Chicken Tortilla Soup

What a crazy month it has been here.  Warm and sunny one day; freezing and snowy the next. Today marks the end of more unseasonable warmth, to be followed by another cold snap tonight.   Just another day in NC Paradise, haha.  It can kinda’ drive you crazy.  Do I plan for sweat pants or a T-shirt today?  And it can kinda’ make you sick.  I know many people whose allergies go haywire when the weather is up and down like this, and I know several others who always get sick this time of year.  I’ve been battling some stuff myself.  And when I’m not feeling good, I want my food to feel like a warm, comforting hug.  Looks like it’s about time to make some Chicken Tortilla Soup.


Chicken Tortilla Soup

  • 4-6 boneless chicken thighs

The following ingredient quantities are added on an as desired basis:

  • corn
  • celery (diced)
  • red & orange peppers (diced)
  • mushrooms (diced)
  • red onion (diced)
  • mushrooms (diced)
  • cilantro (finely chopped)
  • cumin
  • paprika
  • chili powder
  • onion & garlic powders
  • salt & pepper
  • cheddar cheese (shredded)
  • corn chips

Sometimes I clean out the fridge when I make this, so in the pics below you’ll see that I also added some leftover broccoli slaw I had on hand.  It was nontraditional, but went well with the dish.  Plus it’s fun to get creative.

Combine all ingredients into your crock pot and cook on low all day or on high for about 4-5 hours or until chicken is cooked all the way through and juices have developed a flavorful and hearty broth.  The more you mix up the soup, the more shredded your chicken will become.  Tweak your seasonings as you go along.

Serve in a bowl and top with cheddar cheese, corn chips, and a few whole leaves of cilantro.  Now, feel better.

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Easy BBQ Sauce

As we get settled back into our post-holiday routines, dinners can become a bit monotonous.  I, for one, have been eating lots of leftovers because I’m behind on my grocery shopping.  At times like these, I love it when I can just look around my kitchen and pull together something quick while still pleasing my family and their “taste bugs” (as my daughter calls them).

You’d be surprised how easily you can use every day items you have right in your pantry to create something yummy.  I make an easy BBQ sauce from regular items I already have on hand, and I promise it rivals anything you’ll get from the store.


Easy BBQ Sauce

  • ¾ cup ketchup
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon worcestershire sauce
  • 2 teaspoons paprika
  • ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper

Whisk it all together in a bowl and tweak according to your personal preference.  You can also combine it all in a saucepan and heat on low, if desired.

Heat up a precooked package of seasoned pork BBQ, mix up some of my Starfruit Slaw, and BOOM!  You’re done!  Everybody’s taste bugs are happy and you didn’t even have to run to the store.

bbq-saucebbq-sandwich

 

Isabella’s Story

Six years ago today, I made a promise to God that I would always share Isabella’s story, share God’s mercies and miracles with any and all who would listen. Some of you may know her story, but I have some new followers on here who do not. And so…

When I was 17 weeks pregnant, Mike and I went to the doctor together to find out whether we were having a boy or a girl. When the ultrasound tech told us it was a baby girl, we were super excited. Then she scrunched her brow and asked me if I was sure about my due date. The measurements weren’t adding up and our baby was about 2 weeks too small. We didn’t give this a great deal of thought, but when we saw the doctor, he added that our baby also had an echogenic heart and echogenic bowels, meaning there was blood showing up where there shouldn’t be. This was a little more alarming, but we were told not to worry ourselves too much.

The very next day, the doctor called me back to tell me that my protein levels had come back very high, indicating an extremely high risk for the baby to have spina bifida. He told me “not to panic,” but that he was going to send me over to Duke’s Perinatal Clinic so I could be seen by a genetics counselor. I called my pastor’s wife immediately and we prayed. “Not to panic.” As if. It took us over a year to get pregnant. I was terrified.

But that was just the beginning. My regular doctor wouldn’t touch me with a 10-foot pole, so I was permanently transferred to the Perinatal Clinic. Over the next 3 months, our baby’s prognosis went from bad to worse. Every visit brought a new result — She was experiencing placental bleeding, poor blood flow in her umbilical cord, decreasing amniotic fluid, and possible oxygen restriction to her brain. She was now high risk for not only spina bifida, but for Down’s Syndrome, the Trisomy’s, and a multitude of physical deformations, and mental disabilities. She had fluid around her heart and her heart walls were thicker than they should’ve been. She went from being 2 weeks’ too small to lagging behind by more than 45 days. We were reminded constantly that she was an extreme high-risk for stillbirth and that she was “barely sustaining.” Abortion was presented to us on more than one occasion, given her possible difficulties in life. Some people just weren’t prepared to handle it, they all told me.

They wanted me to come in for multiple monitoring sessions each week. They wanted me to do an amniocentesis. I asked them: “Will this help you to know what exactly is wrong? Will you then be able to fix the problem?” The answer was always no. And so my answer to them was also always no. I would not subject myself or my baby to so much stress. The doctor assigned to my case finally told me point blank, “I know you want this to be a normal pregnancy, but this is not a normal fetus.” Though I was completely shaken that day, she could never know the fire she ignited in me with that one cold statement. Later, when I was stronger, I remember telling her that I didn’t know what her faith was, but my God was going to protect this child. My child was going to be fine, I told her. And despite my terror, I believed that.

Throughout, we did the only thing we could: we turned it over to God. We looked up scriptures and spoke life and healing over our child. I printed out a list of uplifting verses and we read them continuously. I spoke to her and told her that she was God’s child first, and that she was a warrior. She had the power, through Christ, to fight any attack of the enemy. I remember my aunt telling me one day that it was okay to cry, but I wouldn’t. I refused to show any sign of weakness to the circumstances. It felt like defeat. It felt like admitting that we were as “doomed” as the doctors reported. Each doctor visit was harder and harder, but my faith got stronger and stronger. And God settled into us a peace that we just couldn’t explain to the doctors.

At 32 weeks, my doctor – who I’d actually grown to like and respect through the hardships of the ordeal and despite the hardness of her nature – said to me: “We now have something worth fighting for.” God love her, as Granny would say, but I knew what she meant. We’d made it out of the danger zone. Isabella was still alive and stable enough to finally be considered what they had continuously told me she wasn’t: a viable pregnancy. It would now be “safe” to deliver her if we had to. I finally conceded to more frequent monitoring.

Two weeks later, five weeks before my due date, the doctor smiled at me during what had become a routine weekly ultrasound and said, “Yeah, no. You’re’ not going home today. It’s time.” Bella’s amniotic fluid levels had dropped below the absolute bare minimum. The nonstress test that followed showed her heartbeat had become sluggish. I had heard it so many times by now, I knew its rhythm. This was not it. I was sent over to ER immediately and at 3:02 pm Isabella Nicole was born kicking and screaming. She only weighed 2 pounds, 11.6 ounces, but the doctors were amazed that she needed no oxygen, no transfusions, barely any assistance at all. She was moved from the NICU to a transitional nursery in just 3 days because she was so healthy, and exactly 4 weeks after she was born, they released her from the hospital.

The week of her first birthday, I took Bella back to see that same doctor. The smiles and laughter and sheer joy we shared in that moment were priceless. The doctor showed us around to everyone. People remembered us, congratulated us, beamed at us. Simply put, Bella was our Miracle Baby.

Isabella defied all the doctors’ expectations, steadily gained ground, and closed her premature gap. When we think back to all the fear, anxiety, and stress that surrounded her entrance into this world, we are amazed by God’s grace and how faithfully He held our baby in His hands. I was never so strong as I was then, and I have never been as strong since. To celebrate her 6th birthday today reminds me again of blessed and privileged we are to have her, and how amazing my God truly is.
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Starfruit Slaw

Just in time for winter, Starfruit makes an appearance.  It’s a sweet and tart fruit that, when cut, looks like … a star!  I’ve used it for a fruit platter and a few other odds and ends, but then I started running out of ideas.  That’s when it hit me: SLAW!  It adds a great little kick of flavor and color, turning this rather common side dish into quite the, umm, star.  🌟 😉 🌟


Starfruit Slaw

  • 1-2 starfruit, diced
  • ½ head red cabbage, finely chopped 
  • 4-5 carrots, shredded and chopped
  • ½-1 cup mayonnaise
  • 1/4- 1/3 cup apple cider vinegar
  • splash of lemon juice
  • ½-1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt

Mix all ingredients together and voilá!  All of this is to taste, of course.  You can add as little or as much of the ingredients as you like to make it your own!

starfruit-slaw

 

 

Breakfast Muffins

Like many, my daughter’s Winter Break is almost over.  It has been so much fun sharing the wonderment of the season with her this year, and it went by quicker than I thought it would. Before I get blindsided by early mornings again, I’m going to whip up a batch of my breakfast muffins. My daughter loves them.  They are one of the few things she’ll eat at o’dark thirty on the way to school. And I hate to send her to school on an empty stomach, so I love them, too.


Breakfast Muffins

  • 1½ cups oatmeal flour
  • ½ cup agave
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/3 cup oil
  • 1½ teaspoons vanilla
  • 1 banana, mashed
  • chocolate chips, opt

Preheat oven to 400º.  Grind old fashioned oats in a food processor until it is flour consistency.  Thoroughly combine flour, salt, and baking powder.  Add oil, vanilla, and banana.  Mix until dry ingredients are wet, being careful not to over mix.  It should be somewhat lumpy.

This batch makes 8-9 muffins.  Don’t ask me why, haha.  It just does.   So I fill a muffin tin with 8 or 9 liners and fill liners ¾ full with mixture.  Top with 3-5 chocolate chips, or as desired.  Put a little water in the other spots to evenly distribute the heat during bake time.

Bake for 15-20 minutes.  They won’t look quite like normal muffins due to the agave (bonus: no huge sugar crash) and oatmeal “flour,” but I love knowing that I packed my kid full of some good carbs, fiber, vitamins … and yeah, a little chocolate … right before school.

breakfast-muffins

Okay 2nd half of the year, let’s do this.

Grown Up Mac & Cheese

My daughter turns 6 next weekend.  It’s always challenging to have a child’s birthday close to the holidays because they’ve already gotten so much STUFF for Christmas.  Last year I opted to start the tradition of going on a beach trip together.  I can get great rates this time of year and so long as there are some attractions nearby and I can find a hotel with an indoor pool, The Munchkin is as happy as a lark.

Today we leave for our Second Annual Mommy / Daughter Beach Trip.  I’m relatively frugal, I’ll often cook while on vacation.  This saves a ton of money, plus there’s something about cooking in a relaxing atmosphere that is just wonderful.  In my bag of tricks, I have packed one of my daughter’s favorite meals:  Macaroni and cheese.  As it so happens, this is also one of my own favorite indulgences.  My husband is always appalled at how I can sit down and polish off an entire bowl in the name of Dinner.  It just speaks to my inner child.  But in the name of being an adult (boo!), sometimes I doctor up own cheesy goodness with some grown-up flair…


Grown Up Mac & Cheese

  • 1 box of shells
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 tablespoon flour
  • 1/3 cup sharp Cheddar cheese
  • 1-2 cups milk
  • onion powder
  • garlic powder
  • salt & pepper
  • tomato
  • green onions

To begin, make a classic roux-based cheese sauce by melting the butter then whisking in the flour.  Once fully combined, add 1 cup of milk and the cheese.  Continue to whisk until sauce thickens, about 5 minutes.  Avoid letting the sauce boil.  Once sauce is thick, turn heat down to low and continue to whisk in milk ¼ cup at a time until you get a smooth sauce consistency.  You want it to be loose enough to drip off the whisk.  Think oozy cheese sauce.  Whisk in onion and garlic powders, salt, and pepper to taste.  Keep on low heat, whisking occasionally.  If it thickens up more than you’d like, add a splash of milk and test out flavor.

Bring a pot of water to boil and cook your shells.  While the shells are cooking, dice up the tomato and chop your green onion.  Once the shells are al dente, drain from water and put back in pot.  Slowly begin to stir in your cheese sauce until you have the amount you want.  Once full mixed, serve and top with tomatoes and green onions.

grown-up-mac-n-cheese

The cool thing about this is that you can also add some protein if you so choose.  Crab or lobster meat makes an mmmmazing addition.  Even some grilled chicken.  For added veggies, you can also throw in some diced zucchini and / or squash.  But if you just want a little something to appease your inner child, while still feeling like an adult, you are all set.  Pay no attention to the look your spouse is giving you!  Just curl up in your PJs and go to town!