"In all of living have much fun and laughter. Life is to be enjoyed, not just endured!"
~ Gordon B. Hinckley

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Bruschetta Chicken

As my due date draws ever-nearer (only 2 weeks and 1 day! Crazy!!), I'm getting less and less motivated to spend time planning out meals, and even less excited about spending a lot of time up on my massive, swollen feet preparing something. So when I opened up my cupboard for inspiration (and hopefully something quick!) and saw an easy, delicious-looking recipe for Bruschetta Chicken Grill staring back at me, how could I resist?!

While the original recipe sounds wonderful, I did change a few things to make it fresher (more bruschetta-y instead of marinara-y), adapt to what I had on-hand, and simplify the cooking process. It only took about 20 minutes to prepare everything, and it's an easy recipe to prepare earlier in the day whenever you have time, and just toss in the oven before dinner.

The end result: Mmmmmm :) It even got the husband "We should definitely have this again sometime!" stamp of approval!

I tossed some mozzarella on the chicken before adding the bruschetta topping because it sounded good in my head, but since the bruschetta is served chilled, I actually liked it better without the extra cheese...just in case you're wondering what the white things in the picture that aren't mentioned in the recipe are.

The recipe is also dairy-free! (assuming the Italian bread and butter you use are dairy-free like mine were)

 Original recipe inspiration: Hunt's Bruschetta Grill , found on the back of a can of Hunt's diced tomatoes

My version:

Bruschetta Chicken

- 1 lb. chicken
- 1/2 cup Italian dressing (I used Wishbone)
- 1/4 cup pasta sauce (can also substitute 2 Tbs tomato paste)
- 1 clove minced garlic
- 1/4 cup onion, finely chopped
- 1 1/2 cups fresh tomatoes, finely diced
- 1 tsp dried basil (or 1 Tbs fresh)
- Italian bread
- butter or margarine

- 1/4 cup Italian dressing (note: this is only 1/2 of the Italian dressing needed for the recipe)
- 1/4 cup pasta sauce

Marinate 1 lb. chicken for 30 minutes. Pour chicken and marinade into an oven-safe pan and cook at 400 degrees for 45 minutes, or until done.

- 1 clove minced garlic
- 1/4 cup onion, finely chopped
- 1 1/2 - 2 cups tomatoes, finely diced
- 1/4 cup Italian dressing
- 1 tsp dried basil

Mix together in a bowl and refrigerate until ready to eat.

Once chicken is cooked thoroughly, serve over toasted Italian bread and top with bruschetta.


FYI, the left-overs for this recipe are delicious!! The flavor sets in even more nicely with time :)

Thursday, December 19, 2013

December 30-day Challenge Progress Report

Well, I'm sorry to say I'm really not being as diligent in completing this month's 30-day challenge as I was hoping.

Between Christmas preparations, planning, shopping, baking, and festivities, shopping for a new phone (to replace Trevor's so I can have his since mine doesn't work), shopping for a piano (to be more useable at church, and so I can start teaching and bringing in some income, and because I feel a bit destitute without one), stressing out about money stuff (in addition to diapers, wipes, and all the new baby expenses, our health insurance bills are about to increase by about 600% each month. Thanks obamacare!), trying to get stuff ready for the baby (only 2 1/2 more weeks!!!! Crazy!!!), coping with feeling pregnant and blah every day, and trying to do normal everyday stuff while obeying the dr.'s orders to sit around all day every day with my feet elevated and drink tons of water to try to get my crazy feet and leg swelling under control (they haven't gone back down to their normal size since Thanksgiving, not even on days I kept them elevated for 22 hours. Ugh)...I really just haven't felt like putting any effort into learning about photography!

Just a few weeks ago I was all excited about the thought of spending an hour a day studying with my camera and other resources. Now I mostly just want to lie on the couch in my pj's, turn my brain off, and eat brownies and Christmas goodies out the wazoo...and somehow not ever get full or fat or feel sick. Who did I think I was kidding? Haha oh well.

I haven't been a total failure though :) I just haven't done it every day, and I haven't blogged about any of the things I did yet!

One of my hopes was that I'd be able to go through my photography Pinterest board and clean it out a bit as I checked out the sites and tutorials, so I could turn my board into a more succinct collection of the most useful ones. I haven't done that yet, but I have been doing some reading and learning with this super handy dandy book my sister gave me for my birthday! Nikon D5100 for Dummies. Exactly the book I need :) Easy to understand directions that are specific to my exact camera, in addition to basic photography information! It's organized to be used either for cover-to-cover reading for the clueless, or as a reference to quickly figure out how to do specific things. There are also similar books for tons of different models, and some for DSLR photography in general. Great stuff, and it's not even that expensive! I can't wait to delve deeper! (Some day in the future when I feel like using my brain, instead of right now when it feels like mush haha)

What I've read so far has helped me get a little braver in tinkering with the menus, and not being afraid to change settings a little. 

I've also had a few chances to pull out the camera and get more hands-on chances to practice! True, I mostly played it safe (and lame) and used auto or scene modes instead of being brave and shooting in manual, but hey, practice is practice! And there are always elements of composition, lighting, content, and editing to worry about too (not that I did awesome with any of them, but we won't talk about that :)

Fun things I've done with my camera this month in addition to reading include:
- taking step-by-step pics of making and baking butter cookies for a friend's blog
- taking pictures of chocolate crinkles for a cookie recipe swap blog post
- taking some pictures of a super delicious new dinner recipe I came up with! (update: I finally posted it! Check it out HERE)
- fiddling with the ISO and shutter speed to try to get good pictures outside in the dark
- taking pictures of my husband at his last flag football game of the season!

Are any of them great? Nope! 

Do I spend an hour on it every day like I planned to? Not at all!

Am I having fun and at least getting my camera out every once in a while? Yep!

Success so far? We'll go with yes :)

*Disclosure: this post contains affiliate links

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Easy Fudgy Chocolate Crinkles

It's almost Christmas!! And that means lots and lots of Christmas cookies!!

This year I'm participating in a big holiday cookie recipe swap hosted over at White Lights on Wednesday! All the participants were assigned partners to swap favorite holiday cookie recipes with. This recipe for Fudgy Chocolate Crinkles is from Darci who blogs over at Inventions of the Not-so-Chef. The cookies are absolutely divine, and super duper quick and easy to make!

Chocolate crinkles are one of my favorite kinds of holiday cookies, but the recipes I tried always seemed to turn out too hard and crunchy. This recipe turned out unbelievably soft and fudgy! Confession: I ate at least 7 of these instead of lunch, and even more after dinner. I'm in love :) And the fact that they only take 5 minutes (or less) to mix up, and only require 4 ingredients, makes them even more awesome!

This would be a great recipe to let little kids help with since it's simple, and needs to be hand-mixed. It's also perfect for when you need to bring treats to a party and only have a few minutes to throw something together, but still want it to taste gourmet (or just don't feel like spending hours in the kitchen).

Another great thing about this recipe is that it doesn't have any dairy! So those of you who are lactose intolerant like me can eat to your heart's delight without all the unpleasant after-effects of lactose-laden goodies!

My husband and I (ok, it was mostly me) devoured over half of the cookies in just a few hours, so I'm thinking of making another batch on Saturday :) I'm kind of tempted to try adding some mini chocolate chips, or putting a caramel in the middle for fun, but my husband things I should just make them again exactly as the recipe says so he can continue to bask in their un-adulterated goodness. He's probably right :)

So, without further ado, here's the recipe I've been raving about!

Easy Fudgy Chocolate Crinkles

Source: Food.com via Darci

- 1 Devil's Food cake mix (I used Betty Crocker) 
- 2 large eggs
- 1/2 cup oil
- powdered sugar for rolling (about 1 cup)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine cake mix, eggs, and oil in a large bowl. Stir by hand (not with an electric mixer) until thoroughly mixed together, but do not over-beat or they won't be as soft and fudgy.

Roll into 1 inch balls, roll in powdered sugar, and place on an un-greased cookie sheet. Bake for 8-10 minutes, or until just beginning to set. Let cool on the cookie sheet for 5 minutes before removing.

Note: the oil in the dough will absorb the powdered sugar, so coat the dough balls generously to get that pretty white cracked exterior. Also, when baking, err on the side of slightly-underbaked for the fudgiest results. The cookies will continue to bake slightly after removing the pan from the oven.


And be sure to check out the wonderful host blogs (WhiteLightsonWednesday.com, ILoveMyDisorganizedLife.com, RealHousemoms.com), and of course check out the rest of the recipes from the swap!!

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Some Christmas Cheer from my New Friend, Amazon

It's the most wonderful time of the year! But there's so much to do it's hard to enjoy it with all the stress of shopping, Christmas lists, budgeting, (and in my case, having my first baby!), and everything else!

Fortunately, I have a little help keeping the season merry and bright from one of my new best friends, Amazon.com  :)

Here's a nice little compilation of 5 ways Amazon has helped bring me some Christmas cheer by making my life a bit easier this holiday season!

1) Free 2-day shipping through free Amazon Moms or Amazon Prime trial

I signed up for a free no-commitment 90-day trial of Amazon Moms (it's like Amazon Prime, but with extra perks! Look a few paragraphs down for details), so I get free 2-day shipping! Since all of my Christmas shopping needs to be mailed out-of-state, free shipping is saving me a ton of money! And the 2-day delivery promise helps take a load of stress off with Christmas drawing ever nearer! If you have a lot of mailing to do, or some heavy presents to be shipped, I definitely recommend at least considering taking advantage of this free trial for the Holidays!

The trial is no-commitment, so if you just want free shipping, go for it and then cancel after the holidays! It's hard to beat free, free, free!

If you want to sign up for the free trial, or just learn more, the link for the free trial is HERE.

So what is Amazon Moms anyway? It's a program that gets you all the perks of Amazon Prime (unlimited movie and TV streaming, books to borrow on your kindle every month), up to 20% off diapers, wipes, and other baby products, as well as free 2-day shipping, additional discounts on household items, an option to have diapers and wipes set up to automatically ship to your house on a regular schedule (you can choose if you want every month, every other month, every 3 months, etc), and some exclusive deals specifically for moms!

At the end of the 90-day trial I have the option to cancel, or to pay $79 for a year subscription (about $6.70/mo) to Amazon Prime + Amazon Moms. I was originally planning on just cancelling to keep things free...but now I might be hooked :)

2) Free $5 gift card!

 Right now Amazon is offering a free $5 gift card! All you have to do is click the link HERE and create a wishlist on Amazon. It can even be just 1 item. Then you type in something you're wishing for (world peace, a life-time supply of chocolate...), make sure to un-check the box for promotional emails if you don't want to get them, share it on facebook, and you've got yourself a $5 gift card!! The only "catch" is that it has to be used on a purchase of $35 or more, so if you don't plan on buying anything that costs that much, it won't do you much good. It just takes 1 minute or less though, so it can't really hurt! I used my $5 off this morning, so I know it works :)

Extra little bonus: if you decide to go all out with your wishlist instead of just adding 1 easy item to get the giftcard, your friends and family will have links to the exact things you'd like for Christmas!

3) Free Holiday Music Downloads!

That's right, Amazon is doing 25 days of free holiday music downloads to help you get into the holiday spirit! The link to the free daily downloads is HERE. Check it out! There are 5 new ones each day to download, so you can expand your Holiday music collection for free daily, and hopefully find some new music and new artists that you love!

4) Major Price Markdowns for Cyberweek!

As you probably know, this week is Cyberweek, which means you can find tons of especially great deals for pretty much everything under the sun on Amazon.com for the next 3 days! Combine that with the free 2-day shipping from the free trial, and get your Christmas shopping done this week for just a fraction of the full cost, without even leaving the house! I've seen stuff marked down as much as 75%, and of course they have customer reviews to help you make an informed decision if you're worried that the low price indicates a poorly-selling or poorly-made product. There are daily deals, gold box deals, deals that are good through the end of the week, good coupons, and lightning deals. Check them all out HERE! I've been able to find some good gifts, as well as some things I want for myself :)

5) Free Amazon Gift Cards through Swagbucks

Ok so this technically isn't as much Amazon as it is Swagbucks, but it's still a great way to save a bunch of money off your Christmas shopping by doing it through Amazon! I'm not going to go into all the details of Swagbucks right now for the sake of being a bit more concise (maybe in a future post), but basically it's a site where you earn money for surveys, playing games, taking polls, using their search engine, printing out coupons for groceries through them, and you even get a percentage of cash back for shopping online at several major retailers - including Amazon! You are not asked to give any credit card information (yay!), and you cash in your Swagbucks in the form of gift cards to pretty much anywhere you want! Target, Amazon, Walmart/Sam's, iTunes, countless restaurants, PayPal, Groupon, vacation getaways, charity donations, and pretty much anything else you can think of.

The cool thing about Amazon is that their $5 gift cards only cost $4.50 worth of Swagbucks, so if you get a bunch of $5 gift cards and can cover your entire purchase, that's like 10% off your item! Not to mention you got the gift cards for free in the first place!! There are a bunch of easy bonus Swagbucks to earn when you're first setting up your account, so it's not unrealistic to have earned at least a $5 within your first week for not too much effort.

I've been using Swagbucks on and off for the past 5 months, and I've easily earned nearly $80. It accumulates slowly, but if you spend even just a little bit of time on their site every few days, it really adds up! Especially if you shop online or make travel or hotel reservations! It's not for everyone, but it has served me well!

If you're interested in signing up, or just learning a bit more, it's linked HERE.

Hopefully at least one of these things will help you make it through the Holiday season a bit easier! I know they've all helped put my mind at ease :) Good luck!

*Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

30-Day Challenge for December

It's a new month! Time for a new 30-day challenge! This is one I've been meaning to do since forever, and I'm really excited for it!

A long time ago, me and Trevor decided it was time to get a "real" camera! We did a lot of online researching different brands and models, checked out a lot of customer reviews and reviews from tons of websites, talked to several different camera stores and some friends who are photographers or know photographers, and spent quite a bit of time comparing features and prices...and in the end we chose to get a Nikon D5100! We did a lot of price-hunting too and were super lucky and even found a crazy good deal on one that had been refurbished by Nikon (so it was like-new and passed the same inspection as all their new ones do before leaving the manufacturer, and it came with a warranty that even covered water damage!).

I LOVE my camera! But in all honesty, my excitement to start learning how to take better pictures was quickly squelched by apprehension as I realized there are waaaaaaaay more bells and whistles on my beautiful machine than I know what to do with. Trying to learn the concepts of photography while trying to figure out what the heck to do with my camera (not to mention how to edit images, or format my card and a million other things) was just a bit too overwhelming, and I've been putting it off, and putting it off, and putting it off...and now it's been over a year and a half since I bought my camera, and I still don't know how to use it or how to take good pictures! I believe the proper word to describe this would be something between "ridiculous" and "pathetic".

My initial interest in photography was mostly along the lines of pursuing a new art form - playing with light and composition etc. Now I'm just a little over a month away from having my first baby, and I want to be able to document our new life with her! So I have some extra motivation in addition to my need to get out of this ridiculous/pathetic rut of having a great camera that I'm afraid of because I think is beyond me, and missing out on gaining a good skill because I'm intimidated by new information.

SO, for this month's challenge I am going to spend 1 hour every single day on learning something that will help me be a better photographer. (And by "photographer", I really mean "a girl with a camera who is less clueless than she was 30 days ago") There are such pretty, happy, wonderful things to take pictures of around Christmas!!

Things that qualify for my hour of camera time include: spending time composing and shooting, reading up on how to use my camera, getting familiar with different settings on my camera, learning about editing, practicing with my editing software, learning a new camera tip from a tutorial, and watching or reading tutorials on anything photography-related really. There's quite a bit of lee-way here. Basically the idea is to spend a little time every day, so it's not such a big scary thing when I decide I want to bust out the camera!

I have some good material to get me started, but please please please feel free to send me any tips of your own, or any links to tutorials, blogs, websites, classes, books, youtube channels, or any other sources that you think might be helpful! I would LOVE your help and input as I learn!

I'll try to keep up with posting links to sources I find particularly helpful for anyone else who is beginning photography too, or who wants to brush up on things. Several of my friends have posted on facebook about wanting to buy their first entry-level SLR and start learning, so I'm sure several of us are in a similar boat :)

Happy December! And happy shooting!