Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Summer Fruit Smoothie

In Louisiana, August is almost unbearable. The air is so thick and heavy with humidity that walking feels like swimming, and gills may be necessary to breathe. That's why we eat so many summer fruit smoothies! I'm not exaggerating, we stock up on berries in the freezer all spring because we go through pounds of them making smoothies when the summer heat kicks in. Need this summer lift? It's super easy!

For this refreshing snack, all you need is ice, orange juice, frozen berries, and yogurt.

Chop up the ice and strawberries first so that you don't end up with any big chucks in your smoothie.

Add in the rest of the ingredients and and blend until smooth!

This smoothie makes the perfect refreshment after a hot summer day, or even as a light meal. It is the perfect blend of sweet and citrus, cool and thick, and berrilicious! I'm addicted!

Summer Fruit Smoothie Recipe
5 ice cubes
1/2 cup vanilla yogurt
1/2 cup orange juice
1 cup frozen strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, mulberries, or a mix!
(my favorite is 1/2 cup each of blackberries and strawberries)

Blend the ice with strawberries (if you choose to use strawberries) using the ice cube mode. Once the pieces are smaller, add in the other berries, orange juice, and yogurt and blend together until smooth!

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Rabbit Spaghetti Casserole Recipe (with a Cheesy Mushroom Sauce!)

Now that we are raising meat rabbits, I am seeing how many of my favorite recipes I can tweak to use rabbit instead of chicken or beef. I have a tried and true Chicken Spaghetti Recipe from my mom that I couldn't wait to make with rabbit! Spoiler alert- it comes out delicious!

I decided the easiest way to prepare the rabbit was to boil it the same way I usually do the chicken. After processing the rabbits, we freeze them whole in gallon size ziplock bags. All I had to do was thaw it in the refrigerator for a day and then boil it in a pot of water for twenty minutes.

Twenty minutes later the rabbit is done cooking. After letting it cool, I was easily able to pull the meat off of the bones without having to deal with all of the little bones in the rib cage. This turned out to be much easier than I thought, and it only took about 15 minutes to debone.

The sauce is easy to mix together on the stove- just saute the veggies in butter, mix in the cream of mushroom soup, melt in the Velveeta, and you're done.

 All of the ingredients mix together in a 9 x 13 pan with whole grain noodles. As you can see, one rabbit yielded just the right amount of meat, and you may be thinking to yourself, "Are you sure that's rabbit? It looks just like chicken!" Yes it does, and it tastes like it too.

Mix it all together. It may not look very appetizing (after all, it is a casserole), but trust me, it is amazing.

Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes, and you have an easy family meal that is healthy and tasty with your own homegrown meat!

 Rabbit Spaghetti Casserole with Cheesy Mushroom Sauce Recipe
1 whole rabbit
1/2 cup butter
1 green or red bell pepper
3 ribs celery
1 onion
2 jalapenos
1 tbsp. minced garlic
2 cans cream of mushroom soup
12 oz. whole grain angel hair spaghetti noodles
12 oz. Velveeta cheese

Boil rabbit in a pot of water for 20 minutes on medium high heat. Once finished, debone the rabbit and cut into 1 inch pieces. Cook the spaghetti noodles according to package instructions. Chop the vegetables and saute them in butter in a skillet on medium high heat. Add the cream of mushroom soup and Velveeta to the vegetables and stir until completely melted and mixed together over low heat. Strain the spaghetti noodles and mix in to the sauce. Mix in the meat and put into a greased 9x13 casserole dish. Cover with grated cheese if desired. Cook for 30 minutes at 350 degrees.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Best Cinnamon Raisin Bread

I have been playing with lots of different cinnamon raisin bread recipes trying to find the perfect one! Most of the recipes I have found are for swirl breads, but they pull apart along the swirl when baking which allows hot air pockets to dry out the bread in the oven.

  I wanted a bread that was moist, sweet, and packed with raisins. Last week's attempt ended up going entirely to the chickens (they are always glad to get snacks when I fail!). But this weekend, I think I finally found the magic mix!

Put the warm water in a bowl and sprinkle the yeast over it. Let it sit for ten minutes until the yeast is completely dissolved and frothy. If the yeast doesn't get bubbly and frothy, the yeast is old and will not rise in the dough later.

Knead the dough on a floured surface until you have a smooth dough with the flour mixed evenly throughout.

Place the ball of dough in a greased bowl, cover with a cotton cloth, and set in a warm moist place to rise for an hour and a half. For us in Louisiana in August, the back porch is the perfect place!

The dough should at least double in size if not more. As you can see, the dough that easily fir in the bowl before is now over flowing! Punch the dough down in the middle, separate into three loaves and place in greased loaf pans.

Cover the loaf pans and set them out covered to rise again for another hour.You can see here the amount that the dough will continue to rise over the next hour. 

 After baking the bread for 45 minutes at 350 degrees, you will know that the loaf is cooked all the way through if it sounds hollow when tapped on top.

Cinnamon Raisin Bread Recipe (makes three loaves)
1 cup warm water
5 tsp. active dry yeast
3 eggs
1 cup sugar
1 tsp. salt
1/2 cup butter
1 1/2 cup skim milk
2 cup raisins
4 cups white bread flour
4 cups whole wheat flour
3 tbsp. cinnamon

Put the warm water in a bowl and sprinkle the yeast over it. Let it sit for ten minutes until the yeast is completely dissolved and frothy. Mix eggs, sugar, butter, salt, raisins, and cinnamon in a separate bowl. Add milk and the water and yeast mixture to the bowl. Mix in flour one cup at a time to form dough. Knead on a floured surface until a smooth dough is formed. Form dough into a ball and placed in a greased bowl, covered with a cotton cloth, in a warm moist place to rise for an hour and a half. Punch in dough, split into three equal parts, form into loaves and place in greased loaf pans. Set out the loaf pans covered to rise for another hour. Bake the loaves at 350 degrees for 45 minutes. You will know they are baked all the way through if they sound hollow when tapped on top. Freeze any loaves that you do not plan on eating immediately. Store loaf covered at room temperature.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Spring 2014 Garden Produce Review

Now that we have our new vegetable garden, we are trying a lot of new plants, experimenting with different ways to grow things, and have more space to play with producing our own food! We use growveg to do all of our garden planning and LOVE IT! If you haven't tried it yet, do yourself a favor and check it out, seriously.

Here was our spring garden layout:

We'll let you know how each plant did, any trouble shooting we had to do, and any changes we plan on making for next time. Just FYI, we are in south central Louisiana, which is a hot and humid Zone 9a. Our advice may not apply to your area!

# of Plants/Area: 2 sq. ft.
Produce: 1lb4oz
Prepared: Roasted and delicious!
Notes: This was our first time planting turnips, and I wasn't expecting much to happen. But we planted seeds on Feb. 1, and they did great!

# of Plants/Area: 4 plants
Produce: 15 oz. dried and 7 cups fresh, More than we could handle!
Prepared: Basil Mint Pesto, Basil Parsley Pesto, Dried Basil
Notes: I started these plants from seed in pots. I spent most of the summer trying to figure out how to use our HUGE amounts of basil. I couldn't think of enough ideas to handle the volume!

Green Onions:
# of Plants/Area: 10 plants
Produce: Used all season without running out!
Prepared: Gumbo, baked potatoes, fresh veggie dip
Notes: We started these from leftovers we bought at the grocery store, and they have produced for us all season without running out. Find out how to start your own here. So simple!

# of Plants/Area: 4 plants
Produce: 2 cups fresh
Prepared: Basil Parsley Pesto, Dried Parsley, Gumbo
Notes: I started these plants from seeds in pots. The parsley doesn't produce as much per plant as we use, so I will plant more next year!

# of Plants/Area: 5 plants
Produce: 1/2 cup sunflower seeds
Prepared: Basil Mint Pesto
Notes: I direct seeded these in the bed. They were more for attracting bees and giving the birds a snack than anything else. But it doesn't hurt to get a little produce from them as well!

Zucchini and Summer Squash:
# of Plants/Area: 5 plants
Produce: Yellow summer squash 15oz, Zucchini 7lb 13oz
Prepared: Zucchini lasagna, Carrot Zucchini bread, Zucchini Blueberry bread, Pickled zucchini, and sauteed Squash
Notes: I direct seeded these in the raised bed, and they all sprouted. If you have trouble with squash vine borers or powdery mildew on your summer squash plants, check out the posts we have for those issues.

# of Plants/Area: 8 plants
Produce: 3oz
Prepared: Minced
Notes: I started this garlic from grocery story leftovers. Find out how to start your own here. I was surprised what a good harvest I got from the spring, when garlic grows best when started in the fall. I will be growing this again!

# of Plants/Area: Bush beans- 20, Pole Beans- 10, Soy beans- 12, Lima beans- 6
Produce: Bush beans- 8lb 3oz, Pole Beans- 4lb 3oz, Soy Beans- 2lb 6oz, Lima beans- 2oz
Prepared: Steamed, Pickled, Relish, Raw :)
Notes: The bush beans, pole beans, and soy beans had huge produce, but the lima beans must have not liked their spot. They never did get going, but I had more than enough beans from my other plants!

# of Plants/Area: 2 sq. ft.
Produce: 2 oz.
Prepared: Chopped up raw in salads
Notes: We aren't big radish eaters, but they are fun to grow because they mature so quickly. Besides, the rabbits LOVE the greens, so it's worth it to give them a treat.

# of Plants/Area: 4 sq. ft.
Produce: 3lb. 2oz.
Prepared: Steamed, Pot Roast Stew, Carrot Zucchini bread, Raw in salads
Notes: I will definitely plant more carrots next year! These were easy to grow and we eat a lot of carrots!

# of Plants/Area: 6 plants
Produce: 2 cups fresh was all I used!
Prepared: Basil Mint Pesto
Notes: I was warned to plant this in a area where it could take over, and they were not kidding! We have more mint than we know what to do with, and I will be digging up a bunch to feed to the rabbits at the end of the season. I definitely won't plant more than one pot of this next year!

# of Plants/Area: 20ft. row wild blackberry vines along the back fence
Produce: 7lb
Prepared: Blackberry lemonade, Summer Fruit Smoothies
Notes: We freeze gallon size bags of blackberries every spring, and they never make it through the year. They grow wild, and we love our blackberries!

# of Plants/Area: 5 small bushes
Produce: 8oz.
Prepared: Blueberry pancakes, Blueberry Zucchini bread, Summer fruit Smoothies, Blueberry Jelly
Notes: We use about 20 lb. of blueberries a year and we usually pick them at a local blueberry farm. This was our first year to start a few bushes of our own, and we are looking forward to production picking up as they grow! Not bad for a first year though.

# of Plants/Area: 10 plants
Produce: 22lb. 11oz.
Prepared: Raw, In salads
Notes: More cucumbers than we could eat and give away! And they were so fresh :)

# of Plants/Area: 10 plants
Produce: 6oz
Prepared: Sun Dried Tomatoes
Notes: Out tomato plants did awful! Out of ten plants we only picked 5 tomatoes! I'm not sure what went wrong, but the flowers kept falling off before setting fruit. It's the first time I've ever had that problem. I'm disappointed, but will try again next year.

# of Plants/Area: 1 sq. ft.
Produce: 1lb.
Prepared: Caramelized beets
Notes: This was our first time growing beets, and I was not sure what to expect, but was pleased with the produce and the taste.

# of Plants/Area: 20 plants
Produce: 8oz
Prepared: steamed
Notes: The corn did not do well. I'm not sure if I planted too late, or if the soil wasn't deep enough, but it just never took off.

# of Plants/Area: 4 sq. ft.
Produce: 1lb. 8oz.
Prepared: None of them made it out of the yard, we ate them all raw right in the garden!
Notes: There is nothing like fresh peas- they taste like candy!

My goal for the spring was 50lbs of produce, but our total came to 64.7lb! When we calculated the value (based on local grocery store prices) the total came out to $165.00 worth of produce we grew in our own backyard over the course of seven months!

How was your produce this past season? Any tips for getting more out of the area?

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Yummy Apple Butter Bread

I LOVE apple butter! My husband and I went to Tennessee for our honeymoon and bought a jar of apple butter in this cool old general store we found in the Smokey Mountains. It was my first time trying apple butter, and I couldn't imagine what apple and butter combined would taste like. Little did I know that that there is no butter in it whatsoever! We ate the entire jar that week, and apple butter has always had a sentimental place in my kitchen ever since. I make my own apple butter, and you can find the recipe here. 

After seeing several recipes for applesauce bread on pinterest, I decided to combine a few recipes to make my own apple butter bread. I used half whole wheat flour in the recipe to keep it healthy, but all white flour could also be used.

This loaf was super easy to whip up and came out delicious! I am sure I will continue to play with the recipe (like adding chopped up apple pieces), but I am very pleased with how this one turned out. It is light, but very moist, and we have been enjoying it as a breakfast bread to go with our scrambled eggs. To me, it tastes like Christmas :) And when it is baking, the whole house smells like Christmas!

Apple Butter Bread Recipe:
1/3 cup butter
1 cup sugar
1 egg
1 1/4 cup apple butter
3/4 cup whole wheat flour
3/4 cup white flour
3/4 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 cup chopped nuts (I used pecans)

In a large bowl, cream butter and sugar together. Add in the egg and apple butter. Mix thoroughly. Combine flour, baking soda, salt, and baking powder in a separate bowl. Mix the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients. Fold in the buts. 

Pour batter into a greased loaf pan and bake at 350 degrees for one hour.

Let me know what you think! All this talk of food is making me hungry...I'm going to eat another slice now :)

Dealing with Miscarriage: What to Expect When You're No Longer Expecting

I have read that 30-50% of all pregnancies end in miscarriage, most before women even know they are pregnant. I couldn't care less about this statistic until I became one of the 30-50%. If you are as well, it's time to talk. 

A little bit of my story...
My husband and I were so excited to find out that we were pregnant in March. I am a planner, and already had nursery colors picked out, top baby name choices, and yes, even the crib set up in the would-be nursery. We couldn't be happier to be new parents! At our nine week ultrasound, we got the news that every woman secretly fears every day of her pregnancy...there was no heartbeat. Devastation is the only word to describe the feeling. At the doctor's office they were running behind on the ultrasound appointments. They needed the room, and we were ushered out. And so began one of the most difficult seasons that I have ever had to walk through. If you are faced with a similar situation, I hope this helps.

What to Expect When 
You're No Longer Expecting

1. You Will Feel Very Alone Because No One Talks About it

Women do not talk about miscarriage, and I'm not sure why. Why do women wait to tell everyone that they are pregnant? Because they might have a miscarriage. Here's my question: so what? I am so grateful that I had told my family and close friends that we were pregnant before the miscarriage happened! How do you tell your mother, "I was pregnant, but I had a miscarriage." It was really nice to be able to rejoice with all of them for a time, and then let them share in the loss as well. 

The worst part about miscarriage is that you feel so alone, whether or not people know. Others wonder what you are still upset about, I mean, you've been crying about this longer than you were pregnant! When you are still dealing with the pain, they have forgotten that you were even expecting (if anyone even knew at all). And even those closest to you, like your husband, will be sympathetic but will not understand the emotions that you are going through.  You will feel like the only one in the world without a baby, but you're not. There are so many women who are experiencing the same emotional and physical roller coaster you are, but no one talks about it. 

It seems like after I had my miscarriage, almost everyone I talked to had had a miscarriage at some point as well. And some of their stories kept me from having pity parties- women who had 14 miscarriages in a row, lost their baby at 8.5 months, or who had three miscarriages and two stillborn children. Talking to women who had not only lived through such tragedies, but could also praise God for His provision through them were such a huge help for me. This is something we need to talk more about.

This is our 6 week ultrasound when baby was doing well. This is the only photograph we have of our first child.

2. You Will be an Emotional Wreck

You will cry, a lot, and it's ok. Cry away! Months may go by, and you still see something randomly that makes the tears stream down your face uncontrollably. If it makes you feel better, you can blame the crazy amounts of confused hormones in your body (I know I do!). Whatever you are feeling, its ok. When you see yet another baby announcement on facebook, and you want to throw your laptop out a window, it's ok. When you see a newborn in the grocery store and start crying, its ok. When everyone around you seems to be progressing in life, and you are standing still, it's ok. 

A good friend of mine wanted to have lunch a few months after, and since we hadn't seen each other in several years, I just knew she was going to tell me she was pregnant. The whole way driving to meet her, I was physically sick to my stomach because I literally couldn't handle one more person's joyous news. She wasn't pregnant, thank goodness! And then I felt guilty for feeling that way, and you know what, it's ok. 

When I would try to keep the pain away, it would follow me into my dreams! One night I dreamed that I was walking along a road and saw a birds' nest in a tree with a mother bird sitting on three eggs. The nest fell out of the tree and the eggs broke on the ground. Immediately I fell to my knees with heaving sobs, crying uncontrollably, the kind of sobbing that comes from the stomach and you can't breathe. Everyone around was looking at me like I was crazy for crying over such a small thing. I woke up with that renewed feeling that you get after a really good cry. Take my advice- give yourself permission to cry a little every day, just don't let yourself stay there.

3. Others' Ignorance Will Cause You Pain

People who hardly know you will ask with a playful smile if you are expecting anytime soon. Why do they do that? Because they have no idea, that's why. It isn't their fault, but I have decided to NEVER ask this question to anyone. If they are expecting, and they wanted you to know, they would have told you. If they want a child, but are not expecting it is because they are dealing with something very painful, whether it be a miscarriage or infertility. People will ask you, and it always seem to be on the most inopportune days. You don't have to smile and answer like nothing is going on, but then again, you don't have to answer at all!

That was the happiest moment!!!

4. Mother's Day will Come

My miscarriage happened early in May, and the following week was Mother's Day. That was a tough day. I so desperately wanted someone to tell me, "Happy Mother's Day", to legitimize the fact that something real had happened! But at the same time, I was so afraid that someone might say something and I break into a thousand pieces and never recover. If you have had a miscarriage, you have the right to celebrate or not celebrate mother's day.You are a mother. You will always be a mother. And you have lost a child.

This is a painting my husband and I made to announce our pregnancy to family and friends. It is now a precious memory!

5. Your Body Will be Confused

I will not go into details here. Besides, I have a feeling it is different for everyone. But here's what I do know- your body will be very confused, and it will take a while to get back to normal. Your body is probably in shock, which is why it is doing crazy things right now, not to mention the huge amounts of hormones driving you half insane. Quit googling and call your doctor, they will help you know how to deal with whatever the issue is. This won't last forever. And if a male doctor tells you what kind of pain to expect during a miscarriage, keep in mind that he has no personal experience in this area.

6. It Will Shake the Very Core of What You Believe

Whatever you believe, having a miscarriage will call your faith into question. I am a Christian, and I take God at His word. In return, I follow Him with my life to the best of my ability. I had some people tell me that this was part of God's plan. I also had people tell me that my baby was looking down on me from heaven with angel wings playing a harp in a beautiful garden. I'm sure they meant well, but the Bible doesn't say either of these things.

Women having miscarriages was never God's plan! God's plan was perfect, and humans brought sin into the world in the Garden of Eden. As a result, we live in a fallen world and bad things happen, but this was never the plan. However, I do believe that God uses everything that we go through to shape us into people who look more like Him. James 1:3-4 says, "you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything."
But what about the promise in Jeremiah 29:11? "For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." It occurred to me in this process that maybe my plan for me is not the same as God's plan for me. And then the true question- can I trust that God's plan is best and follow Him no matter what? Is Jesus enough? Truly enough? If I lose everything, not just this one thing, will I still trust and follow Him with joy? I wrestled with this question for months, and I think I will never know the answer to that question unless I am forced to by my circumstances in life. But for me, in this loss, the answer is yes! After all, God knows what it's like to lose a child.
God is not punishing you for something that you did wrong, the Bible says that he grieves with us, bottles up our tears, and will never leave our side. He never says that this life will be easy, in fact He promises the opposite! In John 16:33 Jesus says, "In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world." Jesus promises that He will carry us through the hardships and that He is making all things new! The hope and future that He has for us is in heaven, not this world. For more thoughts on this, see my follow-up post.

What now?

The first question I asked my husband after we found out, was "what do I do now?" How do you move on?

1. Take the Time to Figure Out What You Have Lost

This may seem simple to do, but in fact it is so much more complicated than I have even still figured out. This was our first child, and the list of loss to mourn is long. Obviously, you are mourning the death of a child. It is amazing how much you can miss someone that you never met, amazing how deep the loss of a child you were never able to hold in the first place. You will feel like a piece of you has died, and the empty hole it has left is so overwhelming. You are grieving the loss of knowing their gender, their personality, what they would have looked like, and all of the times you would have shared...you know, the ones you had already thought about in your mind with each passing week of pregnancy. First time holding them in the delivery room, first steps, first words, first day of school, learning to drive, getting married- you are mourning all of it at one time. 

But you could be mourning so much more than that. For me as a first time mother, so much hope and anticipation was wrapped up in that plastic stick that announced the news. I have always wanted to be a mother, and I think that it is a miracle to carry a life inside of you. Releasing my "right" to be a mother, the hopes for this new life, the plans that I had for raising him or her is just as much a loss. Each person is losing something different.
The crib is still set up...

2. Take Time to Figure Out What You Have Gained

While you are experiencing loss on so many different levels, you will also gain some things, and have others to be grateful for. Make sure to make a list of those things as well. As this was our first, we are grateful to know that we can conceive. I am more grateful for life in general, and do not take this gift for granted. I am extremely grateful for an amazing husband who has been with me every step of the way, on the good and bad days, when I wasn't sure if I was crazy or sane. He will make a great father :) I am grateful for God's grace, that peace in the storm that is so reassuring that this is not the end, but a step along the way. Take time to appreciate the things that you wouldn't have noticed otherwise.

3. Look to the Future Without Forcing it

I wanted to get pregnant again as soon as possible. How better to recover from the pain than to experience the joy of new life again? Unfortunately, my body has taken a long time to recover, and I am realizing that it will take even longer to emotionally and mentally recover. Don't rush it. When the time is right...I know, it's cliche, but I am hoping that it's true. 

Know that getting pregnant again will not cancel out that the miscarriage ever happened. It will be a joyous day, but it will not take away the fact that you have lost a child. I have spent months waiting to finally be "over it", and I'm discovering that that day will most likely never come. I have yet to decide how to spend December 19, what would have been the birthday of our first born child, and I'm not sure if that day will ever be the same. There will always be a part of you that loves that child and misses them. Progress to healing will be slow- a few steps forward and a few steps back, but it will come. 

4. Lean on Jesus

It make take a while to come to terms with what you believe. I avoided spending time in the Bible for a while, and my prayers would bounce between being deep and vulnerable to being shallow and superficial. It will happen, but don't close out the One who does truly understand how you are feeling and has the power to give you peace in the midst of it. He does have a good plan for you, and He will carry you through this difficult time to show you what He has next. 

If you need a constant reminder of God's truth for you, read this letter. After I wrote it, I read it every day to keep the truth of God's character in mind. 

I don't have all the answers, I am still in this process myself. Please feel free to share your own experiences! It helps you and others be able to come to terms with this kind of loss- it really does.

After a few more months of processing, I wrote a follow-up post. It is a tough read, but I think some essential deep thoughts for anyone processing this on a spiritual level. Click below to take a look.

Eve's Curse: A Biblical Look at Infertility and Miscarriage

If you are in the long, frustrating process of trying to conceive, here is some encouragement for you!