Easter – Such a Sweet Day

Easter - hero2Easter is truly the sweetest day of the year, in my opinion that is. I love everything this day represents. Christ is Risen! (He is risen indeed!) I became a believer on March 25, 1997. It was 5 days before Easter. It was perfect! As my husband and I stood in church that Sunday it was the first time I was in pure amazement of His love for me. I was in awe that He died for me! Me! An awful sinner. And yet, in His eyes, I am righteous. (I still can’t get over this truth!)

What is more beautiful than a Savior dying for you?  All so you can live for eternity in His Father’s Kingdom! What greater love is this? That Jesus came to save ALL of us would have been enough. But to die upon that cross so that we may have life? It’s truly unfathomable. It should really bring us to our knee’s everyday of the year, not just this one Sunday.

I challenge you to stand – literally stand – in awe of all our Lord has blessed you with this Sunday.  Just stand. Close your eyes and just let the Holy Spirit take over and remind you of all God has done in your life.  I realize some of you may be going through difficult times right now, but if you truly let God speak to you, you will hear Him as He gently whispers your name. Don’t focus on anything else. Open your heart to Him who calls you His child. You will be blessed. Trust Him. Be still and know He is God.

And then praise Him! Praise Him that Jesus rose from the grave! Praise Him for knowing your name! Praise Him for not just for the blessings of the past, but for all He has for you in the future! Praise Him with all your heart! Think about it… has anyone else died so that you may live? Praise Him.

Let your children know the true story of Easter.  As you decorate your house, your table, your yard – speak of Jesus’ love for them. And have fun with adorning everything spring!

Easter candy eggs

When my children were small, I would let them help me decorate with using their stuffed animals. Even if your bunnies are a little tattered, they will still liven up the table with their cuteness of days gone by.

Easter bunny

If you’re like me, you like to host parties but never have enough matching plates or stemware.  Have no fear! Mix it up! I like to use modern stemware with colors along with vintage glasses to make a “pop” on the table!

Easter stemwareEaster stemware2

Choose your candy wisely! I think using pastel colored chocolate eggs are a sweeter touch than just the typical chocolate easter bunny.  And use your candy to decorate with! I always work on a budget when decorating. You can pick up paper “grass” and line your serving dishes with it and just add your candy! No sense spending money on high end decorations when everyone loves to just grab a few bites of yumminess!

Easter - table (sepia)

Easter - cut outs

Easter Eggs

Easter Table 2

Psalm 63:3 “Because Your lovingkindness is better than life, my lips will praise You”

A Year of Blessings…written to the people in my life

florida living

I am beyond blessed. No, I really mean it. And not just in the context of – “my life looks happy and put together” on the outside.  I know, without a shadow of a doubt, that God blesses me everyday.  I may not notice each individual blessing; but I am fully aware of His hand on my life every new day.  Do you know how I know?

It has a lot to do with the people He has placed in my life.  My husband & children, my family, my friends… The people I have known since 1st Grade to the people I am just getting to meet through church, work and other friends.  And if you’re reading this, you’re most likely part of this group.

2014 was one of my toughest years I had to walk through.  But I never felt alone. My husband made EVERY effort to make sure I knew he was with me every step of the way.  The words “through good times and bad, for better or for worse” have never meant as much to me as they have this past year.  He has gone through the challenges of being my rock when I was diagnosed with cancer, being my caregiver during and after surgery, my encourager when I was feeling I couldn’t take the pain any more and more recent, he has loved me at my most unloveable.  God has blessed me with this man whom I will never take for granted again. And everyday, I realize this blessing.

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We always hear stories how FaceBook has ruined relationships.  What about the other stories?  Like mine… FaceBook was a way for friends of mine that I haven’t been in touch with since High School to reach out to me either with a post of “thinking of you today” to personal messages speaking a prayer over me.  These were the friends who kept up with every surgery, every high and every low.  (There are even some who went out of their way to buy me some “gifts” that made me laugh hysterical!) Girlfriends are the best, aren’t they?!! They were the ones who encouraged me more than I thought was possible.  Even though we were miles apart and years between us, I felt the love being poured out.  Each FaceBook friend has been a huge blessing! I am sending out a HUGE “Thank You” to each and every one of you…you know who you are!

And, to top it off… I think God has blessed me with the best (and I mean BEST) church family!  So much so that I feel spoiled! Spoiled by my Heavenly Father for putting each one of them in my life, in this particular season!  Not only did my “sisters in Christ” rally around me from the day I was diagnosed, but they made sure I had meals for over 3 weeks after my surgery! They visited me, loved on me, prayed over me and made me cry over their thoughtfulness and love and the next minute had me laughing until my sides hurt!  I’ll never forget walking into church the first time after my surgery… I felt like a Rock Star! The hugs, the smiles, the tears – the celebration of it all! … even just thinking about it makes me actually “feel” the love all over again! I am so humbled and honored by their love.

Can I truly say I’m thankful I had gone through what I did?  Honestly, yes! Going through trials makes us stronger…  not just a stronger person; but a stronger believer! A stronger encourager for others. A stronger prayer warrior. A stronger friend, wife and mother. God allows things in our lives all the time… it’s how we handle these things, these moments is what truly shows where our faith is, who we are at our core. And I fully know God is good all the time and all I have to do is trust Him. That’s what I did in 2014 and look at how He has taken care of me!  Don’t get me wrong, things were not easy – and I really never want to go through some of it ever again – but I was never alone. I was at peace. I was loved. I was blessed!

So I’ll say it over and over again… I am beyond blessed! Thank You Lord!

Can you see all the blessings in your life?  I pray you can.  I guarantee, if you really open your eyes to see how Our Father takes care of you personally on a daily basis, you will see more of how He truly blesses you than you originally thought!

I am writing this on the eve of my 1 year anniversary of my first surgery.  Why am I writing this?  To let each and every one of you (friends, family, loved ones, acquaintances) know how thankful I am that you all are a part of my life… whether big or small parts, you all helped me get through my most difficult year.  Thank you for letting God use you in my life…

May our Heavenly Father put His perfect peace upon you and surround you with all the riches of His blessings ~ XOXO

Irish Beef Stew

beef stew blog hero

March 17th is right around the corner!   Time to celebrate everything Irish!

I love that this is a holiday that it seems everyone enjoys.  You don’t have to be Irish, or even married into an Irish family in order to partake in the festivities from the parades to the stout beers.

My mother, although not Irish, always made the traditional Corned Beef and Cabbage dinner every St. Patrick’s Day.  I always looked forward to that night! But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve met so many people who just don’t appreciate that meal.  And so, I thought I’d put together another Irish favorite of mine to share… Irish Beef Stew. What makes it Irish, you might ask? I truly don’t know. But I will tell you this… my husbands family is Irish, my best friend while growing up is Irish and a slew of other people with whom I am close with all claim this is the true Irish Beef Stew. Who am I to argue?  I don’t ask questions, I just enjoy it! The rich, smooth gravy; the tenderness of the beef; the bountiful vegetables all come together and just melt in your mouth!  Absolutely delicious!  It’s the perfect cold, rainy night (that is typical of March for my northern friends) dinner.  Talk about comfort food! And if you get a chance, check out my Irish Soda Bread Scones Recipe (on Pinterest)… they’re the perfect accompaniment to this meal!

It’s important to sear the beef first.  You don’t want it cooked “through” – just browned.

Beef Stew beef

For this batch, I didn’t add potatoes.  Instead I made a beautiful Irish Potato Pie to serve as the side dish.   If you feel you don’t have time to make both recipes, you can add 2 large diced potatoes when you add the broth in this dish.

Beef Stew Vegs

If you’re anything like me, you won’t just make this stew on St. Patrick’s Day… you’ll want to make it all winter long!  Yes, it’s that good!  Try it and tell me what you think!

IRISH BEEF STEW
4 TBS olive oil
3 pounds Beef Chuck – cut into stew size pieces
Salt &  Pepper
5 Carrots – diced (or 1 small bag of baby carrots)
5 Celery stalks – diced
1 Yellow Onion – diced
2 TBS Tomato Paste
1 1/2 Cups Robust Red Wine
1 Quart Beef Stock
1 TBS dried Thyme
ROUX:
4 TBS Butter
1/2 Cup Flour
Heat 2 TBS oil in large pot.  Add Beef and Salt & Pepper. Sear until all sides of beef cubes are browned.  Remove the beef from pan. Add 2 more TBS oil and the vegetables. Stir and cook on medium heat for about 5 minutes. Move the vegetables to one side of the pan, add the tomato paste and cook for about 1 full minute.  Stir vegetables into the paste.  Add the wine and stock.  Simmer for 5 minutes.  Add the beef back into the pot and sprinkle with thyme.  Bring to a low boil, reduce heat to simmer and keep covered for 2 hours.  (No need to lift the cover and stir). When the stew is done, keep it on a low flame and make the Roux in a small saucepan: melt the butter and whisk the flour in – making a thin paste.  Add the roux into the stew and stir constantly until well incorporated and fully thickened.  Remove from heat and keep uncovered for 5 minutes.  Serve with chopped Chives or Parsley sprinkled on top.

Serves 4

Beef Stew Hero 3

Yogurt Lemon Dip

yogurt lemon dip

If you’re like most, you tend to make the same things for dinner over and over again. Whether it be because you’re pressed for time and you know exactly what you can whip up in 15 minutes or you try to make your fussy eater happy while everyone else at the dinner table groans because this is the third night this week you’ve grilled chicken.

I came up with this a few weeks ago and it has become a “regular” at my dinner table.  It doesn’t matter if I’m grilling chicken or shrimp.  It goes with so many different entree’s… for instance, lamb burgers!  And if you’re not adventurous on a weeknight, try this dip spread on warm naan and baked turkey meatballs!  I’ve even gone as far as munching on gluten free, brown rice crackers with this dip while preparing dinner!  I can’t get enough of it!  The lemony-garlic combo is perfection!  (That is, if you like lemon and garlic) 🙂

Try it next time you want to liven up that grilled chicken.  Let me know what you think!  Enjoy!!

Yogurt Lemon Dip

1 container plain Greek Yogurt

Zest from 1/2 Lemon

1 Garlic Clove – minced

1 handful fresh Flat Leaf Parsley – chopped

Salt & Pepper

Combine all ingredients.  Cover and refrigerate at least 1/2 hour for flavors to meld.  Keeps in refrigerator 5 days.

Greek Quinoa Salad

quinoa salad

This past weekend I hosted a Gluten Free / Vegetarian Party.  What a great party!  The house was full of friends, laughs, food, & wine… what more could you want on a Friday night?

My buffet table was jam-packed with the most beautiful array of bright colors from the raw salads to the homemade veggie dips to the golden hue of the butternut squash & carrot soup.  Not  only do I have the most amazing group of friends… they can all cook like a master chef!

I made a brown rice & quinoa salad with roasted vegetables. Nothing too fancy or too complicated. But when I make a dish like this,  I typically like to cook “more than enough” grains so I have them for the rest of the week.  It makes preparing lunches and dinners a lot easier when crunched for time.

Today I made a quick salad with the leftover quinoa.  I added a few of my favorite vegetables, my favorite cheese and some grilled chicken.  The flavors reminded me of a greek salad. So there you have it… Viola!  Greek Quinoa Salad!  It always seems to be the things we whip up without following a recipe that become our favorite meals.  This is definitely one of them!

You can keep it vegetarian… just omit the grilled chicken.  🙂

GREEK QUINOA SALAD (w/ Grilled Chicken)

2 Cups cooked Quinoa

1 Cucumber, diced

1/2 pint Grape Tomatoes, diced

1/4 Red Onion – sliced thin

1 Small Red Pepper – diced

Handful of fresh Flat-Leaf Parsley

1/2 Cup pitted Kalamata Olives

1 Cup crumbled Feta Cheese

1/4 Cup Olive Oil

1/4 Cup Red Wine Vinegar

1 TBS fresh Dill – chopped

Salt  & Pepper

2 Grilled Chicken Breasts – cut into bite sized people

Combine all vegetables with the Quinoa.  Whisk oil & vinegar  with dill and salt & pepper.  Pour over salad.  Add grilled chicken.  Toss with wooden spoon.  Cover and refrigerate for an hour before serving.  Serves 4.  (Keeps refrigerated 5 days)

quinoa salad

Crunchy “Garbage” Salad

crunchy garbage salad

Salads that go “crunch!” are my favorite!  The raw, wholesome, beautiful colors of a slew of veggies mixed together always inspire me to continue to eat healthy on a daily basis.

garbage salad prep1

Don’t let the word “garbage” scare you.  It’s just a play on words from when I first came up with this salad.  As you can probably guess, I was cleaning out my refrigerator at the time.  I have been making this salad for my family, friends, and clients for the past 7 years.  And every time I make it, it’s a new creation.  I always start with organic broccoli but one day I may have a few stalks of bok choy instead of celery.  The vegetables can change each time… it’s a preference thing.  If you like cauliflower over broccoli, use it instead.  Play with your food!  Use my recipes as a starting point, but get creative in your kitchen.  Use the foods you like.  Look at the colors when all combined… if it’s raw vegetables in a rainbow of colors it most likely will taste amazing!   The fresh flavors of it all will never disappoint!  Let me know what you come up with!

JACQUI’S CRUNCHY GARBAGE SALAD:

1 head organic broccoli – cut into bite sized pieces

1 red pepper – diced

1 cucumber – diced

2 stalks of celery – diced

1 zucchini – diced

1/4 red onion – sliced thin, cut small

2 carrots – diced

1 handful grape tomatoes – diced

1/2 cup dried cranberries

1 cup black beans (canned, rinsed well)

1 cup raw cashews

4 TBS olive oil

3 TBS balsamic vinegar

salt & pepper to taste

Toss all ingredients in large bowl – adjust vinegar to oil ratio if needed (depending upon taste) and add salt & pepper. Let sit room temperature about ½ hour until all absorbed. Refrigerate up to 5 days.

Serves 4

Chia Breakfast Pudding

chia pudding 2

Every so often I try to come up with a new breakfast.  Don’t get me wrong, I love a good omelette or homemade oatmeal pancakes (I’ll be posting that recipe soon!) but somewhere along the way I like to just delve into something as healthy as a fruit & vegetable smoothie but a little heartier; a little different.

I know Chia “Pudding” is nothing new, but there are so many add in’s to try to change it up a bit.  Today’s recipe I used unsweetened Almond milk – but in the past I’ve used Chai Tea and Almond Milk, Coconut Milk, Soy Milk and even just filtered water.  My favorite is the Chai Tea… it adds more depth to the flavor.

I usually serve my chia pudding with blueberries but I’ve also prepared it using strawberries and mango.  And because I like the crunch factor, I always use nuts!  Next time, I’m thinking of using granola.  Depending on your tastes, you can add in Raw Honey, Cinnamon, Mint, Vanilla, Pumpkin Spice, etc.  But feel free to use what you prefer.  Make your own creation 🙂  Get creative!  Have fun with breakfast again!  And let me know what you come up with… I’d love to hear what your favorite “mix-ins” are!

BLUEBERRY & ALMOND CHIA BREAKFAST PUDDING

3/4 Cup Unsweetened Almond Milk

3 tsp. Raw Organic Honey

1 tsp.  Vanilla extract

4 tsp Organic Chia Seeds

1 TBS Organic Blueberries

Combine first 4 ingredients.  In a serving glass place blueberries in the bottom and pour mixture over them.  Refrigerate until set (about an hour or 2).  Once set, sprinkle Organic Cinnamon, Chopped Almonds and some Blueberries.  Drizzle with another teaspoon of Raw Honey.    Serving: 1  (Recipe can be doubled)