World’s best oatmeal raisin cookie

My husband doesn’t like oatmeal raisin cookies at all, but I made these the other week (a real rarity in our house because I rarely bake – a batch makes too many sweets for two people!) and now he begs for me to make more!  He’s an oatmeal raisin convert!  They are the softest, moistest cookie I think I’ve ever had – the extra spices take them to the next level.  The secret: soaking the raisins.

Note: this recipe requires soaking the raisins for 1 hour and refrigerating the dough for 45 minutes.

  • 4 eggs, beaten
  • 2 cups raisins
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup butter
  • 1 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/8 tsp allspice
  • 1/8 tsp cloves
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 2 cups rolled oats
  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans (optional)
  1. Combine eggs, vanilla and raisins in a small bowl; cover and let stand for 1 hour.
  2. In a large bowl or using stand mixer, cream the butter, brown sugar, and white sugar together.  In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, cinnamon, and baking soda; gradually add to the creamed wet ingredients.  Stir in the raisin/egg mixture, rolled oats, and nuts (optional).  Cover and refrigerate for 45 minutes.
  3. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  4. Drop by rounded teaspoons onto ungreased/unprepared cookie sheet.  Bake for 8-9 minutes, or until barely brown on top.
adjusting, blogging, homemaking, marriage

Interests divided

When I was single I used to commit to certain things, like being more involved with church-related commitments, trying to complete one book each week and maintaining a blog and staying in touch with more people online.  I still enjoy those things, but it’s not as much of a priority since I got married.

I want you to be free from the concerns of this life.  An unmarried man can spend his time doing the Lord’s work and thinking about how to please him.  But a married man has to think about his earthly responsibilities and how to please his wife.  His interests are divided.  In the same way, a woman who is no longer married or has never been married can be devoted to the Lord and holy in both body and spirit.  But a married woman has to think about her earthly responsibilities and how to please her husband.  I am saying this for your benefit, not to place restrictions on you.  I want you to do whatever will help you serve the Lord best, as with few distractions as possible.
I Corinthians 7:32-35

Paul’s right.  Your priorities re-orient when you marry your spouse.  Instead of considering how doing “x thing” affects only you and your schedule, you instead consider which things you can take on after the biblical priority of your marriage.  Sometimes I want to blog more and I have ideas for things I’d like to write about, but it’s more important right now to take care of my husband and nurture our new marriage.  Sometimes all I make time to do is quickly post a recipe that we love and will hopefully bless anyone else who tries it.  And sometimes that’s all the time there is in a day for a blog.


Wheat berry, grilled corn & spinach salad

We do our best around here to stay away from processed foods, lots of pasta, salt, cheese, and red meat. I seem to have a genetic tendency toward high levels of cholesterol even when staying away from cholesterol-high foods and my husband has some serious cardiac issues that we keep a close eye on.  So what do we eat?  We do our best to craft our meals around lean meats, fresh vegetables and fruit, low-fat dairy, and limit white flour and sugar.  My husband doesn’t miss the other stuff too much, and let’s face it – anything fresh and well-prepared easily wins out over something processed or from a package or a box.  An added bonus: he’s shed 30 lbs since our wedding day by only altering his diet!

Now that summer is here and grilled burgers, chips, and mayonnaise-rich salads are everywhere it’s getting a little harder to stick to!  There are still a low of BBQ-friendly foods and sides that are yummy, though, and this is one of my favorite salads, taken from my Mom’s recipe book.

Wheat Berry, Grilled Corn & Spinach Salad
Continue reading


Thai Coconut Curry Chicken

This is my husband’s all-time favorite dinner.  I think he would eat it every night if I made it.  It’s extremely easy and satisfies my craving for “something out of the ordinary.”  Added bonus: it’s a crock-pot meal!  Who doesn’t love to come home to a fresh meal, cooked and ready to go!

  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 8-10 boneless skinless chicken thighs, fat trimmed off
  • 1 lg onion, diced
  • 1-2 red peppers, chopped
  • 1-2 4-inch stalks lemon grass (extra sections can be frozen, look for at an Asian market)
  • 1 tbsp fresh minced or grated ginger
  • 1 tbsp minced garlic
  • 2 tbsp ground tapioca
  • light sprinkle of red pepper flakes
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 can coconut milk (reduced fat or light is also okay)
  • 3 tbsp Thai green curry paste
  • cilantro to taste
  1. Heat oil in medium sauté pan.  Salt and pepper chicken thighs.  Brown chicken in hot oil, 4-5 minutes on each side.  Remove chicken from heat.
  2. Layer onion, red pepper, lemon grass, ginger, and garlic in crock pot.  Sprinkle with tapioca, red pepper flakes, and salt.  Place chicken on top.
  3. Whisk together coconut and Thai green curry paste in a small bowl.  Pour over chicken in crock pot.
  4. Cover; cook until chicken is fork-tender on high heat setting 3-4 hours, or on low heat setting 6-7 hours.
  5. Discard lemon grass. Serve over rice.  Garnish with cilantro.

how the V’s got debt-free

As of February 1, 2013, the Vander Valk family is debt free!  Since we got engaged almost fourteen months ago we have paid off $25,000 in student loans, car loans, and hospital bills.  We also, along with a generous portion from our parents, paid cash for our wedding in September.  Honestly, it hasn’t been that hard.  Not because either of us has an incredibly awesome salary or we’re super-cheap or we inherited a trust fund.  It all comes down to… the B word.  Budget.

In the fall of 2011 my now-husband and I had been dating for six months and knew by month two that we wanted to get married.

I was the kid who loved saving money.  I’m sure I learned it from my parents, who, with a family of six, didn’t take expensive vacations or eat out very often and taught us the value of the dollar.  They showed us that not every want is a need.  I never ran out to spend the $25 my grandparents gave me for my birthday; I always deposited it in my bank account.  When I got a good job in high school at a bookstore my parents’ only stipulation was that I work out a tithing-saving-spending ratio.  No problem, and I came up with the 10-65-25 breakdown without any pressure from them.  I wasn’t quick to buy a lot of clothes, go to the diner all the time with my friends, or buy my own car, but I had money for when I really wanted something.  When I graduated high school at 17, I had that job for three years and had enough money saved to pay for 50% of a year of Cedarville University’s tuition, and my parents paid the other half.  During my sophomore year of college my grandparents offered me their Toyota Camry at a deep discount and I had money saved to pay cash for it.  (It’s still the best money I ever spent because I’m still driving it nine years later, it still runs great, and it gets almost 30 mpg!)  I worked as a full-time student and always had a summer job.  I got my bachelors degree coming in under the national average for student debt because I worked hard.

My husband grew up very differently than I did.  My family cooked every night and visited my grandparents in Florida, he and his mom ate out every night unless there was a frozen dinner involved and traveled to Europe every other summer.  Just a little different, right?  When we started dating he loved taking me out and we ate out often and did other things as we fell in love.  I also realized that R communicated his affection for me according for how he provided for me.  And then I found out that he lived comfortably and didn’t have credit card debt, but didn’t have anything left over at the end of the month.  The fact that his car payment was almost $400 a month almost made me choke to death.  Commence the money arguments.

Continue reading


easy Friday night dinner

I realized on the way home from work that I was either going to have to stop at the grocery store, or we were going to have to get take-out, or we were going to starve.  I could go home, eat a Greek yogurt with a banana, and call it a night, but my better half doesn’t go for that kind of meal.  About the last thing I want to do on a Friday night is hit up the grocery store, and we’re making a conscious effort to eat well and cut down on our expenses.  I started mentally searching the cupboards from the drivers seat and figured I could create something out of leftover penne and frozen broccoli florets.  I don’t have a name for it, but my husband liked dinner a lot tonight.  Since it only took ten minutes it’s an instant favorite of mine, too!

I started frozen broccoli florets steaming in the rice cooker and a pot of water boiling for the penne, then I heated a little olive oil in a sauce pan on the stove.  I added lemon juice, five or six cloves of fresh pressed garlic, a generous amount of crushed red pepper and parsley, salt, and pepper.  I deglazed with a little dry white wine, let it simmer down a bit, then added Romano cheese.  Just after it melted I transferred the steamed broccoli to the sauce pan and tossed it until it was evenly coated, then added the drained penne.

Voila, leftovers repurposed into an easy healthy dinner in ten minutes!  Next time I would add red pepper and onion to the veggies, and maybe some grilled chicken.

The best part – my wonderful husband cleaned up the entire kitchen while I vegged the rest of the night!  :)


to blog or not to blog

They say that when you’re thinking about starting a blog, start with the audience in mind and pick your voice.  When I lived in China, I blogged to keep friends and family informed about me and the country I was living in.  I came across my friend Nate’s blog tonight – he’s a blogger on technology way over my head, James Bond, and other movies/entertainment.  Victoria’s heart beats for social justice issues.  Kelly journals her personal spiritual growth.  James shares his life as an English teacher in China with an emphasis on amazing photography.  Andrea and her family try to be faithful and intentional with their resources.  Some people choose only to write about crafting, or personal finance, or some other specific interest or niche.

That’s my problem.  I want to blog when I want to, and not blog if I don’t want to.  I want to share mine and my husband’s story of us, talk about how I’m less and less Republican with each passing day, put up that awesome new recipe that will become a family favorite, show off pictures of our cute pit bull Sophie or a successful Pinterest craft, express my thoughts on my role as a new wife, chronicle life events, document achieving goals, and talk about the church in America.  If I write about our conviction to intentionally choose a simple life in North Jersey, how I don’t want our kids to believe in Santa and my husband does, the way we go about choosing and buying a new-to-us car, and the perfect shade of Etsie nail polish, will anyone want to read this thing?

These are the thoughts that pass through my mind, and then I don’t blog at all!  I guess if I stay on top of this thing, the unifying theme will just be me.  : )