Homemade Biscuits and Sausage Gravy

Most weekdays our mornings are hectic. Kids everywhere, me scrambling to get everyone dressed and hair brushed and PLEASE JUST EAT YOUR BREAKFAST! I love making my family a nice, warm breakfast to help start their day off right…but on weekdays, we’re all just trying to get out the door on time since it takes my kids no less than 30 minutes to eat a bowl of cereal on a school morning, so I don’t even try to push it with anything fancier than that. So, once the weekend hits, I’m all about doing breakfast the right way. Ask my 5 year old what her favorite weekend breakfast is and she will say ‘biscuits and milky-meat sauce’ AKA Biscuits and Sausage Gravy.

Now, there is nothing wrong with canned biscuits. They are a huge time saver, and even a brick would taste great under this gravy, but there is just something about the homemade version that is SO.DANG.GOOD. Our favorite biscuit recipe is actually from the Magnolia Table cookbook. Is there anything that Joanna Gaines can’t do?! Her biscuits are phenomenal. But the real star here though is the Sausage Gravy. I could (and have) eaten it with a spoon straight from the skillet. Yep. No shame here. My dad has always been the breakfast maker in the family, and his biscuits and gravy set the bar pretty high! I must say though, mine is right up there in flavor! Flavorful and hearty, it’s sure to please your breakfast enthusiast!

For the Magnolia Table Jojo’s Biscuits recipe, you’ll need:
*4 C flour (she calls for self-rising, but I use AP with no problems)
*2 Tbsp baking powder
*1 tsp baking soda
*3 sticks salted butter, COLD, cubed or grated
*2 eggs, beaten (plus 1 for brushing)
*1½ C buttermilk ***

***Now, I rarely have buttermilk on hand when I want this recipe. And by rarely, I mean never. Quick tip- you can put 1½ Tbsp white vinegar in your measuring cup, then fill to the 1½ C mark with regular milk. Stir and viola! Much easier than remember to actually write ‘buttermilk’ on my shopping list.

In a large bowl, whisk your four, baking powder, and baking soda. Add the cold butter (I just grate it right into the bowl as you an see above). A pastry cutter would come in handy right now, or you can use your hands like I do and crumple the flour and butter into pea sized bits. Don’t over work it with your hands, you want the dough to have little butter chunks throughout and warm hands can be a detriment to keeping that butter cold. Next stir in your eggs with a wooden spoon until combined. Now stir in your milk. The dough will be a sticky mess, but it’s ok! Cover the bowl and place in the fridge for at least 30 minutes. You can also do this part the night before!

Scrape your dough onto a floured surface and work it with your hands into a ½ inch thick round. Use a biscuit cutter (or a well floured round glass) and start cutting our your biscuits. Place them touching on a sheet pan that has been oiled or lined with parchment paper. Be sure to combine the dough scraps into more rounds and cut more biscuits as you go…you don’t want to waste it!

Brush the tops with an egg wash and then bake in a 400° oven for 15-20 minutes, or until golden on top. Resist the urge to eat them all before your gravy is finished.

Now for the gravy! You’ll need:
*1lb sausage
*4Tbsp butter
*4 Tbsp flour
*4 C milk
*salt and pepper to taste

Start with browning your sausage. Once it’s cooked through, remove to a paper towel lined plate. Don’t wipe out the pan! Those little bits are free flavor!

Melt your butter over medium low heat. Add in your flour and start to whisk it together to make a roux. Keep it moving so your roux doesn’t burn or clump up.

Now add your milk and keep whisking. Turn the heat up to a medium/ medium high. Continue to stir it and let it cook until it starts to thicken up. You want a nice bubble, but not quite a boil.

Now add your sausage back into the gravy and let it start to combine. Keep stirring it!

Add your salt and pepper. We usually go heavy on the pepper in our gravy, but you can tailor it to your families tastes. Trust me though, when you think there’s enough pepper…go ahead and add one more dash. By now, you should start seeing it really thicken up.

My dad calls this the Red Sea effect…when you can part it with your spoon and it doesn’t come back together right away, you know it’s ready!

Serve this warm and watch as the hungry masses devour it right before your very eyes.

Frisco Melt

Back in our younger days, my husband and I spent many nights partying with our friends. We were young and carefree and it was glorious. More times than I can count, we would end up at our local Steak N’ Shake at 3 am craving a Frisco Melt to fill us up before we went home to crash for the night (morning?). *Insert drunk driving PSA here…always have a DD, and if you can’t find one then BE one! I always say I’d rather be a DD because I can trust my ability to say no. Okay, stepping down from my soapbox now…* Now we are old and boring and have kids (what happens when you turn 30?!), but I still get a strong craving for a Frisco Melt every now and again! I scoured Pinterest for the sauce recipe, and was lucky enough to stumble upon this one from thecompletesavorist.com that really hit the spot! Check out her page for her take on the delicious sandwich.

Time to gather your ingredients. You’ll need:
*Frisco sauce (recipe below)
*Sourdough bread
*sliced cheese
*2 lbs beef (this made 8 burgers)
*butter
*1/2 onion diced
*salt and pepper to taste

First, the most important part of this recipe…the sauce! Mix 1/2 C Thousand Island dressing, 1/4 C French dressing, 1/4 tsp Worcestershire, and 3 Tbsp ketchup in a small bowl.

That.is.it

Why didn’t anyone ever tell me how easy it was to make? It will look like a lot for just a few burgers, but you’ll end up dipping your fries in it too. Trust me.

#Bloggerfail…I took all of 2 pictures of my burger making process. Fortunately, making the burgers probably isn’t what you’re here for anyway. You really just wanted that sauce. I feel ya. But for the sake of the blog, I’ll at least talk you through it. I seasoned my beef with the salt and pepper and added the diced onion. Then pattied them all up. I shaped them into long ovals instead of the usual round burger, just so it helped cover the sourdough bread from end to end. Cook til brown and crispy on both sides, pushing down with your spatula to get that nice crisp coating.

Picture #2. I’m really knocking this one out of the park, huh? After your burgers are done, wipe out the pan and then melt a pat of butter in it. Use this to toast your bread on each side-trust me….EACH side- I only did one side on the first burger and it just didn’t get that crispy bread that I remembered. Plus my husband, who used to work at Steak N’ Shake, was quick to tell me I did it wrong. He was right, but let’s keep that between us, okay?

Once your bread is toasted and your burgers are all cooked, it’s time to assemble. We kept it simple with cheese and lettuce and loads of sauce. Served with, of course, shoe string fries (because it would be blasphemous to serve with anything else). These were a huge hit! My husband said they were, and I quote, ‘really good babe!’ which is high praise around here! I even made a salad the next day with a chopped up burger and Frisco Sauce as dressing and it was divine. I guarantee this will not disappoint!

Shrimp & Sausage Gumbo

My family is by no means from the south. We are from the very southern tip of Indiana, so close to Kentucky that we can see it as we drive down the Ohio river front. We are as midwestern as they come-we dip our food in ranch, apologize when other people bump into us, and I’ve slipped and said ‘warsh cloth’ more times than I’d like to admit. All this being said, where my husband got his love for Southern food is beyond me. When I meal plan he will always throw me a curveball and ask for recipes that are decidedly outside of my wheelhouse. In the last 2 months I’ve made crawfish AND gumbo for that man, and I had never had either one in my life before! So how does a midwestern girl take on gumbo? By finding several recipes and tweaking them to fit what her Hoosier born palate enjoys. And resisting the urge to put a little ranch on it.

First I prepped my ingredients. I knew the roux would need my attention once I started it, so I wanted all my ingredients ready to go. I used:
*2 carrots, peeled and diced
*1 green bell pepper, diced (I know there’s 2 here…I just used one)
*1 small onion, diced
*kielbasa sausage, sliced (I bought a family pack and used half for this recipe)
*1 container beef broth (you could use chicken, but this is what I had on hand and it was delish!)
*1 bag frozen cooked shrimp
*4 Tbsp butter
*4 Tbsp flour
*1/2 tsp garlic powder
*1/2 tsp onion powder
*1 tsp Cajun seasoning (you can add more for more spice, but my kids won’t do spicy so we keep it mild)
*Salt & Pepper to taste
**I know there’s mined garlic in this photo, but I ended up not using it. Clearly I’m winging it as I go!**

Once your prep work is done, start your roux. Over medium low heat melt your butter in a stock pot. Once melted, add your four and start stirring! Keep stirring until you get a nice smooth texture. Once smooth, it will be a very pale tan color. Be sure to keep stirring and letting it cook until you get a soft brown. You can cook this until you get a deep chocolate color, but it can be time consuming! Also, this can burn easily so watch your heat and keep the roux moving.

So this picture doesn’t do the color justice, but I was able to get it to a nice soft peanut butter brown. Like I said, you can take it further, but keep in mind your gumbo will cook for an hour or so, so keep an eye on how much time you have to work with.

Once my roux was a nice color, I threw in my chopped veggies. I turned the heat up to medium and allowed them to cook until soft, stirring fairly often.

Add in your sausage! You can also brown up the sausage in a separate pan and then add it to the veggie mixture, but that’s just another pan to clean in my book. We all know how I feel about dishes. Let this cook together for a few minutes.

Now add your broth and turn it down to a simmer. Give it a good stir and let it cook for about 10 minutes.

Now it’s time to add in your spices. The smells you are going to have in your kitchen will probably have your kids and husband asking you every 5 minutes if dinner is ready yet.

Now put in your shrimp. Bring the pot to a boil for about a minute or 2, then reduce to simmer and cover. Simmer for an hour (or longer if you’ve got the time!) This is prime time to clean the kitchen, start kid bathes, drink a glass of wine….whatever floats your boat.

Serve over rice and you’ve got yourself a meal! Be sure to get lots of that brothy goodness in your bowl. This picture is staged for the ‘gram, but you better believe I added more broth before diving in! The kids devoured it as is and my husband and I added a few dashes of hot sauce. I think the fact that he ate 2 bowls that night and had it for leftovers 2 more times is proof enough that this midwestern girl did the damn thing!

Loaded Potato Soup

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Tis the season! I’m not talking about turkey or candy canes…I’m talking school germs and sick kids. Both our kids have taken turns spreading germs to one another over the last 2 weeks, and I swear I’ve only had 2 days with BOTH of them in school at the same time. With all of the coughing, fevers, and yuckiness I have been trying to make more hearty comfort meals to keep everyone feeling warm from the inside out. Now, I love a good brothy soup. Something I can eat and then drink up the warm broth out of my nearly empty bowl. My husband however, he wants something more stick-to-your-ribs and thick. That’s where this Loaded Potato Soup comes in. It’s thick and cheesy with chunks of potato and bacon in each bite, and it just warms your soul when you eat it. It is great for picky husbands and sick kids alike!

Before I start my mise en place, I make the bacon. I used to loathe making bacon-yes, it is delicious but cleaning the grease mess off my stove top every time made me crazy. I use one of these broiler pans and it is a game changer! No more greasy mess, and crispy perfect bacon every time. Put the bacon in the oven cold and then set to 400°. After 15-20 minutes you have perfect bacon!­

Now that you have your bacon started, you can work on getting everything else in place. You will need:
*1 carrot, grated
*3C cubed potatoes
*1/2C chopped onion
*1/2 tsp celery seed
*salt and pepper to taste
*1 container chicken broth
*3C milk
*3 Tbsp flour
*8 oz cheese (shredded or Velveeta, both have worked for me!)
*1 package crispy bacon, chopped and divided
*optional-sour cream, chives for garnish

Add your chicken broth to a large stock pot.

Add your potatoes, onion, carrot, and spices to the broth. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and cover and simmer until the potatoes are tender.

Once your potatoes are fork tender, add your 3 Tbsp of flour to your 3 C milk. Wisk until combined.

Carefully add your milk and flour mixture to your pot.

Stir to combine and bring your soup back to a boil. Boil and stir for 2 minutes to thicken. Be sure to stir the bottom of the pot often so the milk doesn’t stick or clump. Add in your shredded cheese and stir until melted. You should really notice your soup has thickened up!

Chop your crispy bacon. Stir half into the soup now and reserve the other half for garnish. Try to keep your husband from eating it all off of the cutting board. I put that in because it is a necessary step around here.

You can serve this as is (which is how my husband likes it) or you can garnish with some sour cream and chives (how I like it) and it tastes like a creamy baked potato. Pair it with my 6 Ingredient Sandwich Bread and it is DIVINE! Honestly though, you can’t disappoint with this one no matter how you serve it!

Creamy Shrimp & Tomato Pasta

Usually I try to stick to an easy menu for my family. We have dozens of tried and true recipes that I generally rotate through each week, the kind of meals I could make in my sleep because we have had them so many times over the years. A nice way to describe them is ‘Oldies but goodies’. But I had a craving this weekend for something new….different from our usual repertoire of meals. I wanted something that would look and taste like something you’d find at a 5 star restaurant, but with a budget of take out (is that so much to ask?). Now, what can I work with that is inexpensive but can really step up my dinner game? Shrimp. Even better than just shrimp, is shrimp and bowtie pasta covered in a creamy tomato-ey sauce (tomato-ey is totally a word. I am declaring it as of now). Bonus, most of the ingredients I already had on hand, I just had to buy the shrimp! Done and done.

Here’s what you will need:
*shrimp (I bought the pre-cooked, but you can absolutely use raw)
*Vegetable broth (if you’re using raw)
*1 can petite diced tomatoes
*1 box farfalle pasta
*half an onion, diced
*1/2 C heavy cream
*1 tsp minced garlic
*1/2 C shredded parmesan (plus more for garnish)
*Salt and pepper
*fresh parsley (for garnish…unless you forget to buy it like I did)

First, prepare your farfalle (bowties) according to package directions. I like to do this first so the noodles will be done cooking at the same time as my shrimp sauce.

Toss a couple TBSP of butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add your onion and cook until tender and translucent.

Once tender, add your minced garlic and give it a good stir. Cook for another 1-2 minutes (reducing the heat if you need to) until the garlic is fragrant. It can burn easily so watch it….as you can see, I let mine get a little dark. Still totally edible, just not as pretty for blog post pictures!

Now add your shrimp. Mine was thawed pre-cooked shrimp, so they really just needed to heat through. If you are using raw shrimp, be sure you cook them until they are pink on both sides.

If you are using precooked shrimp like me, you may notice a lot of water and juices released into the pan. This is great! If you use raw shrimp, or you don’t have this shrimp-juice goodness (I know that doesn’t sound good…shrimp juiceshutter) then you will want to add about 1/2 C of your veggie stock. Reduce the heat to medium low.

Open your can of petite diced tomatoes and drain them. I just put them in my colander and give them a good stir.

Add your tomatoes to the shrimp mixture and stir to combine.

Add your 1/2 C of heavy cream and turn your heat up to medium. Continue to stir as the sauce thickens up.

Once your sauce has thickened to where it coats the back of a spoon, add 1/2 C of your shredded parmesan. Stir until the cheese is completely incorporated in your sauce. Add your cooked and drained pasta to the skillet and mix well, coating each farfalle with the creamy sauce.

Serve the pasta with an extra sprinkle of parmesan and fresh parsley (unless you forget your list in the car like I did). I’m telling you, this recipe is so good and easy! Easy enough for an every day dinner, but looks and tastes like a splurge.

Road Trip With Kids

As a military family, it feels like we are constantly loading up the car for a road trip. Whether it is traveling home for a visit, a few hours away for a weekend trip, or one of our big PCS (permanent change of station) moves that happen every few years, we have picked up a trick or two that really helps us feel like we have the chaos under control.

Travel Bag

We have traveled from California to Indiana and back again no less than 5 times since our 8 year old was born. Between moving from California to Missouri and back, and all our visits to Indiana just to visit family, we have pretty much memorized the route (it is long and boring, just in case you were wondering). I pack a big bag with entertainment/survival things for my kids. With having such long stretches of nothing to look out the window at, I put together travel binders for my kids to help keep them occupied. I always tailor them to what is age appropriate to hold their interest at the time, and they are so easy to customize!

The current contents of our travel bag look like this. I have a zipper ‘travel binder’ for each kid, with a lap tray, and snack bucket. I prefer the zipper binders because I can keep all the pieces contained, but we have used the open sided binders previously and they worked fine.

Here’s a peak inside my 8 year olds binder. He has a workbook, a few card games, a small deck of cards (from Halloween), some Wikki Stix, chapstick (my kids have CONSTANT chapped lips), a tick tac toe game, a small lap tray, markers, and paper. I always scour the Dollar Spot at Target before a big trip because they always have a great (and cheap!) selection of things for the kids. The Wikki Stix, card games, workbook, lap tray, and tic tac toe game all came from Target!

Here’s the inside of my 5 year olds binder. It’s a lot of the same stuff, but she has her own set of card games (I’m sure both kids will be playing them together anyway). She also has a sticker face book in lieu of a workbook, she is absolutely obsessed with these books and it will entertain her for HOURS.

I found these large lap trays at Target (the Dollar Spot is my happy place) last year when they had their back to school things out. They were $3 each and we have used them dozens of times! They are great for holding drawing materials for coloring, building Legos, doing Wikki Stix…they are so great. And they are a really sturdy plastic so they don’t bend and they are so easy to wipe clean.

I bought these containers from our local dollar store probably 3 years ago. They have 3 compartments in them (1 large and 2 smaller). I usually use them for road trips (they fit a Happy Meal and drink perfectly!), but we have also taken them to the movie theater to help contain kid drinks and snacks.

Here’s how I load it up in my big ThirtyOne bag. In the past we did all of our traveling in my husbands truck or my tiny hybrid, so the bag would sit either on the floor at their feet or in the seat between the kids. We just traded my car in for a van this year (I love it) so my kids might actually have leg room for this upcoming road trip! That small round thing in the snack container is an inflatable solar light. We put it in the window while we drive for the day, and then we let the kids use it either as a car light at night, or as a hotel room nightlight. It has come in so handy so many times! We will also have the kids tablets and headphones in there. We don’t limit screen time as much when we’re traveling, but without any internet available in the car they’d rather color or do an activity anyway.

Here’s some old travel bag things from our PCS back in 2015 when my son was 4 and my daughter was almost 2. You can see Finn with his travel binder in the top left. I went to the dollar store and bought 2 sheet pans, various magnets (these I made from wal mart), window clings, and sticker activities. We also had the portable dvd player, which is a lifesaver on long distance trips! (I think we watched Mighty Machines on repeat for 5 days)

Car Emergency Kit

One thing you learn quickly as a mom, is that they are unpredictable. The one time you load up your kids for a quick trip and you forget the diaper bag, is always the day they decide to have a blowout. It’s like they can sense it. So, I have started keeping an emergency kit in my van. I keep things like chapstick, toothpicks, sunscreen, baby wipes…anything I can think of that my family will save us a stop at CVS along the way.

Here’s a quick inside view of our car kit. I have antacids, feminine products, floss, q tips, throat lozenges, baby wipes, chapstick, sunscreen, tissues, antibacterial wash, adult Tylenol, children’s cough n cold, bandaids, and these amazing things my good friend (who is an avid hiker) gave me that help women pee standing up. I figured the only chance I’d get to use it would be a side of the road emergency! Everything fits nicely in this small container and I keep it in between the front seats.

Organize, Organize, Organize!

I am a stickler for organization. When our house is messy, it makes me feel like I can’t function properly. Clutter instantly makes me uptight and cranky. So for me, when we’ve got the whole family of 4 (5 if we bring the dog!) practically living in our car, organization can make all the difference between success and chaos. I always have containers to sort and store everything, from the kids car entertainment to separating our suitcases, I need it to be in order to take one less stress off my plate. Organize your hotel clothes in a separate suitcase to minimize how much you are loading and unloading each night. In fact, we like to bring an empty bag or suitcase with us to keep our dirty clothes separate from the clean ones. This also helps when we reach our destination to make laundry so much easier. Store snacks in a designated container that is easily accessible. If you are traveling with pets, keep their water/food bowls and leash somewhere where you grab them quickly (the car door works perfectly if you have a cubby in it!). Bring a handheld vacuum to help clear away any messes or spills easily. I promise that taking a few minutes to organize as you go, it will make your trip will feel less chaotic!

Each kid has one of these seat organizers at their seat. The tray can Velcro up to save space, and there are so.many.pockets! We keep them in the van for every day, and I love that they can put their mess in the pockets and close it up to help keep the floor uncluttered.

My husband found someone giving away this hand held vacuum a few weeks ago and I am a little too excited to bring it with us when we travel across the country next month! A quick vacuum each evening as we unload for the night will help keep the crumb mess to a minimum and my sanity in tact.

Plan ahead

I am the kind of person who needs a set game plan before we travel. With our PCS moves, we like to have everything laid out before we leave. That means planning our route, picking the fun stops along the way, and booking our hotel stays. We also like to plan ahead for meals. We will book hotels that offer breakfast, pack a large cooler with sandwich materials for our lunches, and eat dinner at a restaurant before we hit up our hotel for the night. This helps us keep the cost down, and we use our lunch break as a time to let the kids run for a bit. There are lots of great rest stops that have small playgrounds for the kids, or we will stop at an attraction we want to see and have our picnic in the parking lot. This way we can bust some boredom, load up on lunch, use the restrooms, and (sometimes) fill up the tank before we start the next stretch of driving. Another tip for planning ahead, is our gas stops! Now, I don’t mean you should map out your gas stops ahead of time, that would be exhausting. What our family does as a general rule of thumb is never let our gas get below a quarter tank. Once we notice we are close to the 3/4 mark, we start scouting for gas stops. I ran out of gas ONCE when I was in college and I vowed to never let it happen again, so a quarter tank is always when I fill back up. Another part of planning ahead is planning for emergencies! During our last cross country PCS, I made small ID kit for each kid. There was a picture of each kid on one side and their personal information on the back (allergies, emergency contact numbers, height/weight, notable scars or birthmarks) that I laminated together. I even made one for our dog! I was not about to lose anyone along the way (I know…anxiety). But having that information just in case we needed it made me feel much better!

Here we are, stopping at Bedrock City outside of the Grand Canyon back in 2015. I’ve heard it has since closed down, but it was a fun spot to spend a few hours!

We were given these ID kits at a back to school event, and I held onto them for our upcoming PCS! It has a spot for fingerprints, a photo, medical information…even dental records! It may seem like overkill, but I truly feel it is one of those things that only takes a few minutes to put together and would be invaluable if I were to find myself needing it. If it’s not your jam, then don’t sweat it.

Do you have any tips or tricks that you have picked up while traveling with kids? I’d love to hear them! We are almost exactly one month away from our next big road trip (moving from California to North Carolina!) so I’m going to be pulling out all of these tricks and then some to help ensure my sanity survives the trip!

Turkey & Bean Chili

There is just something about a bowl of hot chili that always feels like home. It is so versatile, and nearly impossible to screw up. I know people may think this recipe seems a little blasphemous to die hard chili enthusiasts, but around here we are all about getting the most bang for our buck, and that means adding things to make it as filling as possible while offering a little oomph to the flavor. For me, the beans and carrots are such a hearty filler and I love the softness they add to each bite. The carrots offer a subtle sweetness when they get all soft and cooked down and my family can’t get enough of it. Seriously, my husband has brought leftover chili to work for breakfast every day this week and we are having some on chili dogs for dinner tonight! That’s 2 dinners and 3 breakfasts from one pot!

Here’s what we used:
*2 lb ground turkey ( I know this is a 3lb pack, I’ll get to that later)
*1 can tomato paste
*2 cans diced tomatoes
*2 cans kidney beans (I do light and dark red, one of each)
*1 large can tomato puree
*1 onion, diced
*1 green bell pepper, diced
*3 carrots, diced
*1 tsp minced garlic
*Cumin
*paprika
*garlic powder
*onion powder
*salt/pepper
*chili powder
*shredded cheddar, hot sauce, and sour cream to finish at the end (optional)

First, give your veggies a nice dice. This cooks down for quite a while so I try to keep it from being chopped too small. I don’t want to lose all those little bits in the pot.

Heat up some oil over medium heat in a large stock pot. Toss in your diced veggies and give them a good stir. I let these cook down for a bit, until they are nice and soft. A couple of my smaller pieces started to brown, but it’s ok you can save it! All of those brown bits on the bottom will add to the flavor later. When you notice the veggies getting nice and soft, add your minced garlic and continue cooking for 1-2 minutes.

Once my veggies tender and the garlic is nice and fragrant, add the small can of tomato paste. I like to stir it around and get the veggies nice and coated in it. Cook for 1-2 minutes longer, making sure to mix it and not let the tomato paste burn to the bottom of your pot.

While that is cooking down, I start browning my turkey meat. I went ahead and browned the whole 3 lb package, and reserved about a pound to put in the fridge for an easy spaghetti sauce filler later in the week. Anything I can do to make life easier on myself later, I’m all about that!

You will also want to give your beans a good rinse. I just dump them into my colander with the cold water running over them and give them a good swish with my hands until the water runs clear off of them.

Once your meat is browned and your beans are rinsed, you can go ahead and add them both to the pot. Give it a good stir and make sure it all gets coated with that veggie/tomato paste mixture. It should start smelling REALLY amazing in your kitchen about now.

Now add in your 2 cans of diced tomatoes and your large can of tomato puree. I always add my seasoning at this point, and I would love to tell you how much that is. Honestly though, I just sprinkle-sprinkle-sprinkle until the Chili Gods tell me ‘that’s good, just like that’.

Now you have some time on your hands! I let my chili cook over medium low for at least 2 hours. Keep coming back to stir it and waft in that warm chili smell, but mostly you can leave it covered and let it do it’s thing while you scroll Instagram and decide to make some homemade chocolate pudding for desert (Does anyone else LOVE Jennifer Garners #PretendCookingShow?!)

And there you have it. A hearty bowl of happiness. I love to top mine with shredded cheddar, sour cream, and some dashes of hot sauce. And it is heavenly. Let me know how you love yours!

How I Became a Runner

Let’s start with a little backstory. I started running on a whim almost 4 years ago. We had just moved to the desert, I had a preschooler and a toddler, and I was desperately trying to find something that could be mine. My husband and I agreed that being a stay at home mom was best for our family for now, but I knew in my heart needed to find something that could be just for me-something to feed my soul, give me a sense of achievement and community. An identity other than ‘wife and mother’, which is how one often feels when they are a stay at home parent. I wanted more. I needed more. I had to find some way to find my worth again in more than just serving meals and wiping faces. So, I searched Facebook for local spouse groups. And in a completely out of character move, I joined a local running club.

Now, I have never been a runner. Ever. In high school I was in every type of band program they offered, but I was also the kid who walked the mile in gym class because I just hated to run. I had a couple times in my adult life where I tried to go for a run, but once it hurt (which was almost immediately) I would quit. Walk back home tell myself that running is insane and people who run are a special kind of insane who think torturing yourself is enjoyable. I, as a self proclaimed sane person, was not going to run.

So, why would someone who was so clearly terrible at running decide to join a running club? I wondered the same thing. But I knew I needed to try something….different. I needed to just see what I could do, so I told myself I would try their Couch to 5K program. I would commit to the 3 day a week runs for those 8 weeks, and for once in my life see what happened when I didn’t quit.

My daughter, handing out high five’s as we volunteer at a local half marathon.

I showed up the first day, and sat in my car as I watched the other ladies show up. It was spandex and jogging strollers as far as the eye could see. It was intimidating to say the least, as I loaded my toddler into my hand-me-down stroller and tugged at my oversized sweatshirt and stretchy pants. I figured I must have looked so out of place and terrified as I was quickly greeted by one of the women who asked if I was new and what my name was. She was so warm and welcoming as she showed me where the other runners who were doing the program were waiting. Before I knew it, announcements and greetings were done and it was time to *gulp* start running.

Day 1 was supposed to be easy. A 5 minute warm up walk, alternating 60 seconds of running with 90 seconds of walking for 20 minutes, and then a 5 minute cooldown walk.

I. WAS. DYING.

I couldn’t even run for 60 second intervals without feeling like my lungs were on fire and my legs were going to fall right off my body. I told myself that I was not coming back. That this is crazy and just not for me. I would find something else, a wine drinking club perhaps! Those would be my people, not these ladies (as nice as they were). As we rounded the corner towards the parking lot for our cooldown walk, the woman who first came to greet me pulled her stroller up next to mine. She asked me how it was and if I had fun. Uhm, no I did not have fun. We were running. And running is not fun. She laughed and said she hoped she would see me Friday at the next meet up, and I told her she would. Because the truth is, as much as it may have sucked and as much pain as I felt, I also felt….good? Like, really good. And proud! I mean, it wasn’t pretty by any means. I was slow, and winded, and looked more like someone who had just gone 12 rounds in the ring instead of ran for 60 seconds. But none of that mattered when the run was over, because all that mattered was that I did it. And all that mattered now was if I was going to keep doing it.

My family and I after a local color run

And so I did. I kept showing up. The intervals got longer, and so did my endurance. The runs were more challenging, but somehow they also got easier. I learned that even when my legs burned and my chest hurt and it was hard, I could still do it. I could still push, for one more mile or one more lap or just make it to that street lamp ahead and you can stop. Running showed me that hard is not the same as impossible.

I went on to graduate from the 5k training program. And then the 10k program. And I have since done several 5k’s, 10k’s, 2 super sprint triathlons, a half marathon, and a 366 day running streak (more about that in a future post). I even went on to become a leader for that running club, and yes I still think running is hard. But I now know that I can do it, and I know that it has changed my life. I started running as a way to find myself, but it has become so much more than that. It has become part of my identity. I’m not just someone who runs, I’m a runner.

Me, dressed as our club mascot, during a half marathon

Sweet & Sour Chicken with Fried Rice

Our family loves take-out nights. Sure we order pizzas or grab drive thru burgers, but our absolute favorite is Chinese take-out! I honestly think my kids and husband could eat it every single day and never tire of it. Of course, eating out regularly is insanely expensive and you can easily make it yourself for a fraction of the price. I started making this recipe almost a decade ago, and it is requested not only by my kids, but also every time my mother comes to visit. It is a crowd pleaser every time!

First start your prep work on your chicken. You’ll need:
*4-5 chicken breasts (cubed)
*1C corn starch
*2-3 eggs
*1-2 TBSP oil

In a large frying pan, heat some of your oil over med high heat. While that’s heating up, set up your dredging station with your corn starch and eggs.

Working in batches, coat your chicken pieces in the corn starch.

After shaking off the excess, coat the chicken in the egg.

Then brown them on all sides in your pan. The insides will still be raw and that’s ok, these will finish cooking in the oven.

As you finish the chicken, transfer them to an oiled 9×13 baking dish. You can do this step in advance and then pop the container in the fridge until you’re ready to bake them, or you can move on to making your sauce.

For the sauce, you’ll need:
*4 TBSP ketchup
*1Tbsp soy sauce
*1/2 C vinegar
*1 tsp garlic salt (I was out, so I used garlic powder and a pinch of salt)
*3/4 C sugar

Just whisk it all together in a measuring cup.

Pour the mixture over your chicken, and stir to coat each piece. Then place in a preheated 325° oven for 1 hour, stirring every 15 minutes.

I know it can seem time consuming to stir every 15 minutes for an hour, but just remind yourself how much money your saving here! And the smell that starts to fill your kitchen will have you eagerly coming back for each stir.

During the last half hour of the chicken baking, I start working the fried rice. For this you’ll need:
*2C cooked rice
*2 eggs
*1 onion, diced
*half bag of frozen peas and carrots
*soy sauce, to taste
*oil, for cooking

Heat some oil in your large skillet, and add your diced onion. Cook them until soft and translucent.

Add your frozen peas and carrots. Stir and continue to cook until the veggies are soft. Don’t forget to stir your chicken!

Next you’ll add the cooked rice and stir to combine. Let this cook for a few minutes to heat the rice through.

Scoot your rice to one side of your pan, and give the other half a good spray with your oil. Crack your eggs directly into the pan, being careful to not get any egg shells in it. Scramble the eggs until cooked through, and then mix them into the rice mixture.

After you have everything mixed thoroughly, add your soy sauce. Now, my family likes a lot of soy sauce on their rice so I add a good 2 Tbsp to the pan. And even then, my husband will add more to his plate. Just remember you can always add more, but you can’t take it off once you’ve put it in.

And there you have it! A home cooked dinner, that was inexpensive and much better for you than any take out you could have ordered. Now enjoy the sweet silence as your family practically inhales this right before your eyes.

When Mom Takes a Sick Day

I don’t get sick that often. I think my body just knows that, as a mom, I have far too many things to get done and it is just not allowed to be sick. Us moms just tough it out. The kids still need to eat and get to school, errands still need ran, baths given and teeth brushed-we just aren’t allowed a sick day. The night before last, I went to bed feeling off. I knew I didn’t feel right. I had a lot to get done the next day and a few hours of sleep should set me straight.

It did not.

I was up and down, hot and cold, sweating and shivering all night long. When my husband got up at 530 for work, I was still curled up on the bathroom floor. About 630 when my alarm went off (not that I was asleep anyway), I hear our son say those 4 words that make all parents cringe….’Mommy, my tummy hurts’. As I crawl out of bed to bring him a bucket and check his temperature, our daughter jumps out of bed perky and ready to start her day. It’s too much energy for one child to have, but it’s spirit week for her at school and she is dying to have crazy hair today, so I get her some breakfast (dry cereal-I forgot to get milk yesterday and of course had it on todays agenda) and we put her clothes on. She is rapidly telling me how she wants her hair done and my brain is trying it’s best to keep up while focusing on not vomiting. We finally get her ready and my husband walks in the door, he came back to take Emma to school for me and he sent me back to bed.

By now it’s after 8. I have texted the bus driver to not come get our oldest and I have called the school to let them know he is out of commission today, and we both decided to curl up on opposite ends of the couch and watch some Netflix and recuperate. He throws up a couple times but seems to be feeling much better by lunch. I, however, can’t seem to get enough sleep, but every time my eyes close I get that feeling in the pit of my stomach like I’ve been in a wave pool at the water park all day. My husband comes home for lunch and after one look at me, tells me he will pick up our daughter from school. I guess I look as bad as I feel at this point.

A few hours later, in bounces our eager 5 year old. She hasn’t lost a bit of her energy today at school, and now that our son is feeling better they both start to wrestle on the couch. Right next to where I’m trying not to die. I try to get up and manage the chaos, but I feel more like I’m herding wet cats than actually accomplishing anything. My head is pounding from dehydration and my whole body is achy. I think to myself ‘this is it…this is how I die…dehydrated and yelling for kids to clean the water off the bathroom floor’. My saint of a husband walks in the door with a gallon of milk, he’s home early from work because he knew I was probably needing some help (boy was he right). He shooed me off to bed and said he could handle dinner from there.

Now, my husband is a Marine. He can handle pretty much anything that is thrown his way. The problem is, he handles it like a Marine would. So when it was time for dinner, he did what any Marine would do-he gave the kids MRE’s. It would not be my first choice of healthy dinners, but the kids thought it was amazing and I was in no position to demand anything else. I popped my head up a few times to check in on them, but every time I was sent back to bed. My husband then tucked the kids in early and our whole family was asleep by 630 pm.

Photo by Izzie R on Unsplash

I woke this morning with my husbands alarm at who knows what time, finally feeling like a human being again for the first time in over 24 hours. As I went through the house getting our day started, I was greeted by crumbs on the floor, a sink full of dishes, something red staining the kitchen counter, and blankets and shoes everywhere. I sighed at the sight of all the things I get to clean up today to make up for my day off yesterday, but I also was so grateful. See, as a military family, we don’t usually have Dad around to help on sick days. We get so used to taking it all on by our selves that we don’t realize just how lucky we are when they are around. Sure, he gave the kids MRE’s, but they were fed. He put them to bed early and didn’t follow our usual routine, but he snuggled with each of them and gave them his undivided attention. He left a mess of a house for me to clean today, but he took so much time to check on me and pick up where I wasn’t able to yesterday. Moms don’t usually take sick days, but it’s nice to know I’m lucky enough to be able to every now and then.