FAMILY FUN SUMMER ACTIVITIES

It seems there are two camps regarding summer: Camp Bucket List and Camp Chillax.  I actually subscribe to both. I believe in letting children be free and yes, even bored sometimes.  I like the idea of days with NOTHING on the agenda and encouraging children to let their imaginations run wild! These are the summer days I remember. I had to make my bed and do the normal getting dressed and teeth brushed routine, but then it was a beautiful freedom of gathering friends and exploring the neighborhood. If I could recreate my childhood for my children, I would in an instant. We spent hours of walking in the irrigation ditches that ran through the neighborhood orchards and then trying to swing across the ditch on a rope swing, running through sprinklers, jumping on trampolines, playing at the park, playing catch with baseball or a neighborhood football game on our side lawn, helping my father in the garden especially when it was our irrigation time, building forts, making up dances to perform for parents, mini golf, bumper boats, water slides, hitting the ball at the batting cages, jumping and splashing in blowup pools in the back yard, basketball in the driveway, seeing how far we could launch a water balloon with our homemade water balloon launcher made from a levi pocket and rubber medical tubing, loitering on the neighbor’s porch who must’ve known we were there for fresh picked strawberries again, jumping rope, roller skating, hop scotch, softball, chinese jump ropes, sticky popsicles running down our arms then washing off in the hose, riding bikes everywhere, tennis at the local courts, walking to the gas station for a soda and some candy, summer movies every week at the theater (which, come to think of it was the only screen we looked at), swimming at the local pool, walking the mall and giggling at cute boys and last but not least, NIGHT GAMES.  Oh how seriously we took our night games: kick the can, follow the judge, sardines, ghost in the graveyard. ALL the kids came out to the corner of the cul-de-sac at dusk each night, it was a glorious technology-free time!!!

At the same time, I love spending time as a family and my children are growing up so quickly. I want to make memories with them and to give them quality time with their parents. We live in a world of constant busyness. During the school year, we as families are pulled in many different directions ie., school, lessons, homework and projects, church activities, practices, sports games, concerts, appointments etc. Summer can be a time where we can break free from the crazy schedule AND a time to reconnect as parents, grandparents, children, siblings, cousins and friends. My family has many summer traditions and activities we love to do together. We like to save most of these activities for when Dad is home from work and can join us.  Making these memories as a family builds relationships and strengthens our home.  While that is not to say the kids always get along as we spend time together, they do grow and experience, laugh and play together and they actually become better friends and like each other more. We ask the kids at the beginning of the summer to name something they would like to do as a family in the coming months and then I pencil them in the calendar. I have found when I don’t write them down on a possible date and make a plan, it doesn’t happen.

So today, I give to you a SUMMER BUCKET LIST that is impossible to accomplish. I made it so long, and impossible to do everything for two reasons. 1- To eliminate the stress of needing to do it all. 2- So that there are options for every kind of family and their hobbies and likes and dislikes. As I started writing, I realized the possibilities are endless. What a great day and age to live in! I should also point out that although many of these suggestions are specific to the area and state I live in, most of them are possible wherever you live. Please feel free to share the list so we can all have a FANTASTIC summer together. ENJOY!

  • Attend a baseball game
  • City festivals
  • Splash Pads
  • Parks
  • Outdoor concerts
  • Hiking
  • Fishing
  • Visiting ponds and lakes
  • Eat in the canyon or mountain
  • Go to the zoo
  • Outdoor movie
  • Enroll in the local library’s summer reading program
  • Make homemade ice-cream
  • Backyard or lawn games
  • BBQ with friends
  • Biking
  • Pickleball or tennis
  • Playgrounds
  • Fireworks
  • Swim at the local swimming pool
  • Camp in the backyard
  • Parades
  • Movie marathon: (we watch one movie a week of a series) ie., Harry Potter, Hobbit/Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, Marvel, DC
  • Find the best snow cone in your city
  • Attend the farmer’s market
  • Amusement parks
  • Find the best burger in your city
  • Have brunch together
  • Do service for someone in need ie., yard work blitz: show up with your tools and gloves
  • Go to the canyon or mountain for s’mores
  • Have a tea party
  • Make dinner together as a family
  • Summer movie program for kids
  • Go bowling
  • Play “Chopped”, “Cupcake Wars” or “The Great British Baking Show”
  • Explore the local aquarium
  • Have a picnic
  • Have a bake sale
  • Go to the rodeo
  • Family game night
  • Exercise together
  • Have a LUAU
  • Set up a lemonade stand
  • Find the best shake in your city
  • Learn about a new country a week, get books at the library, watch a movie that was filmed there, learn to say “hello, goodbye, please and thank you” in that country’s language, find a recipe and cook a traditional meal from the country of the week.
  • Experiment making your family’s favorite restaurant dish at home
  • Create a scavenger hunt
  • Make crafts
  • Play a family baseball game, invite friends to play
  • Build a fairy garden
  • Have a sleepover in the family room
  • National Doughnut Day at Krispy Kreme
  • Visit an art museum
  • Learn about or find an ancestor
  • Get a free “Slurpee” at 7-11 on 7/11
  • Make a dutch oven dinner in the backyard
  • Plant a garden or a pot
  • Homemade pizza night with all your favorite toppings
  • Visit a local bakery
  • Find out where your family comes from

The following ideas are specific to Utah but for those of you who live elsewhere, this list may give some good ideas for you in your area.

TO DO IN UTAH

Click on the activity to be taken to the official website for more information.

*This list is by no means all inclusive. I’d love for you all to leave a comment and share your favorite family activities.

CITY FESTIVALS

HIKING

Pools, Ponds, Lakes and Hot Springs

Parks, Playgrounds, Gardens, Museums, etc.

HISTORICAL SITES

ENTERTAINMENT

CAMPING

 

 

 

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Day 2 of the 22 Days of Thanksgiving: Necessary Equipment

You notice there are only about 6 kitchen tools I say are necessary. There are a couple reasons for this. 1- Thanksgiving Day dinner is daunting enough without a picture of almost every pot, pan, dish, serving utensils, mixing utensils, beaters, knives, cutting boards and mixing bowls I own. 2- Because I am assuming you already own the basics listed in reason number 1.

There are 6 kitchen tools I deem necessary for the Thanksgiving meal. Let’s talk about each one.

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1- A digital thermometer. I mention this first, because it is absolutely the most important tool of the entire Thanksgiving meal. Like me, after out family football game, the turkey is the MVP of the day. You’ve GOT to know when the turkey is done or you will have spent lots of money and time to serve turkey jerky. So please, if you don’t have a thermometer, get one! I like one with an oven safe probe, which allows you to have a constant read on the temperature of your meat or food. This thermometer has worked well for me for years. It has a timer, a temperature alert so you can set the temperature and know when your food is done or getting close, if you like an advance warning.  It can be switched to Fahrenheit or Celsius. There is also a switch to turn off the sound of the alert if you prefer. The display shows you your desired temperature, the actual temperature and the cooking time. The base has a magnet so it can easily sit against your oven or nearby refrigerator. The oven safe probe has a long cord with a pan clip on it to keep it in place. In the top picture you will see another digital thermometer; I use this almost daily. If you don’t have or want the oven safe thermometer get one of these. You will have to open the oven and periodically check the temperature of the turkey, but it does give a quick and accurate read. Just be sure to watch the temperature really closely as it gets close to 165 degrees.

2. Pictured above is my favorite carving board. There are a few different perks to this cutting board. You see the little pyramids in the center of the board? These grip the turkey and prevent it from slipping all over the counter, or worse, onto the floor. I also love the surrounding canals. These trap any running juices from spilling over and keep them out of the way. You can then tip one corner into your fat separator with the drippings for your gravy.  It is also large enough for a turkey, coming in at 2 feet long.

3. This one is pretty self explanatory.  How are you going to make mashed potatoes without a potato masher?

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4. It is probably silly to be as excited as I am about this fat separator. I love it. I’ve used it for years.  I am sure you know how it works, but just in case, let me enlighten you. After your meat or poultry is done roasting, remove the meat, then pour all the drippings into the top. The sieve at the top grabs all the, for the lack of a better word, sludge.  The rest of the drippings go into the cup and after a couple minutes, the juices sink and the fat rises. Like this….IMG_9829

See the fat at the top? Now look where the spout begins; it is at the bottom of the cup. Thus, as you pour, the juices come out first and then you can keep the fat separate, hence the name. This makes the gravy so easy to make.  I love it!

5. Now, let’s talk roasting pan with rack. You need a large enough pan to hold the turkey. It should be heavy, sturdy and have handles. Most roasting pans these days have racks that fit nicely inside them.  These hold the turkey up of the bottom which is important for  even roasting and to prevent burning. I also makes removing a large bird so simple.

6. I add the hand mixer because of how often I use it for Thanksgiving dinner alone. Plus, you don’t want to whip cream, beat herb butter or sweet potatoes without one. I am sure you have one, if not, this one has been awesome and has lasted for years.

Day 1 of the 22 days of Thanksgiving: Thanksgiving Table Settings

I am excited to share a post everyday of recipes, needed equipment, tools and utensils, useful tips and table setting decorations to help you have the best Thanksgiving ever!

I had so much fun designing these Autumn tablescapes.  I created two different table settings. One uses blue and white dishes with orange accents, which I love! The other uses more traditional color schemes of warm, fall colors. Hopefully this will give you some good ideas for your home this season.

In both settings, I use fresh fruit and gourds, stacked dishes for varying textures and heights and fresh flowers that show life and draw the eye to the center of the table.

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The following pictures show the second setting using warm, fall colors. I love the green accents from leaves and vines that I found in my yard.

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Happy Thanksgiving!

How I lost over 60 Pounds

That before picture at the top of this post was taken on my last baby’s blessing day.  I remember going to our house afterward for a luncheon and I asked my mom to see the pictures she took of all of us.  I had to leave the room.  Have you ever had that moment when you don’t recognize yourself? I thought, “I didn’t look like that this morning in the mirror.”  I knew weight didn’t just fall off of me after having a baby.  This was my 7th child and I knew how my body loved to hold on to that baby weight.  I also had to remember that 6 weeks after having a baby my hormones are still all over the place and I’m exhausted and emotional.  Still, seeing that picture of myself made me realize that I had some serious work I wanted to do.  My sweet father followed me into the living room and asked what was wrong.  I told him, through my tears, how embarrassed I was at how I looked.  He lovingly asked me, “Would you trade your children for the body you used to have before kids?” Of course not!  And it is true, I know many woman who struggle getting pregnant, staying pregnant and having children. I know women who wanted nothing more than to hold their own baby in their arms, and will not have that blessing in this life. I am so grateful for the sons and daughters we have.  We have been happy to welcome each child into our home and can’t imagine our life without any one of them. So, I don’t want to be misunderstood, I am grateful to have those sweet children.  They were worth every stretch mark, pound gained, and morning, day and night sickness that I experienced.  I’d do it again in a heartbeat!  I also want to acknowledge that my husband has told me everyday of our marriage how beautiful I am and that he loves me, seriously, everyday. It makes me laugh sometimes, I can be in sweats with greasy hair and baby spit up on my shoulder and he walks in from work and asks the kids, “Guys, isn’t mom beautiful?” The best part about it is, he means it! I love him.  He’s never made one comment or suggestion that I lose weight or get in better shape, he loves all of me and for who I am.  I love him for that and for so many other reasons and I know how blessed I am to have him.

That all being said, I wanted to feel great again! I wanted the energy to keep up with my kids, to feel confident and feel like myself again.  I want to live to 100 years old and see my children have children and be a healthy, active grandma.  I want to be there for their recitals, programs, plays, games and concerts.  I want to know my grandchildren and make memories with them. I want to do everything I can to avoid type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. I want to avoid the health problems that occur naturally from being obese.  It was time to get serious. I knew I was done having children and I was ready to have confidence and to love wearing clothes again.

It took a year and half to lose the first 40 pounds. For 18 months I moved more each week. This meant waking up a couple times a week at 5:45 a.m. and meeting my friend outside to walk for an hour before my family needed me.  I also said no to MOST desserts. I’d have a small treat once a week.  I was trying to eat better, making healthier food choices and I wouldn’t eat after 7 at night.  There were times that I’d plateau and see not progress for weeks at a time. There were times of weight gain because I stopped eating the way I should.  But I kept at it.  It felt good to see results and I reminded myself that although it was slow, it was progress that I could maintain and keep off.

After 18 months I had a friend on Facebook share her health journey and a before and after picture. I was amazed by her progress and she said she is a health coach and would love to help anyone that wanted to get healthy.  I reached out to her and started the Optavia program (previously called, Take Shape For Life). The program uses Medifast and Optavia foods.  I ate 6 times a day and my energy was way up.  My blood sugar was stable and I felt so good. Another benefit was I stopped having headaches. I have had headaches since I was a teenager. Before starting the program I was taking medicine for headaches about 5 days a week. I remember being 2 weeks into it and thinking, “I haven’t had a headache for 2 weeks!”  My health coach was so supportive and incredible.  She reached out to me often and was always available to answer any questions I had. She taught me so much and I lost 18 pounds in 8 weeks.  After one week, my husband also started the program and he lost 28 pounds in 8 weeks!! One of the great benefits for him was being able to run again.  He has arthritis in his ankle and it bothered him most days, and made running, which he really enjoyed before, impossible. His arthritis pain has gone away and we just ran a 10k together, 6 miles! I believe so much of his arthritic relief came from the lack of excess sugar, which causes inflammation. It was so motivating to see the weight and inches decrease so quickly! Our bodies were burning fat instead of excess sugars as we kept ourselves in a mild, dietary ketosis state (fat burn). Below are the before and after pictures of these 8 weeks on the Optavia program.

Can you believe the difference 18 pounds makes? And to get there in 8 weeks was awesome. I am so grateful for the Optavia program and I don’t regret doing the it for one minute. I’m grateful for the success and knowledge we gained, but for expense reasons and wanting more fresh food options we stopped the program. After about 4 weeks of eating the Medifast and Optavia fuelings, I started wondering if I could make my own meals, which would be approximately the same calories, grams of carbs and proteins.  So after 2 months we started eating the meals I had calculated to keep us in a ketonic state but have more options.  We continued to lose and it was so nice to have more food options. I have lost 8 pounds from eating the meals which I created to keep my calories, grams of carbs and proteins where the program had me.

Let me share what I learned during my weight loss journey and specific guidelines that brought us success.

  1. This book , Dr. A’s Habits of Health is the most helpful book I’ve ever read on health and diet and exercise. I read most of it before starting the Optavia program and it all made so much sense to me. I learned about sugar’s effects on our bodies, blood sugar levels and insulin, the importance of exercise and he includes an eating plan, which gave me the idea of making my own, go-to meals.
  2. Eat within 30 minutes of waking up. (60 minutes if you are on thyroid medicine) This gets your metabolism going and is like throwing a log on a dying fire, your body wakes up and starts burning and doing its thing. If you will keep your grams of carbs and grams of proteins under 90 a day each, you will keep yourself in mild dietary ketosis (fat burn). I learned that fat is a high energy fuel source, which explains the high amount of energy I felt after day three, once my body had burned off the excess glycogen stores and started burning my fat instead. I shoot for approximately 12-15 grams of carbs, 12-15 grams of proteins and about 150 calories in each of these 5 small meals/snacks. I eat every 3 hours and I eat 4 of them before dinner and 1 a few hours after dinner. Dinner is made up of about 8 oz of lean protein and 2 cups of veggies and some healthy fat.
  3. Eat small meals often, every 2-3 hours.  This keeps your blood sugar from dropping too low and helps avoid cravings, especially the cravings of simple carbohydrates like sugar, and white bread.  It also prevents getting so hungry that we binge, stuffing ourselves with food, our blood sugar spikes and then crashes and we repeat the cycle.
  4. Drink TONS of water! I used a large, 24 oz. water bottle and filled it up 5 times a day.  You’ve heard people say, take your weight in pounds, divide it by 2 and that is how many ounces you need to drink everyday.  I say shoot for 100+ oz a day. I know it is a lot of water, and you’ll be heading to the restroom like you are in the first trimester of pregnancy, but it is so good for our bodies, and it helps flush all sorts of things out.  A few days into this I realized I have lived most of my life being dehydrated. I bet this helped with my headaches too.
  5. Sugar is the culprit and it is addictive.  I know, isn’t that terrible!! It tastes SO good. It is also in EVERYTHING in America. It is in ketchups, breads, yogurts, pasta sauces, dressings, sauces, etc. Not to mention all the cookies, candy, ice cream, cakes, and doughnuts!  But if it is addicting then it makes sense that the food companies add it to their products right? It makes things taste good and we’ll want more of it. The other day my doctor told me it is the most addictive substance in America. I knew all of this before, but it took the 8 weeks of no sugar to realize how great I feel without it before I realized how poorly I feel with it.  I am not anti-sugar, but I do limit my intake to a treat a week.  My husband and I try to stick to one dessert on Sundays.  My children eat less of it because I have made small changes in what I buy and bring home from the grocery store, but they still get more than enough at home, in lunches, at school, scouts, after game snacks, church functions, etc. What I found interesting is all the ways our health improved from eliminating most sugar from our diets including, arthritis, headaches, joints, sick stomachs, and digestion. Each time I go crazy and eat more sugar than I should I feel sluggish and yucky, I get headaches and stomach aches and think to myself “My body tells me in about 20 different ways that excess sugar is not good for me.”
  6. I have heard many times over the years that weight loss is 80% eating healthy food and 20% exercise.  From my experience it is more like 90% eating right.  We all know that exercise and strength training is vital for our over all well being. Plus, the more muscle you have the more calories you body has to burn, because it takes more energy to maintain muscle than fat.  Exercise is good for our hearts, muscles, bones, mental health, helps prevent injuries, lengthens lives and a million other reasons. While all of this is true, I would work out, go on a long run, walk, bike, do a workout video, do strength training and still had a very hard time getting any weight off. I would work hard, but not change my eating habits and I’d sabotage myself and hard work with poor food choices. It has been my experience that weight loss comes from eating well; eating complex and healthy carbohydrates, getting plenty of lean protein every few hours, lots of vegetables and avoiding most sugar. Exercise helps, especially maintain the weight loss and I attribute it to maintaining my weight loss over the summer of vacations, holidays, birthdays, and wanting a cold treat on a hot day.
  7. If possible, find someone to either make these changes with you, or someone to whom you can be accountable.  I cannot tell you how helpful it was that my husband was doing this along with me and I had a health coach checking in on me.
  8. Keep in mind, this is going to be hard, if not, everyone would already have the body they want. It will take sacrifices. You are going to want the unhealthy stuff, because you know it tastes good. You may not like low carb, seed bread as much as you like thickly sliced white bread with lots of butter or mayo on it.  Is fat free greek yogurt with a little honey in it as yummy as greek yogurt with the sweetened fruit in it, probably not.  Would you rather eat a cheeseburger with a bun than a veggie burger, yes.  And will you be tempted to eat the starchy side dish you are serving your children with dinner, of course.  But I promise lots of little changes will make a huge difference and it gets WAY easier, especially when you start seeing results. In moments of real temptation, think how excited you’ll be to wear those favorite jeans that are still in your closet, without a muffin top!

Let me share with you some simple ideas and easy choices and adjustments that I use to keep me on track.

  • Have a dinner that consists of a lean protein and lots of vegetables
  • Before you get started, get rid of all your cookies, chocolate and junk food so it won’t be there staring at you when you get bored or snacky and look in the pantry
  • Make Protein Hot Chocolate for an indulgent treat that is shame free
  • Use spaghetti squash instead of pasta
  • 1 corn tortilla loaded with meat and veggies instead of a flour tortilla
  • Whole Wheat pasta
  • Brown rice
  • Leave the food in the kitchen, not on the table where you’ll be tempted to eat seconds
  • When plating your dinner, take up 1/2 the plate with veggies
  • Deconstruct casseroles. For example, turn chicken and broccoli casserole with cheese and cream of chicken soup into a grilled chicken breast and steamed broccoli with a small amount cheese sprinkled on top of the broccoli.
  • Whole grain and seed bread
  • Open face sandwiches, with one slice of cheese or low fat cream cheese, lean turkey or ham and veggies like lettuce, tomato and red onion
  • Baked, not fried
  • Grill, bake or poach your protein
  • Use a nonstick pan to reduce oil
  • Cook with olive oil or avocado oil for their healthy fats
  • Use a little low-sugar ketchup
  • Light salad dressings
  • Whole grain and seed tortilla chips
  • Rice crackers
  • Lite string cheese or a pickle for a snack
  • Have a tray of cut up veggies in the fridge for quick snacks
  • Boil a dozen eggs and keep them in the fridge for a healthy, quick snack
  • Almonds and pistachios are a healthy snack, I especially love the almonds that are dusted in a little cocoa
  • Choose broth based soups over cream based
  • Stir fry protein and veggies with ginger and garlic and sprinkle a little soy sauce over them. If you want rice, use brown rice or riced cauliflower.
  • Make a salad for dinner, adding some seeds and protein like boiled eggs and sliced chicken, to lots of veggies and lettuce.
  • Choose half a baked yam sprinkled with a little cinnamon instead of potatoes.
  • Use low fat sour cream
  • Use plain greek yogurt in place of sour cream, your family will NEVER know, mine didn’t and I first tried it right on top of their tacos!
  • Buy lean ground beef
  • Instead of ground beef in any recipe use ground turkey or chicken, especially in dishes that are in a sauce, like spaghetti, sloppy joes, or seasoned with taco seasoning, they’ll never know
  • Make homemade pizzas with part skim mozzarella and whole wheat pizza crust, loaded with veggies and turkey pepperoni or sausage
  • Use a whole romaine leaf as your taco shell, load it up. SO yummy!
  • Make taco salad without the chips, using seasoned ground turkey and greek yogurt instead of sour cream
  • Drink 16 oz of water before each meal
  • Take a probiotic to aid in digestion
  • Take a multivitamin each day
  • When dining out, ask the waiter to not bring out the bread or chips, avoiding the temptation altogether OR ask that it be brought out with your dinner, you will eat way less of them this way
  • Sprinkle seeds on your salad for a crunch, instead of croutons
  • Ask a friend or spouse to go off sugar with you for 30 days. This helps you say no, when you know someone else is counting on you and they are doing the same
  • When faced with a dessert that is a rare treat, like on your birthday or your favorite pie, which you only get once a year at Thanksgiving have 3 bites and enjoy them slowly
  • Make zoodles out of zucchini in place of pasta
  • Split a dessert with a friend or your spouse
  • After a long, emotional day, go on a walk instead of eating the pint of ice cream
  • If you must eat in front of the TV, pre-portion your snack and put the rest away before sitting down
  • Sit down to eat your meals, be present in the moment and enjoy each bite
  • Keep protein bars in your bag or purse for a healthy and quick snack and to prevent getting so hungry that you end up making terrible choices later
  • Eat 1 1/2 c of Skinny Pop when you need a salty snack or on movie night
  • Ask for your salad dressing on the side, dip your fork in the dressing and then stab the salad
  • Add turkey bacon to breakfast, salad, or sandwiches
  • Shop the perimeter of the grocery store, the outside of the store has the fresh healthier options, it is when we get lost in the aisles that we make some of our poor choices
  • DON’T grocery shop when hungry, remember the protein bar in your purse or car? Eat it before you go in!
  • Buy the produce! Even if it isn’t as cheap as it always is.  Think of how much you are paying per pound compared to a pound of cookies, it is usually about half the price for the produce.
  • I love PB Fit Mix it up and use it just like you would peanut butter, I like it spread on a piece of seed bread toast topped with apple slices, stalks of celery or in a chocolate protein shake
  • Steamed Edamame is a fantastic snack with lots of protein
  • I like to weigh myself once a week when losing weight so the ups and downs of water retention, etc. don’t get me discouraged and twice a week when maintaining because if you aren’t making great food choices it is much easier to lose the added 3 pounds than it is 8 or 15. We know and feel when we have been naughty, and I understand being scared to get on the scale but be accountable, it will help you say no when you know you are going to see the number on the scale.
  • Remember to measure inches not just pounds. This will help you not get discouraged when you’re doing everything right and for some reason the scale didn’t move or you gained.  When I see that my waist or hip measurement is the same or smaller it keeps me going in the face of a pound gained.

Here are some samples of the meals I created.  Hopefully this gives you a good idea of how I did this.

1/4 c. protein hot chocolate mixed with 1 c. water                                                                         =130 calories, 15g protein, 15g carbs

1/3 c. fat free plain greek yogurt, 1/4 c. Kashi GoLean Toasted Berry Crumble                        =126 calories, 10g protein, 14g carbs

1/2 english muffin, 3 egg whites, 1 slice deli ham                                                                          = 131 calories, 16g protein, 14g carbs

3 egg whites, 1 T. shredded cheddar, 1 slice ham, 1/2 grapefruit                                                = 123 calories, 15g protein, 10g carbs

1/2 c. fat free plain greek yogurt, 1/2 c raspberries                                                                              =92 calories, 12g protein, 19g carbs

1 pancake (1/4 c. protein packed pancake mix), 1 T. sugar free syrup,  2 eggs whites                    =133 calories, 15g protein, 17g carbs

1/2 c. fat free plain greek yogurt, 1 tsp honey                                                                                          =115 calories, 12g protein, 11g carbs

1 slice turkey bacon, 3 egg whites, 1/2 slice Aspen Mills honey wheat bread                           =145 calories, 15g protein, 12 carbs

1/2 c. low fat cottage cheese, 1/2 cherries                                                                                         =143 calories, 13g protein, 16g carbs

1/2 c. low fat cottage cheese, 1/2 c raspberries                                                                                        =121 calories, 13g protein, 12g carbs

1/2 grapefruit, 3 egg whites                                                                                                                          =89 calories, 12g protein, 10g carbs

1/2 slice Franz Sourdough Rye Bread, 1 wedge laughing cow lite cheese, 3 slices deli turkey                                                                                                                                                       =140 calories, 15g protein, 11g carbs

2 c. salad greens, 1/4 cup drained canned chicken, 1/4 avocado, 1 T. Olive Garden dressing =205 calories, 13g protein, 12 carbs

2 c. salad greens, 2 T. canned, drained tuna, 1T. diced red onion, 1/2 c. cucumber slices, 1/2 c. cherry tomatoes, 1 T. Olive Garden dressing                                                                         =114 calories, 10g protein, 9g carbs

1 Flatout flatbread, 3 slices deli turkey, 1 T. hummus                                                                           =150 calories, 20g protein, 18g carbs

1 corn tortilla, 2 oz. lean ground beef, 1 T. shredded cheddar cheese, 1/2 c lettuce                         =165 calories, 14g protein, 13g carbs

2 c. salad greens, 1/4 c. drained canned chicken, 1/2 c diced cucumbers, 1/4 c. cherry tomatoes, 1 T. diced red onion, 2 T. light ranch dressing                                                               =132 calories, 11g protein, 8g carbs

4 Milton’s crackers, 1/2 long cucumber, 1 T. Miracle Whip Light, 1/4 c. drained tuna                    =135 calories, 14g protein, 8g carbs

1/2 slice Franz sourdough bread, 1 T. 1/3 less fat chive & onion cream cheese, 2 slices deli turkey, 1 slice tomato, 4 slices cucumber, 3 thin slices red onion, one pinch of sprouts                    =140 calories, 11g protein, 13g carbs

1 can Light PROGRESSO Roasted Chicken and Vegetable soup                                                          =140 calories, 12g protein, 22g carb

1 can Light PROGRESSO Savory Beef Barley Vegetable soup                                                       =140 calories, 10g protein, 22g carb

1/2 c. edamame                                                                                                                                       =93 calories, 9g protein, 7g carb

1 stalk celery, 1 T. Adams Natural Peanut Butter                                                                            =110 calories, 7g protein, 7g carb

2 Cache Valley Lite string cheese, 7 Milton’s Crackers                                                                           =165 calories, 13g protein, 13g carb

1/2 slice Aspen Mills Honey Wheat Bread, 1 wedge lite laughing cow cheese, 3 slices deli turkey                                                                                                                                                       =150 calories, 16g protein, 13g carb

1 peach, 2 Mini Babybel lite cheese                                                                                                    =157 calories, 13g protein, 14g carb

2 Cache Valley Lite String Cheese or 2 Mini Babybel lite cheese, 1 cutie                                   =145 calories, 13g protein, 14g carb

1/2 c. fat free plain greek yogurt, 1 medium peach                                                                                   =105 calories, 13g protein, 15g carb

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I hope by sharing my results, tips and guidelines, I can help others who are looking to do the same. I think it goes without saying that we are all different and I can’t guarantee anything. I am also not a doctor. GOOD LUCK!

Protein Hot Chocolate

I am super excited to share this one with the world.  I love hot chocolate and have often thought, “I would drink a cup of hot chocolate everyday, if I wouldn’t gain 20 pounds over the winter from it.” And now I can drink it everyday! In fact, I’ve had this as my first meal of the day for a week. I love it. I have tweaked the recipe over and over to achieve a delicious, healthy, low sugar, low carb, high protein cup of rich and chocolaty cocoa. In fact, 1/4 c. of mix has only 130 calories, 15 grams of protein, and 14 grams of carbs. So let’s get to it, shall we?

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I start with chocolate protein powder; any favorite brand will work.  I buy this giant bag at Costco in chocolate and vanilla. To the chocolate protein powder, I add cocoa powder, Stevia, French Vanilla coffee creamer, and Hazelnut coffee creamer. If you don’t like hazelnuts just use double the french vanilla, or use any other flavor you like.

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I mix them all together really well until totally blended and then put in a container with a tight fitting lid.  That is it, seriously, so easy and quick!

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Pour in 1/4 c. of the protein hot chocolate mix.

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There are a couple different ways to prepare the hot chocolate. 1- Add water, whisk really well and microwave for 1 minute.  Whisk really well again and you’ve got yourself a treat!  2- I have found that using a hot cocoa maker like this or like this, works even better for me in getting a lump-free and smooth consistency.  Just add the water to the hot chocolate maker, add 1/4 c. of the mix, place the lid on and push the ON button.  It only takes a few minutes and I don’t have to whisk at all.

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YUMMY!

PROTEIN HOT CHOCOLATE

Ingredients:

1 c. chocolate protein powder

1/3 c. cocoa powder

4 tsp. (or 8 packets) Stevia

4 tsp. hazelnut coffee creamer powder

4 tsp. french vanilla coffee creamer powder

Directions:

In a medium bowl, mix all ingredients until totally incorporated together. Pour into a container with a tight fitting lid.

To make hot chocolate, use 1/4 c. of the protein hot chocolate mix with 1 c. water.

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Chicken and Dumplings Soup

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I just posted my chicken stock recipe and I wanted to share this Chicken and Dumplings Soup I made with the homemade stock. This soup turned out to be rich and creamy yet not heavy.  The dumplings were just like light, soft pillows and we all loved it.  This is absolutely going into our regular meal rotation.

This soup begins like many soups, with carrots, onions and celery (mirepoix). I saute them in a little butter and seasoned with kosher salt and freshly ground, black pepper.

Once the veggies start to soften, add some shredded chicken. I used some of the chicken I set aside from the rotisserie chicken I used to make the chicken stock. Next I added the stock, a bay leaf, parsley and thyme. Time to make a roux for the white sauce.

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A roux (ROO) is used to thicken sauces and soups. It is a mixture of melted butter (or fat), to which you add flour and cook until it bubbles and the raw flour taste is cooked out. There are different shades of roux from white, light (blond), medium and dark. The shorter the cooking time the lighter the color of the roux. The lighter the color, the thicker it will make the sauce or soup. So, if you cook it a long time it will turn a dark, nutty brown with loads of flavor, but won’t thicken as much as a blond roux, like we are using. When making a sauce with the roux, once you’ve cooked the butter and flour to the desired color, you then add the liquid. In this case the liquid is milk, to make a white sauce.

You can see that the roux is a tan color and foaming, this is what we want.  Now add the cold milk and whisk a couple minutes, until thickened.

Now that the soup has had time to cook and the vegetables are soft, add the white sauce and whisk well to incorporate, until creamy. Doesn’t that look so yummy? Now we make the dumplings while the soup simmers away.

These dumplings are a simplified biscuit dough and it is just that, simple. I mix flour, salt and baking powder together, make a well in the middle and pour the milk and oil in the well.  Next, I stir until it just comes together into a ball and then comes the fun part, rolling the dumplings.

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I keep them small, like 1″ across. They will grow and puff up and become the perfect size for eating. Once they are rolled, I gently place each one into the soup and cover.  They quickly pop up to the top and steam in the hot, covered soup.

The picture on the left is immediately after I dropped them in and before I put the lid on.  The picture on the right is after 10 minutes of cooking and steaming in the covered soup.

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That’s it, the soup du jour.  Now serve with a side salad and remember, whoever has the bay leaf in their bowl gets to make a wish!! ENJOY!

Chicken and Dumplings Soup

Ingredients:

1/4 c. butter

1 onion, chopped

4 carrots, peeled, and sliced

4 stalks celery, washed and sliced

2 cups shredded chicken

1/2 tsp. freshly ground pepper

1/2 tsp. kosher salt

8-10 cups of chicken stock

1 bay leaf

1/2 tsp. dried parsley flakes

1/4 tsp. dried thyme

1/4 c. butter

1/4 c. all purpose flour

1 c. milk

For the Dumplings:

1 c. all purpose flour

1/2 tsp. kosher salt

1 1/2 tsp. baking powder

1/3 c. milk

2 T. oil

Directions:

In a large, heavy-bottomed pot, melt 1/4 c. butter and add onion, carrots, celery, salt and pepper.  Saute until onions are translucent. Add shredded chicken, stock, bay leaf, parsley and thyme.  Bring soup to a simmer.  In a medium sauce pan, over medium heat, melt 1/4 c. butter then add the 1/4 c. flour.  Whisk, and allow roux to foam and bubble until it becomes a light tan color, about 5 minutes. Pour in the milk and whisk well to incorporate. Once the white sauce is thick, add to the soup and whisk well, until creamy. Continue simmering the soup while the dumplings are made.

To make the dumplings, mix the 1 c. flour, salt, and baking powder into a medium bowl.  Make a well in the center and pour in the milk and oil. Mix with a fork until the dough forms a ball.  Form dough into 1″ balls and set aside on a plate.  Keep the dumplings covered with plastic wrap until 10 minutes before serving the soup, then add them to the soup and cover.  Serve immediately. ENJOY!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Garden Pasta Salad

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This Garden Pasta Salad has to be the healthiest pasta salad ever! Look at all those vegetables and their vibrant colors. I love the addition of yellow zucchini in it. There is even some protein from the cheese cubes. This summer my friend Kelly gave me her recipe for this gorgeous salad and asked me if I’d make a giant batch of it for her daughter’s outdoor wedding reception. During the reception she popped into the kitchen to find out which food items they were going through the fastest and they said it was the pasta salad. She definitely has a winning recipe. Since then, I’ve made a couple changes.  I have added the red onion for taste, crunch and color and I use Ken’s Steak House Lite Northern Italian Dressing because it is a favorite of mine. Isn’t this the most colorful salad you’ve ever seen?  You’ll get a little of everything with this gorgeous side dish, which is an impressive side to share at your next neighborhood get-together or family potluck dinner.

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A couple of reasons this salad is so good are the quality of the pasta used, the preparation of the broccoli, carrots, and yellow zucchini, and adding the cheese cubes at the last minute. Kelly said Barilla pasta is a must in this recipe. The Barilla pasta holds it’s shape and texture. She has tried other brands of rotini and the Barilla rotini has a tighter spiral and is a quality made pasta.  No one likes mushy pasta that unravels and falls apart in the salad.

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See what a nice twist and color the pasta retains? Now get that pasta in a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking process.

The second trick is blanching and shocking the zucchini, broccoli, and carrots for one minute. Boiling these three veggies for 1 minute takes that raw, dry bite from them and they become a welcome addition to the salad.

Be sure to have a slotted spoon or spider and a bowl of ice water ready to place the parboiled veggies in, to stop the cooking process so they don’t get soft.

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Once you’ve prepped all the veggies and cooked the pasta, it is time to season with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, toss the salad in half the dressing and refrigerate for a couple hours. Right before serving, add the cheese cubes, toss the salad with the remaining salad dressing and serve. ENJOY!

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Garden Pasta Salad

 

INGREDIENTS:

1 lb. Barilla Tri-Colored Rotini

1 yellow zucchini, halved lengthwise then sliced

1 crown broccoli, cut into florets

3 carrots, peeled and sliced on a bias

1/2 red onion, quartered and sliced

1 can black olives

1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved

8 oz. cheddar or mozarella cheese, cubed

1 (16oz) bottle Ken’s Steak House LITE Northern Italian Dressing

Salt and Pepper to taste

Directions:

Fill a medium to large bowl with ice and water, and set it next to the stove. Bring a large pot of water to a boil, then add sliced carrots, zucchini and broccoli florets and cook for 1 minute.  Remove with a slotted spoon or spider and put veggies directly into the ice water. Let veggies soak for 2-3 minutes to cool, remove from water and place in a large serving bowl. Add more ice to the ice water if needed.  To the boiling water add 1 T. of salt then add the pasta.  Cook pasta until just soft, a minute or two beyond al dente.  Remove pasta to ice water and let cool for a few minutes. Place cooled, drained pasta into the serving bowl then add the onion, olives and tomatoes. Pour 1/2 of the dressing over the pasta salad and toss well. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours. Before serving, add cheese cubes and the remaining dressing and toss well.

 

 

Healthy Enchilada Stuffed Peppers

This summer, our bell pepper plants are growing and producing like crazy.  I have actually never had bell peppers grow so well.  The other day when the kids and I decided it was time to harvest some of our garden, we were amazed how many large bell peppers there were.  What do you do with such a plentiful harvest? You make stuffed peppers, of course. This recipe is easily adaptable to fit anyone’s specific tastes.  I used lean ground turkey, but ground beef would also be delicious.  I threw in some black beans and cooked quinoa, but if you have a different kind of bean on hand, or you want to use brown or white rice, go right ahead. One ingredient which I used and feel like it really made the dish extra yummy was fire roasted, salsa style, diced tomatoes. IMG_8416 They added just a little heat and some delicious flavors to the dish.  These stuffed peppers came together really quickly and my family LOVED them.  I thought for sure there would be leftovers for my husband to take to work but after the kids wanted seconds, they were all gone! I was happy they liked them, especially when these peppers are full of nutritious ingredients.

In a large saute pan I cooked the lean ground turkey with a diced, red onion and some spices. Can I tell you how much I love this meat chopper? It crumbles meat 5 times as fast and is so easy to use. It is also safe to use on non-stick pans.  Love it!

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Now for the black beans, cooked quinoa and fire roasted, salsa style diced tomatoes.  Give them a good stir to mix well.

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Next, I added a can of plain tomato sauce.  If your family likes more heat or if you don’t use the salsa style diced tomatoes, I would recommend using enchilada sauce instead of the plain tomato sauce.  As it turned out, these peppers had just the right amount of heat for my children with the plain tomato sauce.

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I have seen stuffed peppers where the tops of the peppers are cut off and the seeds and ribs are removed and they are stuffed up-right.  I like to slice them length-wise, as these make a better portion for my children, and are super easy to fill and cook.

I used an ice cream scoop to fill the peppers and that made the job even easier.  Then I topped with cheese.  I think next time, I would allow them to cook for a while and add the cheese towards the end to keep the cheese gooey.

I baked them, uncovered for 30 minutes and then topped them with lots of avocado, fresh tomatoes, green onion and cilantro. My goodness, these were loaded with so many healthy ingredients and vegetables! I love easy, healthy recipes like this.

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Healthy Enchilada Stuffed Peppers

I added a dollop of plain, fat free greek yogurt in place of sour cream and served with steamed corn. My husband said he could eat them every day. In my house, that is how I know when something is really delicious.  ENJOY!

 

Healthy Enchilada Stuffed Bell Peppers

 

Ingredients:

1 lb. lean ground turkey

1 small red onion, diced

1 tsp. kosher salt

1/2 tsp. black pepper

1 tsp. chili powder

1/2 tsp. ground cumin

1/2 tsp. garlic powder

1 c. cooked quinoa (I cooked mine in chicken broth)

1 (14.5 oz). can black beans, drained and rinsed

1 (14.5 oz.) can fire roasted, salsa style diced tomatoes

1 (8oz.) can tomato sauce or enchilada sauce

6 bell peppers, sliced lengthwise, seeded and ribs removed

1-2 c. shredded cheese

FOR TOPPING:

Diced tomatoes

Sliced green onions

Diced avocado

Fat free, plain greek yogurt

Directions:

In a large saute pan, cooked the ground turkey and red onion. Stir in spices, and cook for 1-2 minutes, this allows the spices to bloom.  Add diced tomatoes, black beans, and quinoa, stir well.  Pour in tomato sauce or enchilada sauce and mix.

Into a 9×13 casserole dish, place bell peppers, cut side up.  Scoop the meat mixture into each halved bell pepper, to fill.  Bake uncovered at 375 degrees for 30 minutes, topping peppers with the shredded cheese after 20 minutes.  When the peppers have cooked and the cheese has melted, remove from oven and sprinkle on desired toppings.

 

A few of my favorite things…

This is one of the posts that I have been most excited to add to my blog. I am sharing my most favorite things, you know, the things I can’t live without.  I love when people share their favorite finds with me. These must-haves are tried and tested by yours truly and I adore every one of them.

Let’s start with hair products.  A couple years ago my hair was in pretty bad shape. It was dry, wiry, coarse, dull and unhealthy.  I thought it was just an inevitable result of getting older.  I went to my friend Amy who is a hairstylist and she introduced me to some fantastic products, which over time have restored my hair’s health, strength, silkiness and shine. First is the renewing argan oil  . I use this every time I wash my hair.  I towel dry my hair and then I rub 2 drops of oil into my hands and then rub the oil on the ends of my hair and my hair soaks it right up.  Next comes the Matrix miracle treat spray. I call this hair lotion.  I spray about 10 squirts all over my hair and then brush it throughout my towel-dried hair.  I love the way this helps the brush glide through and detangle my hair and it makes it feel so soft and silky.  It also helps prevent hair static without any greasy, heavy effects. Now for the brush. A few years ago I bought my two oldest girls American Girl Dolls for Christmas and one of the recommendations for caring for the hair was a wire-bristle brush.  A while later I was in the store and saw this brush that promised not to snag or damage your hair, and it works! I love this brush.  The copper bristles reduce natural build up, and it works easily through wet and dry hair.

Now for great skin care.  I have used Cetaphil cleanser and Cetaphil moisturizer on my face, neck and back for 16 years.  It was recommended by my dermatologist to keep pores clean and skin clear.  It works so well, I’ve never gone a day without it.  I use the cleanser morning and night (with or without water) and the moisturizer is always applied after lightly towel drying my face. I was told to only use the tub of moisturizer and not the pump lotion as it has thinning agents to be pumpable, these ingredients are not as good for your skin.  One of the first things I noticed was how soft my face felt.  I had acne issues before and I’ll forever be grateful for these products.  Another moisturizing cream which I swear by is CeraVe.  My daughter’s hands get so dry, especially in the winter, that they crack and bleed.  This was also dermatologist recommended and it totally healed her hands. It is thick and creamy and works wonders.  Next is one of my newer finds.  I was waiting for my daughter in the orthodontist’s office, reading a magazine and saw this award winning foaming tanning moisturizer. Since it is a foam, it is super easy to apply and I haven’t had any orange spots.  It is subtle and gives your skin a nice glow to it.  Apply regularly and your skin will look naturally sun-kissed.  Now for my last skin product, Harry’s razors, blade refills, shave gel and after shave. For years I stole my husbands razor to shave with because the blades worked so much better than the ones made for women.  The only bummer was the cost of the blade refills.  Then my husband found these razors and refills by Harry’s and we both fell in love.  He bought two, one for each of us and the refills are much cheaper.  He loves the shave gel and after shave, and for a man who never spends money on himself, these are products he is always sure to order more of.

I was not blessed with beautiful, soft feet.  I have always suffered from dry heels, and no matter how many times by husband tells me to just wear socks and shoes all the time, I still love being barefoot or wearing sandals.  I found this Amope wet or dry foot file a year ago.  It is a pedicure at home.  I love that it can be used in the shower and washes right off. It is rechargeable and holds a charge for a long time.  You can purhase refills, which makes it very cost effective! It has a power button and 2 speeds.  I like to soak my feet in warm water and then it works quickly and effectively.

Now for a household product that works as promised.  As you can see from my pictures this wasp trap is incredible! Those pictures are after 4 weeks use.  The product attracts yellow jackets, wasps, and hornets.  I don’t know how, but I haven’t seen a single bee in there, which is good for my garden and fruit trees.  We have emptied it out and used a refill kit twice now.  We love this trap and have seen a huge decrease in wasps around our house.

My last, “can’t live without” item I have used for 3 years now.  As you can probably guess, I am extremely busy as a stay-at-home mother of 7.  Between dance, sports, music lessons, school activities, work functions, and church responsibilities for 9 people, our schedule is unreal.  I know there are apps and digital calendars that so many people love, but I am a paper girl.  I need to see it all laid out in front of me.  I refer to my Erin Condren life planner many times a day, every single day of the year.  They have thought of EVERYTHING with these planners.  There are almost too many designs to chose from. The covers are interchangeable not to mention personalized with my name on the front. The genius of these planners is in the coil that allows for moveable bookmarks, travel packing lists, to-do’s and to-buys, along with pockets and a year long budget book for my monthly expenses and income. I used to feel like I was always forgetting things and events and this has helped me stay organized and helped reduce much of the stress that comes with being a busy mother and wife.

Fresh Strawberry Sheetcake

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My mom started making this cake when I was a teenager and it immediately became a favorite in our family.  Indeed, this cake is a top-pick for those of us with summer birthdays.  While strawberries are now available most of the year, this cake is a must-have during strawberry season.  What makes this cake so delicious is the flavors in the three layers, soft vanilla cake, creamy and tangy cream cheese with whipped cream filling, and then it is all topped off sliced, glazed strawberries. This mouth-watering cake is light, fresh and delicious.

 

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First, is the soft and moist vanilla cake.  It is baked on a jellyroll pan, which makes for a thinner layer, thus creating the perfect cake to cream cheese frosting to strawberry ratio.

 

 

 

 

Now for the glazed strawberries. My mom makes this cake with a store-bought, strawberry glaze, which is an easy and yummy option.  I like the taste of my homemade glaze better and I always have the ingredients on hand which makes one less trip to the grocery store.  The glaze is made from strawberry jello, sugar, cornstarch, water and a little red food coloring.  This strawberry mixture is brought to a boil for a minute and then it must cool.  I like to stir it occasionally to help the heat escape and to help it along in cooling.

 

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Now wash, hull and slice 2 pounds of fresh, ripe and sweet strawberries. The strawberry slices are then added to the cooled glaze.

 

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This layer is probably everyone’s favorite layer and for good reason.  It starts with fresh whipped cream with vanilla extract in one bowl and whipped, softened cream cheese and powdered sugar in another. Next we mix the two together, making a sweet, creamy and tangy filling that will have you licking the spoon, the bowl and your fingers.

 

 

 

 

After the cake is cooled, spread the filling in an even layer, covering the entire cake.

 

 

 

 

Isn’t that gorgeous! But it isn’t done yet; here come the strawberries and glaze. Carefully, push and spread the strawberries to the edges of the cake, covering the cream cheese filling.  Cover with wax paper and refrigerate for at least an hour.

 

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Honestly, this is a cool, and refreshing dessert you’ve got to try this summer.  I also think adding some blueberries in a stars-and-stripes design would make it a fantastic Fourth of July dessert. ENJOY!

 

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Fresh Strawberry Sheetcake

 

Ingredients:

1 vanilla cake mix, mixed as directed

2 lbs. strawberries

2/3 c. sugar

1 c. water

4 T. strawberry gelatin

2 T. cornstarch

2 c. whipping cream

1 tsp. vanilla extract

1 (8oz) package cream cheese, softened

1 c. powdered sugar

 

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line a jellyroll pan with parchment paper, a silicone baking mat (my favorite) or spray pan with cooking spray. Pour mixed cake batter into jellyroll pan and bake for 15-18 minutes, until golden brown. Set aside to cool.

In a medium saucepan, whisk together the cornstarch, sugar, strawberry gelatin, and water.  Heat over medium high and bring to a boil, whisking constantly for one minute.  Set aside and allow to cool.

While glaze is cooling, wash, hull and slice strawberries.  When glaze is cooled mix with sliced strawberries.

In a large bowl, beat the whipping cream and vanilla extract until very thick.  In a medium bowl, beat the softened cream cheese, add the powdered sugar and incorporate well.  Add the cream cheese mixture to the whipping cream and mix until combined.

To assemble the cake, spread cream cheese mixture on top of the cooled cake. Then top with glazed strawberries. Cover with wax paper and refrigerate at least one hour or until ready to serve.