Saturday, January 30, 2016

Winter Walks

After our big snowfall last weekend, I begged my husband to accompany me on a hike around a local park. He graciously came along, although he admitted that walking outdoors in 30-degree weather and biting wind is not his cup of tea.

He must be in the majority, as there was not another soul at the park (except for a woolly mammoth or two...just kidding). I, on the other hand, was happy as a clam. Yes, it was cold, but the beauty of the snow-covered trees made up for it.

So I have to ask: Do you think winter walks are enjoyable? Or would you rather stay inside and drink hot cocoa?

Friday, January 29, 2016

Recipe: Shepherd's Pie

A reader asked that I share my recipe (which is actually my mother-in-law's recipe) for shepherd's pie, one of my husband's favorite meals. It's quick, easy, and oh so delicious!

Here are the steps with pictures, and I have also pasted the full recipe at the bottom of the post. Enjoy!

Steam or boil two large, peeled potatoes until tender. (When I'm crunched for time, I steam them in the microwave.) Remove from pot, and mash with butter and milk.


Meanwhile, brown 1 pound ground beef (seasoned with seasoned salt, to taste) and sauté 1 small onion (chopped) in a large skillet.


Place 1-1/2 cups frozen green beans and 1 cup frozen corn in the bottom of an 8x8 pan.


Add browned beef and sautéed onions.


Add mashed potatoes, pressing firmly with spatula to ensure that ingredients don't fall off the side of the pan. Sprinkle with shredded cheddar cheese, and bake at 400F for approximately 20 minutes.


Shepherd's Pie

Ingredients:
2 large potatoes
Butter and milk to mash potatoes
1 pound ground beef
Seasoned salt
1 small onion
1-1/2 cup frozen green beans
1 cup frozen corn
Shredded cheddar cheese. 

Directions:
  1. Steam or boil two large, peeled potatoes until tender. (When I'm crunched for time, I steam them in the microwave.) Remove from pot, and mash with butter and milk.
  2. Meanwhile, brown 1 pound ground beef (seasoned with seasoned salt, to taste) and sauté 1 small onion (chopped) in a large skillet.
  3. Place 1-1/2 cups frozen green beans and 1 cup frozen corn in the bottom of an 8x8 pan.
  4. Add browned beef and sautéed onions.
  5. Add mashed potatoes, pressing firmly with spatula to ensure that ingredients don't fall off the side of the pan. Sprinkle with shredded cheddar cheese, and bake at 400F for approximately 20 minutes.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Video: Tutorial: Organizing Your Spice Cabinet



Are you fed-up with your disorganized spice cabinet?  Constantly having to pull a out two dozen containers just so you can find the two that your recipe requires can be quite tiresome.

Over the weekend, I decided that something HAD to be done about my awful mess of a spice cabinet. (I really wish I had taken a "before" picture.)

We had a big cardboard box in our recycling bin, so I came up with the idea of making risers. If you like the look of the finished product (picture above), check out my tutorial video:



Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Our Wedding March

A few of my readers requested that I post a video of Mr. Handsome playing the version of "Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing" (my favorite song) that he performed as I walked down the aisle to him at our wedding ceremony. Here's a the video that we recorded last night, as well as a few pictures. Enjoy!



Monday, January 25, 2016

My Hubby the Painter

As I mentioned in my last post, every single one of his dental patients canceled their appointments on Friday and Saturday because of snow. Most of the roads weren't plowed, so aside from church on Sunday and a few walks through our neighborhood, we relaxed at home all weekend. It was glorious.

 And now we have two beautiful new paintings, courtesy of Mr. Handsome. (Click here to see a picture of his first painting from back in December.) My husband is becoming quite the artist. Seeing his face light up when he finishes a painting makes me so happy! Not only does his new hobby act as a stress reliever, but it also gives us meaningful decor to hang in our home.

What do you think?


Friday, January 22, 2016

Life in the South

If you live along the U.S. Eastern Seaboard, you're in for some serious winter weather. More than 30 million people, including the entire populations of Washington D.C., Boston, and New York City, are bracing themselves for blizzard conditions, with the nation's capital expecting up to two-and-a-half feet of snow.

Here in Tennessee, we're experiencing the early stages of the massive winter storm "Jonas" that is headed for the East Coast. For us, the snow will taper off this evening, with 3-6 inches of accumulation forecasted.

This is normal winter weather in the Midwest (where Mr. Handsome and I are from), so we were puzzled to hear that every single one of my husband's dental patients had canceled their appointments for today and tomorrow.

Just another positive of Southern living...more snow days! Our relatives back in the Midwest are going to be jealous.

Here's something to make you laugh: 


*The top picture is one I took in my family's backyard several years ago, and the bottom snapshot shows what it looks like outside our front door this morning.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Recipe: My Version of Cheeseburger Soup

When my husband requested that I make a dish called cheeseburger soup, I admit I was skeptical. A cheeseburger in soup form? How could that have any health value whatsoever?

Mr. Handsome's cousin brought it to a family Super Bowl party a few years ago. "I'm not usually a soup guy, but it was delicious," he told me. So I decided to be a good wife and track down the recipe, which ended up being from Taste of Home. 

I made it last night with quite a few alterations, and we both loved it! And guess what? It is decently healthy (especially with my change)!

Cheeseburger Soup (my version)

Ingredients:
1/2 pound ground beef
1/4 teaspoon seasoned salt
1 cup onion, chopped
3 cups carrots, diced
3 cups celery, diced
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon dried parsley
5 Tablespoons butter, divided (2 Tablespoons can be olive oil)
3 cups chicken broth
1 clove garlic, minced
3 cups potatoes, diced and peeled (approximately 2 large potatoes)
1/4 cup flour (I use a mixture of white and wheat)
1-2/3 cup shredded cheese (cheddar or Mexican style)
1-1/3 cup milk
Salt to taste (approximately 1/2 teaspoon

Directions:
  • In a small skillet, brown beef with seasoned salt. Drain and set aside.
  • In a 5-quart saucepan, saute onion, carrots, celery, basil, and parsley in 2 Tablespoons butter (or olive oil) until they begin to soften (10-15 minutes). 
  • Add chicken broth, potatoes, beef, and garlic. Bring to a boil, and then cover and simmer for 10-15 minutes (until potatoes are soft).
  • Meanwhile, melt remaining butter (3 Tablespoons) in the skillet, and add flour. Cook on medium heat, stirring constantly, until mixture begins to bubble (3-5 minutes). Add to soup.
  • Bring soup to a boil and cook, stirring constantly, for 2 minutes. 
  • Stir in cheese, milk, and salt. Continue stirring until cheese melts. Remove from heat.
Makes approximately 10 cups of soup.


Recipe adapted from Taste of Home

Movie Review: 'Polycarp'

Last year, I had the privilege of pre-screening Polycarp, a fabulous movie with a conservative Christian focus. My readers have asked me to share my favorite family-friendly films, so I have decided to post my review:

Produced by Scott Eash, the movie Polycarp is a historical drama that tells the gripping tale of Christians facing persecution in second-century Smyrna. Anna (Eliya Hurt) is a 12-year-old slave who receives her freedom when she is adopted into a devout Christian family. She befriends Polycarp (Garry Nation), the elderly leader of the Smyrnian church who is passionate about preaching the Gospel.

When the Roman proconsul proclaims that the citizens of Smyrna must worship Caesar or be sentenced to death, Polycarp and the other Christians display an unwavering faith as they refuse to denounce the one true God.

Polycarp tells the members of the church: “But understand this: We will not be constrained by what [the proconsul] says or does. Our only constraint is the love of Christ.”

Anna’s freedom from slavery is an illustration of the freedom from sin that God has offered to Christians through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In the face of persecution, Anna must decide if she is willing to live and die for the God of the Bible.

Through the use of realistic sets and talented actors, Polycarp brings to life the Biblical truths presented in Luke 17:33, 1 John 4:18, and Philippians 1:21 and reveals what it means to be fully dedicated to Christ and His Kingdom, even to the point of death.

Evangelist and best-selling author Ray Comfort calls Polycarp a “God-honoring, Christ-centered, and moving story that will make you want to run with the divine message, while we still have the God-given liberty.”

The Kendrick Brothers–writers, directors, and producers of Fireproof, Courageous, and Facing the Giants–also give the movie a thumbs up: “Polycarp issues a call that resonates with Joshua’s mandate to ‘choose you this day whom you will serve.’ This is the moving story of second-century persecution, reminiscent of the persecution many believers face today.”

Inspired by a true story, Polycarp was written and directed by Joe and Jerica Henline, a brother-sister team that has worked on several films, including Beyond the Mask and Acts of God. Joe and Jerica, who were 17 and 19 when they began writing the script for Polycarp, have received multiple Best Young Filmmaker awards.

Polycarp (trailer below) is available for purchase on Amazon.com and ChristianBook.com and may be sold at your local Christian bookstore.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Date Nights

One of our fancier date nights last year
Several readers have asked what our date nights look like. Since we don't yet have children, we treat every night as a date night.

Unless we have Bible study or another commitment, we usually spend our evenings relaxing together. After enjoying a home-cooked dinner, we either practice music, play board games, read, or watch a TV show on Netflix.

On special nights, we might make hand-mixed milkshakes, which are one of Mr. Handsome's favorite desserts, or a batch of healthy microwave popcorn (click here for the recipe).

Every weekend, we make a point of taking one evening to dress up and go out to eat. My husband's all-time favorite restaurant is Famous Dave's. I don't have a single favorite restaurant, but some of my top choices include Famous Dave's, Olive Garden, Buffalo Wild Wings, Chick-fil-A, Texas Roadhouse, and a Nashville BBQ joint called Jack's.

Do you have a favorite restaurant? Or maybe some date night ideas to share?

Friday, January 15, 2016

Valentine's Day Decorations

When it comes to decorating, my sister-in-law has a knack for making things cute (and for turning Pinterest ideas into reality). Her style is "classy but elegant," and she does a wonderful job at creating decor that isn't too simple or too flashy.

What do you think of her Valentine's Day decorations? They're all made from items she had on hand. (She also has a talent for turning everyday things into festive accent pieces.)

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Husband Happy Meals


It's been almost four months since we started our Magnificent Meal Monday tradition, and we're still going strong. (Click here to read my post from September 28th.)

Mr. Handsome took it upon himself to post a list of his favorite meals to the fridge (which he calls "Husband Happy Meals") so I won't have to put too much thought into choosing something to cook every Monday evening.

I figured I might as well share that list with you all, for all the wives in need of some "husband happy meals." I have included the links to the recipes that are on my blog, but be sure to let me know what other recipes you would like to see in the future. What are your family's favorite meals?

Husband Happy Meals 
(Guaranteed to Make a Happy Husband)

Cheeseburgers
Bacon and eggs
Homemade Pizza (Recipe)
Hot Chicken Wings*
Homemade Chipotle Burritos (Recipe)
Steak*
Beef Brisket*
Honey BBQ Chicken Wings*
Chili (Recipe)
Meat Loaf*
Lasagna*
Stromboli*
Shepherd's Pie 

*Indicates main dish made with a side of veggies

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

What's Hiding in Your Kitchen?

As a homemaker, one of my ongoing goals is to limit the amount of artificial ingredients that we consume.

When I began taking the time to read labels, I was blown away by all the unnecessary and potentially harmful additives that are found in our food. How do I know they're unnecessary? Because I've found alternative products that taste identical (or better) and work just as well in recipes.

Here are a few tips that I've learned:

1. Buy Organic Whenever Possible
I'm grateful for stores like Aldi, Trader Joe's, Costco, and sometimes even Walmart for carrying reasonably-priced organic produce, canned goods, and packaged foods. Approximately 1/5 of the items in my kitchen are organic.

2. Spice Up Your Spice Cabinet
The number of anti-caking agents, artificial colors, and chemical additives that are found in species can be startling. When you buy garlic powder, you expect a container filled with powdered garlic--not powdered garlic, partially hydrogenated vegetable oil, parsley, and MSG. After stopping by several grocery stores to find pure spices, I can now take pride in my spice cabinet (aside from the fact that I desperately need to organize it.)

3. Purge Your Pantry
Canned goods and packaged foods are the two most common hiding places for artificial ingredients. If you don't read the label of every single item you purchase, there's no telling what harmful additives will find their way into your home (and into your stomach).

When reading labels, keep these two guidelines in mind: 1. Less is more; 2. If you don't know what's in it, don't buy it. The ingredient lists of foods that contain potentially harmful additives are almost always going to be longer, and they will often contain a number of complex chemicals with long-winded names.

To give you an idea of how I put all this into practice, here are some reasonably-priced, all-natural staples that I currently have in my kitchen. They all contain fewer than four ingredients:

-SimplyNature Organic, 100% Whole Wheat Rotini (Aldi)
-Trader Joe's Tomato Paste (Trader Joe's)
-Happy Harvest Canned Green Beans--No Artificial Flavors or Preservatives (Aldi)
-Ronzoni Healthy Harvest, 100% Whole Grain Lasagna Noodles (Walmart)
-Fit & Active 100% Whole Grain Thin Spaghetti (Aldi)
-SimplyNature Organic Canned Black Beans (Aldi)
-Sweet Harvest Canned Pineapple Chunks in 100% Juice (Aldi)
-Publix Brand Seasoned Salt and Chili Powder (Publix)
-Great Value Ground Cumin (Walmart)
-California Garlic Powder (Trader Joe's)
-Alessi Balsamic Vinegar (Kroger)
-Crystal Hot Sauce (Walmart)
-USDA Organic Coconut Oil (Aldi)

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Quality Time with Sisters

As I mentioned last week, we spent a three-day weekend with my in-laws over New Year's. Mr. Handsome spent a few hours on Saturday afternoon giving art lessons to his two youngest sisters, Mae and Lena.

He pulled up a Google image of a parrot and showed them how to copy it. They wanted to draw a sunset, but my husband convinced them that the parrot would be more fun. (He actually chose the parrot because he knows how much I like birds.)

Once again, I was blown away by Mr. Handsome's artistic talent! I stopped by Goodwill and found a frame for $1.99 and then hung his masterpiece in our kitchen.

Mr. Handsome's latest piece of artwork

The girls, ages 12 and 14, did a fabulous job on their parrots. Mr. Handsome used to spend a lot of time with them before we moved to Tennessee, so I was glad to see the three of them have a chance to do something fun together. 

As I wrote in my "How I Met My Husband" post last summer, one of the things that stuck out to me during my first encounter with Mr. Handsome three-and-a-half years ago was his relationship with these two girls. Seeing how much he genuinely enjoyed spending time with them told me a lot about his character.

Mae and Lena enjoy their art lesson with Mr. Handsome

Friday, January 8, 2016

Ice Skating

How did you celebrate New Year's? Mr. Handsome had a three-day weekend, so we left home at 4pm on December 31st and drove six hours to his family's house, arriving just in time to watch the ball drop and ring in the New Year with sparkling grape juice.

The rest of our visit was primarily spent playing board games, watching movies, and pigging out on leftover Christmas cookies. On January 2nd, we decided that we needed to do something active, so several of us went skating at a local ice rink. (Mr. Handsome's parents stayed home with my 17-month-old niece, and his two brothers were out with friends.)

There were at least 150 people on the rink, which made for some pretty bumpy ice. (Mr. Handsome jokes that we might as well have been skating on gravel.) At one point, my two youngest sisters-in-law and I were all holding hands, with my husband in the middle for stability.

 Ice skating with Mr. Handsome's four sisters and brother-in-law

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Family Photo Wall

 Mr. Handsome and me with his parents and grandparents

When I married Mr. Handsome, I was blessed to become part of a large, close-knit family. My brother and I only have five first cousins, all of whom are older and live far away. (I was honored that most of them made it to our wedding!)

Mr. Handsome, on the other hand, has six younger siblings, one of whom (Anne) is married with one daughter. On his dad's side, he has 11 first cousins and 16 "first-cousins-once-removed."

On his mom's side, my husband has seven first cousins. (Only one is married, and she does not yet have children.) We expect both sides of the family to grow exponentially in the coming years.

My grandparents are elderly and unable to travel, and my husband's paternal grandparents are deceased, so his maternal grandparents were the only ones to attend our wedding. We call them "Gram and PopPop," and they are just wonderful. They have treated me like one of their own since Mr. Handsome and I started dating.

Gram recently started a photo wall in her basement and has set aside space for five pictures of each grandchild's wedding and future family. (The wall is still in its early stages, as her youngest grandchild is only 10 years old.) Gram emailed these snapshots to me a few days ago:

Our section of the wall, featuring five wedding photos

Anne's section (right) contains wedding photos and a picture of her 17-month-old daughter

Love,
Ellie

Monday, January 4, 2016

20 Random Facts about Me

A reader encouraged me to a share 20 random facts about myself, so here goes! (The bolded blue type indicates the link to a post that provides more info.

1. My name is Ellie, and I am a newlywed in my early 20s who loves the Lord.

Engagement
2. My husband--whom I refer to as Mr. Handsome--and I were married in June 2015 after a 23-month dating courtship and a three-month engagement. We were married in a church in his hometown and had an outdoor wedding reception with nearly 300 guests in my in-laws' backyard.

3. I grew up in the suburbs of a large city, while my husband is from the country. We now live in Nashville, Tennessee (hence the name of my blog).
4. I work at home as a freelance writer.

5. I only have one sibling (a brother who is three years older), and although we are close, I always begged my parents to have more children.
Skiing with my brother (-20F)

6. My husband is the oldest of seven, and we both hope to have a large family. (We say our range is 4-10 kids.)

7. Growing up, my family rarely went out to eat. (And by rarely, I mean less than 10 times.) My husband's family enjoys eating out at least a few times per month, so that's something I have had to adjust to in our marriage.

8. My family is originally from Canada, so my parents both learned to ski from an early age and passed that on to my brother and me. Starting when I was six years old, we hit the slopes almost every weekend.

Wedding
9. We never had dogs or cats, but we did have birds. Our parakeet wasn't trained, but we allowed him to fly free in the bathroom for a few hours per week. Our cockatiel, on the other hand, loved to sit on shoulders and give kisses.

10. Mr. Handsome is not a fan of birds, so it's unlikely that we will ever have one.

11. Dark chocolate is my guilty pleasure. 

12. I was born at 8:30pm on Easter Sunday. My mom's labor was so quick that she was able to attend church and organize a small Easter egg hunt for my brother before heading to the hospital.

13. I only drink coffee when I have to drive long distances, but when I do, I like it black. (On the rare occasion that I receive a Starbucks gift card, I do indulge in one of their sugary lattes or iced drinks, although one can hardly consider that true coffee.)

14. I shower at night because I find it more relaxing. Is that weird?

Valentine's Day banquet
15. I played competitive tennis and badminton in high school. (While tennis has a steeper learning curve, badminton rallies are actually quicker and more physically demanding when playing competitively.)

16. My goal for 2016 is to read through the Bible.

17. Guacamole is my second guilty pleasure.

18. My passion for writing prompted me to pursue a bachelor's degree in news-editorial journalism.

19. I attended a state school with more than 40,000 students but was blessed to live in a house with three dozen other like-minded Christian gals. (I bunked in a large dorm with 19 of them but somehow managed to sleep soundly every night!)

20. During college, I cooked a meal for my 36 "sisters" every week, so I'm not at all intimidated by the idea of preparing food for large crowds.

I would love to hear some random facts about you all!


Love,
Ellie

Saturday, January 2, 2016

A Goal for 2016

Do you have any New Year's resolutions? My goal for 2016 is to read through the Bible. I created a two-year reading plan for my sister-in-law's high school Awana group, although I hope to complete it by January 1st, 2017.

Instead of listing specific chapters for each day, my reading plan has monthly goals. That means you don't have to worry about getting off track if you miss a couple days.

Would you like to join me in reading through the Bible? My reading plan is embedded below, or you can click here to open it in a new window.