Thursday, June 5, 2014

Culinary adventures - and Potato Beef Bake recipe

June has been an adventurous month for our family so far - in the culinary department, that is. After one of Joe's co-workers had great success with the Whole30 diet, he borrowed the book and got all excited about trying it ourselves. I thought it sounded like a good idea, too, as we both would like to lose some weight and just have better health in general. In a nutshell, the plan involves a complete avoidance of dairy, sugar, grains/gluten, alcohol, legumes, and a few vegetables like white potatoes and corn. What's left? Meat, vegetables, fruit, and some nuts are pretty much it.

Our few days on the diet have gone quite well. I've had almost no cravings for off-plan foods, and aside from a light headache the first couple days (probably because I wasn't eating enough), I'm feeling great. And the food has been surprisingly tasty! Joe has been a huge help in picking out recipes (the part that overwhelms me the most), going grocery shopping (the part that depresses me the most, since it's so much more expensive than our usual shopping), and with the cooking itself (the part that takes the most time, with primarily all-new recipes).

For anyone interested, Joe is blogging daily about our Whole30 adventure over on his health/fitness blog, One Man's Journey. Many of the posts include pictures of our meals as well as links to recipes.

On a semi-related note: I recently had a friend request a potato casserole recipe from me. It's one of the things I made this last weekend, in an effort to use up some of the potatoes and dairy I knew we wouldn't be using this month. My mom has made this casserole for years, and it's a family favorite: easy to put together (aside from all the peeling and chopping of potatoes), and a very frugal way to fill up a large crowd. My apologies for not having a photo to go along with this: maybe I'll snap one next time I make this recipe. After we're done with Whole30. ;)

Potato Beef Bake 
  • 6 Tb. butter or oil
  • 6 Tb. all-pupose flour
  • 2 tsp. salt
  • 1 1/2 tsp. dry mustard
  • 1/2 tsp. pepper (I usually leave this out)
  • 3 c. milk
  • 1 1/2 c. mayonaise (Miracle Whip also works)
  • 12 medium potatoes, cubed (or however many it takes to fill a 4-qt casserole to about 3/4 inch from the top)
  • 3 c. hamburger, cooked and seasoned as you like (other meats also work; I used chopped ham this time)
  • 2 onions, chopped (I use more like 1/2 an onion)
  • buttered bread crumbs 
Melt butter/oil in a saucepan and blend in flour, salt, mustard, and pepper. Add milk and cook, stirring constantly until smooth. Boil 1 minute, still stirring. 
Remove from heat and stir in mayo. Pour over beef, potatoes, and onion in a 4-qt casserole dish. Sprinkle with bread crumbs. 
Bake at 350 for 45-50 minutes, likely longer - potatoes should be fully cooked and soft. 
Serves 6-8.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

18 Months With Our Favorite Little Guy

See the mischievousness in that grin? :)

Our little man is now 18 months old, and we definitely have a full-fledged toddler on our hands! Many times over the past six months I've intended to post an update here, but daily life with this little guy is so full and so fun that I haven't gotten around to it. 

Here are some of the new things Lukas has been doing:

~ Communicating! Not so much verbally, though he babbles a fair bit and will usually repeat after us if we ask him to say "Ma-ma," "Da-da," "Truck," or "Hot." But he thoroughly enjoys "talking" to us with sign language. We've taught him a few basic signs - airplane, more, food, night-night, help, and milk - and it is pretty special to watch his eyes light up when he realizes we understand what he's telling us. :) We've found the signs to be really useful in church (since they're silent), and they were so handy on our recent road trip. Instead of just fussing and screaming, he was usually able to tell us what he wanted. Made the trip a lot more fun for all of us! We're planning on gradually teaching him more signs, while also continuing to work on practicing talking.

~ Exploring! In typical toddler fashion, Lukas is Mr. Independent these days. He has no fears of running away from us, or climbing up/down stairs, or poking his fingers into things. It's so fun to watch him discovering new things, but it sure keeps us on our toes! I have resorted to using a backpack leash in busy public settings a couple times - one of those things I always said I'd never do to my child, but hey, safety comes first. :) We are still working on learning how to "come" when Mama or Daddy calls, and on always holding hands when we're walking in public areas. Overall, though, he does pretty good and it is a delight to see our ordinary world through his unjaded eyes.

Happy little man!

~ Experimenting and playing! Buttons, levers, doors, switches - anything that moves is fascinating, especially if it produces some sort of reaction like noise or lights. He tries to figure out buckles and straps, tape measures and flashlights, door knobs and drawers. And of course any kind of technology is the absolute most amazing thing! :) We have to be sure to keep our cameras and phones out of his reach, and he's learned pretty well that the computer keyboards are off limits. He's been able to unlock my iPod for months now - scary! We did get a couple simple toy telephones for him to play with, and they see near-constant use. He's always wandering around with one in his hand, frequently holding it up to his ear and engaging in very serious "conversation," complete with fake laughter and lots of emotional grunting. ;) 

He also thoroughly enjoys any kind of repetitive activity, like bouncing balls across the room, popping bubble wrap, pushing pom-poms through a paper towel tube, taking lids on and off containers, playing peek-a-boo games, and so on. He's getting pretty good at imitating, whether it be laying on the floor to do exercises with mama, helping daddy put his shoes on, or waving his arms like the song director at church. It's so much fun to see his goofy sense of humor developing (wonder where he got that from?!), and he sure brings a lot of laughter to our home!

~ New experiences! We've taken a couple trips in recent months, and Lukas has gotten to meet lots of new people, including many relatives at Joe's Grandma's funeral. He tends to be shy for the first little bit, but warms up to people pretty quickly - especially if they get down on his level and play with him. He doesn't sleep the best away from home, which isn't surprising, but overall has been surprisingly well-behaved and adaptable. We're thankful he's such an easy-going guy most of the time! 

Other new experiences recently have been playing in a hotel swimming pool (a huge hit!), going to the zoo (running around was more interesting than the animals), interacting with a puppy (not as intimidated as I expected), checking out a real playground (the slide is his favorite), and playing with bubbles (he mostly wanted to sit and admire them as I kept blowing, continually signing "more!"). Fun times. :)

Mother's Day 2014

~ Eating and sleeping! He's been going through picky phases in recent months, and it's hard to guess from one day to the next what foods he will choose to deem acceptable. I'm really hoping he gets through this stage soon, as finding something he'll eat can be difficult. Breads and sweets are always a favorite, but we don't want him eating only those. :) Thankfully he does like avocado most of the time, along with eggs, bananas, and pears. Some days running around is just a lot more fun than sitting still to eat, and then he tries to fill up on milk at naptime and through the night. Oh, well - we'll keep working on keeping that tummy full. :) He has plenty of toothies now: all the incisors and canines, plus the first set of molars. It's been nice to have a break from teething the last several months.

As far as sleeping, he's adapted really well to our new day-shift schedule. We were on evenings until mid-March, and he'd almost never gone to bed earlier than 11-12:00 in his whole life. But now we generally get him in bed by 9-9:30, and - with one or two brief wakings for a bottle - he will sleep until 8-9:00 a.m., sometimes until closer to 10. With the longer night and his 2+ hour nap most days, I am feeling much more rested. It's been great to squeeze in more design work and other projects again, while still being able to focus on Lukas when he is awake.

We're so thankful Lukas has been such a healthy little guy! After enjoying perfect health for his first 15 months, he had his first minor cold in February and we watched a lot of the Olympics while snuggling. He caught another case of the sniffles in April, followed by a week dealing with thrush and then a one-day stomach bug. I enjoyed the extra snuggle time, but it was no fun to see him feeling poorly. After all that we're sure grateful he's back to normal and feeling great again. 

Those eyes!

We love you so much, little man, and can still hardly believe God has chosen to entrust us with the privilege of caring for and raising you. Each day with you is a fun new adventure, and we wouldn't trade this journey for anything. <3