Author Archives: Michelle

Healthier Pumpkin Bread

Healthier Pumpkin Bread

As you can probably guess since I haven’t posted since August 30th we’ve been a little busy around here! School is off to a good start and most of our weekends are now spent working on our house!!!! (We started Oct. 1st and already have basement walls!)  And…Courtney is now a mom of FOUR beautiful children after the birth of their daughter earlier this month!  So to help celebrate October,  we’re breaking out the pumpkins and winter squash from our garden and finding fun ways to use it up!

Here’s our latest: Pumpkin Bread! (You could also bake this recipe as muffins!) I say these are healthier since I used whole wheat flour and cut down on the sugar a little.  This bread is still plenty sweet so I may use even less sugar next time.  It’s also dairy-free if you use the coconut oil rather than butter!


  • 4 cups whole wheat flour
  • 1 1/2 cups brown sugar (or preferred sweetener)
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 2 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 1/2 tsp pumpkin spice mix (or plain cinnamon)
  • 5 eggs
  • 2-3 cups pumpkin puree (or 1 can)
  • 3/4 cup melted coconut oil (or butter)
  • 1/2 cup preferred oil (we used grapeseed)

Streusel topping  (optional):

  • 3/4 cup rolled oats
  • 1 T whole wheat flour
  • 2 T brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup chopped nuts (optional)


Preheat oven to 400 F and grease the bottom only of 3 bread pans.  Mix streusel topping (optional) and set aside.

Mix all other dry ingredients (except the streusel topping!) 

Stir in all the wet ingredients and mix together well.   Pour batter into pans.   Sprinkle wet batter with streusel topping.

Bake for approx. 35-40 minutes or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean.  While bread is still hot you can also spread a little butter (1 tsp or so) or coconut oil on the tops to “glue” the streusel topping and make it reeeeeally yummy! 

Another yummy option: add chocolate chips! (Due to my need for dairy-free food I left them out.)


Hope you enjoy a taste of October!!

Other posts you may enjoy: 

Rosemary Pumpkin Soup

Black Bean (Healthier) Brownies

Gluten-Free Almond Cherry Cookies

Lemon-Poppyseed Muffins

Thursday’s RANDOM Thoughts

Thursday’s RANDOM Thoughts

What to write, what to write?  Well, it’s not that I don’t have any thoughts today per se,  it’s that I have too many thoughts!  And my thoughts jump around from one subject to another faster than my two-year-old can gobble down parade candy! 

Thoughts, thoughts….

Well,  for one I’m excited (and a slightly overwhelmed) to start a new school year.  I love looking through our homeschool curriculum and seeing all that we’re going to learn this year.  It will be a challenge since this year I have 2 kids in school grades, not just one.  Before I could just keep the other three busy and work with my oldest.  Now I have a 2nd grader AND a kindergartener to “teach.” And I suppose the preschooler and toddler will have to be occupied too.  But I love how just being all together at our own dining room table the younger children glean so much as I teach the older! Should be interesting!  

 I think the kids are ready for school too.  These last two weeks they’ve been asking for crayons and papers and scissors, doing more sit-down-inside things rather than spending sun up to sun down outside as they have for the last three months!  A little more structure and routine will be good for us all.

Other thoughts floating through my head…I’m looking forward to visits from family!  My dad and step-mom are driving up right now as I type! They live in Oklahoma and are making the 14hr trek to come spend a long weekend with us! And at the end of September my mom will fly in from Idaho to spend 10 days here!  Family is precious and we’re so glad to spend time with loved ones! YAY!

Speaking of family, we also have a wedding to go to this weekend and I’m beating my brains to come up with some amazing homemade gift.  I’m coming up with a big fat nothing!  Creative juices are NOT flowing! Bummer.  I may have to break down and buy something. 

I was just wondering where all those creative juices went.  I think they went into our newest project: we’re building a house!!! (I hope!) We have to submit the house designs and wait for construction loan approval, but we’re doing a lot ourselves, including the designing and we’ve worked with a bunch of different styles on paper and have finally narrowed it down to one!  My incredibly talented husband is the main brains of the operation, but he assigned me the task of laying out the floor plan and we FINALLY have one we both love.  (And do you know how difficult it is to design a house plan for two indecisive people!?!?!  VERY!) But we did it.  We may not get to start building this fall, but it’s still exciting changes ahead for us! Stay tuned!

So…if you could follow any of these random thoughts maybe there’s hope for this blog (and for me) yet!  😉  Happy Thursday!

Michelle’s Hummus Recipe

Michelle’s Hummus Recipe

We’re baaaaaaack!  Maybe you noticed we’ve been absent from the blogging sphere, SORRY! Life just happened and blogging had to take a back seat for awhile, but here we are again!

So one of the things I’ve been focusing on lately (instead of blogging) is my health. And to help with that, the doctor I’m working with has me on a special diet.  Among other things I’m supposed to have a serving of beans everyday.  Yes, EVERYday. To help bring a little variety with fulfilling that requirement I learned how to make my own hummus with chickpeas (aka: Garbanzo beans) and I thought I’d share!

This is good stuff!  And I know most hummus includes tahini (ground sesame seeds) but that’s hard to find in rural Minnesota…go figure.  So I just used a little sesame seed oil instead.


  • 1  1/2 cups cooked chickpeas drained (I used the crockpot method just like I do for pinto beans!)
  • 1 large (2 small) cloves of garlic
  • 3-5 fresh basil leaves
  • 1/4-1/2  t. sesame seed oil
  • 2 T. extra virgin olive oil
  • juice from one small lemon

Put all the wet ingredients in the food processor (I just use a small cheap one I purchased for making baby food and it does the job!).  Add the basil leaves, garlic cloves, and beans and puree until smooth!  (If you need a little more liquid try a little more olive oil or add a little of the water the beans were cooked in.)

I haven’t tried these yet cuz I’m pretty happy with this recipe, but when I need some more variety here are some other flavors I may add:

  • Spinach 
  • Artichokes
  • Sun-dried tomatoes
  • Roasted red peppers
  • Pesto

Oh and since I’m limited to one serving of grains a day I don’t like to use the typical pita chips to eat my hummus.  I use cucumber slices! I know it sounds weird, but it’s really good!  I still get the crunch and it all taste so fresh and yummy.  And we happen to have a few cukes in the garden so it’s cheaper than chips too! Try ’em!


Hummus with Cucumber “Chips”



Bug Repellent Lotion Bar

Bug Repellent Lotion Bar

In Minnesota, land of 10,000 lakes, we know mosquitoes! And two of my children have very bad reactions to mosquito bites.  So after seeing some homemade bug repellant recipes on-line I decided to try making my own in a lotion bar form for my family.   If you’ve never heard of a lotion bar (a pretty new concept to me too!) it just what it sounds like.  It looks like a bar of soap and you rub it into your skin where you need extra moisture.  The recipes I found used bees-wax too which really helps add protection to the skin as well as moisture.  And since you can use whatever essential oils you want in a lotion bar, I thought I’d use the essential oils that will {hopefully} repel mosquitos.

So here’s the basic lotion bar recipe:  (ANOTHER POSSIBLE CHRISTMAS GIFT!!!! See other Christmas in July posts)

  • 1 part beeswax
  • 1 part cocoa or shea butter (I used a combo of both)
  • 1 part oil (jojoba, sweet almond, avocado, or I used a combo of olive oil and coconut, mostly olive oil)
  • Vitamin E gel caps (optional)
  • Essential oils (optional)

**To make this lotion bar with bug repelling power using a combination of these essential oils: citronella, lemongrass, cedarwood, lavender

1. Use a scale and weigh equal parts beeswax and cocoa/shea butter. (Definitely go by weight rather than volume!)

2. Use a liquid measuring cup to measure the same amount of oil.

3.  On low heat (or using a double boiler) gently melt wax, butter, and oil together. 

4.  If you’re using Vitamin E, poke a hole in a gel cap and squeeze the oil into each mold shape (I used a silicon muffin pan, but you can use candy or soap molds or metal muffin pans too!)  Add drops of essential oils in each mold shape too if you want different scents for each bar.  If you want one batch of the same scent just stir the essential oils into the melted wax after it’s taken off the heat.  Pour melted mixture of wax and butters into the mold and stir each one.  Let them sit for several hours until cooled and hardened.  (You can put in the fridge if  you’re in a hurry, but don’t use the freezer.  From what I read it may crack the lotion bars.)

5.  To use simply rub the lotion bar on your skin.  It might feel a little greasy at first but it will quickly be absorbed.

For my first batch I tried a variety of essential oils…a different combination in each mold opening!  I used 3 oz of each: wax, butter, oil and my silicone muffin pan holds six bars. 


Heart-Shaped Lotion bars!


And now we’ll be testing to see if this really keeps the bugs away!   There will be plenty of opportunities around here!  Check back in and I’ll let you know how effective it is!  (And if nothing else, at least our skin will be silky smooth!)  😉

Note:  You can also make a liquid insect repellant spray with the same essential oils, witch hazel, and water.

Other posts you may like:

DIY lotion

DIY face wash

DIY  lemon sugar scrub

You can buy carrier oils, essential oils, beeswax pastilles, and different butters at Moutain Rose Herbs.

A taste of the sea: Crab-Stuffed Mushrooms

A taste of the sea: Crab-Stuffed Mushrooms

I’m back from a weekend get-away to the Oregon coast!  I went alone and met up with my brothers, dad, step-mom and all Dad’s side of the extended family. 

Me, my dad, and my “little” brothers!

We had a wonderful time enjoying the ocean views and the company and the yummy seafood! 


Haystack Rock in Cannon Beach, OR (Yes, it’s the one on the Goonies movie!!!!)


In celebration of my homecoming I wanted to share a yummy recipe I developed before I left. I used some of the Alaskan Dungeness crab my husband caught and brought back home last month!  If you’re not well stocked on fresh crab I’m sure canned would be just fine! 😉

Here’s a link to the original recipe I used as a reference.


  • I small package of baby Portobello mushrooms (there were about 10-12 mushrooms in the package)
  • 1/2 cup crab meat
  • 1/4 cup soft (whole wheat bread) crumbs
  • half a lemon
  • 3-4 fresh basil leaves minced (or 1 tsp dry)
  • 1/2-1 tsp salt
  • 1 green onion stalk (minced)
  • 1 egg
  • dash of fresh or dry dill weed
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1-2 T butter or olive oil

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.  Lightly grease the bottom of a 9X13 pan.  Gently wash off mushrooms with a wet paper towel to remove any dirt. Remove the stems from the caps and finely chop the stems. 

2.  With butter or olive oil saute the chopped mushroom stems with green onion, basil, and dill for 2-3 minutes or until mushrooms are soft and dark-colored.  Set aside to cool.

3.  In a bowl mix crab meat, soft bread crumbs, egg, and Parmesan cheese.  Squeeze the lemon juice over the mixture and stir together.  Add the chopped and cooked mushroom stems to the crab meat mix and stir.

4.  Gently spoon mixture into the raw mushroom caps and bake for about 10 minutes until caps are dark brown and mixture on top is a light golden brown.  (I had extra crab meat mixture which I layered with zucchini in a casserole dish and baked! YUM!)


Crab-Stuffed Mushrooms


Now this is the life!

Christmas in July: Home “Grown” Gifts

Christmas in July: Home “Grown” Gifts

Well, folks, I’m off to the Oregon coast to spend time with my relatives! But before I do here’s another idea for Christmas in July: home “grown” gifts like canned pickles, salsa, or jam!

Even if you don’t grow the produce yourself if you come across a great deal on some fresh fruit or veggies consider trying your hand at canning or making jam and jelly!  It’s a lot easier than I thought it would be and it’s such a special treat to share with friends and loved ones at Christmas time!

My first batch of pickles!

Christmas In July

Christmas In July

It’s hot here in central Minnesota.  REALLY hot and humid! Winter is about the last thing on my mind right now.  And I know Christmas seems like a loooooong way off, but there’s good reason to start thinking about it now: HOMEMADE GIFTS!

On one side of our extended family we decided to exchange only homemade gifts at Christmas time last year.  It was nice for many reasons:

  1. We all have so much stuff,  and I found myself  looking at trinkets I might afford but would only add to someone else’s clutter.
  2. The focus was more on spending our time and talent on the gifts rather than money.
  3. It was fun to tap into my creative reserves and learn (or grow in) a new skill!
  4. Age and income didn’t matter as much, everyone can make something!!!
  5. They ended up being more useful or practical gifts.
  6. Since we made our gifts at home we didn’t have to run around as much in all the Christmas Retail Chaos and fight crowds and parking lots!
  7. The gifts seemed so special knowing the love and time that went into them!

Some of the things given and received:

Homemade Vanilla

Friendship Bracelets

Homemade Candy and Sweet Treats

Sewn kid bathrobes

Crocheted Hats and Scarves

Dress-up Superhero Capes and Crowns

Sewn Backpacks and purses

Premixed Meat Rubs and Spices

Pajama Pants

Wood carved toy rifles

Quilted Table Runners

Painted Christmas Ornaments

Rice-Filled Hot/Cold Packs

Homemade Jewelry

Sewn Pillowcases

The homemade bathrobes, superhero capes, and crocheted crowns were big hits with my kids!


There are so many options out there! If you start to think about it now, you could even learn a new skill like crocheting and give away simple dishcloths! The point is, start looking now and considering having a Homemade Christmas this year!  It might become an annual tradition! J

Some of our other favorite blogs are showcasing different  homemade gifts too. Check out Happy Housewife’s Christmas in July posts here.

On A Lighter Journey here’s a couple options for Homemade Gifts:

Lotion/Hand Cream

This recipe for lotion takes less than 5 minutes to make!!!


Homemade Vanilla needs a couple of months at least to make and the longer it sits the better the flavor!

Come back throughout the week to see more thoughtful gift ideas you can start working on now to prepare for the Christmas season!

Thursday Thoughts: Gardening

Thursday Thoughts: Gardening

I never ever thought I would say this, but I’m enjoying gardening!  I wasn’t a fan of gardening when I was growing up, but I guess it’s in my blood and I shouldn’t fight it! 😉 My grandpa and my mom must have passed the gene on down despite my resistance!  Now, I’m thankful.

I really started appreciate gardening since I’ve been on a quest to live and eat healthier.  There’s something very satisfying in cooking food that we grew!  You know…that whole “I-can-do-it-myself” pride that you see in your toddler, well now I remember what it feels like with gardening!

Another bonus: I know exactly where the food came from and what was put into it!  And now it’s really helping our grocery budget! We have a pretty short growing season in Minnesota, but I’ve still been able to harvest lettuce, zucchini, green beans, and sugar snap peas already! I didn’t have to buy any veggies this week on my grocery trip! Mostly fruit and a few other staples! Maybe “going green” ain’t so bad!

Other things I love about gardening:

  • My kids are involved and learning so much!  They’re learning science, health, and good eating habits as well as spiritual concepts like “What you sow is what you grow!”  (And they are having a LOT of fun! They beg me to water the garden or pick vegetables!)
  • There’s something therapeutic in pulling out weeds! I don’t know what it is, but it feels good to yank a weed out by the root and toss it aside!
  • We get off the couch and enjoy the outdoors while gardening.
  • Fresh food takes flavor to a whole new level! You may never buy another canned vegetable from the store once you try growing your own!
  • When we live 28 miles from the nearest big grocery store it’s nice to be able to just go to our yard and pick something last-minute for a meal!
  • It’s a meaningful (and frugal) gift to share homegrown veggies with a friend or neighbor!

Have I convinced you to try gardening yet?!?!?!  Don’t let having a small (or no) yard hold you back.  We have a few containers of herbs and lettuce on our porch that really supplement our meals nicely!  You could try a tomato plant in a container and make your own spaghetti sauce or fresh BLT sandwich!  The possibilities are endless! You might just grow a green thumb while you’re at it! :)


Our garden



Fresh salad for lunch, anyone?


We’ll probably eat this for dinner tonight!

Fresh herbs! Basil, oregano, rosemary…and a cute toddler (pick at your own risk!) ;)

He’s happy to help…especially if it involves water and mud! Win-win!

Black Bean Burgers

Black Bean Burgers

If you’re familiar with A Lighter Journey, you already know that I cook/eat a lot of beans at my place.  And sometimes I cook too many. So with an abundance of cooked black beans and mushrooms I decided to try to make some vegetarian-style burgers as a little something different. And they were actually pretty good! Now mind you, I still enjoy the real deal when it comes to hamburgers, but this used up my beans and it was  yummy too {as well as healthy!}


  • 2 cups cooked black beans (I used the crockpot method, but canned beans would work, just rinse and drain first!)
  • 2 cups baby Portobello mushrooms (or other variety of mushrooms)
  • 1/2 onion
  • 1 to 1  1/2 cups dry old-fashioned oatmeal
  • 1 egg
  • 1 t salt (optional…take into consideration that with canned beans they may already be salted!)
  • 1/2 t cumin
  • 1 t smoked paprika
  • 1 t garlic powder
  • dash cayenne pepper



Chop mushrooms and onion very finely (a food processor would be great, but don’t try a blender! It purees instead of chops! I know this from experience!;))


Rinse beans and drain really well!  It might even help to dry them a little by dabbing them with a paper towel.  My beans were pretty wet.  I worked with it, but it would’ve been easier if there was less liquid!

Mash beans with a potato masher. 


Stir in chopped onions and mushrooms and egg and spices.  Stir in the oats.  My mixture was really wet so I let it all sit for 1/2 hr and the oats really soaked up the extra moisture.  (So adjust the amount of oats according to your mix! You might not need as much if your beans were really dry!)

To freeze line a cookie sheet with parchment or wax paper.  Form patties (they’re pretty fragile and sticky…that’s okay!)  and set them on the cookie sheet in the freezer overnight.   Store frozen patties in a freezer bag or container. 

This recipe makes 6 bean burgers!

Or form patties and cook right away!  Heat a little olive oil in a frying pan on medium high heat and cook about 4-5 minutes each side.  I cooked the frozen ones the same way without thawing first, just cooking them a little longer.  Both ways worked great! I don’t know about grilling these since that’s more my hubby’s department, but other recipes I saw suggested grilling these on foil coated with olive oil.

Enjoy with your favorite burger toppings!

So if you’re looking for a meatless meal, or a way to use up a surplus of cooked black beans I hope you’ll give this recipe a try!  It was surprisingly good, even for a carnivore like me! 😉

Other posts you may enjoy:

Citrus Mint Quinoa Salad

Southwestern Black Bean Quinoa Salad

 Savory Beans ‘n’ Rice

Savory Beans and Rice {Crockpot}

Savory Beans and Rice {Crockpot}


Being in the dog days of summer {might’ve actually hit 100 degrees yesterday!} I like to use my crockpot rather than the stove top or oven whenever I can! I also like to create frugal healthy meals…meaning I use a lot of beans around here! Here’s the newest recipe from my kitchen: Savory Beans and Rice.  It reminded me of Zatarain’s or Vigo’s Red Beans and Rice.  But this version is much healthier with brown rice and NO preservatives.  And also important: it was a hit with my kids! We covered it with grated cheddar cheese and they gobbled it down and asked for more!


  • 1 1/2 cups dry brown rice
  • 1 cup dry pinto beans
  • 2 t salt
  • 1 t garlic powder
  • 1/2 t smoked paprika
  • 1/2 t cumin
  • 1/2 a medium onion chopped
  • 8 cups boiling water
  • olive oil

Pour beans and rice into the crockpot.  Mix spices and salt together and add to the crock.  While water is heating up to boiling saute onions in a couple of tablespoons of olive oil for 2-3 minutes…until barely translucent.  Add onions to the crock and pour boiling water over everything.  Set crockpot on high and serve 3-4 hours later! 

I think this dish would dry out too much if you over cook it so I would keep a close eye on it!  Ours was done in 3 1/2 hours and thickened up a little after serving. 


  • It’s done!



  • For a little heat add cayenne or crushed red pepper
  • Add smoked sausage for a main course dish
  • Add chopped peppers of choice
  • Serve topped with sour cream or shredded cheese
  • Use left overs for burritos or enchilada filling
  • Add a can of crushed/diced tomatoes, chopped green pepper, and shrimp for a Jambalaya-type dish


***Random announcement:   maybe you noticed we haven’t been posting much this week. The summer is short in Minnesota and we try to take full advantage of the season by playing outside as much as possible. My computer is inside. Courtney is also busy with her little ones and preparing for the arrival of her baby this fall.  So this summer postings may be a little sporadic…just to warn you! Thanks for understanding!

Other Posts You May Enjoy:

Crockpot Beans

Easy Potato Salad

Freezer Cooking: Meatballs


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