Pepper Steak and Tea Pots: another tale of YHWH's blessings

My two teapots

I am particular about my tea. I like it best when it's made just so, and to make good tea, I like to have good water, good tea leaves, and a good teapot. ;)

My personal "perfect cup of tea" is more like a "perfect pot of tea", where fresh water is heated in a tea kettle and the teabag(s) is dropped inside to brew. All of the heated water is made into tea (i.e. no water is wasted or reheated) and the same pot is used to heat the water as well as brew the tea (fewer dishes and things setting around in the kitchen).

This teapot, therefore, needs to be able to be used on the stove top, but also have a lifting lid to make tea in or be washed, and be good for pouring out of.

I had one of these perfect teapots, but it, unfortunately, got damaged and had to be given to Yehoshua to use as a toy. :( So, I resorted to using an old tea kettle (shown on the left in the photo above) to heat water, and made my tea in the cup. The tea kettle leaked water around the spout, and had mineral build-up on the bottom (which I couldn't get off), so it would leave mineral deposits in my tea if I used all of the water. While annoying, at least I could still make tea. :)

So, I was on the lookout for a new teapot, and being particular as I am, hadn't found one I liked... until we went to Amish Country. Not that finding one did much good, since I found it at a store, brand new, costing quite a bit more than the garage-sale-price I was planning to spend for one. ;)

That was Friday. Yesterday (Wednesday) when I got to my mom's house to teach music lessons, there was a teapot sitting on her table. Imagine my shock and delight to find out that she purchased it just the day before, for only $2... and that she had been looking for teapots for me for quite some time! What a blessing.

And, having done without a nice teapot for a while, Yehoshua and I are thoroughly enjoying it. :D

Guest Chef Amanda Koehn shares her recipe for Organic Chicken Fettuccine!

Agk's Organic Chicken Fettuccine Today's guest chef knows how to create a real taste-bud treat! Agk's Organic Chicken Fettuccine, submitted by guest chef Amanda Koehn, is sure to please pasta and chicken-lovers! Read more about Amanda and her recipe!
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Italian cheese bread, chicken, and poll

Italian Cheese Bread

 

We made Lindsey's Italian Cheese Bread for dinner last night! It was really delicious! (You can read mine and Lindsey's reviews of it at the bottom of the recipe page.) We ate way too much of it! :| :D

With the bread, we had grilled chicken salad, using up some leftover grilled lemon garlic pepper chicken from the other day. It was a nice combination for dinner, with the cold salad and the hot fresh bread. :)

I added a new poll about grills. Be sure to vote! :)

And now I hear Eliyahu filling his diaper... time to go start my day! :D

Steak recipe and doctor's office grandma

As we were riding up in the elevator, a nice older couple got on. The lady was commenting on Eliyahu, and another person also commented on the children. I thanked them for their kind words, thinking to myself, "If only things always went this smoothly!!" ;)

We arrived at the doctor's office (it's located in the hospital) and sat down. I immediately got a children's book for Yehoshua to read, because I didn't want him trying to run off into trouble. He wasn't interested in reading; instead he hopped from chair to chair, but was being good, at least.

A man (probably about 60 years old or so) was sitting waiting, and said to me, "It is a joy to watch you interacting with your children." Then another person said, "Yes! You are such a great mom. Your kids are so loved. Awww... look at the baby... he loves riding in that, doesn't he?" I smiled and said, "It doesn't always go this well. But thank you." :D I really needed that encouragement, since lately I have felt very tired and like anything BUT a good mom, and I had been dreading sitting in a tiny doctor's office waiting room for who knows how long until they called us back (it was 45 minutes last time, this time only about 30).

A few minutes later, the nice couple from the elevator came in! The lady immediately started talking to Yehoshua and asking him questions, and then told him she would read the book to him. They read stories and looked at pictures, and he just LOVED all the attention. She was such a nice grandmotherly type of woman, (and I found out that they're Christians, too) and I was thinking, "God sent you here at the same time so you could entertain Yehoshua!" :D Turns out, the first man who complimented me is a Christian also, because they all seemed to know each other and made references to prayer, and the one grandmotherly lady was saying that she had a son who lived in Ashland, Ohio, who had 7 children.

Then she asked Yehoshua if he wanted to look out the window. We were on the third floor, so he thought that was neat. She pulled up a chair for him to stand on, and they watched cars out the window for probably 15 minutes, at least. She told him the colors, and all sorts of things, and he so quietly and sweetly talked with her and responded to her questions.

And then, finally, we were called back. That lady had been such a help to me... and she probably didn't even know it! I'm so thankful that YHWH put her there, waiting in the waiting room with us today. :) And her grandchildren sure are blessed with a nice grandma. She was just SO GOOD with Yehoshua, and also very polite, asking me if it was okay for him to look out the window and stuff.

So. my dreaded long trip to the doctor's turned out to be fun and refreshing!

Eliyahu watches us hang out laundry

Here's a photo I took yesterday of Eliyahu watching us hang out laundry. It was a beautiful day and I decided to let him lay on a blanket instead of having him sit in his car seat. He loved the blanket! I don't know if I mentioned it, but last week the neighbor lady mowed the lawn for me. That's why it looks so nice! What a blessing! :)

Cooking Ahead: A Basic How-To

Making Cheesy Chicken Vermicelli
Some of you might be surprised to find out that I only recently learned how to effectively cook in bulk. My mother taught me a lot of things (many of our favorite recipes are ones she makes!), and she did a lot of food preservation (canning, freezing, and dehydrating garden produce), but not much of any cooking ahead. I had heard others talking about cooking "in bulk" and it all sounded so convenient... but I really had no idea where to begin. So, I asked my friends for help and started experimenting.

Now, I rely on the things that I've prepared ahead of time. It's a big job (I learned not to attempt to make 12 pounds of meatballs in one afternoon with a 4-week old baby to care for!) but well worth the effort. So here's my basic how-to, for those of you who feel like I did: It's a great idea... but how?!

First, why? Fewer dishes. More efficient frying/cooking/baking (for example, your oven is being turned on once and being left on for a longer period of time rather than being turned on and off so many times). And, you can sale shop! :)

Second, how... and what? :) Different people have different cooking needs and styles, so this is just what I've found works for us. Some of the things I regularly make ahead (and freeze) are: meatballs (for spaghetti, or meatball sandwiches), fried gound beef for taco meat or casseroles, mashed potatoes, pre-formed burger patties (since we buy the meat on sale and make our own), cooked cubed chicken, homemade alfredo sauce, soups, pre-baked pizza crusts, pie crust (raw or pre-baked, for different recipes), and chicken fajita filling. Other things that I sometimes make ahead and freeze, but not always, are: chopped onions, breads, meatloaf (raw), garlic bread (homemade bread spread with garlic butter, ready to be baked or grilled), stuffed peppers (raw), lasagna, stuffed shells, enchiladas, or other casseroles. I would probably freeze more ready-made casseroles, except that I am limited to a small freezer. Casseroles take up a lot of space, so I usually just freeze the meat part, pre-cooked. There are many more things that can be frozen well, also.

grilled chicken salad

Let me go into a little more detail.

One of my main make-ahead items is cubed cooked chicken. This is often the leftover chicken from an oven-roasted chicken, or even Thanksgiving turkey. I freeze the cubed chicken in 1-3 cup sized bags. I use this chicken for casseroles (like chicken vermicelli, white lasagna, chicken potpiechicken and stuffing casserole, or chicken enchiladas), gravys (like chicken gravy over egg noodles, chicken gravy and drop biscuits, or chicken alfredo over pasta), chicken salad sandwicheschicken fried rice, mandarin chicken salad, or soups (like white chili or chicken noodle soup). It's so quick to make up a soup or casserole when the meat is already prepared. And I find that freezing leftover chicken means we don't get tired of having chicken several days in a row. (Sometimes we do eat chicken several days in a row, but only if I've planned it and we're in the mood for it!) :D

Another staple is cooked hamburger meat. I find a good sale on some leaner burger meat (like ground chuck or ground round) and purchase 10-20 pounds. I use my largest skillet and fry it in 4-5 pound batches with some chopped onions, minced garlic, and chopped green peppers added. I drain the meat in a strainer while I start the next cooking. Some of the meat gets made into taco meat, where I add seasonings (our favorite taco meat recipe is here). All of it gets frozen in 2-cup (for casseroles like taco pie, enchiladas, lasagna, stuffed shells, etc.) or 3-cup (for taco salad, chili, or burritos) bags. It's unbelievably quick to make stuffed shells or lasagna when the meat is pre-cooked, and it saves a lot of dishes (cutting board, knife, garlic mincer, skillet, strainer, etc.). Taco salad can be a last-minute meal when the meat is already cooked and seasoned, and just has to be warmed. (And it tastes as good as fresh!)

When I make meatballs, I use a large bowl and double or triple or do whatever I need to do to my meatball recipe to make the right amount for the meat I have. I form the meat into balls and bake on cookie sheets. (It's almost like making cookies! ;D) While some is baking, I'm busy forming. I drain them on paper towels and freeze in bags, with enough for a meal or two of spaghetti or meatball sandwiches.

Freezing homemade bread will keep it fresh, but be sure to freeze it as soon as it's cooled. When I make pizza crust, I often make extras and pre-bake some for the freezer. Then they just have to thaw and have the toppings put on.

Some things just require making a large batch whenever you're already making them for a meal. For example, think of soups, mashed potatoes, alfredo sauce, breads or pre-baked pizza crusts, chicken fajita filling (saves on gas grill usage!), and a multitude of casseroles.

Beef Vegetable Soup

Now for some tips on successful freezing. Here's what helps me:

Wrap foods securely. I am blessed to own a Food Saver (for vacuum packaging foods), which seals things nicely and keeps food fresh. I only get that out if I am doing a large batch of something, since it's a bother to get out. You don't need a vacuum packing machine to preserve your foods well in the freezer. Just purchase good-quality freezer bags (hopefully on sale, because they can be costly!) and try to remove the air before freezing if possible. If you have to use plastic wrap, use several layers (I use this for pie dough, or pizza crusts). Foods frozen in thinner packaging will need to be used sooner.

Label foods well. Be sure to put the date, as well as exactly what you are freezing. I would always think, "Oh, I'll remember what this had in it" and then I would find myself not wanting to use things I had frozen because I couldn't remember what exactly it was or how well we liked it.

Rotate. When you add new things to your stash, put the oldest on top or in front. This way you won't have to worry about finding stuff that's so old it got freezer burn. :)

Organize. And don't over-do. A freezer needs to be organised, or you will end up running out of things, having too much of something, not being able to find things, or using the newest first instead of the oldest. Don't pack your freezer so full that you can't retrieve things from it practically. I do keep my freezer quite full (usually) but I organise it every time I add something, and I always rotate the oldest food to the front. And, my freezer is small, so even when it's full I can still get to things in the back fairly quickly if I need to.

So, if you've never tried making things "in bulk" to save time... have confidence! (It once seemed so daunting to me.) You can! (If I can, you can!) Start small and find what works best for you and your family. Involve your children! (Yehoshua loves to help me!) And have fun. :D

Another great resource is my friend Crystal's article, "Once-A-Month-Cooking: How to Make Your Plan Work"

August 6, 2006 -- Grilled Salmon Fillet

Grilled Salmon Fillet
This week's "Recipe of the Week" is grilled salmon fillet! This is a wonderful recipe Joshua created several years ago. I just love it!! You can read mine and a few other reviews at the bottom of this page. I used to make the baked version a lot before we had our Weber gas grill. Personally I like the baked version just as well as the grilled, because the liquid smoke flavoring makes it taste like it was grilled :D.
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Energy Bar Breakthroughs, unrecorded :)

 My energy bars came out of the oven a couple hours ago, and I just put them away. They turned out wonderfully this time, and of course it figures that I didn't measure what I did to the recipe. :)

My cooking style drives Joshua crazy... he can't stand to watch me pouring things in from the bags, or spooning in honey instead of measuring!

 Look! No crumbs! Now, how did I do that...?

(As a side note, when I was younger, I once was making bread and decided to start just scooping in the shortening instead of measuring. One of the times I them measured what I had scooped, and it was very close the the right amount! And no, I don't use shortening... my mom does ;D)

Anyway, tonight I was making energy bars. I have been experimenting with the recipe, and using all honey instead of sugar and corn syrup. They were turning out chewy, but crumbly. Tonight I was low on honey, and didn't have nearly enough, so I just put in all I had... maybe 1/2 cup or so. Then I put in a cup of white sugar, and a loose 1/2 cup of brown sugar, but decided to add some more brown later. I measured my oats, but I think I only put in 8.5 cups instead of 9.5 cups, since I wanted to add other goodies. I poured in the rest of my chopped almonds (maybe 1/3 cup) and threw in some sunflower seeds, ground flaxseed, and coconut. Then I stirred it all together and decided to add more flax.

And it figures that these would turn out JUST how Joshua likes them -- chewy but the least crumbly they have EVER been. He saw me cutting them and said, "Wow! Those look good!" I said, "I know. Too bad I don't have the recipe." :D

Tea Review: Tazo Wild Sweet Orange Herbal Infusion

 Tazo Wild Sweet Orange Herbal Infusion

My friend Olivia sent me a bag of this tea recently, and, though I've tasted it before, it reminded me of how yummy it really is, and I knew I had to write a review of it! :)

This tea is wonderfully aromatic and full of a brisk and tangy orange flavor. I thoroughly enjoyed it, right down to the last drop! :D

My one hesitation with this tea brand (because their teas do taste great!) is that they seem a little "new age". They call themselves "The Reincarnation of Tea". Their teabag wrappers say (or have said; I believe they might have changed the wording on the backs) things like (when requesting a catalog) "Allow two weeks of this lifetime for a response" and (under the list of ingredients) "...and the mumbled chantings of a certified tea shaman". Whether or not I believe these things hold any sort of meaning or power, I have wondered many times if perhaps I should steer clear of this brand for that reason. Still thinking on it.

An interesting tidbit I found out recently was that Tazo, originally an Oregon company, was bought out by Starbucks. I learn so much by doing these tea posts! :D Thanks for reading! :D

Eggs, granola, polls, etc. :)

When I made the granola this time, I tried adding some ground golden flax seed to the granola. I found that at the bulk foods store in Amish country. I have used whole flax seed before, but it's so smooth on the outside that it falls out of baked goods. I am hoping that the ground flax seed will be nicer. It's so good for you, and I don't mind the taste at all. I didn't know they sold it ground... how nice! (Since I don't have a grinder to do it fresh.)

Remember how on Monday of last week, I pulled out a bunch of poison ivy? Well, yesterday (a full 4 days later!) I found a number of small patches of poison ivy on my arms. I wonder why it takes so long to appear? That has happened to me before... I was exposed to poison ivy but it didn't start itching for a number of days!

Today was Sabbath, so tomorrow is "catch up" day... diapers, cooking... Oh, and I hear both children waking and fussing! Better go! :)

Joshua's Grandparents' Visit

We have had an awesome 2 days (actually, more like 1.5 days) with Joshua's grandparents. They are on a 2-week road trip across the country (they live in Washington state) and made it all the way to Ohio! (I believe this is as far east as they are traveling, but they were as far south as Arkansas!)

Yesterday they arrived at our house in the afternoon. Joshua had done some much-needed grocery shopping in the morning, and took Yehoshua along (so I could get some work done around the house before our guests arrived). Have I mentioned lately how awesome Joshua is?!! He takes Yehoshua grocery shopping, helps cook meals, built me a website (actually, two websites!), drove us all over Amish Country today... :) I am really blessed, and he treats me like a queen!! Okay, back on track now...

We visited a little, and then Joshua and his grandparents drove off to Aldi to pick up some steaks for Joshua to grill. (They had said they wanted to get steaks for him to grill.) They came home with four HUGE t-bone steaks. We had steaks, garlic bread, salad, fresh grapes, and peas (which I forgot about until we were ready to eat, so I warmed them up but we filled up on steak anyway). The steaks were really, really, really good. They were SO tender!! Joshua grilled them perfectly, and you could eat them without a steak knife, even. The next time we have the money to just go out and get nice steaks for dinner, we're definitely going to Aldi's!

So, we ate dinner, I played piano for them, we played with the children, and Joshua's grandma helped me with dishes. We talked about our plans for the next day (today) and decided on Amish Country. I spent the late evening looking up places and mapping out our trip. It had been over 4 years since I had been over to that part of Ohio, so although I knew of where we wanted to go, I needed to refresh my memory on how exactly to get there and what route to take. :)

This morning we left our house before 7, and went to my aunt and uncle's house to borrow their mini-van for the trip (so we could all go in one vehicle). We transferred our things, and set off! It was about a 2 hour drive, and Yehoshua and Eliyahu did fairly well. Actually, they did well all day, but I still think it's stressful to travel with children. :) Everyone is just so much happier at home... when naps are taken on schedule, and the day is interspersed with trips outside to the clothesline or mailbox, washing dishes, or playing. :)

Our first stop was a neat place called "Yoder's Bargain Store". Amish-owned and operated, it had outhouses for restrooms and gas lights inside the building. They had so many neat things. I loved the stainless steel bakeware and cookware they had! I even found a really nice stainless steel teapot, just the size I want, which I will someday go back and purchase. :D Joshua's grandma got a black Amish-looking bonnet that will fit one of her dolls, and found a little second-hand Amish girl's dress to use for her dolls (which was only 1.50!). She also bought Yehoshua a coloring book full of ABC's, an animal board book, and another coloring book of animals, gardens, and other such country things. It was a neat store... I think I could have looked all day... and furnished a kitchen and schoolroom from there :D

Our next stop was Ashery Country Store, a nice bulk foods store that my parents took me to when I was a child (we would go there about twice a year). Joshua and I actually got some groceries there, including some almond flavoring/extract, which was much, much cheaper than what we can get here. I got other things like clear jel, arrowroot, whole cumin, granulated tapioca, vanilla flavoring, several kinds of dried beans, etc.

 Yehoshua got tired of riding in the stroller! :D

Our third stop was at Heini's Cheese, a cheese factory with yummy cheese and lots of free samples. Yum! Yehoshua loved that, too.

Our fourth stop was for lunch, at the Dutch Heart Restaurant. Grandma and Gary treated us to lunch, and by the time we finished we were all quite tired and exhausted--and no wonder, because it was already 3 pm! All those diaper changes, feedings, and scenic routes really take time! :D 

We made time for one last stop, which was at Lehman's Hardware, a really great (and increasingly large) hardware store -- another place where I could have spent all day and furnished a big kitchen. ;) I just love looking at kitchen utensils. They had the neatest farm animals and little toy tractors and things, too! Yehoshua wanted everything! :) We only bought one thing, though: a potato masher, for the people who were letting us borrow their van.

YHWH really blessed us with a nice day. The weather wasn't as hot as it had been, which was great since the van's a/c didn't work. Yehoshua and Eliyahu really were well-behaved, even though the day was so long! And we made it home safely. I'm so thankful! 

 Eliyahu still likes his toes... :D
We didn't get back until almost 7 pm, and we made a quick stop at my parents' house so everyone could meet (since my parents had never met Joshua's grandma). We ate ice cream, talked, and looked at the garden. Then we said our goodbyes, and headed back; Grandma to the motel, and us to our house. I got Yehoshua and Eliyahu off to bed. I'm pretty tired myself, but wanted to update since I skipped yesterday. ;) Tomorrow is my cousin's wedding, so we'll be gone all afternoon. We have yummy leftover steak to eat tomorrow... I think we're going to make some pepper steak or something. :D

Ethel and Eliyahu

Here's a sweet picture of Eliyahu with Grandma. Aren't they cute together? :) Eliyahu was still smiley, even after a day of travels. This photo was taken in front of my parents' garden. We sure do miss you, Grandma. Thanks for visiting us. [This morning (Saturday) Yehoshua woke up and said "Grandma L__ come?" :)]

Today was laundry day in Amish Country. I never really noticed before, but everyone there hangs out lots of clothes. There were clotheslines three times the size of mine, and all loaded down with laundry. Around here, I'm one of the few people who actually hangs out their clothes. It was fun to see everyone else doing it :).

Being around all the Amish people and their homes caused me, as usual, to reflect on their religion. One of my main impressions from yesterday was what hard workers the Amish are. Their homes, lawns, and gardens were for the most part neatly kept. There were many people outside working in the heat. Lots of young children working at various things, too. Their children are also (for the most part) very well-behaved, like when we saw them at stores and such. It reminded me of how diligently we need to train Yehoshua, and also of how lazy I am compared to them. Isn't it interesting how in one culture I might be considered hard-working, but in another, lazy?

I know the Amish have a "simple life" but boy, it's all just a lot of hard work. Sometimes "simpler" means "easier" or "restful" but I think most of the time it just means a lot of work. I certainly don't wish I were living without electricity and most of my modern conveniences.

And I just don't understand the "why" behind some of their practices. Why is some technology/inventions wrong, and others not? Why are wheels okay, just not rubber tires? If it's wrong to own a car, why isn't it wrong to pay someone for a ride somewhere? Maybe I need to talk personally to someone who is Amish and just ask them, to understand better. I'm just used to (what seems to me) more black-and-white faith. It was nice to see so many modestly-dressed ladies... our area doesn't have many it seems (from going to the grocery stores or churches).

I can see that there are benefits from the Amish way of life (or certain aspects of their way of life) but I don't think that living like that is the only route, or the best route, to those ends. But, many of them seem well-adjusted... I just can't imagine willingly using a horse and a one-blade plow to plow a whole field. :)

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