Thursday, November 29, 2012

Thoughts on Thursday {Why I eat "healthy"}

I always cringe a little bit when people claim that I eat "healthy." I love ice cream, diet coke, and cookie dough. I don't buy exclusively organic and have never eliminated carbs. However, I do eat a relatively healthy diet most of the time. It's about time that I share with you why.

Unlike my healthy-eating friends, I did not grow up like this. I grew up with a mom who didn't cook. Her mom didn't cook. I imagine her mom before her didn't cook either. My mom bought canned potatoes to serve with meatloaf. She didn't make anything from scratch except mashed potatoes and fettuccine Alfredo. As children, my sister and I ate spaghetti with ground beef and jarred tomato sauce, shake 'n bake, and cheese. Courtney and I ate cheese melted on a plate - melted cheese - as a snack. We had lots of frozen fish sticks, chicken nuggets, and McDonald's. We even ate frozen meals - Kid Cuisine, Swanson, etc. on a very regular basis.

I say this with no judgment. That was life. We had lots of boxed, canned, or pre-made meals full of preservatives. As a pre-teen I started having stomach trouble. After many tests and doctors visits, I was on medication. I decided to take control and started to alter my eating habits. In the past I'd toyed with vegetarianism because of humanitarianism and as an early teen I gave up red meat. I stopped eating McDonald's. I started reading what was in the food I was eating.

S-L-O-W-L-Y I developed a love for cooking. I taught myself how to make things from scratch. I started making pasta sauce with canned tomatoes. I got a pasta maker and experimented with homemade pasta. I cut out bleached flour and ate more whole grains. I felt a lot better! Of course I struggled through college because I wasn't making my own foods. I put on about 20 pounds (and yo-yoed all through college) over 4 years because of unhealthy choices.

After college it took me a few years of exercising and eating right to get to some sort of healthy weight. Eventually I started making a little bit of money and was able to experiment with vegetables, making things from scratch, and using less processed ingredients. Overtime I've been able to almost completely eliminate canned goods, boxed meals, and frozen prepared foods. We don't buy Minute Rice, prepackaged meat, or prepared meals. We do this mostly because it's more expensive, but also because I want to limit what I'm feeding my family. If I know what's in it, I'm much more likely to make it. 

Rather than buying canned, frozen and prepared, or processed, I make:
Pumpkin puree
Roux and sauces in place of canned soup in recipes
Chicken/turkey stock
Roasted chicken

Because of Jarrod's gluten intolerance, I don't make desserts from scratch. We buy boxed brownies and doctor them up. This is a growth edge that I hope we can work on in the future. Gluten-free baking is an expensive science that I'm still somewhat fearful of.

I'm not perfect. We don't make our own ice cream or wine and those are two things we consume on a somewhat regular basis. :-) We don't have chickens for their eggs, don't purchase half a cow, and don't grow our own food. These are all things I hope to do in the future as we get even better at living a clean life.

How do you life a healthy life? What are ways you can eat healthier? In what ways are you rockin' it?
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Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Wesley Wednesday {Christmas Card Outtakes}

Over the Thanksgiving Holiday weekend I insisted that we get family pictures taken. We decided to do it ourselves because of some time constraints. We have a great tripod and remote control for the camera. I found a great location, we had beautiful weather, and coordinating outfits.

Wesley wore a beautiful little jumper. It's super cute, perfect for the holidays and very comfortable. I'm only adding the link for those of you who want to get your little one a cute outfit at a decent price. I am not endorsing the store where we bought it. The experience was awful.

But the pictures were perfect! We hiked down to a lake near our home to capture these shots. I tested settings, moved around the tripod, and captured hundreds of shots! We only needed ONE good one for the Christmas card and we definitely got it!

I haven't mailed out the cards yet, so I will not be sharing the final shot with you today. Instead, I'm going to share with you some of our favorites and some funny ones too. Here's my absolute favorite...

This was obviously towards the end of our photo shoot and Wesley had enough. Seriously, mom? More pictures?

This one isn't terrible. Wesley looks like he's up to no good! 

While I was testing the settings, I got a few gems of Wesley and Jarrod. 

And then Jarrod captured some of my boy and me! 
We also did some by the lake. I love the kisses!
And we did a few by some trees. It was pretty, but the lighting was off and the ground was uneven... 
Hopefully you recognize the bottom one from our new holiday look! If you're reading this on a reader or via e-mail, be sure to click over to the site to see our new banner!

Do you do Christmas cards? How do you get good photos of your whole family?
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Monday, November 26, 2012

Sweet Yogurt White Bread

I don't know about you, but this month has stretched a little longer than our money. I had to get creative when making my bread this week. I had some homemade yogurt and pumpkin puree that I was willing to use, but not a whole lot else.
So, I searched the internet and found a delightful recipe for a sweet yogurt and honey bread. It looked like it would be perfect and I had everything in my pantry and fridge with just a few minor substitutions.

I followed the recipe mostly, but made a few substitutions.

Sweet Yogurt White Bread
1 cup Greek-style yogurt (I used thick homemade yogurt)
1/4 brown sugar
2 1/4 cups bread flour (divided) (I used all purpose because it's what I had)
2 1/4 teaspoons yeast
1 teaspoon salt
 2 tablespoons butter at room temperature

Combine the brown sugar and yogurt. Microwave until room temperature. Make sure that the brown sugar dissolves in the yogurt.

Put half of the bread flour and all the yeast into a bowl. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and leave alone in a warm place for at least 20 minutes. (I put mine on the dryer while I had clothes going.)

Add the rest of the flour and knead with the dough hook. I used my kitchenaid with the dough hook attachment. Knead the dough until smooth - this took about 5 minutes for me.

Add the salt and butter to the dough. Continue kneading until the butter and salt are incorporated.

Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and set aside in a warm place until doubled in size - about 90 minutes.

Knead and shape into loaf. I learned that you're supposed to shape a loaf by pulling all the sides over to make the top smooth and baking seam side down. Interesting! I tried it this time for the first time...amazing since I've made hundreds of loaves of bread! Cover with plastic wrap and place in a warm spot until doubled in size - about 45 minutes.

Bake at 325 degrees until the loaf is golden brown on the outside and makes a hallow sound when you knock on it. When you remove the loaf from the oven, be sure to wrap it in a clean towel while it cools. This will keep it moist and delicious!

The brown sugar leaves a sweet taste, but not too sweet. The yogurt adds a slightly sour taste, but it's really delicious. This bread is moist on the inside and crusty on the outside - just like I like it! 
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Thursday, November 22, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving!

It's not really Thanksgiving until someone is wearing a turkey shirt!
Happy Thanksgiving from our kitchen to yours!
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Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Pumpkin Pancakes

I shared with you yesterday how I roasted 3 pumpkins last weekend. Coincidentally  I woke up the next morning craving pancakes. I've never made pancakes from scratch, but figured I could do it... After some recipe searching, I found this recipe for pumpkin pancakes and knew it would be perfect. I made the whole batch for Wesley and I, knowing there would be leftovers for days. Perfection!
Note: I'm terrible at flipping pancakes. We don't have a griddle so I battle the sides of the frying pan to flip. It's terrible. This recipe is just magical enough to make me want a griddle! 

1 1/2 cups of milk (we didn't have milk so I watered down cream)
1 cup of pumpkin puree
1 egg (which is good because we only had 1...)
2 tablespoons of oil
2 cups of all purpose flour
2 tablespoons of brown sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon kosher salt

In a marge bowl, mix together the first four (wet) ingredients. In a separate bowl mix together the dry ingredients.

Gently stir in the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients. Stir together until just combined.

Greased a hot pan or griddle with butter or oil. Pour about 1/4 cup of pancake batter on the hot griddle. Cook pancakes until brown on both sides.
No bib needed - we let our kid get messy!
These pancakes will be light, fluffy, and delicious. They might be some of the best pancakes I've ever had. I LOVE pancakes and am surprised that I've never made them from scratch before. They were so easy and incredibly delicious. Wesley and I ate on them for 4 days straight!

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Monday, November 19, 2012

Young House Love {West Elm Dallas Book Signing Recap}

I know I'm not alone when I say that I'm an avid Young House Love reader and fan. I have read every blog post written and was thrilled when I found out that John and Sherry would be coming out with a book! I was even more thrilled when I found out that they'd be coming to Dallas on their book tour! I immediately blocked off the day on my calendar, knowing that I'd be there with bells on! (Or at least with two cute boys!)

This past Saturday morning Jarrod and I got up and drove about 20 minutes up the road to meet Sherry and John face to face. I tried on about 47 outfits before settling on hot pink skinny jeans, black tank top, and black cardigan.

We arrived about 75 minutes before the official book signing began and the line was already down the street! We got in line and began the wait.
After about 15 minutes, West Elm opened their doors and we weaved our way inside. There was blue painters tape on the floor to keep us in an organized line. The doors opened and we were able to get inside, but the line remained down the street and continued to wind around the block over the course of the morning.
Our view for most of the morning.
Wesley was surprisingly good. In fact, there were incredible babies who were equally as awesome. I think they knew they were in the presence of amazing parents. :-)

We quickly made friends with others waiting in line. Natalie from Oklahoma and her husband were directly behind us. The husbands commiserated and made fun, but really enjoyed themselves. Just before 11am we geeked out because John and Sherry came out!
 We drank hot chocolate and ate delicious cookies while we waited. They were delicious. Natalie from Oklahoma got a good one on her camera of both of us with our cookies. Are you out there, Natalie? I'd love to see the picture!
After cookies, we continued to wait a little while, but by 11:45am or so, we were suddenly at the front of the line! We were all so excited. We made a lot of ceramic animal jokes and talked about chevron.
In line we discussed how we could be memorable without being creepy. I decided I was going to ask Sherry to sign my baby. Straight across his face. We all thought it was so funny. Of course, by the time I got up to the table, I'd completely forgotten everything I was going to say... I also forgot my own name...

And the name of my son...

My hands might have gotten a little clammy...

But Sherry and John were so friendly and excited! I gave them some chocolate chip cookies and pumpkin bread. Sherry said that John LOVES seasonal things and he'd love it. They took my books and we got down to signing.

I'd brought my book from home but purchased one from the store to have them sign for my dear friend Renee. She had a baby earlier this week and I knew she'd love the book. I told them about Renee and John signed it like this:
We talked about Katie Bower and how we hope her baby boy comes soon! (As I'm typing, she's being induced and I'm praying for a safe and healthy delivery!) John said he wished baby boy #2 would have been born on his birthday earlier in the week.

Then they asked Wesley's name and commented about him being so cute. Or something like that.
Jarrod took this picture. I cannot tell you how exciting this moment was for me. I also need to say that John and Sherry were so warm, friendly, and funny. I mean, in my brief 45 second interaction, they were exactly as I'd expect. We talked about cookies, kids, Katie Bower, Clara and Wesley (sorry, Will, there's a new man in town!), and perhaps that's all...

After they signed my book, I signed theirs! I have no idea what I wrote... I don't know that I even acknowledged Jarrod. While I did this, I waited for the two girls behind me in line. We decided we'd take a picture together. Sherry liked that. "Line friends!"

We were out of the store by noon on the dot. The line was well out the door, around the corner, and down the street. Jarrod had a fantastic time, Wesley was a champion, and it was definitely one of the best Saturday mornings ever!

A huge thanks to Sherry and John for traveling, writing an awesome book, allowing us to invade their life, and letting this turbo-awkward girl geek out on a Saturday!
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Bacon Infused Turkey {Thanksgiving Turkey}

It's just a few days before Thanksgiving and this recipe is too good not to share again. I made this turkey last year and made it again for our young adult Thanksgiving last week. The turkey was incredible. But even better than that, the gravy and turkey stock was equally incredible. Not only did we enjoy eating the turkey for our meal, but the leftover turkey, gravy, and stock enhanced several other dishes as well. And we all know us Johnstons think bacon makes everything better, so this recipe can't be beat.

I learned a few things from my turkey experience last year.
  1. We began defrosting the turkey immediately. It never went to the freezer in our house. It went straight from the store into the fridge. It was in there about 4 days and was completely defrosted when I got it out to prepare.
  2. Slather the bacon butter with a spatula not your hands. Unless you want yours hands to smell like bacon all day...which I do... 
  3. Try to make the bacon weave attractive. This year I pinned down the bacon with tooth picks. I looked for baker's twine at Home Goods (they had it and I didn't get it, got home and kicked myself for 3 days, went back and it was gone...) without success.
Here's how it all worked this year...

Clean the defrosted turkey and remove the giblets. Clean and dry the turkey. A dry turkey will be crisp and delicious! Place the turkey on a roasting pan. Cover a baking sheet with aluminum foil and put the roasting pan on the baking sheet. (We didn't have a roasting pan largest enough for this turkey so instead I put a silpat inside of a glass casserole dish.)

While the turkey dries, prepare the bacon butter. Blend or process 2 pieces of bacon into 4 tablespoons of softened butter. Add 1 teaspoon of poultry seasoning and 1 teaspoon of salt.

Gently pull the turkey skin away from the breast. Try not to tear the skin. Rub most of the bacon butter under the skin. Pat the skin back down. You've created a bacon butter, turkey skin, turkey breast sandwich. YUM!

With the remaining butter, cover the thighs and legs of the turkey.
Once your turkey is covered in buttery, bacon deliciousness, it's time for veggies! I used celery, carrots, onions, and rosemary. I cut the onion into eighths and placed the pieces in and around the turkey. Then I cut the celery and carrots into sticks and did the same thing. I took 4 large sprigs of rosemary and shoved them in the body of the turkey.
Now it's time to add more bacon. Take the rest of the bacon and weave it on the turkey to completely cover the turkey. The Runaway Spoon makes it look absolutely gorgeous. My turkey aspires to be this turkey, but can't quite live up to the expectation. But really, as much as I'd love for my turkey to be gorgeous, she's covered in bacon, which makes her fantastic. :-) I used toothpicks to keep the bacon in place and it seemed to work well. I didn't use many and tried to remember where they were so I could remove all of them when the turkey came out of the oven.

At this point, you're turkey is ready for baking! Put the turkey in a preheated oven at 450 degrees for 30 minutes. Then turn the oven down to 375 and continue baking. The turkey is done when it reaches 165 degrees. For our 18 pounder, this took about 3 hours.

18 pound turkey, defrosted
4 tablespoons of butter
4 sprigs of rosemary
1 teaspoon of poultry seasoning
1 teaspoon of salt
1 pound of bacon, divided
1 onion
2-3 stalks of celery
2-3 carrots

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees while you clean and dry the turkey. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil, place the turkey on a roasting rack and place that on the baking sheet. Chop veggies to prepare for the turkey. Prepare the butter by chopping in 2 pieces of bacon and seasonings. Gently put the butter between the skin and flesh of the turkey.

Layer the bacon on the turkey in a basket-weave. Secure with kitchen twine or toothpicks. Fill the cavity with veggies and herbs.

Bake at 450 for 30 minutes and reduce temperature to 375. Bake until the internal temperature is 165 degrees. Allow the turkey to rest before carving and serving.

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Sunday, November 18, 2012

Roasted Pumpkin Puree

It's Thanksgiving week so instead of sharing thoughts and pictures of my precious son, I'm going to share recipes! Several of them are pumpkin related, so I'm going to start the week with my roasted pumpkins.

A lazy Saturday I got a call from a sweet friend alerting me that pumpkins were free at a nearby Calloway's. We were headed out for our weekly grocery store trip so we decided to swing by and grab some.

We got 3 and baked them all!

I've heard that baking pumpkins makes watery pumpkin puree. This has not been my experience. I baked one just as practice a week or so ago and it turned out great. Probably a little more watery than canned, and definitely not as consistent - you never know what you're going to get with a pumpkin! - but it was awesome. I baked the pumpkin whole last week but because the seeds cooked inside it was more difficult to roast them. So with these 3 we sliced them first and pulled the seeds out for roasting before roasting them.

First we scrubbed the pumpkins. I know you don't eat the skin, but it's good to give them a good scrub before cutting into them. Then I had my sweet husband get out the cleaver and hack away! He sliced through the first one with ease. The other two took a little more effort, but eventually we had six halves of pumpkins!

I opted not to season the pumpkins so that I could use them in different things. I can season the puree after they are cooked. I placed the halves face down on cookie sheets and baked them for 40 minutes at 400 degrees. Depending on your pumpkin size and density, they might cook longer or shorter. Cook them until the flesh is soft and the skin can easily be pierced with a knife.

Once the pumpkins are done, carefully turn them over and allow them to cook for 20-30 minutes.

When the pumpkins are cool, it's time to puree! You can do this in a food processor, blender, or immersion blender. I found the immersion blender worked best, but that's because I don't have a decent blender or food processor...

Depending on the size, ripeness, and color of the pumpkin, the puree varied in sweetness, water concentration, and consistency. I opted to mix all the puree together without regard for the different pumpkins. I imagine this wouldn't be the best technique if making pumpkin pie or something like that.

The 3 pumpkins made about 8 cups of puree. It's definitely not as easy as buying a can, but it's nice to know the only thing in it is pumpkin! I've already used some of it to make pumpkin pancakes and pumpkin bread. Get ready, I'll be sharing those recipes soon!

Have you ever roasted pumpkin? 

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Thursday, November 15, 2012

Thoughts on Thursday - Wish List November 2012

It's been a bit of a crazy week, so I apologize about getting this up later than usual today! :-) 

Every once and a while I decide to post my wish list. Sometimes it's things I'm researching and planning to get and sometimes it's just a fun look at things I'd love to have if money were no object. Interested in seeming some from the past? Check here, here, here, and here. It's fun to see the things that were really important to me (a new camera, our bed, couch, and of course my Epiphanie bag!)

As we are nearing the holidays, Jarrod and I are mindful of things we can purchase for our family for Christmas that is useful and will provide function in our family. We're not interested in adding more "stuff" to our house and normally when we add something at least one or two other somethings have to be removed. Here are some of the things we're talking about gifting each other for the holidays.

1. Kitchen table bench

We have a fantastic kitchen table that seats at least 8. We have 4 kitchen chairs, one folding chair, one desk chair, and one drum throne...don't ask. With Wesley's highchair taking over one of the kitchen chairs, we only have seating for 6 adults around our table, and that's if we utilize every one of the chairs possible. We are in desperate need of more seating, especially because we have friends over every Thursday night.

Jarrod and I decided that a bench would probably be the best bet. We have looked at several different options. We like this one from IKEA, and this unfinished bench found on I'm also a huge fan of this project (pictured above). I love Ana White's plans and this this farm-style bench would be gorgeous in our kitchen. Jarrod, of course, is not as on board with this idea... :-)

2. Sewing machine
My sister-in-law graciously allowed me to borrow her sewing machine for well over a year but now it's time for one of my own. I was able to figure things out on her's and have decided what features I'd like to have. I like this Brother sewing machine because it's mostly automated and digital. I like the different stitch options. My mom was a seamstress and taught me on a digital machine like this one. It's definitely on my wish list so I can continue making awesome craft projects! :-)

3. Blender/food processor
Yeah, I want the Cadillac of Blenders. I want a blender that costs more than most other things in my world. I covet this blender. I think it will make be a better minister, wife, mother, and friend.

But seriously, I think this blender will help with lots of things... We aren't making as many purees now that Wesley is eating more solids, but this blender will make green smoothies, soup, peanut butter, and probably lots of other things I don't even know about yet!

4. Of course I still want a new vacuum...

I'm sure Jarrod has more things he wants, but when I asked him, he didn't say anything... So, I think this is what we'll be getting for Christmas this year! ... Just kidding!

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