Wow, I have not posted on here since October. It has seriously been the craziest and most unexpected 5 months or so in my world. Last year, I was “wheelin and dealin,” you might say; cookbook author, national and local TV spots, selling a few houses in Franklin, oh and being a new momma on top of that. My how quickly things can change. One thing is for sure – we really aren’t in control. Ha. I’ve had to learn that the hard way this winter. Countless times I have considered writing a new post on here, but I really didn’t have the words. I didn’t want to make any promises or declare anything about what was going on, because I really didn’t know what was going on. Since so many people have supported my cookbook and even just my recipe posts over the years, I figured an update on WHERE THE HECK I HAVE BEEN might be appreciated.
In Charleston soaking up the sun right before all of the craziness began.
So, here’s a run down of events, I finished most of my book marketing events and signings in October. We went on a trip to Charleston for a wedding, and I was feeling totally normal. I was a little tired from the busyness of the summer, but over all, I was fine. The weekend after we got back, towards the end of October, I woke up feeling very strange; light headed, nauseas, chills, and just overall unwell. It hit me ALL OF THE SUDDEN. I went to the doctor immediately, and they said it was probably a virus and gave me something for the nausea. After a week, I still wasn’t better. I could hardly get off the couch and just feeding Maverick or changing his diaper seemed to take all of my strength. At this point, I was pretty worried. I knew my body, and I had ever experienced anything like this. I had a speaking event coming up at a church a few weeks later, which was really the last thing I had on my calendar work wise for the year. I thought surely I would be fine by then, but to my surprise, the weeks went by, and I still wasn’t well.
My sweet friends who came to support me at my speaking event at Calvary Baptist Church. God gave me the energy I needed for this, but I had barely eaten for 3 weeks prior…pictures are deceiving.
Doctors seemed to be baffled, I had lots of tests and scans, and everything came back normal. I kept hearing from God that I needed to just “WAIT,” but that seemed pretty counter intuitive. As time went on I would feel better for a day or two, and then I would have a relapse of symptoms. This was forcing me to put my life on hold. I had so much anxiety about what was wrong with me, and I have no doubt that made my symptoms even worse. Typically, I would not call myself an extremely anxious person, but during this ordeal my lack of control was enough to send me into a panic at times. I couldn’t stand not knowing what was wrong with me and continuing to wake up just feeling ill and not myself. I researched all kinds of strange diseases and illness, none of which I actually had, but I couldn’t help myself. Throughout this season, I had definite moments of clarity and times when I heard God speak loudly, but I had many dark days of confusion and uncertainty as well.
Finally at the end of January, I started to see some real improvement. I also saw one last doctor, an internist at St Thomas, who confirmed what other doctors had suspected all along, I had a virus that my body was just having a really hard time fighting off. I realize people have much more difficult health battles to fight than this, but for someone with no medical history, 3 months of a mystery illness was super hard for me on so many levels. In the past, I have definitely prided myself on my health and ability to control my circumstances. I’m pretty sure “I can do it all” has been my motto since having Maverick, but God pretty much said “Hey, you aren’t defined by all that “stuff” you pride yourself on, am I really enough for you?.” Whoa. Talk about a REALITY CHECK.
Even though, I have felt well since February, my immune system has still been weak, I’ve caught several colds and even Hand, Foot, and Mouth from Mav last week! Obviously, I’m not totally out of the woods, but I’m taking lots of immune building supplements as well as keeping my diet pretty clean. Except for the occasional Saturday morning doughnut!
Doughnuts with my boy!
So, what’s next for my cooking career? Well, for right now I am cooking as much as ever, but without an agenda! It’s been all about using real ingredients, and taking healthy cooking to a new level for me and my family. I am experimenting with new recipes and just enjoying cooking for my people. This was the whole reason I fell in love with cooking in the first place, and I’m just getting back to my cooking roots, if you will. During my illness, I had totally taken a break from “creative cooking” and definitely from recipe creating, it was survival mode. Once I got my feet under me, I found myself unsure of where to pick back up with this whole cooking gig. The book is out and the marketing of that is pretty well over, I don’t really have an obvious next step in my cooking career.
The truth is I have continued to hear God saying “WAIT.” Even now, I believe I am supposed to cook for my family, and serve my son, husband, and those around me in a way I haven’t had the time to do in the past year or so. I’m going to be supporting Zach with real estate and the houses he is working on this spring and summer, because to be honest, it’s his time. He has been so supportive of me and my dreams and put up with a lot during this crazy winter. He deserves me to be “all in” as a wife, business partner and manager of all things McKinney house and home for now. I know that God has a plan, and my cooking career is not over, but for now it’s on hold, until God says GO.
Before my illness, I would have never dreamed this is how I would be starting 2016. It’s very hard for me not to be on the hunt for a new project now that I am feeling better. I feel the pressure that I’ve put on myself that says being a mom and wife is not enough. I feel the tension of wanting to do more, but I must be obedient in what I hear God saying to me now. I don’t know if that means a month, a year, or longer of taking a break, but I’m trying to be WILLING (my word for 2016) to do as He asks. His plans are always greater and ultimately, I want to serve Him and others with my whole heart.
So, I may post a recipe for fun here or there, but for now, no big plans. I guess you could say I’m just high on LIVING the simple life. Spring is here, sun is shining, Easter is coming, and Jesus is making ALL THINGS NEW.
Thank you for the prayers of healing and support, I’ll be back!
Is this not the most beautiful cake?! And just wait until you taste it, I’m thinking this is the perfect Mother’s Day dessert. I’ll get to the recipe soon, but first a little about the star of the show, strawberries!
If you haven’t noticed from social media yet, it’s Strawberry picking time! A couple of weeks ago, I had the privilege of attending a “Strawberry School” at Wagner Berry Farms conducted by my friend and mentor, Tammy Algood with Pick Tennessee Products (check out http://www.picktnproducts.org to find local strawberry farms in your area). Tammy is the southern cooking queen, and she has played a huge role in this crazy cooking journey I’m on. She actually introduced me to her book agent, who is now my agent and the talented man who came up with the concept for The Outdoor Table. Needless to say, I’m a big fan of hers, and I’m so incredibly thankful for her generosity and wisdom.
The fabulous Tammy Algood and I
Now back to the berries. Strawberry season here in Tennessee starts in May and runs through late June, it’s pretty short and sweet. So, I wanted to share 5 takeaways I had from the class, that will hopefully allow you to get the most out of these delicious local berries!
All you need for serving beautiful strawberries is a pretty platter and a bowl of powdered sugar!
It’s amazing the difference in the store bought berries compared to freshly picked. Did you know that it is logistically impossible to buy a ripe strawberry from a grocery store? (Find out why in my 5 tips below) Not only will you get the best berries locally, it’s also a wonderful way to enjoy the outdoors with your family. Oh and once you get them picked, go home bake up my Strawberry Upside Down Cake!
5 Tips for Strawberry Picking and Storage
Strawberries do not ripen after they are harvested. Once you pick the berry, it won’t continue to ripen like some other fruits, so be sure to pick the ripest berries you can find!
The ripest strawberries to pick should be red from the tip to the cap (where the stem is). Leave those green tipped berries on the vine!
Store your berries in a single layer, on a jelly roll pan, in your refrigerator for the longest shelf life.
DO NOT pre wash the berries and then store them, wash them right before eating/serving. This will prolong shelf life and keep them from molding prematurely.
The shelf life of a strawberry is about a week from the time it is picked. This is why strawberries in a super market, usually from California are rarely at their peak. The ripest berries from huge farms actually go into juice anyway, not into the cartons for consumers.
Since Mother’s Day is this Sunday, I thought that this Strawberry Upside Down Cake would be appropriate this week. I mean what mom doesn’t love cake and strawberries?! Oh and it simply must be served warm, with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Okay, my mouth is watering.
Happy Mother’s Day to all of you mommas out there. Now that I am a mom myself, I can appreciate this day more than ever. Enjoy!
Strawberry Upside Down Cake
makes 8 servings
10 tablespoons of butter, divided
1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
2 cups sliced strawberries
3/4 white sugar
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
2 large eggs
1/2 cup low fat buttermilk
1 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
Vanilla ice cream or whipped cream for serving
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Melt 4 tablespoons of the butter in a 9inch cast iron skillet over medium heat.
Sprinkle the brown sugar over the butter and then arrange the strawberry slices evenly on top. Remove the skillet form the heat and set aside.
Melt the remaining 6 tablespoons of butter and place in a large bowl. Whisk in the sugar until well mixed. Stir in the almond extract, eggs, and buttermilk.
In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Slowly mix the flour mixture in the buttermilk mixture. Pour the batter over the strawberries, and spread it evenly to the edges of the skillet.
Bake the cake for 28-30 minutes, until a wooden pick comes out clean.
Let the cake cool for 10 minutes on a wire rack, and then place a serving plate upside down on top of the pan, and invert the cake onto the plate. Serve it warm with vanilla ice cream or whipped topping.
“It’s a shame when we box up hospitality in entertaining. We lose sight of the true spiritual significance behind it, and in doing so we rob ourselves and others of the blessings God intends to come through it.” -Logan Wolfram, From the She Reads Truth Hospitality study
I just love a good chicken leg, it comes with a handle after all! Even back in the day when we would get a bucket of KFC fried chicken after church, I always preferred the legs. So, in honor of my love for legs, I’m sharing my Sticky Sesame Chicken Leg recipe! You may have seen some similar recipes to this on Pinterest, but this is my version of the mouth waveringly delicious, Asian flared main dish.
You have probably noticed that lately I have had some type of story to go with my recipes. Over the past few days, I’ve been thinking on what to write for this post, and I got nothin! Ever since I have been getting more personal on here, I’ve waited to write a post until I felt like God was really speaking to me and guiding my writing. I kept coming back to this one, and I finally decided I was just going to publish it today without anything extra. And then, this morning, I read my She Reads Truth devotional and boom, God gave me something! I love when He does that, sometimes I go for days where I just can’t hear Him, but He always shows up at just the right time.
If you haven’t checked out the She Reads Truth app, you should, it’s an awesome women’s devotional app with all kinds of different studies to choose from. I am currently doing a study on hospitality, and as I read the one for today, I realized that I use the word “entertaining” quite a bit, when what I really mean is hospitality. As you might have guessed, we haven’t been doing much entertaining since Maverick was born. We haven’t thrown any Pinterest worthy dinner parties, and I haven’t hosted a fancy ladies’ brunch. It just feels like I can’t really entertain right now, because we are in such a busy season of our lives. My husband, Zach, is finishing up building his first house, I’m listing it this month, my cookbook is coming out soon, and of course Maverick complicates things a little too.
In reality, maybe it’s not the time for me to entertain, but there is still time for me to be hospitable. I can still have people over to my house, and I can show hospitality to others even when I’m out and about by just having a welcoming spirit. I don’t have to have a big spread of food or send out formal invitations to create community. It might mean I make this chicken recipe and some good ol baked potatoes, or maybe we just pick up BBQ and hang out with friends after Mav goes to bed. It’s easy to make excuses and find reasons why “we can’t,” but the bottom line is we all need each other. Heck, sometimes I just need to talk to someone other than Maverick and Zach. Haha! And I’m thinking I’m not alone. People want to feel safe and comfortable, and I believe that happens most at the home of someone (like me) where a laundry basket of clothes is waiting to be folded in the corner and a Boppy gets used as a couch throw pillow.
To entertain, I may have to get everything pretty and perfect, but to be hospitable all I have to do is say, come on in!
Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. Romans 15:7
Now that that’s settled, back to my chicken legs, which are super easy and baked in the oven, making them perfect for when you’re being hospitable. No running in and out to check the grill and plenty of time to socialize while they bake! They also get slathered with an ooey,gooey sauce that is sticky and sweet and just plain yummy.
Also, shameless plug, the recipes in my cookbook are also perfect for showing hospitality this summer! Seriously, they are easy and uncomplicated, so no need to stress over food when you want to invite others to hang out and enjoy a meal on your patio. Bonus! Outdoor eating, means not so much cleaning!
Time. I have always been aware that it passes quickly. I remember when we would be going on a family vacation, I would think about how before I knew it, we would be on our way home and the trip would be over. Sort of a sad thought when you are headed out on a fun family trip, but for some reason I always thought it. However, my awareness of how fast time passes has escalated tremendously since having a baby. I admit, when I began taking those monthly pictures of Maverick with the stickers, I was happy and even excited to take them those first few months. I loved to see how much he had grown, especially since he started out so small. Each pound he gained and inch he grew made the month feel like an accomplishment. But now that he is caught up on weight and length, I’m not so excited about taking his 7 month picture next week. Don’t get me wrong, I love this stage, and seeing him explore and constantly learning and trying new things. It is truly amazing to watch, but the reality that we are over halfway to having a one year old is setting in.
Sweet 6 month picture of my boy (Photo by Montgomery Lee Photography)
The good news is, I do feel like I have gotten in my groove (most days) with being a mom while carrying on with my career. He has a couple of babysitters that we trust now, and I can even leave him without worrying too much. I can actually take him places now without being paranoid that everyone is watching, knowing that I’m a new mom, and I don’t really know what I’m doing. Insert story about how when Maverick was about a month old, I spent 30 minutes in the parking lot of Publix wondering how I was going to grocery shop with him and wondering if I should ask a random person to help me strap him in the ergo…
Well, we’ve got that figured out now, and the confidence I have in being a mom now compared to the beginning feels really good. But man, these months, they pass so quickly. He won’t be a baby too much longer and that’s hard to swallow. I always thought babies stayed babies for a long time, but they just don’t. While I was pregnant, another mom of 3 young kiddos told me to enjoy every stage, she said she spent most of her first born’s first year mourning the fact that he was growing up and feeling sad that it was all going by so fast. At the time, I didn’t think much of it, of course they grow, and you finally get to sleep, isn’t that the good news?! Now, I know what she meant. I find myself rocking my baby boy a little more lately, hoping he might doze off while I nurse him at night. Just so I can hold him while he is actually still and cozy in my arms. As much as I love that he can fall asleep on his own in his crib now and he has a routine, there’s a little piece of me that knows I’m going to miss his dependence on me to sleep. I don’t really miss that yet, because I am really enjoying sleeping at night and these longer naps, but I know I will. I still want to keep him on a schedule and do all of the things that allow me to get things done. But I’m just holding and rocking him a little longer than necessary these past few weeks, and I think I’ll keep that up as long as he lets me.
So how does this tie into a flatbread recipe?! Well, since time goes by so fast, and I don’t want to miss anything if I can help it, I’m really not cooking things that take up too much of my time these days. I do still love to cook and create in the kitchen though, so right now I’m all about making pretty food that can be ready in about 15-20 minutes for dinner. I have a delicious flatbread recipe in my new cookbook, and I have created a few more flatbread recipes since then that I absolutely love. All you have to do is buy some Naan, you can get it at any grocery store, usually near the other breads or in the ethnic section. Once you buy the Naan, have fun with whatever ingredients you like or have on hand. Since I’m a sweet and savory kind of girl, I’m using a little fruit on this one. I like to serve this with a simple salad for a light, fast, and beautiful spring dinner!
Pineapple and Pancetta Flatbread
makes about 12 pieces
1/3 cup diced pancetta (my substitute 4 slices cooked and chopped bacon)
1/4 cup red onion, finely chopped
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
2 (3-ounce) pieces Naan- whole wheat if available
3 ounces Fontina cheese
1/2 cup pineapple, chopped
Fresh parsley, chopped
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
In a medium skillet, cook the pancetta until it is crisp. If you prefer cooked onion, you may cook the onion for several minutes in the pancetta drippings.
Bursh the pieces of naan with the olive oil and place them on a baking sheet. Thinly slice the fontina and place it evenly on the naan. Top with the cooked pancetta, onion, and pineapple.
Bake the flatbreads for 10 minutes, and then sprinkle them with the parsley. Use a pizza cutter to slice each one into about 6 pieces.
Okay, I admit it. Even though I am a food writer/blogger and have a cookbook coming out soon, I don’t make all of Maverick’s baby food. I really feel like I should because buying the organic jars/pouches is pretty expensive, especially since I have a big eater on my hands. The bottom line is being home 3 days a week with him and trying to work in between naps, on top of making sure the house doesn’t look like a bomb went off is about all I can handle most days. However, I had some time this week, and I decided to dedicate a couple of hours to making some baby food for him, using some fun and unique flavors. So, if you’re a stay at home mom and don’t make your baby’s food, don’t feel bad, my job revolves around cooking and creating recipes, and I don’t even do it all of the time! I’m working on not feeling guilty about this…
Anyway, if you can carve out a couple of hours one day, I do think it is worth the time if you are trying to feed your baby organic, pure food. It’s much more affordable to make your own, plus it’s kind of fun and rewarding to create something for your baby and watch them explore new flavors. Which brings me to the three new recipes I made for my little man this week. I decided to add in a few spices and even herbs to these purees, but they are totally optional. Since I cook so many different things, I am eager to expose him to new flavors now, so (hopefully) he’ll be open to trying more foods as he grows. For now, Maverick is just really into all baby food, and so far we have not found anything he doesn’t like or has had a bad reaction to. Which is really not surprising at all, since his dad is the least picky eater on the planet. Yay for me!
Here is a little video of Maverick trying the “Bunny Bait,” a little unsure at first, but he ended up loving it!
Even though it may take a little extra time, baby food really is easy to make, and you certainly don’t have to be a great cook to pull this off.
Here are the items you will need to make your own baby food…
Steamer Basket – I actually just bought one at Kroger when I was grocery shopping for about 8 bucks.
Food Processor – Grab one at your next Target outing, a must in the kitchen in my opinion!
Ice Cube Trays (about 4) – This is an easy way to store the food in the freezer.
Disclaimer: I am not a doctor or expert in what to feed your baby, so be sure to consult your pediatrician before trying any of these recipes and feeding them to your child.
makes about 24 cubes
Ingredients ( organic ingredients are best)
2 1/2-3 cups zucchini, peeled and chopped into 1 inch cubes
2 cups baby carrots
1 teaspoon garlic
water as needed
Fill a large pot with about 1 inch of water bring it to a boil. Place the steamer basket into the pot and fill it with the zucchini and garlic. Place the lid on the pot and steam for 10-15 minutes until the zucchini is very tender.
Repeat this process with the carrots, but steam them for 15-20 minutes, until tender.
Add the veggies to the food processor and puree them. Add a couple tablespoons of are at a time until the puree has reached the consistency you prefer for your baby.
Note: The zucchini already has quite a bit of water in it, so you may not need much water for this recipe.
Minty Peas, Please!
makes 24 about cubes
1/2 cup cooked brown rice
10 ounce bag frozen peas
1 teaspoon chopped fresh mint
1/2-3/4 cup water
Fill a large pot with about 1 inch of water bring it to a boil. Place the steamer basket into the pot and fill it with the peas. Place the lid on the pot and steam for 7-8 minutes until the peas are very tender.
Add the steamed peas, brown rice, mint, and 1/2 cup of water to the processor.
Puree this as much as possible, adding more water as needed. This will probably have a little more texture to it than the other recipes, so again be sure to consult your pediatrician and use your own discretion.
Spiced Apples and Sweet Taters
makes about 24 cubes
2 medium sweet potatoes
2 medium apples, peeled and chopped
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4-1/2 cup water
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Wash and dry the sweet potatoes and place them on a baking sheet covered with aluminum foil for easy clean up. Bake the potatoes for 45 min to an hour until very tender when pricked with a fork. Once the potatoes have baked, allow them to cook completely and then peel them.
Fill a large pot with about 1 inch of water bring it to a boil. Place the steamer basket into the pot and fill it with the apples. Place the lid on the pot and steam for 12-15 minutes until the apples are very tender.
Place the cooked potatoes, apples, cinnamon, nutmeg, and water into the processor and puree.
I am thrilled to announce that my first cookbook, "The Outdoor Table," published by Thomas Nelson Published is available to purchase wherever books are sold! This beautiful book includes 175 EXCLUSIVE recipes, not found on this site, perfect for all of your outdoor entertaining! Find out more and order your copy here...
Hey Y'all! Well I'm a southern gal, raised in Tennessee, where I still live with my husband and baby boy! Creating fresh and simple recipes with a southern flare, while sharing bits of my life with y'all on camera is what this site is all about. Also, my very first cookbook with Thomas Nelson Publishers will be out Spring of 2015, and I just can't wait to share it with you all! Read more about April...