Easy Italian Chicken and Rice



Let me tell y'all about one of my favorite meals... ever.

This incredibly easy, quick, and delicious Italian Chicken and Rice dish is perfect for busy families.

To start, put 2 tbsp of your favorite butter in a deep pan, over medium-low heat. As it's melting, add about 2 tbsp of your favorite Italian dressing, too. (Stay tuned and I'll share my recipe for homemade Italian dressing.)

Once the butter is melted and the dressing is warm, add 3 chicken breasts, cubed.




While your chicken is cooking, dice up 2 large bell peppers and 3-4 tomatoes.

(This is perfect if you're trying to find uses for your freshly grown veggies like me!)


 




Once your chicken is just cooked through, add 2 cups water and 2 1/2 cups of instant brown rice. It may require more water, so just pay attention and add about 2 tbsp at a time, if you feel the rice isn't submerged enough.

Once I get it all mixed up, I usually add another 2-4 tbsp of Italian dressing. 
(Be prepared, you're going to pretty much use the whole bottle.)

I usually add in about 3/4 cup of my favorite chicken stock now, too.




I usually let this cook uncovered for about 5-7 minutes before adding in my bell peppers. 




Once you've dropped them in, add in another 2-3 tbsp of Italian dressing and then cover!




I usually let this simmer for about 7 minutes before removing the lid. (Make sure there's enough liquid left in the pan, although your rice should be absorbing quite a bit now and softening up.) 

Your peppers' color should change to a deep olive green when they're cooked through. 




Once the lid is removed, add in your diced tomatoes and (you guessed it!) at least 2-3 more tbsp of Italian dressing. Stir the mixture up and let it simmer uncovered for another 5-10 minutes. 




Once your rice is fluffy and fully cooked through, your dish is ready for the final addition of Italian dressing and some shredded cheese. 




Once your cheese melts, this lovely dish is ready to serve!

I love this meal for its taste, simplicity, and for the fact that I can easily calculate macros. It's a perfect combo of carbs, proteins, and fats... as long as you can control the portions. And that, my friends, is a little hard to do. 

This recipe serves 6 easily or allows for leftovers... which is an absolute favorite of mine. 




Would you just look at that creamy, colorful goodness?! 

Try it out and let me know what you think. 


 

How Gardening Changed My Life



My garden is my happy place. 

Is it ginormous and beautiful? Only the latter. I live in the city, so a container garden on my back porch is what I get. But it's enough for me and Aaron... and still brings so much joy into my days!

And every year I find myself adding more and more to my container collection. 

Gardening has also taught me a lot about life, too, you know. I find myself noticing analogies that are useful on the regular. Truly. It's caused me to look at my life and understand a few things a little more clearly. 

For example, in order to have a successful garden, you have to put time and energy into it. There's no way out of that. It takes daily effort. Focused attention. Good judgment. The ability to foresee possible issues and handle them before they occur. 

Sounds like just about everything else in life, huh? 

If you want a job to work out, you have to work at it. In order to lose weight or tone up, you have to put time into your health every day. If you want a relationship to be healthy and strong, you have to give it energy and notice beforehand things that could cause issues and make moves to avoid running into them. 

That's pretty basic information that we already know, I'm sure. But when you're working on your plants every single morning and night, it helps that elementary truth remain at the forefront of your mind. 




And sometimes, your plants need support. They may start out just fine, sure. But during that daily check-up, pay close attention to any leaning or evidence of stress. The weight of the fruit or vegetables they're developing can become too heavy for them if left alone to bear the load.

Same goes for you, friend! No matter how much goodness you're carrying, it can become too much on your own over time. You have to know within yourself when you're getting worn down or you're about to break. What would help hold you up? 
A friend? Therapist? Day off work? A break from responsibilities? Setting a boundary with someone adding too much stress to your life? 

It doesn't take anything fancy or complicated. Just like my tomato plant only needed a recycled stake from last year, you just need something to help center you again. 




Know what else I've learned from gardening? 

Even if you do break, that doesn't mean you're done! 

Nope, you just have to set yourself up in a comfortable place for a while. Get some rest, a little TLC, and -in essence- propagate a bit. 

The little guy above, suffered from a fall. Completely snapped off from the rest of the family. I almost threw it out, but Aaron had a great idea. 

"Why don't you see if you can propagate that like you do your houseplants? Then replant it when the roots start growing."

Gah, I love that man.

That's exactly what I did, and it's working! Look at those roots! I don't think I need to explain the analogy that goes with this story. But hey! I still want to. 

You're not done yet, friend! If you're broken, that's okay. You are still full of the same potential that was there before. You may have a scar that won't go away. Maybe you feel the need to move away or start over in some capacity. You might feel alone for a little bit... but you're still capable of great things. And one day soon, you'll see the fruits of your labor if you continue to keep moving. 

Look at that picture above again... In a day or two, the little guy that was once broken and about to be cast out, will be the base of another amazing source of goodness. How cool is that?




One of my favorite parts about gardening is the variety you see. Just about everything you plant does better with a companion! Seriously! Radishes provide nitrogen to the soil that tomatoes love. Carrots loosen the soil which make peppers very happy. Oregano attracts pollinators and the insects you actually want around your plants. See where I'm going with this?

Just like our gardens, we need the right companions in our lives! Place the right people around you, and you'll only thrive! But, if you pair yourself up with individuals that don't have the right "nutrients," the outcome will be much different. 

 If you pair cauliflower, instead of carrots, with peppers you won't be seeing benefits... you'll literally starve your peppers! Cauliflowers are heavy feeders and will consume all the nutrients in the soil, leaving your peppers with nothing they need. 

The wrong people in your life could do the same to you! You have to look at the bigger picture and learn what is good for you and what leaves you starving for the love and support you need. 

And did you know that you have to prune your plants, too? 

That's right. If you don't, all the non-fruit/vegetable-bearing limbs will take some of the nutrients that your growing foods have to have to fully meet their potential. 

Just because it's connected, doesn't mean it should be. 

Use good judgment and determine if and when you should make a cut... on your plant and in your life!




When you put the work in, look at the beautiful growth you'll experience. I've already harvested 4 tomatoes, 2 yellow squash, and 2 bell peppers... but I have more than 85 more tomatoes already coming along, 5-10 more peppers, and 2 more squash. My basil and oregano are still going strong, too! 
It's definitely worth the work you put into it. 

Another fun thing about gardens?




All the unique concrete statues that just look too cool sitting in them!

When I say it's a place of peace and happiness, I mean every bit of that. It gives me something to nurture and a pretty place to enjoy every day. 

I never understood all the fuss until I started doing it myself... and now, I can't get enough! There's something so fulfilling about the whole process. And it absolutely comes with some delicious rewards. 

Little did I know it would also teach me things about my own life and how I should take care of myself. I never want to stop growing. (Well, the thighs could take a hike, but you get what I'm saying!) And in order for me to continue to be healthy and reach my potential, I have to put in effort. 

Hydrate! Enjoy some sunshine. Find support. Be intentional about my companions. Check my life and remove things/people/or my own weaknesses when needed. Surround myself with pretty things that make me smile. 

And if I break... realize I'm still useful and just need a safe place to rest until I'm rooted and grounded exactly where I need to be again. 


Making Homemade Biscuits and Bacon Gravy




Today, I'm going to give out my best biscuit recipe, and share a video on how to get the perfect gravy to pair with it. I've had so many people tell me that gravy is such a struggle for them. 

"It's too clumpy." 
"It's way too thick."
"It's always too runny."

I've never had too much of an issue, because I've learned a couple little tips along the way. They've led me to perfect gravy every time. 


Before we get into the video, let's talk about these biscuits!

Prep time only 15 minutes.

2 3/4 cup unbleached flour
3 tbsp raw sugar
2 tbsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp cream of tartar
1 cup almond milk
3/4 cup COLD butter
1 egg

Mix the dry ingredients. 
Add the butter into the mixture by cutting; use a pastry blender or butter knife to cut in. 
(You want pea size lumps throughout your batter.)
Add the milk and the egg and stir only until combined. 




Flour your surface and put on your sticky dough. 
Add some flour to the dough as you roll out into 1 inch thickness. 






I use a glass cup to cut out my biscuits. 
You can get 12, but I usually end up with 10.

I stack one “cut” on top of another, before putting in the oven. This gives me that rustic look I want. 
(Also helps when separating for jams, eggs and bacon, etc.)





Bake on 450 for 10-12 minutes. 
Don’t over bake!

This is key- check your biscuits after 8 minutes; and begin checking every 2 minutes. A biscuit can overbake so quickly. To get them fully cooked, and perfectly soft every time, follow this tip. 
They should just barely be golden... no brown! Pull them out and let them finish "baking" on the counter. This will keep them soft and flaky, without crisp edges and dry centers. 




Aren't they just lovely? 

Wait until you try one of them! They're absolutely delicious. 

Takes you back to a 1901 farm breakfast kinda' nostalgia. Seriously- grandmas everywhere would be proud of these beauties!
Ok, now let's move on to the country bacon gravy -- with oat milk. Dairy doesn't treat Aaron too well, so we substitute wherever we can. You don't have to, though. 
If you prefer cow milk, you can still rock this recipe out, along with all techniques followed. 

Just don't overthink it. It's very simple. Go by what feels right, one step at a time. You'll be a gravy expert in no time!





Kristi B's Perfect Pan-Cakes



We all know there are about a million and one amazing pancake recipes out there, but this one is mine! It's so good and almost completely dairy free. I'll keep searching for the best egg substitute to make it completely vegan, but until then... try these out!

They're fluffy and have that perfect denseness. They're just sweet enough to not be too much with the added syrup. 

This morning, I just wanted some good old-fashioned pancakes. I've been branching out and creating my own recipes lately, cause... #goals, so I grabbed a bowl or two and got after it. 




Aaron just had his wisdom teeth removed yesterday, so I figured they'd be good for him to eat, too. Thankfully, they were, and he loved them. 

He knows and loves good food, so when he compliments my recipes, it tickles me pink!

All you need is:

2 heaping spoonsful of butter
1 egg
3/4 tsp pure vanilla
1 1/2 cups oat milk
1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 cup sugar



Start off with two heaping spoonsful of salted vegan butter. (You can use regular salted butter if you're not trying to cut the dairy.) If you don't have salted butter, just add a 1/2 tsp of salt as instructed below.

Put in a bowl and warm it up for about 15 seconds. (You don't want it to fully melt.) 

Once removed, take your spoon and beat the butter until it's liquified. This will keep the butter cool, though, which is much better for setting the pancakes.

Next, add one egg and beat in with the butter. 

Pour in about 3/4 tsp of pure vanilla and 1/2 cup of oat milk.

In a separate bowl, combine your flour, baking powder, and baking soda. 
(If you only have unsalted butter, add in 1/2 tsp of salt to this mixture.)

Once combined, pour your dry ingredients in with your wet ingredients. Mix well. You will then add more oat milk, 1/2 cup at a time, as needed. (You shouldn't need more than another cup.)

Stir the batter well. 

Warm up a non-stick frying pan on the stove over med-high heat. Pour in about 1-2 tbsp vegetable oil and let it heat up. (You can test by adding a drop of water into the pan. If it sizzles, you're good to go!)

Using a 1/4 cup measuring scoop, pour the batter into the pan and let cook about 1-2 minutes each side. Don't flip until the cakes begin to bubble up in the middle. They should be just golden brown.

This recipe makes about 5 pancakes.

It only takes about 5 minutes to prep and 10 minutes to cook. Perfect for that quick back-to-school breakfast... it'll be approaching before you know it!

Top with butter, fruit, whipped cream, peanut butter, or syrup... or all the above if your little heart so desires!

We loved them and will definitely use this recipe again and again!




Try them out and let me know what you think!



Strawberry Blondies, with a Strawberry Lemon Glaze



These strawberry blondies, with a strawberry lemon glaze, are incredible, friends!

They take a little time and effort, but if you're willing to spend just a little time in the kitchen for a pretty, fun dessert, you should give these babies a go!

To start, preheat your oven to 350°F and then make your dough:





2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 egg, room temperature
Juice of 1 lemon
Zest of 1 lemon
1/4 tsp almond extract
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour, unbleached
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt


Cream the butter and sugar until thick and somewhat fluffy, using your stand mixer. If you don't have one, a hand mixer will work just fine.
Beat in the egg until incorporated. 
Add in your almond extract, lemon juice, and lemon zest. 

In a separate bowl, combine your flour, baking powder, and salt using a whisk.

Add to your wet ingredients. Mix until well combined. *The dough will be thick.*

To finish, watch this short video for the instructions:

*Note - I tried this recipe out using 1 1/2 cups of fresh strawberries. Even though I coated them with flour before incorporating, the liquid still made the desserts a little moister than I'd usually prefer. However, they can dry out, so I would do no less than 1 cup.





You gently fold in your diced strawberries and then transfer the batter to a parchment paper lined 9x9 inch baking dish. Smooth out as much as you can, without crushing the fruit. Again, the dough is thick, so it may take a couple minutes. 





Bake for about 30-35 minutes. They should start to appear golden around the outer edges and on the top. You also want to make sure the middle of the batter is set. (Insert a knife to see if it comes out clean.) 

After sitting out for about 10 minutes, remove the dessert by holding onto the parchment paper and transfer to a cooling rack so the bottom doesn't become soggy from the strawberries. (If this is proving to be difficult, you may need to put it back in the oven for another 3-5 minutes and repeat this process.)

The glaze should be ready for you to use. 
Puree of 2-3 large strawberries
Juice of 1 lemon
1 cup powdered sugar

Just don't pour over the blondies until fully cooled and sliced. 

They are sweet and a little tart, too! They may do well with some morning coffee and eaten like a strawberry crepe-flavored coffee cake. Yum!

Or, pair with some vanilla ice cream or cool whip to tame the tang.  Whatever your flavor preference is, these beauties are a must-try!




Get Out of Your Box and Find Your Circle


Yesterday was a good day.

Did anything go according to plan?

Absolutely not. The online information for the aquarium was inaccurate, so even though I purchased tickets I didn't get them, and they refunded my money without informing me. The conservatory was beautiful, but the butterfly show was over for the year. Still, Aaron and I found a way to find some joy in it. It actually turned out for the best; I think. I was looking for this amazing experience... the perfect outing... the wonder I've been missing.

When that didn't happen, again and again, the unhealthy parts of me spoke up. "This is just my life."

Ouch. Aaron and I dissected that statement until it was made evident that I expect bad things to happen and am thoroughly surprised when good things do.

Yuck! I don't want that anywhere near my life.

So, how do I change it?!




You know, sometimes we just let people and things hold us down for too long. It's nearly impossible to let go of disappointments and the choices of others that affect you. 

I know I talk about it often now, hopefully that will change at some point, but the divide we've experienced due to religion and people connected to us is just so angering. It splits families; maybe not completely... but when you're the one on the "outside," it's clear that things are not the same. 

I get it, though. We have different opinions, goals, interests, contacts, events, etc. We don't know the same people anymore. We don't have our entire year booked out for us now. (Thankfully!) We are so determined to make up for the adventure we missed as kids, that we want to experience everything these days. That's not shared by people that are still living in their box. 

That may sound harsh, and I'm sure I'll get some flak for saying that... but this is my story. This is my viewpoint based on the experiences I've had and the events I've witnessed. 

I used to live in that box, so it's not like I'm speaking out of ignorance. I remember when my world was small. I'll never forget the pressure to meet all expectations and make every event. I thought I was doing it all right. But now that I'm way out of it... I realize that while you're living in a box, you miss the people put in your circle. 

Here you are... placed on this earth to love and build up. There are a handful of people that were tied to you from the start. Purposefully put within your reach.
Family. Neighbors. Coworkers. 

Do you even notice them? Allow yourself to get close to them? To talk to them about things that you may not agree with respectfully... just to get to know them? Do you make it a point to let them know you're thinking of them? Hoping the best for them, really? Being someone in a circle outside the box, I can say that I doubt it for most people. 




It's really hard to comprehend how many people love you somewhat unconditionally but only accept you under their conditions. They may never be vocalized, but "actions speak louder than words" is still around for a reason. 

No one wants to constantly be reminded that you're not what others want you to be. So why do we continue to put ourselves in that company? It's debilitating. Hindering. 
I think people put up with it for so long because they're hoping things will change and that relationship that should be there one day will be. But it's not your responsibility to change others... just like it's not theirs to change you. So, if they don't celebrate you as a person, and look for opportunities to be around you in your full self, that's okay. Really. Others are just waiting to fill that void for you. But, if you're constantly focused on the ones that aren't, you'll never see those gems right around the corner. 

You can love people that don't give you what you need. It might be love from a distance, though. I talk about "front porch friends" all the time. That came from an analogy that my therapist used with me to explain how I need to keep people in their place. Expecting specific people to be for me what I need doesn't ever guarantee they will be. So, I have to pay attention to what they do provide and keep them where they belong.




Some people will simply be those that you pass on the street and wave to. You might stop for a second to chat about the weather, but the relationship never goes further than that. 

Others may join you on the front porch for a cup of lemonade. You can talk about what you did last weekend and what you're making for dinner... Maybe even mention your plans for the holidays. But that's that.

Then you have a few more than you let come sit on your couch... but not before you fluff those pillows up just a little bit. You know... you'll get comfortable around them, sure. But you're still on guard and don't want them to see the mess. Leave them there. You need them, too. 

And then there's your messy bathroom people. The ones who have proven to you that you are safe with them no matter what. They're not scared of your mess, and they won't shame you for it. Those are the ones you hold closely. And even though it can be discouraging that there aren't many... bathrooms are small for a reason. They're not meant to hold too many people at one time. 

Therapy has opened our eyes to the mountains of emotions that we never let ourselves feel or work through. Forgive us for talking about it all now. It's a new thing for us. It's hard to speak about these disappointments. There's the fear that people will start to get annoyed or that those feelings will continue to be invalidated as they were for so many years. But we do it anyway, because life is a journey that you'll be on until it stops. And I for one want mine to be the best kind possible. 

It takes work to move forward.

It's uncomfortable to grow.

But you start to see the obstacles that have been in your way. You begin noticing the trends that lead to your depression. It becomes apparent who doesn't exhibit acceptance and where you feel unconditional safety and love. Take notice... so you can make necessary changes. 

It's up to you to draw those boundary lines. You have to. Because being on the verge of tears on a regular basis is no bueno. Carrying around anger is tiring. Feeling hurt or less than just sucks. 

Lay aside expectations. Accept what is. And shoot for what can be... that YOU'RE in control of.

At the end of the day, you have to live a life that brings you peace and joy. While I'm not at all encouraging selfishness, I am stressing that self-care is a must... whether everyone understands your needs or not.

All those people... all those things... every bad scenario you play out over and over in your brain... let them go. Send them on their way. You have places to go and people to see. Take those dusty dreams back off the shelf and go for them... because they are yours for the taking. You have them for a reason. Don't give up on them. 

Magic is out there. Fulfillment. Wonder. Peace. Joy. Opportunity.

Start living like you believe that again and watch your world change.




I love you, friends. Truly. I'm here for you. Rooting for you. Let's do this.

High fives and fist bumps,

 

Raspberry Chocolate Chip Cookies


These yummy treats taste just as beautifully as they look!

So light, so fluffy, so fresh. You just can't hardly find a more appropriate spring/summer dessert.

Not only are they simple and yummy, but this recipe also yields about 25-30 cookies, depending on the size you choose to settle on. If your people have as big of a sweet tooth as mine do, you'll be grateful for such a large batch of deliciousness. 

Moist, light, fresh, beautifully sweet, clean cookies!

Preheat your oven to 350°F and gather the following ingredients:

 2 sticks or 1 cup organic butter, room temperature
2 cage free eggs
2 tsp pure vanilla
1/2 tsp almond extract
3/4 cup granulated sugar 
3/4 cup light brown sugar, packed
3/4 tsp baking soda
3 cups unbleached, organic Flour
3/4 cup chocolate chips
3/4 cup fresh raspberries, rinsed, drained, and dried

That's it!



Grab an electric mixer and the paddle attachment if you have one; if not, a large bowl and hand mixer will work. Cream the butter and the granulated and brown sugars. 

Once combined, add the eggs. Once incorporated, pour in your vanilla and almond extract. 

Mix and scrape the bowl.

In a separate bowl, mix your flour, salt, and baking soda with a whisk. Once complete, add this mixture to your creamed butter. 

Take your rinsed and dried raspberries and lightly coat them with a little bit of flour to keep them from sinking to the bottom of your batter. Once coated, dice them up and set them aside.

Take your chocolate chips and fold them into your dough. 

Grab your raspberries and very easily fold them into your doughy mixture. Don't over mix. 

Now you'll need a parchment paper lined cookie sheet. 

If you have a cookie scoop, yay! If not, you'll take about 2 tbsp of the dough, gently rolled into a ball shape, and drop onto the prepared cookie sheet an inch or two apart. 

Bake for about 10-12 minutes, or until the edges are golden brown. If the cookies are just too soft/doughy, put them back into the oven one minute more at a time until cooked through. BUT- get them out before they're too golden, as they'll continue to bake once their sitting on the counter until cooled. 




Chocolate Chip Blondies


These babies were the sweetness to the otherwise sour and rainy day we had yesterday. 

My first time was a success! (Yes... I'm nearly 34 and haven't ever made scratch blondies, before...)

They were so simple! No odd ingredients, so I had everything required already tucked away in my pantry. I LOVE when that happens. These are definitely a new go-to.


3/4 cup melted, unsalted butter
1 cup brown sugar
Mix together. 

Add 2 eggs.
Mix until just combined. 

Pour in about 1.5 cups of flour,
1 tsp baking powder, and
1/4 tsp salt.
Mix again. 

1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp almond extra
1 cup chocolate chips
Pour into dough and mix until just combined.

Line a 9x9 inch baking pan with parchment paper and spread your batter. Top with a few more chocolate chips, cause you know... chocolate! 





(If you used clothespins, too, to hold down the parchment paper, remove them before the next step!)

 Bake at 350°F for about 25 minutes. 
(I started checking after 17 and put back in 2 minutes at a time until the blondies stopped "jiggling.")

Set them on your counter for about 7 minutes, while still in the dish. The heat will continue to bake the edges without crisping them up too much.
Then remove the blondies, while still on the parchment paper, and set on your counter until cooled. 
Slice into 12 or 16 treats.


My husband passed on a restaurant dessert for these! Yeah, they were that good!