Archive | March 2014

Chicken Tortilla Soup

There are tons of tortilla soups floating around out there, but the recipe I’m sharing today is different from any of the others I’ve ever seen.  What makes it unique is that it is seasoned with dried basil (as opposed to taco-type seasoning), and topped with mozzarella cheese – 2 very important and tasty details!  This soup has been a favorite of mine for about 20 years now.  It was given to me by a friend when I was about 20 years old (I’ll let you do the math on my age – as long as you promise not to tell! 🙂 )

Chicken Tortilla Soup

1 medium onion, chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
1 clove garlic, chopped
2 Tbsp vegetable oil
2 c. cooked chicken
4 c. chicken broth
3/4 tsp dried basil
1/8 tspg round red pepper (add more if you like it spicy)
salt and pepper to taste
1 (10-oz) can tomato puree
1 (15-oz) can diced tomatoes
Tortilla chips
Shredded Mozzarella cheese

Saute onion, pepper, and garlic in oil.  Add chicken broth and other ingredients (except the tortilla chips and cheese).  Heat to a boil; simmer uncovered for 30 minutes.

Put tortilla chips in a bowl, ladle soup over them, then sprinkle the mozzarella cheese on top.


Chicken Tortilla Soup 3

Place the tortilla chips in the bowl first.

Chicken Tortilla Soup 2

Ladle the soup on top of the chips.

Chicken Tortilla Soup

Sprinkle the mozzarella cheese on top. Yum!

One final note:  The 10-oz can of tomato puree provides the perfect tomato-sauce consistency for this soup.  For awhile I had a hard time finding it, so I tried buying the bigger can and guesstimating the amount (freezing the rest).  Then I tried tomato sauce.  Now my stores sell the small tomato puree again, and it really is perfect.

Do you have a favorite recipe that you’ve had for years?


5 things each of my children are thankful for today!


I asked my kids to say five things they are thankful for today.  Here is what they told me:

N- (12 yr old boy):

  • Food and Waterearth
  • Clothes
  • Computers
  • House
  • Money

R- (10 yr old girl):

  • Cookies
  • Snow cones
  • Mud pies
  • Cousins
  • Rabbits

L- (4 yr old girl):

  • her brother
  • her sister
  • her mom
  • her dad
  • everything in the whole world

What are your children thankful for today?

(image source)

The First Day of Spring (plus other things I’m thankful for)

Today I’m thankful for . . .

1.  . . . the first day of spring!  I love spring because of the warmer weather, the leaves start growing back on the trees, flowers everywhere, and planning and working in the garden.

2.  . . . our letter of the week group, which I went to today.  Some of my friends who have preschool-age kids get together once a week (or so) for “letter of the week.”  The kids do a simple craft that the hostess prepares.  Then they go play while us moms talk for a bit.  It’s fun –  it’s good for my little girl, and good for me.  Here are some letters we’ve done so far that I have hung up on our kitchen cabinets.  T for tree, L for lamp, V for vase, H for hands, C for cars, and M for marshmallows.  Don’t ask where the missing marshmallows went.  My little one said that they must have fell off and went under the refrigerator (hmmm. . . this was when I started hanging the crafts on the kitchen cabinets – lol).  Today was “T” for tree.  She put some of the “leaves” on the “T” tree, but she told me that the ones above it are rain.

Letter of the week, T, L, V, HLetter of the week, C, M

3.  . . . running hot water.  OK, so this is a little random, but seriously – this morning I found myself thinking about how great it is to be able to turn on the faucet, or the shower, or the bath and have hot water immediately.  Not everyone through-out time has been able to say they could do that!

4.  . . . the little spiral bound notebook I found last night.  Last night I woke up due to my sinuses bothering me.  When I got up to take some advil (for the pain) I thought of something I wanted to make a note of.  So I looked for a piece of paper to write on, and found a small spiral notebook that I hadn’t used in a long time.  When I opened it for a piece of paper, I saw some notes I had taken back in September/October of last year.  Some were from the Relief Society General Broadcast, some from a Stake Primary Presidency training meeting, and some from Stake Conference.  Then I saw several lists I had made:  a list of things I was grateful for, followed by a list of things I felt I had done that were good to do, and a list of things I like about each one of my children.  As I sat there in the quiet hours of the night with everyone asleep, re-reading these notes, I had a calm feeling that I’m doing ok, and that I have many blessings.  I tend to worry a lot about certain things, and so this reassurance was very good for me.

5. . . . a new (to me) book by Margaret Wise Brown.  I’ve loved the book “Big Red Barn” for years.  It has really been one of my very favorite children’s books.  Today, my little girl chose a book from the library called “Bunny’s Noisy Book.”  When I was reading it to her before bed, I thought to myself that it reminded me a little bit of “Big Red Barn.”  Then I looked at the author.  Of course!  It’s by the same author.  What a fun little book.  I love good children’s stories.

I love this quote from Bonnie D. Parkin.  She said,

Gratitude is a Spirit-filled principle. It opens our minds to a universe permeated with the richness of a living God. Through it, we become spiritually aware of the wonder of the smallest things, which gladden our hearts with their messages of God’s love. This grateful awareness heightens our sensitivity to divine direction. When we communicate gratitude, we can be filled with the Spirit and connected to those around us and the Lord. Gratitude inspires happiness and carries divine influence. “Live in thanksgiving daily,” said Amulek, “for the many mercies and blessings which he doth bestow upon you.” 

What are you thankful for today?

My Thoughts on “Real Food”

I knew when I started my blog that I was going to at some point write about “Real Food,” but up until now, I’ve still been trying to decide in my own mind exactly how I feel about it.   The concept was a major part of my life for about 2 years.  During that time I felt very strongly that this was the best way for me to eat, as well as the simplest (because I wouldn’t have to count anything).  I had some personal health stuff going on too, and was absolutely convinced that if I could just eat “real” then I would feel better, and also be able to stop taking a certain medicine every day.

After two years of it, I’m now convinced that this is not right for me.  I’m still trying to eat healthy, but I’m choosing a slightly different way of going about it now.

How it all began

It all began with a simple quote from Ezra Taft Benson.  I was feeling a bit of depression when my oldest two children were small, and decided to look on to see what has been said about that by my church leaders.  I found a talk given once by President Benson where he listed 12 things which help people avoid and overcome discouragement and depression.  Number 5 on the list is to take care of our health.  This is what he said,

“The condition of the physical body can affect the spirit. That’s why the Lord gave us the Word of Wisdom. He also said that we should retire to our beds early and arise early (see D&C 88:124), that we should not run faster than we have strength (see D&C 10:4), and that we should use moderation in all good things. In general, the more food we eat in its natural state and the less it is refined without additives, the healthier it will be for us. Food can affect the mind, and deficiencies in certain elements in the body can promote mental depression. A good physical examination periodically is a safeguard and may spot problems that can be remedied. Rest and physical exercise are essential, and a walk in the fresh air can refresh the spirit. Wholesome recreation is part of our religion, and a change of pace is necessary, and even its anticipation can lift the spirit.”

I read this several years before everyone started talking about “real food,” but for whatever reason, his statement about eating food “in its natural state” really jumped out at me.  I decided that I wanted to do this, but gave up very quickly because I couldn’t see how to go about it.  A few years later, I came across an article in a magazine telling about the website “”  Because the name matched up to my vision of what President Benson had said, I immediately wanted to look at the site.

What I found was a family who had taken a similar idea and created several rules to help them accomplish the goal.  They committed to live this way for 100 days, and shared their journey on their blog.  They also were actively encouraging others to take the challenge and eat by their rules for 10 days.  It was all very fascinating to me, and I was thrilled at the idea of having a resource to look to, which would help me do what I had wanted to a few years earlier.

But there was a problem; I didn’t agree with all of the rules.  When I initially pictured eating food “in its natural state,” I didn’t picture never eating white sugar or white flour, or only eating grass-fed beef that is locally raised.  And so I had a two edged sword so to speak – on the one hand, I felt like I needed some help and guidance (and here was someone willing and ready to offer it!), but on the other hand, I wasn’t convinced that everything being promoted was what I needed to do.

What I decided to do, was to push (some) of my hesitancy to the side, and jump onto the “real food” bandwagon.  I figured it couldn’t hurt to try, right?

The obstacles

But there were so many obstacles.

For one thing, my husband never liked the idea to begin with.  He felt like, “why should he do something just because someone suggests it on their blog?”  But I pushed him on it and pretty much just begged for him to support me.  And, so he did – as best as he was able to.

But as time went on I realized that his efforts to support me couldn’t change the fact that he didn’t like a lot of the food.  My kids are pretty picky eaters, so I’m used to them not liking a lot of what I cook.  But my husband, for most of our marriage, has liked almost everything I’ve made.  This changed when I started making everything (i.e. pancakes, biscuits, pizza dough) whole wheat and devoid of any white sugar.  Also, his sandwiches that I pack for his lunch didn’t work well on the bread machine’s whole wheat bread.

Once, I made banana bread using the whole wheat, slightly honey sweetened recipe that I found on the site.  I thought it was good (though not very sweet), but I felt badly when I served it to him.  He could smell it when he arrived home from work and was really excited to eat some (especially since I rarely bake anything).  So, I served him a piece, and I could see the disappointment as soon as he took a bite.  I felt like I had just played a really mean trick on him!

Some other obstacles that I had to face were that I had to make everything from scratch, and I don’t like baking.  None of my friends and extended family around me eat this way, so I started to feel a bit like an outsider.  I stopped wanting to go on day-trips with my family, because I didn’t know what to eat while I was out (and didn’t always want to pack something to take along).  I stopped enjoying going out to eat with friends because I felt guilty about what I was eating, or stress about trying to choose the most “real” option instead of just ordering what I wanted.  Also, I never wanted to make anything for other people because a lot of times they wouldn’t like it.

It was not fun for me!

My Doctor’s perspective

I mentioned earlier that I was trying to not have to take a certain medicine, and so I showed the rules to my doctor.  His response was that it is a very healthy way to eat, but not realistic for a busy mom with three growing children.  He said the funniest thing – that the food from McDonald’s and other Fast Food is pure junk, but that my kids were going to want me to take them there, and that I should take them.  His suggestion was to simply eat less of it, and bring something healthy along to supplement.

I should also mention that he had this same conversation with me at two different appointments 1 year apart from each other.  At the second one he said, “I seem to remember telling you last time that I didn’t think this was realistic.”  Then he explained his point of view all over again.  The year prior, obviously I had not listened to him, but this time I did.  Well, sort of.

My break-away from “Real Food”

Actually what I did was abandon real food, and almost all forms of healthy eating – which was not what he meant either.

After trying so hard, and it not working, I just gave up for awhile.  I was tired of cooking and baking, and of every single thing I wanted to eat being cumbersome in some way.  And I was tired of people not liking my food.  So, I started to just buy what was easy, and what I knew they would like – processed convenient food, with a fruit or vegetable to the side to ease my conscience.

But it doesn’t take a food scientist (or a real foodie!) to figure out that this is not good.  So, that’s how taking better care of my health ended up as one of my 2014 goals – and the goal extends to my family as well.

For me “real food” seems a little like the people in the Book of Mormon who were said to be “looking beyond the mark.”  On the surface, the plan looks a lot like my church’s word of wisdom, and President Benson’s statement of good health.  But there are things added to it that make it more difficult to reach than I think the Lord ever intended for me.  Also, my intense focus on this one thing could keep me from doing other things that I need to do like playing with my kids or serving others.

Also, one thing that stands out to me for sure is the statement that “Food can affect the mind, and deficiencies in certain elements in the body can promote mental depression.”  So many people talk about chemicals in our food.  But here, the focus is not on the harmful nature of the additives, but rather the lack of nutrients.  I think a focus on eating foods with lots of good nutrients will automatically serve to decrease the number of additives (including sugar) as well.

My current food philosophy

I’m learning about myself that in everything I do, I need a loose structure.  If there’s too much, it is difficult for me to follow through; too little and I flounder completely.  I’ve talked a lot on this blog about following the USDA’s guidelines, and I continue to feel that this is the best “measuring stick” for me personally to use in creating a healthy meal or snack.  I try to follow (loosely) the recommended servings for each food group during the day and this seems to help me a lot.  And I’m thrilled to be buying my whole wheat bread products from the store, as opposed to making everything from scratch.

I also like Andrea Dekker’s simplified approach to meal preparation and her “semi-homemade” philosophy, which she talks about throughout her blog.  Here is one good article she wrote about  avoiding meal planning burnout.

My doctor’s “eat less” philosophy has been been very helpful when eating Fast Food.  Ever since he said that to me, I’ve scaled down from eating a Whopper to a Whopper Jr. at Burger King, and from a Big Mac to either a salad with no meat or to a basic hamburger at McDonald’s.  I buy fries for all of us to share instead of individual orders for each person, and have been considering replacing them altogether with a mango smoothies (although I haven’t yet checked what the price difference would be if I did that).  As the weather warms, we’ll start going on family day trips again, and I plan bring healthy snacks along to supplement – just like he suggested.

And finally, I’m finding it super helpful to eat lots of small meals and snacks during the day, which keeps the energy up and that heavy feeling from having a big meal down.

Final thoughts

My main purpose in writing this post was to clarify my own thoughts, and also to share my experience with others who may have similar struggles with eating “real food” as I have.  I get the feeling from stuff that I’ve read that there are a lot of people feeling stress and pressure in trying to make it work.  I know this post is longer than most, but I wanted to be sure I explained myself well.  If this is helpful to anyone, then that makes me really happy.  Just writing it all down has been super helpful to me!


Thankful Thursday

Today I’m thankful for . . .

1.  . . . the warmer weather on Tuesday.  It was such a nice break from the cold, and made me sooo happy!

2.  . . . the Public Library.  Ours was recently remodeled, and I love the way it looks and feels inside – with it’s own closed-off children’s room.  I can grab a book for me off the shelf and sit and read while my kids look for books or play educational games on the library computers or on the table-top smart board.  Also, they just recently added several brand new cookbooks to their collection which have some delicious and healthy recipes!   Yea!  And I love it that those who work there always seem happy to see my family.

3.  . . . people who read my blog.  THANK YOU!!!

4.  . . . people who write uplifting blogs.  THANK YOU TOO!!!  I love it that people are willing to take the time to share positive and helpful things on the internet.  I know that I have to be careful in order to avoid some of the more yucky stuff, but I have been so blessed by the stories, experiences, and inspirational thoughts that many good people share.  They inspire me to be better and do better – and I’m thankful for that.

These are currently some of my favorite blogs:

5.  . . . birds!  Since I got my new camera for Christmas (nothing fancy, but it does have a better zoom than my other one did), I have enjoyed trying to take pictures of the birds around my house.   It’s fun because I can zoom in, take the picture, and then actually see the bird better than if I just watch from my window.  Fun, huh?  So, now I’m paying a lot more attention to these beautiful creatures – and that makes me feel happy.  (Click here to see pictures of our snow cardinal in January).

red bird in tree

robin hiding behind the grass


Now it’s your turn.  What are you thankful for?  Write a list today! (And feel free to share in the comments below!)

It’s Time to Think About the Protein Group

Over the years I’ve done my fair share of counting when it comes to food.  Not calories, but servings within food groups (and one time, fiber – per the advice of my doctor).  It seems a little bit silly, now that I’m actually writing about it – but all this counting has all been part of my never-ending effort to understand what it means to eat healthy.

Why Understanding Healthy Eating is so Challenging for Me

 I used to think I was the only one who didn’t understand healthy eating, but in some of my reading about the subject, it seems that it is confusing for a lot of people.  I think this is because we are so far removed from the process of growing and harvesting our food.  It seems to me that when communities are more self-sufficient, they are pretty much limited to what they can grow and harvest in their area.  They eat and create recipes based on what they have available.  We, on the other hand, can pretty much choose to eat whatever we want.  Foods are imported from around the world, and because of factories and technology, we have an abundance of products that are in boxes, cans, and other packages.  We also have an abundance of businesses who are more than willing to prepare our meals for us (a.k.a. restaurants).  These are not necessarily bad things; there are some very real benefits to the way our society functions right now, but all of these factors, in my opinion, work together to make choosing the healthiest options each day a real challenge.

It also doesn’t help that the “experts” on the subject don’t all agree with each other.  And the fact that human beings don’t always like the foods that are good for us – while we love and crave the ones that are not-so-good for us.  It’s confusing!!

Once I tried simply eating “real food” (as many people are talking about now!).  One reason this food philosophy appealed to me was that there would be no counting involved.  It was said that if you just make sure everything is “real,” then the proportions will fall into place.  But I didn’t feel like that really happened for me, and there were other factors that made adopting that as a permanent eating philosophy extremely difficult, if not impossible. So I’ve mostly approached my “healthy eating education” by counting food groups (and if some of the items within each food group are a bit over-processed, so be it).  It just seems to make the most sense to me.  But, like I’ve said before, I’m still working on the implementation part of things.

What this has to do with protein

With that said, one group that I have not spent much time counting has been the protein group (I’ve mostly focused on counting grain and fruit/vegetable servings).  But recently, I went to the USDA’s SuperTracker site to create a “near perfect” meal plan just to see what it would look like.  Since I like to eat nuts on most days, and I often eat an egg or two for breakfast, I entered these items into my plan.  I was amazed to see the bar (indicating the percentage of the protein group eaten) grow very quickly, leaving little room for any meat at dinner (and my husband really does want to eat meat with dinner!).  This gave me reason to start thinking about my portion sizes in relation to the protein group.

After I wrote this post, in which I copied Mayoclinic’s healthy weight pyramid model, I decided to go back to their site and review their other pyramid models to see how they were different and similar to each other.  I could see that the three cultural models (Asian, Latin, and Mediterranean) did not have food groups the way I am used to seeing them.  Instead, they all have plant foods at their base (grains, fruits, vegetables, beans, legumes, nuts, seeds, herbs, and spices).  Then on the top portion, they have the various animal foods listed, but they were kept separate from each other – with fish and seafood being closer to the bottom, meat closer to the top, and poultry & eggs somewhere in the middle.

My Plan

According to the Food Tracker, for my daily requirements, I need to eat 5 to 5.5oz of the protein group.  So, what I decided that I would like to do is have one egg for breakfast (1 oz), since I usually feel better in the morning if I do.  Then during the day, either with lunch or as a snack have 2 Tbsp of nuts (1/2 oz of nuts = 1 oz protein group).  That leaves me with 3 to 3.5oz of fish, poultry, or meat to have in the evening with dinner (which we usually do).  But if I want to replace some or all of that with beans and peas, then I can do that.  And, of course, if I want to replace the nuts during the day with some deli meat for a sandwich, I can do that.

Why this matters to me

I have thought more than once that I’m a little crazy in all of my detailed thinking regarding healthy eating.  A lot of it really is common sense, but, for whatever reason, the concreteness of numbers motivates me.  I can say to myself, “eat more fruits and vegetables and less meat,” but somewhere in the back of my mind, I’ll feel like something is not quite right unless I’m clear on the numbers.

Another reason is that my family needs to eat healthier too. I can tell my kids, “you should eat more vegetables” or “I really don’t think 3 hot dogs is a good idea” (yes, I’ve had to say that before many times).  But if I have numbers that I can use to explain myself, my older kids seem to understand better (and argue less).

So, I hope you don’t think I’m “nuts” (ha! ha! get it? – sorry, couldn’t resist) for writing this post, but I have to say that I feel a lot more clarity about the protein group now!

What are your thoughts about this?

Why my 2014 Goals are not S.M.A.R.T.

You’ve probably heard of S.M.A.R.T. goals before.  These are goals that are defined as being:

  • Specific
  • Measuarable
  • Attainable
  • Relevant
  • Time-bound

So, let’s take a look at my 2014 goals.*

1.  Take better care of my health.  I read on another blog that the three pillars of health are sleep, exercise, and proper diet.  Also, good emotional health is important to me.

2.  Manage my time better by procrastinating less and being a little more organized in my approach to my work.

3.  Declutter my home and get organized!!  I would like in the year 2014 to reduce the visible clutter in my home by means of throwing away, putting away, or in some cases creating homes for things where one is currently non-existent.

4.  “Be of good cheer” more!

5.  Listen to my family better.

I feel like these goals are attainable, relevant to my needs and my life, and the time frame I have specified is 1 year.  I also feel like for the most part they are specific, and clearly defined (though some are more-so than others).  So, they are pretty close.  But, they are definitely not measurable.  On each one the only thing I have said is that I want to be better than I am now.  Exactly how does one measure that?

They don’t – and I’m glad.  I’ve learned time and time again that when I set measurable goals, that I fail at them (see this post and this one, and this one too if you don’t believe me!!).  Even if I improve over where I was, I still fail at the goal.

And, I don’t like that feeling.

What I do like is celebrating small steps towards improvement.  I originally set these goals based on my feelings.  (i.e. I felt dissatisfied about myself in these areas).  So, on December 31, 2014, I will be measuring whether I kept them based on the progress that I personally feel I have made.

Does that make sense?  It does to me, and it takes so much pressure off of myself to simply say that by the end of the year I want to be better than I was at the beginning!  Now, that’s attainable, and in my opinion, that’s also very SMART!

*Note: I copied and pasted the goals, but deleted some explanations as to why I want to do them in order to make them less wordy.