Here, Taste This : Cajun Turkey Burgers

If there is one recipe that epitomizes my family, one dish that almost every guest through my front doors has tasted, it is the one I'm telling you about today.

Corey and I started making Cajun turkey burgers for our friends when we were newlyweds, living in San Diego. I was BY NO MEANS a cook back then. I considered spaghetti from a jar a real meal, and we often had breakfast for dinner. (Mmmmm. Breakfast.) But the first time we played host to a large group of friends, I decided to pull out a favorite recipe from my Mom, something that was familiar enough to be comforting but different enough to be exciting, and lo and behold, it was a hit.

Cooking good food. Who knew it would be popular?

1 beaten egg
1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp ground red pepper
1/2 cup seasoned fine dry bread crumbs
1 lb ground turkey

In a large bowl, combine egg, Worcestershire sauce, salt, garlic powder, onion powder and red pepper. Add bread crumbs and ground turkey. Mix well. Shape into 3/4-inch-thick patties. Grill.

A few notes:

1. You MUST top these burgers with avocados in some form. This is a contractual requirement. Guacamole is preferred, but avocado slices will do in a pinch.

2. These burgers are spicy, but not in a run-from-the-room-screaming sort of way. (Although I do think they permanently scarred my Minnesotan in-laws. Of course, they can't handle pico de gallo for "the horrible burn." So take it as you will.) If you want to take the flavor up a notch, top them with pepper jack cheese. This doesn't absolve you from the guacamole provision. It is in addition.

3. I make my own bread crumbs by giving leftover heels of whole wheat bread a spin in my food processor. My homemade bread crumbs aren't seasoned, but I've never noticed a difference.

4. Whole wheat hamburger buns pair especially well with a healthier burger alternative like this. My favorites come from Trader Joe's.

5. This summer, I've started making Cajun turkey burgers in large batches and freezing the leftovers for lunch. A thawed burger nuked for 1 minute in a whole wheat bun is a healthy, flavorful lunch, and a welcome alternative to my standard peanut butter.

"Here, Taste This" is a new weekly feature. Every Friday, I put on my faux foodie hat and talk about one of my favorite topics. There's more info here.

Love is Never Small

Source: via Brittnee on Pinterest

Some days, I wake up and pour cereal through blurry eyes and change little bodies out of pajamas and wipe the kitchen counters (again) (and again), and I feel small.

I read about friends staring evil in the eye, unflinching. I read poetry about marriage and ministry and it floods my mind and stays in all the crevices. (And these days, there are many, many crevices.) And of course, I read stories from my friends who are in Sri Lanka right now with World Vision, meeting their sponsored children, answering the hard questions and bearing witness to true beauty.

And my life shrinks in comparison. Who am I? What am I doing with this one and precious life? Wiping counters, changing diapers, breaking up fights between siblings? Really? This is it?

But I've been around long enough now (crevices, remember?) to know a lie when it comes calling. And even though I may spend my days in the most ordinary of ways, I know faithfulness is not ordinary. Love is not the norm. It takes guts to focus on that unswervingly, to remember that who I am matters more than what I do.

When I started this blog five years ago, I named it Love Well after a passage in a favorite book that has marked me. I did it because I know my fickle heart and its forgetfulness and I wanted to keep this close. (Consider it a digital tattoo.)

What matters at the end of the day is this: Have I loved well? Was love the heartbeat of my actions? Did I care more about who I am and who was before me than what I accomplished?

If I can answer yes to that question, my life is not small.

Because love is never small.

Here, Taste This : S'more Popcorn

I knew I was different when my friends started to mock my inability to stay away from the grocery store, even on vacation.

I was baffled. You mean not everyone savors the sights and sounds of a produce section? You don't get a thrill at discovering a new kind of bread in the bakery? You don't look forward to the daily ritual of making dinner, the weekend treat of baking a new dessert? Cooking is one of my favorite things, so naturally, the grocery store is one of my favorite places. And don't even get me started on the farmer's market. Heads of dewy lettuce, glossy zucchini stacked in pyramids, tomatoes in every hue, powder blue eggs, chunks of glowing honey still in the comb, bison sausage sticks and rounds of cheddar-garlic bread? Swoon.

Food. It's a bit of a passion for me.

With this possibly geeky admission, I'm kicking off a new feature here at Love Well: Foodie Friday. I'm insecure about labeling myself a foodie, because I'm not a creative cook. There will be no new recipes unveiled on my blog (unless you count little tweaks here and there), and I don't cook like I'm having Andrew Zimmern for dinner. But I do love the art of cooking, and I am an enthusiastic convert to the philosophy of real food, and I cannot go out to dinner without saying, at least once, "Wow, this is really good! Taste this!"

This is my chance to say the same to you.

A few weeks ago, when Natalie was in the throes of her birthday sleepover extravaganza, I posted this picture on my Facebook page.

It's s'more popcorn, one of three flavored popcorns I made for her movie watching pleasure that night. And OH MY WORD. It is just as good and just as addictive as you're imagining right now. (We got the basics of the recipe from an old edition of Martha Stewart Living, but we did adapt it a little for our tastes.)

To make it, you need to start with plain popcorn. You can make this however you like: in an old fashioned popper, in an air popper, on your stovetop, or you can try my preferred method these days, popping it in a brown paper bag in your microwave. (There's a good explanation of that here. My biggest tip? Get to know your microwave. Mine can't go longer than two minutes without scorching. A few kernels always remain unpopped, but this is so much cheaper and healthier than store-bought microwave popcorn, I don't mind.)

Once you have about 4-6 cups of popcorn, sort through and remove the old maids as best you can. (Did you know that's what unpopped kernels are called?) Normally, those duds just languish in the bottom of the bowl. But when you pour melted marshmallows over popcorn, which you are about to do, they will get caught up in the sticky romance of the situation and lurk in a tasty glob, just waiting to chip a tooth.

Let's make the toppings!

Melt 2-1/2 cups of marshmallows with 2 tablespoons butter. (I did this in the microwave, stopping to stir every 30 seconds, but you could also do this on the stovetop.) Pour the sticky mixture over your popcorn and stir like mad to combine. (Yes, this will be messy. Yes, you may want to use your hands. And yes, you will burn your hands if you try.)

Once it's throughly mixed, add in the crumbs of 2 crushed graham crackers and as many chocolate chips as you deem necessary. I used mini chocolate chips, so they would melt faster and not fall to the bottom. (Or, for an adult version, throw in some chunks of dark chocolate.) (Wow. I wish I hadn't thought of that.) Stir to combine and serve to the oohs and aahhs of your friends.

Variations on this theme:

Cinnamon toast popcorn. Melt 3 tablespoons of butter with 3 tablespoons of brown sugar. Toss with popcorn and then sprinkle with cinnamon.

Cheesy popcorn. Melt 3 tablespoons of butter and toss with popcorn. Top with 1/4 cup of finely grated  Parmesan. Add fresh cracked pepper to kick it up a notch.

Happy weekend!

Sleepovers Scare Me

I'm a wuss about sleepovers for my kids.

I don't really like them at my house, owing to my love of sleep and the fact that we're already loaded with kids. And I don't really like them at other people's house, owing to my own experience at sleepovers. I watched movies I shouldn't have watched, played games I shouldn't have played, did things I shouldn't have done. For sure, the smaller sleepovers with my besties were innocent fun. But the bigger groups were loads o' trouble. (And don't even get started on this topic with Corey. If he had his way, our kids would never attend sleepovers at all. Ever. The end.)

Because of this, my older kids, ages 11 and 8, are just inching their way into the world of overnights. Long ago, we established 8 as the magic age when sleepovers were allowed. But even when Natalie hit the age of accountability, she wasn't eager to spend the night away from her family. Therefore, Natalie's sleepover birthday party extravaganza this year was only the second sleepover of her life. And Connor has only gone to one, and it was a sleepover with his best friend at his friend's house a few weeks ago.

Which brings us to last night.

Connor attended a sleepover birthday party of a school friend. (His second sleepover! He! Was! So! Excited!) (Also, maybe I offer this little tip? When your eight-year-old says he's packed for the sleepover, it's always wise to ask to see the contents of his bag. By doing this, I discovered Connor had packed a backpack full of toys for the party - no pajamas, no clothes, no clean underwear, no toothbrush. Oy.)

The plan was to go to a trampoline park, then head home for pizza, a movie and bed. I don't know this family very well, but I knew most of the other boys who were invited, which helped. And once I found out Connor's best friend was going, I relaxed even more.

But I didn't follow my gut instincts and call to check in with the mom after the initial RSVP. So it wasn't until I talked to another mom, who happens to be one of my dearest friends, that I heard the feature presentation for the evening was the movie "Jaws."

I almost flipped a gasket.

Connor is a sensitive soul. He's sweet and funny and imaginative, and maybe because of that, he's really disturbed by tension in movies. Until this year, we couldn't even watch most Disney movies in our home. The bad guys were just too scary for our children.

Showing "Jaws" to him would mean a year of nightmares. No. No! Not happening.

Thankfully, my friend who first heard the news had the same reaction. When asked, she gently told the sleepover mom that "Jaws" would probably be too disturbing for her eight-year-old, and if the birthday boy really wanted to see that movie at his party, her son could be picked up early instead of spending the night.

Good call. At press time, "Jaws" was off the party line-up. Hopefully, a more suitable choice for eight-year-old boys will be chosen.

But geez. Am I out of line here? Generally speaking, I'm more of a free-range parent than a helicopter parent. But handing over my child to a family I don't know well freaks me out. And we have years of sleepovers to go. 

Cue the Jaws theme music. 

I Used to Cheat

If you lean in close, I'll confess something to you: I cheat at kids' games.

I don't do it to win. In fact, I'll often stack the deck in favor of my children. I do it to GET IT OVER WITH. I mean, for the love. Chutes and Ladders moves slower than my 9th grade algebra class and is often more painful. I've been know to presort the Candyland deck, to ensure we get the fun cards in the first few rounds, because we all know the game can't end until someone has gotten Queen Frostine. And it's possible that my kids aren't aware you're supposed to roll dice to put together your Cooties. It's so much more fun (and fast) when it's a let's-just-take-turns-dressing-up-our-bug game.

There are a few kids games I love: UNO, for starters, and it's crack cousin UNO Flash. Cranium's Hullabaloo is a fantastic game for kids young and old. Bonus: It's a moving game, not a sitting game. Guess Who is fast and creative, and Connect 4x4 is like Tic-Tac-Toe on steroids.

And now I have Qwirkle.

I was introduced to Qwirkle by the folks at MindWare, a toy company based here in Minneapolis that specializes in brainy, creative toys. Qwirkle is their baby, and it's won tons of awards, including the Parents' Choice Awards, the Mensa Select Award and last year, the Spiel des Jahres, widely considered the most prestigious award in the gaming industry. (Oh, and it's one of the many fabulous prizes in the grand prize package for the Big Bad Back to School Giveaway Bash. You've entered, right? More than $1500 worth of loot up for grabs?)

The genius of Qwirkle is its simplicity: Use the tiles to create rows of matching colors and shapes.

Sounds easy enough, right? And it is. My 4-year-old can play it. But like many classic games, to really master Qwirkle, strategy is required. Points are scored by forming new lines, adding to an existing line or getting one tile to touch multiple matches across lines. To do that successfully, one must think critically, which is one of those universal life skills.

Maybe best of all, Qwirkle is for everyone. There are very few actual rules. There is no real limit to the number of players. Everyone can play at their own level. It's simple but not easy, strategic but not complex.

And maybe best of all for my kids, I can't figure out a way to cheat.

Guess I'll just have to play.


For more about Qwirkle or any of the other amazing MindWare products, check out or request a MindWare catalog. My kids fight over that catalog when it comes in the mail. MindWare is a proud sponsor of the Big Bad Back to School Bash Giveaway, and while they did provide me with a copy of Qwirkle to review, they did not influence this post. I may cheat at kids' games, but I cannot be bought. 

Details, Details

Do you ever get bogged down in details?

I do.

I'm a detail person - which is good. I'm organized - which is better. I get slightly giddy when I get to research stuff online and find the best deals and ferret out reviews and search for coupon codes. (Two of my all-time favorite words: Free. Shipping.) Few things make me as smugly satisfied as strategizing my way into an efficient system.

You might say I like it when a plan comes together. #Childofthe80s

But then, when it comes time to make a decision, my brain can get sucked down by the quicksand of minutia. I get overwhelmed and I bounce from possibility to possibility like a monkey on crack. All those options, all those contingencies. Which is the right one? Have I considered everything? Might there be an angle I'm missing?

Two things work to break the cycle for me.

1. Change the subject.

Often, this means I need to physically walk away from the computer, so I will stop researching and obsessing. It also helps to do something with my body that is totally unrelated - go for a walk, bake some bread, play a game with the kids, pull some weeds. Eventually, my brain will stop its endless feedback loop and be still. I need white space in order to see solutions.

2. Talk a friend who isn't detail oriented.

For me, this is 100% absolutely my husband. Corey is such a big picture thinker, he doesn't even acknowledge details. He has an uncanny ability to cut through the noise and say, "Here. Do this." or "If those are your options, the answer is clearly this one." He doesn't even need to listen to all my research to get there. (He interrupts me on a daily basis with, "Kelly? I don't need to know all this.") (And no, that doesn't hurt my feelings anymore, because after 20 years, I've come to appreciate his talent immensely. He is a true visionary.) His clear, concise feedback is invaluable when I can't get the mental swirl to simmer down.

Any tips to add? What do you do to escape the snarl of specifics and get to the point of action?

Big Bad Back to School Giveaway Bash

You guys.

I can hardly contain my excitement over this.

'Tis the season for the kids to return to school, and as I mentioned yesterday, I'm not as sad about that this year. I'm ready for some routine and some structure and some breathing space. (And I think my kids are too.)

But wouldn't an incredible prize make the start of the school year that much more fun?

Enter, the Big Bad Back to School Giveaway Bash.

I'm honored to be co-hosting this with some of my favorite bloggers and friends. Maybe you already know many of these lovely ladies? If you don't, I highly recommend them. They are all artists, in the truest sense of the word.

And the prizes? Oh. My. Word. AMAZING. Individual prizes include:
And the grand prize?
I know. I'm stunned too. That's more than $1500 worth of loot right there.

And entering couldn't be easier. Just like our Facebook pages using the Rafflecopter widget below. (You have to be signed in to Facebook for it to work.) Each like earns you an entry. The contest is open through Saturday, August 18, and winners will be announced mid-week of August 20. (And I apologize deeply to my Canadian friends, but US addresses only, please.)

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Huge thanks to our many wonderful sponsors. I'm going to tell you a story about my favorite sponsor later this week, because it's too good not to share. But for now, happy back to school! (And if you're so inclined, feel free to tell me when school starts in your neck of the woods in the comments. Minnesota schools can't start until the day after Labor Day; it's the law. But I know many of you already have freedom kiddos back in class.)

The Night Before

In college, I used to freak out the night before each new semester.

The stress of what was coming did me in. I would cry and rant and get a tad hysterical about all the papers, tests and projects prepared to fall on me. And then there was my volunteer role in the youth group, my editing position at the school magazine and my part-time job waiting tables. How was I going to balance it all? How was I going to manage under the weight?

Gloom. Despair. Agony on me.

My roommates loved these regularly scheduled mental breakdowns. But like good friends, they would talk me down and make me laugh and hand me Kleenex and spoonfuls of chocolate peanut butter ice cream in equal measure.

And I would wake up the next morning a new woman. I would square my shoulders and say a prayer and face the new semester with grit and a grin. No more freak-outs, at least not for a few months. Because the fight had begun, and there is not time for self-pity on the battlefield.


I reminded myself of that collegiate cycle last night, as I sat bowed and heavy hearted over my immediate future. Corey is starting his own company, and with the new job comes some serious travel commitments. He'll be on the road five of the next six weeks, which means I'll be solo parenting the last few weeks of the summer and the first few weeks of the school year.

I am already worn as thin as a favorite t-shirt. We have stayed home all summer, which has lent an unexpected air of relaxation and length to the season. It's amazing how much one can soak up when every minute isn't spent preparing for or unpacking from yet another trip.

But it's also meant the kids and I have been together almost every waking moment, and all our edges are frayed. I fear the next few weeks of togetherness, to be brutally honest. The bickering, the whining, the constant needs and demands are crumbling my ramshackle mental state. I have no blessed idea how I will survive the next few weeks with my children, much less enjoy them.

Deep sigh.

Gloom. Despair. Agony on me.

It was then that I recognized it. This is the night before the battle begins. It is the night when the darkness descends and the task looms large and the weight falls on my shoulders like a load I cannot bear.

But this morning, when I stop anticipating and start advancing, I bet I will be OK. I will say a prayer and pick freshly-fallen manna and know grace anew. It is easier to swing my sword in battle than to endlessly whet its edge in dread. I will wake up and feed the kids breakfast and make the beds and vacuum the carpets and keep putting one foot in front of another and before I know it, a song will spring up in the well of my heart.

Time to stock up on chocolate peanut butter ice cream. Night does not stay, and this is a fight I intend to win.