Saturday, November 16, 2013

The Gift of Experience

I'm over the Christmas lists. Already. I have enough stuff and so do my kiddos. Don't get me wrong: we are so richly blessed and thankful for the things we have. With 4 separate sets of parents/grandparents, there is always an abundance at birthdays and Christmas. And for that I am grateful. Many times the monetary gifts we receive at Christmas will be our personal spending the rest of the year. With a tight budget of $10 a month of personal money these days, I am SURELY looking forward to some of the blessings that will be flowing our way this holiday season. Don't get me wrong.

It's just the stuff. Okay, I'm talking about toys. We've got a closet full of them downstairs and bedrooms stocked upstairs. Even a few bins in the attic that can be rotated in on a rainy day.

For the past several years, I've had this inkling to simplify. To purge. And not just to purge the excessive amount of kids' stuff in our home, but my closet, household products, etc.

But it's HARD. Especially when it comes to my closet. I like having lots of options. But I also like having a tidy, well organized closet with hangers that are neatly spaced apart from one another. If you think that's strange, I'd just like to say that I've come a long way from previously color coding and arranging from sleeveless to long sleeve. Baby steps.

So while these ideas of a simplified and more minimalistic lifestyle have been tugging at my heart, I needed to put it out there. There is something about telling others about the things living in your head that make them real. That invokes action. And maybe I'll even find some fellow sojourners along the way. I know you're out there...

Along with cutting the clutter from my heart and my home is the desire for my kids to cherish experiences and time spent with others or serving others over stuff. It's been a blast and a blessing to ask for a received gifts such as a pool pass, Imagination Station membership and Zoo membership in the past. These things are a good start. But I want to foster a love for seeking, exploring, doing and serving. I believe that these are true gifts, and deep, meaningful blessings can come from such things.

My dear friend and pseudo-mother, Laura Grace Weldon, often writes on this idea. She's onto something, has been for years. You can read about it here.

And so the question remains. Amidst my counter-cultural bend and good intentions, how do we keep gifts simple? Keep CHRISTMAS gifts simple? Please know that I am not anti gift-giving. I don't want to be a ba-humbug! Right now I'm just searching for a balance and to cut the excess. I'm looking for ideas and some friends who are along for the ride with me. Don't be shy now... :)

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Quinoa- 3 Ways

I was first introduced to quinoa several years ago when we were at a neighbor's house for dinner. She used it as a side and I was intrigued by this unusual food pronounced "keen-wa". The more I found out about the health benefits (high in protein and fiber, wheat and gluten free to name a few) and its versatility, I was hooked! 

Recently I made this little dish shown below: Sweet and crunchy quinoa salad.

It. Is. So. Yummy.

I've made it lots before and kinda forgot about it. Going to have to get back to making it more often. I love having it around for lunch.

So with that said, I thought I'd share my top 3 fav quinoa recipes. They are all delightful and I hope they encourage even the most skeptical of quinoa to give 'er a whirl.

#1 Sweet and Crunch Quinoa Salad (Not sure of the original source of this recipe. My mom found it and passed it on)

1 cup quinoa (I used tri-colored organic quinoa from Trader Joe's in the pic above)
1 medium sweet potato, peeled and cut into small cubes about the same size
3 1/2 Tbs extra virgin olive oil, divided
1/3 cup pine nuts, toasted (SUPER YUM)
4 tsp apple cider vinegar
2 tsp honey
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground black pepper
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/3 cup dried cranberries
1/3 to 1/2 cup finely diced red onion

-Add the quinoa and water to medium sauce pan. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer (covered) for about 15-20 minutes, or until all the water is absorbed. Remove from heat and let quinoa sit for at least one hour, preferably three, to cool.

-Preheat oven to 400 degress. Toss cubed sweet potato in about 1/2 Tbs of olive oil and spread them on a roasting pan or baking sheet. Bake for 25 mins or until you can just pierce them with a fork. Set aside.

-Place the pine nuts into a small pan over medium heat until lightly toasted, stirring often. Set aside.

-In a small bowl, place the remaining 3 Tbs olive oil, vinegar, honey, salt, pepper, cumin and cinnamon. Whisk well.

-When the quinoa is dry, use a whisk to break apart the seeds and place into a large bowl. All half the vinaigrette and mix with the whisk. Add more to taste. (I add it all) Add the sweet potatoes, toasted pine nuts, cranberries and red onion and mix gently. Serve at room temperature.

#2. Quinoa Chili (adapted from this recipe) Super flavorful, meatless option for chili.
1/2 cup uncooked quinoa
1 cup water
1 Tbs olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 or 3 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbs chili powder
1 Tbs ground cumin
1 (28 oz) can crushed tomatoes
2 (19oz) can black beans rinsed and drained or 2 containers of slow cooker black beans
1 green pepper, chopped
1 red pepper, chopped
1 small zucchini, chopped
1 tsp dried oregano
1 cup frozen corn
And toppings are always recommended: sour cream or Greek yogurt, shredded cheese, cilantro, etc.

-Add the quinoa and water to small sauce pan. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer (covered) for about 15-20 minutes, or until all the water is absorbed. Remove from heat.

-Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a large pot. Cook the onions and garlic until softened (about 5 mins). Add chili powder and cumin and cook for about 1 minute.

-Add tomatoes, black beans, green and red pepper, zucchini, and oregano. Simmer for about 20 minutes.

-Once the peppers are tender, add the quinoa and corn. Simmer another 5 minutes.

-Serve with desired toppings.

3. Turkey Quinoa Meatloaf  (also adapted from You won't have to worry about your meatloaf being dry with this recipe! And it's so tasty. I double it if we have guests or want leftovers. It goes quick.

1/4 cup quinoa
1/2 cup water
1.25 lbs of ground turkey
2 Tbs dried minced onion (soak in 4 Tbs. water for about 5 mins and drain off any excess water before using)
1 tsp minced garlic
1 Tbs ketchup
1 Tbs BBQ sauce (I usually just skip this and double the ketchup)
2 Tbs Worcestershire sauce
1 egg
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp ground black pepper

2 Tbs brown sugar
2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp water

-Add the quinoa and water to small sauce pan. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer (covered) for about 15-20 minutes, or until all the water is absorbed. Remove from heat and set aside to cool.
*I've found it's best to make the quinoa ahead of time so it has ample time to cool. Sometimes if it's too warm it can throw off the temp on the meat thermometer.

-Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

-Stir the ground turkey, cooked quinoa, onions, ketchup, BBQ sauce, 2 Tbs Worcestershire, egg, salt and pepper in a large bowl until combined. The mixture will be very moist. Shape into a loaf on a baking stone/bar pan or a foil lined baking sheet.
*My loaf is usually short in height and wide across as opposed to tall and thick like it would be if it were cooked in a bread loaf pan.

-Combine brown sugar, Worcestershire, and water in a small bowl. Rub paste over the top of the meatloaf.

-Bake in the preheated oven until a meat thermometer reads at least 160 degrees. Center should no longer be pink. This should take around 50 minutes, but judge by the temp on the meat thermometer, not the cooking time.

-Let meatloaf cool for 10 minutes before slicing and serving.

Bon appetite!