Saturday, August 20, 2011

Grad school and believing

Hello folks,

I haven't posted on this blog for a while...sorry about that! Since I also blog about our Aussie experience over at Aggies In Oz , sometimes I just forget to update this little old blog over here. There is also the whole 'working on my PhD' thing that sometimes takes my time as well.

As I sit here in Australia at 11:25 am Sunday (Australian time) it is 8:27 pm Saturday night in that I love. My little boy and I are staying home from church today because we both aren't feeling well, we have your typical winter cough with a chance of an upper respiratory infection coming, so we are trying to take it easy and get some rest.

Life here is good. It seems like when we first got here we thought life was a slower pace here and from talking to my Aussie friends, that is the case here on the coast but when you get up closer to Sydney, it is just as fast paced as what I am used to, they think. However, now that we are settled and working and schooling and everything else, it does seem like has sped up a little.

I am teaching 3 classes this semester in Tourism Marketing and I love it. Classes are set up differently here, you have one big lecture that includes all the people in the subject and it could be as many as 800 people, I hear. Then, each lecture is broken into sections of 25 people and I teach 3 of those sections. So, I get more direct experience with the students and I do the grading and such. So far, it has been great and I do like it although it does make life seem a lot busier.

My thesis work is moving along and it is always a juggling act. When you are in academia, there is this balance among going to conferences, presenting, writing in academic journals, writing your thesis/dissertation, teaching, researching, etc. that seems to be a real juggling act. I think I spent the first semester just figuring out what everything was and what it entailed. I feel like I have a better idea is a little daunting but who ever said this would be easy? As big of a task as a PhD is, you just have to take it one step at a time and just keep on plowing through...just like everything in life. Sometimes it is hard, sometimes it is intriguing, sometimes it is exciting, sometimes you feel dumb, sometimes you feel brilliant, and sometimes all those emotions happen within a 15 minute span! However, through it all, I fell blessed to have the opportunity to be here and I feel like I have already learned and grown just in the last 7 months.

7 months, we have been here on our adventure 7 has flown by! As we are ending Winter, I am excited to have the Spring come because I am sure it is breathtakingly beautiful here. I can already start to see the budding of a few flowers and can only imagine the splendor of Spring in bloom here. I am sure it is magnificent!

A few weeks ago, some friends of mine went and spent a day up in Sydney for a women's conference called 'Time Out for Women'. This is a program put on by Deseret Book and it was a full day of speakers and singer Hillary Weeks. It was really one of the most wonderful experiences. There were almost 2000 women there from all sorts of cultures and backgrounds but they all had one thing in mind, making themselves a better person. I came away from the day feeling inspired and grounded. It was something I needed, it was a nice break from studying, it was fun to be with my friends, it was fun to laugh and share in our struggles as women, and the presenters were wonderful and you just felt like they were speaking right to your heart. It was one of those weekends where you feel like your bucket is full and you want to go spread the message that you are a loved child of God and that times may be hard but you can become something great. The theme was "Choose to become" and that referenced the scripture in Mark 9:23 that says "all things are possible to him that believeth." We all left there believing that we would be okay, that we would try harder, not be as hard on ourselves, and that we were in this thing together. We are here with each other and with our Heavenly Father to make it through this life and to truly become what we are destined to be. It is a beautifully basic concept but one that it is good to be reminded of from time to time.

So, as I head into my birthday week and get another year older (gad!), I am reflective on the last year or so and am just amazed at the change my life has taken, but it has been a good change and one that has been great for our family too. We didn't really know we were in a rut, but we were and I am glad to be out of it, even though it was an uncomfortable and unexpected climb, but the view is much better back on the road. We all have ruts in our lives, times where we are just in a routine and not really growing or expanding and just kind of surviving. Although I think there are times when we have to do that just to survive, I hope we can all see clearly enough to want to see the view from back on the road, moving upward and onward and stretching ourselves to grow.

So, this week, look for the beauty in yourself and see what you can do to polish yourself up a little and give you more shine, because you are so worth the effort.

Love from Oz,


A few pictures from our fun weekend!

Monday, June 20, 2011

Cornbread Recipe

One of the things we miss here in Australia is the availability of corn bread mixes! I have tried a few recipes and this is the best one so far and my hubby loves it.

  • 1-½ cup Flour
  • ½ cups Cornmeal (We don't have cornmeal in Australia so I use ground polenta, which is the same thing pretty much)
  • 1 Tablespoon Baking Powder
  • ½ teaspoons Salt
  • ⅔ cups Sugar
  • 1-¼ cup Milk
  • 2 whole Eggs
  • 3 Tablespoons Oil
  • ½ cups Butter, Melted

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Combine all of the dry ingredients in a large bowl. Combine liquids in a separate bowl. Add liquids to dry ingredients and mix until just blended. Don't over-mix. Pour into a greased square 8″ or 9″ pan. Bake for 30-35 minutes until top is golden and a toothpick inserted comes out clean.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Chicken Nuggets

I made these last night and they were a hit! My little boy loved them and we thought they were reminiscent of Chick-Fil-A, which doesn't exist here in Oz so were were excited for that.

1 wholeLarge Egg
1 cupMilk
2 wholeSkinless And Boneless Chicken Breasts
1-1/4 cupFlour
1-1/2 TablespoonPowdered Sugar or Icing Sugar (that is what they call it in Oz)
2 teaspoonsSalt
1 teaspoonPepper
4 cupsPeanut Oil Or Canola Oil, For Frying (I don't think I used quite this much)

In a medium bowl, whisk the egg and stir in the milk. Trim any fat away from the chicken. Cube chicken into bite size pieces. Place chicken in the milk mixture and cover. Let it marinate for 2–4 hours in the fridge. This will make the chicken very nice and tender.

In a gallon size resealable baggie, combine flour, powdered sugar, salt and pepper. Seal and shake to combine.

Place about 2 inches of oil in a medium deep pot. Over medium high heat (more towards the high side) heat oil until hot. If using a thermometer let the temperature reach 375°F. If you don’t have a fancy gadget like most people, I always test my oil by dropping a few drops of water into it. You want it to sizzle and not pop too much. Adjust your heat if necessary.

Using a fork or tongs, remove the cut chicken from the milk mixture and place into the flour mixture. Seal and shake until nuggets are completely coated. Place about 6 to 8 nuggets into the hot oil and let them cook until golden brown, turning halfway through once the edge of your chicken starts to turn white, about 1 minute each side. Always double check to see if any chicken you make is cooked through. I always just make a tiny cut to see if it’s pink. Remove and drain on a paper towel. Repeat until all nuggets are cooked.

Serve with your favorite dipping sauce!

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Spicy Chicken Tortilla Soup

I made this for a church lunch the other day and have been asked for the recipe, so here it is! Easy, spicy, and so good! This recipe is from Tasty Kitchen

2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
1 cup Chopped Onion
2/3 cups Chopped Cilantro, Divided Use
1 Tablespoon Minced Garlic
14-1/2 ounces, weight Can Of Diced Tomatoes
3/4 Tablespoons Ground Cumin
1/2 Tablespoon Chili Powder
1/4 teaspoon Cayenne Pepper
2 wholeBay Leaves
4 cups Chicken Broth
2 whole Large Carrots, Sliced Thin
1 whole Chicken Breasts, Sliced Thin
1-1/2 cup Shredded Monterey Jack Cheese, Divided Use
3/4 teaspoons Salt
1 bag Tortilla Chips, 12 Ounce Bag
1 whole Avocado, diced

In a large stock pot, heat the oil over high. Add onions, 1/3 cup cilantro and garlic, sauté 3 minutes. Stir in tomatoes and spices, then bring to a boil. Add the broth, carrots and chicken. Return to a boil, then reduce heat to medium and cook another 10-12 minutes. Stir in half the cheese and 1 cup of crushed tortilla chips and combine. Remove bay leaves before serving.
Ladle soup into bowls and top with remaining cheese, fresh cilantro, fresh avocado, and more tortilla chip pieces.

Serves 4+.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Whole Wheat Banana Bread


As I sit here working at my desk, I can smell the banana bread baking in the oven. Yum! My poor older sister has an allergy or aversion to bananas, so let's all just take a moment to feel sorry for her, because bananas are good! Anyway, this recipe is from Karen at Her website is a treasure trove of information on wheat, food storage, bread techniques, and recipes. I have tried many a banana bread and this one is by far the best I have ever had. The streusel topping takes it over the top. I admit that this time I am making it with just regular old flour from a bag at the grocery store, but we just won't tell Karen. I have made it before with fresh ground whole wheat and it is fabulous. I hope the regular old flour has a good turnout as well. So, just to share in the love, here is the recipe...from Karen

Banana Nut Bread with Streusel Topping
Bake at 350
50-55 minutes
Makes 1 large loaf—enough to share if you are forced into it.

Pre-heat oven to 350
Lightly butter a 4X9 loaf pan and set aside

Spread out 1 1/3 Cup Walnuts ( side note from Heather, I use pecans) on a cookie sheet. Roast in 350 oven for five minutes. Stir and roast an additional 3-5 minutes. The walnuts will quickly begin to smell very sweet and nutty. Oooo so delicious. Allow to cool.

Meanwhile Combine
2 Cup mashed well ripened banana
1Cup Dark Brown Sugar

The juice from the bananas will melt the brown sugar making a very soupy mixture, don't be alarmed. Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl combine dry ingredients:
2 Cup freshly ground whole wheat flour
2 tsp Baking Powder
1 tsp soda
1/2 tsp salt

Set aside.

Coarsely chop your walnuts. Measure out 1 cup and add to the banana mixture. Finely chop the remaining nuts. These will be used for the struesel.

Struesel Topping
1/4 Cup freshly ground whole wheat flour
2 Tbsp Dark Brown Sugar
1/3 Cup Roasted Walnuts Finely Chopped
2 Tbsp Butter

Combine flour and sugar, mix well working out any lumps of sugar. Add nuts and mix. Using a pastry cutter, or your fingers (my technique), cut in the butter until the mixture is thoroughly combined and has a variety of crumble sizes. Set aside.

To the banana mixture add:
3/4 Cup Coarsely Chopped Walnuts
2 tsp Vanilla
2 Large Well-beaten Eggs
1/4 Cup Melted Butter

Stir until well combined.

Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients. Add wet ingredients all at once and stir gently just till thoroughly combined. Working quickly, dump the batter into the prepared loaf pan. Spread all of the streusel topping evenly over the top of the loaf and very gently press the topping slightly into the batter.

Bake at 350 for 20 minutes. Cover loaf with a foil tent. Continue baking an additional 30 to 35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted at the center comes out clean.

Allow the loaf to cool completely. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap or foil and refrigerate overnight. You're gonna love it.


End note from Heather...that last paragraph about letting it cool completely and wrap and wait.....never happens at my house, I love it warm and freshly baked!

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Texas Sheet Cake

Yesterday, I made Texas Sheet Cake...some people outside of Texas call it Chocolate Sheet Cake, but don't be fooled, it is Texas Sheet Cake! It is rich and chocolatey and feeds a bunch since it is a shorter cake and you make it in a jelly roll pan. It is Heavenly, and I have tested a few recipes and found that Ree Drummond of The Pioneer Woman, has the best recipe.
  • Ingredients for ....THE CAKE:
  • 2 cups Flour
  • 2 cups Sugar
  • ¼ teaspoons Salt
  • 4 Tablespoons (heaping) Cocoa
  • 2 sticks Butter
  • 1 cup Boiling Water
  • ½ cups Buttermilk
  • 2 whole Beaten Eggs
  • 1 teaspoon Baking Soda
  • 1 teaspoon Vanilla
  • _____
  • ½ cups Finely Chopped Pecans
  • 1-¾ stick Butter
  • 4 Tablespoons (heaping) Cocoa
  • 6 Tablespoons Milk
  • 1 teaspoon Vanilla
  • 1 pound (minus 1/2 Cup) Powdered Sugar

In a mixing bowl, combine flour, sugar, and salt.

In a saucepan, melt butter. Add cocoa. Stir together.
Add boiling water, allow mixture to boil for 30 seconds, then turn off heat. Pour over flour mixture, and stir lightly to cool.

In a measuring cup, pour the buttermilk and add beaten eggs, baking soda, and vanilla. Stir buttermilk mixture into butter/chocolate mixture. Pour into sheet cake pan and bake at 350-degrees for 20 minutes.

While cake is baking, make the icing. Chop pecans finely. Melt butter in a saucepan. Add cocoa, stir to combine, then turn off heat. Add the milk, vanilla, and powdered sugar. Stir together. Add the pecans, stir together, and pour over warm cake.

It is amazingly rich, chocolately, and won-der-ful...especially when you make it while you are in Australia and it tastes like home. Mmmmmmmmm

Friday, January 21, 2011

German Chocolate Cake

My family LOVES German Chocolate Cake, and to be honest, I really don't love it. I love chocolate cake but this cake has coconut in the frosting and I am not a huge fan. However...I made this cake for my mother's birthday and it is Heavenly. Best German Chocolate Cake I have ever had and everyone ate it up quickly. Legend has it that it is probably not German in the sense that it is from Germany, in fact my brother said that in Germany they had no idea what he was talking about when he asked about German Chocolate Cake. It is believed that the creation came from the German Sweet Chocolate Company, hence the name. I really don't care, it is just darn good. This recipe is from Stephen Pyles book New Tastes from Texas. Here we go!

German Chocolate Cake

Cake recipe
1-4 oz package of Baker's German Sweet Baking Chocolate
1/2 cup of water
2 cups of all purpose flour
1 teaspoon of baking soda
1/4 teaspoon of salt
1/2 pound unsalted butter (2 sticks), softened
2 cups of sugar
4 large eggs, separated (You use these at different times, so pay attention! Plus you need more for the frosting)
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
1 cup buttermilk

1 12 oz. can of evaporated milk
1 and 1/2 cups sugar
3/4 cup unsalted butter (1 and 1/2 sticks)
4 large egg yolks, slightly beaten
1 and 1/2 teaspoons vanilla bean, split in half lengthwise and scraped
1-7 oz. package of shredded sweetened coconut (about 2 and 2/3 cups)
1 and 1/2 cups chopped pecans, toasted

Cake instructions:
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line the bottom of the three 9 inch round cake pans with wax paper.

Heat the chocolate and water in a heavy 1 quart saucepan over very low heat, stirring constantly until the chocolate is melted and the mixture is smooth. Remove from the heat.

Combine the flour, baking soda, and salt in a separate medium bowl.

Beat together the butter and sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer on medium speed until light and fluffy. Add the egg yolks, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Stir in the chocolate mixture; add vanilla. Add the flour mixture alternately with the buttermilk, beating after each addition until smooth. Beat the egg whites in another bowl with an electric mixer on high speed until stiff peaks form. Gently fold into the batter. Pour the batter into the waxed-paper lined pans trying to make them all even in height.

Bake for 30 minutes or until the cakes spring back when lightly touched in the center. Remove from the oven and immediately run a spatula around the sides of the pans to loosen the cakes. Cool 15 minutes. Remove from the pans and remove the wax paper. Cool completely on wire racks. Spread the frosting between the layers and over the top of the cake.

Frosting instructions
Combine the evaporated milk, sugar, butter, egg yolks, and vanilla in a large saucepan. Cook, stirring frequently, over medium heat about 12 minutes or until thickened and golden brown. Remove from the heat and stir in the coconut and pecans. Cool to room temperature to reach a desired spreading consistency.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Tequila Lime Chicken

I tried this recipe over the holidays and loved it. It is from The Pioneer Woman, Ree Drummond and it is so tasty. If you don't want to use Tequila, just leave it out or I used some apple cider vinegar and it worked well, too.

Tequila Lime Chicken (or Mock-Tequila Lime Chicken)


■3 whole Limes, Juiced
■5 cloves Garlic, Peeled
■1 whole Jalapeno, Sliced
■1 teaspoon Kosher Salt
■½ cups Cilantro
■½ cups Tequila (or Apple Cider Vinegar if you don't want the alcohol)
■5 Tablespoons Olive Oil
■4 whole Boneless, Skinless Chicken Breasts
■1 cup Monterey Jack Cheese, Grated
■Pico De Gallo
■Refried Pinto Or Black Beans
■Mexican Rice
■Sour Cream
■Avocado Slices
■Flour Tortillas

Preparation Instructions
Combine lime juice, garlic cloves, sliced jalapeno, salt, cilantro, and tequila in a food processor or blender. Pulse until combined. Turn on the blender/food processor and drizzle in the olive oil until it’s all combined.

Slightly flatten chicken breasts with a mallet or cut them milanese style so they are all uniform thickness. Place in a plastic bag and pour in marinade. Seal bag and marinate for several hours or (preferably) overnight.

When ready to cook, remove chicken from bag and place on the grill. Cook until completely done. Toward the end of cooking, top chicken breasts with grated Monterey Jack and allow to melt. (You can also top chicken with cheese and melt under the broiler.)

Serve topped with pico de gallo or salsa, alongside refried black beans, Mexican rice, sour cream, avocado slices, fresh flour tortillas…and whatever other garnishes make you smile!

This has become one of my favorite ways to make chicken. I love the lime flavor in the chicken.

I hope you try it and let me know how it goes!

Honey Pecan Crusted Chicken

This chicken is really yummy and full of flavor. My mother is a house director at a sorority house and this is one of the meals they serve to the 39 girls that live there and it is one of their favorites. It is elegant but easy! ( I hope they have pecans in Australia!)

Honey Pecan Crusted Chicken

1/4 teaspoon of salt
1/4 teaspoon of pepper
4 skinless chicken breasts
1/4 cup of honey
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
3/4 teaspoon paprika
1/8 teaspoon of garlic powder
1 and 1/4 cup of finely crushed cornflakes
1/2 cup of chopped pecans (Texas pecans are best, in my opinion)

Sprinkle chicken breasts with salt and pepper. Combine honey, mustard, paprika, and garlic powder in a bowl. Combine cornflakes and pecans in a shallow dish. Brush both sides of the chicken breast with the honey mixture, then dredge in the cornflake mixture. Place chicken on a baking sheet coated with cooking spray.

Bake at 400 degrees F for 40-45 mintutes.




Well, I leave for Australia next week and I am trying to post as many recipes on here as I can so that I have my favorites easily available at my fingertips.

So, expect a bunch today and in the days to come!

Beautiful Basics

Life is about a journey, and you are the only one who can make yours... So, embrace life: the good, the bad, and the is the only one you've got.

Here's to being Beautiful, inside and out!