Sunday, August 21, 2011

Financial Freedom

I write this post only hours after our first formal marital budget meeting. Tonight has been such an eye opener that I have to share my initial thoughts.

The church we go to offers free financial counseling by members of the church who volunteer their time to help other less finance-savvy people like us set a budget, get out of debt and/or work through other various financial blunders or needs. For us, we felt God calling us to set up a meeting with someone to have them help us set a general budget. We went into the meeting not entirely sure what this meant, but we were essentially looking to get more information on how much expendable money we actually have every month, what to do with that money and also discuss things like buying a home and having children (the financial aspects).

Initially, the meeting went relatively as predicted. We looked at our financials (bank statements, student loan information, car payments, etc.) and were able to see first how much God is currently entrusting us with monthly, and second, a written report of where our money is going each month, along with how much we have remaining after expenses (a good sign!). All of this information goes into a really exciting Excel spreadsheet (wait..."exciting Excel spreadsheet"...what?!) that we can modify as our income/expenses change. It feels so liberating to now have the tools to keep track of our money. The ball is definitely in our court.

About an hour in the conversation took a turn! It took me a while to catch on to what was being discussed, but once I caught wind I quickly realized we were discussing that Jesus wants us to be debt free. This is not something I have ever considered before. When we arrived at their house, one of the first things the husband posed to us was how great it would be if we didn't owe anybody anything and could be free to use our money however God was calling us to use it. This was now starting to sink in. But how can we be debt free, start a family and buy a house in the next couple years with all of our student loans and expenses?

To be honest, we went into this meeting having no direction on how we were spending our money. I am interested in sharing this exciting, and hopefully inspiring, new journey we're heading on so I will loosely share a bit of where we currently stand. Prior to today, we have been paying the minimums on all of our bills (car and student loans) and saving the rest. I guess we have essentially been "saving" for a house, which was really just because we didn't know what we should be doing with our leftover money each month. This option sounded the most "fun". We also didn't have any budgets formally set like personal allowances, food, clothing, gas, etc. We learned tonight that this doesn't allow for accountability or goal setting.

The most exciting news of tonight was learning that we should be using our leftover money not to be saving for a house but to be pursing financial freedom and becoming debt free. We would have never imagined that it was even possible to have our car and heaping pile of student loans paid off within about a year an a half. Praise Jesus for financial wisdom! Obviously this can all be affected at anytime by a loss of job, pregnancy, job replacement, income increase, etc., but the great news is that we now have the tools and basic wisdom to handle these possible circumstances in a biblical way.

Scattered thoughts for now, but we look forward to sharing our journey as it unfolds and as we learn more about managing our money so we can, God willing, start a family someday soon.

** By no means are we downplaying the value of our educations when I talk about becoming debt free from our student loans. This is a good debt that we now are tasked with figuring out how to get out of as quickly as possible.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

A Season of Change

It's been awhile since I've written anything about our lives. It's important to us that we're keeping a log of what's happening, so here is a whirlwind four-week recap...

Our CSA adventure has been going well. We've been so busy that there are times I have to force myself to cook, puree and freeze some turnips or roast and refrigerate beets for later. It's been integral for me to fit cooking our veggies in any little time slot I can find. For example, two nights ago I cooked up weeks of beets I haven't had a chance to use and tonight we will have them in a beet, pistachio and goat cheese salad.

I've been overwhelmed with the amount of herbs we've been getting (seriously, cilantro every week?!), but was recently inspired by Emily's Creamy Basil Hummus on her blog, Daily Garnish. I started making my own hummus a few weeks ago and I definitely don't plan on buying prepared hummus anymore...except maybe the Costco tub of Sabra hummus—my all-time fav!

My husband finished his 31st trip around the sun! We celebrated with a Sounders game and some take-out Thai food, which we never do.

I feel like my creative mojo is going to a new level. Ridiculous, but I kind of credit Pinterest for keeping me inspired everyday. I'm planning to do some personal projects on the side to add to my design portfolio. I'll be revamping my online presence soon with a much-needed new portfolio site.

I started sewing lessons with my mother-in-law. She's a seasoned pro, has all the tools and a space to be creative. My first lesson was last night and we made a skirt for my (new) cousin's sweet daughter, Ava. I has so much fun an can't wait for next week when she's going to teach me about my sewing machine and how to use it. I've quilted a few quilts when I was younger, so this venture isn't entirely new. But I'm most excited to get to know my own sewing machine, which I've had for a few years and never really touched.

My parents moved to Alki from Maple Valley and we've been really enjoying spending time on their new balcony. Their temporary condo has it's own private beach. It's also nice to have Dottie so close since she's getting older. I told my husband that if we lived down there I would eat fish and chips every day. There are so many delicious fish and chip restaurants! Our roots in Maple Valley are cut, and other than to visit I'm not sure we'll spend much time out there anymore. This is where my husband and I both grew up.

Perhaps the biggest news of all, I left my job at HTC and now work as designer at Starbucks headquarters! I'm on a two-month contract working on a packaging redesign project. My contract is up on October 7 and I have no clue what the Lord will have for me beyond then. I'm relieved to be out of my old job and into a fancy new one. It's been great so far and exactly the experience I should be having at this point in my design career. I am very grateful.

The environment is really different from where I have been for the past year. So far I've noted that everyone has fancy shoes and about 1/4 of the female population is pregnant. It's a really upbeat vibe and there are many really creative people. I love being in this kind of studio environment, it keeps my creative brain cells working. There is also a full Starbucks on the 8th floor for people that work in the building partners only (I'm a contract worker) that has all discounted prices :)  :(

Finally, I have biked commuted everyday for the past two weeks. My husband has been driving me to work using the bike rack on our Subaru and I bike the hilly trek home. It's been fantastic exercise for me, especially since I have to bike up the mile-long Avalon hill. My bike is really heavy and not super fancy so I'm certainly getting an extra good workout. It's about a 30 minute commute—shorter than commuting in traffic home from my old office in Factoria—and I always get home sweaty and feeling pooped (in a good way). Tomorrow will be my first day driving since he is working an early shift. Here's hoping I can find some SODO parking!

Things are beginning to settle down a bit now that I'm not working crazy-long hours and my commute is shorter. I've been really enjoying having the evenings to relax, cook and get stuff done around the house. This is my favorite time of day. I'm grateful for the opportunity to hopefully start some new fun design/craft/sewing projects soon. Cheers!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Sweet and Simple Strawberry Rhubarb Sorbet

If you hail from the Pacific Northwest, you get the whole rhubarb thing. It's always the first to mature and a sure sign that summer is just around the corner. And the leaves! They're oh so magical and larger than life. Don't eat them though, they contain various poisonous toxins. Did you know that rhubarb is also a "strong laxative"? TMI? Maybe, but good to know! Anyways, this was the first year I harvested my own rhubarb. This giant mop of greens all started from a couple measly stalks I dug up from my grandma's yard last year. How wild is that?!

For the past two weeks we've been getting the most flavorful strawberries I have ever laid my tastebuds on in our CSA box. They are so naturally sweet and pure bliss to gobble up. It doesn't look like we'll be getting them in our box again anytime soon, but I'm sure thankful for the times we've shared. To commemorate, I crafted a sweet and simple strawberry sorbet. At only 60 calories per serving, this is a healthy way to take in the first fruits of summer harvest (by the way, rhubarb is considered a vegetable). If you don't have an ice cream maker, here are some alternative methods to freezing your ice creams and sorbets.

Sweet and Simple Strawberry Rhubarb Sorbet
3/4 pound rhubarb (5 or 6 thin stalks), trimmed
3/4 cup sugar
10 ounces fresh strawberries (about 1 1/2 cups), get the most flavorful ones you can find!
1/2 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

Cut the rhubarb into half-inch pieces. If your rhubarb stalks are more than an inch wide, slice them in half lengthwise. In a medium, nonreactive saucepan, bring the rhubarb, two-thirds cup water and the sugar to a boil. Reduce the heat, cover and simmer until the rhubarb is tender and cooked through, about 5 minutes. Cool to room temperature. This is also a perfect time to pull out a spoon and enjoy some rhubarb-y goodness!

Slice the strawberries and purée them in a blender or food processor with the cooked rhubarb mixture and lemon juice until smooth.

Note: It is important to make sure you are using the most flavorful strawberries you can find. This will affect the outcome of your sorbet. If your strawberries are not very sweet, try slicing and covering them in a tablespoon of sugar. Let them sit for 30 minutes and then puree.

Chill the mixture thoroughly, then freeze in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer's instructions.

This is a fat free and low calorie dessert with only 60 calories per half-cup serving.

Recipe:, Adapted from David Lebovitz's "The Perfect Scoop."
Nutrition facts:

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Ten Reasons Why I Love My Husband: Two months in

To my love,

Two months into our marriage, these are the top ten things I love about you:

1. You make the bed every morning without me ever asking.
2. You never lose hope in the fact that we are growing, and it's hard, but we'll get through it.
3. You are trying so hard to find a career that will provide for our family.
4. You love making smoothies.
5. You are faithful in reading your bible and encourage me to as well.
6. Sometimes you spontaneously decide to shark the floor.
7. You desire to know my heart and learn what makes me feel loved.
8. You are learning how to follow a recipe really well!
9. You keep tabs on what's happening in the world and fill me in.
10. You wake up every morning with me to make sure I feel loved before I head to work.

Here's to a million more good morning hugs and mango smoothies. 


Monday, July 11, 2011

Chaing Mai Tofu Noodles

So far our big CSA adventure has been going great! Week one was a bit of a learning experience for us as we ended up wasting a bit more of our produce than I would have hoped. One bunch of arugula, a bunch of cilantro and sadly, the majority of our bok choy went into the trash. I figured out after I made this recipe for Chaing Mai Tofu Noodles that I should have put the whole bunch of bok choy in, not just one individual "bunch". I know we're still learning, so I'm trying to have grace with myself as I make mistakes. Still, it's hard not to feel ashamed for wasting. A few years ago I used to waste a lot. It would hardly bother me to pluck a small handful of herbs and let the rest go to rot, or buy produce with the hope it would force myself to eat it, but really I had no meal plan in place to use it. I was convicted over time that this wasn't being a good steward to the resources I was being blessed with and needed to be more diligent with using what I had on hand.

Before I get to the recipe, let talk about bok choy. Bok choy can come large or baby-sized (pictured in this post). In cooking, you would treat both the same way. These sweet, succulent and nutritious stalks are a popular crop in oriental regions, which is why we find it in many asian dishes. Bok choy is very low in calories, but high in dietary fiber and vitamins, such as C and A, which help our bodies resist infection and support our immune systems. Additionally, it is a good source of Vitamin K for bone health, and contains a good amount of minerals like calcium, phosphorous, potassium, manganese, iron and magnesium. Lucky for our bodies, bok choy can be eaten raw! It's important to remember that most vegetables lose nutrients once they are cooked, so eating your produce raw when applicable is always best. Bok choy can be stored up to 3-4 days in your refrigerators vegetable drawer without loss of nutrients.

Have you met my new friend, garlic scapes? They are A.M.A.Z.I.N.G., like a garlicky stalk of buttered asparagus. Garlic scapes are the flower that the garlic plant sends up. They have to be snapped off to convince the plant to send its energy down to the bulb. I'm not sure where you find them other than a CSA box or farmers market, but if you happen to run into them, do not hesitate to buy. They are so delicious. You can honestly add them into anything. We even cut up a few for a mushroom and garlic scape omelet the next morning. Drool.

Chaing Mai Tofu (or Chicken) Noodles
- Chop up 5-6 garlic scapes into 3 inch pieces, discarding the last 2 inches of the flower bud. If you don't have access to garlic scapes, you don't need to add them in, just forget-about-em!
- Chop 1 bunch of bok choy (as in the whole bunch pictured in the first photo) into ½ inch pieces, then wash well.
- In a large sauté pan over medium high heat, add 1 TBS grape seed or olive oil and the chopped scapes.
- Sauté for a few minutes then add the chopped bok choy.
- Cook for about 5 minutes until bok choy is just tender.
- Then add 1 tsp ground turmeric and 2 TBS red Thai curry paste (more or less depending on your spice tolerance).
- Stir for 1 minutes and then add 1 can of coconut milk and 1 cup chicken stock.
- Add 1 block of tofu and/or 1.5 cups cooked chicken and cook at a simmer for 15 minutes.
- Season with 2 Tbsp light brown sugar and 2 tsp fish sauce.
- Cook 1 package egg noodles according to package directions. Drain noodles.
- Divide noodles into (up to) 4 bowls
- Spoon the tofu/chicken curry over top and sprinkle with any/all of the following:
3 TBS chopped cilantro, 1 red chilli which has been halved, deseeded and shredded, some chopped green onions and some lime wedges.

Nutrition facts:
Recipe: Came in our CSA newsletter and adapted from Food from Plenty by Diana Henry

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Guest Post: Rachel Z. on Eating Locally While on a Teacher's Budget

We’re not trendy West Seattle-ites like the Kings, but us Zupkes do know a thing or two about living the good life.  I’m Rachel and my self-assigned job in our 2 person, 2 cat, and 1 dog family is to plan delicious meals, source the ingredients as locally as possible, and do it on a budget.  My husband, Ben, and I moved to Everett this past summer, purchasing our first home, a 1910 built Craftsman with original hardwoods, hearth, and crown molding.  My sustainably focused husband went right to work figuring out how to make our house more energy efficient.  I, on the other hand, found the nearest farmer's market, researched CSA's, and kept right on meal planning like we always had.

Long story short, we’ve always lived on a budget.  Since getting married in August 2008, we have lived on as little as $1800/month.  The occasional parent-funded trip to Costco has also help keep us afloat.  That means that our meal planning has had to be spot on or we were going to have enough $ for next month’s rent, utilities, you get the picture.  Basically, we (me with Ben’s input) sat down on Saturday with a few issues of Everyday Food and a cookbook to determine what we were going to eat each night for the next week.  Then we’d go grocery shopping Sunday after church, careful to only purchase the ingredients needed for our week’s worth of meals.  We ate oatmeal or cereal for breakfast and the previous night’s dinner leftovers for lunches to keep our costs even lower.  Having meals planned also meant that when we got home from long days of teaching science to [unruly and disrespectful] teenagers, we didn’t have to have that awful “What are we going to have for dinner?” discussion.

When we followed God’s leading to buy our house in Everett, we knew we’d have to stay tight on the budget to continue to be good stewards of the public school teaching salaries He blesses us with.  They may seem like conflicting goals – eat well, stay on budget – but then we added in eating locally and might as well have given up on the whole saving money thing.  We had to reevaluate what was most important and decided we could ease up on our food budget to eat well and choose local over corporate whenever possible.

Required reading for this endeavor included In Defense of Food and Plenty, both very well written nonfiction books that both inspired and intimidated me.  Instead of being discouraged by this, we charged forward, going by the following guidelines: buy local; if we can’t do that, buy from small companies versus corporations; and buy organic if you can’t do the first two.  We’re big into being a part of our community, including attending a church within walking distance and praying for jobs in the Everett School District.  Buying local seemed like the next most obvious task.

The first thing we did was become members of the Sno-Isle Foods Co-op, only 1.2 miles from our house.  Maya (our newly rescued Siberian Husky) loves walking there with us, even if she has to pull the wagon of groceries, because they always have treats for her as she does her job of honorary greeter while we shop.  Shopping at the co-op made it much easier to purchase locally, including milk from Skagit County, yogurt from Nooksack Valley, lettuce from Whidbey Island, and eggs from Sultan, just down Hwy 2 from us. We wanted to join a CSA so after much research, we signed on with Klesick Family Farm and got a Northwest Box (delivered to our doorstep!) every other week.  The Northwest Box delivers produce grown at Klesick or other Washington farms.  There was a very steep learning curve of what to do with some of the vegetables that I had never seen or heard of before.  Like any good descendent of Midwestern stock, I knew my starchy vegetables very well but not my chards, kales, or other not-so-run-of-the-mill veggies. The first thing I made was a Chipotle Veggie Stew.  My carnivore husband declared that he felt satisfied after the meatless meal.  This was huge because normally Ben says, “This would have been so much better with [insert your meat of choice here].”

After a few weeks, we fell into the pattern of forming new habits and cutting corners elsewhere in our budget.  It was well worth it to bake with Stone-Buhr Shepherd's Mill Flour.  This flour especially excited me because you can type the “Best Buy” date into the Find The Farmer website, see where your wheat came from, and watch a video/read a bio of your farmer!  If you know me at all, you know that baking is one of my favorite things to do in the kitchen.  That, along with canning my own Orondo peaches in every August and hopefully some of the produce we get out of our newly planted garden this year, puts me next in line for Miss Suzie Homemaker of the Year.  Saving the harvest for later, along with batch cooking and freezing, helps us take advantage of what is in season while not blowing our paychecks.

What have we been learning over the past year?  That the following equation is true: meal planning + choosing local whenever possible + doing prep work like canning and batch cooking = less stress at the end of long workdays, staying within budget, eating better than we ever have, and supporting the local economy of the region God has lead us to live and serve in.  We are really excited for all that He has for us here in Everett and that He can use us to be examples of frugal, healthy, and sustainable eating.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

CSA: What does it mean?

My husband and I own 1/1000th of a farm. How awesome is that? Our farm is 85 total acres and full of lush greenery and wildlife. It's located 86.6 miles from where we live, and approximately 1/4 of the food we eat each week comes directly from it. Sound familiar? We are part of a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) program. A CSA basically connects farmers with people who are looking for local, fresh and organic fruit, veggies, herbs and flowers, and sometimes eggs, honey, mushrooms, poultry or meat (image source). We get a box delivered almost to our door each week for 18 weeks, mid-June through end of October, and everything in our box is grown, harvested, washed and packed by our farm, Helsing Junction Farm in Rochester, WA.

From my research, I learned that not all farms are equal in terms of being a CSA, so be sure to research a reputable one that fits your needs. For instance, some farms source items from other local farms (which is mostly okay), include items that aren't organic, or even include items in your box that can come from as far away as Mexico (not very local at all). This isn't to say these are all bad, but you should at least be aware of where your produce is coming from before you commit to one. I chose Helsing Junction because of the low cost per box, good reviews, and for the fact that they weren't sourcing anything that would come in our box, it was all grown by them and entirely seasonal (image source). By eating seasonal, we are taking in our fruits and veggies at the peak of their flavor and nutrients, which is great for our tastebuds and our bodies. While our farm isn't the most flexible option (they don't deliver to our door and we don't have options to switch out items that might not sound good or cancel for a week while we go on vacation), it did rank for us as the most responsible choice, being that our priorities were to eat local, seasonal and organic.

We're only on week two of this new local experiment, but so far it's going really well. It was such a rush picking up our first box last week. Because the transaction is essentially done up front, it just feels like we're being delivered these goodies for fun. It's also encouraging knowing that the food we are choosing to eat is supporting local agriculture and not large corporations. The biggest challenge has been forcing myself to find something to cook every night. Luckily most farms, including ours, will send you recipes that utilize the ingredients they are sending in your box for that week, which has been incredibly helpful. We're also just starting to get the hang of which veggies go rotten or lose their health benefits the quickest. Did you know that your fresh foods lose nutrients each day from the time they are picked? This is especially true for greens.

Will you try a CSA? We didn't know anything about them until just last year when a few friends starting talking about eating locally! It's not too late to do one for this year either. Helsing Junction Farm, in particular, still has about 75 shares available and will prorate you for the weeks you missed. I even convinced one of my coworkers to join last night. Stay tuned for more stories and recipes from our new CSA adventure!

Monday, June 27, 2011

Honey Roasted Sweet Potatoes

Sweet potatoes are vegetable to be marveled, and a superfood for sure. I'm not talking about the kind that come packed in syrup in the can, but rather, ones right out of the ground, whole and loaded with healthy vitamins. Sweet potatoes are high in dietary fiber. Dietary fiber includes all parts of plant foods that your body can't digest or absorb. Unlike other food components such as fats, proteins or carbohydrates—which your body breaks down and absorbs—fiber isn't digested by your body. Therefore, it passes relatively intact through your stomach, small intestine, colon and out of your body. Even more, when eaten with the skin, sweet potatoes have more fiber than oatmeal! Along the same thread, sweet potatoes offer a low glycemic index rating. That’s because the sweet potato digests slowly, causing a gradual rise in blood sugar so you feel satisfied longer.

Sweet potatoes are also high in beta-carotene, vitamin A, vitamin B6, vitamin C, thiamine, niacin, potassium and copper. They are a good source of protein, calcium and vitamin E. Beta carotene is the nutrient responsible for giving sweet potato’s flesh its orange pigment. Beta carotene is converted to vitamin A in the body. A meager 200 gram (less than a cup) serving of sweet potato yields 769%DV of your vitamin A! Vitamin A can help improve vision and decrease your risk of heart attack and lung cancer. When cooking sweet potatoes, make sure to do so with some sort of fat. By eating sweet potatoes with fats, your body will more readily absorb the available vitamin A.

Honey Roasted Sweet Potatoes
2 pounds red-skinned sweet potatoes (3-4 small-medium)
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons honey, agave if you want to make it vegan
1 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
A few pinches of salt
1/4–1/2 tsp Cayenne Pepper, depending on spice tolerance
2 peeled and sliced shallots

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Cut the sweet potatoes (skin on!) into 1-inch pieces and put in a baking dish or rimmed cookie sheet along with the sliced shallots. In a small bowl whisk together olive oil, honey, cayenne and lemon juice. Pour mixture over potatoes and toss to coat. Sprinkle with salt and bake, stirring half way through the cooking, for about 40 minutes until potatoes are tender.

Eat over rice or quinoa. I sometimes toss in whole, raw, peeled carrots with the potatoes and shallots. They take about the same amount of time to cook and provide a second heaping dose of beta carotene, which I need since my husband and I are blind as bats and our children are doomed to being those babies with the crazy strap on eye glasses right out of the womb.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

WE'RE MOVING! West Seattle?

Don't you already live in West Seattle? Yeah, we do...This past week has been a whirlwind emotionally and spiritually. On Wednesday we had dinner with our community group leader, Jeremy Allen, to finish the Mars Hill membership process. The final step was to have an interview with him to affirm that we are willing to follow Jesus and abide by our church's doctrine and leadership. All went well with our membership interview, but even more, it was evident as the night progressed that God was actually calling us to move to the Mars Hill West Seattle campus. To be fair, this didn't entirely come out of nowhere. I had told Arthur, my husband, even before we were married that this was on my heart. But instead of pushing the subject, I felt that I needed to quietly pray for him to make the best decision for us. Although we had continued discussion on this idea, months later God used Jeremy to speak into this subject, and by the end of the evening it had been decided that we would leave Ballard for West Seattle starting this Sunday (today). By the way, I don't plan to post in such length too often, so don't quit on us now!

Image Source

We have both been at the Ballard campus for nearly five years, so this move is certainly going to be a challenge is some ways. We are leaving our amazing community group (read, family), the friendly faces we would see every Sunday, the uber hip culture, the more than awesome worship music, my Sunday trip to Trader Joe's, and the blessing of watching our preaching pastor live every week. But while are trading in hanging out with dudes that wear skinny jeans all year round to families with white picket fences (maybe a little dramatic?), I know this is exactly where God is calling us to plant our roots. We look forward to getting involved at West Seattle, the church and the community.

Image Source
Today was our first day attending West Seattle. I had been praying while I was getting ready that the Lord would specifically put people in our way who could help us get connected this week. It was such a miracle that as we settled in our seats I saw a friendly smile and wave out of the corner of my eye. I recognized the face as someone we had greeted with at Ballard. Her name was Betty and she so graciously came up to me to say hi even though we didn't really know each other. Strangely enough, it felt so wonderful to see a face I recognized, a little piece of home. She ended up being the mother-in-law to one of the campus pastors who is around our age, and we think might be a great connection to get involved. Furthermore, during greeting, Arthur unknowingly ended up approaching the head campus pastor, Pastor David Fairchild. How cool is that? He was able to introduce himself and give him a quick rundown of who we were and why we're there. The Lord totally answered my prayer.

The vibe of West Seattle is very different than Ballard. After today's awesome sermon about investing our earthly lives for eternal gains, Pastor David engaged with the congregation by talking to us, like literally talking! He asked what people got out of this sermon and individual people just spoke up and told the room what stood out. It was so exciting to us and made us feel like we were part of a small community church, which is something I’ve been praying for the past few years.

Image Source

This is some heavy change for us, especially since we're trying to figure out the basics of being married. We could really use your prayer over the next month or so as we get connected in our new community. We are also looking for opportunities to get connected with the campus leadership and figure out where the Lord wants us to be using our gifts to serve our new church body, which is still Mars Hill as a whole. We are particularly eager to find a new community group, and would appreciate prayer for direction clarity while we try some out.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Strawberry, Banana, Mango & Avocado Smoothie

Wait, what? Avocado? Yes! Avocados are an excellent source of healthy monounsaturated fat, contain 13 different essential vitamins your body needs, are high in folate, which is great for babies and pregnant mamas, contain potassium, which our body needs to function normally, contain Lutein to keep our eyes healthy, and provide a moderate amount of Magnesium, which helps our bones absorb calcium and is important for our heart muscle. They are also believed to be an aphrodisiac. Need I say more?

Have you added avocados to your grocery list yet? Even better, you don't have to buy organic avocados. In fact, they've made the "clean 15" list of produce that is safe to eat in non-organic form. Conventional produce with a thick outer skin you peel is generally okay to consume without concern. Although my man isn't much of an avocado fan, he will usually choke them down for me. Lucky for him, you can't taste even a hint of avocado in this smoothie. All the benefits with no avocado taste. By the way, did you know avocados are a fruit?

Lately we've been into smoothies for breakfast, lunch, snack, dinner or dessert. They're so versatile, sweet and perfect for summer. Despite the fact that summer hasn't quite hit Seattle yet, our "eco-friendly" apartment traps heat like no other and we generally spend our evenings baking in front of the fan. So smoothies are a great option for us.

We purchase most of our frozen smoothie fixings at Trader Joes and try to keep our freezer stocked with different types of fruit and berries, so as not to limit our culinary creativity! I do admit though that we don't always purchase the organic variety of berries to save on our food budget. I tend to splurge more than my husband does. You can even freeze your avocados and store them in a freezer bag.

Another trick I've figured out is always adding a few chunks of frozen banana, no matter what flavor you're trying to achieve. The banana just adds a hint of creaminess and somewhat acts as a dairy replacer.

More on our Vitamix later, but for now all I can say is, BEST. WEDDING. GIFT. EVER. (Thanks Uncle Bill and Aunt Cathi!)

Strawberry, Banana, Mango and Avocado Smoothie
Servings: 1
2 chunks frozen banana
1/4 c frozen mango chunks
1/2 c frozen strawberries
1/6–1/4 of an avocado
1/2 c Strawberry Kefir
~1/2 c of your favorite milk (conventional, soy, almond, rice, etc.)

Add all ingredients into your blender and blend on high until smooth. You may need to add more milk depending on how thick you like your smoothies.

Check our our cute new straws from IKEA ($1.99)!

Posts you might have missed:
•  Reduced Guilt Frozen Banana Bites
•  Getting Ready: From her perspective

Hand Grown in California
The Dirty Dozen and Clean 15 of Produce

Monday, June 13, 2011

Reduced Guilt Frozen Banana Bites

I hope you all enjoyed our first post on Wisdom and Honey yesterday. It felt so good to get those precious memories written down before they began to fade. I have selectively terrible memory and often find myself forgetting the details of way too many important events. Writing is good for me.

I am a total sweets girl. I definitely have at least one dessert a day (more often than not I'll have two). However, it's also important to me that I'm eating a balanced diet and that my weekday desserts aren't overboard on fat or calories. I almost always have a bag of chocolate chips in the freezer to grab a palm full of, but it never really hits my sweet spot.

I've written more than once about one of my favorite semi-vegan/vegetarian/healthy lifestyle blogs, (never home)maker (now featuring (never home)maker woah baby!). Recently, Ashley posted about her Frozen Banana Bites. This was it! The solution to my weekday sweets craving.

I gave them a shot not knowing whether they would truly hit the spot, but oh baby did they! She wasn't kidding when she claimed that the bananas turn into a faux vanilla ice creamy center. My husband and I are totally hooked. And they're vegan if you use the right chocolate chips. Trader Joe's chocolate chips happen to be vegan.

I've noticed that they keep nicely for about a week without starting to taste a bit freezer burnt, which works great since a batch lasts a little over a week for us. Also, three medium-large bananas seem to work perfectly per one bag of chocolate chips. Let us know if you try them, we would love to hear what you think!

Reduced Guilt Frozen Banana Bites
3 medium-large ripe bananas
1 bag of chocolate chips 
2-3 Tbsp peanut butter (we use organic/natural creamy)

Dump the bag of chocolate chips in a microwave safe dish along with the peanut butter and melt in 30 second intervals, stirring in between, until the chips are melted and smooth.

Slice your banana into five equal pieces.

Using a spoon, cover the banana in the chocolate mixture. I like to do one at a time. Then using two toothpicks, lift the banana bite out of the dish and onto your Silpat or parchment lined baking sheet.

Pop in the freezer overnight, or until you can't wait any longer to try one.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Getting Ready: From her perspective

First off, I am thrilled to be back. I truly enjoy blogging, and have been eager to get back at it since I slipped out last summer. Life has been exciting and busy since our engagement last December, the 11th to be exact. I am now married to the most wonderful man and we are learning to be grace-filled servants of the Lord. We live together, we sleep together, we eat together, we laugh together and we are constantly growing together, it's beautiful and overwhelming.

I married my husband on May 7th, 2011 at five o'clock in the evening. Our wedding day could not have been more perfect. I woke up to Mia crawling on my belly, sunshine in the sky, and my Matron Maid of Honor, Rachel, sleeping by my side (thank you Ben for giving her up for the night!). I slipped out of bed before Rach and began milling about as if it were any other day. Casually packing little by little, the excitement started to kick in.

We finally made it out the door and headed downtown to get my make-up done at Gary Manuel. After a quick bagel stop, we met my makeup artist, Ally, she was fabulous. We eventually ended up talking about marriage within a biblical framework, and I was so thankful to have Rachel and her wisdom there (Ally did not know Jesus). I was so encouraged by Rachel's ability to boldly profess the gospel in such a friendly and natural way. This is a gift I am working on honing.

A quick hour later, we were out of there and off to meet the rest of the girls in our hotel room at the Pan Pacific. I'm pretty sure I had repeated the words, "Oh my goodness, I'm getting married!" at least a hundred times at this point. I was so thankful for the Lord, who I could talk to and knew was just as excited about this day as I was. Aside from trying to convince myself (and others, for that matter) that this really was the day I was getting married, I spent a good deal of the morning in prayer.

It was surreal that this was my wedding day. I kept thinking about Arthur and wondering how he was doing. Was he nervous or excited? I figured a little of both. Arthur and his fellows got ready in the room we would stay in that night. I wondered if it had hit him that that room was where we were going to spend our first night together. There were so many emotions. I just wanted to hug him and tell him, "Oh my goodness, we're getting married today!"

Shortly after arriving at the hotel, our absolutely-over-the-moon-fantastic photographer, Kirk Mastin, arrived. We immediately connected and began taking advantage of the gorgeous natural lighting by shooting some photos of me in my beautiful robe. Although I had no idea the lighting would be so perfect, I had pre-meditated this scenario somewhat as an intimate gift for my new husband. The clock was ticking though and my dress was ready for me to be painted in.

I bought my dress right off the rack with no alterations, not even a hem. How lucky is that? I have to admit though, I could hardly breathe. The girls even unzipped me to give me some fresh air once in a while. It's a wonder I stayed moving the whole night. A girl's gotta do what a girl's gotta do...

I finally made my way into the form fitting dress and began to squeal in anticipation. This was getting more real by the second. My gorgeous bouquet of soft pink peonies might have aided in the euphoria. I go weak at the knees in the presence of a stem of peony. Here I had a whole handful, just for me! The sparkly slippers were the last to go on, and my outfit was complete. This girl was ready to walk down the aisle.

I had the best support with me all morning. My ladies were relaxed and wonderful. We primped, we laughed and we jumped on the bed. It doesn't get much better than that. The room was filled with so much love.

I was a weepy mess all day. Every photo of me walking down the aisle has a ridiculous mushy-crying face. As silly as I look, I'm really thankful to have been so emotional. I know God allowed me these tears to express myself. Arthur was so supportive through all my weepiness, he just kept telling me that I have the cutest crying face ever.

It was a quarter to five and time to go. Kirk packed in with the five of us girls and we headed to 415 Westlake, our wedding venue. Rachel drove and prayed for our two minute journey. I was so grateful Kirk was there to capture these last moments. The clock struck five along the way and we all screamed in excitement. Oh my goodness, I'm getting married! 

There wasn't anywhere for me to go at the venue, so once I was out of the car, down the aisle I was headed. In light of this, our pastor, Bubba Jennings, came to pray over me in Rachel's car. My sweet bridesmaid Carrie opened our prayer and Pastor Bubba closed it. The butterflies were fluttering up a storm inside me, and finally, it was my turn. I was moments away from marrying my man.