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A Year in Review & the Top 10 Recipes of 2014!

All photo credits of our family go to Marissa Dodgen Photography.

2014 was a year, huh?  So many amazing things happened for our family. It started with some of the hardest months we’d seen yet, but took a monumental shift towards the middle of the year.  The darkest clouds have lifted, God has given us an endless supply of fresh air, and for the first time in almost three years, we feel like we can breathe.

McCall (who turned 6 last January) finished Kindergarten and started 1st grade!!! He’s completely grown.  Ahh!! He’s had a slow year in terms of food and is certainly struggling emotionally.  He only added carrots (which he won’t eat) to his list of foods.  He currently has 6 foods he can eat. We are learning how to be good parents through every age and stage of this chronic illness! He continues to be compassionate, loving, and helpful and blows us away by his maturity.

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I must say that it never occurred to me that McCall only added one food this year.  Whew. No wonder he is struggling.  I literally cannot imagine. Love that boy!

Our son Sawyer (who turned 3 in April) started the year continuing his formula only diet BUT starting in MAY he got to eat real food! He failed his sweet potatoes and grape trials but passed blueberries and avocados.  Two foods is such a blessing in this household.  His new nickname is Little Boy Blue. His sweet blue fingers and teeth bless our soul!  I never get mad when I step on a blueberry or find a dried blueberry in the washing machine.  For many long months, I had nothing to step on 😉 He continues to charm the world with his naturally raspy voice, large puppy dog brown eyes, and unmatchable personality.

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Beckham (who turned 2 in May) is sweet and mischievous and terribly two.  Andrew and I spend most of our time shaking our heads at this one.  He’s bow-legged, pigeon toed, and has the cutest lisp you’ll ever hear. But he’s just as lovable as he is crazy and quirky.  We absolutely love this life we have raising three little boys to be amazing men in this world.

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In fact, Andrew asked me that question last night.  Is this our purpose in the world? To raise these kids to love Jesus and do something great in the world?  I think my answer is yes.  And wouldn’t that be a life well served?  Ahh. I love pillow talk.  And my husband.  I love that man!

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For us, life couldn’t be better now that Andrew got a new job.  For many years, he worked swing shift work and life was indescribable. We had some years we didn’t think we’d make it through.  But this year proved tangibly that God is faithful. Andrew is an honest, hard worker who is smart and driven.  He made the right choices, even when those choices were isolating or difficult.  God blessed him with a Monday-Thursday job (and can I also mention it was a double-promotion?).  The Lord provided for us in ways we never could have imagined. God gave us the gift of a regular sleep schedule, family “dinner” every night, and holidays together without a pay cut.  I can guarantee you that if we could have made a PERFECT list for what would be ideal for our family, this would be it.

So this year, we became a family unit again. I didn’t feel like a single mom to all this craziness, and we are able to work together to live this daily life we have.

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When Andrew got his new job in April, it allowed me time to revive a part of me that was missing for a few years.  At my core, I’m a writer and performer, so making the full time switch to a stay at home mom and medical caretaker wasn’t really in my bones.  But the Lord guided me every step of the way and showed me how to live each day.

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For a while there, it was about going through the routine.  It was the only way to survive. But He knew my heart and knew what I needed. When the time was right, He brought my love back to me.  Since April, I’ve started music back and have loved every minute. (You can read about my journey here).

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The Lord knows my innermost being. He’s probably the only one who truly knows how big my dreams are.  A few months ago, I got a piece of advice from a very successful artist in Nashville–advice that I will always have on the edge of my heart.  He said, “Don’t ever let your heart want for something God doesn’t want for you. Be patient and trust Him.”  These words have changed my perspective on every decision I make and every single want and desire that enters the walls of my heart.

We had a GREAT year on the blog, too!  I know many people and families who have made so many changes in their lives.  The goal is to feel better and have more energy so that we can serve and love the world in an intentional way.

I’m very excited about what the new year will bring to the blog, but before we go crazy about what’s to come, let’s take a look at the top 10 recipes from 2014!  These are the ones people have LOVED, especially our family.  As you start a clean new year, add a few of these to your rotation and see what you think!

1. Buffalo Beer-Battered Cauliflower & Dairy Free Ranch Dressing

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These little boogers have got people talkin!  From people who love spicy foods, I’ve heard nothing but great comments, with some saying they’ll never need chicken wings again.  Crazy to think, huh?  THIS should definitely be on your Super Bowl menu!

2. Chocolate Covered Rice Krispy Treats

Chocolate Covered Rice Krispy Treats

Marshmallow free. Gluten free. Simple. And CHOCOLATE? Who could resist?  These are allergen-friendly, but you’d never know!

3. Gluten Free/Dairy Free Biscuits

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Gluten Free/Dairy Free living shouldn’t be a life without!  These biscuits have a GREAT flavor and texture.  This recipe has really changed our life this year.  It gives us the comfort in comfort food that we all need 🙂  They are perfect for breakfast or as a side to a soup or homestyle meal!

4. Pot Pies:  Veggie or Chicken (w/ gluten free/dairy free biscuit topping)

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As the winter months roll in here in SC, I crave traditional childhood meals.  Clean eating doesn’t mean you never eat casseroles or things you love.  It’s just adjusting them using the best ingredients possible. This is our recipe (which is gluten & dairy free) so that our allergy son Beckham can eat it, too.  It’s hard to tell there’s anything “different” about it!

5. Vegan Tuna Salad

Tuna Salad

I’m not usually a fan of “mock” type recipes. And in fact, I don’t like tuna or celery. But this recipe? OMG. I LOVE it.  It’s something we make on a weekly basis to always have available.  I love it on GF English Muffins with fruit for lunch, but it’s also wonderful to serve as an appetizer with some crackers and veggies.  This has been a crowd favorite for sure!  Read the recipe to see the big SECRET ingredient!

6. Lentil Potato Stew

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This recipe is hearty, filing, and simple.  That’s a great combo for clean eating! Pair with a nice salad & our biscuit recipe, and you are good to go!

7. Smokey BBQ Broccoli Bowl

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I love these “bowl” ideas I’ve seen floating around because they are so easy!  This is the version I love because I could literally drink BBQ sauce.  It would be very easy to add grilled chicken on top for meat lovers!

8. Maple Balsamic Stir Fry

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Speaking of bowls, I think this one is probably my favorite recipe of 2014 (except for maybe those Buffalo Cauliflower Bites!) It’s crunchy & it’s sweet.  Beautiful!

9. Sweet & Spicy Brussels Sprouts

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Besides the amazing Vegetable “meatloaf” I served at our Plant Strong Thanksgiving meal, these were probably the second best hit.  Oh, but there was that Kale Salad, too! Ahh!  Too many great things this year!  This side dish is packed full of flavor.  Don’t like spicy? You can omit the Sriracha no problem!

10. Walnut “Meat” Tacos with Cashew Sour Cream

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As many of you know, I started a vegan trial (no meat, dairy, eggs, butter) in April, but that didn’t stop me from playing around with cool options for meals.  This walnut meat has the texture and flavor of taco meat, but is a great option for meat free friends, or people trying to cut down meat or red meat consumption.  I absolutely LOVE this recipe, and would love to see you try something brand new this year 🙂

 

Thanks again for a beautiful year.  This website wouldn’t mean a thing if you didn’t keep reading it, so thank YOU!  I look forward to the beauty all around in 2015!!

 

 

 


Maple-Balsamic Stir Fry

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This beautiful creation came out exactly like I wanted.  Sometimes, I’ve just got a taste that I must create–and this one hit the spot on the first try!

I’m so inspired by many of the one bowl meals I’ve seen on many blogs–and wanted to try my hand at one.  But since I’ve got a sweet tooth and an itching for all things fall, this Maple-Balsamic inspired dish was a perfect solution.

I’d like to say that this recipe serves 2 people, but let’s be honest.  I eat a LOT.  Like, a LOT.  So, this is a one portion meal for me.  Partly because I was lazy & didn’t make anything else.  To make this a full meal–and to make it stretch a bit, next time, I will most likely serve a salad first and add a piece of chicken to my husband’s–and that’s a full meal.

Regardless, it’s very simple to double or even triple this recipe!

A few things about this recipe:

  • Make your brown rice ahead of time and keep it in the fridge to get it very cold.  That helps make for a crispy stir fry.  I usually make a huge bowl of rice at the beginning of the week because Mexican Rice Bowls are always on the menu around here.
  • I use a soy-free Vegan butter made by Earth Balance because my son Beckham can eat it–and it saves me from having to make an extra meal.

Maple-Balsamic Stir Fry
 
Ingredients
Balsamic Roasted Brussels Sprouts:
  • 1 cup Brussels Sprouts, ends trimmed & cut in half
  • 1 t oil
  • 1.5 t balsamic vinegar
  • pinch of salt
Buttered Carrots:
  • 2 large carrots, peeled & chopped
  • 1 heaping t vegan
  • drizzle of maple syrup
  • pinch of salt
Balsamic Glaze:
  • ¼ cup maple syrup
  • 3 T Balsamic Vinegar
  • 2 t Dijon mustard
Stir Fry:
  • spoonful of vegan
  • 2 cups cooked brown rice, cold
  • 1 t sesame seeds, plus more for topping
  • ½ t Sriracha sauce
  • 1 green onion, chopped
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Place trimmed & cut Brussels sprouts in a small baking dish.
  3. Add oil, vinegar, and salt.
  4. Stir until combined.
  5. Bake for 25 minutes, stirring halfway through.
  6. Meanwhile, put chopped carrots in a small saucepan and cover with water.
  7. Bring to a boil and boil for 7-9 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  8. In a small saucepan, combine Maple-Balsamic glaze ingredients.
  9. Bring to a boil, and let boil for 3-5 minutes, stirring frequently, until mixture has thickened. Set aside.
  10. Drain carrots, and return to pan. Add the butter, maple syrup, and salt. Stir until combined. Set aside.
  11. In a wok, melt a spoonful of butter.
  12. Add rice, and saute until heated through and crisp.
  13. Add cooked carrots, roasted Brussels Sprouts, sesame seeds, and Sriracha sauce.
  14. Stir until well combined.
  15. Add Maple-Balsamic glaze & stir fry until heated through.
  16. Top with green onion & sesame seeds.
  17. Enjoy!

 


Walnut “Meat” Tacos w/ Cashew Sour Cream

Let me just say something. If you knew me prior to my little food transformation, you knew that if there was one thing I HATED with a passion it was Mexican food.

The smell of it made me gag, and I refused to go to any such restaurant.

Everyone who was cool liked Mexican food, and I definitely wasn’t cool. (I know, I know, it’s a generalized statement, but I promise it’s how I felt).

My reason was simple. I threw up once when I was ten when my aunt made me eat a quesadilla.  So, a lifelong hatred was warranted, right?

Later in life, this hate relationship I had posed a big issue.  The problem wasn’t that my taste buds were unpopular. It was that Mexican food is my husband’s favorite food group–like lick the plate kind of favorite.

If you’re friends with me now, you know taco night is one of my favorites.  So, what changed?

Well, to be quite honest, my taste buds.  As I continued this journey to real foods, my taste buds CRAVED fresh foods.  I ate jalapeno for the first time.  Now, I actually know what cilantro is.

I still won’t eat Mexican at the very Americanized versions of it.  1. Because they are really unhealthy 2. They aren’t fresh at all.

If I find myself at a social function and can’t avoid it, I order the vegetable fajitas and fresh guacamole and chow down.

But now, Mexican food is on the main rotation. I can’t go too long without it before I really miss it and our newfound love starts to waiver.  I need it in my life. Lots.

My idea of a fresh taco night is some homemade corn tortillas, fresh and preferably local veggie toppings, some guacamole, and a nice protein (refried beans, walnut meat, or some good quality local meat).

I know Walnut Meat sounds weird. But it’s really not.  What’s weird is the nasty ground beef in a log. Yes, things I used to buy.

If you are looking for meat free options, or just wanting to try something different, give this a shot.  I know it will surprise you.

It’s really, really good.  Well, to my crazy taste buds 🙂

Here’s how to build the tacos:

  • Get a good tortilla.  I prefer to make my own using this recipe, but you can also get some good quality sprouted corn tortillas at the grocery store.  The biggest thing here is to use organic–since corn is a top GMO crop.

Three options for store-bought tortillas or shells:

  1. Food for Life Sprouted Corn Tortillas.  One of the best options with incredible ingredients. (I find at Earthfare and Kroger).
  2. Garden of Eatin Shells (I have found at Earth Fare and Kroger). My only hesitation with this is the oil isn’t organic, and I don’t like that….But for a treat–would be nice.
  3. Late July Chips.  If you can’t find a shell you like, try making “nachos” out of this meal!  I love that this is a family company that uses all organic ingredients.  Plus their product is amazing! (I find at Costco and Earthfare)
  • Get some great toppings.  We love: refried beans (so easy & cheap to make!), black beans, spinach/lettuce, onions, avocado, mushrooms, peppers, jalapeno, organic corn (frozen, then cooked), tomato or salsa, mango OR anything else your heart desires.  Be creative & let the family get involved.
  • Top with Organic Sour Cream (if you’ve got no problems with Dairy–or make the cashew sour cream [recipe below] if you’re dairy free!)

Ingredients

To make the “meat,” you’ll just need a few ingredients.  Pulse them in the food processor, and heat on the stove for a few minutes.  Then, you get this:

Walnut Meat

Looks pretty similar, huh?

Assemble your ingredients, and voila–an incredible, filling meal!

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Since going dairy free, I’ve discovered cool ways to make “dairy” like things without using milk, and sour cream is one of them.  Who woulda thought I could still enjoy these things?  I love using this Cashew Sour Cream with soups, tacos, or even this Mexican Lasagna (recipe coming soon).

Mexican Lasagna

Cashew Sour Cream
 
Ingredients
  • 1 cup raw cashews, soaked about two hours* (see note)
  • ¾ cup water
  • 2 T lemon juice
  • 1 t apple cider vinegar
  • ¼-1/2 t sea salt
Instructions
  1. Drain cashews.
  2. Put all ingredients in a high powered blender.
  3. Blend until smooth, stopping to scrape sides down if necessary.
  4. Refrigerate immediately to thicken.
  5. Store in refrigerator for up to 5 days.
Notes
Put the cashews in a large bowl and cover with filtered water. Cover with a dish towel and set aside for 2 hours or up to overnight.

 

Now for the Walnut “Meat” recipe:

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Walnut "Meat" Tacos
Serves: 4-6
 
Ingredients
  • 2 cups raw walnuts, soaked 8 hours to overnight* (see note)
  • 2.5 t chili powder
  • 1 t cumin
  • 1 t garlic powder
  • ½ t salt
  • 1 large pinch of cayenne pepper (omit if you don't like heat)
Instructions
  1. Drain walnuts.
  2. Put all ingredients in a food processor.
  3. Pulse a few times until walnuts are broken down, spices are mixed, and the consistency is like taco meat.
  4. (optional step) Transfer to a saucepan and cook on medium, stirring frequently, until heated through.
  5. Store leftovers in the refrigerator.
Notes
1. Put the walnuts in a bowl and cover with filtered water. Cover with dish towel and set aside for 8 hours or overnight.
2. This is a family sized portion. Feel free to cut the recipe in half for less, or double for more.

 

You will need RAW, UNSALTED nuts for these recipes.  I usually buy mine in the bulk bins at Earthfare, although Trader Joes has much better prices if you are near one 🙂

Enjoy 🙂