Ending The Competition and Finding the Inspiration

I started going to the gym about a month ago. I went to the gym back in Dallas and I hated it so I was really hesitant to go again. In Dallas I always felt slightly intimidated when I was at the gym. I was always comparing myself to the people around me and I never measured up. I look back on the girl I was and I am amazed at my lack of self confidence. I was young and thin. I was lean and fit. I was a bartender so I (at least to some degree) relied on my looks to make my living. At the gym everyone seemed to be taller or thinner, blonder or happier.

I finally joined the gym here and have experienced something completely different! Perhaps it’s because I am older and (arguably) a little wiser. Perhaps it is because I have lost loads of weight throughout the last few years by changing my diet and I have never felt better about myself. Perhaps it’s because I have kids now and I want to teach them about health and happiness and acceptance. Perhaps its because I have stopped aiming for that perfect sports model body and am now looking to be fit and strong and healthy.

Whatever the reason, when I go into the gym now I am completely in awe of the people around me. I see a room full of people who are dedicated to being healthy, a room full of people who are trying to be the best that they can be.

Bikini pictures taken one week before I started going to the gym. Something like this would have never seen the light of day a few years ago!!

 

These are a few of my favorite people at the gym:

The old man who uses his walker to go from machine to machine. This man can barley walk but he is there, working that exercise bike and using the arm and leg machines. He is awesome!!

The woman so pregnant she looks like she is about to pop. When I was that pregnant all I wanted to do was nap but she is there. She does a few of the arm and leg machine and then waddles up to the treadmill. I am amazed by her dedication to fitness.

The woman who puts on full make up before spending 30 minutes on the elliptical machine. I love that she takes so much pride in being there. No amount of sweat is going to smudge her eyeliner. I think that’s so cool, I look like a drowned rat half the time!!

The only man in the group fitness class. Good for you! Don’t let yourself be intimidated by the girls. These classes can be great and they aren’t just for the ladies!

The one girl in the free weight area surrounded by dudes. She is truly an inspiration! I haven’t even had the courage to walk on that side of the room. Awesome!

The skinny dudes. They always seem to travel in pairs and high five each other constantly. I just want to tell them that they are doing a great job and to keep it up. They are always working so hard to be buff!

The trainer who runs the core fitness class. He is so excited and happy! He always finds a way to make people want to push harder even though they are really cursing at him in their mind.

The guy (or girl) looking slightly overwhelmed while being shown the different equipment. I’m so proud of him for getting started! I really hope he finds his groove and learns to love it.

The girl (or guy) standing in the middle of the room looking slightly defeated. I hope she knows that just because today isn’t her day tomorrow will be better! Good for her for coming!

It’s so great to be at a point in my life that I can appreciate all of these people. I now look at the gym as an amazing source of inspiration.  I wish I would have started sooner.

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Super Sweaty Post Workout Selfie

 

 

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Root Vegetable Soup

Almost everyone in the house is currently sick. I have a nasty cold that has been lingering for ages, my son has a cough and is terribly congested and my daughter has a horrible snotty nose and just today developed an eye infection and I had to take her to the Dr. It’s that trip to the Dr that made me want to give my slow cooker a big hug. It was unexpected and took time out of the day that was my only unscheduled time. Time that, without my slow cooker, I would have had reserved for dinner prep. Luckily for me I was able to roll through the day secure in the knowledge that my slow cooker was hard at work!

Sick has always meant soup for me, every since I was little. It’s so warm and comforting and root vegetable soup is the perfect thing for sick days. Actually, it’s the perfect thing for any day. I was craving it last week when I made my meal plan long before the entire house got sick (except my husband, he never seems to get sick for some reason. This is good and bad. Good because he is very good at taking care of us and bad because every time he enters the room I feel like he is showing off the fact that he isn’t sick somehow.)

I like this soup so much because it uses ingredients that I never ate till I moved to The Netherlands. Things like parsnips, celery root and sweet potatoes weren’t part of my diet growing up. I’m so glad I got a little adventurous and brought some home!

Root Vegetable Soup

The vegetables:

  • sweet potatoes
  • carrots
  • parsnips
  • celery root

I had never seen parsnips or celery root before I moved. Parsnips look like big white carrots but have a mild peppery flavor. It’s rich and not at all sweet. Celery root taste like celery but a little milder. I prefer using it in soups because I don’t like the texture of cooked celery.IMG_0002

I cut these up the night before because I find it easier than explaining to my kids why they can’t help. They can also be cut up up to a week before and stashed in the fridge. This is very handy if you prep for the week as I try to do.

 

So done cutting and into the fridge till the morning.

 

The next morning I add:

  • One of these magic bullion cubes
  • a big spoonful of chopped onion (if you buy buy pre chopped because like me you hate chopping onions more than nearly anything else ever) or one whole onion, chopped
  • 1 can of diced tomato
  • 1 tbsp of oregano
  • 2 big cloves of garlic

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It’s a short list. The vegetables are so flavorful you don’t need anything else!

Just put everything in the slow cooker and give it a stir. Add just enough water to cover the vegetables and set it to medium.

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This is how it will look when it’s done.

Here you have some options.

  1. you can eat it just how it is
  2. you can use your immersion blender to puree it a little
  3. you can put half of it into your blender (very carefully) and then add the puree back into the pot

Blending half will give it a really nice thick texture but you really want some of the chunks of veg in there as well.

And done!! Delicious Root Vegetable Soup!

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My kids like grated goat cheese on theirs. I always add some Tobasco (but I’m from Texas so everything needs Tobasco).

My daughter ate 2 bowls and then stole her brothers when he wasn’t looking. It was great. Total “you snooze you loose” situation! IMG_0030

 

Enjoy!

Slow Cooker Vegan Mushroom Stroganoff

My kids love to help me in the kitchen. When it was just my son and I home all day we would bake all the time. I thought it was the perfect afternoon activity. We spent time together, he leaned a few things and at the end of it all we had muffins. When my daughter was born things got a little tricky and the kitchen fun stopped. Honestly almost all of the baking stopped. I started using my Slow Cooker every day because time in the kitchen was just to stressful.

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I am starting to see a light at the end of the tunnel. My daughter is now (March 2016) just over 18 months old and is now more capable of following instructions. My son is very nearly 4 and is now more capable of taking turns and helping his sister instead of competing with her. They are both still very good at making messes. I fear this will never change.

Well, this brings me to my SlowCooker Mushroom Stroganoff recipe.

This is a perfect recipe for the kids to get involved in. There is minimal prep, no cutting, no fire (except boiling the noodles and I suggest you don’t let them help with that bit) and a blender is used. My kids LOVE the blender.

This recipe is vegan. I am lactose intolerant and I have a very bad reaction to cow milk so I always cook dairy free. I chose not to put any meat in this but that was a choice. We only eat meat about once a week and I found that this recipe doesn’t need it anyway.

My kids did most of the work with this one. I was just there to supervise and make sure everyone was holding the measuring spoons correctly. Oh, and clean up the mess. There is always the mess.

Start with the mushrooms

Ingredients:

  • Mushrooms: there will actually be a lot of sauce so you can use quite a bit. I used 1 pack (250 grams) but could easily have used 2 packs and it would have been fine.
  • Chopped onion: a big spoon full of pre-chopped onions if you hate cutting onion as much as I do or 1 onion if you don’t mind chopping.
  • Garlic: I used 3 big cloves because I really like garlic but use as much as you think you would like. I like fresh but I have used powdered in a pinch.
  • 1 tbsp dried Oregano
  • 1 bouillon cube. I totally cheat with these. I love them. They add so much flavor without adding a ton of salt.
  • Water: about 1/4 cup.

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Wash the mushrooms and put them in your slow cooker.

In a bowl, add everything else and stir it up.

Next add everything into your slow cooker and stir them up to coat.

For how long? This really depends on your slow cooker and the size of the mushrooms. For a normal one I would go with medium and you should be fine. It will take a minimum of 3 hours for them to get good but they can be left in longer. It wont hurt anything.

Now for the vegan “cheese sauce”

I have made this days before and kept it in the fridge till I needed it so feel free to prep ahead but don’t add it in until just before you are going to eat it.

Ingredients:

  •  Raw cashews: I use a 250 gram pack from the shop. This comes out to just about 1 1/2 cups
  • 1/4 cup nutritional yeast: you can find this at health food stores and most grocery stores
  • 3 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 tbsp of mustard
  • salt
  • pepper
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • Nut milk: I don’t think it really matters what kind but it will effect the flavor slightly. I generally use almond milk but I have used full fat coconut milk from a can and it was delicious (slightly sweeter but not in a very noticeable way). Use enough to get a nice creamy texture. It generally takes me about 1/2 cup to get the thickness I want. Think pudding.

Put the first 7 ingredients in a blender and get it started. Add the milk slowly until it starts to spin nicely.

When you are ready to eat, put the sauce into the slow cooker with the mushrooms.

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This is what the mushrooms look like after they finish cooking

I add in the “cheese” just before I start the noodles. This gives it a chance to warm up so everything is done at the same time.

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This is the finished sauce. Pretty, right?

This recipe is very adaptable. You could put cubed chicken in the slow cooker at the beginning and I’m sure it would turn out great. Or bacon. MMMMmmmmm bacon. If you want more crispy bacon you could sprinkle it on top. I will sprinkle goat cheese on top of the kids. It’s amazing on it’s own though!

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I would like to thank my kids for helping me prepare this today. Half a package of cut onion dumped on the floor was the only casualty so I call it a win!

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My kids “cheese” face is hilarious!

 

Why Having a House Cleaner Put the Fun Back in My Marriage

House work has always been touchy subject between my husband and I. When we were young and first married the house never got cleaned. Seriously it was like a frat house. In all fairness, I was a waitress so I was working crazy hours at night and he was doing shift work and we were both tired and grumpy all the time. Then I had some medical issues that temporarily forced me to stop working and I took over the house work. Then we fought about money, but the house was clean. When I went back to work the same problems arose. Neither one of us honestly and truly felt like it was our responsibility. We stopped fighting about money but the house was always dirty so we fought about that instead.

fast forward a few years….

We had moved to The Netherlands and although I had worked a little my husband and I agreed that it was probably best that I just stayed home.  With all the “money making” pressure gone I embraced the stay at home life. The house was always clean and dinner was always on the table. I learned to knit. Married bliss, 1950’s style.

Then I had our son..

This was a hard transition but we managed for about a year. The house was messy but mostly clean. Meals were still healthy but fast and made without any effort.

Then I got pregnant again (or as my British friends say, “fell pregnant” which I absolutely love) and after a while I was put on “restrictive movement”, this is basically one step away from bed rest. This was because of some concerns for the baby. The idea is that I sit as much as possible and do no heavy lifting and limit going up and down the stairs. Impossible with a toddler running around the house.

My husband is great. He is very supportive. We are a team.

But…

It was the same fight. He had worked all day and didn’t want to come home and clean on the weekends. I wasn’t going to get on my hands and knees and clean a toilette, Dr’s orders. Both sides were completely understandable but that didn’t make it any easier. First I threatened to have someone come in and help with the cleaning. Honestly, we really couldn’t afford it so the threat generally worked for a short time. Then the fights would start again.

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The way I saw it, I had very limited time to rest during the day and I should spend it resting not scrubbing. My husband felt that he went away all day for work and when he was home he wanted to spend time with his family and not scrubbing. Again, both very reasonable.

Then one day I saw a FB post from a friend of mine saying that her cleaner was looking for more houses in our area. Honestly, I didn’t even talk to my husband about it. I called her and invited her over for a chat. I was weary because I have always made my own cleaning supplies and used only all natural ingredients. I was sitting at the table chatting with this lovely British woman and she told me that she had skin allergies and that she preferred to not use harsh chemicals in her cleaning. It was like a miracle. So I hired her. I was hugely pregnant with some health worries. I wasn’t going to scrub toilets!!!

We have had some trouble affording my lovely cleaning lady, to be honest. We don’t eat out anymore and I am very careful with our budget. She now comes 2X per month and cleans the house. She scrubs the bathrooms, cleans the floors, and generally cleans the house. It’s amazing. My husband and I no longer fight about the cleaning (we fight about other things but that’s just married life).

Whatever we have to do to afford this lovely woman is totally worth it. My husband and I no longer fight about the cleaning (he still doesn’t pick up his dirty clothes so we fight about that but I think that’s normal). I know that if I have an impromptu play-date I don’t have to worry about the state of the toilets and my husband doesn’t have to spend his valuable family time cleaning.

I still vacuum very regularly and wipe down the bathrooms. Honestly, I couldn’t leave things to be cleaned 2X per month but having this extra help relieves so much pressure. Plus I know that on the night before she comes we have to pick up the entire house. All the toys get put away, amazing!!

It feels extravagant and in a lot of ways I know it is, but it’s totally worth it. When both kids are in school I assume I will take over the job once again. For the time being I love the fact that I have the help. I love the fact that my husband is so understanding and really knows how hard I work. I love the fact that I know that 2X per month my entire house will be cleaned (except the dusting, the windows, the kitchen, the toys and the laundry. I still do all of that.)

To us, life is about choices. We choose to have more time and less money. We can take our kids to the park on the weekends instead of cleaning. Dinners out are rare but we spend lots of time together.

It’s amazing. I would highly recommend it.

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My Crockpot: I finally learned that dinners don’t have to be stressful

I love to cook. There are very few things in life that make me as happy as opening a new cookbook and looking at all those beautiful pictures. So many possibilities! And finding new ingredients. So exciting!!

Unfortunately with a hectic schedule and 2 kids under the age of 4 dinners had become the most stressful part of my day. Let me tell you, this is saying something. I used to manage bars and restaurants. I would check the kitchens before each shift to make sure everything was right. At one place I was trained at every cook station and expected to be able to step in and cook if the need ever arose, which it often did.  Stress in the kitchen is not new to me. Time tables and improvising are pretty standard. Still, cooking with 2 kids under the age of 4 in the house is a whole new ball game. Stress to a level that I didn’t know was possible. I don’t care how irate a room full of business men that are going to be late getting back to work after lunch because there was a fire in the kitchen are, it doesn’t hold a candle to a 3 year old screaming because he has the wrong color bowl and a 1 year old insisting to be held while you cook.

how many of these do you relate to?

  • home late and the kids are hungry.Scrambled eggs or sandwiches? Or even worse, take out on the way home.
  • Even these fabulous 15 minute meals that look so great won’t work. 15 minutes for a “normal person” person is at least 1 hour for me. My daughter periodically wants to be held, my son gets upset because my daughter has messed up his block castle and I have to intervene to prevent an all out war.
  • Both kids want to “help” st some point. This means 2 chairs pushed up to my already small space competing for the big spoon and who gets to stir.
  • A miracle happens and I can cook a meal. I won’t be able to clean up after. This means I spend the first hour after the kids are in bed cleaning the kitchen and getting annoyed that dinner has become so stressful.
  • Manage to get halfway through dinner and all hell breaks loose. You end up with the kids eating yogurt and a messy kitchen and tears.

This is why I embraced the slow cooker. At first I used it on days that we were going to be out in the afternoon but for the above reasons I soon started using it every day.

Yes. Every Day!!

I get interesting responses when I tell people this.

  • “I don’t really eat soup”   What? Is that all you think I cook?
  • “Sounds really boring” doesn’t have to be!!
  • “I used to use the crock pot a lot when I worked” And what do you think I’m doing all day?

I would like to clear up a few things and in the process, hopefully, inspire some people to embrace this amazing kitchen tool.

These are a few of the basic meals I make in the slow cooker. I love them because they are easy, delicious and vegetarian. As a family we are not vegetarian but I really want to eat a plant based diet as much as possible. I have never gotten a complaint with these meals!

 

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Basic vegetable soup. A staple in my house!
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Pumpkin Chili. This stuff is AMAZING!
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Black bean burritos. I make the stuffing in the slow cooker and then add some fresh veggies.

 

I started with this basic slow cooker. It’s still wonderful and I still use it regularly for apple sauce and broth. I also take this one with me when we take road trips.

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I was having trouble with overcooking chicken and some vegetables so recently I decided to upgrade to this model. I really love it. It has 3 setting, Low, high and warm. It has a timer that can be set and after that time is up the machine automatically switches to the “warm” setting.  I love this.  I make sure that the crock pot will be on the “warm”setting for at least an hour before dinner because the food is at the perfect temperature for my kids to eat. It is also huge! A friend of mine called it “the beast” and it stuck. I wanted to be able to do an entire chicken and veg at the same time.

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One complaint that I did get from my husband was that the entire meal tasted the same. It’s true that when you put potatoes, veg and honey mustard chicken in the slow cooker everything tastes like honey mustard chicken by the end of the day. This is why I have been experimenting lately with “pouch cooking” in my slow cooker. It helps if you think of the slow cooker as a little oven instead of a cooking pot.

This is one example.

Potatoes get washed and stuck with a fork and go into foil. I put green beans into a pouch of foil with a few teaspoons of water. Then a stacked them in one side. Then I put ribs coated in BBQ sauce in the other. When you are ready to eat all you have to do is mash the potatoes like normal.

Amazing, right?!?

This is another.

Meatloaf meatballs, green beans and mashed potatoes.

 

As you can tell we really like mashed potatoes and green beans. I probably need to branch out a little.

There are many occasions when I have both slow cookers going at the same time

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Duel slow cookers! One is filled with dinner and the other with apple sauce.

So I really love my slow cooker. I feel like it has enables me to enjoy my kids a little more, or at least scream a little less. I know this won’t last forever. Soon my son will be in school and my daughter will be able to play on her own a bit more. When this happens I will be able to spend a little more time in the kitchen. For now, the slow cooker ranks right up there in my “must have” list with the coffee machine and the dishwasher.

 

I will end this with my Slow Cooker Haiku, because I love my slow cooker so much I felt like it deserves a Haiku.

 

I love my crock pot

life with kids can be stressful

it helps me smile more

 

 

Speelbos De Kemmer

I love a good Speelbos ( translated to Play Forest) . These are bits of nature that have something to do for kids. Speelbos De Kemmer has animals carved into the wood around the place for the kids to find. There is also a fitness route with stops along the way to do different exercises. These are for grown ups but really fun for the kids as well. You can find the website here sorry it is in Dutch. It’s in Oirschot, about a 15 minute drive outside of Eindhoven.

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Basically it is a walking trail through a wooded area with scattered wooden carvings.

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The kids had a great time. I love my kids being in nature. Exploring and discovering. They mostly love getting really dirty. I know now to pack wet wipes, a towel and a complete change of clothes for both kids.

They will get muddy. They will get messy. If your lucky it will be warm outside and you can just strip them to their undies and put them in the car when you are ready to go. The nice thing about this is, however, that a bath is a requirement when we get home. This make the  total time spent on the outing another hour, This is a huge bonus for me because they are getting clean and having fun doing something other than making a mess or begging for TV time.

Negatives about De Kemmer is that it is so close to the highway. There isn’t even a proper fence. The area is pretty big and the highway is only along one side but it’s still the highway. I did feel the need to tell my son not to go near the cars at one point. Another slightly annoying thing about the place is the lack of picnic tables. This is a really small thing but it would have been nice to have a place to take a break about halfway through the route.  Lastly is the people out with their dogs. The speelbos near us has “no dog”signs posted everywhere but I didn’t see any here. People also ride horses through the paths. This is awsome for the kids who get really excited about horses but less so for the poop. How are people so annoyed with dog poop but OK with horse poop? I don’t like either in a place my kids play. Poop is poop.

All in all it was a great day out. I will go back with the kids when the weather is a bit warmer. It’s so nice that there are these nature reserves so many places in The Netherlands. It’s very important for kids to be outside and getting dirty.

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Raw Salsa (or 5 minute salsa that my 3 year old can make) Recipe

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I love salsa. As a native Texan I think that salsa and ranch dressing are just about the only condiments I will ever need. A few years ago I started a vegetable garden and quickly had more tomatoes than I could ever eat so I leaned to can vegetables and started making salsa. I swore I would never but store bought again. Last year there was a tiny disaster (I say tiny because there are very real disasters in the world). I planted my garden and during a trip home to see family, Eindhoven had a crazy random heat wave killing my entire garden.

no tomatoes! no salsa! no delicious breakfast burritos or “Mexican” salads!

But honestly the idea of buying tomatoes from the shop or market to can salsa wasn’t very appealing either. For a while I was buying salsa from the shop. GASP!

I was playing on the internet one day and came across “raw salsa”. This was an amazing revelation to me. Of course you don’t have to cook it!

I started playing with ingredients and soon we were making homemade raw salsa every week! My son loves to help in the kitchen and because there is minimal prep and no fire he is now “in charge” of the salsa. I only cut up the veg.

this is so easy!

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Ingredients:

  1. 1 bell pepper
  2. garlic ( I used 2 large cloves but use as much as you like)
  3. 1 onion (I used 2 small onions this time because that’s what I had)
  4. chilies ( I love these little Merza green peepers because they have a little heat to them but mostly just have a nice flavor)
  5. 2 tbs lime juice
  6. 1 tbs coriander
  7. 1 tbs cumin
  8. optional: chili powder.
  9. one can of cubed or chopped tomato

My kids don’t like anything very hot or spicy  so this isn’t hot at all. If you prefer yours hot, add some chili powder. Use as much chili powder as you like. Or fresh chilies. Really this is such a great recipe because it is so adaptable.

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Put the first 4 ingredients in a blender (you can use a food processor as well). Pulse till they are in little chunks then add everything else and blend it until it’s at the consistency you like.

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Done and Done. Easy right!?!

This salsa is  really light and fresh tasting. this will not preserve so don’t try to can it but it freezes really well. It will keep in the fridge for about a week and in the freezer for a really long time.

I use this salsa just about every day with my breakfast, It works so well on scrambled eggs or on a breakfast burrito. It not only tastes amazing but also adds a lot of veggies to any meal.

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Give it a try. Play with the ingredients and make something amazing!