Call me naïve, but I never thought I used many convenience foods in America. I didn’t buy many frozen pizzas or boxed dinners and I certainly didn’t categorize salad dressings, sour cream, or canned beans in the camp of convenience foods. That mindset has changed. I live in a place where nearly everything (including milk) needs to be mixed up during the food prep process which has caused me to believe that a pound of raw, purchased ground beef is a convenience food. (I grind my own with a hand grinder.)

 

Hence my newfound love for mixes. With these in my possession, I feel like an American again. Well, almost. But anything done in advance and waiting for me in my pantry is one less step to worry about when I’m making a meal and am crunched for time.

 

Here are a few of my favorites:

 

 

Pancake Mix (I didn’t even use pancake mixes in the States, but I also didn’t have pancakes regularly on the breakfast roster in a place where I could buy boxed cereal for $1.49)

 

12 cups flour, whole wheat flour or buckwheat flour

 

¾ cup sugar

 

4 cups dry milk

 

2 T. salt

 

¾ cup baking powder

 

Mix well and store in a tight container. When ready to make pancakes beat together 1 egg, 1 cup water, and 2 T. cooking oil.

Stir in 1 ½ cups mix. When using ¼ cup batter per pancake, makes about 8 pancakes per 1 ½ cup mix.

 



 

Bisquick”

 

8 cups flour

 

2 T. baking powder

 

2 tsp. salt

 

2 tsp. cream of tartar

 

1 tsp. baking soda

 

2 cups nonfat dry milk

 

2 cups shortening

 

Combine dry ingredients in a large bowl. Cut in shortening until mixture is consistently mealy.

Store at room temperature in a sealed container. (Can be refridgerated for longer shelf life.)

 

For biscuits: Use 1 cup mix with 1/3 cup water.

 

For pancakes: Beat 2 cups baking mix, 2 eggs, and 1 cup milk.

 

Note (to be taken as from a woman of sad experience): Make sure the container is very dry otherwise mold will grow.

 

 

 

Taco Seasoning

 

4 T. chili powder

 

3 ½ T. paprika

 

3 T. cumin

 

2 T. salt

 

2 T. onion powder

 

1 ½ T. garlic powder

 

¼ tsp. red pepper

 

Combine all ingredients; mix well. Store in a sealed container for up to 6 months. Makes 1 cup.

To use, mix 2 T. mix with 1 lb. ground beef and ½ cup water.

 

 

 

Italian Dressing

1/2 T garlic powder

1 T onion powder

2 T oregano

1 tsp pepper

1/4 tsp thyme

1 tsp basil

1 T parsley

2 T salt

Stir together. Two tablespoons equal 1 purchased package.

To make into Italian dressing: Mix 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar, 2/3 cup olive oil, 2 T water, 2 T dry mix. Blend well. Serve.

 



 

Ranch Dressing

 

2 T. onion flakes

 

2 tsp. onion powder

 

2 T. parsley

 

2 tsp. paprika

 

1 T. salt

 

2 tsp. pepper

 

1 T. garlic powder

 

Mix all together. Two tablespoons equals one purchased package.

 

For dressing: Mix 2 T. Ranch mix, 1 cup mayonnaise, and 1 cup buttermilk.

 

For dip: Mix 2 T. Ranch mix and 2 cups sour cream.

 

Do you have any mix recipes? How have you used mixes to streamline your cooking?

 

Meet Sara: My husband and I and our two children moved to Accra, Ghana in September 2015 to fill the Field Secretary position for our organization. As part of our job, our home is the pit stop for travellers passing through the capital. I cook for lots of guests, then, including midnight snacks for those arriving hungry from the airport, breakfasts-to-go for early morning departures, race-the-clock meals for those in a time crunch, and specialty meals to treat our missionaries who live simplistic lives in their posts. I love this part of our job and look forward to the guests pencilled in on our calendar.

 

This, people, is pure health food. The Proverbs 17:22 kind - A cheerful heart makes good medicine. :-)

A friend gave me the recipe that inspired these bars. I changed it around a little and came up with a few variations. If you have a sweet tooth like I do, you might give these a try. The ingredients should be available in most locations.

 

Sticky Bars

 

BOTTOM LAYER:
¾ cup butter, margarine, or oil or a combination of these
½ cup sugar
1 ½ cup flour
salt

Mix, press into 9x13 pan and bake for 10 minutes at 350 or until slightly golden.

TOP LAYER: Pour over crust, and bake for 25 minutes or until set and browned............ this top layer, here's where you can get creative. So far, I have made the following:

COCONUT
3 eggs
1 cup sugar
1 t vanilla
3 T flour
¾ t salt
1 ½ cup shredded coconut

PEANUT
3 eggs
1 cup sugar
1 t vanilla
3 T flour
¾ t salt
1 ½ cup roasted peanuts

LEMON
4 eggs
1 ½ cup sugar
½ cup lemon juice
¾ t salt
¾ cup cream

PEANUT BUTTER CHOCOLATE
3 eggs
1 cup sugar
1 t vanilla
3 T flour
¾ t salt
Mix the above. Divide in half. Mix half with ¾ cup peanut butter. Mix the other half with ½ cup cocoa powder. Spread peanut butter mixture over baked crust, then drizzle with chocolate mixture. Bake.



Next up is almond flavoring. You could try whatever ingredients you may have on hand. Dates, raisins? Other nuts? Orange juice or fruit? Instant coffee? Mocha...absolutely. Chocolate chips would never hurt, if you are lucky enough to have those. Cinnamon, ginger, pumpkin spice....

Let us know in the comments what you're thinking!

Happy baking!

Today's recipe is a simple one, but oh! so yummy!  Actually, it is one that has morphed quite a bit in my family . . . the original recipe called for rice, not for noodles! So if you don't have pasta handy, try rice instead - whatever you choose, make sure it's cooked and cooled first.  A great way to use up leftovers!

I think this is similar to a spaghetti frittata, but since I made the recipe up, I'm not sure. :-)

 

Noodle-Spinach Bake

1 cup cooked, chopped spinach or similar greens (can use frozen or fresh, but cook it first)

2 c. cooked spaghetti noodles, cooled

1/2 c. shredded, cooked chicken (tuna would also be good)

1 c. shredded cheese (optional)

3 eggs, beaten

1/3 c. milk

1/2 tsp Worcestershire sauce

1 tsp salt

1/4 tsp onion powder (you could add a diced, sauted onion instead)

1/2 tsp rosemary

 

Combine all ingredients in baking dish. If using cheese, save half of it to sprinkle on top of casserole. Bake at 375 for 30-40 minutes. Serve hot!

 

Do you have these seasonings - Worcestershire sauce and rosemary - available where you live? We could get Worcestershire sauce locally, but rosemary was one of the spices we brought with us from the States. We love it in this dish, and also sprinkled on baked chicken!

My heart is full this morning, and I don't feel like sharing a recipe, I feel like sharing my thoughts. :-) So I'm going to try to do both.

Life is hard. I know that's nothing new to any of you. But good friends of ours have been walking through some really tough things this week, and it makes me want to question "why?". And it makes me think again about the fact that life is just hard. When we lived in Africa, on hard days I dreamed about America. I remembered McDonalds and Walmart and church fellowship and family living close by and all the wonderful things about our old life in America and I missed it. Fast forward to when we moved back to America . . . and suddenly, as I told my husband, the "American Dream" wasn't as wonderful as I remembered. Finances, our job situation, trouble with neighbors, family stresses, and so on made us realize that we didn't have it so bad overseas after all. We started to miss the tropical beauty of our home, the convenience of food sellers coming to our doorstep, the simplicity of a slower way of life.

And then we see our colleagues overseas go through really tough stuff. And we remember that it wasn't all easy, it wasn't all fun. In fact, it was really hard. Today I want to give a shout-out to all of you on the "front lines" working overseas.

  • To those who are focused on language learning, studying for hours every day, struggling to understand, working to learn the culture. What you're doing is hard. You don't always feel like you're making progress. You keep plugging away anyway.
  • To those who are leaders, whether leaders of teams, leaders of organizations, leaders of churches, leaders of your family. What you're doing is hard. There is conflict, different ideas, criticism, lack of appreciation for what you're doing. But it's your job and you keep plugging away anyway.
  • To those who are dealing with sickness, or even worse, your child's sickness. What you're doing is hard. You feel weak - you ARE weak, you don't always have good help or answers, you face separation from family to get medical treatment. You wonder if you'll be able to continue, but for now, you keep plugging away anyway.
  • To those who are in the trenches of tough situations, unexpected challenges, frightening circumstances, things that you can't even talk about or share with people. What you're doing is hard. You feel alone. You feel vulnerable. You feel scared, or guilty, or helpless, or defeated. You keep plugging away anyway.

I don't exclude my friends who are living in the "ease" of America, either. Life is hard. We cannot compare our challenges or struggles with others'.  When I became a mother for the first time, it was really hard for me. I was uptight, I was afraid I was doing the wrong thing, I was struggling to take care of my baby and keep up with my other responsibilities as a wife and homemaker. I cried. I thought there was no way I could have anymore children, because I couldn't even handle one. It was hard. Now I have three beautiful boys - boys who keep me up at night, keep me busy all day long, keep me on my toes, and keep my house messy. And do you know what? It's not hard anymore. Oh yes, there are moments when I've had a sleepless night and the baby is fussy and the other boys are fighting and I should be making supper and the house is a disaster and all I want to do is cry! But mostly, mothering is not what's really HARD right now. There are other things.

When I was just out of my teens, I was in a short, intense romantic relationship. When that ended, I suddenly knew the meaning of a broken heart. And it was hard. I looked at a bleak future and wasn't sure I cared about life anymore. I didn't know how to go on. I didn't know how I could love again. But I kept plugging away, and it got easier . . . and now the memories of that difficult time are dim and distant.

Do I laugh at the girl I used to be? The heartbroken young adult? The struggling young mother? I don't. The struggle was real. The things I was walking through at that time were really, really hard. It doesn't matter that other people were going through "harder" things. It doesn't matter that the things which felt hard then wouldn't feel hard now.

And that's why I am giving this shout-out to all my readers, all over the world. Life is hard. Most of you have a situation in your life right that is stretching you, terrifying you, hurting you, discouraging you. It's okay to admit that it's hard. Because you know what? If life wasn't hard, we wouldn't need God. If we could do this thing on our own, it would be easy to leave Him in Sunday morning and go on our merry way all week long.

As it is, we do need Him. And we need each other. And we need to give ourselves grace. And we need to realize that it's okay if we don't have it all together. Because life is hard.

****************************************************

And to close, here's my kiddos' absolute favorite veggie: Fried Okra! The most commonly available vegetables when my boys were tiny were greens (like spinach) and okra. We ate lots of both, and they learned to love them. Even now that we live in America, the land of always-available produce, they turn up their nose at wonderful things like fresh green beans and cauliflower, and beg for familiar spinach and okra. I don't have a recipe with exact measurements, but here's how I make it.

 Take fresh okra, cut off the stems, and slice into 1/4" rounds. Dip into a bowl of milk, then into a bowl of flour mixed with salt, pepper, and onion powder if you have it. Drop into about 1" of hot oil and fry without stirring or turning for several minutes. When one side is browned, flip all at once and brown the other side. Serve hot!

Tip #1: This method works best if you work quickly. It seems like the longer the okra is cut, the slimy-er it gets, and that makes everything gum up. If you're doing more than one "batch" in your skillet, don't cut the second batch and leave it sit while the first batch is cooking. Cut, dip, and fry right away.

Tip #2: Only fill the bottom of your skillet with one layer of okra. You want every piece to get nicely browned on both sides.

Tip #3: When you're buying okra, try to buy the smaller, darker green pods. If you can, test them by breaking the tip. It should be a crisp, clean, soft break. If it feels woody, stringy, or is hard to break, the okra is old and not as good.