Super Simple Meatballs

Image

Enjoyed a pretty low-key three-day weekend. Did a lot of pinning on Pinterest. Watched a few episodes of NCIS.Took a couple naps. It was nice to NOT be super busy for a change.

The only work I did do was something for my husband Bart. Because he works retail (Mattress Firm), instead of having time off for the holidays, he and his team members always work extra hours. So, we have made it a bit of a tradition now for me to deliver food to everyone at the stores he manages as a bit of a moral booster and thank-you. Usually that’s four stores.

Well, this year we decided to go a bit bigger with all of the new people recently brought on board through Mattress Firm’s purchase of Mattress Giant. Over the last two days, I delivered meatballs to almost all of the stores in his district – that was 17 stores. Now that’s a lot of meatballs.

Luckily, I use a super simple recipe that is easy to prepare, and I’m told by some that it’s better than their Mom’s meatballs. High praise. 🙂  To keep my post for the week simple as well, I’m going to give you my recipe.

Super Simple Meatballs

Ingredients:

  • Bag of frozen, fully cooked meatballs
  • Bottle of chili sauce
  • Can of whole cranberries

I believe the bags come with about 48 meatballs; I serve 12 per person, so that makes 4 servings. (Increase the ingredients above as needed for more servings.) Sometimes if I am doubling the recipe, I choose cranberry sauce for the second can – it seems to create more sauce.

Directions:

  • Pour meatballs into crock pot.
  • Add canned cranberries.
  • Pour in chili sauce and stir to coat all of the meatballs.
    (I add a little water to the chili sauce bottle and shake it up to get everything out of the bottle; then pour it over the meatballs too. This helps me avoid waste [something I learned from my Grandmother], and it adds more liquid to the sauce.)
  • If I’m going to be home all day, I’ll put it on low and stir occasionally to heat all of the meatballs all the way through and keep them simmering in sauce until we’re ready to eat.
  • If I need them done more quickly, I usually turn them on high for a couple of hours.

And that’s it! Makes a great appetizer or meal. Can be served as is (maybe add a little Parmesan) or add to rolls for meatball subs. Yum!

Hope you enjoyed your Memorial Day weekend and paid tribute to those who have served and still serve our country. 

Image

It Doesn’t Have to Be Complicated

“There is no reason to complicate your family culture just because the culture at large is complicated. When you choose the simple road over the one cluttered with gadgets, theories, and systems, your whole family will probably have more peace and less stress.” Tsh Oxenreider from her book Organized Simplicity: The Clutter-Free Approach to Intentional Living.
(Great book!)

The simple road … that’s the path I’m trying to take these days. It’s not always easy, you know?Some people pair the words “simple” and “easy” together as if they automatically go hand-in-hand. But they don’t. My friend Ben explains the difference a little better in his recent blog post “Simple vs. Easy.” The bottom line is – although it’s not always easy to simplify, it’s definitely worth the effort.

To me, simplifying is all about being who you were meant to be and taking the time to determine what it is you value the most, what your priorities are, and where you are spending your time vs. where you would rather be spending your time. We have to be more intentional about the decisions we make as far as spending money, bringing more stuff into our homes, scheduling events and activities, and just plain living everyday life if we want our lives and our homes to reflect who we really are and what matters most to us.

So, I’m working on that. One of the first steps for me is decluttering … learning to let go of the things that are just taking up space and weighing me down. In fact, I think I’m a lot like Gretchen Rubin from Good Housekeeping who says, “For most people – and this is certainly true for me – outer order contributes to inner clam. When I’m surrounded by a mess, I feel restless and unsettled, but clearing clutter gives me a surge of energy and cheer.” I want the calm that comes with a simple and orderly home.

Before 1This past weekend, I tackled the office closet. Here, I keep shipping supplies, binders, copies of completed jobs, suitcases, electronics, extra tote bags, a couple jackets, and my wedding dress. Quite an assortment of things. If we owned our home, I would redo this closet to include a better storage system, but since we rent, I found an inexpensive way to make use of the space. I use hanging closet organizers that are meant to hold shirts and sweaters and other types of clothing. The only problem is – I’ve been tossing miscellaneous items in them lately rather than using them in a way that makes the best sense for my office space. Before 2

When you’re decluttering and organizing, if possible, use items you already have around the house (boxes, crates, shelves) to help you corral your stuff; if you need some good ideas or want to purchase new supplies, one of my favorite places for organizational tools is The Container Store. Love that place!

Anyway, back to the task at hand. My first step was to take everything out of the closet. When I did that, I found several electronic items that we really have no need to keep anymore: a printer that doesn’t really work; a scanner that I don’t need because my new printer has one built in; a fax machine, which is unnecessary because I can scan and email documents; a DVD player, which we don’t use because we play movies in our XBox, etc. I pulled all of these items aside to get rid of them.

Electronics

Did you know that Best Buy has been advertising a new Trade In Program for old electronics? You can get credit on a gift card for “gently used” electronics and games. Of course there are some conditions on what they’ll accept, but it’s certainly worth checking into. And anything that doesn’t have a trade-in value will be recycled for you, so you won’t have to worry about non-working items ending up in a landfill. I’m going to look into this trade-in concept this next week. At this point, we’ve got nothing to lose, but clutter.

After 2As I sorted the remaining closet items, I filled up a trash bag and a recycling bag, and then began to place things back into the closet in a more orderly fashion. It really didn’t take that long, and it wasn’t that hard to do. But it felt good to cross this project off  my list (I’ve been meaning to do it for two or three weeks). When Bart got home, I had to show him what I had accomplished; I was proud of myself. He was impressed that we could actually walk into the closet once again.

After 1As I closed the door on this particular project, I felt good. Not from achieving perfection, but from creating order out of disorder. From knowing that this was a simple start to a lifelong commitment of creating a more peaceful living space where things become less prominent, and what I do have is organized, easy to find, and much easier to enjoy.

“The surprising effect of getting rid of the things that you don’t love is that you grow deeper in love with the things you choose to keep.” Tsh Oxenreider

The hall medicine/linen closet is next on my list. What about you? What choices are you making to accomplish great things (or even small things) in the name of order and peace of mind?

Experiments in Baking

Almond Flour Cinnamon Roll

This past weekend, I had some extra time on my hands and some recipes I’d been wanting to try, so I have a few treats to share with you. The first delicious dish (that I’m proudest of) is my Almond Flour Cinnamon Rolls. I told you about them in my Sharing It Forward post. I had never used almond flour before, so I want to say thank you to my friend Ben Hulet for bringing me the flour and to his wife Jenni for her awesome recipe.

Ingredients for Almond Flour Cinnamon Rolls

If you’re new to baking, I wouldn’t recommend this recipe, as the consistency of the almond flour dough requires a bit of a gentle touch. And you need to be careful to use room temperature eggs with the coconut oil or the oil will harden. But if you’ve baked a thing or two in the past and are open to trying something new (as well as following directions), these rolls are the bomb!

Actually, they taste more like a light, sweet biscuit stuffed with pecans and cinnamon. Mmmm mmmm.

Baked Almond Flour Cinnamon Rolls

We tried one topped with vanilla glaze and one drizzled with honey; both were good. But when I took the leftovers in to work, some people ate them with no added topping at all. And they loved them. (Part of me wanted to keep them all to myself, but not the part that wants to get/stay in shape.) It was definitely a great treat to share. And a successful experiment for sure.

***********

Ingredients for Apple Pecan Crescent RollsNow, if you’re looking for a simple but tasty dessert to bake, I’ve got just the thing for you. I found it on Taste of Home’s website.  It’s an Apple Walnut Crescent Roll. I didn’t have walnuts, but I had pecans, so I substituted. You can use either one. Your other ingredients are apples, refrigerated crescent rolls, cinnamon, sugar, and butter (raisins are optional). That’s it. (Although the picture shows raisins, I didn’t end up adding them to my recipe.)

You basically peel and core a few apples. Cut them into chunks. Separate the crescent dough. Sprinkle it with cinnamon/sugar. Roll up the apples in the crescent dough (starting at the small end). Drizzle them with just a little butter and top with nuts. You could also add a little more cinnamon/sugar if you want. Then bake. See … simple. (For the complete recipe/instructions, click on the link above.)

Apple Pecan Crescent Rolls

We shared these with Bart’s sister’s family, and I still had some left to bring in to work. I ate one at room temperature and it was good, but they really are best when served warm. And don’t they sound like they’d be great with a side of vanilla ice cream? Yum!

***********

Ingredients for Cheesy Quinoa BitesFor my last baking experiment, I tried quinoa (pronounced keen-wa) for the the first time, as part of my quest to try new, healthier foods. I found an image on Pinterest for Cheesy Quinoa Bites several weeks ago that sounded interesting (hey, anything with cheese in it has got to be good). I clicked on the photo to find the source (SoVeryBlessed.com), and I saved the recipe to try when I had time.

That turned out to be this past Thursday. To tell you how it went, I’m going to fess up, and share my ditzy moment with you. The recipe called for 2 cups of cooked quinoa. I had never made it before, so I read the package to see how to cook it. It said to mix 1 cup of quinoa with 1-1/2 cups of water and bring to a boil. Well, I needed 2 cups, right? So, I doubled it. Can you see where this is going?

If you are familiar with quinoa, then you know it is like rice in that it bulks up quite a bit in cooking. So, I now have several cups of cooked quinoa to work with. Turns out it makes a pretty good hot breakfast (especially mixed with a little sweet cream), and I’ve also mixed some up with black beans, corn, and a little lime juice, which I’ll be trying tomorrow.

Anyway, back to the bites … I thought they were okay, but I wasn’t totally impressed. However, my co-workers (who  get to try out my crazy kitchen experiments) seemed to like them. I think I will try making them again, but next time, I’ll use fresh grated Parmesan cheese or maybe even some cheddar – I think it needs something with a little more bite. I’ve still got half a bag of quinoa left. (I thought it was kind of expensive when I first bought it, but turns out – a little goes a long way.)

***********

This week, I wanted to provide some inexpensive dinner ideas for one of my nieces.  There were some listed in the June issue of Good Housekeeping (is it just me or is it crazy that they come out so early), but they’re not available online yet, so I’ll share them later. For now, I found some Budget Dinner Recipes from Kraft Foods that I thought I’d post a link to. I haven’t tried any of them yet, so can’t recommend them specifically, but if you make any, let me know.

I also found my next “have to try” recipe. It’s called Queso Taco Pasta Bake from Picky-Palate.com. It sounds delicious. So far, I have pinned the photo to my Food Favorites board. I need to go back later and copy/print the recipe. Of course, I will let you know how it turns out when I make it. If you make it before me, please come back and share how it worked for you.

Well, I think that’s it for today. I apologize for not getting this posted this  morning. We’re temporarily down to one computer, and Bart had to get some work done last night. Hope I’m leaving you with some good food for thought and you have a wonderfully simple yet full week.

Life Lessons – Heart Connections

Last year, I entered Real Simple magazine’s fourth annual Life Lessons Essay Contest. The question was: “When did you first understand the meaning of love?” Just last night, I read the winning entry published in the April 2012 issue of the magazine. It was a great story, and it brought tears to my eyes.

It also reminded me that I had not yet shared my own story with anyone, besides a couple friends who provided feedback while I was writing it. So, today, I’m posting another special feature article rather than one of my “usual” posts. I hope it touches your heart, makes you think, and maybe even inspires you to reach out to someone in pain or re-connect with a family member.

*********************

Heart Connections

I knelt on the bathroom floor, holding Gabrielle’s hair back as she sobbed and threw up; my body shook, but not from the cold tiles. My baby sister had just told me that she was tired of being sick, tired of hurting so much, tired of everything. She wanted to give up. But I couldn’t let that happen. She was only 22, and her 3-year-old daughter, Ashley, needed her.

I clutched my personal heartache close as I watched her suffer. She didn’t need to know about my pain. Not right now. Not when, more than anything else, I had to convince her that life was good and worth fighting for. I prayed a frantic but silent prayer—please God, help me help her.

In the prior year, after a divorce left her with a scarred heart, Gabrielle had been diagnosed with cervical cancer. She underwent surgery and then attempted to move on with her life. As Gabrielle recovered and adjusted to her role as single mother, we all thought everything was on an upswing for her, and we were thankful.

Meanwhile, back at my house: after 11 years of marriage, my husband and I continued to drift apart; we were just so different; we loved each other, but were no longer “in love.” Pick your cliché;  the truth was, I felt trapped and unhappy. We rarely spent time together anymore, and neither of us really knew what we wanted in life, or how to communicate, be honest with ourselves, or take action. On top of that, the Lab we got as a puppy shortly after our wedding was not well. I struggled to keep my emotions in check and my life under control as I went to work every day, pretending like nothing was wrong.

But I wasn’t the only one pretending. Gabrielle had been keeping her own secrets. She finally admitted to Elizabeth, another sister, that the cancer was not gone; in fact, it had spread to her uterus and her liver. She had also started chemotherapy treatment without telling anyone.

Everything I researched seemed to emphasize the dangers of chemo. In fact, a lot of people get sicker faster when they are on chemo, and that was exactly what was happening to my sister. Her immune system was wiped out; she began losing weight and became very tired and run down. In her last conversation with her doctors, they had told Gabrielle there was nothing more they could do for her except try to make her “as comfortable as possible.” They gave her a year to live. That’s when she finally decided to share the news with the family, which led up to our bathroom moment.

I watched my sister go through another round of dry heaves. There was nothing left inside of her. Or me. Oh, I was physically healthy at the time, but with Gabrielle’s illness and the painful disconnect in my marriage, I was drained. At home, it felt like we had both checked out already. The only connection we shared at this point was grief over our dying dog.

But I couldn’t deal with my personal issues right now. I had to be strong. I had to come up with a plan to save Gabrielle’s life.

You know, up until that time, I don’t think I had ever appreciated my family quite so much. Growing up with five sisters and one brother was often challenging with limited space, limited funds, unlimited arguing. I used to wish I was an only child. But as my sister lay there beside me, curled up on the floor, I allowed the despair over my own personal loss to mingle with the anguish I felt for her, and I wept.

Then, just like in the Christmas story about the Grinch, I felt my heart swell several sizes with love—real love, not heightened feelings based on hormones and chemistry and starry-eyed dreams of a perfect future, but a true heart connection. Something that had been sadly lacking in my marriage. At that moment, I would have willingly given up my life to give Gabrielle a second chance. But that obviously wasn’t in God’s plan.

So, the first step in my plan was to temporarily get Gabrielle out of Florida, to a place where she could rest and receive special care. The obvious choice—Aunt Robin’s. Robin was living in California at the time, so she sent plane tickets for Gabrielle and my grandmother to come out for a visit. It was a good spot for a stress-free getaway. Plus our aunt is a natural nurturer, so it only made sense. Her main goal was to try to help Gabrielle see that she could still find joy in life if she didn’t give up.

While Gabrielle was out of town, and little Ashley spent time with other family members, I began researching treatment programs. I met with a doctor who focused on treating the whole body, not individual parts or symptoms. The way he explained it made sense: over several weeks, through nutritional changes as well some complementary therapies, the acidic atmosphere that cancer survives and thrives in is neutralized, and a more alkaline and healthy environment is created in the body. I was sold. But now to convince Gabrielle.

An update from Robin provided a glimmer of hope. Gabrielle had gone horseback riding, and her spirits had improved tremendously. She was eating fairly well and actually joking around a bit. Robin told me that Gabrielle was concerned about coming back and having everyone tell her what she should do. So, we agreed that I would be the family spokesperson.

I worked with the rest of the family to figure out a schedule. We made arrangements for who would take Gabrielle to the doctor’s office each day for treatment, who would watch Ashley, who could help financially, etc. Just making a plan gave me a more positive outlook, and it really pulled our already-close family even closer together. When Gabrielle came back, I was happy to find her receptive to our ideas.

Mondays were my days to take Gabrielle to the doctor. Thankfully, the company where I worked was flexible and understanding about my hours during that time. And I chose to ignore my personal heartache and focus on my sister’s health and happiness.

The first visit was fairly easy. We just sat and talked for a few hours while she got an IV drip. I think we developed an even closer bond during that time. The nurses said there were only a few potential side effects, but Gabrielle experienced them all—nausea, loose stool, and later trouble with her IV pic line, which had to be replaced.

Gradually, things got worse. On some days, Gabrielle felt so sick that she couldn’t get out of bed. I got a call one morning from my mom. Gabrielle wouldn’t get up. I left work and spent quite a bit of time convincing her that it was important for her to keep her appointment. She finally went with me.

The worst thing about talking Gabrielle into continuing with her treatments was my own doubts and fears that began to emerge. What if this wasn’t helping her? What if she got worse and it was my fault? Every time I thought of this, my breath caught in my throat and my heart pounded wildly as I blinked away the tears. That just can’t happen! I had to believe that she would get better; I had to believe in something at this point. I couldn’t give up.

Thankfully, despite my concerns, after the treatment plus some added nutritional support through supplements and natural juices, and special home care from our oldest sister, Theresa, Gabrielle began to slowly get better. I think several other factors helped in the healing process: Gabrielle realized that life still held moments of joy and possibility. And we both figured out that it’s important to learn to love yourself first and determine what you want out of life before you can really commit and communicate to building a lasting relationship with someone else.

I also discovered the importance of working in community, being there for one another, not trying to take on the world alone. You know, we’re all interconnected in some way — like pieces of a puzzle. And life just seems to make so much more sense when we look at the big picture and find our place in it.

The happy ending to this story? It has been 14 years since Gabrielle was given one year to live, plus she finally found her soul mate, and they were married just last month.

Me? My dog passed away and my divorce happened shortly after, as it needed to so we could both move on. I not only survived, but I’m now remarried … this time to my true heart connection.

The missing piece to my life puzzle has been put in place, and love is the glue that holds us together.

____________

Disclaimer: I don’t have the best of memories, so I may not have all of the details/facts of the events right, but the story and the emotions are true and real.