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Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Ground Beef Two Ways: 2 Master Meal Dinners in 30 minutes

I am not the best at the whole freezer meal thing. I have tried grocery shopping for loads of ingredients and cooking all on one day and freezing a quantity of meals for later in the month, but the effort it took to do that one big shopping trip and cooking day drained me more than the time it saved me.

I am, however, still a huge proponent of meal-planning and cooking smarter not harder. One of the ways I do this is by trying to plan at least two meals a week that revolve around the same main ingredient. Sometimes that's a rotisserie chicken (like I posted about in One Chicken Three Ways.) This week it was ground beef. As I've mentioned, I am not a fancy cook. But I have a Master Meal list comprised of a few dozen meals I can make with my eyes closed and these two are on that list.

Today I'm making Pioneer Woman's Chili and Korean Ground Beef at the same time and saving myself a night of cooking in the process. Remember the time I met Pioneer Woman and completely embarrassed myself? Good times.

The main ingredient in both these recipes is -wait for it- ground beef, so instead of browning one batch of beef tonight and the other later on in the week, I plop three pounds of beef into my large Dutch oven and brown it up with 6 cloves of garlic all at once.
Look at that. I've been at the stove for 10 minutes and both meals are under way. Editor's note: if you're into freezer meals, now would be a great time to pack this meat away into Ziplocs for use in either recipe later in the month. When you're ready to make the rest of your meal, just thaw and proceed as noted below. 

After the meat is browned I divide it with my spoon into three pie pieces and scoop 1/3 of the beef into a separate, smaller skillet.
Then I add tomato sauce and spices to the Dutch oven and return it to simmer for 1 hour.
For the Korean beef, I add brown sugar, soy sauce, fresh minced ginger, crushed red pepper and a little bit of salt and pepper to the smaller skillet.
Voila. You're done. For real.

Well, okay there's a liiittle more work to do...after the chili is done simmering you add a masa (corn) flour mixture, a can of Rotel and two cans of beans. But that's really just dumping, not cooking. The great thing about this recipe is that it can stand on its own without the addition of beans if beans aren't your thing. Beans are not B Daddy's thing, but I put them in anyway. Because they are good for you and they make the chili stretch farther. When you feed this many people someone has to make sacrifices. Since I'm the one cooking tonight it isn't going to be me.
Serve the chili with Fritos and cheddar cheese. And if by chance you should realize towards the end of this process that you are out of Fritos, do not attempt to make homemade Fritos just because you have masa flour and oil. Drive to the store and get some dang Fritos. Ask me how I know this.

Serve the Korean beef with a pile of rice and slice up a generous amount of green onions to sprinkle on top. I usually stir fry some broccoli quickly in the very same skillet to serve alongside as well.
Bonus: both of these recipes can be frozen once you've completed the cooking process.

2 pounds ground beef
2 cloves garlic, chopped
One 8oz can tomato sauce
2 Tbsp chili powder
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground oregano
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1/4 masa harina (corn flour, look for it near the Mexican or International food aisle)
One 15oz can pinto beans, drained and rinsed
One 15oz can kidney beans, drained and rinsed
Shredded cheddar, chopped onions and Fritos, for serving

Place the ground beef in a large pot or Dutch oven and throw in the garlic. Cook over medium heat until browned. Drain off the excess fat, and then pour in the tomato sauce, chili powder, cumin, oregano, salt and cayenne. Stir together well, cover and then reduce the heat to low. Simmer for an hour, stirring occasionally. If the mixture becomes too dry, add 1/2 cup water as needed.

After an hour, place the masa harina in a small bowl. Add 1/2 cup water and stir together with a fork. Dump the masa mixture into the chili. Stir together well and then taste and adjust the seasonings. Add more masa paste and/or water to get the chili to your desired consistency or to add more corn flavor. Add the beans and simmer for 10 minutes. Serve with cheddar cheese, chopped onions (if that's your's not mine) and Fritos.

1 pound lean ground beef
1/4 cup brown sugar (use more if you like it sweeter)
1/4 cup soy sauce (I use low-sodium)
1 Tablespoon sesame oil (use regular oil if you're combining to make both beef recipes)
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon fresh* ginger, minced 
1/2 - 1 teaspoon crushed red peppers (to desired spiciness)
salt and pepper
1 bunch green onions, diced
*Fresh ginger is super important! Ginger freezes well so buy and freeze what you don't use with the skin peeled off

Heat a large skillet over medium heat and brown beef with garlic in the oil. Drain most of the fat and add brown sugar, soy sauce, ginger, salt and pepper and red peppers. Simmer for a few minutes to blend the flavors.

Let me know if you give these recipes a go! I love hearing when you try something I've posted, the Crowd Pleaser Pasta dish I posted this fall was a big hit - I hope these are too.

Happy cooking!

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

A Day in the Life of this Homeschooling Mom (Ages 6.5, 5, 3.5, 18months)

Yes we are still homeschooling! It's been four months since I gave y'all a peek into our daily homeschool routine and I wanted to let you know how things are REALLY going.

The month of January has been difficult. And truthfully the month of December was hard as well. We had a lot of outside activities and down time over the past month (we broke for the holidays on Dec. 21st and didn't start back up until Jan. 6th) and getting back into the swing of things has been -ahem- a transition.

Last week I was in tears midday and seriously questioning whether or not homeschooling was the path we should be taking during this particular season. Jude is becoming more and more active and is great at causing distractions, screaming and generally getting into trouble during the hours we are trying to do school. On top of that chaos Elijah has been giving me a LOT of pushback each day when we sit down to do school. I won't go into details, but he's discovered some very effective methods of making my blood boil.

Last Friday I had a heart-to-heart with B Daddy and we came up with a little reward system we hope results in a better attitude towards the school day. The plan is to incentivize Elijah by implementing a "three strikes and you're out" policy. If he gets less than three strikes a day for 5 days in a row, he gets to go see the new Star Wars movie with B Daddy. Today was Day 1.

Without further adieu, here's what my day looked like:

6:00am My alarm goes off. I hit snooze and snuggle down deeper. Man it's cold outside today.

6:05am Ben comes in our room because he's too hot in his PJs. Seriously kid? I get up, help him change into some non-footie PJs and decide that I might as well stay up for the day.

6:15am I check my email for my morning work out from my Fit By First group and get to it. Lots of push-ups today. Ugh!

6:45am I open my laptop again for some quiet time while I cool down (right now I'm reading through Genesis using the She Reads Truth website) I spend a few minutes in prayer and try to center myself for the day ahead.

7:05am I make coffee and head back to our room to grab a quick shower and get dressed (this is highly unusual...most days I hit the snooze button at 6am and sacrifice the shower/get dressed time, so thanks Ben.)

7:30am The big kids are awake and dressing themselves, I wake Jude up and get him dressed

8:00am I make breakfast for all (today it's granola and leftover French Toast) and see B Daddy off to work.

8:45am The kids have finished eating and wandered back to their rooms. I take the opportunity to make my own breakfast and open my computer to sneak in some blog time.

9:00am Jude starts wailing the moment I sit down to eat, but seems perfectly happy once he's in my lap. C'est la vie.

9:15am I seek out the kids with the intent to round them up for school but give them an extra 10 minutes to play (because everyone is happy) and then tell them to meet me in the dining room.

9:30am History! One new tactic I'm trying is to make a list of all the subjects we need to cover each day and let Elijah choose the order he does his work in. He loves our Story of the World curriculum. It's an audio recording that I play while the kids color a map page and/or a coloring page while listening. It gives me a break from all the reading and talking that is a part of teaching and the narrator is wonderful. Today we're learning about Alexander the Great.

9:45am Jude is wandering around in a state of discontent (please read between those lines) so I re-play the lesson (about 10 minutes in length) while the kids finish their colorings and head back to his room to read him a book and put him down for his morning nap. Ben joins us for the book and then we're back out and it's quiet once again.

10:30am History is done and we move on to math. Elijah received his first strike when he moaned about the number of problems on his review worksheet. (There were 10.) Oh child. After a little pep talk and a reminder about the behavior system, we're back on track. Today we're reviewing subtraction within 20. We breezed through this in October, but lately I've noticed him struggling with these problems, so we're taking some time off our normal Singapore Math curriculum to solidify his grasp on it.

11:00am Elijah votes for Science next, which is great because Ben and Britain want to "do school" too and we all do Science together. We read aloud a library book on the skeletal system and get to the fun part - putting together a model of the human body! The kids love taking turns attaching the bones and following the directions. I am impressed with the level of detail and the quality of the model and it came included with this book on the Human Body. (Thank you to my mother in law for the great gift!) Unfortunately something happens between the boys (that of course I do not see, no matter that I am a mere 6 inches away) which results in Elijah pinching Ben. Strike two my boy. This does not look good. We still have Reading and Writing to go.

11:30am Britain and Ben want to do some of their "school" while Elijah and I start in on a writing assignment. I hope you'll note the baby on the kamikaze mission in the background...and yes I took a picture rather than get him down.

We use a graphic organizer to write out the Characters, Setting and Action in our story. Elijah rejects the categories "Problem" and "Solution" because "there is no problem in my story Mom!" and he begins to painstakingly write a sentence. ONE SENTENCE. Y'all. Minutes tick by. I am doing deep breathing exercises and counting Legos on the floor so as not to lose patience.  Serenity now Katie, serenity now. He starts in on sentence two and I realize this assignment will last much much longer than I anticipated.

12:00pm I call a time-out at noon for lunch and tell the kid we'll put in a little more work on the story after lunch. (Note to readers...this was not a wise decision.) I get Jude up, change his diaper and let Ben "help" me make peanut butter and jellies for all. Except me that is. I get to have a green smoothie because I'm 33 and that's what it takes these days.

12:45pm Back to school. Again - this was a bad idea. We sit down to pound out sentence three and Elijah digs his heels in. He doesn't want to write another sentence. He can't. He doesn't know what to write (even though I am prompting him) He doesn't know how to write. He hates writing. STRIKE THREE CHILD.

1:00pm Now I am sitting on the couch next to a wailing child who believes he will never ever be able to make it through one whole day without having three strikes. I didn't take a picture of this interaction, you'll have to use your imagination. Our system seems to have backfired completely. I'm convinced I have no idea what I'm doing. We haven't even read today. Britain is more than happy to read to us and she seems to take his mind off the doom and gloom he felt mere minutes before.

1:30pm SCHOOL's DONE! Yes! Phew. Another day in the books. The kids scatter to their various private universes- Britain is playing Barbies, Ben and Jude are chasing each other up and down the hall and Elijah is creating Lego spaceships.

I take the opportunity to fold a load of laundry and listen to a Smart People podcast. The episode I tune into is...wait for it...How Not to Screw Up Your Child. Appropriate no?

2:00pm Jude is now playing Godzilla to Elijah and Ben's Lego world so I break up the bickering and put the little man down for Nap #2. Peace seems to return to the big kids' world so I sneak away to the kitchen to see what might work for dinner tonight. (We were out of town all weekend, so my typical weekend grocery shopping and meal-planning didn't happen.) I find leftover cooked chicken and some raw veggies and decide Chicken Pot Pie is what's for dinner. I chop and prep veggies, the only thing I don't have is a frozen pie crust, so I pull out my favorite recipe and decide I'll have to make it from scratch.

2:30pm Dang - I'm missing a key ingredient (lard/vegetable shortening). Looks like I'll have to run into the store when I take the kids to karate this afternoon. BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO. I decide to pre-make what I can and get the filling put together so all I have to do when we get home from Karate is pop it in the oven.

3:00pm I sit down with a cup of tea and a snack and try to blog. The kids see the computer open and come ask me to print out a picture for them to color. I acquiesce to three different requests and remind them that it is technically "Quiet Time" and that they are supposed to be quiet (aka do not come talk to Mommy) until 4pm.

4:00pm Quiet time is over but the baby is still napping, (P.S. Jude is showing off today. He must know I am blogging about the day as he rarely naps this long) so I turn on a show for the kids to watch until we have to leave for Karate at 5pm. They want to watch Power Rangers, which I allow. It's probably (definitely?) age inappropriate, but there's lots of karate moves so I allow it. #rationalization

5:00pm We head to Karate class, which we signed the kids up for because they could all do it together (although Ben chose not to...) and because it's 5 minutes from our house.

6:15pm Home again, home again. I put the pot pie in the oven while the kids get PJs on and Jude wanders aimlessly through the house causing destruction. We have our adult small group tonight and I realized at karate there was no way I could get the kids fed before the babysitter arrived, so I called B Daddy and asked him to make a separate kids' dinner when he got home (whatever, we all know they weren't eating pot pie anyway). I figure B Daddy and I will eat in the car.

6:30pm Dinner!

6:45pm Alleluia! The sitter is here! We scoop scalding hot pot pie into to-go containers and grab our notes (we're leading tonight - which has happened exactly twice in the last not our usual night at all) we give kisses to all (twice to Britain) and close the door on another day with the kids.

It's a crazy beautiful life, no? You can read more A Day in the Life posts from years past here:

2012 - with three kids and no school!
2014 - our first year homeschooling with 4 kids

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Enjoying the Pure Life in Costa Rica

Remember this post - the one about celebrating the start of a marriage a little bit less and celebrating the continuation of one a bit more? Well B Daddy and I took that idea to heart and decided to throw ourselves a weeklong party to celebrate 10 years of marriage. We left the day after Christmas to spend a week in Costa Rica surfing, doing yoga and having uninterrupted conversations over a dinner I didn't have to cook and he didn't have to clean up.
8 days in Costa Rica. In this beautiful place the locals are known for their expression "Pura Vida," they throw it around constantly. It's difficult to translate into English ("pure life" doesn't do it justice) but basically it means that no matter what is going on in your life -messy, hard, bad, ugly- there is always something to be grateful for. Always something someone else would look at and desire, always beauty in the mess...always joy in the crazy. Pura Vida is an expression of eternal optimism. It seemed like the perfect place to celebrate 10 years of this crazy beautiful life with B Daddy.  

5 days would be spent on a "learning vacation" at The School of the World where we would take daily classes. For me that looked like surfing and yoga and for B Daddy it was surfing and a GoPro class. The last 3 days we rented a beachfront bungalow that fronted one of the most consistent surf breaks in the world.
8 days. It was a luxurious amount of time for us. And then we got there and everyone asked, "Oh...why only one week!?" Funny how different the international perspective on travel is from our American one.

We arrived Sunday and our driver graciously stopped along the drive from the airport to show us a river that more than 3,000 crocodiles call home. He offered to book a boat tour if we were interested. Gosh thanks but no. Nope. Never.
After 90 minutes of driving, we pulled up at the school. 12 years ago I spent a summer here courtesy of the University of Georgia. I was enrolled in Spanish and Photography courses (surf class didn't meet the guidelines of the scholarship money I was using...) so everyday I tailed the surf class to the beach and tried to unlock the mystery of surfing from afar. My memories of surfing that summer are mostly of frustration. I watched other students catch wave after perfect wave, and spent my time in the water paddling too slowly or getting closed out on by smarter, faster locals when I did manage to stand up on my board. Looking back I should have hired an instructor and taken a few lessons, but money was tight and I spent what little I had on excursions around the country and dial-up internet cafe access. Remember that?

The vibe of the school today is almost exactly the same as 12 years ago (although Wifi this time around was a bonus) a friendly, like-minded group of twenty and thirty-something people who love travel and are open to learning new things. How many 40 year olds do you know who take vacation time to go sit in Spanish class in a foreign country? There were 3 there the week we stayed. 40 year olds that is. About two dozen Spanish students in all. Most of whom were taking a combination of yoga, surfing, photography or GoPro classes like we were.

We got to meet several students Sunday night and the rest Monday morning as we wandered into class and got organized for our first trip down to the beach and our first ever real surf lessons.
Y'all. Surfing with an instructor is SO FUN. I highly recommend it, if you have the means. After five minutes in the water on Day 1 I popped up and caught the first wave I was pushed into. I turned back to paddle out wondering if that was a fluke. Wave 2 felt even better. Standing up was the easy part and I found myself grinning from ear to ear on the paddle back out. I paddled over to my instructor, watched the beach and waited for him to tell me to paddle, and then popped up when he yelled at me. Wave. Wave. Wave. Wave. Two hours flew by. Paddle out, sit up, watch the water and wait for my turn. Paddle to my instructor Alonso, face the beach and wait for his cue. Paddle, push, stand and ride. It seemed easy.

On Day 2 we drove south to a beach called Esterillos because the waves in Jaco were small. The waves looked big. The paddle out was rough. There was a rip tide to push against. By the time I made it out 200m and sat up past the break, I was panting hard. These waves looked big. (Big is a relative term when you're sitting out in the water. What looked big to me would probably look normal to you. We are not talking overhead barrels here...) I got the first wave of the day by chance and stood up easily. Alonso yelled at me to turn right and I rode the glassy face of that wave for about 25 yards. It might as well have been a mile. I felt like a total stud. Then I fell off and realized I had to paddle back out again. Crap.

Our long drive to the beach meant that the 2-hour session turned into one hour of actual time in the water. During which I caught four great waves, missed two and sat in the line up watching a bad-ass surf chick from Florida rip up and down waves to my right. It was a gorgeous morning. I was so bummed B Daddy wasn't there to watch. (I was in the beginner class, he was busy doing this in the "not beginner" class.)

We got back to the school and I bounced up to our room, yelling, "Surfing is so fun!" as I jumped on B Daddy Tigger-style. (As shown in this picture and seen in the video below, when you go on a surf vacation you spontaneously start doing the shaka thing with your hand whenever a camera is pointed at you.) Two sessions with an instructor and I'd caught more waves than I had in an entire summer trying to figure things out on my own. There's a lesson there for the girl who came to Costa Rica 12 years ago and rode a bus an hour in the wrong direction because she didn't want to look like a tourist and ask if it was indeed going where she needed to go. Motherhood has humbled me y'all. 

For surf session 3 we were back in Jaco where the waves had picked up but the paddle out still wasn't far. Day 3 was when it started to get really fun. I had the confidence to start turning into the wave and riding the long face of it sideways. I also I realized how much more to surfing there is than just standing up on your board. Alonso stopped pushing me. Which meant I actually had to paddle hard to catch a wave. I watched sadly as more than one crested and crashed in front of me while I slid down the backside.

Between his occasional pushes and my luck catching a few on my own I had the best time. It was an hour before sunset and every time I had to paddle back past the break I had the motivation of catching just one more before the sun set on the day.
B Daddy set me up with the GoPro for the afternoon, which he used to make this brilliant little video and capture some still frames that make everything look cooler and more exciting than it was. Okay that's not true. I was thrilled to be on the waves and felt incredibly cool, so if that's what you get from the picture or video, then they are reflecting real-life. If you're extrapolating that you're seeing a surfer who knows what she's doing - now that is not real-life. I was stoked, but by no means was anyone on the beach thinking, dang that girl is amazing. I made this less brilliant video which is slightly more reflective of an actual surf day. Lots of sitting around waiting for a wave, lots of falling off the board and lots and lots and lots of paddling.
Day 4 and Day 5 were a mixture of fun and frustrating. I'd say I was 1 out of 4 on catching waves on my own and 1/2 on catching and having a great ride on ones Alonso helped me figure out. My take-away from the trip was that it is COMPLETELY worth it to hire a guy (or girl) who knows what they're doing to push you into waves in order to have a higher ride ratio and therefore a better time. This is now my plan for any and all future surf trips.

On the last ride of the last morning of surfing the fin of my board hit me hard in the face while I was underwater and I came up holding my cheek and wincing. A quick glance from the German girl next to me told me that yes, it was in fact bleeding, which meant I had the privilege of visiting the local hospital and getting an insider's perspective on healthcare in the 3rd world. Suuuuper fun let me tell you. But hey, 4 stitches and $106.00 later I was on my way.

But y'all I didn't have to miss a single wave! And after laying around that morning while B Daddy took his GoPro class and field trip, I felt good enough to head to yoga class and stand on my head.
On Saturday we checked out of school and headed for part 2 of our adventure, which started off with  an afternoon of zip lining over waterfalls and then rappelling down them. After we checked into our bungalow that evening and pinched ourselves to be sure this was all actually happening, we took a short walk down the beach to watch a sunset surf competition along side some folks from School of the World.

The next day B Daddy woke at sunrise to go surfing while I (heeding advice from my RN sister because all I understood from the doctor who treated me was not to slather my stitches in sunscreen. #thanks) watched from the beach with a book in one hand and a cup of coffee in the other that I finished drinking all in one go without having to microwave it. How do you like that mama friends!? Cheers to the good life.

We spent all day Sunday rotating from the porch to the beach to the pool to the porch. It was UN-REAL. Y'all the ocean was 50 steps away and the pool was 40. Does life get any better? I argue it does not.

On Monday we did the same thing for a few hours before our ride pulled up to take us to the airport. We left with full hearts and considerable brain capacity devoted to how we can pull off another surf trip soon and maybe even bring the kids along.
We have some amazing people to thank for even being able to get on a plane. Debbie and Bill, Trisha and Charlie, Matthew and Bonnie, Anna and Lee. 8 people sacrificed their Christmas vacation time to care for our kids so we could escape for 8 days. The mere fact that two people who have 4 children all under age 7 were able to leave the country for 8 days is ludicrous. I am so thankful we have a tribe who supports us and our marriage enough to sacrifice for us. It was an investment I know will be paying dividends long into the future.
Again, B Daddy makes much better videos of everything, which you can see HERE (if you follow him on Instagram...which you should cuz he's hot and awesome)  and there should be more videos coming as he finds time to put to use all the new tricks he learned in his GoPro class.

Pura Vida!

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