cook it: french toast and berry butter

We have had a busy schedule since we moved to Oklahoma.  And by busy, I mean really busy.  And by really busy, I mean ridiculous.  We have decided to really celebrate our Saturday mornings as a family.  We stay in our PJs and cook a giant smorgasboard of what we all love: chocolate chip pancakes, biscuits and gravy, bacon, sausage, and french toast.  It's like a giant carb-lovers buffet.

Hands-down the star has been the french toast.  This 'Cooks Illustrated' inspired recipe is a must-try for your weekend!

photo cred: cook's illustrated

1 egg
2T butter, melted (plus more for frying)
3/4 cup milk
2t vanilla extract
1/3 cup flour (all-purpose is fine)
1/4t salt
thick sliced bread (preferably day-old)

1) mix egg, butter, milk and vanilla
2) sift four into mixture and then add salt
3) submerge bread into mixture; coat well, but be sure not to leave it in too long--it'll get soggy
4) pour a little melted butter onto frying pan (we use electric griddle) and then add bread.  cook two minutes per side.

**serving suggestions** we've been known to top our french toast with: fresh whipped cream, maple syrup, fresh berries and cheerios (lately Mills is adding them to everything)

photo credit: the pioneer woman blog

this is a little premature, but the kids and I just watched an episode of The Pioneer Woman (they are obsessed with her show) and Ree made this beautiful berry butter.  I've got my butter softening as we speak and I cannot wait to test this out!

1/2lb butter softened
1/2 cup blackberries/raspberries

1) whip butter in mixer with whisk attachment
2) swap out for paddle attachment and incorporate berries and mix, but don't let berries get mushy
3) mold butter into a log-type shape on foil, wrap like a burrito
4) put in freezer for 30 minutes and then transfer to fridge


introducing Harvest: Small Batch Granola

I just started my own business y'all!
     Cooking with my family is one of the earliest and fondest memories from my childhood.  I've baked and sold a variety of goods over the years, from the basic box-mix-based cake to the complicated multi-course dinner party.  I love learning new techniques and trying different ingredients, but what I treasure the most is the face of a truly delighted customer.

     I've been making granola for the past three years.  I first started making granola for my husband and then quickly thereafter for my friends (and then their friends too.)  I would go to grab a cup for breakfast, only to find a few measly crumbs in the jar.  I began to toy with the idea of turning my granola-hobby into a real business.

     When we moved across the country this past summer I was excited (and honestly, a little daunted) about the opportunity for a "what-would-you-do-if-you-could-do-anything" type change.  It seemed like it might be just the right time to start my granola business.  I spent the next few months researching legal guidelines, recipes and branding.  Y'all, it turns out there is a lot more to running a business than knowing how to throw some ingredients together.
     After a lot of patience and prayer, Harvest: Small Batch Granola was born.  These recipes are dear to my heart and it's my hope to provide my customers with something they'd be proud to serve to their family and friends.  Each batch is crafted in my own kitchen, where it is lovingly sniffed by two toddlers and packaged with care before we sample it to smithereens.

      I'm currently selling: Original Recipe, Pecan Crunch, Fall Spice and Quinoa Crunch.  I can hand-deliver them if you live in the Stillwater, OK area, but if you aren't around town then you can check me out at: www.HarvestSmallBatchGranola.com



cook it: baked ziti

Elliot: Mom, what's for dinner?
Me: Baked Ziti
Elliot: What's Ziti?
Me: uhm...it's like spaghetti's more sophisticated older cousin
Elliot:  [blank stare]

     Did you parents ever describe food as a "cousin" to another food?  I can vividly remember my parents describing lasagna as a "cousin" to spaghetti.  As in, "eat the lasagna Blair, it's just like spaghetti's cousin and you love spaghetti so eat.it.already." 

     This is another one of our "use what you got" type recipes.  I wanted ziti, but the penne noodles were on sale.  And half our ingredients are from Aldi, which you know is a plus for me!  These humble ingredients transform into a hearty dish everyone in your family will love.  

1 lb ziti or similar pasta (penne is a bit easier for our toddlers to wrangle)
15 oz ricotta
1.5 c mozzarella
0.5c grated parmesan ("sprinkle cheese")
1 egg
2 jars marinara sauce

1) cook noodles to al dente---you don't want them to be too cooked because they will get soggy when added to dish later
2) while noodles are cooking mix together ricotta, 1 cup mozzarella, parmesan and egg.  be careful not to over mix, it's fine if there's a few clumps
3) drain noodels and rinse with cool water to stop the cooking process
4) add rinsed noodles to the cheese mixture
5) layer 1-1.5 cups of marinara sauce on the bottom of 9x13 dish.  layer noodle cheese mixture, then marinara, again with noodle mixture, top again with marinara and remaining mozzarella   (it's kinda like a lasagna with all the layering)
6) bake in 350degree oven for 45 minutes

-this makes a pretty full 9x13 pan, so we actually assemble in two 8x8 pans at our house.  we bake for 35-40 min
-you want to make sure you fully cover top layer of noodles or they will get a bit crispy in the baking process

*sidenote* i have no "after" picture of this meal because we ate it so fast.  so, just picture a beautifully prepared ziti masterpiece right about.....here.   ;)


freezer cooking

     We have yet to sell our house in NC, so we are living in the midst of mortgage + rent.  Y'all, it is not exciting.  I'm trying to convince myself that we have a "second home" in the vacation sense of the word, but the reality is a lot less thrilling.  So, keeping a strict food budget is one way I am attempting responsibility in the middle of our growing financial strain.   
     The easiest thing to do would be to announce to my family that we're eating "cheap and easy" things like spaghetti or beans and rice.  But if y'all have met my husband Josh then you know that kind of talk wouldn't be well received!  In addition to the financial stress, we have a wild ministry schedule.  Several nights a week Josh will only be home for an hour or two before he has an evening meeting at the high school or college.  I'd prefer to spend that time with him and our kids and not simply toss my kids at him while I cook dinner.
     The current circumstances (frugality + picky eaters + limited time) has led us to freezer cooking.  Freezer cooking?  (How the heck do you cook with a freezer??)  Basically, I plan out our dinners, divide them into family portions and then spend one day prepping/cooking/freezing our dinners for the month.  We pull the meals out and thaw/cook/bake as directed.  It takes a lot of organization and brain power beforehand, but then very little effort afterward.  The challenge is to:     
a) be cheap
b) find meals that freeze/reheat well
c) find recipes that have little 'day of' prep required
d) stick to the plan
     The first thing that I do is print out a calendar for the month.  I fill in all our nighttime obligations so that I know how much actual cook time I have each evening.  
     The next step is to write out what you will eat each evening.  Y'all, this is the tortuous part.  You need to know how many portions you need for your family for each night.  We have four people in our family, but its more like three adult portions for the meal and then seven for the bread (am i right?!)  For example, I know that baked ziti will feed our family for two meals, but that my family doesn't want to eat it back-to-back.  So, I'll make one baked ziti recipe, but divide it up into two separate dishes and then freeze---and then cook each one fresh on the day we've put it on the calendar.  Some recipes, like enchiladas, will make more that our family will eat in one month.  We use these recipes for having friends over for dinner or to help us out with menu planning for the next month.
     I check out pantry and spice cabinet, then compile a giant grocery list of all the ingredients that we need.  Then it's time for a Duggar-style trip to Aldi, Walmart and the natural food store.
     Then I will spend the next hours chopping, dicing, cooking, portioning, freezing and finally cleaning up.  I store soup in individual portions in freezer zipper bags, casseroles go in aluminum or glass trays and mason jars.

tips for first time freezer chefs:

1) take a deep breath!  this isn't nearly as hard as it seems
2) make a list of all your family favorite recipes.   And don't forget about seasonal favorites!  Who says Grandma's sweet potato soufflé can't be enjoyed all fall long?? 
3) use a free printable calendar from somewhere like this, I've just found it so much easier to make adjustments on paper than my iPhone
4) make notes about which meals are a hit and which ones are a miss, it'll help you when you plan your next month
5) some items, like roasted vegetable burritos, that are great for dinner also make great "homemade lean cuisine" type lunches.  i'll portion a few out and wrap individually to have for a quick, filling lunch.


cook it: tomato soup

Y'all, we just got a serious cold front coming through and it is time for a big bowl of soup.  With the Indian Summer that we've had going on out here in Oklahoma I thought that this day might never come!

I indulged in two bowls of this tomato basil soup today and thought y'all might want to make some for yourself!  It only makes around 6 servings, so you'll want to go ahead and grab your stock pot so you can double this recipe.  It's around 100 calories per bowl, so you're fine to grab a second helping!

I love how this recipe transforms totally average ingredients into out-of-this world deliciousness:

seriously, just grab store brand ingredients y'all

can of crushed tomatoes (24 oz)
3 cups water
2T tomato paste
2t sugar
1.5t sea salt
bunch of fresh basil (chopped)
0.5t fresh pepper
1c heavy cream

1) combine tomatoes, water, tomato paste, sugar, salt and basil in a pot
2) bring to a boil and then reduce to simmer for 20 minutes
3) stir in pepper and cream, simmer for 2 minutes

serve alone or with salad, grilled cheese, crusty bread....the possibilities are endless. 

nom nom nom


bangs + braids

I've been a full-fledged stay-at-home mom for exactly a year now and it has taken me nearly that long to get my mom-style on target.  I spend approximately 90% of my time in my running gear (nike capris, a tank/shirt/zip-up long-sleeved, and running shoes.  (I do actually run, nearly every day, but am sure to do some sort of exercise every day.  I'm not just sporting my yoga pants around town--even though they are so very, very comfy.)  I have yet to figure out what to wear in the remaining 10% of my time (dates, errands, church, etc).  I was pregnant or nursing up until six months ago and I always favored convenience over fashion.  And then summer came, and who can really think straight in 99% humidity?

While I am still struggling to find my "feminine boho" look that won't show my booty while I'm chasing after my toddlers I have at least one piece figured out: my fall go-to hair style

shameless selfie

bangs + braid

As a mom, bangs are a fashion lifesaver.  They are cute and prevent ponytail monotony.  You can push them back with a wide headband when needed.  But the biggest advantage is that you can have days old greasy hair and wash your bangs and look semi-decent (if you hair is in a pony.)

The Elsa-inspired side braid is also amazing.  It works better with dirty hair (check) and your three year old daughter will think you are so cool.

So, I'm still not sure if I am too old to wear the dressing/leggings/boots, but I will definitely be sporting this hairstyle all winter long.



One of the things that I love about Young Life is it's passion to present the gospel in a creative way; to grab a kid's attention and tell them with the greatest story ever told.  We do that in some pretty wild ways: square dances, muck wars and even rapping yodelers.

Yesterday Josh and the Young Life leaders at Stillwater High School built a giant "bubble" for club.  It was awesome to watch it all come together, and I was glad we had a cool evening so it was less of a sauna than I expected!

Here's Elliot testing out the Bubble with Princess Twilight Sparkle (her unicorn):

photo credit: Maddie Churchwell

Club + Bubble = Clubble
Love it!

we get some pretty amazing sunsets out here:
photo credit: Josh Jones

perfect shadow puppet:
photo credit: Josh Jones


cook it: chicken/vegetable pot pie

This recipe could also be called: is also known as:
"how to use up all those frozen veggies that have been in your freezer for a year (or more)"
"how a vegetarian, carnivore and toddler agree on a meal"

4T butter
1/2 cup diced carrots
1/2 cup diced onion
1 cup diced potatoes (preferably the tiny ones)
1/2 cup frozen peas
1/2 cup frozen green beans
1/2 cup frozen corn
1/4 cup flour
3 cups vegetable broth
dash salt
dash pepper (or a couple twists on a grinder)
1/4 cup cream
*shredded chicken beast (or not)
unbaked pie crust

1) melt butter in a large frying pan and sauté the onion, carrot and potatoes for around 3 minutes (until the onions get translucent)
2) add the frozen peas, green beans and corn.  feel free to toss in any other random frozen veggies you've got on hand (except eggplant---eggplant should only be breaded and fried beyond recognition)
3) sprinkle the flour over the veggies.  toss and sauté for one minute. we gotta get those veggies covered and the flour a little bit browned.
4) add vegetable broth and let it cook to thicken.  this may take a few minutes--this would be a good opportunity to make sure that your pie crust is thawed and not still in the deep freezer.  not that anything like that's happened to me before.
5) add the salt 'n pepper (and sing "push it", but not very loud if you're cooking with your kids)
6) add cream and watch it transform before you eyes (or 2 minutes)
7) this is where it gets tricky if you're trying to cook for a vegetarian, a carnivore and two toddlers.  bless my poor soul, right?  pour some of the mixture into a baking dish--this will be your vegetarian option.  now, toss the shredded chicken in the pot and fold into the mixture.  pour into a separate baking dish.
8) top both dishes with pie crust
9) bake 375 for 25 minutes

notes about dishes:
This recipe could be cooked in one deep dish pie pan if you're all of one eating accord---but we actually split this up at our house into 4 small dishes, two sets of chicken and veggies.  we eat one set and the freeze the other.

notes about chicken:
I have found THE EASIEST way to shred chicken.  here goes:
1) boil a pot of water and toss in chicken breast until cooked (maybe 7 minutes?)
2) remove chicken and put into kitchen aid mixer bowl.  use paddle attachment and set to medium speed and watch it magically shred before your eyes!  total game changer!



I just turned 32.  To celebrate, I wanted to run 32 miles.  I've heard of a lot of cyclists (and a few runners) that celebrate their birthdays with coordinating mileage and it sounded like a great challenge--and if I ever wanted to do the challenge, I should probably attempt it before I get any older!  

The longest I have ever run in my life was 19 miles, so I knew a consecutive 32 wasn't really possible.  I decided to set really flexible rules for myself; the only thing that mattered was completing the mileage on my birthday.  I knew several marathoners that advised walking during their races, so I figured it was ok if I walked some as well.  And I wanted to enjoy my birthday, so that meant a celebratory breakfast with my kids and date night with my husband.  I wasn't quite sure how the mileage would work out, but I accepted the challenge.

Here's kind of a breakdown of the day and my thoughts about the segments:

6:00 am: 5.1 miles on the dreadmill at the gym. (i loved getting up early; it made my day feel longer and gave me more confidence that i had enough time for the challenge.  this was perhaps the hardest segment because the treadmill was directly in front of a wall and i couldn't people watch, which i really love) 
7:00 am: back to the house to change clothes and eat belgian waffles with the family (best breakfast ever.  endorphins in full effect and i had zero guilt about indulging in extra butter)
9:00 am: 10.8 miles on the OSU cross country course (definitely my favorite segment.  we live about a mile away from the course and it has it all: wide open fields, hills, woods.  i can see why it attracts a lot of local runners)
11:30am: lunch outside with my feet propped up on the table (ibuprofen for dessert) (i used to think eating alone was awkward, but now that i have two toddlers i recognize how blissful the silence can be)
1:00 pm: 16.1 miles on pavement/sidewalks (i ran from our house, "across" town, around a small lake and home.  i love how accessible our town is for runners.  i used our house as home base and didn't bother to bring water or snacks with me.  BIG MISTAKE.  i totally bonked when i got to the lake.  i was miles from home with no money and no nutrients.  fortunately the lake has several water fountains, but i had to walk 3/4 mile to get to one.  i could not believe how low energy i was.  i drank a few sips, walked to the next fountain and drank a bit more.  when i got back to the house i grabbed two water bottles and slowly rehydrated while walking.  i had around 5 miles left and i was so mentally and physically exhausted!  i managed to run/walk the last few miles, but they were very hard!)
4:30 pm: stagger back home

post run----sprawled out on the driveway
I posted this shameless selfie on instagram just after I finished my run.  I am truly thankful for the filter that made me look 300% better than I felt!

As far as recovery goes, I'm feeling pretty good.  I took three rounds of ibuprofin and I have a small popped blister on my left heel, but otherwise I'm doing great.  My "schedule" has me running 5 miles tomorrow and lifting weights, after two full rest days I think I'm up to it!



cook it: fresh greek salad

I am loving this Indian Summer that we are having out here in Oklahoma.  I've never been one to love hot summer days, but I'll hold on to these warm fall afternoons because I am definitely scared of the winters here!  The wind is something fierce out here (remind me to tell you about the time my shirt was literally almost blown off while running the OSU cross country course) and I have a feeling that I might be spending a lot of time inside.  

This greek salad has been a staple in our house for the past couple of months; it's refreshing, packed with nutrients and super filling.

so bright; always a good idea to eat colorful veggies

i love having the chopped veggies all tossed together, makes
it much easier to eat one handed (while the other is referring
two toddlers--promise me this doesn't just apply to me??)
1/4 Red Pepper 
2T Sweet Onion 
2T Banana Pepper 
3 Baby Carrots 
1/2 Mini Cucumber 
optional: 1oz/2T Feta 

1) chop all ingredients
2) toss into bowl
3) top with 1-2 tablespoons of your favorite Greek dressing (side note: I have a wonderful recipe, but lately I've been using Newman's Own Olive Oil & Vinegar--it's awesome)
4) plate and serve with a side of hummus (side note: I have a great recipe for this too, but we eat it in such vast quantities and time has been so spare lately that we've been buying it in bulk from Aldi--it's a crowd pleaser for sure)

**note** you can also serve this with a side of warm pita; it's actually really great to line the pita with hummus and then stuff the salad mixture inside (it'll change your life, trust me)


Welcome Back

Uhm wow.  It's been a while.  I don't even know where to start.  A lot has happened in the (nearly) three years that have gone by.  Some highlights:
-lost a job
-had another baby
-got a new job
-got bangs
-lost/quit/still-undecided a job
-moved across the country

So, let me introduce myself.  Here I am with my fabulous family:
me, Elliot (3), Josh, Mills (2)

After living in our wonderful little NC town for ten years (12 for Josh), we packed up to start a new adventure in Stillwater, OK.  Josh is still working with Young Life, which we looooove, and now we're in a big/little college town (Go Pokes!)

This blog will now serve to share our Oklahoma adventure and I'll sprinkle in some recipes, crafting and pictures of my wild children.  I know y'all can hardly contain your excitement, I can practically feel it streaming through the computer---wait, no....that's a little earthquake.  Yes, an earthquake....in Oklahoma.  

(I've been staring at the screen for the last three minutes.  I can't figure out a cute way to end this post.  So, I'm just going to say 'the end' and leave it at that.  The End.)
Images by Freepik