Wednesday, July 30, 2014

L.O.V.E. Series Part Three

Sacred Marriage Chapter Two, Gary Thomas
"Finding God in Marriage"

This chapter contains purely Christian belief, but serves as a strong reminder for the integrity of marriage.

Thomas begins this chapter by reminding us that God is the ultimate Creator. He also provides example after example from the Bible of how God wants to relate to his people as through the way a husband and wife relate in a marriage. Meaning, God wants a loving and intimate relationship with us, as opposed to a "blind adherence to principles". Being a Christian is not following a set of rules, but instead it is creating and maintaining a relationship with our Lord and Savior. 

Okay, so how does this play a role in marriage?  I find it to be best explained through Ephesians 5:
22 Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body. 24 Therefore, just as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything.
25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her,26 that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, 27 that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish. 28 So husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies; he who loves his wife loves himself. 29 For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as the Lord does the church. 30 For we are members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones. 31 “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” 32 This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church.33 Nevertheless let each one of you in particular so love his own wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.

Marriage is the single, best analogy to compare Christ's unfailing love and commitment to the Church. Thomas argues that Paul in 2 Corinthians 5 says it best that our number one priority as Christians is to please God. Therefore, we pursue our marriage with the goal of pleasing God. And how do we accomplish this? As discussed in previous posts already, through selfless living. We've discussed this concept in the context of making our spouses happy, but what if we aim to make God happy with our marriage? Well, I think the answer is obvious that if you seek to please God, you will in effect please your spouse. 

Thomas goes on to discuss reconciliation, defined as: "to end a relation of enmity, and to substitute for it one of peace and goodwill". God's mission in sending his one and only son to Earth was to reconcile mankind with Him. Why shouldn't our marriage reflect this monumental task? We should be developing a relationship with our spouse that models "forgiveness, selfless love, and sacrifice".

This is precisely why God never intended for divorce and why He hates it (Malachi 2:16). To carry your message of Christian faith, you must first live it. It's pretty difficult to convince people of anything when your message is "do as I say, not as I do"... Thomas states that the number one reason he seeks the integrity of his marriage is because he sees it as his Christian duty. God wants you to please Him and the best way to do this for a married couple is through nurturing your marriage.

Finally, Thomas ends the chapter with a discussion of lightning. There are places throughout the US that receive a significant amount of rain. As a result, when lightning strikes, there is little chance of  a fire starting. However, there are other places where it is always so dry, the smallest spark can set off a raging wildfire. Every single marriage faces temptations ("sexual temptations, communication problems, frustrations, unrealized expectations"), but if your marriage is heavily "watered" with the foremost desire to please God above anything else, the conditions won't be right for a fire to engulf you after that lightning strikes.

The principles from this chapter go well with what we discussed from Chapter One in the last post. God needs to be an integral part of your marriage. I am not saying that non-Christian marriages can't survive, because divorce rates do not differ among believers vs. nonbelievers. Really the message of this chapter is if you are a Christian, then God has to be the central key to your marriage. From personal experience I find that placing God in my relationship has strengthened our marriage beyond measure. I find that it takes a lot of pressure off the relationship. You no longer have these impossible expectations of your spouse, but instead you evaluate how well you are relating with God and how that positively or negatively affects your relationship with your spouse. It increases your accountability for the marriage relationship, which is sadly a trait that is losing itself in our "blameless" society.

This chapter doesn't provide much context for application, but chapter three discusses "learning to love". We will discuss how marriage teaches us how to love, not only our spouse, but also God. "Sacred Marriage" continually relates back to itself in other chapters, as you can already see. As we continue through this series, you will see how all these topics come together for a great marital foundation and strong relationship with God.

Readers: If you are a Christian, how has pleasing God strengthened your marriage/significant relationship? If you're not a Christian, what have you found to be the best way to strengthen your marriage/significant relationship? 

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Spinach Calzone and Easy Fried Rice

You know you're a blogger when you're husband asks, "Aren't you going to take a picture of this for the blog?" :D

I've got two great recipes I want to share with you today, but before we get there.. watch this:

"Wait a second, why should you care what they think of you? When you're all alone, by yourself, do you like you? You don't have to try so hard, you don't have to give it all away. You just have to get up, you don't have to change a single thing." "Take your make up off, let your hair down. Take a breath, look in the mirror at yourself. Do you like you? 'Cause I like you"

Can I just say that I LOVE the movement taking place right now for women to empower themselves. :)

Now on to the food!

Mmm... spinach calzones! These were actually quite delicious and I hadn't planned on sharing them, but Judah told me I had to.

Spinach Calzones
     15 oz ricotta cheese
     2 eggs
     2 tbsp italian seasoning
     3 cups mozzarella cheese
     1 cup parmesan cheese
     10 oz. chopped frozen spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
     salt and pepper to taste
     32 oz pizza dough (you can make your own with this recipe)

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Mix together all the ingredients (minus the dough) in a large bowl. Divide the dough into 8 pieces and roll out into circles. Fill each one with about a half cup of the filling, fold over and seal the dough edges. (I used a fork to press together the dough edges). Place on a cookie sheet or pizza stone and bake for 30 minutes. To avoid cheese gushing out, poke a hole in the top of each calzone.

I swear that is pizza sauce and not ketchup! haha But seriously, these were delicious. Not too cheesy, not too spinach-y. It was a perfect combination and definitely not greasy like pizza place calzones. 
We had a total of six calzones because Judah wanted to make a pizza too. I froze three of them to eat later in the week. I will let you all know how well they come out after thawing. Judah ate one the following day, after being refridgerated and said it still tasted great.

Want a quick, easy, healthy weeknight meal with endless possibilities? Here ya go:

Easy Fried Rice
     2-3 tsp sesame seed oil (available in the Chinese food section of Walmart)
     2-3 tbsp soy sauce
     1-3 cups day old rice
     1/2 cup - 2 cups vegetables - green onion and any other veggies you want
     1-2 eggs
     1/2-1 pound of meat of choice

So this recipe isn't very specific because it is entirely up to you how you want to make it!

First, pick your vegetables. I have tried green beans (about 1.5 cups), summer squash (2 small sized), and frozen peas (1/2 cup) and they all have worked great. Start with those in a large frying pan/wok and 1-2 tsp of sesame oil. Dice two-three stalks of green onion and mix those in with the vegetables. If your vegetables won't cook in 3-4 minutes, I recommend cooking them via a different method first (I had to boil the green beans for five minutes before putting them in the pan).

Next, pick your meat of choice, if using meat. You can use only one or two eggs for protein if you would like. Chicken is a popular option. I have only tried shrimp so far. You can cook them separately, or start them in the pan before the vegetables. When I used shrimp, I boiled them in water first for four minutes (I bought uncooked shrimp).

Add one or two eggs. If using meat, I would add only one egg, if using no meat, add two-three depending on how many people this meal is for. Mix the eggs with 1 tsp of sesame seed oil first for added flavor. Divide into small pieces as it cooks in the pan.

Add the leftover rice. You want to use day old rice because it tends to be drier, which benefits this dish. I have used freshly made rice - it just makes a mushier stir fry. For the two of us, I typically use 1.5-2 cups of cooked rice and we tend to have leftovers. Add 2-3 tbsp of soy sauce to the rice and mix until all the ingredients are thoroughly combined and heated through. Serve and enjoy!

This meal is meant to come together in literally 15-20 minutes from start to finish. Be sure to have all your ingredients out and ready before putting anything in the pan because it all cooks FAST. But it is extremely versatile and tastes great!

If you're someone who needs more exact instructions, this is the recipe I first used to make my first attempt at this recipe. But it really is so simple that I don't even need to look at it anymore!

The picture above and this one features white rice, shrimp, and peas:

Readers: what are your favorite fried rice ingredients?

Monday, July 28, 2014

How God is Working in My Life

"I love this crazy, tragic, sometimes almost magic, awful beautiful life" - Darryl Worley

"These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world" - John 16:33, NKJV

Life is filled with trials and tribulations. We all struggle at times and all go through them. But we can't forget the good times either. The sunshine, the happiness, the laughs. It's all a part of life.

There's no easy way to say this, and I've debated sharing this, but I think it's needed. Less than a week after I was married, my parents discussed filing for divorce. My mom has moved out of the house and into her new apartment so they could each have space and time apart. This past Friday, I received the news that my mom has a cancerous tumor in her lung. She starts chemotherapy and radiation sometime next week or the following week, once she meets with all the necessary doctors. I currently live nine hours away from my family. All I ask is for you to pray. For strength. For hope. For clarity. For healing. For peace. For comfort. Most importantly I pray that you will read this entire blog post about how God has worked in my life.

You can't plan life. It just happens. And it goes on. What I have learned is during every season of your life, you need to push yourself closer to God. He has a plan for everything. All He asks of us in return is to love one another, model ourselves after Jesus Christ, and to spread the Gospel. So this is my story shared. God has done amazing things in my life and I have only been a self-proclaimed Christian for about fifteen months now.

I applied to dozens of colleges/internships/jobs before I graduated college in 2012. Nothing was panning out until one Tuesday night, about two weeks after graduation, I submitted an application to a hospital in Texas. I never wanted to go to Texas (it's way too hot!) and I didn't want to work a clinic job (this was clinic outreach), but my options were dwindling. The next morning I received a phone call from my future boss saying "let's talk about your application". Eight days later I was hired and preparing for my move to Texas. It was one of the best decisions of my life and I fully believe God brought me there.

I didn't wanna go out with my friends that Saturday night in December of 2012. But suddenly my mind changed. My roommate never tried to set me up with random strangers. Yet poor Judah was dragged over to show me how to two-step that night. We instantly hit it off and dated for three months. When he was leaving Texas, he told me he didn't want anything serious or a distance relationship at that time. I remember texting him as he drove away that I wasn't going to cry because I knew in my heart that we would see each other again. And we would.

A few days before he left, we had one conversation about God and he told me about Jesus. And truth be told, I thought he was crazy. He told me how his faith always got him through the tough times and he found peace in knowing God was there. Never having had that in my life, I just couldn't understand, and I honestly thought that may be the thing that separates us. But two days after he drove away, I went to church. And I cried during service because the words spoke right to my heart. The worship leader prayed "If you are hurting, God is here and He is listening." God finally made His presence known to me.

Judah and I never would have survived the distance without God. Two and half weeks after he left Texas, he finally told me he wanted to keep trying at our relationship. Neither of us knew what was going to happen, but we weren't ready for goodbye yet. For anyone who has ever been in a distance relationship, you know it isn't easy. It makes everything more difficult and it forces the relationship to be more serious than perhaps it is ready for.

Judah and I broke up last August for three days because we felt like we were on different life paths. I was an absolute wreck, but on that third day, a calm feeling settled over me. I knew deep down that we would stay together. Sure enough that night Judah told me he missed me and didn't want it to be over. God helped us. And as I've been discussing in my L.O.V.E. series (which yes, I need to work on more!) there are numerous ways that pursuing a closer relationship to God can significantly improve your relationship. I am a firm believer that it takes three for any type of serious relationship.

Just one day shy of a year and half from when we met, I married Judah. My friends from back home thought I was crazy. You don't get engaged after only a year of dating! How could you possibly know that's who you want to spend the rest of your life with. I don't, but God does. The distance was also a factor. You don't keep spending time and money, and putting in effort for someone who you don't see a future with. With my job ending in Texas and the constant moving of Judah's job may have "forced" our timing of things, but I still would never trade my marriage for anything. For more discussion on this topic, check out my L.O.V.E. series posts (here and here)

I've always been a rather high-stressed individual. I constantly worry and try to plan as much as I can. But probably the single, most greatest gift I have received from placing my faith in God is learning to trust Him in everything and find peace. That is what I have noticed most about people with a strong faith. There is such peace and calm that surrounds them, because they have no reason to fear or be anxious. God will work His plan the way the He wants. You simply need to open your heart and mind to Him and His plan.

I am very far off from having complete serenity, but even in the past year, I have noticed a dramatic difference in myself. I know that family and friends have seen this change too. Now, it doesn't mean that you can't do anything in your life. We still have free will and you have decisions that you must make every day, but when you open your heart to prayer, God will guide you where you need to go. That's why right now I constantly find myself upset that I'm not working. But I know that God will open an opportunity for me when the time is right. I need to have patience, I need to have faith, I need to pray, and I need to keep myself open to when He reveals His plan for me.

I can't tell you what to believe. All I can do is share my story as proof of God's existence and the way He works absolute wonders in your life, when you let Him. These are the "big highlights" of how God has changed my life. Yet every day there are small things that show me how God affects me, and although I am incredibly grateful for the big things He has done, nothing makes me happier than the smallest prayer that He answers day in and day out.

Thank you for taking the time to read this entire post, and even if I haven't changed your mind, I hope  I made you pause and think. Feel free to leave a comment or reach out privately. But I do ask for no negative feedback. There is enough hate in this world, we don't need to add to it.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

What Are Your Goals?

It seems like I haven't written any of the posts I promised for this week... oops! But this is why I love entering the blogging world. You read other people's work and it inspires your own thoughts.

With that, go and read this: Six Pack Abs: Do You Want Them? Can You Get Them? Is It Worth It? It is a lengthy read but so worth it!

I replied to Scott's post and said:
1. I really don't know.
2. I don't think I can (extremely short distance between my sternum and bellybutton so I'm not sure if there is even a six pack in there! ha)
3. I don't know and that's why I have trouble answering #1
As a female, obviously body image is a HUGE part of life. I liked your discussion of the times you felt great when you had a six pack and the times you felt awful when you had a six pack. I am constantly finding ways to tweak my diet and exercise habits for long-term sustainability. If I was able to find a zone that made me feel awesome and allowed me to have six pack abs then I would absolutely love to and it'd be worth it. But through my experiences with my body, I think I would have to put myself through a lot to achieve a 6-pack look. Doesn't help that the female body naturally wants to hold on to more fat than the male body.
My ultimate long term health goals are to maintain a healthy weight, active lifestyle, and prevent chronic disease. I don't need six pack abs to achieve that. If one day I find myself seeing more definition in the mirror, that will be awesome! But if it never happens, I'm perfectly okay with it too. 

I think most females will agree with me that our own worst enemy looks us in the mirror each and every day. For YEARS I have battled with myself and only recently have I felt like I have been winning the fight in the mirror.

Scott replied to me:
Great insights Shelby... I appreciate this wonderful share.
The beauty about the process... of trying new things... is having that open mind... willingness to experiment with a keen sense of awareness... and discover what makes you feel your best... and gain the most joy.
It took me a while to get to this point. I've been honing the skill for a few years... and that's after the first 5 years of 'failures'. I've learned a great deal about myself during the past three years... and have finally settled into what makes me truly happy... what's truly sustainable... a lifestyle... and I look forward to continuously tweaking and improving. It's a lifelong journey and I love it!
So glad to hear this article gave you pause... a moment to reflect on what you want. We don't do that enough.
Thanks again for sharing your insights. It means a great deal to me.

His article and this comment here echoes the take home message: fitness and health is a LIFELONG journey. There is a phrase, "it's not about the destination, it's about the journey", and it totally applies here! We all know the destination... death and eternal life in Jesus Christ (for my Christian followers out there). But how do you want to spend your time on Earth? Now taking a detour for one second, Christian life often argues that you should always be focused on your life in heaven. And yes this is absolutely true. We can't take our possessions, money, or accolades with us when we go, only your faith. But what kind of life would you have during your time on Earth if you had poor health? Shouldn't part of your thanks to God include taking full advantage of the blessings of health he has bestowed upon you?

This thought process goes for everyone: Don't approach workouts with the mentality of "I have to do this", but instead with "I get to do this/I can do this". I promise you, if you commit yourself to a fitness routine, it will get easier. For the past week I have been thinking how much easier it feels to walk the two miles to the gym, complete my weight workout, and walk the two miles home. Man, that first week I walked to the gym, I seriously considered waiting 'til Judah got home at night to go workout. But I stuck to it and now a month later, walking really isn't a challenge. Even the short hill I have to go up when I first leave the gym isn't so bad. Back when I was training for my half marathon, there came a point that my 7-mile runs felt easy. I got out of bed excited to go run for 75 minutes. You just need to have patience and take the time to put in the effort. And if all else fails, you can do all things through the strength of Christ (Philippians 4:13).

And apparently I was meant to write this blog post today because Gibson's Running Quotes on Facebook shared this motivational quote:
"How many times have we encountered a running friend who, perhaps in the middle of a slump, or dealing with an injury, or god forbid has to run in some slightly adverse conditions, said they 'HAVE to do X miles later today?' I readily admit I used to be one of those runners.
There are days I just do not have the intense desire to go for a run. I will simply bide my time, dressed in my shoes and shorts, just hoping to get another spam email telling me that I need a better mortgage so I can delete it and delay my run. But I know one thing for certain and that is I do not HAVE to run. No, I GET to run.
The distinct difference between 'have to' and 'get to' comes from the fact that all around us there are people who would run at any chance they could, but because of serious injuries or other circumstances, have been robbed of that blessing.
I am in no way saying we cannot have bad days and that our own sufferings and troubles need to always be compared to others who have it worse. We are welcome to have our own down moments and lulls of appreciation as to the gifts we have. However, the next time you think about what workout you 'have' to do, take just one second to realize how lucky you are that you 'get' to do it. Then go do it."
-Dane Rauschenberg, extreme runner
I always say, start small and build from there. If all you can do today is a ten minute walk and five push ups, that's fine. Think about this image:

So let's come back to the blog post title: What are your goals?

This post comes at an interesting time for me. It seems pretty definite that Judah and I will be staying where we are living through the rest of this year, so I now have the option to find work. I also have been deciding how to approach my workouts. When I ask, "what are your goals?", I don't only mean health-wise. What are your goals for life? And what do you do each and every day to work towards those goals?

In terms of my health, I already stated it in Scott's post comments. I want to maintain a healthy weight, which for me will range between 125 and 140 pounds throughout my life (hopefully!). I want to always be active, one way or another. Whether I take up walking around the neighborhood, tackle a marathon, or become an avid tennis player. And finally, I want to do everything I can to prevent chronic disease, which exercise will most definitely help. But I also need to eat right and avoid tobacco and excess alcohol. I can't do anything about my family genetics, which are not very great, but diet and exercise are two major tools I have in combatting those diseases.

I feel like I am having a quarter-life crisis at the moment (I will be 25 in October after all...). I know I want to be a great wife, with strong Christian values that I am able to showcase, and one day I want to be a great mother. A woman in my community group put it so well, she wants to be the mom who her kids' friends want to be around, that they will always want to go to her house because they can feel the love and the "home" she has created. In terms of a "career", I just want to help people reach their health, fitness, and life goals. I've put in a lot of thought towards pursuing counseling or if I could be a personal trainer/aerobics instructor again. Or wellness coaching. Something along those lines. Even if I never earn another dollar in my lifetime, I'd still be happy because that's how much I love this topic. Reading blogs of other coaches/instructors and just watching people in the gym, I want to get involved so badly!! Right now I have been praying for God to show me what direction he wishes for me to take. I can feel it, I'm on the brink of whatever that may be, but I still need to be patient for Him to unfold His plan for me! (Have I ever mentioned I am impatient?) But God's timing is always perfect, so I am taking deep, steady breaths to stay calm.

Readers: What are your goals? This can be for anything - health, life, career. Take your pick! I want to hear your stories!

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Are you an Introvert or an Extrovert?

The age old question: are you an introvert or are you an extrovert?

I am an introvert and I have struggled with it immensely over the years! Tony Gentilcore tackles this topic in two of his latest blog posts, here and here, discussing how a coach can use this personality trait to their advantage.

The ironic part is I have no issue presenting information in front of a large crowd. I've done this several times, including presenting my senior case study to a group of about 600 students and faculty members at a student conference, and other than my tendency to speak very fast, I totally rocked it! But ask me to call and order a pizza, forget it! Thankfully Judah has no problem ordering food ;P

I've been thinking about this a lot recently because of moving to a new place and trying to fit in. I have never made friends easily and I don't have a large group of friends. I remember having a conversation with my former roommates when I was their RA and they told me "it took like 6 weeks before you even really talked to us!" And I have four other groups of roommates of whom none of them are my friend today. I've never connected closely with coworkers, unless I had a previous social connection with them, and it sometimes became a problem. I had a hall director in college who could not understand why I kept a professional relationship with my coworkers and feared for my social well-being at future jobs. Needless to say, that was the same hall director who told me maybe I should quit Res Life.. But he had a point to a degree.

Our culture has a difficult time understanding introverts. Why don't you want to always be in the middle of things? Why don't you enjoy large crowds of people? What's wrong with you? You can't possibly be happy staying in on a Friday night.

But the truth is.. yes I am! Thankfully I like to plan in advance and there have been many occasions where I made plans ahead of time for a Saturday night. I would have backed out if I had made the plans that day because it's difficult for me to want to go and "be social".

I definitely know I am not a recluse because I love talking with people. I just happen to prefer it one on one or in very small groups for short periods of time.

I took the Carl Jung and Isabel Briggs Myers Personality Test to see where I scored today.  It's a personality test that assesses four dimensions. First it assesses where you draw you energy from. Extroverts have external sources and introverts have internal sources that drive their energies. That's why an extrovert needs lots of external stimulation, whereas introverts don't. The personality test also assesses how you perceive information. Either you sense it, relying on fact, or you use intuition, or your own understanding of the world. Then how do you process this information? Do you think and make decisions logically, or do you feel and make decisions based on emotions? Finally, do you function primarily through judgement (operate within strict rules and norms) or perception (operate within opportunities and possibilities of what could be).

So I got INTJ - introvert, intuitive, thinking, and judging. Here are some highlights of the description:
- specialized knowledge systems established at a young age
- in areas of expertise, can tell you immediately if they can or can't help you
- they know what they know and know what they don't know
- perfectionists always seeking improvement in anything that interests them
- always asks the question, "does it work?"
- known as system builders and have no tolerance for "slackers"
- will undermine supervisors or coworkers if they see the answer to a critical decision, but will recognize all contributing efforts on a project, even those often unnoticed by others
- what they do tends to be what they know - sciences, engineering, law, academia
- extremely private people, naturally impassive = hard to read
- want other people to make sense
- have willingness to "work at" relationships
- their relationships with others reflect robustness, stability, and good communications

Seems pretty spot on to me! I chose Athletic Training in college because I loved exercise and science, but wanted to do more than just study it. I have also noticed that if I have a passion for something, you can't stop me from pursuing it and wanting to improve in that area, but if I have no interest in something, good luck motivating me to do anything with it!

I LOVE this type of stuff - personality assessments, psychological profiles, etc. Probably because I want people to make sense ;) haha
But seriously, that's why I minored in psychology in college. It fascinates me how the mind works and why we do the things we do. Which is sort of a nice transition into my next blog post in my L.O.V.E. series!

Readers: I challenge you to take the personality test above and determine your personality type. Did the test accurately reflect what you've observed about yourself? 

Monday, July 21, 2014

In The Works

I don't really know why I haven't been able to buckle down and write lately. I have a lot of ideas for the blog, but I just haven't put anything down.

This is what I am planning to accomplish this week:

- the next installment of my L.O.V.E. series - the first post is HERE and the second post is HERE - it will include a recap of the next chapter of Sacred Marriage, a discussion of the first part of The 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman, and some personal anecdotes. It will most likely be a long post, but a good read :)

- a fitness post - I previewed a picture of me lifting at the gym this weekend on my Facebook page - I want to showcase a full workout for you guys, including pictures, but it's a little difficult to take a selfie while you're bench pressing.. so I need Judah to accompany me to the gym sometime and help me out with that. So no promises it will come this week, but hopefully soon!

- a health post - since I did say I wanted to discuss health and fitness on this blog I will try to make it a weekly, or biweekly goal to post a post on that topic - plus it'll be good to keep my skills fresh since I still am unable to search for a job

- product review - Judah and I are trying this new protein powder from GNC so I wanna research it more and I'll blog about it :)

- a post about the West Virginia Penitentiary. Judah and I took a tour there yesterday and it was pretty interesting! Since I'm such a murder mystery lover, I found it cool. I want to do some research into the penitentiary so this post might be delayed a few weeks, but I will definitely get to it eventually

And I'll make sure to keep you all updated on Maple. She is becoming so friendly with us! You can hardly open the fridge without her wheeking for a treat and when I have her on the ground, she is becoming much more brave and coming up to us. Still no babies, but we have seen some kicks!  I'll leave you with this video clip I caught of her the other day... such a cutie pie!

Saturday, July 19, 2014

First Attempt at Homemade Bread = Success!

Who doesn't love the smell of freshly made bread baking? The first time I went to meet Judah's family, his mom was in the process of making her homemade bread. It smelled and tasted awesome.

Bread is something I have been wanting to try homemade for some time now, especially since getting married. However, I don't have a bread machine and until last weekend, I didn't have a stand mixer. But of course I pinned some recipes on Pinterest and this one caught my eye from Eat Cake For Dinner's blog. It uses entirely whole wheat flour and she says that it comes out best when she uses her mixer instead of her bread machine.

Honey Whole Wheat Bread
     1.5 tbsp instant yeast
     2 cups warm water
     1/3 cup honey
     3-4 cups whole wheat flour
     1.5 tsp salt
     1/8-1/2 cup add ins (oats, sunflower seeds, etc)

Combine the yeast, honey and water in the bowl of your stand mixer. Let it sit for 5-10 minutes until frothy/bubbly. Add in 1.5 cups of flour, the salt, and whatever add-in you would like to use. I added 1/2 cup old fashioned oats. Turn the mixer on low with the dough hook attachment. Continue adding 1/2 cup of flour at a time until the dough forms and barely pulls away from the sides (it will still be quite sticky). Continue to mix for another four minutes. When finished, place the dough in an oiled bowl, cover with a damp cloth, and let it sit to rise for about an hour. Punch down with your hands when it has risen (literally push it down to collapse the dough) and place in a greased loaf pan. Let it sit to rise until doubled again (30-60 minutes). When fully risen, bake at 350 degrees for 30-35 minutes. The loaf should sound hollow when you tap on it. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for ten minutes before removing it from the pan to cool on a rack. 

Here are some pictures for you!
Bread is pretty simple in terms of ingredients...

That's what your yeast should look like when it is ready!

Add in the oats, flour, and salt...

And start mixing!

The dough is starting to form..

There we go... It has finally formed a dough ball and isn't sticking to the sides anymore 

Finished product!

Press it down into the loaf pan. May want to use a spoon so you don't get finger indentations..

 Almost risen..

There we go!

Mmm! Hollow sounding when I tap on it.. perfect!

Ready to cool on the rack

Thankfully the finger dents pressed out :D

Looks great on the inside too!

A little butter... 

And delicious!

The french toast we made with it this morning! So gooood :)

I told Judah I was nervous for how the bread was going to turn out because I'll be honest, it didn't smell all that delicious as it was baking. It smelled good, but not heavenly, like bread usually does. But once I tasted it, I knew I had success! My bread came out slightly denser than store-bought whole wheat loaves, but definitely in a good way. To store it, I wrapped it twice in plastic wrap and it did fine overnight. 

Homemade bread takes a while simply because of the rising time, but if you're going to be around the house for 3-4 hours, it is definitely worth trying out! Hands on time is minimal and with a mixer, you hardly get your hands dirty :) 

On a different note, I was very excited yesterday.. our 5x7 wedding/engagement prints arrived in the mail along with the pictures frames I ordered from Kohl's!

And now I am fully convinced Maple is pregnant. Look how round she is getting! You can tell (not in this picture) that she isn't fat, but has a definite round spot for the baby(ies)

 She decided to crawl into the bag when I was trying to feed her the other day!
"Gee Mom, I only wanted some hay"

Too cute.. I ordered her a larger cage online. It should arrive by Wednesday hopefully. It will provide her over double the space she has now, which will make her much happier, and give her plenty of space for when the babies are born :)

Overall it was a very productive Friday, as I also cleaned up the house and organized. And we were very happy this morning when Judah got the call for a rain out and he doesn't have to work tomorrow. Two day weekend!!! So of course I'm sitting here blogging while he plays Call of Duty and Maple runs around on the floor :D

Readers: Have you ever made or eaten homemade bread? Do you prefer it to store-bought? 

Friday, July 18, 2014

Whole Wheat Pretzel Bagels

Who loves bagels? *raises hand*
Who loves pretzels? *raises hand*

What if you could combine them?


Yup, that's right, a whole wheat pretzel bagel. DELICIOUS. I found the recipe here, from Lovely Little Kitchen. I just purchased my KitchenAid mixer, which made this recipe super easy. If you don't have a mixer, you could knead the dough by hand (about 10 minutes).

Whole Wheat Pretzel Bagels
     1.5 cups warm water
     1 tbsp sugar
     2 tsp salt
     1 package active dry yeast (2.25 tsp)
     3 cups all purpose flour
     1.5 cups whole wheat flour
     1/4 cup melted butter
     10 cups water
     2/3 cup baking soda
     1 egg yolk with 1 tbsp water, whisked well

Combine the water, sugar, salt and yeast in a bowl. Allow to sit for 5-10 minutes so the yeast can activate. Add the flour and butter and mix on low speed for 5 minutes after the dough comes together (this kneads the dough).  Remove the dough from the bowl, coat the bowl with oil, and place the dough back in the bowl. Cover with a damp cloth and allow it to rest for an hour as it rises. Dough rises best in 80-85 degree conditions. If it's not that warm, it may take longer to rise. Once the dough has risen, preheat the oven to 450 degrees.
Boil the water and baking soda in a large pot. Divide the dough in half again and again until you have 8 or 16 pieces (8 pieces will make a typical size bagel, 16 would be for mini bagels). Poke a hole through each dough piece and form into a bagel shape. Once the water/baking soda mix is boiling, place the bagels in there, several at a time, and boil for 30-60 seconds. The dough will puff up a bit. Remove and place on a baking sheet. 
Coat the bagels with the egg wash. Bake for 10-12 minutes until golden brown.

It was so EASY using the mixer for dough! It also helped create the fluffy inside of the bagels. 

Mmm!! These really tasted like a pretzel! I couldn't believe it. I think it was a combination of the baking soda in the boiling water (normal bagels use honey) and then the egg wash on top.

A word of warning.. if you toast these the next day, the egg may burn slightly if it puddled in the center of the bagel. So I recommend picking off any extra egg before toasting, otherwise it won't smell very good.. 

I ate chili with these, which was great, and they also tasted awesome with cinnamon sugar and butter on top. Lovely Little Kitchen has a recipe for Cinnamon Sugar Cream Cheese you can pair the bagels with. I personally don't like cream cheese, so I didn't try it. 

I'm very excited to try a few different bagel recipes and some bread recipes now that I have the KitchenAid mixer. It definitely makes kneading dough way easier, which has two benefits. One, you have less work to do, and two, the dough kneads better. The first two bagel recipes I tried were "okay", but I think the fact that I kneaded them by hand made them both very dense. I'll keep you updated when I try them again :)

Don't be intimidated by a bagel recipe. They are actually quite easy to make! They have the extra step of boiling in the water, but you don't have to be a master chef to try them out. When a bag of 6 costs nearly $5 in the grocery store and a bakery doesn't offer them for any cheaper.. they're worth the homemade effort!

Readers: Are you a soft pretzel fan? Do you prefer them with cinnamon sugar or salt? What's your favorite bagel flavor? Do you like butter or cream cheese more?