Easy Dessert to WOW Your Guests: Build a Brownie Sundae Bar

I didn’t have time to make a fancy dessert for our Easter guests two weeks ago. We’d been out of town, arriving home late the night before. Knowing this ahead of time, I’d bought ice cream. Boring and not very Eastery.  But…

Sunday morning before church, I baked some Brownies and sliced some strawberries. Once we arrived home, I made some Homemade Hot Fudge and whipped some cream. Thus (I like saying “thus”) – after we cleared the table of the wonderful (and also simple) Easter dinner, the boys helped me carry the following out to the table:

As each item appeared on the table, our guests (5 college students) gasped – especially when the hot fudge came out. It was like I had spent hours on a fancy dessert and presented them with a one-of-a-kind treat. Dude, it was just brownies and ice cream. But hey, when you put all these simple treats together, they really do make something special.

Build a Brownie Sundae Bar

So the moral of this story is this: If you need a special dessert for company, but you don’t have a lot of time, consider preparing a Brownie Sundae Bar. Your guests will love it and you will too.

What else would you add to your Brownie Sundae Bar? I’m thinking nuts, other fruit, chocolate chips….

P.S. This is not a low sugar dessert. ;)

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Gratituesday: The Decision

gratituesday[2]

I tell you what ~ it has been one wild ride having a senior in high school. I had no idea all that went into this year, not to mention the emotions that would smack me over the head without warning.

God has been so good to love me so gently this school year. As I talk to other moms who have graduated or are graduating their kids, I’m learning that I am quite normal. This is good to know. Home school mom, public school mom, private school mom – it matters not. We are Mom. We are loving our kids through making giant decisions all while preparing to launch them into all that God has planned for them. We cry a lot, not necessarily because we are sad. We cry because we’re happy. Because we’re excited. Because we’re a little bit weary. And because we couldn’t be more proud of our graduates.

Well anyway. That’s been my year in a nutshell. That, along with helping my senior through some very difficult online college courses all while trying in vain to keep up with other aspects of life like dust and laundry.

You know how some kids just know what they are going to do after high school? Our kid wasn’t one of them. He’s been searching for God’s answers all year long, not feeling confident in making a final decision for his immediate future.

The wrestling. That’s been tough to watch. And yet, it’s also been beautiful. For the first time, our 17 (almost 18) year old found himself faced with many great options and four thousand questions about what would be best. Had the answers just fallen into his lap back in September, I don’t believe the he would have experienced God’s work in his life in such a life-changing way. He had to learn to block out all the other voices and only listen to God. Then and only then did the right answers come.

As of last week, the decision has been made. Asa sees it as the one God has laid out for him in a very exciting way. And would you believe, after all the wrestling, everything came around to Asa choosing to go five minutes down the road to our very own York College? (Matt and I met and graduated from this Christian school in the 90′s.)

york college

Indeed. He is YC bound. While doors were closing on the other options, God kept paving the way to YC. The soccer coach recruited him and offered him a scholarship. The choir director recruited him and offered him a scholarship. The admissions director saw his grades and granted him an academic scholarship. In those ways and many more, God just kept making it more clear that this is the school for him.

He plans to pursue a degree in Business Communication. This is a great fit for him as he continues to develop his skills in videography to perhaps run his own video business someday.

soccer picsm

He has decided to be on the soccer team and in the concert choir. He will live in the dorm – and hopefully sometimes he will sleep. While Matt and I loved our YC experience, we were very open to other options God might have for Asa. Now that he’s chosen York College, we’re rather excited that we can be a fly on the wall during some of the events he participates in on campus. We’ll get to meet more of his friends. He can come home to do laundry and raid the fridge.

Yes, we’re all very excited. Most of all, we’re so grateful to see how God worked to pave out the path for Asa and to make it so clear to him that this is the way he should go.

And now, we carry on with the final few weeks of the school year. It’ll be a bittersweet ending this year, full of gorgeous new beginnings. God is faithful through every season of life. How exciting it is to see all He has in store for us all in the tomorrows.

What are you thankful for this Gratituesday?

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Menu Plan for the Week…Now on Mondays

So that I can keep stress down over the weekends while I’m trying to keep up with (and enjoy) my kids’ activities and our church activities – I decided to give myself an extra day to create and share my weekly menu plans. From now on, instead of posting them on Saturday nights, I’ll wait and post them Sunday nights.  Ahh, such a simple change, but one that helps me breathe on the weekends. I like breathing. Breathing is nice.

Last week our crock pot got quite a work out because we had soccer practices or games almost every evening. Man, I love the crock pot. What a time saver! I plan to use it quite a bit during the next few weeks. Between soccer season, a speaking engagement I have early May, and then Asa’s graduation – I won’t have much extra time for silly little things like cooking and feeding my family. The crock pot is going to have to do the work for me. It’s either that, or McDonald’s. That’s not even a funny joke.

This week we’ll be enjoying the surprises we received in our Bountiful Basket order. It’s always fun to see what comes with each order! I also ordered two packs of whole wheat pizza crusts. Don’t I usually make my own pizza crusts? Aren’t homemade pizza crusts healthier and less expensive? Yes and yes. But need I remind you of the aforementioned soccer/speaking/graduation? I am very excited about my purchased (and still inexpensive and quite healthy) pizza crusts.

bountiful baskets 411

The boys chuckled when they saw the miniature watermelon that came in our order. They are all such big eaters, so they were like, “Oh look. It’s one bite of watermelon for each of us.” Those poor little deprived boys of mine.

And now, our menu – which is a lovely mixture of crock pot meals and meals one of us can quickly throw on the grill. It’s real food made easy, this menu. Don’t make me start preaching that sermon again. You know it’s possible. ;)

Breakfast (I’m going to try baking our breakfast foods the night before if possible, and/or doubling some recipes to throw into the freezer for graduation week)

Lunch

Dinner

Fruit and Veggie Side Dishes (I serve 1-4 with each meal)

  • Mango
  • Pears
  • Apples
  • Tangelos
  • Applesauce
  • Homemade Dill Pickles
  • Strawberries
  • Blueberries
  • Cucumbers
  • Avocado
  • Sweet Peppers
  • Mushrooms
  • Tomatoes
  • Mixed Greens
  • Spinach
  • Green Beans
  • Peas
  • Carrots
  • Zucchini
  • Clementines
  • Pineapple Mango Smoothies

Hey, don’t forget that today is the last day you can purchase our 227 Healthy Snacks eBook for just $5.00!

227 Healthy Snacks 2

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Care to share some easy food you throw in the crock pot or on the grill?

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Need {healthy} Snacks? No Problem. 227 Delicious and Healthy Snack Ideas.

I’m diving into a full weekend of trying to keep up with my boys and soccer games. Before I do, I wanted to let you know that we knocked the price of our 227 Healthy Snacks eBook down to just $5.00 for the next three days. This book is one of our most popular…because SNACKS. We all need ‘em.

227 Healthy Snacks 2

Grab your copy of 227 Healthy Snacks for just $5.00 through Monday, April 13. Enjoy recipes like…

227 Healthy Snacks

…100% Fruit Snacks, Oyster Crackers, Snickerdoodle Bars, Dark Chocolate Almond Granola Bars and yes, 223 other ideas and recipes. I reference this book all the time for ideas to keep my family nourished and full between meals. Get the full details and recipe list from this eBook here.

Have a great weekend, and happy snacking!

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Build a Simple Veggie Flower (Great for Showers and Holidays!)

I just came across a picture on Pinterest showing me how to carve a swan out of a melon. I highly considered giving it a try for about negative .8 seconds – mostly because I knew for sure mine would turn out looking like a melon that fell out of my cart at the store and got ran over by a minivan.

Art and food? It’s not my thing. I think life’s too short to design owls out of kiwi, grapes, peaches, and blueberries when there are so many other important ways to spend time - like looking for lost shoes and sweeping up glass after a ball has been kicked through the kitchen (details not included). Also – I stink at art. Like, I draw a picture of a bunny and my kids say, “why did you draw a picture of our mailbox?”

But. Two weeks ago I saw a picture of veggies displayed in the shape of a flower and thought to myself: I can totally do that and I should do it for Easter. And so I did. It took less than 10 minutes (no joke) and people were like, “oh look it’s a flower.”  Score one for me.

Build a Simple Veggie Flower

I think this is a great idea for a springtime wedding or baby shower, and it was definitely perfect for our Easter buffet. On a regular day, however? I will be throwing down the veggies and dip like my normal non-artist self.

What You Need to Build a Veggie Flower

  • Broccoli
  • Baby Carrots
  • Celery
  • Cucumbers
  • Grape Tomatoes

Putting it all together is self explanatory – if you can do it I can do it. Just look at the picture above for the “how to.” Serve with these great dips:

Ranch Dressing and Dip Mix

Easy Veggie Dip 1

Have you done much mixing of art and food? I draw the line at this veggie flower. :)

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The Pyrex You Shouldn’t Live Without

I keep finding this Pyrex set on sale, so it must be a sign: You need these in your kitchen.

I have two complete sets of these and use them all day long, every day, all the time. The lids make these invaluable because they allow me to prep fruits, veggies, and salads ahead of time and stash them in my fridge for quick side dishes. I LOVE THESE.

pyrex bowls 2

 

Amazon has them marked down to only $14.97 again, which is an amazing price. You will love these. The price can’t be beat. Buy one (or two) set(s) for yourself and one for a bridal shower this spring. Then fill them with fruits and veggies (for yourself, not for the bridal shower).

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Low Sugar Super Moist Chocolate Cake (That Doesn’t Taste Low Sugar)

Low Sugar Chocolate Cake

There’s a Texas Sheet Cake recipe (like this one) our family has been making for years. It’s one of our favorite cakes – mostly because it’s not dry like many homemade cakes can be.

But – you know how my body won’t let me eat much sugar anymore? I mostly don’t even want it – but sometimes I just get a hankering for something chocolaty. That’s what inspired the invention of Chocolate Whipped Cream, Coconut Fudge Bars – and now this – a Low Sugar Chocolate Cake. I decided to try making our favorite chocolate Texas Sheet Cake recipe with less sugar to see how it would turn out.

You guys!!!!!! Why in the name of a diabetic coma do recipes (including many of mine) call for so much sugar???!?! Originally, this recipe includes 6 cups of sugar. SIX. That’s 2 cups in the cake and 4 cups in the frosting and none of us can possibly imagine that cutting out so much of the sugar would still produce a cake that actually tastes good.

Well neener, neener to all of us. I just recreated this cake to include a grand total of 1/2 cup of sugar. Yes, that is one-half cup. Total. Neener. 

I love this cake like nobody’s business. But what do I know? I’m the one who can no longer tolerate much sugar, so even the barely sweet stuff tastes quite sweet to me. The true test was serving this to my children. They still love their sugar (what kid doesn’t?) and they are used the “the regular way” we’ve always made the Texas Sheet Cake. Would they feel like the cake wasn’t sweet enough? I mean, going from 6 cups to just 1/2 cup of sugar – that’s a big drop.

Two things:

  1. Yes, they could tell.
  2. No, they didn’t care.

They ate the cake, they liked the cake, they had seconds on the cake (which was only allowed because of the low sugar content). This makes me think that we could likely drastically cut the sugar in most cake and cookie recipes and everyone would still enjoy the treats. Why yes I will be testing this theory. And I will share my results with you – one recipe at a time.

One thing to note: The brand of stevia you use in the frosting really does make a difference. Some stevia has a stronger, more bitter taste than others. My family prefers NuNaturals Alcohol-Free Stevia. It’s much less bitter. But no matter what brand you use – if you overdo it, the taste goes from sweet to bitter. A little goes a long way – don’t forget! (More info on stevia here.)

Low Sugar Super Moist Chocolate Cake

1 cup melted coconut oil
1 cup water
4 Tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 cup sucanat
dash of sea salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup sour cream
2 eggs

In a large mixing bowl, stir together flour, sucanat, salt, and baking soda. Set aside. In a saucepan, bring oil, water, and cocoa to a boil. Pour liquid mixture into the bowl with the dry ingredient mixture. Stir well. Add sour cream and eggs, mixing well. Pour batter into a 9×13 inch baking pan. Bake in a 350° oven for 20-25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. Allow cake to cool completely before frosting.

Stevia-Sweetened Cream Cheese Frosting

2 cups heavy whipping cream
2 Tablespoons softened butter
8 ounces softened cream cheese
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Liquid stevia to taste (I use about 20 drops)

In a large bowl, whip cream until soft peaks form. Add softened butter, cream cheese, vanilla, and stevia – whipping until well combined and smooth. Spread over cooled cake. Store in refrigerator. Makes about 20 servings.

Low Sugar Super Moist Chocolate Cake

Part of what makes this cake so moist is the use of sour cream. It doesn’t hurt that we use an entire cup of coconut oil. Bring on the healthy fat! You can use regular whole wheat flour if you like, but whole wheat pastry flour (ground from soft white wheat berries) really helps make this cake less dense.

So here’s to this amazing Low Sugar Chocolate Cake. Now we can have our cake and eat it too and not even have a sugar crash afterward. Of course, we will also still be eating our veggies with this lovely side of chocolate. Amen and amen.

Have you tried cutting back on sugar in your diet? Have you found recipes to turn out successfully when you cut the sugar? 

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Get it before it’s gone! Sale ends April 27 at midnight.!

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How To Clean Your Liver and Your Drinking Glasses At the Same Time

It’s all about lemon juice.

Hey, I couldn’t make this stuff up if I tried. I simply learned this trick accidentally, so I decided to tell you to do it on purpose. After all, you might be like me and have water spots on your glasses and toxins in your liver. Not to worry – there’s a lemon for that.

Not sure if you have toxins in your liver? (And everybody looked down as if to examine their liver and check for toxins.)  I can just about guarantee we can all use a good liver cleanse.  We all breathe in toxins when we’re outside or when we’re around chemicals of any kind, and surely we’re ingesting them – even if we are very careful about what we eat.

Oh no!!  Our livers are toxic!  Relax. Our livers are made to process out toxins.  Our world simply gives them a little more than they can handle sometimes. A lemon-liver boost is just what the doctor ordered.

Lemon Water Detox - Simple!

For me, this happened literally.  One of my natural doctors suggested that my liver and immune system would benefit from drinking lemon juice in a glass of water each day.  It sounded easy enough – plus, I love that this is such a super inexpensive de-tox option.  So I started adding lemon juice to a glass of water once or twice each day.

How’s the taste? Well, pucker up. I don’t add sugar (because wouldn’t that just defeat the purpose?) so my lemon juice water is quite tart.  Now that I’m used to the taste though, I find it to be rather refreshing and I’ve started to crave it each day.

And then. Then!!!!!! I noticed that when I rinse my glass afterward, all the spots that had been hanging out were wiped away. Just like that. So it would appear that lemon juice cleanses my liver and my drinking glasses at the same time because it’s just so efficient and awesome like that.

Here. I took a picture of two drinking glasses to show you the difference. I considered also putting two livers side by side so we could all see the effectiveness of drinking lemon water but wouldn’t you know it. My camera battery died. Seriously. That’s the only reason I didn’t stage that picture. The only reason.

spots on glass

What have we learned here today?

  • Laura has hard water.
  • Our livers love lemons.
  • Lemon juice beats hard water stains.

So here is my advice to you today (and tomorrow): Add about 2 Tablespoons of lemon juice to a 12 ounce glass of water. Drink it down. Do this once or twice or three times each day. Feel confident about this lovely boost you are giving your liver – helping it to do its job for you more effectively.  And then watch as your drinking glasses become more sparkly each time you drink your lemon water.

After all, as they always say, if life gives you lemons – go cleanse your liver.  Or your drinking glasses.  Or both. At the same time.  Rock on.

Ever tried drinking straight lemon water? How do you like it?!

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Take a look at April’s Flexi-of-the-Month. Gorgeous!

April 2015 flexi Tulip
Available through April or until supplies last.

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Order Soy Free Chocolate Chips Before They Melt in Your Mailbox!

I’m not joking. I’ve had this happen before. I ordered chocolate chips in the summertime, and by the time they reached my house, they had melted together into one giant clump.

Not to worry. I figured out ways to still use them. No chocolate left behind, as they say. But if you’re wanting your chocolate chips to stay chippy – I recommend you order now and stock up before the weather gets too warm.

Right now Amazon has a case of 6 – 10 ounce bags of Enjoy Life Soy Free Chocolate Chips for just $22.14.  This is a great stock-up price, so buy now and freeze them for later.

enjoy life six pack

Unless you like 10-ounce blobs of melty chocolate mess. Then, by all means, wait until July to order. ;)

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Gratituesday: Rested!

gratituesday[2]

Well, hello there. Nice to see you again. I’ve had a wonderfully refreshing break – so thank you. (What, like I gave you a choice in the matter?)

What I loved most about my break was the chance to enjoy homemaking and schooling my kids without any pressure to squeeze blogging work in and around all the crazy. It was refreshing to check that off the to-do list for eight entire days. I missed writing, no doubt. But really…I didn’t. I needed to rest my fingers and my head. I’m thankful the Spirit prompted me to rest. I’m thankful I listened and obeyed. I’ve learned much.

So what have I been up to during the past week? I did some cleaning. I looked through piles of pictures for Asa’s upcoming graduation reception. I spent extra time in the Word. I sat in the sunshine. I got caught up on history lessons with Elias and Malachi. I did some baking…

rest 1

I made a double batch of our favorite Poppy Seed Bread with Orange Glaze (recipe in {Healthy} Make-Ahead Meals and Snacks eBook). Yum! We ate two loaves and froze two for another day. I also made a double batch of cookie dough balls for the freezer. The boys were excited about that, for sure. (I especially like this because they can get out a few balls from the freezer and bake them without any help or mess.) It was just really fun to piddle around in the kitchen – stirring, baking, and singing praise songs along with the radio.

rest 2
Over the weekend we drove to Kansas City for the annual Leadership Training for Christ convention our kids participate in. This is Asa’s final year – he’s been doing this since 3rd grade! He was blessed to receive a scholarship for his efforts, which is a huge blessing! Our kids participated in a Bible Bowl, dramas, choirs, and much more. It was a very full weekend with all four of our boys in a variety of events, but we love joining over 100 people from our congregation and many hundreds of people from all over the midwest at this event! Here are some snapshots of our boys:

This was Asa and Justus’ high school choir. I may have cried during the entire performance. It’s a “my son is a senior” thing. Plus, they sounded gorgeous.

ltc 1
Justus is front right – Asa is in the back, second from the right.

ltc 2
Here’s Malachi’s choir. He’s standing front right.

ltc 3
This is Elias’ crew right after they performed their middle school drama. They were awesome!
Elias is in the black striped shirt – the handsome dude with glasses.

We came home in time to celebrate Easter along with several college students we invited for the day. We put out a big spread of ham, green beans, asparagus, corn, rolls, cantaloupe, and pineapple. Then we followed it with a brownie sundae bar. Here’s part of our buffet:

easter dinner 1

It’s been a delightful week. I’m thankful for the rest. I’m glad to be back.

A bit of encouragement for us all: If the Lord prompts you to do something – listen and obey. He knows what He’s talking about. :)

So now you’re turn: What have you been up to? What are you thankful for this Gratituesday?

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