Hummus

Yum! I used to not like hummus unless it was flavored with red peppers or pine nuts, but this recipe is super quick and tasty. The only thing that was hard for me was finding tahini. It was just because I had no idea at all what it was, how it was packaged, or even where it could be found in the market. If you are wondering tahini is a ground sesame seed paste. I found it in my local grocery by the ethnic food section. If you are wondering more about tahini and what it is you can read some articles here. Now I got the smallest container of tahini, but my recipe only calls for 1 ½ tbsp of tahini and it leaves a lot left over, while I love hummus I don’t want to get burnt out on it. I found this that has other recipes and uses for tahini.

Hummus
Original recipe

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Ingredients:
1 (16 oz) can chickpeas or garbanzo beans
¼ cup liquid from can of chickpeas
3-5 tablespoons lemon juice
1 ½ tbsp tahini
1 clove garlic
½ tsp salt
2 tbsp olive oil

Directions:
1. Put everything in the food processor and blend until smooth
2. Place in a serving bowl and enjoy!

**The website also gives instructions for storing leftover hummus: it can be refrigerated for up to 3 days or kept in the freezer for up to a month! If the hummus looks a little dry just add a bit of olive oil**

Cabin Fever = Adventure Planning

Sometimes there are warm days in the winter, this past Friday was one of them. It was in the mid to high 50’s, warm enough for me to ditch the pea coat and pretend spring had finally arrived. It got me daydreaming about my spring and summer plants! Between middle school retreat two weekends ago and the warm start to this past weekend cabin fever has hit, and hit hard!!

As I was daydreaming I started planning because it you don’t plan something it will never happen! One of my favorite things about the weather getting warmer is that it means the sun will stay up longer! With more daylight I feel like there is so much more that can be accomplished during the day. Here are a couple of day trips that I am going to try and accomplish this year.

Mammoth Caves
I have lived in Kentucky for almost 4 years and have yet to go explore this natural wonder! Unacceptable, this is the largest know cave system in the world, and it’s practically in my backyard! There are several different tour options available to take but the one I was interested in doing was the Grand Avenue Tour, it is a 4 ½ hour tour, with a difficulty of strenuous. However this is NOT the adventure tour where there is crawling though little itty bitty holes where there is possibility of getting stuck, I want to see how I do with this one first before it gets super intense. Ever been to the Mammoth Caves? What were your thoughts? Or any recommendations? Please leave me a comment below and let me know.

Red River Gorge
For me, I don’t think this place will EVER get boring for me to hike at. I have been lucky enough to have had the chance to hike and rock climb here multiple times since living in Kentucky. There are so many trails I haven’t hiked yet! So far my favorite trail here is Auxier Ridge, great views and not a super crowded.

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Some of the views I saw on previous hikes to the Gorge, or as some of the locals call it “the Red”. Natural Bridge is nice, and since the Gorge is known for it, it’s kind of a must to take the trail at least once, but there is a lot of foot traffic. If you like solitude while hiking I wouldn’t recommend this trail, while the views are awesome, it is a well known and therefore super busy trail. If you have a chance to hike several trails some ones I liked were: Sky Bridge, Angel Windows, Greys Arch, Double Arch (the previous two trails are both on the same road as Auxier Ridge trail) and Princess Arch. What is your favorite trail to hike at the Red River Gorge? Have any trail books you would recommend?

The Abbey of Gethsemani
This is a place where people have taken retreats or have just spent the day there walking the trails and spending time in prayer. I have not been to this place before, but heard of it through some friends that recommended it.

Raven Run
The couple of times that I’ve been to this nature sanctuary I’ve always missed when the field of flowers are in bloom! Whenever you pull in to park there always seems to be a lot of cars, but except for the lookout over the river, the trails aren’t clogged with a bunch of people.

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Park Reading Done

20130225-091255.jpg This can be done anywhere! Thankfully there is a park within walking distance of where I live. I’m hoping that I will be able to get there 2-3 times a month, my normal day to go out there is Saturday morning for a couple of hours. My picnic blanket and ‘park bag’ are all ready to go!

Cincinnati Zoo Done and Louisville Zoo
One of my favorite things about living in the Chicagoland area was that I was always just a short train ride away from Brookfield Zoo It has been several years since I’ve visited a zoo and I miss the animals!!! Here’s a picture from a visit to Gatorland Zoo

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These are some of the plans that I would like to do this year. Who knows they may all get don’t or they might not, we will see. What are some places you like to visit during warm weather?

Below are the links to the posts of what I’ve accomplished:
Mammoth Cave – Grand Avenue Tour

Red River Gorge Hiking:
Double Arch Trail
Gray’s Arch
Whittleton Branch Trail

Zoo Adventures:
Cincinnati Zoo
Cincinnati Zoo Part 2
Strike a Pose – Cincinnati Zoo Style

Winter Retreat Part 2

Part 2 is really the meat of the retreat, hehe I rhymed. For real though there was a lot that went on between Friday night and when the students left Sunday afternoon. There was 4 main sessions of teaching with worship. If you have never worshipped with middle schoolers you need to! There is something so freeing about it, it is NOT just standing and saying words out loud. It is an experience, there is dancing, jumping up and down, arms up and shouting praise from the bottom of their hearts.

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There was some pretty deep stuff that was talked about in the sessions, the main focus of the weekend was God is greater than.

I’m not even sure I can adequately describe this weekend. Like I’ve mentioned before this was the first time I’ve ever been to church camp, any preconceived notions I had were completely blown out of the water. The students, speakers and worship were all amazing.

The two session talked about Gideon and how God used his tiny army to bring glory to himself and about how living a life for only yourself leads to emptiness. It asked the students to think on some tough subjects like what has your focus? Who are you trying to please? The world or God?

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. 2 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. Romans 12:1-2

There was a different speaker for the third session, the discussions we had in our cabin after this was deep heartfelt confessions. Why this was different was because this session talked about how when living a life for God there will be unavoidable trouble that Christians will face. Jesus doesn’t promise an easier life, but a better one. Something that got me thinking really hard was when the speaker mentioned this: “We’ll rub shoulders with people from the bible.” Now I believe that when you get to heaven you’ll get to meet Jesus face to face, I guess I never consciously realized that I would also get to meet the apostles. Just take a minute and think about that. As the speaker said, we live between the cross and the crown.

Our last session of retreat spoke of Nehemiah,

20130222-172716.jpg In doing great work for God means that God must become greater and we must become less. I also love how the speaker encouraged the students in attendance to share what is on their hearts with fellow students, leaders and family members, by saying it this way, “Faith is personal, but not private.” This past Wednesday I got the chance to talk some of the students that went on the retreat and asked them to reflect on what they experienced. For most of them it was their first time being at a camp like this, their reflections on how their relationship with God grew over those three days blew me away. They got it, they got that God is greater. Greater than the hurt they’ve experienced in the past, and what they will face in the future. That even though there will be problems in this life, God is greater and has overcome the world.

Have you ever been on a retreat before? What was your favorite experience?

Zucchini Pizza

I came to love zucchini when I first remember having it as a teenager at a hibachi, yum I still make zucchini and onions in my wok. Being a Chicagoan I love deep dish pizza, however unhealthy it may be for me to consume. I still like to make my own pizza, but by cutting out the crust, I’m cutting down on carbs and calories.

Zucchini Pizza
modified from Dashing Dish

Ingredients:
2 large zucchini, halved lengthwise
1/8 cup onions chopped
1 tsp garlic
¼ tsp salt
dash of pepper
½ cup tomato sauce (I used fresh cut up tomatoes, blended with salt, pepper, basil and garlic)
1 tbsp Parmesan cheese
½ cup mozzarella cheese, shredded

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Directions:
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees, coat baking dish with non-stick cooking spray.
2. Cook onions.
3. Scoop seeds from zucchini, places zucchini boats side by side in baking dish.
4. When onions are cooked add tomato sauce and parmesan cheese to the skillet.
5. Sprinkle sauce and onion mixture onto zucchini boats, top with cheese.
6. Bake zucchini boats for 10-12 minutes until cheese is golden brown.

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Winter Retreat Part 1

Spending a weekend with 180+ middle schoolers may sound scary for some, to be honest I was a little worried myself, but the things I was worried about might be different than what you may think. I was worried for two main reasons that had nothing to do with being surrounded by a lot of students at all actually, I was worried because: 1) I’d never been on a retreat before and had no idea what to expect and 2) Anyone who knows me well knows I’m kind of weird about not wanting to smell bad. Well I can tell you one thing for sure; this weekend was an amazing experience! This weekend was wild and crazy, and while not everyone will get this, but serving all weekend long may seem trying to some, it refreshed my soul and has made my heart so happy. I am going to break this post into two parts because there is just way too much for one. This first one will talk about all the activities we participated in and the second one will be about the worship and main sessions we attended.

Prayer Walk
For this the students wrote out their stories. This was the instructions we had: Think of your life as a movie, who are the main characters, supporting actors, villains and heroes? Write out your story so far. Include what your dreams are for the future. Who do you want to be? What are your dreams?

20130218-144242.jpg At each of the 6 different stations we talked about different sections of our stories, asking the students to really dig deep and think about their lives.

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20130218-144502.jpg One of the things I was really encouraged by during this section of the retreat is that the person who took point on leading this activity was a college student. I remember being a college freshman and I was nowhere near as mature as he was. I think that it was a great example for the middle school guys and girls in our group to see. College is a tough time with a lot of temptation but for them to see him so on fire for God was amazing. Although he may have been one of the younger leaders in our group that in no way diminished his ability to speak God’s truth into those students lives.

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Gnomes

20130218-145035.jpg There were two gnomes, Brad and Chad that the students took around camp and took pictures with.

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Free Time/ Tournaments
There was a retreat center that we spent a couple of hours at on Saturday. We had some time to sit down and hang out, play gaga ball (still not sure how to play it)

20130218-145325.jpg 9 square, ping pong and practice for the talent show that was later that evening. There were also a couple of tournaments that the students could sign up for, basketball and dodge ball. The leaders had a game to see who would play the students for the championship.

20130218-150125.jpg in case you were wondering the students totally won!! The other tournament was students vs. the worship band. The team that was in the finals for that was an all girl team, and they were intense, unfortunately the girls lost to the band.

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Talent Show
Wow is all I can say, both about the talents the students displayed and the way the audience encouraged those on stage. It was really wonderful to see the students in the audience encourage the people on stage when they got stage fright. One student sang the tarantula song, which if you’ve never heard is actually pretty awesome, here is a YouTube version which in no way does justice to what the student sang. [here] Let me tell you the talent show was one of the highlights of the weekend. The talents these students have at such a young age is amazing. It is wonderful to see the beginning of the great things these talents will become as these students grow into adults. We even learned something about the host of the talent show, he can make whale noises! Each of the students had 2 minutes to display their talents, they ranged from singing, instrument playing, ballet dancing, standup comedy, drawings, to name just a few. After the talent show finished up, which was around midnight, there was a quick dance party!

Spinning Shoes

This morning while I was taking my spinning class I noticed that my feet hurt right where the pedal ended in the middle of my foot. Part of it could have been that my shoes are getting kind of old, like close to 1 ½ -2 years old, I normally change them out every year or so when I was running. These are also running shoes. The other day one of the ladies in the class was talking about her new spinning shoes that she got. That it helps keep her foot level or something along those lines, I’m not always at my best before my coffee and sometimes forget what was said.

Back to the shoes, there are a couple of things I have to find out before I get me some spinning shoes. Like does my gym have the clip on pedals? Pretty sure I can talk with the ladies at the desk and find out. Next thing is that I know NOTHING what so ever about spinning shoes! I’m planning on doing some research on the web, but if anyone has any nuggets of information they would be willing to share feel free to do so!

Do you have spinning shoes? What are some of the Pros and Cons of them? What brand is your favorite? Is there a brand I should run away from? Do they really make a difference?

When I first started spinning I wasn’t sure how much I would love it. I figured that the shoes that I always wear to workout would be sufficient, but this morning showed me that, that is unfortunately no longer the case. Maybe it was the reason I was a bit cranky in class… but it was probably that I wasn’t fully awake yet. So again please I would love to hear your thoughts!

I like spinning for lots of reasons! If you are wondering what spinning is, here, here, here and here are some articles about

Chicken Tortilla Soup

The warm spike in the weather has ended, and it is back to the coldness of winter. There was freezing rain just the other day. Not to worry though, my crockpot came to the rescue when I was busy but wanted something warm and hearty to fill my stomach. The crockpot is so easy, easy to cook with, I mean you just put the ingredients in the pot and leave, it is also easy to clean if you get those handy liners they have at the store. I was a little nervous the first couple of times I used them, I didn’t want my food to taste funny but much to my relief it tasted just the same as without the liner. Possibly better because I knew that there would be almost zero clean up for me to do!

Chicken Tortilla Soup
found on Baked by Rachel

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Ingredients:
1 lb chicken breast
1 (15 oz) can sweet whole corn kernels, drained
1 (15 oz) can diced tomatoes, drained (I used one with green chilies to spice it up)
5 cups chicken broth, low sodium
¾ cup onion, chopped
¾ cup bell pepper (I used a mix of green, red, orange and yellow)
1 (4 oz) can diced green chilies
1 Serrano pepper, minced
¼ tsp chili powder
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 ½ tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
Monterey Jack cheese, shredded
season tortilla strips

Directions:
1. Put the first 10 ingredients in the crockpot and cook on high for 4-6 hours or low 8-10 hours
2. Prior to serving, remove chicken, shred and return it to the slow cooker to mix
3. Serve with cheese and tortilla strips as garnish

Spaghetti Squash Casserole

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I was prepared for the worse when I was making this recipe. The first time I substituted a vegetable for something it turned out bad! I tried to substitute cauliflower for mashed potatoes, and to say the least I had to cook bacon and eat it to get over my disappointment. I do think that it was my fault in why it didn’t come out correctly, I was supposed to cut up florets and boil them, well I didn’t read it correctly and just stuck the whole head in the pan. I may try it again but I’m a bit afraid. Back to the topic, I was nervous because I really like pastas, there have been long periods of time in my history when pasta was all I would eat. It was a pleasant surprise when I LOVED this recipe. I went back for seconds and that always is a testament of how something tastes. It takes a little longer than some of my other recipes, a little under 90 minutes for me to completely prepare and have it cool off enough for me to eat. While it may have taken a little bit longer, it was not nearly as difficult as I thought it would be. Having never cooked with a spaghetti squash before there is always an element of surprise, and unexpected turn of events can easily happen. At the grocery I had almost picked up a butternut squash thinking it was the same thing…

Spaghetti Squash Casserole
source

Ingredients:
1 spaghetti squash, halved length wise and seeded
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 small onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 tsp dried basil
2 plum tomatoes, chopped
1 cup cottage cheese
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese (original calls for only ½ a cup)
¼ cup chopped fresh parsley
¼ tsp salt
¼ cup grated parmesan cheese
3 tbsp dry bread crumbs

Directions:
1. Preheat oven to 400, coat a 13×9 baking dish and a baking sheet with non stick spray. Place the squash cut side down (seeds removed) on the sheet. Bake for 30 minutes or until tender when pierced with a sharp knife. Whit a fork, scrape the squash strands into a large bowl. Use caution, this will be super hot!
2. While the squash is cooking, warm the oil in a medium skillet and set over medium heat. Add onions, garlic, and basil. Cook for 4-5 minutes, or until onion is soft, and the tomatoes. Cook for 3-4 minutes or until mixture is dry.
3. To the bowl with the squash add the cottage cheese, mozzarella, salt and onion mix. Stir to blend, pour into prepared baking dish. Sprinkle top of casserole with parmesan (I used some extra mozzarella cheese) and bread crumbs.
4. Bake for 30 minutes, or until bubbly and heated through.

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**This reheats very well**

I’ve lost the wagon

I not only fell off the exercise wagon I had completely lost sight of it! I don’t even know how it started, missing one day lead to missing a week and before I knew it three weeks had gone by. I thought that after you had done something 20-30 times it becomes a habit, apparently not for me. I’ve been working out consistently since September and still just completely stopped.

I found that when I wasn’t working out I was TIRED! I would come home from work and just veg out, and couldn’t find the time to do what I used to do. I even kind of slacked from here too, which makes me sad because I haven’t stopped cooking but I’ve stopped writing about it. I started this blog maybe 6 months ago, I still have lots of recipes to try out and still love food.

I’ve even slacked at cleaning my apartment, how did it get so messy so fast? I mean I’m out and about most of the time, I shouldn’t have time to make that big of a mess. It reminds me of my when my friend mentioned hating to take out the garbage can, and sometimes she just starts a new bag. Before she knows it she’s taking out three bags of garbage! She lives by herself how does she get that much garbage? Well I know how she feels I just started my third bag.

Crazy how small little changes to my life have snowballed out of control! Now I am not saying that all of this happened because I stopped working out, but the lack of energy is directly affected. There were several little things that seemed to stop at the same time and they all just added up to a giant mess!!

That is changed this morning! Yesterday I got a message from one of the ladies that works at the gym, making sure I was alright. Can I just tell you, that was exactly what I needed, something I probably wouldn’t have said a couple of years ago. One of the things I like best about the gym I go to is the people that work there and that it’s small enough that I don’t feel lost in the crowd. This maybe because at 5:45 in the morning there is a pretty small but regular crowd that comes in, I’m sure it’s busier during the after work and weekend times.

After the workout this morning I remembered why I loved working out so much. I just felt better this morning and felt as if I had more energy, and was ready to face the day!

Every break from your routine and find it is super hard to get back on track? What are some ways you get yourself out of a rut?