Category Archives: Food

Grocery Shopping for Our Large Family

I noodled around several different title options before picking one because I didn’t want it to be misleading. This post is not about THEE cheapest way to shop if you have lots of kids. Or about coupon clipping. Or about the best, most filling meals for the least amount of money.

Elements of most of those things are in here, but more than anything, I’m writing this post in response to several questions I’ve received about what the process of feeding a family of 9 looks like.

And they are:

1. How often a week do you shop?

I do one big haul a week–usually on Saturday mornings. And then, we supplement as needed with a quick stop or two throughout the week. The “big haul” day has rotated through the week throughout the years (we even went together as a family immediately after church for a while there), and historically, I’ve had ALL the kids when I go (many moons ago, when the kids were all smaller and much less helpful, I used to stop on Monday evenings…after teaching two hours of classes at the gym. Because, apparently, I’m a masochist??). Lately, I’ve been heading to town on Saturday mornings for a free Cross Fit community WOD (workout of the day) and then shopping immediately after. NO KIDS. Because the oldest ones are mature enough now to do basic younger sibling maintenance (Honor’s down for a nap) while Shaun does projects around the house.

Are there words to adequately describe the sheer joy of grocery shopping alone? I’m not sure there are. But “bliss” comes to mind.

groceries1

Shaun’s been traveling a fair bit recently, so the kids were with me on a random Tuesday. We always have two baskets and take up a fair bit of space, but they are genuinely helpful (I don’t load the belt or bag groceries) and definitely know the drill after years and years of tagging along. My favorite thing about this picture is that, as I was looking at several that I took from my phone, the lady with the white hair in the back is staring at us with that same bemused expression in every single one. Ha!

2. How much do you spend?

This is the one everybody wants to know, right? I mean, we’re feeding 9 people. Surely, we must be spending a fortune. Of course, with 4 (almost FIVE!!!)-year-old twins, a 2-year-old, and a newborn, half of my people don’t actually consume that much in terms of volume yet. But the amount feels like it increases on a weekly basis, which makes me nervous.

Our typical bill for the “big haul,” including some non-food items (so, a package of toilet paper, or a box of diapers) is about $190. Obviously, there are some weeks that all of the extra stuff comes “due,” and the bill is considerably higher.

If we were to stick to that every week, that would be a pretty incredible budget for such a big family. But we always end up stopping at least one more time to grab a rotisserie chicken + fruit + milk, etc. Most weeks, we spend another $50 at least.

groceries

This particular load was about $135. I usually get more of most things (like bagels and yogurt), but we were still stocked on those from a previous trip. 

3. What do you eat every week?

I’m sure this is true of most folks, but we eat basically the same thing every week. Cereal, bagels, or eggs for breakfast, yogurt and fruit for snacks, sandwiches or leftovers for lunch, and an ever-repeating rotation of about 20 dinner options that use a lot of the same ingredients.

My go-tos are:

  • Turkey spaghetti (my kids would eat my spaghetti–you can find the recipe for my sauce at the beginning of my lasagna recipe–every single day). For reals.
  • Turkey burgers + homemade sweet potato fries + homemade guac (one of my fave meals ever that I eat without a bun and with all the fixin’s on the side).
  • Chicken Pot Pie
  • Taco Soup
  • Chicken Tortilla Soup
  • Turkey Burritos
  • (Chipotle-style) Chicken and Rice Bowls
  • Chicken Pesto Pasta
  • Steak + Scrambled Eggs + Roasted Seasoned Potatoes
  • Greek Chicken + Rice + Veggies
  • Turkey Meatloaf + Mashed Potatoes
  • Pot Roast
  • King Ranch Chicken
  • Quiche
  • Chicken + Veggie Stir Fry
  • Chicken + Veggie Pasta
  • Chicken or Steak Fajitas
  • Chicken + Squash Grill
  • Salsa chicken (in some form or another)
  • Homemade Pizza
  • Chicken Lettuce Wraps

We don’t do much in the way of prepacked foods, but neither do I make complicated meals.

4. What ingredients are you never without?

You’ll pretty much never find us out of: diced tomatoes, tomato sauce, limes, cilantro, avocados, OTB Corn Chips, cheddar cheese, black beans, onions, tortillas, raw chicken, and raw ground turkey (obviously those last two get cooked quickly, usually in batches for the entire week).  We are a Tex-Mex family, apparently, and I make homemade salsa (it takes 5 minutes and is SOOOO good) and guacamole on the daily. If I’m in a pinch for dinner, we’ll probably be eating burritos and black bean salsa or spaghetti that night.

groceries2

Bonus points if you can a) spot Theo or b) figure out why Nola looks so distressed (probably, she just heard that we weren’t having “her favorite spaghetti” for dinner that night). 

5. How much do you eat out?

In the past, not very much. We still don’t do tons, but we’re a little “looser” than before. Shaun and I have a “date night at home” every Thursday night when my mom has Ezra, Simon, and Della at her house. We get the four littles in bed by 7:30 and settle down on the couch with takeout Thai food to watch an episode of Fixer Upper or Vera (British crime show).

Once a week (usually on Fridays after I teach Combat or a Tuesday night if Shaun’s out of town), the kids and I will have lunch or dinner at Chick-fil-a. And we usually eat out lunch on Sundays. Plus, we go pick up the big kids from my mom every Friday night, and she fixes dinner for us + my brother’s family. So, I typically cook (or at least prep some kind of food) 5 nights a week, with Thursdays and Fridays off.  If I moan even a little bit about cooking on Sundays, Shaun orders pizza. :)

5. Any brilliant money-saving tips?

I used to religiously scout out the sales in the local ad papers and then take them to Walmart for price matching. My mom just told me that Walmart isn’t honoring competitor ads anymore, but I haven’t done this for a couple of years anyway. I did save a fair bit sometimes, but I also found that–outside of a $0.99/lb sale on grapes or some other produce–most of the things we buy regularly at Walmart were pretty comparable to the sales I usually saw.

We also used to shop at Sam’s Club, but we’ve been in such a busy season of life for so long that the extra effort of driving out there (it’s a ways from our house) and spending at least an hour grocery shopping–usually on a Sunday–just wasn’t worth it to us. We may renew our membership in the future, but for now, we’re keeping it simple.

As to coupons, I just don’t. I know I could save a lot of money, and, of course, I use the ones they include on the yogurt packages, etc., but I don’t actively buy items based on whether they have coupons available.

I think my best way to keep our food bill decent is to buy inexpensive, simple food and do a fair bit of cooking. Cheaper AND better for you!

So, there you have it, folks! What grocery shopping for 9 looks like around here. I know this will continue to evolve as the kids get older/eat more. I’m seeing lots more beans (and flatulence…) in our future.

What does grocery shopping look like at YOUR house?

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Mama Life Hacks {#23}: Easy (YUMMY) Crock Pot Salsa Chicken

As I sit here typing this, my stomach is rumbling in the worst way–mostly due to the fact that it’s late, and I really should be in bed, which means it’s been a while since I ate. But also because I just made a batch of the most delicious, moist, flavorful chicken EV-AH. And it smells SO good. I just had to pop on and share the “recipe.”

My sis-in-law actually turned me onto this idea when she brought multiple meals over for us during the craziness that was packing/getting the new house ready/moving…because she’s awesome like that.

So, is your pen poised yet?

Here’s what you’ll do:

Place a package or two of chicken (breast, thighs, whatever) in a crock pot and cover with enough jars of the salsa of your choice (I just use the mild picante style) to completely submerge the meat. I usually add a dash of chili powder, granulated garlic, and cumin, but the salsa adds plenty of flavor on its own.

Hit start on that bad boy and let it go until your kitchen is filled with the slightly torturous fragrance of melt-in-your-mouth, fall-apart chicken goodness.

That’s IT!

Once the chicken is cooked through (it could go all day on low, but I usually have mine on high for about 4 hours), shred it using a couple of forks, making sure to retain all of the juices and get them nice and mixed through the meat.

Trust me: you will LOVE this stuff. All of my kids do. Most of them prefer it in easy “chicken roll-up” form (flour tortilla, shredded chicken, grated cheese…heated…BOOM). In fact, everyone who’s had it in this form has gone nuts for it (I took it to a family potluck, and everybody was raving and asking me for the recipe, and I was almost embarrassed to admit how easy it was).

But Simon and I prefer it on top of THEE best nachos either of us has ever tasted.

chicken

Seriously. Just the chicken, cheese (we use sharp cheddar), and chips (On the Border, baby) are delish, but add you some tomatoes, purple onions, cilantro, and avocado, and it’s out-of-this-world good.

It would also make a great base for Chicken Tortilla Soup, enchiladas, or a taco salad. You really can’t go wrong.

Plus! If you’re like me and trying to eat clean (it’s a process, y’all; definitely not perfect), as long as you pick a salsa that doesn’t have any sugar, there’s literally nothing objectionable about the chicken itself.

Anybody else ever done this easy crock pot hack?

Got any more for me? I’ve been in a bit of a cooking slump lately, and, as much as this staple is saving my bacon, er, chicken, I’d welcome any other easy, healthy suggestions you have.

P.S. I have a “grocery shopping for large families” post in the hopper. Get excited!

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Easy, Delicious Sweet Potato Hash

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Valentine’s is only a little more than 3 weeks away, and here are 4 of our prints that would make great gifts–for the mamas in your life, the coffee-lovers, kiddos, or WHOEVER!

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valentines collage

Welp. I’m (mostly) back on the clean-eating wagon after puh-lenty of holiday indulgences over the last several months, and it feels so good (except when I get struck by a massive chocolate or carbonation craving; then it feels like the world is conspiring against my sanity #dramaqueen).

The only way I know how to be successful with clean-eating is to keep it very, very simple. If I don’t, I’ll throw it all out in a fit of hanger (yes, I meant to spell it like that) and devour a cupcake for breakfast instead of something decent.

Like what, you ask?

Like this.

hash

That would be what I eat with three fried eggs almost every single morning. And it’s HEAVENLY.

And I don’t even like sweet potatoes very much. Unless they’re done right. And this hash is juuuust right.

The “recipe” is crazy simple too.

hash1

(Another great way to eat sweet potato hash? With a turkey burger, homemade salsa, and guac! So. Dang. Good)

To make a big batch that will last me most of the week, I peel and grate 2-3 LARGE sweet potatoes and chop one small-medium onion.

I preheat that BEAST of a cast iron skillet above (Shaun got it for me for Christmas the year before last, and I have used it at least 4 times a week since), drizzle in some olive oil, and then saute my onions until they’re translucent (don’t overcook; they’ll get bitter) over medium heat.

Then, I add in the grated sweet potato and sprinkle the whole mixture with:

  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp pepper
  • 1/2 tsp cumin
  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 tsp seasoned salt

…and then continue browning and stirring until the sweet potato is cooked all the way through, with some nice crispy bits throughout.

I’ll usually fry up my eggs in the same skillet the morning that I make my first batch, which makes them EVEN tastier as they soak up the juices of the hash, but the rest of the week, I’ll fry the eggs separately and simply toast a plate of hash from my stash (ha!) either on broil in the oven or in a small toaster oven.

hash2

The sweetness + crispiness of the potatoes, juxtaposed with the smokiness of the cumin, and the gooey egg yolk…MMM! It’s hard to beat.

And harder to believe that you’re eating something that’s completely good for you!

So, there you go. A healthy, easy, YUMMY breakfast to get you through your entire week.

And now my stomach is growling, and I want me some hash (that didn’t sound right).

Any great sweet potato recipes to share? I have discovered that I can eat sweet potatoes all day long as long as they have a bit of a spicy kick and some crispiness. Give me a baked sweet potato, all mushy and soft, and I gag a little. I do, however, have a killer sweet potato fry recipe to share. I’ll do that soon.

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Mini Cookie Butter Cheesecakes

Hey guys! Just a quick heads-up that if you order by this afternoon, we’ll be shipping out our last round of Paint and Prose prints that will arrive (as far as it depends on us) by Christmas. We’re offering a free Priority shipping upgrade and a free 5X7 of your choice (just specify which in the notes) for any orders placed through today!

A couple of weeks back, Mandy brought over a dessert when our families got together, and she was a little apologetic about it, saying that it was a bit of an experiment, and she hoped it would taste okay.

Now, I wasn’t the least bit worried. Mandy is an awesome cook/baker, so I had absolute confidence that it would be delicious. I’m happy to say I was right.

It was the best cheesecake I’d had in ages. And I consider myself a bit of a connoisseur, having long claimed it as a favorite dessert (when done right).

So, what was this experimental recipe? Cookie butter cheesecake. I KNOW, right? Even the title sounds decadent. And, believe me, the real thing was even more so. Especially once Mandy drizzled some caramel sauce on top.

Mmmmm…

Well, guess what I had sitting around in my pantry languishing in a pathetically delicious state of disuse? Yup. Cookie butter.

And since everything is better in miniature, I decided to recreate Mandy’s recipe, using my trusty mini mason jars(one of my favorite kitchen purchases of all time).

Here’s what I started with:

cookie butter

You’ll need:

For the batter

  • 2 bricks of cream cheese (yes, I know only one is pictured); do yourself a favor and choose the full fat version
  • 1/3-1/2 cup of cookie butter
  • 1/2 cup of sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 egg

For the crust

  • 1 – 1 1/2 packages of graham crackers
  • 1 tbs of unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 tbs of sugar
  • 3-4 tbs of butter, melted

I used the Philadelphia Cream Cheese basic cheesecake recipe (that comes on the box) as my base and then altered it by HALVING IT (I didn’t have to do this, certainly, but we didn’t need massive amounts of cheesecake sitting around our house), omitting an egg and adding in 1/3 cup of cookie butter (I didn’t measure, honestly, but the batter is pretty forgiving, so you have some leeway).

Then, I added a TBS of unsweetened cocoa to my crushed graham cracker crust (chocolate cookies would be even better, but I didn’t have any).

Here’s the blow by blow:

::STEP 1:: Preheat oven to 325 F.

::STEP 2:: Place both bricks of (softened) cream cheese into the mixer bowl and whip them on medium/high until smooth. Add in sugar, vanilla, and one egg, mixing until just incorporated after each addition. Add in 1/3-1/2 cup of cookie butter and mix again.

::STEP 3:: Crush 1 – 1 1/2 packages of graham crackers (I put mine in the food processor), then mix in melted butter, cocoa powder, and sugar.

Note: You want your graham cracker mixture to be slightly moist and sticky, not sandy. If it’s not, then just add in a bit more melted butter.

::STEP 4::

Pat graham crackers crusts into the bottom of each jar. Mine are approximately 1/2″ deep.

::STEP 5::

Use an ice cream scoop to evenly distribute the cheesecake batter. (I got 15 mini cheesecakes out of my half batch of batter).

cookie butter1

 

 

::STEP 6::

Bake at 325 for 10-12 minutes. Definitely better to under-bake than to turn it into rubber.

cookie butter2

::STEP 7::

DEVOUR.

cookie butter3

Ahem.

Okay, okay. You might want to let it cool for a few minutes at least. These are actually pretty great straight out of the oven (ask me how I know), but they’re even better chilled and then loaded up with your choice of toppings (one of the main reasons I love minis? PERSONALIZATION!).

cookie butter4

If you’re just dying to know why flavor I liked best, my answer is: all of the above. I topped mine with bananas, walnuts, caramel sauce, dulce de leche, whipped cream, and chocolate bits…and it’s was DIVINE! (I also had one plain, and it was fabulous too…you really can’t go wrong here).

cookie butter5

This also works great as a full recipe/traditional cheesecake. Just omit an egg (to account for the extra moisture supplied by the cookie butter), use the full amount of ingredients in the recipe on the Philly Cream Cheese package, and follow the baking instructions.

If you have a holiday party to bake for (or, you know, just some kids and a husband who will think you’re extra awesome for making cheesecake just because), you need to make this. I made mine in 35 minutes flat (minus chilling, of course), so they take almost no time at all. Plus, they’re different and delicious!

cookie butter2watermark

Any fun Christmas baking ideas to share? I’m always open to suggestions.

 

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14 Day Cleanse + Gallon a Day {RESULTS}

So…remember when a bunch of us decided to eat nothing but clean food for 14 days WHILE drinking a gallon of water a day?

Yeah, that.

It’s been a few weeks since the challenge ended, so I thought I’d give you an update on how it went down.

I was going to do a high/low report, but really, it was all good.

I thoroughly enjoyed my meals, just like I did with the 10 day cleanse back in the spring, and I didn’t really miss sugar, bread, or anything else I wasn’t allowed to eat.

There were about 130 of us over on the Facebook accountability page, and I loved having all of the feedback, encouragement, recipe suggestions, etc. I’m pretty sure we did nothing but support the research that makes big claims about how much more likely you are to succeed if you take on a challenge in a group setting.

Honestly, as far as I know, none of us did the cleanse perfectly (I’m just speaking from those who piped up on the page; if you nailed it without a single cheat, then I’m not trying to cast a slur on your impeccable clean-eating character). But, for the most part (for me it was about 97%, if we’re going to attach a random, totally made-up percentage to it), those of us who actively participated in the cleanse stuck to the guidelines.

I also managed to drink all of my gallon every day except maybe 3 (and on those days, I only had a few ounces left).

So, the big question: did I receive any benefits from all of this clean-eating/water-guzzling madness?

Yup.

At the end of the 16th day (I’d started a bit earlier than the rest of the group and decided to continue until everyone was done), I’d lost 3 pounds and 3 1/2″ overall, which returned me to my pre-Theo weight/size. Now, I will admit that there’s this “post-Della” size that I kind of consider my ideal weight, but I haven’t been there in 4 years, so I’m pleased with where I am right now (for now :) ).

Just in case you’re a visual sort, here are some Before + After pics for your perusing…I was going to say “pleasure,” but let’s just go with “information,” shall we? I don’t think anybody particularly enjoys staring at my headless body. I know I don’t.

(The far left pic is from before my 10 Day Cleanse in the spring, the 2nd from the left is immediately after the 10 Day Cleanse, the 2nd from the right is right before the 14 Day Cleanse, and the last is immediately after the 14 Day Cleanse. (Clear as mud?) 14dayaftercollagefront

14daycleansecollageside

14dayaftercollageback

 

The difference from left to right is approximately 12 pounds and 16 inches! And all of that is from eating healthy foods and plenty of them (I never feel unsatisfied or hangry when I’m on a cleanse).

Full disclosure: literally the day after the cleanse ended, it was the twins’ birthday, and since then, it’s been birthday season up in here. So, between the girls’ birthday, my birthday, and friends’ birthdays, we’ve been partying for the last 2 weeks. Needless to say, the eating has not been especially clean. I may have backslid on some of my results. I don’t know. I haven’t measured/weighed (something I almost never do anyway).

But this week has been back to life as usual, and I’ve already adjusted my eating back to within healthy parameters (with a few cheats here and there; note to self: having fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies in the house is a bad idea).

And now for the WATER!

I’ve heard some pretty drastic and fantastic claims from those who have started drinking a gallon a day, but I can’t say that I can lay claim to most of them. I will say that I was already drinking a fair bit of water each day before I started the gallon challenge, so maybe the awe-inspiring results came from people who were chronically dehydrated.

In any case, I can say that I experienced the following:

1) Increased milk supply. Theo is still nursing (and will be for a while, I think), so, even though my milk supply wasn’t low before usually, there were days when I would be too busy or distracted to drink enough, and I could tell that Theo was working harder (aka: hurting me) to get his fill. That completely changed when I drank my gallon a day.

2) Fewer cravings. Drinking all of that water definitely helped me stay full. And I didn’t feel a strong need for sugar like I do when a) I’m eating it regularly and b) I haven’t had enough water.

3) Increased energy. I’m sure a lot of this could be attributed to the good food I was eating, but I definitely didn’t get as much of the 2 PM crash that I feel when I’m not as hydrated.

4) Increased mental clarity. Again, I’m guessing the food helped with this, but I definitely felt less foggy than I do when my diet/hydration are not as good. (Case in point: I’ve been ridiculously busy over the last two weeks AND my diet/water consumption hasn’t been as good, and there have been multiple times that I’ve walked into rooms and then just stood there, trying to work out the cosmic question: “WHY AM I HERE?” Hello, premonition of my 80-year-old self).

So! There you have it. And just so you know, I heard from several cleanse participants who had great results as well. One had clearly lost several inches in her before + after pics. Another lost 7 (!!!) pounds and was loving the way she was eating so much she planned to continue. And multiple others reported how much they enjoyed both what they were eating/drinking and how it was making them feel.

Obviously, I highly recommend clean eating + lots o’ water drinking. (Just FYI: the recommended water consumption for a woman is 88 ounces, so the gallon challenge definitely put us over the top on that, but I need the extra because of my levels of exercise, and I didn’t hear complaints from anyone else about any adverse effects. It’s always good to do your own research before you attempt anything like this, though, so be sure you know what you’re getting yourself into if you decide to take on this challenge).

I’ll just be over here plugging along eating (mostly) clean and chugging water, but I’ll be sure to let y’all know if I do another cleanse. (I’m sure I’ll need one after the holidays).

Thank you so much to all of you who participated. It was a blast to get to know you better and be encouraged by you!

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Mama Life Hacks {#14}: Batch Cooking Chicken Breast

So, there are times that I hesitate to post something because all I can think is: EVERYBODY already knows this, Abbie. It’s just too, too obvious.

And for many of you, today’s #mamalifehacks tip will be. My apologies ahead of time. Feel free to click away to the weather or something equally scintillating.

But I’ve had enough of a, “Why didn’t I think of that!?” reaction in both real life and blog life to this idea any time it comes up that I figured it was worth posting at least once, especially considering the fact that there are a good number of you participating in our healthy eating/drinking challenge.

So, WHAT IS IT, Abbie? Enough blathering, for the love!

My big fat (skinny?) tip for today is to cook chicken breast in big batches at the beginning of the week so that, on those days when you’re stumped/too tired to think about dinner, you don’t really have to.

Because SURELY there’s something you can make with pre-seasoned, pre-cooked chicken breasts!

Off the top of my head, I can name: chicken + veggie stir fry, Chipotle-style chicken + rice bowls, chicken pot pie, ANY kind of chicken + pasta, chicken fajitas, chicken lettuce wraps, King Ranch chicken, chicken salad…

Get the idea? If it has the word “chicken” in it, then you can probably use chicken breast from your pre-cooked batch to make it.

Of course, this hack isn’t just for those weeks when you haven’t planned ahead. There have been puh-lenty of times that I have planned 3-4 of our family dinners around the fact that I am cooking a huge batch of chicken at the beginning of the week.

As we’re doing our 14 day cleanse,  (Y’ALL! I’m so proud of all of you for jumping in like you did! This is so fun! The Facebook Page is hoppin’! If you’re still interested, don’t hesitate to join in!) it’s really important that I have healthy options on hand so that I don’t get discouraged or distracted or just plain devour-some (sorry, not a word; I didn’t want to ruin the alliteration).

But, whether you’re adhering to a special diet or not, I think all of us busy women could use a little help in the meal-planning department.

And I’m here to tell you that, if you’ve got 30 minutes on your Monday (only 5-10 of those have anything to do with prep; the rest is oven time), then you can get yourself set for the week with delicious, pre-cooked chicken that is SO much cheaper and better than that grisly, rubbery stuff they sell in bags in the freezer section.

So, what do you do?

Hope you have  a pen and notepad ready because it’s super complicated.

No, it’s not. And that’s the beauty!

::STEP 1::

Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit

::STEP 2::

Butterfly your chicken breasts. Note: this step is totally optional, but I always do it because it means that my meat cooks more quickly and that there’s more seasoning on each piece.

::STEP 3::

Arrange butterflied chicken breasts on a jelly roll pan (cookie sheet with a lip) and sprinkle generously with Lawry’s Perfect Blend Chicken Rub (I buy mine in the huge containers from Sam’s, but that link is for Amazon).

batch chicken1

::STEP 4::

Cook for approximately 23-26 minutes or until juices run clear and no pink remains in the meat. This is the part where I’m supposed to tell you to use a meat thermometer, and YES! You totally should. TOTALLY. But…I don’t. So, there’s that.

batch chicken2

::STEP 5::

Allow chicken to cool on pans, then place in gallon plastic bags and store in the fridge. Mandy did a really similar post to this one ages ago, and she freezes hers and says it still turns out great when thawed.

::STEP 6::

Pull out of fridge and dance with it around the kitchen when you realize that you forgot to plan dinner but you have cheese in the fridge and tortillas in the pantry, so…QUESADILLAS FOR EVERYONE!

Shoo husband away when he sticks head quizzically in the door to ask why you’re so excited about quesadillas.

High-five yourself on your super-mom levels of preparedness.

batch chicken

Ahem.

Just me?

Okay. I’m good with that.

And for all my clean-eating homeys…don’t get any ideas about cheese and tortillas. BUT! This hack will still serve you well on your clean-eating quest.

No go eat some lettuce!

Got any #mamalifehacks to share with me? I’m listening!

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14 Day Clean-Eating + Gallon Challenge

Do y’all remember the 10 day clean-eating cleanse I did back in the spring?

I got great results in terms of shedding some stubborn baby weight and definitely could tell a difference in my energy levels and how I felt in general.

And the food was tasty in the extreme!

So, the big question is: did I continue?

Sort of. I never intended to cut out all dairy/bread/sweets for good, but, of course, with summer and its loosey-goosey ways, some days were–ahem–cleaner than others.

Even so, I lost an additional 5 pounds over the course of the last 3 months, which got me within 2-3 pounds of my pre-baby weight.

Just as a refresher…

cleanse collage

And then we have…

 

cleanseafter

I did everything in my (limited technological) power to make all three of those pics side-by-side so you could better see the progression, but the top ones are linked in a collage, and I can’t find the originals to separate them, and the bottom one just wouldn’t size correctly to fit. So…there.

You get two rows of my creepily headless body for your viewing (dis)pleasure. Assuming that I’ve got some results to report after this round of the cleanse, I’ll make an even greater effort to line them all up in a row.

Never let it be said that good things don’t come to those who wait. Such good things.

ANYhoo, Theo is 8-months-old, and this is, by far, the longest it has ever taken me to shed the pounds, but I can definitely tell that my almost-33-year-old self is a little fonder of extra poundage than her 20′s predecessor.

Yip-to-the-ee.

Lately, the struggle has been to eat well on the weekends. When Shaun’s out of town, I eat clean for the most part, but when he’s home on the weekend, we’ve been going on (much-needed) dates, and indulging just a wee bit.

And while I’m all about enjoying treats on occasion, I don’t love the sluggish, gross feeling I get after a whole weekend of it.

So!

Enter our blog post title:

cleaneatingchallenge

{I didn’t intend for this to continue the headless theme OR look like a mug shot, but since I achieved both without even trying, we’re going with it}

Because I always do better when I have accountability, and I’m guessing I’m not alone in my desire to reset my eating habits after a lax summer schedule.

So, what is this challenge?

Well, basically, I’m inviting anyone interested to join me for the next 14 days (I started today, but I know you guys didn’t get a chance to, so the official dates will be Sept. 10-23) as we eat lots of yummy veggies, eggs, fruits, healthy grains, etc.

Oh!

And drink water.

LOTS of it!

As in 1 whole gallon a day.

I’ve been chugging my gallon for over a week but not always with perfect consistency, which, again, is where you guys and your accountability comes in.

In case you’re wondering, when you drink 1 gallon of water in 1 day, you pee. A lot.

But it’s not nearly as hard as it might sound, and the (positive) effects on your skin, energy, digestion, exercise performance, and general health and well-being are pretty amazing.

Here’s the thing:

The water consumption part is pretty straightforward.

I just carry my gallon jug with me everywhere I go and make sure that it’s empty before I go to bed.

gallon

{I think you’re supposed to write inspirational things on your jug, but I speak sarcasm more fluently than “encouragement”–even to myself [sad, but true]–so this is what I’m working with}

But the “clean” part of the eating aspect can get a little sticky.

After all, how clean are we going? Are we being sticklers about every little thing or shooting for 95% clean without a trip to the health food store required?

Honestly? That’s up to you. If you don’t really even know where to start, then all you have to do is Google the words: “Whole 30 Diet,” and you’ll get a SLEW of details about recipes, what to eat/not to eat, how to prepare it, etc.

There are oodles of resources on Pinterest too.

But I’m trying to keep things as simple/attainable as possible, which means that these are the guidelines I’m using for myself:

*No processed food (no canned soup, no fast food, no chips, no pre-made salad dressings, etc.)
*No sugar
*No dairy/limited dairy (I am allowing myself milk, butter, and cottage cheese…but only on very limited/rare occasions)
*No simple carbs (basically a reiteration of no sugar)
*No bread/tortillas/pasta/oats (with the exception of steel-cut oats)
*Nothing to drink but water

What IS allowed:
*Good fats, including (but not limited to) olive oil, coconut oil, and butter (clarified is best)
*All veggies + fruits
*Meat (no frying/breading/processing)
*Eggs
*Rice/Quinoa (with a focus on brown rice)
*Legumes
*Nuts
*Corn (I might even eat a few corn chips with my guacamole since most corn chips are nothing more than corn + oil; but again, VERY limited)

I shared the recipes that were my go-to during my 10 day cleanse, and I’ll be returning to most of those, but I also have a “clean eating” board on Pinterest that you’re welcome to join (I’d love to see yours as well!)…

AND!

I’ve created a FB group for accountability. We can share pics of what we’re eating, ask questions, offer encouragement, and advice–sarcastic or not.

Anyone that wants to can join, but only those who are part of the group can see the pictures and posts within the group, so it will be a safe place for only those truly interested.

Of course, if you’re only interested in participating in one aspect of the cleanse–either the clean eating or the gallon a day, that’s cool too. It’s your cleanse! I’m just excited to see what combining the two does for me this time around.

So…the only thing left to ask is: ARE YOU IN??!

{In case the caps + multiple question marks and exclamations didn’t convey it, I’m excited}

If the answer is yes, leave me a comment or shoot me an email at blogabbie{at}gmail{dot}com. And then jump in on the FB group if you’re so inclined.

See you there!

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Easy {Anything Goes!} Quiche

On Sunday, I posted this pic to IG and Facebook with the following caption:

zeroproductivity

There was an attempt made at crafting and cooking and cleaning this afternoon because, apparently, I was feeling very Martha Stewart.

Only one of these attempts was successful, and it was the one that is most likely to keep the natives from revolting.

In college, getting 1 out of 3 right would have meant a failing grade of 33%, and I would have been crushed.

But now, I’m all, “Yaaaay! We get to eat! Take that, Martha!” MOTHERHOOD: lowering expectations one constantly interrupted attempt at productivity at a time.
#somebodyputthatonacrosstitchplease #preferablysomeonewhoisnotamother #becausethenitwillgetfinished

But for real. Can any of y’all cross-stitch?

Thing is, I wasn’t too mad about my other failed attempts at productivity because this is what I got out of my one success. quiche7

If you’ve ever had any kind of misconception about quiche being fancy and finicky, dismiss it from your mind this very instant.

It may sound very ladies-who-lunch (or brunch, maybe?), but quiche is about as simple as it gets. And! Versatile. As in, you can throw just about anything in there, and it will still taste amazing.

Especially if you make it with my mom’s farm-fresh eggs. Oops. I guess that wasn’t exactly nice of me to say, since you can’t get your hands on any. But it’s true, and you know what they say: sometimes, the truth hurts.

ANYhoo, without further forays into mind-numbing chatter, I will share my oh-so-simple quiche recipe with you so that you too may feel successful even if you manage to completely avoid run out of time to do the laundry. Again.

Here’s what you’ll need to get started:

  • 7 eggs, the fresher the better (seriously, if a chicken has just pooped one into your hand, you’re golden)
  • 1/3 cup whole milk (or cream if you just love extra calories as much as I do)
  • 1/2 cup of sharp cheddar cheese (the sharper the better)
  • Link sausage, microwaved/chopped
  • 1 cup assorted chopped/sauteed veggies
  • 1/2 cup (thawed) frozen spinach
  • Store-bought pie crust (or homemade, if you’re an over-achiever…in which case, I don’t want to hear about it)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp ground black pepper
  • 1/4 tsp granulated garlic
  • 1/4 tsp dried rosemary
  • 1 tbsp olive oil or butter

INSTRUCTIONS:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Place pie crust in the bottom of a pie plate.

Heat your fat (either oil or butter) in a skillet (preferably cast iron if you’ve got it), and then add your chopped veggies, sauteeing several minutes until they are softened but not mushy. You can use whatever you have on hand, which, in my case, was zucchini, onion, bell pepper, and tomatoes. (I can also see this being great with carrots [grated], mushrooms, squash, kale, asparagus…seriously. Just about anything yummy you can imagine).

quiche

{If you’re wondering what all of the orange peels in the background have to do with anything…I was hungry}

While the veggies cook, crack all 7 eggs into a bowl and add milk and seasonings. Beat mixture until well combined.

quiche1

Once the veggies are cooked, you can microwave your sausage (I like the Eckridge brand) and then, once it’s cooled, chop it into small chunks.

Likewise, you’ll need to microwave your frozen spinach to get it to a stir-able temperature.

And then, once everything is cool enough to combine, toss all of the remaining ingredients–the veggies, the sausage, the spinach, and the cheese–into your egg mixture and give it a good stir.

quiche8

And now, believe it or not, you’re all ready to pour your quiche filling into the crust.

quiche5Once you’ve done that, just pop that bad boy in the oven for approximately 25-30 minutes or until the crust is golden brown and the filling is no longer the least bit jiggly (if you’re not sure, make a small cut in the middle; if it’s at all watery, it needs a few more minutes).

And bam! Serve it to a crowd of hungry humans (we just so happen to have those on hand pretty much 24/7, so this part is suuuuuper-simple).

quiche3

{Just one of the hungry horde…who was not nearly as hungry after she finished that pile of cheese}

I like to make double pies (see note above about hungry humans) because any leftovers usually get gobbled up within a day, but these also freeze really nicely (and make great  one-dish dinners for new mamas or neighbors or…whoever).

So, there you have it: one of my favorite super-simple, super-fast, and super-cheap ways to trick my children into eating lots of good veggies. And protein. Whoop!

Are you quiche-eaters too?  I reeeeally didn’t like them growing up, but I’ve since broadened my tastebuds’ horizons, and now I’m a fan. In case you can’t tell.

 

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Stef’s Cupcakes: AKA–THEE Best Vanilla Cupcakes Evah!

I’ve loved almond extract ever since I bit into my first twisty red and white candy cane cookie that my childhood best friend’s mom used to make every Christmas. She was a crunchy granola type, and I don’t think she used any processed white sugar in the cookies, but they tasted plenty sweet to me…with a hint of something mysterious and special and just plain scrumptious.

When I got older and discovered that said scrumptiousness had a name, I was determined to use almond extract in any baking recipe in which it might possibly make sense. I’ve since simmered down a bit, but there’s one recipe that I won’t make unless I have almond extract in the house, and it’s the one I’m sharing today. Which is funny because the recipe doesn’t even call for it.

vanilla cupcakes

From scratch cake is hard, y’all. Done right, it’s way better than boxed cake, but getting the texture right is tricky, which is why I love how these cupcakes turn out–moist, fluffy, and yet dense and richly flavored.

To be honest, I don’t remember where I got the recipe. Online, I know, but where, I don’t. I copied and pasted it into a word document and printed it out 8 years ago when I made a “cake” in the shape of a flip-flop out of dozens of mini-cupcakes for my friend, Stef’s, going away party, and it got such raves that I made it for a baby shower next.

stefs cupcakes

And then on and on. For 8 years, any time there has been an occasion that require’s vanilla cupcakes, I’ve whipped out my “Stef’s Cupcakes” recipe. (In case you’re wondering, the most recent “occasion” was last Friday night at 10:30 PM, while Shaun and I were watching a movie, and I got an itch to bake that only these cupcakes would scratch).

vanilla cupcakes3

Which brings me to why I’m sharing it with you: a) because it’s really too good to keep to myself and b) because I’m afraid I might lose that ratty, stained sheet of paper, and then I’ll be up a major, vanilla cupcake-less creek without a spatula. Or…some other sort of mixed metaphor that not even I can follow.

A couple of notes:

1) In MY opinion, it’s the almond extract that makes these cupcakes, but if you have something against it, then we can’t be friends you can just replace that 1/2 tsp with vanilla, and the results will be fine. And only fine. Don’t judge me or this recipe based on a version of it without almond extract.

2) These are at their absolute best as mini-cupcakes. They make such decadent, addictive little moist mouthfuls, especially when smothered in the cream cheese frosting recipe I gave you here. They’re also good as full-sized cupcakes and even as a layer cake; they’re just a little dryer.

3) This is a husband-pleasing recipe. Shaun LOVES these cupcakes, even though he’s not really a big cake person and tends to swipe most of the best part (aforementioned cream cheese frosting) off of the top. So, yes. Husband-approved recipe, in case you, too, have a hubby who is particular about his cake.

vanilla cupcakes1

So, did you think I was going to make you scroll up and zoom in and squint at that snapshot of the recipe ’til you go blind? No such luck.

Here’s the full recipe (complete with my little almond extract addition, of course):

INGREDIENTS :

(Makes about 30 cupcakes)

1 3/4 cups cake flour, not self-rising

1 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

2 cups sugar

1 TBS baking powder

3/4 tsp salt

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch cubes

4 large eggs

1 cup whole milk

1/2 tsp vanilla extract

1/2 tsp almond extract

1. Preheat oven to 325 (F). Line cupcake pans with paper liners; set aside. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine flours, sugar, baking powder and salt. Mix on low speed until combined. Add butter, mixing until just coated with flour.

2. In a large glass measuring cup, whisk together eggs, milk, vanilla, and almond extract. With mixer on medium speed, add wet ingredients in 3 parts, scraping down the sides of the bowl before each addition. Beat until ingredients are incorporated, but do not over-beat.

3. Divide batter evenly among liners, filling about 2/3 full. Bake, rotating pan halfway through, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. About 17-20 minutes for full-sized cupcakes, and 9-12 minutes for minis.

4. Transfer to wire racks to cool completely before frosting.

Note: I’ve had these cupcakes with pretty much every kind of frosting under the sun, and they’re fabulous with all of them…but cream cheese will forever be my favorite.

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When we travel, we do NOT eat clean (but we do eat delicious)

In case you’re wondering, I have, in general, been sticking with the clean eating regimen that I established back when I did my 10 day cleanse.

Yes, I indulge in the occasional treat. I have had an Icee…or three (not at once, of course). I have added some dairy back into my diet (I had Greek yogurt this morning for breakfast…for the first time in for-evah), and I do eat bread eeeeeevery now and then.

Still. In general, I’m sticking with proteins and veggies and fruits.

EXCEPT.

When I’m on vacation.

Suffice it to say that, on our recent anniversary trip to California, we did not eat clean. We sure did eat gooooood, though.

food7

I wouldn’t necessarily say that we’re super-adventurous sorts when it comes to food. We don’t go in for the squid or the fried alligator. But we still like a fair bit of variety, and we do a collective happy dance (choreographed, of course; I’ll have to video it for you sometime) when we find a unique, well-rated, delicious little place that serves not-completely-conventional food.

When I posted about some of our food adventures on Instagram, I immediately got asked the same question multiple times: “How do you find these places?”

And the answer is easy: Yelp.

That’s right, you just cup your hands around your mouth and emit a high-pitched noise, and the restaurants, they just appear. food5

No, but seriously, if you’re into really good food while you travel (or even if you just want to find the best places in your hometown), download the Yelp app and get to browsing. You can narrow your search by all kinds of factors including price, whether the restaurant’s open during your search time (good for those times when you pull into town at 10 PM, and everything looks dead), and food genre.

TripAdvisor is great too, but Yelp is just really nice for an uncluttered, streamlined restaurant rec app. Plus, I find the reviews to be more accurate and consistent than those on UrbanSpoon or Google. (Where it’s not uncommon to encounter: “BEST. FOOD. EVAH.” right on the tails of: “Total dump. Never go here. I think I’ll bomb this place.”)

food4

{That ho-cho tasted as good as it looked. Mmmmm}

ANYhoo, we ate like kings, beginning with a dang good falafel. Our trip basically started with our muscling our way through San Fran traffic on a Friday afternoon (I highly recommend it…if you want to be late to wherever you’re going…and then to whatever you might have planned after that too).

As we crawled (inched?) along, we both noticed an Olive Garden on our left, and (discovered later that) we both thought, “Ooooooh. Salad and breadsticks. I could really go for that right now.” But we were both too embarrassed to admit that we wanted to start out our 10 year anniversary trip at a chain restaurant just because we were too hungry to wait for the good stuff. By the time we figured out our mutual bourgeois-ness, it was too late. Because while parking spots are about as common tripled-winged unicorns, NO U TURN + NO LEFT TURN signs abound. And making 14 right turns (don’t even do that math) to fight our way back for lukewarm bread + soggy salad (see how our perspectives changed the millisecond we passed it?) just didn’t seem worth it.

food8

So, I hopped on Yelp, and we found a falafel shop with rave!! reviews that was only 1.3 miles away…and then proceeded to spend the next 45 minutes getting there. Turns out, our location wasn’t accurate when it gave us our initial arrival estimation. So, friendly note there. Make sure your actual location is entered before you attempt to hit up that 5 star gourmet burger joint “just around the corner.”

Anyhoo, by the time we found ourselves on Market street in downtown San Francisco and realized that parking was nonexistent, we were too hungry and too determined to get us some falafel to care. Shaun dropped me off and circled the block until he found a temporary spot to squat (before being shooed off by a police car) and then circled some more while I waited in line for 5 minutes and then another 15ish for our food.

food3

At one point, a lady stomped up to enter the door right next to the falafel stand (the Flying Falafel, in case you’re wondering), and, fixing all of us with a glare, spat: “I don’t know if you know this or not, but this door is not associated with the falafel shop. Which means that you all are loitering outside a private door. And you need to move…over THERE.” Flaps hands dramatically.

Me and my small-town Texas self uneasily inched away from the door, even though I was standing the farthest away from it and in no way blocking it.

Everybody else?

Just glanced at her and then resumed their conversations.

So, Miss Indignant made a big show of shouldering her way through the “crowd” (it really wasn’t that bad, and no one was truly in her way) and huffed into her building. And then turned around to face us and hollered, “I’m talking to YOU PEOPLE,” through the glass door, while making all-encompassing circles with her arms.

I was still trying to appease her by taking a few more steps back (any farther, and I’d have been in the street). But this time, no one else even looked up.

And that, my friends, is how you spot a native San Franciscan. They eat their falafels with a side of crazy and don’t even blink.

food6

Speaking of the falafels, they were worth every last stomach growl and moment of Southern girl people-pleasing discomfort.

Seriously, yo. As hungry and tired and annoyed at traffic as we were, Shaun got halfway through his, and was like, “I am so glad we didn’t stop at Olive Garden. This is amazing,” and I was all: “Um hum, mmm hum, ggmmmmm.” Which is me agreeing with a really full mouth.

food

Just as satisfying was the Thai food that we ate and the farm-to-table brunch with the to-die-for Eggs Benedict and $4.50 drop biscuits (yes, EACH) and the gourmet pizza joint with the crazy-nice owner who made us a delicious pie at 10 PM. Oh, and we can’t forget the yummy Greek food, and the mouth-watering almond croissants, and the prettiest hot chocolate you ever did see… and.. and… and

food1

{This cute little place in Santa Rosa was fantastic. My bangs in this picture? Not so much}

Oh man, my stomach is rumbling just thinking about all of the goodness we consumed.

But maybe our favorite place on the entire trip–both for the food and the experience–was Crepes of Brittany on the Fisherman’s Wharf in Monterey.

It’s a good thing that place is nowhere near my house because I might be leave my husband and children to set up camp outside its door. If you read my European food recap from last year’s trip, then you know how deeply Shaun and I fell in love with both the crepes (sweet) and the galettes (savory) that we ate in Paris, but I kid you not when I say that these were at least as good. Maybe better.

food2

{A buckwheat galette with tomatoes, egg, and cheese = heaven}

Mostly because the guy who runs it–a stocky, middle-aged dude with tattoos all up his arms, closed-buzzed hair, and twinkly blue eyes–was born in France and still uses his mother’s crepe recipe, even though he hasn’t actually been back in 35 years.

The coolest thing, though, wasn’t the crepes, even as amazing as they were. It was his story. From the moment we walked in, there was just something about him–the way he met your eye, the way he expressed himself–that just shone, and it totally belied his tough guy look.

And then, while we were eating, I noticed that Christian worship music was playing in the background, and I was really surprised. In East Texas, I wouldn’t blink an eye. Probably 1/3 of the stores I shop in play Christian music. But in California? It definitely jumped out at me because it was so unexpected.

He came to our table to ask us how we liked our food (we gushed, of course), and I told him, “Oh, by the way. We love your music.” And he just fixed those bright blue eyes on me, smiled gently and said, “Thank you.”

When we got our dessert crepes, he brought us out a complimentary one (both were–oh man–soooooo good), and then he stayed a bit to tell us how he had been a contractor for 25 years, never known his dad, grown up rough and tumble and uneducated. He only made it through 8th grade, and reading gave him so much anxiety that he would pass his contracting company bills straight to his accountant, so he wouldn’t have to decipher them. (I would neverhave guessed this, considering how well he expressed himself).

But then, through a series of totally unsought after events, he ended up with this little crepe shop, and then one day, he came in contact with a Christian guy who gave him a Bible verse to read. So, he took it home and painfully worked it out. Then, the guy gave him another one. And another. And Terry (the crepe shop owner) said that by the third one, he had such a hunger to know more that he couldn’t wait for the guy to give him the fourth. He attended a Bible study with the man, and the Lord just ignited a ravenous need to know more of his Word and his ways in the pit of Terry’s soul, and he’s never looked back.

Y’all.

I know this post is supposed to be about food. But that moment honestly made the trip for both of us, I think.

To see the pure gratitude and joy that shone from this man’s eyes as he talked about how his growing relationship with the Lord has given him a completely different life–how he has learned to love his wife (because he never had a model of marriage to follow before) and his kids, how his life now has purpose and how he is able to see the way that God pursued him, even in the midst of his sin and self-seeking lifestyle (his description). How he’s going to take his entire family to meet his father for the first time in France this summer…

It was just awesome, and it did the heart of this girl who has known Jesus for over a quarter century and can get complacent all-too-easily some serious good.

I can’t express clearly enough how visibly the light of Jesus shone out of this man’s eyes, but it did. He wasn’t wild or ranting or jumping up and down and dancing. He was just at peace and full of joy. We told him we had noticed something different about him almost immediately, and he smiled and said, “I noticed it in y’all too. I don’t know why or how, but that’s why I came over.”

So stinkin’ cool.

Oh, and his crepes were amaze-balls. So, there’s that.

So, what about you guys? Are you fellow Yelpers? Any other recommendations for ways to find good food? We’re taking a family vacation soon, and, even though we’re mostly going to be cooking (good food loses its flavor right quick when there’s a side of screaming toddler) we’ll definitely be scoping out some of the local eats too.

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