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Posts Tagged ‘budget’

I have mixed emotions as I write my first financial post in several years. On the one hand, I’m excited to share the good news of God’s miraculous financial provision for our family, and how he’s been setting us free from bondage to financial strongholds. On the other hand, my heart is heavy for those who are under a burden of guilt and shame due to debt. If that’s you, please know that God does not condemn you and neither do I (Romans 8). God has a plan for debt forgiveness, and his name is Jesus Christ! If you believe God only cares about your spiritual debt and not your physical debt, then please read on as I share with you some truths from scripture that have set me free, and the testimony of how I have put God’s Word to the test in my life.

Let me also say up front that this is not a “get your finances in order” pep talk, either. Some of you may be so far in debt that you could work hard with “gazelle intensity,” saving every penny, and never get ahead of it unless God miraculously intervenes. Well, what if I told you that God still does miraculous interventions! God’s grace is sufficient for you, as it was for us in the years after my husband finally got a job, when we were desperately trying to rebuild our finances after draining every penny of our savings while my husband was unemployed for 18 months. It seemed like every time we got a little saved up something would come up, like needing to replace the furnace or a car, and our savings would get used up. So I know how discouraging it is when you’re trying to make good financial choices and you just can’t catch a break. During that season, however, God was teaching me 2 things:

  1. Be thankful that God has provided us with the means to pay for the things we need, and don’t stress about spending savings on actual needs. The God who provided it yesterday, will provide today and tomorrow.
  2. How I view God when my finances are tight reveals my level of faith and whether or not I believe he is a good God.

I remember when our freezer, which came with our first house and was so old I’ve never heard of the brand, finally gave out right at a time when I’d been losing weight and desperately needed to replace my wardrobe. I fell to my knees in my closet, sobbing because once again, a house need was going to take priority over my needs. I said, “God, I guess you just don’t want me to have new clothes.” I’ll never forget his response: “Why would you think that?” It set off a cascade of conversations with my husband as we wrestled with whether or not we really believed that God desired good things for us. We’d grown up in the church hearing all about how we are to give sacrificially to those less fortunate, but honestly didn’t know how God felt about our wants and needs. (Dave Ramsey’s book, The Legacy Journey, was immensely helpful in sorting out what is biblical truth and what has been twisted in order to guilt Christians into giving. If you were taught to believe that money is evil and God doesn’t want Christians to have it, I highly recommend reading it.)

During those years of savings slipping through our fingers due to large repair bills, God had asked me to surrender a dream our family had to go to Disney World. I honestly felt like it was a rebuke for having such a worldly desire. I let it go, and we had many wonderful – but much less expensive – family vacations during those lean years. I finally reached the decision that I would believe that God is for me (Romans 8:31), and desires to bless me both spiritually and physically as I obey him (Luke 6:38), even when it felt like the world was against me financially. Shortly after this turning point in my relationship with God, my in-laws decided to take all of my husband’s family to – you guessed it – Disney World!

A hug from Tigger was a hug from Jesus that precious day which cost us nothing.

When God said no to my desire, it was not a rebuke for having a desire to enjoy a once-in-a-lifetime trip with my kids; it was because he was going to bless me by providing it FOR me through someone else! Why is it so hard to believe that God is for us and wants to bless us? Why do we believe that God is like a parent who takes his child to a candy store, then chastises him for wanting a piece? In Matthew 7:11 Jesus said,

If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!

God is a good Father. Perhaps your father made you feel like your needs weren’t important, or that you were foolish for wanting the things you wanted. God is a Father who blesses his children. That may be hard to believe because we see so much suffering in the world, but if you look at his relationship with those he called his own (Abraham, Isaac, Jacob/Israel and the Children of Israel) you will see a God who blesses and provides. Open God’s Word and you will find stories of manna and provision in the wilderness for 40 years, then whole cities delivered into the hands of his chosen people so that they didn’t even have to build houses when they came out of the desert! You will find a story of a widow whose husband was in debt, and the debt collectors were about to take her sons, so she cried out to the Prophet Elisha for help. God miraculously paid her debt and provided for her and her sons by multiplying oil in jars for her to sell (2 Kings 4). If God cared about delivering her from her debt, why don’t you think he cares about yours? 

The enemy has created so much confusion concerning money. In America, we have this idea that debt is just a part of life, so instead of turning to God and asking him to provide for our needs, which is exactly what he instructed his people to do, we turn to Visa.

This is what the LORD says: “Stop at the crossroads and look around. Ask for the old, godly way, and walk in it. Travel its path, and you will find rest for your souls. But you reply, ‘No, that’s not the road we want!’ – Jeremiah 6:16

Easy credit seems like a friend in an emergency, but turns out to be an enemy that enslaves us (Proverbs 22:7). When we awaken in the trap, instead of approaching “God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Hebrews 4:16), we submit to guilt and shame and cover our debt with more debt. The enemy heaps so much guilt and shame on those who are burdened by debt, that we wrongly assume God is disgusted with us when we make a mistake. Like Adam and Eve we hide from God – the One who could set us free from this negative cycle of bondage.

But God does not want us to be staggering under the burden of debt. He intends for us to be generous givers as he gives generously to us. God’s intended cycle of financial blessing is outlined in 2 Cor. 9:

God will generously provide all you need. Then you will always have everything you need and plenty left over to share with others…God is the one who provides seed for the farmer and then bread to eat. In the same way, he will provide and increase your resources and then produce a great harvest of generosity in you. Yes, you will be enriched in every way so that you can always be generous (emphasis mine). And when we take your gifts to those who need them, they will thank God. So two good things will result from this ministry of giving—the needs of the believers…will be met, and they will joyfully express their thanks to God.

It is God’s plan to “generously provide all you need,” so if you have a scarcity stronghold like I did, and believe that you must stock up on every good deal that comes your way because it might not come around again, memorize this verse and repeat it every time you go to the store. God does not give sparingly. He will not only meet your needs, but give you enough to share with others. I can’t tell you how many times God provided just what I needed for the exact amount of money I had, time and time again. When we were in the middle of our long season of unemployment, with no end in sight, I needed to replace some worn out clothes for my kids and only had $2. I was going to head to the thrift store, but something came up and I had to put it off until the next day. When I arrived at the store the next day I discovered that it was $2 day, when you could buy everything you could fit into a big trash bag for just $2. I not only found what I needed for my kids, I found some things for myself, as well. God interrupted my original plan because he wanted to generously provide for not just my kids’ needs, but mine! When my kids outgrow their clothes, we pass them along to others who can use them so that, according to the verses above, we can help meet the needs of others which will cause them to give praise back to God.

That’s the cycle God intended: He provides the “seed” and “bread,” gives us a generous amount and a generous spirit, then we thank him for it and share it with others so they will also return thanks to God. However, in modern America the cycle has broken down. First, we’ve forgotten that every good and perfect gift comes from the Father (James 1:17). We don’t trust our Heavenly Father to provide for us, even though Jesus promised that if we would seek him first in everything, he would take care of all our physical needs (Matthew 6:25-34). Unfortunately, when we try to take more than he gives, we end up borrowing to finance it. One of the many blessings God promised his people in his covenant is that if they would obey him, The Lord will open the heavens, the storehouse of his bounty, to send rain on your land in season and to bless all the work of your hands. You will lend to many nations but will borrow from none” (Deut. 28:12). God’s blessing is for his people to be lenders, not borrowers, but we’ve got it backwards in this country. We think it’s a blessing to borrow because it enables us to have whatever we want right now. However, we can’t give generously when we are in debt, so the cycle breaks down. To get back into the cycle of faith, we need to first believe that God is good, and trust him to meet our needs. I know it’s hard when you are poor – believe me, friend, I’ve been there – but God has never failed to provide for my needs, and he will meet yours. Ask him!

The other place where God’s blessing cycle gets interrupted is when we start experiencing financial success and look around like King Nebuchadnezzar, exclaiming, “I, by my own mighty power, have built this beautiful city.” (Read the rest of Daniel 4 to see what God had to say about that and how he humbled this mighty king!) Folks, can we be real and just admit that we have a tendency to blame God for the suffering in our lives, while giving ourselves all the credit when things are going well? God will not share his glory with anyone else, which is why he commanded us to have no other gods before him. He’s not going to abundantly bless us if we give ourselves all the glory for it and hoard it (Luke 12:16-21).

It is not wrong to have money and enjoy God’s blessings. God gives good gifts to his children for our enjoyment (Jeremiah 31:12)! But when God blesses us – no matter how small a thing – we need to develop the habit of giving him praise. When our finances were tight, I would praise God for a $1 off coupon. But you know what? I developed the mindset that God was providing for all my needs – and he was! I could be totally wrong, but sometimes I think God delights in blessing me with little things financially – a good bargain here, a freebee there – because he gets a kick out of knowing that I will praise him for ALL of it. And when we share with others in need, they praise God too. That’s how the church is supposed to be encouraged and built up. We sometimes blame God for the failings of the church, but his desires and plans are perfect.

We know this on a gut level, but it is hard to live God’s way in a materialistic culture that bombards us with constant messages that we need this or that to be happy, and we can easily finance it with debt. Advertisers prey on our fears (of missing out, not being accepted, not having enough because we passed up a sale, etc.), which is why we need God’s perfect love to cast out our fear (1 John 4:18) and replace it with the fruit of the Spirit in order to have self-control. The Apostle Paul said,

 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength. (Philippians 4:12-13)

We can’t do this on our own. We need God to set us free from financial strongholds, and we need the Holy Spirit to fill us with the strength to be content with whatever God has provided. This is, I believe, why the spiritual discipline of tithing is so important. By giving God 10% of our income, we stand up to the enemy’s lie that we can’t rely on God to take care of us, and we practice self-control as God gives us the strength to be content living beneath our means. It’s not about the church needing our money; it’s about God wanting us to trust him to meet our needs and satisfy our desires. God not only asks us to tithe, he invites us to test him and believe that he will bless us if we do!

Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the LORD Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it. (Malachi 3:10)

So we did. When my husband was unemployed, his $1200/month unemployment check didn’t even cover half of our living expenses. But we tithed $120 every month anyway. We never missed a meal or a bill payment. We always had clothes. We never carried a balance on a credit card. For 18 months we didn’t get sick and our cars didn’t break down. I don’t know how our savings stretched, but God made it stretch. Even though our budget was painfully tight, God met ALL our needs. Not only that, God miraculously doubled my husband’s income over the past summer, which replaced that lost savings we’d had to live on – glory to God! We used the extra money to pay down our second mortgage because we agree with God that debt is not his plan for us. Paying down debt directly challenged my stronghold of scarcity because I wanted to build up our savings for my security, but trusting in God instead of a savings account has given us victory over the enemy in this area, and that has led to victory in other areas, as well. We could not pay off debt on our own without God’s help, but as we have yielded our finances to God, he has stepped in to provide what we cannot. I believe that as we are faithful to both enjoy and steward what he gives us, he will bless us with more so we can be lenders instead of borrowers (Matt. 25:14-30). And I believe God wants to do this for you, too!

Friends, it’s time for financial freedom. I don’t just mean getting our finances in order and getting out of debt, but allowing the grace and forgiveness of God to wash over us and set us free from bondage to shame. There is no pit you’ve dug for yourself that is so big that God cannot make a way out! Yes, we must repent, but we also need God to deliver us from financial mental strongholds. It doesn’t matter how many times you’ve studied the Financial Peace program or put a budget on paper if you have a spending addiction or scarcity stronghold that prevents you from following through. We need to know that our battle is not just with our flesh, but there can be spiritual – and even generational – strongholds surrounding how we spend money. (Families can pass down strongholds of spending addiction that leads to debt, or there can be a scarcity stronghold that leads to hoarding or a refusal to bless children.) The good news is that God has given us divine power to tear down strongholds in Jesus name, and take captive every thought – and spending habit – to make it obedient to Christ (2 Cor. 10:4-5).

If you would like God to set you free from money-related strongholds and get back into the cycle of blessing, I invite you to allow God to deliver and restore you as he has been restoring me. God can renew our minds and change the way we think, setting us free from old habits (Romans 12:2). This is how God is teaching me to bring strongholds to him:

  • First, we must acknowledge before God that we need his help to bind whatever has bound us. In order for deliverance to take place, we need to ask God to reveal any areas where we are in bondage and when we first were taken captive by this stronghold. Who spoke a lie over us or taught us in this way?
  • Feel the feelings you felt at that time. Did you feel fear that you wouldn’t have enough? Did you feel jealousy that someone had more than you? Did you feel shame when you were taught that money is evil and God wants Christians to be poor, or that having wants is wrong? Allow the emotions connected to that experience to emerge, and ask God to cleanse and heal your emotional wounds.
  • Receive God’s forgiveness to you for your part in agreeing with the lie or fear and acting on it. Then forgive and ask Jesus’s forgiveness to flow through you to whoever else was involved in the beginning and perpetuation of this stronghold. Allow God’s forgiveness to flow through you to others until you feel at peace. If you need to forgive God because you feel like he let you or your family down, then do that. Don’t get hung up on theology – if you’re mad at God, forgive him. If you need to forgive yourself, do that. Until we forgive ALL our debtors – those who have wronged us – we leave the door open to torment by the enemy (Matt. 18:34-35). In order to close the door to shame, we MUST forgive as Christ forgave us.
  • Renounce the lie you have believed out loud, if there is one. (Say, “I no longer believe that I have to hoard things,” or “I no longer believe that I must buy things beyond my budget in order to be happy.”) Then ask God to replace the lie with scriptural truth, which is how God renews our minds. Say aloud, “I am not controlled by my sinful nature. I am controlled by the Spirit of God. I have no obligation to do what my sinful nature urges me to do because I am a child of God” (Romans 8:9-16). Rebuke the stronghold of scarcity by saying, “I believe that my God will meet all my needs” (Phil. 4:19). Stand firm against the strongholds of spending and hoarding addictions by proclaiming, “God has not given me a spirit of fear, but of power, love, and self-discipline” (1 Timothy 1:7). Meditate on these scriptures and whichever ones the Holy Spirit brings to your mind every time you go shopping, and see what God will do!

God’s grace abounds toward you and me. It is God’s plan to bless his children, and he will restore you as you daily walk with him and renew your mind with the Word of God. This is how he restored me. If you don’t know where to start, print out the verses I’ve linked in this post and pray over them, yielding to the Holy Spirit, and allowing God to change you from the inside out. According to 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24, God is able to keep you blameless, and he will do it!

Return to the Lord your God,
    for he is merciful and compassionate,
slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love.
    He is eager to relent and not punish. (Joel 2:13)

Jesus paid our debts on the cross to set us free from paying the wages of sin and death. The gift of God is abundant life, and you can take that to the bank!

 

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Turkey Vegetable Soup

This hearty, flavorful without being spicy, soup is my go-to lunch most days during the winter.  It’s a dieter’s friend because it contains no starchy veggies or grains, but fills you up when served with an apple or other piece of fruit. Most canned soups are full of broth (and scary ingredients!), but this soup actually satisfies because it’s full of meat and veggies with just enough broth to call it soup.

It only takes about 25 minutes to prep, and 15 minutes to cook, but makes enough to last throughout the week.  I love cooking once and having lunches taken care of for the week!  I can pull this together for under $6 – local friends, ask me and I’ll tell you how – so it’s very economical.  If you don’t like or have on hand the veggies I use, just substitute your favorite veggies.  To save time and add variety, I’ve substituted frozen peas and carrots for the fresh baby carrots.  I’ve also used yellow summer squash instead of okra.  If you’re not carb-conscious, you can toss in some frozen corn or white beans.

Look at me, pretending to be a real food blogger with my ingredients picture. You're so impressed., right?

Look at me, pretending to be a real food blogger with my ingredients picture. You’re so impressed, right?

Hearty Turkey Vegetable Soup

1 T. olive oil
1 stalk celery, chopped
8-10 large baby carrots, chopped (or frozen carrots)
1 zucchini, quartered lengthwise and diced
1 lb. ground turkey (dark meat is perfect)
1 1/2 T. chicken flavor Better Than Bouillon
2 c. hot water
2 15-oz. cans diced tomatoes with onion and garlic*
1 can (10 oz. or 15 oz.) diced tomatoes with green chilies
1 c. frozen green beans
3/4 c. frozen chopped okra, summer squash, or a second zucchini
1/4 c. diced mushrooms, optional (fresh, canned, or freeze dried)
1 bay leaf
Salt and pepper

*If you can’t find diced tomatoes with onion and garlic (mine are from Albertson’s), just use 2 cans of diced tomatoes and saute 1/3 c. chopped onion with the zucchini, adding 1 T. minced garlic for the last minute.  If you can find the canned version, though, it’s a huge time saver and has wonderful flavor!

Directions:
Heat a large soup pot at one notch past medium heat and add olive oil.  Saute celery and carrots (if using fresh carrots), and onion (if you can’t find the diced tomatoes with garlic and onion) for about 3 minutes.  Add zucchini and saute for about 4 minutes, until zucchini is lightly browned.  Season generously with salt and pepper.  (This step seals in the flavor and helps the zucchini keep its shape instead of turning mushy.)  If you’re adding minced garlic, saute it for about 30 seconds.  Remove veggies temporarily to a bowl.  (I just use the bowl I’ll be eating out of.)

In the same pot, brown the turkey until no longer pink.  Season generously with salt and pepper.  Don’t drain the juice that’s released by the meat – it’s not fat. Push the meat to the outer edge of the pot and let the juice pool in the middle. Add the Better Than Bouillon to the juice and stir until it’s dissolved.  Add water and canned tomatoes.  Throw in the bay leaf and bring the soup to a boil.  Stir in frozen veggies, mushrooms (if using), and the sauteed veggies.

Simmer 15 minutes, covered, or until veggies are cooked to your preference. Garnish with Parmesan cheese, if desired.  Serves 6-8.

 

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Making gluten free frozen meals doesn’t have to take extra time, just extra planning, and it can save you a bundle on expensive GF convenience food for those nights when you just don’t have time to cook.  The most economical way to freezer cook is to stock up on meat and ingredients for side dishes that freeze well when they’re on sale, and plan to cook enough for 2 or 3 freezer meals in addition to your dinner that week.  If you do this only twice a week, you’ll have a treasure trove of quick meals for busy nights in no time!  I did this for three weeks last month, and was able to take the week before Thanksgiving off of cooking as a result.  It was awesome!  If you’re having company come to visit, then you’ll definitely be glad you took the time to make a few meals in advance so you don’t have to spend precious visiting time slaving in the kitchen.

Tips on Freezer Cooking
The key to successful freezer cooking is to get rid of as much air as you can in your bag or container.  I have a fancy vacuum-sealer that I never use because it’s cheaper to just use a Ziplock freezer bag (I use generic brands).  Just place your completely cooled food items into the smallest size bag that will work, press out the air, close the bag almost all the way and, if it’s not raw meat, use a straw to suck out the rest of the air.  You’ll see the bag shrink around your food.  Then just pull out the straw and quickly seal.  Your food will last for months this way with nary an ice crystal to cause freezer burn!  For casseroles or side dishes like mashed potatoes, I like to place them in a disposable tin pan (from the dollar store) with a layer of plastic wrap against the potatoes and heavy duty foil over that.

If you’re new to freezer cooking, avoid dishes with rice or pasta, as these can be tricky to freeze without them turning to mush – especially rice pasta, which gets mushy easily.  However, corn tortillas freeze well, as do potato side dishes.  Most GF breads freeze well, as do cupcakes and cookie dough.  (I prefer to freeze the dough, rather than cookies which can crumble after thawing, since freshly baked cookies are the best!)  Homemade meatballs and chicken strips freeze well and go with side dishes that are quick to heat, like pasta or frozen GF French fries (always read labels on fries, since some contain wheat).  When making a homemade sauce or cream soup for casseroles, be sure to add a pinch of xanthan gum to keep the ingredients from separating.  (This miracle ingredient is in just about every commercial sauce or convenience food, and it’s already in your pantry.  Use it!)  It’s best to freeze sauces or crunchy toppings (like the onions for my Green Bean Casserole) separately and assemble thawed ingredients just prior to baking.

Some of my favorite freezer meals are right on this blog:

Crock Pot Pork Taco meat can be frozen in serving sizes for tacos or nacho meat. You can also make the tacos ahead of time and freeze them in a bag.  These make great enchiladas, too, but freeze the sauce for enchiladas separately.  This is a very versatile meat that is on the menu regularly because it’s easy to throw together, makes a lot, and pork roasts often cost less than $2/lb.

  • If you don’t have enough green chilies, you can substitute chopped onion.  Or if you’re not a fan of pork, just freeze your favorite meat with GF taco seasoning!
  • If you’re new to cooking with corn tortillas, heat 3 or 4 at a time over low heat on a griddle sprayed with oil.  Flip after a few seconds, and immediately top with shredded cheese (we use cheddar or co-jack).  Put a 1-in. stripe of meat down the center.  When cheese is melted, lift one side of the tortilla over the meat, then roll the whole thing over to seal.  The heat makes them more pliable for rolling, and the cheese will keep the tortilla from popping open.

Lasagna – Okay, I know I said to not do pasta, but this is the exception since you don’t cook the noodles in advance.  Just layer the ingredients and freeze for later, or make a double batch so you can cook one and freeze one.

Mashed Potatoes – I tried the recipe from the Pioneer Woman blog for Thanksgiving and loved it!  I mashed a 5 lb. bag of potatoes the week before and had some for dinner, then froze the rest in a gallon-size freezer bag.  Then, on turkey day, I thawed it in the microwave and plopped it in a greased crock pot on high for a few hours, stirring occasionally to heat evenly.  At first, it was really soupy, but it thickened as it heated up – and tasted amazing!

  • For dairy free potatoes, skip the cream cheese and just use dairy free margarine and rice milk.
  • For a one dish meal, set aside some mashed potatoes for Shepherd’s Pie, which can also be frozen.

Fried Chicken Strips – These are a great way to use tenderloins trimmed from chicken breasts, or you can slice chicken breasts into strips.  I’ve linked my Mandarin Chicken recipe, but these work with any dipping sauce.

  • To freeze, cool cooked chicken at room temperature on plates lined with paper towels, then transfer to a freezer safe baking tray to freeze for a few hours.  Once frozen, transfer to a freezer bag and press out (or suck out) the air.  Cook from frozen in a 400 degree oven for about 20 min.
  • Recently, I’ve been using/loving the Hodgson Mill GF Seasoned Coating Mix (dairy, soy and corn free, and available at our Wal-Mart).  I follow the directions on the back for Country Fried Beef (which you can also make and freeze), and skip the messy egg wash by just applying a liberal amount of coating mix and frying in oil until golden brown.  (I coat all the chicken once, then do it a second time.)  The recipe on the box for Country White Gravy is easy and awesome, so make sure you freeze some potatoes to go with your chicken strips!  However, these also taste great with barbecue sauce or honey mustard.

Meatballs or Mini Meatloaves – You can grind oats in a food processor as a healthy substitute for bread crumbs in your favorite meatball recipe, or grind the heals from GF bread (I save mine in the freezer for making bread crumbs) and combine with your favorite seasonings.  Recently, I’ve begun adding shredded potato and grated onion to my meatballs for moist meatballs that somewhat resemble my Grandma’s Swedish meatballs (only I’m too lazy to roll them in flour and fry them, like we do with Swedish meatballs).

  •  I like to heat up frozen meatballs in spaghetti sauce while the pasta boils, but we sometimes eat them like mini meatloaves or as meatball subs in toasted Udi’s hot dog buns with some spaghetti sauce and melted mozzarella or provolone.

Ham and Cheese Sandwiches on Onion Poppy Seed Cheese Rolls/Buns – My mother-in-law made these for get-togethers with family and friends because you can make these in advance and pop the wrapped sandwiches in the oven for a quick meal.  I like to make cheese rolls from a Pamela’s bread mix for these, but you could use your favorite hamburger bun/hot dog bun/roll for these.

Also, don’t forget to freeze leftover turkey or roast chicken to make Turkey or Chicken Pot Pie Pizza or Biscuit Pot Pies!

Some of our favorite gluten free breads and desserts to freeze include:

With some quick meal items in the freezer this month, you’ll have time to bake yummy goodies like Sour Cream Sugar Cookies or these Easy Holiday Goodies to Make with Kids.  Throw some Wassail in the crock pot, and you’re set for the holidays!

 

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Cancer.  That one word can stop you dead in your tracks and change your world forever.  Four weeks ago we found out that my mom has sinus cancer, her second cancer battle, so not only am I concerned for her well-being, I’m aware that my risk of getting cancer is higher.  Of course, there are lots of things we can do to prevent cancer, like avoid smoking, avoid toxins, and eat all-natural whole foods.  Right?

Obesity.  We’re bombarded in the media by all kinds of dismal reports on the alarming rise of obesity and obesity-related diseases in our country as a result of the typical, nutrient-deficient, American diet.  We’re told that we can live longer, healthier lives if we exercise and follow certain food rules.  Role models who have beat their bodies into submission preach the gospel of a slim, fit body as our salvation from illness and poor body image.  They flaunt their “before and after” pictures as proof that you too can be beautiful if you follow their rules.  Self-discipline is all you need to have the perfect body.  Right?

Like most people, I’ve bought into the claims that the “wrong foods” will hurt us, but the “right foods” can cure us.  I’ve even had success on this blog perpetuating this same information.  The highest number of hits has been on my “Breaking Free from the Sugar Addiction” post.  When my husband and I decided to drastically decrease our sugar consumption 3 years ago, it was partly to lose weight and reduce our risk of cancer, but it was mostly because we had out-of-control sugar cravings and did not want to be a slave to food.  God honored our desires, and gave us success.   Since then, my husband has kept off the weight, but I’ve put it back on and have tried unsuccessfully to lose it the same way I did before.

(Now, before you go hating on the skinny girl who thinks she’s fat, let me clarify that I do not think I’m fat.  I simply happen to gain all my weight in my belly, which means a couple pounds weight gain not only makes me have to buy new jeans, it makes me look like I’m pregnant.  No woman who is not pregnant wants to look like she is, so please don’t judge.)

After several unsuccessful attempts to take off those stubborn pounds, I began to feel uneasy about it, and finally asked God if there was a reason why it was so hard.  Was I still a slave to sugar and needing to be more disciplined in cutting it out of my diet?  Was wheat the problem, since my husband has kept off the weight on the gluten free diet while I still eat wheat?  Should I just accept my body the way it is and be focusing on eating the right foods to prevent cancer?  I had so many questions for God, but I was not expecting the one he had for me.  At the end of a daily devotional by Beth Moore, I read this question:

“How can freedom in Christ coexist with a zealously disciplined lifestyle?”

Wait, is she saying that it’s bad to live a zealously disciplined lifestyle?  Doesn’t the Bible say being disciplined is a good thing?  After wrestling with this question, God opened my eyes to the truth regarding my food issues, in much the same way he opened the Apostle Peter’s eyes.  In Acts 10, we read that God gave Peter a vision of all kinds of foods that were off limits to Jews and told him to eat.  When Peter protests that he would never think of eating something unclean, God responds, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.”  In The Message, the same verse says, “If God says it’s okay, it’s okay.”  God was about to send Peter to the home of a non-Jew, and did not want Peter to take offense at the food that was offered to him.  God was more interested in Peter building relationships and spreading the good news of the gospel, than in enforcing a rigid set of food rules (which God wrote, by the way).

So what does this mean for you and me?  I believe that the same zeal for purity in food that Peter experienced has resurfaced in our culture today, and if we’re not careful, we’ll end up no better than the Pharisees Jesus spoke against who were trying to be righteous by eating the “right” foods and doing the “right” things.  Those of us who are Christians and have freedom in Christ need to be careful that in our zeal for healthy living that honors God, we do not unwittingly place a yoke of slavery to healthy eating on our brothers and sisters in Christ by insisting that only things that “God made” are okay to eat.  “If God says it’s okay, it’s okay.”

The day before my mom started chemo and radiation, I read a lengthy article on all the things that can cause cancer, and how we should avoid all these “bad foods” at any cost.  It’s no coincidence that I had already promised my daughter I would make corn dogs for her that same day, since she’d been asking for them for awhile.  After reading that scary list, I practically begged my daughter to let me make anything else, but only corn dogs would do.  I was about to launch into a lecture on the evils of corn dogs when God whispered, “If I say it’s okay, it’s okay.  Relationship matters more than food.”  So I invited my daughter to make corn dogs with me, and had a great time in the kitchen with her.  I even threw in some tater tots to bless my husband.

When we sat down to pray for the food, like we always do, I felt convicted by the Holy Spirit.  God was asking, “Are you really thanking me for the food I’ve provided for you?  You ask me to ‘bless the food to the nourishment of your body.’  Do you believe that I can bless you with a nitrate-filled corn dog?  Do not call anything impure that I have made clean.”

I can get uptight about not being able to afford organic meat and produce – or worse, make my family sacrifice in other areas so we can spend all our money on expensive food – or I can thank God for the food we can afford and trust him to bless it to our bodies’ use.  I can fret and worry about arsenic in our rice and GMO corn in our tortillas, or I can thank God that these inexpensive foods allow us to live within our means, and trust God to make them clean.  My faith is in God, not my food.

That’s the real issue, the answer to my question of why I couldn’t lose the weight again.  God would not bless any effort that would lead me to put my faith and trust in an eating plan.  He did not set me free from being a slave to sugar so that I could perpetuate my ideology and make others a slave to my way of eating.  God will not allow me to put my hope of salvation in anything but Him.  Whether we’re trying to save ourselves from cancer and disease, or are trying to pin our self-worth on a thin body and zealously disciplined lifestyle, our efforts to find salvation from food are nothing more (or less) than idolatry.  

I find it interesting that there’s so much emphasis today on “cleansing” foods.  Eating the “right” foods will not “cleanse” you; only the blood of Jesus Christ, our Savior, will.  He died for you to set you free from bondage to sin and anything else – however good and noble a cause it may be – that would enslave you.  Only He can satisfy your longings, heal your diseases, and make you whole.

So does this mean we’re free to just eat whatever we want?  Yes and no.  I’ve been mostly eating even healthier than I used to because one of the “fruits” or blessings of the Holy Spirit is self-control.  When I submit my eating habits and attitudes to the authority of Christ, he gives me peace and self-control in return.  Because I love God, I want to take care of my body in a way that honors him, and he blesses me with self-control to help me accomplish his good purpose for me.  But if his good purpose includes eating “impure” foods from time to time for the sake of relationship and living within my means, then he will give me peace as I trust in him.

It’s not easy retraining myself to seek God’s input in my food choices, but it’s so worth it.  Last  week, my son suddenly announced that he wanted to make cookies with me.  And because he loves me, he wanted to honor me by having me take the first bite.  I could have said no to his requests, reminding him that sugar is bad for us, but I would have been serving my belief system instead of serving my son.  I’m so glad God gives me freedom in Christ to eat the healthiest food I can afford without worrying when relationship requires my food choices to be subject to the law of love.

Let’s take food off the altar of worship and put it back where it belongs, on the table.  “Taste and see that the LORD is good” (Psalm 34:8).

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Awhile back I was CRAVING my favorite Chinese food, Mandarin Chicken.  But alas, there are no gluten free Chinese restaurants in town where I can go to feed my addiction.  After a disappointing search on the web for anything resembling my favorite orange sauce, I had a “duh” moment when I realized that I don’t need to make the sauce because it doesn’t contain any wheat.  A quick call to the Chinese restaurant down the road confirmed my suspicion that they sell the sauce as an optional side – for only $.89, which is cheaper than buying most jarred sauces at the grocery store!  So I drove down to the restaurant and introduced myself as “the weird lady who called about just buying Mandarin sauce,” and returned home with a gelatinous, unnaturally red, nectar of the gods.

All that remained was to fry up some chicken.  For this, I turned to my Texas grandmother’s chicken fried steak recipe because southerners know how to fry stuff.  Instead of round steak, I substituted chicken breasts that I floured, fried, and cut diagonally to look like the restaurant version.  I’m happy to report that it tasted just like we remembered (only with no MSG!), although I must confess that I’d probably eat cardboard if it was covered with that sauce.  The great thing about this recipe is that you pound the chicken flat, so it fries quickly and a little chicken can go a long way, especially when paired with a filling side dish like the one below.  (The chicken pictured is just 1 large chicken tenderloin!)

To round out the meal, I suggest the GF crock pot fried rice recipe by Stephanie O’Dea.  We. LOVE. It!  You can check out the hilarious recipe on her awesome blog, or follow the instructions for my version below.  I decided to try to make a healthier version by substituting quinoa (a gluten free grain that’s uber healthy) for half of the rice, and my husband agreed that it’s even better than the all-rice version because the quinoa seems to make it fluffier.  (If you’ve tried quinoa and been creeped out by the little round grains – my nephew calls them “eyeballs” – do try mixing it with rice because the texture is totally different than plain rice or plain quinoa.)

Even if Mandarin sauce isn’t your thing, this versatile chicken recipe would taste great with any dipping sauce.  My daughter dipped her chicken in cranberry mustard, which we encouraged because it left more sauce for us.  Check back later this fall for my Country Fried Chicken with Biscuits and Gravy variation on this recipe.  (Did I mention I have Texas roots?)  In the meantime, grab some chopsticks and boil a pot of Oolong tea because gluten free Chinese food is back on the menu!

Versatile Fried Chicken Breasts or Tenderloins

4 small chicken breasts or 2 large breasts cut in half or 8 tenderloins
Salt and Pepper
Gluten free flour blend (I used Gluten Free Pantry’s blend, but any would do)
2 eggs, beaten
3 – 4 T. milk
Canola oil for frying

Place chicken on a piece of waxed paper with plenty of space between each piece.  Place another piece of waxed paper on top and pound chicken with a meat mallet or rolling pin until about 1/4-in. thick.  For best results, pieces should not be larger than the palm of your hand when frying, so cut large pieces in half, if necessary.  Blot chicken dry with a paper towel, then season BOTH sides with salt and pepper.  (You’ll be tempted to think it’s not necessary to season both sides, but trust me, it really is.)

Pour about 1/3 c. flour in a shallow bowl or pie plate and dip both sides of each chicken piece in the flour.  Set aside floured chicken, and add additional flour to the bowl for the next step.  Heat about 1/2-in. oil in a large skillet over medium high.  When it begins to shimmer, flick a little water into the oil.  If it sizzles and pops a little, you’re ready to fry.

While oil is heating, beat 2 eggs in another shallow bowl or pie plate with a fork.  Beat in 3-4 T. milk.  Line 1 or 2 plates (enough to hold all your cooked chicken) with paper towels, and get out tongs for turning the chicken.  (You want to have everything ready so you can work quickly and keep an eye on the chicken.)

When the oil is very hot (but not smoking), coat a piece of chicken in the egg mixture, then use the fork to transfer it to the bowl of flour.  Coat both sides with flour, then carefully lay the chicken the pan.  Immediately turn the heat down to medium to keep the chicken from browning too quickly.  Continue with the remaining chicken until the pan is full.  (I like to lay them in a clockwise pattern so I can keep track of which ones have been in the longest.)

By the time the last piece is in (you may have to do 2 batches or use 2 pans), the first piece should be ready to turn.  Cook the chicken for about 3-4 minutes per side, until golden.  Drain on paper towels and serve immediately.  (Trying to keep them warm in the oven will result in soggy chicken.)  For a fancy presentation, cut the chicken diagonally into strips and cover with reheated sauce from your favorite Chinese restaurant (we used Quick Wok) or whatever sauce you like.  (Warning: If you order any other type of sauce, check to make sure it’s not made with soy sauce, since most Chinese restaurants don’t use GF soy sauce.)

Crock Pot Pork Fried Rice/Quinoa
Serves 4

1/2 c. enriched white rice (also called long grain rice – not instant)
1/2 c. quinoa, rinsed and drained (or another 1/2 c. rice)
3 T. butter or nondairy margarine
2 T. GF soy sauce (we use La Choy brand)
2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp. salt, divided
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1/2 yellow onion, diced
1 c. frozen peas and carrots (or whatever veggies you like)
1 c. diced ham (we use half of a 12 oz. package of Hormel’s nitrate-free cubed ham)
1 egg

In a medium saucepan, bring 2 c. water (minus 2 T. for fluffier rice) to boiling.  Stir in 1/2 tsp. salt, rice and quinoa.  Cover and reduce heat to low.  Simmer for 15 minutes or until all water is absorbed.  Fluff with fork.  While rice is cooking, chop onion and gather remaining ingredients.

In a 4-quart crock pot that’s been sprayed with nonstick spray, put 3 T. butter cut into cubes, chopped onion, and cooked rice/quinoa.  Stir in remaining 1/2 tsp. salt, pepper, soy sauce and Worcestershire sauce.  Add veggies, ham, and egg.  Stir until combined, then with the back of your spoon, press mixture against the side and bottom of the crock pot for maximum crispy pieces.

Cook on high for 3 hrs.  If possible, I like to stir it after about 2 1/2 hrs. and press against the sides again to get more crispy pieces.  If rice/quinoa seems too soggy, shift the lid so some steam can escape and let it continue cooking on high for another 15 minutes while the moisture is allowed to get out.   Serve with the chicken recipe above or by itself.

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You’d think that in May it would not be soup weather anymore.  But if you think that, you obviously don’t live in southern Idaho where it snowed last week.  With the cold spring temperatures hanging on, I decided to experiment and make a creamy chicken and potato soup.  I didn’t have a recipe, so I just made it up as I went along – and it got a thumbs up from the whole family!  Along with the soup, we enjoyed some Onion, Poppy Seed, Cheese Rolls that I made using Pamela’s gluten free bread mix.

Creamy Chicken and Potato Soup

5 chicken tenders (or 2 large breasts)
2 large red potatoes, diced
3 T. butter, divided
1 very small onion or 1/2 small onion, chopped
1 c. baby carrots, cut in 1/8 in. slices
1 tsp. minced garlic
3 T. GF flour
3 T. Better Than Bouillon broth base (or 6 c. broth)
1/2 tsp. sea salt
1 tsp. parsley
Dash celery salt
1 bay leaf
1/3 c. 1% or 2% milk (I used 1/4 c. 1% milk plus a little cream)
3 T. cornstarch
Fresh ground pepper
Fresh spinach leaves, sliced in thin strips

In a large saucepan, bring 2 quarts water to a boil.  Add potatoes and chicken.  Boil 10 – 15 minutes, or until tender.  Pour 2 c. of liquid into a measuring cup, then drain remaining liquid.  Set aside to cool.  (You could probably skip this step and just add the potatoes and diced chicken to your soup when you add the seasonings, but this is how I made it, and I only post recipes I’ve tried.)

In a separate large soup pan, melt 2 T. butter over medium heat.  Saute onions and carrots in butter until onions are soft, about 5 minutes.  Add garlic and cook 1 minute.  Melt remaining butter in pan and add flour.  Stir to coat veggies.  Immediately add 4 c. water and 2 c. reserved cooking liquid (or 6 c. broth).  Bring to a boil and add bouillon (omit if using broth), salt, parsley, celery salt, and bay leaf.   Shred cooked chicken or cut up into small chunks and add to soup.  Simmer 15 minutes or until carrots are tender.

Add potatoes to soup and heat to boiling.  Stir cornstarch into milk and add to soup, stirring until thickened.  Add fresh ground pepper and season to taste.  Remove bay leaf.  Ladle soup into bowls and top with spinach strips.  Serve with crusty bread or Onion, Poppy Seed, Cheese rolls.

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I recently needed to make some cookies that were free of gluten, dairy and soy for some folks with multiple allergies.  So I turned to an old favorite that can be easily modified.  I was even able to lower the sugar content without noticing a difference.  My son was able to make most of the recipe on his own, since this is also a very kid friendly recipe.  These cookies are delicious and come together in a snap!

1-1/2 c. sugar (or 2 c. sugar, for sweeter cookies)
1/2 c. + 2 T. butter, margarine, or coconut oil (if using oil, add 1/4 tsp. of salt)
1/4 c. + 2 T. cocoa powder
1/2 c. milk or rice milk
2/3 c. creamy peanut butter (Skippy Natural is soy free)
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
4 c. GF oats (like Bob’s Red Mill)
2 T. ground flax (optional)

In a large saucepan, mix the sugar, butter or oil, cocoa and milk.  Bring to a boil.  Immediately remove from heat and stir in peanut butter until melted.  Mix in vanilla and oats (and flax, if using).  While still hot, use a cookie scoop or tablespoon and drop mounds onto a waxed paper-lined cookie sheet.  Allow to cool and harden (or if you’re impatient, like me, put the cookies in the fridge to cool).

Depending on the size of your cookies, this recipe makes 3-1/2 to 4 dozen cookies.  These also freeze well, if you can manage to resist eating them all at once!

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