Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Buttermilk Biscuits

I'm not sure what the weather is doing where you are, but it's 77 degrees outside right now! This weather is making it challenging to both dress and cook. The good news is that biscuits go with any dinner, at least down here in the South they sure do. These biscuits are straightforward and delicious and would be perfect with whatever you're having for dinner tonight.

Buttermilk Biscuits
3 cups flour
3 Tbsp sugar
4 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces or grated
1 cup buttermilk

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, and baking soda.

Using a pastry cutter or your fingertips, cut the cold butter into the dry ingredients until the mixture resembles a coarse meal. Be careful not to overwork - you really want to see those bits of butter scattered throughout the dough. Add the buttermilk and stir just until moistened.

For each biscuit, scoop out about 1/3 cup of the dough and drop it onto the prepared baking sheet, spacing the biscuits about 2 inches apart. Bake until the biscuit are golden brown on top and a tester inserted into the center of one comes out clean, 15-20 minutes. Makes 12 biscuits.

source: recipe from Kitchen Confidence

Monday, January 16, 2017

2017 Reading Resolutions

I've struggled to make goals for this year, which is really unusual for me. I think it's because I'm about to have a second baby, and I'm not quite sure what my life will look like for the next several months. I'm trying to have really low expectations of myself as I make this transition, which has made me hesitant to make goals. So, instead of making several big goals for the year like I normally do, I've found that I've been thinking more categorically and focusing on one area at a time. Here are my 2017 reading resolutions, an idea that I've stolen from Annie Jones and the From the Front Porch podcast.

Read 75 books // Last year I had the same goal, and I surpassed it to read 91 books! I think this year my goal might be a little harder to reach, since I'm about to walk through those newborn months of little sleep and little free time. I'm hopeful that I will still make time to read (per my own tips on making time!), and I'd love to read at least 75 books this year. 

Read 1-2 non-fiction books per month // I found that I didn't read as much non-fiction last year as I had hoped. I am typically reading at least one non-fiction book and one fiction book at a time, but I breeze through the fiction so quickly and often leave the non-fiction unread for days or weeks at a time. I want to do better this year and be more intentional about picking up the non-fiction books that are on my shelf.

Work my way through The One Year Praying through the Bible for Your Kids // I admit that I am not one to typically do these types of devotional books. But, the publisher sent me a copy of this book, and I really like Nancy Guthrie, so I'm giving it a try! I feel so overwhelmed at all there is to pray for regarding my children, so I really like that this book helps guide my prayers for my girls. I also love that she uses the entire Bible throughout the year to pray specifically for your kids. I've really enjoyed reading it so far this month, and I'm hoping to stick with it for the rest of the year.

Stay on top of my monthly reading recaps // I love writing the monthly reading recap blog posts! It's a great way for me to document what I've read and how much I enjoyed the books, and I really love hearing back from you all that you enjoy hearing my recommendations and that you've read a book I include in my recap. There were quite a few months that I was really late on posting my monthly lists, and that made it harder and harder for me to give an accurate recap. I'm hoping to do better this year!

Incur fewer overdue fees at the library // Ugh - library fines are the worst! The whole reason I utilize my library is to read books for free. So it irks me to no end when I forget to return a book or don't plan my reading accordingly so that I can finish a book before it's due. Here's to fewer fines in 2017!

Do you have any reading resolutions for this year? If you would like a little direction, check out the 2017 Reading Challenge from Modern Mrs. Darcy or the 2017 Reading Challenge from Better World Books!

(image sources 12, 345)

Friday, January 13, 2017

What I'm Cooking This Winter

Do you switch up your dinner menus based on the season? I do, and I love it because I can anticipate making and eating certain recipes for each season! In the fall and winter I, like most people, like a heartier dinner, lots of soups, and cozy meals for these long and dark evenings. I thought it might help some of you with your meal planning if I shared my go-to winter meals. Below are the recipes that I love and make over and over again. I've included 20 recipes with links, which should be more than enough for a whole month of dinners, since each recipe makes plenty of leftovers! 

Stuffed Pepper Soup
Crockpot Creamy Chicken Noodle Soup
Roasted Sausage + Veggie Casserole
Creamy Chicken & Wild Rice Soup
Pasta Fagioli Soup
Slow Cooker Shredded Mexican Chicken
Sausage & Tortellini Soup
Braised French Onion Chicken with Gruyère
Spinach Tomato Orzo Soup
Chicken Italiano 
Cheeseburger Soup
Italian Chicken Soup
Chicken Tomato Pasta Bake
Chipotle Pork Tenderloin with Apple Chutney
Black Bean Chili
Chicken Squares
Oven Baked Spicy Chicken Tacos
Easy Chili
Chicken & Poblano Stew
Stuffed Peppers

(images above are mine, except for 2, 4, 6)

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

DIY Matching Game

Last week I shared a picture of the matching game I made Madeleine on Instagram, and I got a lot of feedback and interest in how I made it! I thought I would share it here, as well.

One of my 2016 goals was to learn to sew. I have a sewing machine and my mom has offered many times to teach me how to sew, but I have always told her I didn't want to learn until I had kids. So last year was the year! I really wanted to make Madeleine a matching game that would last, rather than the card matching games you can buy at the store. I also wanted a really pretty game that could be a keepsake and could be passed down to her kids, etc.

This is the majority of the pieces - there are 40 in total (20 pairs). It was so much fun picking out the different fabrics! This is a project that requires a lot of cutting, as there are several different pieces for each finished square piece. My mom helped me with a lot of the sewing part, and I'm so happy with how it turned out. There are definitely some uneven lines and crooked seams (because of me, not my mom), but I love it. I think it's so pretty, and I'm excited for Madeleine to learn how to find matches on her own.

If you'd like to make your own game, here are the instructions. They were easy to follow, and I did pretty much what they said except for choosing a variety of my own fabric bundles. 

Monday, January 9, 2017

What I Read in November + December

Whew - a long overdue post on what I read in November + December! It's a bit of a long post because there's a bunch of books, but I wanted to finish out the year with these recaps because I know so many of you enjoy them.

Shepherding a Child's Heart // I really enjoy reading parenting books, and this was one I had asked for for my birthday last year. There are really good principles about training your children from a young age to obey and respond to parental authority, and I really liked it. This wasn't as much of a practical handbook as laying down foundations in your child's heart. 4 stars

What Alice Forgot // I've read several of Liane Moriarty's books, and this was by far my favorite. It was our November book club book, and I could not put it down. The story is about Alice, who wakes up thinking she's 29 and pregnant, when in reality she's 39 and has three kids and a falling-apart marriage. We had a lot of fun discussing this book during book club, and everyone really liked it. Definitely worth picking up! 4 stars

The Underground Railroad // This book won the National Book Award last year, was Oprah's Book Club pick, and was given rave reviews everywhere I looked. But, I didn't like it! I kept reading it waiting to feel really connected to the book or for this moment when I wouldn't want to put it down, but that just never happened for me. Yes, it's well-written and clever, but I didn't really enjoy reading it. If you want to read a book about slaves in the south, I would recommend The Kitchen House or The House Girl long before I would recommend this one. 2 stars

What Did You Expect?: Redeeming the Realities of Marriage // I've had this book for a while, and I wanted to read it because I hadn't read a book on marriage in a while. There were some really great truths and principles in this book that I found helpful, especially as good reminders 6 1/2 years into marriage. I did find the writing a little redundant, but I enjoyed it. 3 stars

A Certain Age // I am a big fan of Beatriz Williams, but for me this title fell a little flat. It just wasn't as compelling as some of her other stories. I did enjoy reading it, but I didn't really like it, so it doesn't get a high rating from me. 3 stars

All the Pretty Things: The Story of a Southern Girl Who Went through Fire to Find Her Way Home // This was one of those books that was popping up all over my social media, so when the publisher sent me a copy I was thrilled to read it in exchange for a review! I love reading personal stories and memoirs, so I enjoyed this book. I think there's value in reading about people who are very different than you, and that's how I felt about this book. I can hardly wrap my mind around the way that Edie grew up. It was an interesting read, and she definitely has a story to share. 3 stars

Winter Storms // I've read all of Elin Hilderbrand's books, because they are so easy to fly through and so enjoyable. This was the third book in her winter trilogy, and I enjoyed it just as much as her other books. It's not very long and was a breeze to get through, but the characters and story are engaging and very enjoyable. 4 stars

State of Wonder // I've always heard good things about Ann Patchett and recently finished Bel Canto, which I really enjoyed. This book was also very good - well-written, interesting characters, unique plot. It's safe to say I'm now an Ann Patchett fan and will continue to work my way through her books.  4 stars

The Trouble with Goats and Sheep // What I loved about this book was the child's perspective from which it is written. The way the girl perceives the things that adults do and how she explains them was so entertaining. I thought the plot was a little strange and left me wanting more, but it was an enjoyable read. 3 stars

Truly Madly Guilty // If you've read some of Liane Moriarty's books (like Big Little Lies or The Husband's Secret) and enjoyed those, than you will enjoy this one. There's the suspense of wondering what has happened to this group of people in the book, and the chapters alternate between detailing the actual event surrounding the book and the aftermath. I don't love books written in that way, so this was not as good as What Alice Forgot for me. It was interesting, and I'm glad I read it as it was on the Bestseller list, but it just wasn't my favorite. 3 stars

The Mothers // I was really anticipating this debut novel because I had heard good things about it, and I was not disappointed! I really enjoyed a book written within the American black church culture, something that I was pretty unfamiliar with. The writing is very good and the plot had a few unexpected twists. There is quite a bit of language in this book, just to warn you, but if you can look past that, it's a great read. 4 stars

The Mommy Group: Freaking Out, Finding Friends, and Surviving the Happiest Time of Our Lives // I didn't really know what to expect from this book, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. It was really nice to read a non-fiction book on motherhood/parenting that didn't really have an agenda. The book really just tells the stories of this group of moms in Brooklyn as they go through pregnancy, birth, and the first couple of years of their children's lives. It was refreshing, honest, and funny, and I really liked it. This would be a great book to give to a pregnant friend or a new mom. 4 stars

Today Will Be Different // I really loved Where'd You Go, Bernadette, so my hopes were extremely high for this book. And those hopes were unfortunately dashed, because I just did not enjoy this one! I liked the premise: a mother decides that her day will be different in a number of ways, and the book takes place in the 24 hours of that day. However, the plot was not compelling enough, and I didn't enjoy the main character. There were several lines that I found to be snarky and entertaining, but definitely not enough of those to warrant a good review. Disappointed in this one. 2 stars

Friday, November 4, 2016

What I Read in October

Me Before You // I read this book several years ago, and it immediately went onto my all-time favorites list. I wanted to re-read it before reading the sequel and seeing the movie, and I loved it just as much this time around. The dialogue is quick and clever, and it's not entirely predictable. We recently watched the movie and I really enjoyed it as well! 5 stars

After You: A Novel // I read this right after reading Me Before You, but I wish I had taken a break in between the books. Louise is such a different person in this book because of what has happened, and you can sense that disconnect. It isn't bad or wrong, in fact I think it's quite appropriate, but it didn't make for a seamless transition between the books. That being said, I really enjoyed this book. It isn't as good as the first one, but definitely worth reading. 4 stars

In the Woods // My book club decided to read something a little "spooky" for the month of October. None of us had read any of Tana French's books, but we had heard good things. We read this one, the first in the series, and it wasn't what I expected. It wasn't creepy or chilling (which I was glad!), and it actually moved a little slow for a thriller/mystery book. I enjoyed reading it, but the end was very disappointing. 3 stars

She Reads Truth: Holding Tight to Permanent in a World That's Passing Away // You might be familiar with She Reads Truth: it's a popular devotional website and app. I've used it off and on over the years, and I was really interested in reading this book when it came out. I received this book free from the publisher in exchange for a review, and I'm happy to report that I loved this book! It seems like several of the Christian Living books that I've read or thumbed through lately by women that seem to be prominent in Christian circles are feel-good, girl-power, fluffy reads that aren't my cup of tea. There's a place for them in the marketplace and many people resonate with them, but I just don't. This book was not that, and I loved that! The two authors share pieces of their stories and how God's Word impacted and met them in the midst of some really tough circumstances. They both learned over and over again that God's Word is the only thing that's true and unchanging, and they beautifully weave their stories in with rich truth that can be an encouragement and challenge to anyone who's reading the book. I really recommend this book! 4 stars

Unashamed: Healing Our Brokenness and Finding Freedom from Shame // This book was really eye-opening for me. Shame isn't something that I think about often, and I realized I've (wrongly) confused it with guilt. The author breaks down what shame looks like in specific areas, and I really enjoyed the chapters on shame in parenting and shame in marriage. It was a thought-provoking book that I enjoyed. 3 stars

Calling Me Home: A Novel // What I loved about this book was that it wasn't entirely predictable. It's the story of an elderly white lady and her young black hairdresser who share their stories with each other on a trip across the country. I kept thinking I knew what was going to happen, but I continued ot be surprised. It was good writing and a good story, and I really enjoyed it. 4 stars

Disclosure: Some of the above links are affiliate links, which means if you click through and purchase, I may receive a small commission. Thanks for supporting the blog + my reading habits!

Monday, October 31, 2016

Cream Cheese Banana Bread with Crisp Cinnamon Topping

In case you're not stuffing your face with enough sweet treats today, here's a delicious banana bread recipe! This is probably in my top 2 favorite banana breads. The cream cheese makes the bread SO moist and the topping makes this bread almost like a dessert. I also love that it makes two loaves, as most of my banana bread recipes only make one. I love baking quick breads that make two loaves so that I can stash one in the freezer! 

Cream Cheese Banana Bread with Crisp Cinnamon Topping
for the topping
1/2 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup chopped toasted pecans (I've also used pecan chips if I have them)
1 Tbsp flour
1 Tbsp butter, melted
1/8 tsp ground cinnamon

for the bread
3/4 cup butter, softened
1 (8 oz) package cream cheese, softened
2 cups sugar
2 eggs
3 cups flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups mashed very ripe bananas (about 4 medium size)
1 cup chopped toasted pecans (optional - I've made both with and without)
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

To prepare topping, stir together brown sugar, pecans, flour, melted butter, and cinnamon in a medium bowl.

To prepare bread, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour 2 (8x4 inch) loaf pans.

Beat butter and cream cheese in a large bowl at medium speed with an electric mixer until smooth and creamy. Gradually add granulated sugar. Beat for 5 minutes or until light and fluffy. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating just until yellow yolk disappears after each addition.

Whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl. Add to butter mixture in thirds, beating at low speed just until blended. Stir in bananas, pecans, and vanilla.

Spoon batter into prepared pans. Sprinkle topping mixture evenly over batter and pat into batter to adhere.

Bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour or until a long wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean and sides pull away from pan, shielding with aluminum foil during the last 15 minutes to prevent excessive browning, if necessary. Cool bread in pans on wire racks for 10 minutes. Remove from pans, and cool at least 30 minutes on wire racks before cutting with a serrated knife.

source: recipe from The Southern Living Community Cookbook: Celebrating Food and Fellowship in the American South