Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Lotsa Veggies Mac n' Cheese

Now, I won't claim that hiding veggies in your macaroni and cheese will get your kids to eat them, because I find this to have varying results. Some kids might wolf it down only thinking about the cheesy macaroni. Others only like their food in separate compartments and will immediately see the thinly disguised vegetables (like my little one).

We just got back from a little vacation and I had to pick up my Noisy Rabbit produce basket from a friend who picked it up for me last week while we were away. Needless to say, some of the veggies were looking a little limp by then and I knew I was going to have to throw together a very veggie dinner or I would be throwing them in the trash (I know, I know I should have a compost, but we live in a rental). I was looking at this crazy assortment of veggies and wondering what I could make--not soup because I was making that later in the week--so what? I had been promising homemade mac n' cheese, so I decided to go with a very veggie macaroni and cheese.

If you already have a favorite MAC recipe, basically you just add veggies. However, if your recipe has a cream sauce base (as mine does) you will need to adjust for the veggies by either adding extra sauce or less pasta. Here is what I did to make one 9x13 baking dish of veggie-licious mac n' cheese.

I cooked all of my veggies first. I decided to steam them in batches because they were veggies of differing textures and cooking time. I believe I used: broccoli, spinach, green beans, zucchini, garlic, green onions, mushrooms and parsnips--very GREEN. As I finished steaming each vegetable (I sauteed the shrooms) I just dumped them all in a bowl together. I started the MAC with the basic cream sauce recipe that I learned in Master Recipes. I doubled the recipe for the sauce. Meanwhile I cooked 1lb. elbow macaroni in salted water until just a little undercooked. Once the sauce was ready, I gently folded the sauce, macaroni, and vegetables together and poured it all into a greased 9x13 dish. I then grated some more cheddar over the top and baked until bubbly and hot. You could actually do a butter and bread crumbs topping over this, which would also be delicious. My oven happened to be on 425 for the frozen fish the kids had thrown in the oven, so we went with it, but normally it would be 350. I forgot to add the mustard powder because I was in such a hurry, but it adds a nice flavor to the macaroni. Sorry, no pictures. I wasn't planning on putting this in my blog, but afterwards I thought it was a nice recipe to share.

Here's the plain ole recipe:

Lotsa Veggies Mac N' Cheese

16 ounces elbow noodles, cooked al dente and drained
12 ounces cheddar cheese, or combination of other flavorful cheeses
2-3 cups cooked veggies of your choice

2 cups milk
2 cups chicken broth or 2 cups water and bouillon
1 stick butter
1/2 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1-2 teaspoons dry mustard

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Warm your four cups of liquid on the stove or in the microwave. Meanwhile, melt the butter in a large saucepan, add flour and stir with a whisk until smooth. Stirring constantly, cook on low for 3 minutes. Add warmed liquid to your roux (butter flour mixture) and stir until there are no bits of flour. Add the salt, pepper, and mustard powder. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly until the sauce comes to a boil. Lower heat and allow to simmer for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and stir in 8 ounces of shredded cheese and stir until completely melted. Carefully (because it's hot), taste your sauce. Add salt and pepper if needed. Combine the macaroni and veggies in a large bowl and pour sauce over all, gently stir together. Pour into a greased 13x9 dish and top with 8 ounces shredded cheese. Bake in preheated oven until bubbly hot and a little browned on top--maybe 20 minutes.

Another giveaway...

Enter another great giveaway from Etsy Cloth Diaper Team. This one is all organic cloth diaper products! Two weeks to enter...

Thursday, May 10, 2012

On a Personal Note...Letting Go

For several months I have wondered, "What is wrong with me?" I seem unable to do this things that I want to do. Instead of losing weight I gain weight. Instead of being energetic and fun for my toddler, I have headaches and knee pain. Instead of being organized with homeschooling and household, I am always making excuses to myself for the chaos. My brain seems completely fried to the point that as a former avid reader I can't focus long enough to get through a book. I am cranky and complaining and selfish. "It is just the season of life I am in," I tell myself. Is it really?

After a difficult pregnancy with my last sweet miracle of a baby (even at two he is still a wondrous thing to me), I struggled with depression. I didn't want to be medicated so I tried to do the things I read that were good for helping with that: sunlight, exercise, working on a hobby. I discovered that I loved sewing cloth diapers and it became a huge blessing to me and my family. I discovered I wanted to share that blessing with others. I wanted to cloth diaper the world--or at least all those within arm's reach! It began in me as a hope that this was a way that I could use my God-given talents to glorify God. So I opened my Etsy store. I found that I loved it. I love making things that other people appreciate and use. I love answering people's questions and helping them in their cloth diapering journey. I love having a little extra money to either help out with little family things or to fund my sewing and knitting. My husband loves that I do those things too. And all those are good things, until they are not.

I had a moment of clarity this very morning. As I was lamenting again that I cannot be who I want to be, I realized that it was because I wasn't even working towards that goal anymore. Who am I really? Am I an Etsy store owner, a cloth diapering consultant, a blog writer (certainly not)? I am not any of these things. I am a child of God, a wife, and a mother. All the rest is just the extra stuff I choose to do! I realized that my insane level of stress is due to the fact that I have chosen to make all kinds of other things my identity and I am missing me. I am missing being creative for the fun of it. I am missing having the time to bake cookies with my kids (an also being able to refrain from eating half the bowl of dough if I do). I am missing really being there when they talk to me. I am missing waking up without worrying about getting on the computer first thing. I am missing the blessing of being home with my children each and every day. I am missing an organized household (my would-be spring cleaning has now turned into my would-be summer cleaning). I want to get my toddler out of bed in the morning without thinking about the things that won't get done now that he's awake.

I have been working so hard to be good at the stuff in my life, that I have forgotten to be the creative, passionate child of God that He created me to be--the person who's joy is not in a sale made, or a cloth diaper convert, but in a day well spent to His glory. Can't I have both, all of it, my hopes and dreams? Sometimes. But sometimes we use hopes and dreams, or just everyday stuff, for something else-- a bandaid or a filling of a void. There is a time for everything, a season for everything. Sewing cloth diapers helped me to weather the season of depression I faced. Today I realized it is the season for letting go...letting go of the things that have me running in circles to nowhere and a season for rediscovering the joy I have in being a child of the Creator, in my being the wife of the husband who loves me beyond deserving, and in being the mother to three miracles who's lives I am so blessed to a part of!

Am I giving up on something? No, not me. I am realizing that what I was chasing was no real prize in the end. I want to chase my toddler instead...and after that, well, who's to say but my Creator. Will He use my sewing or knitting talents to fill some great need or will He cultivate in my yet a whole new set of skills? I don't know, and I don't even want to. Today I want to rejoice in remembering who I am and even enjoy packing and preparing for the trip we are about to make to watch my middle son participate in a national archery competition. I want to not fall apart when the day doesn't go the way I planned it. So I am letting go...and grabbing on.

Jeremiah 29:11

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.

Friday, May 4, 2012

One of My Homeschool Mantras...

What is the root word in "homeschooling"? HOME, of course! Several years ago we were blessed to move into a community chock full of homeschooling opportunities, which was vastly different from the previous place we had lived. I was so starved for some homeschooling connections that I had it in my head to get involved in absolutely everything. Fortunately for me, the Lord had other plans, and I got pregnant which pretty much kept the activities down to a minimum for that year. After we played catch up from the pregancy year we began to get a feel for the things in which we wanted to participate. We tried to keep things reasonable, a weekly co-op and a few once-a-month activites, but it can get out of hand. Add in sports, library programs, misc. clubs, play days, parties...before you know it you are NEVER at home!

Do you ever feel like your family is living out of your minivan? Last year I wanted to join this really great co-op I had heard about that had all kinds of creative classes. I applied and was accepted; the only problem being that it would be a 45 minute drive every week. I pondered the fact that I don't enjoy driving, the cost, and that I had a 1-year-old that would have to function without a nap on those days and eventually decided that no matter how bad I wanted it, it just wouldn't be a good thing.

I've already blogged about co-ops, should you or shouldn't you join one--but this isn't about that. How can you make the most of your homeschooling day? Be at home.

Despite the fact that we disliked where we lived prior to moving here, those four years were some of our best years of learning because we were home so much. Not many things were pushed to the back burner for lack of time and no rushing out the door with intentions of finishing things later.

Now I am not advocating seclusion--on the contrary, that can make you a little crazy. So here is one of my homeschool mantras: KEEP IT CLOSE TO HOME. I'll go ahead and say for those of you who live out in the boonies, this won't apply. But for the rest of choosy about your activities. Don't just do activities to be doing something. And if you are wanting to participate in things in order to make friends, the best place to do that is close to home. If the friends you make all live far away, chances are you will only see them on days you are meeting for activites. If you are doing things close to home, you will still be able to get school work accomplished before or after activities, you will still be able to cook dinner, let your kids have their naps, all the things that suffer when we choose to be involved in activities that take us out of our "neighborhoods".

Because our family is already far too extended with high school sports, my goal is to keep all other activities close to home. Co-ops, clubs, whatever...keep it on the "east side". What if there aren't any activities on your side of town? That's a good questions. All it takes is a couple of like-minded families and before you know it you have a group gathered for whatever it is you want to do. What do you want to do? Book Club, Chess Club, Scouting, Music Lessons, Nature Walks...other people either are doing it or want to do it (unless you live in the boonies, of course), you just have to reach out. Is that not in your personality pool--reaching out? Me neither! But when the choices were hauling my kids all over kingdom come or getting outside of my comfort zone, I decided to try to be a grown up. I can't say that for all my stepping outside my comfort zone that it has gotten any easier, but I am glad for myself and my kids. Not everything you try will work, and that's okay.

To summarize the benefits of keeping close to home:
1-- More time at home to get things accomplished
2-- Greater likelihood of keeping a normal schedule for you and your children
3-- Easier to meet friends on an impromptu basis
4-- Less money spent on gas and food
5-- More sanity!

Okay, so maybe you've tried and just can't find activities in your own backyard. Then my suggestion is that you try to cram everything into a day. Choose a day to be away from home and try to schedule all of you activites for that day. Music, ballet, clubs...see what you can find to do all in one day. If it's in the middle of the week, great, an opportunity to break up the monotony. If it's at the end of the week, it's like celebrating all your hard work for the week. It will take organization and planning, but what doesn't?

I am speaking from my own experiences, of course. If your family thrives on being on the road all week and still manages to get schoolwork, housework and everything else done, then this need not apply. But if you find yourself overwhelmed week by week, evaluate your activity choices. Maybe a few changes to bring things closer to home will bring your household life closer to what you want it to be.