Homemade Strawberry Coconut Lime Popsicles

We’ve been steadily checking items off our big list of summer fun. Today, since the weather was a bit meh and I was feeling estranged from our house, we stayed home and finally got around to making popsicles.

These recipes all sound fancy and fantastic, but it was 7:30 a.m. and I had two tiny helpers, so a real recipe wasn’t going to happen. Here’s what we improvised instead.

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Strawberry Coconut Lime Popsicles
Makes about 8 popsicles

1 can coconut milk
10-15 frozen strawberries
Juice of 1/2 lime
Maple syrup, to taste
Unsweetened, shredded coconut

Do not shake the can of coconut milk before opening. Open and skim off the layer of cream from the top (reserve for another use — like coconut whipped cream!). Add about half the remaining coconut milk, frozen strawberries, lime juice and maple syrup to a blender and blend until smooth, adding more coconut milk if needed. Add a handful of unsweetened coconut flakes and pulse until combined.

Sprinkle a pinch of coconut flakes in the bottom of each popsicle mold and fill each mold with the puree. Insert the popsicle sticks and freeze until hard, about 4 hours. For us, that meant lunchtime!

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Great success!

They aren’t too sweet, but were a huge treat to the kids. Mara mowed hers down to a stump then traded me for the remaining half of my popsicle. Nice move, little one.

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Learning through food: Resurrection/Easter Story Cookies

Throughout history, food has served as much more than physical nourishment for mankind. Sharing a meal with others is a bonding experience, a sign of hospitality and respect and a way to show love. Cuisine is a huge part of every culture, and one that many people take pleasure in.

No matter how much we eat, within hours our hunger returns. As one of the essential needs shared by every person on earth, food is powerful. We celebrate with food. We mourn with food. We worship with food. It connects us to one another and to the past.

We see that especially this time of year—those who are Jewish honor Passover by eating unleavened bread as their ancestors did in their hasty flee from slavery in Egypt; the lamb shankbone on the seder plate commemorates the sacrificial lamb God required of his people that night he freed them (and for Christians this symbolism goes further to represent Christ’s sacrifice in order to free us from the bondage of sin); eggs represent new life, in the most basic springtime sense and also in the context of Jesus rising from the dead; empty eggshells remind us of the empty tomb Jesus’ loved ones found the morning he was risen; and the Lord’s supper, first celebrated just before Jesus’ death, is a sacrament that has brought Christians together in worship for millennia.

Food as a metaphor is a beautiful thing.

This weekend I decided to use baking cookies as a hands-on storytelling device with Corban and Mara. At age 3, Corban’s eager little heart is soaking in the Easter story, and I hoped to use this as another way to help it take root. At age 18 months, Mara just was excited to be helping in the kitchen with us, and that’s good too.

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These Resurrection Cookies or Easter Story Cookies can be found all over the Internet. Each ingredient and step tells a part of the Easter story with scripture and symbolism. I used this handy printable sheet to guide us, along with our shiny new Reformation Study Bible, but halfway through it was getting too chaotic to flip through the pages so I just stuck to reading the scripture verses off the recipe.

The ingredients are simple—all things we already had on hand.

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1 cup pecan halves

1 teaspoon vinegar

3 egg whites

Pinch of salt

1 cup sugar

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Place the pecans in a plastic freezer bag and have your child break them into small pieces by beating them with a wooden spoon. Explain that after Jesus was arrested, Roman soldiers beat him. Read John 19:1-3.

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Have your child smell and taste the vinegar before adding it to a mixing bowl.

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Explain that Jesus was offered sour wine/vinegar to drink while He hung on the cross. Read John 19:28-30.

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Add the egg whites to the bowl, explaining that eggs represent life and Jesus loves us so much He gave His life in order to give us life. Read John 10:10-11.

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For some reason they were blowing in the bowl.

Sprinkle a pinch of salt into your child’s hand and have him taste a bit before shaking the rest into the bowl. Explain that Jesus’ friends and followers cried salty tears when He died. Read Luke 23:27.

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Of course, after tasting the salt, you have to let them taste the sugar. This was by far Corban and Mara’s favorite part. Let’s just pause and observe.

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Yes, I let that happen.

Gradually add the sugar to the bowl while beating the egg whites on high with a whisk attachment. A stand mixer helps tremendously for this recipe. As you add the sugar, and your kids lick the spilled granules off the counter, explain that even though Jesus died, the story is sweet because He did it because He loves us. He wants us to know we belong to Him. Read Psalm 34:8 and John 3:16.

Continue beating the egg whites until they are glossy and stiff peaks form (peaks stand straight up when whisk is removed). This will take a while—10 to 15 minutes.

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While you beat the egg whites, have your child observe how white the mixture is and explain that white represents purity and Jesus cleansing us of our sins. Read Isaiah 1:18.

I’ll be honest, I had to be somewhere so I rushed it and didn’t quite let the egg whites get to stiff peaks. This was a big mistake—make sure you keep beating until the peaks stand straight up and don’t fold over when you lift the whisk out!

Gently fold in the pecans.

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Drop the mixture by spoonful onto a cookie sheet lined with wax paper or parchment paper. Explain that these mounds represent the rocky tomb where Jesus’ body was laid. Read Matthew 27:57-60.

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Can’t resist a little taste.

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By this point the scripture passages were background noise, but I still was able to have meaningful discussions with Corban about the symbolism. Since this wasn’t his first (or last) time hearing about these concepts, it was fruitful as another way to let the story sink in.

Now it’s time to put the cookies in the oven. Close the door and turn off the oven immediately. Have our child put a piece of tape over the door and explain that Jesus’ tomb was sealed and secure. Read Matthew 27:65-66.

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Now go to bed. Ask how your child feels to leave the cookies until tomorrow, and explain that Jesus’ friends were very sad when He died and was placed in the tomb. Read John 16:20, 22.

Leave the oven closed until the next morning. Then remove the cookies and have your child examine them.

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The sides of the cookies will be cracked. When they taste them, they will find that they are hollow. Explain that on Easter morning, Jesus’ friends were surprised to find the tomb empty. Jesus was alive! Read Matthew 28:1-9.

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Now I have to confess that our cookies were not hollow. (Womp womp.) I believe it’s because the egg whites were still at soft peaks rather than stiff peaks when I stopped beating them.

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But do you see these faces? Do they care?

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We pretended they were hollow. The kids were still excited Jesus was raised from the dead. And mostly just thrilled to be eating cookies at 8 a.m.

I’m sure this activity will bear more spiritual fruit as they grow older, but I think baking is a wonderful teaching tool even at this age—or maybe especially at this age. Food has that way of connecting with us all.

A ‘Peter Rabbit’ themed 3rd birthday party

I have several things I have been wanting to write about for the past few months, so I’m just going to catch up in chronological order. First on the docket: Corban’s 3rd birthday party! (Yes, it was back in December, but… time flies!)

As hinted, we had a Peter Rabbit-themed party with Peter’s and my immediate families. Our little Peter Rabbit was excited to have four grandparents, one great-grandma, two aunts, four uncles and one cousin all come in from out of town for a “bunny brunch.”

I kept things really simple, but still enjoyed playing around with little details for the party… starting with these paper invitations.

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Keeping it old school with handwritten invitations. I gave them a little modern update with some “font” mixing.

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Kudos to Peter for picking out these farmers market stamps. I love a good coordinating stamp.

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We said the party was at Mr. McGregor’s garden, so…

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The brunch menu started with carrot and beet hummus with crudités in a clay baking pot.

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It’s sitting on a cube from a Peter Rabbit block set my aunt gave Corban for his birthday.

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I used the other blocks in the set as part of the table decorations…

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…along with burlap, radishes, a watering can and lots of kale and carrots.

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The menu was very simple, but it still managed to destroy my kitchen, my sleep and nearly my spirit the night before. But in the end it was worth it. 🙂

Breakfast strata (adapted from this recipe from Food52 — I added sausage and zucchini, eliminated mushrooms and generally futzed with it).

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Fruit salad (tried to keep it easy with grapes, honeydew melon and pomegranate, but I owe my mother-in-law big time for seeding the two pomegranates!)

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Cinnamon rolls from scratch. Oh yes! This was my first attempt at homemade cinnamon rolls and I would definitely recommend this recipe from Sally’s Baking Addiction. It’s simpler than other recipes I came across since it only requires one rise. They’re topped with a coffee glaze (not a strong coffee flavor though).

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Roasted red potatoes, sweet potatoes and purple sweet potatoes — nice and colorful.

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For drinks we had coffee, orange juice, mimosas and chamomile tea (a Peter Rabbit reference: “Peter was not very well during the evening. His mother put him to bed, and made some chamomile tea: ‘One table-spoonful to be taken at bedtime.'”).

It was a relaxing meal.

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(At least for the adults.)

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I wanted to do some sort of guest book type thing, but not anything too formal, so I printed out some cards and asked everyone to write a little time capsule message about Corban. This worked since the party was all family.

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The cake was chocolate carrot cake, a compromise between my theme obsession and Peter’s desire for chocolate cake. The recipe was a State Fair winner, but next time I would pick either chocolate cake or carrot cake and not combine the flavors.

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Decorating the cake was a blast. I taped a popsicle stick to the invitation and stuck Peter in the middle of the garden. Chocolate cream cheese frosting made good dirt.

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I used this easy method to make the carrots and radishes (but used a wide, round pastry tip) and a star tip for the lettuce.

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The “three.” shirt was a steal from Old Navy (much, much easier than sewing a shirt like I’ve done in the past!).

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(A little egging on from Aunt Lauren…)

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We forewent the afternoon nap for him, and instead relaxed with family. It was so sweet to have everyone hanging around our home.

Of course there were presents, too.

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This Hot Wheels set was the big winner. (Thanks, Uncle Brian!)

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After Mara’s nap the two of them got to work playing with every new toy simultaneously.

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I love big bashes with lots of friends and family, and I seriously considered having this be a kid party and just inviting Corban’s friends, but in the end I think a small family brunch was the perfect way to celebrate this year. Corban got to spend quality time with those who love him most, and vice versa. And the fact that Peter Rabbit was included in the festivities? Well, that just made it extra-Corban-special.

Baptism celebration and easy, make-ahead menu

Mara was baptized on Sunday. Such joy!

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Elmer Sparks photo

Elmer Sparks photo

Elmer Sparks photo

Elmer Sparks photo

Elmer Sparks photo

Corban talked through our time up front, asking for his “boc,” a.k.a. pacifier. No amount of discreet shh-ing can quiet a toddler who wants to be heard!

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Elmer Sparks photo

After, he got his wish.

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Elmer Sparks photo

We were blessed to have Mara’s grandparents, great-grandparents, aunt and uncles there to share in the occasion.

Elmer Sparks photo

Elmer Sparks photo

After the service, we had lunch at our house with a simple, make-ahead menu.

Mara’s baptism lunch:

Since I knew we’d all be arriving back at our house at the same time, and right around lunchtime, I wanted to have everything pretty much ready to go when we walked in the door. The key to making this work? Using the slow cooker, delegating side dish duties and getting the house 100% ready the night before.

Peter’s mom brought her signature dinner rolls. My mom brought the potatoes, ready to just pop in the oven for 20 minutes, and the green beans (haricot verts from Trader Joe’s), which she sautéed in olive oil for about five minutes and tossed with sliced almonds. My grandma brought the appetizers. Their help really made the meal come together easily!

I set the two tables the night before with a simple, fall theme.

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I used my Goodwill mismatched “china,” dollar store placemats, my favorite (er, only) chargers and homemade coffee bean candles.

Just like when Corban was baptized, Peter chose two verses of scripture for Mara. The first, from our perspective. The second, from her perspective. Cards with the verses also went on the table to share with our family.

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3 John: 4: I have no greater joy than to know that my children are walking in the truth.

Psalm 139: 14: I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are you works; my soul knows it very well.

I also made a point the night before to get out every serving dish, pitcher and utensil that I’d need. That way it was all out on the counter and I wasn’t digging through cabinets when our guests were here.

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The slow cooker Italian beef turned out great – juicy, tender and full of flavor. I mixed all the spices the night before then zombie-walked out of bed at 5 a.m. to put it all in the Crockpot. The recipe is, appropriately, from our church cookbook (and too good not to share so it’s at the bottom of this post).

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I made two easy cocktails, one alcoholic and one not.

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Sparkling Cranberry Punch (left) and Champagne and Cranberry Juice Sparkling Punch. And that’s her birth announcement (more on that in another post) and newborn footprint and handprint in the background.

I also have to mention the cake. I had high hopes for the cake recipe I selected, White Cake with Vanilla Buttercream Frosting from Add a Pinch.

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It’s a triple layer cake, which I had never attempted before. Sadly, I greased my pans but forgot to flour them, so one of my layers would not come out of the pan, and ended up in a huge pile.

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Fortunately, I was able to piece it together as the middle layer, and you really couldn’t tell the difference! Unfortunately, my layers didn’t seem to rise as much as the photo at Add a Pinch, so while I thought the cake had an excellent flavor, the texture was denser than it should have been. There also wasn’t quite enough frosting to cover all my messy crumbs from the jumbled layers.

Despite its imperfections, we enjoyed the cake and I have had no trouble polishing off the leftover pieces over the past few days.

After lunch, we spent the afternoon enjoying time with family and, of course, enjoying lots of Mara snuggles.

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I was in love with her little outfit and didn’t want to take it off her at the end of the day.

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How wonderful it is to be able to celebrate God’s covenant to us and publicly welcome Mara into our church family.

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Slow Cooker Italian Beef
Makes 14-18 servings

6 pounds boneless chuck or rump roast
1 packet onion soup mix
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon garlic salt
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon dried basil
1/2 teaspoon Italian seasoning (I used a pinch each of basil, oregano and parsley)
1/2 teaspoon Lawry’s seasoned salt
1 teaspoon Ac’cent (I didn’t know what this was so I used Mrs. Dash — don’t ask why I own that…)
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
3/4 to 1 cup water

Place meat in slow cooker, sprinkle spice mixture over it and add water. Cook on low 8 hours. When beef is done, slice or shred and leave in juices (the longer it sits, the better it tastes) until serving on buns.

What I’ve been cooking (and therefore eating)

As a recovering food blogger, I find myself doing things like writing down detailed modifications to recipes as I make them, composing descriptions in my head of the meals I’m tasting and feeling guilty for not photographing a new recipe before chowing it down.

My food blog of 4+ years kind of fizzled out this past year. I took a four-month break from blogging at Kitchen Adventures during my maternity leave, and then when I came back, not only was I too busy at work to have much time to blog, but my passion for trying new recipes and cooking techniques kind of faded for a while as we adjusted to life as parents.

At some point this past fall, I went a week, then a month, then two months without writing a single post, nor having much inclination to write one. So that marked the unofficial adios of Kitchen Adventures.

Perhaps I’ll revisit that decision (and writing this post actually makes me want to now, so don’t write off KA just yet!), but for now I’ve got some food blogging I need to get off my chest.

Here’s the best of what I’ve been cooking recently. (Of course, I only have a photo of one recipe.)

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Falafel-Stuffed Pitas with Tahini Sauce from Mama Pea | This was great fresh, but got dried out as leftovers. The tomatoes really brought all the flavors together.

Crock Pot Pork and Apples from Eat Live Run | 5 ingredients. 6 hours in the slow cooker. Peter liked it. Corban liked it. I liked it. WIN. [I shredded it all up at the end and served it mixed together.]

Szechuan Broccoli and Quinoa from Mama Pea | Another crowd pleaser. Super flavorful and healthy.

Coconut Curried Shrimp with Coconut Rice from What’s Gaby Cooking | I am definitely making this again soon. The shrimp was rich and slightly spicy, with the perfect crunch to it.

Roasted Cauliflower and Tahini Salad from Daily Garnish | This sounds like the weirdest salad ever, but once I had one serving of this sweet and bitter flavor combination, I was addicted.

Quick Sesame Soba Noodles from Eat Live Run | Peter wasn’t a huge fan, but I thought these sweet, tender buckwheat noodles were satisfying hot or cold, fresh or leftover. Very quick and easy to make.

Hippie Bowls from Daily Garnish | This may seem like an odd mix of ingredients – including carrots, raisins and quinoa – but a creamy peanut sauce really brings them all together.

African Peanut Stew adapted from Mama Pea | This is a longtime favorite of mine that I blogged about at Kitchen Adventures a couple years ago. It’s a keeper.

20-minute Vegetarian Chili with Pumpkin Cornbread from Daily Garnish | I made both these recipes twice in a row one weekend. They are really easy and perfect for dinner guests.

Slow Cooker Paella | You’ll have to wait for this one – I’ll write about it in a future blog post.

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You may have noticed there are a few bloggers whose recipes I am consistently drawn to (Mama Pea and Daily Garnish are my two faves. The Peas and Thank You cookbook rocks). Meal planning is easier knowing I can just browse their sites and I’m bound to find a reliable recipe that suits my taste. And, related, here’s a post on how I meal plan (which I don’t do every week, but always wish I had on the weeks I skip!)

Perhaps you’ll start seeing some more food posts around here. I’m obviously in a bit of withdrawal.

Homemade Frappuccino

I’m not a regular coffee drinker (which was nice since it was easy to give it up during pregnancy), but sometimes after a long night with Corban all I want in the morning is a strong brew. With a side of morning smileys, of course.

(I never have my real camera nearby when he flashes one of these, so iPhone pics will have to do. He is definitely smiling a lot more these past few days!)

I came across this recipe for a homemade vanilla Frappuccino on Pinterest and modified it a bit using what I had. These babies don’t taste quite as good as the real deal from Starbucks, but they’re also a lot healthier, cheaper and good enough that I look forward to one every day or two. I tried making it two different ways and right now I’m kind of liking the second version better, but that’s subject to change.

Homemade Chocolate Frappuccino Version One
Makes 1 large drink

10-13 ice cubes
3/4 cup cold coffee
1/4 cup skim milk or vanilla soy milk
1 heaping tablespoon hot chocolate mix (I use good ole Swiss Miss)
1 heaping tablespoon Vega chocolate shake ‘n’ go smoothie mix*
Whipped cream (optional)

Blend ice cubes in blender until crushed down to a very fine texture. Add remaining ingredients except whipped cream and blend until smooth. Top with whipped cream and enjoy through a straw.

Homemade Chocolate Frappuccino Version Two
Makes 1 medium drink

10-13 ice cubes
1/2 cup skim milk or vanilla soy milk
1 teaspoon instant coffee granules
1 heaping tablespoon hot chocolate mix
1 heaping tablespoon Vega chocolate shake ‘n’ go smoothie mix*
Whipped cream (optional)

Blend ice cubes in blender until crushed down to a very fine texture. Add remaining ingredients except whipped cream and blend until smooth. Top with whipped cream and enjoy through a straw.

*The Vega Shake ‘N’ Go mix is from a sample I picked up at the Healthy Living Summit 2010 (yikes) and just recently opened. It has lots of good nutrients in it, but doesn’t truly taste like chocolate, hence the necessity of the Swiss Miss. You could eliminate this or sub in another protein powder or health mix if you wanted.