Friday, January 1, 2016

A New Year of Intentional Living


For the last 6 years I've been learning to embrace my family's tradition of the simple life.

When you lose several loved ones in a short span of time it can bring a clarity unlike any other. You begin to realize what's really important, really fast.

We clutter out lives with overpacked schedules, distracting big screen TVs and tchotchke filled houses that give the illusion of importance and completeness. The superficial things we think are so important, really aren't.

For a few years loss was a continual theme...loss of loved ones, loss of a home, loss of pets and finally the loss of stuff. Each year this theme became so strong that I could no longer ignore what was staring me in the face - live with intention and cherish the essentials.

I thought this simple lesson had already been learned, but as more and more began to disappear from my life the superficial wall of "normalcy" was crumbling before my eyes piece by piece. It no longer held any meaning.

All of the loss helped to break the chains of a life that wasn't me. I got caught up in the hustle and bustle of surface level living and forgot to nurture the things that made me feel like me. When not much is left, you get pretty clear on what truly makes your life whole.

And so little by little I started to incorporate the things once held dear. Real fellowship instead of a quick meet and greet. Making instead of buying. Natural remedies instead of quick fixes. Farmers markets instead of grocery stores. Cooking at home instead of going out. Handmade instead of store-bought. Star gazing instead of TV watching.. Celebrating instead of the superficial.

This new found focus of "simple" drew closer the authenticity I had craved for so long. The healing it offered set in motion a chain of events that still amazes me to this day. I'll never go back to that surface level living of today's conventional lifestyle...this intentional gal is here to stay ;)

Along the way I've learned to be kinder to myself and to let things progress and grow in a natural way. Our lives have been in a constant state of flux which has made it challenging to keep up with the blog, but now that we're settling in our new hometown I'm so glad to be able to get back to it.

One of the new things I'm excited to share is that we're going tiny!! Tiny houses, that is. We have a plan to build a couple of tiny houses in the next year or so and I can't wait to share our vision, plans and progress along the way. More on that soon!

You'll also notice the site will begin to receive its long awaited facelift of organization. We're in the process of switching hosts and meshing our store with the blog, but we're taking the "little by little" approach for an easier transition. We'll have a posting schedule that will actually work and a system that will help you find things more easily on the site.

I'll also share the cornerstone of what we'll be writing about in the months ahead - the 8 pillars of what simple means to us...again, more order to the process. We have a new book coming out based on those 8 pillars and will be setting up a page where you can sign up to be notified upon its release.

As we begin this new and wonderful year of intentional living we'll be encouraging you to take small steps of change to make space for a life you really love. We'll be sharing our own projects, tips we've learned over these last 6 years and essentials that we can't live without. I hope you join us for the ride ;)

With Gratitude,


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Sunday, October 5, 2014

Mason Jar Cookie Gift Ideas {Day 5}


Yesterday I shared our favorite cookie recipe that offers a versatile treasure trove of options for your holiday baking, and today I wanted to show how to use that recipe for gift ideas. Mason jars are very popular right now (they've always been a staple in our home) and we love using them in our gift giving.


One of the ways we keep things simple at Christmas and still offer homemade treats is to eliminate the baking step altogether. Simply pour the dry ingredients in a mason jar, add a recipe card with instructions, attach a decorative label and voila! Instant gift. Not only will this save you moments in the kitchen, but you can make many at the same time and each can be easily customized. One with chocolate chip cookies, the next pecan sandies and another pistachio & cranberry delights...all with the simple switch of extra ingredients.


If you don't want to skip the baking step, offer a gift that pulls double duty and stow those baked cookies inside a mason jar that's been converted into a drinking cup. It's one of our favorite double gift ideas! Sonya has a great tutorial on how to create those lovely drinking jars.


If mason jars aren't your thing, The Giving Plate might be the perfect perch for your baked goodies. A simple white plate, sharpie pen and time in the oven is all you need to create a gift that keeps on giving.


I like to plan ahead and keeping cookie logs wrapped in parchment paper in the freezer is a fail safe way of having homemade cookies on hand for any occasion, especially the holidays. They're actually called freezer cookies, but cookie logs sound so much more fun, don't they ;)

Shape dough into logs, wrap in parchment paper and store in freezer bags. When you're ready for cookies, simply slice and bake according to recipe directions (allow 2 to 3 minutes extra baking time for frozen dough). If giving the "logs" as gifts, write the cookie recipe and instructions on white or brown paper, wrap the paper around the logs and tie off the ends with pretty ribbon.

To help keep your gifting simple this year I've made some printables to make things easier. Enjoy and print as many as you like!

Here are some of the labels we use for our mason jar cookies. They can be used as tags or print them on sticker paper for easy application to jars.


We use these recipe cards to write directions and how-to's for each treat package...


Giving homemade treats for the holiday is something we look forward to each year. There's just something extra special about handmade goodies. Some people enjoy getting the same cookies every season, while others look forward to new and creative concoctions. Whether they come baked, in mason jars or even in a log shaped fashion, it's a fun and thoughtful way to put some love into your gift giving this year.

In Gratitude,

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Saturday, October 4, 2014

The Only Cookie Recipe You Will Ever Need {Day 4}


It's Day 4 of our Simple Handmade Holiday series and today I've got something that I hope will simplify your gift giving or treat making this season. It's an easy recipe that will quickly turn into the only cookie recipe you will EVER need.

I like to keep things simple in the kitchen, especially during the holidays when it becomes part of Santa's gift making workshop. Our family and friends LOVE sweets treats this time of year and this recipe is sure to not disappoint.

It can be tweaked countless ways for a continual supply of creative options. With a simple change of seasonal ingredients, it can be used for winter, spring, summer or fall.

It can be gluten-free for those who have sensitivities. It can be low-sugar for those needing to cut down on the sweet factor by using natural sweeteners like raw honey, coconut sugar or maple syrup. It can even become something completely different...transforming from a cookie into a biscuit by removing the sugar altogether and subbing in cheese - instant Cheese Straw Biscuits (our favorite).

Add herbs and spices to that Cheese Straw Biscuit recipe and now you have herbal tea biscuits that will have everyone coming back for more! One recipe - hundreds of options. Here are just a few combinations we've used over the years...

     ~ Simply switch out the all-purpose flour for almond flour and it's gluten -free.

     ~ Take out the processed sugar and substitute 1/2 or 1/4 the amount of raw honey or
        maple syrup for a naturally sweet cookie that will be kinder to your pancreas.

     ~ Add chocolate chips for a simple Chocolate Chip Cookie.

     ~ Adding in pecans creates Pecan Sandies.

     ~ Almonds make an Almond Teacake Biscuit (I could list other nuts, but you get the idea).

     ~ Oats and raisins create Oatmeal Raisin Cookies.

     ~ Add a little dried lavender, lemon zest and lemon juice for Lemon Lavender Cookies.

     ~ Mix in dark chocolate shreds and a tad of cayenne for an amazing flavor combo.

     ~ Add peppermint chips and dark chocolate morsels for a simple Christmas cookie.

     ~ Cranberries, pistachios and white chocolate chips lend something similar to my
        Christmas bark.

     ~ White chocolate and cashews remind me of the recipe from the Biltmore Estate
        collection that's been handed down for many years.

     ~ Mashed bananas, chocolate chunks and walnuts make Chunky Monkey Cookies.

     ~ Mixing in cocoa powder, mini marshmallows, nuts and chocolate chips creates Rocky
        Road Cookies.

     ~ Replace the sugar with the same amount of cheese and use half the oil and butter, then
        you have Cheese Straw Biscuits.

See what I mean? One recipe, a few tweaks and you already have 14 different options right there. I could go on and on and on, but thought you might like the recipe...

Simple Sugar Cookie Recipe 

Ingredients:
  • 3 1/2 c. all-purpose flour (substitute the same amount of almond flour for a gluten-free option)
  • 2/3 c. oil (we like to use coconut oil or tallow - we render our own tallow from local, grass-fed cows - DO NOT use tallow made from regular grocery store beef)
  • 2/3 c. butter - softened/melted (we prefer to use the butter we make from our raw milk stash)
  • 1 c. sugar (it originally called for 1 1/2 cups, but it was toooooo sweet. The 1/2 cup reduction in sugar creates something similar to a shortbread cookie, which we like better)
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp sea salt
Directions
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Mix flour, baking powder, salt and sugar.
  3. Add in melted/softened butter, oil, beaten eggs and vanilla and gradually stir in dry ingredients.
  4. Roll rounded teaspoons of dough into balls and place on an ungreased cookie sheet about 1 inch apart. For a thinner cookie, slightly flatten the top of each cookie.
  5. Bake for 10-12 minutes or until slightly golden. 

In the south we love our cheese straws! The sad things is, I've never been very good at making them. Since most of the cheese straw recipes I found had most of the same ingredients as my cookie recipe, I decided to see how it would taste to completely remove the sugar and substitute cheese in its place.

Turns out, pretty greasy! But as with most of my recipes, one batch is never enough and so I was back at the drawing board ;) The next try was complete with two batches...one with almond flour and the other with all-purpose flour plus the tweak of 1/2 the oil from the original recipe. Simple fix and voila! They tasted exactly like cheese straws...only in a biscuit shape ;)

Cheese Straw Biscuit Recipe

Ingredients:
  • 3 1/2 c. all-purpose or almond flour (I prefer almond flour for this one)
  • 2/3 c. of your choice of fat softened/melted in the microwave (less is more here if you're using almond flour due to the fat content in the almonds. Tallow is amazing in this recipe! I like to use two fats (1/3 each) for depth of flavor. Using 2 "layers" of fat develops the complexity in a simple way (; We basically use whatever we have on hand...butter, coconut oil or tallow)
  • 1 to 1 1/2 cups of cheese (we love raw goat cheddar, gouda, pepper jack with swiss and really any kind of sharp cheddar. Parmigianino Reggiano is a fave, but use no more than 1 cup due to it's salty nature.)
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 Tbs turmeric (optional - we add turmeric to everything for a happy liver)
  • 1 tsp sea salt cayenne and paprika to taste.
Directions:
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Mix flour, baking powder, salt and shredded cheese.
  3. Add in the melted fats (butter, oil or tallow choice) and beaten eggs and gradually stir in dry ingredients.
  4. Roll rounded teaspoons of dough into balls and place on an ungreased cookie sheet about 1 inch apart. For a thinner biscuit, slightly flatten the top of each ball with a fork. 
  5. Bake for 10-12 minutes or until slightly golden. 

Now here's where the fun comes in...just as with the sugar cookies, there are options galore! You can keep it simple with the traditional Cheese Straw Biscuit recipe above or add whatever you like to create savory concoctions.

Basil and roasted garlic, rosemary and red peppers, minced olives, your favorite chutney or pesto, etc. You can even add in sweet sausage and they become sausage balls, a holiday favorite. The sky's the limit! Top them with Tomato Chutney and you'll never go back (;

One flavor combo I started enjoying recently was using our homemade ricotta instead of the shredded harder cheeses. Add fresh cracked pepper, rosemary, lemon zest and a touch of honey to the dough...Heaven!

The best thing about this recipe is that it keeps things simple, especially for the holidays. No more running around collecting different ingredients for multiple recipes when one will do. Now you have a way to create custom cookies for everyone on your gift list without a huge run to the grocery store.

I hope you continue to join us for more of our Simple Handmade Holiday series. Later this week we'll be sharing a no-bake way to give these as gifts...and there are free printables involved ;)

In Gratitude,

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Friday, October 3, 2014

Simple Faith for the Holidays {Day 3}


The holidays have always been a big deal for me. My father was a pastor and my mother a teacher so we celebrated each and every ounce of the seasons. We were a service kind of family, always working on projects that focused on serving others, and the holidays were the perfect time to reach out especially to those going through challenges.

This philosophy was solidified even more three years ago when our lives were completely turned upside down. Not only were we in a spot of losing almost everything we owned, but we were now without a home. Not having a home base completely shifted my thinking and it was a very unsettling place to be. The holiday traditions and special celebrations we looked forward to each year were now mute because surviving day to day was more important.

That was the first year without the fall festivities, the Halloween celebrations, the Thanksgiving dinner or our traditional homemade Christmas feast and it was my first winter without a coat. When I said we lost almost all of our possessions, that included clothes and shoes.

But that first year offered so much more than tangible things. Each and every day meant looking at life through the eyes of faith because otherwise the view was pretty hopeless. It meant depending on God for each and every need and the belief that He was going to get us through to the other side.

We didn't have much help from others because most people didn't understand what we were going through and sadly I began to realize that most really didn't want to know. It made them feel vulnerable and uncomfortable because our situation brought the idea too close that if it happened to us, it could happen to them too. And so we plugged along feeling quite alone and very discouraged.

Then something changed. This new focus on the simple, small things helped us to remember why our celebrating traditions were so special. It's never been about the food, the gifts, the activities or even the home in which we live. It's about relationships and love and appreciating each day we've been given. It's about realizing who your tribe really is and being thankful for the ones that get you. It's about ministering to another's heart and reaching out to love those who might not be so easy to love.

This time confirmed that a Thanksgiving dinner from the McDonald's dollar menu could be a magical thing...that fashion is great, but having more than two shirts hanging in a closet is a blessing...that there's beauty in cleaning the kitchen because it means I'm cooking in a real kitchen again...that it's important to offer hospitality in my home to those who might be going though homelessness because it means I now have a place to rest my head...and last but not least...that stuff isn't important because simple really is better.

And so three years ago we were given a great gift for the holidays - a life overhaul that challenged us to see light among the darkness and move through our days in a different way...a simpler way...a deeper way...and we've never been the same ;)

I hope you'll join us again tomorrow for Day 4 of our Simple Handmade Holiday series.

In Gratitude,

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Thursday, October 2, 2014

Simple Holiday Touches {Day 2}

Using simple holiday touches that can be easily changed with the season is a no-fuss way of updating your home for the holidays.

As you know I'm a double-duty kinda gal with most things in our home and that includes our holiday decorating. If it's reversible, changeable and multi-purpose it means less stuff. We like to keep the decor neutral so the festive items pop. No more storing tons of plastic boxes and bins that need to be lugged out each year. A little goes a long way.

Notice the photo above. Very neutral with cream pillows and cushions. Simply adding a seasonal throw, a couple of pillows, a pumpkin and sprigs of nature, now the room is prepared for Halloween and Thanksgiving. 

Ready for Christmas? Simply switch out the throw and pillows with something red and green and replace the sprigs with evergreens and hints of berries. 

If the pillows are reversible, it becomes even easier. Katie from Sew Woodsy has a great tutorial using canvas and paint...

Crystal from Stitched by Crystal used fabric and felt to accent her covers...

The great thing about this time of year is that nature gives you most of what you need to decorate. I enjoy pulling elements from outside to embellish simple items. As the season changes, so do the elements. Twigs and greens, leaves and gourds, herbs and berries...bringing the outdoors in instantly warms the home and makes it place of rest.

One perfect example is our berry wreath found on sale for a couple of dollars. On the surface it seems pretty plain and uninteresting, but by adding just a few odds and ends gathered from outside, it becomes something special for fall. At Christmas we replace the grasses and twigs with cedar and pine which means that one little wreath provides a lot of enjoyment for over 4 months. No extra purchases. No extra wreaths to store in those big plastic bins. Less stuff. More enjoyment.

I really love making these wreaths each year because the collection of weeds, grasses, flowers, berries and evergreens is never the same. The walks in the woods to gather the accents has now become a tradition that we look forward to every season.

It's amazing what color and nature can do to change a space. By using simple holiday touches that pull double-duty, you'll be able to easily change out the accents without all the extra work. Keeping it simple allows you to put the focus on what really matters...enjoying your family and friends and embracing the real meaning of your celebrations.

Join us tomorrow for Day 3 of our Having a Simple Handmade Holiday series.

In Gratitude,

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