Monday, June 30, 2014

Desperation in the Kitchen: Black Bean Brownies

I figured it was about time I posted this recipe, considering I made it for the first time two weeks ago. While Ella knew what was in it the whole time (she helped make them!), Gabe did not, so he was my guinea pig.

I figured if a chocoholic like Gabe would like them, then they have passed the test!

They definitely passed the Gabe test, and I've made them again since.

Here's what you need:

*one can of black beans, rinsed and drained
*3 tablespoons of peanut butter
*2 eggs
*4 tablespoons of coconut oil
*4 tablespoons of cocoa powder
*1 teaspoon vanilla extract
*3/4 cup sugar (I used less but the recipe called for this much)
*1/2 teaspoon salt

Here's what you do

*Blend your black beans until they are smooth. My blender DIED right before I made this recipe, so I had to use the stick blender Gabe's Mom sent us a while back...I'm scared to death to use it know, I start thinking about food spraying everywhere....

*Throw everything into the mixing bowl and mix. I used a spoon for this. The stick blender was just too much for me there. It was OK to mix the beans with but...but...yeah, I have kitchen OCD. Bigtime.

It looks like regular brownie mix, doesn't it? It tastes like it too :)

*Bake at 350 until a toothpick in the middle comes out clean.

They look like this when they are done. I went to answer a phone call and when I returned I was going to take a picture of what a single brownie looked like. Never.happened.

They're delish!

Sunday, June 29, 2014


It's been a crazy week. I'm trying to clean up my life (housewise and literally, and that means saying goodbye to some people, but good riddance!) and keep my sanity.

But, wow!

Halfway through this project!

26/52: The bunny ears made an appearance this weekend. Gabe did too :)

26/52, Sunday: She's very patriotic today. :)

Friday, June 27, 2014

Fridays with Ella: Helping Others


This week, I learned about the JOY way of thinking.
First, you should think about Jesus.
Then, Others.
Then, Yourself.

We should be praying everyday.
We should be helping other people.

I found out this week about a little girl who had to leave her house and had no clothes. We were able to help her get some clothes.

I got some new clothes from a friend of my Mom's. This girl needed them more than I do, so I gave them to her.  We were able to give a little bit of everything, even dressy skirts and a bathing suit. Every little girl needs those things. I hope she likes them. We're going through the rest of my clothes to see what else we can give her.

If you ever have the chance to help someone, you should help. It doesn't take much out of our time, and when someone isn't able to do something for themselves because they are sick or disabled, it's our responsibility to help them.

When my friend Ms. Lora was sick, Mom and I helped her by going to her house, and cooking for her. Even though she died, I will never forget visiting her home and how helping her made me feel good, too.

What Ella wore:

Heart dress: thrifted, Bonnie Jean brand
shoes: thrifted.

Tidbits from this Week

Ugh! Mosquitoes!: This summer is already full of creepy-crawlies and Ella has already been bitten a handful of times. Anyone with natural remedies for mosquito bites, please let me know.

Summer Reading, Arts and Crafts: Ella has started the library summer reading program this week. There is a craft and then afterwards, kids have the option of staying for the Summer Lunch Bunch, and bring a sack lunch. This week, the kids made fish prints (from art store rubber fish, thank heavens).

A little concerned: While we were at the summer reading program, a boy (possibly named Alex, I'm so bad with names) stuck pretty close to Ella. He didn't say much, he just smiled a lot and let her go in front of him in EVERY line...Gabe says NO BOYS! I'm a bit concerned...she is only 8. MaybeAlex (lol) is maybe 10. Surely that is too young to have a crush on a little girl, right? RIGHT?

Ella and MaybeAlex.

See? There he is again.

Getting rid of clutter:  Do ya'll know what a 27 Fling is? Every week, my aim will be to get rid of 27 things that I don't need anymore, either by tossing them out in the trash or giving them to someone who needs them.

Summer of Reading: I think the summer that I fell completely in love with reading was the year before I entered fifth grade. Ella is two years ahead of me. Her head is always in a book.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Happy Chaos

That's where my life is right now. Other than the usual mini-worries, life has been plugging along quite nicely for us. It's officially summer now, and life is full of library visits, river outings, bike rides...

I'm busy. We all are. The housework literally waits until Ella is in bed, asleep.

Dinners can either be takeout, or a whole complicated affair, but everything is in a blurry state of happy chaos.

Ella is involved in a summer arts program. We stay out til late riding bikes, or exploring the countryside. I fall into bed exhausted every night, but I know that these are the days she's going to remember, and the fact that I never remember doing any of this with my own mother drives me to do better.

So, my blogging may or may not suffer. Gabe is understanding and knows this little blog is my outlet, and so he always finds a way to give me the time to keep up with it.

That's where our life is.

And yes, I totally burned that burner cover. Whoops.

81 days later...

...and I am wearing a shirt from the juniors department. I am getting to where I need and want to be. Life is good!!!!

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

There's Nothing Sweeter....

...than the friendship between little girls.

This is a big summer for my Ella. Two of her best friends have moved away, but she makes new ones easily.

Doing my best to make what will hopefully be our last NC summer a great one.

Sunday, June 22, 2014


We're in the process of getting the house looking tip-top. It's getting there!!

In the meanwhile....

25/52: Ella needed fancy hair to fold laundry. Because everything is better with fancy hair!

25/52, Sunday: Her dress came from the Dollar Store. She's gotten a ton of compliments on it...oh, and this heat is making her hair go out of control. On our way to church today, she said, "I cannot WAIT to get rid of it!"

Friday, June 20, 2014

Fridays with Ella: Week 1

*side note from Jo: These are my daughter's thoughts and opinions. Keep in mind, she is only 8, and for an 8 year old, it's kind of a big deal to talk about modesty. Please keep unkind opinions to yourself. Again, she is only 8.*

My name is Ella, and I'm 8.

This has been on my mind a lot lately.

I think that little girls should dress modestly because the Bible says that's what they should do. Dressing modestly makes Jesus proud of what you wear.

I don't think that a girl needs to show her entire body to prove that she is pretty. It's important to keep your body covered because you don't want someone to see you naked. Sometimes, people wear things that are almost exactly like being naked.

Today, I wore a pink shirt that's sheer, but I wore an undershirt under it, because otherwise I would feel pretty naked.  

I hope that whoever reads this gets something out of it, and I hope it makes them think about dressing more modestly.


What Ella wore:

Pink ruffle shirt: Thrifted, Faded Glory Brand
White undershirt: Thrifted
Blue Jeans: Wrangler Brand, bought at Rose's (or Maxway, in some parts of the country)
Shoes: Gift from Grandmother, Skechers Brand

Tidbits from this Week

I kind of feel like we are getting back into the swing of things! The house is (slowwwly) getting to where I want it. I even found my mosquito screen while cleaning up around the kitchen, whoot!

Here's what else happened at our house this week.

Accomplished: This week, I mastered, the fishtail braid. Yes, it's a small little thing. Yes, I'm very impressed with myself.

A promise: I just realized that the "Gabe and Jo" folder on the laptop has very few pictures in it. Whoops. I'm going to have to remedy that. And so, I'm promising myself that I will take at least one new picture of us every week.

Pen Pal: Ella will be writing to my friend's daughter, K. When I was a young girl, I wrote to a friend of mine in a notebook that we mailed back and forth.

All by myself: Due to the high stress level in my life, I've decided to take half an hour a day to just be by myself, with my camera.

Proud of my girl: Ella asked me the other day, "Mom, is it ok if I say something on your blog? About modesty?" She is only 8 years old. So, every Friday, in addition to Tidbits I will be featuring some words from Ella, as well as an outfit she feels is modest and pretty.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Desperation in the Kitchen: Meal Planning 101 or Something Like It

Gabe and I have always joked about my "borderline" OCD-style approach to my kitchen. Even when I was working 80 hours a week and never cooked, my kitchen counters had to be organized to my liking. I can't even begin to tell you how much that has intensified since we moved to North Carolina and I became a mostly-stay-at-home Mom.

I have a list of what's in my freezer, fridge, and cupboard tacked to my bulletin board. Yes, I absolutely update it every time I use something. Yes, I think my husband thinks a nice little "vacation" in a padded room is probably necessary. (For the record, I think it is a fantastic idea.  I could use the time away)

About six months ago, I started planning meals a day ahead, then a week ahead, then a month ahead, trying to use as much as what I had in my fridge/freezer/pantry and buying as little as possible.

I guess my love with Meal Planning actually started one week, between paycheck where I literally had what was in my kitchen and $15 to feed my family with for a week. Lord...I panicked. And cried. And yelled. But, I actually accomplished it, with meals and money to spare.

And today, I got a message from my friend Brenda, who rocks and sometimes blogs here, and she needed some help with Meal Planning. Between the two of us, we came up with 2 weeks worth of meals with what Brenda has in her kitchen and less than $30 spending money. Brenda and I feel like we've conquered the world, and I feel like I should share some Meal Planning hints (even though Gabe told me I should keep them all to myself and "charge people out the nose for it"....gotta love my husband)

So, here you go. Be grateful I didn't take Gabe's advice.

*Keep track of what's in your house. That means organize your pantry. I learned this the hard way when I was convinced I was out of peanut butter and found 7 full jars in my cupboard. Yeaaaaah.

*Have some go-to meals, and keep the stuff for them on hand all the time. My go-to's are taco soup, ramen stir fry, frittata, baked potatoes, and grilled cheese. That way, even if you are short on time, you know you have stuff to make SOMETHING.

*Plan ahead as far as you can. I just finished my July meal plan. But it's a fluke, so please don't think it goes this well every month. It doesn't, I swear.

*Keep a calendar of it.

*Don't feel bad if plans change, because, guess what? Plans change. I've crossed stuff out and replaced it with other stuff on a regular basis.
*Make a list of meals you would like to have ahead of time. I took pen and paper and asked Ella and Gabe what they would like to see on the menu next month.

Here's my list.

That's about it. Sound simple? It really is.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Desperation in the Kitchen: Goulash/Paprikash

WARNING AND DISCLAIMER: I have become aware of the fact that people are calling macaroni and cheese, ground beef and tomatoes goulash. It's not. If I ever catch you doing it, expect a lecture!

Most of you know that I'm Polish. Like, from the old country Polish. Ella has been asking me a lot about my pre-America life, and she is especially interested in cooking food from there. I've made goulash/paprikash before, but the last time I made it, we had just moved into our current place of residence, and it happened to be the day that our new washer and dryer were being installed.
The installer guy kept asking me what I was cooking because it smelled so good. So, I finally gave him a bowl of goulash to shut him up. He deemed it the best thing he had ever eaten. It's that good!

Today, thankfully, there weren't any installers or repairmen of any kind to beg me for goulash. I say thankfully because...first of all, it's HOT. And I'm grumpy. Oh, and it's been a day and a half, ya'll. Like, I had a snake fall on me out of a tree. That kind of day. Come to think of it, I might be more grumpy because of the snake.

Anyway, enough of THAT.

Here's what you need:

Garlic Powder
Sazon (because I can, and I've always liked the taste, and my Grandma Aniela used something similar)
Stew Beef (1-2 lbs)
Olive Oil
Cooking Wine
Onion (not pictured because I remembered it at the last minute, whoops)
Green bell pepper, chunked up
Beef Broth (also not pictured)
Worcestershire Sauce
Diced Tomatoes
Sour Cream
Egg noodles
*side note: I also use Vegeta, a seasoning blend my grandmother used. It's got MSG in it (a tiny bit), but I understand if you wouldn't want to use it.

Here's what you do:

*Mix flour and dry seasonings.

*Dredge your beef in the seasoned flour

*Heat up some olive oil in a pan. Make sure it actually gets hot enough to sear the beef. Add in your onion and green pepper. Throw in a splash of cooking wine, and a tiny pat of butter.
*Let that cook down a bit, and stir, stir, stir. Add your mushrooms in and add some beef broth

*Let that cook down a bit. Add Worcestershire sauce to taste. Add your tomatoes. You'll need to adjust the seasonings after this, because it will taste tomato-ish.

*While all of that deliciousness is cooking, you'll want to start your noodles

*When the noodles are almost done, go back to your goulash. Drop in a few dollops of sour cream, then mix

Serve over hot noodles. Oh. my. goodness!

Sunday, June 15, 2014

On Dads

Last Father's Day, I wasn't sure how long my Daddy had to live. I spent the church service crying, because I wasn't sure how long I had with Dad, and I was 700 miles away.

Today, I am still 700 miles away, but DAD IS CANCER FREE and I am working towards a move back up north.

I know not everyone is as blessed as me.

Because my Dad is still alive. Because even though he was not there in person every day of my growing up, I still knew I was loved, and I knew he was working his hardest so I could have a life worth something. So I could have all the opportunities he didn't.

When I was a kid, my Dad used to joke about me being his favorite. I know it was a joke, but I believed it then. (Sometimes I still do). Even though his English was not great, my Dad came to  every parent-teacher conference. He was my date to my 8th grade banquet, and I remember he had tears in his eyes when I received my awards.

Even though he has always been quick to talk me down when I am out of hand (overly emotional, overly angry), he has also always been quick to build me up, and tell me I can do anything in the world. When he didn't agree with my decision to marry Gabe, he told me so. When time passed, and he realized he had been wrong, he told me so.

My Dad is amazing. There's no one else like him.

When I met Gabe, I clashed headfirst with his Dad, Bill. I think I argued more with him during my first month of marriage than I did with Gabe.

I can't tell you how many times I uttered the words, "Gabe, I can't stand your Dad!" Probably as many times as he uttered the words, "Gabe I can't stand your wife!"

About a year and a half ago, I was laying on the couch when Gabe's phone rang. It was his Dad. When Gabe attempted to hand the phone to me, I said, "No, thanks!"...but the conversation that followed wasn't what I expected. Even though he had no reason to (because I was just as responsible for the lack of a relationship there), Bill apologized to me.

Over the past year, I have had some serious heart-to-hearts with Bill. When I was in the middle of panic attack city over my Dad's transplant, Bill took time out of his day to spend HOURS on the phone with me, to calm me down and just to lend an ear. We don't agree on everything, but I couldn't think of a better person for me to have as a father-in-law.

My father-in-law rocks. There's nobody like him.

When Gabe and I became parents for the second time, to our first living child, he told me, "I am going to suck at fatherhood."

I promise you, he doesn't suck at fatherhood. Gabe has taken fatherhood and made it his own. Two Christmases ago, I was having the hardest time because I was missing Riley and it was just rough. Christmas morning, after Ella had opened the last gift, I noticed another present under the tree. It was for Riley Grace. Gabe had found given her (and Ella, by proxy) his favorite childhood book, "The Lion's Bed."

Gabe has introduced Ella to Star Wars (yep) and Indiana Jones and for her sixth birthday, he gave her a pocket knife. She inherited his great love for photography and he can make her laugh harder than anybody I know.

Gabe works a lot, so he is not one of those Dads that can drop everything on a dime. My Dad wasn't either. But, Ella knows that Gabe loves her. He bought her a seashell necklace that she loves.

The other day, I overheard their talk about dating. "You're not allowed to date until you have your own car. That way, you can always leave." Good advice. From a dad who doesn't suck at fatherhood.

My husband is an amazing Dad. There is no one like him.