Thursday, December 27, 2012

Healthier Holiday (And Everyday!) Dishes

I have been meaning to share these recipes for over a month now, but time just got the best of me!  

When preparing my contributions for our family Thanksgiving dinner and dessert, I made some dishes that were rich and decadent and others that were healthier and lighter.  I wanted to share two of the recipes so you can enjoy them as well, whether at a festive holiday gathering or everyday mealtime around your table.

Our family has always had succotash at Thanksgiving.  This year I came across a vegetable bake that was a nice change from traditional succotash, but still included both lima beans and corn.  It was absolutely wonderful!  I am planning on making this tomorrow and looking forward to it already!

Corn, Lima, & Tomato Bake

Line the bottom of an ungreased casserole dish with 4 bacon slices (I used turkey bacon to keep it light).  Layer with a 16-oz. pkg. frozen lima beans and sliced tomatoes.

Add a chopped onion and sprinkle generously with salt and pepper.

Add a 16-oz pkg. frozen corn and another layer of tomatoes, and once again season with salt and pepper.

Put four more slices of turkey bacon on top.  Cover and bake at 350 for 1 1/2 hours, or until lima beans are tender.  Uncover for final 10 minutes so bacon becomes crisp.

This dish is colorful, nutritious, and delicious!  A perfect something different when you are looking for a new side dish.

I also wanted to include a light dessert amidst my selection of rich ones.

And as you know, I have a true love for almost anything pumpkin - including pumpkin pie.  I don't, however, love pie crust.  When I came across a low-fat recipe for pumpkin custard it seemed like the perfect crustless alternative.  I was so pleased with how these individual custards came out - all the flavor of pumpkin pie without the heaviness of the crust!  They were also convenient to make the night before and refrigerate.

Individual Pumpkin Custard Cups

• 2 cups canned pumpkin

• 1 (12 ounce) can evaporated milk

• 8 egg whites

• 1/2 cup skim milk

• 3/4 cup sugar

• 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

• 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

• 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

• 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

• 1/4 teaspoon salt

• fat-free whipped topping


In a large mixing bowl, beat the pumpkin, evaporated milk, egg whites and skim milk until smooth. Add the sugar, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, nutmeg, and salt; mix well.

Spoon into 10 6 oz ramekins or custard cups coated with non-stick cooking spray. Place on a baking sheet or in a baking pan for stability.

Bake at 350 degrees for 40-45 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack. Refrigerate until serving. Top with a dollop of whipped topping and enjoy.

Happy cooking and baking from my kitchen to yours!

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

When Christmas Doesn't Go Quite As Planned

Well, December flew by and Christmas arrived and we lit candles and worshiped and sang of Jesus and His birth.  Then gifts were exchanged and Santa came and unfortunately so did the flu, so some festivities have been delayed and things are very low key around here right now, though yesterday morning was still full of childlike wonder and for that I am so thankful.

It hurts your heart anytime your children are sick.  When they spend Christmas Eve on the couch or lie down in the middle of opening presents on Christmas Day, your heart breaks a little.  It could be so much worse though, I realize that.  Many suffer far, far worse than we do this Christmas.  And honestly, this year's dose of sickness doesn't hold a candle to our worst Christmas ever that I told you about last year.

We have, however, spent the last few days putting our little loves in cool baths to lower high fevers (even as I type I am praying for a fever to break), wiping away tears and holding buckets, finding kids who haven't taken naps in years sound asleep on the couch.  It has been sad.  It's not what we had planned.  But it is okay.

Because we are together.  We are watching I Love Lucy (Santa brought each of them a new season in their stockings!) and Disney movies and building Legos and playing American Girl hospital.  We are drinking hot tea and wearing comfy clothes and pj's and listening to Christmas music and enjoying this blessed season.

Because actually, the Christmastide/Yuletide that we sing about is from December 24th to January 6th from what I've read.  I like that, because growing up we didn't rush right out of Christmas (of course we didn't start it until after Thanksgiving in those days either).  We let the season linger a little bit.  The week or two after Christmas there would still be gatherings and open houses and trees would still be lit and gifts still on display.  Christmas music would still be playing in homes and everyone would be wearing new clothes and playing with new toys and still caught up in the spirit of giving and celebration and fellowship.

Which is why my decorations usually stay up a little into January and why I really enjoy the week after Christmas.  Honestly, with school getting out so very close to Christmas this year and the sickness that has hit our home the past couple days, I am praying everyone gets well quickly to enjoy some of the Christmas traditions we haven't gotten to yet throughout the next week.

 To catch up on Christmas a bit, if you will.

That's where we are right now.

And wherever you are, whether you've already packed Christmas away until next year or you are going to join me in letting the season linger a little longer, I hope yesterday was special.  I hope you were given a fun surprise and gave something special to someone you love.  I hope you ate delicious food and were surrounded by love and happiness.

Most of all, I hope this Christmas season you encountered Jesus.  I hope you worshiped at His manger throne and made your heart His Bethlehem.  I hope you remembered how very much He loves you, and how love came down that starry night.

It's not too late.

Come and adore Him.  Let Him wrap you in love and fill you with the joy of the season.

After all, He is what this beautiful season is all about.

Actually, He is what everything is about.

It's all about you, Jesus.

Thank you for coming, and for bidding us come.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

When Christmas Collides

It's been a strange Christmas season for me in some ways.  I alternate between being caught in the wonder, then not really "feeling" Christmas much at all.

Why the latter?

Probably because calendars are full and I am busy spinning and jumping from role to role and the kids' first weekday off of school is not until Christmas Eve and my refrigerator desperately needs cleaning but I don't want to do it and what I really want to do is sit down with my family and watch Polar Express and White Christmas but we haven't gotten a chance to yet.

Or because I need to go the grocery store about every fifteen minutes.

Maybe because work collides with the wonder, hustle-and-bustle with the holy, rush with the reverent.

And I am caught somewhere in between.

Rushing here, there, and everywhere from Pre-K to the Retirement Home, up to my elbows in soapy water one minute, sitting peacefully at the feet of my Savior by the lights of the Christmas tree the next.

Don't you wish you could go back in time to Bethlehem that starry night?

I close my eyes and try to imagine the scene.

The grandest collision of all.  Heaven tearing into earth. God in human form.  His voice a baby's cry.

Angel song exploding, prophets proclaiming, kings journeying, shepherds kneeling.

A young girl becoming a mother in the most mysterious of ways, carrying both a baby and a burden.

The prophet told her a sword would pierce her soul.

Can you even imagine what she would live to experience?

I think of my own son, then I shudder to think.

But this holy mystery, this wondrous birth, this humble entrance of our Savior - the King of Kings and Lord of Lords - God coming right down to us to die in our place, it is what we celebrate.

So I find scattered moments amidst the rush to sit and ponder.  To worship Jesus and marvel at the wonder of it all.

Then I get back to work, my heart longing to stay in Bethlehem.

There is so much to do.

And it must be done.

But later I will find pause and kneel at the manger throne once more.

And one day I will spend eternity worshiping my Savior, kneeling at His heavenly throne.

Even so, come once and for all, Lord Jesus.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Light, Peace, Christmas

As I prepare my heart for Christmas, I am loving these prophetic words of Zacharias after his son, John the Baptist, was born to prepare the way for Jesus...

"And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Highest; For you will go before the face of the Lord to prepare His ways, to give knowledge of salvation to His people by the remission of their sins,

Through the tender mercy of our God, with which the Dayspring from on high has visited us;

To give light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace."

Luke 1:76-79

Praying you have experienced God's mercy and salvation.

Hoping you know the light and peace Jesus brings.

Merriest of days to you!

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Finding Calm And Bright

After the deliciously slow pace of Thanksgiving week, things changed drastically around here.  I knew they would and that there wasn't a thing I could do about it. There are times you simply have to work your way through extra full calendars doing the best you can.  Last week was busy and this week is crazy.  It just was and is.

But it is also getting closer and closer to Christmas, and I so badly wanted to decorate our home for the season.  Madi and Trev get incredibly excited about this, and I felt like Friday evening was our "now or never" moment to bring everything down from the attic and get started.  After a jam packed week I really just wanted to crawl under the covers and check out for about twelve hours, but instead I helped Jimmy take everything down, turned the Christmas music up, and got going.

It was a sweet family night.  The kids were beaming with excitement so we helped them decorate their own trees first.  Jimmy started stringing lights on our big tree, I started unpacking boxes and deciding what I would do this year since I decorate a little differently each Christmas season.  Once the kids' trees were finished, I made hot chocolate and we put in a good old Mickey Mouse and friends Christmas movie and all four of us snuggled up on the couch to watch it.

And it was seriously all I could do to keep my eyes open.

So instead of staying up all night to finish decking the halls, I went to bed, knowing there would be a morning piano student and two Christmas parties (one of which I had to cook for) waiting for me the next day.

In between the festivities I did a little more decorating, but only got so far.

Then Sunday came and it's the time of year for extra long music rehearsals and such, so I only had a really short time to make more progress.

Monday was packed with caroling at the retirement center, grocery shopping, laundry, homework, school projects, etc, you know the drill.

I did a little more.

All the while I was starting to feel like the walls were closing in on me.

Because there were boxes everywhere stacked high and we were stepping around piles of ornaments and all those little stray pieces of styrofoam were started to make me twitch.

Not to mention how full of dishes my sink had gotten since what little extra time I had I was devoting to unpacking boxes and trimming trees.

The evenings are so cool and lovely here that I always open the windows, and I realized the neighbors had a front row view of our state of chaos every night.

I started to expect to hear a knock at my door and open it to find a huge truck, a professional organizer, a therapist, and a TLC video crew ready to film me for one of their reality television programs.

Had they come I think I would have taken them up on the therapist.

Today I subbed for Pre-K, then did some after school work with Madi and Trev.  When we got home I was determined to make some major progress in the house, so I brewed a cup of coffee, ate some chocolate, and asked Jimmy if he would bring home Chinese food for dinner.  Jimmy sweetly fulfilled my request, and while helping with homework and waiting for him to come home from work, I found my kitchen sink again which was a relief.

Then I put on Mandisa's Christmas album and with some "help" from the kids, I have nearly turned this place into a winter wonderland.

I can see my floor.

I vacuumed up most of the styrofoam.

Tucked two little loves in bed.

And now I am having my Christmas moment.

I can breathe a little more evenly.  The instrumental Christmas music is playing, a candle is burning, and the lights are twinkling.  There is just something about all the lights of Christmas that set my mind on my Savior.

In Him was life, and the life was the light of men.
John 1:4

As I sit surrounded by twinkling lights, I realize that in this quiet moment of rest, things are starting to look and feel more calm and bright around here.

I've been reading the Christmas story this week.  The light of the star led the wise men to Jesus.  The lights in my Christmas home help lead my heart to Him too.

Which is why I invest the time to decorate our home each Christmas season, even though it sometimes takes a few days of clutter and stress and Mommy almost going over the edge.

Because when I am finished we can revel in the wonder, bask in the peace.  We can, as Trevor did tonight, dim the lights and truly savor the season as the gentle glow of Christmas contentment surrounds us in this home we share and love.

Coffee, chaos, and contentment.

I experienced all three once again this evening.

Life isn't perfect, but for this moment it is calm and bright.

So I sit, surrounded by light.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Reflections On A Most Favorite Week

One of my most favorite weeks of the year has come and gone.  

Thanksgiving week always seems to show up just when desperately needed, doesn't it?  After months of flying forward in full gear, we slow down to a near halt to spend time with family and give intentional thanks for God's goodness and faithfulness.  My heart felt incredible relief at the thought of that special week's plans and priorities of family time, rest, good food, and thanks.  When over, I must admit I felt a sort of sadness.  Thanksgiving week is the pinnacle of my very favorite season.  Oh, was it a good week.  I wanted to reflect and journal so I can one day remember this time that included...

A cold day at Hollywood Studios so we could show Grandpa the beautiful nativity and spectacular dancing lights on the Streets of America.  We stumbled upon this last year and had no idea the spectacle that would be right around the corner!

Hot chocolate was just right for this freezing night in Florida; her gift card from Miss Laurie treated her to her favorite face painting.

A day trip to Clearwater Beach for a much anticipated visit to see Winter the Dolphin and friends.  The four of us, my parents, Jimmy's dad, as well as my brother, sister-in-law, and nephew who had arrived from Arizona enjoyed this day together.  All three cousins absolutely love the movie Dolphin Tale, and Madi and Trevor had been waiting months for this special visit.  My dad treated all of us to an amazing day and with stunning cool breezes and warm sunshine, we couldn't have asked for anything more.

Madi and Trev even got to see Winter's prosthetic tail!

The cousins' expressions and squeals of delight during this show with Nicholas the Dolphin were completely priceless!

My Brother: "Jen, put on your sunglasses for this picture because I look good in mine."

Well, nice to know some things in life don't change.   :)

Cooking and baking for Thanksgiving while a backyard baseball game happened outside my open kitchen windows.  These are the kind of moments where I wish I could freeze time.

A bountiful Thanksgiving meal spent with family.  Backyard fun afterwards flying kites, sliding down hills in cardboard boxes, and more baseball.  The day was stunningly beautiful and time was slow and precious.

A highlight of Thankgiving week is having more cousins and friends over for Thanksgiving dessert in our home.  Always a sweet time with lots of laughter.  

This year Madi had all of our guests fill out cards she had received at church - she had specific instructions for us to list at least three things for each day of the week that we are thankful for.

Another sunny, cool day after Thanksgiving to head out to do some Christmas shopping with friends.  Came home with a few great surprises for the loves in my life.

Saturday morning breakfast and Dinosaur Bingo with family.  Such fun!

Took a few moments to capture the essence of my mom's autumn home. Gratitude abounds.

"This world is not my home.  My home's been made at Heaven's throne, this world is not my home."

Time for personal worship at my piano.  If you don't know this song look it up. You will be blessed.

"Now ransomed I am freedom's slave, my Jesus raised me from the grave."

An outing with my nephew to Radiator Springs.  Absolutely priceless!  Enjoyed some peppermint and Nutella gelato too!  Disney is just plain fun.

And at the close of the week, a few family photos while we were all together.

A treasured week.  Will hold on to these memories until the season rolls round again.