I love family. I love learning. I love food. This is simply a collection of thoughts, memories, and recipes that are a piece of me!

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Make Ahead Lunches.

One of my favorite things in life is order.  And structure.  And schedules.

I know it's not everyone's cup of tea, but our house runs much more smoothly when things just happen the same basic way every day.  We wake up, have breakfast, get ready for our day, have school, grab lunches, and head to my mom's house for lunch and some "Mommy Has Adult Conversation" time.  It goes like this for us pretty much every weekday, and it's just awesome.

I really really like our schedule.  

But I did not always like that schedule.  I did not like it when it went: do school, Mommy makes lunches, then off to my mom's house.  That schedule was much less simple, so I started buying lunchables because I could not stand to make one more sandwich.  I just couldn't.  Please, please...no more peanut butter and jelly.  So lunchables became our thing.  Every day.  And every day, I was throwing away three plastic trays half empty, and an hour later, kids were crying about being hungry.

Every.  Single.  Day.

I'm sure this wasn't an original idea.  I'm sure I saw it on Pinterest 27 thousand times, but it's what we do now, so I wanted to share because it has been such a blessing for our lives.

We've been packing our lunches like this for a whole year now, and let me tell you, it's amazing.  Every day, my kids are excited to pick out what they feel like having, and every day, what they chose gets eaten.  Praise Jesus.

I will add, this has proven to be a great way for us to pack lunches, but it's also very often been a sweet time for us as a family, too.  There have been a few times that I've waited until the kids have gone to bed then pulled Isaiah out to help me, and it's given us 20 minutes or so to just chat and spend some sweet moments together.  That alone makes it totally worth any extra effort!

Here's what we do:
Every week, we have three different choices for meats (or proteins), dairy, crackers or pretzels, and fruits. I opted for 3 choices in each group so my kids would have a nice variety.  We pack each thing in an individual serving sized snack bag or cup and store it all together in a basket that stays in our refrigerator.  We have found that helps make them easy to grab and stick in a lunch bag.  Obviously you can choose whatever your family would like, but we like...

Roast beef
Ham slices
Cups of peanut butter
Hard boiled eggs

String cheese
shredded cheddar cheese
Slices of American cheese

Cheese crackers
Graham crackers

Apple slices
Apple sauce

I almost always mix it up from week to week, so if we had ham last week, this week we won't.  It has kept the kids loving our rotation, and miracle of miracles, they are actually eating their lunches instead of tossing half of them in the trash!  

This is great for our regular schedule, but we have also found this to be super useful for days we have somewhere to go because we can grab lunches and eat in the car if need be and no fast food!  If you have any ideas of other things we could try, please let me know!  We are always looking for new fun things to add!

I hope this proves to be just as useful for you as it has been for us!

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Baked Omelet.

Lately, I have been in a real "simple meals" rut.  My kids have eaten peanut butter and syrup sandwiches far more than I'd like to admit, and they haven't always just been for lunch.

They've had them for breakfast.

And then again for dinner.

Once they had them twice in one day.  I'll take that "Mom of the Year" trophy now, please.

I've been so busy lately, and the first thing to ditch from my list is almost always a sit down real deal meal.  Although I'm a big proponent of the family dinner time, sometimes it just isn't an option if that means Mommy taking the hour before dinner is to be served artfully prepping and cooking a meal for the ages.

So instead, we sit together and eat sandwiches, and though I don't mind this sometimes, I make a meal plan every month with a menu all pretty and written up on a chalkboard hanging in my dining room.  And the kids notice when I have spent days and days not erasing anything from that menu.

I try to write down simple meals most of our days anyway, but this month, we had "Brinner" twice on our menu board.

Brinner is a big deal at our house.  Breakfast for dinner?  Yes, please.  It's one of the few nights where everyone in our family will eat without a whine or whimper.  French toast, pancakes, biscuits and gravy, eggs, bacon....there are so many yummy options when it comes to brinner.

The problem, however, is that it is never ever ever simple.  Flipping pancakes, scrambling eggs, and frying bacon takes real time, and so as much as we love it, I started putting it off or skipping those nights all together because I just didn't have the time or energy to devote to standing in front of my stove doing fifteen things at once.

Enter: baked omelets.

I can't even tell you how much I love this idea.  I'm not even calling it a recipe because really, what I put in it may not float your boat, and that's totally fine.  My family goes pretty simple with omelets- just ham and cheese.  Just add in whatever your family loves in an omelet (spinach, mushrooms, peppers, onions...), and brinner will magically become a quick, simple, weeknight meal!

What you will need:
1 1/2 cups of grated cheese
several slices of deli ham
8 large eggs
1 1/2 tbsp sour cream
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat your oven to 400, and spray an 8x8 glass baking dish with nonstick spray.

Lay out a layer of cheese in the bottom of the dish.  This will brown slightly while it bakes and make a heavenly crust on the bottom.  Chop up the ham into bite sized pieces and sprinkle on top of the cheese.

In a separate bowl, beat together your eggs, sour cream, and salt and pepper until they are pale yellow and a homogeneous mixture.  I will add here that I always make my scrambled eggs with sour cream.  Even if you don't try this "recipe," you should give that a shot.  It makes them so fluffy and delicious!  Pour the eggs on top of the ham and cheese.

Bake at 400 for 35 minutes, or until the center is set.  The eggs will puff up and make a creamy, fluffy pan of omelet.  This is great along with some pancakes or biscuits and gravy, and it was a huge hit with my kiddos.
Welcome back to our lives, brinner.  We have missed you.

Friday, June 3, 2016

Pretzel Bites.

I don't know about you guys, but dreary weather turns me into the most avid baker.  Bread for dinner.  Cinnamon rolls for breakfast, pizza crust for lunch, and my newest favorite thing to bake: pretzel bites for a fun afternoon snack.

Or an entire batch for lunch, if you're me.  Whatever.

I'm relatively new to the soft pretzel game, having just been introduced to them in a meaningful way a few months ago- at Sam's Club of all places.  I figured if I like them at Sam's, they had to be a million times better if I made them at home, and I was very very right.

If you Google "how to make soft pretzels," it's pretty easy to get overwhelmed.  Lye? Baking soda bath? Salt that isn't from the salt shaker on my table?  And what's with that twisting?  No thanks.

But really, it's not hard at all.  And I didn't use any lye.  It's a few steps, but honestly, these are so much quicker than many of the other bread products I make, and it's totally worth the little bit of effort.

What you'll need:
2 1/2 cups of flour
1 tsp of salt
1 1/2 tsp of sugar
2 1/2 tsp (or one packet) of dry active yeast
1 cup of water as hot as you can get it from the tap

1 1/2 cups of boiling water
3 tbsp of baking soda
Course sea salt and/or a cinnamon/sugar mixture
at least 1 stick of butter, but I use more

First, add those first five ingredients to the bowl of a stand mixer.  Mix until they're all combined then knead on medium speed for 5-6 minutes.

Your dough will be smooth and slightly sticky.  Oil a bowl and give your dough a few turns in it to coat it, and let it rest for 20-30 minutes.

While your dough is resting, boil the cup and a half of water.  As soon as it comes to a boil, turn off the heat and add the baking soda.  Be aware: this bubbles up somewhat violently.  It's fun to watch, though, so invite the kids in for this part!  Let this mixture cool as your dough rests.

I will add here that some recipes tell you to put the dough into this mixture as it's boiling, and some say dip the dough in after the water has cooled.  I tried both, and it really had the same outcome...so I'm going for the simplest option.

Preheat your oven to 400.

Once the dough has taken a little nap, cut it into a few pieces.  I usually do 5 or 6 big chunks, but it doesn't matter much how many as long as the ropes you make from these chunks end up the same width.  Then, using the palms of your hands, gently roll the chunks of dough into long strips about an inch and a half wide.  The length will just depend on how big of a chunk of dough you started with.  I usually spray my counter to keep them from sticking, but I never ever flour it because you don't want this dough drying out.

Cut the strips into bite sized pieces.

Pour your baking soda mixture into a pie plate and drop in the dough bites.  Let them set, turning if they aren't completely covered, for a minute or so.  There's some science happening here, and it has something to do with the pH of the dough.  I just know this is what makes the outside all chewy and pretzel-like.

Place the bathed dough bites on a parchment AND sprayed cookie sheet.  If you want to actually get them off once they are cooked, I highly recommend both.  I speak from experience here. 

If you're going to make salty pretzel bites, add your course sea salt to the top now.  If you're going for the cinnamon sugar variety, hold off on any toppings.

Bake at 400 for 10-11 minutes, until beautifully golden.

While the pretzels are baking, melt your butter.  Now, normally when I bake, I use unsalted butter, but this is one instance where that salt makes a big difference.  Feel free to use unsalted if you prefer, but I've tried both, and let me tell you, that salt is noticeably missing if you don't use it.  If all you have is unsalted butter, add 1/4 tsp of salt to the butter as it's melting.

Now that you mention it, I bet you could add a lot of yummy stuff...like garlic powder and then top the pretzels with Parmesan cheese...mmmm.  ..but I digress.

Once the little golden nuggets of deliciousness are out of the oven, while they're still warm, roll them in the melted butter.  If you wanted the cinnamon sugar topping, sprinkle it on after the pretzels come out of their butter bath.  If you're just going with the traditional salted option, the butter is the last step.  Make sure to set them on a paper towel to catch any dripping butter.

I prefer mine warm, but these little bites of joy are delicious any time.

Now here's to all this rain...and all this yummy baking!

Friday, April 22, 2016

Team Lozano.

I want to start off by saying that this idea is not going to be everyone's cup of tea.  Some people may wholeheartedly disagree with me, and that's totally fine.  This has just been a wonderful blessing to my family, so I wanted to share with all the other tired momma's around here!

Once upon a time, there were three baby birds who, for the most part, enjoyed a pretty pampered little life.  They had a Mother Bird and a Daddy Bird who tweeted all around them washing, folding, and hanging up their clothes, made every meal for them, and cleaned up every crumb they dropped.

That Mother Bird was tired.  Very Tired.  Fall asleep in the bathtub tired.

So tired, in fact, that her extra duties like home educating her little hatch-lings and keeping her sanity about her were starting to falter.  

Many nights were spent in tears desperately needing a break, knowing the next day would hold the same messes that never ended.

"Enjoying your kids is so much more important than keeping messes cleaned up!" and "Baby's don't keep!" are lovely little phrases extremely kind-hearted people who weren't currently in that situation would often say.  But dinner can't be made when all the dishes are dirty.  Clothes can't be worn when everything is in the laundry.

One day, upon opening the dryer door, this Mother Bird discovered yet another load of tiny children-sized clothing.  "I can't do this right now," she thought to herself.  

So she called the two baby birds with the best fine motor skills into the living room.  "It's time we fold these clothes!" she said to them, and much to her surprise, they happily joined.  She showed them how to fold shirts and hang dresses and fold pants and pajamas.  She showed them how to neatly pile their undergarments and pair their socks.  When everything was all completed, she showed the baby birds which piles belonged in which drawer, and she smiled as she watched these growing people march their piles, one by one, back to their rooms to neatly put them away.

It took about the same amount of time as it would have all alone, but this Mother Bird felt refreshed.  She felt less overwhelmed.  She felt...free.


After I realized that my children could fold and put away their own laundry, I began to really relish in this idea that my home really didn't rest on my shoulders. Even though I am a stay-at-home mom, I stay pretty busy, and up until this point, doing anything outside of basic homemaking projects really was out of the question. But now there was this hope that time would be opening up for me a bit more.  I could spend more time on businesses and  homeschooling and church and community and...everything.

My husband and I started jokingly referring to our family as Team Lozano.  

But the more we said it, the more I saw that a team is exactly what we were.

So I started testing the waters a bit more.  What else could my kids do?  I asked them to tell me some things they wanted to learn how to do, and I took that list and ran with it.

Isaiah wanted to learn to vacuum.  Done.
And make breakfasts. For sure.
And pack lunches. Amazing.

Izzy wanted to learn to cook everything. Absolutely.
And sweep. Please do.
And dust. I love this child.

Sweet Eva really just follows me around doing little odd jobs as I find them right now, but she's quickly growing into a precious little dust buster.

And let me tell you, each task they complete brings a sense of pride that I did not expect.  They are learning they can do things on their own, and it has helped them so much as we take on new tasks in school and in life.

Now, I will say we don't have individual set tasks, and even though they know how to do something, it doesn't necessarily mean they will do that task each time it is needed.  I still do the bulk of the home-work, but now they ask me if I need help.  They see my serving them knowing what goes into that because they've done that job, too.  

But even as I type this, I am looking at a perfectly vacuumed floor that I didn't touch and smelling a lovely chicken and noodle dinner that I did not make. (My Izzy is such a good little "cooker girl!")  And I am praying, thanking God for such sweet team players because all of that was done while I made business-y type phone calls and washed dishes.

I took the time to teach them these tasks that were on my regular list of chores, and at first, it took them a ton of time.  No job was done perfectly on the first few tries, but they got better.  It got easier.  And I got more and more thankful for busy little hands making my work lighter.

I will often say to them, "This house is our house, so as a team, we will care for it."  We are the best team when we all pitch in.

They aren't cleaning for me.  They aren't doing me a favor by taking care of our home.  They are learning how to work as a team- as a family- and to serve one another.  

I pray that these habits of cleanliness and community effort that I'm desperately trying to teach them stay with them as they grow and their hearts stay bent toward serving others. 

I still get tired on some days, but now when I am, I don't mind leaving the mess for a bit because I know my team will band together and get all those nasty little chores done when it's truly needed. 

Go team!

Friday, April 15, 2016

Baked-ish Taquitos.

For years now, taquitos have been a staple party food for my family.

My mom started buying those boxes from the freezer section when I was in high school, and we discovered that they really do make a great little finger food for get togethers.  They aren't too messy, and they're a great change of pace from all the sweets when you want to serve something to guests, but a meal is just too much.

Then I discovered the taquitos on Olvera Street that are the perfect vessel to enjoy their yummy "green sauce." (Avocado Sauce)

And all of a sudden, taquitos were dinner.

After I had been making tamales for a while, I decided I wanted to give taquitos a shot.  I tried them a few times, but I always just ended up with a big mess.  Then one day, Bird's mom was in town, and she offered to show me how she made them.

And oh my word were they so good.

Apparently, I had been putting the filling in the wrong spot (on the side, not the middle, silly girl), and I needed a smaller pan to fry them in.  Crowding was key when frying so they didn't open.  White corn tortillas worked better than yellow for some reason, and the tortillas must be warm before I could roll them or else they'd break.

They were delicious, but they were still fried- which my doctor keeps warning me about.

I tried a few times to bake them, but they were never quite...right.  Pinterest told me I could bake the tortillas to get them crispy.  Pinterest is a liar.

I tried spraying them with cooking spray- which also did not work.

Honestly, I quit trying them because I felt like I was wasting so much delicious filling.

Then as I was frying up a batch for dinner, I had sort of an Ah-Ha! moment.  I really hate to call this a "recipe" because, well, it's not a recipe.  I'll just call this my process.

Here's what you'll need:
White corn tortillas
Some sort of filling that isn't too wet (I use this shredded beef for everything because...well, just try it and you'll understand.)
a couple cups of oil

You want to start with putting enough oil in a frying pan to drop your tortillas into and cover them completely.

Now you may be thinking, "But Mrs. Bird, I thought these were going to be baked!"  And you'd be right.  They are, but the oiling of the tortillas will do three very important things.
1. It will heat the tortillas through so they are pliable and won't fall apart.
2. It will allow the salt to stick.
3. It will cause the tortillas to crisp up real nice in the oven.

I like to think of these taquitos as a hybrid of baked/fried deliciousness.  You're welcome, Dr. Greer.

So step 1: drop a tortillas into the hot oil for about 2-3 seconds.  Do NOT let them crisp up or they will never ever roll up.  But if they DO crisp up, congratulations.  You just made a tostada shell.

Pull the tortilla out of the oil and drop it onto a paper towel lined plate, blotting both sides to remove as much excess oil as possible.  

About an inch to two inches from the side, spoon on your filling.  (Another great option would be shredded chicken mixed with enough green sauce to just coat it)

Taking care to not burn your fingers, quickly roll the taquito, laying it seam side down on a parchment lined cookie sheet.

Finish pre-frying (that's a word.), filling, and rolling all the taquitos, and add a shake of salt over the pan.

Bake at 400 for around 30 minutes, turning them once.

These come together much quicker than if I fry up several dozen (and much cleaner!), and when I had my husband compare between the baked and the fried, he couldn't tell a difference at all.

Enjoy these golden browned little beauties for dinner or as a party finger food!

Friday, March 25, 2016

The Best Friday.

My family adores Christmas.  We go all out for it.  The season starts in October in our house, and although we love the gifts and decor and traditions, we've always made much of the fact that we celebrate because of Jesus.  I love advent.  And manger scenes.  And Christmas hymns.  

So it is easy to focus on the gift of the Messiah.  It's sweet and lovely and precious.  

It's a baby.  Everyone loves babies.

But over the last few years, we have slowly begun to transition Easter from a bunny-filled egg hunt to a celebration of something that feels dark and heavy and difficult to explain to kids.

Because it totally matters.

Last year, we did this, and my kids really loved the "tasty Jesus," but this year I decided I wanted to focus more on why we needed Easter.

We started by reading Romans 3:23.

"For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God."

I showed them a dry erase board, and we talked about how even though it was pretty and white and clean, our hearts don't look like that on their own.  We have sin. 

Together, we made a list of some of the sins we know we fight: disobedience, anger, hatred, unkindness, anxiety...so many sins.  I used a black Sharpie to write our list on the dry erase board, darkening the clean white surface.

I gave them each a napkin and told them to get rid of what we had written.  They tried and tried, but no matter how hard they rubbed, they could not remove the stain of their sins.

So we talked about all the things we could do to try and fix our hearts, and I used a purple Sharpie to write over the sins.  We could go to church...and more church...and even more church.  We could read our Bibles.  We can even homeschool.  Again, they tried to use that to wipe away the sins.  Still, the iniquities remained.

I read Isaiah 64:6.

"...all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment..."

So we discussed all the righteous deeds we could do- all the things the world will tell us will make all of our sins okay.  I used a blue Sharpie to cover what we had written.  We can give away all of our things.  We can simply accept everything and everyone.  We can be kind.  We can be nice. 

We looked at our board and talked about how those sins we wrote were much harder to see now.  Attending church regularly and being nice can make it harder for others to see those sins.

But try as they might, even these good deeds simply could not remove our sins.  All their attempts to erase the words we wrote were futile.

We read Romans 5:8.

"But God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us."

This is the gospel.  This is the purpose of Easter- as dark and sad and scary as it might seem, it is the best news.  God didn't wait for us to fix our own hearts because He knew we never could.  He sent us Jesus, who would die a horrible, painful death so that we didn't have to.

I used a red dry erase marker and boldly wrote "Jesus" over the top of everything we had already written, and I told the kids to see what Jesus did to our sins.

And as they wiped away the red, they saw a clean board beneath- because Jesus makes us clean in a way we never can do for ourselves.

As we celebrate Easter this weekend, I pray their hearts are cleaned and changed. 

And I pray they can see the good in Good Friday.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Cheese Danish.

As a kid, one of the things I always loved most about holidays was all the special yummy treats we got.  It wasn't an everyday occurrence for us to have homemade sweet breads, so when my mom made pumpkin bread at Christmas, it was always a happy treat.  Thanksgiving brought us mud pie- still my favorite dessert of all time!- and Easter gave us rice crispy treats or cookies and often both.

As an adult, one of the things I love most about holidays are all the special yummy treats we get.

But it's different when you're the one who has to actually make said treats.

Now I want something simple that has a big payoff.

This year, Easter is bringing us pastries.

Because yummy.

And easy.

This recipe took me a total of 23 minutes from start to finish, and with only a few ingredients, it really is a perfect Easter morning dessert...I mean...breakfast...

Here's what you'll need:
2 tubes of crescent rolls
8 oz cream cheese
1/3 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1 egg yolk

I do want to start off by saying that if you are a pastry purist, feel free to substitute the crescent rolls for puff pastry you find in the freezer section of the grocery store.  (Or make it yourself if you're really ambitious...)  I made this recipe with both, and I opted to go with the crescent rolls for a few reasons.  Crescent rolls are so much easier to work with.  The puff pastry needs to thaw overnight in the fridge, and it required water to seal the edges and an egg wash to brown up all pretty like.  The puff pastry just required much more time and energy.  In the end, Bird genuinely loved both, so I opted to go with the easier option.

Start off with room temp cream cheese.  I microwaved mine for 20-30 seconds, but feel free to pull it out of the fridge the night before.  Cream it together with the sugar, vanilla, and egg yolk.

Be tempted to eat this without cooking it.

But don't do that because eggs aren't supposed to be consumed raw.

But I licked the spatula anyway.

Next, lay out the crescent rolls.  You'll actually connect two of the triangles to make a rectangle.  You'll get 8 total from the two tubes of dough.  Once the seams are closed up, spoon a good dollop of the cream cheese mixture on top.

Fold the ends up together and press to seal.  

What a yummy looking boat.

Bake at 400 for 12-14 minutes, just until browned.

You can dust these with powdered sugar, make a quick glaze from powdered sugar and milk, or eat plain.

If you're feeling a little plain Jane with these, before you bake them, spoon a bit of jam or chocolate on top of the cream cheese mixture.

Or nutella.

I used the Hershey's spread from the peanut butter isle, and my girls went nuts over them.

Ultimately, these are a great canvas to be creative.

Enjoy, and happy Easter!

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Burst Tomato Pasta.

Oklahoma has been unusually mild this winter.

I'm talking 60s-and-70s-in-February-kind-of-mild.

It has been glorious.

But it has really made me long for spring so I can plant a garden.  Which I'm sure will make me long for summer so I can harvest my garden.  And of course, that will make me long for dinner time so I can enjoy my harvest.

Nothing I'm planting has me more excited than cherry tomatoes. My dad always grew them for me, and as an adult, I love cooking with them.  As I gear up for what I hope will be a bountiful harvest in a few months, I've been working on recipes I can use as go-to dinner ideas that will use my favorite Oklahoma crop.

Enter: This recipe.

This pasta is so good.  It's so so good.  It's so so so....good.  It's so good, in fact, that my husband ate a bowl of it and made me look away as he drank the rest of the sauce in his bowl.  

It's pretty simple, too, and it really only requires things I keep in my house all the time anyway.  And my kids will eat it.  So that's a big win for us.

Here's what you'll need:
2 boneless skinless chicken breasts
2 tbsp olive oil
1 cup cherry tomatoes
4 cups chicken broth
1 cup Parmesan cheese
2 tsp garlic salt, divided
1 tsp Italian seasoning
1 tsp red pepper flakes
salt and pepper to taste

1 lb of pasta (I used linguine this time)

First, you're going to saute your chicken in the olive oil.  Season with salt, pepper, and a tsp of garlic powder.

If you're wondering why my chicken is in bags, I had just pulled it out of the freezer.  I store my chicken breasts in those fold down sandwich bags when I freeze them.  It makes them much easier to use because it doesn't all freeze together into one big chicken popsicle.

Saute it until it's nice and browned.  Take it out, and chop it up.

As soon as you pull the chicken out, throw in the cherry tomatoes and cover the pan.  After you chop up the chicken, add that in with the tomatoes. Occasionally give the pan a shake.   You're ready to move on after the tomatoes all burst open.  

It.  Smells.  So.  Good.

From here, pour in the chicken stock and the rest of the garlic powder, red pepper flakes, and Italian seasoning.  Bring the sauce to a boil, and add in just a small handful of cheese.  This will help thicken the sauce.  Boil it, stirring occasionally, until it's reduced by about half.  It will still be thin, but stick with me here.

Cook and drain your pasta, and pour the sauce over the top.  Add the rest of the cheese, and watch this delicious sauce coat your pasta.  

Stand back and wonder at what you've created.

Then get full.  Eat seconds.  Enjoy!

(We love this recipe as soon as it's finished cooking, but it's honestly better the next day.)