Welcome to 2015

Well, another new year is upon us! I love this time of year for the sense of renewal and hope it brings. Also, I love that as a society we take time to reflect upon how we want to improve ourselves over the next year. I personally, am a huge fan of personal accountability, thus, I am going to post my goals for 2015 here, so that I can be held accountable for achieving (or working toward) these goals. Please feel free to comment below with any goals you have and I will happily be your accountability partner if you need one!

2015 Goals:

1. Reclaim my health – While I am generally healthy, I do find that certain things change as I age, and I need to focus on treating my body with love and not neglect.

2. Create greater financial peace for my family – We are very fortunate to be financially secure, however, there is always room for improvement.

3. Show grace to others (and myself) – This one can be difficult at times. I need to work on being more Christlike in my interactions with others and myself.

4. Give back – I am a huge proponent of giving back, whether it is time, money or both, and I need to continue making that a priority in my life.

5. Be grateful – I am so very blessed and oftentimes I get upset about things / problems that 99% of the world would love to have. This one is critical for me to work on. I sometimes get frustrated about a work issue, and I need to be grateful that I have a job that is good and puts food on the table, many people would love to have a job. I get upset that my car needs the oil changed. I need to remember that it needs the oil changed because I have been fortunate enough to not only have a car that is trustworthy, but to use it to travel and see new places. I get very sad when I think about my Mammaw, because I miss her dearly, but then I remember that I was beyond blessed to not only have her around for 31 years of my life, but to have amazing quality time with her and a relationship that could have moved mountains. Most people do not have that opportunity or get to know that deep of a love. Everything in this life is a matter of perspective and I need to do better about staying focused on the many blessings that I have.

What are your goals? How do you hold yourself accountable? I look forward to hearing from you throughout the year on how things are going! From my family to yours, may 2015 be your best and most wonderful year yet. Thank you for making me a part of your life!

JPF

Baked Sweet & Sour Chicken

Good evening! I hope everyone has had a wonderful holiday season thus far! So, this recipe for Baked Sweet and Sour Chicken is seriously one of my favorite recipes. It is not only super easy, but it is ridiculously yummy! If you have picky eaters, this recipe has been tested by many of my friends who have picky eaters in their houses and it has been loved by all! I hope you all enjoy this recipe as much as I do! I usually serve it with brown rice and either asparagus or sauteed zucchini! Click here for a PDF version of the recipe!  Baked Sweet & Sour Chicken

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Ingredients:

3-4 boneless skinless chicken breasts

salt and pepper

½ – 2/3 cup cornstarch

3 – 4 eggs beaten

¼ cup canola oil

 

Sweet & Sour Sauce:

1 cup sugar

4 – 5 Tbsp. Ketchup

¼ cup distilled white vinegar

¼ cup apple cider vinegar

1 tsp. garlic salt

Directions:

  1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Rinse your chicken breasts in water and then cut into 1” cubes. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  3. Dip chicken into cornstarch and then dip into eggs. (P.S. – Easy time saving tip… put the chicken pieces into a plastic bag and add the cornstarch and shake until it is coated. Then add the beaten eggs and shake. Then just add to pan!)
  4. Heat oil in a large skillet and cook chicken until browned, but not cooked through. Place the chicken in a 9” x 13” greased baking dish.
  5. Mix all of the ingredients for the sweet and sour sauce. Pour evenly over the chicken.
  6. Bake the chicken for one hour. During the baking process, turn the chicken every 15 minutes.

Thankful Thursday

Wow! What a busy week! This week I’ve been in Tennessee working from our office there, so it has been a little helter skelter recently. Anyway, this week I am thankful for so many things.

1. Hubs – Even though he is back home this week while I’m traveling, he has not been idle! Between helping put up Christmas lights and getting some stuff done around the house for me, he also has a busy week at work this week! Thankful for his willingness to help me and to be such a hard worker.

2. Family – While I am always thankful for my family (they are pretty awesome!), I am always more thankful when I visit Tennessee and get to spend time with them! They are just awesome! We are a small, tight-knit family and so time together is always precious!

3. Friends – Every time I visit Tennessee, I try to cram as many visits in with my dear friends as possible! I truly have awesome friends! Even though technology is amazing and enables us to keep in touch, there is something about sitting down with a dear friend and just catching up!

4. Crafty / Artistic people – I am neither crafty, nor am I artistic. I follow directions really well, but if you want something that is truly unique that I’ve made, you might be waiting a while. I should do a post one day of my Pinterest Fails! But, I am thankful for the people who can manage to do those crafty / creative things and succeed! They keep motivating me to try new crafty / creative things… one day I might actually get it!

5. Love – One of my close friends in North Carolina got married a few days ago! They surprised all of their friends and just got married! They joy and love that they have for each other is truly humbling! I am so thankful that she found her partner and with that a wonderful joy!

I hope each of you is having a wonderful and blessed week! Stay warm!

JPF

Wellness Wednesday – Freezer Meals

Ok… I know we have all read tons about freezer meals (thank you Pinterest), however, if you have never tried them, I would seriously recommend considering them. I usually make freezer versions of several of my meals –  if I’m cooking one serving, I will double it and freeze half. Typically this doesn’t cost much more and it is a time-saver, especially on busy days when you just don’t feel like cooking, but can’t bring yourself to order out (again). I also do these meals because it has been a budget saver. Seriously, by using freezer meals, I am able to stretch our food budget out and still have excellent meals! Moreover, since I work from home now, I am home many days for lunch and will thaw a single serving of soup for my lunch! Tasty and major budget saver! Here are some tips I’ve learned through making freezer meals!

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1. Start with simple recipes, specifically ones that give freezer options (I have a couple here and here ) if you have never done freezer meals before (Note on this… if the recipe sounds bland before you freeze it, really think hard before you make 3 or 4 freezer meals from it – if you have questions about a recipe try it first as a regular meal and then transform into a freezer meal). Some things I personally have found are that sauces are great to freeze (pasta sauce, etc), however sauces and noodles mixed together – not so much. Also, meat is great to freeze, just make sure you freeze it in portions that you can easily thaw and use (don’t want to thaw 4 chicken breasts just to get 2). Also, soups are wonderful to freeze (and offer great single serving portion control).

2. The first couple times you make freezer meals, you will not be saving time… you will be reading and re-reading the directions and making sure you are doing it right, worrying about making sure everything fits in the bags perfectly, etc. This is ok, and as in anything, as time goes on, it will improve.

3. Invest in high-quality freezer bags. Not kidding on this one. Seriously, worth their weight in gold.

4. While we are on freezer bags – and I cannot stress this enough- LABEL, LABEL, LABEL! We all think we know what something is when we are preparing it, but trust me on this, just label the bags with the date, what is contained in the bag, and any special thawing instructions.

5. It seems like there are two schools of thought on freezer meals. The first is set aside one day and do a TON and then eat off of those for a while. The second is make extra as you cook and freeze part of the recipe when it is at a freezer ready point. I tend to follow a mixture of the two ideas. I typically will make extra of most of my meals as I go and then freeze the other half at appropriate times (i.e. for a pasta sauce, I will freeze once it is prepared and prior to it going on noodles). I also set aside a day every so often to make some easy bulk freezer meals. I like mixing both ideas because I don’t like to prepare my menus for a full month that far out (life changes, and my recipes need to reflect that).

6. Lastly, I encourage you to have fun with this! I have some girlfriends with whom I will have a freezer cooking day. We all agree on the recipes, go in on the groceries, and prep our little hearts out. We usually will have wine or mimosas and LOTS of catching up. And then we all go home with some wonderful meals that we can enjoy for the next couple weeks!

If you have any questions on freezer meals, please let me know. I am most certainly not an expert, but, I do have a lot of experience at trying! Also, I’ve definitely had some fails… so I am happy to provide lessons learned!

Until We Meet Again,

JPF

So… Coffee Anyone?

Well, over the weekend (Saturday) our Keurig mysteriously stopped working. I am really good about rinsing it with vinegar every week and making sure we take good care of it. It was given to me in 2009 and I’ve used it ever since with no issues. Well, flash forward to December 7, 2014, I had asked hubs is he wanted some coffee prior to starting a project that morning. He enthusiastically said yes, so attempting to be the good wife, I went to the coffee maker and it just wouldn’t work… so devastating. Anyway, turns out we needed some other things for the project, so we ran out to Home Depot and Target (smart, I know, a couple weeks before Christmas… not crowded at all, hahaha). Anyway, while at Target, we decided to buy a combo single cup coffee machine and a carafe coffee machine.

I am slightly obsessed with gadgets and this new wonder had all sorts of functionality and buttons!!! So, while we are getting the coffee maker, I mention to hubs that I had heard that French Press coffee was the best type of coffee. With a gentle sigh of frustration (he knows that once I get going on something, I am going to go for it), he walks down the aisle at Target and picks up a French Press. While he is down at that end of the aisle we have the following conversation:

Me – “Honey, we probably should get a coffee grinder as well so we can do a rough grind of the coffee beans.”

Him – “You mean we can’t just use normal ground coffee?”

Me – “No… it will taste better.”

Him – “Ok, Coffee Queen…”

So, we walk out of Target with a new coffee maker, French Press, and coffee grinder. On the way home, I realize that we have no coffee beans, so we stop at a local coffee shop where I got a lecture on the type of coffee that would be best. So we got home with a new coffee maker, French Press, coffee grinder, coffee beans from some country and region that I cannot pronounce and oh yeah, 8 Christmas wreaths and more greenery, and a paint brush (Hub’s project).

Anyway, that afternoon and the next day I made cups of coffee in each of the machines for Hubs and he did admit that the French press with freshly ground coffee was pretty awesome. Score!

Oh, and what happened to our old Keurig you might ask… well, I was able to get it fixed, apparently it just was having a morning where it might have needed some coffee as well! hahaha

But the true irony of the whole coffee maker situation is that I personally don’t drink coffee. I love the smell, I just don’t drink it. Ever. Yep.

Hope everyone has a great week!

JPF

Recipe – Taco Pasta

Happy Monday! I hope everyone had a restful and productive weekend! Well, as I mentioned last week, this time of year always seems to be especially busy and I like to have some recipes that I can whip together on a weeknight with ease (and it helps when they are easy on the budget also). This pasta recipe is one that is kid-friendly and easy (seriously, 4 steps… it takes more steps than that to make some of the packaged recipes)! Also, the leftovers are yummy! Enjoy and let me know your thoughts or additions to the recipe! Get a PDF version of the recipe here – Taco Pasta!

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Ingredients

1-pound ground beef

1-pound small pasta shapes

1 onion chopped

1-2 cloves garlic – minced

2 cups salsa

4 ounces chopped green chiles (Optional)

1 packet taco seasoning

8 ounces cream cheese – softened

1-cup sour cream

Freshly shredded cheese

Directions:

  1. Cook pasta according to directions. Reserve ½ – 1 cup of pasta water.
  2. While the pasta is cooking, cook the ground beef and onion over medium-high heat. Drain any fat and then mix in garlic. Cook until fragrant.
  3. Stir in salsa and taco seasoning. Add green chiles if desired. Simmer for 4-6 minutes.
  4. Mix in cream cheese and sour cream until melted. Add drained pasta and pasta water as necessary to coat pasta. Top with freshly shredded cheddar cheese and sour cream as desired.

Thankful Thursday

In an effort to be more Thankful, I am participating in Thankful Thursday. There is so much that I have to be thankful for, but here are just a few!

  1. Hubs – I know I say that fairly often, but this week he has not only tolerated the Christmas decorations going up, he has helped. This is huge for him as he isn’t a big holiday person (for many of the past holidays he has been away from friends and family).
  2. Family – I had the pleasure of seeing my family this past weekend for Thanksgiving and it was great! We are a small but very tight-knit family, so time together is always treasured. Loved getting to just hang out and relax together.
  3. Sadie & Beau – I truly have some of the best pets around. Sadie is just a rock-star at traveling and well, life in general… Seriously, I have yet to meet anyone who doesn’t love her… she does that to people, just charms them with a few puppy kisses and tail wags. For Beau, he is your typical cat’s cat. He isn’t exactly Mr. Social, but he is a sweetheart once he trusts you (it took him almost a year or so to warm up to me). He turns 20 in May and for a cat that is 19.5 he is still very nimble and we go for walks in the backyard every day and he just loves to chase the birds (and the dog!).
  4. Christmas – So, for anyone who has read this blog before knows I LOVE LOVE LOVE Christmas. Seriously, I love almost everything about this season and I look forward to it all year! I just love the hope and the love that infuses this time of year.
  5. Memories – This year has been tough on my family as a few weeks ago we lost my sweet Grandmother. She had lived a long and wonderful life and I truly believe that she was ok with going on, however, every now and then I think of something she said or that we would do together and I get really sad. But I have to take a deep breath and then remember that I am so truly blessed to have those wonderful memories of her. I was so fortunate and lucky to have had her with me for 31 years and I know that she is still with me and that she guides me. Yesterday afternoon when I got hungry, I went downstairs and cut an apple up for a snack. It hit me hard right then how much I missed her because every time I went to her house (which was quite often) she would always have an apple cut up for the two of us to share and we would talk. So, yesterday I had an apple with Mammaw. She wasn’t there in person, but she was in spirit. So this week I am thankful for all those little moments and wonderful memories I have of her.

I hope each and every one of you is having a wonderful week!

Until We Meet Again,

JPF