Tag Archives: kids

Zesty Taco Soup

Clearly we are in need of a little spice during this super chilly winter season. For those of you who don’t know….the high for today in my neck of the woods (Flathead Valley, Montana) is around 1 degree (not including any wind chill factors). This varies greatly from town to town. School was canceled today for my friends, just south about 17 miles because it was so windy that the cold was unbearable this morning.

Yesterday I posted a lovely, cheesy Mexican casserole & today for dinner, as requested by my 12 year old so, I’m making a crock pot full of my Zesty Taco Soup. This recipe was developed last fall when I started pulling things out to prepare my sister’s Chicken Tortilla Soup, then realized that I had no chicken breasts…or thighs (my backup)…only ground turkey. I looked at the recipe, compared it to my Turkey Chili recipe, made a few notes & tweaks & there we were!

*I will warn you by saying that I am a crock pot addict. I am a busy gal who never has enough time for anything, AND I love to cook. The crock pot has saved my life! It allows me to prepare homemade soups, sauces, casseroles, even some desserts on days when I just wouldn’t otherwise have the time. If you don’t have one get one. And please don’t waste your time or money on a cute little one that barely fits a couple cans of soup in it. Seriously, what are you going to make in there anyway? Spend a little more & buy the big one. Even if you live alone, & here’s why…most crock pot recipes are made for the big pots (& if they’re not, it’s easier to multiply a recipe than divide a recipe!). Make more & freeze it or can it, or give it away. Especially if it’s soup or sauce! Soups & sauces freeze & reheat REALLY well. You just need to pour it into smaller containers so that it cools quickly, then put it into labeled freezer bags with the date on it. Most stuff you can keep in the freezer for a year, sometimes more. Look it up online if you’re unsure. Stepping off of my soapbox now…*     

Onto the yummies…

1 package Ground Turkey          1 can Black Beans          1 can Kidney Beans          1 can White Beans              2 cans diced Green Chilies                1 can diced tomatoes with chilies          1 yellow onion diced                    64 oz chicken sock                            1-2 packets (to taste) taco seasoning          1 can tomato sauce          1 cup frozen corn                                    (optional) avocado, green onion, & sour cream to garnish                           *I try to get hormone free turkey & organic canned goods & produce as much as possible. Retailers like Costco are excellent about prices when it comes to organic canned beans, tomato sauces, & chicken stock, I highly recommend you price compare if you haven’t already. We are on a tight budget in my home, but I have found that retailers like Costco are really doing their part to keep cost down on organic products when possible.*

Turn the crock pot onto HIGH. Put in the ground turkey. You can put it in right from frozen as long as it’s going to be cooking for at least 6-7 hours total. (Usually 1 package is about 1.25-1.3 lbs, that’s what I use. For me the beans are the star, if you like more meat, feel free to add more.)  Once the heat has started to move through the pot, add the onions, corn, & taco seasoning.


Next, add your chilies & tomatoes w/chilies to the pot. Stir.


While the onions & meat begin to cook a bit, it’s time to prepare the beans. Most people don’t realize that canned beans need to be prepared, especially if they’re organic…wrongo bongo!


Canned beans don’t need to be pre-cooked, but they do need to be rinsed! They are sitting in this lovely sodium-filled goo which keeps them a wonderful consistency when canned, otherwise they would turn to mush. We don’t want to eat the goo, however, & many people do. It is a preservative that isn’t good for us, it is meant to be discarded, not ingested. Please rinse your beans!

I have chosen Black beans, Kidney Beans, & Garbanzo Beans. Garbanzos, mostly because I am out of other white beans & I enjoy have tricolor beans in soups, but also because I  have children & all children like Garbanzos because they look like butts! Sorry, but it’s true! Little beige bottoms floating in your bowls is funny & they will eat them!

Once they are rinsed, add the beans to your pot. Stir.


Now that all of our solids are in & starting to cook, we can add our liquids. Usually I use homemade chicken stock, but this soup has so much flavor all ready, that it almost would be a waste. I use organic store bought chicken stock, & 1 can or tomato sauce. This fills the pot. Stir it up good. Put the lid on & Set the timer for 5 hours if the turkey was fresh or 7 hours if it was frozen.

I like a little dollop of sour cream or a sprinkle of cheese on top & green onions &/or avocados. Serve it with tortilla chips to dip.


Have a wonderful afternoon & keep warm!



Week 1 of “30 days of Love”. . . did you know?

There are so many things happening right now! Martin Luther King Jr. Day was yesterday. There are many wonderful organizations that have decided to use his legacy to remind us to be a better, kinder, more tolerant, more just, & loving society.


I love GLSEN! They do SO much for gay & lesbian youth. This week, they are promoting “No Name-Calling Week.” http://www.glsen.org/nonamecallingweek . It is an effort to help stop bullying, primarily in schools.


Let me talk about bullying for just a minute. I am not a fan of bullying, but many of the zero tolerance, anti-bullying campaigns have been backfiring the past couple of years. (Remember what happened with the DARE program of our era?) If you put an all encompassing umbrella over bullying, give it a lot of publicity, & then make a zero tolerance policy….you draw attention, sometimes to things that kids weren’t even thinking of & you sometimes give existing & potential bullies ideas.

The zero tolerance policy means that your own policy forces you to punish kids for behavior that doesn’t warrant the punishment simply because if you don’t, you’re not following policy. I don’t think that it’s okay to allow children to be mean to each other. I do think though that, depending on the situation, there is a certain amount of age appropriate push & pull that goes on between kids & youth. That is not the same as being mean, but with these “zero tolerance” bullying rules that schools are making, it doesn’t allow for normal behavior. We can’t expect everyone to always act “just so,” a little push in line, not wanting to sit next to the stinky kid, not wanting the kid who is really bad at math on your team during a math drill DOESN’T make you a bully! It makes you a normal, age appropriate kid. Should the teacher tell you that you get what you get? YES. Should the lunch lady yell out, “No pushing in line!” from behind the counter? YES. Should someone remind your kid that it’s not nice to call that kid “stinky”? ABSOLUTELY, should that same someone call the stinky kid’s parent’s & investigate why he’s so stinky ABSOLUTELY.

I think focusing on one aspect of bullying, like GLSEN’s No Name-Calling Week. is a nice way to handling it. You aren’t teaching these kids a new behavior. Kids have known how to name call since they were 2 years old! Focusing instead on how that behavior effects people, what that feels like (even for adults), instead of talking about bullying as if it’s 1 act, 1 punishment…that’s something I can get behind.


Many UU’s around the world are jumping on board with Standing on the Side of Love’s “30 Days of Love” campaign.


Day 1 was Saturday, January 18th. I cut & pasted below what it says on their site for week 1:

“Week One: Living the Dream

Sunday, Jan. 19: Suggested worship service themes include honoring Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and recommitting to racial justice work.

What to Expect: Kick off the week with MLK Day and set aside time for congregational self-examination and reflection. Look for resources on furthering your racial justice work.”

I think I can do both of these campaigns easily together! Living in small town Montana, you’d be surprised how many racial slurs, comments, & names one still hears (especially when people are talking politics, it seems).

I vow, to do my part to not only not “name call” (which is a rule in my home anyway, one that I only seem to break when speaking of myself…), but to be verbal when I hear others. That takes care of GLSEN. For my UU contribution this week, I’m going to concentrate my ears on those racial slurs, jokes, & “name calls” that I hear when I’m out & about. I am a small woman & usually when I hear these things it is a group of men speaking (although not always) & my habit has been to give a look, much like a disappointed mother or school teacher would give a disobedient child.


I vow to use my voice this week. I will speak on behalf of my children (& others’ children) who don’t deserve to hear it. I’ll be honest, we are a mostly white community, but that is no excuse to allow the racially ignorant folks in our community to feel like they run it.

This is my commitment to my faith community, my family, GLSEN, Dr Martin Luther King Jr, & most importantly…to myself.


Quick & Easy Oatmeal on Busy Mornings

Have you ever looked at the amount of sugar & sodium in most instant oatmeals? But who has the time to make a pot of “real” oatmeal on a busy school day morning while hunting for socks, & locating homework & smelling (yes I said it!) teenagers before you kick them out the door in time for them to mope off to their bus stops?!

Well, you guessed it! Just like my frozen waffles…I make my own “instant” oatmeal!

A little about oats…

Steel-Cut Oats – We get steel-cut oats when the whole groat is split into several pieces. Simmered with water, steel-cut oats retain much of their shape and make a chewy, nutty porridge.

Rolled Oats – Whole grains of oats can also be steamed to make them soft and pliable, and then pressed between rollers and dried. The resulting “rolled oats” re-absorb water and cook much more quickly than whole groats or steel-cut oats. When a recipe calls for “rolled oats” or the packaging mentions it, they generally mean the thickest rolled oat, which retains its shape fairly well during cooking.

Old-Fashioned Oats – The source of much confusion, old-fashioned oats are actually the same as rolled oats. You’ll usually see them called “Old-Fashioned Rolled Oats” on packaging.

Quick or Quick-Cooking Oats – These are oats that have been pressed slightly thinner than rolled oats. They cook more quickly, but retain less of their texture.

Instant Oats – Pressed even thinner than quick oats, instant oats oats often break into a coarse powder. They cook the quickest of all and make a very soft and uniform mush. 

I tend to use “quick oats.” I can find organic quick oats in the bulk section of our local grocery store & our natural food stores, I can never find organic instant oats. Also, if you are a “real” oatmeal fan, & you don’t over water your oats, quick oats can have a similar texture to the whole grains your used to, especially with some mix-ins. I don’t think you can EVER say that about instant oats! You can use “rolled oats” with these recipes too, just keep in mind, the further up the “oat food chain” you travel the less quick your prep time. (If it’s going to take you more than 5-7 minutes, you might as well use the stove!)

*Let me start by saying that ideally I wouldn’t be making packets. I am currently in the process of reorganizing my cupboards & pantries. So until I am finished, space is what it is. I prefer making these in jars. That way you can eat directly out of the jar, wash & sterilize it & make more. There is little, if any waste using this technique. I will say that making packets out of the snack-sized resealable baggies, I reuse the baggies over & over. You will see below that I write the flavor on the bag with a Sharpie, you don’t need to wash them just refill them, dump into the bowl or mug, reseal the bag & put back with the other packets until you make more (that way you won’t lose it).*

OKAY…Here we go!

First you need to get your space ready…I saw this on Pinterest & it has made these cooking projects so much easier…


Now, on pinterest, the woman had the hanger hanging from a cupboard knob. I was bummed at first because I don’t have knobs on my cupboards. Then I realized…I can hang it off of the handle to my suspended microwave! I worked perfectly! It allows me to glance up quickly & double check quantities of ingredients or measurements. Because the microwave is over the stove, I can’t really use this method for cooking like she meant it to work, due to fire safety, but for projects like this, it is perfect!

I usually take out all of my Ingredients to start with:


each packet (or jar) contains:

1/3 C quick oats          2 tsp oat bran          1-2 tsp dry nonfat milk                 1 tsp chia seeds          1-3 tsp coconut sugar or maple sugar                                                    1/8 tsp ground cinnamon

(I, personally, make it with 2 tsp dry milk & about 2 tsp coconut sugar for plain oatmeal. For making the flavors below, I only use 1 tsp dry milk & between 1 & 1.5 tsp coconut sugar as a base. The maple sugar has more flavor than the coconut, so I only use it if I want a maple flavor. You should mix & match & find your own preference!)

1st, I sort & label all of the baggies:

Label & Organize the bags

then I fill them all with the basics above (set aside the bags that have a different type of sweetener or a different amount of dry milk & do them last).

One flavor at a time, put the baggies into a rectangular container, like a loaf pan or plastic one, like this:

use a rectangular container to hold packets while you fill 1 flavor at a time

Now add the mix-ins below & set them aside.

When you're all done with a flavor set them aside & begin the next flavor!

Now you can move on to the next flavor!

I have found 8 flavors that my family enjoys:

Plain: (as mention above) use the full 2 tsp dry milk & 1-3 tsp sweetener of choice (I use coconut sugar).

Apple-Cinnamon: double the cinnamon & add 2 Tbsp  chopped dried or freeze-dried apples.

Blueberry: add 2 Tbsp freeze-dried blueberries.

Cranberry-Orange: add 1 tsp dried orange zest & 2 Tbsp dried cranberries.

PB & J:  add 2 Tbsp peanut butter powder & 2 Tbsp freeze-dried raspberries or strawberries.

Maple Nut: use maple sugar instead of coconut sugar & add 2 Tbsp of chopped nuts (I usually use either walnuts or almonds).

Brown Sugar & Cinnamon: use brown sugar as sweetener & double the cinnamon. (I like to add 1-2 Tbsp of ground almonds to this one too since it has the least nutritional value of the lot, shhh don’t tell).

Raspberry(or Strawberry) & Cream: use the full 2 tsp dry milk plus an additional tsp (total 3 tsp) & 2 Tbsp freeze-dried raspberries or strawberries.

{Note about fruit…I have found that freeze-dried fruit ALWAYS works better in these packets than dried fruit. Dried fruit usually has added sugar & it grows when it is hydrated. The freeze-dried  fruit, & berries, stays about the same size when hydrated, is very easy to find natural (no sugar added), & has a nice texture in the oatmeal once reconstituted.} 

To prepare:  BOILING WATER METHOD:  Pour the contents of the packets into a mug or bowl & add 2/3 C boiling water. Stir. Let sit for 2-3 minutes. [If you use rolled oats, cover & let sit 4-5 minutes (you may need more water)]. MICROWAVE METHOD:  Pour into microwavable container & add 1 C cold water. Microwave on HIGH for 2 minutes, stir, then let sit for 2 minutes.

If you are using jars: simply add the boiling water, stir, let sit & enjoy! (Of course be careful when you pick it up! I always tell my kids to put a plate or a saucer under any bowl or jar that will have hot contents, before it is heated, just in case it is too hot to pick up.)

Here’s a few links about the benefits of some of the ingredients I choose to use:

I do my best to use organic ingredients, natural when I can’t find organic. I buy most things in bulk, as well. Coconut sugar & Maple sugar are still sugars (like honey), but if you find organic, they are natural & your body processes them differently than white sugar. If you are diabetic, you should use stevia instead if you choose to use a sweetener. With fruit, cinnamon, or a little vanilla, you may not need a  sweetener at all. My kids were used to the boxed instant oatmeal, so we’re working our way from white sugar, to natural sugars & sweeteners, & eventually out of needing as much sugar at all. Use what you feel you need to for your family.

I hope you find that these make your mornings more nutritional (& run a little more smoothly).

If you come up with any new flavor combinations please post them in the comments below! I look forward to seeing what you come up with!

What is a Unitarian Universalist?

I thought that this was great!

A lot of people ask me about my faith. It is a hard thing to describe to most people in my neck of the woods. Many people here are either SO Christian that to imagine a life that is open to other possibilities is so foreign that it borders on offensive, or they were raised in that life & they run from any & everything that looks or smells like church.

As a Unitarian Universalist, I am allowed to find my own path. I am given the personal freedom to believe (or not) whatever I believe. At my little fellowship, we have Quakers, Christians, Jews, Buddhists, Wiccans, Agnostics, Pagans, people who follow Native teachings, people who don’t seem to follow any particular faith, & lifelong UUs who claim nothing other than that. We are all on our own spiritual path, together, & it’s good. We don’t really have any formal dogmas we follow. We are inspired by the teachings & writings of religious leaders from all world religions, poets, philosophers, writers, teachers, lecturers, scientists, presidents, and more. We meditate, some of us pray, some of us take communion from time to time. We are all different & we all have different spiritual needs. None are turned away & all are welcome.

It’s a beautiful thing. I once told a friend that I should start my own church. Where you can believe anything you want. You can be eclectic & draw from all sources. No one is right & no one is wrong. Everyone is okay…we’re all okay…

Then I found, thanks to a childhood friend, my UU church in Des Moines, Washington. I walked in & I listened & I spoke with the minister & I looked in the classrooms & I asked about the curriculum…

This was the church that I had wanted to create years before. It had always existed, for hundreds of years, anyway.

I just hadn’t found it until I needed to.

When I moved to Montana, my criteria was “they have to have the same or better schools for the kids, & they have to have a UU church.” They had both.

Now I get to live with Glacier Park in my back yard, I get to direct children’s programming for my spiritual home. And I get to share all of it & more with all of you.

My next post will be more about food, I promise. No preaching, I just really liked this video!