Friday, December 23, 2011

Book Review: Forever Faithful

Forever Faithful



Have you ever finished a book and wished you didn't have to wait to get the sequel? Or picked up a book from your favorite author and realized a few chapters into the book that it was a sequel, and you wished you would have re-read the previous book first to refresh your memory? It happened to me just this morning. I picked up a new novel from the library and realized it was a sequel to something I read months ago. I should leaf through book one and refresh my memory before I keep reading...and I admit, I have gone so far as to post on an author's Facebook page "Hurry up and write quickly! You can't leave us hanging like that!"

"Forever Faithful" by Karen Kingsbury solves both of those problems by taking all three of her books in the trilogy and putting them into one volume!

The series begins with "Waiting For Morning," a story of painful loss, bitterness, forgiveness and rebuilding. Hannah Ryan's husband and daughter are killed in an accident caused by a drunk driver. She focuses on avenging the deaths of her family, almost destroying her relationship with her surviving daughter in the process. While it was a difficult book to read due to the very emotional issues, it was very thought-provoking, making me examine areas where I might be less forgiving than I should be.

In the second book, "A Moment of Weakness," Jade and Tanner are inseparable as children. Tanner says he's going to marry Jade. They lose touch when Jade's father moves her across the country. When they are reunited, they discover the closeness they shared as children, and look forward to a lifetime together, until their "moment of weakness" slowly but surely pushes them apart. They are drawn together again nearly a decade later as Jade fights for her faith and for custody of her son.

The third book brings follows the story of Jade and Tanner and their good friends Matt and Hannah (of "Waiting for Morning") as they struggle with life-threatening health and heart-breaking loss. After reading the first two books, you are drawn into the lives of these two couples, and it can be very emotional to "see" them suffer through the trials of life, but there is encouragement in the way they stay true to their faith and depend on God to carry them through.

If you are a fan of Karen Kingsbury's stories, don't miss the chance to get all three books wrapped up in one!

Click this link to read the first chapter!



I received this book free from the publisher, Waterbrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The Battle of the Salads

A couple of days ago, Ron mentioned at the dinner table that he wouldn’t be home for dinner on Tuesday. There was a Christmas party for his division at a country club, so he would be there through the dinner hour. That meant I would have to pick Bethany up from basketball practice, and she and I would eat dinner by ourselves.

My first thought was “Where could we go out to eat?” After thinking it over for a while, that option had three downsides: the expense, the fact that it would be hard to stay within my Weight Watchers points for the day with a restaurant meal, and the time involved—it might not have left Bethany enough time for her homework. Oh, and there was the fact that she would be wearing her gym clothes when I picked her up… not exactly the kind of outfit you wear into a restaurant.

Sometime this morning, probably when I was doing the mostly-mindless task of sorting $100 in change into piles to be counted (trying to come up with enough money to pay for tomorrow’s Pepsi order), I came up with an idea: Bethany and I would make salads for dinner, post a picture and description on Facebook, and have people vote on whose salad looked tastier. Sounded like a good idea to me, but would Bethany think it was hokey?

When I picked her up from practice, she had a funny story to tell me… so I didn’t get to bring up my idea until we were pulling out of the school parking lot. She knew something was up by which way I turned… we weren’t going home the usual way. As soon as I told her the idea, she was all in.

We stopped at the grocery store on the way home and wandered through the produce section. I told her she could pick up any fruits or vegetables she wanted for her salad. We got a cucumber, some romaine and butter lettuces, and some tortilla strips (although the croutons were considered for a while). Fresh blueberries were on sale, so I picked up a little container of them (just in case I wanted to get really adventurous with my salad), and I had a coupon for a 12-ounce Odwalla beverage, and they were on sale, so I let Bethany pick out one of those. I almost bought a bag of seedless red grapes, because they looked so good, and they were “on sale”, but when the produce scale showed that the bag would cost $10, I put them back. We had a great time at the self-checkout, paying for $12.89 groceries with all coins. (I figured it would be easier to “buy” the nickels and dimes than to try to get them all stuffed into coin wrappers. I had about $20 in coins in my purse!)

The ride home was fun… Bethany was planning her salad, and doing a bit of trash talking… how she was going to win, hands down. She was having more fun with this than I imagined.

So, here are the finished products:


Bethany’s salad, on the left, has cucumbers, sweet banana peppers, black olives, feta cheese, tortilla strips, grape tomatoes and a crumbled Gyro patty, with Greek dressing. My salad has alfalfa sprouts, cucumber, blue cheese, chicken, slices of Bartlett pear, candied pecans, and strawberry vinaigrette.

So, who do you think won the “Battle of the Salads”? Place your vote with a comment below… I’ll tally the votes next Wednesday morning (December 21st). We haven’t figured out what the winner actually wins, other than bragging rights. 

Sunday, December 11, 2011

The Nutella Bread Experiment

Last week, I got an invite to "Bread of the Month" at the Artisan Bread Bakers group on Facebook. The bread this month? Nutella Bread. As soon as I saw the title, I knew I had to try to make a gluten-free version. I looked up the original recipe and found out that the measurements were all metric. I racked up a few Bing points doing searches like "500g flour = how many cups?" and got an approximation of all the ingredients. I bought a jar of Nutella. I misplaced the recipe and ended up searching for half an hour before I found it in my piles of paper. Then, today, when Bethany decided to make a Key Lime Cake for dessert, I decided to give the Nutella bread a try.

Gluten-Free Nutella Bread
3/4 c Tapioca flour
1/2 c cornstarch
1/2 c white rice flour
1/4 c brown rice flour
1 tsp Xanthan gum
2 tsp salt
2 tsp yeast
1/2 cup Nutella
1 large egg
3/4 c warm water
2-3 Tbsp Nutella for filling

Combine flours and xanthan gum in a small bowl (not your mixer bowl). In mixer bowl, beat egg and Nutella until well-blended. Slowly add water while mixer is running. Add flour mixture a little at a time, scraping the sides of the bowl often. Dough should resemble a thick cookie dough in consistency. Way too sticky for the usual "roll out the dough on a floured surface" routine...
Put about 18" of Saran Wrap down on your work surface and spray it with non-stick cooking spray. Put your dough down in the middle, using the spatula to shape it into a rectangle. Spray another piece of Saran Wrap and put that on top of the dough, then roll it out into a long rectangle, about 8" wide and 18" long. 

If the dough starts to get too wide in a section, you can lift the top Saran Wrap, fold the extra width in toward the middle, replace the Saran Wrap, and keep on rollin'. 

Take off the top Saran Wrap. Put your Nutella for the filling into a Ziploc bag, make sure it is zipped... completely zipped, and use it to make stripes on the dough about an inch apart, but don't go all the way to the edges... leave about 1/2" of blank dough at the ends of the stripes.

If you don't make sure your bag is completely zipped, you get rather messy... here's photographic evidence: 


Carefully lift one end of the dough off the bottom Saran Wrap and start rolling it up tightly. Place it in a greased loaf pan, smoothing down any rough edges. Let rise in a warm spot for 60-90 minutes, then bake at 350 for 40 minutes.

The finished product:

It's good, but I think it needs a little something. I think I'll try again, adding about 1/4 cup of sugar to the flour mixture, to make the dough a little sweeter, and hopefully help it to rise more. I think I should do a few less stripes, too, to make the bread toastable. It has so much Nutella in it, I think it would run out in the toaster. All in all, I think it turned out well for the first try.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Book Recommendation: The Christmas Singing

Looking for a new novel to give somebody who loves Amish stores?

Looking for a new book to read in front of the fireplace this winter?

Here's a quick video that describes Cindy Woodsmall's book  "The Christmas Singing".

You can even read a sample of the first chapter here.


If you'd like to pick up the book at the WaterBrook-Multnomah website,  you can get a great deal - 30% and free shipping. Just tell them I sent you. On second thought, maybe you'd better use the code CHRISTMAS11 at the checkout. That would probably work better!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Review: FFH's Christmas Album "One Silent Night"

It seems strange to be listening to Christmas music when it's 60 degrees in Buffalo, and I'm wearing shorts as I'm driving around running errands, but that's what I've been doing this week! I got a chance to review the new Christmas album by FFH, called "One Silent Night".


About FFH
Pop vocal group FFH has released thirteen projects, sold more than two million albums, and garnered 24 radio hits, including seven No. 1 singles and ten Top 5 radio singles. In addition to multiple Dove Award nominations, FFH has been recognized at the Inspirational Life Awards as well as the Billboard Music Video Awards. The group has performed more than 1000 dates since 2000 and continues to be a favorite on the tour circuit. FFH is also known for its work with the “Make-A-Wish Foundation,” Kurt Warner’s “First Things First Foundation,” and for its contributions to national ad campaigns for Coca Cola and IBM.



I think this is going to be one of my favorite Christmas albums. It has old favorites like "I'll be Home for Christmas" and "Winter Wonderland", along with new songs like "Glorious Impossible" and "One Silent Night". I think "Glorious Impossible" is my favorite track on the album. It reminds me of a lullaby, and the lyrics really make you think about what it meant for God to come to earth as a baby: 

See the Virgin is delivered
In a cold and crowded stall
Mirror of the Father’s glory
Lies beside her in the straw.
He is Mercy’s incarnation
Marvel at this miracle!
For the Virgin gently holds
The Glorious Impossible

The songs on the album go back and forth between solos and duets by husband and wife team Jeromy and Jennifer Deibler. I went to the bio section of their blog to find out a little more about them when getting ready to write this review, and was really impressed with their ministry. 

If you've enjoyed the music of FFH in the past, make sure you check out this album! It's got some great music on it! 








The Giveaway! 

I have the chance to give away a copy of FFH's Christmas album "One Silent Night" to one of my readers. Please note - the free copy of the album will be by download! 

There are two ways to enter: 

1. By leaving a comment below (leave your e-mail address if it doesn't show up in your Google profile, so I can contact the winner)

2. Or, if you would rather not post your e-mail on a public blog, you can send me an e-mail at FreeCellPenguin@gmail.com - with the subject line "FFH album"

Giveaway ends on Monday, November 28 at 11:59 PM. Limited to U.S. residents only, age 13 and up. Limit one entry per person per day. 

"Disclosure of Material Connection: I received one or more of the products or services 
mentioned above for free in the hope that I would mention it on my blog. Regardless, I 
only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers. 
I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: 
"Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

Review - The Christmas Lodge DVD

We've been having some beautiful Indian Summer weather lately. Sunny days and 60 degrees... so what am I going to talk about? A Christmas movie! 


Before Halloween, I received the movie "The Christmas Lodge" to review. In the busy-ness of life, it took me a while to get around to watching it. 


 Synopsis: 
Thomas Kinkade presents Christmas Lodge: a place where a heart-warming past and loving future meet for one remarkable group of people. During a weekend trip to the mountains, Mary (Erin Karpluk) finds herself at the now- dilapidated lodge where she spent the holidays with her family growing up. She becomes determined to restore the building to its former glory. Inspired by her grandfather and guided by her grandmother in heaven, Mary throws herself into the project, and during the process finds herself drawn to Jack (Michael Shanks), a handsome man who loves the lodge as much as she does. Historically unlucky in love, this chance encounter allows Mary to renew her faith in life and discover her one true love. For an uplifting story about the importance of faith, family and the true holiday spirit, go to the Christmas Lodge.

I really enjoyed this movie... it had good family values, an interesting (if somewhat predictable) plot, and lovable characters. I think that at one time or another, we've had a friend of family member in Mary's position at the beginning of the movie... dating a guy who just isn't a good fit for her... and everybody else in the family sees it but her. Her brother calls him "Mr. Fancy Pants", her father hints that he think they're not a good match, and yet she still hopes for a ring, because they've been dating for a year.

This was a great family movie with a sweet, "feel-good" ending, just right for a watching on a cold winter night. It has a cute kid, a cute dog, beautiful scenery, and some nice songs (the character playing Mary's sister Kathy is played by Victoria Banks, a country music singer, and she sings a couple of songs in the movie). 

Check out the movie's website  - or watch the trailer - and then pick up a copy of "The Christmas Lodge" for your holiday DVD collection! 






The Giveaway! 

I have the chance to give away a copy of "The Christmas Lodge" to one of my readers. There are two ways to enter: 

1. By leaving a comment below (leave your e-mail address if it doesn't show up in your Google profile, so I can contact the winner)

2. Or, if you would rather not post your e-mail on a public blog, you can send me an e-mail at FreeCellPenguin@gmail.com - with the subject line "Christmas Lodge"

Giveaway ends on Friday, November 25th at 11:59 PM. Limited to U.S. residents only, age 13 and up. Limit one entry per person per day. 

"Disclosure of Material Connection: I received one or more of the products or services 
mentioned above for free in the hope that I would mention it on my blog. Regardless, I 
only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers. 
I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: 

"Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising." 


Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Grace Effect - Review & Giveaway

A few weeks ago, I got an e-mail offering me the opportunity to review a non-fiction book called “The Grace Effect – How the Power of One Life Can Reverse the Corruption of Unbelief.” It chronicles the journey of historian and Christian apologist Larry Taunton (of the Fixed Point Foundation) as he travels to the Ukraine to adopt a young girl that his wife and sons met while on a missions trip the year before.




The overall theme of the book appealed to me – the heartwarming story of a little girl taken from a Ukranian orphanage and brought home to live with a loving Christian family. My only hope was that Larry Taunton’s historian side wouldn’t make too much of an appearance in the book… history was definitely not my favorite subject in school.

Yes, there was history in the book, as the author outlined the evolution of religious beliefs in Eastern Europe, and how they have shaped the laws and morals of the society. The history is presented in simple terms, often laced with humor, and was easy reading even for a history-avoider like me.

The story of Sasha, the golden-haired orphan who latched onto Larry’s son during a missions trip, following him around to such as extent that people started to jokingly call her “Sasha Taunton”, was inspiring. Larry described how he and his wife had discussed adoption before, but all the pieces never fell into place. When Larry’s son Michael e-mailed him from the Ukraine to tell him about Sasha, the pieces started to come together. 

The majority of the book deals with the struggles of bureaucracy in a society founded by atheists: red tape, delays, bribes, corruption. Everyone from the Adoption Inspector to the hotel clerk has their own set of rules, their own way of getting more money from the “rich Americans”. Time after time, as I read the story, I found myself saying, “I can’t believe they would do that!”

Even though it was exasperating to read of the corruption in the Ukranian government system, it was a joy to read of Sasha and how she became a part of the Taunton family. It was wonderful to hear of how she prospered under their loving care.

I really enjoyed reading this book, and would highly recommend it… even if, like me, you’re not into history!

The Giveaway! 

I have the chance to give away a copy of "The Grace Effect" to one of my readers. There are two ways to enter: 

1. By leaving a comment below (leave your e-mail address if it doesn't show up in your Google profile, so I can contact the winner)

2. Or, if you would rather not post your e-mail on a public blog, you can send me an e-mail at FreeCellPenguin@gmail.com - with the subject line "Grace Effect"

Giveaway ends on Monday, November 21 at 11:59 PM. Limited to U.S. residents only, age 13 and up. Limit one entry per person per day. 



"Disclosure of Material Connection: I received one or more of the products or services
mentioned above for free in the hope that I would mention it on my blog. Regardless, I
only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers.
I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255:
"Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."


Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Are You Ready for Holiday Baking?

I wanted to take a few minutes to showcase the November specials for Watkins. I will be placing a Watkins order on Friday (November 4th), so if anybody local would like to add items to my order, just let me know by 3 pm on Friday... by phone, e-mail or Facebook! If you're out of town, you can put together an order yourself at the Watkins website, and plug in 104159 at the checkout, where it asks you to search for a Watkins Representative. You can get free shipping on a $150 order... you can always combine an order with some friends, family or co-workers! 

It's soup-making season... are you stocked up on Watkins Soup Bases? For the next two months, Baked Potato Soup Base is back! Baked Potato Soup Base

One of Bethany's breakfast favorites is back this month, too: Cinna-Cream Sprinkles. It's like a vanilla-flavored cinnamon-sugar. Bethany loves it on buttered toast. I think I'll buy a few extra bottles so I have enough to get us through to next Fall's gift line!

For Thanksgiving dinner, do you need Turkey Rub,  Roasted Turkey Gourmet Gravy Mix (that's my secret ingredient in homemade turkey soup), or Poultry Seasoning for your stuffing?

Pumpkin butter is back! In the past few days, I've seen a lot of comments about pumpkin-flavored beverages on the internet... pumpkin smoothies, pumpkin lattes, etc. One quick & easy recipe I saw called for warming up milk, then adding pumpkin butter, for a delicious, caffeine-free pumpkin latte. It's $6.99 -- and once they run out, it won't be available again until next September (if they offer it again next year).

For holiday baking, Watkins Original Double Strength Vanilla is on sale (usually $15.99, now it's $13.99), as well as the Imitation Clear Vanilla Extract (usually $12.99, now on sale for $11.99). The "Baker's Size" extract for Lemon Extract, Almond Extract, Coconut Extract & Lemon Extract are available for $9.99 each ($10.99 for Lemon), but like the other seasonal items, once they're gone, you won't be able to get them any more until next fall. Baker's Size (6 oz) extracts This year's seasonal extracts are Black Walnut, Danish Pastry, Hazelnut & Irish Cream - $6.99 per two-ounce bottle. 

If you're a fan of Watkins Cooking Spray (I definitely am!), there's a combination special on that. If you buy Watkins Cooking Spray ($7.99 for a big 14-oz can) and Watkins Baking Powder ($5.99), you can get Watkins Baking Cocoa for only $3.59 (regular price is $5.99). 

Have you started your Christmas shopping yet? Take a look at the tinted lip gloss or the hand cream. Want to make your holiday baking easier? Buy one Shortbread Cookie mix for $5.19 and get a second for only $2.99 - or buy a Pumpkin Bread Mix for $5.99 and get a second for $3.49.

The complete Watkins product line is available - from spices and extracts to cleaning products and vitamins. Take a look around the Watkins website and let me know what you need to get your house ready for the holidays!

Check out the recipe for Marbled Pumpkin Cheesecake - I think Wegmans carries gluten-free gingersnaps... so it would be very easy to make up this recipe gluten-free! 

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Brittany Hargest CD Review & Giveaway

On Monday night, my college girls were home and my youngest was already in bed. I was checking my e-mail and said to the two older girls, "Brittany Hargest from Jump 5 has released a solo album, and I have a chance to review it. Think I should go for it?" They both said "Yes!"

Fast forward a few days... I received a link to download the music, so I burned the ten songs from Brittany's new Love All The Way album to a CD and put it into the car's CD player without telling my youngest, Bethany (she's 13 years old). When I turned the car on, and the CD started playing, she turned her head very quickly to look at me, and said, "What's this? Whose CD is this? Wait! Is it that Jump 5 girl that did her own album?" She wasn't giving me a chance to speak, so I just nodded as she kept on going: "I love this music! I want this on my MP3 player so I can listen on the bus tomorrow! Oh, yeah, I'm putting this on my MP3 player TONIGHT!"

She was dancing along with the music as much as her seatbelt would allow. We quickly jumped through all ten songs on the album, trying a little bit of each, and I kept hearing, "Oh, I like this one!" from Bethany again and again.

Bethany and I have been listening to the music for three days now, and I'd have to say the album is definitely a hit at our house, very much so with the younger generation. The music is very peppy (Brittany's website describes one song as 'funky dance groove'), so it's the kind of music I would put in my workout music, but not my general listening playlist. Even though the music isn't exactly my style, I know that my girls love it, and I appreciate the fact that the lyrics to the songs aren't the ambiguous "praise songs" that have such vague words ("you're awesome, I love you") that you don't know if the song refers to God or the cute guy in your math class who can never remember if your name is Karen or Kathy. The songs have a strong Christian message, like the opening song, Critical, where she talks about life in a fallen world:  "Too many doing 95 down a dead-end road. We gotta do something quick! It's getting critical." This is an excellent album for Christian young people who enjoy music with a "dance beat." 


There is an excellent write-up on this album on Brittany's website. You can follow Brittany on Facebook or Twitter



The Giveaway! 

I have the chance to give away a copy of Brittany's Love All The Way CD to one of my readers. There are two ways to enter: 

1. By leaving a comment below (leave your e-mail address if it doesn't show up in your Google profile, so I can contact the winner)

2. Or, if you would rather not post your e-mail on a public blog, you can send me an e-mail at FreeCellPenguin@gmail.com - with the subject line "Brittany CD"

Giveaway ends on Thursday, November 3rd at 11:59 PM. Limited to U.S. residents only, age 13 and up. Limit one entry per person per day. 



"Disclosure of Material Connection: I received one or more of the products or services
mentioned above for free in the hope that I would mention it on my blog. Regardless, I
only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers.
I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255:
"Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

Friday, October 21, 2011

The Crossing: A good, suspenseful read



The book “The Crossing” deals with old wounds that just won’t heal. When Claudia was on the high school cheerleading squad, she was riding home on the bus with the cheerleading squad and the football team, and a masked gunman boarded the bus and shot three people: the bus driver, the star quarterback, and the beautiful young teacher who coached the cheerleading squad. Claudia had developed a close friendship with the coach, BJ, and when BJ was shot by the mysterious gunman, Claudia refused to leave her side, begging BJ not to die.
“The Crossing” is set ten years later. Claudia has married and has a daughter, but memories of the shooting still plague her through nightmares, flashbacks and panic attacks. Her husband, an assistant district attorney, sees her struggles and tries to help by reopening the case. Claudia doesn’t see it the same way. She sees him reopening the wounds, and starts to withdraw from the marriage.

I don’t want to say any more and give away the ending. I found myself drawn into the book. I had a hard time putting it down, wanting to find out who the masked gunman was, and why he was targeting a loveable young woman like BJ. Usually, I have the guilty party figured out halfway through a book, but this book threw me a curve or two. There were several plot twists that took me by surprise. I liked that!

While the book was much “cleaner” than your average murder mystery (no profanity or sex scenes), one thing  bothered me a bit: the sheer number of characters in the book who were having affairs or premarital sex.  I didn’t like the way it seemed sexual sin seemed to be portrayed as fairly common, even though the characters identified themselves as good, church-going folk. Most of the characters acknowledged their wrongdoing, and the book showed that there were consequences for the sin, which was good… but it just seemed too prevalent for my tastes.

Overall, I would say that “The Crossing” was a good, suspenseful read.

I received this book from Multnomah books in exchange for my honest review. 

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Movie Review: The Mighty Macs

I got a chance to watch an early screening of the movie "The Mighty Macs" - about Cathy Rush, who took on the overwhelming task of coaching the girls' basketball team at a failing Catholic college. The gym burned down and wasn't rebuilt. They have to clean years of accumulation out of an old activity center to have a place to practice. They only have one basketball to practice with. The long hours that Cathy spends with the team put a strain on her marriage.

Just when it seems like she'll never make headway with the team, she finds an unexpected ally in a young nun named "Sister Sunday." Together they teach the girls about teamwork, hard work and not giving up.

This was definitely a "feel good" movie - cheering for the underdog team and seeing them transform into a team, watching the coach show her girls how much she cared for them. There were some laugh-out-loud moments, like when Sister Sunday teaches the girls how to box out their opponent, or when a group of elderly nuns take on the role of cheerleaders.

Cathy Rush isn't just fighting to take her team to the top: the college has been struggling financially, and a deal is in the works to sell off the buildings and dissolve the college. The way the team brings together the community to stand behind the college is heartwarming. The movie had me laughing, and crying.

I think this was a wonderful family movie. The only part of the movie that might bother some people who be a scene with Cathy Rust and Sister Sunday having a beer in a bar.

The movie opens Friday, October 21st in theaters... I think we may be seeing a movie this weekend!

Monday, October 10, 2011

Changing my Focus

Well, it happened again. I was doing so well with diet & exercise, got stuck on a plateau, got discouraged, and fell off the diet & exercise wagon... big time. I recommitted at the beginning of October, but history repeated itself this week. I was disappointed with my weigh-in and slacked off... I let the voices telling me "you can't do this" get to me.  so I ended up gaining a pound or so this week. When I made my way back to LiveFit a few weeks ago, Jason asked me what my goals were. I sent back a long, rambling e-mail about wanting to get down to a certain weight, but feeling a lot of doubt because of my repeated failures. 


When Jason replied to my e-mail, he pointed out that in all my rambling about my goals, I never mentioned getting healthy. True. He said, "What if you stopped thinking about numbers and just focused on being healthy and making good food choices everyday?"


So that is what I am trying to do. When I was driving Bethany around today, we brainstormed about what would constitute a "Perfectly Healthy Day." I came up with a list of actions, like staying with my Weight Watchers points, exercising, drinking plenty of water, having fruits and vegetables, etc. 


Bethany took my rough draft and turned it into a cute poster that I'm putting on the fridge, inside my dry-erase frame... so I can check things off each day, and come up with a final grade. 
My scribbled draft, and Bethany's finished product.



The Finished Product

I got a 90 today - since I was on the run all day today, putting together a costume for this year's Clue Night at church, I didn't get in enough fruits and veggies, and forgot to get my morning fiber before I left the house. I will be shooting for a 100% grade every day... and you know what? As I shoot for being healthy every day, I'll eventually lose the weight!  

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Gyros go gluten-free! Yum!

Tonight was time for experimenting at my house. Gyros were on the menu, but I needed a bread to go with them. Something like a whole-wheat pita, but gluten-free. I looked around on the internet and found a recipe that looked pretty good, but I didn't have a few of the ingredients. I made some changes, exchanging one gluten-free flour for another, and changed the way it was prepared... from spreading the batter into a pan and cutting it into squares to making thin circles with my tortilla press. It turned out very well!

Gyro on gluten-free flatbread

Okay, first the recipe for gluten-free flatbread: 
1 cup sorghum flour
½ cup quinoa flour (I put 1/3 c quinoa through the grain mill)
⅓ cup tapioca flour
⅓ cup cornstarch
1/3 c potato starch
¾ teaspoon xanthan gum
¾ teaspoon baking soda
¾ teaspoon sea salt
1/2 tsp yeast

1 cup warm water
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

Combine dry ingredients (flours, cornstarch, potato starch, xanthan gum, baking soda, salt & yeast) in mixer. Mix until well blended. Mix water, olive oil, honey and apple cider vinegar in measuring cup - add all at once to dry mixture and mix at low speed until the mixture resembles cookie dough.

Roll dough out very thin, 1/4 cup at a time. I used my tortilla press - using saran wrap sprayed with cooking spray to keep the dough from sticking to the tortilla press.
I ended up with 8 small (and 1 very small) flatbreads.

I let the flatbreads rise on the back of the stove for half an hour while I mixed up the Gyros. They didn't rise much. Next time, I might let them rise a little longer. Bake at 400 degrees for 8 minutes.

Gyros
1 lb ground beef or lamb
1 Tbsp water
1 Tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp salt
1 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp oregano
1/4 tsp pepper
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1/4 c minced onion
Mix all ingredients. If you have the time, refrigerate for an hour or two for flavors to blend. Most days, I only let it stand for 10 minutes or so. Make into patties and fry or grill until no longer pink.

Dressing:
1/2 c non-fat plain yogurt
1 tsp sugar
3/4 c chopped cucumber
1/2 c chopped tomato
Blend all dressing ingredients together until smooth

To assemble your Gyro, put a meat patty on your flatbread with some lettuce and chopped tomato. Accessorize with Feta cheese, pickled banana peppers, and/or black olives. Drizzle some yogurt dressing over the top and enjoy! 


These gluten-free flatbreads held up well to being folded in half with the Gyro filling... it was almost like having a pita pocket again! 




Sunday, October 2, 2011

Meal Planning at our House

This weekend, we had a very nice ladies' conference at our church on Hospitality. Ladies shared tips on hosting parties, cooking for guests, encouraging others, and much more. One thing that really struck me at the conference was the statement that "hospitality begins at home." As a wife and mother, one of the most important ways I can show hospitality is by providing a warm, safe haven at home for my family, by keeping the house in right order and providing tasty, healthy meals.

After 25 years of cooking for my family, I've got it down to a system. I have made up a "meal planning chart" that lists more than 50 entrĂ©es in a spreadsheet format. I pass it around to the family and have everyone grade each meal from 1 (nah) to 5 (YEAH!). Then I look over the list and plan on making the meals with the highest ratings for meals in the next week or two. I try to do my meal planning on Sunday, when the grocery store ads are in the paper, so I can see if items I need that week are on sale anywhere.

So, I figured I'd share my list of nearly 60 possible entrĂ©es for dinner, and give you a little help with your own meal planning.

Baked Chicken
Baked Ham
 Baked Pork Chops
 BBQ Beef Sandwiches
 BBQ Chicken
 BBQ Pork Chops
 Bean Burritos
 Beef & Broccoli
 Beef Stew
 Beef Stroganoff
 Bratwurst
 Calzones
 Chicken Fajita Boboli
 Chicken Finger Subs
 Chicken Parmesan Subs
 Chicken Pot Pie
 Chicken Teriyaki
 Chicken Teriyaki Subs
 Chili in Bread Bowls
 Corned Beef & Cabbage
 Creamy Seafood Linguine
 Fruity Chili Pork Chops
 Grilled Chicken Salad
 Gyros
 Ham/Leek Scalloped Potatoes
 Mushroom Turkey Burgers
 Honey Mustard Turkey Meatballs
  Italian Sausage Subs
 Lamb Burgers
 Lamb Chops
 Linguine with Red Clam Sauce
 Meatball Bombers
 Meatloaf
 Pizza
Pork Chops with Sauerkraut
 Pork Roast
 Reubens
 Roast Beef /mashed potatoes
 Salmon Patties
 Sausage & Bean Soup
 Hamburgers
 Sloppy Joes
 Spiedies
 Steak
 Sticky Chicken
 Stuffed Peppers
 Stuffed Pork Chops
 Subs
 Swedish Meatballs
 Sweet & Sour Turkey Meatballs
 Taco Salad
 Taco Pizza
 Taco-Filled Pasta Shells
 Tacos
 Turkey


Spaghetti & Meatballs isn't on the list because it's my default meal for Wednesday nights - quick & easy, so we can get to church on time for Wednesday night services. I also make fish every Friday, but I never know what I'm making until I get to the seafood counter and see what they have.

My family's top picks this week? Baked chicken, Chicken Pot Pie, Gyros, Meatloaf, Spiedies, Steak (steak always gets high marks), Stuffed Pork Chops, Taco Pizza and Turkey. I'll have to see if any stores have steak or turkey breast on sale. Italian Sausage Subs and Meatball bombers also got some pretty high marks, so they can be my "Plan B." Maybe I'll even try something new this week. When I was down in Texas at the Frito-Lay test kitchen, Chef Stephen mentioned a family recipe for Lebanese lamb kebabs, where ground lamb is seasoned and packed onto skewers to grill. Sounds delicious! Now I just need to find a recipe!

Saturday, September 24, 2011

By Request... my Spaghetti Sauce Recipes

I mentioned on Facebook today that I was canning spaghetti sauce, and somebody mentioned she'd love to have my recipes... 


Hey, it's nice to share! 


I started making my own spaghetti sauce about ten years ago. It seemed like every time we got a favorite sauce from Ragu or Prego, they would discontinue it! This sauce was based on a chunky tomato-spinach sauce we used to get. Here's my recipe for a single-serving batch, if I'm making it for dinner using home-canned tomatoes: 



Spaghetti Sauce
2 Tbsp dried onion
1/4 tsp garlic powder
3 Tbsp oil
1 qt tomatoes
1 (6 oz) can tomato paste
1 Tbsp sugar
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp oregano
1/2 tsp Italian seasoning
1 can mushrooms
1/2 c spinach, chopped
meatballs (My family likes Mama Lucia meatballs. Yes, I "cheat" by using frozen meatballs!)
Combine all ingredients and simmer 30 minutes.

And here is the canning recipe. This makes about 6 quarts of sauce.

Home-Canned Spaghetti Sauce
¾ c dried minced onion 
1 ½ tsp garlic powder
1 c oil
6 qt tomatoes, peeled and chopped
6 cans (6 oz) tomato paste
½ c sugar
3 Tbsp salt
3 Tbsp oregano
1 Tbsp Italian seasoning
3 c chopped spinach
Combine all ingredients, simmer 20 minutes. Pour into hot jars, pressure can 30 minutes at 10 pounds pressure.


Gluten-Free "Banana Bread Waffles"

One of the first things I did this morning was sit down and work on my to-do list. As soon as I pulled up the file on the computer, it seemed like my mind went blank. I knew I had loads of things I needed to get done. My schedule was really messed up this week with one car in the shop and me having a head cold that knocked me off my feet for a couple of days. I kept telling myself, "I'll do it this weekend." Now that the weekend had arrived, I needed to get organized! 

I found that just walking around the house helped me to remember stuff I was going to add to my list. Seeing the piles of papers around my desk reminded me of bills to pay. Picking up a ziploc bag of Box Tops from Education from my purse reminded me that I need to get those rounded up from several locations around the house where I've been working on them, and get them in the mail this week. Walking into the kitchen and getting dive-bombed by a fruit fly reminded me that I needed to use up some bananas that are past their prime.

Banana bread wasn't an option today... we still have cinnamon buns and cinnamon swirl bread from my baking earlier this week, so it would probably get moldy before it got eaten. There's no room in either freezer to put some baked goods in, so I decided to make "Banana Bread Waffles" for breakfast... and tweaked the recipe to make them gluten-free. They turned out very well, although, as I mention in the recipe, the batter thickens as it sits, so there's actually more than 2 cups of milk in the recipe... I didn't measure as I added a little more milk (2-3 tbsp) midway through our waffle-making! 

Gluten-Free “Banana Bread” Waffles
4 bananas, mashed
¼ c brown sugar
3 eggs
2 Tbsp oil
2 tsp vanilla
1 tsp xanthan gum
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 c oatmeal
½ c brown rice flour
½ c potato starch flour
½ c cornstarch
½ c sorghum flour
2 c milk
½ c chopped nuts

Put bananas, brown sugar, eggs, oil and vanilla in mixing bowl. Mix until smooth. Add xanthan gum, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Mix until combined. Add oatmeal and flours alternately with milk, mixing on low speed. Add nuts and mix until they are distributed through the batter. Cook in waffle iron, 3 minutes for regular waffle, 6 minutes for Belgian waffle – or make pancakes. The batter tends to thicken on standing, so you may have to add a little more milk midway through your waffle-making.
Serves 4-6, depending on how hungry everybody is!



Friday, September 23, 2011

Review & Giveaway: Rebecca St. James' book "What Is He Thinking??"

A few days ago, I got a slim paperback book in the mail. Even though there were chores to do and tomatoes to can, I found myself sneaking away to my favorite chair to read just a few more pages. The more I read, the more I thought, "I wish I had this book when I was going through my late teens and early twenties!"

I already thought that Rebecca St. James was pretty amazing. I love her music, and saw her in a movie on a Christian TV station a few months ago. She's won a Grammy Award. She's won Dove Awards. She was voted "Best Female Artist of the Year" from Christianitytoday.com several years in a row. She even played a character on a Veggie Tales DVD! (LOL, sometimes it's the little things that impress me!) When I heard that she was writing a book to help young women through the turbulent times of dating and finding the man God has intended for them, I knew I wanted to read it!


Product Description

In WHAT IS HE THINKING??, Rebecca interviews a range of men from high-profile types to the guys next door, men that every woman can relate to. Although the interviews focus on single guys ages 20-35, Rebecca also includes words of wisdom from older mentors she respects who have been successfully married for years, such as her dad, life coach, and pastor.

The men share their thoughts on topics like how women can respect themselves and the men in their lives, modesty, purity, taking it slow, friendship, letting guys lead, and more. This book gives them the floor to say what they would really like women to know.

The men respond candidly to questions like:
  • What is the most attractive quality to you in a woman?
  • Is modesty truly attractive?
  • Is neediness a turn-off?
  • What do you find beautiful?
  • How can we be dependent on God for our identity, not on you?
  • How can we help you with boundaries physically?
Rebecca also discusses her own dating life, speaking openly about the single life, her struggle with loneliness, and her hope for the future. She challenges women to see the men in their lives as brothers in Christ and to trust God with their dating lives.

This book is just filled with down-to-earth, sound advice. As I said before, I wish I had read it when I was 21 years old, watching my friends pair off during college, and feeling so hopeless and alone because I wasn't pretty enough, thin enough, or outgoing enough for the guys to like me as anything more than a "Sister in Christ." Rebecca uses a great blend of honesty, humor and wisdom to help young women turn their focus from a frantic search for "Mr. Right" to a peaceful trust that the loving Father who wants them best for His children will meet their needs, including a need for a life-mate. 

There are lists compiled by young men (what appeals to them, what they consider turn-offs), suggestions for dates, and delightful stories of dates gone wrong. Rebecca interviewed older men, like her father, who have had years of experience with marriage to share their wisdom also. Each chapter ends with a summary of "takeaway points" from that chapter, which was very helpful.

One chapter deals with modesty and boundaries. I felt that was very much needed in today's society. When it seems like everyone else is wearing provocative clothing, it can be tempting for a Christian young lady to "go with the flow" and dress the same way as her non-Christian friends. 

I would highly recommend this book for all young women - I would love to see it in our church library, or being used as a discussion guide for a girls' Bible study. 

For more about this book, you can visit the book's Facebook Page

The Giveaway! 
I have the chance to give away a copy of Rebecca's book "What is He Thinking??" to one of my readers. There are two ways to enter: 

1. By leaving a comment below (leave your e-mail address if it doesn't show up in your Google profile, so I can contact the winner)

2. Or, if you would rather not post your e-mail on a public blog, you can send me an e-mail at FreeCellPenguin@gmail.com - with the subject line "RSJ Book"

Giveaway ends on Monday, October 10th at 11:59 PM. Limited to U.S. residents only, age 13 and up. Limit one entry per person per day. 


"Disclosure of Material Connection: I received one or more of the products or services
mentioned above for free in the hope that I would mention it on my blog. Regardless, I
only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers.
I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: 

"Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."