Zesty Italian Potato Salad

My mom flew into town during the Fourth of July weekend, so my younger sister texted me (instead of her) for her potato salad recipe—the one we enjoyed so much growing up. I found it, snapped a picture, and sent it to her by text. The incident made me remember my own version of potato salad, however—one that I had made for JJ and me a number of times when we were first married.

 I hadn’t made it for a couple of years, but I had potatoes and some other ingredients on hand, so I bought the few remaining ingredients needed and went about making this delightful, tangy dish.

This potato salad is different than others in that it doesn’t use mayonnaise as its base. It uses zesty Italian dressing instead, which is why I gave it its name. That’s not the only ingredient that makes it different, however. This mouth-watering summer side dish is a delightful combination of soft potatoes and carrots with chewy hard-boiled egg, crunchy celery bits, tangy banana peppers, and salty green olives (or black olives, if preferred). Add a hint of spice with jalapeño peppers, if desired, and some sunflowers seeds for an extra bit of crunch. It’s a dish that is bursting with flavor in every bite and sure to impress a crowd. Want to take things up a notch? Turn this side into a potato salad bar, leaving the zesty Italian-seasoned potatoes and carrots in a large serving bowl with all the other ingredients in smaller serving bowls so that each individual can personalize his or her serving. It will be a sure crowd-pleaser at the next summer party for all ages to enjoy.

So, without further ado, here’s the recipe for this festive potato salad. And as always, let me know if you make this dish and what you think!

ZESTY ITALIAN POTATO SALAD

Ingredients:

  • 2 lbs potatoes (about 6 potatoes)
  • 5 medium carrots (about 1 ½ c)
  • 1 ½ c zesty Italian dressing
  • 4 hard-boiled eggs, chopped
  • 1 celery stalk, chopped (about ½ c)
  • ½ c green olives, cut in half
  • ½ c banana peppers
  • ¼ c to ½ c pickled jalapeños (optional)
  • Sunflower seeds (optional)

Instructions:

Peel the potatoes and carrots and cut into bite-sized pieces. Place in a pot of lightly salted water and boil for 25-30 minutes, or until tender. Strain the carrots and potatoes and set aside for 10-15 minutes to cool slightly. Once cooled, pour the dressing over the potatoes and carrots and place in the refrigerator for a couple of hours, then add the eggs, celery, olives, banana peppers, and jalapeños (if using). Sprinkle a teaspoon of sunflower seeds over each individual serving, if desired, and enjoy! Makes 6 servings.

What Are You Growing?

“Is that a weed?” JJ asked me as he looked out the glass door to a potted plant in our backyard.

“No!” I retorted, feeling protective of my little plant. I explained to him how a friend of mine had given me flower seeds for Mother’s Day last year, and I had finally planted them at the beginning of this summer. The longer we stared at the plant, however, the more I started to wonder if JJ’s original thoughts might be right. Could it be that the seeds never took root and that a weed had somehow worked its way into the pot instead?

JJ asked me if I was going to uproot the plant in light of these ponderings. I decided not to, however. Not yet, at least. I’m not sure if it was hope or laziness motivating me, but I planned to give the plant awhile longer before determining my next course of action. I didn’t want to uproot something that could possibly bloom into flowers, and since the plant was contained, I wasn’t worried that this it might wreak havoc on my yard. If nothing else, I would have a good laugh at the end of the summer over all the love and care that I poured into it if it ended up being a weed.

As much as I still find this possibility funny a month or so later, it has caused me to wonder what all I have been growing in my own life on a more serious note. Were the seeds that I wrote about planting in the spring (found here: https://anticipatingadventure.com/2021/05/15/planting-seeds/) possibly giving way to weeds rather than the beautiful garden I had envisioned?

The funny thing about figurative planting is that the seeds we start with are not always the plants we get in the end if we are not careful. If we neglect our plants or use the wrong fertilizer or overwater them, they can turn into something different than what we had originally imagined. Much like literal gardening, a plant will die if neglected. In a figurative sense, however, the plant that is fed the wrong fertilizer or overwatered can quickly turn into a monstruous weed that begins to choke out the other plants in our gardens. The question, then, is what type of plants are we currently growing in our gardens? Moreover, are we tending to them properly so that they can continue to grow into the plant that they are meant to be?

In May, I planted something new in my life. It was a year’s subscription to an online fitness program that was on sale, and although this new aspect of my life has proved to be a wonderful addition thus far, I am becoming more aware of my need to be cautious with this “plant” so that it doesn’t turn into a weed.

The truth is, I find myself thinking about this program more as of late, so I have to ask myself if I am giving it more attention than it deserves. Is it taking up more time than it should? Are my priorities where they should be?

These are the questions that we should ask ourselves in general as we tend to the hopes, dreams, goals, desires, etc. that are sprouting up in our lives. Let’s not neglect any plant entirely (unless God shows us differently), but let’s be careful not to give any one of them greater importance than they merit either. Let’s not water weeds. After all, whatever we grow in our gardens has the potential to affect all the other plants within it, so let’s tend to each one properly and uproot any weeds as needed. Furthermore, let’s give godly, trusted friends permission to point out any weeds that we may be unaware of, and to give us advice on how to help our fruit-bearing plants grow when needed.

Several weeks after my initial conversation with JJ, my mom came into town, and since she has been gardening for years, I asked her if she thought the potted plant might be a weed. After examining it for a minute, she told me she thought it might be a marigold plant and reassured me that the flowers were always the last thing to bloom. It put my mind to ease to hear this and to know that the time spent taking care of that plant should render something beautiful in the end.

Just as we need godly individuals to help us recognize weeds at times,  we sometimes need their help to recognize when a plant is worth growing. Sometimes we need their encouragement to persevere in our gardening attempts and to trust that the end result will be worth it, as hard as it may be to see in the moment.

Had my mom told me she thought my plant was a weed, I may have uprooted it right then. But because of her words, I have continued to tend to it, and just as of yesterday, I noticed several sphere-like shapes beginning to form on the top of it. It makes me hopeful that I’ll see some gorgeous orange flowers soon.

Literal and figurative gardening will always require lots of work, but in the end, both are worth it. Knowing that a harvest is to be reaped (or in my literal case, flowers are to be enjoyed), makes the time and effort worth it. And the lessons learned along the way are valuable treasures gained in the process—a harvest of its own.

Frozen Watermelon Lemonade

I thought I was so clever when I first “created” this recipe. It came about when I discovered a plump, ripe watermelon sitting on my counter after a 4th of July potluck I had hosted the day before.

My younger sister, who was also my roommate at the time, came home later that day from a trip out of town and realized my predicament. I don’t like watermelon. Fortunately, she does. She cut up the juicy fruit and enjoyed some, and then she decided to freeze the rest so that we could figure out what to do with what remained.

A few days later, we still had some lemonade in the refrigerator from the party, so I decided to blend some of the then-frozen watermelon with the juice on a whim. I figured I might be able to consume the watermelon in that manner and avoid wasting it in the end.

Fortunately, the watermelon lemonade combination was fantastic! It was refreshing, tangy, and sweet, and I found myself making more with the remaining frozen watermelon soon after and then making it in the summertime in the years to follow.

Years later, when my older brother and his family came to visit my family and me, I decided to make them this special “creation” and impress them with my culinary skills. I quickly discovered, however, that they had been making a version of this lemonade for years themselves! Since then, I’ve seen this recipe pop up quite a bit online as well.

All that to say, I may need to consider quoting Ecclesiastes 1:9 in all of my recipe blogposts from now on—the verse that reminds us that there is nothing new under the sun. 😊

This recipe may not be new, but it is definitely the perfect summer drink, so if you haven’t tried it for yourself, here’s an updated version of what I made so many years ago. Also, be sure to check out my Spiced Lemonade recipe, found here: https://anticipatingadventure.com/2021/05/16/spiced-lemonade/. And as always, please let me know what you think of these recipes if you try them. I would love to hear from you!

FROZEN WATERMELON LEMONADE

Ingredients:

  • 3 large lemons, juice of (slightly over ½ cup)
  • 4 c frozen watermelon*
  • 1/3 c monk fruit in the raw (or sweetener of choice)
  • 1 c water

Instructions:

Combine all of the ingredients in a high-powered blender and blend until smooth. Serve and enjoy! Makes 3-4 cups.

*When freezing watermelon, I suggest cutting the fruit into cubes and freezing it in smaller, one-cup portions in sealed sandwich bags. This will make it easier to fit into the blender when it comes time to make the lemonade.

The Inner Struggles of a Mom

Photo by Sebastian Voortman on Pexels.com

My son gashed his chin at the park a few weeks ago. It’s not something I intended to write about, but it really left an impression on me. Considering all the blood and how deep the cut was, I think I responded fairly well. My son was a real trooper, too. He cried on the way to the hospital, as is to be expected from a three-year-old, but he quickly calmed down as I continued to reassure him that I was taking him to the emergency room so that he could get better. He even managed to take a nap in my arms as we sat in the waiting room.

Three hours later, after a lot of waiting and a bit of medical care, my son’s chin was finally stitched up, and we headed to the nearest drive thru to pick up a late lunch before heading home. Liam was soon back to his happy, rambunctious self as we ravenously scarfed down our food. It was as if he had already forgotten about the incident. Life was far from normal for me, however. Apart from the stress of trying to keep Liam’s stitches dry and clean that week and keeping him from picking at them or injuring himself any further, my mind was brewing with unwanted thoughts.

That day, I was freshly reminded that I cannot always protect my son. I wasn’t able to protect him at eleven months when he had to be admitted to the hospital for two nights for a disease my husband and I had never even heard about. I couldn’t protect him subsequently at his follow up appointment two weeks later, where the doctor determined that his health had been affected by the illness and he would have to be put on medication indefinitely. I couldn’t protect him eight months later when he slipped on a step at the zoo and had to get stitches for the first time, and I couldn’t protect him this last time when he tripped over his own feet just a few feet from my side.

As much as I try, I am unable to shield my son from much of the harm that comes from living in a fallen world, and this most recent incident was a vivid and painful reminder to me of just that. I am incapable of completely keeping him safe, and I always will be. But the thought that I wrestle with more as I think about all of this is knowing that God can keep him from harm, but He doesn’t always choose to do so. Liam will continue to experience sickness, pain, and sorrow in different seasons of his life, just like everyone else, and there’s nothing I can do about it.

My faith does not falter as I consider these things, however, nor do I doubt God’s character. I have learned long ago to view my circumstances through the lens of God’s goodness rather than the other way around, and He has helped me to see Him at work in the different hardships I have faced thus far. I simply write this to confess that I’m struggling to reconcile myself to the fact that my family’s story may not turn out the way I want it to. We may experience greater suffering, sorrow, and loss than we have ever known, and there’s no way for us to undo whatever hardships we may face.

The most meaningful truth that I keep coming back to, however, is knowing that God did not spare His own Son for me. He gave Him over to a painful and gruesome death on a cross so that I might choose Jesus and have an eternity awaiting me with Him. And if God loved me so much to give His Son for me, then I can trust that He will not abandon me in my darkest moments and worst sufferings. He intimately knows my heart and all its emotions, and whatever may come, He will strengthen, comfort, and sustain me. He will completely see me through this life on earth until He sees me Home, where pain and sorrow will be no more.

I’m also comforted in knowing that God did not spare His own Son for Liam to give him a chance to believe in Him and be saved if he so chooses (and I fervently pray that he does).

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”

John 3:16

God loves Liam more than JJ and I ever could, and it would do me good to really meditate upon that fact and to find freedom in God’s great love for him. I can’t keep my son from harm, and God may not always shield him from all harm either, but I know that God can minister to Liam in his pain, just as He has done for JJ and me over and over again. He can comfort him, give him peace, and outpour His love upon Him in ways unlike anyone else. And those moments, in turn, can become the stepping stones that God uses to build faith in Liam and a deeper understanding of who He is.

Ultimately, I know that I must choose not to dwell on the possible hardships that this life may bring. The Bible admonishes us to think about what is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and praiseworthy (Philippians 4:8), so I will seek to turn my thoughts to those things. But for every new stitch, sickness, or sorrow that may come our way, I want to keep remembering that God did not spare His own Son because of His immense love for us, and He is ready to outpour His love, kindness, compassion, and comfort upon my family and me. We just have to keep seeing our circumstances through the lens of His goodness. We just have to keep believing that He will carry us through this life until He carries us home.

French Toast Made from Challah

My mom was making French toast out of challah long before it was a thing. Back in the early 90s, when all of us children were still living at home, she would whip up a couple of loaves on a Friday afternoon. We would then enjoy some of the freshly-baked bread with our dinner that evening, and she would convert the leftovers into delicious, fluffy French toast the next morning. It was undoubtedly our most favorite breakfast of the week and is one of my favorite memories today.

Sometimes we would eat the French toast with butter and maple syrup. Other times, we would have it with fresh strawberries and whipped cream. Whatever way my mom served it, we thoroughly enjoyed it. We enjoyed it so much, in fact, that we began to limit how much bread we would eat the night before just so that we would have a greater quantity of challah for French toast the next day. Freshly baked bread with butter is really good (I’m almost drooling just thinking about it), but nothing beats French toast made from homemade challah. It is the best!

Nowadays, French toast made from challah is becoming much more common. I’ve seen it on menus at different restaurants and have noticed it in recipes online, and while I’m happy for more people to discover this delectable dish, I always have the urge to tell people that my mom was making French toast like this first. So, if you’re reading this, now you know! 😉 Maybe she was even the one to start the trend!

This recipe requires quite a bit of time to make. The good thing, however, is that it is fairly hands off once the dough is made. The majority of the time spent making the bread will be letting the dough rise and baking it. Once it is baked, it’s a simple matter of mixing up the French toast mixture, soaking each bread slice in it, and then cooking it over the stove (but do me a favor and eat a slice or two fresh out of the oven with butter first. You will not regret it!).

This recipe would be perfect for a special, summer brunch served with strawberries and whipped cream. You can really enjoy this with whatever toppings you desire, however. Some additional great options are butter, syrup, sliced bananas, nuts, berries, Nutella, peanut butter, or preserves.

What toppings do you enjoy on your French toast? Let me know in the comments section! 😊 And, as always, if you make this recipe, let me know! I’d love to know how it turns out for you!

FOR THE CHALLAH    

Ingredients:

  • 1 package yeast (1 T)
  • 2 t sugar
  • ¼ c lukewarm water
  • 3 ½ to 4 ½ c flour
  • 2 t salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 T olive oil
  • 1 c lukewarm water
  • 1 beaten egg
  • Poppy seeds or sesame seeds (optional)

Instructions:

Gently combine the yeast, sugar, and ¼ cup lukewarm water in a small bowl. Set aside for five minutes. Meanwhile, mix together 3 c flour and the salt in a mixing bowl. Make a well and add the eggs, oil, and remaining cup lukewarm water to the middle of it. Mix together, then slowly add more flour as necessary, ¼ c at a time. Start kneading as the dough becomes stiff, adding more flour as needed until the dough is smooth and elastic. Do NOT add too much flour, however, as this will dry out the dough and make it denser once baked.

Once the dough is smooth and elastic, brush the dough with oil and let rise in the mixing bowl, covered, for an hour. After the dough has risen, divide it into three even portions, then roll each one into long log shapes. After creating three strands from each portion, braid them together on a greased baking sheet and let rise another 30 minutes. Brush with the beaten egg and sprinkle with the optional sesame seeds or poppy seeds. Bake 20-30 minutes until the bread is golden on top and baked through (thicker loaves may require additional time).

FOR THE FRENCH TOAST

Ingredients:

  • 8-10 slices of Challah, cooled and cut into 1 to 1 ½ inch slices
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 ½ c milk of choice
  • 1 t vanilla extract
  • ½ t maple extract (optional)
  • 2 t brown sugar
  • 1/8 t cinnamon
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 2-3 T butter

Instructions:

Heat a pan over the stove medium-low heat. Meanwhile, whisk the eggs, milk, vanilla extract, maple extract, brown sugar, cinnamon, and salt together until thoroughly combined. Melt a tablespoon of butter over the pan to coat it, then dip a slice of Challah into the egg mixture until well coated and place into the pan, repeating with additional slices of Challah until the bottom of the pan is filled with Challah slices. Bake for several minutes until the French toast is thoroughly browned on each side. Repeat the process with any remaining pieces, making sure to coat the bottom of the pan with butter again. Enjoy your French toast hot with whatever optional toppings desired. Makes 8-10 slices.

God is Merciful

Photo by Frans Van Heerden on Pexels.com

It drizzled a couple of times earlier this month, and both times were a vivid reminder to me of how much it rained in June a year ago—something odd for our desert region known as the Sun City. My family and I were not complaining though. With highs of over 100 degrees Fahrenheit throughout most of the summer months, the rain provided moments of refreshing to our parched land and weary souls.

I have always enjoyed the rain, so I felt especially encouraged by it, and even more so on the few occasions that a rainbow appeared in the sky afterwards. It was a good reminder of God’s mercy expressed through His covenant to Noah after the flood, which is as follows:

Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him, “Behold, I establish my covenant with you and your offspring after you, 10 and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the livestock, and every beast of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark; it is for every beast of the earth. 11 I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of the flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.” 12 And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: 13 I have set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth.

Genesis 9:8-13 ESV

The rainbows from last summer reassured me of God’s tender mercy toward humanity, which I was very grateful for after the hardship we had already faced worldwide at that point. He is merciful and gracious toward mankind and consistently reminds us of that in different ways.

This June, I have seen quite a few rainbows as well, but not the ones that appear in the sky. They have been manmade symbols that are especially prominent in ads, clothing, and commercials this time of year, and although the intended meaning of this politicized symbol is far from the purpose for which God created it, I’m beginning to see God’s mercy even through this manmade form. I see God’s mercy because I see how He allows humanity to live and move and breathe even when we distort His creation for sinful purposes. And I see it, because He sustains the lives of those who actively reject Him and seek to live in wickedness. And I see it more personally because He gave His Son to spare me of my deserved punishment, and He has forgiven me of all my sins.

God shows mercy so that individuals may have the opportunity to place their faith in Him, because He desires that no one should perish and forever be separated from Him.

The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. “

2 Peter 3:9 ESV

But let’s not confuse His mercy for leniency, my friends. He may not destroy the whole earth by water again, but make no mistake—He will execute His judgment on this world. By His Word, He will execute judgment and destruction on the ungodly.

But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.”

2 Peter 3:7 ESV

But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.”

2 Peter 3:10 ESV

For those who have placed their faith in Jesus, their sin has already been paid for through Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. But for those who reject Jesus and continue to live their lives on their own path, whether in their own self-righteousness, wickedness, or somewhere in between, they will pay for their sin through an eternity in hell.

“For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Romans 6:23 ESV

God is merciful, but He is also just, and we will see His justice completely executed on this earth someday, so let us not take His mercy for granted. Let us not presume that we can live apart from Him and face no consequences for that decision, regardless of how good we think our lives might be. And for those of us who have confidence in our salvation through Christ Jesus, let’s remember to pray for the lost often—that they would understand just how merciful God is and that His mercy would draw them to Him. Let’s allow all rainbows, furthermore, to remind us to do just that.

Growth

I was recently reminded of a trip I took to the supermarket three years ago. It was one of those rare occasions where I was able to go alone while JJ watched our son, so I took advantage of my little retreat by visiting the seasonal section of the store before making my purchases.

There’s something about a store’s seasonal section that enthralls me. I love seeing the décor, activities, crafts, gear, and food that accompany each season, and I often leave with some creative ideas of my own for how to better enjoy the coming months ahead.

During this particular trip, the aisles were filled with summer gear—grilling utensils, gardening supplies, water sports equipment, etc. And then there was the tiny section down one aisle filled with fun summer activities for children, which quickly caught my attention since my son had been born earlier that year. My eyes rested on a cute, plastic bucket and shovel meant for building sand castles, and I wistfully thought of the day that Liam would be able to enjoy such activities. I was honestly tempted to buy him the little bucket right then, but I resisted. Liam was only four months old. He was much too young to enjoy such fun activities at this moment in life. He would have to grow a little more before he could enjoy building sand castles and some of the other finer things in life.

As I headed out the supermarket that day, I couldn’t help but wonder if God ever thought of me the same way I thought of Liam that afternoon. Was He waiting for me to grow up a little more in my faith so that He could take me on certain adventures with Him? The idea gave me an even greater desire to grow. I didn’t want to miss out on anything that God had in store for me because I had become stagnant in my faith. I desired to live a meaningful life because it was one walked closely by God, following His lead in the direction in which He moved me. My prayer echoed (and still echoes) the lyrics to a Hillsong United song.

Spirit, lead me where my trust is without borders
Let me walk upon the waters
Wherever You would call me
Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander
And my faith will be made stronger
In the presence of my Savior”

Oceans (Where Feet May Fail), by Hillsong United

Today, Liam is old enough to enjoy playing with shovels and buckets, and fortunately for us, we have a tentative trip planned to the beach later this summer when we visit JJ’s family. It will be Liam’s first trip to the beach ever, and I look forward to seeing his reaction as we sink our toes into the sand and let the waves wash over our feet.

There are quite a few things that I enjoy doing with Liam at this stage of his young life. We sometimes bake together, and we enjoy painting and reading and going to the park, among other things. I still must wait patiently to enjoy certain activities with him for when he’s older, however. He still has much growing to do. Nonetheless, I am learning to enjoy the moment that we’re in (or so trying) and to take advantage of the activities Liam enjoys now while he’s young. He won’t always enjoy tickles or fort making or all my hugs and kisses. As I look forward to what is ahead, I want to remember to enjoy the process and to celebrate each new accomplishment and what each new moment brings.

Perhaps our walks with God are similar. He knows our trajectory of growth. He knows what each new step will bring and how He will mold us more to look like His Son through our journey. As we seek further growth in our relationship with Him, let us be thankful for how far He has already brought us and be encouraged by how He is molding us to look more like His Son each day. It’s a process, but it’s a good one with much to enjoy and celebrate along the way, so let’s press toward the goal and let’s also embrace every God-given moment along the path.

Slow Cooker Tex-Mex Chicken Enchilada Casserole

My family and I love tortilla chips but never tend to finish eating an entire bag. The bottom of each bag is inevitably filled with crumbled up chips that are hard to grab or dip into salsa (which is a must with tortilla chips!), so we set the unfinished bag aside and opt for a new bag with perfectly triangular chips.

The problem, as silly as it may sound, is that these bags tend to accumulate in our pantry over time since I hate to waste food. Ironically, most times these unfinished bags go stale, so then I end up throwing them out anyway.

Recently, I decided I wanted to find a way to use these crumbled up chips so that they wouldn’t go to waste. Thus, I present to you slow cooker Tex-Mex Chicken Enchilada Casserole!

I’ve made this recipe a couple of times now, and my family really enjoys it. It’s nutritious, delicious, and easy to make. You can serve it over rice, potatoes, or simply as is, and it makes for a wonderful meal after church or on those busy days when you don’t have a lot of time to dedicate to the kitchen. So, without further ado, I leave you with the recipe for Tex-Mex Chicken Enchilada Casserole, and, as always, please leave a comment if you make this meal to let me know how it turned out for you!

SLOW COOKER TEX-MEX CHICKEN ENCHILADA CASSEROLE

Ingredients

  • 1 lb. chicken breasts
  • 1-2 T olive oil
  • 2 T flour
  • 1 1/2 t taco seasoning
  • 28 oz can green enchilada sauce
  • 5-7 sweet peppers (or red bell pepper, if preferred), cut into slices
  • 8 oz sliced mushrooms
  • 2 c crushed/broken tortilla chips
  • 1 c shredded cheese of choice (I used a blend of Monterey, Cheddar, and Asadero)

Optional toppings: shredded lettuce, avocado/guacamole, sour cream, jalapeños, black olives, salsa, additional crushed tortilla chips.

Instructions:

Add the flour and taco seasoning to a freezer bag, seal, and shake to combine. Add the chicken to the bag, then reseal and shake together until the chicken is evenly coated.  Heat the olive oil in a frying pan, then cook the chicken for a couple of minutes on each side until the chicken is browned but not cooked through. Place the chicken in the bottom of the crockpot and add 2 cups of the enchilada sauce to cover it. Cook on high for 3-4 hours or until the chicken is cooked through. Shred or break the chicken into smaller pieces as desired, then add the peppers and mushrooms. Spread the crushed tortilla chips over the surface of the chicken mixture, cover with the remaining enchilada sauce, then cover the mixture with cheese. Cook for an additional 30-45 minutes on high or until the cheese is melted. Enjoy over rice or potatoes, if desired, and any additional toppings of your choice.

Tip: The tortilla chips will soften in the crockpot. If you desire to have a crunchier chip, use them as the base of your casserole instead of the rice or potatoes, or simply add them to the top of the mixture along with any additional toppings.

The Unexpected Blessing of Blogging

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

I began this blog in the fall of 2019 when I sensed God inviting me on an adventure with Him. Excited about the idea, and not wanting to forget any lessons learned along the way, I decided to document the journey as it transpired. Little did I know of the adventure awaiting just a few short months down the road! This journey has been much more epic than I could have ever imagined, and God has been teaching me so much throughout this past year and a half.

Soon after beginning my blog, I realized what a good outlet it was for me. My family and I had already experienced nearly a year of semi-isolation due to some health issues my son was experiencing, and it was easy to feel lonely and to question why God would allow our current struggles to be part of our lives. Starting the blog gave me a sense of purpose through our struggles, however. It also provided a means of expressing my thoughts and feelings on a regular basis—something that had become harder to do now that I was home alone with my son a lot more.

Several months later, my sense of purpose in blogging grew as illness became a worldwide issue and concern. God gave me ideas throughout that time that I knew would be relevant to our current reality. He encouraged me in the months to follow with different Bible passages and insights, and I prayed that others would be encouraged and experience renewed hope alongside me as I wrote.

Now, over 18 months later, I am so grateful for what this blog has meant to me and for the comments I have received on how it has encouraged others. Perhaps one of the best and most unexpected blessings from blogging, however, has been gaining a sense of community throughout this journey.

I’ve always considered writing to be a solitary activity. It is for me, at least. But as I have posted my writings and started readings posts from other bloggers, I began to see a community forming in front of me. I started following the blogs of talented, godly women and noticed that many of them also began to follow mine. And as we all wrote and commented on each other’s blogposts, it felt like God was giving me friends through this means.

After a year like the last one, where my family and I experienced even greater isolation like many others did throughout the world, I can only say one thing about the camaraderie that I’ve gained through blogging.

Only God.

His timing for this blog was perfect, not only so that I could encourage others through a pandemic, but so that I could receive the encouragement I would need, and so that I would be challenged to grow in my walk with God amidst the present-day difficulties.

So, thank you to all of you who have been faithfully following God and sharing about your journeys while encouraging me on my own. I admire you, and you inspire me.

Sometimes I think of what it would be like to have you all over for a brunch or tea. We’d all sit around my dining room table and share about the most recent lessons God has been teaching us or the most impactful blogs that we’ve read of each other’s. And after hours of talking, eating, laughing, and deep connection, we’d pray for each other and encourage each other to keep writing for God’s glory. Perhaps we would end our time together by planning our next rendezvous several years down the road, in a different country in one of your homes, or perhaps in just another state (or city).

I don’t imagine that we’ll all get a chance to meet in person like that, much less have subsequent reunions afterwards. Not this side of heaven, at least. But if any of you are ever in my neck of the woods, mi casa es su casa. I hope you’ll contact me so that we can meet and mutually encourage each other in person, much like we’ve already been doing through our blogs.

In the meantime, I pray that God would immensely bless each of you. And may He continue to be Who you write for, guiding your thoughts and words so that you keep blessing and encouraging others through them, just like you have blessed and encouraged me.

Spiced Lemonade

Tangy, fresh lemons blend together with golden honey and sweet cinnamon to make a refreshing twist to a classic, summer drink.

As the days get longer and the weather gets warmer, it’s the perfect time of year to drink fresh lemonade. This recipe is one I created years ago, when I was teaching ESL at the Spanish speaking seminary. I’m not sure what inspired me to add a cinnamon stick to the mixture other than the fact that I really like cinnamon—both for its taste and health benefits. That, and a friend of mine used to put a cinnamon stick in her iced tea when she brewed it, and I found the cinnamon to make her tea incredibly delicious.

Regardless of whatever the exact reason was, I’m glad I thought to do it. The tartness of the lemon juice blended together with honey, sweet cinnamon, and a splash of vanilla is the perfect blend. You’ll find yourself wanting to make this drink over and over again.

SPICED LEMONADE

Ingredients:

  • 3 1/2 c water, divided
  • 1/3 c honey (or sweetener of choice, to taste)
  • 1 t vanilla
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • ½ c fresh squeezed lemon juice (around 2-3 large lemons)

Instructions:

Heat two cups water and honey over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the honey dissolves. Add the vanilla, cinnamon stick, and fresh squeezed lemon juice and simmer on low for five minutes, stirring regularly. Remove from heat and allow to cool for ten to twenty minutes, then place in the refrigerator and chill overnight, or a minimum of six hours (this will allow the cinnamon flavor to really infuse itself into the drink). Add the additional 1 ½ cups water before serving, stir, and serve over ice. Makes 3-4 servings.

NOTE: This lemonade tastes tart before fully chilled but will become sweeter once cold.