooking spray. To use: remove from freezer and place in fridge for 8 hours or more. Let come to room temperature before spreading onto pizza pan. I also like to cook up sausage and freeze so I can easily grab this to throw on top of our pizzas.

3) Waffles – double or triple a batch of waffles. We just use Bisquick’s waffle recipe. Allow cooked waffles to cool. Place in freezer bag. To prepare: throw frozen waffles into your toaster and enjoy!

4) Meatballs – Cook, cool and freeze. Throw into simmering spaghetti sauce to reheat. Or make meatball subs or sliders. Or just heat and eat. My kids love meatballs! (PS – for this recipe, I use 1 pound of sausage and 1 pound of ground beef – no veal.)

5) Cookie dough – freeze any drop-cookie dough you like – oatmeal, choc chip…. You can freeze an entire batch in individual containers, then just place in fridge for a day and the dough is thawed. Otherwise you can freeze them in cookie-sized balls to be baked directly in smaller portions. Good luck resisting the temptation of eating the cookie dough that innocently awaits you in the freezer!

Image

6) Burger patties – grilling season will soon arrive! Add 1 beaten egg, 3 T minced onion, 1 T seasoning salt and a few shakes of Worcestershire sauce to 2 lbs of ground beef. Mix by hand and shape into individual patties. Place in freezer bag separated by wax paper, freeze and impress your man by pulling these puppies out on the first nice day. Go ahead and grill them frozen! Insta-meal. For extra easy, bake frozen fries and heat up a can of baked beans. Add a pickle slice and remember that spring is near!

Well dear readers. Thank you for listening and I hope that you are blessed by some of these ideas.

Meal Planning

Cooking can become burdensome to anyone — even those who love to cook. You have to eat, you have to cook. And especially if you are on a budget, planning ahead is vital to not blowing your grocery budget.

In my ideal world, I would shop for my cooking utensils at Williams and Sonoma, and all my groceries would come from Whole Foods or Trader Joe. But, since we are missionaries not millionaires I opt for Walmart and Aldi for grocers. I also rely on  birthdays and Christmas for new cooking utensils. But can I just say that if you’d rather spend one hour shopping in Williams and Sonoma perusing copper pots and cutting boards, than in any other mall store . . . we are kindred spirits.

Another reality that puts a crunch on cooking is time. It seems unrealistic to spend hours cooking what is consumed in minutes. I’d love to always cook gourmet and try several new recipes each week, but realistically my life is much less hectic and my kids a lot happier if I plan the majority with simple, familiar recipes.

I like to organize and I love lists, so planning and making shopping lists is enjoyable and relaxing for me. Once a month I take inventory of the food I have in my cupboards, fridge and freezer. The “Inventory List” helps me know what frozen meats, dried noodles and other ingredients I have to work with. I make categories for meats, noodles/rice, canned, vegetables, fruits and so on. I then look at list and see what meals can be made from these ingredients. At that point I start a shopping list so I can write down additional supplies I will need to complete these meals.

I start a third list called my “Meal List.” These are the foods I make for the evening meal. I try to have at least 15 meals on the meal list. With leftovers and nights where we’re not home, this seems to be a good number to last 3-4 weeks. If there is a few new recipes I’d like to try, I throw them in. I then add any dry or frozen ingredients to my shopping list and make note of additional fresh ingredients I’ll  need for each recipe. I don’t purchase the fresh ingredients until the week of making the recipe to prevent spoilage or wasting food.

Here’s examples of the top 10 meals I make:

  1. spaghetti and meatballs + salad + bread
  2. meatloaf + potato wedges + vegie
  3. pad thai
  4. chicken and rice casserole
  5. homemade pizza + salad
  6. chicken tortilla soup
  7. chicken or beef tacos + chips and salsa
  8. chicken parmesan + rice + vegie
  9. beef stroganoff (crock pot) on noodles + vegie
  10. chicken quesadillas

In the winter I make more soups – chili, chicken noodle, beef stew. And in summer I grill meals – chicken, burgers, brats. Each cook will have their own top 10 list of familiar, relatively easy recipes. I rely on this list and alternate in other recipes we like and new recipes.

The next step is shopping. I look over the grocery ads for great deals, but dragging the kids around town to all the grocery stores to save a few bucks isn’t my idea of fun. I try to stick to one or two stores with the overall best deals to get all my ingredients.

So that’s what I do. What do you do? I’d love helpful hints for shopping, listing or planning. What’s your top 10?

Squash Curry

When I have seen curry listed in the title of a recipe or on a menu selection I’ve quickly dismissed it as an option for myself. Not because I didn’t like it, but because it was unknown and mysterious to me. What is curry anyway? It’s a quite general word to describe Middle-Eastern and Eastern dishes flavored with a combination of spices and dried or fresh hot chilies.

That leaves the door open for many dishes to fall under the “curry” category! My first adventure in experiencing curry was at a Laotian restaurant in Madison, Wisconsin. Madison has a large population of Hmong people who come from Laos. We were in the mood for Asian and stumbled upon this fun restaurant on Willy Street.

Let’s digress — my hesitation to try curry is a lot like my hesitation to befriend internationals. Other cultures are mysterious, unknown. But in reality internationals are the ones living in the midst of mystery. They have left their familiar and are living in our familiar. I spent 3 months abroad in college living in Brazil. The most wonderful moments were when the Brazilians embraced me and guided (sometimes forced) me through their culture. Jesus made a point to break cultural barriers in his life on earth. So let’s challenge our taste buds and hearts to breach the unknown!

Here’s a close version from the one I ordered at Lao-Laan Xang Laotian Restaurant. Omit the half and half for dairy-free or less calories.

Squash Curry

1 lb boneless, skinless chicken breast, diced
1 med onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 Tbs canola oil
1 1/2 Tbs red Thai curry paste*
1 14 oz can coconut milk
1 c chicken broth
1 Tbs fish sauce*
1 1/2 c sweet potato cubes
1 1/2 c butternut squash cubes*
2 tsp fresh lime juice
1/2 c half and half, optional
3-4 Tbs fresh, chopped cilantro
cooked rice to serve with

*(see Ideas and Advice below)

1) Saute chicken in oil until no longer pink. Remove from skillet.
2) Saute onions and garlic in skillet for 2 minutes. Add curry paste and stir.
3) Whisk in coconut milk, broth and fish sauce. Bring to boil.
4) Add squash and sweet potatoes, and lower heat to a simmer. Cook until tender, about 20 minutes.
5) Turn heat to low. Remove 2 cups of cooked squash and sweet potatoes to food processor. Process until smooth and return to pan. (Thickens mixture).
6) Add half and half and lime juice; stir. Add chicken.
7) Get ready for an explosion on your taste buds!
8) Serve over rice and sprinkle cilantro on top.
9) Let me know what you think.

Ideas and advice:
*Red curry paste usually comes in a small can or jar. You won’t use all of it for a single recipe, so freeze 1 1/2 Tbs portions in ice cube trays. Once frozen pop out into a freezer bag and voila!, they are ready for the next time you make this dish!
*Fish sauce is stinky! But that’s okay, it adds great flavor. Store unused sauce in a cool, dry place for up to a year.
*If you buy a whole butternut squash be aware that cutting it up is an adventure. You might lose a finger if you aren’t careful! Try this:  http://www.simplyrecipes.com/recipes/how_to_peel_and_cut_a_butternut_squash/   or else you can buy already diced squash at Walmart or Sam’s. Freeze any unused squash for your next recipe. I got three squash curries out of one squash.

Humble Pot Roast in a Bag

Sunday Pot Roast

Often the yummy pot roast that my mom made on Sundays was under appreciated by my young palate: I smeared ketchup on the meat! Well, I know better now, but I have to say I’m not afraid to coax my 2-year old into eating it with some ketchup. Pot roast makes me nostalgic for my childhood. I can picture the very pan being placed on the table and the lid being opened to reveal steaming meat, nestled among soft carrots, potatoes, celery and onions. I love how the meat turns that deep red on the inside and those carrots – they’ve never tasted better!

Pot roast is typically braised – which means it’s sauteed (browned) in fat/oil first and then cooked slowly in a small amount of  liquid – but I by-passed the browning in favor of less dishes and less time. My mom has taught me that browning brings out a better flavor – and I agree, mom! But with two pint sized creatures running amock, time is of the essence. I usually do my roasts in the crock pot, but they seem to come out with too much liquid and the meat won’t hold together at all – still delicious though.

So I opted to cook it in the oven with an oven bag. And although a little salt and pepper for seasonings will suffice, I found a recipe that added some interesting seasonings – and I really liked the outcome!

I am thankful that I have a hotline for my cooking questions that’s always reliable and personal. (My Mom!) Because after cooking the roast according to the bag directions it was still tough and pink! aaaaahhhhh! This is not the pot roast I remember my mom making – so tender and juicy!  “Well, Tim, let’s eat our salad and breadsticks first.” A quick call to mom . . . “oh, you added lots of vegetables? Well that increases the cooking time.” A roast is not merely a two-hour meal, it’s an all afternoon cooking on low meal. Oops. Low cooking time and a long time are key. My mom said 4-5 hours is ideal. My roast went in at 5:00pm and came out at 9:30 and was delicious!!! Bon Appetit!

Simple ingredients most cooks have on hand.

Humble Pot Roast in a Bag

1 large cooking bag
1 tablespoon flour
1 3-4 lb chuck roast
6 medium potatoes, washed and quartered
1/2 lb baby carrots
2 lg onions, peeled and quartered
2 celery ribs, rinsed and chopped in half
dried basil
seasoning salt
garlic salt
pepper
1/2 cup red cooking wine
1/2 cup water

Place 1 tablespoon inside the cooking bag, hold closed and shake (this prevents the bag from bursting). Place the bag in a roast pan, with at least a two-inch high side. Season both sides of roast liberally with basil, seasoning salt, garlic salt, and pepper. Place the roast inside the bag in the middle of the roasting pan. Place all the vegetables in a large bowl. Season liberally with same seasonings and mix. Nestle the vegies around the roast and pour wine and water over roast and vegetables. Close bag with it’s zip tie.

Bake at 325 degrees for 4-5 hours. Check tenderness before removing. Remove onions and celery pieces before serving if you wish.

Raw roast before cooking. So colorful and so good for you!

Soul Satisfaction

Food is such a wonderful thing, not only is there so many flavors, but there’s various textures, aromas and colors. God is creative and abundant in allowing us to nourish our bodies in such a creative way.

But because I love food so much, I’ve realized that it can sometimes be my comfort and even what I look forward to in a day. Jesus has been revealing to me that this is no good and He wants to be my comfort and what drives me.

So on Sunday I began a journey of choosing Jesus and not my taste buds! This next month will be a sort of fasting period for me. I am still going to eat! Don’t worry, but I am fasting from eating beyond what my body needs. So that means no Diet Coke and no French fries . . . and yes, no medium peppermint lattes either, no evening snacks when I’m not hungry — okay, okay, I’m done lamenting. This is nothing to what I will gain. I felt like God was saying to me that He wants Psalm 63 to define my life: That God’s presence and comfort in my life satisfies my soul as with the richest of foods! And that I would crave Him alone!

What a journey that lies ahead for me! I’m giving up a lot, but I know that “a lot” that I feel now will be shrunken to “very little” when I experience how much more satisfaction I have to find in God than food! Feel free to ask me how I’m doing on this! I need accountability – especially when I drive past Wendy’s and smell that fried goodness. I think there’s a conspiracy among fast-food restaurants and that they put addictive things into their foods so you want to eat more . . . . okay, maybe not.

More to come on my journey in the following weeks! If you are interested in more on this topic check out Made to Crave

Ta Da!

I did it! Welcome to my blog. I hope to post weekly with a recipe, meal idea, encouraging thought or truth I’ve learned. Maybe on a good week all of them!

When asked the question “What’s your ideal job?”, my answer is to be a mom most of the day and gourmet chef from 4-7 pm. So since I have no formal culinary education (although I think my purple ribbon for 4-H special foods counts for something) I will stick to serving my family of 4.

I don’t think I have a favorite food per se, but I love my mom’s meatloaf, Kathy Wetzel’s pad thai and anything Mexican!

Thank you for taking the time to read my blog: may it bless your heart and encourage you to seek the One who created us to enjoy and glorify Our Maker.

Tara