Our Top 10 Family Christmas Traditions

One of the coolest things about marriage is that it brings two people together, who likely have very different family traditions and experiences. This can create issues if the two people aren’t willing to compromise, but in my experience, it has been a fun time of learning and creating our own little family’s traditions. Even though in our family we draw upon things that both my husband and I grew up with, it is so fun to make new traditions that are just ours as well.

Christmas is probably one of the holidays with the most prominent traditions, so I’ve rounded up some of our personal favorite Christmas traditions, along with some new ones that we’ll be sure to add to our must-do list as our kids grow older!

  • Decorating Cookies
    • If you couldn’t tell from my blog, I love to bake! I’m not the most creative person in the world, but when it comes to Christmastime, I am more than ready to bust out the sprinkles and frosting to make some fun Rudolph/Santa/Frosty/Snowflake/etc. sugar cookies! My family has done this every year ever since I can remember, and I can’t wait until my boys can join in the fun! Not going to lie, after I’ve decorated a few cookies, I’m ready to just eat them and call it a day though haha! Here’s a tip: add a little orange peel to your sugar cookie dough! I know it sounds weird, but it’s my mom’s little secret and it makes THE best sugar cookies!
  • Watching Christmas Movies
    • We love to watch movies in my house, and especially Christmas movies! It’s so cozy to get into jammies, make some popcorn (or another yummy dessert), and watch a classic movie together as a family. It’s been fun to learn about my husband’s favorites and share mine with him! Here are some of our family favorites:
      • It’s A Wonderful Life
      • A Christmas Story
      • Elf
      • National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation
      • The Holiday
      • Arthur Christmas
      • Frosty the Snowman
      • Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer
      • The Last Holiday
      • Home Alone
      • The Polar Express
      • Four Christmases
  • Operation Christmas Child
    • Have you heard of this awesome organization? You essentially pick up a shoe box, fill it up with a mix of fun and essential items for a child, and a church will send it to a child in need (in another country). You get to pick the gender and age range of the child, and the organization does the rest! When we were kids, my step-mom always took my sisters and I to Target and we’d get to pick out items for our “child.” It felt so special, knowing a child somewhere in another country was going to open this box and see the presents we picked out for them. My husband had never done this, so we just did it for the first time this year together. I look forward to taking our kids and letting them pick out items for their “child” too!
  • Star from Afar
    • My sister-in-law is always finding the cutest activities to do with her family! She just sent this one to us as a Christmas gift. It’s called Star from Afar and it’s a fun advent activity to teach and remind your kids about the meaning and reason for Christmas. You set up the nativity scene and each day, you hide the star somewhere for your kids to find. Once they find the star, they move the Three Wise Men to the star. On Christmas day, the star is above the stable and the Three Wise Men finally find Jesus! I love this concept SO much! My son is only 1.5 years old so he’s not quite old enough to grasp the concept, but I’m hoping next year will be the year. This is definitely a tradition we will continue as our boys grow.
  • Bake A Birthday Cake for Jesus
    • My church did the sweetest thing! When I went to pick up Hunter from the nursery today, they were handing out gift bags with cake mix, balloons, candles, and a little sweet note. The note suggested to spend time baking the cake with your kids, and have a little celebration for Jesus’ birthday. I think this is so sweet and another great reminder for the kids about what Christmas is really about! So simple, yet so meaningful!
  • Cut Down Your Own Christmas Tree
    • We are fortunate enough to live in the beautiful state of Montana! Many people we know drive about 20 minutes up the mountain to cut down their own Christmas tree. Although we have yet to do this, we plan on making this a family tradition in the near future. My siblings and I always had so much fun going to the Christmas tree lots and picking out our tree–but can you imagine how neat it would be for your kids to pick their tree from all the trees in the forest and watch you cut it down?! We are so excited to do this one in the future!
  • Go See Christmas Lights
    • Many neighborhoods are known for having the best Christmas light displays. Growing up, we even had local houses that paid to use radio stations so they could align their displays with Christmas music! People get really into it, and it’s really fun for kids to see it all! Scope it out and see where the best displays are near you!
  • Christmas Pajamas
    • Every Christmas Eve, my siblings and I got to open one gift, which was a new pair of cozy Christmas pajamas. We did this every single year and we all loved it! It felt so special to put on our new jammies and go to bed in them. This is such a simple and easy tradition that we’ve already started in our family too!
  • Make Tamales
    • Tamales are my absolute favorite Mexican food! My husband happens to be Mexican, and every year before Christmas, his family would make a tonnnnnn of tamales together. And I’m not sure if you’re aware, but this is quite the process. Although they would enjoy a good amount together at home (I’m talking about they’d eat it for every single meal haha), they also gave away tons more to friends and family. It’s a lot of work to make tamales, and unfortunately we don’t have any Mexican markets here in our little mountain town to buy the legit ingredients, but we really would love to figure out a way to carry on this tradition in our family as well. There aren’t too many “Mexican traditions” that my husband has to carry on, so this is one that would be really fun to do (and selfishly I’d love having many tamales at my fingertips haha)!
  • Nice Christmas Eve Dinner
    • My family always made a nice/fancy Christmas Eve dinner. This tradition has carried on because my parents always are here at Christmas and my step-dad makes the most amazing prime rib you’ve ever had. And seeing that it’s one of my husband’s all time favorite things to eat, I think we will continue on this tradition haha!

There are so many fun Christmas traditions! I would love to hear about your favorite Christmas traditions as well! Please share in the comments! 🙂

Chickpea Curry

My family loves trying all kinds of different food. I really appreciate the way my parents encouraged us to try so many different things while growing up. Greek, Mexican, Vietnamese, Thai, Persian, Indian, Irish, Brazilian–you name it, we’ll try it!

That being said, one of my all time favorite dishes is curry. I love how it can turn out so many different ways based on the sauce and main ingredients used.

I came across this recipe from Hurry the Food Up and was excited for the challenge of intentionally making a vegetarian dish. You see, my husband is a big meat-eater. Most of the dishes I make involve some type of meat. But seeing as I had a ton of chickpeas in the cupboard and the husband said I needed to use them, I realized I was going to have to get creative.

While reading the recipe, I soon discovered that the author is British. Which is totally fine, but as I began to cook the recipe, I quickly realized I was going to have to make quite a few adjustments. I lived in England for four months in 2013, so I feel like I can speak from experience and say that British food is sooooo bland. Or maybe it’s that American food is overly seasoned/fried/salted/etc. haha. Either way, I made some “American” revisions to this recipe and thought it was amazing! The husband approved of this meatless dish and I got to use up some chickpeas, so I’d say it was a win all around! I’ll definitely be making this one again!

 

Ingredients:
  • 1 large yellow onion, diced
  • 1 bell pepper, sliced
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 cups of green beans
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 6 oz (or more for taste) of your favorite curry paste. I used Tikka Masala!
  • 1 can low-fat coconut milk
  • 1 regular can chickpeas (drained and rinsed)
  • 2 tbsp soy sauce
  • 2 cups of spinach
  • 1 cup basil leaves (or just sprinkle some ground basil seasoning on top)
  • Juice from ½ of a lime
*You can add whatever veggies you’d like to make this recipe more fun & filling–I’m sure something like cauliflower or broccoli would be great!
 
Instructions:
  1. Chop the onions and bell pepper. Put the oil, onions, bell pepper, and green beans (and any other veggies you may want to add that require more cooking time) into a large pan and cook on a low-medium heat until the onions start to soften and turn clear–about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and let cook for 1 minute.
  2. Add the curry paste and the coconut milk, stirring until the curry is dissolved. Add a pinch of salt. Taste test – if you’d like your curry a little stronger, then add more.
  3. Throw in the chickpeas, spinach, and soy sauce, and cook on a medium heat for around 5 minutes, bringing the curry to a boil. If it starts to burn, reduce heat immediately.
  4. Add the chopped basil (or seasoning) and lime juice. Gently simmer the curry for another 2 minutes. Taste test again, and if desired, add more curry paste or soy sauce.
  5. Serve over rice and enjoy.
*I added crushed red pepper for more spice, or I’m sure sriracha would’ve been great too!

Copycat Olive Garden Chicken & Gnocchi Soup

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It’s Fall! Which means chilly weather, cozy clothes, and lots and lots of soup! I love creating new family traditions for my own little family, and one that we started for the fall and winter a couple of years ago is Soup Sunday. It’s so fun to find yummy soup recipes and just rotate through them throughout the colder months. Our typical favorites are chili and chicken tortilla soup…that is, until I found this amazing recipe.

I LOVE Olive Garden. We probably only go one or two times each year, but I’m just a huge fan of getting a lot of food for a good price (I know I’m not the only one out there)! Their lunch deal, unlimited soup and salad with breadsticks, makes going during lunchtime worth it. The only soup I’ve tried there is their Chicken & Gnocchi soup. I had never had gnocchi before this, but love how it’s like a combination of a potato and noodle.

chickengnocchi

When I came across this recipe, I knew I had to try to recreate it. But to be honest, I thought I would be highly critical and compare it to Olive Garden’s recipe. But guess what? I ended up liking my version better than Olive Garden’s! I was so shocked! Unlike Olive Garden’s recipe, this one doesn’t only use the icky leftover dark meat chicken, and it also gives you more than like three bites of gnocchi in a bowl!

I’ve already made this recipe twice in two weeks, if that gives you any indication of how delicious it is. It’s so easy, either in the crockpot or on the stove. My personal favorite crockpot is this guy (click on the image for details):

I love how easy it is to use, and that I can turn it on early in the day, and when it’s done cooking, it’ll switch to the “keep warm” setting!

Your family and friends will absolutely love this recipe, so go ahead and add it to your favorites! Enjoy!


Adapted from: Pinch of Yum
Serves: 8-10

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound of chicken
  • 1 medium yellow onion, diced
  • 4 stalks of celery, diced
  • 4 medium carrots, diced
  • 2 tsp dried basil
  • 2 tsp Italian seasoning (or a combo of thyme & oregano if you don’t have it)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp pepper
  • 4 cups chicken broth
  • 1-2 cups water
  • 2 Tbsp of cornstarch dissolved in 2 Tbsp water
  • 2 12 oz. cans of evaporated milk
  • 2 1lb. packages of mini potato gnocchi
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 2-3 cloves garlic
  • 2 cups of fresh baby spinach (or more!)


Instructions:

  1. Place the chicken, onion, celery, carrots, seasonings, and broth in a crockpot. Cover and cook on high for 4-5 hours or low for 6-8 hours.
  2. Once done cooking, shred the chicken in the crockpot.
  3. Add the evaporated milk, cornstarch mixture, and gnocchi. Stir and cover.
  4.  Add olive oil and garlic to a pan, and saute for one minute. Add the spinach, and stir until wilted. Remove from heat.
  5. Add the spinach to the crockpot and stir to combine.
  6. Add any additional liquid if needed (I added about two cups of water). Add more salt and pepper if needed.

*Note: I have also made this recipe on the stovetop (when I decided I wanted it for dinner and it was already 4:30PM haha). In that instance, I just sautéed the vegetables with the seasonings in a pot with olive oil until the onion became translucent. I then added the shredded, cooked chicken and chicken broth. After it cooked for about ten minutes, I added the evaporated milk, cornstarch mixture, and gnocchi. I cooked the spinach on the pan like above, and added it to the pot. I then made sure the gnocchi was soft, and added some water because found it also needed more liquid. I thought both versions, stovetop and crockpot, were both amazing!

*For leftovers: I found the soup absorbed a lot of the liquid overnight, so I added a little bit of water before heating it up for leftovers.

Mama Wears: 2016 Fall Fashion Trends

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Sad truth: I’m not a super trendy person.

I think I’ve always had good taste when it comes to fashion, in that I love helping other people find pieces that suit them perfectly or that they would never have thought to try on and end up loving. In fact, one of my favorite memories with my brother happened almost ten years ago (wow, that just made me feel really old), when we went to the mall after he got very fit and he let me pick out a bunch of new things for him. I was in high school and thought it was so neat that my big brother was even considering my advice, let alone taking it.

After that, I think my family started to believe that I knew what was “in.” I still love fashion and shopping, but have struggled with keeping up with trends since moving to a smaller town with not many shopping options and since having a baby (I find that I’d much rather buy new clothes for the little man than myself now…never thought that day would come haha).

Nevertheless, I am attempting to make a comeback with my personal style…despite just entering the second trimester of my second pregnancy. This will be interesting.

So I’ve put together some of my favorite 2016 fall fashion trends, especially for my mom friends. These pieces are great for anyone, but I’ve found them to be cute and practical, which I know moms appreciate more than anyone! Enjoy!

2016fallfashioncollage

  1. I got these booties by Roxy from Famous Footwear for $50, they were originally $90 (they were marked down to $60, and I got a $10 off coupon from their email)! Even that amount felt like a lot to spend on myself, as I rarely go shopping anymore, but it was time for me to treat myself to some new shoes! Believe it or not, these are my FIRST pair of booties ever! I was so hoping to find a stylish pair that would be comfortable and go with anything. This shade of brown is almost between a tan and a taupe, so I find that it goes with any color I wear! And most importantly, my feet are still happy after wearing them all day!
  2. You need this sweater from Target, just trust me. It’s $20 and it is SO comfy and cute. We picked my mom up from the airport recently, and she walked out wearing this sweater and some super fun boots, and that’s when I realized I needed to step up my game haha. My mom took my sister and I to Target to get us both the same exact sweater because we loved it so much on her. I actually got it in a size small (which NEVER happens with my chest…I usually fall between a medium and large). So make sure to order it with that in mind if you aren’t trying it on first! I’m all about layering, as I tend to run pretty warm. So cardigans like this are perfect to pair with a short sleeve shirt for me!
  3. I don’t really do hats, but there was a hat very similar to this hat for only $5 in Target’s dollar spot section last week!! I’m not sure how much longer they will be there, but you should go ASAP to get one because they are so cute (and you can’t beat that price)!
  4. These vests are the best!! My sister’s friend was wearing this vest in the olive color one day at church, and we had to ask her where she got it from. We assumed not nearby, since like I mentioned, we don’t have the best shopping here in Montana. We were shocked when she told us she got it from Vanity (a mostly Midwestern store, AKA where I worked when I was 16)! We went that next week and got them for ourselves haha! I love the olive color, but actually ended up getting it in the merlot color. I would’ve gotten all of them if possible! They’re on sale for $30 right now, so get one now!
  5. This dress, also from Vanity, is so comfortable! I usually don’t like things that just look like a paper bag on me haha, but I’m going to pair this dress with the new vest! And this dress is roomy enough to make room for my growing bump, but can be worn in the future with a belt too, if I ever want to show my figure (who knows when that will be again haha)! It’s currently $25.
  6. There’s not a lot I love more than stretchy pants like these from the Gap Factory. We don’t have a Gap or an Old Navy in town, but oddly enough, we have a Gap Factory store (AKA the Gap Outlet). Whatever, I’ll take discounted Gap! I’ve been wearing these pants for the last year and have them in multiple colors: regular blue denim, black, and gray. They are extremely comfortable and run true to size. I finally lost some pre-first pregnancy weight before getting pregnant this go-around, so I am thankful enough to still be wearing these pants at 14 weeks pregnant. Not looking forward to having to give them up soon, as they are definitely a staple in my yearly wardrobe! Sidenote: Sign up for emails from Gap Factory, as they are always sending out coupons to bring those prices down even further!
  7. And finally, let’s top it off with a little bling–I love these earrings (also from Gap Factory). I got almost an identical pair last year, and they are my go-to earrings. I love simple bling that adds a little pop without being over the top. They’re currently $7.99, but remember what I said about those coupons!

That’s all that I have for you in this round-up of Mama Wears! Let me know what you’re wearing this fall, and where the best deals are at!

Minnesota Hotdish

mnhotdish

I love being Minnesotan. Seriously, not a lot makes me more proud than to say that I was born and raised in such a wonderful state. I grew up in an amazing community. Everyone is SO stinkin’ nice–“Minnesota nice” is a stereotype for a reason, dontcha know! If my husband would tolerate the cold winters, I would be all about moving back to my arctic homeland. But I have to say, when your native-Californian hubby loves living in Montana (where we moved to two years ago), it’s a win that I will accept haha.

Ironically, neither my mom or my dad grew up in Minnesota (so sadly, they never quite developed the awesome accent you’re all jealous of). After moving around a lot for various jobs, my parents finally settled down in Minne after their oldest child was born. And for that, we can thank my Aunt Dee-dee, who happened to marry a Minnesotan herself and started the cool Minnesota trend. Anyways, fast forward some years and a divorce, both my mom and dad got remarried–both to native Minnesotans.

Why is this history important, you might ask? I probably would have never experienced a Minnesota Hotdish without knowing my step-mom, Ann. Okay, I probably would have eaten one, but I wouldn’t have come to love it like I do. We went to my Dad and Ann’s house every weekend, and I vividly remember always getting so excited when we were going to have hotdish for dinner. There is nothing more comforting or warming than a good ol’ hotdish.

But you non-Minnesotans might be wondering: Oh heck! What in the world is a hotdish?! Well, it’s pretty much a casserole, but cooler because it’s Minnesotan. A hotdish typically contains a starch, a meat, and a canned or frozen vegetable, mixed with canned soup. I’m pretty sure beef with noodles is most popular, but you will find a ton of recipes with tater tots as well (a Minnesota favorite haha). There’s a whole page on Wikipedia dedicated to this goodness, and it says, “The history of the hotdish goes back to when ‘budget-minded farm wives needed to feed their own families, as well as congregations in the basements of the first Minnesota churches.'” Doesn’t that paint just the cutest picture?

Anyways, back to Ann! When I asked her for the recipe for her amazing hotdish a few years ago, she had to guess on measurements of things, because it’s something she has made for so long and just played around with, I’m not sure there was ever even an official recipe for it. I love that! I’m sure this recipe will become like that for me too.

So without further ado, I give you the recipe for Ann’s Minnesota Hotdish! I hope it becomes a comfort meal for you and your family, like it has been for mine. Thanks to Ann for sharing this amazing recipe with us!


Ingredients:

  • 1lb Ground beef (I’ve also made it with ground turkey & thought it was just as good)
  • 4 Tbsp Worcestershire Sauce
  • Wide Egg Noodles (Ann says you don’t need to use the entire bag, unless you are doubling the recipe)
  • 1 can cream of mushroom soup
  • 1 can cream of celery soup
  • Grated Parmesan cheese, to taste

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Start cooking meat on medium-high heat in a pan. When about halfway done cooking, douse the meat with the Worcestershire sauce. Continue cooking until browned. (Ann says: “This is a KEY ingredient & WON’T taste the same without it.”)
  3. Meanwhile, boil the noodles until not quite done. Drain the noodles.
  4. Toss the meat in with the noodles. Add the soups and a few shakes of the Parmesan. Stir until combined.
  5. Put the mixture into a greased 9×13 casserole dish, and sprinkle more Parmesan on top (the more the merrier in my opinion).
  6. Bake uncovered for 30-40 minutes, until the cheese on top looks like it’s getting crusty.
  7. Serve up and enjoy some good ol’ Minnesota Hotdish! 🙂