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Pork Chili Verde

Winter has finally caught up with us here in South Dakota. I would say we’re lucky it took so long, but it’s hard to feel grateful for good weather after Thanksgiving if you understand climate change. After you ponder that for a minute, take a deep breath, then cheer up with a comforting bowl of soup.

Pork Chili Verde is a product of my husband smoking a giant pork loin and creating too many leftovers. I tried to get creative. While you can certainly pair a nice pork loin sandwich with some roasted sweet potatoes, that can only last for a meal or two. Then it’s time to spice it up.

This recipe is between a soup and a chili, really. It’s broth-based, but the creamed corn and “green sauce” give it a thicker consistency, and if you garnish with sour cream (you should), I think you have to call it a chili.

Pork Chili Verde

2 cups (or more) diced pork loin (smoked, or just cooked in some way)
2 diced bell peppers – one green, one colored
1 can creamed corn
1 can Great Northern beans
1 cup “green sauce” (your choice of salsa verde, green enchilada sauce, green taco sauce)
32 oz chicken broth
Salt and pepper
1 T Cumin
1 T onion powder (or you can use actual sautéed onion)
1/2 tsp Cayenne pepper (or more, to taste)

Throw everything into a pot and simmer for 2 hours or until bell peppers are soft. (Or throw in crock pot on low for 4 hours).

Garnish with sour cream and tortilla strips/chips.

 

Easy Roasted Sweet Potatoes for Lunch

I never liked sweet potatoes growing up. They were weird and mushy, and people would always try to cloak them in marshmallows. I wasn’t going to fall for it. Then one day, I met the rustic, vibrant, self-assured tuber that is the roasted sweet potato. Allow me to introduce you as well.

How to make them:

Preheat over to 425.

Peel, then dice 2-3 sweet potatoes into relatively similarly-sized pieces*.

Put potatoes on oiled cookie sheet.

Drizzle or spray oil over potatoes.

Add salt and pepper.

Mix by hand until evenly coated.

Roast in oven for 20-30 minutes or until fork tender and slightly browned.

*If you scrub the skin well, you don’t have to peel them, but most people prefer them without skin.

Once you have roasted the sweet potatoes, your options are endless. They last a week in the fridge and can be reheated as a simple side. They also add great body to chili (recipe to come). One of my favorite combinations, though, is roasted sweet potato and a runny egg yolk. Mmmmmm. So good. So healthy.

Want to add a little extra? Roast up some diced bell pepper with the sweet potato. Add avocado on top of the egg. Use some hot sauce.

Lunch is served.

I’m Done with Perfection-Induced Hatred

Hello there, mom with a baby on your hip, hair cut stylishly to your chin with bangs sweeping gently across your perfectly threaded eyebrows. You patiently smile at your toddler, crawling around your platform booties, reaching up toward your new Kate Spade bag. The wide windows of your recently built home backlight your silhouette, curved in every spot it should be and nowhere that it shouldn’t.

Today, I make you this promise. I will not hate you for being perfect. I will not tear you down for waking up early to go out for a run or to make a green smoothie. I will not judge you for paying attention to fashion trends or question you for being able to live on less sleep than a giraffe. I will not envy you for being able to work full-time or stay home more than full-time with the grace of Dutchess Kate. And I will not resent you for being better at social media photography than I will ever be.

I’m done with perfection-induced hatred. It’s hurtful for you and me personally, and for women in general. Henceforth, I shall respect the game you bring to Insta, learn from the organic treats you provide at Girl Scouts, and engage with you like the human being you are. I will not measure myself against you anymore. This world needs us both.

Izzy and the Grumpy Cloud

I wake in the morning, and what do I see?
A cloud full of grump hanging right over me!

“Be gone, Grumpy Cloud!” I say to the fluff.
Even steam from my shower just isn’t enough.

As Dad drives to school, it follows the car.
We have to act quickly, we’re not going far.

“Go faster!” I urge him. He won’t even speed.
At this sluggish rate, will I ever be freed?

I need him to hurry, but what can I do?
Come on! I can’t stand it. “DAD, WHAT’S WRONG WITH YOU?”

I shout with no warning; a total surprise,
Then Dad turns around, and tears fall from my eyes.

“Just take a deep breath,” Dad says, “stay cool.”
I tell him I’m sorry, then run to the school.

I slouch in my seat throughout math class and reading.
Ignore it. Ignore it. I keep on repeating.

I make it to snack time, but crackers and juice
Are hard to enjoy with this cloud on the loose.

Then outside at recess, I’m running around,
I trip on the cloud, and I crash to the ground.

I wail out in pain with my cheeks glowing red,
But that cloud keeps on growing right over my head.

This cloud must be stopped, but it keeps getting darker.
I head to the art room, and take out a marker.

I map out my plan with the perfect precision.
This war can be won by the smallest decision.

My next stop is gym where I gather my tools.
Will it count as a win if I’m breaking the rules?

I knot up my jump rope without being seen,
and I lasso that cloud like a rodeo queen.

I’ll tie it up tight to the side of the bleachers.
It’s just a balloon, I’ll tell all the teachers.

It grows even bigger as I heave and I ho,
and then the rope breaks, and I scream out, “NO!”

I’m sent to the office and ordered to wait.
The principal’s calling my parents? Oh great.

Dad picks me up, and I’m covered in cloud.
Although he is mad, he says nothing out loud.

Now back in my house, I’m defeated at best.
Will I ever get rid of this terrible pest?

And here comes my sister, worst pest in the world.
A bundle of drama that looks like a girl.

“Go away, Gwennie!” I shoo her like flies.
But watching her face, I soon realize

She sees my cloud too, and she’s not impressed.
She sticks out her tongue, and she thumps on her chest.

She charges ahead like a knight off to battle,
But in place of a sword is a pink baby rattle.

Backward and forward, her footwork’s quite grand;
she’s slapping the cloud with the back of her hand.

Oh my, what a scene! As I step back and see,
I start to feel giggles. He he he he…

HAHA HA HA HA, Mom and Dad join in.
I can’t hardly breathe as I say, “Gwendolyn!”

She stops when I point and she looks at her foe.
I know how to make this old grumpy cloud go!

“I’ve got it!” I say, and then drop to my knees.
I tickle her tummy and give her a squeeze.

The giggles we’re making are rising like bubbles.
The cloud’s disappearing, and so are my troubles.

We’re laughing so hard that my eyes start to tear
Then I look to the sky, and I notice it’s clear!

So now the cloud’s gone, and the sun’s shining bright,
I realize it never had a chance in this fight

I just need to focus on all that is good
‘Cause laughter does more than a cloud ever could.

Get a Massage – 3 Things You Should Know

I am an expert at receiving massages. My qualifications include receiving many massages, talking about receiving massages, and now, writing about receiving massages. Recently, I was directed my a medical professional to get a massage every other week. It was by and large the most welcomed medical advice I have ever received.

Assuming you are not one of those people who doesn’t like to get massages (Note: the only reason I know these unicorns exist is because I’m related to one  – not by blood though, and I think that matters), receiving a professional massage is something you MUST do. If you have never had a professional massage, there are three things you should know.

  1. You will be almost completely naked with a stranger.

Don’t worry! You get undressed by yourself (most people keep their undies on) and you are under the warm sheets before the massage therapist comes back into the room. The sheet will cover your entire body except for the part that is currently being massaged. Most massage therapists are really great about maintaining your modesty and even look the other way when you roll over onto your stomach, which they typically direct you to do halfway through. And don’t worry about being cold, the table warmer is delightful.

  1. There will be good ones and bad ones.

Take recommendations from people you trust to find a good one. You will have your fair share of bad massages. They typically involve chasing some sort of groupon deal and ending up at an abandoned strip mall in a room where the music cuts in and out, the sheets are scratchy, and flannel blankets are nailed over the windows as curtains. You will be fairly certain you entered a serial killer’s den and instead of relaxing, you will spend the entire massage gauging exactly how loud you would have to scream for anyone to hear you. It’s not just the atmosphere though. The massage therapist is a heavy nose breather. It will be like his nostrils are too small, but he doesn’t want to breath through his mouth, so the velocity and overall force of the nose-breathing is out of control. *Shudder* This is the last time you buy a groupon massage.

You will likely also run into the Feather Duster, the Punisher, the Yogi, and the Jabberbox. You can tell the Feather Duster you like deep pressure, but she’ll never touch your knots. You might as well have your six year old niece give you a massage. It’s cheaper. The Punisher does the opposite. She will take out all of her aggression on you, tempting your reflex to punch her in the gut, but if you breathe through it, you will feel so good afterwards.

The Yogi spends more time stretching your limbs than massaging them, which can be nice, but maybe not what you paid for, and the Jabberbox is, well, chatty. The good thing about the Jabberbox is that you can usually shut that down pretty easily by just not responding or politely saying, “this feels so good, I just can’t even talk.” (Only 1 out of 10 times will that backfire and cause him to quit doing such a good job in favor of a conversation.)

A lot of massages will be Chicken Salad. Good, but not memorable. The memorable ones will probably be the Free Spirit and the Hobbyist. The Free Spirit believes massage is her calling, and she’ll treat you like the spiritual being you are. Aromatherapy concoctions chosen specifically for your aura, a complementary psychic reading, and she might even walk on your back as she practices the ancient art of ashiatsu massage. Oh, and she’ll think you are weird for leaving your underwear on.

Now, the Hobbyist. Don’t fault the Hobbyists. Being a massage therapist is usually an entrepreneurial situation, and the Hobbyists need to maintain a separate full-time job to pay the bills. The good news is the Hobbyist is usually very talented and passionate about massage. The problem is that she doesn’t have the time to work on the business aspect. So you arrive, maybe at her home massage studio, and she is not there. Your body is now shaking with disappointment, which makes you feel like an indulgent princess, sending you through the McDonald’s drive through for a conciliatory ice cream. Halfway through your McFlurry, she calls, saying she got hung up at her job and could you come back over. You do, of course, and she cuts your massage short since it’s now time to get supper on the table.

  1. It is worth it.

Someday, you will find the Perfect Professional massage therapist. He will talk just enough at the beginning to make you feel comfortable, then shut up. She will make you breathe through deep pressure when it benefits you, but ensure you walk out feeling relaxed instead of beat up. He will use the right amount of oil, leaving you feeling moisturized but not slimy. She will ensure the music is relaxing, continuous, and not interrupted by Pandora commercials. He will focus on your problem areas, but always make time for your feet. She will send you out the door with a bottle of water. Most importantly, you will feel amazing.

 

Read These 10 Books in 2019

I have always loved to read. I love the smell of books, and I would have a library in my house if we had the space for it. As it is, I encouraged my husband (i.e. demanded) that we install a “book nook” under the staircase of our basement when we finished it, which we did a few months ago. It is the coziest, most peaceful area of our house now, and I only wish I had a couple free hours to spend in it every day.

As much as I love to read, I’m not in a book club (I like to pick my out my own), and I can’t say I finish 52 books a year like some people I know. I’m also not one of those people who, once I start a book, will finish it no matter what. With so many great books out there, why waste your time reading a book you aren’t getting anything out of? Life’s too short.

Below is a list of books I got a lot out of in 2018. You should read them too.

1. Girl Wash Your Face by Rachel Hollis

If you are an adult female, chances are you have already read this. Rachel Hollis has gotten a ton of hype in 2018, and I think she deserves every bit of it. She’s authentic and encourages others to be the same. This book is relatable and energizing. I blasted through it on a long weekend vacation and would gladly read it again.

2. Daring Greatly by Brene Brown

If you have never read or listened to Brene (rhymes with Renae) Brown before, get ready for your outlook on life to change. As a researcher and storyteller, Brene makes the topics of shame and vulnerability approachable in everyday life. I actually listened to this book rather than read it, and then I listened to everything else in the Brene Brown universe I could get my hands on. Absolutely captivating and insightful. I can’t wait to read her new book, Dare to Lead.

3. Speed of Trust by Stephen R. Covey

I read this one with a group at work over the course of the year. It is an old book, rich with quotes and observations on the power of trust in all types of relationships. It was good fodder for work-related discussions, as it became apparent that any relationship building must start with building and maintaining trust.

4. The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F$ck

I have found that some books use swear words in their titles or text to draw your attention, and then have nothing real to say. Not so with this one. My husband bought it based on a recommendation, then I stole it and read it before he noticed it was gone. I can’t say I agreed with everything in it, but there were a lot of observations in it that made me pause and think about things a little differently than I would have before.

5. Quiet by Susan Cain

The subtitle of this one is The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, but it is less of a “self help for introverts” and more of a research book told in first person narrative. It’s readable, but it’s dense with research, so I have taken my time with it. Honestly, I’m still reading it, but as an introvert, I have found it so interesting that I thought it was worth putting on the list.

6. Anything by Dr. Seuss

Just take the time to read anything by Dr. Seuss, whether or not you have kids. Read it out loud. It is so much fun and guaranteed to bring you joy.

7. What is the Bible? by Rob Bell

Rob Bell is a pastor with a somewhat unique view of Christianity and the Bible. In this book, he brings together history and Biblical text in an easily understandable, awe-inspiring way. If you want to learn more about the Bible in a non-preachy, contemporary way, check this out.

8. Proof of Heaven by Eben Alexander

Another religious one, Dr. Alexander, a Neurosurgeon, wrote a book about his near-death experience. He talks about visiting different levels of the spiritual realm and discusses how his experiences changed him from being an atheist to a believer. It will give you weird dreams, but it’s fascinating.

9. I Was Told to Come Alone by Souad Mekhennet

This book, written by an experienced international journalist, is subtitled My Journey Behind the Lines of Jihad. It is not a quick read, especially because there are a lot of names to keep straight, but it is worth every minute if you want to understand more about the Middle East and the role of the US there now and in the past. Ms. Mekhennet takes you behind the scenes into dangerous scenarios and shows the guts it takes to be a journalist in today’s world.

10. Becoming by Michelle Obama

I LOVE Michelle Obama, so I was ecstatic when she came out with an autobiography. After an internal debate, I opted to listen to the audiobook rather than read it since she narrates it herself. It is phenomenally well-written, and it’s easy candor makes you forget that knowing this level of detail about a presidential family’s life is unprecedented. Michelle continues to be as authentic and clear-headed as she always seemed in the White House. This book has brought me to tears, made me laugh, and made me realize that Michelle and I would be really great friends, which came as no surprise, of course.

It is strange to me that the only fiction I am recommending is Dr. Seuss. I always say that fiction is my favorite, but the only fiction I seem to read these days is children’s fiction. It’s possible that I am at a point in my life where it feels overly indulgent to slip into a fantasy world when there is so much to learn about the world we all inhabit and about what makes us all tick.

What about you? What kinds of books did you read in 2018? What do you recommend?

Grandpa

My head barely covers
the worn halo on your chair
where yours used to rest.

I can see you here,
your hand on your chest
counting the last beats of your heart,
praying for God to take you home.

You lived so gently,
let me sit on your knee
until my feet could reach the floor.

Your wide farm hands
were strangely soft, covering mine
as I drifted to sleep
in the sound of your heartbeat.

I am Me

Are you your father’s daughter?
Are you your mother’s son?
Are you the oldest in the house?
Are you the little one?

Does Grandma call you “baby doll?”
Does Uncle call you “bud?”
Do you like to keep your boots real clean
or splash around in mud?

Are you a funny giggle box?
Do you like telling jokes?
Are you a star out on the stage
entertaining all the folks?

Or would you rather just be quiet,
spend free time reading books?
Will you try almost anything
your mom or daddy cooks?

Are you tall or very small
or somewhere in between?
Do your eyes look black as night
or maybe, are they green?

Do you rise up with the sun,
or stay up with the moon?
Are you a calm and patient soul,
Or does nothing come too soon?

When someone asks you who you are
or who you want to be,
Don’t be afraid to smile and say,
“I’m happy to be me!”

Simple Spaghetti Squash Taco Bake

Meet my friend spaghetti squash. She’s easy to get along with and a very good influence. She should be your friend too. Ok, I’m going to drop this metaphor now that I am going to tell you how to bake her in the oven. First, preheat to 400 degrees.

Warning! If you have knives in need of sharpening (like mine), you will want to pop your squash into the microwave for a minute or two. This will soften the rind just enough to eliminate the chances of accidentally stabbing yourself. Then cut it in half the long way (“hotdog,” not “hamburger” as my kids would say). Scoop out all the seeds and slimy stuff in the middle, leaving the “spaghetti” flesh intact.

Grab a rimmed cookie sheet (a.k.a. jellyroll pan) and add a little water to it. Place the spaghetti squash cut side down onto the water. Bake in the oven for 20-30 minutes. (Meanwhile, start your taco meat.)

I have read several spaghetti squash recipes that say to cook it for 45 minutes. It has never taken mine that long, and you do NOT want to overcook it or it will be mushy and watery, so I tend to check it after 20 minutes and go from there. If you can easily stab a fork into it, and especially if you can squeeze the rind (USE POTHOLDERS!) to make the flesh pop out, it’s done. Scrape all the spaghetti out with a fork, then sprinkle it with salt to hold in the moisture and give it some good flavor.

Please note, this recipe is incredibly simple, but it can be time-consuming. If you make the spaghetti squash and/or taco meat ahead of time, this becomes a quick weeknight success. You’ll notice my family liked it so much, I only got a photo of half of it!

Ingredients:
Spaghetti squash, prepared
1 pound taco meat, prepared
Diced bell peppers
4 oz. cream cheese
Shredded cheese to preference
S&P to taste
Sour cream, avocado, salsa, crushed tortilla chips (optional garnishes)

Quick directions: Bake at 400 degrees for 25-30 minutes.

Directions:
1. Prepare a 9×13 casserole pan with your choice of nonstick medium, then spread the prepared spaghetti squash on the bottom of the pan. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
2. Melt the 4 oz (half a block) of cream cheese into your prepared taco meat.
3. Add diced bell peppers to the taco meat. Mix well.
4. Spread taco meat mixture on top of spaghetti squash.
5. Top with shredded cheese to your preference.
6. Bake uncovered at 400 degrees for 25-30 minutes.
7. Garnish with sour cream, avocado, salsa, tortilla chips, etc. Enjoy!

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