When You Are Stuck In A Dinner Rut (Cookbook Review and BONUS Recipe!)

I have been stuck in a dinner rut recently.

It’s been bad.

Like, frozen pizza bad. (Which is soooo not my style.)


It didn’t help that the weather in Kansas went from warm pleasant spring to WINTER. Snow, ice, the whole tamale. Again. It was so hard to get motivated to cook new recipes when all I wanted was familiar comfort.

Then, when a warm, rainy spring day finally returned, I still reached for a familiar favorite: Summer Vegetable Ravioli Salad. I wanted to enjoy the lighter flavors that come with warmer weather but wasn’t willing to stretch far from my comfy regime.

I had just finished the recipe, but a TORNADO WARNING popped up unexpectedly.

If you’re not familiar, a tornado warning means go to your basement now because there’s literally a tornado swirling around in the sky and heading your direction. In this situation, if we have time, I head to my parent’s basement, about a mile away, because our current house is built on a slab foundation.

(If we don’t have time, two different neighbors with basements in our cul-de-sac have offered to shelter us. Or, we could get into an interior closet. We have lots of options.)

Anyway, to recap, I had just finished cooking a favorite recipe on a rainy spring day when I got word that a tornado had been spotted one town away and was heading my direction.

I grabbed the diaper bag, threw on shoes, and headed to the car while my husband strapped our son into his car seat. But then I had an idea. Why not bring dinner? I had made more than enough to share, and it was just sitting there completely ready in the pot getting cold.

So I hopped back inside toward the kitchen, but my feet were now wet. As soon as I touched the kitchen tile, whoop!

I fell.

Now, I’m lying on the floor. My first thought: oooouuuccch, I think I sprained my ankle. My second thought: thank God nobody saw me do that. My third thought: I am so glad I wasn’t holding dinner while I fell, because I’m still looking forward to eating that!

I grab dinner and hobble out the door as fast as I could (because remember, TORNADO!).

But, yeah, I totally sprained my ankle. A couple of days of ice followed by a doctor’s appointment, x-rays and the following instructions: rest, wear this little brace, and “no sports.”

So, aside from one memorable meal, the dinner rut continued.

THIS BOOK SAVED ME FROM MY DINNER RUT! (Affiliate link)

I had requested it at my local library weeks ago, and while I was laid up with hurt ankle and hurt pride. It was so inspiring! As soon as I was feeling up to going on a grocery run, I wrote out a meal plan, including three new-to-us recipes, and went shopping! 

And this recipe, Pasta with Roasted Butternut Squash and Smoked Paprika, is an instant hit with my family. It’s going into my permanent rotation!

It reminded me of another favorite recipe of mine: Roasted Butternut Squash and Bacon Pasta from CookingLight. But, as much as I LOVE that recipe, I never have enough time to make it on a week night. Believe me, I’ve tried!

Ingredients

  • 3 c chopped butternut squash (use frozen to save time!)
  • 1/2 onion, chopped (again, use frozen to save time, if you want!)
  • 2 tsp dried thyme (or leaves from 4 or 5 fresh thyme springs)
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1 lb any pasta
  • 1/2 c freshly grated Parmesan, plus more for serving
  • fresh ricotta for serving (optional)

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
  2. in a baking dish lined with foil, toss together squash, onions, thyme, olive oil, salt and pepper, and paprika. Roast for about 30 minutes, or until the squash is tender and browning around the edges.
  3. While the squash is in the oven, prepare the pasta per package directions, reserving 1/4 c of pasta water before draining.
  4. Return the drained pasta to the pot and toss with the squash.
  5. Add the Parmesan with half of the reserved pasta water to thin and evenly distribute the cheese. (Note: I have to admit, I was a doubter on this step. A sauce made with starchy water and cheese? Noooope. BUT, I stuck with it, and it turns out just fine in the end!!)
  6. Serve immediately, topped with ricotta and more Parmesan.



Bible Stories for the Easter Basket

It seems like there might be no escaping commercialized Easter. The chocolate bunnies and plastic eggs appeared February 15. They will remain on display looking completely yummy until Easter morning.

The marketing, which is targeted at children, has already caught the eye of my one year-old.

As a Christian parent, it makes me 100% uncomfortable.

How did celebrating Jesus turn into this tangled web of bunnies, eggs, and chocolate?

How did celebrating Jesus turn into this tangled web of bunnies, eggs, and chocolate?

I’m still new to this parenting thing, so this is really the first Easter for us. We are attempting to navigate this while still being intentional about celebrating Jesus is so confusing.

As much as I feel conflicted that an illogical egg laying magical rabbit might detract from the real meaning of Easter, if you take away the egg hunts and the gifts, you’re left with dressing uncomfortably, attending an especially crowded Easter service, and eating a side of my grandma’s asparagus and egg casserole with lunch. Nothing about that seems remotely exciting or kid friendly.

(Plus, egg hunts are fun!)

An Easter egg hunt is of course happening. But the Easter basket full of gifts? I’m not so sure about that.

Long before our son was born, we agreed on a gift giving motto for our family: one thing we want, one thing we need, one thing to wear, and one thing to read.

Books are our go to gift for each other.

We absolutely do not need any more toys or sweets at this house. So I got to thinking… what if the gift that was sitting out on Easter morning pointed back to the real reason we’re celebrating?

…what if the gift that was sitting out on Easter morning pointed back to the real reason we’re celebrating?

What about Bible stories?

My son LOVES books! We have many kids books at our house, and we regularly visit the children’s section local public library.

He and I probably read somewhere between 15-30 board books in any given day. I’m encouraging this as much as possible. Anytime he brings me a book, I drop what I’m doing for a few minutes and read that book with him. We both really enjoy this time together.

Not many books we have read share about the love of God in a way that my son understands. Our public library can’t really support us in this area. So, the Bible stories at our house were either gifts or books that I purposely sought out.

Easter is a good excuse to invest in a couple new reads about the most important story of all: the story of how much God loves us!

Easter is a good excuse to invest in a couple new reads about the most important story of all: the story of how much God loves us!

Board Books for Babies and Toddlers

Frankly, a lot of Bible based board books take on way too much. Why do so many of them attempt to summarize the entire Bible? In our house, we normally only get through a couple of pages before losing interest.

And, many books that focus on a single story are a struggle to get through. Why so wordy? At this age, we will talk about pictures for a couple of pages before moving on.

Even so, these are books that we have sincerely enjoyed.

The Lift the Flap Bible is so interactive! We really enjoy the Noah page and the Jonah page. It’s great for kids who love to manipulate books themselves! This is the only book in our current board book collection that even attempts to introduce very young readers to the Easter story.

This book does a pretty good job of gently introducing young kids to the Easter story, and it includes flaps for the empty tomb and has a page about Jesus appearing and making breakfast for his disciples.

Read the description: Tracey Moroney’s masterpiece Lift the Flap Bible, now with a refreshed cover, brings 14 beloved Bible stories to life with beautiful illustrations and 40 flaps. The perfect introduction to timeless stories from the old and new testaments the Lift-the-Flap Bible combines breathtaking illustrations with delightful text. With flaps to open on every page (and surprises to find underneath), children join in the thrill of discovery as they take part in each of the stories from the Old and New Testaments. Through the pages of this stunning Bible, the greatest story ever told is traced and the wonderful news that God loves us is brought home to the heart of every child. (via Amazon)

A free copy of The Shepherd and the Sheep was sent to me for free by the publishing company, and it was very well timed with my son’s new obsession with the “baa baa baa sheep” from his farm set! The simple flaps on the right side of the page are easy for him to navigate, and we always enjoy a giggle over the story.

Read the description: Part of a trio of interactive lift-the-flap books, The Shepherd and the Sheep tells a sweet story of the Great Shepherd searching for his one lost sheep. The reader searches for the sheep in several places―all related to stories in the Bible―by unfolding the flap to reveal a hidden image. (via Amazon)

The Little Golden Bible Storybook (Padded Board Book) makes me nostalgic for my own childhood. We currently pick and choose pages to read in this book, but I look forward to discussing them more in a couple of years. Each Bible story is short and sweet, and the pictures are very colorful. This book doesn’t talk much about Easter specifically, but it does have a page about the Last Supper and communion.

Read the description: The simple retellings and bright illustrations of these best-known Bible stories make sharing the Good Word a warm and enriching experience for parents and very young children. (via Amazon)

A new addition to our book collection, God Made You Nose to Toes, has been a big hit. It doesn’t talk specifically about the Easter story, but it does teach kids parts of the body using fun animals and talks about how we are made by God.

Read the description: Help little ones understand that God created each part of their bodies so they can enjoy life and everything in it. In this delightful padded cover board book by well-known author and family therapist Leslie Parrott, children can follow along with Toucan––with a great big nose––as he helps them learn God loves each one of them completely. (via Amazon)

A nod to our beloved “Brown Bear” book (illustrated by Eric Carle) and by the same author, Noah, Noah, What Do You See? is a cute telling of many famous Bible stories.

Read the description: From the bestselling authors of Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? and Chicka Chicka, 1, 2, 3 with colorful art from Melissa Iwai and the signature rhyming style of Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?, parents and children alike will love the classic storytelling of Bill Martin Jr. and Michael Sampson. (via Amazon)

Really Woolly Easter Blessings might just be my Easter basket purchase this year (because “baa baa baa” sheep!). It has excellent Amazon reviews.

Read the description: “Winter’s nap is over, and new life is all around! Flowers are blooming. Birds are chirping. And the Really Woolly characters are discovering God’s goodness all around them. Curl up with your little one, and join the fun while learning about the hope of Easter and springtime! Adorable rhymes, sweet Bible verses, and prayer starters will make reading time a special moment for you and your child—to connect with each other and with God.” (via Amazon)

My other Easter choice: Jesus Calling for Little Ones by Sara Young and Antonia Woodward.

Description from Amazon: “From bestselling author Sarah Young, Jesus Calling for Little Ones reassures toddlers and preschoolers of Jesus’ never-ending love. Devotions are written as if Jesus is speaking directly to your child’s heart—showing that Jesus knows us from our head to our toes and is always taking care of us. Along with adorable illustrations and a durable format, this is sure to be a treasure for your precious little ones.”

Books for Elementary Aged Children

The Beginner’s Bible for Toddlers has more than 160 pages, so it’s really more appropriate for older pre-schoolers. But that little handle and the flap that comes on the hardback version? ABSOLUTELY PRECIOUS. Kids take a book so much more seriously when it comes with a little velcro lock. Obviously this book is special.

Read the description: The Beginner’s Bible®, the bestselling Bible storybook of our time, now in a special edition just for toddlers. Toddlers will love this special edition of The Beginner’s Bible® created especially for tiny hands to carry with them wherever they go. The toddlers edition features a smaller size, a go-anywhere handle, and an easy Velcro closure. Toddlers will come to know and love the key stories and characters of the Bible with this best-loved Bible storybook. Now updated with vibrant new art, text, and over 25 stories, The Beginner’s Bible® is the perfect starting point for children. Toddlers will enjoy the fun illustrations of Noah helping the elephant onto the ark, Jonah praying inside the fish, and more, as they discover The Beginner’s Bible® for Toddlers just like millions of children before! (via Amazon)

Now the makers of the Beginner’s Bible also made smaller paperback books that focus in on individual stories. The Beginner’s Bible The Very First Easter is an affordable choice for an Easter basket with familiar drawings that kids will love!

Read the description: The Very First Easter introduces preschoolers to one of the most wonderful stories of all time, the death and resurrection of Jesus. Using the popular and vibrant artwork from The Beginner’s Bible, children will learn the events leading up to Jesus’ death and his miraculous resurrection. By the end of the story, children will understand why we celebrate this special day and what Jesus did for them. This low-cost picture book is great for outreach events and distributing at Easter celebrations. (via Amazon)

Aw, there’s nothing more precious than Little Golden Books, am I right? Up until recently, my grandma had a full collection of Little Golden Books displayed in her living room for little visitors, but she handed them all out to family. I was fortunate enough to receive a few Bible stories in her gift to me (pictured above).

The Story of Jesus (Little Golden Book) is not in my personal collection, but I remember reading it at my grandma’s when I was younger! It also has excellent reviews on Amazon. If you’re looking for an Easter story on a limited budget, this is a great choice!

Read the description: A gentle look at Jesus’ birth, childhood, teachings, crucifixion, and resurrection. Written in a simple, warm style that will captivate and inspire, and colorfully illustrated with seven new pages of artwork, it’s a perfect introduction to Jesus for very young children. (via Amazon)

As you can see from my photo above, we own several Arch Books including Daniel and the Lions and Get Up, Lazarus! – Arch Books in English and Spanish. I really like them, and I’m glad to see that they offer several books dedicated to telling the Easter story. Firstly, The Week That Led to Easter – Arch Books.

Read the description: This book retells the events of Palm Sunday through Easter day (Matthew 21:1-28:10; Mark 11:1-16-8; Luke 19:29-24:12; John 12:12-20:10). The Arch(R) Book series tells popular Bible stories through fun-to-read rhymes and bright illustrations. This well-loved series captures the attention of children, telling scripturally sound stories that are enjoyable and easy to remember. This product is part of the Accelerated Reader(TM) program and carries a point value of .5. (via Amazon)

He’s Risen! He’s Alive – Arch Books description from Amazon: This book retells the story of Christs Resurrection (Matthew 27:32-28:10). The Arch(R) Book series tells popular Bible stories through fun-to-read rhymes and bright illustrations. This well-loved series captures the attention of children, telling scripturally sound stories that are enjoyable and easy to remember. This product is part of the Accelerated Reader(TM) program and carries a point value of .5.

According to reviewers, the images in The Day Jesus Died are not scary, but they are big and bold, and the book includes more details than most picture books about Easter. Buyers indicate that this book is hard to find in stores, so Amazon might be your best option. It has very good reviews!

Read the description: “The Story of the Empty Tomb” tells the well-known Bible story through easy-to-read rhymes and bright illustrations. Children, ages five to nine, will enjoy these spiritually sound stories that are easy to remember. (via Amazon)

One reviewer says: The Resurrection, written by Cynda Strong, is the story of Jesus from the time he was an adult up to the resurrection. It includes his triumphant entrance into Jerusalem, Judas’ betrayal, the Last Supper, his “trial” before Pilate, and the Crucifixion. There’s no mention of his praying in the Garden of Gethsemane or of Peter’s denial of Christ. Bible verses from both the books of Isaiah and Matthew are given as reference for the text. The illustrations, by Helen Cann, are true-to-life and expressive. (via Amazon)

The Action Bible is a big hit with the pre-teen and teenage crowd in the middle school youth group I volunteer with. This book would be most appropriate for older kids. Or kids at heart, because if I woke up on Easter and found this in my basket, I would not be upset!

Read the description: Here’s the most complete picture Bible ever! And it features a captivating, up-to-date artwork style—making it the perfect Bible for today’s visually focused culture. The Action Bible presents 215 fast-paced narratives in chronological order, making it easier to follow the Bible’s historical flow—and reinforcing the build-up to its thrilling climax. The stories in The Action Bible communicate clearly and forcefully to contemporary readers. This compelling blend of clear writing plus dramatic images offers an appeal that crosses all age boundaries. Brazilian artist Sergio Cariello has created attention-holding illustrations marked by rich coloring, dramatic shading and lighting, bold and energetic designs, and emotionally charged figures. Let this epic rendition draw you into all the excitement of the world’s most awesome story. (via Amazon)

Family Devotional Books

There is no better time than the present to start talking daily about Jesus with your kids! Why not use this Easter as an excuse to invest in some family devotional books that your kids will love?

This was given to us as a part of our baby shower over a year ago, and I so excited that we’re finally ready to start reading this together every day! The Jesus Storybook Bible: Every Story Whispers His Name

Read the description: The Moonbeam Award Gold Medal Winner in the religion category, The Jesus Storybook Bible tells the Story beneath all the stories in the Bible. At the center of the Story is a baby, the child upon whom everything will depend. Every story whispers his name. From Noah to Moses to the great King David—every story points to him. He is like the missing piece in a puzzle—the piece that makes all the other pieces fit together. From the Old Testament through the New Testament, as the Story unfolds, children will pick up the clues and piece together the puzzle. A Bible like no other, The Jesus Storybook Bible invites children to join in the greatest of all adventures, to discover for themselves that Jesus is at the center of God’s great story of salvation—and at the center of their Story too. (via Amazon)

As someone who believes in the importance of doing life around the table as a family, this devotion book caught my eye a long time ago. It isn’t yet age appropriate for us, but I’m looking forward to going through it together someday! One Year of Dinner Table Devotions and Discussion Starters: 365 Opportunities to Grow Closer to God as a Family

Read the description: Getting the kids to turn off the TV and video games is challenge enough―let alone gathering as a family to read and discuss the Bible! One Year of Dinner Table Devotions & Discussion Starters helps families start where they are already gathered together on a daily basis―around the dinner table. As the meal comes to a close, family members can take turns turning to the dinner-table devotion for that day, designed to be done together as a family in 10 to 15 minutes. The result is a meaningful daily discussion in which every family member can participate, drawing the whole family closer to God . . . and each other. (via Amazon)

For any fans of the Jesus Calling: Enjoying Peace in His Presence devotion book, you will enjoy sharing Jesus Calling: 365 Devotions For Kids with your family.

Read the description: “Devotions written as if Jesus is speaking directly to a child’s heart. Based on her original Jesus Calling, this version has been adapted in a language and fashion that kids and tweens can relate to their everyday lives. After many years of writing in her prayer journal, missionary Sarah Young decided to listen to God with pen in hand, writing down what she believed He was saying to her through Scripture. Others were blessed as she shared her writings, until people all over the world were using her devotionals.  They are written from Jesus’ point of view, thus the title Jesus Calling.  It is Sarah’s fervent prayer that our Savior may bless readers, and now young readers, with His presence and His peace in ever deeper measure.” (via Amazon)

We absolutely do not need any more toys or sweets at this house. So I got to thinking… what if the gift that was sitting out on Easter morning pointed back to the real reason we’re celebrating? Why not Bible stories?
Do you have any Bible story books that are popular at your house? Tell me in the comments below!hh

Weekend Links 

I spent the week in a blur of writing and mommy sleeplessness. It has been a hard, but sweet, week. 

I’m looking forward to doing some spring cleaning tomorrow! Hoping for tangible results!

Here is a list of some thoughtful web goodies to kick off your weekend!

  1. Ellen gave an entire high school class a scholarship for college. It’s like Scott’s Tots only much more satisfying!
  2. 20 adorable comics by Liz Climo who draws for The Simpsons.
  3. 8 Kids Give Us The Dish On Their Dream Breakfast. Teddy Grahms and milk, anyone? (I would eat that…)
  4. 11 Oscar-Worthy Puns That Deserve An Award. It’s baaaaaad but I couldn’t help but chuckle.
  5. On the same note, Why Typography Matters–Especially At The Oscars.
  6. Exploring the first cover of The Hobbit. That’s what my copy looks like!
  7. 10 Ways To Beast Your Monday.
  8.  Take the Emotional Agility quiz!
  9. Your Love For Me: a poem.
  10. 5 Steps To Living More Creatively.
  11. Raising Kids Who Love Jesus. Yes! Love this!
  12. Another poem: Showers of Peace

How I Pray For My Son’s Future Valentine

On Tuesday, Valentine’s Day, my husband and I woke up with our sweet little almost-one-year-old son snuggled between us in our bed. He had been invited in sometime in the very early morning, a little set of sleepy blue eyes blinking awake.

“It’s Valentine’s Day,” Adam quietly reminded me.

It was a cold, clear morning here in Kansas, and Adam began his morning routine. As sun streamed in through the window, I paused just a moment to snuggle that little body a little closer and breathe in over his strawberry blond hair.

“I will gladly be your Valentine for as long as you need me to.”


Even though my son is little, I find myself thinking about her already: his future Valentine. My so-called nemesis. The woman who, decades from now, will win his heart. And, in doing so, will take him away from me. His mother. His mommy.

Will she exist? My heart says yes. How do I know? I don’t.

But boy, do I ever pray for her, that little girl somewhere in the world. A parallel little life that might someday change ours.

I wonder if she was rocked to sleep last night.

I wonder if she loves whales and roosters and fish and doggies as much as my boy.

I wonder if someone reads with her every day. I wonder if she asked to read The Bunny Rabbit Show book eight hundred times this week like my boy.

I don’t know the future. I don’t know about my son’s someday preferences, his life choices. That doesn’t stop me or even give me pause.

Because, someday my son might not need his mom to be his Valentine anymore.

And I want his someday girl to be as close to God’s heart as possible.

So, I bring God’s ear low, and I pray for her. In Jesus Christ’s name, I pray to a loving God who holds the future and still listens.

And this is how I pray.

1. I pray that she is healthy and strong.

I pray for her development, her coordination, her learning, her nourishment.

2. I pray for her parents.

I pray for wisdom in parenting. I pray for their marriage and that they will love each other deeply. I pray that they will model love and loyalty to their little girl.

3. I pray for her church and community.

I pray that she has people in her life that also are praying for her often. I pray for her church, that they will encourage her to look to Christ. I pray for the church leadership whose job it is to shepherd this family.

4. I pray that Adam and I will know her someday and love her like she’s our own from the moment we meet her.

I pray that someday I can tell her that I’ve prayed for her entire life.

It’s not because she has to be perfect or even about purity. It’s solely because if my heart thinks that there is someone out there who can someday love my little boy as much as I do, I want that person wrapped up in prayer. I want to start caring for her now.

Even so, son, I will gladly be your Valentine for as long as you need me. There is no rush. Xoxoxo

Why I Tossed My Nonstick Pans

I have replaced the nonstick Teflon pots and pans in my kitchen with stainless steel and cast iron, and I couldn’t be happier. Moving away from nonstick was an easy decision for me. Now, we eat more iron in our diet and have the heavenly bonus of being able to put some pots IN THE DISHWASHER. Hallelujah. I’m amazed at how often people rave about nonstick cookware, because I’m really not impressed. Let me tell you why.

I have replaced the nonstick Teflon pots and pans in my kitchen with stainless steel and cast iron, and I couldn’t be happier.

Moving away from nonstick was an easy decision for me. Now, we eat more iron in our diet and have the heavenly bonus of being able to put some pots IN THE DISHWASHER. Hallelujah.

I’m amazed at how often people rave about nonstick cookware, because I’m really not impressed. Let me tell you why.

1. There are continuing concerns about health and safety, especially at the molecular level.

Nonstick cookware is safe and approved for use by the FDA with one big qualification: do not cook over low temperatures. Funny rule to have for pots and pans, actually.

Teflon, the plastic-like coating on the pan that makes it nonstick, becomes unsafe when used at too high of temperatures of 500 degrees or higher. At these high temperatures, the coating begins to break down at the molecular level (meaning you can’t necessarily see it happening). If the pans overheat, they emit fumes which will cause you to have temporary flu-like symptoms or even kill a pet bird.

Now 500 degrees may sound high, but this is actually fairly easy to do on accident. Good Housekeeping ran an experiment with several brands of nonstick cookware on different types of common household stove tops and found that empty pans over a high heat can easily be over 500 degrees. This included pans filled with food, especially meats, it seems. These easily reached temperatures over 600 degrees.

A lesser concern but still worth mentioning is that surface of nonstick cookware is easily damaged by cooking utensils or by banging against other pans in storage. This means that little pieces of the Teflon coating are mixed into your food. It’s potentially no big deal, and probably just passes through your system without lingering effects. But, I’m not comfortable with the idea of my family consuming that.

Nonstick products have improved in quality over the last decade as the process of making Teflon improves, but there are still a lot of unknown outcomes to exposing our bodies to the chemicals associated with the Teflon manufacturing process. There is an ongoing conversation in the news questioning their safety with new reports every day.

What’s scary is that there’s actually traces of these chemicals–PFOA, PTFE, PFAS–are probably already in our bloodstream right now! However, Nonstick surfaces are not the only place where these chemicals are found (it’s found in microwave popcorn, takeout containers, even in tap water). So, without really knowing where else we are exposed to these chemicals or what the long term effects are, it’s hard to say anything definitive. Do nonstick pans cause testicular cancer, prostate cancer, thyroid disease, high cholesterol, pre-eclampsia, ulcerative colitis, weakened immunity, liver inflammation, or obesity? It’s hard to say, but enough evidence exists to state that it’s certainly linked. (Remember though, correlation doesn’t necessarily mean causation. My college stats professor would be proud that I remember that!)

I am not a professional pots and pans toxin tester; I can’t test these theories myself. Although there is enough chatter to raise red flags for me, I am not entirely 100% convinced by safety reasons alone. This brings me to my next point.

2. These pans wear out too quickly.

I remember opening my monthly subscription to Cooking Light magazine one morning in our first little apartment, not even a year after I got married. A blurb by one of their chefs recommended that even high end nonstick pans need to be replaced after two years. Two years? I couldn’t believe it! So I pulled out that pot set we had been gifted at our wedding shower, which was not even a year old, and looked at it closely. Despite using the appropriate utensils, it was already damaged!

While non-stick pans may begin showing signs of significant wear as early as just a couple of years after purchase, but I REALLY was not impressed when another Cooking Light Chef, Robin Bashinsky, boasted that his high end and well cared for nonstick set lasted 10 years. Only 10 years?! Consider the fact that my cast iron skillet (which cost less than a high end nonstick skillet), if well cared for, could still be used by my grandchildren 100 years from now, 10 years for a top of the line nonstick set is really not impressive.

So what do I use instead?


Let’s talk about cast iron!

I was gifted a 12.5 inch cast iron skillet for my birthday, and I am in love! (Affiliate link: FS Kitchen Pre-Seasoned Cast Iron Cookware Pan, 12.5-Inch) It is easy to care for, and this pan naturally adds iron to our diet. I have been borderline anemic several times, especially when I was pregnant, and my son has been threatened with iron supplements too. Neither of us have needed to suffer from the discomfort of taking iron supplements after our cast iron purchase.

Cast iron can be a little intimidating if you aren’t familiar with it. I had imagined owning cast iron pans to mean spending a weekend coating a whole bunch of pots with lard and then roasting them over a hearth fire like a scene from the beginning half of Cinderella. Where do you even get lard?! I wouldn’t know.


Cast iron does needs to be seasoned occasionally, but that just means that it needs to be brushed with a thin layer of oil (I’ve had good results with olive oil) and baked at 350 for about an hour (45 minutes upside down, 15 right side up). But if you care for it by avoiding dish soap whenever possible and dry it completely after every use, you don’t have to reseason very often.

This seasoning is what makes the pan nonstick. A very thin layer of baked on oil separates the food from the iron. It’s a breeze to clean, and I store it in the oven to keep moisture out.

Also, my stainless steel pans are great!

I’ve owned a Cuisinart stainless steel set for a couple of years (Affiliate link: Cuisinart 77-10 Chef’s Classic Stainless 10-Piece Cookware Set), and I’ve been very happy with it. Stainless steel is heavier with a thicker base than nonstick pans, which are often made with aluminum instead. On my first use, I noticed that stainless steel cooked more evenly. It also took a little more time to preheat, but once it was preheated, the pan contents cooked very quickly.

Tips for You

If you, at this point, are seriously considering moving away from your non-stick pans, there may be a way to use your existing warranty to get an upgrade. Check out this site for tips!

I didn’t immediately make any change. I replaced my pans over the course of a couple of years. And, confession, I still have a few nonstick pieces in my kitchen: a muffin pan, a griddle, a George Foremen grill. But, these pieces I only use occasionally in moderation, and I think that’s ok with me. For now.

Why not just start with investing in a better skillet today? A quality cast iron skillet is affordable on any budget. Years from now, your body (and wallet) will thank you for investing in better and better-for-you kitchen tools!

 



I have replaced the nonstick Teflon pots and pans in my kitchen with stainless steel and cast iron, and I couldn't be happier. Moving away from nonstick was an easy decision for me. Now, we eat more iron in our diet and have the heavenly bonus of being able to put some pots IN THE DISHWASHER. Hallelujah. I'm amazed at how often people rave about nonstick cookware, because I'm really not impressed. Let me tell you why.

Toffee Chocolate Pretzel Cookies

These Toffee Chocolate Pretzel Cookies are the perfect thing to satisfy that sweet/salty craving. It’s my favorite cookie recipe. After the recipe mysteriously disappeared off the internet, I was able to recreate it! I am so excited to share it with you!

Cookies were one of the first things I was allowed to bake in the kitchen all on my own. 

(My mother was just reminiscing the other day about a batch of cookies some friends and I made in late elementary school. The amounts of sugar and salt called for in the recipe were switched.)

I imagine that for some people baking cookies is a way to express love, and maybe I am like that. Often I select a cookie recipe because I have a specific person in mind who I think would enjoy it.

But the act off baking is for me. Baking cookies is how I  mark special days on the calendar and prepare for holidays.  A little ritual to embrace whatever needs celebrating in life and make thh day a little bit sweeter.

It doesn’t really feel like a special day until the house smells like vanilla, sugar, and butter, does it?


I push the resulting cookies into the hands of the people I love, but the act of baking is mostly selfish becasuse I lose myself in it.

I just love that smell. Once I take off my rings and get over the initial ick factor, digging my hands into dough to form balls makes me feel more youthful and alive. I relax into the rhythm of spacing rolls of dough and trading out for the cookie sheet as soon as the timer goes off. 

Somewhere between the nerdy science of baking and the creative outlet of flavor is my happy place.

But, as much as I appreciate all the little joys found in baking cookies, I hold them in moderation. They are reserved for special days and holidays. There is too much of a good thing.

While often I bake certain cookie dough recipes with other people in mind, these cookies are all about me. Sweet and salty combos are my favorite!  I do share, of course, but the act of baking and the final product is all Brohgan. Thankfully, other people are willing to enjoy the things I like with me!

I first tried a chocolate, toffee, pretzel cookie at a favorite deli lunch counter located on my town’s main downtown street. I sniffed out these cookies through their plastic packaging before I saw them! I ate the cookie before my meal (of course!), and I was already googling chocolate toffee pretzel cookie recipes on my phone before I finished my lunch.
I found the PERFECT recipe! It tasted exactly like the cookies from the deli. As a fan of sweet and salty snacks, it quickly became my favorite cookie recipe. I even looked it up online before a Christmas cookie exchange this last December and took honorable mention in a contest out of about 40 cookies!

BUT THE RECIPE DISAPPEARED! It was nowhere to be found on their internet! The blog that originally published it allowed the url to expire, and extensive searching led nowhere.

I had no choice to recreate the recipe, and I am so excited to share it with you!

Lesson learned: if you like a recipe on the internet enough to make it more than once, write it down!

Ingredients

  • 3/4 cup butter, softened
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 1/4 cups plus 2 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 (12-oz.) packages semisweet chocolate morsels
  • 1 (8-oz.) package of Heath Milk Chocolate Toffee Baking Bits (or substitute 2 full sized toffee chocolate full size candy bars, crushed)
  • 2 cups coarsely crushed pretzel sticks
  • Parchment paper (optional)

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350°. Beat butter and sugars at medium speed with a heavy-duty electric stand mixer until creamy. Add eggs and 1 1/2 tsp. vanilla, beating until blended.
  2. Combine flour, baking soda, and salt in a small bowl; gradually add to butter mixture, beating just until blended. Beat in chocolate chips, heath bar pieces, and crushed pretzel sticks just until combined. Drop by tablespoonfuls onto parchment Dpaper-lined baking sheets.
  3. Bake at 350° for 10 to 14 minutes or until desired degree of doneness. After taking the pan out of the oven, immediately move cookies to wire racks to cool.

These Toffee Chocolate Pretzel Cookies are the perfect thing to satisfy that sweet/salty craving. It's my favorite cookie recipe. After the recipe mysteriously disappeared off the internet, I was able to recreate it! I am so excited to share it with you!

Cold Brew Coffee

Have you tried cold brew coffee yet? The cold brew method is much less acidic than iced coffee, which allows notes of the sweeter dark chocolate flavor to shine through. My cold brew coffee recipe is quick and easy enough for a busy weekday morning. Perfect for daily coffee drinking, this only takes a few minutes to throw together the night before, about the same amount of time it takes to set the programmable coffeemaker. In the morning, just filter and enjoy cold over ice.

Oh coffee, should I compare thee to a summer’s day?
(…except it’s February, so how about I compare thee to the hope of a spring morning?)
Thou art more lovely and more temperate.

But how thou rough grounds in cold water doth create terrific cold brew,
which I enjoy very most after the rough winds of May have blown through.

(Uh I think I just heard Shakespeare roll over in his grave. Sorry, Billy.)

As a warm chinook blew through Kansas at the end of January and melted all the snow, I started dreaming of mornings on the back porch (I don’t have a back porch) with my feet up (with a one year old, ha) and with a glass of smooth homemade cold brew coffee in my hand (I didn’t know how to make cold brew).

So I thought I would maybe try to bring about this dream in the one area I have control over, and thus began my journey to achieve the perfect glass of cold brew coffee. In February.

I have spent a lot of money on cold coffee over the years, for better and for worse.  My problem is that I’m a bit of a coffee snob.

I have always been a picky coffee drinker.  I like it very strong and fresh and prefer it to be made with filtered water instead of our hard mineral water in Kansas. And with my face hidden, I admit that I don’t drink coffee at our local beloved roastery because I think that the flavor is inconsistent, and it bothers me.

New York City is one of my favorite places in the world to wander, but I have to tell you that I had nothing but horrible iced coffee on my last summertime trip there.  I dragged my family into every deli advertising iced coffee just to spend $2 on yet another stale, extremely bitter slosh that I inevitably tossed after just a couple of sips. I eventually came to realize that what I was buying was probably yesterday’s unused coffee poured over ice. Ew.

I do like Starbucks iced coffee. I have a friend who is a professional barista at Starbucks, and I asked her about why the Starbucks iced coffee is so yummy. The reasons? First, it only has a shelf life of 12 hours. If it sits any longer than that, they toss it. Second, Starbucks brews the iced coffee double strength to account for the ice melting.

But this post isn’t about iced coffee.  It’s about cold brew.  What’s the difference you ask?  Well, essentially, just the temperature it is brewed at and the length of time it takes to make.

Iced coffee is brewed hot, normally in a drip coffee maker, and it’s much more acidic but can also have a fuller body taste due to the hot brew processes. Cold brew coffee is never hot. Instead, the cold brew process allows the water and coffee grounds to come together over time (12 hours or so) in a cold refrigerator, which results in a much more caffeinated and sweeter coffee with notes of dark chocolate.

 

And now that I’ve successfully made it myself, I am OBSESSED with cold brew. I can’t believe how easy it was!

I will admit, I was completely intimidated by the process at first! I remember when the Pioneer Woman wrote about Perfect Iced Coffee back in 2011. I loved the idea, but I took one look at her gigantic 12 quart container and her cheese cloth filtering system, and I thought NOOOPE. Way too hard. I’ll just drop grab one on my way to work.

That was years ago! Think about all the times I was seriously craving awesome homemade cold brew coffee just to be at the mercy of all those cups of yesterday’s slush over ice. I could have easily made it for myself this entire time!

Alas, it was reading this account of drinking horrible iced coffee in NYC on Jamie Oliver’s site, in his charming accent of course, that finally made me brave enough to give at-home cold brew a chance. I completely identified with that story!

I pulled out a trusty mason jar, my mesh strainer, and a regular coffee filter. I bought the cheapest coffee in the store. I actually just used water from the tap.

And the results were AMAZING. I was so pleased! The cravings of this coffee snob were completely satisfied!

I do have to admit, that this coffee didn’t store well.  I LOVED LOVED LOVED it when it was fresh the first day, but when I tried a sip on the second day it was drinkable but stale. I think that making this in small batches for the next day is best.

INGREDIENTS
-Coffee, coursely ground
-Water
-Cream or sugar, optional to taste

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. Add coffee to the bottom of a mason jar(or other tightly sealing container) and cover in warm water in a 1:4 ratio. For instance, 2 oz coffee per 8 oz water, 4 oz coffee per 16 oz water, and 8 oz coffee per 32 oz water. (I prefer my coffee very strong. You can adjust this ratio to your tastes. In his post, Jamie Oliver recommends a 1:8 ratio.) TIP: measurements are printed on the side of the mason jar!
  2. Stir contents of the jar to ensure that they are well mixed. Or, shake it up!
  3. Place in refrigerator for between 12 and 24 hours to allow it to brew.
  4. Once brewed, strain using a mesh strainer lined with a basket shaped coffee filter. (This process takes a few minutes, almost as long as brewing hot coffee.)
  5. Drink over ice black or with cream or sugar.

Have you tried cold brew coffee yet? The cold brew method is much less acidic than iced coffee, which allows notes of the sweeter dark chocolate flavor to shine through. My cold brew coffee recipe is quick and easy enough for a busy weekday morning. Perfect for daily coffee drinking, this only takes a few minutes to throw together the night before, about the same amount of time it takes to set the programmable coffeemaker. In the morning, just filter and enjoy cold over ice.  Oh coffee, should I compare thee to a summer's day? (...except it's February, so how about I compare thee to the hope of a spring morning?) Thou art more lovely and more temperate.

The Best Free Personality Test

Remember back in the day when we to buy and read actual magazines? And they always had a fun quiz like ‘What Color is Your Dream Home’ or ‘What You Should Buy Your Boyfriend For Christmas’? (The magazines I would read were fairly innocent. Haha.)

The occasional internet quiz is still a guilty pleasure of mine. Of course I’ve been sorted into a house in Hogwarts (go Gryffindor!). I know what pet I would have as a Disney Princess (dog). The jury is still out on what bangs are best for my face shape.

But, I don’t normally take much stock in whatever insight a computer-run algorithm has into my personality. I’m an ambivert, so I’m almost always borderline on practically every personality test I’ve taken. Even the professional quality personality and career tests I took at the career center in college came up borderline.

I don’t remember exactly how I stumbled upon this free Myers-Briggs personality test, but I know it was the middle of the night during a particularly crazy cluster feed while I was on maternity leave. I mostly took this free personality test to stay awake.

This test was surprisingly helpful! The results gave me insight into my new patenting role and how it would effect my marriage. It gave a reason for why I was often left feeling frustrated with the work ethic of co-workers. It lent surprisingly clear insight into some of my future goals.

In the morning, I asked my husband to give it a try. I was curious about his results. He came to the same conclusion as I: this test is great!

CLICK HERE TO GET TO GET YOUR OWN RESULTS FROM 16 PERSONALITIES FOR FREE!


Here are my results:

Your personality type: “The Consul”(ESFJ-A)

Strength of individual traits: Extraverted: 52%, Observant: 54%, Feeling: 64%, Judging: 58%, Assertive: 72%.
Role: Sentinel
Strategy: People Mastery

What did you learn about yourself from this test? I’d love to know! 

8 Things that You Need to Know Today About Child Marriage

Two days ago, Save The Children released a new report that analyzed the threat of a child’s education, health, and safety when forced into marriage at a young age. This problem is significant, it’s women’s reality in the 21st century, and it isn’t going away anytime soon. Even the most optimistic projections show child marriage not being eradicated until the year 2030.

Two days ago, Save The Children released a new report that analyzed the threat of a child’s education, health, and safety when forced into marriage at a young age.

I saw the press release, and I’ve read the report. I remember sitting in school as a young girl, probably 11 or 12 years old, and realizing that other girls my age in the world were already wives and mothers.

But, I had forgotten.

As I read the stories, it all came back.  I used to know about this!  I still care!

This problem is significant, it’s women’s reality in the 21st century, and it isn’t going away anytime soon. Even the most optimistic projections show child marriage not being eradicated until the year 2030.

Who even knows what the world will look like by then.

1. Every seven seconds, or approximately the amount of time that it takes to read this sentence, a young girl between the ages of 10-15 gets married.

How did Save The Children calculate this statistic? The UN surveyed adult women between the ages of 20-25 and asked them about the age they were married. Their survey allowed them to pinpoint the number of child marriages circa 2010. This rate was applied to 2015 global population figures.

2. According to findings, the husband is significantly older.

3. Where is this happening? Too many places. The short list is Afghanistan, Yemen, India, Somalia. In the Dominican Republic, 37% of women were married before they turned 18.

4. There are other factors that contribute to young marriage. Finances, for instance. In Nigeria, 40% of the poorest girls are given into marriage by age 15, but only 3% of the richest (which is still outrageous).

5. Countries at high risk for natural disaster areas make up almost all of the top 25 for child marriages.

6. Projections for ending child marriage aim for the year 2030.

7. This is more than a one-off violation of human rights. These marriages perpetuate an endless cycle of disadvantages. She is especially vulnerable to health threats, domestic violence, and rape.

8. Ending child marriage would have a multiplier effect –
improving levels of learning, survival and protection,
and leading to benefits from the individual and community level right up to the national economy and society.

Go, read the report in depth.

8-things-you-need-to-know-about-child-marriage

When you cast your vote in this presidential election, also consider these girls, and wonder if our country’s position as a contributor to global leadership will ever be able to assist in carving out a future for their next generation.

Clean eating?

Last week I wrote about three things that are not in my grocery cart on my food blog, Non-Chef. It actually is the most read thing I have ever written on the internet. Since writing this, I’ve found myself being especially mindful of the grocery store choices I make.

Except, confession: I bought Hot and Spicy Cheez-It crackers to share at a soup potluck.

Confession: I bought peanut butter without checking for high fructose corn syrup. Another confession: I still haven’t checked the label, because I just don’t want to know.

Confession: I bought turkey for sandwiches, which is both meat and high in sodium. It was convenient and delicious.

elizabeth

But, I also want to be clear about this, because through writing, I have a small impact on the internet: I’ve got much bigger concerns than grocery carts and what’s going into my mouth.

The heart of the matter: as a Christian, I’m more concerned about what’s coming out of my mouth.

Here’s what I’ve been thinking about recently.

Jesus called the crowds to him and said: “Listen and understand, What goes into a man’s mouth does not make him ‘unclean,’ but what comes out of his mouth, that is what makes him ‘unclean.; -Matthew 15:11, NIV

What goes into a mouth doesn’t make a person unclean?

But, I think, what about cancer? Isn’t there proof that we’re just feeding inexplicable diseases and foreign growths with the bad, unhealthy foods we eat?

What about overeating? What about gluttony? Isn’t that a huge problem in the American church today? There’s no way that’s ‘clean.’

Then my mind goes a whole different direction. What about the dirt and grime off those donkeys Jesus seems to always be riding? Or, shudder, the lack of modern toilet paper in Bible times?  Gag.

I’m no Bible scholar, but I do own and read a NIV Study Bible.  According to the notes at the bottom of the page, Jesus here was addressing the Jewish rabbi’s meticulous rules and regulations that were interpretations and applications of the law of Moses. My study Bible explains that these traditions were kept orally until about the year 200 A.D. when they were recorded in the Mishnah, which is a text that is revered in Judaism today (thank you, Google).

The tradition in question here was the fact that Jesus’ disciples didn’t wash their hands before eating. (Possibly relevant? Jesus had just fed 5,000 people using fives loaves and two fish the chapter before.)

So, the problem going into the mouth is an early concept of germs? Or just plain dirt?

Whatever it is, it doesn’t matter as much as the output.

Jesus asked them, “Don’t you see that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body? But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man ‘unclean.’ For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are what make a man ‘unclean’; but eating with unwashed hands does not make him ‘unclean.’ v. 16-20

elizabeth-1

Ok, last confession: my output-from-the-mouth sucks. The words I have used recently have been somewhere between a face-palm and a foot-in-mouth almost every day.  I think I’ve apologized for rudely snapping at my husband every day in the last week, probably longer.  I know that I’ve been brisk with my family members.

I haven’t murdered, committed adultery, stolen anything, or even lied, but, jeez, I’ve been far from that “little Christ” ideal that Christians are probably supposed to be like. I’m a work in progress.

Am I still concerned about what goes into my grocery cart and therefore into my mouth? Yes. I have an ethical problem with much that is found on grocery cart shelves, and I have a lot more to say about that.

But, the heart is so much more: grace, mercy, love, JOY! abounding and slowly growing in every are of my so-called Christian life.  I have a lot to say about that too.

I try. SO HARD. Many of you do too. So, I pray, like a child, mimicking a translation of a prayer spoken two millenniums years ago: Your kingdom come, Your will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven. I take my frustrated fists, turn my palms upward, and open my hands up a little bit, and write a blog post.