Friday, November 22, 2013

Carrot Cake... and Other Sweets

I didn't mean to take a two-week blogging break, but hey, things happen. Things like a sick baby, work projects, a few appointments and events, and an early Thanksgiving celebration with the in-laws.

I'll also be taking next week off to spend time with family and celebrate Thanksgiving. But before that, I'm leaving you with a peek at my birthday celebration (which happened at our place earlier this month) and the desserts I made for Scott's family's Thanksgiving gathering.

Plenty of treats to satisfy any sweet tooth!

My birthday was a low-key afternoon party with desserts and drinks. I served up a spread of puppy chow, compost cookies, pumpkin bars, chocolate chip cheeseball, and a banana cake with chocolate icing (just used a box cake mix and added an over-ripe banana to the batter).

And for Scott's family party, I made oatmeal carmelitas and a carrot cake. Lots of butter in the bars... and lots of sugar in the cake... so very good.

Carrot Cake
Recipe from my mom

4 eggs
2 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups vegetable oil
2 cups flour
2 to 3 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
2 cups grated carrots

1/2 cup butter or margarine
3 oz. cream cheese
3 3/4 cups powdered sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
2 to 3 Tbsp milk

In mixing bowl, combine eggs, sugar, and oil; mix well. Combine flour, cinnamon, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and nutmeg. Beat into eggs mixture. Stir in carrots. Pour into 2 greased and floured 9-inch round pans. Bake 35 to 40 minutes at 350 degrees or until toothpick comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes before removing from pans.

Frosting: Cream butter and cream cheese. Gradually add powdered sugar and vanilla. Add enough milk to desired consistency. Frost cake (I chose to only frost the top of each layer). Garnish with a few grated carrots if desired. Refrigerate.

Wishing you a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

A Writer's Mindset

Just popping in today (on my birthday!) to announce this month's newsletter theme.

During November, Sarah and I will be sharing some of our tips and strategies for getting into a good writing mindset -- how to stay motivated, ward off procrastination, feel confident, and be productive.

It's these little things that can make a big difference in the quality of writing you produce. As I have said before, there is no "perfect" time to write -- but a positive mindset and a good working environment will help you do your best work.

If you haven't signed up yet, you can do so here. The first newsletter of the month arrives in inboxes tomorrow (Thursday) morning.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Give It Time: The Crazy, Strange Postpartum Period

I've been thinking about writing this post for weeks now. About a month after becoming a mom, I came across this article on those first blurry weeks with a newborn. Reading it, I felt like I wasn't alone. (Seriously, if you're a new mom, read it!)

Having a baby is a wonderful blessing, but I don't think we talk enough about how rough the first weeks and months can be. Perhaps it's because we're in survival mode then, and by the time we emerge, we've already forgotten how truly disorienting it was.

For me, I felt like a different person. I'd been so focused on labor and delivery that I didn't give much thought to recovery. I remember looking in the bathroom mirror at the hospital at my body after giving birth and thinking, is this really me? Thanks to Duchess Kate, I knew my belly would still be there and slowly shrink down over time, but I didn't feel like myself.

The night my milk came in, I cried -- partly from the pain of rock-hard boobs and partly because I was so hormonal. I remember saying to my mom and Scott, "I feel so out of control." My body didn't feel like my own. Everything was so different.

Physically, I was in pain from giving birth and adjusting to breastfeeding. I was sleep-deprived and my hormones were out of whack. I was sweating all the time. My breasts felt full constantly. When Evelyn would fall asleep, I'd race to take a shower. Getting clean felt good, but the water hurt my sore nipples and I'd have to carefully towel off and quickly get dressed before I started leaking milk. I let my hair air-dry and didn't have time to put make-up on. I'd eat a PB&J for lunch. On top of it all, I was trying to learn how to take care of a newborn.

Some days, I felt like all I did was sit on the couch and hold Evelyn, nursing her and trying to get her to sleep. I couldn't get anything done around the house -- and I couldn't imagine how it would get to the point where I ever would! Doing one load of laundry was a huge feat. Getting out of the house was a gigantic accomplishment.

Many times, usually in the middle of the night, I wondered if Evelyn would be an only child.

I distinctly remember running a quick errand by myself, while Scott watched the baby at home, and feeling like I was separate from the world. It was as if everyone was still living their lives as usual and mine had completely changed. It was surreal and bizarre and uncomfortable.

Everyone kept telling me, "Give it time." It was hard to be patient. I wanted to savor all the little moments, but I also wanted to fast forward a bit.

And then somewhere around four weeks postpartum, I made it to the pediatrician with Evelyn on my own and then went to Buy Buy Baby to pick up a few things. The whole outing went pretty smoothly. By that point, I wasn't in as much pain and my milk had regulated so my breasts didn't feel so full all the time. I started to feel a little more confident. I could put the baby down and she wouldn't cry immediately, so I could get a thing or two done -- make lunch, do some laundry, unload the dishwasher. It felt like a small turning point.

Slowly, things started to get better. I felt better. I felt more like myself. A different version but myself.

I'm still wearing yoga pants most days and rarely dry my hair or put on make-up. I still have stretch marks on my hips and a belly that pooches out even though I'm almost back to my pre-pregnancy weight. I still have some pelvic pain (which is a bit unusual and something I'm working through). I still can't get as much done as I used to. And I'm still slightly sleep-deprived.

But I can get out of the house to run errands, take a walk, or go to the grocery store with Evelyn. I'm more comfortable with her. We have a routine of sorts. I take a shower every day, make myself lunch, get things done around the house, and I've even been squeezing in work during nap time. We're getting more sleep. I feel more in control.

And let me tell you, the sweet baby smiles really make everything worth it. Melt my heart.

Life is definitely different, but I can already see that the craziness of those early weeks is in the past. I'm settling into a new normal -- a wonderful new normal. I'm trying to let go and cut myself some slack. I'm recognizing how amazing my body is for producing this new life and serving as her source of food. I'm noting the small victories. And I know I'm still in the midst of adjusting. Things will continue to change. They will continue to get better.

It's difficult to put it all into words, but I wanted to share my experience, not to scare anyone but to let other new moms know they are not alone. We don't talk enough about what happens after the baby arrives. It's hard. But I'm here to tell you, it does get better. Give it time. Give it time...

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Why We're Using Cloth Diapers

Some people thought I was crazy to consider using cloth diapers. The usual visual is something involving folding and pins and leaks and lots of poop. But trust me, a surprising number of people use cloth diapers these days. And it's not as complicated or messy as it seems.

First, I did my research. I Facebook-messaged a couple of girls I went to high school with who are successfully cloth diapering to ask some initial questions (huge thank you for your help!). I read through websites and blogs to get more information. I dragged Scott to a class at a local baby boutique so we could see and feel all the necessary supplies and possible options. What seemed overwhelming and confusing at first started to sound totally do-able.

I made sure Scott was on board (all I had to do was calculate the cost savings ha!) and we decided to make it easy on ourselves by using BumGenius 4.0 one-size pocket diapers. They look a lot like disposable diapers with a microfiber insert that you stuff inside. With all the snaps, they adjust to fit babies from 8 to 35 pounds. The initial investment can be steep, but it definitely pays off. We registered for what we would need and were blessed to receive many of the items at our showers or through using gift cards.

There are tons of benefits of cloth diapering (good for the environment, less diaper rash for baby, fewer blowouts, super cute colors, etc), but the #1 reason we decided to move forward was the cost savings.

Hope she doesn't kill me when she's older for posting this... but it's too cute!
We used disposables for the first five weeks or so, until we got the hang of things and Evelyn grew a bit (the one-size diapers are a little big for newborns). We're still using disposables at night but might eventually venture into using cloth and double up on the inserts to increase the absorbency.

So far, we're loving our cloth diapers! We use cloth wipes with a little water on them, so we just shake the insert out of the dirty diaper and into the pail, throw the diaper and cloth wipes in, and we're done. We also use a Planet Wise diaper pail liner (we have two to rotate) which can be tossed in the washer along with the dirty diapers (no need to touch anything nasty!). Everything gets a cold rinse (to cut down on staining), a hot wash cycle with cloth diaper-friendly detergent, and another cold rinse (to get all the detergent out). Then the inserts and wipes go in the dryer and the diapers air-dry on the rack. Once everything is dry, we stuff the inserts back into the diapers and they are ready to go. We have 20 diapers and 36 wipes and do laundry every 2-3 days. (I feel like I keep saying "we" but Scott is just as involved with diapering and laundry as I am!)

We also have cloth diaper-friendly diaper cream on hand (regular creams can cause repelling and affect absorbency). Once E starts solid food, we have a diaper sprayer to attach to the toilet in case we need to get rid of some of the mess before throwing it in the pail, or we can use liners which we can peel out and toss or flush, but while she's exclusively breastfed, we don't have to worry about that. When we're out and about, we usually use disposables, but we have used cloth and just bring a wet bag along to stash dirty diapers.

There is so much information on brands and products and different washing processes, but if you cut through all of that, it isn't as complicated as it sounds. I'm just starting out, so things may change and I'm sure I'll learn as I go, but at this point, I'm happy to answer questions if any of you are thinking about using cloth!

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

The Nursery Reveal

Here's the long-overdue nursery reveal!

I took these photos pre-baby, but we've found that the layout works really well now that we're actually using it. We're constantly trying to make the most of our space, tucking things in the drawers, under-crib storage, changing table baskets, and "overflow" corner of the room.

Many of the accessories are from HomeGoods/TJMaxx/Marshall's. The bedding and mobile are from Pottery Barn Kids (we later added white black-out curtains from PBK too). And the rug is from Rugs USA. If you are curious about sources for anything specific, just ask!

The final result is functional and cute... if I say so myself! What do you think?

Family wedding pictures -- we displayed these at our wedding reception in 2010!

Friday, October 4, 2013

14 Must-Have Items for the First Month with a Newborn

When building my registries, I looked to other moms for their recommendations and read through tons of reviews online. But I also knew I couldn't anticipate how the baby would like things or what would work well for our family, our space, and our lifestyle.

Now that it's been a few weeks, these are what I consider to be our "must-haves" for the first month -- the things I would highly recommend. Other people may or may not agree, but in case these items could help make someone else's life easier, I just had to share!

Fisher-Price Rock 'n Play Sleeper
Evelyn sleeps really well in this sleeper (and has since day one!). It's nice that it folds up, moves easily from room to room, and keeps her feeling snug and secure.

Miracle Blanket
This blanket makes it easy to get a tight swaddle and keeps Evelyn calm so she can sleep soundly. And the special arm flaps prevent her from wiggling out of her wrap.

Basic white onesies
We go through these onesies like water. With all the spit-up going on, sometimes it doesn't make sense to put her in a super cute outfit every day!

Cloth diapers as burp cloths
You can't beat cloth diapers for their absorbency. We use these all the time for spit-up, bubbles, drool, etc.

Aden + Anais bibs and swaddle blankets
These bibs catch any dribble as Evelyn nurses or spit-up afterwards. And the lightweight blankets are great for keeping her warm while she naps, shielding the sun out of her eyes, and covering her while we're out and about.

My Brest Friend nursing pillow
The Boppy works, but I really like My Brest Friend for nursing. The flatter surface keeps Evelyn supported and allows me to have a hand (or two!) free.

Bravado nursing bra
This style is comfy and stretchy but supportive, which is great in the early days when you're sore and your size is changing.

Lanolin cream
Breastfeeding is wonderful for babies, but it hurts at first... This helps soothe the pain!

Lansinoh disposable nursing pads
No leaks, keeps my skin dry, not too bulky!

Carter's Keep Me Dry lap pads
We keep one of these on the changing pad to protect the cover from accidents. That way, we just toss the lap pad in the wash, rather than have to change out the whole cover every time.

"The Happiest Baby on the Block" DVD
I read the book too, but for my husband who doesn't like reading, this (short) DVD was wonderful. It covers soothing techniques that really work! We watched it at the end of my pregnancy and it gave us some go-to moves for when Evelyn was fussy or crying.

White noise machine
They say the womb is as loud as a vacuum cleaner so babies often need (loud) white noise to calm down or sleep peacefully. (I also came across some moms online who swear by this YouTube video. While the video is creepy, the sound has snapped Evelyn out of crying episodes and quieted her down quickly!)

Fisher-Price Cradle 'n Swing
Okay, we just bought this last weekend, so we didn't have it the first month. But I wish we had! I resisted getting a swing since it takes up more room than other baby gadgets, but Evelyn loves being jiggled and rocked so we decided to go for the swing... and it was a great move! Plus when she dozes off, I can hop into the shower, eat lunch, or get a few things done.

Crockpot freezer meals
My mom stocked our freezer while she was here the first week after Evelyn was born. These recipes are super simple and only have a handful of ingredients, so I'm actually making a few more now that we've finished the ones my mom made. Pull a meal out of the freezer, thaw in the fridge for 24 hours, then toss in the crockpot for a few hours, and dinner is hot and ready!

Am I missing any other must-have items for those first few weeks?

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

What Not to Do

During my days with Evelyn, I often have the TV on for background noise or to watch a show here and there. Lots of reality shows and HGTV!

One of the shows I sometimes watch is "What Not to Wear." While the people on that show are given rules and guidelines about what TO wear, the title of the show speaks to their old wardrobe -- what doesn't work.

This month in our Create.Compose.Communicate newsletters, Sarah and I are taking a similar approach and sharing what not to do when writing. We'll cover the "don'ts" when it comes to blogs, newsletters, presentations, and sales copy, so you can avoid the common missteps and mistakes and make your writing shine.

If you haven't signed up yet, hop over to my writing website and do it now! The first newsletter of the month arrives in inboxes tomorrow (Thursday).

Now that it's October, my maternity leave is wrapping up and I'm taking on work again. Balancing a baby and my own business will be a new challenge, but I'm excited to get back to writing! 

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

What I Packed in My Hospital Bag

In the last weeks of my pregnancy, I read through many hospital bag checklists on websites, blogs, and online forums. I compared them to figure out the most common must-haves and then decided which of the other items I thought I might need or want.

Since these lists were a helpful starting point for me, I figured I'd share what I packed, what I actually used, and what I didn't use during my two-day hospital stay. If and when I go for my next time around, I'd probably bring most of this again.

What I brought and used:
Wallet with ID and insurance card
Cord blood donation documents
Contact solution and case
Face wash (might be helpful to bring facial wipes if you don't want to get out of bed)
Travel shampoo/conditioner/body wash
Hair bands and bobby pins
Hair dryer (they had one there, similar to a hotel one, but I liked using my own)
Phone charger
Shorts and tank top (wore these to the hospital)
Maternity yoga pants
Nursing top
Nursing bras
Nursing pads
Lanolin nipple cream
Snacks (!!!)
Treats for the L&D nurses (next time, I might bring something for the postpartum nurses too)

What I brought but didn't use:
Hospital pre-registration forms (in case they didn't get them when we faxed them over)
Hair straightener
Nightgown with buttons down the front (easy access for nursing)
Nursing tank
Maxi dress
Maxi pads
A couple of magazines

What I brought for baby and used:
Long-sleeve gown

What I brought for baby but didn't use:
Baby wipes
Nail file (for baby's nails)
Swaddle blankets (2)
Long-sleeve top

Scott brought his laptop and camera with their chargers, as well as a bag of clothes and toiletries.

I packed all of those options for the baby because I wasn't sure what I'd want to use as a "going home" outfit. I chose the gown because it had little fold-over sleeves to keep Evelyn from scratching herself and it didn't rub her umbilical cord stump. During our stay, she just wore a long-sleeve top, diaper, receiving blanket, and hat, all provided by the hospital.

As for me, I wore loose shorts and a maternity tank top to the hospital and ended up wearing those shorts under my bathrobe the day after delivery. (Funny, I thought I'd wear a real outfit, not sweats/lounging clothes, to the hospital, but when it came time to go, I was not feeling like changing... I just wanted to get there!) Otherwise, I stayed in the hospital gown most of the time because I didn't want to get my clothes sweaty or stained (same reason I used the hospital's towels and mesh underwear). I wore the maternity yoga pants and a nursing top on the way home.

One more tip: Make sure your significant other can carry most of the bags/stuff on his own. We pulled up and valeted our car when we arrived, so we didn't have far to walk, but in the midst of contractions, I only wanted to carry our little bag of snacks and the treats for the nurses into the hospital (if I remember correctly... ha!). My stuff and the items for the baby were in two large tote bags, and Scott carried those, along with his own bag, so I was glad I didn't over-pack.

Hope this helps any of you expectant mamas out there! Moms -- anything you would add to the list?

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Guest Post on Inspiration-Driven Life: What Having a Baby Taught Me About My Marriage

Sarah invited me to contribute to her Wedded Wednesdays guest series, in which bloggers share a glimpse of what marriage really looks like.

For me, my marriage is currently entering a new phase as we take on our roles as parents. We are five weeks in... and we're experiencing so many changes.

Hop over to Sarah's blog to find out what having a baby taught me about my marriage.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

The Business with Intention Workshop at Home

This spring, I was honored to contribute to one of Jess Lively's "secret projects." She's created an amazing resource for entrepreneurs in their first year of business -- the Business with Intention Workshop at Home.

Let me tell you, the content provided in this Workshop at Home is incredible. The workbook, the videos, everything. Not only does Jess have great insights to share, but the other business owners she interviews also draw from their own experiences to give real, practical advice.

In my portion of the video, I share my top tips for creating content that reflects your brand and resonates with your ideal customer, whether it's on your website, within your newsletters and blog posts, or through any communication channel you use!

Doing a video interview was a new and exciting experience for me. I calmed the butterflies with a good amount of preparation and it ended up being a lot of fun! (It was also Evelyn's video debut as I was 26 weeks pregnant at the time of the shoot!)

If you are an entrepreneur or looking to start a business, I encourage you to check out the Business with Intention Workshop at Home!

A quick picture with Jess after filming.

A peek at the gorgeous set!

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Three Elements You Need to Become a Better Writer

Well, I'm posting a quick note to share this month's newsletter theme.

Life with a newborn is a little crazy (okay, really crazy!). It's all about feeding, burping, changing diapers, changing onesies, doing laundry, swaddling, rocking... while trying to eat, shower, and sleep when we can. But gazing into our baby's eyes, watching her sleep, smelling that soft, sweet baby smell... those little things makes it worth it.

So to get straight to the point of this post... In this month's Create.Compose.Communicate newsletters, Sarah and I will be sharing three elements you need to cultivate to become a better writer (and some easy ways to do so!). And like the name of our newsletter, they all happen to begin with the letter C. Any guesses?

The first newsletter of the month arrives in inboxes tomorrow (Thursday) morning, so be sure to sign up now if you haven't already!

I hope to be back to posting in the near future -- lots to share!

Friday, August 23, 2013

It's a Girl!

Scott and I welcomed a daughter into the world on Wednesday, August 14 at 6:49 am. Evelyn Grace arrived on her due date, weighing 7 pounds 7 ounces and measuring 20 inches long.

We're so in love and treasuring every moment. There are many ups and downs as we adjust to parenthood, but it's such a blessing to have this sweet little girl in our lives!

Happy birthday!

Heading home from the hospital

A cute cookie bouquet from Scott's work

Friday, August 9, 2013

On Waiting

We're five days away from my due date, so the waiting game is on. I've been enjoying a low-key week of resting, reading, (a little) organizing, and seeing friends. (I even read a whole book in one day -- that's not going to happen again for a very long time!)

It's nice to have downtime before the baby arrives, but it's also a strange feeling... the anticipation, uncertainty, excitement.

Full nursery reveal is coming soon!

I think we're as ready as we'll ever be. So I'm trying to stay focused on the present and savor these quiet moments and not feel like I'm wasting time, not wish the time away. It's so hard to not count down days and wonder when things are going to happen, when my life is going to change so completely, when I'll get to see and hold this little being, this part of me, who has been growing and moving inside me for months now.

I'm restless at night, waking up again and again, having trouble falling back to sleep, eating a bowl of cereal and reading on the couch before going back to bed. I can feel my body making progress, preparing, and sometimes I wonder, is this it? Is today the day?

And while I'm excited for what's to come, I'm nervous too. Labor, delivery, taking care of a newborn. No one can predict how these will go. After nine months, it's very surreal too, to live out these moments that I've imagined and looked forward to and tried to picture, tried to wrap my mind around. But until the time comes, they are just my best guesses.

This is all a new experience, something I've never done and something that won't happen in the same way again. I feel ready and not ready. I'm waiting, praying, trusting, taking each moment as it comes.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Getting Crafty: DIY for Baby's Arrival

Woo! Last week felt like finals week around here. I was cranking out a bunch of client work with the goal of having a little downtime before the baby arrives. Mission accomplished!

I still have enough to keep me busy (to-do lists are never really complete) but I'm feeling less anxious on the work front. And with all the extra effort, it was my best month yet income-wise (let's forget about the fact that I won't be working for the next few weeks and go with it!).

In the midst of the writing and editing, I got some baby prep done, including a couple of crafty little projects. First up, I wanted to make a fun sign for the door to our condo unit to announce "it's a boy" or "it's a girl." It's an easy way to share the news with our neighbors and to decorate for our visitors.

But I didn't feel like spending a lot, and I had an idea in my mind of a simple, not-too-cheesy sign. Rather than order something, I decided to visit Michael's and get inspired. I picked up four sheets of scrapbook paper: pink, pink sparkle, blue, and blue sparkle. Total cost: about $4. After a little cutting and gluing, here's the result of my DIY efforts:

And for my second project... I'd heard about people bringing a treat for the hospital nurses when they go in to deliver their babies, which I thought was a nice gesture. My dad is a family physician and two of my sisters are studying to become nurses, so I know first-hand how hard those in health care work -- and they do a lot of things I wouldn't ever want to do, all to help people get and stay well. A little thank you goes a long way.

So I picked up an extra-large "Chinese takeout" box from Michael's and filled it with a bunch of full-sized candy bars (it would have taken a lot of fun-sized ones to fill the box and hey, who doesn't love a big ol' candy bar?). A piece of notepad paper and ribbon were all I needed to craft a note and finish it off. Total cost = about $20.

I reach 39 weeks tomorrow, so we're getting really close! Any day now...

38 weeks!

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

How to Handle Sticky Situations

Since becoming a business owner, I've become very aware of the fact that how I conduct business is completely up to me. This freedom is empowering and exhilarating... until I encounter a situation I'm not sure how to handle.

You know... those instances when you aren't sure what the best course of action is. You're left to brainstorm options, evaluate the pros and cons, make a decision, and move forward, whether you feel confident about it or not. But that makes it sound a lot easier than it really is.

When it comes to writing, we often think of the solitary writer, hunkered down in front of his or her computer. But in reality, writing involves more than just the writer. Readers, clients, collaborative partners, and lots of other people are a part of the process. And while that provides an opportunity for wonderful business relationships and creative conversations, it also opens the door for some sticky situations.

Tomorrow is the first day of August -- a month that's notoriously hot and sticky. So Sarah and I felt it was an appropriate time to address some "sticky situations" in our weekly writing newsletters. We'll be covering topics that are often tricky to navigate: communicating with tough clients, determining boundaries for what you share, contracts and setting expectations, and pricing and negotiations.

If you're not yet signed up, hop over to my website to subscribe. The first newsletter of the month arrives in inboxes tomorrow (Thursday)!

P.S. The past couple of weeks have been busy with work projects, baby preparations, and fun with friends. It feels like I'm trying to cram in as much as possible before this baby's arrival. I'm so (soooo!) excited to meet him or her, but the planner in me is having trouble not knowing when exactly that will be. 

In the meantime, life is busy enough to keep me distracted from the fact that I actually have to give birth to this bundle of joy... I'm hoping to post a few fun updates after I wrap up the last of my work projects, so stay tuned, my friends!

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Cooking and Baking

I've tried several new recipes over the past months and thought I'd share. My go-to resource for simple, quick recipes: Taste of Home. My mom has been getting the magazine for years and bought me a subscription. I also reference the website on a fairly regular basis.

Apple Chicken Quesadillas
Good sweet + savory combination. Though tasty, these quesadillas fell apart a little too easily. I'm thinking more cheese might prevent that from happening in the future. (Isn't "more cheese" always the answer?!)

Garlicky Beef and Tomato Pasta
A hearty meal that Scott liked. I think I was hoping for a little more flavor though. My shortcut: canned spinach.

(Another garlic + beef + tomato combo that we both loved: Garlic Beef Enchiladas... sorry, forgot to snap a photo!)

Caramel Brownies
My addition to the Fourth of July dessert spread (dense, fudgy, and rich -- my favorite kind of brownie!). They were pretty easy to whip up too, but the caramels did take awhile to melt over low heat.

I also made some Reese's bars from a recipe my family has been making for forever.

Salsa Skillet Pork Chops
Great flavor and mix of meat + veggies + beans. We both liked this one and it was one of the easiest dinner recipes I've tried recently.

(Looks like the link is now requiring a subscriber sign-in... but you can find it in the current June/July issue too. The basic recipe: salt and pepper 6 pork loin chops -- or I used cutlets; brown on both sides in a skillet; then add 2 c. corn, 15 oz. pinto beans, and 1 1/4 c. chunky salsa plus a little water and a teaspoon of cumin; simmer, covered, for 6-8 minutes.)

And this one isn't Taste of Home, but this simple steak salad and side of fruit was a great summer meal. I just sliced and heated leftover steak and served it over spinach salad with chopped red onion, halved grape tomatoes, and a light dressing. Blue cheese crumbles would have been another good topping to add.

What's your favorite source for easy recipes? What have you been cooking and baking lately?


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