Refrigerator Oats: What Does Summer Taste Like?

“Morning is an important time of day, because how you spend your morning can often tell you what kind of day you are going to have.” 
―Lemony Snicket 

WHAT DOES SUMMER TASTE LIKE?

As a writing teacher, I ask my students to think concretely about the abstract. In the first week of June, as the promise of vacation slides into our backpacks, I ask my students to describe summer. Their foreheads crinkle, review-packet- glazed-eyes squint, and the consensus becomes one simple word: F R E E D O M.

By the end of the school year I feel it too. Yet, “What does freedom taste like?” I press.“What does it sound like?” “What does it smell like?” “What does it look and feel like?” How can we make summer tangible in our minds and in our writing?

Ask my family what the freedom of summer feels like and my step kids will say a sticky river of watermelon juice flooding down their face. Or a cup of strawberry lemonade abandoned on the pool deck, now warm and syrupy, complete with a hovering dragon fly.

Avalon will say that freedom tastes like peanut butter cup S’mores – the marshmallow roasted to a golden brown on the fire pit in our backyard. Lukas will lick his lips and say it tastes like tuna steak, grilled to medium rare perfection by Dad, and a lemon sauce made with the dill he planted.

Summer looks like imagination as eight-year- old Lukas and I crouch down behind a stand of maple trees and slink around our pasture trying to out-sneak the alien queen. “Shhhhhhhhh,” Luke whispers,” she cannot see us with our cloaking devices, but she can hear us and she can smell us…”

Summer looks like an air mattress thrown next to the pond, so Avalon and I can memorize a swath of black velvet sky and wish on shooting stars until the grass grows damp and we fall asleep, John later rousing us to go inside.

It is a thick stack of books from the Peter White Library and a tent pitched by two industrious kids in our apple orchard to serve as a reading nook. It is flipping through each book at the end of the day to make sure a snake does not find its way into the house again as a stowaway. It is our lazy Golden Retrievers Ollie and Gracie lounging in a puddle of yellow sun, a whippoorwill’s mysterious call on the Whitefish River, and early mornings at McCarty’s Cove as we comb the icy, lace edged waves for beach glass.

July sounds like Shakespeare our rooster crowing under our bedroom window at 5:00 am as the decision arrives to either sleep in, or rise early (and indulge in an afternoon nap). It is a brown egg, still warm, in the palm of your hand as it plinks into the galvanized bucket to the soothing warble of a plump red hen. It’s the earthy smell of pine shavings in a freshly shoveled coop, the spicy aroma of star gazer lilies, and a humid thicket of sky that aches chartreuse and then bruised plum after an urgent rain storm.

It is a tear escaping your eye when you see veterans marching in the parade, goose bumps when you hear sirens of those who protect and serve, and it is gathering up camping chairs and beach blankets (sometimes for warmth) to watch fireworks sparkle and pulsate across the backdrop of the Ore Dock at the Lower Harbor, over Teal Lake, or in Trenary.

Can you tell that I am a summer girl? Summer takes my breath away and makes me feel that we are part of something magical. Yet, we all know how fleeting our summers are in Upper Michigan. Even when I find myself watering the garden, or packing for a family road trip to Muskegon to visit my in laws, I find that I am always pondering the upcoming school year and planning ahead. What worked last year and what will I repeat? What new resources do I have to gather? How can I more efficiently balance my schedule of work and family? How can I stay healthy and keep up with my classroom full of challenging teenagers?

Last year one of my secret weapons for keeping my energy levels up and being prepared for work was making sure that I had my breakfast planned the night before. We have been told forever that breakfast is the most important meal, yet many people will confess to grabbing heavily processed convenience foods or skipping the meal all together. That is why overnight oats was a game changer for both my husband and I. Since I can prepare the oatmeal days in advance, our mornings are reserved for coffee, taking care of farm chores, getting the kids up, a quick kiss, and hustling out the door to work.

The basic recipe that I am going to share is consumed cold (think yogurt and fruit parfait). I know it sounds strange to not cook the oatmeal, but it softens and takes on a pleasing texture in the refrigerator. If you would rather have a hot breakfast, you can find recipes for warm versions online, or you can omit the yogurt and heat in the microwave. I use wide-mouthed one pint mason jars and prepare them up four or five days in advance. The glass jars keep the ingredients fresh, are easy to wash, I always have them on hand, and make the oatmeal visually appealing. I like to make a couple extra because my step daughter Avalon likes to take the oatmeal to school as a filling and healthy breakfast, lunch, or snack option. They are so easy to prepare that if I did not prep on Sunday, I can throw them together each night when I take care of the dinner dishes.

BASIC OVERNIGHT OATS

*1/3 cup of old fashioned oats (quick cooking oats don’t hold up as well)
*1/3 cup of milk (you can substitute almond, coconut, or any non-dairy milk)
*1/3 cup of Greek yogurt (Greek yogurt often has more protein)
*1 teaspoon of chia seeds (or more)

Add the above ingredients into the jar and stir well. Top with sliced fruit and/or berries (fresh or frozen), nuts, or any other toppings that you want to add.

The oatmeal provides you with filling fiber and packs a punch in helping your body fight cholesterol. The chia seeds and nuts give you Omeg-3 and fatty acids, the yogurt gives you a protein boost, and the fruit provides essential vitamins and minerals. How perfect is that?

When I prepare our refrigerator oatmeal, I often choose ingredients from what we have in the house. My family enjoys the Greek Gods flavored yogurts and I often buy fat free versions for myself. While I normally buy flavored yogurt, sometimes I will buy plain and stir in flavorings.

They are so easy to throw together that you customize them to fit each family member. You can make them healthy, or indulgent, and they are easy to grab and go for work, school, gym, or the beach.

Some of our favorite flavor combinations are:

RED WHITE & BLUE
*Strawberries
*Blueberries
*Caramelized pecans

CHOCOLATE COVERED BANANA
*Peanut butter
*Banana
*Almonds
*1/2 vanilla yogurt and ½ chocolate yogurt

ISLAND OATMEAL
*Mango
*Pineapple
*Coconut
*Macadamia nuts

ZESTY BLUEBERRY
*Blueberries
*Cinnamon
*Lemon zest and juice added to the yogurt
*Almonds

APPLE ORCHARD
*Diced Granny Smith Apples
*Maple syrup
*Brown Sugar
*Cinnamon
*Raisins
*Walnuts

CHERRY JUBILEE
*Cherries (Fresh in the summer and frozen dark sweet cherries in the winter)
*Couple dashes of almond extract mixed into the oatmeal
*Pistachios and cashews

Other ingredient options:

*apple sauce (put those Michigan apples to great use and make homemade apple sauce this fall.)
*protein powder
*flaxseed
*cocoa powder (great with orange segments and zest)
*pumpkin puree
*dried fruit
*Granola
*crushed graham crackers
*chocolate chips (great way to get the kids to eat healthier. You only have to top the oatmeal with a few chips)
*Granulated coffee or a bit of espresso for a mocha flavored oatmeal

What is your breakfast routine? If you are currently depriving your body of nutrition in the
morning, or simply need to change things up, these overnight oats are for you. Make sure to stop by my Facebook page  to let me know what you think and please share your favorite refrigerator oatmeal flavor combinations.

What does summer look like, taste like, sound like, and feel like for your family? Savor July because before we know it – we will be enjoying glorious Upper Michigan snow! Until then, you can find me weeding the hoop house, chasing aliens, or lounging in the pool and working on my teacher tan (as my husband John affectionately calls it). Memorize the feeling of July and enjoy the freedom we have to live in such a charming, wild, and beautiful place.


 

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Setting Healthy Goals

Blue skies
“April is the cruelest month, breeding
lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
memory and desire, stirring
dull roots with spring rain.”

― T.S. Eliot, The Waste Land

It is far from lilac season in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. This fact is reinforced by the presence of our second snow day of the week today. Monday our spring break was extended with a day off and this morning the snow is billowing from the sky which granted us another snow day. A few weeks ago we were graced with mild temperatures and I was thrilled to see that the tulips and daffodils that I planted last fall, and the tiger lilies that I planted last summer, were beginning to emerge. Now they are covered with a thick blanket of snow. I keep telling myself that this will make their eventual blossoms all the sweeter.

Our sweet golden retriever Gracie does not let anything get her down. Look at that smile!

Our sweet golden retriever Gracie does not let anything get her down. Look at that smile!

Ollie, like his sister Gracie, also loves the snow.

Ollie, like his sister Gracie, also loves the snow.

I am thankful for our cozy log home.

I am thankful for our cozy log home.

 

Last week John and I took the kids to Lower Michigan and spent a night at Soaring Eagle Waterpark in Mount Pleasant. Needless to say, fun was had by all and we cannot wait to go back! The weather did not cooperate on our drive home, but thankfully the Mackinac Bridge was open and my husband who is an expert driver – got us home safe and sound.

Avalon and Lukas had a blast at the water park and they can't wait to go back.

Avalon and Lukas had a blast at the water park and they can’t wait to go back.

Lukas and Avalon with Granny Barb, Don, and Maddy.

Lukas and Avalon with Granny Barb, Don, and Maddy.

The Mighty Mac.

The Mighty Mac.

We enjoyed our time downstate visiting with family and friends and while we were sad to leave, it always feels great to arrive home and be greeted by our pets. We have added a couple cuties to our farm. Finally, after a year of convincing, John agreed to get a couple of ducks. Avalon and I each named one. I chose Daphne and she named one Mo. I cannot believe how fast they have grown. This means that John will be adding a pond to his long Honey-Do list this summer.
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In addition to the excitement of spring break, John surprised me with a new camera. I have wanted one for YEARS and I had my first opportunity to snap a few photos at  the Pigs-N-Heat Fire Relief hockey game that John plays in each year. I am proud that my husband participates in an event that helps so many families in our community.

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Thank you, John!

Thank you, John!

Words cannot express how thankful that I am for my camera. My lifestyle has changed drastically in the last year. As I adjust to my new role of step mom, pursue an Education Specialist degree at Northern Michigan University, and continue my career as a high school teacher – along the way I have not made time for myself. The camera is one of John’s gentle reminders that I need to make myself a priority so I do not get burnt out. Photography is one of my passions and I cannot wait to record the world and share the images with my readers.

Along with taking photos I will continue to try to encourage my family, and my online family, to make healthy choices when it comes to food. While my step kids are fans of processed food and do not share my love of fresh fruit and vegetables, I have learned to take baby steps in encouraging them to eat healthier. One of the breakfasts that I made for them over spring break I call Strawberry Cheesecake Parfaits.  🍓🍧🍓 I use The Greek Gods Honey Vanilla yogurt, strawberries, crumbled graham cracker, and a drizzle of chocolate sauce. To some people this may not be a healthy breakfast and I agree that it is more of a dessert. But getting my step kids to eat any fresh produce is a victory! 😉 For those that are watching their waistlines, the yogurt is indulgent and a little goes a long way – therefore, you can health-it-up and pile on the berries.

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imageAs I have shared in my last couple posts, my healthy goals have taken a backseat to a hectic lifestyle. Therefore, I am starting small with re-establishing my healthy routines. For the month of April I am committing to a minimum of fifty ounces of water a day, thirty minutes of activity, increasing my vegetable intake, and limiting my consumption of bread, pizza (homemade pizza is one of our family favorites), and chips (tortilla chips are my biggest weakness). Like in the past, I hope that being successful with these goals will help them snowball into bigger goals. When summer comes we have a lot of plans and I want to have the energy to tackle all of our projects.

April Healthy GoalsI am a goal person and I find that when I set achievable goals for myself that I am unstoppable. When I attach a reward to my goals – I find success even more eminent. However, for now I am just going to embrace my goals and will set a reward for my May and June goals. I challenge you to set and share your goals here or on my Facebook page. Studies show that when we write out our goals, post them in a prominent place, and share our goals with others we are more apt to achieve them. I hope that you are enjoying your spring and I promise to give an update soon. As warmer weather approaches I look forward to gardening and sharing more of my fresh recipes with you.

 

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Sometimes I have to pinch myself to remind myself that I am not dreaming. What a gift it is to live in such a wildly, beautiful place.

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Our property is a dogs’ paradise. Is it any wonder why we have four dogs?

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Ollie has such a sweet and loving personality. Look at how gentle he treats the ducklings.

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It is the best feeling to be greeted by a wagging tail and the boundless love of a golden retriever.

Luke’s Kiwisaurus Green Smoothie

Luke's Kiwisaurus Green Smoothie by Produce with Amy“Talking about abstract things is important. Having big, wild conversations about concepts like art, music, time travel, and dreams makes it much easier when you’ll eventually need to talk about things like anger, sadness, pain, and love.”
―Tom Burns

Trixie and LukasIn my past two posts I introduced you to my step-daughter Avalon and today I am introducing you to my step-son, Lukas. Luke is six and he is an extremely entertaining and intelligent little boy. He has his father’s witty personality and knack for storytelling. Every morning when I wake him up for school Lukas shares with me the dream he had the night before and it usually involves a dinosaur in some shape or form. Lukas loves to play with Legos and he is a natural artist. One of the first gifts that I gave the kids was a box filled with paper and art supplies and Luke has spent hours creating masterpieces. Without fail, Luke has the capacity to make me smile even when I am feeling sad or grumpy. It is a pleasure and honor to be able to share his sunshine with you.

Last weekend was quality Lukas and Aimster time (Aimster being Lukas’ latest term of endearment for me). Avalon had a friend over for an overnight on Friday and spent the night at her friend’s on Saturday and I figured it was the perfect time for Luke and I to spend some one-on-one time. On Friday we cuddled with our new kitty Trixie while we giggled, laughed, and Lukas told me silly stories.
Luke and Trixie

My friend Kay shared a photo from UPAWS on Facebook of a sweet little tortie named Suzy Q. I fell in love with her and the next day my husband John adopted her for us. We named her Trixie (my favorite books as a little girl were the Trixie Belden series).

My friend Kay shared a photo from UPAWS of a sweet little tortie named Suzy Q. I fell in love with her sweet face and unusual markings and the next day my husband John adopted her for us. We named her Trixie (my favorite books as a little girl were the Trixie Belden series). Trixie has quite a fiesty personality and we all love her so much.

Several weeks ago Lukas decided that he wanted his own smoothie blog post (especially since I posted two of Avalon’s recipes). “I want to be famous too,” he told me.  While I explain to him that I am far from famous, Avalon and Lukas are always in awe of how many people I know when we go shopping or dine at a local restaurant. I have explained to them that when you are teacher you make many lasting friendships with many of your students and parents. Aside from being a teacher, I have held quite a few jobs in the area that involved working with the public and on occasion I do run into someone who knows me from my blog. Avalon, Lukas, and I talk a lot about being friendly and about how being a kind person can speak volumes about you to others. We also talk about the importance of attendance (both to school and work) and how you should not just show up but that working hard is important too.IMG_5705

I have told both Avalon and Lukas a story that one of my former students, Tori Lauren, shared during a 10th grade final exam. My students were instructed to write and present a This I Believe essay and Tori wrote about how her parents taught her from an early age that every person or opportunity could be a potential job interview. While going into the grocery store in her hometown her parents would remind her behave because, “she may want to seek employment there one day”. I will never forget Tori’s eloquent essay and the wisdom passed on from her parents. Whether this insight is literal or metaphorical, as human beings I do not think that we should overlook our networking potential and the first impressions that we make (regardless of our age). Tori and her siblings are hardworking 4-H kids and some of the best students that I have had in my teaching career. Now I am passing her wisdom on to my stepchildren. How cool is that? While many people profess that teachers make a difference — I firmly believe that students make a difference too! My students help shape my lessons and my teaching practice and I am thankful to be a life-long-learner.

IMG_5671While I do try to be a guide for my step children in teaching them valuable life lessons, sometimes we just like to act silly. We love to cuddle up and watch television together (an adjustment for me since I have never been much of a tv watcher – and the Disney channel is a completely new experience for me). Sometimes we read together when I tuck them in at night and I always love the Lukasisms that result in our time together. Some of my personal favorites are as follows:

Lukas: “Amy, when you were a carnivore did you like to eat Spinosaurus?” (I suppose forty-four years old to a six year old does sound ancient. 😉 )

When we were at Red Lobster:
Amy: “Lukas are you going to eat your shrimp too?”
Lukas: “Amy, I like mystery. When I twirl my pasta I like to be surprised if I get a shrimp!”

When he helped me gather eggs from the chicken coop and clean them and put them in the refrigerator:
Lukas: “You know what, Aimster? I was built for this!”
Amy: “Built for what, Buddy? Farm chores?”
Lukas: “Yes, I should probably go mow the lawn now.”

Last week while waiting to hop on the school bus:
Lukas: “Kiss me now! My kisses are magic.”
Amy: “Okay, Luke. You are too cute!” *smooch*
Lukas: “Aimster, I love your fluffy hair!” *my heart melts*
It’s true, he does. He loves to snuggle up to me and he loves to nestle his face into my hair. He tells me that I smell like ice cream. Considering how much this little boy loves ice cream, I take that as a giant compliment.

Speaking of ice cream and sweets, as a new step-mom with a bit of a healthy food I try to keep a bowl of fruit in the house at all times. obsession, I am still trying to find balance between what my kids want to eat and what I think that they should eat. John and the kids love their sweets and I am always trying to find ways to health up their meals. As I have shared in my last two posts, they are wild about Greek Gods Yogurt and I always try to keep fruit in the house. Lukas LOVES cantaloupe and we go through a couple of bunches of bananas a week. This fall Avalon has been enjoying pears and Lukas will devour grapes. I do still buy ice cream and we often have cake and cookies in the house — but John and I also try to find balance and encourage the kids to try different fruit and vegetables.
Greek Gods Strawberry Honey Yogurt

For the smoothie that we are sharing today, Lukas was passionate about including kiwi. He also thought it should have bananas and strawberries. We decided to add a bit of yogurt to the mix and he agreed to even add some spinach. (Adding greens is a huge step – last year at this time he would not have even considered drinking a smoothie – not to mention adding spinach to it).
Ready to blend

If you have never had spinach in smoothies before – you have to try it. Spinach is naturally sweet and you (and your kids) will not even know it is in there. My best friend Heather had her daughter Mackenzie convinced for almost a year that the smoothies she made for her were green because of the kiwi she put in them. One day Mackenzie saw one of my posts on Facebook and said to Heather, “Mom, Amy puts spinach in her smoothies?” 😉

The following is how I made Luke’s smoothie. John and Lukas both thought it was too tart for them. Therefore, if I made it again for them I would add extra banana or raw honey (or even fruit juice) to sweeten it a bit. Lukas drank about half of his – which I consider a huge victory since it contained a lot of fruit and greens. Baby steps!

Lukas making his smoothie!

I bought Lukas two Jurassic Park vehicles this weekend for being such a good boy when he went shopping with me. He wanted them to part of his blog post.

I bought Lukas two Jurassic Park vehicles this weekend for being such a good boy when he went shopping with me. He wanted them to part of his blog post.

LUKE’S KIWISAURUS GREEN SMOOTHIE

*2 medium frozen bananas
*3 peeled kiwi
*1/2 cup of frozen strawberries
*1 cup of Greek Gods Honey Strawberry Yogurt
*2 cups of spinach
*1 cup of water or fruit juice (more or less depending how thick you want your Fresh mint from our herb garden.smoothie…I made Luke’s with water)
*Optional – sprig of fresh mint. (Even though it’s November I was surprised to find mint still growing in our herb garden. It has been a very mild fall in Upper Michigan)
*Top with whipped cream (This was a MUST HAVE for Luke’s smoothie)

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This recipe made two green smoothies

It fills me with joy to know that I am able to positively influence my step kids and encourage them to eat more fruit and vegetables. They both had a spectacular first marking period in school and we are working hard to make sure that the rest of school year is the same.

Avalon's 4th grade school picture.

Avalon’s 4th grade school picture.

Lukas' 1st grade school picture.

Lukas’ 1st grade school picture.

I bought Lukas and Avalon rewards for their success in school this year. Avalon chose a journal and we picked out an art book for Lukas.

I bought Lukas and Avalon rewards for their success in school this year. Avalon chose a journal and we picked out an art book for Lukas.

Luke’s teachers all comment on what a kind and thoughtful little boy he is and that he has a heart of gold. We received an email from his teacher that he was observed giving his snack that we packed him to a new boy in their class because he didn’t have one. John, who is a police officer, always tries to teach the kids to be kind to others. Obviously, his lessons do not go unnoticed and we could not be prouder.

As you can see, Luke's green smoothie is dinosaur approved!

As you can see, Luke’s green smoothie is dinosaur approved!

Make sure you check out my smoothie tab for other smoothie recipes. As well as Avalon’s Kid Friendly Recipes.  Right now is the perfect time to gear up for my December Green Smoothie Challenge with 31 days of printable recipes and shopping lists.

I hope that you are having a wonderful autumn and stay tuned because my next post will be a new Mason jar salad recipe. It is John’s favorite salad and I have been meaning to share it for months. Thank you for reading and I would love to hear about some of your favorite kid friendly healthy recipes. As a new mom, I am finding that truly does take a village. Lukas was happy to share his smoothie recipe with you – we hope that you enjoy it!
Luke

Trixie and her rescuer, John. He might not always admit it, but he's a softie. John will probably be Trixie's favorite. She will remember who saved her. So will I.

Trixie and her rescuer, John. He might not always admit it, but he’s a softie. John will probably be Trixie’s favorite. She will remember who saved her. So will I. ❤

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Luke's Kiwisaurus Smoothie

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Avalon’s Farm Fresh Crepes with Hazelnut Filling, Caramelized Pecans, and Berry Yogurt Sauce

Crepes with Chocolate Hazelnut Filling, Caramelized Pecans, and Berry Yogurt Sauce by Produce with Amy“Eating habits are learned behaviors; they’re not intuitive. So what your children learn to eat at home early in life sticks with them well into adulthood.”
-Ann Cooper and Lisa M. Holmes
The trees in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan have taken on an ethereal glow and the school year has kicked into gear. It was Homecoming last week, at the district in which I teach, and my step kids Avalon and Lukas dressed up each day for Spirit Week. They were excited that their Grandpa Waldo came to visit and we went to the football game. Since I am the co-adviser for the junior class, John and I chaperoned the Homecoming dance. While I thoroughly enjoyed my summer holiday, it feels great to be back to my work routine. I have an incredible group of 9th and 8th grade students this year and I am also working on an Education Specialist degree at Northern Michigan University (the program is a precursor to a Doctorate in Education – EdD). I am fortunate that my life is rich with opportunities and my heart is full of love and thankfulness.

The most precious gold

Some people drive miles to take a color tour and we just have to venture into the many acres that make  up our backyard.

I took Avalon and Lukas to Target for new shirts for Homecoming. The theme for the day was "Represent Your Favorite Sport" and they decided to support the Detroit Lions.

I took Avalon and Lukas to Target for new shirts for Homecoming. The theme for the day was “Represent Your Favorite Sport” and they decided to support the Detroit Lions.

The kids have made a remarkable transition to a new school. They both adore their teachers, are thriving with an early bedtime (8-8:30), have made new friends, and are progressing well in their studies. Avalon was excited about having her first locker – and I confess that I may have gone a little overboard on buying her locker swag – but it was worth it to see how excited she was. I know that my mom would have done this for me when I was a little girl too – if they would have had cool locker accessories back then. 😉

I think Avalon squealed all the way home after I bought her locker decorations!

I think Avalon squealed all the way home after I bought her locker decorations!

Check out the size of Avalon's locker!

Check out the size of Avalon’s locker!

We love to make apple crisp for brunch with apples from our orchard.

We love to make apple crisp for brunch with apples from our orchard.

John and I work hard to create structure and we focus on quality family time. We try to prepare homemade meals (with many ingredients that we raise ourselves on our hobby farm) and we eat around the table as a family. This time is precious in the stories and laughs we share and in the values and manners we are trying to instill in Avalon and Lukas. Avalon often goes grocery shopping with me and enjoys the time we share in the kitchen. As a parent I feel it is my responsibility to teach her how to take care of herself, inside and out, and as Lukas gets older I hope he takes interest in learning his way around the kitchen as well.

John and I have made several batches of homemade apple sauce this fall. We had an abundance of apples this year.

John and I have made several batches of homemade apple sauce this fall. We had an abundance of apples this year.

After attending the elementary school Open House, Avalon decided that she wants to earn a perfect attendance award. Therefore, I have been talking to the kids about staying healthy during the cold and flu season. Since we live in Michigan, winters are fierce and I believe in fortifying one’s immune system with whole foods, plenty of fruit and vegetables, and water. I admit that getting my family on board with healthy food has been a bit of a struggle but we have had many conversations about the difference between a snack (small portion of a healthy food) and a treat (sweets/dessert). I think that the key is balance and moderation – both of which I am working on encouraging in the coming months.

Avalon relaxing on our front porch in the beautiful dress that her Granny Barb made for her.

Avalon relaxing on our front porch in the beautiful dress that her Granny Barb made for her.

It was a victory last week when Avalon requested raw veggies for her school snack. Granted, it may have been short lived – and the vegetables may have found their way into my lunch bag – but I believe firmly that baby steps build up to big things.

Lukas and Avalon finally surrendered to the green smoothie and LOVE them.

Lukas and Avalon finally surrendered to the green smoothie and they LOVE them.

The kids were with us all but three weeks this summer and we tried to take full advantage of the beautiful weather by swimming and playing outside. We dined al fresco as much as possible and I tried to make breakfasts special. Since we have free range hens, farm fresh fresh eggs are never in short supply so we often add them to our plates. (We also pay Avalon’s incredible math tutor LeeLa Heinzel with fresh eggs…how lucky we are to have her brilliant help.)

Our sweet old dog, Ollie decided a dip in the pool would be refreshing.

Our sweet old dog, Ollie decided a dip in the pool would be refreshing.

The best of summer: lazy dogs and sheets on the line.

The best of summer: lazy dogs and sheets on the line.

Avalon and I talk about places we would love to travel. While adventures in Italy and Greece are at the top of my list, Avalon often dreams about France. She read a book this spring about a little girl who travels to France and the beautiful, romantic description went straight to her heart. Therefore, I thought that crepes would be the perfect dish for Avalon to create and help her explore her culinary skills – and I was correct. The final product was marvelous and fit for a princess (and prince).

Crepes by Produce with Amy

Avalon wanted to include her pretty tea set into this post. John bought it for her when he was working in Texas for the Air Force. What a precious keepsake for her to cherish.

Here is how we created this marvelous dish:

Our free-range eggs from our sweet little hens.

Our free-range eggs from our sweet little hens.

CREPES:

We used the Basic Crepes Recipe by Martha Stewart. We had 2% milk, so we substituted that for the whole milk and added a teaspoon of vanilla extract.

We processed the batter in our Vitamix blender and made sure to let it rest in the refrigerator (we let ours sit for approximately 1/2 an hour and not the two hours that the recipe suggests).

Nutella is one of Avalon's favorite spreads.

Nutella is one of Avalon’s favorite spreads.

In spite of how thin the crepes are, they are surprisingly easy to handle and we were able to spread them with nutella and roll them up.

Add a couple of teaspoons of the yogurt sauce over the top of the crepes, dollops of whipped cream, and a few caramelized pecans. Serve with sliced fruit on the side.

 

 

 

 

I think that John and the kids can eat their weight in strawberries.

I think that John and the kids can eat their weight in strawberries.

FILLING:
*Nutella hazelnut spread (a teaspoon – or more – per crepe)IMG_3898

TOPPING:
*Fold 1/2 cup fresh sliced strawberries into 1 cup of Honey Vanilla Greek Gods Yogurt (If you eat yogurt you HAVE to try the Greek Gods brands. My family chooses it over ice cream. Lukas and Avalon LOVE the black cherry flavor)
*After adding the yogurt berry sauce garnish with a couple dollops of whipped cream
*Sprinkle on a handful of caramelized pecans 

CARAMELIZED PECANS
*1 Tablespoon of butter

*1 Tablespoon of brown sugar 
–per 1/2 Cup of pecans–
*Cinnamon
*Nutmeg

Melt butter and add sugar along with a sprinkle of nutmeg and cinnamon (depending on how many pecans you are using. I usually make a large batch of pecans (4-5 cups) so I add a couple teaspoons of cinnamon and 1/2 teaspoon of nutmeg). Cook on medium heat, stirring constantly, for 3 minutes. Remove from heat. Add the pecans and stir to coat.

Spread the pecans out on a tinfoil lined cookie sheet and bake for 7-10 minutes in a 350 degree oven. Remove and cool. The nuts are indulgent and delicious and a few go a long way.

Caramelized pecans are a favorite of Avalon and John. I make huge batches of them and have a difficult time keeping them in the house.

Caramelized pecans are a favorite of Avalon and John. I make huge batches of them and have a difficult time keeping them in the house.

Pin this recipe HERE.

One of the beautiful things about crepes is that they are versatile. They can be a main course or serve as dessert and can be made sweet or savory (it is easy to make both to satisfy different tastes). One morning this summer Avalon and I divided the batter into two portions. We added fresh snipped chives from our garden to one batch and filled with ham and cheese for Lukas. The other batch we added cinnamon and vanilla extract and filled with fruit and drizzled with syrup for her. Lukas tends to be a purist when it comes to food and does not like extravagant flavors or condiments (not even ketchup) and Avalon is a little more experimental with flavors (and I think ketchup is her favorite food). As time progresses I hope that they both continue to try new things and I find that when they help prepare a meal – they are better eaters.

Princess Avalon

Princess Avalon

This recipe is Lukas approved! Look at the smear of Nutella on his face. :D

This recipe is Lukas approved!

I hope that you have access to farm fresh eggs like we do. If you do not raise your own hens, make sure that you support a local farmer. I never thought that I would have chickens, but as my friends and family would tell you, I have grown quite fond of them. They are sweet, gentle, and love to roam all over the farm. They have been feasting on the sweet apples that fall from our orchard and they wildly chase me to the compost pile to see what treats are in store for them.

Our hens love to feast on the fallen apples.

Our hens love to feast on the fallen apples.

Thank you to my friends for following my food journey and for the nuggets of advice and support that you give me. Your congratulations on our marriage and well wishes in my new role of being a mom and owning a hobby farm mean so much. My hope is that future posts will share gardening and canning tips as John and I follow our dream of growing more of our own food. It is exciting to have the opportunity to live in such a gorgeous place with plenty of land to plant, dream, and satisfy my passion for photography. I promise to keep sharing. Make sure you check out my Facebook page and Instagram (links on the upper right side of the page).

What delicious dishes are you preparing in your kitchen? How do you encourage your family to eat healthy? Have you tried any of my recipes? Avalon and I would love to hear from you!

For more kid friendly recipes, check out Avalon’s Kid Friendly Recipes

Our Vitamix really comes in handy.

Crepes are surprisingly simple to make.

Crepes are surprisingly simple to make.

We try to eat outside as much as possible.

We try to eat outside as much as possible.


Tea set

We took to our backyard and picked a bouquet of brown-eyed-Susans.

We took to our backyard and picked a bouquet of brown-eyed-Susans.

We have been working on quite a few projects around the house. My job has been to add some feminine touches to John's masculine cabin. Thankfully he loves the look of bright colors and my Fiestaware collection. He agreed that the cabin needed a feminine touch.

John has been working on quite a few projects around the house. My job has been to add some feminine touches to the cabin since it’s quite masculine. Thankfully, he loves the splash of bright colors that is inspired by my Fiestaware collection. He agreed that the house needed a woman’s touch.

 

Avalon curled her hair for the photo shoot and I told her it looked a little "crazy" but she insisted on wearing it this way. I love that she knows what she likes and has a strong sense of her own style. I think she will grow up to be a determined and creative young woman. I am so proud of her!

Avalon curled her hair for the photo shoot and I told her it looked a little “crazy” but she insisted on wearing it this way. I love that she knows what she likes and has a strong sense of her own style. I think she will grow up to be a determined and creative young woman. I am so proud of her and thankful that I get to be such an important part of her life!

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Avalon’s Red Berry Smoothie

Avalon's Red Berry Smoothie by Produce with Amy“Strong women. May we know them. May we raise them. May we be them.”~Unknown

It is my pleasure to introduce you to a brand new blogger who is very special to me. Her name is Avalon, and as of June 30, 2015, she is my step-daughter. Avalon is a beautiful little girl (she looks just like her mama Kimberly).

Meet Miss Avalon

Meet Miss Avalon

Not only is Avalon a beauty – she is intelligent, graceful, a great singer, tech savvy, loves to read, and she has a bubbly personality. Avalon enjoys helping me out in the kitchen and it is my pleasure to teach her how to cook. At an early age my mom taught me the health benefits of eating fruit and vegetables and lovingly showed me how to create a feast from a variety of ingredients. Because of this, I am resourceful and I have a passion for cooking fresh food from whole foods. I want to pass this healthy lifestyle down to Avalon and her little brother Lukas (who also is quite handy in the kitchen). I love our family dinners and I am always encouraging the kids to try new foods (even though if they are reluctant at times – baby steps). It is hard enough having to acclimate to a step-mother. Add into the equation that she is a vegetarian AND a teacher and imagine what a readjustment that is!

IMG_2173I do apologize for being away from the blog for so long, but as you can see, I have been engaged in a great deal of lifestyle changes.

For my plant-based friends, you may see a few changes/options in some of my recipes.

When Lukas and Avalon’s dad John and I fell in love we knew we were meant to be. Yet, we also knew we would have some differences in opinion on food.

While I try to maintain a plant-based diet, John is aIMG_3272 hunter and hobby farmer who raises free range chickens and other livestock. While I still do not eat meat, I have been eating free-range eggs and I do eat a small amount of dairy (homemade pizza is a staple in our house nearly once a week). I promised John that I would not try to convert him, Avalon, and Lukas to vegetarians, but I would encourage them all to incorporate more fruit and vegetables into their diet. I love that John does not want to have to rely on factory farmed meat and it is our long-term goal to produce as much of our own food as possible. Next year we are hoping to acquire a hoop house to help extend our rather short growing season in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

I can get lost in the beauty of our home and land.

I can get lost in the beauty of our home and land.

I

I put the yogurt containers to good use this spring when I started our squash and tomato seedlings.

I put the yogurt containers to good use this spring when I started our squash and tomato seedlings.

When I started spending time with Avalon, Lukas, and John – one of the first things that I learned was that they all have a sweet tooth. So I tried to find healthier desserts that would satisfy both their craving for something sweet and my obsession with healthy food.

Many years ago when I was cutting out artificial sweeteners, I discovered Greek Gods Yogurt. If you eat dairy and you have not tried this brand – you are missing out. John and the kids instantly agreed that it was better than ice cream and now it is common for them to go through three containers a week. I cut up fruit add a dollop of yogurt and sometimes sprinkle on granola and whipped cream. Avalon’s summertime favorite is watermelon and strawberries with honey vanilla yogurt. Though, for her smoothie recipe we tried the black cherry flavor and Avalon said it may be her new favorite. Right now she is in Virginia visiting her mom and she asked me to stock up on it for when she gets home. I find this brand in all of our local supermarkets, but Target seems to have the best price (it’s often on Cartwheel for 20% off).

The recipe for Avalon’s smoothie made two large glasses, so if you want an individual serving, you may want to reduce it in half. I have to say that Lukas is not a smoothie fan and he drank all of his. It is that wonderful!

Avalon and her smoothie creation

Avalon’s Red Berry Smoothie

*1 frozen banana (I highly recommend frozen bananas for smoothies since they give it a creamy and cold texture. I buy extra bananas each week and when they get ripe I peel and toss into a bag in the freezer so we always have them on hand)
*1/2 cup of Greek Gods Black Cherry Yogurt
(You could substitute a plant-based coconut, soy, or almond yogurt)
*1/2 cup of frozen cherries (fresh if you have them on hand)
*1/2 cup of watermelon (watermelon freezes well but we used fresh)
*1/2 cup of strawberries (we used fresh that we picked at a local farm)
*1/2 cup of raspberries (fresh or frozen)
*1/2 cup to 1 cup of water (depending on how thick you want it and if you are using frozen fruit. You could eliminate the honey and use fruit juice instead.)
*Tablespoon of honey (you could use your favorite sweetener if you do not eat honey)
*Optional ~ fresh mint for garnish (I grew chocolate mint and the kids LOVED it. Avalon wanted John to try a leaf when he got home from work. The mint would also be great blended  into the smoothie.)

Blend well, serve, and enjoy!

Avalon and Lukas enjoyed their smoothie for breakfast but it would make a great dessert as well. It is a great way to sneak more vitamin and mineral rich fruit into your kids’ diet. Plus, it will help them stay hydrated in the heat.

Printable Recipe HERE —-> Avalon’s Red Berry Smoothie
Pin the recipe HERE.

Avalon's Red Berry Smoothie

As always, it is my goal to keep sharing my healthy recipes with you! Thank you for the continued support and the messages and comments that you have sent during my absence. I am excited to announce the news of my marriage and I cannot wait to share more glimpses of our life on the farm. It is gorgeous here and it feels exactly where I am meant to be.

Since I do not have a sweet tooth and try to stay away from sugar, I have not shared many dessert recipes on Produce with Amy. However, now that I have a family who loves sweets I will be striving to find healthy versions that they enjoy. John and the kids bought me a beautiful Kitchenaid mixer for my birthday so I do not have a proper excuse not to bake.

My sexy new Kitchenaid mixer. I have wanted one FOREVER! Thank you, John.

My sexy new Kitchenaid mixer. I have wanted one FOREVER! Thank you, John.

In addition, we have a garden full of zucchini and an apple orchard laden with fruit – so we will not have a shortage of healthy ingredients this fall. Plus, with a beautiful new blogger in the house – and a brand new Mac Book Pro – Avalon and I may have to try our hand at video blogging!

Make sure your scroll through the end to check out more photos.

Please feel free to share Avalon’s smoothie recipe and please leave a comment and stop by my Facebook page to let her know what you think! Make sure you follow me on Instagram, Twitter, and the other social media tabs at the right of the page. Thank you for joining me on the journey to eat more fruit and vegetables!

Avalon Trying the Chocolate Mint from our Herb Garden

Avalon Trying the Chocolate Mint from our Herb Garden

Lukas is Sold on the Smoothie

Lukas is Sold on the Smoothie

Avalon says that you have to try it!

Avalon says that you have to try it!

We picked strawberries in Trenary the day after our wedding!

We picked strawberries in Trenary the day after our wedding!

Healthy and Happy Kids!

Healthy and Happy Kids!

I love that John's shift this summer allows us to eat as a family. We try to eat Al Fresco when possible.

I love that John’s shift this summer allows us to eat as a family. We try to eat Al Fresco when possible.

Our Wedding Day: John, Avalon, Lukas, and I with my Mom Karen and my best friend Kim.

Our Wedding Day: John, Avalon, Lukas, and I with my Mom Karen and my best friend Kim.

Avalon, Lukas, and Amy.  We got married outside by Lake Superior and it was a cold, blustery day. However, as you can see by our smiles - we didn't let the weather interfere with our happiness.

Avalon, Lukas, and Amy.
We got married outside by Lake Superior and it was a cold, blustery day. However, as you can see by our smiles – we didn’t let the weather interfere with our happiness.

We got the kids a pool for their birthday. Summer is the time for spontaneous, make-up free selfies!

We got the kids a pool for their birthday. Summer is the time for spontaneous, make-up free selfies!

Avalon's Red Berry Smoothie

Fierce Green Smoothie with Blueberries and Kiwi

Fierce Green Smoothie by Produce with Amy“Thriving. That’s fighting… Surviving is barely getting by.”
― Jillian Michaels

Since August of 2007 I have been a Weight Watchers Coach and I have experienced my own challenges with my weight management. Now that I am in my forties I have found that I must fight harder than ever to maintain a healthy weight. Though, I accept the challenge, because I believe that my health and my self-concept are worth the battle. This fall I was facing a mountain of stress in my personal life and the scale started to climb beyond the top end of my WW recommended healthy weight range.  I was concerned and frustrated. Unfortunately, the chaos continued to mount – the scale would not budge – and I felt helpless, angry, anxious, and out of control of my life.

I will be honest, at times I considered walking away from my position at Weight Watchers, because I felt overwhelmed and as if I was a fraud. How could I stand up in front of my members helping be their weight loss guide when I could not even manage my own weight? Yet, I could feel my members support and I heard a loud voice in the back of my head telling me that I could thrive once again. I knew what I needed to do. In 2006, Weight Watchers gave me the tools and the courage to believe that I can succeed. While things may feel out of control in my life – ultimately, I was in control of the food that I consumed. I took a closer look at portion control and started to be faithful to tracking once again. The scale started to move in the right direction and I am happy to report that by December I was back to my goal weight.

My employment with Weight Watchers has brought me face-to-face with many individuals who also face stressful challenges in their lives. I always remind members that we must first take care of ourselves and that during times of crisis – being On Program helps us feel that we are in control. I know that focusing on Weight Watchers Power Foods, staying hydrated, and eating healthy portions have helped me manage my stress. Getting back to my goal weight has been a boost in my self-esteem and has empowered me to have a positive outlook, even when things feel grim.

Before I joined WW, I may have been tempted to feed my emotions with sugary and high fat foods. However, I know how those foods make me feel (and look). I profoundly believe that a diet that focuses on fresh fruit, vegetables, and non-processed whole foods helps us navigate stress and have the energy we need to have a positive attitude and be productive.

In the coming weeks, I will continue to nourish my body with healthy food and my goal is to incorporate more greens into my meals. I really notice a difference in my energy level when I start my day with a green smoothie. They are also great as a snack because they help curb starchy carbohydrate cravings.

If you are new to green smoothies you may want to check out my New Year’s Green Smoothie Challenge post where I share information and tips.

The green smoothie recipe that I am going to share with you today is one of my favorites. The combination of blueberries and cinnamon is incredible and I love that you can fit so many health benefits into a glass. Kiwi is higher in Vitamin C than an equivalent amount of orange and it will help your body absorb the iron in the spinach. The antioxidants in blueberries help improve memory and are low on the glycemic index and help regulate blood sugar. (Therefore, I thought that Fierce was the perfect name!)
Kiwi and Blueberries

FIERCE GREEN SMOOTHIE
(My smoothie recipes will yield 3-4 cups. I often drink 1/2 for breakfast and reserve the other half for a snack on my 1/2 hour commute home from work or for an evening snack. If you want to make less – reduce the ingredients that you add. Green smoothies will keep for several days in the refrigerator but they may separate)

  • 3-4 cups of spinach (more or less for one’s personal taste.)
  • 1 cup of blueberries (fresh or frozen)
  • 2 kiwis (reserve a piece for garnish)
  • 1/2 frozen banana (if you like your smoothie sweeter you may want to add more banana)
  • Juice and zest of one lemon (if using bottled juice you can add 1/4 cup)
  • 1 teaspoon of cinnamon (to taste)
  • 1 cup of coconut water (or regular water)
  • *Optional ~ 1 Tablespoon Chia Seeds (I add one Tablespoon per green smoothie that I am making. It is recommended to soak chia seeds. I do not soak mine since I have a high-powered blender and my smoothie often sits for  5-10 minutes before drinking. You could also stir into your smoothie before blending
  • *Optional ~ sprig of fresh mint

BlenderSmoothieBlend well and garnish with a kiwi slice and sprinkle of cinnamon. Because of the addition of blueberries – your smoothie will turn more purple than green.

If you are interested in checking out more green smoothie recipes, make sure you check out my Green Smoothie tab.

Pin this recipe HERE.

My goal for the new year is to continue to nourish my body with fresh fruit and vegetables so I can manage stress. I am determined to maintain my weight so I can look fierce this summer and feel the best that I can.

I challenge you to pick a goal and strive to reach it. Sip a green smoothie and reflect on what you want to achieve. If you (like I am) are facing a lot of stress in your life – you owe it to your body to eat clean and eradicate excuses. I raise my glass to you. Cheers to embracing a healthy lifestyle and thriving!

Light

blueberries

Rustic Fruit Sauce – Slow Cooked & Sweetener Free

Rustic Slow Cooked Fruit Sauce by Produce with Amy“I believe that food can be a profound means of communication, allowing me to express myself in a way that seems much deeper and more sincere than words.”
~Jenni Ferrari-Adler

Unwinding, relaxing, and resting is how I have spent my past two days. In the midst of a hectic school year, suddenly all activity came to screeching halt. If you have been watching the news, or the weather to be more exact, you know that there has been a massive winter storm pounding northern states. In fact, the town of Negaunee where I live, in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, received over three feet of snow. Yes, you read that correctly – THREE feet of snow and I have photos to prove it.

Mike: Baqubah, Iraq - 2003

Mike: Baqubah, Iraq – 2003

My husband, Mike, who is an Operation Iraqi Freedom Veteran — spent his Veterans Day removing snow from our yard.

The snow was wet and heavy and I appreciate all of his labor.

Today we woke up to several more inches of snow and he again had to dedicate the afternoon to snow removal. On the news they are reporting that lake effect snow will continue. Thank you, Lake Superior.

Mike - still smiling even though the snow is reaching beyond the snow blower.

Mike – still smiling even though the snow is reaching beyond the snow blower.

Mike carved a path leading to our backyard.

Mike carved a path leading to our backyard.

A couple of weeks ago we decided to leave the bird baths in our yard up since the birds were still frolicking around and using their basins to drink and bathe. Now the same bird baths have been swallowed up by the snow.

Yes the bottom picture is of the same bird baths in the top of the photo.

Yes the bottom picture is of the same bird baths in the top of the photo.

This was our driveway this morning with fresh snow piled up.

This was our driveway this morning with fresh snow piled up.

Today’s snow day gives me the perfect opportunity to share one of the recipes that I have been enjoying for the last couple weeks. When I started Weight Watchers in 2006, I ate a bowl of oatmeal every morning for breakfast. While I know that oatmeal is filling and carries many health benefits, I burnt myself out of oatmeal and for several years have only eaten oatmeal on occasion. As the weather has grown more cool, I decided that I would try to revisit oatmeal for breakfast and I decided that a rustic apple sauce topping would help me look forward to eating oatmeal again. It has done the trick.

Apples & PumpkinThe recipe that I am sharing today is versatile and you can add your favorite fruit – fresh or frozen – or whatever you have on hand. I do not have a strong sweet tooth so this recipe tend to be on the tart side. You could add brown sugar or a drizzle of maple syrup if you prefer it sweeter. It would also make a phenomenal topping for ice cream, or if you are dairy free, a topping for “nice” cream.

This recipe is inspired from a previous post that I have shared: Sweet & Tart Slow Cooker Apples with Cranberries, Pumpkin, and Oatmeal

 

Our cat Pandora is a lovely photo-bomber.

Our cat Pandora is a lovely photo-bomber.

RUSTIC SLOW COOKER FRUIT SAUCE

*2 sliced green apples
*2 sliced red apples
*2 sliced pears
*2 cups of frozen peaches
*1 can of pumpkin
*1 can of water
*1 bag of cranberries
*1 teaspoon of nutmeg
*1 Tablespoon of cinnamon
(you can add more if you like extra cinnamon)

Add all ingredients, except for the pears and peaches, to slow cooker. Set to low for 5 and 1/2 hours. In the last 1/2 hour add the pears and peaches so they retain their shape and are not reduced to sauce. This recipe freezes well.

Printable recipe: RUSTIC SLOW COOKER FRUIT SAUCE by Produce with Amy

Pin recipe HERE.
2

Sorry for the blurry photo. I snapped it when it was hot and steaming.

Sorry for the blurry photo. I snapped it when it was hot and steaming.

Rustic Slow Cooker FruitThis fruit sauce is simple to make and I love that it does not require any sweeteners. Not to mention the added benefit of making your house smell incredible. It is the perfect healthy comfort food and does not need to only be consumed for breakfast. At night if you crave something sweet it is the perfect snack on its own. If I have the taste for something a bit sweeter, this sauce is wonderful warmed up and topped with a few raisins or a drizzle of local maple syrup. I imagine it would also be lovely served over pancakes, waffles, or French toast. I might have to whip up a batch of pancakes this weekend for Mike – he did after all earn something special with all his work removing the snow in our yard.

Thank you for stopping by my blog and I encourage you to sign up for email updates and stop by my Facebook page and give it a like. Make sure you check out all my social networking links on the right side of the page. I look forward to sharing more healthy and plant-based recipes with you. Together we can incorporate more fruit and vegetables into our meal plan. Stay warm and safe to my friends in cold climates. For those that life in sunny locations, please send some sunshine our way!