Saturday, December 31, 2011

2011 Goals

Jarrod and I made the commitment to several goals for our family in 2011. In January these were the goals we made as a family and as individuals.

Leanne's Goals
  • Hit magical goal weight by March 30th. - This magical goal weight is my happy weight - where I look good, my clothes fit well, and I feel great. I began the year about 6 pounds short of that goal weight after trying to attain it for 4 months.
  • Walk 300 days in 2011. - I didn't put a mileage goal on this because I wanted it to be attainable regardless of what life brings me this year. Walking 300 days out of the year should be very attainable.
Family Goals
  • Family - visit family, have family visit, explore expansion of the Louisiana Johnston clan. 
  • Pay down debt by $25,000.
Jarrod's Goal
  • Find an exercise that he doesn't hate. Stick with it.
Each month we've been writing our status updates and how we've been doing on our goals.

Goals for 2011
January Goals Update
February Goals Update
March Goals Update
April Goals Update
May Goals Update
June and July Goals Update
August Goals Update
September and October Goals Update
2011 Wrap-up
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Best Desserts of 2011

 Countdown to 2011 with Finding Joy in My Kitchen

I am a HUGE sweets fan. There really isn't a variety of sweets that I cannot get on board with. I love cookies, brownies, cakes, icing, ice cream, candies, and any dessert you can throw at me. I'm not a huge fan of fruit in my dessert because they just don't go together in my mind. I am thrilled to share some of my favorite dessert recipe over at Finding Joy in my Kitchen this morning.

No-bake chocolate peanut butter cookies

Chocolate chip cookies

Jarrod's Creme Brulee

Sugar Cookies

Favorite recipes without pictures:
Chocolate Caramel Brownies
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Friday, December 30, 2011

Best Crockpot Meals of 2011

 Countdown to 2011 with Finding Joy in My Kitchen

Crockpot Chicken Cacciatore

Slow-Cooker Black Beans

Sadly some of our favorite slow-cooker meals don't include pictures. I really must get better about taking pictures while I'm cooking! Here are some of our favorites that do not include pictures:
Jarrod's Barbecue Slow-Cooker Chicken
Dr. Pepper Pork Baked Potatoes

We also really liked this recipe, but I cannot take any credit for any of it - we followed the recipe exactly and it turned out great!
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The Big Nursery Reveal - from the cats...

Mom doesn't know we're writing, but we thought we'd give you the real inside scoop on the nursery. It is the best room in the house and we're so glad that we can take our naps in there. It's awesome because we can climb into the cage bed and escape from the dog.

We spend the most time in this room and we know mom and dad worked really hard on it for us, naturally it makes me most sense for us to tell you how awesome it is. First - the sheets are soft and smell delicious.
The room is so brought and lets so much beautiful sunlight in. There are comfy pillows and a great chair, but we really love the cage the best. The dog can get to the pillows and chair - we don't know why she's even allowed in our room. Mom and dad are probably trying to train her not to go in here, but she doesn't always obey.
There are lots of other cuddling things in the room that make it perfect for morning, mid-morning, noontime, afternoon, mid-afternoon, or evening naps.
I don't know why it took mom and dad such a long time to give us the room we deserve, but we're thankful that they finally did. We sure put up with a lot from that dog and it's about time that we had a place to relax that was our very own.
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Thursday, December 29, 2011

Best Main Dishes of 2011

 Countdown to 2011 with Finding Joy in My Kitchen

This morning I'm sharing some of my favorite main dish recipes of 2011 over at Finding Joy in my Kitchen. This year Jarrod and I tried a lot of new recipes and I'm thrilled to share them with you.

Jarrod's Fried Rice

Zucchini Pizza Bake

Easy and Delicious Chicken Pot Pie

Grill Packets

These are actually on the menu for tonight and we're adding broccoli for the first time after a suggestion. Very excited to see how they turn out!

Huevos Rancheros

Eggplant Lasagna

Creamy Spinach and White Bean Pasta Bake

Baked Polenta with mushrooms and cheese

Stacked Enchiladas
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Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Best Soups & Stews of 2011

 Countdown to 2011 with Finding Joy in My Kitchen

Good morning! We made a lot of soups and stews this year. Jarrod wasn't a big soup fan and I think I've officially converted him! This morning I'm sharing some of my favorite soup and stew recipes over at Finding Joy in my Kitchen.

Here are some of my favorites from 2011:
Turkey and bean chili

Hearty Bean and Sausage Stew

Roasted Tomato Basil Soup

If you are looking for a light and delicious soup, I encourage you to give the Tomato Basil Soup a try. If you're looking for a filling meal of a stew, go for the stew or chili - even my meat-loving, soup-disliking husband can't turn these two down!
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Sugar Cookies

 My freezer meals day also included baking. I've already shared with you the biscuits I made (and they are delicious!) but I also made a few other things, including these sugar cookies! I am a HUGE fan of sugar cookies and icing. So much so that I rarely make them because I could eat 2 dozen in about 3 and a half minutes.

I originally pinned these cookies because I literally cannot get enough of the Lofthouse Cookies. I used half white flour and half wheat flour, but they still came out delicious. They are a little more dense because of the wheat flour, but I used a very fine flour, so I imagine it's pretty close. The icing I made was very thick and provided much more than I needed for the cookies - so I just piled the cookies high with lots of icing!
Here's the recipe with my additions:

Lofthouse Style Soft Frosted Sugar Cookies
from What's Megan Making

For the cookies:
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 1/4 cups fine whole wheat flour
4 1/2 tsp. baking powder
3/4 tsp. salt
1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) butter, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 large eggs
5 tsp. vanilla extract

For the frosting:
5 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted (I didn't sift it because it would have taken me forever and I'm that lazy.)
1/3 cup (5 1/3 tbsp.) unsalted butter, melted
1 tbsp. vanilla extract
7-8 tbsp. milk (plus more, as needed)
Food coloring (optional) - I used pink, purple, and blue.
Sprinkles (optional) - I omitted

In a medium bowl combine the flour, baking powder and salt, and whisk together to blend. In the bowl of an electric mixer (I used my Kitchenaid!), combine the butter and sugar and beat together on medium-high speed until soft and fluffy, about 2-3 minutes. Beat in the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition and scraping down the bowl as needed. Blend in the vanilla. With the mixer on low speed, add in the dry ingredients mixing just until incorporated and evenly mixed. Cover and chill the dough for 1 hour.
Preheat the oven to 350˚ F. Line baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats. The original recipe called for a scant quarter cup of dough - I found this to be a little too much and wanted smaller cookies. I used about an 1/8th of a cup. Roll dough into a ball. Flatten the ball slightly and place on the prepared baking sheet. Space the cookies at least 2-3 inches apart. Bake about 10-12 minutes or just until set. (Do not overbake! The edges should be no more than very lightly browned if at all.) Let cool on the baking sheet for several minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

To make the frosting, mix confectioners sugar, melted butter, and vanilla in a bowl. I used the Kitchenaid again and had great results. Add the milk in slowly until desired consistency. Tint with food coloring if desired - I separated the frosting into three bowls and mixed in a different color of food coloring into each bowl.
To frost the cookies (once they are COMPLETELY cool), use an offset spatula or spoon to frost the cooled cookies. (If the frosting begins to thicken as you decorate, just continue to whisk in small amounts of milk to keep it workable.) Top with sprinkles if desired. I waited for the frosting to dry completely before storing them stacked in an airtight container lined with rows of wax paper.

The cookies aren't that sweet and the frosting is incredibly sweet so they are a delicious balance. The cookies are soft, cake-like, and yummy. I'll definitely be making them again! The wheat flour does change the color slightly which will probably make people think that they are chocolate or caramel. But I love them!
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Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Best Bread of 2011

 Countdown to 2011 with Finding Joy in My Kitchen

Good morning! I love homemade bread. It is delicious as toast in the morning, as a sandwich with lunch, or made into cinnamon toast in the evening. This morning I'm sharing some of my favorite bread recipes over at Finding Joy in my Kitchen. Of course my favorite bread recipe is the Best sandwich bread! I make it several times a month and our new Kitchenaid makes making the bread that much easier! This year I also healified/pumpkinified sandwich bread by adding pureed pumpkin in place of butter. Absolutely delicious!

If you're looking for a delicious, moist, and full loaf of whole wheat sandwich bread, look no further!

After literally months of trying various recipes and ingredients, I stumbled across this recipe for whole wheat rolls. I made the rolls for a friend and they were so delicious that I decided to use the recipe and adapt it to make sandwich bread. It's officially in my cook book as "Best Sandwich Bread EVER!"

It is time consuming because the bread rises three times - but it's so worth it! This bread is just fluffy enough but can stand on it's own for a delicious sandwich.

Here is the recipe with my comments. Give it a try and let me know what you think!


2 (.25 ounce) packages active dry yeast (I buy the jarred yeast because it is more cost effective)
1 3/4 cups warm water (110 degrees F/45 degrees C)
1 teaspoon white vinegar (My addition)
1/2 cup white sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup butter, melted and cooled (occasionally I cut the butter by half and add 1/4 cup of apple sauce)
1 egg, beaten (I use egg beaters if we have them)
2 1/4 cups whole wheat flour
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

In a large bowl, dissolve yeast in warm water. Let stand until creamy, about 10 minutes. Practice good mese en place while the yeast is standing and get your other ingredients together. Remember, the egg needs to be beaten and the butter needs to be melted and cooled.

Once the yeast is ready, start adding the wet ingredients, sugar, and salt. Stir them together before adding the flour. Slowly add the wheat flour while stirring. I use a hand mixer with the dough hook attachment. After the whole wheat flour has been mixed, slowly add the white flour a 1/2 cup at a time. When the dough ball starts to pull away from the bowl you will know you are done - sometimes it takes more than 2 1/2 cups and sometimes less. 

Turn dough out onto a well floured surface and knead until smooth, about 8 minutes. Lightly oil a large bowl, place dough in bowl and turn to coat. I use olive oil because I like the nutty flavor it gives the bread. Cover with a damp cloth, and let rise in a warm place for about an hour.  

Punch down dough, cover, and let rise in warm place for about 30 minutes.  

Punch down dough and roll on a well-floured surface. place dough in a greased loaf pan. I use a 2 lb. loaf pan that measures 5"x10"x3". Let rise uncovered in a warm place for 40 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Bake loaf until golden brown and done in the middle. It should take about 40 minutes but could take longer. Use a knife to test the middle before removing from pan and wrapping in a clean towel. This will hold in a lot of the moisture and keep your bread delicious! 

Of course once the bread is out of the oven cut yourself a delicious piece while it's still warm so that you can enjoy it immediately! 

Store in a well-sealed container. This bread can be frozen and defrosted. 
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Pregnancy Update - Week 38

 What’s Happening This Week: Your baby has really plumped up. She weighs about 6.8 pounds and she's over 19 1/2 inches long (like a leek). She has a firm grasp, which you'll soon be able to test when you hold her hand for the first time! Her organs have matured and are ready for life outside the womb. Wondering what color your baby's eyes will be? If she's born with brown eyes, they'll likely stay brown. If she's born with steel gray or dark blue eyes, they may stay gray or blue or turn green, hazel, or brown by the time she's 9 months old.

At our 38 week appointment (which was actually at 37w6d) we were measuring a little small. My fundal height was 34 centimeters and should be between 36-40 centimeters at 38 weeks. The midwife was a little bit concerned and ordered an ultrasound. Because of the holidays, we couldn't get into the practice ultrasound tech and had to be referred over to the labor and delivery section of the hospital. After a few days of worrying, feeling the baby kick around, and worry some more, we had our ultrasound on Friday morning, Christmas Eve Eve.

We arrived exactly where we'll go when we're in labor. Filled out paper work, answered questions, got my vitals taken and waited around for a while before we finally saw the doctor who would be doing the ultrasound. That's right, no tech this time - we got an actual doctor! First time we've seen a doctor in months. :-)

We immediately told the doctor that we didn't want to know the sex of the baby. This late in the game we are DYING to know more about this baby but we figured we'd waited this long, we shouldn't ruin the surprise. She was very kind and didn't show us anything, even told us when to look away so we wouldn't see anything. Thankfully, everything with the baby measured perfectly - right on schedule. Baby is approximately 7 pounds 7 ounces, give or take a pound. Legs, head, and other measurements are all perfect. Fluid and placenta are still looking great. We were both so relieved. Baby is head down, but the spine is to the right side of my belly and baby is looking to the left. The head is so low that I made Jarrod look away from the screen for a second to see how low the wand was. It was pretty awesome.

Baby is so big that it was difficult to see much. We saw spine, fingers, legs, head, and the heart - which was awesome. The heartbeat was 124, which is low, but should be low because baby is just about done cooking! The doctor really reassured us that everything with baby is great. We have no reason to worry about size but also no indication that baby needs to come soon either. The doctor wasn't going to see the gender, but accidentally saw - didn't even say a word to us about it! I'm thankful for that. I'm convinced we wouldn't have known what we were looking at anyway, but I'm thankful nonetheless.

How far along? 38 weeks
Weight gain: 34 lbs.
Sleep: It's somewhat restless because to move, roll over, go to the bathroom, etc. it requires a lot of energy and is somewhat painful. Thankfully, other than that, I'm sleeping very well.
Best moment this past week: On Christmas Eve Eve we had a cleaning crew come and deep clean the house while I was out on a girl's day with my sister in law and friend. I got a pedicure, delicious food, and had a wonderful time - coming home to a completely clean house was delightful! Of course Christmas eve was beautiful as well - I love the Christmas eve services at church.
Movement: Definitely. Sometimes it is completely insane and knocks the breath right out of my lungs.
Food cravings: Sugar cookies with icing.
Labor Signs: Contractions are not consistent but some of them have been pretty intense. I'm also experiencing cramping. The baby had dropped considerably at our 38 week appointment and the heart rate had dropped - getting ready to come meet us!
What I miss: being comfortable. And wine.
What I am looking forward to: I'm so ready to meet this baby. I cannot wait. I'm ready to see Jarrod with his daughter or son and ready to be a family of 3 (plus Lucy, Sophie, and Oliver!).
Anxieties: Pain, labor, post-labor, the hospital, nursing, bringing the baby home...
Weekly Wisdom: Enjoy these days just as a family of 2. I am doing my very best!
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Monday, December 26, 2011

Jarrod's Creme Brulee

I hope that you all had a wonderful Christmas eve and Christmas day. If you haven't gotten enough sweets over the past few weeks, look no further! I thought it was a perfect day to share this recipe because it makes my husband so happy. :-)

Jarrod has wanted a cooking torch for months. For his birthday this year I knew exactly what he needed. After some research, I bought him a torch. He was thrilled and within 24 hours of having the torch, he made chocolate creme brulee!

He found this simple recipe and added chocolate syrup to make it even more delicious. Chocolate syrup definitely makes everything better!

He adjusted the recipe for just the two of us.
1 tsp vanilla
1/4 cups heavy cream
1/4 cups half-and-half
2 large egg yolks
3 tablespoons sugar
pinch kosher salt
2 tablespoons of chocolate syrup

Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 325 degrees.

Infuse the cream: Bring the cream, half-and-half and vanilla to a simmer in a saucepan over medium heat. Reduce the heat to low and simmer to infuse the cream with the vanilla, 10 to 15 minutes. Remove the cream mixture from the heat and cool slightly. Meanwhile, water to a boil.

Whisk the egg yolks, sugar and the salt in a large bowl until the sugar dissolves and the mixture is pale yellow and thick; it should leave a trail when you lift the whisk. Pour in the cream mixture in a slow, steady stream, whisking constantly. Skim off any foam or bubbles from the surface.

Pour into ramekins. Jarrod adjusted the recipe for just two ramekins. Bake in a water bath: Pull out the oven rack slightly, place the roasting pan on it and pour enough boiling water into the pan to come halfway up the sides of the ramekins.

Bake until the custards are just set in the center, 40 to 45 minutes. Carefully remove the ramekins from the water bath and transfer to the refrigerator. Chill, uncovered, at least 2 hours and up to 1 day.

Prepare the topping: About 30 minutes before serving, sprinkle 1 teaspoon sugar over each custard. Tilt the ramekins to evenly distribute the sugar and tap out any excess.

Caramelize the sugar: Holding a kitchen torch about three inches away, burn the sugar until it turns a deep amber. Refrigerate the creme brulees just until the crust hardens, 30 minutes to 1 hour, but not longer (the topping may start to soften). Serve cold.

Jarrod surprised me by having this finished as a treat when I got home from work. It was delicious and I cannot wait to see what else he does with the torch!
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Saturday, December 24, 2011

Christmas things that make me cry...

I don't normally post on Saturdays, but thought a nice Christmas Eve post was needed today.

As you might know, Jarrod is in charge of music for our church. This past Sunday he sang Joseph's Lullaby during our contemporary service. I guess I knew he was going to do that because he practiced it in the music room at our house on Saturday, but I didn't put two and two together. (An awesome pregnancy symptom perk.)  Of course I cried when he sang it on Saturday in our home, but not at all like I cried when he sang it in church on Sunday morning. Tears ran down my face picturing my sweet husband rocking our little baby. Tears are stinging my eyes right now just thinking about it.

If you haven't heard Joseph's Lullaby, I encourage you to look it up - it's by Mercy Me and is really beautiful. It's a gorgeous Christmas song from Joseph's perspective - a side of things we don't often hear.

Joseph's Lullaby
Mercy Me
Go to sleep my Son
This manger for your bed
You have a long road before You
Rest Your little head

Can You feel the weight of Your glory?
Do You understand the price?
Or does the Father guard Your heart for now
So You can sleep tonight?

Go to sleep my Son
Go and chase Your dreams
This world can wait for one more moment
Go and sleep in peace

I believe the glory of Heaven
Is lying in my arms tonight
Lord, I ask that He for just this moment
Simply be my child

Go to sleep my Son
Baby, close Your eyes
Soon enough You'll save the day
But for now, dear Child of mine
Oh my Jesus, Sleep tight

This song means even more to me through the lens of another little story that made me cry this week. A dear friend from our new church sent me an e-mail with a lovely article by Max Lucado about motherhood.

The virgin birth is more, much more, than a Christmas story. It is a picture of how close Christ will come to you, a mom, as you also bring a child into the world.

Imagine yourself in that story found in Luke 1.

God comes to you and says, “I have a special task for you. A child. A special child that I want to entrust to you. Are you willing to raise this one?” You stammer, take a breath. “This sounds scary.”

“Don’t worry. I’ll be there with you. This child is special to me. He will be a great child.”

You shake your head. “Such an awesome responsibility. I don’t know if I can do it.”

“Nothing is impossible with me.”

You smile. “I am your servant. I’ll do it.”

Do we think only one child received God’s special attention? Sure, only one was his Son, and an angel sent out those special birth announcements, accompanied by an angelic choir singing “Happy Birthday.” Of course God pulled out all the stops for Jesus’ birth. But children aren't randomly born to parents. God orchestrates the right children to be born to the right parents. Being the mom God wants you to be starts with the understanding of how important your job is in God’s eyes. He entrusts you with one of his own children. He chose you out of all the moms in the world for this one child.

Remember, you, too, are highly favored by God himself to receive such a special gift.

This is a little too overwhelming for me. It's what I've been thinking in the back of my mind for months. We can handle this baby because God thinks we can.
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Friday, December 23, 2011

The Big Nursery Reveal - Behind the Scenes

Now that the nursery is done, I thought that I'd share some behind the scenes spots in the nursery. We have lots of extra space for clothes and more baby stuff - we hear babies need a lot of stuff! Thankfully, by not knowing the sex of our baby, we don't have a whole lot of clothes yet.

The nursery isn't very large, but the closet is a very good size. I still have a few things in there to take out and find a new place for but I was lucky enough to fit a bookcase in there. I bought some baskets and have some random things organized on the shelf.
Cards from showers, a cart cover, a carrier, shoes, and toys are on the top two shelves.
The bottom two shelves have empty boxes ready to be filled and diapers in a variety of sizes - not opened yet in case they need to be returned. The breast pump and nursing supplies are to the right of the shelf. Boppy included!

The closet has lots of space for hanging clothes as well. (The bar goes across the other side of the closet as well.)
I've heard how important space for folded clothes are so we've reserved the entire dresser/changing table for clothes, diapers, and a few other odds and ends.
Here are the clothes that we have so far. They are organized by size - newborn, 0-3 month, and 3-6 month. Anything larger than that is stored.
The other bottom drawer is completely empty and ready to hold more clothes or other baby things!
I thought it made sense for the top drawers under the changing table pad to hold diaper stuff and items I imagine we'll use regularly. The right side is wipes, diaper cream, and other health items. The left side has cloth diapers, socks, and hats. Organized in awesome little fabric boxes that I purchased at IKEA.
The middle drawer under the changing table pad is full of diapers... I figure this will last us at least a day or two...
Someday I'll be able to retired the disposables and move the cloth diapers over to the right side. For now, they are washed, stuffed, and ready to go!
I love the top drawers because they are small and easy to organize. Baby clothes and stuff is so small - I really struggled with what to do with everything! These two drawers have bath stuff and feeding supplies as well as more space to add additional baby things.

We also have the small table and book basket around the recliner.

The drawer in the table is very small and doesn't hold much. Right now it is housing baby gift cards and coupons, but I'm sure it will someday hold more useful items - nursing things and such. The basket under the drawer has little lovies and blankets. The basket on the floor holds board books and other books to ready to baby in the recliner. I love it. :-)

So there you have it. That's what the nursery looks like in terms of storage.Because the bookshelf in the corner is so open, I cannot consider that actual storage. I imagine it'll have baskets or books, perhaps picture frames and other keepsakes. It's not very functional, but I really like it and think it will be a great way to showcase special things for the baby.

Experienced moms - what am I missing? I'm really hoping that we have enough space for baby to grow into this room. We are renters so we won't be here forever, just until baby is about 18 months. Hopefully it'll work for that long!
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